Pricing: less of a luxury, more of a chocolate bar

The most difficult step for allonymbooks in the process of independently publishing our novels has not been the writing, the editing, nor even going up to Kindle-reading strangers on the Tube and telling them about allonymbooks. It has been choosing the price at which to sell the novels.

Pricing of e-books is frequently in the news, from the lawsuit against Apple and leading publishers for colluding over prices, to the consequences of the RandomHouse/Penguin merger. There has been much speculation about what effect these factors might have on the market, and much continued grumbling among the readership about pricing of e-books in relation to their printed counterparts. As Waterstones are going to discover now they have engaged in the Kindle market, the business model is not only different, it has also been blown open by the wealth of independently published material now in circulation.

So here are some questions to consider. And probably precious few answers.

How much is too much?

An e-book is generally expected to cost less than its printed counterpart because it doesn’t require the physical resources of printing, distribution and retail handling, but the index of prices for print-published e-books has been broad and highly erratic. Some of that is caused by the pricing algorithms used by Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as articulately explained by Alex Marshall in a piece for Bloomberg. Some of that is also caused by print publishers themselves, who are clearly extremely uncertain about how much to discount the print price by. They can choose to fix the Amazon e-book price in a way that they cannot control the retailer print price, but it is frequently observed that Kindle versions of print-published books are often surprisingly expensive.

So what figure seems reasonable to pay? Let’s consider Hilary Mantel’s latest Booker Prize winning novel, Bringing Up the Bodies. On Amazon (UK) it is currently priced as follows: Print List Price £20.00; Kindle e-book price £9.99. The print list price is presumably based on the standard retail price of the hardback. £9.99 seems reasonable in relation to that, until you read on and discover that Amazon are selling the hardback for £8.86, and the paperback at a pre-order price of £6.89.  £9.99 for the e-book now looks very expensive, a price Continue reading

A paradox of independent publishing?

Since our recent post about the decision by Waterstone’s to bring Kindles into their stores, allonymbooks has shed the writing pyjamas and dressed like a professional to hit the branches and find out what staff in-store have been told about the plans for promoting the Kindle and its content. Responses varied widely. In one large central London store the day before the launch, a staff member told me that managers were just that afternoon meeting to discuss fundamentals about the launch and store logistics for the product. He looked surprised and a bit baffled when asked what Waterstones might do to adapt their book review cards for direct-published Kindle books, and clearly the idea hadn’t occurred to him at all before it was mentioned. He nodded a lot, thought about it, took some allonymbooks promotional material and agreed to ask his managers about it.

Ten days later allonymbooks went to a much smaller London branch and tried again. The woman behind the counter was honest and direct. She explained that the chain is still fathoming out how it is going to put the Kindle dimension into practice via its website, and she thought that was going to be a huge job to accomplish before they could even begin to consider new ways to look at readership, or reading content. She was also friendly and interested and, having an e-reader herself, was curious about the writer’s experiences of e-publishing. But the net result was the same. Waterstone’s are not ready to capitalise on the situation they have created.

allonymbooks has also been covertly swooping through the forum-verse over the last few weeks, investigating how other ‘literary’ writers are reaching their audiences. A discussion on Amazon’s own KDP forums initiated by literaryladynyc entitled ‘Can self-published literary fiction ever be successful?’ gave promise of a fruitful discussion. But when our audiobook voiceover artist Kate Daubney posted suggesting literary novelists might join together to advance the cause of quality fiction on Kindle collectively, her suggestion was met with silence. The discussion meandered on regardless with concerns about how to measure quality, definitions of what constituted literary, whether there was an elitist aspect to literary fiction or its readership, and so on. But the Continue reading

James Daunt, are you ready for the indie authors?

The announcement by James Daunt, the Managing Director of the UK’s largest bookshop chain, Waterstone’s (sorry, but I am an apostrophe pedant), that he would be stocking Kindles in his stores from 25 October has already been met with outrage, confusion, acclaim and criticism by the reading, publishing and business communities. Mr Daunt’s decision may seem to sound a deathknell for the printed book – indeed, he is quoted as saying “Do we have an awful lot of books in our shops that don’t frankly sell?…Yes, and they actually shouldn’t be there. I do think the shops will have less books, but they will remain absolutely first and foremost physical bookshops.” – but this blog considers what options are open to Mr Daunt in embracing the world of independent publishers and their novels.

As the arrangement has thus far been described, one of the key additional services that Waterstones will provide is the ability for shop visitors to browse recommendations made by the shop’s staff, just as they do now, but on Kindles as well as in print. As Daunt puts it, “You are in a bookshop, you can pick up any of these books – you haven’t bought them yet – you can browse them. Until you leave the shop you don’t have to pay for them, and that same principle should apply to a physical device as well as a digital e-book.”

What isn’t clear is whether this browsing will be made available via the standard Kindle sampling technique as it stands on Amazon at the moment or whether, as many of us have done, you will be able to flick right through the book, possibly even to the end, engaging in a compact but complete browse-reading experience. Waterstone’s are doing what they can to enhance the experience of the shop as an environment in which to enjoy the experience of reading as well as shopping, by introducing more seats and the cafés, but what will they do to embrace, manage and promote the far greater sphere of published material available on Kindle as opposed to in print?

If Waterstone’s have made a truly open arrangement with Amazon in terms of allowing access to all their stock, then one strategy for independent publishers would seem to be to approach the Marketing Department at Waterstone’s, or indeed individual stores and store managers, just as publishing houses have done for years. There have been myths and tales long told of how much it Continue reading

Pseudonym, allonym, anonym, username…

allonymbooks posted last week on The Guardian‘s new ‘Authors, tell us about your work!‘ page, and was interested to see that a debate had begun over whether it was appropriate for individuals who don’t normally post comments to The Guardian‘s pages to sign up simply to promote their novels. Contributor kushti had said, ‘Oh my, what a lot of writers have appeared on this site all of a sudden. I shall continue to stick with my policy of keeping to my secret identity and not promoting my books here, but thanks for the offer and good luck all.’ Contributor R042 observed, ‘This is where clicking on peoples’ [sic] usernames is useful; it tells apart those who registered to use this forum, and those who already contribute regularly to the site on subjects other than their own work.’

There are echoes here of the awkwardness I discussed in an earlier blog about self-promotion, but also of a somewhat more critical position I am becoming increasingly aware of as I trample through the ether: that the more blatant and frequent self-promotion that swoops on any and all opportunities on the internet and social media is considered crass by some authors who are choosing their opportunities more selectively. What can be interpreted from the comments above is that a pre-existing presence in the Guardian’s online community is a pre-requisite for being taken seriously when you promote your novel on that page. This implied equation of ongoing contribution being a function of value and credibility is common in other places – the UK Amazon Kindle Forum on Goodreads is a very cheerful place to talk about books, and is very welcoming of indie authors, but the moderators are clear that it is preferred that authors do not just “drop a promo and run”.

This ties in inevitably to the recent ‘sock-puppet‘ revelation concerning RJ Ellory’s penning of complimentary Amazon reviews about his own work and less generous ones about others and it proves, if nothing else, that the internet is a Continue reading

Calling a spade a spade?

” If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work….taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time….This is not an [sic] quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut….I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.” Sue Grafton interviewed for Louisvilleky.com (7th August 2012)

While  this quote from Sue Grafton will surely have many a temperature rising in indignation across the indie-publishing world, it raises a really critical question about the challenges faced by the electronic bookstore in terms of categorisation, not only of value and quality but also of genre. One of the factors I often come across as influential for indie-published authors is the opportunity to publish outside genres, across them or at minutely precise intersections of genres. Continue reading

Am I too British to self-promote effectively?

It’s been a really interesting week since launching Evie Woolmore’s first two novels, trawling the internet to see how other independently published novelists are promoting their books. There are reams and reams of tips, guides and advice out there, not to mention the rhythmic twitter of tweets to read, buy and review. One of the aspects I don’t want to get into in this blog is sharing advice on how to indie-publish – there are plenty of other people doing that very well – but I am keen to explore more specific and subjective experiences. And I would like to start with a matter of cultural identity. Continue reading