Indie News Beat: The times, they keep on a’ changing

Indie Publishing NewsIn a month when the top story should have been the Frankfurt Book Fair, what excited many people was the news that UK retailer W. H. Smith suddenly removed all self-published books it had only recently started carrying. It did this because a customer complained that a search for children’s books with the keyword “Daddies” returned titles of an adult, and in some cases gross, nature. From this naive filter failure, it was only a short but entirely predictable step to the retailer reassuring its UK middle-class customer base that they would not have to suffer such distress any further, and blaming the uncontrolled orgy (pun intended) of self-published books for the problem.

While many commentators pointed out the hypocrisy in this stance, there can be no surprise. Independent Authors continue to suffer the most outrageous discrimination as mainstreams use their influence to defend their shrinking market shares, in this case by having a major UK retailer pin the blame for its own simple mistake on the perceived tawdry subject matter of many self-published books. Clearly, the message is that adult material is only acceptable if it first has the mainstreams’ seal of approval.

Meanwhile, other interesting news stories have been popping up. This report claims that Pintrest is now driving more internet traffic to 200,000 publishers than Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit combined, second only to FaceBook. Personally I find Pintrest to be less than accessible. Fortunately, my fellow minion Lois Lewandowski can help.

Elsewhere, there’s plenty of tough love to be had as author Rob Eagar says that authors don’t exist in the digital age, only “people who write stuff that they want other people to buy”. For the Independent Author, this is a truth which needs to be acknowledged: “As you learn the craft of writing, you must also learn the craft of selling”. Eagar unfairly takes a snarky bite out of poets, using them as a synonym for failure. In his view, it seems there is no middle ground, no place for authors who look at the prospect of selling themselves rather than their work with trepidation, if not dread. Eagar believes that if you’re a writer, then the challenges of writing entertaining blog posts, social media posts, etc, should be in your “wheelhouse” (whatever that is), and to refuse to see this any other way is just giving in to negativity. Oh, good. I’m glad he’s cleared that up.

More worryingly, a headline which will grab the attention of every Indie came courtesy of The New Republic, with “Why writers should embrace Amazon’s takeover of the publishing industry”. This article, which itself followed on from a New York Times report, is an accurate a summing up of the current situation as I’ve read in the last few months. In effect, Amazon is using its shop floor as vast, public slushpile. But now, instead of merely scooping up and promoting the few books which gain traction among readers, it’s taking a moderately successful book, giving it a wash and brush up from an editor, and re-publishing it through one of its own six imprints.

Experts complain that everyone in mainstream publishing is scared of Amazon, while Amazon claims that traditional publishers are in love with their own demise. For Indies, it may not matter so much: Amazon is already the most important place for our books by far, and the fact that it’s taking on the mainstreams in such fashion may be a cause for satisfaction. What happens five or ten years down the line, if and when Amazon is the only global book publisher left, remains to be seen.

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.

21 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: The times, they keep on a’ changing”

  1. I think it’s entirely indicative that the mainstream howling gets louder and louder as they feel more and more threatened by the indie movement. I also think the audience that is listening to the bombastic bleating is getting thinner and thinner. Let them howl. We will persevere!

    1. If you include small publishers in the indie movement, then I certainly agree with you. I also hope the audience for their bleating is getting smaller, but I don’t think there’s really a way to measure the effectiveness of the trads’ relentlessly negativity among the the general reading public. Politicians know well how useful negative campaigning can be – throw enough mud, and some of it will stick. I think this will keep applying to Indies for a while yet.

  2. I don’t think we’ll ever lose *all* of the Big Five. I mean, somebody’s gotta survive, if only to print those coffee-table books and stuff. Good post, Chris.

    1. With the situation today, Lynne, I agree with you – I can’t honestly see ALL of them being put out of business by Amazon. That’s the fun part talking about the future – we’re all giving it our best guess.

  3. I think we may see some of the mid or small presses become the next large publishers as they understand the market better, are already giving author better terms, and do a lot of those “author services”, many authors don’t want to deal with. I think we may see more flexible print-only deals.

    One of the things Amazon imprints hadn’t had success with is getting their print books into bookstores for what I consider obvious reasons. If you were a bookstore would you want to sell books from the place that is putting you out of business? They are not keeping on the head of the publishing division – his contract came up for renewal and they chose not to renew it. I think they need someone who is going to think out of the box & come up with a way to partner with non-B&N brick and mortar stores if they want to get their print books sold anywhere other than on their site. Until then I’m not sure they are fully taking on the big 5.

    1. Fair comment, Tasha. I don’t think Amazon will ever open a chain of high street stores, but only because the anti-competition authorities might have something to say about it 🙂

  4. This sums it up, well said: “xperts complain that everyone in mainstream publishing is scared of Amazon, while Amazon claims that traditional publishers are in love with their own demise.”

    Bookstores should start thinking of equipping themselves with POD facilities in-house (the technology exists) so that every title on an online catalogue can be browsed, explored, listened to, by their patrons. Watch their trailers and read the author interview on multi-ordering points with touch screen of which the most important buttons are download (with bluetooth or future technology) to their device or Print, and the book will be ready in 15′, while having a cappuccino and a decadent chocolate fudge cake at the embedded “Readers’ Café”.

    No distributions costs, no returns, every printed book is sold.

    1. Excellent suggestion, Massimo. Speaking as a fellow sci-fi author, it doesn’t take a massive leap of the imagination to see where this will go. Imagine what will happen when some clever stick invents a printer for the home, the size of the cheap, all-in-one printer/copier/fax which we have today, but this new printer will be able to turn out any size paperback or hardback? The inventor will undoubtedly sell the copyright to Amazon, who will market it exclusively, so you click “buy” on the product page, and one minute later, instead of being on your Kindle, you have a lovely, freshly printed paperback or hardback. And bingo – no more need for any bookshops at all!

        1. Well, like every new invention it’ll start out exclusive and only for the rich. When the first video cassette recorders came out in the late 1960s, each one cost thousands, but less than 20 years later almost every one (in developed countries) could afford one. It’s gonna happen again, trust me 🙂

    2. Some indie bookstores are bringing in POD machines to do this. But I understand the machines are quite expensive and it’s not clear if consumers are interested in them or not. I do think the technology will get smaller and more advanced. Pair intro to POD with a few author signings and you’ve got a win-win.

  5. Excellent post, Chris, The only thing we can be sure of is that things will indeed continue to change. I decided earlier this year to concentrate on producing more content and let the literary world continue to spin around on it’s own. I have no control over what’s going to happen with the big picture anyway.
    Keep up the good work, you made some really valid points.

    1. Thanks, Martin. The more change happens, the more ideas people have to bandy around, so the more difficult it becomes to accurately try to work out what will happen. Definitely better to crack on with the writing 🙂

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