I feel I've been on the bench too long. I only released two books under my name in 2018. Alter Ego hasn't released anything in over two years. (She says it's hard to feel and write smexy when we're surrounded by pain, disease and death.) So neither of us are surprised our sales have dropped like the proverbial stone this year after coasting on fumes for the last five.
However, I'm hearing whispers that other indies are seeing huge drops in sales this year, drops they claim aren't due to the usual fall school/holiday downturn. And those that use internet ads (such as Amazon and Facebook) and book deal newsletters (such as Bookbub) are seeing lower returns than ususal. But if they stop advertising, their sales plummet.
From what I'm observing, there isn't any one problem. Here are the situations I'm seeing:
1) Amazon's Latest Updates
Amazon has rolled out updates to their online platform every year between the months of July and August since I started indie publishing. And every year, there's been bugs. In fact, there's a cadre who refer to the following month as Glitchtember as the bugs become known and obvious.
This year's Glitchtember has extended into the rest of the year. Amazon's efforts to force users to go to their country's associated store has led to a slew of books disappearing from the retail platform. What's more unusual is Amazon's admission that there was a problem!
But hey, if you're only selling books on Amazon, and Amazon isn't showing your book as available, you've lost that sale.
2) Online Advertising
It used to be that for a few bucks a day, you could advertise your wares on Google and make a ton of money. But Google uses an auction system for their ads, and as time went on, they sold more and more ads at higher and higher prices.
Then Facebook and Amazon jumped into the online ad business, using the same criteria as Google, and now the same problem is occurring as they, too, saturate buyers with ads. Even worse, more computer users are employing ad blockers to keep the multiple ads from slowing down their machines. Or from annoying the hell out of them.
Now, indie publishers are paying more and more to advertise and seeing less and less returns, but if they don't do ads at all, their sales crash. Resentment at the pay-to-play issue is building, but unfortunately, we're not going to see the free advertising we had in the beginning of the indie revolution again.
3) Bargain Book Newsletters
Amazon cracked down on reviewers and their bargain book newsletters years ago by eliminating their ability to monetize the freebies. As a result, many of those review/newsletter proprietors had to close up shop.
The handful left, like Bookbub, are charging more money to advertise through them and making it tougher to get a spot. And even when an indie publisher gets spot, they're not seeing the long-tail with their other books like they used to. Unfortunately, indies aren't just competing with each other for those newsletter slots.
4) Trad Publishing Copying Indie Methods
Nope, we're competing with trad publishers for those BookBub slots. They pay more, and they have a huge backlist to advertise. If you see a $1.99 book on BookBub, it's probably a backlist trad book.
But trad publishing is copying indies in other ways. Their covers are becoming simpler with titles and author large enough to read in thumbnail size. Backlist formatting is getting better rather than throwing up a cheaply, and shittily, OCR-scanned copy of the mass market paperback. In other words, the trad publishers are starting to get their act together when it comes to e-books.
5) Reader Fatigue
How many of you have downloaded hundreds, if not thousands, of free/cheap e-books? *raises hand* Yeah, that's coming back to bite us writers in the ass. Why buy a new book if a reader has a zillion still waiting to be read on their devices? We have to publish something so unique and brilliant they can't resist us, and that's a damn mountain to climb.
On the other side, something that's personal for me and other middle-age people I know--we're rereading old favorites. Between dealing with elderly parents, our own health issues, and launching our kids into a world that seems to headed for disaster, we reach for the comfort reads from childhood. I know I've been going through the Katherine Kurtz/Barbara Hambly/Mercedes Lackey novels from my teens and twenties while dealing with cancer this year.
So what does this all mean?
It means we have the level playing field we claimed we wanted when the indie revolution started. It means we need to step up our game when it comes to storytelling; we can't rely on gimmicks to sell our wares. It means that the e-book market in finally maturing, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
My attitude may change when I get back to publishing in January. But for right now, I don't think it's the end of the world.
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