Kindle Books - Big Publishing Bites Back
Forget all that's been said about big publishing (BP) and amazon not getting on too well after the Big Six failed to take part in KDP Select. BP is back on Kindle, big time!
Just take a look at the Kindle US Top 100 Charts. Six months ago you would have found many indie and self published titles there. Now there are almost none. BP is dominant.
For brevity, here's the Top 50 at 31st March:
1. The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins $5.00
2. Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) Suzanne Collins $7.70
3. Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) Suzanne Collins $7.14
4. Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy E L James $9.99
5. The Hunger Games Trilogy Suzanne Collins $18.99
6. Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two of the Fifty Shades Trilogy E L James $9.99
7. Borrowed Time CJ Lyons $4.99
8. Fifty Shades Freed: Book Three of the Fifty Shades Trilogy E L James $9.99
9. The Lucky One Nicholas Sparks $7.99
10. On the Island Tracey Garvis-Graves $2.99
11. Guilty Wives James Patterson, David Ellis $14.99
12. The Crossroads Cafe Deborah Smith $1.99
13. Defending Jacob: A Novel William Landay $12.99
14. Lover Reborn: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood J.R. Ward $14.99
15. Stay Close Harlan Coben $14.99
16. The Marriage Bargain (Marriage to a Billionaire) Jennifer Probst $2.99
17. The Past Came Hunting Donnell Bell $1.99
18. The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted: A Psychological Thriller Andrew E. Kaufman $2.99
19. Betrayal Danielle Steel $13.99
20. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One George R.R. Martin $8.99
21. Loving (Bailey Flanigan Series) Karen Kingsbury $9.99
22. Victims: An Alex Delaware Novel Jonathan Kellerman $12.99
23. A Dangerous Talent (An Alix London Mystery) Aaron Elkins, Charlotte Elkins $4.99
24. Anathem Neal Stephenson $1.99
25. Lone Wolf Jodi Picoult $12.99
26. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: Book 3 of the Millennium Trilogy (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland $9.99
27. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Book 1 of the Millennium Trilogy Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland $9.99
28. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy, Book 2) Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland $9.99
29. The Last Boyfriend: Book Two of the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy Nora Roberts $9.99
30. Private Games James Patterson, Mark Sullivan $12.99
31. I've Got Your Number: A Novel Sophie Kinsella $12.99
34. The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel Hazel Gaynor $0.99
35. George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones 4-Book Bundle: A Song of Ice and Fire Series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings,... George R.R. Martin $29.99
36. Calico Joe John Grisham $12.99
37. Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp) Vince Flynn $12.99
38. The Help: Movie Tie-In Kathryn Stockett $9.99
39. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) Patrick Ness $6.99
40. Basic Training (Kindle Single) Kurt Vonnegut $1.99
41. A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five George R.R. Martin $14.99
42. A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Two George R.R. Martin $8.99
43. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel Jonathan Safran Foer $7.03
44. No Way Out Joel Goldman $1.99
45. The Expats: A Novel Chris Pavone $12.99
46. 11/22/63 Stephen King $14.99
47. Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West Blaine Harden $12.99
48. A Perfect Storm (The Edge of Honor) Lori Foster $6.39
49. Breaking The Rules Barbara Samuel, Ruth Wind $2.99
50. Divergent Veronica Roth $9.99
The argument was that since the big publishers couldn't make KDP Select pay at the maximum price set by amazon, they would be excluded. Indies could fill the gap. But as the above chart shows BP didn't need Select. It's come to dominate sales on Kindle without it.
Why do the chart positions matter? Well, the graph of books sold against Kindle chart position is one half of a bell curve. In the Top 10, sales are of the order of 1,000s per day or higher. In the lower reaches of the Top 100, that number is 100s per day. Below that and into the lower reaches of the Top 5000, think in terms of 10s per day.
Not good reading if you're an indie author. I can count only 6 titles that are self published with amazon or pubished by small publishers. The indie heroes of not so long ago are all gone.
And take a look at the pricing. $8.99 or $9.99 is almost a norm. $14.99 is becoming less uncommon. While in the very recent past, Steig Larsson's trilogy was having to be sold at $3.99 or $4.99 to hold its own against the pressure of cheaper indie books, now its publisher is asking its preferred price of $9.99 and getting it.
It's a big turnaround. Readers appear to have accepted the proposition that they should pay as much as they would pay for a paperback version of the book if it is a title that they want.
Meanwhile, what about the self published and indie sector? The situation is not yet bad, but it's nowhere near as good as many indie authors think it is or could be.
While KDP Select has given much needed publicity to books that have deserved to see the light of day, it has reinforced the idea in readers' minds that indie books are either available for free or at a very low price. As one reader replied to me in discussion forum: 'I don't see why anyone pays for kindle books; I just wait for them to come round as free.'
And, indeed, there is now a mini industry around alerting readers to the hundreds of indie kindle books that are made available for free each day. Sites like 'E-Reader News Today', 'Pixel of Ink' and many others email subscribers daily with lists of free books. Subscribers post on the Facebook pages of these sites how happy they are with their free books and how they'll never have to pay for a book again.
What does the indie author get out of this? Well, in the short term KDP Select is beneficial. Your title gets much neded publicity. Your book is placed in the hands of many thousands of readers. (Of course, that doesn't mean that it's necessarily read that many times!). And there is a very welcome 'bump' in paid for sales once the title returns to paid for status, bringing much needed income. But in almost every case, a 'bump' in sales is what it is and within 7-10 days at most, the title returns to somewhere close to its former position.
And the danger is that in taking these short term benefits, indie authors are playing into the hands of BP. Indie books are free or very cheap. BP books command a much higher price and because of that they must be better.
In one sense, there's something for everyone here. Amazon helps indie and self publishers to find an audience and gives a little pay for providing the bargain basement deals that crerate a buzz around their Kindle business. It's hard to see this as much more than a popular loss leader for them. Where the real revenue is being made is in shifting the sales of the high value BP books out of the normal retail outlets and onto Kindle. BP is helped since it has now found a way of overcoming the threat posed by newcomers in digital publishing, a threat it was supposed to be unable to meet. And, of course, BP has found a way of getting the full price for a digital product that involves no printing, paper or distribution costs.
And the indie author in the long term? Well, that's an open question but from the above it really does look as if the terrain is becoming far less open to newcomers who want to make a profession out of writing via the self publishing route.
The reason? Once readers take on board the idea of paying $9.99 or even $14.99 for an ebook and that's no impediment to sales, it's difficult to see how indie and self published authors with limited resources can compete with the mainstream publicity machine that BP has to call on – the national newspaper reviews, the TV publicized movie tie-ins, the full colour ads in international magazines. BP is big for a reason and it looks set to stay that way.
(A small note: BP doesn't seem to have this worked out yet in the UK. There are many more indie and self published titles in the Kindle Top 100 there. But, maybe it's just a matter of time….. As a sign that BP hasn't the same dominance in the UK as in the US, note the price of Suzanne Collins' 'Hunger Games' books - £3.48. That's almost an indie price!)
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