Indie News Beat: All the Fun of Frankfurt

The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the highest-profile fairs on the calendar. But now it’s been a few years since the meteorite of self-publishing hit the world of books, just how well are the mainstream dinosaurs coping with avoiding extinction?

Finally, they appear to be accepting that Indie Authors are here to stay. Writing for paidcontent, the interestingly-named Laura Hazard Owen began her report with the book-with-the-unmentionable-title, which, somewhat worryingly, is being held up as the perfect example of the self-published goldmines that potentially await the mainstreams. Of course, now that E. L. James’s trilogy is rumoured to have sold over 50 million copies, big-hitting mainstream people are lining up to point out that she couldn’t have done it without them, and that thanks to Random House, her “relatively modest success” was turned into a “maelstrom of money”.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that mainstreams care most about the bottom line, but nowhere does anyone mention literary quality or artistic value. If “self-published” now means a place where the mainstreams can look for the next lowest-common-denominator bestseller, I’m not convinced that’s such a great improvement on the general public’s current opinion. But on the plus side, Indie Authors are certainly pulling more interest towards them. The same report mentions Penguin paying a six-figure sum for a self-published novel, whose author first managed to shift “hundreds of thousands” of copies, and then got himself a literary agent to set up a bidding war among the mainstreams. Some things never change.

Of more relevance to Indie Authors and readers, further on the article mentioned the three most talked about new start-ups at Frankfurt. First off, we have Ganxy, which calls itself, “An elegant product showcase to promote your work, connect with your audience, and sell to your buyers”. There might be something more here than simply another hideous waste of time, but when I read this, my first thought was that if I knew where my buyers were, I wouldn’t need Ganxy to showcase my books (and that name looks a bit iffy, too – a lazy rhyme with “Banksy”?).

Of more interest to readers is Bookshout!, which allows users to upload their purchased ebooks to one place, presumably because it is just too much of a drag to have to carry one’s Kindle absolutely everywhere. The article mentions the obvious security risks, and the founder’s comments trying to diffuse the obvious risks, and how the necessary safeguards will mean a lot more work for readers who do decide to use it.

Thirdly, there is a new attempted challenger to Amazon, this time called ZolaBooks, founded by a former literary agent, which aims “to carry every ebook by every publisher” and to compete with Amazon by not competing with it. “Amazon is purely price-driven”, claims the founder, not editorially driven. Something tells me that ZolaBooks’s publicity angle will be along the lines of “quality mainstream ebooks” without having to wade through the “poor quality Indie ebooks”, so with luck it will swiftly disappear in a puff of hypocrisy.

Finally, a few numbers to make any author sigh in wonder. There was talk at Frankfurt of the future of digital reading, and how in poorer countries, people are reading books on their mobile phones. In the biggest emerging market of them all – China – there are now one billion mobile phone users, and 300 million smartphone users. China Mobile, one of that country’s two telecoms providers, also has the largest ebook platform. Blimey, I wonder how many of those Chinese speak English?

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

16 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: All the Fun of Frankfurt”

    1. Ah, Yvonne, my B/S detector has not been working properly since I got my mortgage some years ago 🙁

    1. I think we all feel the same, Brian. Everything is awash in positive marketing. I’d love to see a new start-up say something like, “Well, we don’t have much money in the bank, we’re not sure we’ve got it all worked out, but why not give us a try?!”

  1. Great article Chris. It seems as if the big publishers have seen the light, at least to some extent, and are now looking for ways to cash in on the ebook/indie revolution but, I can’t really see anything changing for the better until they change their business model. At the moment the only thing they have to offer ebook readers is a huge backlist of previously published books at expensive prices. Indies, however, allow readers to play in a huge lucky dip at next to no cost. I don’t think the majority of readers will not want to give that up. As for indie authors, I think the honeymoon period of being ‘validated’ by big publishers will evaporate pretty quickly if their monetary returns plummet. Interesting times.

    1. Thanks for commenting, acflory. “Interesting times” is an old Chinese curse, as I remember… 🙂

  2. I’m in the US, which isn’t a third-world country (as far as I’m aware 😉 ), and I read books on my cell phone. I’ve got both the Kindle app and the Nook app installed — and very useful, too. If the battery on one device dies, or if I leave the Nook at home, I can pull out my phone and pick up right where I left off. 🙂

  3. There may actually be a market, however small, for start-ups such as BookShout!

    Recently Amazon brought the topic of DRM back to the headlines by deleting all the books from a customers Kindle.

    Whether it’s Amazon or Apple, when I purchase a song or a book I would expect to keep it. Yet, according to their digital policies, they retain ownership of the material, putting me into the role of renter.

    You may have heard the rumor that Bruce WIllis was threatening to sue Apple because he wanted the right to bequeath his collection of songs to his children. The rumor turned out to be false, but the fact that Apple does not allow this remains true.

    What are your thoughts? If you buy a digital book from Amazon shouldn’t you have the same rights as if you purchased a hardcover in a brick and mortar store? Am I missing something, or does this seem to be…shady?

    1. “Shady” doesn’t begin to describe it, KD. I feel strongly that “ownership” needs to be redefined. If we pay for a copy of a book, but the seller retains the ability to deny us access to it, at a time of its choosing, then that’s not ownership, at best it’s a long-term lease. Subsequently, the prices for all ebooks sould be a lot lower, as though we were borrowing them from a library.
      I’m very cynical reagrding the idea of “trust” that corporates like Amazon always trade on, that we can “trust” them to “look after” our stuff, when in fact they control our stuff. Note that it seldom works the other way: if I asked Amazon if I could have a few books to read, but I’ll pay them in a few years because I’m skint now, I wouldn’t get very far…

    1. Thanks, Jo. I thought it was a good article that summarised Frankfurt well, and still had something for Indies 🙂

  4. Thank you for an analytical and clear article, Chris. I can just imagine the many whispered, almost, desperate conversations in darkened corners. And Ganxy is very near to manky…

    @Ken Yes, I don’t think most people grasp they’re only being granted a licence to download digital books, rather than owning them like the physical ones. But Amazon still has that all-important this – clout. Until a serious big player challenges them, that’s where we all are.

  5. Thanks for commenting, Alison. “Ganxy” is very near to “manky” – love it! But yes, makes you wonder about the marketing brains behind these things:
    “Come on, guys, we need a hip-sounding name that’s going to look really down and groovy with da kidz, but at the same not look too extreme to all those cynical middle-aged wallies. Any ideas?”
    “Well, Banksy is seen as pretty cool with lots of demographs. We should pick something that rhymes with that.”

  6. As always, a great article Chris. The more I learn about the industry, the more I seem to despair these days.
    Anyway, I am now off to enrol in evening classes for Mandarin in order to translate my books. I wonder how Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines would fair in Chinese?
    Arigato gozaimasu (Okay, I know that is Japanese but it’s a start.)

    1. Thanks, Carol. I’m quite amazed at what I find when I research for these columns too! 🙂

  7. Sorry I’m late to the party, Chris; busy week. This is an excellent article and right on the button. The whole literary scene has taken a jump to the left, but it sometimes seems that we are just swapping one bunch of capitalist w****** (rhymes with Bankers) for another bunch users, or is it in fact the same scheming, manipulative and corrupt lot; just wearing different hats?

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