2019/03/04

The Amazon Age

Pulp Archivist takes to Twitter to ask:

Post-Amazon Age

Oldpub is dead. The Amazon age is truly upon us.

How do publishers make money?

You might say, "by selling books," and you'd be wrong.

Books aren't commodities like TVs and toothpaste. They're pure information. Nobody buys just one book, and eBooks have made them post-scarcity items.

If the laws of supply and demand don't apply to books, how do publishers stay in business? The same way movie studios and record companies used to: By creating artificial scarcity through gatekeeping.

Amazon has removed the barrier to entering the book market. Now anyone who wants to be published can be published. KDP made an end run around the publishing houses' bottleneck.

There are trade offs. With the publisher bottleneck in place, 1% of aspiring authors got published, and 1% of the 1% got 90% of the royalties. Of course, publishers got even more of the total proceeds.

Indie authors like Nick Cole, Richard Fox, and Michael Anderle are making small fortunes without giving up any control to a publishing house.

Now that the market's been democratized, any aspiring author can be published, but the pie is distributed somewhat more evenly. There will be no more Stephen Kings, J.K. Rowlings, or Lee Childs.

But every gravy train runs out eventually.

Most Amazon employees used to care more about profit than making sure authors had the correct thoughts. Their SJW contingent appears to be growing, as they've now banned books by Roosh V. and Jared Taylor. Small publisher Castalia House temporarily had their entire KDP account scrubbed.

My new martial thriller Combat Frame XSeed became my second most successful book well before its official release--not on Amazon. On Indiegogo.

Only Nethereal, which has been on the market for four years, and which Larry Correia Book Bombed, has grossed higher.

In contrast, the CFXS Amazon launch underperformed. I followed the advice of data guys like Chris Fox and Jason Anspach to the letter, including newsletter swaps with big time authors.

Whereas this approach yielded modest success with my previous Amazon launch of The Ophian Rising, my latest launch only garnered about half OR's numbers.

You might argue that most of my readers bought their copies of CFXS through the IGG campaign, but that's my point. Training Amazon's algorithm is supposed to bring in new readers. Indiegogo did better than Amazon in this regard. 40% of CFXS backers were drawn from IGG itself.

Amazon, on the other hand, did not deliver the 30 day algorithm bump that many successful indie authors swear by. According to my numbers, the A9 algorithm pushed CFXS for only one day.

That was despite a clear demand for the book, as IGG showed. The newsletter swaps did indeed train the algorithm correctly, filling my also-boughts with genre-appropriate titles. I even ran three AMS ads. But despite CFXS getting rave reviews, Amazon's algorithm didn't grab the book and run with it.

We can only speculate as to why, but I suspect that Amazon has made changes to nerf the algo gaming strategy. They're constantly tweaking their algorithm, and they've previously blunted formerly successful strategies like free giveaways. Nick Cole has even reported diminished results from newsletter trades.

This is pure conjecture, but I also suspect that the length of time Amazon's algorithm pushes your book depends on whether or not it likes you. Nothing sells like success. If you've previously sold hundreds of thousands of copies, A9 gives your follow up books a 30 day bump.

Everybody else? You're on your own.

Which brings us back to spitballing about a post-Amazon future.

For many creators, including Ethan Van Sciver, Vox Day, and myself, crowdfunding campaigns are vastly outperforming their Amazon earnings. Even first-time authors are finding success on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Are KS and IGG the future of publishing?

No. Both platforms are too converged to support a popular literary renaissance. But they do give us a road map.

I predict that SF authors will embrace a neo-patronage system. The only obstacle to this model is that currently, the Conservative and apolitical money men don't care about the culture. Or they're too greedy to see past their own noses.

As on most fronts of our elites' war on normal people, real change must await the day when Gen Z come into their own. They understand the stakes and will be more willing to help like-minded creators.

I envision patrons commissioning books from author clients and funding those authors' careers so they can write what they want. If they're smart, they'll write what readers want to read.

There will be a fiction renaissance in more ways than one.

The day might be coming when working in the arts is just a normal job. Professional rock musicians, film makers, and authors might live on the same street as lawyers, architects, and orthodontists. No more lottery winners, but more artists can earn a living through their art.

Until that day, independent authors must rely on existing platforms like Amazon and Kickstarter. The sequel to Combat Frame XSeed is live now on Indiegogo, where it's already rivaling the first book's success.

Support independent science fiction. Claim awesome perks like trading cards, signed books, and custom characters. Plus, the Combat Frame XSeed audio book will be funded when we reach 500%. Make this book yours. Back the project today!

CFXS audio

16 comments:

  1. Brian,

    Do we're regressing harder to what arts were in the past. Some rich/well off patron pays for his entertainment and commissions someone to create it for him.
    Nowadays, the patrons are regular people.
    Sounds good to me

    xavier

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  2. As tough as all this is to keep up with I imagine it will be tougher for those on the oldpub train to even begin to understand what they are heading toward when they end up in this themselves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oldpub authors who:
      -Think putting out two books a year is "fast"
      -Rely on having others assign editors and commission covers for them
      -Are purse puppy diversity hires whose only talent is their skin color/sexual deviancy
      Will simply be flooded out of the market if they can't adapt (most can't).

      Delete
  3. If you combine what Amazon is doing with the soon to be seen B&N collapse, you get a feeling traditional publishing really is a dead man walking. Being able to move large quantities of paper around is a rather limited skill set. When the books are bo longer paper, it's an evolutionary dead end.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You hit the nail on the head.

      Oldpub isn't in the book business. It's in the lumber business.

      When B&N goes, oldpub's paper distribution monopoly goes with it. Then it's game over for them.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  4. Brian and Chris,

    What do you make of this Mike Shatzkin post?

    https://www.idealog.com/blog/amazon-share-grows-and-big-publishers-make-more-m
    xavier

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry here's the correct link
      https://www.idealog.com/blog/amazon-share-grows-and-big-publishers-make-more-money

      xavier

      Delete
  5. More spit balling here:

    Maybe the Amazon algorithm is being tweaked to accommodate readers who read a bunch of different genres. Not that that helps authors who are planning for a 30 day bump. Time will tell if the Zon's change is malicious or just bad programming. Bad programming will get fixed fairly quickly.

    For consistent writers, a patron system might be the future. Brian's experience that a chunk of his initial book was backed by people who found it on IndieGoGo supports this. Most of these IGG sourced backers weren't previous readers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Maybe the Amazon algorithm is being tweaked to accommodate readers who read a bunch of different genres."

      Possible, but doubtful. The guys who are making the big bucks on Amazon are doing so by catering exclusively to binge readers of specific subgenres.

      Following Nick's advice got CFXS into all the right genre categories and filled its also-boughts with books in my target subgenre.

      I did a two-week silent launch none of my regular readers knew about. Nick does this and reliably gets around 100 organic sales. Replicating his model exactly got me 1/10 of that, mostly on the first day. I thought it was working, but nope. Sales flatlined until I started my normal promotions.

      If I had a solid book that appeals to genre readers (check), in the right categories (check) with the right also-boughts (check) but only generated organic sales on day one, I can only deduce that A9 only pushed my book for one day.

      If that's the case, my educated guess is that the algorithm promotes Nick's books longer than mine because his previous books sold better than mine.

      Delete
    2. Brian, the data does fit your hypothesis. Which is a bummer because it means Amazon is not going to stay a good place for new authors to make a living unless they get very, very lucky.

      Delete
    3. Luck is always a factor.

      The algorithm grabbed JDA's For Steam and Country and ran with it. He still doesn't know why.

      The data also say that more authors are making a living through Amazon than in oldpub. It's still diabolically hard to make a living in the arts.

      This 20BooksTo50k group seems to have some juice. I'll see what insights they've gleaned.

      Delete
    4. If XSeed's place in the algorithm was placed to take advantage of multi-genre readers, it should have latched hold of the manga/light novel genres that one of its verified purchasers constantly browses and bought in the same purchase. Instead, XSeed was paired with a number of cheap looking SF books at about the same sales rank. It started to rise in prominence with reader reviews, but never really connected with the Galaxy's Edges and 4HU, popular series I also buy.

      Seriously, the best thing a customer can do to help a writer right now--besides telling your friends--is to leave a review.

      Delete
    5. "Seriously, the best thing a customer can do to help a writer right now--besides telling your friends--is to leave a review."

      Agreed. Especially since the overall star rating took a hit from what reads like an attack review.

      Re: CFXS algorithm placement: The GE/4H readership is who I was aiming for. I'd tried making inroads with the manga/LN crowd, but they don't seem to have a coherent scene with best selling indie authors who have big mailing lists.

      Nick and Chris did generously agree to do mailing list swaps with me. This did keep CFXS out of the CH ghetto event horizon, but like you said, it didn't catch on with Nick and Chris' readers. Not sure why. I've read multiple works in both series, and XSeed seemed like a great fit to me.

      Then again, the main lesson I've learned from this process is how much I don't know.

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    6. For clarity's sake, I was only speaking of the algorithm. The one thing I learned from stumbling across the soft opening was how little one customer's purchases add to the Amazon recommendations. Otherwise, I'm sure we would be having a different sort of conversation. I think there might be a wall between LNs/manga/comics and science fiction literature.

      As for the attack review, I loved how seven years in Japan didn't prepare the reviewer to tell the difference in the very Japanese names of Sieg, Tod, and Zane.

      Delete
    7. "For clarity's sake, I was only speaking of the algorithm."

      Gotcha.

      "As for the attack review, I loved how seven years in Japan didn't prepare the reviewer to tell the difference in the very Japanese names of Sieg, Tod, and Zane."

      Right? Even more telling, his facility with Japanese somehow failed him when it came to recognizing the very Japanese naming trope I used for the Soc characters.

      "Sanzen" is Japanese for 3000. "Mitsu", "Satsu", and "Gohaku" are counting classifiers. It's symbolic of the Socs' dehumanization and reducing people to numbers, but the references flew right over Big Man Japan's head :)

      Delete