As always my mid month post is not about my books but a reflection piece. I don't know how many of you are aware of the fact that the last figures that came out showed indie writers having 45% of e-book sales on Amazon and the big five having only 23%.
If you look at the graphs you will see a steep rise in the sale of indie books and just as steep a decline in books put out by the big five publishers. The smaller presses are just about holding their positions. This means that those who were fortunate enough to get a contract with Orion etc have seen a dramatic fall in net income from e-books. The sale of paper books seems to have increased rather than fallen for the big five – so not all bad news for those with contracts with them.
Indie e-books are, on the whole, a fraction of the cost of those published by the big five. They are also, on the whole, indistinguishable from those put out by traditional publishers. I suppose there are still some new writers who don't understand the necessity of having a professional cover/edit/proof read for their books – but the days of thousands of unreadable e-books being produced has long gone.
Amazon has now introduced a control mechanism were if a reader complains about errors in an indie book they will ask the writer to correct his mistakes or the book will be removed. Let's hope this doesn't lead to trolls using this tool to cause headaches for writers they have taken an unwarranted dislike to.
Being a published writer has never been easier. It's no longer necessary to have an agent or a mainstream deal in order to get your books in front of readers. I see the role of an agent having to change over the next few years or they will disappear completely.
Already publishers are asking hopeful writers to submit a sample on a website where their editors can browse and pick up anything they think might be a possibility. I believe that one or two agencies are also using this method – this will mean that the dreaded slush pile will be a thing of the past.
Samhain, a well-respected e-publisher, has collapsed and I know of several writers who got their main income from them. This is because a publisher can't match the low prices of an indie writer's e-books. Readers want cheap books and a steady supply from the writers they like. An indie-writer can publish four or five new titles every year whereas a traditional publisher will probably only bring out two from any author.
So – do I think things are changing the better? When I started self publishing four years ago not many people were doing it and this gave me a head start. The fact that I had such a long back list meant I could put up a new title most months and this is crucial if you want to succeed in this buyer's market.
When I put up my first three box sets, again several years ago, this was also a brand-new concept and I was selling almost 1000 a week. Now everyone is doing it and unless you price very low you don't sell many.
Last year I got together a brilliant team of Regency writers and we produced three box sets. Again the first two did fantastically well but by the time the third one came out other writers had jumped on the bandwagon and our sales plummeted. It's possible to get a ten author box set for less than a dollar – so why would a reader by ours at $3 for five books?
Small publishers are going bust because they can't compete with indie-writers. This makes it harder and harder for a new writer to get a foothold with a traditional publisher. Unless a writer has been through the process of professional editing etc with a traditional publisher it can be difficult to know exactly how to produce their own books.
This means there are hundreds of thousands of hopeful writers producing books themselves and the market is now flooded. In order to make in any sort of impact, and any sort of living, you have to be a social media expert as well as having written a riveting story.
Most of the writers I know in my main genre, Regency, have seen a sharp downturn in sales over the past couple of years. Their author ranking might well have remained the same, but their slice of the pie is now much smaller as there are so many excellent writers putting out a regular supply of books.
I'm maintaining my position, but only because I produce something new every month. Of course only half the things I release are new – six new books a year is my limit. I know that as soon as I stop writing so prolifically my income will fall.
Now to answer the question. "Have the changes in publishing been positive or negative for writers?"
For me I can answer with a resounding yes – but I am one of the lucky ones. For those dreaming of breaking into the traditional publishing arena it's become far more difficult. The steady demise of traditional publishers and e-publishers cannot be good for any of us.
What do you think? If you are just starting out today would you be searching for an agent and traditional publisher or heading down the self-publishing route?