Monthly Archives: February 2011

  •    Kevin Kelly (the former Wired editor) has noticed something rather odd: Kindle prices have been dropping at a steady rate since Feb 09. He concludes that the Kindle will be free by November this year:
    … I’ve mentioned this forecast to all kinds of folks. In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, “Oh, you noticed that!” And then smiled again.
    He suggests that Amazon would introduce the cellphone model: a free Kindle if you buy X amount of ebooks. #

The Very Rich Indie Writer

Meet Amanda Hocking. She’s been in the news for quite a bit now, and I’ve been meaning to write about her since January (or really, to write about the phenomenon she represents – and what it means for web fiction). But if you don’t already know of her, allow me:

Amanda Hocking is 26* years old. She has 9 self-published books to her name, and sells 100,000+ copies of those ebooks per month. She has never been traditionally published. This is her blog. And it’s no stretch to say – at $3 per book1/70% per sale for the Kindle store – that she makes a lot of money from her monthly book sales. (Perhaps more importantly: a publisher on the private Reading2.0 mailing list has said, to effect: there is no traditional publisher in the world right now that can offer Amanda Hocking terms that are better than what she’s currently getting, right now on the Kindle store, all on her own.)

And that is stunning news.

Kindle Store Economics

Why this is happening, and how it can happen, is a question that’s been explored by other indie writers experimenting with sales on the Kindle store. J.A.Konrath is arguably the best authority on this, and the logic goes roughly as follows:

If you’re an indie writer, you get to sell books at a price way, way lower than what a Traditional Publisher can sell at. And yet you make more money, because your only costs are to an ebook and cover art designer (whereas the traditional publisher has to support a legacy system, plus the traditionally published author gets a 30% cut, while you get 70%).

In the meantime, readers are more inclined to buy your stories, even if you’re an unknown author, simply because your book prices are cheaper. So you get high sales, low ebook prices, but high revenue once you’ve hit sufficient scale. And the best thing is that it’s infinitely scalable: your ebooks are out there, getting sales every single day. No shelf-space, no print runs to worry about.

You’re making a killing, and are able to compete with traditional publishers at their own game.

Well, in the context of an ebook store, that is.

The oft-repeated argument that people use w/r/t Konrath is that he was a traditionally published author before moving to the Kindle store. But Hocking and her peers, who have never been published the traditional route before (who were inspired by Konrath’s exploits, and who are now selling way more than Konrath ever has) are together invalidating that argument. You don’t have to be traditionally published to sell a lot of ebooks, and you don’t have to be A-List famous, either. Take this monthly sales list of top Kindle indie authors, for instance:

  •    For some reason, this Youtube video made me very happy: Organizing the Bookcase. #
  •    Mike Shatzkin: from some perspectives, we are tipping right now and publishers’ metrics will show it:
    I have heard the argument from very smart people that ebook adoption will plateau at some point. Since it has been doubling or more for the past three years and was often placed in the mid-teens for new fiction and narrative non-fiction by the last quarter of 2010, we know that it can’t continue to double for the next three years without exceeding 100%. Nonetheless, predictions that ebook sales would achieve 50% in the next five years and that bookstore shelf space would drop by 50% in the next five years — which is what I thought would be the case — seemed pretty aggressive six months ago. They don’t seem aggressive anymore.  
    #

On Getting Readers To Comment On Web Fiction

There’s a fairly interesting discussion on reader comments going on right now at the last Novelr guest post (by IsaKft on O’Reilly’s TOC conference). See, for instance, this comment by Bill:

Fluffy_seme is totally right, a frying pan doesn’t make one a better chef, just like a BMW doesn’t make someone a good driver.

I think that her observation applies to web fiction writers unnervingly well. A lot of weblit authors feverishly discuss the latest blog platforms, or the newest site designs. But many web fiction writers are still making the same mistakes that writers were making when the cutting edge technology was a Smith-Corona.

They’re writing cliched, underdeveloped characters in cliched, underdeveloped stories. It is the exception rather than the norm that authors actually keep to their update schedules. And frighteningly too many writers are rude and condescending to those who don’t gush over their work.

There’ll NEVER be any technology that will change that. That’s the responsibility of writers.

It just so happens that I think Bill’s right. When discussions pop up about reader interaction in web fiction, the majority of the solutions being bandied about are technological. And of course some of the solutions are technological. No-one would argue against the utility (and comparative ease!) of the like button vs the comment box, for instance, and you’re more likely to get ‘liked’ than you are to get a good long comment. Certainly the method of response affects the kinds of responses you get, to a certain degree.

But there are other factors to consider as well. Are readers not commenting because:

  • Your story sucks?
  • You don’t have enough readers?
  • Your story is good but it isn’t engaging.
  • Or perhaps you’ve been rude in the past?
  • Or you don’t respond to comments? (or you don’t have a mechanism that emails commenters when you’ve responded!)
  • Or you’re writing the kind of story that doesn’t encourage comments? (For example: I find that I don’t comment when reading literary web fiction, I tend to think it over and then shoot the author a thoughtful email at the end of the entire book; whereas I comment like a fanboy when reading superheroes).

I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: getting better reader interaction is a function of several different variables. And certainly, tech-related mechanisms are about half the solution. The other half is caused by story/response-related variables, and as an author your job is to test these things, to figure out which of those variables are the ones that are giving you the reader:comment ratio that you currently have.

The Apps Will Not Set Them Free

IsaKft is a writer and entrepreneur who runs fluffy-seme, a web-publishing platform (formerly a digital publishing house: see this guest post for her experiences as a digital publisher). Today she talks about her experiences at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change (aka TOC2011) conference, which concluded last week.

I have never seen so many iPads in one room before in my life.

It was like walking into an Apple store, except the business casual gurus at the podium were not Steve Jobs but representatives from the various factions of digital publishing. I don’t know if tech can save publishing, but looking around the room as the speaker blathers on about ePub3 I can guess what the professionals think.

O’Reilly’s annual Tools of Change conference is all about pushing the boundaries of publishing and applying innovation to tired paradigms and business models. It sounds exciting and certainly many aspects of it were exciting. The Startup Showcase was a room full of interesting ideas (including mine!) for every facet of publishing: community lead storytelling, ultimate dictionaries, digital ‘DVD extras’ for books … there was no shortage of innovation on hand.

But other aspects of the conference were more telling. For example, I arrived at Data-driven Marketing and Product Development eager to pick up some new tricks only to find myself sitting in Design Process 101. I sat through a ten minute explanation of iterative design basics that have been around since the 80ties, while a fascinated audience of publishers took careful notes on their iPads, before I left.

Seriously? Are the leaders of publishing so far behind that methodology that was ground breaking when cellphones were the size of tissue boxes is news?

Moving down the hall I slipped into Can You Afford Not to Consider Accessible Publishing Practices? That I misunderstood what was meant by ‘accessible publishing’ was a happy accident, because this was probably the best lecture I saw. Dave Gunn broke down the technology that is making access to publications for the disabled cheaper and easy to pull off, but what stood out for me was the point he made about how the futuristic tech of today is built on tools originally designed for the disabled. Computers can analyze movies because of Closed Captioning, cars can respond to voice commands because of recognition software, inventions that track eye movement are bringing us closer to machines that we can control with our minds. This was what I came here for. This was really interesting stuff.

This was also the least attended of all the panels and workshops I saw. There were maybe forty of us in a room arranged to hold two hundred.

There’s an old joke about the first web bubble and the death of the business method patent. Once a relatively obscure legal structure, business method patents surged when entrepreneurs found they could use them to patent completely normal transactions simply by adding ‘on the internet’ to the description.

Shoutout: Cross-Promotion April 1st Fiction Swap

Lyn Thorne-Alder and Wysteria have a cunning plan, which they’d like to share:

Lyn Thorne-Alder: I was thinking this week of the common complaint that most of weblit’s most active readers are, well, each other.

Well, why not use that?

When I started reading web-comics, they would often, on April Fool’s day, draw each other’s strips in a sort of round robin. Why not do that with weblit? Enough of us read each others’ work that it wouldn’t be that hard to write a guest post in their setting. We’re organizing this on a semi-random semi-by genre style, and hope to have participants lined up by the beginning of this week so we have plenty of time for organization and writing.

Wysteria: We have sixteen authors lined up so far, via Web Fiction Guide, Weblit.us and Crowdfunding Creativity. Everyone has been really enthusiastic about it, which is fantastic. We’re hoping to connect the circles of the venn diagram and reach as many authors as possible. We’re planning to close the gates at midnight at the end of Valentine’s Day, February 14th. If you want to participate, more details are available by emailing wsteria at gmail dot com. Please include:

  • Your name:
  • The name of your project:
  • The URL of your project:
  • Any other questions, ideas or special considerations:

Some questions that have been asked, in no particular order!

Who is eligible? You! If you are a web author and have an email address, anyway.

Will the guest story be canon? Not unless you specifically arrange that. It’s fun. There may be barracuda ninjas.

I would say, for the record, that this sounds like a ton of fun.

  •    Remarkable: The New Library of Alexandria is protected by Egpytian Youth.
    The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters.  I am there daily within the bounds of the curfew hours.   However, the Library will be closed to the public for the next few days until the curfew is lifted and events unfold towards an end to the lawlessness and a move towards the resolution of the political issues that triggered the demonstrations.
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