EBook sales heading downward? How indie writers can buck the trend

Mark Dawson

In our recent article, eBook sales fall, print sales up – what’s the story? we took a look the shifting models in trade publishing and the impact on self-published writers. Here Mark Dawson gives seven pieces of advice that can help indie writers buck the trend…

The Bookseller has reported a fall in trade publishers’ digital revenues of 19% in the first six months of the year, citing new figures from the Publishers Association. Assuming that this is a trend that impacts indies too (an assumption with no data to underpin it as yet), what can self-publishers do to insulate themselves and their businesses?

I have seven pieces of advice.

One. Don’t sweat it. I don’t buy arguments that eBook growth has plateaued. Is it possible that the boom in growth of the first iteration of reading devices has reached its peak? Yes. But the Kindle and the Nook and the Kobo reader—important though they have been—were always going to be gateway technologies to transition readers from print to digital. The medium-term future is in mobile. Consider this: Apple projects to sell tens of millions of devices over the course of the next twelve months. Every one of those devices will come pre-loaded with iBooks. Alternatively, Amazon’s Kindle app is an easy to install and elegant reading experience. eBooks are not going away. They’re just going to be consumed in a different fashion.

Two. Don’t panic and be tempted to raise prices in an attempt to shore up revenue. Maintaining volume offers a better path to healthy profits. The PA data focused on trade publishing. When it comes to digital marketing, indies have been leading the way for the last few years, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Indie publishers tend to be nimble and swift to take advantage of new best practice. They can also move quickly on price, undercutting rivals who, emboldened by Hachette’s pyrrhic victory against Amazon in 2014, have taken advantage of the agency model to inflate the prices that they are charging for eBooks. This is short-sighted. Intangible digital files have minimal costs of production and distribution when compared to print. Consumers know this. Assuming all other things are equal (cover, editorial, blurb, reviews), I’ll back an indie promoting their latest well-received thriller at a price point of £3.99 against a new trade published writer being sold for £15.

Three. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run regular price promotions. Harnessing the power of email list services like BookBub, temporarily drop the price on a book and juice the relevant algorithms with a slew of sales. This is known as price pulsing, and, provided your back matter is optimized (directing readers to further books and harvesting their emails), you can reenergize stale sales and rankings.

Four. Maintain a laser focus on building mailing lists of interested readers and then nurture the relationship so that those readers become fans, ready to rush to the online store to purchase new books when they are released (and apt to proselytize to their family and friends, too). A large email list can also be a source of beta readers to pick up errors that have slipped through the editorial process and early reviews once the book has gone live.

Five. Each independent author is responsible for one brand – their own. Because they are completely dedicated to that brand, they can spend the time necessary to find and nurture their readers through social. That might mean that they work on their comfort level in front of a camera before starting regular Facebook Live sessions. Perhaps they run giveaways and contests using built-in virality with tools like AppSumo. Or maybe they simply answer every comment to build lasting bonds with their readers. That kind of enthusiastic outreach will lead to sales.

Six. Indies are also well placed to take advantage of the power that a targeted advertising campaign can muster. Innovative new strategies like on-platform Facebook lead generation cards and the newly-opened Amazon Marketing Services platform (which is effectively offering free brand-building impressions at the moment) seem to be the preserve of the plucky upstart, not yet adopted properly by traditional rivals. And Facebook ads for direct sales remain phenomenally powerful. Small presses like Bookouture have been sending their books to the top of the charts with regular campaigns pushing 99p books.

Seven. Authors need to be pragmatic. In the creative phase, they are crafting a book. But, once the final edits have been made and the work is uploaded to the various retailers, it becomes an asset with intellectual property rights that all need to be sweated. Rights in translation, film options and, especially, audiobooks, should be investigated and, if possible, exploited.

There is no need to panic. AuthorEarnings.com has reported that of all authors who published books in the last three years, the independent author is doing much better than his traditionally published rival. “The vast majority of traditional publishing’s midlist-or-better earners started their careers more than a decade ago. Their more-recently debuted peers are not doing anywhere near as well. Fewer than 700 Big Five authors and fewer than 500 small-or-medium publisher authors who debuted in the last 10 years are now earning $25,000 a year or more on Amazon — from all of their hardcover, paperback, audio and eBook editions combined. By contrast, over 1,600 indie authors are currently earning that much or more.”

This is still a golden age for writers and for readers. Authors who are prepared to get involved in the marketing of their work can insulate themselves against the vicissitudes of the market and build the kind of platform that will serve them well in the years to come.

Mark Dawson is a bestselling author and the founder of selfpublishingformula.com, where he provides free podcasts and training for those interested in independent publishing. His latest course Self Publishing 101 starts 30th November 2016.

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