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Business Musings: Sustainability

10 December 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The big topic among successful indie writers in the last six months of 2017 is the possibility of burnout. Writers are slowly realizing that the pace they’ve maintained through the last few years isn’t sustainable.

Worse, it has become clear through data and anecdotal evidence that the more a writer produces, the more her income rises.

But that fact, coupled with the fact that incomes have fallen for indies in the past year or so, has given rise to something like panic among the successful indies. They’re having to work harder or just as hard to maintain an income that seemed to come easier in 2015.

And you know what? That’s normal.

I know, I know. You didn’t want to hear that. Because indie writers saw their incomes rise and rise and rise in the first three years of the gold rush. It seemed like every single thing the indie did increased her revenue.

And then, in 2016, those things didn’t work any more.

. . . .

I am also aware that some self-publishing venues, like All Romance eBooks went out of business, taking a lot of writers’ incomes with it. And other venues, like Smashwords, no longer attract new customers the way they used to.

I’m not talking about those changes, although they did have a major impact on a lot of writers’ careers. I’m talking about the changes in income to writers who were not rushing to every new way of doing something, writers who were not gaming algorithms, writers who were producing a lot, interacting professionally with their fans, and doing everything right.

Those writers received major rewards, both in sales and in income, in the early years of indie publishing. Those rewards have diminished, because we are entering into a mature market.

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Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing

22 Comments to “Business Musings: Sustainability”

  1. The more I talk to other Indie Authors the more I realize that the eBook sales are down across the board.
    Conspiracy Theory: the decrease in sales coincides with new contracts signed between Amazon and Big Pubs a few years back, Amazon accepting Agency Pricing. What if the contracts had a stipulation that Amazon will not advertise the Indie Authors? Like informing the book buyers that ‘you may enjoy this book as well,’ an Indie Author’s book perhaps.
    Well, let’s be thankful that Amazon pushed for Indie Authors eBooks years ago when they were trying to sell Kindles. It gave us a taste of how it should be, and from now on we’re on our own, and only the tough will continue.

    • Assuming Amazon were stupid or desperate enough to agree to that and put it in writing, it would be even more blatantly illegal than the publishers’ first attempt to fix prices. Governments take a dim view of any attempts by big companies to exclude new entrants from a market.

    • I don’t think the market is down at all. I don’t have any data (and you don’t either) but until Dataguy or someone can show us the market, anecdotal evidence is just that. I’ve had my best year ever and I know a half dozen other authors who can say the same.

    • Its not that the ebook market is down, its that there are more titles that readers are finding and buying. Total sales are up, but so is the amount of competition. And that second metric, competition, is rising at a higher rate than people shifting from pBooks to eBooks. That wasn’t the case in 2012.

      And when I say competition, I don’t mean that more people are self-publishing. Of course they are. I mean more people are self-publishing WELL. They are treating it like a business, getting better covers, getting more savvy at marketing, etc. So, there is more legitimate competition than there was in 2012-2014. And order of magnitude more.

      So, the market can increase overall, indies can be taking up a larger share of that market, AND individual author sales can be down, all at the same time. That’s exactly what KKR means by a “mature market.” In the past, more quality indie titles created a rising tide that lifted everyone up with it. The market is past that now. More titles won’t mean more buyers, at least, not at the same rate.

      • There’s another factor: ebooks don’t go out of print. That’s good for individual authors who can build a relatively stable income by growing their backlist, but it increases the number of choices in the total market. In addition, public domain classics (think Gutenberg) have become available at low prices. The effect is that the ebook supply tends to grow in a geometric progression. Add to that the increased rate of publication in our gatekeeperless world and you have a recipe for rapid dilution of the market for ebooks.

        Experience says that geometric progressions eventually become self-limiting, at least for bacteria and humans–computing capacity seems to be an exception–, but I have not figured out how that will work for ebooks.

  2. The ebook market is glutted with ebooks, it’s that simple. You can’t have years of authors putting out book after book after book, and not see effects of the increased supply. It’s a simple supply and demand problem.

  3. “You can’t have years of authors putting out book after book after book, and not see effects of the increased supply.”

    Sure you can. Been going on for centuries. Further, if it’s simply a matter of (not so simple) supply and demand, then the unlimited glut of eBooks should have reduced price to $0.00.


    • Not quite true. One of the things about paper books is that they cost money to store and they eventually fall apart, get lost, thrown in the trash, etc. None of these factors apply to ebooks.
      Furthermore, we are seeing a drastic increase in the number of titles put out, and, furthermore, the republishing of backlist and public domain titles in ebook format. Furthermore, as more and more people publish, the more potential there for customers to find whatever really catches their fancy instead of going “eh, this is close enough to what I really want to tide me over.”

      • “Not quite true. One of the things about paper books is that they cost money to store and they eventually fall apart, get lost, thrown in the trash, etc. None of these factors apply to ebooks.”

        Which would be a good reason publishers ditched good paper back then if I believed them able to do long term planning worth a damn.

        Take care

  4. The number of titles in the Kindle Store has risen from around 1.5m in May 2013 to around 7m now. The market has grown considerably since then, but not at the same pace as the amount of titles. Growing slower again are the opportunities for visibility creating all sorts of chokepoints – the real issue IMO, not the amount of titles. That doesn’t mean that sales are down across the board (they are not) but more that competition is intensifying and new pathways to readers have to be found.

  5. The old model was success via velocity. I think going forward it’s going to turn into an endurance event. Yes you’ll need a good back list for readers to find but you also will have to be able to stick it out long term and let your back list be found organically and grow your niche readership.
    I see a lot of ‘get rich quick’ writers giving up in the future and disappearing. It’s like the days of trad publishing, you needed the endurance to keep plugging along with submissions until something sticks; many didn’t have it.
    Personally, now that I have a reasonable list of titles, I’m slowing my pace to avoid burning out and letting the universe take its good old time finding me while keeping my social presence going. Marathon thinking, not 100 yard dash, I’ll rely on my day job to keep me alive while my books trudge along.

  6. A lot of truth here.

    I think its a combination of factors myself. The appetite of the KU machine has turned many authors into manufacturers. That cannot be denied. I see a lot of comments such as “My sales are down, but then I haven’t released a new book for six weeks.”

    I also think we’re being split into two camps. Where before it was Trad and Indie, its now KU and Wide. With the Wide group taking on the approach KKR is speaking to here. Some in the KU group will always say they intend to go wide as soon as the KU bubble pops. But as long as they keep feeding the beast, other than Amazon screwing up and slipping out of the sweet payout spot they have determined, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

    David mentioned the ever increasing number of titles. While I think that’s indeed a factor, does anybody worry about anything other than the top 100k? All the authors that jumped on the indie gold rush wagon and failed are not likely to return. They make up the majority of the phone book .I think we can write off a sizable chunk of that 7m+ number as dead weight.

    I think its the authors that are wide, who have taken the time to build their own audience, and produce quality books at a steady, but not unsustainable rate, that will be the ones on top in the next few years.

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