So one historical rule of writing was that a young writer often started with short fiction and got it placed into magazines, developing their craft and their audience. Over time, you (hopefully) got better at words and got more fans. Eventually, depending on the writer, you might write longer pieces and go after an agent and a New York book deal; or you might find a medium-sized press to publish collections of your shorter stuff as an interim.
Whatever your path, the goal was always to get printed books in bookstores as the key to discoverability. A reader walks the shelves and sees something, maybe something they would never otherwise pickup. Thus, a fan. And money.
This is interesting because I saw a statistical on the interwebs that something like 75% of all book sales these days are online, rather than in the bookstores.
My books are generally not available in most bookstores, with a few exceptions. Oh, you can order them, and they’ll arrive fast enough. But what I discovered a long time ago (before I became a writer-writer) was that it was easier to order a book from Amazon or whomever, and it would arrive on my doorstep, no second trip to the mall needed.
The rest of the world has apparently finally caught up with this logic.
Why is this important?
Had a chat on the topic with Fabulous Publisher Babe™ the other day and she explained that the reason why my print books are so expensive is because they need to be priced such that a bookstore makes a 40% profit off the retail price. That keeps the lights on and employs the nice people behind the counter who help you find the perfect book.
However, if I don’t care all that much about selling in a bookstore (hint hint), then I don’t need to set the price that high.
Outcome: ASE. Amazon Special Editions.
Starting with Jessica and Auberon, my publisher is doing Amazon Special Editions where she uses every trick she knows to make the novel shorter. Same story, fewer pages. The goal is a final price of $9.99 whenever possible. Jeff Bezos (Mr. Amazon) wants books in the $2.99-$9.99 range, and he has trained everybody to look for those price points.
That’s her goal. The books are physically shorter, mostly by adjusting the first page of a chapter (and those if you who know Jessica understand how many chapters she has). The result has been books we can sell at $9.99.
These are Amazon Special Editions, because no bookstore will touch them. Considering how few I sell at the range they want, don’t really care. What happens is that you can start picking up paper versions of my novels for under $10, as long as you don’t suffer from Amazon Derangement Syndrome (that person who hates Amazon with every fiber of their being and refuses to deal with them. You’d be surprised how many book dealers and middlemen suffer from it.)
As Mal said: About half the ‘verse are middlemen, and they don’t take kindly to being eliminated.
And Amazon is working on it.
Special Editions, by the way, aren’t a short-time deal. No artificial scarcity model where you must buy today. These are permanent versions of the books where we’re lowering your price, while I still make enough money from them to justify the additional work. (For example, I’m literally only going to make pennies on Goddess of War, whereas I might clear a couple bucks on the rest.)
This is, by the way, a measure of the future. Specialty bookstores will continue, because they offer curation as a service. Used bookstores offer cheap reads and the chance to go wander off the reservation and spend a few bucks on something you might never buy for full price.
It is the big box stores that will evaporate.
The smart stores will reinvent themselves as what used to be called department stores. You see this already in some, where they offer toys and games and stuff in addition to books. Or are physically attached to a store selling computer games (which, with the advent of Steam and such, means they are also selling lots of swag with high margins to keep the lights on). Or, even, as coffee shops, such as Ada’s in Seattle.
Over time, the big box book store as you have come to know it in the last generation will be gone. Jeff’s store is bigger, cleaner, and EVERYTHING is in stock, to be delivered in a few days if you want physical, and NOW if you want it ebook.
The only way to survive is to compete on Jeff’s terms.
Kobo is trying. A few others will as well, but they have to understand that Jeff isn’t just selling books, so they can’t either. On the internet, every other store is just across the way in the mall, and people can compare prices. And the stock is identical when dealing with books and music, so you are competing almost purely on price. Ease of checkout and completeness of stock matter, but again, there is no warehouse holding everything (Jeff is building fulfillment centers to make your delivery faster, not because he wants to have crap in hand to pay B&O taxes on.)
Long story short, I don’t plan to chase the quarter of the market that represents bookstores today. And that quarter is probably declining, but I don’t know where the bottom is. However, at the same time, why cut off my fans? I still see Extended Distribution sales (bookstores ordering my books) several times a year. Not a lot, but a few bucks here and there.
What Fabulous Publisher Babe tells me is that for now we’ll keep two editions out there. One for bookstores, at the 40% profit version, and ASEs for folks who want to order directly from Amazon and don’t mind the same story on a smaller number of pages.
You’ll generally be able to tell by the $9.99 price point, and the Amazon Special Edition sticker on the cover. Hope you enjoy, and let me know how else we can improve your experience.
West of the Mountains, WA