Sunday, June 03, 2012

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

There's an interesting discussion going on in which pundits are linking the bursting of the tech bubble (1999), the housing bubble (2007), and the upcoming indie book publishing bubble. The question being put forth is this: First of all, is there currently an indie book publishing bubble and, if so, will that bubble soon burst?  Here's my take on it, warts and all.

Am I worried? No. Why should I be?  Even if there is a bubble and it does burst, our authors will still sell books because they write great stories.  To get these great reads, this does mean we can't publish every book for which we receive a query. Should we?

As for the bubble itself, if it exists or will exist, one has to first ask if Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others who accept indie books into their bookstores will ever become overloaded to the point they become more selective in what they distribute. Would it benefit any of these Ebook sellers to let the bubble burst? I believe, before they even get close to that point,  they will begin to de-list those novels that are not selling, much like brick and mortar bookstore do when they are short on shelf space and begin returning slow-selling books to their print distributors.

I doubt that Amazon, B&N, or Kobo will ever deny publication to indies, but I can see them begin to de-list, and I predict that is not too far off. They would never refuse because that would put limitations on their main purpose, which is to sell Ebook readers. Yes, they make some money from selling books, but much more is made selling tech.

Why would they de-list books? Wouldn't that have the same effect as not accepting new books for publication?

No. They won't deny publication to indies because one never knows what books will take off.  De-listing, however, makes perfect sense because they make nothing from books that occupy space with no return.  Databases, as with physical space, cost money to operate, so freeing up shelf space makes perfect sense. After all, there are space limitations involved in everything, including Internet space.  

If you look at statements from your online distributor, you will notice you are being charged a few pennies per kilobyte per sale that the space dedicated to your particular book occupies. If no books are sold, your book still takes up space with no return—not something any bookseller is going to put up with for long.  It's not a good business practice.

There is another reason why I believe Amazon and others will soon be clearing space, and that's because major publishers are now lowering prices of their Ebooks. I guess the agency model didn't work for them.  As books from major publishers become increasingly more competitive with those of indies, it doesn't take much of an imagination to guess who will sell the most books. Ask yourself this, can you compete with a name author if his or her book is priced the same as yours?

Then there's the tendency of some to give away novels on Amazon for free to try to build a name brand. This works well if the book remains free. However, once a price is put back on the book, movement stops. Internet culture dictates that what's free should remain free.  Asking money for something that's been free has always met with resistance on the Internet, unless it's a commodity that has proven itself too valuable a resource to do without. 

Amazon is okay with free books at present, but what happens when indie authors and publishers have to begin lowering prices to compete with the majors? Will Amazon be willing to ignore money losses and, at the same time, turn a blind eye on free books that occupy space that costs them money with no return?  How long before Amazon and others forbid free giveaways and, at the same time, begin to clear shelves of those novels that are not selling?  Is the indie book publishing bubble about to burst or is it just going to leak a little air?  

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