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The E-Publishing Revolution is Definitely Not Over (Regardless of What You’ve Heard)

11 January 2016

From agent Laurie McLean via Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

We’re honored this week to host literary agent Laurie McLean of the Fuse Literary Agency.

. . . .

Thanks, Anne, for once again sharing your audience with me for my annual predictions of the year ahead in publishing.

. . . .

 1) Ebook sales are NOT stagnating.

I’ve always been a firm believer that you can make numbers and statistics dance to any beat you play and I believe the Big Five are skewing these numbers with their newly won agency pricing models.

Last year I saw several of my clients’ debut novels come out with an ebook price that was higher than the print book price. Check it out on Amazon. I’m not kidding. That’s part of the “decline” scenario, because honestly who would not buy a hardcover print book if it was cheaper than a digital book. Most people would make that choice.

And because of this, ebook sales from traditional publishers large and small seem to be declining.

Once you add Amazon ebook sales into the calculation, however, it all falls apart. Unfortunately that is not what most reports have done. They only concentrated on traditional retail sales numbers from their usual cast of publishers. So you’re getting fed false numbers. Ebooks are healthy and should continue to be healthy throughout 2016 and beyond. They are here to stay.

Once ebook pricing stabilizes, because while I’m sure the traditional booksellers and publishers are trying to help their physical retail partners (aka bookstores) by increasing print sales, they will see that they went too far and the smart ones will adjust. At least that is my opinion.

. . . .

 3) Kindle Unlimited will continue to become a larger part of KDP Select author revenues.

Amazon is always fine-tuning the customer experience. It’s their obsession. And with KDP, authors are their customers too. When Kindle Unlimited disproportionately rewarded short-story-size books, causing a proliferation of 14 page erotic fiction and episodic novels where 14 books should really be counted as one, Amazon adjusted things.

Now they pay per page read and this upset a lot of writers who were trying to game the system. But my hybrid client-authors have seen a steady increase over time in their Kindle Unlimited subscription revenue and I believe this is going to keep growing.

. . . .

5) Midlist authors will be pushed to self-publish.

This is not really a prediction since it’s been going on for years now. But if you’re a debut author it’s worth noting that if your debut trilogy or series or even a stand-alone book does not reach a high altitude in sales within the first 6 months (and I’m being generous), you’re probably going to see your advances dwindle, your future contracted books put out in digital only, or canceled altogether, and you had better be building your author platform with social media and some self-published material to be ready for the inevitable slide.

I’m not being an alarmist. I’m just trying to get you prepared in case it happens, as it is happening more often these days and I believe that trend will continue.

. . . .

7) Apple’s iBookstore will make a run for market share against Amazon.

I’m not sure about this one, but if anyone can take aim at reducing Amazon’s market share in books, it would be either Apple or Google.

Google Play is not getting any traction, so I don’t see Google busting through. But Apple got serious with its operating system finally and included iBooks as a stand alone app instead of making the reader jump through hoops on iTunes (where half of them probably bought the new Adele song instead!)

If Apple could just swallow their ginormous pride for one second and make an Android app for iBooks, imagine what could happen. Apple…are you listening?

. . . .

10) There will be a breakout novel created specifically for the mobile environment.

I have long believed that a shorter, episodic story, filled with cliffhangers, is perfect for the millennial generation of readers. You can read a quick bit while waiting in line for your latte or Frappuccino at Starbucks. Or when you’re on the light rail to work. Or if you’re bored with your lunch companions.

I know of one company, Tapas Media, that will launch this spring, that is combining a sexy gaming interface with what they’re calling “bite-size” content. For authors this might mean you want to start imagining what a story could look like if it were optimized for this new environment. Charles Dickens would be pleased!

. . . .

13) Indie authors will continue to take market share from traditionally published authors.

If you’re a fan of Hugh Howey and Data Guy and their Author Earnings report (and I am!), you already know that the statistics being handed to us by publishers and traditional organizations like Pew, BookScan, and BISG are way skewed towards the old publishing paradigms.

Indie authors ARE grabbing market share from traditionally published authors and I believe that trend will continue. In fact I think there is a schism in the reading marketplace developing between those readers who will not blink an eye spending $35 for a hardcover first edition book from their favorite author and those who regularly balk at paying more than 99 cents for an indie author ebook—or even a multi-author anthology!

This is especially true in genres like romance, science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, thrillers and graphic novels/comics. The traditional book market is shrinking while the indie market is growing. It’s not difficult to see where the growth is coming from Indie books are eating away at big book publishers. This should become indisputably obvious this year.

But also remember…books and reading are only one facet of the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. It will be interesting to see how the publishing industry continues to evolve as it not only fights for profitability against books published outside of its purview, but also against movies, videogames, network television, streaming shows, and all the other entertainment items literally at consumer fingertips.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog and thanks to Deb for the tip.

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Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation, Ebooks, Self-Publishing

32 Comments to “The E-Publishing Revolution is Definitely Not Over (Regardless of What You’ve Heard)”

  1. I’m with her for everything but #10.

    Not the breakout bit, but the cliffhangers part. I hate cliffhangers. I’ve heard from many readers who’ve told me how much they hate cliffhangers.

  2. Everyone hates cliffhangers, but they work. I’ve written books both ways, and try to tie up loose ends except one big one now. Read through is always higher when I do that.

    • Not saying you’re wrong, because I do know they work exactly like that for many.

      But for me, I won’t put up with every book ending on a cliffhanger in a series. I’ll find something else to read that doesn’t make copious use of them.

      And to clarify, I don’t mean “not every loose end” tied up, but something huge happens and then, The End, stay tuned!

      Exception: If the series is complete, and I can get all the books, I’m a lot more forgiving of cliffhangers.

      • I totally understand that. I’ve had bad reviews and good reviews. The thing is, numbers prove the rule. For every reader who hates my style, ten more like it. It’s just how it is. I regret all who drop away, but I make my living from those who don’t.

        As I say though, not all my books are like that. I have four different series written in four different genres. Only half use the method.

        • I’d be afraid to even attempt a cliffhanger ending with my current readership. My heroine had an issue that made her decide to hold off beginning a new relationship, and that subplot decision resulted in cries of “cliffhanger” and losing some readers.

        • During KU 1.0, I broke up one of my longer novels into three separate books. In the description, I clearly stated that each “episode” ended in a cliffhanger, but that the whole trilogy could be read in the full novel. Interestingly, most of my sales came from the full novel, not the “episodes.” This tells me that people wanted a complete story, cliffhanger-free.

    • I usually do more of a tease about the next story rather than a cliffhanger. I like to wrap major things up but leave hints about what’s coming up next. Seems to work most of the time, but you can’t please everyone. 🙂

    • I think cliffhangers might be hated just because we’re scarred by the pre-indie years, or certain writers who are “not our b—.” We think we’ll be left hanging for years.

      I have wondered if cliffhangers would be more accepted in books if you let readers know right off the bat that the whole series is done, and you’ll release on a schedule, similar to a TV show. Everyone accepts a cliffhanger for a TV show because we know that it’ll be resolved next Friday.

      I don’t remember friends (or myself) being upset about cliffhangers in YA trilogies when, e.g., we saw all three of the “Final Friends Trilogy” books in the store. Then it was just a question of having the babysitting money to buy however many at once, and it would be “on us” versus the author if we were left in suspense.

  3. The most amazing thing is this article came from an agent. And no, I’m not slamming Laurie. I don’t agree with everything (like Scath, I’ve gotten complaints from readers about cliffhangers–loud, vocal ones), but I’m happy to see an agent publicly present a realistic view of the market.

    • Sounds like we’re reaching the point where any further denial will be clearly seen as Baghdad Bob territory. Anybody aiming to remain relevant has to accept reality and adjust to the new normal.

      If Agents want to remain relevant they, more that the IP portfolio-hogging tradpubs, need to fine tune and expand their role. Interesting to see some stepping up.

    • I don’t use cliffhangers, but got cliffhanger complaints about one of my series books because a romantic subplot wasn’t tied in a bow at the end of that book.

      All I could think was, “It’s a series. This isn’t the last book.”

  4. I think everyone hates cliffhangers because they work so well. They keep people engaged, talking, and anticipating the next installment. Rowling and Patterson spring to mind as effective users of cliffhangers in writing, and back when I used to watch it, Supernatural used to end each season in a cliffhanger.

    Don’t get me wrong; I complained about every final season episode of every Supernatural season finale, usually loudly and vocally, but I always still watched each season opener.

    • The Walking Dead almost lost me as a viewer in S.5 because of the cliffhangers.

      Okay, because not much seemed to happen most episodes, AND then something would only to end in a cliffhanger. Now, I wait until the season’s done before watching.

    • Since you used Supernatural as an example, and I don’t have one of my Dean, Sam and/or Castiel shirts on at the moment… 😆

      The folks at Supernatural do cliffhangers right. The main plot of the season is resolved, then a new, bigger problem blows up in the boys’ faces right at the end. There’s satisfaction along with a new dose of tension.

      Unfortunately, I see some writers stop the main story at the wrong point, aka plotus interruptus. (I’ve been guilty of this as well. It’s a learning experience.) It’s like if Tolkien stopped The Return of the King the middle of Gollum and Frodo’s fight in the cavern of Mount Doom, then had a whole new book about the final resolution.

      Then, there are other writers who juggle too much. Lost comes to mind. It had too many plot threads, none of which were resolved for years, therefore no short term pay-off for the viewer.

      The tension of a cliffhanger is great when used wisely, but there’s got to be something more to keep the reader/watcher coming back.

      • What Suzan said. I love “Supernatural” (and I can’t remember how to italicize stuff in the comments here, LOL).

        But since I don’t watch regular TV, I usually wait until a season’s done so I can binge watch (it’s how I reward myself for finishing a book).

        • Use one of these: and then one of these: , without all the spaces. Took me a long time to figure these sort of things out, as I’m used to using the [ ] brackets.

          Edited to add: Oh, HA! The it took out the spaces. Dang it. Okay. Use a to start, and add an / in front of the i inside of the arrows to end. Maybe that will work.

          Hm. For goodness sake. Use the upper symbols on the comma and period on your keyboard, combined with the letter i at the beginning, and a slash before the i between the symbols at the end.

          Geeze.

          But on the topic of cliffhangers, what readers hate is when they’re done wrong. Judging by what some writers are reporting with serials, readers like well-done cliffhangers just fine.

      • Exactly what Suzan said. I hate cliffhangers which I define as she did ” stop the main story at the wrong point, aka plotus interruptus” finishing up the book and adding a slight teaser to get you ready for the direction the next book will take is not a true cliffhanger.

        Once I get cheated by a cliffhanger I avoid that author like the plague even if all his other books were complete books and not part of a serial. If serials are clearly labeled as such or if the title at least ends with part whatever or episode something then I know it isn’t complete and can move on to something else.

  5. There’s cliffhangers and chapter hooks. I have a love/hate relationship with them both. The hook at the end of a chapter that makes me turn the page, only to go to a different POV always irritates me. The scarier the hook, the less I pay attention to the interim chapter/s. Sometimes I skip them entirely to get to the resolution.

    I like a proper set up for the next book, but serious cliffhangers when the next book hasn’t been published is frustrating. The epitome of it was an Amber book (Zelazny) that ended in mid-sentence! I still suffer from the trauma of it! 😉

  6. I HATE cliffhangers in media. I hated Lost, ditched Supernatural (and other shows) because of cliffhanger season endings, and I’ll be ditching Mark Cooper from my reading list, whether any particular book has cliffhangers or not.
    There are so many authors out there who can get the job done by the end of the book, I’ll read them instead.

    As a voracious reader, I want you to succeed, to put out lots of work. If the series isn’t finished when the book ends, tell me another story. I want to read your books, I already bought one, but FINISH what you started first.

  7. For me, the most interesting point is about iBooks. Currently, Apple won’t let authors upload our books directly unless we have an Apple computer. This discourages us from including them in promotions since we can’t instantly (almost) adjust prices as we can with Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc., nor can they contact us directly about whatever they’ve got going on. Why are they holding PC-using authors at arm’s length? This puts them on the second tier and discourages us from uploading to them right away. Not in their best interest.

    • On the iBooks point, Amazon knows Apple could challenge them if Apple decided to get serious. We get some benefit of competition even without competition (e.g. 70% royalty) as Amazon avoids drawing Apple’s attention to the fact there is a market ripe for ravaging.

      If Apple did decide to get serious? That would be fun to watch.

    • Apple/iBooks won’t become a threat to Amazon until they let people read on non-Apple devices.

      Even then, they will have a hard time (due to no kindle equivalent), but they will have a chance.

      • Apple has:
        •Tech savvy
        •The ability to make deals with big players (but let’s keep it legal, please)
        •The ability to serve small players
        •Direct sales experience
        •Experience in tracking customer histories
        •A rational accounting system
        •A worldwide platform
        •A huge install base
        •Name recognition

        To compete with Amazon, Apple needs:
        1) Platform agnostic direct uploading
        2) Platform agnostic stand-alone reading and storefront apps
        3) A robust and useful recommendation system

        Apple can implement 1 & 2 whenever they want, though 2 might require them to abandon the ban on in-app purchases for the Kindle app on iOS devices. 3 is the sticking point. Amazon is very, very good at algorithms and putting in front of customers things they have a true interest in buying. Apple has the money and people to develop competitive alternatives if they choose to, but it won’t be cheap or easy.

        To win over costumers, Apple will need to do something better than Amazon. Easier worldwide shopping would be a good selling point, but the current iTunes store is one of the most territorially locked down there is (thanks to deals with major studios).

      • I see no evidence Apple wants to be a threat to Amazon. Authors want it to be a threat, but Apple’s actions don’t support the idea.

    • I dislike many things, but I hate iTunes Producer and that whole process. It’s so cumbersome with having to have a Mac, download a program that take several steps, and errors that need NSA-like deciphering. What are they thinking?

  8. Ms McLean’s point #8 from the full article:
    “”
    8) Geographic boundaries for translated ebooks will disappear.

    This is already a thought in Amazon’s mind with English-language books. You can select a myriad of countries where your ebook can be sold through Amazon France or Germany or India or Brazil, etc. Now if they can only figure out how to do that with translated ebooks, we’re in for a revolution of another sort.
    “”

    Yes please. I live in Canada and can buy very, very few Japanese language ebooks. I buy print editions from Amazon.co.jp because it is much cheaper than special ordering through a local bookseller. Most of the time even the bookstore can’t get a copy as their distributors don’t carry the titles. My first half-dozen or so purchases I was charged an extra tariff fee. This is part of the tax treaties between Canada and Japan. If, for example, a bookstore has to pay a tariff to import a book for sale in Canada, then any individual costumer in Canada buying direct from Japan must pay the same tariff. These tariff fees were always automatically refunded within two or three days as Amazon.co.jp determined the goods were not available in Canada. After the first half-dozen or so times they haven’t charged the fee at all. I guess they’ve added a flag to products noting where they are available so they don’t have to process every order twice.

    But ebooks? Simply not available in the vast majority of cases. Those territorial walls are very robust for electronic distribution of traditional publisher wares. (There are a few firms tunneling through the wall. eBookJapan for example.)

  9. The thing I hate about cliffhangers, I mean the thing that makes my blood boil, that really puts me over the edge, that will be the death of me one day, is

  10. See what you’ve done? you’ve killed Hugh Howey, you cliffhanger swine! Shame, I say, shame on you!

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