Since the conception of self-publishing, we have all heard of the vultures known as Vanity Press. Those are the publishers that guarantee more than they ever can deliver and charge high prices for their services. When an author wakes up and realizes the publisher has overpriced their paper and eBooks, and taken them for a ride by pushing for more paid services, separating themselves from the vanity press the author finds it to not be easy. Most often, the author tries to walk away with something and usually gets nothing. Legal battles can then ensue, and the company usually files for bankruptcy, leaving the author farther in the hole, with zilch, and dismay in the publishing world.
For me, it is disturbing that this is still happening today. Many of those services have closed shop only to reopen under a different name, but using the same underhanded business model. For them, it is always about making money from the authors who don’t know better. I have hoped and wished many times to be able to get information to these authors before they make a horrible mistake. Sadly, I often don’t learn about them until it is too late.
We see this played out with Amazon in a slightly different manner. While they don’t charge outrageous fees, they’re promising that by being published through them, they can give you more exposure, and you can make more money than through traditional services. What they fail to tell you is that they don’t open their distribution channel to all the bookstores. They keep everything in-house with exclusive contracts and slightly lower printing prices to make the author believe they are getting a better deal. It all sounds great, but when you step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s causing authors to lose even more money because they have to compete against millions of other authors doing the same thing. Thus, Amazon has created a monster of a machine that pushes authors to spend more money through their advertising programs, in hopes of making more money through their exclusive contracts that pay higher than others. It’s a perfect con game of drawing attention to what can be while sticking their hands in your pockets and taking from you without you realizing it.
To be noticed on Amazon, there are several factors to take into consideration. Reviews are a free valuable aspect, but they still cost the author money since the reviews can only come from direct sales through Amazon. If that doesn’t work, then an Amazon author has to spend money on their advertising program to get recognized in some format by the Amazon reader. This cost of advertising is not cheap and needs to be done regularly so that the author remains relevant. Few authors understand the concept of keywords, and other tricks of the trade to help lower the cost of advertising, while also improving sales. It can be done, but for a small number of authors. As more and more authors begin to learn this process, the process itself becomes invalid and everyone has to create a new way to stay ahead of the game. A vicious cycle that most authors don’t have time for, nor the desire to deal with it.
With Amazon being the largest bookseller in the world, what is the alternative? Keep giving them the money and allowing them to take advantage of authors in their system? Authors know that they need to be listed on Amazon to have more opportunities to sell their books. But what if there were other ways to walk away from Amazon, and create a system that pays authors their fair share so they can make a living and have their investments in advertising pay off for them? Would the authors abandon Amazon?
The answer would seem like a logical, yes. However, to do that, whatever system is created must have enough buyers in their market to give the author a reason to leave Amazon. The Amazon book market is such a small part of their system these days. Amazon would not even notice a rival taking that small part of their business away. At the same time, they know that they have hooked buyers in such a way that what amount of business they would lose would barely be noticeable in their profit margin. Thus, their attitude is one of not caring what the authors do or do not do.
Still, for another online bookstore to accomplish the goal of paying authors their fair share, they must spend millions on advertising their business to both readers and authors to convert both of them from Amazon, and build the business.
In today’s mental mindset of being against the 1%, the growing resentment of Amazon’s founder, who will become the first trillionaire by 2023, is being seen. Both authors and readers can help each other. It is a partnership between authors and readers. Authors provide great books to readers, and readers will pay fair prices, knowing that the majority of the money is going to authors as their fair share, which means they make more money through the new system, then they ever would through Amazon. Whether an author makes enough to earn a living, is entirely up to how good their book is, both storyline and quality of writing, and how much effort the author puts into marketing.
All of this has come together in a grassroots company known as Indie Lector, LLC. Their business model is designed such that authors can earn up to 80% from book sales while giving readers great stories. Also, the business is set up, so authors learn how to better market and sell their books through their sister organization, Authors Marketing Guild, LLC, a membership owned business.
But none of this means anything if authors have not reached their point of frustration about not earning their fair share. Slowly, indie authors realize that they must market their books properly to compete against big publishing houses and other authors. It is the cost of marketing and general publishing that is causing authors to finally, even if slowly, wake up to the fact that they cannot make money unless they sell a lot of books. But why do that if Amazon is getting the bulk of the money?
Authors can see the value of earning from $5 - $8 profit from the sale of their book vs. only $1 - $2 of profit per purchase through Amazon. Why spend the same amount of advertising dollars if you are earning less with Amazon than you would with another company that is dedicated to teaching you a more effective ways to market?
The answer seems logical, but sadly it continues to be lost in the blinding glory of Amazon. The Authors Revolution is slowly gaining momentum, and it’s time for authors to wake up and stop feeding the monster of false hopes and dreams. Their dream of writing and becoming successful now has a partner that helps them achieve that on many levels. Join the Revolution at https://IndieLector.Store
B Alan Bourgeois is an award-winning author, an award-winning speaker, and the founder of many organizations that help authors and readers, including Indie Lector and Authors Marketing Guild. He has been working with thousands of authors over the past 10 years educating them and giving them an opportunity to earn their fair share. He is the author of the Authors Revolution Workbook and soon the Authors Revolution fictional book.
(AMG Note: While the article below is about the European Market, many of the same concerns and results have been seen in the American markets. Unlike the European markets, American authors do not have the financial support of their country when it comes to aid or publishing. This is strictly left to the author to determine what support, if any, is available to get them through this epidemic. It is for this reason, as with other reasons outlined below, that authors must begin to take better control of their finances and publishing rights and incomes. Until this happens, authors will continue to rely on corporations that do not have their best interest at heart.
Authors should no longer depend on the traditional ways of doing business and should, therefore, create ways that improve not only for themselves but others in the industry a fair outcome that allows them to earn a living from the sell of their books. Otherwise, as we continue to see year after year, the indie author will be forced out of business or pushed into a situation of going underground.)
By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief - Publishing Perspective
While harder to gauge than some sectors of the world industry, the pressures faced by writers and translators in the European markets are quantified in a survey responded to by 33 organizations in 24 countries.
Markets reporting ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ severe pandemic impact on writers and translators include Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Norway. Image: European Writers’ Council
Highest Revenue Loss: Author Appearances
In terms of the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on the world publishing industry, one of the hardest sectors to see into is the authors’ experience.
This has to do with both the nature of the authors’ position in the supply chain and with the individual-vendor status of their work.
Book publishing is unlike many industries in that its fundamental product, the writing, is not, for the most part, an in-house commodity. Publishers wait for their next new bestselling authors to arrive on no known date, writing about no pre-arranged topic, and in many if not most cases as people previously unknown. A Nielsen- or NPD-style point-of-sales tracking system of each authors’ progress is impractical. The rankings of book sales on retail platforms like Amazon can offer only clues to how titles are navigating a bottomless marketplace of millions of books.
What information can be gathered on the contagion’s effects on authors’ work and circumstances, then, is anecdotal. And survey work is, of course, a matter of a self-selecting sample: respondents who are motivated and/or have time to answer survey questions do so, others don’t.
None of these caveats, of course, negates the importance of getting what insight might be available on the pandemic’s presence in the writers’ corps for the precise reason that the industry is dependent on these workers for its essential content.
And this is why it’s useful to look at elements of the report issued earlier this month by the European Writers’ Council based in Brussels.
Not unlike the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) and the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), the council’s work lies in advocacy, and its constituency includes “the creators of literature, poetry, fiction and nonfiction, young adult and children’s literature, drama, screenplays, core texts for audiovisual works, and translation of all forms of literary works.” Core focal areas are in copyright, cultural policy, and cultural exchange. It works through national market writers’ unions and has been in operation since 2005.
With 41 member-organizations from 27 nations, the European Writers’ Council counts some 150,000 writers and translators in its representational field.
Publishing Perspectives has been in touch with the organization’s president, the German author Nina George, best known in English translations by Simon Pare for The Little Paris Bookshop (Penguin Random House / Crown, 2016) and The Book of Dreams (PRH / Ballantine, 2019). In the council’s leadership, George works with the council’s secretary-general Myriam Diocaretz.
The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Writers and Translators in the European Book Sector 2020 (PDF) is probably the most comprehensive and detailed study to date in the European arena of how responding writers and translators say they’re being affected.
Represented in the survey are responses from 33 writers’ and translators’ organizations in 24 countries including Belarus, Switzerland, the UK, Iceland, and Norway. This group of markets has an aggregate membership of some 127,000 writers and translators who work in 27 languages.
While encouraging you to follow up by looking at the full report, we can offer here today (June 30) an overview of some high points.
Highlights from the Survey
Overall, the council’s conclusions:
- Anticipate adverse effects on diversity in European literature
- Argue for “author-friendly legislation and remuneration”
- Understand free-lance writers and translators to be in particular peril because of event and release cancellations
In top-line results:
- 64 percent of respondents say they anticipate losses because of postponed publications of their work
- 40 percent of respondents say they anticipate losses because of postponed contracts and reduced advances against royalties
- 97 percent of respondents say they have experienced a “high loss” of income primarily because of canceled appearances including lectures, workshops, and readings
- 60 percent of respondents say they’d classify the effects on author income as “very” to “extremely” severe
One observation is that as so many publishing and book events have moved to various digital formats, little provision has been made for writers and translators to be paid, especially because in most cases there are few e-commerce accommodations that offer payment functionality. It’s worth the effort by publishers and others to remember that any appearance or participation by an author or translated online is a chance to pay that person for that appearance.
Another comment from the survey has to do with perceived increases in piracy of ebooks, but some of the contributing factors here sound like ongoing conditions, not necessarily reliant on the pandemic. For example, “low-priced subscription models without fair remuneration for authors” (Amazon KDP and others) are problematic and discussed frequently, contagion or no. At the same time, reduced ebook pricing was seen during the highest levels of contagion in Europe, as retailers sought to build sales. This, of course, produced less revenue.
Projections cited in the survey indicate that what normally maybe 500,000 to 600,000 new titles published in Europe in a year may be down as much as 150,000 titles this year.
As for aid programs:
- Few if any markets seem to have “tailor-made support for the book sector”
- Nine markets report no support “or very belated aid measures” from government
- Most national emergency aid programs “are not available to writers and translators”
- Applications for some grants and literary prizes are being postponed
- Translators’ associations are reporting delayed or fewer contracts
It’s estimated in the course of the report’s content that up to 30 percent of fiction published in the European markets each year is work in translation.
Responses to the European Writers’ Council survey indicate that canceled appearances are the most frequently cited revenue-producing losses in the pandemic for writers and translators, holding the top three positions on this chart. The note about 33 responses refers to responding writer associations. Image: European Writers’ Council