J K Rowling and the Indie Author

J K Rowling, the most successful author of recent times, has famously embraced digital publishing.

'It was quite straightforward for me . . . It means we can guarantee people everywhere are getting the same experience and at the same time. I am personally lucky to have the resources to do it myself and I could do it, I think, right. I could find the right people and take my time. There was no other option for the fans or for me. Potter fandom was probably one of the first with an online community . . . It is my view that you can't hold back progress. I love printed paper . . . This year for the first time I have downloaded e-books and it's miraculous . . . I feel good about bringing it into this world.'

This will mean a lot to her fans once Pottermore starts marketing her writing as cross-platform ebooks. But it also means a lot to the many indie writers who have found an audience via digital publishing.

Here's a digression to explain what I mean.

I was surprised when a close friend suddenly had it in for me. What had I done? I'd told her that I'd published an ebook. Instead of the expected, 'Well done! What's it about?' I got the kind of treatment you'd expect if I'd just robbed the local bookstore.

Now, my friend is not a bad person. Quite the opposite. She's a poet, a community volunteer working for the local hospital. But in her eyes, I'd gone over to the dark side.

She told me that she feared the demise of the local printing firm that publishes her poetry. That she fears for the local bookstore and that, if it went, we'd be heading into a new dark age with kids without books. Amazon was to blame for all this in my friend's eyes. I'd joined the enemy.

A few weeks later, our local bookstore did indeed close. It had been living on borrowed time for years. But I was well and truly in the frame as one of the culprits, one of the vandals destroying modern culture. And what had I done but publish a digital book?

I had a similar reception from two more friends, an elderly couple. When they heard I was a Kindle author, there was no, 'Congratulations! Well done! What's it about?' Just a quiet, underwhelming, 'Oh, that's nice.' I heard them saying under their breath as we parted, 'I hate amazon.'

So J K Rowling's conversion to digital publishing matters, not just for her fans but for the many writers like me who have been having a tough time. She knows what it's like to struggle as a writer. She knows the hard work that goes into creating something meaningful. And her loyal fans respect her for that.

When JKR came out in support of digital publishing, I gave a loud cheer. Support like that is game changing.

I don't expect to change my friends' minds. But from now on digitally published authors need not be on the back foot. JKR put it simply and directly. We all love printed paper books. But there's a large role for digitally published books, too. The two formats will co-exist. The reason – it's reading that matters, not the form in which it's presented.

A final irony. The wife in the couple who were so unenthusiastic about my ebook is a massive Harry Potter fan; she's read all the books from cover to cover and back again. I wonder how she's going to come to terms with J K Rowling's embracing of digital publishing!






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12 comments:

Jenn said...

Preach on! It's not an OR situation but an AND ...just liked digital music and CDs.

And some things I will own in both medias... like Harry Potter

Seb said...

Jenn

Yes, I agree.

Preachy, moi? (LOL)

Best wishes

Seb

Reena Jacobs said...

One thing keep in mind, print books aren't going away... at least not tomorrow or next year, or the year after. However, people are choosing alternative methods of purchasing their print copies instead of going into stores.

When we get to the bottom line, print books tend to cost more when purchased in brick & mortar stores. I remember comparing instore prices to a group of books I'd recently purchased online. I'd purchased 5-6 books, and my savings ranged from a couple of cents to about 10 bucks per book. Not one book I'd purchased online was cheaper than the instore book.

Plus, I received free shipping, didn't have to leave my home, or pay outrageous gas prices to reach the store.

Digital isn't doing bookstores in. I probably purchase as many print books as digital. The problem is brick and mortar stores are not staying competitive with their prices.

At the same time, it's hard to ignore the effects indie are having on the market. Also blaming Amazon in general isn't really looking at the big picture. I'm not saying Amazon is an innocent entity at all. Sure they're saying eBooks are outselling print. However, take a look at your favorite traditional author. You'll likely find their print book is doing better than their eBook. Why? Because traditional presses can offer print at a cheaper price than indie authors. On the flip side, indie authors can offer digital significantly cheaper than a traditional press. When faced with a choice in today's economy, individuals have to be more selective with their entertainment. When given the option to purchase a $0.99-2.99 eBook published by an indie author which has great reviews or a $7.99 traditional print book (plus shipping if the total is under $25) with similar reviews, a lot of individuals are going to go indie.

Linda Acaster said...

I get a lot of quizzical looks when I say I have a new ebook out. People want to see it, so I carry promotional postcards: book cover + blurb + other books' blurbs, with my blog & website URLs. Then it looks like an ad for a print book, something people can hold in their hand, read, and understand.

It usually gains an interested reaction, and then they attempt to hand it back with... "I don't have an ereader".

I'm thinking now that perhaps half of the back of the postcard should explain that ereaders aren't a necessity, and also there should be direct URLs to the relevant Amazon / Smashwords pages.

I think of it akin to offering a helping hand to guide prospective readers of ebooks across a gurgling stream that they perceive as a chasm of rushing water.

And remember, back in the '30s Penguin faced far more vitriol when it brought out the first paperbacks.

Ryan Schneider said...

When I talk to people about my ebooks, I ask to see their cell phone. If it's an iPhone or a Droid or a smartphone in general, I direct them to my blog and show them how to download a free copy of one of my novels. That way I can at least get my book in front of them, and hopefully create interest in my other novels.

I also always carry a paperback edition of one of my books. So if I am someplace where I meet someone who is interested, I have actual product they can hold in their hands, and which I can sell to them.

Successful SciFi/Thriller indie writer Michael R. Hicks has said he carries business cards with a link to a free ebook copy of one of his novels. He hands them to the checker at the grocery store, etc. People like free stuff.

Anyone who says they don't have an e-reader presents YOU, the author, with the opportunity to enlighten them that there are free Kindle apps for every type of phone or computer, even a desktop or laptop Mac or PC. So, actually, EVVVVVERYONE in fact DOES have an e-reader. They may simply need a writer to point this out for them.

Seb said...

Reena

Yes, that's right. There are many ways in which print books will be marketed alongside ebooks; both have a place. But you're right, the traditional bookstore model is facing real problems. That in itself is a shame since they are often nice places just to hang out in!

Ryan Schneider said...

Yes, hanging out in book stores is indeed a pleasure, provided there is a place to sit and read, the music isn't too loud, and the air conditioning not so freezing that you begin to shiver after about 10 minutes. These were all factors at the Border's I used to go to in El Segundo, CA. It seemed they didn't want people to stay TOO long.

I also read that a Starbucks in New York was taping over their electrical outlets in order to discourage "campers" or "squatters", people who plug in their laptops and sit for a few hours (or longer). Now that's what I call customer service. Ought not it be a compliment that people want to spend time in your store. The Starbucks in Manhattan Beach where I used to write was great about it; I came to know the staff.

Perhaps if bookstores took on more of a role as a reading place, encouraging people to spend time there, like in a library, they would have a chance to stay in business. Panera Bread, for example, has free Wi-Fi, electrical outlets at each booth, and free refills on coffee. They ought to pair up with authors to give free ebook downloads with purchase of a sandwich or something.

Reena Jacobs said...

Excellent point, Ryan. Clark Howard was talking about the number of gas stations going out of business over the years. The thing with most gas stations is they're usually convenient stores also.

However, there's really little incentive to go into a gas station to purchase odds and ends, if you're not stopping for gas. Think about it, you have fast food places for food and grocery stores, the dollar stores for other items. Plus, each of those places have a greater variety of items and usually at a lower cost.

So with people cutting back on gas, they're also cutting back on their trips inside convenience stores.

How to get people to come in if they're not stopping for gas any longer? Companies like Sheetz, which seems to be doing quite well, realized the problem with the current scenario and started offering umbrella sitting areas for patrons, amongst other services.

Little (big) things matter. Offering clean restrooms is a huge plus, particularly people who are constantly on the road for work. My husband is a service technician and knows which places are clean and which are not. Guess which ones he stops at? And since it's rather rude to just use the bathroom without purchasing, guess who also gets his money?

So why am I rambling about gas stations when we're talking about books? Because it's the same scenario, different market. People have slowed their visits to bookstores, because the services (atmospheres) aren't enough to draw people in.

Who cares if someone spends 8 hours in a bookstore browsing books and relaxing? If it's a large Borders, it's not like it's going to overcrowd. Some might use it as a library (which is bad because reading and leaving the book behind is not the way to make money). However, if someone sits and browse/reads a few books but leaves with one or two more, it's better than them not coming in at all and purchasing elsewhere.

:) When I was younger, I remember skim/reading in stores the books I didn't think my mother would approve of me buying. Even so, there was no way I was leaving the store without enough books to keep me busy until my next visit.

Our local bookstore was a Waldens (Borders mini-store). Claustrophobic places which force you to bump and squeeze by other patrons isn't the coolest place to hang. If I was in the area AND I had a book in mind, I MIGHT stop by. Forget casual impulse buys or browsing -- I just wanted to get in and out in the shortest time possible. And if I don't browse, I'mn not giving other books a chance.

Seb said...

I guess that what made it hard for Borders and many other bookstores was that people could browse books with them and then buy from amazon at a much lower price with free delivery!

Ryan Schneider said...

I think you're absolutely right, Reena. It's all about creating an attractive atmosphere for people, whether it be a gas station or a bookstore.

Frankly, all of the bookstores where I used to go to write did not seem to want people to stay there more than 20-30 minutes, about the time it might take to enjoy $10 worth of coffee and scone with a friend. Barnes & Noble has a severe shortage of outlets and seating. Border's USED to be similar; there were about 8 leather chairs placed along the wall where the outlets were, and if they were full, I had to take a table in the cafe and then keep an eye open for someone's departure.

The Waldenbooks where I used to shop was tiny with literally zero seating. It went bye-bye after the Border's opened down the street. That building is now Panera Bread.

Weren't internet cafes all the rage in the late 90s? What happened? WiFi is now available cheap, virtually everybody has a laptop or smartphone or tablet, yet there's no place to go to use them. It seems Starbuck's, Pete's, & Coffee Bean are it now.

I think it will only be a matter of time until someone hits upon a new business model people like, and which will draw business and will then be emulated.

Maybe a coffee shop/book store with free WiFi, free coffee refills, TONS of electrical outlets, and free access to Netflix or something. SOMEthing people will appreciate.

Seb, you made an interesting comment about people browsing books and then buying them online at a lower price. For me, as for most people, it is simply economics: a book is a book, so why not buy it for $0.01 + $3.99 shipping, rather than $7.99 at the bookstore?

Sometimes I want a NEW book, and will go to the bookstore and get it. Further, sometimes I simply want to go somewhere that I can be surrounded by books. Amazon is great and downloading books instantly on my kindle is super, but neither is the same as going to the bookstore.

Although I guess we'd better prepare ourselves, as bookstores are going to be more like museums. "Gee, grandpa, you mean there used to be whole buildings full of books?"

There are always libraries. But the library in my hometown always felt like a morgue/hangout for homeless people. So you weren't allowed to talk, but you had to speak in order to tell the homeless people you weren't going to give them any money.

Reena Jacobs said...

Internet cafes still seem to be popular overseas. Those rare occasions I hop into yahoo chat, I find quite a few non-Americans in them.

It'd be cool if bookstores could set up some kind of wifi which connected to their store only on the ebook front. Or perhaps offer a slight discount if purchasing an ebook at an onsite location. I can totally see myself going into a store with an eReader and purchasing a mix of digital and print.

One of the major problems with ebook and different distribution channels is they all want to have their own format. When you go into a store to pick out a print book, you don't have to worry about format. With eBooks, you do. So say I see an eBook I want at a decent price at B&N, but have a Kindle. Oh well, got to go to Amazon instead.

It'd be nice to see more stores like Smashwords, where any eReader is a go.

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

To be honest, to start with I was ambivalent btu when I thought more about it, I realised that e-books do not really compete with paper books. There are different advantages for each.
It did however take me a while to get the courage to get my own book out on Kindle, believing it would be hard. It wasn't and it's actually sold better as an e-book.
E-books have the instant gratification thing that this generation craves. I still buy paper copies of some books, especially non fiction and books with photos in(but part of that is that the Kindle is still black and white etc) and I will also buy paper copies of books I love.
It's going to reduce a lot of waste paper too. An e-book cannot be remaindered or pulped!
cheers,
Viv

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