25 November 2015 by Published in: Uncategorized 44 comments

I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs and FB posts about crummy sales, how hard it is to get traction any more, how the market’s changed, how pricing power is a thing of the past and prices continue to spiral down, how even romance is seeing a 40-60% drop in sales.

This is, as predicted, the new normal.

All markets change. They get better for some, worse for others. Nothing’s static.

And last month’s gimmick likely won’t work next month. Gimmicks tend to be like fad curves – they’re steep, sucking in a certain number, and then they lose effectiveness and drop off a cliff.

What does that mean for authors, moving forward?

Same as ever, it will continue to get tougher to build a readership as the market matures. The voracious readers of yesterday are now mostly borrowers, not buyers or free downloaders, due to the subscription model. Whether that’s good or bad depends on whether you’re Amazon, a trad pubbed author who doesn’t participate, or an indie who is hoping that folks conditioned to read free content will decide they’re worth paying for.

I personally don’t see that happening. As with music, once a crowd associates content with free, it is valueless to them – the entitlement kicks in, or alternatively, they simply don’t understand why anyone would buy something when they can get so much nearly identical content for free.

These are largely readers for whom all content is fungible, all books roughly equivalent. Hardest hit are the genres where the writing quality is average, and the books are largely interchangeable. That’s not to say, you’ve read one shifter SEAL UFC billionaire stepbrother BDSM book, you’ve read them all, but for voracious readers who will be on to another book tomorrow, it’s hardly surprising they might view it that way, just as readers who viewed all Harlequin books as largely interchangeable aren’t a shocker. I believe that’s why we’re seeing the dip, for example, in romance – for authors who haven’t built a  distinctive and recognizable brand, a franchise perceived as being different and special, you can swap out one tattooed hunk for another, and the tropes are largely the same. I use that as an example only – it’s happening in other genres, too, although the ones that are dominated by trad pubbed authors are getting hit the least, far as I can tell, either because reader behavior is different, or because most of the quality product isn’t available via subscription.

What this means is that authors who have honed their craft, package professionally, push the envelope on quality, and publish with clock-like regularity, will have the best chance. Those that don’t will fall by the wayside, whether in their third year, or third month, of publishing.

I believe we can expect royalties from subscriptions to shrink (safe bet based on the trend), and pricing power to disappear in many of the most popular genres. That means that those whose strategy is to depend on the subscription model will earn less money as the months go by.

And before I hear the usual arguments about how Amazon’s program increases visibility, and thus, discoverability, by treating borrows as sales for the purposes of rank, consider this simple test of that theory: If higher rank = greater visibility with folks who buy, vs. borrow, and those buyers use rank (whether on POP lists or not) as their new author discovery mechanism, you’d expect your sales (not overall revenue, unit SALES) to increase once you go into Select. That’s testable. If sales remain flat, or decline, then you have discovered that the ones using rank as a discovery mechanism are borrowers, not buyers. That runs counter to the established wisdom that higher rank equates to greater sales due to enhanced discoverability, but like most theories, when tested, it might just fall apart (it certainly does in my case – sales go down, borrows increase, and revenue increases due to increased borrows, but the type of reader I’m getting isn’t one that’s willing to pay for my work, as evidenced by the decreased sales).

What does it all mean? Strap in – I believe 2016-2018 are going to be very difficult years for the U.S. economy, as the chickens of fiscal recklessness come home to roost and it becomes painfully clear that the country’s in a recession, if not depression, and that’s going to translate into a tougher business environment for all.

Sorry to be such a bummer, but I know too many authors who were thinking they could quit their jobs three years ago, who have just thrown in the towel as the market’s gotten tougher. To expect it to get anything but harder is magical thinking, unsupported by any of the evidence I’m seeing. I’d love to be proved wrong. The irony being that indies will continue to command a larger chunk of the ebook sales, but those sales will be concentrated in fewer authors. Which is neither good, nor bad. It just is.

Will there be lightning strikes – books that come out of nowhere and become fads that everyone just has to read? Sure. Although if you look at trad sales, there haven’t been any must-read blockbusters everyone on the bus or plane just has to read for a little while now. I’m talking The Firm, Da Vinci, GWTDT, Harry Potter, 50 Shades level blockbusters. Reader behavior may be changing in that regard, too. Shrug. Wish it was my problem…

That’s my state of the union observations as we watch another year pass under our bow. Good luck to one and all, and most importantly…

Buy. My. Crap.

 

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Comments

  1. Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Perhaps self-pub authors should consider having their books translated into several foreign languages. I was amazed at the response I got when the first book in my Det. Annie Avants series was translated into Portuguese and sold well. I marketed mainly on Twitter using amazon.com.br and hashtags for the countries that had Portuguese speaking people.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 5:29 pm

      Not a bad idea, as long as the authors grasp that everything in this biz is a risk, and there’s no guarantee they make back their investment. Everyone’s mileage may vary, and there’s no reason to expect a book that has failed to sell in its mother tongue to do well in another language. That said, I know my translations shift quite a few copies, especially in hard copy, so it’s all an experiment.

      Reply
  2. Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Agree 100% and see those trends too.
    I’ve moved most of my books out of Select, which was great for me in terms of simplification, but I think it’s time for me to have the greater capacity of all platforms. If I wasn’t still cranking out major (in my my series) titles, I’d definitely be seeing a slump too, but I am still putting in top quality effort, and that still pays off well with loyal readers.
    I think diversification is a great way to weather the vagaries of the marketplace, so a print book deal, audiobooks, all platforms, multiple genres, a Kindle World…an indie’s work is never done, right, Russell?
    You should know!
    Much aloha
    Toby Neal http://www.tobyneal.net/

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 5:58 pm

      As a friend of mine is fond of saying, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it…

      Reply
  3. Dorothy
    Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 5:55 pm

    If you leave writing to start a band, I think your name should be the Chickens of Fickle Recklessness.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 5:57 pm

      I’ll be sure to alert you if I decide to pursue the only thing that pays less than writing.

      Reply
  4. cinisajoy
    Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 5:55 pm

    You are right about voracious readers.

    I want to address one other problem I am seeing with some authors. They repeat themselves in book after book in full detail about unimportant stuff. Sorry but if half the book is a repeat of your last book, you will lose readers.

    So please dear authors, keep your stories fresh.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 5:58 pm

      Is that a dig? By now you should know I write the same book over and over again, only changing the character names, and then, only if I’m sober, which is rarely these days.

      Reply
      • Ed Teja  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 6:57 pm

        Russel, Changing your character names isn’t enough for us demanding readers. We expect at least one new adjective per book–no shirking. And if possible, a change in hair color for at least two characters, however we know that’s a stretch and asking a lot.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 7:03 pm

          When they have any hair at all…

          Reply
  5. Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Russell Blake tells like it is…

    100% agree with your post. The thought of resuscitating my high tech sales career and making some decent money has crossed my mind as a possibility for 2016. Don’t get me wrong; I love to write and I write decent enough, but damn I would like to get paid for the work.

    I wonder if Amazon will see the errors of their ways with the subscription model as it cannibalizes paid sales in time?

    Thanks for telling it straight and true, Russell.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 6:48 pm

      I think Amazon is very astute – their imperative is to lock in as many eyes as possible and monetize them. They have all the data, so they understand to the dime how much they’re trading off in sales versus KU fees, and it’s got to be a money maker for them, or more likely, a strategic play where they’re comfortable losing for months, or years, to achieve their aim. I’d do the same thing were I in their shoes. It’s nothing nefarious, just smart business. Once they have a lock on the subscription model, I’d anticipate them raising the fee and lowering the payout per page. I’d wait until all my competitors were out of business until doing so, though. Then, I think we can look forward to even slimmer payouts as authors.

      The thing most authors don’t seem to grasp is that Amazon, like all businesses, has to be ruthless in execution, and the business isn’t about doing what’s best for indies, and never has been. We’re the beneficiaries of some of their tactical decisions, as well as their competitive jockeying (recall that Amazon only did 70% as a response to Apple paying that out – they started at 35%, which was obviously what they felt was the right number. I think they simply went, “trad pub pays 25% royalty, 35% looks great compared to that, indies will suck it up” and then had to pivot when Apple introduced 70%), and we’re the casualties of some of them. We’re the ants in their sandbox, and I highly doubt that anyone’s trying to ruin our livelihoods, or improve them – they’re just following their game plan, and some will win, and others lose. Remember that they don’t really care what’s best for your career long term, or even short term. You are just one of many, and can be easily replaced by the next pretty face. That’s just how working with vendors is – no vendor is sacred, and you squeeze them as much as you can to coax more profits out of the equation. That’s just how it all operates. Which is why I always smirk when I read blogs about how great Amazon is, or how evil, for authors. They’re neither, and they’re both, depending on the day, and your situation. And they’re not in business to make us happy – they’re in business to make their customers happy, and extract maximum profit in the process.

      Reply
      • robert  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 9:10 pm

        Yup. Let’s not forget how Audible (owned by Amazon) lowered the author royalty from 50% to 40% once they gained a monopoly share of the audiobook market. I’ve never believed Amazon is on the side of authors, and it’s extremely naive for authors to believe otherwise.

        Btw, I asked an author friend who has a few books with Thomas & Mercer and who has his other self-published stuff in KU how much he earns on average every month from KU. The number he told me was WAY lower than I’d expected. I told him I make the same amount, if not more, on B&N, iTunes, and Kobo combined. I encouraged to consider expanding his books to other platforms, but he may not want to piss Amazon off as he’s published by T&M.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Nov 2015 at 12:59 pm

          Everybody has to walk their own path, and for some, it’s not strictly financial.

          For me it is. I’d never do a deal that wasn’t in my financial best interests. Period. Then again, I’m rather mercenary about my career, such as it is. Job number one as CEO of ME, Inc. is to make my shareholders maximum profit. Locking in what’s perceived as a guaranteed income, if it means a big pay cut, isn’t in the cards – I’d be letting my shareholders (me) down if I did that.

          Reply
      • Katherine Owen  –  Wed 02nd Dec 2015 at 5:16 pm

        True enough.

        I’ve met with Amazon when they first rolled out their advertising… To me, there was a definite sense of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing, however, that was one microcosm in a large organization. The guy I met with seemed overwhelmed and they were trying to rush a product out that wasn’t ready. ; )

        Anyway, I agree with your post above. Everyone has to find their own way. I am wide on all platforms because KU never worked for me, which is probably due to the type of books I write and how long it takes me to write them.

        Best to you, Russell.

        KO

        Reply
  6. Zarayna
    Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I thank you, Russell, for this realistic and logical advice/warning albeit through gritted teeth.
    Having had my first (I thought) cozy criminal thriller described by a mature male member of my writing group as too violent for him to continue reading, let alone critiquing, I’ve decided that I know nothing about anything.
    So I shall continue.
    Please accept my kindest regards.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Nov 2015 at 12:59 pm

      Wisdom begins in knowing what you don’t know.

      Reply
  7. Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 7:05 pm

    I take issue with a few things in Russell’s post, although I agree with the general tenor of what he says and the basic outline of his predictions–essentially, the market is getting tougher and subscription model is making it harder to sell books.

    But where he says, “If sales remain flat, or decline, then you have discovered that the ones using rank as a discovery mechanism are borrowers, not buyers.” Actually, when your book is in KindleUnlimited, both borrows AND sales go up. So if you just have a book going up and up in the rankings, your sales will absolutely increase along with your borrows.

    However, there is no doubt that some sales will be cannibalized if you have a successful book not in KU, which you then place into the KU ecosystem. In that case, I believe you would see sales drop as some of those buyers in the KU program now borrow your book instead of purchasing it.

    Also, Russell makes good points about the difficulty of those who have not created a unique and established brand in this sort of environment. Unfortunately, he spends way too much time targeting romance and stating that the readers basically do not discriminate, and thus treat romance books as “fungible” (his words, not mine).

    To quote his a portion of his post: “Hardest hit are the genres where the writing quality is average, and the books are largely interchangeable. That’s not to say, you’ve read one shifter SEAL UFC billionaire stepbrother BDSM book, you’ve read them all..”

    Without taking too much of a shot at Russell, I think it’s fair to point out that he tried to write romance under the pen name RE Blake, and as far as I was able to tell, his books did not sell all that well.

    So I would ask Russell, if books are so fungible in the romance market, why were you not able to crack the top of the market with your romance books?

    Again, this is not to attack Russell, but merely to provide a strong counterpoint to the frequently spouted comments about romance authors and readers which I find to be a bit off the market in his blog post.

    Yes, the market is more difficult, and yes romance is getting hard hit by many of these changes. But not for the reasons he thinks. And I believe in the future Romance will probably still be a better, healthier marketplace with more successful authors than any other–just like it is now.

    (I cross-posted this from Indiepubclub, where someone mentioned your post)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 9:27 pm

      I used romance as an example, because it is a large, well-understood genre, and many of the blog posts I’ve seen complaining about sales drops are in that genre. Seems that you have a bit of a hair trigger rushing to defend it, but it needs no defense. If you wish, substitute any commercial fiction genre you like for romance, and my statements would be equally true.

      But first to a logical conundrum. You state with assurance that “when your book is in KindleUnlimited (sic), both borrows AND sales go up.” The problem with that emphatic assurance is that it isn’t true. I mean, it might be for some, but certainly not for all, and possibly not even the majority. If you have some empirical evidence that all authors who put their books into KU experience an increase in sales AND borrows, be sure to share it, because I know dozens who have seen the opposite, as have I on some titles. I suspect that assurance, as are so many in this business, is more hyperbole and assumption than it is factual, based on my own experience.

      As to writing quality being average in romance, I don’t know many romance authors (and yes, I know many, including some of the most successful indies and trad pubbed names) who wouldn’t agree that it’s not literary fiction on the quality scale, which is fine, and even expected, because literary fiction ain’t all that popular, and if you want to write at that level, you’re probably writing over many readers’ heads and not at the vast majority who will read a romance. I didn’t say that romance novels aren’t well written, just that they are average (it would be difficult to argue that the majority of romance books aren’t average in their prose, or the word majority and average would have to cease to have any objective meaning), and in the minds of their readers, mostly interchangeable. There are exceptions, of course, and that’s why there’s the word average, and the word, exception. Just as the average earner on Amazon in the genre might earn X, the exceptions might earn Y. If every book, or most books, in the genre, are exceptional, then exceptional would be, well, average, and my statement would still hold true.

      As to whether the theory that improved visibility from the higher rank that the combination of borrows and sales of a KU book would receive leads to increased discoverability by book BUYERS rather than book BORROWERS, my suggested test holds water. If the notion is that book buyers use the pop lists and ranking to discover new authors, whom they then buy, one would expect one’s SALES to increase from that increased visibility, even assuming some buyers were cannibalized by becoming borrowers of one’s work. It would be kind of a worthless theory if one maintained that increased visibility resulted in increased discoverability by book BUYERS if SALES declined markedly, or were flat, because the modification of the theory that those buyers became borrowers when they saw it was in KU makes my point, not the point you’re testing: that the ones using the ranking on the lists are borrowers, not buyers, or perhaps a combination, with most being borrowers. Kind of hard to state out of one side of one’s mouth that the visibility translates into the audience that buys books buying yours, and then explain away a decline by saying, oh, they must have borrowed rather than buying, and call that a validation of the theory. I’m saying the correct theory based on what I’ve seen is that the preferential ranking KU books receive translates into improved visibility by BORROWERS, with little positive measurable effect on BUYERS, hence a possible increase in revenue with a decline in sales. You are free to disagree or present data that debunks that theory.

      As to why I wasn’t able to crack the top of the market with my “romance books,” my YA novel trilogy is less romance than it is coming-of-age with romantic elements, so it’s not the kind of book that cracks the top of the genre without a massive push by a big house, and even then, for a new name in the genre, it’s iffy whether it could. It’s not what’s selling in the mainstream, which I understood going in, and while I could have tried my hand at what is, frankly that didn’t interest me as that’s been done far better than I could by hundreds, if not thousands, of successful authors. I wanted to try to combine a road novel with a coming-of-age story, with the romance at its core, but not front and center – a hybrid, if you will, with more in common with John Green than 50 Shades. It’s sold more than the vast majority of new names in the YA romance genre and was featured by Amazon as a KDD about a year after release, so while perhaps not a blockbuster, I’m happy with how it’s done as a debut odd duck, and most readers seem to like it, so mission accomplished. I lack the proper chromosomes to fully appreciate all the nuance inherent in a wildly successful mainstream romance novel, so my efforts would be wasted on trying to write one, especially when my peers in the genre have read thousands of them, and thus grasp the conventions better than I ever will. A smart man knows what he doesn’t know – as does a smart woman.

      You are misreading my blog. I’m not predicting the demise of Romance – it’s done just fine for years, and will likely continue to. I’m predicting that the number of middling authors in the genre making healthy livings will decline as subscription services become the preferred new author discovery mechanism by voracious readers in the genre, and the royalties from those services decline. Fewer of the pool who might have had an appetite for an indie name will be buyers, and more will be borrowers – because many who tried indies did so for price reasons, as much as because the mainstream wasn’t catering to their tastes. As those readers view their daily diet of romance books, since we’re using that as the test case, as being free reads due to subscription services, so will their reluctance to buy what they can read for free, grow. If you feel that’s bagging on romance, as I suggested earlier, feel free to substitute sci fi, or men’s adventure, or quilting. It would hold equally true.

      Thanks for cross-posting it to that site.

      Reply
  8. Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 7:21 pm

    AGREED. The best and most honest article I’ve read on the subject in… well, the best I’ve read, period. Thank you. Julia

    Reply
  9. Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for responding, Russell.

    Yeah, I did take issue with some of your characterization of romance, particularly the idea that readers in the genre are likely to view romance books as fungible.

    I don’t think that view is supported by the facts at all. What you mistake for fungibility is actually just a large very voracious base of readers hungry for content.

    Thus, what you see as a struggle due to subscription–which does play into things, as it does for ALL books and all genres–is actually a struggle due to the increasing amount of high-level, sophisticated content flooding the romance market.

    So it’s getting harder for precisely the opposite reason than what you state. It’s getting more difficult because there are better authors, better covers, better books, slicker marketing and all the stuff you claim makes books in all genres better.

    THAT’S the real reason so many authors are struggling in romance. Also, yes, subscription has made things tougher, and romance readers–being so voracious–have been some of the earliest subscription adopters.

    But subscription alone is not to blame for the issue you’re speaking of. It is also because of the higher level of increased competition as very good authors continue to pile on the field.

    Romance readers care a great deal about quality–it’s just that what they define as quality–hitting their favorite tropes, happy endings, chemistry and romance and hot sex between characters, emotional growth…these are valued sometimes above smooth prose and believable plot lines.

    For those who come from your background of writing suspense, thrillers and action, those are very different notions of what constitutes quality–thus the misunderstanding many different authors face when trying to understand the nuances of romance.

    As for KU and sales vs borrows, it’s pretty simple. Data Guy has made the case in his latest Author Earnings reports that KU tends to have a 50% borrows and 50% sales ratio for the majority of books. He’s done the hard analysis and says that works out pretty well on average.

    This fits fairly well with my experience as well.

    When a book goes up in ranking, it will tend to see steadily increasing sales and borrows at that same ratio, all the way up the charts.

    And I have access to plenty of KU books that have made the top 1000 and top 100 in the store, so I feel fairly certain that sales do not decrease as rank goes up.

    However, for those with higher priced books, they may see a different ratio–but that is a different issue. Your blanket statement about borrowers vs buyers seems to be incorrect when looking at the hard data that people like Data Guy and Hugh Howey have actually studied.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 10:35 pm

      If you reread my blog, you’ll see that I said, in fact, that borrowers view content as fungible, not just romance borrowers. I didn’t specify just romance in that section. I turned to romance after that. So your spirited defense of romance from what you clearly view as an attack is unnecessary. If you say that prose and plots are not as important as happy endings and tropes, super duper, you’d know better than I. But when I say things like the prose is average, I mean the prose, in fact, is average, as in middling, not that the ending is happy or not. As I said, I know a lot of successful romance authors, and not a one thinks they’re writing Tolstoy. As to your hypothesis that sales are down because of a deluge of high quality content, that’s a hypothesis, and one that isn’t a consensus view of many of those complaining about their sales. Doesn’t mean the hypothesis is wrong, just that stating it with assurance isn’t a substitute for proving it’s true.

      I know both Data Guy and Hugh, and they’re fine fellows. However, you are extrapolating and drawing a conclusion that I can poke large holes through. I have hard data of my own – my books – as well as the experience of dozens of crazy big selling authors, and in fact sales do NOT necessarily increase when you go into KU. They can in some cases. In others, they don’t. Borrows increase, and sales stay flat to decline. So at the very best you might be able to say that for SOME, sales increase. That’s hardly the same as stating with certainty that ALL, or even MOST, increase. Which is why I encourage authors to do the analysis for themselves on their books, and not simply swallow sacred cows as being fact. Many turn out to be, at best, wishful thinking, and at worst, flat out wrong.

      As to subscription services, well, they’re here regardless of how anyone feels about them, and if I’m correct, they will make selling books substantially harder for those who are all in, as I believe those authors are branding themselves in the same way the .99 wonders branded themselves as cheapo reads. It can take years to build a quality brand, and moments to destroy one, so I’m cautious about anything that could undo that brand building effort. Obviously, there are many who believe KU builds strong bones and teeth and everyone should be in it or they’re fools, and they’re entitled to their opinions. Time, as with most things, will tell. But from my experience as a brand manager, it’s akin to putting your merchandise in the dollar store, which might be profitable in the short term, but isn’t consistent with building a premium brand. That’s just my opinion, and you’ll note I have several titles in KU, so it’s not that I think KU is the devil – rather, that I think KU has pluses and minuses, as does everything.

      Reply
      • Aaron  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 10:47 pm

        Russell, since you claim I’ve misread your words, I’ll use your exact words to make my point. In the above comment, you state that “If you reread my blog, you’ll see that I said, in fact, that borrowers view content as fungible. I didn’t specify just romance in that section.”

        Here’s the exact words from your blog: “These are largely readers for whom all content is fungible, all books roughly equivalent. Hardest hit are the genres where the writing quality is average, and the books are largely interchangeable. ”

        And then you go on to discuss romance. I think it makes quite a bit of sense for me to read that as being about the romance reader, not just the romance borrower.

        Also in the comment above, you state that: “when I say things like the prose is average, I mean the prose, in fact, is average as in middling”

        However, in your blog you actually said “Hardest hit are the genres where the writing quality is average”

        You did not actually use the word “prose,” but just writing quality, which is a much broader term.

        I think romance writers do in fact have high standards of quality, but their standards revolve around different notions of quality that have to do with story, pacing, character development and chemistry, romance, etc.

        I would argue that many literary writers have poor story development to go along with their wonderful grasp of the English language. They write boring stuff.

        In any case, I think that my reading of your words is completely within line with the way you structured your blog post. I think that my reading is well in line with the way you made your points, and that it would have been odd if I’d assumed that your statements about romance readers were only applicable to borrowing romance readers.

        But I accept that this was how you meant it, if that is what you’re telling me now.

        You asked for hard data about KU, and when I gave you some in regards to Data Guy’s analysis, you poo pooed it despite the fact that this is more data than you’ve shown here.

        I actually agree with lots of your underlying philosophy, but I disagree with some of your rhetorical flourishes.

        And you seem to mistake that disagreement with me having an axe to grind, whereas I just felt some of your statements were a bit over the top and inaccurate.

        Thanks for the hearty discussion!

        Aaron

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 11:05 pm

          Aaron, generally speaking, in my blog, if I don’t mention something during a statement, even if what follows contains something, it doesn’t mean that all things preceding that something are directly related to that something. Hence, being a wordsmith, if I intended to say, ROMANCE readers view all content as fungible, I would have. The conspicuous absence of the word romance in those sentences should be the tip-off. As is the point that when I said I didn’t refer to romance in that section, I meant I didn’t in that section, not that I then didn’t in a different section. Sorry if that wasn’t clear to you.

          As to romance readers largely finding romance novels to be fungible, whether borrowers or buyers, it would be impossible for Harlequin to earn billions for generations if that weren’t the case, churning out the equivalent of the dime novel in mystery or thrillers, paying their authors next to nothing, and charging at the bottom end of the scale. You might wish to argue that every one of those masterpieces was a diamond, and that the readers didn’t view them as fungible, but you’ve got an uphill logical battle with that one. I believe borrowers view it as even more fungible, but it would be laughable if your position was that the literally tens of thousands of Pirate Prince/Governor’s Daughter novels put out by Harlequin, the biggest in the business, weren’t average, written by average authors. There’s no shame in being average. The vast majority of people are. Getting sniffy because romance authors are all special snowflakes flies in the face of reason, frankly, and the romance authors I know, and I know a lot, would be the first to say the same. Most are not exceptional. As are most authors in general.

          You extrapolated Data Guy’s data, and decided it meant all. To disprove that, I don’t need to spend hours posting data. I simply need to find one example where you’re wrong in your extrapolation. I did. My own data on my own books. It doesn’t show what you claim it should. That’s sufficient for me.

          I’ve suggested an easy way authors can test their theory about KU. You have skipped that to argue what the results of that test would be, which is your prerogative, but I lack the desire, or the time, to argue about it, as I have a production schedule to meet. You are free to disagree with my rhetoric all you like, preferably on your own forum.

          Now back to work for me. Thanks for your time.

          Reply
  10. Wed 25th Nov 2015 at 11:07 pm

    Thanks, Russell. Appreciated the conversation and I understand your point of view better now.

    Best,

    Aaron

    Reply
  11. Thu 26th Nov 2015 at 1:59 am

    Hey Russell,

    Great post, and it’s one I’d like to disagree with, but I think you’re largely right.

    I’ve been a full-time author for right at a year now, and it does seem harder now (even with more works) than it did say 18 months ago. But having said that, it seems the number of authors jumping into the pool is quickly slowing, so that should help long term.

    For me, I feel extremely lucky to be able to do this full time. It was my dream, and I try my hardest not to take it for granted.

    But I’m also mentally prepared to go back to work (part-time at first, full-time worst case) should that prove necessary. To me, this dream/career is like a fight. If you want it bad enough, then practically nothing can stop you. You mentally prepare yourself for the worst and fight your guts out no matter what.

    You also have to say, “It’s not where you start, but where you end.” I mean, even if we had to go back to full-time work and barely managed a book a year, if twenty years from now you had twenty books and they took off, would that be such a bad thing.

    Every book is an investment, and some will pay big dividends and some may prove to be duds. But if you persevere, continue to improve, and keep up with market trends, then you vastly improve your chances of making it.

    Thanks for all your inspiration, tough news, and shared secrets through the year. You’ve earned every penny, for sure.

    Sincerely yours,
    Stan R. Mitchell

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Nov 2015 at 12:55 pm

      I agree. You don’t win if you don’t try, and nobody can predict what will hit. As long as one has reasonable expectations, there’s no reason not to do something you love. If you can make a living at it, super. Most don’t. Those are the numbers, which we both know. The worse news is that just because you have a good year or two, doesn’t mean you’ll have more. I think that’s a tough one, but you have to view it the same as any artist – your album hits marginally well, you do a tour, it’s okay, you make some money, but there is absolutely no guarantee your next one doesn’t bomb, and you’re back to working in the music store. Just the way it is, and has always been.

      Reply
      • Stan R. Mitchell  –  Thu 26th Nov 2015 at 8:26 pm

        Well said! Far better than what I was aiming to get across.

        Now, if I could just write as many books as you in a year, my chances would be far greater! : )

        Reply
  12. Fri 27th Nov 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Nice post RB.

    Long-term I’m not so sure the outlook for the indie author is so bleak.

    And, I don’t think the US economy will tank in the near future. I believe innovation is going to cause growth that will hide our sins for another decade or so…

    Regarding indie publishing, I feel, long term, content delivery will be standardized, authors will be able to sell direct, keep 100% of their income, and know the names of their readers…leading to wealth beyond our wildest dreams.

    W4$

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Nov 2015 at 5:11 pm

      Long term we’re all dead, so I tend to focus more on the short and intermediate horizon.

      Not sure innovation can solve the lowest labor participation in 40 years, a retiring baby boomer generation followed by a smaller echo generation that must pay for the boomer’s entitlements (as they have taken to calling money entrusted to the government by baby boomers for its mandatory retirement schemes), defense spending that’s larger than the next 10 industrialized nations combined, money printing at a historically unprecedented level, an economy 70% based on consumers spending cash they don’t have on shit they don’t need, Wall St banks siphoning the prosperity of the nation off while Main Street languishes, racial and class tensions at the worst they’ve been in 50 years, salaries at the lowest in nearly the same amount of time, real world inflation at 8% or so if pre-1980 metrics were used and unemployment running around 23% if calculated in the same manner as was used during the Great Depression, the cost of housing now requiring 10X the average annual salary instead of 1-2X, one out of every three employed working for the government, constant immersion in wars of aggression and empire building through coups and destabilization rather than through trade and moral leadership, and the largest amount of wealth inequality (with something like 40% of the world’s wealth concentrated in the top 1% of the population, rather than 8% of the wealth, as it was 20 years ago) in history, which is worsening each day.

      Then again, I’m not an optimist by nature, I’m a realist.

      I would love to believe I will see wealth beyond my wildest dreams anytime soon. Then again, I can dream pretty damned big, so that’s a tall order.

      Reply
      • Wright Forbucks  –  Fri 27th Nov 2015 at 11:42 pm

        Awesome reply RB. I’m with you on the ridiculous defense spending. And, I agree many factors seem to indicate the end is near. But, I’m a techie who sees an explosion of new tech happening that will lead to many decent jobs leading people buy more shit they don’t need with some money they actually earned…Let’s hope so any way 🙂 Also, I think many readers will be willing to part with $5 for a good book, if the right delivery system can be structured. I believe Amazon will not rule content forever…just the next hundred years or do 🙂 W4$

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 28th Nov 2015 at 12:56 am

          Perhaps, but you can bet it won’t be manufactured in the U.S., given the way things have gone. My take is that America is like a fat, privileged child who can’t believe Daddy lost his inheritance in the market, and keeps banking on the idea that he’ll keep getting loans until he can figure out a way to make it all back. But Daddy isn’t interested, because he’s on crack. Sure, it’s possible he will straighten out and innovate a perpetual motion machine or something, but history says that fat, entitled brats tend to turn out more like Charlie Sheen than Steve Jobs, and once Dad’s on the pipe, unless Mom puts on her stripper shoes to pay the light bill, the kid’s screwed. But hope springs eternal, and I hope you’re right. I’m just afraid I am.

          Reply
  13. Fri 27th Nov 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Russell: One question. How do you create so much product and answer so many posts? 🙂

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Nov 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Dope and booze, Nicholas, dope and booze, which you’d intuit once you’ve read any of it!

      Reply
  14. Sun 29th Nov 2015 at 11:57 pm

    Of course, the market is tougher. That has been the case for at least two years, if not longer. Let us look at some facts:

    E-BOOK SUPPLY

    The number of English-language e-books available on Kinde as of tonight is 3,259,072. Exactly one year ago, that number was 2,489,639. In other words, the supply of books has been growing at approx. 64,000 titles per month or 31% in one year’s time. This rate of new titles has been fairly constant over the last 24 months, fluctuating between 55,000 and 75,000 new English titles every month. If this rate continues like this for the next 12 months, we will be looking at a growth of the supply of e-books of 20-25% over the coming year.

    There are only five genres that have seen above-average growth in e-book supply:

    LGBT eBooks +200%
    Comics & Graphic Novels +1187%
    Teen & Young Adult +63%
    Romance +42%
    Children’s eBooks +41%

    So, it is no wonder that competition is reported being tougher than it used to be, especially in these genres. As a result, prices have shown an almost continues decline in Romance and LGBT to price points around and below $2.99 even for the Top 100 bestsellers.

    E-BOOK DEMAND

    K-lytics.com does not track absolute market size but the relative market share of the various book genres and their numerous sub-markets. Looking at some third party data, though, it is pretty clear that demand has not been growing at the rate of supply over the last year.

    In fact, already in 2014, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) had reported an e-book market revenue growth of only 3.8% to an estimated $3.37 billion dollars. Industry professionals argued that number was underestimated, because it did not include a large portion of indie publishers e-book revenues.

    Then in April 2015, the AAP reported that e-book sales dropped by 15% in the trade sector vs prior year.

    Then, September 2015 it was reported that the world’s largest publishers struck e-book distribution deals with Amazon.com Inc.; they seemed to get what they wanted: the right to set the prices of their titles and avoid the steep discounts the online retail giant often applies. However, the bullet backfired: e-Book readers are price sensitive. Hachette cited fewer hot titles and the implementation of its Amazon deal as reasons that e-books fell to 24% of its U.S. net trade sales in the first half of 2015, from 29% a year earlier.

    On the other hand, Amazon says e-book sales in its Kindle store—which encompasses a host of titles that aren’t published by the five major houses—are up in 2015 in both units and revenue. (source: Wall Street Journal)

    And, on Sep 24, 2015 Fortune magazine wrote “E-book sales aren’t falling: Amazon is winning, publishers are losing,”
    fortune.com/2015/09/24/ebook-sales/

    Whatever the case may be, it is highly unlikely that e-book sales growth was anywhere near the growth of ebook supply. Therefore proper niche selection (and creation) is more important than ever before.

    E-BOOK PRICES

    The article talks about “diminishing pricing power” for authors. I believe there has never been any significant pricing power for e-books on the supply side, except for highly technical genres (medical, law, etc.) where books can command anything between $9.99 and $200.00 and up.

    The fact is that the average price of the Top 100 titles across each of the 27 main Kindle genres was $6.17 per November 1, 2014. Twelve months later, the same average is $6.74. In other words, e-book prices, at least in the indicator Top 100 increased by 10% across the board.

    Of course, there were winners and losers. Given the over-proportional increase in the supply of books described earlier, there were three genres that saw a significant drop in price levels compared to a year ago:

    LGBT eBooks -22%
    Romance -20%
    Comics & Graphic Novels -12%

    MARKET SATURATION

    The e-book market is a mature market, no doubt. Let’s look at the following ratios:

    On the supply side, Amazon displays close to 15 million English language paperback and hardcover titles per November 29, 2015. This is 4.6 times the number of available Kindle e-books.

    Interestingly, on the demand side, the total U.S. publishing trade revenue is also about 4.5 times value of the e-book market.

    CONCLUSION

    So do I believe in “doom and gloom”? – No. Whatever the macro-picture is, the answer for the individual indie author will remain what it always has been–and this is where are completely agree with Russel’s conclusions:

    – Write good quality books
    – Do so in quantity
    – I would ad: select your niches carefully (i.e. write for markets where demand is high and competition as low as possible)
    – Market the books aggressively
    – And hope for a bit of luck

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 01st Dec 2015 at 2:25 pm

      Certainly, the increased number of titles, all competing for the same readers, is a factor as the market matures.

      Not sure how this blog is doom and gloom in its conclusions – more, it’s reporting what is occurring, and a possible explanation of why, or rather, how subscription services are gutting the very reader base most likely to be indie ebook buyers, and how that will impact the market moving forward. It’s no more doom and gloom than it is cheerleading. It simply is. Make of it what you like.

      The price increases for ebooks came in the genres where trad pubs have the lion’s share of the market. In those they don’t, prices declined, which is expected as price competition is the easiest and first road to sales for most indie authors trying to gain visibility. Every sales person knows selling on price is the easiest way to get a sale, but long term, the worse for pricing power and branding. It’s a trade-off that’s as old as the hills.

      It will be interesting to see how 2016 develops. All financial indicators lead me to believe the US is headed into, if not already in, recession, which will make things even harder as purse strings tighten. How that affects ebook sales is anyone’s guess – could be positive, as it’s a relatively cheap form of entertainment per hour when compared to films, or negative, as there’s plenty of free content that competes with ebooks and reading in general.

      Reply
      • Alex Newton  –  Tue 01st Dec 2015 at 3:22 pm

        Thanks a lot for the reply, Russel. I am fully with you. Indeed, it will be very interesting to see how 2016 will develop. By the way, if you send me a mail to support(at)k-lytics.com I can send you a review copy of an interesting piece of research I have done on Mystery, Thriller & Suspense (amongst others)

        Reply
  15. Elizabeth (LIZ)
    Tue 01st Dec 2015 at 4:02 pm

    Russell, I totally agree with your post.
    I assure you if your books were CRAP, I wouldn’t be buying them. I can’t get enough of your books. My brother feels the same way. Your books take me on an adventure, to different places. I feel as if I were one of the characters in your books. Please keep going with more on Jet. I thought how interesting it would be if in the future Hannah would learn to be like Jet. Just a thought. Keep doing what you’re doing.
    Kind regards Liz.

    Reply
  16. Wed 02nd Dec 2015 at 5:06 pm

    I guess I’m an outlier. I switched genres in August and my new books have done very well. So well that I was able to not panic when my old contractor job came to it’s inevitable conclusion and now I write full time.

    Why the sudden success after failing miserably for so long? My best guess is that I write in a genre with a voracious readership and I write books those readers want to read. I’ve bought myself a new job with my success thus far and I’m going to keep giving my readers what they like.

    KU makes up almost 40-45% of my monthly income, and all of my books are in Prime. Amazon has 74% or so of the ebook market, and I doubt I’ll go wide as the math doesn’t support that as a viable financial move.

    There’s still success to be found. If every there’s any one piece of advice that’s served me very well, it is this: Always listen to Russell Blake.

    Reply
  17. kdf
    Thu 03rd Dec 2015 at 1:07 pm

    “…you’ve read one shifter SEAL UFC billionaire stepbrother BDSM book, you’ve read them all”…

    hee hee 🙂 that comment made me snort.
    i love romances and they are definitely formulaic. which is why i can never understand how some folks write bad ones. lots of series in other genres (mystery, scifi,etc)that i love also have a formula to them which i only notice when i binge read.

    anyways i think writers have always had a difficult time to making money. you are starving artists as well. i do feel rather badly at times since i rarely buy a book new. even ebooks i buy on sale. but as a voracious reader who can read a book a day and if i don’t work 2-3 books a day, i can honestly say on my income i’d be bored stiff if i had buy every book i read.

    i’ll try to stop being so cheap and buy more books instead of ice cream and shoes. 😉

    Reply
  18. Maia
    Thu 10th Dec 2015 at 11:37 pm

    I’m a huge fan, I buy everything you write. Thank you for doing it!

    Reply
  19. KJD
    Fri 15th Jan 2016 at 12:51 pm

    “As with music, once a crowd associates content with free, it is valueless to them…”

    Right on, Russell, couldn’t agree more, which is why I will never offer my full-length novels as freebies. If you devalue the product, you devalue the market. I do however, offer my 70-page taster novelette as a freebie so readers can learn my style even though it’s probably unnecessary given that ebook readers can sample the first 10% of every novel for free. If that’s not a good enough taster, nothing will be. Maybe I’ll start charging for the novelette again. 😉
    Great post.

    Reply
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