Sunday, July 17, 2011

One More Nail in the Coffin

Well, I took my first vacation in years, and now I'm back.

Actually, it wasn't all vacation time. Blake Crouch and I spent a week in a cabin writing STIRRED. But the week after I actually spent time with my family, and was pleased to find out some of them even remembered who I was.

During my absence, two interesting things happened.

1. My Amazon-published ebook SHAKEN hit the Top 100 again on the Kindle bestseller list. I can only attribute this to some promo Amazon did, since I was off the grid and not doing anything.

2. It looks like Borders is going to liquidate.

This quickly tells me two things that I suspected all along. First, that signing a publishing deal with Amazon is a good thing. Who ever heard of a publisher doing a marketing push nine months after the book came out?

As I'm fond of saying, ebooks are forever, and Amazon is happy to support a backlist that lasts for infinity.

Second, if Borders goes bye-bye, the death spiral I predicted is right on course.

Here's something I said in that blog post:

If the majority of bookstores close, the print midlist will probably disappear. Bestsellers will still be sold in big boxes and non-bookstore outlets, but if a book isn't a blockbuster, it likely won't be released in print.

Now, we can debate the health of indie bookstores, and the two remaining chains, B&N and Books-A-Million, but pretty much every account I've read says that print sales are down and ebook sales are up. I'm confident the end result is the Big 6 publishing fewer books in print, which means fewer print sales, which is bad for the publisher/bookseller bottom line.

Will ebook sales be able to save bookstores and publishers?

Not if authors continue to wise up and tell the Big 6 to take their 17.5% ebook royalties and choke on them.

Even if you are an optimist, it's tough to argue against three obvious points.

1. Print sales are falling.

2. Ebook sales are rising.

3. 70% royalty is more than 17.5% royalty.

The obvious and eventual conclusion to draw is that authors are going to continue to abandon the Big 6, except for a few bestselling names who will continue to move print through non-bookstore outlets.

The infrastructure as it exists cannot survive without the midlist, and the midlist is going the way of the dodo.

This will mean fewer books printed, fewer books sold, and fewer choices for readers until they're forced to buy an ereading device if they want to read anything other than Stephen King and James Patterson.

While on vacation, I took two Kindles. But my 13 year old son also wanted to read, and was using his iPhone Kindle app. After being stuck tethered to an outlet (the iPhone doesn't have the longest battery life) I went to Staples about bought one of those new ad-supported Kindles for him, for the measly price of $114. I got this version not because I'm cheap, but because I wanted to see how the "special offers" and "sponsored screen saver" works.

(Joe to Amazon: Let me get into this program and buy ads for my ebooks. I will pay you a lot of money to do so.)

My point? Kindles have dropped in price to the point where they've become disposable, like cell phones and laptops and digital cameras. Ever notice that you buy a new cell (or computer, or camera) every few years, even if your old one still works?

It's because new technology costs so little, and we've become conditioned to upgrading and replacing. Why repair a phone, or TV, or monitor, or printer, or any other piece of tech, when it is cheap and simple to buy a new one? Why stick with an outdated piece of tech when you can get the latest, improved model for less money than you paid for the previous version?

Why buy four hardcovers when you can get an ereader for the same price?

I have no doubt that by the end of the year, there will be many ereaders under the magic $99 price point. They're already showing up in department stores and drug stores, along with bookstores, office supply stores, and electronics stores. Google is releasing a new ereading device. This is the future, and it will become widely adopted, and everyone knows it. Soon, readers won't even have a choice.

Everyone, except the booksellers who refuse to sell ebooks (or Amazon-published books), the Big 6 who continue to fleece authors and customers with low royalties and high ebook prices, and an ever-shrinking group of authors with Stockholm Syndrome who remain tied to the old ways.

I know I keep beating this drum, but unfortunately I'm forced to because even though this is old news for my regular blog readers, it continues to be new news for hundreds of authors on a daily basis. While on vacation I was bombarded with thank-you emails from authors who are either giving self-publishing a try, or have self-pubbed and sold a lot of ebooks. I even got a call from a notable author, asking specific questions about how to get started.

This message needs to be repeated, over and over and over, because there are still thousands of authors who spend their hard-earned $$$ on conventions that supposedly teach them how to write killer query letters.

Ack. That's so 2009. So is crossing your fingers, hoping your publisher is smart enough to buy the next book in your series when all the other books have made money. Hint: your publisher isn't smart enough.

So here is my advice:

To booksellers: Read my blog entry about surviving in this new publishing climate. You need to start working with authors and selling self-pub.

To publishers: Lower your ebook prices and raise your ebook royalties, or you're over.

To writers: Don't take any publishing deal for less than life-changing money, and make sure you get that money upfront. Otherwise, self-publish. Or sign with Amazon.

Yes, I know this horse is dead. But I have to keep beating it until everyone hears the message.

And to those folks who think that other bookstores will fill the void left by Borders, and the status quo will remain intact, I admire your optimism.

I also have some junk bonds I'd be happy to sell you.