I just looked at the Amazon top 100. #1 is a trad pub title at $2.99. #2 is a trad pub title at .99. #3 is an Amazon imprint pre-order at $4.99. #4 is Baldacci’s latest at $10.99, #5 is Michael Connolly’s latest at $3.99, #6 is Gone Girl at $2.99, and on and on and on.
For those indie authors who have seen a marked downturn in sales since KU came in, I believe that’s only part of the story. The other is that since Amazon got lower prices from trad publishers, the price of trad pubbed books is through the floor. Sure, some of that’s holiday discounting, but not close to all.
Which means that the tried and true gambit most indies have been using, which is selling based on price, at .99 or $2.99 or $3.99 or $4.99, likely won’t work particularly well anymore. Because when you can buy Gone Girl for $2.99 and Connolly’s latest at $3.99, why would most readers buy your book at or around the same price?
If your answer is “because I wrote it,” you are likely in for a very rude awakening. If you haven’t already gotten it, my hunch is you soon will.
Readers are now being presented with a host of worthy, readable, high-quality offerings at or below the same prices indies offered their books at, eliminating the bargain perception/edge that indies learned to rely on as a differentiator.
That will translate into crap sales for many, and the effective end to many careers that relied on their work being attractive because it was cheap. In a world where everything is cheap, selling based on price doesn’t work.
Bluntly, if you as an author want to sell books in this environment, you have to do it the old fashioned way: you have to write books your audience will gladly pay for, even if a dollar or two more than the latest Michael Connolly, or Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster. That means you need to up your game, that suddenly story and craft will matter more, and that simply being cheap, with a homemade cover and lackadaisical or no editing, won’t cut it.
That’s awesome news for readers. It’s disastrous news for many indie authors.
(As an aside, I suspect if I dug into the publishing contracts with many trad pubbed authors, I’d find a clause that cuts their royalties to almost nothing when the selling price of a book is greater than a 50% discount. I recall reading about that before – a $10 list price book will pay X percent at $5 to a vendor, and drop to Y percent at below $5, making the author peanuts but the publisher a buttload of bucks if the incremental sales offset the drop in net revenue per unit. All good for the publisher, who shifts double the units to make up any shortfall, but a reaming for the author, whose revenue could drop far more than the incremental increase in units moved.)
So the days of putting out just okay work and hoping it will sell are over. That’s so 2010. This is the end of 2014, and the competitive landscape is going to get a whole lot tougher.
Now for the good news. As my prior blog discussed, more authors than ever before are earning good money as indies. So it can be done. But those authors are very, very good at delivering a reading experience their following will pay for, and they value their readers above all – they don’t put out slop, they don’t think in terms of “good enough,” and they’re every bit as demanding of their work as the harshest acquisitions editor.
At $3.99, Michael Connolly represents an amazing value. If you want to sell a reader your novel, and you’re in the same genre, you need to ensure it’s as good or better, whatever that means. To me it means the editing has to be pro, the story engaging and professionally told, the word choice and grammar above reproach, the cover a professional effort, and on and on (I use Connolly as an example – if you look at the top 100, you’ll see that virtually every genre has similar offerings, so it’s not only mystery).
If you can do all that, and communicate to interested readers that you have what they’re interested in buying, you will probably do well at this, even in the more competitive market. If you can’t – if your work’s amateurish, if you decided to spare the bucks on editing or covers, if your approach to your story is “that’s probably fine – look at all the crappy books that sell,” or any of the other litany of mistakes I’ve covered in this blog more times than I can count, chances are you won’t.
It’s that simple.
My message is that the honeymoon’s over. Time to knuckle down and demand more out of yourself at every turn, because even if you don’t, your readers will. And they now have more choices than ever at lower prices than I’ve ever seen, and those choices are largely good.
Awesome for readers. Good for some authors. Not so much for many others. But in the end, better for the business moving forward. Competition is always good. Always. Except for those who can’t compete. There’s a term for them in all businesses: Road Kill.
Don’t. Be. Road. Kill.
And don’t kid yourself that this is going to get anything but tougher. Pro basketball players don’t tell themselves that they don’t have to be all that great because there are plenty of mediocre players. Pro dancers don’t argue that they should be given center stage because they’re precious snowflakes, and their deficiencies should be ignored. Pro competitors in any arena strive to be the absolute best, and demand the most out of themselves, making no excuses, asking for and offering no quarter.
Welcome to 2015.