Friday, 21 October 2011

Digital Literature: Amazon vs the Book Trade?

So how is digital literature affecting booksales? How can you, as a writer, reach your audience? And what exactly is Amazon doing to the marketplace? I hope to address some of these issues here.

Online Marketing is the Be-All and End-All, Right?
Online marketing is cheap and can be very effective. But there are so many books being promoted, people can switch off rather easily. Try searching the Twitter hashtag #free. About 80% of posts seem to be about books. That's what you're contending with. Ask yourself what you can do differently to wade through all that and reach your audience. 'But my book is better' isn't a good answer. If no one knows about your book, how will they know that? The trick is to get them to notice the book in the first place. That's the hard part.

What About the Ebook Revolution?
I think the ebook revolution is a revolution in one sense only: that it gives an even larger share to Amazon and technology producers, rather than to writers and publishers. If you're a digital-only writer, you're competing with so many other books it's hard to be heard. If we open the floodgates to anyone with MS Word or OpenOffice (which Amazon's ebook publishing programme does), you're not necessarily making it easier for readers to find good books or for good authors to find readers. You're just widening the range of books that are out there. Most readers, however, won't spend hours and hours trying to track down your book if they're not even aware of it. Why should they?

So There's No Point in eBooks Then?
I think ebooks are a new way of reaching audiences which should be embraced, yes. Although, I'm still a big believer in supporting small presses and indie publishers, and they are the people who will support, nurture and promote writing talent. Amazon, on the otherhand, while a great retailer, is first and foremost about the bottom line--not the worth of literature. Bear this in mind when you decide whether to go the traditional publishing route or self-publish through Amazon.

Derek Haines' blog post here outlines the problems writers face (80% of books sell less than 100 copies). Haines also points out that Amazon seems to be trying to cut out the middle men (a fact the NY Times has also picked up on).

Haines' summation is bleak:

It would seem to me that Amazon are intent on attacking the book industry from the bottom and the top. That is, enticing the ‘cream’ to their new publishing houses and undermining the traditional publishers. While at the same time, encouraging self publishing to enable them to have a huge stock of cheap and ultra cheap ebooks to use on ‘el cheapo’ advertising supported Kindles. Not a bad plan. Rake in the cream of publishing profits and add a new stream of advertising revenue from the other end.

But if I'm honest, he's absolutely right. It's true that there is a glut of cheap ebooks on Amazon, which I doubt anyone but Amazon is making money from. In the meantime, publishers' revenues fall, writers continue to be unfairly paid, and many good books are overlooked by a reading public swamped by chaff.

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