My friend (and frequent guest here) Toby Neal recently posted on her blog about flagging indie book sales. Here’s an excerpt:
“The DOJ price-fixing case with Apple and the Big 5 publishers was settled a while ago, but September was when Amazon began really discounting big name books. I get email lists of discounted books daily in my inbox, and I’ve been agog to see big names going for 2.99 or less. And in September, my sales went to half of what they’d been. They’ve stayed [there] in spite of doing active marketing, ads on Kirkus Reviews, giveaways, promos in those same lists I get in my email inbox, and launching two new books. Cheaper pricing was our advantage as indies. I predicted this would happen in this blog post. In fact I’m surprised it took this long to happen. I’ve been asking around to other indies and they’re reporting similar dismal sales.”
Read Toby’s entire post: Are Indies Getting Clobbered by Big Name E-book Discounts?
… and last week, a Facebook conversation on the subject caught my eye. The authors who participated gave me permission to post their words because I thought you’d be interested. Here’s what they had to say:
Toby Neal: I try to keep ahead of trends, and the level of discounting of big name authors by traditional publishers is unbelievable! I’m still doing okay but as you can tell from the piece, it’s challenging. What’s it been like for you?
Steena Holmes: I haven’t been hit yet (fingers crossed). My sales are steady, but I think it helps to be aligned with one of Amazon’s imprints.
David Bishop: Are sales lower? Yes. A lot? No. I agree the post-settlement market is different. I also think the wave of emails with book specials that reach readers’ inboxes daily with promo pricing is a significant part of this change in the market.
Readers (many of them, not all) have come to expect low/no cost books. Why? There are thousands of frees every days and thousands more at 99 cents. These promo low/no cost books come to them daily in their email. So, if they are trying an author with whom they are not yet familiar, why not try low/no rather than pay several dollars.
It is not an issue of what we’ve earned or should be paid. It is an issue of how consumers behave when buying anything. The underlying economic principle is: One does not pay more for ANY given item than the amount for which they can buy an equally desirable substitute. And, when a group of authors are all unknown to the consumer, and some are free/99-cents and the others are 2.99 to 4.99, taking the easy-to-acquire free/99 centers is the “equally desirable substitute” economic principle at work.
The only one who can change this is Amazon and they are, as yet, unwilling to take a couple easy steps to eliminate free and drastically reduced 99 cent books. Amazon is not ready to do this and that is their right as a business. As for the consumer, they have always acted subject to the above defined economic principle in the marketplace for all goods and services. Our challenge is creating a perception of value in our books so that the consumer does not see low/no cost books as an equally desirable substitute to our books.
However, there are still readers who enjoy the satisfaction of discovering an author with whom they were previously unfamiliar. Just keep writing good stuff!
Rachel Thompson: Of my 3 books, the highest priced one (at $5.99) sells by far the most, but not nearly what it did 6 months ago. I was averaging 500-800 sales a month; sales were half that in October. Like you, Toby, I do a lot of marketing and advertising (primarily Google Adwords). I agree the discounting by traditional publishers is nuts (Gone Girl is 2.99!), which to me shows a degree of desperation on the part of the Big 5 – and hey, if more work gets into readers’ hands, that’s a good thing for everyone. Hybrids are definitely affecting the market, but again, that’s a good thing for authors AND readers.
Christine Nolfi: I’ve noticed a greater fluctuation in month-to-month sales; however, long term, my sales are on the rise. My backlist earns healthy royalties because readers increasingly suggest my books to their friends. Word-of-mouth endorsements from one happy reader to the next are a critical part of any publishing model.
I think we’re seeing two events happening in tandem: Rachel mentioned the first: desperation book discounts by established publishers. They now understand the indie movement has produced some damn fine storytellers. But I believe we’re also experiencing a second event. The dreamy, strike-it-rich-as-an-indie phase is ending. Many writers entered the field either because they thought this was an easy road to riches or they had one novel from the heart they felt compelled to write. Which is great, but writing one novel doesn’t make one a career novelist.
2014? I believe we’ll see increasing numbers of hybrid authors from among the career novelists, and many of the one-hit wonders will leave the field.
Toby Neal: I think generating a lot of books is also critical to long term success, and I love what Christine said about most indie authors, that’s my (unsupported by data) opinion too. I set out with the idea that my books were a business; I think you have to generate “product” and do a lot of marketing to pay the bills. That said, I’m still having a blast writing up a storm! Loving my second (or is it third?) career!
Authors, how are your sales? Readers, are you buying indie books? Are you scooping up Big Name Author’s slash-priced specials? Leave a comment and share!
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