Some Controversial Thoughts

Someone slap me.  I’ve been spending too much time on forums again.

But a lot of what I’ve been reading has me thinking.  And I’m going to say some things that are antithetical to a lot of the current self-pubbed and even trade pubbed viewpoints.

1. Unlimited supply of books is not a good thing

I was at Best Buy yesterday browsing the movie and TV show selection.  (It’s a former addiction of mine.)  And it occurred to me that it would be impossible to find anything that I wasn’t already looking for if all movies and all TV shows ever were available.

Think about how many that would be.  Think how overwhelming it would be to try to sort through all the movies ever made to get to something that interested you.

What would you do?

You’d buy what you know.  Your mind would shut down due to sheer quantity of choice and you’d focus on what you already knew about.

Taking this back to writing, I think it’s a good thing that books go out of print.

Now, one could argue that in trade publishing this happens too fast.  And I think it’s ridiculous when book three of a series is on the shelves but books one and two aren’t.

(When I worked at the bookstore I always made sure that the whole series was available if at all possible.  I worked at an indy bookstore with lax controls, though, so I had that flexibility.)

But, having every book every author has ever written available is just too much choice.  It shuts people down.  (Somewhere I have a link to a study that people with fewer choices are happier.  I agree.)

Not to mention, sometimes earlier books by an author are, how to say this diplomatically, kinda shitty.

(Sometimes later books are, too.  I’m currently reading a book by a formerly favorite author that doesn’t look like it was edited at all.  Page 22, the character sits down with his three best friends.  The next three pages they talk as if one of the three isn’t present and on page 27 discuss how she’s having breakfast with someone else and they’re off to meet her.  Pisses me off to read something sloppy like that.)

So, getting back to the point.  My mom recently bought a Kindle and was very excited to be able to buy books by some of her favorite authors that she couldn’t get ahold of any other way.  (Clearly a few had thrown up their old backlists.)

Her comment: The books weren’t very good.  These for authors she adores.  Don’t you think that opinion might carry through to her next purchase of a book from that author?  And that having those books available might lose that author new readers who start with the first book the author wrote and don’t like it?

So, just because someone has a book sitting in their drawer doesn’t mean they should put it out there.  Even if it was good enough to be trade published in the past or has sold well previously.

2. Kindle Select Needs To Be More Selective

There’s a lot of complaining about how Kindle Countdown isn’t working for the authors who try it.  That’s because there are too many books and too many people constantly running price promotions.  It’s muddying the waters.

Someone suggested Amazon discontinue the KDP program.  My view?  They should limit it.

Only X Countdown slots available per day.  Only Y free promos per day.

And if you don’t have a certain number of sales after the first 90-days you don’t get renewed.  And if you consistently don’t put out books that sell at a certain level or get a certain customer ranking, you can’t put your next book in the program.

Exclusivity has a purpose.  And it’s desperately needed in the current market.

3. There Are Too Many Price Promotions

It’s the Wild West out there right now.  Everyone is doing perma-free or 99 cent promos or whatever.  But they’re doing it all the time.  Constantly moving your prices is not a good strategy.  It’s confusing to readers.  If I buy it today am I just being a sucker?

It’s also damaging to all authors when everyone is engaged in it all the time.  Should I buy this book at $2.99 or that one at 99 cents or that free one?

Used to be that if I wanted a paperback it would cost me $5.99 to $7.99 and then I’d choose based upon cover and blurb and first few pages.

Now?  There’s a race to the bottom going on.

And, really, I don’t think the real readers are participating in it.

I was given a Kobo a couple years ago and went online to use it because I was overseas and print books were a fortune.  I took about five seconds to look at the free/99 cent page and then I filtered the search results so I didn’t have to see any of that.  It all looked like garbage to me.  (As a reader.)

Amazon doesn’t allow you to do that.  You can start at the top or the bottom, but you can’t just eliminate a price bracket.

My mother is an avid reader.  So is my stepsister.  Pretty sure neither one is sucking up freebies on Kindle or any other platform.  That’s not how they find their books.

They’re not price sensitive readers.  (And those are the ones you really want to attract.)

I’m sure if I gave my brain enough time it could pull up some of that MBA knowledge and make a sound argument why the current pricing environment for e-books is crappy and won’t last long-term, but I’m lazy and it’s been a few years.  So I’ll just say that my gut tells me this won’t work for more than another year or two and by then a lot of the people who are selling right now won’t be around anymore.  It’ll break them.

The market will find an equilibrium.  And that equilibrium will not be everything for free.

Now, having said all that…

There is no question that people right now  or in the recent past have made a killing having large numbers of books available, participating in Select, and running aggressive pricing campaigns.  But you can already see the discussion about “I don’t understand why it doesn’t work anymore.”

It’s like the stock markets.  People were making good money in the markets and everyone was arguing about paradigm shifts and the new reality and how it could only continue.  Right up to the point where the market plummeted because it needed to correct itself.  (That happens over and over and over again.  Twice in recent memory.)

I don’t think the current model is sustainable.

And I suspect that in a few years trade publishers will become even more valuable as a quality filter in a sea of too much choice.  (Rather than losing relevance as so many argue.)

When that happens, they’ll stop playing the pricing games indies are playing and get back to their business and ignore indies altogether.

I could be wrong though.

I’m just a random nobody with no inside knowledge of the industry after all.

(And, until that bubble bursts, I’m willing to throw a few hats in the ring and see what they do.  If nothing else, the knowledge I’m gathering now will help me understand where a publisher is coming from if/when I’m trade published.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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