Windows into the Imagination

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Publishing Wars or Not Publishing Wars

It's funny how some people seek validation by putting others down without actually finding out the facts.

Those who still seek trad publishing aren't stupid, blind, unable to read or use the internet. We are just as intelligent and savvy with technology as the self-publishers claim they are. We are not choosing trad publishing because we're ignorant of self-publishing, nor are we choosing it because we've never tried the 'glories' of self-publishing. In fact, many of us have tried self-publishing, and some self-publish some works alongside other trad published books.

We are choosing trad publishing because we are informed and still value what trad publishing offers, while we are willing to accept some of the restrictions. Just as self-publishers value some of the advantages of self-publishing while choosing to bear some of the additional burdens that are inherent in DIY.

There are values in BOTH avenues, and I think that those who swear by one or the other, really don't understand the values of each one over the other.

Personally, I think that there is room for both and neither one will disappear. I think there is a role for each type of publishing, though I think that both of them will continue to change and adapt until we find a happy medium for authors, publishers, readers, bloggers, critics, libraries, book sellers and all of the sundry services that feed the publishing industry. I think each one has an important purpose that has evolved over time to meet needs which still exist today, though the forms have changed; just like the revolution of the paperbacks which many were sure was the death of the trad publishers, but they are still live and flourishing after the rush, after they absorbed the new technology.

Publishers are not stodgy people stuck in the dark ages. It takes a larger organization a longer time to respond to changes than single individuals. It doesn't mean they're incapable of it, it just means watch out once they do.

Do you really think they're so backward that none of their books are in ebook and it's just self-publishers who have embraced this technology? Guess what...all of the trad publishers publish in ebook format as well as print and in far more formats than most self-publishers.

Trad publishers actually have the experience to think and plan for the long term once they see changes. There are many creative things they're doing now that self-publishers haven't even thought of.

Some of the top self-publishers are actually signing with trad publishers, yet it's only the ones who don't who get the publicity among self-pub circles.

Those who've been following my posts know I've been tracking the top 100 bestseller lists on Amazon. I say lists because I don't just track general fiction, I also track lists from specific genres and one thing I've discovered is that while trad publishing does well in the overall list, it does amazingly well in one of the major genres, Mystery. And I think I know why. Of course, it also does surprisingly poorly in sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres, mainly breaking even with self-publishers, but that's for another post.

A month or so ago, I noticed that the majority of Laura Lippman's books (a major mystery writer) were on sale for between .99-2.99 on Amazon and Kobo. That lasted about 3 weeks and I picked up a lot of them. The price for the novels have returned to normal. > 9.99. But there is still about a dozen of them, stories taken from one of her anthologies, which are priced for .99 Her new novels that are priced at normal levels for a well-known trad pub author, are still doing well even though they are no longer priced low.

That is what everyone who lower their prices hope will happen.

But unfortunately, after that initial rush when the free-craze wore off, many people are finding that cheap prices don't really translate to lasting higher book sales after the free period. Some do, but the majority don't.

Cheap prices is no magic formula for success. In the end, other than for a bit of luck, you still have to have talent, a great story, wonderful characters, and good production values, regardless of whether you are self, indie or trad published.

Do people truly think that readers will put up with crap if it's cheap enough? I think they'll be willing to download free stuff by the hundreds, but actually read it all the way through and enjoy it enough to be moved to write a review? I think most people have found that the number of free downloads does not translate to actual reviews. Unless you're actually good.

Just look at book bloggers for an example. They receive tons of free books, but the number of ones they actually choose to read is limited by time and many will only read the ones that they think they will enjoy reading, which is only a small percentage. I think the same goes for people who go crazy downloading every free book they see. It is impossible to read so many books. Most people actually have a life. So the chance that they'll actually read any significant percentage of the books they continually download is small.

Just take a look at the TO-READ lists on Goodreads. Some people list hundreds and it grows daily. There are only 365 days in a year, 366 in a leap year. You do the math.

Going back to the Mystery genre for a moment. Laura Lippman's books were priced down for a period and now she still has short stories that are priced very low.

I took a closer look at the various categories of sales that I track for each genre and found something interesting for the Mystery genre where trad publishing (and I'm not even including Indie or any of the Amazon imprints) is doing quite well. What is so interesting? I track 3 different categories of sales. under 2.99, over 9.99, and those in between. In Sci-fi, Fantasy and Horror, there are hardly any trad books in the under 2.99 category. In Horror, which they do the worst in, there are no trad books in the under 2.99 category. There are 2 in each of Sci-Fi and Fantasy which they are doing okay but not great.

Remember that I'm tracking books in the top 100 of each list so we're talking about 2 books on the top 100 list that are priced under 2.99.

Of course, the majority of self-pub books in the top 100 fall in the under 2.99 category.

But, as mentioned, this is different in the Mystery category. Trad publishing has a significant presence in the under 2.99 category in this genre with 7 out of 100, compared to 15 of the self-pub in this category. And before people point out that 15 is far greater than 7, the majority of trad books in the top 100 Mystery fall in the 9.99+ category with a whopping 45 out of 100.

What does this mean? I am speculating here because of what was done with Laura Lippman's books. I'm not personally aware if this was done with any other trad authors books but I wouldn't be surprised if it were. It appears that the trad publishers are using Mystery to test pricing strategies in today's book buying climate. So they discount, but do not make free, books by popular authors for a short period to build readership and interest. They also have been testing lower priced shorter stories, some short prequel stories and other books based on the worlds of the longer novels. And this strategy appears to be WORKING for Mystery.

Because, as mentioned earlier, in the end, it isn't whether a book is cheap which builds an audience, it's the quality of the book and face it, trad published, while not all perfect, does put out a larger percentage of higher quality books. When the reading public has a choice of cheap low quality or cheap higher quality, guess which one they pick. Now, some self-publishers still do well, but nowhere near as many as the trad publishers in this genre, because there are some talented self-publishers out there who produce good quality books.

As a final point, we know that there has been a shift away from self-pub this past year. While writers still flock to self-publishing in droves because it's fast-food easy now to DIY, the numbers tell us a different story, in particular with regards to how Amazon calculates best-seller rankings. This is different than how the top 100 bestseller list is determined because those are directly affected by real-time sales.

The bestseller rankings, the ones that drop to the 10ks when you sell one book but goes back up to 100k in a day or so, are calculated values and the calculations are highly secretive and only known by Amazon.

BUT people who are better at math than I am and far more anal have been tracking these numbers too and they've discovered 3 different sets of calculations. The first one includes free books on par with paid books. The second puts a lesser weight on free books than paid. The third does not include free books in the calculations. Guess which one Amazon has been moving towards the past year? It's the one that does not use free books in its calculations. That is a good indication of how little Amazon values free books in terms of real numbers.

Again, I'm just speculating here, but if I'm right about what has been happening with the Mystery genre and the trad publishers realize the experiment worked and they start moving those strategies to the other genres...

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