“You are a commodity, not a brand”

Fellow told me that the other day. Part of a discussion on the interwebs about the different lifestyles that come with Indie Publishing.

First off, if anyone tells you that “you MUST” do X, feel free to ignore them. I’ll offer suggestions and hints, but I haven’t found the secret handshake that made me wealthy beyond all dreams of avarice.

Not that I would mind.

I can tell you what works for me. I can look at what worked for other folks.

I can quote you back some sage advice folks like Kristine Kathryn Rusch shared with me along the way. Considering how long she’s been in the business, I’m inclined to listen to her. Don’t always agree, but woman’s seen a lot.

Especially when she talks about folks that have a system. That have “you MUST” as part of their vocabulary. She also likes to circle back occasionally and note how many of them have vanished completely from the ecosystem that perhaps they once dominated.

Gone. Poof. They had a system. It worked for a while. Then other people started using the same system (maybe they started teaching classes or something). Or maybe the system took advantage of a quirk in a rules algorithm that got changed and broke things.

[I have a friend who works at Amazon who is only allowed to nod knowingly when I mention that. He has a full team dedicated to finding such things and breaking them with hammers. And maniacal laughter occasionally.]

So we talk about what works for us.

I’ve tried Kindle Unlimited. Put a series in. Saw the results. Pulled them out a year later.

Didn’t make much money. Didn’t generate many new fans.

Folks in KU are a different reader that those outside.

Folks in KU want all the books they can consume for that $10/month they pay. And it turns out to be a lot of books. Good for them. KU pays about $0.0045/page read, at least recently. Two hundred page book yields ninety cents, give or take.

If I sell that same book on Amazon, let’s assume it was for sale for $5.99 (most of my longer novels are). I’d make roughly $4.05 net.

Bit of a difference there from the same single event. I can make a living at four dollars a sale. Don’t need all that many such happenings per month. You should take your monthly income and divide it by four. That’s how many such novel sales you would need.

Not all that many, is it?

But us Indies are always looking for more money. To do that, we have the choice of being in KU or being wide. I talk occasionally about how I listened to country music in the 90s (don’t ask). Garth Brooks released an album that was only available at Walmart. Exclusive. Kinda like Kindle Unlimited. I stopped buying his music. Have no idea how many albums the man has released. Stopped being a fan of his. Never looked back.

I want to serve all my fans. That means my books are in Kobo and their subscription service, which does not require exclusivity. iTunes, or whatever it is this week. Barnes and Noble. The library (you can ask them to acquire copies for you to check out. Prices are good.) Plenty of other places.

I don’t want to be a commodity. I’ve done experiments where I dropped the prices of some of my books to free as a test. Every time, I see a burst of downloads. Then I look at book two in the series over the next three months.

I have never seen any change in sales from before the price drop.

Folks downloading free books aren’t reading them. They are collecting them. Obsessively. Or too cheap to buy the rest of the series when that costs them money.

Same goes with KU. Folks don’t want to spend money.

I know any number of folks who tried KU over the years. Maybe they built up a following and made decent money doing it. Can be done. Hell of a treadmill, though.

A number of them turned around later and tried to exit Kindle Unlimited. Tried to create that same success in the wider world to match what they’d had in the walled garden. (That was what they called AOL in the old days. About as successful, meaning great for a while, then tapered off and failed. I have my doubts about the long-term viability of KU)

I’m not sure I know anybody that has had success inside KU and then managed to turn around and manage it outside as well. Generally, that’s because you are a commodity.

Interchangeable with any of dozens of other folks in your niche genre. Readers are looking for the cheapest entertainment they can get. Amazon wants folks to keep putting books in, because that’s a nice, steady income for them each month.

Us commodities are not so successful, because we are not brands in there.

I am a brand. I work at being a brand. That’s more than just a sub-genre I write in, because I write in several. And I write in other genres. You know what to expect from a Blaze Ward book, because I try to be consistent in my themes, tones, and stylistic choices.

I want to entertain you. I need you to come back and buy more books if I intend to live a lifestyle that doesn’t involve a job. I need your help. So I need to provide you with value.

On the flip side, those folks that just want free books don’t help me. They don’t really care what the book is, as long as they don’t have to actually pay full price for it.

I’m wide. As wide as I can get. That’s on purpose. I can back up my choices with logic and evidence.

For you, if you are in KU, I’d ask why. You might make it work. I know folks that do. Not many, and it gets harder every week, but some do.

As you build out your career, where do you think you are more likely to find fans and build up a llifestyle? What is your roadmap?

Do you have a roadmap? Do you have a long-term goal?

Or are you throwing wet spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks? (Granted, we all do that, so I’m not about to kink-shame you for it, but even then, I have plans and measures of success or failure to pursue.)

Are you going to be a commodity, or a brand?

One thought on ““You are a commodity, not a brand”

  1. Michael W Lucas

    I don’t have a system. I do have guidelines, though. Those guidelines let me evolve something like a system as the environment changes.

    Guidelines like “never chase algorithms” exist because I know people at Amazon. Guidelines like “monopsony is death” come from business books.

    Guidelines like “do one weird experiment a year” keep things fun for me. (I am less prolific than you, so I can do fewer weird experiments.)

    Taken together it might look like a system, but really it’s just “hang on with your legs, keep a hand on the reins, and when you get thrown, as you inevitably will, tuck your chin and roll to your feet.”

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