Article suggesting ePublishing is a bubble about to burst

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Montero, Feb 13, 2012.

  1.  
    Montero

    Montero Senior Member

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  2.  
    Peter Graham

    Peter Graham New Member

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    Whilst there is a lot of truth in what Richard Curtis is saying, the analogy with a Ponzi or a bubble scheme is inherently flawed. The point of such schemes is to excite interest - and investment - through promises of entirely unrealistic returns. These returns are actually funded by the new investors, as the subject matter of the scheme is rarely able to perform at the promised level. Think of it like a pyramid with the new investors at the bottom - as long as the pool of investors continues to grow, the rest of the artifice stays up. It is only when the cash coming in at the bottom is no longer sufficient to pay out at the top that the scheme collapses. By that time, the person who concocted the scheme will be miles away.

    In e-publishing, there is no shortage of "investors" (aka wannabe writers). As long as securing a traditional deal remains difficult, there will be no shortage in the future either. Provided people can get their work up their for a small outlay, they will do so. Especially if the option is to leave it in a box where no-one will ever see it.

    The real difficulty for e-publishing is that buyers are not stupid. Kindle et al is all very exciting, but when the fuss dies down, readers are likely to go back to seeking out quality. It is not easy to find genuinely good quality self-published work.

    The danger is that the established publishing houses - who must know all of this but seem to have been caught on the hop - will get their e-houses in e-order and step in to assume their traditional role as gatekeepers of quality. If e-publishing goes the same way as other e-commerce ventures (one genuinely global auction site, one genuinely global social networking site, one genuinely global online bookseller), we will end up with one genuinely global e-publisher who will need to be able to assure some sort of quality in order to maintain market share against the e-imprints of traditional publishers. And if they take no such steps to assure such control, their output will, in time, come to be regarded as the digital equivalent of vanity publishing - up there because the author paid, not because it is any good.

    Regards,

    Peter
  3.  
    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    I don't see e-publishing as becoming monopolistic in the way that those other e-commerce ventures have. Amazon would have to stop accepting other publishers' ebooks - but how could they do that and still accept self-published books? The dividing line between well-organised self-publishers and small presses is already thin, and I don't see the benefit to Amazon in policing that line. As long as they can continue to skim half the cover price of books, they can profit handsomely from other people's work.
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    Peter Graham

    Peter Graham New Member

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    I had it in mind that Amazon would end up being THE e-publisher. Just as betamax lost to vhs or sites like myspace, bebo and lookatmypretendfriends lost to Facebook, Amazon are highly likely to corner the market. In fact, they have pretty much done so already.

    You are right that if they can cream off a percentage for little or no work, they are likely to continue doing it. But I can see a day coming when they will want to draw a distinction between the output of self-publishers and the output of traditional publishers. It's not so much that Amazon have any desire to police the line but rather that the big boys will be able to pay for - or insist upon - greater visibility for their product.

    That may be no more than a click on a website or a scroll down, but presentation and shop space is everything. How long before self pubbers are asked to pay an enhanced rate to get higher up the batting order (assuming that they can't already)?

    I suppose the one link to a true Ponzi is that the harder Amazon try to squeeze revenue out of incoming self pubbers, the more likely that they will lose all of them. But to where? A bespoke self-pubbing site which then tries to take on Hachette et al? Possibly - but will they care? A business model which relies on the "bran tub" approach can work - but whether it will work for books is a different matter.

    Regards,

    Peter
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    I think we're talking about two different things here. Amazon is already a near-monopolistic bookseller, for both ebooks and print. However Amazon the company are relatively new to the publishing of books - they still rely on both commercial publishers and self-publishers to do all the work of putting the book together, with Amazon supplying the sales infrastructure.

    I think the danger is that the current trend for cheap or free ebooks is making the commercial model unsustainable. And if Amazon does kill off its suppliers of quality ebooks, who's going to buy a Kindle just to read rubbish?

    I honestly don't know how Amazon's business model is going to play out. They are already facing problems of "book spam" - thousands of uploads of out-of-copyright works, or outright random text, swamping genuine self-published work. As usual, the lazy, greedy and unprincipled are spoiling the internet for everyone.
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    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

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    But is Amazon acting as a publisher for all the ebooks on its site, Peter? Or is it still mostly a retailer? If it remains the latter, what is it bringing to us readers other than its (proprietary) platform and a mountain of poorly-written novels (among which there may be a few gems)?

    How does one select a good book? By looking for unread (by you) works of authors you like; by acting on the recommendations of people you trust who have similar likes and dislikes; by seeing that a book is from a trusted imprint. None of these will guarantee that you like the book, which is why you should be able to see the first few pages of an ebook before your purchase, just to check it out (like you'd look at those pages of a wood-based book in a shop). But these are still better than nothing.

    Is Amazon a trusted imprint yet? I don't think so. I wouldn't choose an Amazon-published book over, say, an Orbit or a Tor, not without more information.


    But perhaps this is the time for well-regarded editors to make their mark and go independent. If they can have their name associated with a book, that must mean something, surely? If they are no longer constrained by the opinions of the marketing, sales and accounting divisions of a publisher, but rely purely on their non-commercial but quality-based view of a novel, that would be a bonus, not a downside.
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    Heh, I think we posted more-or-less simultaneously with the same thoughts, Ursa :)
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    TheImmaterial

    TheImmaterial New Member

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    Is self-publishing a ponzi scheme? No. Is 99% of anything labelled a ponzi-scheme a ponzi-scheme these days. No. Off topic but there's a great article/dialogue by economist Tim Harford on the mistaken, catch-all labelling of 'ponzi' schemes in popular/mainstream press and media. I'd post a link but need to up my count here first.

    Thinking about it, the e-book scene described in the article actually sounds closer to that free-marketer fantasy of a perfectly competitive market. Every seller is a price taker forced to offer their work for free or 99p. The products are one homogenous lump of poorly edited pap, the consumer has perfect information with the 'look inside' or preview function, suppliers can enter and leave the market for little to no cost.


    The consumer has near unlimited choice from a range of suppliers, knows what they're buying and the price is dirt cheap. The only person who suffers is the supplier. But hey that's capitalism


    Would you rather a committee of a select few tell you what you are allowed to read (no thank you Oprah) or that only a handful of main authors are contracted to supply all the books for the world selling them at a rediculous markup?


    I for one love the e-pub scene (I reserve the right to change this judgement if/when I actually join it). Yes it's a
    free for all of [FONT=&quot]mediocrity but when else for the price of a few pints of beer could I have my book available to an international audience? The article's main concern seemed to be that people would lose money but the beauty of e-publishing is that it's pretty much risk free. If you choose to sink money into promotion or whatever that's your decision and risk but it isn't a requirement.
    [/FONT]
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    AnyaKimlin

    AnyaKimlin Well-Known Member

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    It is just comments on internet forums like these but particularly with Brits there have been an increase in people saying self published is actually a selling point. I now search out self published works.

    A really good one shows what can happen when the author retains the creative control, and they allow for innovative stories that traditional publishers seem to be rejecting in greater numbers. Choosing a good self published is the same as choosing a good traditonally published story - does the cover look good, title sound interesting, blurb intrigue me, first few pages read like something I'd want to spend a few hours doing.
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    Vertigo

    Vertigo Mad Mountain Man

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    The problem is, as was mentioned above, that it becomes harder and harder for the punters (us) to find the gems amongst the dross. Yes I can look at the frist few pages but how many will I have to look through before I find a half decent one (or give up in disgust). Publishers (love them or hate them) do provide an important filter. If they are bypassed then we will have to rely on reviews by critics we trust to do that filtering. My favourite source for such is this illustrious site :). However as more and more people start self publishing more and more dross it is going to become ever harder for those critics to find the pearls. My concern then is that established authors will still sell, as we know what to expect from them, but it may become ever harder for good new authors to emerge unless they can get said critics to view their work.
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Not a requirement, but those who don't sink a great deal of time and/or money into it are not going to sell more than a handful of books.

    So many people go into it with unrealistic expectations. I think that once they begin to understand that with so much books flooding the market the chances of anyone breaking out with an Amanda Hocking sort of success become less and less every day, at least some of them will realize that unless they are willing to make a huge investment in promoting their books they are not likely to achieve even a modest success.

    What is happening is that hundreds of thousands of people are being led to believe they will make their dreams a reality and then having those dreams crushed. At least they could have kept the dream alive if they hadn't rushed to publish.
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    AnyaKimlin

    AnyaKimlin Well-Known Member

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    Like everything else it takes a bit of practice but there are far more than just a few gems out there. To be honest I've spent far longer sorting out the crap from the good stuff in Borders (when it still existed), than I ever have on Amazon looking for a good self pub.

    The title and standard of cover are usually a really good indication into how much thought and care an author has put into the book and to their level of creativity. Again the blurb gives a further inidcation. (These are all a much greater indication than they would be in a traditionally published book). Then the first paragraph indicates how good the writing is. However I've never relied on reviews in choosing a book (well occasionally one may be mentioned on the radio that sounds interesting), and have always chosen them based on the same criteria - does it look like it will be a good read. I've never been afraid to try new authors - who haven't been recommended but who have an interesting looking book on the shelves.

    Having just read Agatha Raisin I am not that convinced about the Traditional Publishers acting as a filter. Had I not been late for a train and followed my usual rule of reading a few pages I'd never have bought it in the first place. Same goes to be honest to Dark Materials (not because of the standard of his writing but the style), that was an airport buy.

    It has just been noticeable that in the last six months I've gone from feeling like a lone voice to getting echoes when I've said it. I was entranced first by a book called Smith by Mike Devlin and then by a lady called Moriah Jovan (writes great long stories). In between I'd read Brother's Bishop by Bart Yates - most amazing book with the most disappointing, obviously editor/publisher imposed ending. Now a lot of my reading is self published authors and I've found it worth the time to go through them. A good self published is far richer than a lot of the traditonally published.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2012
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    I think we need to make a distinction between books that are badly written and books that are not to our personal taste.

    His Dark Materials disappointed me (or at least the first one, which is the only one I read) but that was because it wasn't what I thought it would be, what I wanted it to be. I wouldn't call it a bad book on that account, or think that the company that published it acted as a bad filter. So many people fell in love with the story and had good reasons for doing so -- they just weren't reasons that would have made me like it. As for the Agatha Raisin books, again, I read one and was not entertained, but they bring pleasure to so many, many readers, I can't call that a mistake on the part of the publishers either.

    I wouldn't count on that unless the author himself said so. I've been in a position to talk to a lot of writers, and many times found out that endings I thought were "obviously editor/publisher imposed" were no such thing. In most cases, it was the end the writer had planned from the very beginning.
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    AnyaKimlin

    AnyaKimlin Well-Known Member

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    It is the same process though, filtering books for ones I want to read. The same thing I do with any book - the first few paragraphs are almost always the best indication about whether or not I'm going to get on with the writers basic style. The publishers are not my filter for what I would like to read or what I find good - that has always been me.

    Dark Materials I admitted was his style rather than his ability. Both Pullman's and Beaton's style had I opened the book would have caused me to put the book down. Reviews, genre and blurb are why I picked them up in the first place. Just like a self-pub that is badly written will cause me to put it down, but that is usually obvious from the blurb.

    It doesn't change the fact that for me if someone says they are self published it will attract me rather than detract me from the book. I'll check it out and decide if it is my thing. Its proved incredibly rewarding. Hopefully over time self published review sites will improve etc
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2012
  15.  
    Montero

    Montero Senior Member

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    Wandering a bit off the original topic -

    I like MC Beaton when he writes Hamish MacBeth, but I tried one of his Agatha Raisin ones and just didn't like the characters or the premise. So yes, again saying a matter of taste. (Found the same thing with Alexander McCall Smith, love No1 Ladies Detective Agency, don't like his books set in Scotland. Usually I like all books by an author I like, so does show they have noticeable differences in style and character.)

    I do tend to read by author, I might select by publisher, but most of all by reading the first few pages. A thing I find useful on Amazon is the bit about what other people who bought the book I am looking at also bought. I've wombled off onto some good books that way. And recommendations from here.
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    Dozmonic

    Dozmonic Member

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    Finding books is a difficult business. There's so many released and so few sites that can really break down what the books are like to allow people to choose what to read. Rotten tomatoes is great for finding out what a movie is like. Even when there are poor ratings, the review summaries will let you know whether it's one you might choose to go watch at the cinema just for the big screen effect. It'll let you know if it's one to add to love film, but keep as a medium priority while you watch the ones you really want to see.

    There was a site called audiogalaxy which would break down an artist's music into genres. You could see other bands within those genres, or find similar artists to the ones you listened to. This is similar to the "authors who read X also read Y", but gave a greater scope to search.

    For books, there's no major go-to site that really breaks down what a book is about. They're always flooded with useless reviews meaning you have to really sift to find what a book is about.

    This book looks at the themes of X, Y and Z. Characterisation: strong/weak, many/few characters. Pacing: fast/slow. Structure: 120 chapters @ 800-1000 words per / 30 chapters @ 3000-5000 words per split into scenes / 30 chapters @ 5000 words per with no scene breaks. POVs used: 1st / 3rd limited / 3rd omniscient. Narratorial style: colloquial / informative / detail driven. Similar authors: X because of writing style, Y because of writing subject, Z because of other reason.

    It'd be a lot of work to create something like that, but there's need to be a level of data mining there for users to find what they want in the sea of material available. The commission potential could make the undertaking very worthwhile - as long as the search criteria are there and the information is accurate.
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Similar authors is the only one of those that would interest me very much, and after that style. Otherwise, I could care less about the number of words or how many chapters. Opinions on characterization and pacing can be subjective, so I would like to know why the reviewer feels that way, as in a regular review, or the information would be meaningless.
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    I agree - themes and authors would interest me, but not much else. Chapter length is likely to be irrelevant to most readers, I suspect.

    Publishers Weekly has short, succinct reviews that summarise the plot and offer an opinion on the quality, but I guess the site isn't exactly consumer friendly like "Rotten Tomatoes":

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-85766-214-9
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    Peter Graham

    Peter Graham New Member

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    I don't disagree with you or Anne - Amazon is first and foremost a bookseller. At present. But (and it's a big but), the very act of giving self pubbers access to the market to hawk their usually rubbish wares apes the principal role of a publisher. It does it on a "get what you pay for" basis (no editing and no quality control), but it does it nonetheless.

    The internet democratises publishing to a certain extent, but there is an element of Emperor's New Clothes. If e-reading takes a permanent hold and starts to do for paper books what CDs and downloads did for the cassette tape, the big publishers will enter the market in force and in style. It will be in their interests to ensure that a clear distinction is drawn between their output and self-pubbed output.

    I suppose it depends. As you say, imprints can help (I suppose it is what they are there for), but otherwise it might be recommendation, something you like the look of or just "the buzz".



    Only if the editor is known to the genral publiic, surely? If they were, it would be the equivalent of a celebrity endorsement, but I'd wager that readers who are not also writers would be hard pressed to name a single editor.


    It would, but they would still need to shift product. And they'd be starting without any form of brand identity. And possibly without any sales or marketing experience.

    The argument "I might as well put it up there; look what happened to Amanda Hocking" is a persuasive one at first sight, but it fails to appreciate the reality of the situation. It's akin to buying a lottery ticket - the chances of winning are tiny, even though someone has to win.

    Is selling small amounts of bad product really better than selling no product?

    Regards,

    Peter
  20.  
    psychotick

    psychotick Dangerously confused

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    Hi,

    Interesting article, but I think the authoris slightly off. Indie epubbing like a lot of industries will go through a cycle of boom and bust, and I think he's right, we are now reaching towards the end of a boom. The reason for saying that is yes, simply because so many are now out there giving away their books for free, effectively swamping the market. Who wouldn't accept a free book? The problem is that even if the book is good, it takes a readers time and capital away from buying other books. And if it's bad it may then turn prospective readers away from other indie authors.

    This will inevitably make it harder for new writers to break into the market, and for those midlisters with less well established names to increase sales. But unlike a true market bust, no one, at least among the authors is going to lose their shirt over it. That's because most people don't invest a lot of money in their writing, just time and effort. (Not that that's really a just).

    The only ones to lose money over it, will be those who are offering services associated with new writers. So these are the ones setting up businesses for editing, promoting, indie agents etc etc. They have invested money, are trying to make a career out of it, and they will find times tough.

    But what will happen I believe is only a market correction. Sales for newby authors will slow, but not cease and then they will pick up again. Undoubtedly they will go through similar boom and bust cycles in the future as well.

    The other thing that will I believe emerge, in fact is already emerging, is some sort of accredited rating system for new books and writers. As people become disillusioned with free books, and with indie work they will want something like this, and where there is a demand there will be someone to fill it.

    So how can an indie survive the troughs? It really comes down to quality. A good story well told. When some sort of acredited rating group sets up and gains a name for itself, it will benefit those who's work is of a standard. So my advice would be to simply keep working on your craft, keep putting out more books, edit and re-edit the ones you've already got out to make them more saleable and fix any issues readers have identified, and when the time comes where consumers want a symbol of quality, jump on board whatever emerges with both feet.

    Oh, and don't invest your shirt! Then you might actually lose it.

    Cheers, Greg.

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