The self-publisher’s perspective of the ebook market

The writer Rosen Trevithick said this here thing:

For goodness sake Kobo, I took a risk publishing some of my titles with a relatively small eBook vendor. It took days to jump through your formatting hoops and I lost my bonuses for being exclusive to Amazon. I did this because I wanted to support an alternative to the market leader. You reward me by stabbing small publishing companies in the back. I’ll think twice about publishing with you in the future because you clearly aren’t ready to earn a larger share of the market.

Everything she says is true. But… I’d like to use this current crisis and her point about Kobo shafting small publishers as an excuse to look at what the ebook market looks like for a self- or small publisher.

  • Kobo’s search has always sucked (discoverability is non-existent) and they clearly have some sort of infrastructure problem (otherwise they’d have done the ‘purge’ the same way Amazon did, by flipping all suspect titles to Draft and forcing people to submit via a tighter process). They’re also clearly willing to completely shaft everybody using their self-serve publishing platform Writing Life whenever it suits them, PR-wise.
  • WH Smith. Non-existent as far as most self-publishers are concerned. No sales. No love. And now their site is shuttered.
  • Waterstones. Again, non-existent as far as most self-publishers are concerned. No sales. No love.
  • Foyles. Ditto.
  • Insert random bookstore’s Adobe DRM-based ebook platform. Ditto.
  • Feedbooks. Love the people behind Feedbooks but most self-publishers won’t even have heard about them, and you can only offer your stuff for free.
  • B&N Nook. Volatile as hell. Seems to be in terminal decline. Also unavailable to non-US self-publishers.
  • iBooks. A major hassle to use and submit. And, for most people I’ve spoken to, near non-existent sales.
  • Smashwords. Only really useful as a way to get into the above stores. Otherwise, meh.
  • Kindle. Stagnant platform. Almost all of the new features (series, Kindle Shorts, etc.) belong to Amazon Publishing and aren’t self-serve (and after the WH Smith porno brouhaha, two guesses as to why that is). But, it is where all of the sales are. And exclusivity offers several features that are likely to increase reach, visibility, and sales.

For those of us interested in a more open and varied ebook market, there is a singular harsh truth we must accept:

Amazon is playing the game better than the rest. That’s why they have the biggest share of the market.

I’d bet that even if Amazon abandoned discounts across the board, they’d still have their current marketshare simply because they seem to be doing a better job. Even their Kindle for iOS app has improved into borderline tolerability after the latest update.

So, if the EPUB crowd wants to compete, they need to up their game.

But, no. Instead they are either in a tailspin (B&N, WH Smith’s ecommerce side) or seem to be perpetually operating with all weapons set to ‘bland’ (Kobo, iBooks).

And, which is the fun bit, whenever something goes wrong, they don’t seem to hesitate to shaft the self-publisher.

So, I find it hard to blame any self-publisher who decides to go exclusive with Amazon. Nor do I blame any consumer who decides to buy a Kindle device or sticks to Kindle ebooks only. You don’t win customers by appealing to their charity. You have to give suppliers a reason to work with you, and buyers a reason to buy from you.

ETA: At the moment, the most sensible strategy for consumers is to buy from Amazon (and make DeDRMed backups if they are computer literate enough to Google and then use a drag and drop app). KF8 files convert nicely to EPUBs is you plan on moving to an EPUB-based platform in the future. At the same time the most sensible strategy for a small publisher is ‘it depends’.

3 thoughts on “The self-publisher’s perspective of the ebook market

  1. My books are Kindle exclusives for exactly the reasons you set forth here. B&N’s site is a nightmare to navigate and it damn near impossible to just happen upon a self-published book–unless you are looking for a specific title, all you’re going to find is the major published titles that B&N is promoting that week. My first title was on B&N for a year, and I never made a single Nook sale. Not one.

    I never did get my book up on Kobo, although I tried. I have a friend who was selling Kobo readers in her store, and I really wanted to be able to offer my book on the platform that she was promoting. Unfortunately, I was never able to set up an account to get paid–Kobo refused to recognize the routing number from my US credit union. After a number of attempts to contact customer service and getting back replies that were basically “read the instructions” I gave up.

    I found Smashword’s style guide to be impenetrable, and it was written with the assumption that everyone uses MSWord exclusively. I tried to follow their guidelines with an Open Office document and ended up with a succession of unreadable messes.

    So I stick with Amazon. I’d be happy to explore other venues for sales, but they have to do a much better job than they are at the moment.

  2. I sell non-fiction technical ebooks. Though I’m personally against DRM (I don’t enable it on my amazon books), I’m finding it very hard to disagree with the first of this post. My amazon and createspace sales dwarf kobo and bn. Aside from the occasionally email to me personally along for pdf or epub versions (which I sell on my site) because they found my book on amazon but have a moral issue with them, I have few other sales. Not being exclusive to amazon is costing me money. But I like to support the vocal minority….

    • Same here. I try and do the right thing and support the honourable opposition, but it’s not exactly a profitable stance to take.

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