After reading Lot’s Cave’s post on the Smashwords predictions for 2018, I knew I had to write my own. Last year, I decided to take a break from social media and a hectic writing schedule in favor of observing the market. After all, I’d done painstaking research in that area already. The natural progression turned into a different kind of market analysis. As an author, I’m not particularly fond of words like market analysis, profit margin, gross or net. You get the point. That’s why this post is desperately needed. This is market analysis for those that likewise aren’t too familiar with such terms. That’s okay, I’ll explain everything while discussing my own predictions for 2018.
To framework my thoughts and opinions, I’ve decided to read Smashwords original 2018 Book Industry Predictions post. Why am I doing it this way? Well, it’s actually a really important step in the process. Smashwords is a great site, and Mark Coker is generally really good at explaining things in the industry. But, when it came to this year’s predictions post, he really dropped the ball. There are too many aspects of this industry hidden behind ‘publisher speak’, this combined with his ‘business speak’, and well, you get my idea. All this really does make for a confusing predictions post, and so, here’s the first point for those looking for clarification.
My Top Ten Author Predictions For 2018
1. Indie Authors Did Not Assert Control & Won’t In 2018
For Mark Coker to say that indie authors took control of the publishing world is a gross misunderstanding of the industry. Hidden in Mark Coker’s statement is the idea that prior to indie authors the mainstream publishers were censoring content. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Mainstream publishers have always been competitive, and likewise, do gain an ever increasing platform of visibility. But, they certainly didn’t limit the industry’s content any more than we see it today. Authors could still publish, they could still seek out an audience, but it was much harder.
As a group, indie authors usually suffer a kind of limbo in today’s industry. Many authors don’t want to wait for the big name publishers to publish or accept their manuscripts, and so, they rush off to the nearest indie platform. The problem with this is what follows. An author publishes their somewhat lackluster book, and then, it doesn’t sell. The author gets discouraged and many times, never writes again. Why does this happen? Because the author got the instant gratification of seeing their unpolished book published. There was no trial by fire, and as a result, the author has no root to their craft. When hardships come, they tip over easily.
I’m not against indie authors, I identify largely with the label, but we need to admit our faults. Many mainstream publishers complain about crap flooding the market, and there is a reason for those complaints. Just because someone can publish doesn’t mean they should. For Mark Coker then, to say this sort of ‘all access pass’ to publishing is asserting control, is dishonest. If anything, indie authors have actually damaged the mainstream publishing half of the industry. There were not better deals for authors in mainstream publishing as a result of indie authors. Overall, the whole market needs an equilibrium it will probably never find. That is not, nor has it ever been, control asserted.
2. Kindle Unlimited Is A Lost Cause
Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited is a constant, and albeit reasonable, complaint of Mark Coker. No one is going to lie and say Kindle Unlimited is great for authors. However, we have to be honest about what it is. Kindle Unlimited, and its subsequent books are not a uniform group of ‘leeches to slowly drain other booksellers of their lifeblood.’ To say so, quite frankly, is a little dishonest. What Kindle Unlimited really is remains quite simple, Kindle Unlimited is the socialist system of eBooks. Yes, I mean that in the strongest possible way. Kindle Unlimited is the very definition of Socialism. Merriam-Webster defines Socialism as:
A stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.
In this particular version of Socialism, KENP (Page Reads) are the good to be sold. The unequal distribution lies in that wonderful KDP Select Global Fund. This is not even getting paid for the amount of work done, but rather, the work the ‘government’ thinks you perform by pages read. Yes, this really is a socialist system. For all of Mark Coker’s harsh comments on Kindle Unlimited and Amazon’s monopolistic practices, he’s never once gone so far as to call it like it is. But why hasn’t he? Well, I suspect it is because of the immense amount of pressure not to piss off Amazon, or its author base. Even Mark Coker must make a living competing with Amazon.
As with any socialist system though, it is important to realize Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited will grow worse for authors. Socialism leads to Communism, and yes, there is a difference between the two. The most simplistic definition of Communism is when the government distributes goods equitably, and by equitably, people usually mean by highest need first. Can you imagine this kind of system carried out within Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited? It doesn’t take much imagination. Amazon is already incentivizing certain markets and authors over others. Oh, and that pool of money, well it’s shrinking. What happens when that ‘easy’ money dries up? Kindle Unlimited is a lost cause for any indie author really wanting to support themselves by writing for a living.
3. Breaking Up Amazon Won’t Help — If It Even Happens
Perhaps my biggest complaint against Mark Coker lies in his solution to the problem. Breaking up Amazon won’t really solve the problem we see embodied in the indie author industry. Want proof? Look around at the other largely monopolistic company giants: Google, Facebook, Walmart, etc. There are too many big name big influence companies to list, and we all know their names whatever the niche market. It’s safe to say then, that the problem isn’t just the Romance market. The problem isn’t just Amazon. But where Mark Coker and I differ largely, I suspect, has to do with our politics. To say otherwise would be dishonest. We all have our particularly personal bias, and at least, I’m admitting mine in my blog post.
While Mark Coker advocates the dismantling of Amazon’s monopolistic status, he’s, at the same time, placing blame on Amazon. But, in an odd example, isn’t that kind of like blaming the car for driving over the speed limit? The car was, after all, made to drive 100MPH. Didn’t the car company put you in that position? This argument doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t account for personal responsibility. Amazon isn’t to blame for offering extremely low, often undercutting prices. The consumer is responsible for buying these products without care or concern. This is also true for those using Facebook, Google, and Walmart. There’s just something within the consumer that doesn’t think twice about that next good deal in the long term.
This is largely why breaking up Amazon won’t solve the indie market problem. Authors will still lower their prices to minuscule amounts in the interest of making that next sale. If it isn’t Amazon, it’ll be someone else. The personal responsibility of each and every author plays a huge role in this. That’s why I bother to write blog posts saying such harsh things. I find it a personal responsibility to warn people about undercutting other authors’ prices. Is it an unforgivable sin to utilize Amazon or even Kindle Unlimited? No, but it is a practice that needs to be embraced wisely. If authors charged more or likewise demanded compensation for their time, Amazon eventually have to listen. Mark Coker at least got one thing right on this topic, there’s always an author to take someone else’s place if they don’t play along.
4. This Will Be The Year Of Side Taking
If I’m right, and personal responsibility is important, then 2018 stands to be a year of side taking. What do I mean by that? Well, are you committing to Kindle Unlimited or not? For authors that choose not to, or are barred from, using Kindle Unlimited, the market stands to become a highly competitive marketplace. There will always be the temptation to be jealous of successful authors, but this could get much worse this year. For authors who refuse to play the Amazon game, for authors that turn away all that wonderful imaginary money, the mockery and pain will be an intense constant pain. This is something I’ve already learned and had to embrace in my own unique way.
You know what I love? Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Why is that relevant though? Well, it was my unique way of realizing the struggle of individuality. Writing Taboo Erotica can sometimes feel a bit too glamorous. Authors, myself included, like to think we’re on some sort of crusade for free speech. The problem is though, whether this is true or not, many authors criticize writing any content that doesn’t suit Amazon’s taste or content policy. The Fountainhead showed me why this is. Amazon authors, especially those looking to write for a living, have settled. They think we too should settle, and when we don’t, well it’s a personal conviction against them because they did.
The hatred is real, but many taboo writers don’t know this goes both ways. Amazon exclusive authors are jealous of us too, because we have the freedom of writing for the sake of writing. We have the audacity to charge ‘high’ prices, and our customers pay it. What neither of us, regardless of side, understand is this was all orchestrated to happen. When authors are busy undercutting each other and each other’s prices, well, mainstream publishers get to come up as the ‘hero problem solver’. Authors will flock to a symbol for their cause, and for authors wanting to make money, that symbol is Amazon. The side taking can only grow worse the more extreme tensions get. We need to stop taking sides and realize, we’re all indie authors looking to publish and make some money for our efforts. Why is that continually so complicated?
5. Authors Will Grow More Desperate… And Annoying
Why did I leave the Erotica Authors Reddit community seemingly overnight? Because authors are annoying, and will continue to get even more so. Okay, this isn’t true for every author, after all I’m an author. But, as a majority, the authors looking to eek out a profit at every opportunity are going to get worse. One of the things I did last year was subscribe to a couple author newsletters. Now, I read a wide variety of books and I did get to compare and contrast ‘erotica’ themes newsletters to other market’s newsletters. You know what? The difference is startling! My inbox was filled with erotica themed newsletters almost every single day. The other markets couldn’t compete even when combined. Does anyone see the problem here?
As the market grows more and more competitive, authors are going to get more and more desperate. What will happen to my inbox then? The problem isn’t just newsletters though, it’s a much broader problem. Authors are treating each other rather dishonestly, using them to find that ‘secret solution’ to their problems. Overall, this doesn’t help anyone feel like there is a much broader community of like-minded individuals. What’s worse though, is how it leads authors into settling and foregoing their personal responsibilities. Perhaps no one has thought this through to completion, because no one will be happy when everything is said and done. Readers won’t want newsletters, authors won’t talk to one another, and overall market prices will drop.
The important thing to note in all this is that authors have done this. I’m blaming authors, and I’m not being shy about it. All those people that settled, cut each others throats, and then lowered their prices when nothing else worked are a problem. Yes, scammers are a problem, but there are scammers in every industry. They are a small sliver of the overall representation readers see, or at least, should see. When the authors though start cutting corners, start charging lower and lower prices, and start abusing the trust of their reader base, well, who wouldn’t expect problems? These are all problems, and they’re annoying problems. Isn’t it time we just fixed it?
6. Authors Can’t Expand Into Other Markets
For authors looking to write for a living, pay attention to this one. You cannot expand into a different niche market. Anyone who says there is money to be made in cookbooks, science fiction, or historical fiction are lying to you. This sounds definite because it is. But how can I say it? Well, the logic behind this one is simple: romance is the trend setter. When publishers compare what is called the ‘market share’ of a particular niche, they’re discussing the amount of money a particular kink can earn you in comparison to others. Romance always captures the largest percentage of the market share. Simply put, Romance is the most profitable subject to write. Likewise, this incentivizes the most authors looking to write for a living. Simple enough.
What many authors fail to realize goes hand in hand with this is the fact that Romance is a trend setting niche. The trends that happen in the Romance world eventually trickle down throughout the rest of the market. This means the only reason Science Fiction or Historical Fiction remain lucrative is because the Romance trends haven’t ruined them yet. The minute Romance dries up, authors will move on to the next, which is probably Science Fiction by the way. Don’t buy into the idea that you can simply shift markets without any fallout. You’ll automatically make less money switching from Romance to Science Fiction, all else being equal. Not only that, but the longevity of your income source will dry up at the same time Romance dries up.
There are already whispers about the next market to jump into this year: audio books. What very few people are mentioning along with this is the fact Amazon may ruin the market before it even really began. Need proof? Check out Audible’s Romance Package. Does that scare anyone? It certainly should. Amazon through Audible and its new Romance Package subscription service stands to gain complete control over the Romance industry, and it doesn’t matter if it is hard copy, soft cover, or audio books now. What is clear however, is that audio books are not the next new trend everyone thinks they will be. In the long run, audio books will actually become yet another Kindle Unlimited, just another mechanism in the overall machine that is Amazon.
7. Single eBook Sales Are The Platform’s Fault
This may not seem like it impacts you as an author, but it does. When publishers talk about single copy eBook sales, they’re talking about a customer buying a lone book. Mark Coker correctly argues these type of sales will decrease, but for the wrong reason. He once again blames Kindle Unlimited, but is it ultimately Kindle Unlimited’s fault? I don’t think so. The blame once again belongs on authors, as authors have undercut prices and encouraged sites, like Smashwords, to run continuous sales. This is the sneaky little problem no one wants to talk about. Why does no one want to talk about it? Because it is a huge problem on platforms that exist outside Amazon.
How does a publisher compete with the giant that is Amazon? Well, many publishers have decided the solution is a site wide sale. This makes sense on the surface, as the sale seems to offset some of the bargains Amazon can afford to run continuously. Likewise, what customer doesn’t at least browse through the sale options? But, deep down, there is a cost to any sale ever put on by a website. Usually, websites put on sales when they want to incentivize the selling of a particular product. In other words, if a publisher ordered too many books, or perhaps wants to boost a book’s rankings, offer it at a discount. But, when sites don’t push a particular product, well, then they’re just begging for sales.
The begging that takes place during a sale always comes at a cost to the author. Don’t forget this. A sale requires a sale price, and that usually means a pay cut to an author. I’ve done this math multiple times. I know Smashwords doesn’t have the audience or customer base to pull the numbers to justify lowering a price. But to prove it, here’s an example. If I drop my $5.00 book price down to $2.50 for a Smashwords sale, Smashwords would need to sell roughly twice as many books to make it worth my while. You’re welcome to imagine this with new books (no incentive for customers to buy at sale price) or older books (your customer base probably already has the title and won’t buy enough to make up the sale difference), and see for yourself.
8. Platforms Will Become Less Significant
For authors, which platforms to publish to is an extremely important choice. Yes, this echoes the theme of taking side but it differs slightly in application. This year, I do see echoes of what others have said, the market is shrinking. Platforms are finding it harder and harder to compete against Amazon. Now, the positive side to this is that, for the most part, Taboo Erotica exists outside of Amazon. Readers obviously want the taboo content, their willing to pay good money for it, and they’re finding it on Lot’s Cave especially. But for sites like Smashwords and Excitica, there may come a time to decide if publishing taboo content along with their more mainstream content is the way to go. This is a delicate topic, and many authors don’t want to talk about it. But, if we’re honest, it’s extremely disconcerting. The platforms available to taboo content are shrinking rapidly.
But, in all fairness, it isn’t just taboo content. Sites like Apple, Scribd, and Kobo will all face a tough time against Amazon. Apple has one thing going with its iBooks, the prevalence of the .EPUB format. Many book lovers have found their favorite format, and it isn’t .MOBI (utilized by Amazon). For those not committed to one e-reader, the .EPUB format is a must (as it can be used across multiple platforms or devices). I know I’m not alone when I say I love using Apple products because of this very feature. But, I must also admit, I find it easier to install the Kindle App, and then just buy books right there and then. It’s tough to compete, even for Apple, with its embrace of authors and eBook lovers. Time will tell how well they weather the Amazon difficulties.
Sites like Kobo and Scribd though, I suspect, along with Mark Coker, that they will struggle, if not vanish completely. These sites have essentially killed off their customer base, or their ability to expand. Kobo in my mind has a name for not taking even borderline content. Scribd, if I even remember right, has a subscription service meant to still compete with that of Amazon. The business models are outdated, and one doesn’t have to be a genius to see that. How many authors have you heard selling well on Kobo? How about Scribd? Likewise, how many authors are having difficulties even uploading to platforms these days? Publishing platforms are going to find the decisions that didn’t matter before suddenly do, and by the time they realize it, my guess it will be too late.
9. Brand Recognition Will Start To Matter More
I know this sounds odd after all I’ve said, but I suspect this will become prevalent with time. As the market grows more competitive, big name recognition will become even more important. Readers are going to need a way to sort through the scams and crap books while still being able to get a good deal. How has this traditionally been handled in the past? Brand recognition. In some industries brand names have become synonymous with their product. Kleenex is the name of tissues, Coca-Cola is the name of soda, JELL-O is the name of gelatin. You get the point. These brands all became household names, whether we endorse how they did so or not. That is how the eBook industry will more than likely change this new year.
What’s important to realize is that brand recognition doesn’t have to come through a mainstream publisher. As an author, I utilize Lot’s Cave for this purpose. That’s why I now blog not on an author blog, but on the Lot’s Cave blog. I prefer to become recognizable through the Lot’s Cave brand. When people see the Lot’s Cave logo, they more than likely think ‘taboo incest erotica’. And, when that happens, I want them to think ‘Lily Weidner… father daughter incest’. This is what I have personally chosen to do, but I suspect more authors will eventually opt for a similar option. Romance authors for years flocked to the coveted title of ‘Harlequin Author’. Many Erotica authors used to covet the title of ‘Ellora’s Cave Author’, before the company went out of business.
Readers for their part used to buy books simply for the brand recognition. They took a chance on new authors because they trusted the brand. When an industry grows saturated, readers likewise look for those favored products. There’s a reason I smile when I see a Lot’s Cave book on the best seller list over at Smashwords, I know my title won’t be far behind. This is the secret success of taboo authors working together in large groups, everyone wins. Admittedly, it does take a bit of time to recognize this. I’ve been on both sides. There were times I grew jealous of others success, but I now look up to these authors. Authors that last for the long term understand this, and they embrace brands.
10. Writing What You Love Will Be Important
This is the note I wanted to wrap everything up with. I think writing what you love will be extremely important going into the new year. As industries become more and more competitive, having a motivation is extremely important. Personally, I can attest to this as an author. If you don’t follow my catalog, you may not know I predominately write short stories. This due to multiple factors, but one of them is that I simply enjoy writing shorter stories. Now, many people have told me not, as I won’t make enough money. But, those same people write three novels and then quit entirely. I don’t want to quit writing, so I might as well enjoy writing what I love. If you do want to make money, that’s fine, but maximize what you enjoy. That way, you’ll keep writing when it gets tough.
There are so many authors giving bad advice out to inexperienced authors. We all have to realize that everything is predicated on personal experience. The author giving advice, me included, have a personal experience that clouds judgement. A new author starting out probably doesn’t even know how to best articulate what they need advice on. Together, both have a responsibility to one another to bridge that gap. The best way I know how to do this though starts with determining what an author loves to write. So, I like writing raunchy more extreme father daughter incest titles, but it comes at a cost. I know my books probably will never appear on a best seller list in a mainstream paper. But, I’m also not looking for that kind of reward either.
No matter what the year brings, no matter how tough it gets, some authors simply feel the necessity of writing. I’m one of them, and I suspect many of the authors reading this do too. That’s what will keep the eBook industry thriving in some capacity. There are universally two main rules of writing, write a lot and read a lot. What many people fail to realize is that authors are also readers. How you, as an author, consume books, matters. How you, as a reader, write books, matters. Both of these concepts are two sides of the same coin. They are inseparable. Why though, do readers not have to be told to ‘read what you love’? Do you see the disconnect there yet? As an author, you need to write what you love. Do so, and this entire post, while relevant, won’t seem important to you later on down the road.