From Mark Coker via The Smashwords Blog:
First the good news.
For indie authors, there’s never been a better time to self-publish an ebook. Thanks to an ever-growing global market for your ebooks, your books are couple clicks away from over one billion potential readers on smart phones, tablets and e-readers.
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Now the bad news.
Everything gets more difficult from here. You face an uphill battle. With a couple exceptions – namely Scribd and Oyster – most major ebook retailers have suffered anemic or declining sales over the last 12-18 months.
The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over. Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve heard a number of indie authors report that their sales at Amazon dropped significantly since July Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited (I might write about Kindle Unlimited in a future blog post). Some authors are considering quitting. It’s heartbreaking to hear this, but I’m not surprised either. When authors hit hard times, sometimes the reasons to quit seem to outnumber the reasons to power on. Often these voices come from friends and family who admire our authorship but question the financial sensibility of it all.
The writer’s life is not an easy one, especially when you’re measuring your success in dollars. If you’re relying on your earnings to put food on your family’s table, a career as an indie author feels all the more precarious.
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1. There’s a glut of high-quality ebooks
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing by self-publishing naysayers who criticize the indie ebook movement for causing the release of a “tsunami of drek” (actually, they use a more profane word than “drek”) that makes it difficult for readers to find the good books. Yes, indie publishing is enabling a tsunami of poor-quality books, but critics who fixate on drek are blinded to the bigger picture. Drek quickly becomes invisible because readers ignore or reject it. The other, more important side of this story is that self-publishing is unleashing a tsunami of high-quality works. When you view drek in the broader context, you realize that drek is irrelevant. In fact, drek is yin to quality’s yang. You must have one to have the other. Self-publishing platforms like Smashwords have transferred editorial curation from publishers to readers, and in the process has unleashed a greater quantity and diversity of high-quality content then ever possible before.
The biggest threat to every indie or traditionally-published author is the glut of high-quality low-cost works. The quality and potency of your competition has increased dramatically thanks to self-publishing, and the competition will grow stiffer from this day forward.
Ten years ago, publishers artificially constrained book supply by publishing a limited number of new titles each year, and by agents and publishers rejecting nearly everything that came in through the slush pile. There was an artificial scarcity of books. The supply was further constrained by the inability of physical brick and mortar bookstores to stock every title. Even big box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders could only stock a small fraction of the titles published by publishers each year, and as such they were forced to return slow-selling books to make room for new releases.
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3. The rate of transition from print books to ebooks is slowing
The early adopters for ebooks have adopted. The exponential growth in ebook sales over the last six years was driven by a number of factors, most notably a rapid transition from print reading to ebook reading, and the success of ebook retailers such as Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble. Today, ebooks probably account for between 30 to 35% of dollar sales for the US book market, with genre ebook fiction a bit higher and romance quite a bit higher. Since ebooks are priced lower than print, the 30-35% statistic understates the amount of reading that has moved to screens. Most likely (especially when you include free ebooks), screen reading in the ebook format probably accounts for around half or more of all book words read. But the rate of transition from print to ebooks is slowing. We’ve reached at state that might best be described as a temporary equilibrium. I think reading will continue to transition to screens, but at a much slower rate of transition than during the last six years. The slower rate of growth will therefore limit the number of new eyeballs available for the ever-growing supply of ebooks.
Link to the rest at The Smashwords Blog and thanks to Scath for the tip.