Indie Bookstores

The Reading Renaissance

3 May 2012

From the New York Times Opinionator:

Satan in Seattle, as the walking wounded of the book business describe, continues to expand from the shores of Lake Union here, with nearly a dozen new office buildings housing the global nerve center of earth’s largest online retailer.

By contrast, a few miles away is lovely old Town Hall, a sanctuary for the written word. On any given night, hundreds of people show up to hear a novelist tell a story, a poet turn mush into sublime rhyme, an essayist make narrative sense of messy facts. Town Hall is one reason why the Northwest is known as a touring author’s paradise.

We hear that one culture must destroy the other. It’s inevitable: the books-to-the-barricades defenders of ideas printed on dead trees will lose all that they love to the soulless digital monolith on Lake Union, with its 164 million customers.

. . . .

But surprise: the apocalypse already came and went, and look who’s standing. One technology, the e-book, the biggest new invention in reading since Gutenberg cranked out a Bible with movable type, changed the world — most likely for better. We have more books, more readers, a bigger audience for words, on pixels or paper.

The problem, for those who are purely reactive, is that publishing as we know it will soon die. And so will bookstores that are no more nimble or creative than a socks ’n’ things in the mall.

. . . .

There are two big questions about the future of books and technology. One is: are people reading more and, by implication, buying more books? The answer is yes. In their annual report last August, the Association of American Publishers reported that overall revenues, and number of books sold in all formats, were up sizably in three years since 2008. Without e-books, the numbers would have been flat, or declined.

. . . .

Well then, what about the second question: the fate of the independent bookstores, those imperiled isles of words? The headline from a release by the American Booksellers Association during last year’s holiday buying season was telling: “Indies Defy Conventional Wisdom as Sales and Locations Continue to Increase.” The release quoted Oren Teicher, head of the association, as saying, “An array of factors are fueling the resurgence of independent bookstores.” Among those factors are sales of e-books by indies.

. . . .

If Amazon wasn’t inventing the future, somebody else would. And Bezos makes a good point in his annual shareholder letter when he notes that the Amazon Kindle e-book list is full of self-published authors represented by small presses. Many of those writers would never get their shot, defying publishing’s gatekeepers in New York, without the new format.

One author, A.K. Alexander, who wrote the thriller “Daddy’s Home,” says in Bezos’s note that she made more royalties in a month on her Kindle sales than she did in a year with traditional publishing.

Link to the rest at the New York Times Opinionator and thanks to Cheryl for the tip in her comment.

Passive Guy doesn’t know if he’s quite as optimistic about the future of indie bookstores, although he would like to be.

Built on Scarcity

18 March 2012

Another important essay from Kristine Kathryn Rusch provides a framework for understanding the clash between traditional publishing and self-publishers:

Traditional publishing, like network television, is built on scarcity.  In traditional publishing, “airtime” was shelf space. Only so many brick-and-mortar stores that carried books (of any type) existed. Those stores only had room for a certain amount of shelf space. Only a handful of books could fit face-out on those shelves. Several more could fit spine-out, but it’s harder to sell a book based on its spine than it is to sell a book based on the cover.

Because the shelf space is limited, traditional publishers only kept books with a fantastic sales record in print. The other books had a short shelf life before they were taken out of the stores and eventually out of print.

I called this the produce model, because I couldn’t think of any other way to express what was going on. Traditional publishers treated books like produce that would spoil because, in effect, sales do decline if a book has been out for a long time. (Sales don’t evaporate and in some cases, sales increase. But they will eventually plateau.)

. . . .

Amazon had unlimited shelf space—the abundance model, to use Kyncl’s term. If a book existed, that book was probably available on Amazon. Only readers weren’t used to buying over the internet, so they preferred brick-and-mortar stores.

As brick-and-mortar stores became scarce, readers went to Amazon (and and Barnes &—places that had books on shelves, and with a click of a button, those books were purchased and mailed to the customer). Amazon in particular encouraged this thinking by making its website user friendly, by reducing prices to nearly nothing, and by working very, very, very hard to make the entire experience consumer-friendly.

. . . .

Combining new and  used, like Powell’s and Amazon do, make it possible to order most books, in print or out of print.

Slowly, online book retailers were training the consumer to expect the abundance model.

But the traditional publishers still thought in terms of scarcity.

In fact, their entire business is built on it. The limited shelf space caused other issues. Over the years, traditional publishers had developed an arcane system of selling books. From returns (producing two books to sell one) to the distribution network (not selling directly to bookstores, but selling directly to distributors instead) had created a lot of unnecessary costs. (I explained some of this history in a previous post that you can access here.)

By the middle of the  previous decade, it cost at least $250,000 to publish a mid-list novel with a nice cover and an author advance of $10,000. At least $250,000, and often twice that amount. As in television, the cost of content was prohibitive.

. . . .

It is, in fact, the ultimate clash between scarcity thinking and abundance thinking. In abundance, you can toss anything into the mix, quantify its sales, and pick winners based on sheer numbers. In scarcity, you have to go with the best of what’s available, and hoping (praying) that you don’t lose too much money on everything else.

Everyone currently working in traditional publishing, from the publishers to the editors to the writers, learned the scarcity attitude. Everyone. That includes me. That includes any unpublished writer who tried to break in before 18 months ago. That includes agents. That includes book reviewers, copy editors, book editors, and the publishing executives.

Our attitudes got formed in a model based on limited shelf space and expensive production costs. On “gut” decisions instead of quantifiable decisions.

On the idea that rarity increases value.

Each book becomes precious. Each book needs time to produce. Each book must be perfect, because its debut on the world stage is brief, and its ability to capture an audience limited.

. . . .

In the world I grew up in, no reviewer would ever review a title more than six months old. What was the point? The book would be hard to find, and the reviewer would have wasted a lot of wordage (and column inches) on something that would only make his readers angry because they couldn’t find the book in question.

Now, since so many of us have our backlists up, book bloggers review titles as they find the titles. Just this week, bloggers reviewed books I’d written ten, twelve, and fifteen years ago. Other bloggers reviewed some short stories published in magazines five years ago and now available as e-books. In the past, those stories would have been forgotten. Now they’re being read—not by millions of readers, but by hundreds in the past six months alone.

. . . .

One way that [publishers are] reacting, for example, is attempting to limit writers. By making their writers sign non-compete clauses in contracts, traditional publishers are trying to recreate the scarcity model. Unfortunately, they can’t. They might make one particular writer’s work scarce, but they won’t make other work scarce.

In an abundance model, scarcity looks like a mistake. Consumers who expect everything they want at their virtual fingertips get angry when they can’t get something. We’re seeing that a lot with traditionally published bestsellers. For a while, traditional publishers tried to release the e-books six months after the print books. All that did was anger the consumer, who wanted their e-book now.

Traditional publishers thought scarcity—the lack of an e-book—would drive consumers to the hardcover. Instead, it made the consumers so mad that they actually wrote nasty online reviews of the books in question. Not a nasty review of a book’s content, mind you, but a nasty review of the book’s lack of availability.

Writers raised in traditional publishing make similar mistakes. In the scarcity model, having a publishing contract equals security. Traditional publishing contracts were (are) rare, and were (are) hard to come by, so a writer who had one had achieved something major. Writers who had more than one contract over the years had managed to prove themselves valuable. In a world of limited resources, when a major company spent those resources on a writer, that writer knew she had value.

That’s why writers saw publishing contracts as validation. And, as traditional publishers tossed books out into the produce heap, the writer had to prove her value over and over again. Because every traditional publisher relied on gut instinct as much as numbers (if not more than numbers, since numbers are so unreliable throughout all of traditional publishing), intangibles like a good review in a respected publication (like The New York Times Book Review) added value. Again, a good review in a respected publication was rare, scarce, something that didn’t happen often.

. . . .

All those questions writers ask about how to get noticed in this new world? Those questions come from someone raised in scarcity. Being noticed was important because your moment on that shelf was—by definition—short-lived.

Writers who understand the long tail know that the way to get more readers is to have more available product. Abundance works, even for the single entrepreneur.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Indies battle Amazon — by becoming publishers

3 January 2012

From Salon:

Of all the booksellers I’ve met over the years, no doubt the busiest is Mitchell Kaplan. In addition to overseeing Miami’s venerated Books & Books stores, Kaplan is a co-founder of the Miami Book Fair, a former president of the American Booksellers Association, and the most recent recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award. So it was pretty surprising to see Kaplan himself when I read at his flagship store in Coral Gables last month.

Even more striking was the book Kaplan giddily showed me: a new anthology of stories by South Florida writers called “Blue Christmas: Holidays Stories for the Rest of Us.” (As a former Miamian, I’d written a piece for the collection.)

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said, gazing at the deep-blue cover.

Kaplan is a guy who gets excited about all sorts of books. The difference, in this case, is that he published “Blue Christmas.” More precisely, his new imprint, B&B Press, released the book. It thus represents a heartening trend in the brave new world of publishing. Rather than trimming their sails, a number of independent booksellers are taking a page from Amazon by producing titles themselves.

. . . .

As publishers, indies enjoy a few distinct advantages over the competition. First, they can emphasize titles of local interest by local writers. Second, they can showcase the books in their shops. Third, because of advances in printing, they can bring books to market more quickly than traditional publishers. Just as important, when an independent bookstore sells a copy of one of their own titles, they collect all the profits, rather than a sliver. Consider it a poor man’s version of vertical integration.

Kaplan told me he hoped other bookstores would take up small-scale publishing. That’s already happening.

. . . .

The leap into publishing by indies can be seen as the literary equivalent of the locavore movement. It not only emphasizes local writers, and local subjects, but also asks residents to support a local business with their dollars.

Teter is under no illusion about the forces arrayed against independent bookstores, not the least of which is the rise of electronic books. But she, along with her compatriots, is cautiously optimistic that small-scale publishing can be part of the answer, by providing an alternative to traditional publishers and Amazon, which are increasingly focused on books they can turn into national bestsellers.

As Kaplan reminded me, the true value of a great independent bookstore resides in its connection to a particular community: “If someone loves our bookstore, has been coming in for years, understands what we’re trying to do, and you can put a great book in their hands that was published by our store, I mean, who’s going to say no to that?”

Link to the rest at Salon

Kindle Indie Books

17 September 2011

About a month ago, Amazon created Kindle Indie Books which Amazon describes as “a convenient way for readers to explore and browse for top selling, popular and high quality books from independent authors and publishers who publish using KDP. ”

How do you get your book on Kindle Indie?

How can I become a featured author?
Our editorial team selects authors to highlight in this area based on criteria that we believe will best serve the interests of Kindle readers. At this time, we do not accept submissions for this placement.

How can I have my books featured in the Kindle Indie Bookstore?
We use a combination of automated techniques and editorial activities to select books based on criteria that we believe will best serve the interest of Kindle readers. At this time, we do not support any specific requests for placement. The likelihood of appearing within the Kindle Indie Bookstore is higher for highly rated, popular and top selling books.

How often are the top selling books updated?
The top selling independently published books are located on the right side of the Kindle Indie Bookstore page and are updated hourly. Books that are featured in the top KDP genres are updated in real-time.

How many genres are featured in the Kindle Indie Bookstore?
Currently we feature books from 7 popular categories in the Kindle Indie Bookstore.

Why do you only feature a select number of genres in the Kindle Indie Bookstore?
We chose seven categories that our Kindle readers look at frequently. Periodically we will review our top selling categories and add to the Kindle Indie Bookstore so that readers can enjoy more variety of great indie books.

Here’s the FAQ Link

Not exactly a model of clarity, but promoting indie books in a separate location is a beneficial step. The Kindle Indie Books page rotates 4-5 authors, so if you’re featured, visitors may not see you. It also rotates the order in which various genres are shown.

In order to view all the different combinations of authors and genres, hold down your Shift key and click on the Reload button on your browser (the little arrow pointing in a circle) if you have a Windows computer. If you have a Mac, undoubtedly, it’s easier.

The page also has a Kindle Indie Books Bestseller List, Top-Rated Indie Books, New Indie Releases and several other indie promo features.

Perhaps Passive Guy has not been paying attention, but he hasn’t seen much about this. He’s going to figure out where to drop a link to it on The Passive Voice and suggests indie authors may want to do the same thing. The more traffic and sales Amazon sees coming through its indie portal, the more likely the company is to make the portal more prominent.



Source for Online Indie Bookstores and Book Recommendations

15 July 2011

Passive Guy was interested in the number and variety of ideas that appeared in response to yesterday’s How Do You Find Good, Reasonably-Priced Ebooks? post. One of the comments was from Damon Courtney who pointed to his new Pauper’s Book Club. Damon’s comment generated more discussion, including responses from a couple of people who indicated an interest in doing something similar.

Do you think it’s a good idea for PG to add an Indie Bookstore page here?

PG doesn’t visualize anything fancy – a listing/link to each bookstore and 3-4 lines describing it. The list might be grouped by genre or another reasonable organizing principle. If someone or several someones are already doing something like this, PG is happy to defer this exercise to them or include them in the links page.

The object is to start answering the question, How Do You Find Good, Reasonably-Priced Ebooks? in a better way. Thanks to all of you, this site receives more traffic than many indie/author/book websites and pointing visitors to good places to find and purchase books fits with what PG is trying to accomplish here.

PG has admitted he personally regards places like Kindleboards and Goodreads less than helpful. In his mind’s eye, he visualizes an online equivalent to a good physical indie bookstore where the offering is curated. He has no bias against computer curation if the algorithm works well.

Your thoughts? PG is particularly interested if someone else has already done this in a visible way because he’s not anxiously seeking another project at the moment.

Indie Authors + Indie Bookstore = Self-Pub Success

10 February 2011
Comments Off on Indie Authors + Indie Bookstore = Self-Pub Success

Blog post from Josie Leavitt, co-owner of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, about working with two local authors who self-pubbed in hard copy.  This approach doesn’t sound scalable, but more than one major author has started the big climb when indie bookstores start singing praises.


This past holiday season two of our bestsellers were self-published books. This was a HUGE surprise to me when I ran the numbers at the end of the year. I have had time now to ponder the reason for this and have several reasons that this happened.

– The books were actually good.

. . . .

– Both authors were relentless at getting excellent press about their books. They didn’t just get press once, they got it repeatedly.

. . . .

– The authors were good about checking in about stock levels. Normally, self-published authors can get a little overly aggressive about checking stock, but with these two books at the holidays, it was enormously helpfu

. . . .

– Both authors were very meticulous about record-keeping. This just makes my job easier. We try to keep up with receiving self-published books when they come, but so often the consignment issue precludes entering books into the inventory, so having another set of good records was vital. I know how many I’ve sold by the negative numbers listed for that book at the end of the day. Basically, I receive backwards and the authors do it the right way, so it works out.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly ShelfTalker

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