Tuesday, January 20, 2009

POD Publishing ramps up for a smash-and-grab future

Publishing has been an industry in turmoil for some time now, and the dichotomy between Camp A ("You gotta get a real publisher who prints and sells five figures of more, or you're not a real writer") and Camp B ("I've got a top-notch book that no one will look at, so I'm going to fly solo") is getting wider. Rapidly.

Here's a quote from the press release headlining today at Author Solutions, Inc.:
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), the world leader in the fastest-growing segment of book publishing, announced Thursday the acquisition of Xlibris – a pioneering leader in print-on-demand self publishing services. Kevin Weiss, ASI president and chief executive officer, made the announcement to Xlibris employees.“ASI is pleased to add Xlibris to our industry-leading portfolio of self publishing brands,” said Weiss. “This acquisition solidifies our leadership position and strengthens our ongoing commitment to offer the world’s most comprehensive set of publishing, promotion and book-selling services to authors.” Xlibris joins AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Wordclay and Inkubook in ASI’s expanding family of self publishing brands.

There's more to the story, obviously -- click through and see the whole thing -- but the most important thing to grasp is the pearl of wisdom in the first line: the fastest-growing segment of book publishing.

Sit quietly. Close your eyes. Repeat that line to yourself several times over. Grasp the gist of it.

And then think a while on this:

From The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide by Mark Coker:
Book marketing is a tough uphill battle. Even most authors published by big mainstream print publishers complain they get little or no marketing support from their publishers. Bottom line, most authors, whether they’re traditionally published or self-published, have to do their own

At Smashwords, we don’t make promises we can’t keep, so we cannot promise you your book will sell well here. In fact, most books, whether they’re traditionally published or self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shirking pie of attention.

Ebooks represent the fastest growing segment of the book publishing industry. Ebook sales have been increasing around 50% per year for the last five years or so, according to the latest industry research, while traditional print book sales have stagnated or declined. If you’re an author, you’d be silly not to start exposing your work to the digital realm.

Despite the rapid growth of ebook sales, ebooks still represent less than one percent of overall book industry sales. But this is changing. You’re smart to publish your book in ebook form, and even smarter to publish with Smashwords, because no other indie publisher is so singularly focused on helping you leverage the power of digital publishing to reach your readers.

POD is the fastest growing growing segment of the paper-based book publishing industry, and ebook sales are growing exponentially -- a trend which can only get more powerful with the sheer volume of sales expected in 2009-10 for the iPhone and its competitor, the Samsung Omnia. (I blogged about this a little while ago: Ebooks in your pocket, along with your music, vids and pics, camera and phone. Get a load of that gadget! I, uh, want one.)

There's the data -- raw and wriggling. Conclusions anyone?

Well, I can see numerous conclusions, and as many probable outcomes....
  • The publishing industry has ignored and rejected new writers for decades, and would go on ignoring them, if only it could;
  • The reason for this is purely economic: you make more money off a handful of bestselling authors, for a fraction the editing/printing work; but...
  • Technology has caught up with them, and the newbies, wannabies, and those like myself who're stranded without recourse to "proper" or "traditional" publishing can fly solo; so...
  • We're doing it. In ever-increasing numbers ... most of us trusting to the Internet to be a viable marketplace; meaning...
  • Traditional publishers have got to be feeling the squeeze! The POD revolution has to be contributing to their downward spiral; and...
  • Very few people will mourn their passing, because the big publishing houses brought it on themselves by chasing the big bucks at the expense of the raw new talent and the burning passion to write.
This, more or less, is the framework the future of publishing and writing is likely to be built around. The traditional publishers slooooowly go belly-up; huge chain stores and remainder stockists thrive ... for a while, before there's no more leftovers to sell through at 90% discounts. Then, what?

Well, the bestsellers will always be there. Wilbur Smith and Maeve Binchy, Eric van Lustbader and Daniele Steele, Clive Cussler and J.K. Rowling. There's probably about 100, maybe 200 writers in the bestseller bracket, who'll churn out a book per year. That's (gosh, wow) a whole 150 or so new books for the bookstores, every year!

In fact, the big publishers will very likely rejoice, because the charade is over. Here's a fact the rest of us might not like, but need to get to grips with: publishers make about 90% of their money from about 10% of the world's writing stable. Less. The rest of us are allowed to tag along because we feed niche markets, worth small amounts of income which aggregate fairly nicely over time and distance. But it's nothing by comparison with the top-end writers who are properly marketed, shelved, aired on TV, and so forth.

In the next few years, chain bookstores are likely to contract both in size and number: some will go online and cast off the physical presence entirely. However, book exchanges and used book stores are likely to thrive, because so few new books will be coming along in print, on paper. A majority of readers still have absolutely no use for an ebook. Books are paper. Period. So, these readers will trade, swap, sell and buy and resell the paper treasure trove of yesteryear.

They'll also -- sooner or later -- land on sites like Amazon.com and Lulu.com, and are sure to find themselves reading a POD book, possibly without even realizing they're reading one!

And it's here, on this one point, where dedicated writers pin their hopes for the future.

The drawback is that POD books are damned expensive, and postage is getting expensive too. But it's also true that as an industry settles in, matures, the technology gets cheaper -- the machines pay for themselves and so forth. Prices might not actually lower, but perhaps the race of inflation in the general marketplace will rush ahead as per usual, while the price of POD books stays put for long enough to make them seem cheaper.

So, dedicated writers can live in genuine hopes that in the next -- what? say, five years? -- the technology will settle in, the price of POD books will seem less horrific, and dedicated readers will find themselves reading a POD book without even knowing it's POD.

Because the latest products from CreateSpace and Lulu and so forth are virtually indistinguishable from a mass market book: it would take an industry professional to tell the difference, and it comes down to this: "What difference does an indiscernible difference make?" I'll tell you how much difference it makes: so little, it's indiscernible.

In`dis*cern"i*ble\, a. [Pref. in- not + discernible: cf. F. indiscernable.] Not to be discerned; imperceptible; not discoverable or visible.
Secret and indiscernible ways. --Jer. Taylor. -- In`dis*cern"i*ble*ness, n. -- In`dis*cern"i*bly, adv.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

That's good enough for me.

In five years -- by 2014 -- the loooong list of books I need to get off my hands and onto Amazon will be complete. There'll be something like 40, maybe 50 Keegans on the list, and with a good, solid advertising campaign -- excellent reason to be optimistic. Devoted readers will find themselves in a position of having to buy POD books, because if you want to stay the hell away from the bestsellers (some of which start to sound like echoes and re-echoes after a while, since they're formulaic, ie. based on the Proven Winning Formula), well, there's no further choice.

And here, the process hits the rocky shoals. Because devoted readers want good books. Not lash-ups. Not self-published books which are clunkers beyond description that would be best consigned to the bottom of the budgie cage. I read on some site or blog, in the last week or so, that few readers have a problem buying a POD book; the problem is, finding one that's worth buying!

There are some really, disgustingly bad books out there. Companies like Lulu and CreateSpace and iUniverse and so forth, don't give the proverbial toss what's printed on the page. You pay them, they print it, they list it in their e-store, and if you pay them some more money, it'll be listed on Amazon.

I've actually said this before, somewhere in the hundreds of posts I've made in the seven months I've been on line: the onus is on the reader, the buyer, the customer, to find the good books and just not to buy the bad ones.

The problem with this is that as the DIY publishing field blows out bigger and bigger, the really good POD books will be outnumbered by their scabrous cousins, about 1000:1. How in the heck is a reader supposed to sort through that much chaff to get at a few grains of precious wheat?

Well, it's not actually that difficult! Leave it to the book review sites. You want to buy something good, something new? Read the reviews. There are numerous book review sites already, and they're also growing -- perhaps not exponentially, but they're certainly proliferating! You might have seen Rainbow Reviews, Squashduck, Bitten by Books, Speak Its Name, Rain on the Roof, Oasis Journals, Off Tha Shelf, Aricia's Gay Book Blog, and ... on and on and on. If you haven't -- check out a few. If you have: cheers! (These sites are almost all on the links lists here and/or on Aricia's blog. Good hunting.)

Nostrakeeganus, he guessing along these lines: by 2015 (and Nostrakeeganus, he going to be finished and done writing and working hard in bookselling business by that date!) the major publishers will have merged into just a few big, big, biiiiig combines; the bookstore chains will have pared down to minimums -- almost showrooms; the online used book stores will be going gangbusters; everyone and his uncle who thinks he/she/they have a story to tell will have published it to Smashwords or Lulu or wherever; everyone in the world will have a website or a blog, and maybe both; the amount of dross on the market will out-mass the Pacific Ocean ... good books will fight to be noticed ... online book review sites will be the new meccas for writers and readers alike.

Now, it's not quite as rosy as it sounds, because there are a hell of a lot of good, and great, writers out there. When we're ALL going the DIY road, there will be a positive embarrassment of riches available to readers. Statistically, it turns out that the number of people reading is imploding every year, so --

Our market is shrinking even though more writers than ever before are about to be published (whether they're worth publication or not). Fundamentally, it's all about market share. 1% of a huge market is still a lot. But .0001% of a dwindling market is ... not too much.

So, the competition will be fierce. Good writers and great writers will be competing for attention and bucks, and readers -- not publishers and editors! -- will be the deciding force. This is how the Law of the Jungle works -- survival of the fittest, the best. Evolution used this same process to create everything from the pygmy shrew to the T-Rex, and it works.

Out of the whole jungle, mind you, one new group of power brokers might emerge. It's already being said out there in the forums and blogosphere of the POD world, what book reviews are the only thing that moves books at this time.

This is going to be even more true in the future, as the market tightens even further. The new power brokers could easily be the leading reviewers -- the online critics whose recommendations are taken as solid gold tips (Sure Fire at 90:1, running in the two-thirty at Morphetville...) by devoted readers.

Sad to say, even very good writers will be fighting for a sadly small market share ... in other words, no one's going to get rich at this. And then agan, that's not strictly true! There's an incredible fortune to be made ... but not by writers. Remember this: "Xlibris joins AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Wordclay and Inkubook in ASI’s expanding family of self publishing brands." In fact, Author Solutions, Inc. is likely to be the next trillion dollar company, because they're in at the beginning, a big fish already consuming all the smaller ones. Uh huh.

Food for thought!

I'm going to leave the subject there for now, because it's hot, I'm tired, and I'm out of time. More tomorrow -- albeit probably on less challenging subjects. For now --



Laura Essendine said...

I'm just now trying out self publishing with Lulu and am already a great fan. Even if you're determined to shop around for an agent and mainstream publisher you can make money in advance through self-publishing sales. You might even get some good feedback to show to the agent or have sufficient sales to make you a viable proposition.

I've posted the first chapter of my current novel for free and am asking for feedback. It's been really helpful in the final edits of my book.

Yes you have to do a lot of marketing and that's painful sometimes but, even with a book deal, you'd still be out there selling copies - and probably for less of a cut of the cover price.

Self publishing looks like a win-win situation to me.

Laura Essendine
Author – The Accidental Guru
The Accidental Guru Blog
The Books Limited Blog

Angie said...

You've touched on a lot of points here, and I think you've really captured that fact that there are a lot of things happening all at once: technology, readers and publishers are changing. Then, throw the struggling economy into the mix as an accelerant and you'll see the rise of a new age in relation to books.

Self-publishing and POD have their challenges, but the beauty and sometimes harsh reality of it, is that the author has the option and freedom to succeed or fail. The writer is no longer beholden to their publisher's acceptance, marketing budget or editors. The writer – any writer – can ensure they put their best work out there, construct and follow through on a marketing plan and sell their book. It is work. No one's going to give success away. But, for those authors who work hard enough, the success is theirs alone.

Angie Kelly Pheifer

Mel Keegan said...

Laura -- welcome to the POD community!

I'd been a pro writer for about 12 years when my publisher sold out to a larger company that apparently had no interest in keeping a paperback list. I was catapulted into limbo with numerous other writers who'd been on said list.

A handful of us, ten years later, are starting to make our presence felt on the WWW and at Amazon, via POD. I signed with DreamCraft in 2000 or 2001, and my books are still published by them, but they now use the printing/shipping services of both Lulu and CreateSpace, for the ease of getting books to US and UK readers (which accounts for about 90% of everyone), and for getting to Amazon.

Personally ...? I've been agented, I've been published -- in fact, I've been through that particular wringer so often, I honestly don't want to go there again! POD puts you in with a chance, and it *can* be a win-win situation, *if* you can sell copies.

As Angie says in her comment ... it's a hell of a lot of work. I've blogged about this in numerous posts. How successful you are will depend on your energy, commitment, ingenuity and stubborn determination not to quit when the going gets rough!


Angie -- absolutely. It's all about work ... and it *is* hard work.

There are also times when nothing seems to work -- the financial year has cycles, ups and downs, and there are troughs in the cycle where sales are poor for no reason you can see, as well as peaks in the same cycle where sales go gangbusters, also for no apparent reason.

You have to learn to "go with the flow" and not get discouraged when things are tough; also, not to get too complacent when things are great. It's a whole new ballgame, and the rules have not yet been finalized.

The technology is changing so fast, it's a rush to catch up and keep up. My plans for 2009 include Smashwords to get my backlist into the Stanza format (for iPhone and, soon, the Omnia), and Kindle. There are always more learning curves to climb.

Here's hoping 2009 will be a "banner year" for us all.


Laura Essendine said...

I've already sold non-fiction e-books through Lulu and, even if you don't make a sale that day, it's exciting to see how many people have checked out your book and who's taken your free downloads.

I've only just learned about Createspace and I'd be interested in a comparison between this and Lulu. I find lulu incredibly user-friendly. Is Createspace the same?

Can you post your book both on Createspace and LULU in order to widen your market exposure?

Laura Essendine
Author – The Accidental Guru
The Accidental Guru Blog
The Books Limited Blog

Mel Keegan said...

Since you keep the ownership and control of your copyright at Lulu and CS, you can certainly use the printing services of both both. Remember that they're "only" printers with a doorway into limited distribution, they're not publishers. (If they were publishers, I wouldn't have signed with either one!)

As per my experiences with them, and the comparison between the two ... I've posted a couple of dozen times on this topic -- can I suggest you have a look through these posts, and take what you need:




... hope this helps! I have about 40 or so projects at Lulu right now, and another 15 or so at CS, with about half of the CS titles already on Amazon, the rest heading there slowly but surely. The time factor? It's taken 15 months to get to this point in the process, and there's far still to go!

Laura Essendine said...

Thanks for your very detailed reply, Mel. I browse the blog for the info.

Laura Essendine
Author – The Accidental Guru
The Accidental Guru Blog
The Books Limited Blog

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