Hugh Howey's Blog
September 18, 2014
Very cool announcement from Nook Press this week about a partnership with The Bookseller in the UK to highlight 10 new self-published titles a month. The titles will be featured in The Booksellers We Love This Book magazine, and one would assume online at the Nook store as well. Kinda like the editors’ picks you see at other outlets, but only for indies. Targeted emails will be sent out as well, which many authors have found to be the most effective marketing tool.
I can’t imagine anyone scoffing at this, though some will probably look for ways to be cynical. Not me. This is a major development for readers and writers alike. Stigmas are falling; self-publishing is now seen not only as viable but in many ways superior to any other path to publication, especially for authors just getting their start. If your goal is to publish with a major house one day, self-publishing is a great way to find your voice and your audience, to hone your craft, and to prove your mettle. It is no longer a death knell for aspiring writers. That’s a major change in this industry, and it happened fast.
Discoverability, of course, is still the greatest struggle any new writer faces, and this is true of all authors, however they publish. I’ve watched brilliant debut works languish as a bookseller and more recently as a reader and industry observer. But Nook Press and The Bookseller are showing a commitment to coming up with more ways to hook up great books with great readers, to get authors discovered, and to give more writers a chance of breaking out. Which is more of what this industry needs.
And I’ve added it to my The Tankers are Turning post about all the positive developments being made by traditional publishers and outlets.
September 17, 2014
Ready for some cardio? Let’s talk exclusivity.
Amazon has long made exclusivity a major part of their publishing campaign. With the introduction of KDP Select in late 2011, Amazon began offering merchandising opportunities to authors who published on Amazon and no where else. This has always been a controversial and unpopular move. The #1 decision many authors face today is not whether to go traditional or self, but whether to go KDP Select or not.
The first advantage KDP Select offered was the 5 “free days” per 90 day Select period. These free days were golden tickets for a while, and many authors’ careers took off by taking advantage of the program. KDP Select also meant inclusion in the Kindle Lending Library, where Amazon Prime members get to select one free ebook per month. Self-published authors have been paid out of a pool of funds, with a historical average of around $2.16 per borrow, while traditionally published ebooks have received the full sales commission for every download. So began the divisions that would cause rancor among self-published authors.
The controversy really lit up with the introduction of Kindle Unlimited. Those in KDP Select (exclusive to Amazon) were automatically included. Reports have been very mixed, but many who aren’t in Select say their sales have gone down as readers enjoy the buffet-style unlimited reading. Those in KDP Select (and by extension in Kindle Unlimited) largely report this as a boom time, with sales and borrows combined more than making up for the earnings lost by pulling out of other outlets.
The greatest controversy, perhaps, has been the limited-time trial of Kindle Unlimited by top-selling authors, who have been allowed into KU without going exclusive. I’m one of those authors. This is not a lifetime exclusion; it is very much limited, just to entice those who make a lot of income elsewhere to see the potential benefits of exclusivity. I think Amazon knew that none of us would dare try this program without seeing for ourselves, in our own dashboards, just how it would play out.
Now that a couple of months have gone by, and I’ve been able to watch my dashboard closely, I can say for certain that KU has more than covered the readership I gain from the iBookstore, Nook, and Kobo combined. That is: I would have more readers by being exclusive to Amazon than I would by having my ebooks everywhere else. I might be earning slightly less money, but with considerably more fanbase. This is the conundrum we face as we weigh whether or not to go exclusive, a decision I’m faced with right now as my limited time trial expires.
Another author posed the question of exclusivity like this: Would you rather sell 2,000,000 books to readers in Indiana, or 200,000 books around the globe? If the goal is to have your stories read, and exclusivity furthers that goal, then it isn’t a narrowing of readership.
This is further complicated by the fact that every retailer is in every home and practically on every device. You can read ebooks on most anything that has a screen. There are apps for reading ebooks on rival devices, which means publishing with Barnes & Noble places you on every Apple device and every Android device. For the exceptions to this rule, all my works are DRM-free and can be converted to be read anywhere. Is exclusivity really about limiting reader access when access is practically unfettered?
Another way to ask the question is this: What do we make of an author who only publishes with Simon & Schuster? Are they exclusive? Absolutely. But their books are available in many places. (Except when S&S is in a dispute with B&N, in which case you’ll have to shop elsewhere.) Who you publish with is limiting, though you don’t see authors urging each other to publish a book with every major publisher, “just in case.”
In 2012, I blogged about my results after pulling out of KDP Select. I was getting a handful of emails a month from readers who wanted to know why they couldn’t find my ebooks on the Nook store or the iBookstore. Feeling bad for these readers, and anxious about whether or not I was limiting my readership, I backed out of Select, even though it had helped launch my career. In May of 2012, I saw early signs that the readers I would gain elsewhere would not make up for the readers I would lose by the loss of KDP Select visibility. I’ve seen nothing to counter that observation since. I lose readers by spreading my ebooks far and wide. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s true.
It might also be true that spreading our ebooks everywhere hinders retailer competition rather than increasing it. After all, the indiscrimination of signing up for all services means they don’t have to compete for our business. They are guaranteed to have it by those who urge us to “publish everywhere, no matter what.” I’ve blogged about this before, and also how it takes getting used to the idea that we can move our eggs from basket to basket at will. None of these decisions are final. The KDP Select period is a mere 90 days. How do you think publishers would treat their authors if they could move to another publishing house every 90 days? How would digital retailers treat us if we exercised this right more often? It seems clear to me that the lack of discrimination harms us more than it helps us.
Again, since May of 2012, my other outlets combined have failed to make up the difference in readers lost from borrows on Amazon. Part of this is certainly my focus on Amazon as my go-to store for customers. Their affiliate program, the ease and familiarity of their site, and the huge penetration of their devices and apps, made it my go-to outlet when someone needs a link to one of my books. Success feeds into more success. Just as major publishers focus on their largest sales accounts, I did the same with Amazon. Do I owe them my career? Or do they owe their lead among ebook retailers to those of us who concentrated our efforts on their sales platform? Or did their early advantages lead to that concentration, which led to our success, so on and so on?
I have a lot of friends who have done well with publishing, and we debate these chicken-and-egg questions. I personally see the joint success as a symbiotic and friendly amplification of good will and hard work. Amazon gave us opportunities; we seized them; we both benefited. Amazon is not my friend, but they’ve been an honest and fair business partner. And the best part is that they don’t own my self-published works. I do. As I stated above, no decision like this is permanent—it’s only for 90 days at a time. Compare that to publishing with a major house like Hachette, where you will be subject to the whims of its management for the rest of your life (and your children’s lives!)
Just this week, another salvo was fired in the fight to gain exclusivity. It is the recently announced KDP All-Stars, open to authors enrolled in KDP Select. This is a bounty program for the most-read authors and titles by measure of total sales, plus the borrows from the Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited. The bonuses are significant. And they are monthly. In the self-publishing community (and in the first sentence of this paragraph) you will hear authors interpreting this from our perspective, as a lure to draw us in. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a way of harnessing authors as a sales and marketing force.
The result of this bounty program will be more authors urging their readers to check out their books on the Lending Library and in Kindle Unlimited, to give the program a month trial, to read for free. For 100 or so authors a month, the bonuses will help even the playing field between the roughly $1.70 / month paid per borrow (post-KU) and the full commission given to traditionally published ebooks. The program works similar to ACX’s bounty program which rewards getting users to sign up for Audible. Again, it turns us into an eager and enthusiastic sales force, something I’ve suggested publishing houses should do more often.
Of course, some already see this bounty program as an unfair system by which the successful get even more rewards while the struggling author gets nothing. But following the bestseller lists, I know that those 100 authors per month will change, and more and more authors like Wayne Stinnett will find themselves with a nice bonus and a reason to write more, publish more, and promote their works on Amazon.
As the time ticks down on my trial run in KU, which way am I leaning? Toward exclusivity. A larger readership is only one advantage. It’ll also be easier to keep my works up to date by only having to upload to a single site. Another bonus will be to concentrate my sales into a single set of bestseller lists. One of the drawbacks of being published everywhere is the reduction of visibility, ironically. The more sales are concentrated in a single outlet, the higher your ebooks will be on bestseller lists, and the more prominent to casual browsers. Reviews will also be more concentrated. Like with the publishing house analogy earlier, all efforts are channeled into the biggest sales outlet.
What are the drawbacks? You can’t make the NYT or USA Today lists if you are exclusive. But that just highlights how un-linked those lists are to actual sales—and I haven’t seen that making those lists increases sales so much as gives a rough indication of past sales. Another drawback is that I will lose some readers who only shop elsewhere, but that leads back to the question of whether it’s better to have fewer readers across more outlets or more readers in a single outlet. If you were offered an end-cap in every airport bookstore for a year, where they would display all of your works, would you pull your titles from all other outlets? I would. That visibility would be incredible.
That leaves the biggest complaint I’ve seen about exclusivity, which is that retailers will go out of business, and then whoever is left will destroy us and take all our shiny things away. I don’t understand this argument. Digital baskets are too easy to weave, and retailers like Apple and Google are not in danger of disappearing, ever. As I write about here, again, the lack of exclusivity is what hampers competition. When an author only publishes with Harper Collins, she doesn’t worry that Penguin Random House will go out of business. She assumes they’ll remain competitive to draw in other authors. Perhaps her next work as well. It’s really useful to imagine a world where traditionally published ebooks could be moved to another house every 90 days. Does anyone really think publishers would offer worse treatment in such a world?
The reason I’m blogging about this is because it isn’t easy. The results of my years of experimentation and rumination are counterintuitive. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with where the data has led me, but it’s impossible to dispute my results. I have another month to watch my dashboard, see how Amazon is going to fund the KOLL/KU account, and then it’s all or nothing. I don’t know if my thinking out loud helps anyone else, but that’s my hope. It certainly helps me to write it all out, the pros as well as the cons. A lot of authors are facing the same conundrums. These decisions only get easier by sharing.
September 16, 2014
Harper Collins is employing a new watermarking DRM scheme, so they can tell where their pirated e-books are being sourced from. There are so many levels of dumb and brilliant here that it’s impossible to make a judgement, not without knowing the motivations of those involved.
If the idea is to actually stop piracy, the program is dumb as a bag of rocks with chains wrapped around it held fast by a bevy of padlocks. This won’t stop piracy. And it isn’t like piracy is even a concern. The music industry learned this (mostly and eventually). It takes a few clicks to stirp an ebook of its DRM. It’ll probably take an extra click or two to get rid of the watermark. Really, the only way to make a tamper-proof watermark would be to alter the formatting or content slightly for every outlet you upload to.
So how could this program be brilliant? Well, if it’s a scheme by the DRM manufacturer to make millions of dollars by selling snake oil to fearful publishers, it’s ingenious. I would think the engineers behind this are savvy enough to know it won’t stop the piracy, and they are probably savvy enough to know that piracy has almost no effect on ebook sales (in fact, our July AE report suggests that removing DRM might increase ebook sales. Studies in the music industry have shown the same effect And in traditional publishing, Tor has seen no detriment to going DRM-free).
Another way this program could be brilliant (though I fear no publisher is clever enough to think of this, and I’m probably giving them ideas) is to wage a fruitless legal battle with certain *cough* Amazon *cough* retailers. DRM removal on ebooks is a cinch. Buying ebooks on Amazon is a cinch. There’s a good chance that many of the pirated works are coming from Amazon sales. Perhaps publishers want a way to point back to the source and threaten legal action on the retailer, rather than tracking down the individuals who are doing the actual pirating.
Otherwise, what do publishers hope to gain with this program, other than annoy their paying customers who get locked into a single device? Let’s say they know a pirated ebook started with a purchase at Amazon. What then? Ask them to beef up their proprietary DRM? If Apple can’t keep their devices from being jailbroken (often on the day of release and with very smart people at Apple’s disposal), what hope does ebook DRM have? None.
To get around the unavailability of Harry Potter ebooks, fans took the time to go through the print books and TYPE THE WHOLE DAMN THINGS OUT. And then they uploaded these hand-made ebooks to warez sites. Publishers only lose money by fighting the needs and wishes of their paying customers. And their efforts don’t impact the people who refuse to support artists and publishers, anyway. There are hoarders out there who amass gigabytes of ebooks without any plan to read them, and these aren’t lost sales. It’s just a weird psychological dysfunction. Publishers should learn to ignore it and to embrace DRM-free media.
I gave a talk at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory last week, and one of the questions that came up during the Q&A was whether I’m a pessimist or an optimist. The second part of the question was if I thought the world I depict in WOOL has any chance of coming to fruition.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard a variant of this question. Often it’s as blunt as: “Why do you write such depressing stories? You seem like such a happy guy!”
I believe there’s a fine balance between begging for a better future and also being thankful for the progress of the past. If you ask me, the world is getting measurably better for the vast majority of people year after year. I think Steven Pinker’s work on this topic covers it best, especially his excellent Better Angels of our Nature. What’s important, in my view, is to pause in our protestations now and then and give homage to the progress others have made, to recognize the change happening around us before we dust ourselves off and demand one more concession.
This is true of social, ethical, and political progress. But it applies to less important things as well, like book publishing.
Those of us who self-publish are nimble. We can pivot on a dime and publish at the drop of one. If we have an idea, we can implement it the same day, see how it works, share our results, and at the same time learn from others. Not even Amazon moves fast enough for us. We often complain about how long it takes the ‘Zon to implement ideas. To the five major New York publishers, of course, Amazon’s advances must seem like the blitzkrieg.
If the five major New York publishers are like oil tankers, then Amazon is a destroyer, and we are erratic (and possibly annoying) jetskis. We are impatient for progress much as revolutionaries (and visionaries) in other fields often are. But I think it’s important to remember that there are visionaries on the decks of those other ships as well. A lot of smart people see where we need to go. Some of them have even turned over the wheel. It just takes longer for these behemoths to bend their wake.
Before I list a handful of the signs of progress I’ve seen the past year or so, I want to head off the cries of “but they have this and this to do.” Of course they have a lot to catch up on. That will almost certainly always be the case. We race rings around these lumbering craft, but let’s be aware of progress made. Let’s even cheer them on now and then. Stuff I’ve seen in the past year:
After years of wondering why publishers don’t sell direct in order to gather customer data and avoid issues with retail partners, Harper Collins launched their own retail site.
Something I hesitated to suggest as a distant possibility came to fruition much earlier than expected (last year in fact) when Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint began celebrating and hyping a number of its authors as “Indies.” Rather than be cynical about this, I see it as a positive sign that the stigma of self-publishing has plummeted at major publishing houses. More than plummet, the notion of self-publishers as something to aspire to has become a reality.
Publishers are starting to experiment with reasonable ebook prices. Many of the top-selling traditionally published ebooks this year were in the $4.99 range, including John Green’s excellent The Fault in our Stars. (Now back up to $7+, but it was at $4.99 for most of this year.)
Backlist titles are also becoming more affordable. I’m buying traditionally published ebooks more often, as the number that I see priced above $8.99 are becoming fewer and fewer.
At least three publishers are rumored to be working on moving their operations out of the most expensive real estate in one of the priciest cities in the world.
A few publishers are experimenting with subscription services on a limited basis.
Random House launched a portal for its authors that in some ways is superior to anything offered by digital retailers. The portal shows sales, foreign rights acquisitions, royalty statements, and includes marketing tip videos.
Random House (and I believe others) have worked on creating communities among their authors, including forums where authors can meet and share advice. Tapping into authors as a resource is a very positive sign from the world’s largest publisher.
Release schedules are picking up, with books and sequels coming out in the same calendar year. The hesitation to publish two books by the same author in a 12-month span has rapidly deteriorated.
Publishers (following Baen’s 2008 experiments) have worked on ways of crowdsourcing the slush pile and opening themselves to general un-agented submissions.
More digital-first imprints are giving a wider range of authors a chance to work with a publisher, build a readership, and hone their craft.
On the contract side, my agent has seen progress on a number of fronts, including the openness to strike non-compete clauses, better thresholds for reversion, a little movement on the deep discount royalty rate, and other positive signs that show self-publishing is having an impact as a competitive route to publication.
Not quite publisher-directed, but there were indie winners at both the Rita’s and the Hugo’s this year. And several conventions saw modest progress in becoming more inclusive to self-published authors.
There are certainly areas of improvement that I’m leaving out. Make a note in the comments, and I’ll add them to the list. And again, this is a break from pointing out all the places where further progress can be made (even refinements to the items listed above). No doubt there are plenty. But the tankers are turning. We’re just zipping around too fast to notice most of the time.
September 15, 2014
David Streitfeld of the New York Times has now cemented himself as the blabbering mouthpiece for the New York publishing cartel, and while he is making a fool of himself for those in the know, he is a dangerous man for the impression he makes on his unsuspecting readers.
(I should point out here that I’m a 7-day-a-week home delivery subscriber to the New York Times. I start every day by reading the physical paper. I love it. But they do make occasional hiring mistakes.)
A dishonest man with access to a pulpit is like a poisoner with access to a well. David Streitfeld is a dishonest man. He is a reporter with an agenda. A good case in point is this head-scratcher: Just one summer ago, David made reference to Orwell’s well-known disdain for cheap paperbacks to draw a comparison to Amazon’s fight for lower ebook prices. A year later, the same David Streitfeld claimed that Orwell was a fan of cheap paperbacks. What changed?
What changed is that Amazon used the same Orwellian quote in proper context, just as David did a year ago, but we all know that Amazon simply can’t be right about anything. And so enterprising Amazon-bashers reframed a partial quote from Orwell in an attempt to have the deceased man stand for the opposite of his opinion, in an exercise as disgusting as it was Orwellianly ironic.
There’s also this gem of a piece which ran the day before Douglas Preston and company paid over $100,000 for an ad in the New York Times. It states one side of this debate (much as Douglas Preston has been doing) and serves as an advertising twofer. It’s not reporting; it’s shilling. One highlight is its dismissal of a petition calling on Hachette to negotiate in good faith, which garnered over 8,000 signatures in mere weeks, by comparing it to a year-old petition calling for the protection of whales which drew over 200,000 signatures.
In what has become known as “Whale math,” the opinion of 900 authors is worth a fawning article (complete with Douglas Preston hanging out by his writing shack on his 300 acre summer estate), while the opinion of 8,000+ authors is meaningless . . . because far more people care about saving whales.
When I read articles like these in my beloved New York Times, I worry for their reputation. I wonder if I should write a letter to their board expressing my concern. We obviously have a reporter here in the pocket of monied interests, one who can’t even agree with himself year to year, and one who works in deliberate and bizarre ways to dismiss one entire side of the debate.
Let’s look at all that David Streitfeld gets wrong or deliberately misrepresents so we fully understand just how either dishonest or ignorant he is being about this Amazon / Hachette dispute:
After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry.
Largely cut off? If I go to Amazon right now, all of Hachette’s books are available for purchase. The only books I can’t get are the ones that aren’t even out yet. Amazon removed pre-order buttons from books it may not have the ability to sell once they release. There is no “largely cut off” here. None at all. But readers may suspect this is the case if all they hear is David Streitfeld’s propaganda.
Check out this doozy:
In the Harris Poll of corporate reputations, [Amazon] once again took top honors this year. But that prestige is taking a bit of a beating as the fight with Hachette drags on.
So, because of Amazon’s actions, they have fallen from first place to . . . first place? Where is David’s fact to buttress his opinion of a beating? Reporting that Amazon took top honors in a poll of corporate reputations, and then saying that this reputation is taking a battering without referencing anything at all, is worse reporting than you’ll find on my stupid little blog. David, your board should be ashamed of you.
The entire article, in fact, is a dishonest and forceful echoing of Preston’s letter, replete with threats of growing discord and plummeting prestige. While the letter to the board members will likely do nothing, Streitfeld’s salvo is another loud boom in the PR war where those with microphones get amplified and those with mere votes and voices are muted.
David points out that:
Anyone contemplating ordering his latest novel, “The Lost Island,” written with Lincoln Child, is warned it might take as long as three weeks to arrive. That, as Amazon and its customers know, might as well be forever.
Without mentioning the fact that this delay is due to Hachette’s shipping inefficiencies. Why should Amazon sell pre-orders for books when it has no lasting contract with Hachette? Why should it stock predictive quantities of their titles in warehouses when it may not be able to sell that stock in the near future?
Douglas Preston gets this wrong as well. In this latest letter to board members, he says that Amazon could employ some negotiation tool that does not impact authors. I’d love to hear his ideas. Or at least one idea. How can Amazon hurt Hachette without hurting its authors? Impacting sales is going to impact the 15% of that money that trickles its way down to the writer.
The reasonable move from Amazon would have been to stop carrying Hachette’s titles months ago until Hachette began negotiating in good faith. Hachette went months without responding to Amazon while their contract ticked down and expired. Amazon’s solution to removing authors from harm was to fund a pool to make their royalties whole until the dispute is settled. They’ve made three such offers, and Hachette hasn’t so much as countered a single one. The cries of “disingenuous” could be tested by calling Amazon’s bluff or making a counter offer that helps the authors while hurting Amazon. But no one has suggested this other than those of us who are supposedly Amazon’s shills.
Hachette has instead refused to remove its authors from the line of fire. The company is using them as a shield. And the New York Times has chosen not to report on all the details and on both sides of this negotiation. Rather, they have chosen to engage in a deliberate negative PR campaign against Amazon. They have chosen to support a publishing cartel that recently colluded in a price-fixing scheme that harmed readers. They have chosen to make as their publishing spokesman a reporter who contradicts himself from one summer to the next, a reporter who sings the praises of a handful of elite authors in exchange for 6-figure ads while dismissing the thousands of authors who disagree.
September 10, 2014
You know you’ve had a rough time when flatlining is a sign of good health. That’s the news from B&N as same-store sales decreased a mere 0.4% when investors were expecting a 2% decline. Shares rose on the news. The loss of only $30 million this quarter was mostly made possible by slashing the investment in Nook, which B&N plans to divest itself of by next year. The latest Nook tablet is a modified Samsung device, in fact, as B&N has veered from heavily investing in ebooks, swearing them off, heavily investing again, and most recently . . . swearing them off.
I worked in a B&N while in college, and have spent many an hour in their stores as a customer. I’ve also watched them closely as a publisher, hoping they would help grow reading and the adoption of ebooks. In my view, they haven’t done much right in over a decade. Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that B&N used to be the bad boy who knocked the indie bookstores out of business (or the fact that indie bookstores have been on an amazing comeback over the past six or seven years). What could B&N do better? How can they turn this around without becoming a gift shop that has a few racks of books in yonder corner?
The first thing I’d do is bring back the comfy armchairs. Remember those? A big part of my job at B&N was gathering the piles of books left around the armchairs and reshelving them (this task fell just ahead of collecting the subscription insert confetti around the periodicals).
Go to a B&N now and try to find an armchair. They have been removed. Perhaps the thinking was that people were reading and not buying, but that’s never how I used those chairs as a shopper. Sure, I left a stack of books behind (much kinder than reshelving them improperly), but I also purchased a stack of books. As an employee, I watched customer after customer do the same thing. But management saw the abandoned piles without realizing many books on the receipts came from the originally larger piles, and so the chairs were removed. The stores became less of a destination. There was less pair-bonding between shopper and store. Not as much cuddling or foreplay. Might as well sit at home, naked in front of the computer, and go for the dirtier, quicker, and less satisfying solo act of shopping online.
B&N has a long history of making decisions like these that go against the needs and wants of their customers. Shelving books according to paid advertisement is the biggest sin. We used to receive strict schematics called planograms (familiar to many sectors of retail), that instructed us where to place each title on a display. Compare this to the indie bookstore I worked in, where we were able to shelve according to regional tastes, employee recommendations, and actual sales rates. B&N applies the same sort of silliness to their Nook bestseller list, where the books readers want are often forced down to lower rankings while paid co-op space is provided to publishers in order to promote books nobody cares about.
When the customer of retail becomes the publisher, rather than the reader, you have a problem.
Loyalty cards are another issue. These cost a yearly subscription, and being asked if you have one right at the moment of transactional copulation is a buzz-kill. Dreading the pressure of signing up is a great way to block the dopamine release that might get me to come back. It would be like my wife, in a moment of tenderness, asking me if I remembered to take out the trash. No? Well, would you like to? Are you sure? It’ll save you a guilt-trip right now and 20% off any future guilt trip for the next year.
Regular discounts on all books (even if only 10% on paper and 20% on hardback) would have moved much more product than a loyalty card. The indie store I worked in did frequent promotions like this, and the results were obvious. All hardbacks were discounted, all the time. All staff picks (and there were hundreds throughout the store) were as well. Both sets of books flew, as we reduced the incentive to shop online and provided real curation, not bought curation.
What could have saved B&N (and what might work right now if launched immediately and with gusto) is a plan to embrace digital, not just in product, but in customer connection. If B&N offered a free audiobook and ebook with the sale of every hardback, and a free ebook with the sale of every paperback, they could get people through their doors. More importantly, the perceived value of the purchase would go up without impacting the actual cost of the transaction. Buy a book, get some electrons for free.
Except it would be better than free for the publishers and the bookstore. To qualify for the digital freebie, all you have to do is flash your FREE loyalty card. In exchange for the digital wares, B&N supplies the publisher with data on shopping habits. People who bought this book also like that book. And if there’s an author event (I’ll get to that in a moment), the readers who like similar books are notified in advance and invited out.
Speaking of author events, why not have more of them? B&N seems to hate author events. Indie bookshops excel at these. Part of the problem is the ordering system. Have a weekly indie night where a local self-published author supplied their own books—these are then purchased through the B&N till—and the author is given a cash cut on the way out the door. No need to predict sales and stock books or return them. I tried this with my self-published books, and the B&Ns I talked to were unable to process how this would even work. No, they would have to order them in advance and return them. No flexibility or creativity. Meanwhile, coffee shops and art co-ops were able to manage this, and we all made out.
At my B&N in college, I organized reading groups and book clubs. What happened to these? And where are the writing groups or the affiliation with NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo? Where are the writing workshops? Turning B&Ns into the hub for all the aspiring and published writers in the community is a no-brainer. This is like comic shops having a gaming night. Sure, people don’t spend a ton during these events, but they make the store a hub of their social lives. We reward those hubs. Our lives orbit them.
All it takes is appealing to what the customer wants. Which requires remembering who your customers are. We’re the guys and gals draped sideways over the comfy chairs, piles of books at our feet, heads bursting with all we want to read, and often with all we dream of writing. Cater to us, not the stockholders. Cater to us, not the publishers. It’s what the indie bookstores are doing. And it’s why they’re going to eat your lunch.
September 3, 2014
September 2, 2014
September 1, 2014
Book 2 of the APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH went live today! I daresay, it’s even better than the amazing first book in this trilogy. We’ve got an all-star cast of authors involved, and now the stakes are higher as the apocalypse is in full-effect.
Feel free to read the sample on Amazon to check out the first story for free. And wait until you read the last story, which is one of my favorites. Also, the second part of my 3-part story in the WOOL universe is in here. You won’t believe where this one is leading. It’s the mother of all curveballs.
Also, we lowered the price of Part 1 to $4.99. Over 20 stories from some of the best writers in the game. A crazy deal. Hours and hours of gripping reads in bite-sized chunks.
**UPDATE (At the end of this post)**
It’s been a huge honor and thrill to be a part of a competition sponsored by Booktrack.com. The finalists were announced today, and I’d like to congratulate them and everyone who submitted a piece of fan fiction or an audio Booktrack. I’ve had a blast going through and reading your stories and listening to the atmospheric treatment you’ve provided for Half Way Home.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Booktrack, you should be. Augmented e-books have been slow to catch on, but that’s because few companies have nailed the balance of adding to the reading experience without distracting from it. Booktracks work best when they provide mood, just like a heavy rain or the sound of the nearby sea can make reading a book even more enjoyable. When the sound effects and music are done right, you’ll read a story like never before. For creators, the interface is a joy. You have to play around on the website to appreciate how slick it all is.
This competition also cemented my love of fan fiction. Reading through stories based on my world of Half Way Home, the special power of fan fiction hit me: You get the quick romp and tightness of a short story but with the deep texture of epic fiction. Since the world and its rules are already established—as are the relationships between characters—fan fiction can jump right to the middle of the action, orbit a climactic event, but with all the complexity of a larger story. For readers familiar with the world, it’s a chance to reunite with old friends and see them through another adventure. If you enjoyed Half Way Home, you simply must read the stories from these five finalists. In no particular order:
LOADED by Emily MacGowan - Emily wrote a brilliant alternate ending for Half Way Home. Dark and sinister, her story is full of twists and polished writing.
The Final Solution by Roz Marshall - Roz’s story takes place on a different colony with a new threat. It’s a brutal horror story. You think I kill characters with wild abandon? I’ve got nothing on Roz.
Glory: The Gospel of Oliver by Elayne Griffith - This story takes place years after Half Way Home. It features a descendant of one of my favorite characters from the original. Porter wasn’t the only one keeping a journal, it seems…
World Eater by Elodie West - Another follow-up to Half Way Home. Here, we get a glimpse of what’s happening back on Earth, and of the dangerous thing the children of Half Way Home have done.
Coming of Age by Peter John Ravlich - In Peter’s story, things go wrong between two groups of colonists. This one ends on a cliffhanger that will leave you wanting more.
There are so many others that deserve a read. My congratulations and thanks to all those who entered the competition and to the finalists.
Another round of congratulations to the soundtrack finalists. For those of you who want to create your own Booktracks, check out these entries to see how it can be done smoothly and effectively:
Thanks again to everyone at Booktrack for putting this competition together. And best of luck to all the finalists!
See? This is why we can’t have nice things.
First, you might want to read this statement from the BookTrack team.
Apparently, one or more of the contestants tried to game the competition by automating reads and by downvoting works written and soundtracked by others. The promise of a cash prize brought out the worst in some people, and the attempt to hijack the contest was spotted, and those attempts were taken into account in the selection of the pool of works from which we selected the finalists. Basically, cheaters were disqualified. For cheating.
Now it appears some of these people, having been caught, and perhaps having already spent in their imaginations the money they thought they were due, are trying to stir up controversy. I won’t let this detract from the awesome entries we had, or the joy I had in reading the fan fiction or listening to the music people made to go with my chapters. Thanks again to all those who participated in the spirit in which the competition was meant. For those who did not understand what transpired and reached the wrong conclusion, your apologies are not necessary. I understand. For those who know what happened and are trying to make others unhappy, I send you hugs. They are sincere.
Happy writing, everyone. Go make music.
**UPDATE 2** It appears as though several of the commenters are the same person using an IP spoofer. Possibly the upset contestant who tried to cheat their way to the finals. Because of this, I’m deleting comments, something I never do. If people want to discuss this without resorting to sock puppets, I’m more than happy to have that conversation.