The sea-change—which is what shifting sands are, after all, a change brought by the sea—means different things for different parts of the [publishing] industry.
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The change is also great for self-published writers (indie writers) who do a print edition as well as an e-book edition. In fact, the news for those indie writers is fantastic. The news will have no impact at all on indie writers who do e-books only, except that it might convince them to start putting their titles into paper as well.
The change will have a leveling effect on books sold through traditional publishers. They’re probably not even aware that this change has occurred, and they certainly don’t know what it means for them. I only stumbled on this change through an odd set of circumstances that I’ll try to explain over the next few blog posts.
However, for the very big traditionally published writers, like James Patterson and Nora Roberts, this change will show up as a negative in their royalty statements. They will lose market share, and will not know why. In fact, they already are losing market share, and the smart ones are worried about it. That’s one of the reasons Patterson believes the entire industry is in trouble; until four years ago, if Patterson’s sales declined across the board, then industry sales were declining across the board. As I showed in part last week, that is no longer true.
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Most people in publishing work in a vacuum. Editors don’t know what’s going on in their own publishing house let alone what’s going on with their writers or book distributors or bookstores.
Writers don’t just work in a vacuum. I’m beginning to think that most writers are vacuum-sealed. They seem to believe that watching what other writers are doing is more important than learning anything about business, career management, copyright, or how the publishing industry is changing. (Think of it like this: writers are like cats. They’re more interested in sniffing the butt of the cat standing in front of them on the freeway of life than they are in the truck barreling down on them at sixty miles per hour.)
Actual publishers pay more attention to what’s going on than editors or agents because publishers, theoretically, should understand marketing and sales. They generally understand marketing and sales to chain bookstores, but little else.
Bookstores understand what’s happening in their stores or in their towns. They also know what’s being published (maybe), but they’re as different from each other as possible. And bookstores generally do not share information with each other about important things, like how to handle accounts or deal with distributors.
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What has changed is this: Bookstores now have access to all published print books, whether they come from Createspace or from a big traditional publisher. Bookstores didn’t have access to all published print books before.
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Booksellers no longer order ten copies of a book that they think might sell. They order one, and put it face-out on the shelf. When that book sells, they order another which arrives from the distributor within one or two days.
Booksellers are learning how to run a leaner business. This cuts down on big orders (and we’ll discuss the implications of that in future blogs), but it also cuts down on returns. Returns, which had stabilized at 50% or more, were by the end of 2012, down to 27%. That’s huge, people. That’s an amazing shift.
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It is now not only possible, but likely that an indie book with good word-of-mouth will sell as well or better than a book with the same word of mouth published by traditional publishers. Why? Because indie books won’t go out of print quickly. They don’t have limited press runs (see Dean’s post from last week), and they don’t have useless stock sitting in warehouses.
Indie writers, indie books, indie publishers now have the same access to bookstores that traditional publishers do.
The playing field has just leveled.