Thursday, July 26

Mark Coker of Smashwords: $2.99 Is The Best Price For A Book

Rock

The actual title of Mark Coker's post was How a Traditional Publisher Could Harm a Writer's Career.

I never thought I'd see that sentence in print. Wow! Times have changed. Granted, this is Mark Coker writing, the founder of Smashwords, one of the largest self-publishing portals. But still.

So how could publishing traditionally harm one's writing career?

Mark's answer: by making you poorer. He writes:
[W]e found $2.99 books, on average, netted the authors more earnings (profit per unit, multiplied by units sold) than books priced at $6.99 and above. When we look at the $2.99 price point compared to $9.99, $2.99 earns the author slightly more, yet gains the author about four times as many readers. $2.99 ebooks earned the authors six times as many readers than books priced over $10.

If an author can earn the same or greater income selling lower cost books, yet reach significantly more readers, then, drum roll please, it means the authors who are selling higher priced books through traditional publishers are at an extreme disadvantage to indie authors in terms of long term platform building. The lower-priced books are building author brand faster. Never mind that an indie author earns more per $2.99 unit sold ($1.80-$2.10) than a traditionally published author earns at $9.99 ($1.25-$1.75).
Another interesting point Mark brought up was that it seems that the Apple store's "rankings favor unit sales over dollar volume (unlike the bestseller list at our small Smashwords store, which measures aggregate dollars spent).  Look at the Apple bestseller list and you'll see which authors are building their brands the fastest with readers."

Huh. That's good to know. If Amazon's ranking algorithms begin to more steeply favor higher priced books then selling through Smashwords on the Apple store--or just selling there directly--would be more attractive.

Mark Coker goes on to discuss Pearson's acquisition of Author Solutions and calls the acquisition "icky". I agree. He writes:
There are signs that some publishers are beginning to realize they need to implement strategies to bring indie authors back into the traditional fold, as witnessed by Pearson's acquisition last week of Author Solutions, Inc., which will be operated under its Penguin imprint.  I'm still scratching my head over this.

Does Pearson think that Author Solutions represents the future of indie publishing?  Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the "V" in vanity.  Author Solutions earn 2/3 or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors' books to readers.  Does Pearson think so little of authors that they've decided they can earn more money selling them services than selling their books?  Don't get me wrong, I have no qualm with indies investing in professional editing, proofreading and cover design. I encourage that.  There's just something about this that feels icky.

For months, blogger Emily Suess has been challenging the business practices of Author Solutions, and her posts make for some fascinating if not disturbing reading.  How will Pearson prevent Author Solutions from tarnishing the Penguin brand?  Seems to me Lulu or Blurb would have been a smarter acquisition if Pearson wanted a reputable print self-publishing firm.

Surely, they didn't acquire Author Solutions for their ebook revenues, which accounted for only $1.3 million in 2011 sales, or 1.3% of their nearly $100 million total, according to a story in Publisher's Weekly by Jim Milliot.  Smashwords ebook sales this year will do 10 times that $1.3 million, and with only 16 employees here in California as opposed to 1,600 employees at Author Solutions, 1,200 of whom are in the Philippines.  I'm making an unfair comparison, though, because Author Solutions is in the print business, and we don't touch print.  Compared to ebooks, print production and distribution is more complicated, more expensive and less rewarding for indie authors.
 
So, will someone please tell me, if print isn't the future, and vanity isn't the future, then why did Pearson pay $116 million for Author Solutions?  Do they think Author Solutions offers authors a more compelling print solution than Amazon's CreateSpace, or Lulu?  Does Penguin think the imprimatur of the Author Solutions brand will help it retain its most precious authors?

The good news is that publishers are beginning to realize that the power in publishing is shifting to authors.  The question remains, however, how they'll keep authors in the traditional stable now that the gates are torn down and greener pastures abound.
Here's a link to Mark's article:  How a Traditional Publisher Could Harm a Writer's Career.

Mark Coker is at the RWA annual conference that's going on right now. I really really wish I was there! By all accounts it's a fantastic conference and many of my favorite authors/presenters are going. Next year.

Related reading:
- Amazon's KDP Select, Kobo & PubIt: Joe Konrath & Blake Crouch Share Their Experiences
- 5 Points To Ponder Before You Self Publish
- Penquin's Purchase Of Author Solutions: Going To The Dark Side?


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