Friday, November 6, 2015

The Book Market in 2015

Last week, I took the first two novels in my Legends of the Five Directions series, The Golden Lynx and The Winged Horse, off the non-Amazon sites where they have lived since they first went into print and enrolled them in Kindle Select. Four of my five novels—the exception is The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel, which Amazon for some reason considers ineligible (perhaps because the last time I tried this I forgot to allow a week for Barnes and Noble to “process” my change)—are now Kindle-only and will probably stay that way. The Swan Princess, when it appears in the spring of 2016, will be Kindle-only from the start.

This development troubles me, even though I am in a sense part of the problem. I stuck it out on the other sites for much longer than really made sense, but in the end the numbers defeated my commitment to keep my work available through multiple vendors. In the last ten months, I have sold exactly one e-book on Barnes and Noble. I sold two on the iTunes Store—both to an acquaintance who persisted long enough to purchase the books, despite repeated error messages and problems. I’m not exactly burning rubber on the Kindle Store either, but when I do sell e-books, that’s where I sell them. (Print books are independent of these calculations, but those have been Amazon-only from the start, except on the rare occasions when someone orders a book through a local bookstore.) So even though I am not sure how many subscribers the Kindle Unlimited service has—Amazon doesn’t release such figures—it seems logical to me to make as many books as possible available for borrowing as well as sales.

The other benefits of being in the Kindle Select program have not impressed me much, as I reported in previous posts. Lowering prices for a few days didn’t lead to many purchases. Making books free did lead to a lot of downloads but had no obvious long-term effects on sales or even book rankings. But the payments for borrowed books (although less) are competitive with sales, and if someone has chosen to pay $10/month for a subscription, it seems unreasonable to expect that person also to purchase books, given the number already available for borrowing.

Yet I do worry about what these results say about the state of the book business in general. Surely it can’t be good for one company to control the market so thoroughly—even if that company has made it possible for many authors, including me, to reach an audience. Already Amazon pays bonuses to the writers who sell the most, focuses its marketing on authors who contract with its publishing lines, and has killed the Breakout Novel Contest in favor of other, more restrictive avenues to securing those contracts. It uses its clout to drive out competitors, to pressure small publishing houses (and even big ones) to comply with demands for pricing and availability, and punishes those that resist. It has just opened its own brick-and-mortar bookstore to compete directly with the independent stores that have been making a comeback in the absence of the chains that it drove out of business.

This is not another “bash Amazon” post. The company is doing what companies do, and doing it well. It competes on pricing and service and reliability, and it deserves to succeed. For me as a writer, it has offered an opportunity I would not have enjoyed otherwise, and I am grateful for that. It’s been a great run, and I hope it continues for a long time. And if you have a Kindle and Amazon Prime or a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, please do click on the links above to read my books free of charge.

But I believe in free enterprise. I would like to see a little effective competition of a type that doesn’t simply exist but actively attracts both readers and writers. I think that would benefit all sides of the book business: readers, writers, and publishers. Even Amazon, which—if it becomes too big—will have to deal with the antitrust regulators and their insistence on breaking it up.

Takers, anyone?

On another note, The Swan Princess is now a complete, fleshed-out, reasonably coherent story, with three drafts under its figurative belt. It’s out to the first set of beta readers, and once everyone has a chance to submit her comments, one more thorough overhaul should see it ready to fly off to press. Meanwhile, I’ll be cooking up trouble for Legends 4, The Vermilion Bird (South). Cover peeks below, but remember, these images are copyrighted, both individually and in their component parts.


 

Tablet and books: Clipart no. 109120644.

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