I’ve just come across a couple of things that I think may be game changers in the world of publishing.
First. Blinkbox ebooks from Tesco. We all know that the publishing market is pretty well sewn up by the big boys. Amazon has had the unassailable lead for some time now and while we may hate this as indie authors or small publishers (or anyone not ‘in’ the mainstream or ‘elite’ of the publishing work) I’m guessing that most of us cannot help but buy from Amazon a lot of the time.
To re-version Hamlet, Thus Amazon has made hypocrites of us all.
Of course there are alternatives to Amazon and to Kindle, but to date certainly in the UK these are pretty limited in scope and appeal. I personally went with Kobo in 2011 (on the basis they were Canadian and I like Canadians- then they were bought out by Japan!) and so got into the whole epub versus Kindle debate. I joined the Kobo Bookstore in 2012 but it still can’t give me any visibility as an author. After 2 years I’ve sold 2 copies (from a catalogue of 13 ebooks) and this is partially because even if you search for me under my name Cally Phillips you are pushed towards Carly Phillips (who writes a completely different style of book.) I haven’t managed to get into the istore because they keep telling me my address (and so myself?) doesn’t exist and there’s only so much time I can devote to going round in circles with computer systems. And anyway, you can use Kindle for PC/ipad without needing to buy one. And you can use ibooks and download epubs (which is my most favoured option) to read without going near Apple istore. There are choices. If you can be bothered to look for them.
But what it comes down to is: everyone buys from Amazon. I have good proof for this from personal experimentation. Here’s how it goes. As soon as I could find a relatively easy (and cheap) way to set up an online store that allowed digital downloads as part of it (yes, there’s a monthly fee) I did so. It’s Ayton Publishing Limited’s VIRTUAL BOOKSTORE. And during the launch period of The Galloway Collection I offered members of The Galloway Raiders (that is people who have actually expressed enough interest in the work of S.R. Crockett and so should be interested in his books), to sign up with a hefty 50% discount on all ebooks from the Virtual Bookstore. They could also add ‘bundle’ discounts if they bought more than one ebook at a time. with You can only do such ‘promotions’ for a limited time or Amazon will ‘price match’ you at which point I’ll get a big fat ZERO from Amazon sales, however many I sell.
Here’s what happened. Within 24 hours of being on Reporting Scotland TV and Radio I had sold nearly 100 ebooks via Amazon. Within the whole 50% discount period I sold 3 ebooks from the virtual bookstore. This despite the fact that people can download both Kindle and epub versions from the virtual bookstore AND that they were cheaper on it than on Amazon. Considerably cheaper. So that does away with the ‘price objection’ then doesn’t it?
The strategy was worth it for me in two respects. Firstly it does show that people DO like to buy from Amazon whatever they say. Ayton’s Virtual Bookstore is just as secure, it’s only about 2 clicks more to download your Kindle version via ‘sideloading’ to your device – it’s seriously not rocket science’ but it seems that people would rather pay more by going to Amazon than ‘risk’ actually engaging in a purchase from a different store. Secondly – for me to offer a 50% discount was kind of risky – but with Amazon taking 65% of all my sales in ebooks I would get the same amount from a 50% discount as I would claw back from Amazon (and I wouldn’t have to wait 6 weeks for it). The experiment showed to my satisfaction that even when offering a blindingly good cheap deal, people will still pay more for perceived ‘security’ or ‘ease’ of Amazon.
This is a shame for me, because if people buy from my virtual store at a 20% discount (which is what I offer members on an ongoing basis) they pay less and I get more. I’d call that a win win. AND as I point out, they can download the file in both formats and so easily use it on Amazon Kindle AND other tablet/smartphone devices for the price of one ebook.
But – that’s life. Amazon is here to stay. Or so I thought.
The gamechanger? Well, today I discovered Blinkbox ebook store. It has free ebooks on offer to tempt you in (of course) It looks like halfway house between Amazon and Kobo and probably has learned from both of them. It seems to have good links once you’ve picked a ‘free’ one to link you on to others – though the ‘free’ I downloaded suggested I might like another ebook (and yes, I might have been interested in it) but the eyewatering price of that other ebook was £19.99. I struggle to pay that for a physical book. No way would I pay over £5 for an ebook. Sorry. And Blinkbox has plenty of ebooks over that price – because of course it’s selling for mainstream, and mainstream don’t really like ebooks historically – but I suspect now they’ve seen that they can make buying ebooks a ‘lifestyle choice’ and get people to pay as much for the ebook as the physical book – selling on the ‘convenience’ of downloading to your device rather than having to deal with that old paper stuff. As I say, things are changing in publishing. The big boys are moving into the digital marketplace. You’d better believe it. They’d be mad not to – it’s much less costly for them to produce ebooks than print ones.
Maybe I should be worried that Blinkbox doesn’t seem to have any way for a small publisher like me to get onto their lists. But then I can’t get my books into Tesco stores either. Instead, I take a more sanguine approach. I see a future trend emerging. I’ve noticed recently that everyone and his cousin seems to be setting up online ebook/book stores: The Guardian have done it, PrintonDemandWorldwide (who I used to use to print my paper books till they got big and stopped answering my emails – why have an email response system which ignores your customers?) have set up The Great British Bookstore. As I say. Everyone’s at it. As indeed am I with Ayton Publishing’s Virtual Bookstore.
So instead of wringing my hands at being squeezed out of yet another ‘market place’, I’m banking on the fact that in the future there will be more fracturing of this digital publishing ‘marketplace’ and as people get more savvy some of them will veer towards ‘niche’ publishing stores.
There are people who will only ever download and read free books. There are people who will only ever buy their books from Tesco stores, from Amazon or on the recommendation of bestsellers lists. There are even some who resolutely refuse to do anything other than buy print books from a physical Bookseller. I can’t service these people. I don’t have the money to compete with printing zillions of copies of physical books, pay the marketing and advertising to get them hyped and on the shelves. As I suspected– 2 minutes on Scottish media gave me a short but wagging tale which has seen some 200 purchases in a fortnight (currently 5 from my store, 22 from my Print on Demand and the rest ebooks from Amazon KDP) but I can’t keep up that level of visibility so I’m guessing my ‘tail’ will be short and the ‘spikes’ will be infrequent.
As a micro publisher I know I cannot compete with mainstream publishing. None of us can. But that doesn’t bother me. I’m not trying to compete with them. I’m trying to create my own niche. I like to think of it as a field rather than a market. A quiet backwater rather than a mighty river. An artisan place not a superstore. It’s a place people can come IF they are interested or think they might be, and where they can make an informed choice before they buy. It’s a field but it’s not for sheep. Sheep buy from Amazon. Sheep follow ‘market’ trends. Sheep only buy bestsellers. Me, I’m looking for ‘readers’ Real readers who love to explore, experience and see reading as a way to enter a new world either familiar or strange – people for whom reading is part of the fabric of their life, not a ‘lifestyle’ choice or an aspirational goal. People who don’t need to be told what to read by the media, by book groups or even by me.
I know these people are out there. Finding them without selling your soul to the god of global capitalism is the key. And that will require a reciprocity. It’s not so much about me going looking for people as about people coming looking for me (or the likes of me). My future will depend on BEING HERE for the people who are brave enough or pioneering enough or savvy enough or cynical enough to appreciate that the internet is a two way relationship – a tool to be used rather than a Big Brother to tell you what you love. However much you engage with Google algorithms, the only real way for niche to flourish is by proactive , savvy behaviour on the part of the ‘looker’ and by genuine co-operative ‘sharing’ between people who don’t have a herd mentality.
If you are one of these people you can find Ayton Publishing’s Virtual Bookstore here and if you might be interested in S.R.Crockett ‘Scotland’s Forgotten Bestseller’ you can join The Galloway Raiders for free and find out more about him.
Next time I’m going to look at the ‘game-changer’ for the print publishing arena. Because rumours of the death of the print book are, I contend, overstated.
* Picture shows Kobo AFTER it's been run over by a truck. Showing one of the downsides of ereaders. Though of course all the files are backed up - just need to buy a new device. For more on this see my Authors Electric blog on May 4th.