Why the Digital Census Matters : A Retrospective

Here on Self Publishing Advisor, we strive not just to keep up with the current trends, but to try and keep a little ahead of the curve–which is why I spent the last five weeks unpacking the results of The Bookseller’s 2015 Digital Census (as described in the FutureBook).  For those of you who are perhaps checking in for the first time, The FutureBook collates information from those involved in the digital publishing industry (whether through traditional or “indie” means) and summarizes the top five current market trends.

[ I’ve broke down each trend, and you can find posts dedicated to each point linked at the far bottom of today’s article. ]

Reviewing the 2015 FutureBook and Digital Census findings has been a wonderful and enlightening experience for me–and hopefully it wasn’t entirely useless to you, as well!–but it’s not the whole picture.  It reflects our attitudes, hopes, and concerns at a specific, limited moment in time.  And ultimately, the FutureBook’s timeliness lends the material contained therein both its value and its constraints:

We need the Digital Census because without it, we wouldn’t know where our experiences as indie and self-publishing authors fit within a larger story–and we need the Digital Census to keep happening because there’s nothing static about the book industry.  As the FutureBook’s editors have said, the survey from which the Census information is collated was designed to “reflect how the sector is continuing to change [….] It asks [authors] what about what their perspective on the book business is, and how we can help them take their innovations to the next stage.”  Change is change, and digital publishing as well as self-publishing must continually reinvent itself to remain a force to be reckoned with.

Those constraints I mentioned? The Digital Census only touches upon those publishing matters which pertain to works that make an appearance in pixels.  It’s not a complete picture of the publishing experience, whether we’re talking about traditionally-published or independently published authors.  So while the Digital Census is an important piece of the puzzle, it’s not the be-all and end-all of information gathering for us here at Self Publishing Advisor.  Like clockwork, industry titans like Publisher’s Weekly and HuffPost Books release predictions for the upcoming year.  Bowker just released a report in November on the top concerns in the self-publishing market, while Author Earnings publishes its reports every few months.  It is my goal in 2016 to keep you “in the know” on all of these reports–because we all know one thing to be true:

knowledge

You don’t have to be evil to recognize the power knowledge can bring–because power isn’t necessarily about the subjugation of others.  Power, in the world of self-publishing, is the ability to take hold of your own narrative and shape it however you please.  Just as empathy and cooperation will trump behavior in line with a “survival of the fittest” mentality (every time, according to behavioral scientists and psychologists), indie authors know that power is something we all benefit from cooperatively and collectively.  This is why, think, the self-publishing industry is such a rich and complex network of community forums, relationships, and partnerships.

All of this is a little beside the point, perhaps, but it’s worth noting that what we do with the information we collect is equally as important as the fact that we collect it.  Many of the reports and information sources, like Author Earnings and the FutureBook itself, are born from a desire to help the indie community!  And that’s the kind of generous impulse I can thoroughly stand behind, especially as we navigate the holiday season.

 


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Demystifying the Digital Census, Point by Point:

One: Mobile overtakes tablets and dedicated e-readers as the device of choice

Two: Digital sales are still growing, but they are also slowing

Three: Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels

Four: Publishing remains very much divided on matters digital

Five: … And the majority believe publishers remain unprepared for what’s coming.

Demystifying the Digital Census : Are Publishers Unprepared?

For the last month, I’ve been unpacking The Bookseller’s Digital Census material (as made available in the FutureBook publication).  The FutureBook‘s editors, Porter Anderson and Philip Jones, distill down the collated information into the top five current market trends for authors, publishers, and others invested in the digital publishing industry.  You can see my thoughts on the first four points by following the links below:

One: Mobile overtakes tablets and dedicated e-readers as the device of choice

Two: Digital sales are still growing, but they are also slowing

Three: Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels

Four: Publishing remains very much divided on matters digital

 

This week, I’m going to take a look at the 2015 Digital Census’ fifth and final trend as laid out in the FutureBook.  According to Anderson and Jones, the last (but certainly not least) point raised by the data is one that ought to prompt serious thought among publishing professionals:

futurebook

The future is a tricky beast to anticipate with any degree of precision, but it may prove more than useful–it may in fact prove necessary–to think about what’s coming before it arrives.  I’m speaking specifically about the future of indie, hybrid, and self-publishing–and it looks like I’m not alone, given that the data collected in the Digital Census comes from end-user perspectives rather than data sets from industry retrospectives.  (And Amazon is notoriously coy about releasing its internally-gathered data, so … draw from that what you will, I suppose.)

touch screen future

 

I’m not particularly depressed over the general feeling that the industry isn’t foresighted or flexible enough to adapt to future change … because I know that indie authors themselves are.  Clearly they are, or else they wouldn’t be eyeing the industry so critically!  And indie authors must apply their future-thinking in order to stay ahead of the curve and remain the avant-garde, changing what needs to be changed about the publishing industry from the outside (or, in the case of hybrid authors, partially so).

I’m also hopeful because, as the FutureBook indicates, indie authors and other book-lovers espouse the increasingly optimistic outlook that people are actually reading more than ever before.  They might not be reading the say way or the same kind of book as they used to, but they are reading, and many of them are becoming writers themselves–again, in new ways and by finding new avenues for narrative-building and storytelling.  This is an exciting time we live in and I, for one, can’t wait to check back in with you after the 2016 FutureBook is released and we see what else the world of digital publishing has to offer.

 


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Demystifying the Digital Census : A House Divided

We’re in the future-making business.  As indie, hybrid, and self-publishing authors, we have to look ahead, and we have to take an active hand in surfing that cutting edge in an industry that sometimes seems bent on keeping its authors penned up in the early decades of the Twentieth Century.  That publishers have reasons for this goes without saying, but those reasons don’t always equate to satisfactory treatment when we really examine how things play out for authors–traditionally published authors included.  (Ever heard of “publishing hell” and the dreaded “midlist“?  I rest my point.)

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking a look at the FutureBook‘s compendium of results from its Digital Census of 2015.  The FutureBook, an offshoot of its famous cousin The Bookseller, examines current publishing trends with a particular eye for how these trends intersect with an international readership and the rise of digital technology.  We’ve already looked at the first three points:

One: Mobile overtakes tablets and dedicated e-readers as the device of choice

Two: Digital sales are still growing, but they are also slowing

Three: Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels

This week, we’re here to examine the fourth conclusion reached by the FutureBook editors: “Publishing,” it argues based on extensive survey data, “remains very much divided on matters digital.”  The full FutureBook publication, which is put together by The Bookseller’s Porter Anderson and Philip Jones, spells things out a bit more for us self-publishing authors:

futurebook

 

 

Division is rarely a good thing, when it comes to an emerging (but still fringe) market niche–tension between supporters of indie publishing tends to undercut our collective ability to make big gains in reaching new readers, and winning a broadened cultural acceptability.  There are some times, however, when division may be less of a “bad thing” than it is an indicator of something very, very positive: growth and market dominance.  The fact that we’re suffering from (seemingly petty) infighting over discounts shows that we’re now a force to be reckoned with–we’ve moved past being able to use words like “new” and maybe even “emerging” in reference to self-publishing.  (We’re here; we’ve emerged.  Hear us roar!)

And make no mistake, traditional publishing platforms as well as corporate giants (like Amazon) with a stake in the self-publishing game want us to keep fighting among ourselves over these things … because ultimately, if we’re fighting among ourselves we’re not fighting them.

tension

Yes, that’s right: All of these little squabbles benefit the Big Five and the Corporate Heavyweights.  Which is not to say that the concerns being fought over aren’t valid–we just can’t let them do what fights are always at risk of doing: keeping us stagnant.  If we are to remain the future-makers that The Bookseller and the FutureBook celebrate, we need to reach consensus and then act on that consensus.

And here’s some good news: We already are making progress!  In early October, 2015, a judge ruled against Apple for conspiring with the Big Five traditional publishing houses to artificially inflate e-book prices (the dividends of which were not trickling down to authors).  Prices for e-books have been climbing at least since April (although the jury’s still out on how effective these price hikes have been at increasing net profits for self-publishing authors).  More than ever before, indie authors are aligning to bring the full weight of our collective interest to bear on decisions and trends like these.


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

 

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Demystifying the Digital Census : Self Love Levels Drop

Two weeks ago, I launched this series by laying the groundwork for understanding what the FutureBook (and its parent organization, The Bookseller) is all about and, as a result, what the annual Digital Census seeks to measure and comment upon.  (In summary: it tracks emerging and outgoing matters of interest for authors and publishers and other trade experts invested in digital publishing, whether through traditional or indie, hybrid, and self-publishing platforms.)  I also took a quick peek at the FutureBook‘s first confirmed trend of 2015: the fact that mobile has overtaken both tablets and dedicated e-readers as the primary means for reading ebooks.  And last week, I applied a microscope to the FutureBook’s second confirmed trend of 2015: the fact that digital sales are still growing, but that growth is slowing.  

self-love

This week, I’m going to examine the FutureBook’s third confirmed trend for the year.  Straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: “Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels.” The FutureBook publication, which you can read here, says:

futurebook

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 11.44.01 PM

You can imagine how deeply sad I feel when I see a well-respected and industry-enriching publication commenting on authors tanking in the self-love department.  As it turns out, the data indexed by the Digital Census isn’t necessarily asking authors to psychoanalyze their performance and self-satisfaction, so “self-love” may be a bit strong of a term––but then again, maybe not.  Many authors do equate self-satisfaction (and their identity, really) with their performance in respect to sales figures.  And that’s a deeply problematic way to measure self-worth, as everyone is well aware … but sometimes we can’t help but believe it to be an accurate yardstick, especially when we’re spoon-fed a certain narrative by the mainstream media: the narrative in which success means J.K. Rowling, means Veronica Roth, means Tom Clancy and P.D. James and Agatha Christie, means George R.R. Martin, means blockbuster film adaptations and interviews with Ellen or Oprah or Jimmy Kimmel.

Maybe other self-publishing authors and bloggers might be content to state that this is wrong and it shouldn’t be the case, but I can’t just let it lie.  Where does the narrative of success originate?  And how can we alter the conversation to reflect a more holistic, life-affirming reality––the selfsame reality that indie, hybrid, and self-publishing authors of great quality and phenomenal worth experience on a day-to-day basis?

I think a lot of it comes down to the whole do as I say, not as I do syndrome that applies to many other grand social narratives in our modern world.  For example, we affirm again and again to our children that whatever path life takes them on, they have value––as plumbers as well as princesses, as garbage collectors and astronauts––but we flood their lives with films, television shows, and books that highlight the “exceptional” nature of the same “grand narratives” that the world will later try and tell them are impossible to actually attain, in adulthood.  (When was the last time we turned to a college student and said, “You can totally be a princess!” … and actually mean it?)

It’s the same with publishing, including self-publishing: we tell warn aspiring authors again and again that success doesn’t look like any one thing, and it certainly isn’t equatable with sales figures.  But at the same time, the narratives of “successful” authors that we learn about and spread through news articles and social media are almost always about authors who rake in the big bucks and attention from the Big Five publishing houses (after a successful “grassroots campaign,” of course), and about rags-to-riches stories like Andy Weir’s and Christopher Paolini’s.  And I’m here to say: it’s too little, and too late.  It’s simply not good enough to affirm our indie authors as individual successes with trite sayings and cold comfort.  By the time we need comforting, it’s too late.  We have to break the stereotypes and unravel the threadbare story before authors publish.

Otherwise, we’re always going to be playing catch-up and damage control.  I will always, always be on hand to affirm that you’re a success simply because you did the hard thing and you (self-) published your book, but I think we can do more to set you up for a healthy sense of your own value and worth and general excellence, and do it earlier and better.  Let’s start by teaching the next wave of future authors that numbers do not an identity make!

 


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

Demystifying the Digital Census : Digital Sales Growing, But Slowing

Last week, I began a series in which I’m applying a microscope to the results of FutureBook‘s Digital Census of 2015 and breaking down to its component parts just what the fallout will be for you and me as indie and self-published authors.  FutureBook, an annual project of industry titan The Bookseller, has been hitting the books for five years now and has become the standard-bearer for those elements of the publishing (and specifically, digital publishing) revolution that range from mainstream (like Amazon) to cutting-edge, innovative, or brand new (like Goop and Medium!).

ebooks

The fifth annual FutureBook conference was held, in part, to evaluate and respond to the Digital Census of 2015, in which record numbers of readers and writers and bloggers and publishers (of traditional or indie ilk alike) and other industry experts reflected upon the ways that has changed or the ways in which they foresee the industry changing, all while indexing their hopes and concerns for where the Book as an object and industry and personal revelation is headed.  The data was condensed down to five talking points which in turn guided and shaped the course of the rest of the conference, and which indicate our ever-evolving relationship to publishing.  These points are:

  1. Mobile overtakes tablets and dedicated e-readers as the device of choice […]
  2. Digital sales are still growing, but they are also slowing […]
  3. Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels […]
  4. Publishing remains very much divided on matters digital […]
  5. … And the majority believe publishers remain unprepared for what is coming [….]

Today I’m going to examine the second of these points, having addressed #1 (the rise of mobile) in last week’s post.  Here’s what the final FutureBook publication says about digital sales, which continue to demonstrate significant growth––although perhaps also showing signs of plateauing :

digital sales

The data meshes nicely with a series I just finished two weeks ago (“The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide“), in which I lay out the reasons why slowed growth in both ebook and e-reader sales is both a cause for concern (less overhead profit coming in) and for optimism (a diversified, stabilizing market with more competition and more options for authors).  Much of the research I gathered there applies here, so I don’t want to sound like a broken record and repeat myself––but I do want to emphasize the last line in the FutureBook article:

“Publishers have found that digital technology makes producing and delivering audio much more straightforward, but many are concluding that apps are not worth the candle.”

I think this is an important sentence because nowhere else in the article do audiobooks earn a lot of love, and even in the data mentioned above, the statistics for digital audiobooks is combined with that for digital e-books (that is, the text-based variety that doesn’t involve voice actors and snappy narration). And if there’s one segment of the digital publishing industry that’s neglected here and deserves a second look, it’s the digital audiobook!  Readers love them, and so therefore authors are beginning to pay attention.

We all have probably heard about Amazon’s merger with Audible and their ACX offerings for digital audiobooks by now, but what we don’t know (necessarily) is that there’s a whole niche market out there for authors looking to self-published audio books outside of the ACX/Audible/Amazon umbrella.  This Publisher’s Weekly article, for example, takes a look not just at ACX but at smaller companies without big corporate backing, like Open Book Audio and Spoken Word––and other media are starting to take note, including MediaShift and Author Marketing Institute.

As with all aspects of self-publishing, producing an audiobook (either with or without ACX/Audible/Amazon involvement) is a time- and energy-intensive process that deserves both careful and cautious consideration before you decide to commit … or not to commit.  But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my years in the publishing industry, it’s that readers are inherently voracious and will devour good words wherever they find them and in as many formats as they can discover them … and that there’s no such thing as “standing still” when it comes to the evolution of book distribution technology.  We have, as authors, a responsibility to remain at the forefront of the digital evolution––not hanging back and attempting to deny the inevitable progress from one mode of consumption to another, but leading the way and cutting new paths for those who follow.  Only if we innovate can we stay relevant and useful to our readers.  And I fully believe it when I say your book deserves to be heard.*

 

* and yes, I know that’s a terrible pun!

 


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Demystifying the Digital Census : E-Readers are OUT, Mobile is IN

As promised in last week’s “News from the Self-Publishing World,” I’m going to take a closer look at the results of FutureBook‘s Digital Census of 2015 and break down just what the implications are for you and me, indie and self-published authors.  FutureBook, an offshoot of the well-known institution, The Bookseller, is now in its fifth year and rapidly becoming a litmus test for the emergence of digital technologies and their assimilation into common usage across the developed world.  The conference, which self-advertises as “bring[ing] together more than 50 speakers from across the media world for a day of reckoning, realisation and revivification,” may well come to guide these emergences as well as reflect upon them at some point in the future–it has become so important.

futurebook

This year, according to the FutureBook, the five main takeaways from the conference are as follows:

1. Mobile overtakes tablets and dedicated e-readers as the device of choice […]

2. Digital sales are still growing, but they are also slowing […]

3. Self-love levels recede as many indie authors report lower satisfaction levels […]

4. Publishing remains very much divided on matters digital […]

5. … And the majority believe publishers remain unprepared for what is coming [….]

I’m going to take these points one at a time, break them down, and hopefully unpack the important details.  Here’s what the final FutureBook publication says about mobile tablets and e-readers:

futurebook

This little summary is, of course, useful in its own way for delineating the boundaries of the conversation at hand–a conversation in which self-publishing authors have a great vested interest.  The stakes are high for those of us who depend upon ebook sales for our income, and so knowing where to focus our attentions (and, let’s face it, our money) is handy.  (And as we have suspected for a while, we should be focusing on the Kindle Store as a marketplace although perhaps not on the Kindle as a piece of hardware.  For more on that, take a look at my post on Kindles in the e-reader-related series I wrapped up last week.)  But there’s an aspect of the conversation that this summary neglects: why.

Why are e-readers diminishing in appeal?

Is it something to do with a lack of novelty (they’ve been around for a while now), or because the function of reading ebooks can be better performed with other hardware (like the iPad or iPhone), or because of something else entirely?  Reports from industry experts seem to suggest a little of all of the above.  One TechRadar article cites “multifunctionality” and “age” as driving the market these days, with readers under 25 reading far more ebooks than the national average but doing so with the devices they’re always carrying with them anyway–their phones.  This puts “a demographic bomb” under the e-reader, and as the devices’ primary user base ages out of the buying population, so too will the devices themselves.  And this Christian Science Monitor article argues that the whole system has been “top-heavy” from the beginning, with only a handful of companies getting in on the e-reader market in the first place and therefore rendering it fragile and dependent on sales figures that can swing dramatically from one quarter to another.  We can’t ignore those other voices, too–like this one from the Independent–that the act of turning a page on an ebook simply isn’t rich enough to edge out the superior experience of holding a print book in hand.

All this to say, we can’t afford to forget that any entry into the canon of Great Technologies can be supplanted by changes in market demands, ousted by demographic shifts, and displaced by some new shiny gadget.  Remember that whole “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” expression?  Well, it probably originated in the early 1700s, and we still eat eggs and put them in baskets today.  By which I mean to say: some things remain the same, and some things change.  It seems that what needs to stay the same is our dedication to adaptability in the rapidly changing world of self-publishing.


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.