The Rise Of The Independent Bookstore (Yippee!)

independent bookstores

Barnes & Noble and it’s eReader The Nook is losing money by the minute, primarily because of it’s business model — trying to disrupt and compete with Amazon. Borders tried the same thing and you see where they are. But guess what? Independent bookstores cannot and evidently are not trying to beat the Amazon monster and it’s working. I guess print isn’t quite dead yet!

The recent news of the opening of an independent bookstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was greeted with surprise and delight, since a neighborhood once flush with such stores had become a retail book desert. The opening coincides with the relocation of the Bank Street Bookstore near Columbia University, leading the New York Times to declare, “Print is not dead yet — at least not on the Upper West Side.”

Two stores don’t constitute a trend, but they do point to a quiet revival of independent bookselling in the United States. They also underscore the shifting sands of physical bookselling, where the biggest losers are not—as was once assumed—the independent booksellers, but rather the large book chains.

Only a few years ago, observers projected that the rise of chain stores and Amazon would lead to the vast shrinkage of independent bookstores. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of member independent bookstores has increased more than 20 percent since the depths of the recession, from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,094 in 2014. Meanwhile, Borders went bankrupt in 2011, and the fate of Barnes & Noble, which failed to make the Nook into a viable e-reader competitor with Amazon’s Kindle, appears murky. What happened?

The short answer is that by listing their shares as public companiesboth Borders and Barnes & Noble were drawn into a negative vortex that destroyed the former and has crippled the latter. Not only did they become public companies, but they positioned themselves as high-growth companies, focused on innovation and disruption. That forced them to compete with the growth company par excellence in their space: Amazon. It also forced them to pursue high sales volume at the expense of inventories. Those strategies, as it turned out, were precisely wrong for the actual business they were in: selling books to a selective audience. Which is precisely what independent bookstores are good at.

Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and even Costco looked to be squeezing the life out of indies in the 1990s and into the aughts. Borders alone went from 21 stores in 1992 to 256 superstores in 1999. Barnes & Noble saw even greater growth. Those stores offered more choices, cafes, magazines, and for a while, music. Many independents, already operating with razor-thin margins, couldn’t compete. Between 2000 and 2007, some 1,000 independent bookstores closed.

But even as they were expanding, the chains were beset by questionable management decisions pressured by the demands of public markets to grow, grow, grow. Facing the need for expensive investment in technology, Borders sold its online distribution to Amazon in 2001 and threw its efforts into more stores and bigger stores, using its share price to finance massive debt. Barnes & Noble opened more superstores as well, but it also decided to challenge Amazon by developing the Nook at a cost of more than $1 billion.

The results were disastrous. Barnes & Noble bled money; it just announced earnings with yet another quarter of losses and declining revenue. Amazon dominated because it could spend far more money on technology than the chains, and because its core competency was in the disruptive technologies of e-readers, distribution, and inventory management. Amazon was never seen primarily as a retailer, and hence it could carry massive inventories that were a drag on its earnings and then spend billions on research and development because investors accepted Amazon’s narrative that it was a disruptive technology company redefining how everything is sold, not just books.

Read The Rest Of The Article At Slate

Are You Obsessed With Word Count?

word count obsession

I love this piece over on CreateSpace by Richard Ridley on word count paralysis. Sometimes I am guilty of this and it was refreshing to see that other writers feel the same.

Sometimes staring at the blinking cursor on your computer screen can make it morph into a stop sign and prevent you from holding a thought long enough to tap it out on your keyboard. It can be an unintentional panic signal that freezes your fingers in place and fills you with heaping helpings of writer’s doubt. Your focus shifts from what you want to write to how many words you must write before you will allow yourself to stop for the day. Gradually, you fixate exclusively on that word count goal, and you’re unable to type a single solitary word. I call it “word count paralysis,” and there’s really only one way to prevent it: Ditch the daily word count goal. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how many words you write in a day. Your only goal is to make some sort of progress; big or small, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter is that you advance from where you were the day before.

Read the entire article here

Is Kindle Unlimited Good For Authors?

kindle unlimitedHave you heard about Amazon’s new book subscription service titled Kindle Unlimited? For $9.99 a month you can download and read Kindle ebooks and audio books to your heart’s content. Basically it’s like Netflix for readers and to me it’s a great deal for readers. The cost per month is basically the expense of two ebooks and if you are a voracious reader like myself, then it makes total sense.

But is Kindle Unlimited great for authors? Since the program just launched, I’m not going to make a rash judgement. I’m actually taking the wait and see approach and watch my sales reports and see if I notice any significant difference. Indie Authors enrolled in Kindle Unlimited will make a flat fee of $2 for every read of their book. Readers need to read at least 10% of the book in order for the read to “count” as a borrow. While traditional authors are included in Kindle Unlimited without restriction, I’m pretty sure that Indie Authors have to be enrolled in KDP select in order to take advantage of the program. That’s why I’m testing the program out with only one of my titles.

I really like what author Hugh Howey had to say about the program and his early observations:

Amazon can’t twitch without indies taking notice. For a brief period yesterday morning, a landing page for a new Amazon streaming service appeared online. A thread at KBoards exploded with the news (are the KBoard forums the best watchdog, author community, and training center all rolled into one, or what?), and then Engadget, Time, and others followed with coverage of their own.

Author and all-around awesome dude Jan Strnad wrote up one of the first detailed opinion pieces about the service, and I share some of his concerns. Subscription services have been rough on musicians. Will they be rough on authors? It’s too soon to tell, but there are a couple ways that books are fundamentally different than music, and perhaps reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

The biggest difference between books and tunes is the time investment. You spend hours, days, even weeks with a good book. You can stream hundreds of tunes in the same amount of time. So hopefully the revenue stream to authors won’t be as diluted as it is for musicians. It also sounds like Amazon has increased the funding for the borrow pool, and I’m guessing profit from the $9.99 monthly fee will go toward funding this program as well, so if they can keep the rate-per-read at $2 or get it higher, this could be a great source of revenue for authors.

Another way that this could be good is the same way that piracy can be good: Exposure. I’m reading a great book right now that my mom handed to me after she read it. Do authors freak out over this common occurrence? I don’t. I want to be read. I hope people pass my books along. The new and shiny aspects of anything will scare some and excite others, and that’s normal. In the last day, I’ve heard from some indie authors a lot smarter than me that we’re about to see our income go up. I’ve also heard from some indie authors a lot smarter than me that this is the end of the world. In a few months or a year, we’ll have a better grasp on how this will play out.

To read the rest of Hugh’s article click here.

What do you think about Amazon’s new book lending program, Kindle Unlimited? Are you in or are you out?

What Is Digital Rights Management (DRM) And Should I Use It?

Very interesting stuff is going on in the digital media world right now. Right around the same time a new report over on Author Earnings came out which included information on DRM, my husband (music producer) received a letter in the mail from his distribution company about DRM for his work. Everybody is talking about digital rights management.

It’s a super hot topic, so what is it?

Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is the encryption lock applied to electronic entertainment. The film, music, video game, and book industries all employ DRM. Unfortunately it is not very difficult for a book thief to crack the DRM lock on an ebook but DRM is a pain in the butt for the customer. It prevents them from moving their book across devices which then forces them to read through one channel.

Okay, so what’s the big deal?

Well actually it’s a very big deal and the people over at Author Earnings did a little digging and statistical research to prove it. When DRM is employed on an ebook, stats show that it affects sales and not in the good way.

When you publish a book over on Amazon’s KDP you may remember that there is a little section asking whether or not you want to employ DRM to your book. It also tells you that once you say “yes” that it is a final decision. When I first started publishing, I had no idea what DRM was and so I did a little digging in my community and discovered that it wasn’t something that I needed to participate in so I didn’t. In fact only 50% of indie authors use DRM, but basically 100% of Big 5 authors do. So the research over on Author Earnings was to discover whether or not there was any difference in revenue based on DRM and so do that they had to look at indie authors.

What they discovered was incredible…50% of non-DRM ebooks accounted for 64% of total unit sales. Indie titles without DRM sell twice as many copies each, on average, as those with DRM.

drm-author-earnings-by-price

The data suggests that employing DRM at any price point is detrimental to sales. Which makes total sense, because that’s what my husband’s letter basically said. DRM had affected music sales and removing copy protection increases music sales. So they wanted to reassure him that that’s what they were doing to all of his records.

Takeaway: When you get to that little section in KDP or Barnes and Noble or wherever else you publish your books, do NOT check the box giving your title DRM rights. It’s not worth it.

To read the entire report including this data on DRM, click here.

Should You Participate In Direct Sales Of Your Books?

direct book sales
There is a growing debate in the publishing stratosphere on whether or not writers and publishers should start aggressively pursuing direct sales of books in an effort to eliminate the middle man (Amazon). Visit any number of writer and/or small publisher sites and  you will no doubt read a wide variety of opinions on the matter.

Many of my readers are entrepreneurs first and writers second OR some want to create a business around publishing information. We are different. We already know the benefit of direct sales and many of us are already doing this. In fact, this may be ALL that you do and you are looking to branch out to different forms of distribution of your work (Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.)

This leads me to my humble opinion. Entrepreneurial writers a.k.a. non-fiction writers a.k.a. information publishers should always maintain a balance in the way we sell our information.

Placement On High Exposure Retail Sites

You should definitely publish books on your topic(s) to online retailers such as Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. It’s important to push your information in front of as many fresh eyes as you can and using these retailers is the best way to do this. This is where you’ll accrue book reviews and other social proof (tweets, shares, etc.) that you’ll need to build your author platform. This is also a great place to also get sales. Retailers like Amazon do a lot of the heavy lifting for us. Even if you rarely market you non-fiction book, Amazon’s ecosystem is powerful enough to help you generate sales all on it’s own. Not sales that will buy you a new car, but enough to get things rolling until you put your book marketing plan into gear.

But let me clear, these sites are NOT where you’re going to make your money. Your real money is going to come from DIRECT sales and other ancillary income that you generate as a result of publishing and selling your books (such as speaking).

Direct Sales For Maximum Profit

There’s a reason why big publishers are considering direct sales. It’s the same reason why authors should…so that you don’t have to share any part of the sale with another entity. Why get 70% of the sale of your book when you could get 100%? Or at least 100% of the sale minus a small processing fee (such as with Paypal). Of course the key to direct sales is that people need to visit your website and buy from you versus buying over on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. So why would people buy from you rather than a trusted seller? Because you’re going to offer more value that’s why.

Many writers are doing this by offering “premium” versions of their books. You can buy a book on organic dog food on Amazon, but if you buy the same book from the author’s website you could get the book plus premium content on how to shop for ingredients or 10 bonus recipes. The opportunities are endless on what you could create as premium content.

Fiction writers are throwing in novellas with the purchase of a novel directly from their site. Some sell their books individually on big retail sites and then “box them up” and sell the boxed versions only on their website.

Another idea for nonfiction writers is to offer a book on the retail sites, but offer a “bigger” course-like version of your topic on your website. So if I wanted to, I could write a very dumbed-down version of my article writing and marketing home study course Articology and offer that on Amazon, but if people wanted the full blown course then they could buy it on my site. The advantage to this is that writing a book on Articology and offering it on the bigger marketplaces puts my content in front of a much larger audience, with of course the hope that they will later invest in the full course.

How Much Time Should I Spend On This?

Okay here’s the thing…You don’t want to stab yourself in the foot by spending all of your marketing time pushing readers to your site. You still need some momentum to build on the retail sites (like reviews) in order to gain some traction in the marketplace and to continue to build on your author brand. That’s why I stress the need for a delicate balance. I think of this “balance” in a tier fashion.

Tier 1 readers are people who visit the big book retail sites and either look for me directly there (because of my marketing efforts) or who happen to come across my book during a basic web or Amazon search. I want them to purchase my book, read it and review it. My next objective is to take these Tier 1 readers and convert them into Tier 2 readers. These are people who want more from me. They are ready for higher level information and so I want them to buy directly from me (information product, course, webinar, etc.) The key to converting Tier 1 readers into Tier 2’s is by making sure you get them on some sort of list, preferably an email mailing list. Authors and entrepreneurs alike can agree that building an email list to market to is one of THE most important things an author can do to assure continued sales.

What are your thoughts?

Have you been wondering about the benefits of selling on retail sites vs. direct sales? Did you make a decision on doing one or another? Share with us your thoughts on this highly popular topic in publishing today.

 

Cover Design Secrets For Indie Authors That Mean More Sales

I read quite a lot of articles every week on ePublishing, but I think this is one of the best articles I’ve read on how to design a book cover that sways readers into buying your books. I found it over on Creativindie.com and it’s written by Derek Murphy. Check out this snippet on crafting clever covers for non-fiction books… the great reset book cover 200x300 8 cover design secrets publishers use to manipulate readers into buying booksMade to Stick Book Cover 251x300 8 cover design secrets publishers use to manipulate readers into buying books

“Here’s a quick rule of thumb: non-fiction appeals to the brain. You want an instantly clever image to catch their men­tal atten­tion.  Non-fiction cov­ers should have a cen­tral “gim­mick” and a solid color back­ground or gra­di­ent (orange and yel­low are very pop­u­lar for busi­ness books. (BTW, notice how wide the spac­ing is between the let­ters on these two cov­ers). You catch the brain’s atten­tion by show­ing a jux­ta­po­si­tion — things that shouldn’t really go together and are unex­pected. Then the sub­ti­tle tells them what the book is about.”

I really liked some of the tips he gave on letter spacing, selecting fonts, color contrast, and adding a blurb on the cover of your book. Read the article in it’s entirety here: http://www.creativindie.com/8-cover-design-secrets-publishers-use-to-manipulate-readers-into-buying-books/ Let me know if you learned anything cool!

Amazon + Twitter = AmazonCart

amazoncart

Did you know that many authors love Twitter and many have a pretty large following on Twitter? Well Amazon has recently introduced a new feature called #AmazonCart which hopes to help authors (as well as other Amazon vendors) profit a bit more easily from their relationships on Twitter.

The point of AmazonCart is to help authors grow sales when they tweet about their books on Twitter.  Customers can add products they see on Twitter to their Amazon.com Shopping Carts without leaving Twitter.

Now, when you send a tweet that includes an Amazon.com product link (such as to your latest book), Twitter users who have connected their accounts to Amazon will be able to add the product directly to their Amazon.com Shopping Carts simply by replying to the tweet and adding “#AmazonCart.”

They will then receive a reply tweet and an email confirming the Cart add, and they can complete checkout on Amazon.com at their convenience.

Hopefully you may begin to see replies containing “#AmazonCart” to your tweets with Amazon.com product links. These replies can also give us a good idea of which followers are engaging with our tweets.

While all social media should be used first and foremost to build relationships with potential readers, it’s nice to see a feature like this which requires less work on the reader’s part to purchase our books on Amazon. Only time will tell if it “catches on” with readers.

What do you think about the new AmazonCart feature? Brilliant or a bust?

For more information about the feature, visit www.amazon.com/AmazonCart.

Barnes & Noble Stores May All Close By 2015

barnes and noble gone

Tribeca Location

Visiting my neighborhood Barnes & Noble use to be an “outing” with my 3 girls that we all looked forward to. A little Starbucks coffee. A new book. And at least an hour browsing. Now it looks like that is coming to an abrupt end. We now have to drive at least 20 minutes to our closest B&N since our neighborhood one closed down and that’s just not realistic for me. Especially since the girls are older, own Kindles, and rather download books then drive that far or “read an icky used book from the library”. Oh the horror! LOL!

Looks like even though B&N has zero brick and mortar competition, they still are struggling to make ends meet and have been systematically closing stores all over the country. Author Michael Levin wrote about it over at The Alternative Press and gives some pretty compelling reasons why this may be the end of the bookstore as we folks (over 20 years old:) know it.

Check Out The Article Here:

http://thealternativepress.com/articles/barnes-and-noble-gone-by-new-years-2015

Ensure Vs. Insure: Can You Interchange The Words?

I was working on my edits for my book How To Select Best Selling Non Fiction Ebook Ideas To Publish On Amazon’s Kindle and since my brain was muddled with “edits”, I started to second guess myself about the usage for ensure and insure. When I thought about, I wasn’t sure if I really knew the grammatical rules around the usage of both words.  So I looked it up and was satisfied with this answer over at Writer’s Digest:

Q: Are “ensure” and “insure” interchangeable?—AnonymousA: Some stylebooks say yes, and some say no. Are you any less confused? These two words are often used in place of each other, but WD’s style separates them.WD—and many other publications—uses “insure” only when referring to financial insurance policies. After signing a contract with a professional baseball team, Jack decided to insure his pitching arm for $1 million.

When the meaning is “to make certain,” WD sticks with “ensure.” It’s my job to ensure that you don’t misuse terms like these.

There are some newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times and The New Yorker, that still use “insure” in both instances, but it’s fairly archaic to do so. Most publications differentiate the two.

I use to edit over on the news desk at The New York Times in Washington D.C., and their usage of the word is probably what tripped me up:)