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Change Keeps Happening

27 August 2015

From Hugh Howey:

The revolution in the publishing industry has barely begun. That’s the takeaway this week, as a print-on-demand book becomes a #1 bestseller and the Big 5 move into Kindle Unlimited.

First, the children’s book that should be waking up major publishers in a major way. It’s called The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, and it was written and self-published by Carl-Johan Ehrlin. If you have kids, you should stop reading this and shoot over to Amazon right now to buy a copy. Using the psychology of suggestion and sleep-inducing language patterns, parents all over the world are discovering the book’s seemingly magical ability to zonk their kids out. No wonder the book has taken off.

It’s been a #1 overall bestseller on Amazon and B&N. And Publishers Weekly is now reporting on this story as the book has been snatched up in a 7-figure deal. The New York Times even had to change the rules of their children’s book bestseller list to exclude paperbacks, in order to make sure an indie book doesn’t do this again. So what exactly happened? Why is the publishing world freaking out over this? Well, it’s because this was thought impossible just a few weeks ago. But the nature of digital disruption is that the impossible becomes possible seemingly overnight.

When I toured the CreateSpace printing facility in 2011, I knew something crazy was happening. It wasn’t just the print process, which had been around a while. It was the way this printing facility was integrated into the Amazon retail machine, and the way CreateSpace maintained the startup vibe, able to pivot on a dime. Things were changing at the facility every day, even as freshly printed books zipped by on steel rollers. The paper stock was improving; the trim size options expanding; matte covers were being introduced; the ink used for the covers was improving; and even the way the books were packaged and handled was being tweaked. In the year it might take for a Big 5 print book to get to market, the POD industry will have revolutionized a dozen important techniques.

. . . .

The major publishers and the New York Times do not like this one bit. The Big 5 have shunned POD as a backup solution, refusing to give Amazon and Ingram PDFs so that these two companies can handle supply when that supply is outstripped by demand. This has been shameful when books attempt to go viral but can’t because of how slowly the Big 5 print and ship their wares.

. . . .

Make no mistake: Carl-Johan’s breakout success is a game-changer. Because the “digital” in digital disruption isn’t relegated to ebooks. When PDF files can be emailed, and books can be printed in minutes anywhere and then sold instantly everywhere, and then shipped same-day most places, the old chain of print-in-China and sell-in-B&N has been radically upturned. Not only is the publishing revolution moving into the print space, the indie revolution has as well. When we see authors, agents, and publishers warning writers of all the money they are leaving on the table by ignoring print, they are clinging to what they thought was their last redoubt. No longer.

. . . .

Speaking of the Big 5 selling stuff through Amazon, look who’s playing around in Kindle Unlimited right now. I love me some Vince Flynn. Imagine my surprise this shows up while I’m browsing KU. My first thought was that his estate must’ve gotten the rights back and self-pubbed the ebook edition, because the Big 5 do not participate in Kindle Unlimited. Guess they do now.

Link to the rest at The Wayfinder

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Amazon, Big Publishing, Ebook Subscriptions, Hugh Howey

42 Comments to “Change Keeps Happening”

  1. Smart Debut Author

    The print success of “Rabbit” pretty much demolishes traditional publishing’s fallback narrative — that self-published success is limited to ebooks only, and that if you want to succeed with a “real book” instead and be a top PRINT best seller, then you need Big Publishing’s distribution network and marketing expertise.


    That sad little fiction just went bye-bye.

    • To be fair, many, if not most, parents prefer print for kids’ books.

      • That’s sometimes because they’re good for chewing on when teething. You don’t want your favorite book to go back on the shelf? Fine, nom-nom-nom on its nice pasteboard pages, it’ll handle that. The kindle, however, goes away with the Evil Auntie.

  2. When we see authors, […] warning writers of all the money they are leaving on the table by ignoring print, they are clinging to what they thought was their last redoubt.

    Hunh. I wonder who he’s talking about there…

    • And this from the comments section:

      I wouldn’t sign with a publisher for the next few years, not until royalties on digital are 50% of net and terms of license are a hard 5-7 years. Those changes are coming. That’s why anyone doing a deal during this transition is making a huge mistake. It’s also why publishers are gleefully doing 10+ book deals with any big name they can, so they can lock down the 25% of net and terms of copyright. Those authors are getting screwed today by tomorrow’s standards.

      (ETA: That was Howey in the comments, to give fair attribution.)

  3. So Big Pub is part of Kindle Unlimited now?

    WOW. Things are certainly going to get interesting. Do they get paid per pages read or paid their usual royalty?

    I wonder which is more profitable for them.

    • More importantly, will they be paying the author for any of those pages read? Or is this one of those loopholes in the contracts like deep-discount, where the author makes little or nothing off it?

      • @ Allen F

        Uh, anybody care to take bets on how this plays out, royalty-wise?

        • Look for a KU3 in a few months, though as Chris below brought up, “One person on the OP observed that the ebook is apparently not exclusive to KU.” so does that mean a ‘special deal’ that trad pubs can do that self pub can’t — or is Amazon getting ready to drop the ‘exclusive’ bit?

          • That makes sense, this time the Publishers had the upper hand and Amazon had to accept the reality of non-exclusivity.

            • Only if Amazon actually thought it ‘needed’ the pig-five ebooks in KU. I have this funny feeling something else will be revealed sometime soon … 😉

    • One person on the OP observed that the ebook is apparently not exclusive to KU.

  4. “The New York Times even had to change the rules of their children’s book bestseller list to exclude paperbacks, in order to make sure an indie book doesn’t do this again. ”

    Oh, but they don’t have an agenda. Nope. Not at all.

    The bestseller list should be THE bestsellers. Not the approved bestsellers. Let the public know what is really moving in children’s books, no matter the source.

    • I am feeling mischievous, so I’m hoping some day soon an indie has a bestseller in *hardcover*. I just want to see how the NYT will move the goalposts then.

    • The New York Times Bestseller lists are not about books. They are devices to sell ad space. Like all the reporting in the Times, its relation to the truth is tangential and accidental.

  5. Yo, Big Pub,

    Any spare change, man?

  6. I find it odd that Howey is cheering the Vince Flynn thing. The book is not exclusive to KU, so Amazon is willing to give TradPubs an advantage over indies, while stripping indies of the advantages of KU–discoverability, borrows. The money KU gives to the Big 5 will come out of someone else’s pocket. And that pocket will belong to the indies.

    • That does seem unfair. The same rules for KU should apply to all its participants. Exclusivity of the e-version should be required for all, including trad, or the exclusivity rule should be abolished.

      • It’s good for readers to have a greater selection. But Indies will have a harder time of it. And I doubt the exclusivity rule would be abolished. Indies don’t have the power to force such a change. And “unfair” has nothing to do with it. It’s business.

        The question is what will happen to the KU pot. It will only grow if KU gets more subscribers. The more Big 5 books are in KU, the smaller the indie share of that pot will be.

        • Assuming they aren’t getting paid the same as a sale to sweeten the deal.

          • You could just as easily assume that Amazon hasn’t detected the non-exclusive nature of the title.

            Perhaps somebody should send them an email.

          • Some of us are already getting more for a borrow than a sale under the KU2 pay structure. I’m getting more for a full read-through for even my $4.99 book. At prices that run up to $14.99 that would be unlikely, but no one seems to know for sure what trads get paid for those high-priced sales (or be willing to say).

    • The money KU gives to the Big 5 will come out of someone else’s pocket. And that pocket will belong to the indies.

      When I come to expect the same commercial treatment from Amazon that Random House gets, I will carefully inspect the sugar cubes. Never could trust rabbits serving tea.

    • I’m rooting for the health of publishing, not the health of indies. Our competition is all the other things people can do with their time and money. The Big 5 are harming the growth of reading with their actions. I hope they get it together and get in the game, so we can double the number of books read per year. Or triple them. Or go 10X.

  7. Um, it seems like rather a giant leap to look at one non-exclusive KU book by one deceased author and declare that “the Big 5” are moving into Kindle Unlimited. Okay, two books: according to Mr. Flynn’s Amazon author page, 2 of his 22 Kindle titles are enrolled.

    This doesn’t exactly constitute a flood of trad-pub material being moved into KU.

    • Change starts somewhere…

    • It is a little strange…out of 1,927 Atria Books e-books, 2 (Flynn) are in KU. Out of 8,952 Simon & Schuster e-books, 1 is in KU (The Me Myth.) Looks more like an anomaly to me.

      • Or a testing of the waters by Amazon …

        • Looks like you’re right – there’s now a rotating ad for KU on the Kindle Books home page, “Now Available Best-selling Titles by Vince Flynn.”

          • Yup. S&S provides a couple ebooks, Amazon provides coop.

            The publishers that partner with the #1 seller of books will . . . probably sell more books.

    • I think this is a trial balloon for Simon and Schuster. They seem more willing to try new outlets than some of the other BPH. In addition, at least some of what they do may be intended to put them in the best possible shape for a potential takeover/merger in the next few years.

    • Unfortunately, there will be no more new Vince Flynn books. That means it’s easier for the backlist to slide into obscurity since new rleases will not be prompting interest in the backlist. Let’s call that a closed backlist

      For a closed backlist, KU might be perfect. A selection of books on KU could make money and send new fans to KDP to purchase books not on KU.

  8. If Big-5 start lending their books exclusively or not, it changes the market, more competition. Of course the borrowing prices could be much higher, as the Trad-Pubs will not want to cannibalize their book sales by offering cheap borrowing. Let’s see how this will play out.

    • Borrowing prices to whom? The consumer? Unlikely. The payout to tradpub may be different.

    • I’m just wondering if we’ll ever know. Neither side will find it necessary to explain the terms of their agreement to indies.

    • It’s much more likely that publishers use KU the way movie studios use Netflix — backlist, windowing titles, using it selectively to boost interest in a series, etc. KU is not going to end single ebook purchasing any more than Netflix made on-demand purchasing of movies go away. I’d use KU as well if I could do it non-exclusively for certain titles, just as traditional publishers are already starting to use it.

      In fact, Amazon has already previewed this future. They do both unlimited movie access for certain titles with Amazon Prime but still allow the consumer to purchase on-demand movies one at a time. I do both, as I’m sure most people do.

      Some of the wild predictions people are making about how ebook subscription services like KU are going to change everything remind me of the wild predictions people made four or five years ago when they said traditional publishing would be gone in a couple years. Um, no.

  9. Almost all of Kensington’s titles have been in KU for a while, non-exclusive. Here’s my backlist title – http://www.amazon.com/Passionate-Zebra-Debut-Anthea-Lawson-ebook/dp/B0041OT994/

    For those who don’t know, Kensington is a traditional mid-sized publisher specializing in romance & genre fiction, based out of NY.

    • Good for Kensington! After the Scribd thing, KU needs to figure out how to aggressively rule in romance and steal those subscribers. I’m a KU subscriber, so I want lots of SF and romance and thriller/mystery options–my fave genres.

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