Thursday, 26 June 2014

Moving with the times

During this whole self-publishing process I've done a lot of soul-searching about what is the best way to go. The traditional route, finding a publisher in the UK and getting things done locally. Or the global approach, via the giant of Amazon - which love them or hate them, are here to stay.

I chose the second route. I would liked to have done a mix of the two, but it just didn't make sense for me. There are many reasons for this - but ultimately it came down to what was best for me as a writer and how I envisage the marketplace going in the future.

Let's backtrack a little here and look at some other markets. I've talked many times on this blog about the relentless march of progress and how one must adapt or die. In a blog post I wrote back in September 2011 entitled Weighty Matters I picked out five retail chains I felt would find themselves in trouble over the next couple of years.

Of those five, four have either bit the dust or have been, or are in receivership. Some survive in a reduced form. The only one of the five still thriving is Thorntons.

I'll take HMV as my example. I felt for a long time that they would not survive in the changed world of music in the 21st century. When downloads and MP3's first came in, they were illegal - and rightly derided as such. Then music started to be sold in that format. The digital world moves on rapidly and now even DVD's are become obsolete as people can buy on demand or subscribe to services such as Netflix. It's easy to say in hindsight that companies should have seen this coming but they didn't - they stuck to their traditional sales models and paid the price. HMV lasted longer than most - the likes of Woolworths, Virgin and Our Price disappeared a long time ago.

It's easy to lay the blame at the door of big enterprises such as Amazon and Tesco - but the fact is, love them or hate them they have been very efficient at what they do. I am no fan of Tesco, and can't help admitting taking a little pleasure in seeing their recent poor results, but you cannot argue with the fact that they have been successful.

40 years ago all the talk was of supermarkets killing off local shops. Those old enough will remember all those traditional old grocers where they used to weigh everything out on scales and everyone had a cosy chat and a gossip. Sadly such places if they do exist are few and far between. This is sad - but unfortunately invevitable. The world moves on. The independent grocers were no doubt up in arms back at the time, urging customers to support their local businesses but ultimately they all went to the wall. The simple fact of the matter that no matter how much most consumers preach about supporting local businesses and ethical business practices, when it comes down to cold hard cash, most people will buy things where they are the cheapest.

Another local business, Wadleys, has bowed to the inevitable and decided to close its doors. Another sad day and many have expressed their regrets. I think Wadleys are to be applauded for lasting as long as they did. They sold themselves on service and they were very good at it - the good news is they will continue as a servicing business only. Fact is though, they could not compete on price and in many cases became a showroom for people who wanted to buy elsewhere. How many people I wonder went into Wadleys to browse the tellies, noted the price tag, and then went home and bought it online from whoever was cheapest instead? A lot, I'll warrant.

Many would rail against the arguments I'm presenting here but I'm not saying what's right or what's wrong. I'm just telling it like it is. Everything moves on. Otherwise we'd all still be listening to music on wax cylinders.

And so we come on to the world of books. I write books as you can't fail to have noticed. And I've had to make decisions as I've gone along about how and where I am going to sell my books.

I have not been rejected by any publishers - because I've never approached any. Over the past couple of years I have read millions of words on the subject, joined countless writers groups on the internet (all free I should hasten to add - unlike many traditional author's circles) and every time I have come to the same conclusion. Like almost everything these days, I can do it all for myself. So I am rejecting traditional methods and moving with the times.

I can choose and design my own cover. I can choose who proofreads my work. I can set the prices, see the sales in real time and in the giant marketplace of Amazon, instantly offer my work to millions of people worldwide.

The way to market books on-line is completely different to traditional book-selling - about which admittedly I don't know a lot, but then I don't need to. Selling books on Amazon is all about algorithms, sales ranks, popularity and reviews. It's one big numbers game and I love it. I've no qualms whatsoever about giving away hundreds of copies of my books. I've done it with all of them. Why on earth would you give away something you've sweated blood and tears over? Because that's how the game works. You give away all those books and suddenly you're visible when it goes back to full price. You're higher up the popularity lists, you get reviews, and then you make sales.

One month after I launched Fortysomething Father I hadn't made more than a handful of sales, and then I put it on free download. I gave away about 200 copies. The week after it went back to full price (about £2) I sold over a hundred copies. I wouldn't have sold any of them without the freebie loss leader. And these weren't just in the UK but all over the world. I can analyse my sales at any time. Most sales are in the UK and US but I've sold everywhere - including 7 in Japan. It's a big world out there.

As for paperback vs ebook well there is a debate in itself. I don't think ebooks will replace paperbacks as entirely as downloads have replaced CD's, but there will be a continue trend towards the new medium. Research shows that the % of readers of ebooks is very heavily skewed towards younger readers. Those who have grown up living and breathing tablets and mobiles live their whole life around them. With my latest book being aimed squarely at the young adult audience it's essential for me to be in the ebook market. Paperbacks? I can take them or leave them. I have a paperback offering via Amazon but I'm not really that interested in selling traditional paperbacks. I know there will always be those who want a genuine book in their hands so that is why I do have them, but it's not really worth my while expending time and effort trying to get bookshops trying to sell my books when they are already available in the biggest bookshop in the world.

This will probably anger those who like bookshops and traditionally published books, but I've no problem with them at all. Some will very much enjoy going down that route. But I don't personally like the idea of a publisher having control over my book and all the information. Of it being in bookshops all over the country but me having no idea if anyone is buying them or how they are being received. It's just not my way of doing things. Amazon has given me absolutely everything I need and I've nailed my colours to their mast - for better or worse. Hopefully better.

Anyone who wants to know anything about me or my books can find out in an instance simply by going to Amazon. Author bio, list of books, reviews, where my books sit in the sales charts, the lot. Just a couple of mouse clicks away. Easy.

There will be those who scorn this - many accusations have been levelled at indie authors on Amazon - that it allows people to publish any old load of rubbish. Well that's true - but the market will soon find them out. The fact is there is a load of old rubbish in any walk of life. You only have to look through the daily schedules of the TV channels to see that. As always the wheat is there, if you can sort if from the chaff. Hopefully I count as the former - time will tell. And the fact is, if I am part of the chaff, well none of the publishers would have touched me in the first place so at least I haven't wasted my time chasing them.

Those involved in doing things the traditional way are never going to like the changes that are taking place just as all those independent grocers hated the supermarkets all those years ago. I don't want to be on that side of things - I want to go where the future is. I don't have a Time Bubble to get there though so I will have to try and predict. What does that future hold? Well the ebook will continue to grow and grow. More will be able to adopt - after all, people don't even need Kindles any more - you can do it all on a phone app (though a lot don't seem to realise this - perhaps I should publicise it a bit more). There will always be bookshops just as there will always be record shops - it's nice to think there is room for everyone. After all, even the giants of Tesco and their peers haven't wiped out all the independent shops.

And it doesn't stop there - look what else is coming, the world of 3D printing, and goodness knows what else. Soon, there will be very little we cannot do for ourselves. The future is truly an exciting place.

Jason.

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