First the good news.
For indie (self-published) authors, there’s never been a better time to publish an ebook. Thanks to an ever-growing global market for your ebooks, your books are a couple clicks away from over one billion potential readers on smart phones, tablets and e-readers.
As a Smashwords author, you have access to tools, distribution and best practices knowledge to publish ebooks faster, smarter and less expensively than the large publishers can. In the world of ebooks, the playing field is tilted to the indie author’s advantage.
Now the bad news.
Everything gets more difficult from here. You face an uphill battle. With a couple exceptions – namely Scribd and Oyster – most major ebook retailers have suffered anemic or declining sales over the last 12-18 months.
The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over. Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve heard a number of indie authors report that their sales at Amazon dropped significantly since July when Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited (I might write about Kindle Unlimited in a future blog post). Some authors are considering quitting. It’s heartbreaking to hear this, but I’m not surprised either. When authors hit hard times, sometimes the reasons to quit seem to outnumber the reasons to power on. Often these voices come from friends and family who admire our authorship but question the financial sensibility of it all.
The writer’s life is not an easy one, especially when you’re measuring your success in dollars. If you’re relying on your earnings to put food on your family’s table, a career as an indie author feels all the more precarious.
At times like this, it’s important for all writers to take a deep breath, find their grounding, remember why they became an author in the first place, and make important decisions about their future. It’s times like this that test an author.
Don’t fail the test.
Back in December, in my annual publishing predictions for 2014, I speculated that growth in the ebook market would stall out in 2014. I wrote that after a decade of exponential growth in ebooks with indies partying like it was 1999, growth was slowing.
I wrote that the hazard of fast-growing markets – the hazard of the rapid rise of ebooks – is that rapid growth can mask flaws in business models. It can cause players to misinterpret the reasons for their success, and the assumptions upon which they build and execute their publishing strategy. Who are these players? I’m talking about authors, publishers, retailers, distributors and service providers – all of us. It’s easy to succeed when everything’s growing like gangbusters. It’s when things slow down that your beliefs and underlying assumptions are tested.
I urged authors to embrace the coming shakeout rather than fear it. Let it spur you on to become a better, more competitive player in the months and years ahead. Players who survive shakeouts usually emerge stronger out the other end.
What’s causing the slowdown?
While every individual author’s results will differ from the aggregate, I think there are several drivers shaping the current environment.