Good piece from Joe Wikert, even if I don’t completely agree with everything he says:
End the practice of artificially puffing up content The greatest aspect of Kindle Singles is, of course, their short length. The first one I read was a Single about media and I remember thinking how a typical business book editor would have asked the author to turn this 30-page gem into a bloated 300-page mess. It happens all the time and its a function of both physical shelf presence and perceived value. In the ebook world there’s suddenly no physical bookshelf an individual title has to have a spine presence on. Now we just need to stop equating \”shorter\” with \”cheaper\”…more on that in a moment.
Smashwords keeps doing interesting and exciting things, no question about it. I’m intrigued by two things here, the first that with such a decent catalogue, Smashwords can now, almost on its own, create a viable market offering for a start-up with an innovative idea, the second that self-published material, as a block, is becoming more important by the day:
I expect Smashwords titles to begin shipping to Oyster in about three weeks. At least 72 hours before we begin shipping to Oyster, I’ll send out an email alert to all Smashwords authors and publishers. The email will contain complete financial details, including royalty rates and sampling thresholds, so you can make an informed decision about your participation. It’s an author friendly deal so I expect you’ll be pleased.
Unlike KDP Select, Oyster does not require exclusivity. It’s open to all Smashwords authors. A single Oyster user could conceivably read multiple books by the same Smashwords author in a single month, and the author will be paid for each book. Smashwords authors will earn their royalty whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than a sample of their book.
Oyster’s subscription service will help our authors connect with a segment of the reading audience they’re not reaching anywhere else. Oyster will also give authors yet another reason to steer clear of exclusivity and embrace full distribution with Smashwords.
I see this everyday, small ways in which the old system has become undermined, at the margin. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is huge:
This has already begun to affect existing publishers in minor ways. I know of one example where what was in my opinion the most effective tactic for that genre (subscription website) was taken off the table before the conversation even started. Why? Because one of the authors was already running a subscription website in that niche and they were doing it much much better on their own than the publisher ever would have.
Trade publishers pine for bookstores. Part of this is nostalgia, but part of this is an awareness that their businesses were built for one ecosystem and another one is evolving before their eyes. People may clamor for print (which would reinforce the publishers’ historical position), but the marketplace is increasingly becoming reluctant to provide it.
The simple truth is that with one exception, every link in the value chain must be profitable or the entire chain breaks. Bookstores are breaking and are taking the entire chain along with it. Amazon’s hands are outstretched to receive the new customers, to play its dominant role in the new ecosystem.
The one exception? Authors. Most authors don’t now and have never been able to live on the proceeds of their work. A few do, and do so spectacularly. That spectacle draws authors in: it’s not the prospect of a good and interesting job but the chance to win the lottery that makes a writer out of a normal human being. When we express regret at the passing of the old print paradigm, don’t shed a tear for the authors. Our sympathies should be with the booksellers, who held it all together.
Lovely piece by Jude Rogers in The Bookseller that illustrates exactly how much the industry has changed over the last decade or so. Really worth considering:
Take what happened to us in 2007. Before then, we would hand-deliver 340 copies of every issue of Smoke to Malcolm Hopkins, the wonderful magazine buyer at Borders Oxford Street. He shelved them well, and every one would sell—a good return for both parties. But then we received a letter from Borders head office saying that, in future, branches would not accept deliveries direct from publishers; we would need to use a “recognised distributor” instead. Malcolm left, and the last issue we’d hand-delivered was left in the storeroom; over half came back as returns.
This was at a time when our sales were increasing elsewhere. And what a grim irony it was that Borders went bust not long after its approach became so impersonal.
Initially, Ury and his cofounder, Kaye Puhlmann (both formerly consumer experience designers for digital ad agencies; Ury has worked with clients like Apple, Nike and Starbucks), imagined that families would be the primary users of the site. “Parents reading on the iPad to their kids in bed,” Ury said. Parents and kids are indeed using Storybird — “and a lot of people create stories almost as extended greeting cards,” Ury said — but it turns out the largest demographic is teachers and students. Over 125,000 schools are now on Storybird, with teachers issuing assignments to students and using the site in the classroom to help kids with their writing skills. The most recent demographic — and “the most voracious,” according to Ury — is teen and tween girls. “They are using it for what I’d almost call conversation and communication,” he added, sharing images and messages with each other online “the same way you might use Tumblr.”
One of the things I think Smashwords has gotten right is their start with Word focus of conversions. It makes SO much more sense than building ebooks from crazily complex design platforms. With the launch of Smashwords Direct, the company has bowed to pressure, but Mark offers a rather nice defence of the “Meatgrinder” tool that Smashword’s has used to date (and will continue to use:
Meatgrinder has been vilified and demonized over the years, despite its proven ability to produce high-quality ebooks. Although Meatgrinder’s not perfect, some of the criticism has been unfair. Many authors have needlessly avoided Smashwords out of misplaced fear.
One author volunteered that they’d heard such horror stories of Meatgrinder from their publisher that they kept their books off of Smashwords for that reason. That’s really unfortunate, both for the author and Smashwords, because the vast majority of Smashwords authors have received professional-quality results with Meatgrinder. Our Meatgrinder-generated Premium Catalog books are pleasing millions of readers each month with rarely a complaint. Our retailers have told us in the past that our books have dramatically lower failure rates (measured in the fraction of a percent) compared to others. This tells me many authors who have avoided Smashwords out of misplaced fear have unnecessarily missed out on up to five years of sales and platform-building opportunity. I suppose if there’s a silver lining to the launch of Smashwords Direct, it’s that maybe we can help writers do the right thing (achieve full Smashwords distribution) for the wrong reason (availability of Smashwords Direct).