Big Chain Bookstore Deathwatch

If you’re still focusing significant efforts on raising your visibility in Borders or Barnes & Noble, or if the difficulty of getting your self-published book into these chains is a major reason for your refusal to self-publish in the first place, the results of a Random House/Zogby Poll released May 29 will be a real eye-opener.

When asked to name the one type of retailer from which they most frequently bought books in the past year, 43% of respondents said online, 32% named chain bookstores, and 9% specified small, independent bookstores. A specific breakdown isn’t provided for the remaining 16%, but that 16% definitely aren’t buying most of their books in chain bookstores.

Some quick math on these numbers shows that 68% of respondents buy the majority of their books from outlets other than chain booksellers. Conversely, only 32% of respondents buy the majority of their books in chain bookstores.

In the same poll, respondents were asked to name all the places they’d bought books in the past year. Outlets most often named were online retailers (77%), chain bookstores (76%) and independent bookstores (49%). In other words, respondents were just as likely to buy online as in chain bookstores, and nearly half are also buying from independent booksellers—retailers generally more receptive to carrying indie books.

Drug stores, supermarkets, warehouse clubs, big box stores and airports were also named, in percentages ranging from 16-39%, but retailers such as these usually only carry current bestsellers, discounted/remaindered titles, and gift books, so they’re not typically receptive to carrying self-published works.

Parse these figures any way you like, but the truth is unavoidable: chain bookstores no longer dominate the bookselling landscape, and in fact are losing ground all the time. None of this should be surprising, and in fact it’s just a case of retail history repeating.

Do you remember precisely when you stopped going to chain music stores like Musicland, Licorice Pizza and Tower Records, and why? For me, a music fan with eclectic tastes, most often looking for artists not represented on Billboard’s charts, the birth of online retailer CDNow (later absorbed by Amazon) was the beginning of the end. No brick-and-mortar store could hope to match CDNow’s selection or prices, and if I wanted something really obscure, I knew I’d sooner find it at an indie/used record store than a chain store.

For people seeking chart-toppers, the widening selection of music available at discount stores, big box stores and warehouse clubs like Target, Best Buy and CostCo sounded the music chains’ first death knell. Department and discount stores couldn’t match the selection of a dedicated record store, but it didn’t matter because their customers were only interested in the most popular current albums, greatest-hits collections and compilations of past hits. Not only could these retailers easily offer a good selection of these low-risk offerings, they could price their titles lower than those in dedicated record stores.

Record stores responded by diversifying their product mix with the introduction of videogames, VHS movies and eventually, DVDs, but it was a hopeless strategy built on an already failing business model. There were simply too many other places to get these same items more conveniently, at a lower cost, and in the case of online retailers, with a wider selection. By the time digital downloading became a mainstream phenomenon thanks to Napster, the iPod and iTunes, it was merely the last nail in a coffin already built by other powerful market forces.

Compare this death of an entire industry to chain bookstores’ current situation. Greater selection of books can be had online, at lower prices? Check. Bestsellers, gift books and discount books can be bought more conveniently at other stores, for lower prices? Check. Obscure and out-of-print books can only be found online, or in indie/used bookstores? Check. Attempts are being made to diversify product mix by introducing DVDs, CDs, toys and other products, but none of these products are being offered at lower prices or in a wider selection than through other, pre-existing retail outlets? Check.

Now, explain it to me again: why do publishers and writers continue to believe big chain bookstores still have the power to make or break careers in authorship? Why do indie authors invest in catalog listings with companies like Ingram, or choose to work with higher-priced self-publication outfits on the basis of that outfit’s ability to get catalog listings?

True, without the listing your book won’t be accessible to the big bookstore chains’ corporate purchasers, nor those of any other major chain retailer that is not an Amazon affiliate (i.e., Best Buy, WalMart), but none of them were ever likely to stock your book anyway. Most of an indie author’s sales will be from efforts and outlets that aren’t in any way dependent on, nor even necessarily helped by, catalog listings. Worse yet, paying for catalog listings or working with a costlier publisher typically forces an indie author to raise the retail price of his book. This makes the book less attractive to all potential buyers while forcing those who do buy the book to subsidize the cost of its exposure in retail markets that are both small and generally outside the indie author’s reach anyway.

The bottom line is this: even if you succeed in getting a big chain bookstore to carry your self-published book, the maximum market segment you can possibly capture there now stands at 32%, and it’s shrinking all the time.

Does it really make sense to let 32% of book buyers dictate your choice of whether or not to self-publish, or your choice of publisher, or if you’ve already self-published, claim the bulk of your promotional resources?

This piece originally appeared on The Indie Author Blog.

April L. Hamilton is the founder of Publetariat, the author of The IndieAuthor Guide, a blogger and Technorati BlogCritic on topics related to indie authorship and publishing.

Writing Contest Open to All

Writing contests are often great ways to get started for writers. The Society of Southwestern Authors (SSA) runs its Annual Writing Contest from January 01 through May 31 – this year, entries may be postmarked no later than June 1, 2009 as the 31st falls on a Sunday.

Content must be previously unpublished and length varies per category. Four categories are available: Memoir/Personal Essay, Short Story, Poetry, and Short Stories Appropriate for Children Ages 6-12.

Full rules and requirements as well as entry forms are available for download on SSA’s website:

Each category awards a First, Second, Third, and Honorable Mention monetary prize. All winning entries will be published in SSA’s yearly publication, The Storyteller.

What’s different about this contest? Well, it’s only $10 USD per piece entry fee and you will receive comments from the judges. You may also request a more in-depth "appraisal" – aka critique – for $25 per piece.

You do not have to be a member of The Society of Southwestern Authors to enter, nor does your work have to be about or set in the Southwest. You don’t even have to live in the United States. You DO, however, have to use snail mail. NO EMAIL SUBMISSIONS are accepted. Check it out, think about it, give it a go. You might just win!

What is Publishing 2.0 and why is it great news for writers?

Publishing 2.0 is changing the way books are written, published, sold and promoted over the internet utilising Web 2.0 technologies.

Authors can now use these tools to self publish and get their message out there themselves. You do not need a publisher to write and sell your books, and you are not confined anymore by space or somewhere to store your books. You are not confined by price either. Here’s why.

Writing your book has changed

Traditional publishers will assign you an editor and proof-readers, as well as a cover designer and type-setter. They have professionals to do this for you. However, these people also work as freelancers and there are people all over the world who you can employ to do this for you as a self-publisher writer. Sites like and have people who can do these jobs for you so your book is as professional as a “real” publishing house.

The ways of writing have also changed with technology. You can speak your book into a hand-held recorder and send it to a transcriber to put into words, then send that to a freelance editor. You can use a tool like Dragons which turns your words into text as you speak.

You can blog your book now. Write a post every day of 500 words on a related topic and in 6 months you will have substantial book. Setting up a blog is now so easy anyone can do it for free at sites like or

Printing your book has changed

Print-on-demand (POD) technology is when you load a print-ready file to a POD publisher online. When an order comes in for your book, they print the book and send it to the customer directly. You get a smaller cut of the sale price but you have no stock to store, no postage hassle or costs and no up-front print costs. If you are a self-published author, you have the global rights to your book. You can have multiple POD publishers in order to lower costs from postage e.g. use in USA and in India.

Another new technology is the Espresso Book Machine that enables a book to be printed and bound in about 7 minutes. As these machines become cheaper and easier to use, people will be able to download and print books on demand. If you think that these machines could be hooked up to Google Book Search online and print anything, people may print your book just as easily as a traditionally published book.

Alternatively, you don’t have to print your book at all. You can sell it as an ebook on one of the many ebook sites, or from your own website. The pricing of ebooks does vary but the information is still the same and sales are starting to rise. Ebook readers are available in many different formats and with the popularity of the iPhone with Stanza software, most people will soon have ebook readers in their mobile phones.

Selling your book has changed

Online book sales have changed the way people browse and buy books. Even small independent bookstores now have online sales, as well as huge stores like and With Print-on-demand technology you can now have your book on these megastores alongside traditionally published books. The page is formatted the same, the availability is the same and to the public, there is no difference. When you have an Amazon page, other online booksellers will also pick up your book for their website so you get even more exposure.

You can also sell your book on your own website using PayPal to take credit card payments globally without the need for a merchant account. You can sell your ebook on Clickbank and have affiliates sell it for you. You can upload your ebook to Kindle so people can read it on Oprah’s favourite ebook reader. You can sell your book on the iPhone through

Think bigger than just your local bookstore!

Promoting your book has changed

Traditional publishers have focussed on “in-person” promotion like book signings, book tours and traditional media like newspapers and TV. This is still valid promotion but can cost you time and a lot of money.

Web 2.0 changes the way authors can promote themselves for very little money.
Here are just a few ideas:

* Write a blog about your book so search engines can find you. Include links to Buy your book now.

* Submit press releases online to free (or paid) PR services that are syndicated around the world

*Make a podcast on your book that people can download to hear your voice and get to know you

* Make a video book trailer and post it on YouTube

*Do a virtual book tour and visit websites in countries all over the world

* Submit your book to Google Book Search for even more search engine traffic

*Join general social networking sites and build up a group of people interested in your topic

*Join specific social networking sites for authors or groups about your topic

*Gain a following on Twitter

*Post articles on your topic at article sites with links back to your main site

*Upload your book and author details to Amazon and syndicate your blog there

*Build your email list with a free report and market to your hungry crowd

*Make your own pages on Web 2.0 sites like Squidoo and Hubpages with links to your own website

Publishing 2.0 is the broad term that encompasses all of these new developments. It is the future of publishing and it’s here right now for those authors who go online.

The rise of ebooks: IDPF reports sales up 108% in November

The IDPF on January 21 reported ebook sales were up 108% for the month of November, 2008 compared to the same period a year ago. The data is provided in conjunction with surveys conducted by the American Association of Publishers, and represent wholesale sales from only 13 US-based ebook publishers, so total reported sales figures understate actual sales.

For the first eleven months of 2008, ebook sales were up about 64%, according to the IDPF.

Dig beneath the surface, and the numbers are striking. Ebook sales are surging while the entire trade book industry suffers a decline. Are print sales suffering at the hands of ebook sales? Unlikely. Something else is happening.

For the five years between 2002 and 2007 (Click here for data, opens a PDF), overall trade book sales averaged an annual increase of 2.5% (lower than inflation, which means unit sales probably decreased), while ebooks for the same period turned in a 55.7% average annualized increase.

Granted, the robust sales growth for ebooks was off of a tiny base to begin with. But…fast forward to October of 2008, the date for which year-to-date sales are reported on the AAP web site , and you see overall trade book sales for the first 9 months of the year were down 3.4% while ebook sales were up about 58%. So the rate of ebook sales accelerated during the first 9 months of 2008 compared to the previous five years.

More interesting, for the month of October the AAP reported overall trade book sales suffered a 20% drop in the year over year monthly comparison, while ebook sales accelerated to 73% growth.

Numbers for November and December aren’t yet published on the AAP site, though today’s numbers from the IDPF, which are supplied by the AAP, indicated that ebook sales have accelerated yet again, up 108% for November.

As any numbers guy or gal will tell you, it’s easy to show great sales growth when you’re growing off of a small base. But when sales show sequential acceleration off of sequentially increasing bases (meaning, you grow faster as you grow larger), then something really interesting is taking place.

If we conservatively estimate that overall trade sales for 2008 declined 3%, and ebooks sales increased 70%, then wholesale ebook sales will rise to $114 million and overall trade book sales will decline to $24.21 billion. In other words, ebooks will still only represent 1/2 of 1% of book industry sales, at least here in the US.

If you extrapolate the 70% growth for five more years (and I would argue 70% is a relatively conservative number), then ebooks rise to $1.6 billion, and assuming a 2% growth rate of the overall trade book sales to $26.7 billion (generous), ebooks would then represent a respectable 6% of sales.

If you’re attending the Tools of Change conference February 9-11, I invite you to attend a panel I’m moderating entitled, “The Rise of ebooks,” where we’ll explore the past, present and future of ebooks and try to understand the implications of these numbers for publishers and authors alike.

In the meantime, if you’re an author, you need to start exposing your books to the digital realm. Clearly, as the numbers above indicate, you should continue to publish in print because ebook sales will account for only a small percentage of your overall sales. In the years ahead, however, ebooks will become an increasingly important format for book consumption.

Ebooks also give authors the opportunity to dramatically increase their available audience in a short period of time. With our Smashwords ebook distribution deal with Lexcyle the other week, for example, the books of Smashwords authors are now available in the native Stanza catalog. Stanza has been downloaded by approximately one million people to read ebooks on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

As physical book shelves disappear due to bookseller consolidation, authors and publishers need to expand their distribution to digital shelves.

— Mark Coker is founder of Smashwords, a digital publishing platform for self-published ebooks. This post originally appear at

Penguin Says Self-Publishing No Longer A Dirty Word

Excerpted from a NY Times Books article entitled “Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab”:

“Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-publishing, she said, is “no longer a dirty word.” ”

This bit comes near the end of the article, most of which is about the fact that while mainstream presses are struggling, biz is booming among self-pub providers. The negatively-slanted title is misleading, because the author of the article acknowledges it’s possible to publish on a shoestring when you go POD or e. I think either the author or the paper just went with the most provocative-sounding title possible.

Read the whole article here.

Amazon Marketing Strategies – Tags and Lists

Once my novels became available on I ramped up the viral marketing on those Amazon pages in the hope of getting them to show up more often in book searches and hopefully sell more copies. If you want people to know your books are out there, you have to work hard to get them noticed. Probably the two most powerful tools on Amazon for making a book stand out are Tags and Listmania lists.

Tags As you probably know, tagging is the practice of adding keywords to a book that then get caught by searches, like metatags on web pages. Book tags on Amazon can be pretty much anything, but the more often a tag is added to a book, the more likely that book is to show near the top of a keyword search. The real rub is that the tags added by Joe Public get more weight than the tags added by the author or publisher. After all, if tagging is supposed to reflect community impressions, there’s no point in letting the writer or publisher try to sway that opinion.

It’s a good idea to start off by adding all the tags you can think of to your own work, then ask family, friends, your blog readers and so on to go in and add their tags. They can repeat the tags you’ve made, raising the chances of your book being shown in a search for those words, or add new tags of their own. By hitting the ‘T’ key twice on your Amazon page, a quick tag box will appear making it easy for people to add their tags to your book. It only takes a few seconds. An example of the tags section of an Amazon page (after double tapping the ‘T’ key)

Try to encourage people to build up the numbers of existing tags rather than just adding loads more. The more times a book is hit with a particular tag, the more relevant it will appear to Amazon searches.

Listmania This is something for those people with a bit more time to devote to you, which is a big ask. Listmania is like a refined search on Amazon where someone has already gone to the trouble of doing a search and listing the top results. Naturally, they’ve searched with their own bias (and in their own minds) and their tastes shine through any given list, but it’s altogether possible that their tastes and yours will be similar.

Hence, if you search Listmania for “urban fantasy” today you get:

1. Urban and new-age fantasy for chicks

2. Upcoming Urban Fantasy 2008 – Part I

3. Hot Urban Fantasy with Vampires, Shapeshifters, Paranormal & More

4. Urban Fantasy Romance Series

5. Private Investigators and Crime Solvers in Urban Fantasy …and so on.

This is a method that puts similar books with each other and helps to raise any given book’s profile by comparing it to others that people may know. For example, there were a couple of Listmania lists for the original edition of RealmShift that included books like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Aside from being very high praise, it gives people the idea that if they enjoyed American Gods, they’ll probably enjoy RealmShift too. It can put your books on a similar standing to something people already know.

If you get your readers to make Listmania lists using this method then your book will crop up in all kinds of searches and be indistinguishable from the other books on that list. If the lists are carefully constructed to appeal to fans of your genre or subject matter, then random sales can occur to people that would never have known your book existed otherwise.

Listmania, like Tags, are far more effective when they’re made by readers rather than by writers or publishers. So try to convince some friends and/or fans to put aside a few minutes and knock up a Listmania or two for your books. They should include your work on a list with a variety of other similar (well known) books. You can learn about Listmania and make a new list by clicking here. These are two very simple tools on Amazon that anyone can use and that can greatly increase the profile of your books.

Alan is an indie author and publisher with two dark fantasy novels in print – RealmShift and MageSign. You can learn all about him at his website.

If Your Book Is Listed On Amazon And You’re Not An Amazon Associate, You’re Throwing Money Away

The Amazon Associate program allows anyone with an Amazon account to display ads for Amazon products—like books, for instance—on their websites and earn a commission of 4 – 15% of the total sale anytime one of their site visitors clicks through one of the Amazon ads.

That means that even if your site visitor doesn’t buy the specific item you’ve listed in your Associate ad, you still get a commission on anything else they buy while shopping on Amazon after clicking through your ad.

The minimum commission percentage you earn on each sale is 4% of the price at which the item sold, and it can go all the way up to 15% based on your total quantity of items sold via your associate links in any given month; read more about that at the Associates site (link provided later in this article). Signup is free and setting up the ads is easy.

The real beauty of this program for indie authors and small imprints is that you can set up Associate ads for your own books, and whenever you sell a copy via your Associate ad, you’ll get your author royalty as per usual plus your Amazon Associate commission. Publetarians have even more reason to cheer, because even if you don’t have a website of your own, you can set up Amazon Associate text-only ads right here on Publetariat in your user profile. Let’s get started!

First, you must have an Amazon customer account and have at least one book listed for sale on Amazon. Next, sign up for the Amazon Associates program, here. Once you’re signed up, login to your Associates account. You can use the same link as above to access the Associates home page – bookmark it for future use. Click on the Links & Banners tab. From there, click on Add Product Links Now.

On the Add Product Links page, you can look up your book by keyword, title, ASIN or ISBN.

A list of search results is returned. Click the Get Link button for the product you want in your ad.


On the Customize & Get HTML page, select “Text Only (basic display)”, and customize the Link Text if you wish. Changes you make are immediately reflected in the Preview at the right-hand side of the screen and the snippet of HTML code beneath.


When everything looks good, highlight and copy the HTML code snippet, then paste the block into Notepad or any other simple text editor program. Do not copy the Product Previews script, which appears beneath the HTML code snippet. Scripts are not supported in your user profile, but the text-only ad will be just fine.

Now, go to your Publetariat user profile (My Account link), click on the Edit tab, and from there click on the Writing link.


In the Writing area, scroll down to the appropriate content type for your book: Hard Copy for hard copy books, Electronic for ebooks and Kindle books, Audio for audiobooks and podcasts. Copy the HTML snippet from your text editor and paste it into the box, as shown, then save your changes.

Now click on the View tab of your profile and – presto! A clickable link for site visitors to buy your book on Amazon and give you an extra 2 – 15% commission in the process!