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New Year, New Hurdles & Opportunities

30 December 2012

From suspense writer Russell Blake:

Many indie authors are complaining that their sales are down. That may be true. Could be any number of things causing it. I speculate as to some possible reasons in my predictions. But with all the gloom and doom, at least three success stories from December are noteworthy.

. . . .

The third December story is my own. I don’t like to publish revenue numbers, but this month is my biggest month to date, up 30% from November, which was a huge, and I do mean huge, month for me. This, 18 months into my journey. Over 100K books sold this year, not counting free downloads. How next year goes is anyone’s guess, but for now, so far so good.

The reason for highlighting these examples is because Steve’s book was 14 or so months old when it took off on this go around. My oldest is 18 months old. Rob’s are about the same, if not a bit older. It can take a while for a title to hit, and yes, aggressive and well-timed promotions can help, but foremost, having a book worth reading in a popular genre is a big part of it.

. . . .

But on to the predictions.

. . . .

1) The KDP Select free program will continue to wane in terms of usefulness for authors. As of Black Friday, I believe that Amazon further de-tuned their algorithm so free downloads count as even less towards ranking on the popularity lists. From what I can tell, free now has 5% or less of the impact on ranking than it originally did, meaning that if you don’t land in the Top 40, you won’t see any bump in sales. I believe this is because Amazon dislikes free as much as many authors do. It served its purpose, but now it’s hurting sales and has created an environment where a certain segment of readers no longer buy books they might have, preferring to download free books instead, even if the majority of them suck. I believe that eventually even the dimmest indie authors will figure this out, and stop putting their books free unless they have a good chance of landing in the Top 40. On December 27, there were 43K books free. You’re reading that correctly. 40 might see a post-free bump in sales. The other 42,960 titles won’t, and the authors either wasted their time or saturated their own market and diminished their likelihood of selling anything.

. . . .

3) The environment will get tougher, redux. Traditional publishers will lower prices or release some of their huge backlog of titles for which they own the ebook rights, creating even more competition for indies. Many of these books will be marginal or won’t have withstood the test of time, but supply will increase even more as trad pubs try to duke it out for dwindling reader dollars.

4) Many indies will give up. Having realized belatedly that 99% of indies fail to make any real money at this, those that don’t feel like beating their heads against a seemingly indestructible wall will go on to something more lucrative. The Gold Rush mentality of “hey, look at X, he’s a talentless twat and sold a ton; it must be easy, so I’ll throw my hat into the ring because then maybe I’ll sell a ton, too” will die, as it should. It will become abundantly obvious to even the dimmest that this is a very, very difficult business to make a living at, and that the chances of being that one in a million are close to nil.

. . . .

8) Amazon will continue to lean towards pushing trad pub books and their own labels, as they have most of 2012, for two reasons: Trad pub books generally cost more so they make more absolute dollars from doing so, and trad pubs pay advertising dollars back to Amazon, whereas indies don’t. This isn’t because Amazon is the great Satan. It’s because it makes better business sense to push products you’ll make more money selling, and higher-priced products from producers who will give you money to advertise tend to be more lucrative than lower-priced products from folks who produce no ad revenue. And the reason for pushing their own labels is obvious – more margin. It’s all about margin. So deal with it.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake

Amazon, Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Strategies

79 Comments to “New Year, New Hurdles & Opportunities”

  1. Interesting.

    I question his writer/chef metaphor.

    A chef without a restaurant is more like a writer without Amazon et al than s/he is like a writer without a marketing plan.

    The restaurant is the pro chef’s store front. We indie writers have store fronts.

    Thus far, I see many indies saying: you must market. It’s the modern age. Nothing sells without marketing.

    And some experienced older voices say: marketing may work for toasters, but it’s remarkably ineffective for fiction.

    Last year, the sharp divide between the two confused me no end.

    Now…I’m leaning toward the old hands. Some of the events predicted by their premises are occurring. My growing personal experience also backs them. I find that convincing.

    • The only thing I can offer is my own experience: New releases have always resulted in higher sales for me, with a continued upward trend after the initial “ooh, new title” wears off after a month or two. :)

      Promoting my rear end off or lowering prices has only once had any noticeable effect on sales.

      • I’ve found that you need to try a dozen things for one to work, and the annoying part is that it will only work for a limited period of time, so it’s rather like going to the gym for most people – you’d really rather not have to do it, and it would be far more fair if you could just do it a few times, and then have the result stick.

        Not so much.

        Retail is by definition a world of promotions, sales, attention-getting. Successful manufacturers know that. They buy advertising, they promote, they buy end caps, they invest in packaging, brand marketing, endorsements, placements in film and TV, etc. etc. etc. They do it because it works. Those that can’t compete don’t have as much chance. The world isn’t fair. It favors the nimble and those willing to do whatever it takes.

        To me, discussing operating a book selling business without doing marketing makes no sense. “I make good cookies. I put them in the big cookie store, where a million other cookie manufacturers also sell, and I’m hoping that somehow, someone finds my cookies and likes them.”

        I don’t think so.

        What usually happens, in my opinion, is that your core readership, whoever that is, buys your new book, resulting in a bump in sales revenue, and perhaps you see a few new folks coming in, due to word of mouth, or featuring on “also bought” lists. Then you’ve saturated that market, and it’s game over. I think one of the things Locke was right about is that he has his core audience of X thousands that bought eleven of his titles, resulting in a million books sold, not a million people buying his books. I think we all see that at a smaller level. Thus, the idea is to constantly broaden our reach, so the next one reaches more people, and the next, still more. I don’t see any way to achieve that reliably absent marketing. Wish I did. It would be a lot less work to just write.

    • I think that the chef/restaurant thing is applicable. Amazon may be the restaurant, but if you don’t market the place, you’re just another in, oh, say around several million restaurants. A good restaurant owner doesn’t just focus on the running of the restaurant, which I would liken to the quality control and packaging parts of self-publishing – the operations, if you will. Anyone who has ever had a restaurant will tell you the same thing: marketing makes a restaurant successful, all things being equal.

      In the current environment, there are millions of books. Why would anyone believe that readers would somehow find theirs out of the rest of those? What, precisely, would be the mechanism you would think is at work? Amazon sure as hell isn’t going to promote your work. So if they aren’t, and you aren’t, who will?

      Maybe a better example would be a big store. Think of a Barnes and Nobles with two million titles sitting on the shelves, side by side. You are the publishing company, as the self-publisher. Your role as author is over for the purposes of this product. That job’s been done. Now you need to sell it. You have had it edited, put a professional cover and a compelling blurb on it…now what?

      The old hands would argue that you should do nothing, forget about your publishing company role, and just go back to being an author.

      Guess what? Your publishing company is likely to fail. I mean, there is a reason the vast, vast, vast majority of published books fail. You can add failing to do your job as publisher to the reasons. That said, you are free to follow whatever path you like.

      But if I was a betting man, I would put my money on a publishing company that promoted, not one that said “we have good books – that should be enough.” In the old days of software, I knew a lot of programmers who railed against the software companies that were making gazillions, when they had written a “superior” program. They just didn’t get that for users to find and select their product, it took more than just creating a better mousetrap. That logic is a flawed paradigm – if it were true, then the best books would be the bestsellers, and the dross would fail. That’s not how it works. Would that it were so.

      However, we are free to disagree. My approach is working very well for me. Perhaps other approaches are working very well for these other pundits with their opinions and approaches. There’s always another way to skin a cat.

  2. But perseverance and practicing one’s craft are never bad ideas. That way, when lightning does strike, you’re ready.

    Or as Pasteur said: “Fortune favors the prepared mind”.

    But I also agree with Blake that in this new world Indie authors cannot ignore marketing. Some minimal time must be spent making connections and putting your work into the world. No one else cares about it as much as you do. No one else will work as hard at it as you.

  3. Things will get tougher from here. That’s certain. Not sure how much marketing will help (from a publishing house perspective it might, ie with scores of books, from most people it might not…) the claim is that working on the next book will always be better.

  4. Good article. And in my post-blizzard haze, I think I agree with most of it.

    Let’s take the wayback machine to some point in the last century. Writers wrote but they also made themselves available to the public. Not all of them but most. Somehow. They gave lectures, or talks or did radio and newspaper interviews. I did. Hey, I even gave seminars at the library! I taught kids how to knit. My publisher sent out review copies and my books were reviewed in newspapers all across the country. Writers complained when publishers didn’t get their books into stores. It must have made some kind of sense to us to think that if the reader isn’t exposed to the work they won’t buy it.

    How is indie digital publishing so different that we think now we don’t need to do anything more than take up shelf-space? How does this special magic work?

    Sorry, there may be outliers but with the vast numbers of books being published, it seems reasonable that writers have to do something besides write, publish, rinse and repeat.

    • Yup.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. If someone is going to say, “just write the next one” as the essence of their business plan, then I reasonably would ask, just how will that lead to publishing success in a highly competitive environment where others are marketing aggressively and fighting to get in front of readers? I mean, hope and faith are fine, but they are lousy business or investing philosophies.

      Imagine that you were shopping a business plan, looking for investors. That plan is to be an online publishing company, selling through Amazon or whoever. Part of the competitive advantage that one might cite is exclusive access to a particular author’s important work. Fine. That’s you as the author. Then, as the investors read through the plan, they come to the marketing section. It is blank. Or worse, it says, “our plan is to do nothing but list the books on Amazon and focus on having the author write more books.”

      What are the chances anyone in their right mind puts money into that? If you can find someone stupid enough to, send them my way. I have tons of great business plans that involve me doing nothing but writing, and doing nothing on the marketing execution side.

      But suddenly because you as an indie are required to wear two hats, that’s the essence of the counsel.

      It is a failing paradigm. I wrote a dozen novels and released them in about seven months last year (if you count my two trilogies as three books apiece – I condensed one of them, Zero Sum, into one long volume this spring and now only count it as one). I was rewarded with success that looked like, June, 2011, month one, one title, <$20 net revenue. December, 2011, month seven, a dozen titles, but three free, ~$1500. But sales started to rise from the abysmal $100 or so level in Oct, when I started to market, making the first book in the Zero Sum trilogy free, and focusing more on writing guest blogs, interviews, co-marketing with authors like David Lender and Steven Konkoly, etc. I also made sure I spent a few hours a day on Twitter, but not doing spammy tweets, but rather sort of these long, rambling, David Foster Wallace-y hour-long, 140 character serial commentaries with a very warped sense of humor. Those resonated with some, and they reluctantly gave some of my work a look – wasn't hard, because I'd made some free so there would be little barrier to trying it. I want to say I sold a total of couple fifteen hundred books in 2011, but no more. This year I've sold well over a hundred thousand at an average price of $5. Guess what? Things really took off when I saw the benefits of the new Select program and put my first title into it – The Geronimo Breach. In Jan I sold double what I'd sold all year in 2011. In March I sold about 14,000 books. I experienced the dip over the summer everyone else did, but I still averaged 6500-9000 sales a month. All the while, writing furiously, but being very disciplined about my marketing schedule, budget and approach.

      The reason I counsel what I do is because it worked.

      Simple.

      Maybe it wouldn't work for everyone. I work 12 to 15 hour days, seven days a week, so I can spend two to three hours a day marketing. Because that's sort of what I calculated it would take, and I wanted more than anything to be successful at this. So I did what was necessary, and was very fortunate that people liked the work. But they had to find or hear about the work to like it. Hence my approach.

  5. Russell Blake is a smart guy, and though I think he reads Amazon’s business model wrong much of the time (and thus misinterprets algorithm changes and data), I think he’s probably the smartest of the pundits making predictions out there… just taken with a grain of salt.

  6. Salt, lime and tequila being the best way to take them.

    I think Amazon’s business model is at its essence the model all businesses have – take market share, make as much margin as possible, and deliver value to the consumer. They hit a home run with the Kindle. They told trad pubs to suck it when the agency model was jammed down their throat, and promoted the hell out of indies to replace the titles that the trad publishers were threatening them with. It worked. They created a market for indies that simply didn’t exist as a viable market before. Good on them.

    In April, when the DOJ brought its suit, everything changed. The agency model was dead, and the powerhouse trad pubs that had threatened from a position of strength found themselves needing Amazon more than Amazon needed them. So they made nice, and it was back to business as usual – or as it had been for generations. You saw it in the way the algorithms changed May 1. And again around mid-June. And then again in Sept. And again on Black Friday – each time reducing the impact of the greatest marketing tool indies had – the free promo via Select.

    I know whereof I speak because I was doing promos about every 10 days. So I have a lot of data to study, and hard results to mine. I also network with quite a few successful indie authors who shared their results with me. The trend was clear. Trad pubs were being favored – they could list their books for more than $9.99, their higher priced books would feature more on the popularity lists (when the algos started to favor higher priced books – a phenom covered by guys like Edward Robinson at Failure Ahoy, and Phoenix Sullivan, et al), and a host of other perks that all meant increased visibility – visibility equating to sales. Lists like “Top Movers and Shakers” would be 100% to 90% trad pub, even at times when sixty percent of the true percentage jumpers were indie. The Top 100 went from about 70% indie in December of last year to more like the inverse this year. One doesn’t need to be a genius to figure this one out.

    Again, Amazon’s duty to its shareholders is to maximize its sales and profits. Selling higher priced books, if one thinks of a reader as, say, two purchases a month, is infinitely preferable to selling that same reader two lower-priced books. Because their data would show each kindle buys X books a month, on average, and if they can focus that shopper on an $11.99 ebook versus a $2.99 ebook, they get more margin. Additionally, they launched a slew of their own labels to compete in the $5 and under market, which they would naturally want to favor. Come on. It would be bad business not to. And Amazon isn’t bad at business.

    I don’t ascribe any sinister motives to Amazon’s strategy, nor do I believe I have misunderstood their plan. It is to do what is best for Amazon while delivering superior value to Amazon’s customers. They are doing that. Indies simply don’t get the benefit of the push they did in 2010 and 2011, for the reasons I’ve articulated.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. That happens very regularly. In the end, it’s all guesswork and supposition based on what data we do have – sort of extrapolating the shadows on the cave’s wall. But I do know that as a flea, it’s still pretty easy to get crushed by the movement of the gamboling elephant, even if it’s accidental. I believe we are all fleas in this.

    Not that I’ve devoted a lot of thought to this or anything. And I’m sure Thomas & Mercer will be calling with an offer at any moment…

    • I just think it wouldn’t hurt to read their reports to share holders (especially going back a few years) to get a better handle on what their strategies actually are. (And also how small Kindle and publishing is to their overall business.)

      Maybe you have, and are just interpreting it differently, but it seems like you’re going by what other businesses (the ones they consistently beat) would do.

      • I would imagine that their strategy is a razor blade strategy – sell the razor at cost, make money from the blades, and create a shopping destination that is sticky, equating to customer loyalty. And make a profit doing it.

        I understand that the ebook business is a small part of their overall business. But I guarantee you that those whose job it is to oversee P&L and capex over that business are chartered with making it as profitable as possible. I don’t need an annual report to tell me that. Unless they have become a philanthropic organisation, the job of all companies, in the end, is to generate the maximum profit they can. Even the ones that don’t come out and say so.

        BTW, I am passingly familiar with the Amazon story, the untold billions burned as Bezos’ admittedly brilliant vision was executed, etc. But the man isn’t in the business to make the world safe for ponies. It’s a commercial enterprise, and I would expect that it is important for it to make a profit as often as its strategic imperatives will allow.

        Having said that, I’ll be happy to go read their annual reports when I have some time. Can’t hurt to see what the PR fellas cranked out. BTW, Enron’s annual report didn’t feature “Lie and Steal” as their mission statement, nor did Goldman, Countrywide, etc. or the myriad other businesses out there who play hardball every day while positioning themselves as noble corporate citizens, so one must take annual reports with the same grain of salt with which one seasons my proclamations. It’s all creative writing, in the end. Business exists to make money. I don’t think anyone would argue with me on that. If they don’t, they aren’t businesses. They’re non-profits or charities, or out of business.

        • Actually, if you pay attention to what they’ve said and what they’ve done, their strategy is first and foremost to be a search company. To be a place where people find anything and everything.

          They don’t consider other retailers to be their competition. Heck, they are happy to go into partnerships with other retailers. The more the merrier. Let somebody else sell the razor, get a gratuity.

          Their competition is Google.

          And I think the thing that you miss is that, while they’re perfectly happy to make money any way they can, the actual goal is not to push products but to match customers with what they want. They don’t care if an item is very popular and his high margins, or is only desired by one customer in the world. They want to match that item with that customer.

          The Bezos philosophy is that that customer — the one who found an item that nobody else wants but they love — will be an Amazon customer for life. Furthermore, if they keep matching that customer with what he or she wants (and not what some big retailer bribes them to push) that customer will be able to trust Amazon in a way that no customer has ever trusted a retailer.

          That’s one of two ways they are beating the pants off the competition. (The other way is by being completely automated and purely data driven. Thus they do things, like KDP Selects, which allows them to “experiment” on the customer and on the suppliers to gather more data.)

          The gold is in the data. The gold for a place like Amazon is in the long tail. The gold is in turning suppliers into customers and customers into suppliers. Be a broker, not a retailer.

          And it’s working. (And as a stockholder, I am very pleased.)

          • We will have to interpret the data differently. Perhaps that’s their philosophy on their other products, but with ebooks, they have been aggressively proprietary with Kindle, have been cut-throat in dealing with competition (witness requiring select indie authors to be exclusive as one example), and took a scorched earth policy with the trad pubs (and I still have my suspicions about how the DOJ decided to go anti-trust on their asses – very convenient for the Zon, if you get my drift). And now we are seeing their labels doing astoundingly well.

            I get all the corporate mission statement jargon. I have friends that write it. I’m sure it’s all sincere. But since you mention watching what they do rather than focusing on their rhetoric, look at the Top 100 and consider the position of indies in it now versus a year ago, consider how well their own labels are suddenly doing, and consider how well most indies are doing this year versus last (thankfully, I’m an exception, but most I know aren’t).

            Disagreement isn’t bad, BTW. If you can make me think, or I can get you to consider data in a more skeptical manner, then it’s a win-win for us both.

            • From what my spouse has said regarding the DoJ settlement terms… Not so convenient for Amazon. I believe there are clauses in there which prohibit discounting to the point of taking a loss — though they can go down to “no profit.”

              I haven’t groveled through all that myself, since the spouse in question is happy enough to read the reports and give me the executive summary.

              • Anything that eliminates the agency model is a huge win for Amazon. They don’t want to sell stuff at a loss, so that’s akin to making it illegal to eat broken glass. Most won’t be interested in doing it anyway. You don’t need a law to prevent it.

                In my opinion, of course, that just prevents Amazon from losing money on a book sale. Not really what I would call teeth, if you get my drift.

                • I debate whether they want to sell at a loss or not. If they sell at a loss long enough, B&N goes belly-up and then Amazon can stop doing that. Amazon sells/has sold Kindles at a loss, to capture market for their stuff, after all. They’re not afraid of a temporary loss to gain in the future.

                  The other half, of course — and the part that the publishers explicitly feared — is that habitual discounting on Amazon’s part would make people unwilling to buy at higher prices. (Which… it may have. That pegasus has long since flown the coop, though.) But, of course, Amazon can’t keep it up forever, so sad that all those other pesky companies (*cough*B&N*cough*Sony*cough*Borders*hackchokehairball*) aren’t doing well, but gee, the public won’t buy at that higher price anymore, so you’ll just have to give us a better discount…

                  Meanwhile, from what I hear, Wall Street seems to think Amazon will successfully establish itself as a monopoly by forcing the main competitors out of business, and the jack up the prices like a good little monopoly. (I think that’s unlikely to happen. I think they’ll pull a WalMart monoposony move instead.)

                  We’ll see. Apple being involved with iBooks is likely to modify the results; they have deep pockets as well, and a different approach. Likewise, if the DoJ deal prevents Amazon from truly underpricing their ailing competitor(s) out of business, there is some small hope B&N will use some of its recent inflow of Nook cash to turn into an actual competitor (and get me s’more sales, darn it!).

                  • They sell hardware at break even or a loss so they can recoup that loss from selling the content. Not an unfamiliar model.

                    We can debate what Amazon’s management would like to do if the rules were different all we want, but the truth is neither of us knows, and frankly, few business models that involve selling at below cost have worked out. As in, none.

                    Drive B&A, Apple (I think we’ve all agreed we have heard of them), Kobo, and countless other storefronts out of business by losing money yourself? Really? And then what? Five other storefronts pop up, and you keep losing money to put them out of business too? And then the next five as well?

                    No. No no no.

                    Wall Street has been right about nothing with regards to Amazon for 15 years. Is year 16 the year they finally reverse that trend? History isn’t on their side. And since Wall St analysts exist solely for the purpose of churning the market and advancing whatever the side is that the broker they work for is taking the opposite bet on, let’s just say that their integrity is, well, questionable, to say the least. Or perhaps they are letting us all in on their wisdom just because, when the average hedge fund is down for 3 years or more in a row. Wall St is as rigged and staged as as pro wrestling, but without the entertainment value. It’s thoughts on why Amazon or any other company does anything is as questionable as some people’s birth certificates.

                    From what I can see, B&N’s CEO is so hell bent on doing whatever the failing business models of the monolithic trad pubs want, he’s years behind thinking competitively, unless you view being a me too also ran taking his business hints from businesses going BK is a winning approach. For me, not so much. Amazon stays up worrying about B&N about as much as Snoop Dog says no to a toke.

                    Apple is the only well-funded challenge, and frankly, they have a hard time now that their visionary departed. My hunch is that ebooks aren’t the first page on their 2013 mission statement. Although Kobo could make it work, whenever anyone figures out why they should shop there…

                    How’s that for inflammatory? Will my sales explode now? Sure hope so…

            • It’s more than corporate mission statement here. I’ve been watching their policies for many years (long before being an investor). There’s always a much longer term strategy going on with everything they do.

              As I said elsewhere, every fact you state also goes right along with their long established strategies as easily as with any speculation in the indie culture or even on Wall Street. (Wall Street has been wrong about Amazon for as long as Amazon has been public, but they still hold to the same old theories.)

              IMHO, what’s going on with indies has been completely predictable from the start. It follows the pattern of every single “get rich quick” scheme to hit the internet, and Amazon has done exactly what every gamed system has done in the past. All algorithm-dependent businesses depend on real and natural data, and for simple survival they HAVE to respond to this constant gaming that the indies have been doing.

              But, I’m not really here to argue with you. As I said, I think you’re really on the ball as far as punditry in the publishing world goes. I’d just like to, as you say, make you think more. Because I think you’d really be kicking a** if you were a little more aware of the other agendas — the algorithmic agendas — that Amazon carries deep in their culture.

              • I guess I still don’t understand what you are talking about with indies “gaming” their system. Indies have, A) used the Select program to do free promotions, as intended and pushed by Amazon, B) used low prices to compete, exactly as Amazon’s own labels and trad publishers are doing today, on Amazon.

                What part of either of those are indies gaming the system?

                Please, be clear. I am not reading you. Are you saying that when Amazon introduced the Select program and said to indie authors, “Part of what we give you as an incentive to be exclusive are five free days every 90 days,” that indies misread that in some way? Or that by using those exactly as Amazon intended, indies were “gaming” something? If so, how? Please be precise and specific.

                And are you saying that by listing at the bottom end of the price range that Amazon itself allows, indies were also “gaming” the system? How? And are Amazon’s own labels not doing exactly that right now, as we speak, as well as the trad publishers? Because they are. Or is it your stance that when indies list their books for the lowest allowed price that’s gaming, but when Amazon does it it’s not?

                I’m not being argumentative. I simply have no idea what you are getting at by saying Amazon is putting an end to indie gaming of the system. I think that what they are doing is putting an end to the usefulness of Select, and tilting the playing field to give trad pubs different and better rules than we have to work with. And I can prove that. Trad pubs can price however they like. We can’t. Trad pubs don’t have to be exclusive to be in Select. We do. Trad pubs feature prominently in myriad lists indies can’t due to Amazon’s algorithm magic. We don’t. But contrary to the forgiving explanations you’re offering, which I clearly don’t agree with if I’m understanding you correctly, I offer a different and completely consistent explanation: it behooves Amazon to push their own labels and trad pub rather than indies. Simple. Explains everything. No other explanation required, and no lack of clarity. We were useful for a while, now we aren’t. Simple.

                I don’t require an in depth exploration of algorithmic culture to understand what they are doing. Algorithms aren’t magic, anyway. They are just logic trees that do whatever humans want them to. My bet is that Amazon wants to maximize their profit, and they know that indies aren’t the way to do that.

                What part of that is in conflict with their algorithmic culture?

                Again, not being argumentative or abrasive. I’m now genuinely curious how indies were gaming anything, and how my explanation is in conflict with all observed phenomena this year? Not what they say. What they do.

    • The fascinating thing is that despite all those algorithm changes, indie market share in the overall top 100, top 100 for fiction, and top 100 in most of the genres have not changed.

      At the beginning of the year, indie ebooks were about 35% of the top 100 Kindle books overall. That number has wobbled about 5% in either direction from time to time, but as of when I checked a few weeks ago, there it was at 36%.

      As for genre lists, the top hundred across every genre I have been tracking this year (SF, fantasy, romance, horror, thriller/mystery) have seen indie market share in the 40-60% range. All year. By genre, the indie market share has not slipped more than a few percent. Indies seem to do better in some genres than others, but there hasn’t been much movement.

      Indie average prices on those lists, however, HAS changed: it has slowly inched upward since March. Also not really a shock, since higher prices now count for more in all the visibility algorithms.

      I suspect most of the doom and gloomers talking about huge drops in sales have all their ebooks at 99 cents. And frankly, that’s a REALLY bad price for ebooks, right now.

      • Well, actually, no, Kevin. As of 5:50 PST, exactly 15 of the top 100 Amazon kindle books are indie. The rest are trad pub or Amazon’s own labels.

        So, after checking, my point is actually reinforced. Last year when I checked in December it was more like 55-60%.

        But even if we use your number, 15% are indie as of now, and almost all of those feature bare chested fellas on the cover, and are selling for .99 to $2.99. So that genre, mommy porn, accounts for the lion’s share of that 15%, which is fine, but is an interesting marker. Tells me that if you’re writing something other than that, you have more like a 5% chance of being in the top 100.

        I rest my case. 15%. Go check if you don’t believe me. Although it changes hourly, I wouldn’t imagine that it will make much difference. Maybe 18%, maybe 12%. Another way of expressing that might be that of the top 100, year over year (again, using your numbers), market share for indies has shrunk by more than half. Which is predictable based upon the amount of visibility indies have been getting.

        • I’m actually getting 20 right now. Of course, the list does change regularly, so maybe we’re both right, or maybe we’re looking at different lists. ;)

          What changed in the last few weeks?
          1) James Bond. There were zero Bond titles in the top 100 when I checked last, and now there are fifteen. All selling at $1.99 (a bit more for a set of several together), and since they’re published by Thomas&Mercer (i.e. Amazon), better believe that they’re not affected by the algorithm the same way indie or other publishers’ books are. ;) Add in the popularity of the movie, and it’s easy to see why these titles popped.

          2) Amazon imprints. Not sure what they did; but there are roughly twice as many books by Amazon imprints on that list as there were a few weeks ago. *Something* else changed; they are in some way favoring their own books over others, including those by other major publishers. Logical, but this is new.

          3) Price slashes on trad pub books: A lot of more expensive ebooks by major publishers are now down in the 99 cents to 2.99 range. That’s also new. I mean, they’ve been doing it all along, but in order to pop that many of those books into the top hundred, they must have done some *massive* discounting. Which makes sense, since Christmas was only a few days ago. Like the Bond issue, I suspect this one will go away in a while.

          But the takeover of Montlake and Thomas&Mercer titles is noteworthy. If Amazon is using their systems to push their own books above all others, it could be a problem for those writers not publishing with them. Again, this is new: they’ve had the imprints for a while, and the imprints tend to do well – just not THIS well. ;)

          Time will tell.

          • Interesting. Just did a scan of SF. Down to 48% indie (it was a quick check, so I could be off by one or two in either direction). I picked that genre because I know the publishers best there, but the regular data mining I do takes hours to verify the publication of each and every book. This was a quickie, so read the data as such. ;)

            That’s down from 61% at the opening of the year, which is significant. And the increase of Amazon published titles again matches up very closely with the loss of indie titles.

            • Want to bet that in thrillers and romance and action, that it’s even more pronounced? Call it a hunch. SF is an odd bird, in that the audience is unusually smart, and tends to be more willing to seek out the unusual – and I also think word of mouth plays more of a role, although I have no data to support that. My hunch is that it’s mostly male, very smart (much more so than the average, say, romance book), and more likely to pursue non-traditional material by virtue of the intellect at work.

              But the Top 100 is enough of a sampling for me. 15 on my look. I don’t have time to look again, but if we split your number and mine, we arrive at 17.5, hell, call it 18, down from 36%. Seems like a 50% drop to me.

              It is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it but learn, and try to understand the landscape as it actually is, not as it was or as we’d like it to be.

              • Hey now. Plenty of smart romance readers (and authors) out there. Let’s not stoop to that kind of prejudice…

                (Let me direct you to Dear Author and also Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for some serious discourse and reviews of the romance genre.)

              • I suspect the reason indies are more prominent in SF is that tradpubs aren’t buying it. It’s a very hard genre to sell into, especially for a debut author. So naturally more books in the genre will be self-published.

                • Or because there’s been a huge sf/fantasy following for decades and many writers are used to the small press/indie label? A lot of authors in this genre (myself included) started out writing short stories for indie anthologies and zines – many were online before kindles were even heard of.

                  • I don’t know. I feel that SFF, as a genre, is on the wrong track. It’s my favorite genre and yet, as a reader, I’ve felt forced to move on to other genres because so little has been published in it that is to my taste.

                    SF has gone dark and literary. I don’t like dark and literary. Perhaps I’m a minority reader, but I’ve been driven out of the genre. The only SF authors I read now are Lois McMaster Bujold and John Scalzi, who still write upbeat, positive stories. They are enormously successful. So why is the rest of the genre going in the other direction? I don’t get it.

                    I hope indie publishers will save the genre by publishing a wider variety of stories. I doubt I’m the only reader who has defected from the genre due to dissatisfaction with what the tradpubs have chosen to offer.

                    • I’m with you there, Amy. I’ve always been more into fantasy than sf, but it’s all dark there too – that and huge doorstep trilogies of battle strategies! Unless you like paranormal romance or vampire detectives (which I don’t). I read much more mainstream now. Where are the Robert Heinleins and John Wyndhams of the 21st century?

                    • One need look no further than the Daily Science Fiction to see proof of this. They will publish things that are funny if they are funny in the context of something awful happening in the background. They do that all the time. They will publish stories where something awful happens in the foreground, ditto. They rarely if ever publish stories that are just funny. Or even just adventurous. This seems to be the trend in general.

                    • I hear that Hoyt, a Baen author (and working on the self-publishing shift, as well), has coined “human wave” as a term for non-dark-and-literarily-angsty-SF&F. You may want to look for that tag at Amazon and see if any of it suits your mood.

                      (…I’ve also got some SF stuff, of course, including one freebie short story, but she’s got more books under her belt. :) )

                  • I have to reply to this comment because it won’t let me reply to the other. If you’re looking for a modern-day Heinlein, you might try John Scalzi–he is often compared to Heinlein (without the sexism!). Don’t know about John Wyndham, never read him. I wish there were more in that style. I’m not a fan of paranormal romance or vampire detectives either.

                    • Replying to my own comment because the nesting is too deep, but this is actually in response to ABeth’s comment above.

                      Thanks for the tip about Hoyt & Human Wave. I don’t know if I like the name (“Human Wave”?), but it sounds like she’s trying to write and promote the kind of SF that I feel the publishers have shoved out of the market (to everyone’s detriment–tradpub SF is not exactly flying off the shelves, although Scalzi & Bujold seem to do all right). I found this link describing “Human Wave”:

                      http://accordingtohoyt.com/2012/03/21/what-is-human-wave-science-fiction-3/

                    • Also, try Martha Wells’ The Cloud Road, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths. Not quite science fiction, kind of fantasy, hard to categorize but very well done, detailed world, and not dark. Not Heinlein, but worth trying.

                    • Thanks, Amy & Rachel. Will look those authors up!

          • On December 30th, for one day only, Amazon’s imprint Thomas & Mercer featured 50 books in a Gold Box deal–much different from a Kindle Daily deal. That email hit everyone who subscribes to it–thousands, maybe millions of people, especially since it was right after the holidays–and the ‘deals’ link is visible and readily accessible on the website. A slew of these were James Bond titles. Hope that clears up the guessing game for Russell and Kevin on that day.

            To shed a bit more light, these marketing campaigns are pitched, but not always approved. The true goal of the company is customer satisfaction and customer choices so that customers remain customers. Amazon’s titles may have a bit more push, but I can tell you you that nothing is guaranteed. Indies, trad, and Amazon’s own imprints are all competing for marketing space. Different teams are pitching different ideas simultaneously, and if the idea sounds good, the Kindle team will agree to try it–but even that isn’t set in stone. When I was informed my titles would be included in the Gold Box deal (this was December 28th), I was also warned not to reveal this as it could have changed in those 2 days.

            I could go on (there’s also a nomination process), but I won’t. The bottom line is if you try to crack the Amazon code, not only will you be wrong (because it’s like trying to hit a moving target that’s invisible), your head will explode. The most important thing to remember about this business is that NO ONE knows why a book sells a gazillion copies.

            • Thanks for the heads up. I figured they had done SOMEthing to hit the top charts so hard, but wasn’t sure what it was.

              I also figured that it wasn’t a lasting situation. And I was right. As of this writing, there are 35 self published ebooks on the Amazon top hundred list. In other words, things are back to normal. Sure, an occasional special promotion will skew things. But it’s a mistake to read too much into that sort of thing.

              • I just looked at the list. It is 25, not 35. I’m looking at the Top 100 bestsellers as of 11:40 a.m.

                • I think we are perhaps looking at different lists. Either that, or you’re missing some indie books, or I am counting as indie some you are not.

                  My source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/154606011

                  Yours?

                  • Same list. I think you may be counting some of the small press stuff as indie, when it isn’t. But if you did the same last year when taking that measurement, then the method would be consistent, so it could be that we’re comparing apples to oranges. Let’s do this again in a month and see what we come up with. It’s the trend that’s important to me, not the day to day or hour to hour.

                    • Got 32 this time, so – obviously – the list is highly volatile right now. ;)

                      I think perhaps you are counting some stuff as small press that’s actually indie. Most of those “small press” names actually track back to “owned by the writer”. In one case, there was a small press which is actually a collective of multiple writers operating together under one label, but that’s stil indie, as far as I am concerned.

                      Thing is, I’m really less concerned about the big bestseller list (except perhaps as indicative of trends). Most of us are unlikely to get there. I’m more interested in that mid range that sells well, but not thousands a day.

            • Well, as of right now, the top 100 has 25% indie, including two lists of how to find the best free books and how to use your kindle – not surprising, those, as so many new kindles were sold.

              Thus, we now have two measurements. 15% before New Years, 25% after.

              Still quite short of what was on the lists last year as far as indies go. Again, I’m not implying sinister motives. I’m simply making observations, and trying to infer things from those observations. It’s true that in a random and chaotic universe many things are unknowable, but our job, rather than shrugging and saying, “we can’t really know anything, so why bother trying?”, is, I believe, to try to create theories that predict with greater accuracy than random chance.

              My theory is by now well documented in my predictions. We will see fewer indies on the lists. Period. So far, that is true. It was true before Christmas, after Christmas, and now after New Years. So far it hasn’t failed to predict – in fact, it’s been amazingly accurate in predicting. It could be in one day, or one hour, the list will jump to last year’s historical 36% level (assuming that’s correct – seems low as far as I remember, but I didn’t commit a measurement to writing, so I’ll take it as close enough), and I’ll be all wet. But that has yet to happen, so until it does, I’ll continue using that theory as being useful.

              Note I’m not lobbying anyone else to subscribe to it. Everyone has to build their own models, or choose their own philosophy, to operate their self-pubbing business. “We’ll never know enough to predict anything meaningfully” is probably just as valid an approach. It’s just that I don’t do well with it, so I choose not to use it, preferring to analyze, trend, and measure. It may all be for naught, but that’s the way I operate. I guess we’ll see how my predictions do. The test of any theory is how useful it is to predict future behavior. Now we’ll get to test it this year, as we were able to test last year’s, which were almost all correct.

              Thanks for the input. I don’t want my head to explode. Really. Sounds messy.

              • I should have said, MY head would explode. And I like to use it for writing:)

                I would encourage you though, Russell, to sign up for all the daily deal book emails. You could probably gain an even more rounded understanding of what drives Amazon sales based on which books, genres, titles are featured. Everyone I know who has been featured (more indie authors than you’d expect)has had a huge sales surge from them. Ironically, not one of them knew they’d be featured and some were trad titles that were years old, sales flat-lined.

                • Still sounds messy, although better to me than if mine exploded, for obvious reasons.

                  I had a friend last year who was featured, and you’re right, he wasn’t told.

                  I’ll sign up. But I’ll still take periodic measurements to verify whether what we’re seeing is a trend or an anomaly. Just my nature. Now back to writing the next one…

        • And I have to say…. maybe this is because “bestseller” type books is what traditional publishers do best. Maybe they deserve to be in the top 100.

          Maybe the only reason so many indies were making it into the top 100 is because they were cheating the algorithms with low prices and free books, and other gaming of the system. And Amazon, being data driven, could see the signs of dissatisfaction in the readership (yes, they know when people stop reading a book among many other things), and adjusted the algorithm for price accordingly.

          Maybe indies are the midlist and long tail products we’ve always said they are. (That’s a GOOD thing, btw. That’s about a pleased audience. It’s what used to drive publishing, before B&N and the Thor Power Tools ruling.)

          Maybe all we are seeing is a correction.

          All the data shows is that Amazon is shutting off the gaming, and letting the audience rather than the authors drive the purchasing — not that Amazon is somehow trying to disadvantage indies.

          • “Deserve?”

            Low prices and using Amazon’s own free program was “gaming” their own algorithms?

            The audience drives the purchasing based upon what they can see. Visibility. I know this because when I do a promotion that lands me in the Top 100 overall, my sales do extremely well for whatever period I’m on the popularity lists. The instant I’m off, my sales start dropping. The audience doesn’t buy what it doesn’t know about. The algorithms, or if you wish to think about it more accurately, Amazon, decides what gets visibility. Since the DOJ suit, Trad Pubs have been receiving outsized visibility. That is now reflected in the bestseller lists. It’s inevitable. And it will continue. You can contrive all the post hoc rationalizations you wish, but the plain fact is that the audience buys whatever they can see, not what they cannot, and if the algos favor the trad pubs (which I believe they do, and which isn’t a bad business move from Amazon’s part), that’s what they’ll buy.

            I think you are looking at the same data and stretching. Amazon isn’t shutting off any “gaming” unless you believe that Amazon instituted “gaming” of its system via Select. Or you believe that Amazon is “gaming” the system with low prices on stuff like the Bond books. What they are doing is shifting the gaming in favor of their own labels and the trad pubs. Elaborate hypotheses aren’t required. Just a glance at the Top 100 and all the books that are “gaming” the system with low prices from the trad pubs and Amazon’s own labels.

            Put another way, if Amazon is trying to protect their customers by doing away with all those bad, unsatisfying cheaper books ever since the DOJ suit in April, it’s spectacularly unconvincing to me that they would do so by pricing so many of their own books in that exact price range, and so are the trad pubs. Unless you’re saying that they are doing away with only the “bad” inexpensive indie books, which would be more akin to my point, not yours.

            Is it really so hard for you to believe that Amazon would favor the companies that pay millions in advertising, over, say, me? Or would favor its own labels where it makes a lot more margin rather than, say, me? Given a choice between selling a Russell Blake book at $5 and receiving 30%, selling a T&M book for the same price and receiving more like treble that at the end of the day? Please. It’s happening even as we speak. Just look at the list again. And note I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it is happening. That’s it. It’s bad for indies, good for trad pubs and Amazon’s labels.

            If you believe it’s all innocent or they aren’t favoring trad pubs and their own labels, you haven’t studied human nature. This is predictable, was in fact predicted in April-June on my blog, and is now taking place. The test of any hypothesis is whether it can make useful predictions. So far mine has accurately described the future. That would make it pretty useful compared to after-the-fact leaps of faith, I would think.

            And I’ve just made a series of predictions that will be testable moving forward. It will be interesting to see how accurate they are this time next year.

            • I actually don’t see them favoring trad pubs (except via the price reductions on major bestsellers, which I suppose IS favoring them – but I’ve seen that on some bestselling indie books as well, so I think that’s just their overall policy on big ebooks). But overall, I’m not seeing a real increase in trad pub ebooks in the top hundred lists I’m checking.

              I DO seem them favoring their own imprints. Which is pretty natural, if you think about it. If I own a cookie store that sells other peoples’ cookies, but I also bake my own cookies in the back of the shop, better BELIEVE I am going to give my own cookies the best placement in the store. ;)

              The other thing I am seeing is a bunch of names I recognize as long-term highly successful indies now with books out under an Amazon imprint. Those writers were smart enough to see the change happening already, and savvy enough to take an Amazon deal. Amazon gives that book a huge boost, which of course boosts that writer’s visibility and sales of all their other work. I suspect getting published by Amazon is about to become a LOT more desirable than it once was, for indie and trad pub writers alike.

              Which of course is what they want. Smart move.

              • By favoring price in the algorithms that feature one on the popularity lists, they are de facto favoring trad pubs – especially if they favor list price, which may well be the case. I suspect it is, but have no way of confirming it.

                Remember that the bestseller list is based on units sold, but the popularity lists are based on the algos. If they treat a $14 trad pub ebook discounted to $5 as $14 worth of points, and they treat my $5 books as $5, guess what happens on visibility via the popularity list? Exactly what we are seeing when looking at “movers and shakers,” as an example. I can increase from #600 to #250 (as I did with JET a short while ago, or maybe it was Silver Justice – I kind of forget in the blur – both hit #1 free and so peaked in the Top 100 paid about a week later) and not show up there, but a trad pub book at the same price will rank as though it’s news, with a much lower percentage gain. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but go look at the Movers list and count how many indies are on it. At one point about two weeks ago I looked and it was exactly zero of the Top 100 on that list. A few hours later it “jumped” to 10%. Woohoo.

                Again, I’m not saying that it is bad or good. I am saying that it is knowable, and observable, and testable, and it seems there’s a certain mindset that views the sales channel like some sort of a benevolent philanthropic entity looking down from book heaven to ensure that indies get a fair shake. I say hogwash. Amazon, like B&N, like Apple, like any company, will do what it needs to in order to maximize its available margin. That’s it. The counterbalance will be competitive pressure – it can’t charge more than its competition, so that keeps it from gouging. It’s why monopolies are inherently bad for consumers – they will ALWAYS charge more than if there are competitors keeping them honest. It’s why I don’t think Amazon will drop commissions to 50% or lower – B&N and Apple and Kobo would eat their lunch as virtually all authors not with trad publishers ran to them.

                Don’t get me wrong. I have benefited tremendously from Amazon’s revolutionary approach to self-publishing and ebooks. I bear them no ill will. I have a career because Amazon invented and marketed the kindle. I hope they prosper forever.

                But I’m not stupid, either. And I trust my observations.

                “But who are you going to believe, us, or your lying eyes?”

                My eyes, thanks.

                So far, so good.

            • I didn’t say they are trying to do away with “bad, unsatisfying books,” I said they are correcting their algorithms to reflect the actual satisfaction level of their customers.

              There is a huge difference there. Amazon WANTS all of those books to be available, and furthermore, wants to be sure that those “bad” books find their audience too.

              Furthermore they want books to be offered cheap and free.

              What they don’t want is for books, bad or good or indifferent, to find the wrong audience. And what they’ve found is that just because people download a free book is no indication as to whether it interests them. Same with a cheap book — this is as true of traditionally published books on sale, and free classic literature, as it is of indies.

              I know that indies are insanely focused on sales rank, but that’s not the most important algorithm at Amazon. The most important algorithms are relevance algorithms, and those are not just product algorithms, they’re customer algorithms.

              If you knew how much data they gather on every visitor — not just customers, but also associates and vendors and KDP participants and people who use their forums — you might realize just how unimportant the sales algorithms really are. Sure they mean something — but so do page views and time spent on page, and whether a product which doesn’t sell seems to lure people into buying another product. (A product which sells another product tends to get points in such an algorithm.)

              Predicting Amazon based on the sales rankings is like predicting the weather based on whether you washed your car or not. It’s an obvious datapoint that you have access to… but it isn’t necessarily a direct indicator of what is going on.

              (Did I ever tell you how one of my books ended up in a movers and shakers list without selling a single copy? I got congratulatory emails and a personal promo person from Amazon. All because of natural reader behavior. Nothing to do with being anything Amazon wanted to promote. It just happened that the attention I was getting was a bubble. But Amazon considered that legit, because it reflected actual spontaneous behavior on the part of the customers.)

              • I’m again not clear. Do you have anything to support your alternative hypothesis, and that’s what it is, that readers were dissatisfied with indie .99, or $2.99 books, but are more satisfied with Amazon labeled .99 or $2.99 books? Or trad pubbed .99 or $2.99 books? And that is why Amazon has changed the algorithms that affect who is on most of the lists, and who isn’t?

                My bet is no. I think it’s conjecture, again, a post hoc, non-disprovable rationalization, not an explanation that is testable. I am saying that I predicted this exact shift in sales for indies about eight months ago. I did so accurately, using logic, my understanding of business and human nature, and my experience with corporate behavior – I said at the time that indies would be de-emphasized now that the DOJ had brought their suit, because the trad pubs didn’t require the stick that was indies eating their lunch at Amazon – the DOJ did that job, so now emphasizing non-trad pubbed books was no longer in Amazon’s best interests.

                When I said that, made the predictions, most indie authors said no, it couldn’t happen, that indies were too near and dear to Amazon’s heart. They too had almost metaphysical belief that Amazon was in this for anything besides what was best for Amazon’s business interests. I was pilloried for offering that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing, and that trad pub books tended to be more competently executed than indie books (in general; of course there are exceptions, myself included), therefore it was a safer sell than an indie book. I was called anti-indie, and it was said I was insulting the movement.

                I wasn’t. I was actually saying sort of what you’re saying Amazon’s reasons for de-emphasizing indies is. In fact, we are saying the exact same thing, I believe. I simply explain it in terms of what the smartest, most profitable business decision is, rather than some non-profit-driven agenda, that is unknowable, or at least impossible to verify as true. The profit motive actually predicted this precise shift. As such, I believe that it is the correct approach, as I am naturally skeptical of anything that relates to for-profit companies, and anything that has to do with something besides profit (customer satisfaction being part of that profit picture). So perhaps we were/are saying the same thing. I just don’t get the gaming thing. I don’t think indies were or are gaming anything, with the exception of some unscrupulous authors who bought hundreds of fake reviews. That’s gaming. I think we can agree on that.

                The rest, I think we can also agree on, but we will have to disagree as to motive. I’m cynical. So I assume the basest of reasons drive many decisions, not the most elevated. I would love to be proved wrong. So far, life hasn’t been able to. If anything, life has proved me overly optimistic as to possible good motivations, and that humans will do anything to gain an advantage, make an extra bit of margin, take a little more market share.

                • I have spoken to Amazon folks (for instance the conversations we had during the “movers and shakers” incident, but also other interactions), I am very familiar with how the businesses that Amazon models itself on work (i.e. algorithms and search engine companies). I’ve been interested in their business model since long before KDP, and have always watched for interviews from their engineers and decision makers.

                  So I have a very good idea of what they are doing, technically, and why they say they are doing it. And as long as those two remain consistent, I’ll take their word over pundits.

                  And when I say “they’re not doing what you think they’re doing” I’m not saying that you’re too cynical. Of course they are doing it for a profit.

                  But they’re smarter than the competition, and they have a model that works significantly better than anyone else. And they’ve proven again and again that they have no intention of giving up their advantage for short term gain.

                  Nobody believed me when I said that Amazon would start valuing based on price. Nobody believed me when I said they were going to phase out or devalue tags. Nobody believed me when I said they would crack down on reviews we consider legitimate.

                  And maybe nobody should have believed me. Any time you talk about Amazon, you’re talking through your hat. Tons of information goes in, and very little comes out.

                  But their behavior has always been consistent.

                  • I’m not sure I disagree with much of what you are saying, merely articulating a different motive – that motive changing the longer term trajectory ever so subtly, which in bad metaphorical terms, would be akin to bumping the takeoff trajectory of a rocket in Moscow aimed at New York by a fraction of a degree, and having it hit Boca Raton instead. The takeoff point might be very close, but the ultimate conclusions will be worlds apart.

                    I’m curious – what are your predictions, then, using your more generous interpretation of Amazon being largely benign? Do they differ substantially? If not, the difference in beliefs about the why don’t really matter much. If so, maybe there’s a larger divide than I’m perceiving.

                    We will know whether my predictions were correct, or mostly correct, or completely incorrect, in one year. Now, if they were correct or mostly correct, one could probably still say, yes, but, it’s still not because of what you think, in which case I’d probably argue that the why doesn’t matter. If they’re mostly incorrect, I’ll deny I ever said any of this and look around for someone else to blame.

                    You know I invented the internet and predicted the last 30 World Series winners correctly, right?

                    Have at it with the predictions, and no matter what they are, have a Happy New Year.

        • A moment, please. First of all, the stuff with the bare chested fellas is romance, not “mommy porn”. It’s simply rude to say otherwise.

          Secondly, it’s understandable that romance represents a larger percentage, given that it sells a larger percentage of genre fiction overall. From Romance Writers of America:

          Market Share of Romance Fiction
          (source: Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2012)
          •Romance fiction was the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2011 at 14.3 percent.

          Romance Market Share Compared to Other Genres
          (source: Simba Information estimates)
          •Romance fiction: $1.368 billion in estimated revenue for 2011
          Religion/inspirational: $715 million
          Mystery: $709 million
          Science fiction/fantasy: $579 million
          Classic literary fiction: $467 million

          • Sorry, not trying to offend.

            I’ll be getting started on my new inspirational romantic mysteries set in a dystopian future for the new year, with numbers like that. Try to maximize my reach. Maybe throw in a cat, some kink, and a vampire. Ka-Ching!

            Happy New Year!

  7. The line about a lot of indie authors giving up is telling. In this business, if you don’t have sticking power, you’ll almost always fail.

  8. Some people who fail to generate sales will leave. But many will stay, and many will join them. That’s what we saw with the slush pile during the reign of traditional publishing.

    While some will leave, I expect total numbers to increase.

    • Yeah, fiction writing in particular is a lot harder than most Get Rich Quick scheme projects. I don’t think most of the “wannabes” in Indie Publishing are actually here for the same reasons they ran to SEO writing or microblogging.

      All the same, I do agree with Russell that there will be some kind of shake out. Overall, the same number of people will get discouraged and quit as do with traditional publishing… however, because self-publishing has a lot of buzz, I think we had a bump in the number of people who “always wanted to write” trying it out.

      But since a lot of these folks are doing it for the same reasons people write fanfic, they won’t quit because they don’t have success.

      • What fascinates me about anyone writing to get rich quick, or even slowly, is the spectacular lack of knowledge about how many authors make even a dollar writing.

        I’ve been told I’m a party pooper because I’ve been saying ever since I got into this that you should write because you love it, because the chances of making any money doing it are somewhere south of slim and none.

        I guess it’s the same phenom that brings em into the casino or has people buying lottery tickets. Someone has to win. But it really helps if you have no idea about statistics or odds.

        I don’t buy lottery tickets either. Guess you probably guessed that by now…

        It’s been a fascinating exchange. Thanks for participating in it, Camille and everyone else. We can take this up in a year. Consider it a date.

  9. Maybe I am confused but I have never seen getting to the top of the bestseller lists as a particularly viable business strategy *for me* since to make a living that way you need to be well into the top tenth of a percent of writers in that genre.

    What excited me about indie publishing is that you can make a viable living by building a relatively small midlist following over the years.

    • Most authors, that is the vast majority, will never make a viable living writing. That is just a fact. It has always been a fact. It will likely always be a fact.

      Not through building a small midlist following, and not by hitting it relatively big. Most, and I like to say north of 90%, just won’t, no matter what tact they take. That’s the sad truth.

      It’s considered demoralizing and bad form to tell the truth. People don’t want to hear the truth. I, on the other hand, prefer the truth, because in knowing it, I can figure out how to be the exception rather than the unfortunate rule.

      Knowledge is power. You can’t make good decisions without adequate knowledge. When something isn’t knowable, we need to develop reasonable theories that predict well. That’s my entire goal here in making the predictions. I could just stay silent, not share any opinions, and write books, and not burn up a whole day with this discussion, but I feel it’s important to share ideas and information with each other so we can develop better predictive models for ourselves.

      I’m okay with the notion that most authors won’t make a decent wage, if that’s how it is. I prefer to know that going in so I can ask myself questions like, “How can I be the exception? What steps can I take to influence lady luck to gaze with kindness at me?” That way I’m not kidding myself.

      I wrote a very bitter, acerbic, brutally funny book, a parody of the “get rich quick publishing” books, about 16 months ago, titled “How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated).” I did so because I thought most I encountered were almost delusional about how easy or hard it was to make it writing. It is my poorest selling book. Also probably the most important for budding authors to read. The irony is huge, and not lost on me.

      That I’ve been fortunate enough to find an audience and meet with some acceptance is wonderful, but I also am fully aware I beat the odds, and that this can turn on a dime. That’s just how it is. Nobody is holding guns to our heads.

      And sometimes it’s not the destination, but the ride, that makes the journey worth taking.

      • Russell, the way I look at it is that if you go into any paper book shop, look at the tens of thousands of books there, and know that most of those books have a shelf life of a month at most. Someone got paid for writing each of those books.

        Probably, 95% of people who write a book will not get into that bookshop.

        Less than a tenth of a percent of the people who get into the bookshop will get into any bestseller list that means a damn.

        Most people who get into such a bestseller list will drop out of it again rather than be a long term bestseller.

        Those are the odds as I see them.

        • Your understanding of the odds are the same as mine. I may not agree with everything my peers in the indie scene, like Konrath, say, but I do believe his take on the odds and economics is spot on. The odds are not good, and never have been. But now, as indies, they are better than ever with trad pub. So it’s an improvement. And I’m living proof that you can come out of nowhere and have a career after 18 months – BTW, I just had my first $3500 net day today, so I’m stoked – over 1000 books sold. How cool is that? And nobody taking the agent’s cut, or telling me how to modify my style so dullards can read it, or whatnot. This is a kind of heaven for me, and I’m thrilled that in the autumn of my years, I have re-invented myself again, and am now a real life working author who is part of that tenth of a percent that’s doing rather well. I never imagined it. Ever.

          So it can be done. It’s just very hard, and is very unlikely.

          Other than that, it’s a piece of cake…

      • Russell

        Just wanted to thank you for your original post and your observations here. Really interesting discussion and some really interesting points.

        • Thanks JJ. I have a few comments at my blog that I think are worthy of their own blog on this topic, as well as my philosophy of the writing/bookselling duality. I’d encourage interested folk to go there and check out the full article as well as the comments. Good stuff.

  10. And as of this morning, seems to be UP !

  11. Excellent discussion, as always. I confess I’d never heard of Russell before, but I’ll be bookmarking his site after this.

  12. I’m not too sure I understand the argument that Amazon isn’t making much money off indies. I read that it costs amazon 5 cents to host a book. Take a writer like Bella Andrè. She absorbs all the costs of the book–cover, formatting, uploading, etc.–and amazon gets 30% of that. Not all indies are Bella Andre or Bob Mayer or Barbara Freethy. But just those authors alone must be earning amazon a fortune. They earn about $2 for an investment of 5 cents. Surely that’s a GREAT ROI?

    • Probably because I never said that Amazon isn’t making much money off indies. I said that given the chance of selling an $8 trad pub ebook versus my $5 ebook, assuming identical margin percentage on both, they would rather sell the higher priced book and make more money. That assumes that the consumer would buy either, would buy the same number of books per interval, and that the difference in price wouldn’t much matter because they aren’t a total cheapskate. So, Amazon would rather show that consumer the $8 book, because it makes the most business sense. And if that book’s publisher also spends a few million bucks a month on advertising with Amazon, they would really, really rather sell that book than mine, because in addition to the profit percentage, they will also get some more of the publisher’s profit returned to them as ad revenue. For that reason, even if there are two $5 books, mine and Harper Collins’, I believe that Amazon would rather sell HC’s as HC will return to them ad dollars, where I’m sort of barred from doing that because of the $25K a month minimum buy in.

      As to their own labels, same applies. Amazon as a conglomerate sees more of the $3 if it’s one of their labels that sells for $3 than one of mine. Thus, they would rather sell one of theirs. It’s not that they won’t happily take mine if there is no choice in the matter, but I believe they know full well that if they show consumers one of theirs instead of one of mine, all things being equal, that they will see more sales, because visibility equals sales. Conversely, lack of visibility equals lack of sales. So if you control the visibility via gimmicking the algos (say, by favoring higher-priced books or by list price, and then only allow trad pubs to set a list price over $9.99 at high margin rates while barring indies from doing so, then tune the algos to register list price versus actual selling price, thereby ensuring that there is a huge edge on the popularity lists for those trad pubbed works) you control the choices that the consumer has on first pass, which my bet is where most make their buying decision.

      Again, there’s nothing sinister about any of this. It’s the smart business choice. I would do the same thing. It just happens to be not so great for a segment most of us are a part of – but guess what? The world’s not, nor has it ever been, fair, and Amazon’s job is not to push one sort of books over another for altruistic or ideological reasons. Their job is to make money for Amazon. As it should be.

      They will happily take a John Locke’s revenue at .99 or $2.99, but if they can sell a Bond book that they have the rights to, they’d rather do that, because at the end of the day they make more. Simple, really.

  13. This has been a fascinating discussion — thanks particularly to Russell and to Camille. And Russell, I hope you’re in a different time zone than the time stamp listed… you must not get any sleep!

    I have one novel out that did spectacularly well last year at this time… but this year doing KDP Select and free days has been ineffective in terms of goosing sales. So something has clearly changed with those tools.

    I’m taking January off from writing (though not promoting) to contemplate exactly what I want to spend my time producing. What gets me going is strong women in powerful positions who show their humanity when making tough choices. So I can go on writing political thrillers, or move on to mysteries, legal dramas, even fantasy. With so many books I could write, and so many stories percolating, what is most worth my time? And how does Amazon and its ever-changing policies fit into that plan?

    Happy New Year (one hour to go for me here in Connecticut)!

    • For me it’s never about what’s worth my time to write. It’s about what inspires me and fires me up. I spent 3 months last year in a writing frenzy – that wonderful time when you are living and breathing the story and writing every spare second you get. When I get that, I don’t care what the genre is or whether it will sell and I’m just grateful! Which is why I’ll never make millions from my books as I don’t pat enough attention to the market.

      • Well, exactly, Debbie. But I guess I have a lot of ideas that inspire me and fire me up!

        There are also many genres selling that I couldn’t write well and wouldn’t want to spend my time on. I have read the occasional romance but writing it isn’t my thing. And as to books involving “mommy porn” — or vampires — or young wizards — or other profitable literary blip that zips through the reading public — I can’t do it and won’t.

        Still, I may as well choose to write MY most likely book (or series) to succeed and spend my time on that.

        Right now I am fired up about Hugh Howey’s “Wool” series. Just finishing Book #7. Great stories that hit that golden streak. Good writing + luck = success.

        Happy New Writing Year, all!

  14. I frankly don’t care what Amazon does as long as I can take advantage or adapt to what strategy Amazon implements. I agree with Russell that Amazon will push for the product that makes them most money. Although, free is a good thing for Indies, it may be pulled off overnight the moment Amazon decides that it served its purpose. They could charge a quarter to the Indie authors for every book offered for free, or charge a monthly fee for listing the books that don’t sell well or at all. As long as Amazon dominates the market, we play by its rules. The trick is find out what the rules are and improvise to take advantage of them.

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