From the Archives: “self-publishers raking it in…”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: January 30th, 2009 ]

That was the subject line of a recent email sent to me by my good friend and author currently writing and teaching writing at the University of Massachusetts.

I had yet to see the New York Times article he was referencing. Despite our professional inclinations, email conversations between Mr. Anderson and I generally involve topics like beer, music, or YouTube videos.

I was interested in what brought Mr. Anderson’s attention away from his highbrow academia to the world of self-publishing. His email read only one line – something like ‘looks like you’re in for a raise…’ followed by the link to Wednesday’s Times article, “Self-Publisher’s Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab.”

Good news for self-publishing authors…

The Article opens stating that booksellers, hobbled by the current economic situation, are struggling to lure readers. And with traditional publishers and brick and mortar retailers exercising cutbacks and layoffs, readers are still finding their way to books. And the fact that they are suggests that one aspect of the industry is, according to the Times, “…actually flourishing.”

Of course the article discusses some of those alleged downsides of self-publishing (there are some less attractive options out there), but concludes with a quote from Louise Barker, publisher of the traditional house, Pocket Books, “Self-Publishing is no longer a dirty word.”

Ms. Barker’s Pocket Books recently contracted Lisa Genova, an author profiled on this blog previously. Despite the suggestions from many industry professionals, including her agent, that self-publishing would destroy her chances at success, Genova’s book, Still Alice, saw considerable independent success prior to being picked up by Pocket Books on a 6 figure contract.

Barker goes on to comment that publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader’s comments online about self-published books.

Self-publishing is truly changing the way we write, read, and retail books. That is good news for authors.

Have fun. Keep writing.

– by Karl Schroeder

Is self-publishing “truly” changing the way we write, read, and retail books?  Or is something else?  Truth be told, Karl’s post made a lot of sense in the context of 2009 … and not so much in 2016.  After all, seven years and innumerable things have happened–the world is a fundamentally different place, and the technologies we use to engage with that world are equally different.  Two examples illustrate this fact perfectly:

Consider the Rise & Plateau of the Espresso Book Machine

There’s no greater way to mark the passage of time than to recount the stories of empires risen and gone, their vast empires now ruins eaten away by time and the elements.  That’s perhaps a bit dramatic when we’re talking about emerging technologies on a seven-year span, but sometimes it kind of feels like it!  And there’s no better illustration of the emergence of new technologies in the publishing world–the self-publishing world–than the Espresso Book Machine, a fabulous little engine of progress that allows authors to print physical copies of their books on demand while taking no more time than–you guessed it–drinking an espresso.  Their fast, their effective, they’re a great addition to college libraries like the University of Arizona–in short, there aren’t a lot of downsides.

espresso book machine

But the Espresso Book Machine hasn’t revolutionized self-publishing.  Or rather, it hasn’t revolutionized the industry and then stayed a centerpoint of the process.  Like so many new and wonderful things, it serves as a symbol of what’s possible for authors and readers alike–but is too clunky, too expensive to install, and too massive a physical object, to be widely adopted.  In many ways, the evolution and miniaturization of hardware and the constant improvements to open-source software have outpaced any one technology’s relevance.  And so the Espresso Book Machine–while still worth the expense and space issues to some institutions–is not likely to ever see as much interest again as when it premiered.  Unless, of course, its manufacturers determine how to create 3D printers that can print physical books in the comfort of the average person’s home.

Consider, Too, the Rise & Fall of the Dedicated E-Reader

You know this story–we’ve been covering it here at Self-Publishing Advisor from the beginning, when e-readers were game-changers, bringing transportability and easy storage to entire libraries of books, putting the power of the internet in the hands of tech-savvy readers.  Like the Espresso Book Machine, e-readers changed what we thought possible for books and self-publishing.  You didn’t need to publish a physical book at all!  You could collect hundred or even thousands of titles and take them all with you wherever you went!  You could get rid of those bookshelves at last but still be a big reader!  You could make literacy fun and accessible to kids!  You could cure the income disparity anywhere by handing out free tablets!

William Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble, holds up the new Nook Tablet at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that technologies necessarily age.  Even the really, really good ones–the ones that change the face of self-publishing.  So e-readers filled a gap in peoples’ technology and literary needs for a while, but then they didn’t anymore because smartphones leveled up the playing field once again.  Over the course of five years, e-readers went from “the next hot thing” to “old news, man.”

In short, yes, self-publishing changes things.  But the technologies we associate most closely with self-publishing–these “great leaps forward” in our ability to reach new readers–may actually be the consequence of technology evolving.  Many of the things we thought would fix our deepest problems–the stigma of not being traditionally published, the gap in marketing power between self-published and traditionally published authors–remain largely untouched.  We have to face the fact that, despite our best attempts, self-publishing authors are not, by and large, “raking it in.”  Sometimes, like Lisa Genova or Andy Weir, we find success–and are stolen away into the traditional publishing matrix.  Luckily, we have staunch self-publishing advocates like Hugh Howey at our backs these days, and other authors who may dabble in traditional publishing but whose hearts remain firmly in the indie camp.

We have come a long way, but it wasn’t entirely our own work that got us here–it was the work of countless engineers and technicians, innovating technologies that may or may not serve us in the future.  Self-publishing authors still remain at a disadvantage, and still must seize upon emerging technologies–remaking them or at least adapting them to fit our own needs.

What Will the Next Big Step Forward Be?

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


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 : 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.

The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide : Summary Edition

Well, if there’s anything I’ve learned about e-readers over the last few weeks as I compiled information for this series, it’s that we as self-publishing authors have cause for both great hope and for concern.  I don’t think I’m an unbalanced optimist when I say that I think the scales tip towards hope rather than despair, either, even though in all things I advocate both caution and meticulous research.

tablet computer

So, how does someone go about shaping the self-publishing process to suit the current e-reader market and distribution network?  Simply put, there is no easy answer.  As with any technological gadget, niche (or even mainstream) market, and expensive purchase, you have to consider all of the angles––and as an author and producer of digital content, not just as a reader!  Readers have only to consider those aspects of a purchase that lead to user satisfaction; they don’t have to worry about balancing the needs of others when they think about what device to pick up in a store, and which ebook to download from the internet.  Authors, particularly self-published authors, do.  You as an indie or self-publishing author are probably laying out significant packets of money to make sure your book is as beautiful and well-presented and as effectively marketed as it can be, so you want to make sure you’re actually getting your money’s worth.

tablet computer

The key to a successful relationship with e-readers is, I think, one of establishing healthy boundaries––and knowing when to cut your losses.  And while it’s true that the best of all possible situations as an author is to present your readers with as many options as possible, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Kindle, the NOOK, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the iPad were not all created equal––and they have not all sold in equal numbers.  I set out to give you a fair assessment of the current state of e-readers, and by golly, I really hope that’s what I’ve done.  It’s useful to you to know, for example, that the iPad has outperformed all of its other rivals as a physical product, but that the Kindle store sees the highest rates of ebook distribution.  It’s equally useful to know that readers are turning in droves to their smartphones as reading tools––over and above their dedicated e-readers and even over their tablet computers.  The future of the e-reader, ebook, and in some small part, the self-published author rests with digital clearinghouses like the Kindle and iBook store, the Google Play store, and direct downloads.  (And someday, I’ll take a good long look at how digital book piracy plays into this equation, too.)   tablet computer

If anything I’ve said sticks with you, I hope it’s not something I’ve said you should not do; I really hope you remember how positively excited I am about the new opportunities that are beginning to emerge.  Certain markets and products, like the Barnes and Noble NOOK, might be declining in popularity––but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make your book available to those who choose to stick with it to the end.  First and foremost, you have to decide what your priorities are as an author.  Ease of accessibility?  Or maximum profits?  Or most effective use of time and seed money?  (Just remember that the best way to sell your books is to keep writing and publishing new ones!)  Ultimately, the state of e-readers has reached a stability and maturity that inspires me to think that, yes, we might have been feeling our way in the dark a bit, but we’ve stumbled across something truly wonderful.  We live in a global network rich with innovators, and I truly think we can trust to see ever greater diversification and more specialized opportunities in the digital book market.


Next week, I’m going to start with an in-depth examination of The Bookseller’s key findings in their 2015 Digital Census.  Things are changing rapidly––and perhaps not so much for authors and readers as for the ever-evolving relationship between self-publishing and traditional publishing companies.  More on that in weeks to come!


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.

The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide (Part V––iPads )

I started off this series by examining the Kindle, and then the NOOK, and then the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  This week, I’m going to take a (quick) look at the whole suite of Apple products that have by and large eroded any hold the dedicated e-reader held over the general reading public.  I’m talking about the computers you carry around in your pockets and backpacks, the mobile forward operating bases and command centers of your life, the little devices that have had a big impact on how we interpret our lives and arrange our days: the iPhone and the iPad.  Apple manufactures laptops, too, though making room for more traditional computers in this conversation might lengthen it to a mere century or two in length.  You might say that I could “talk for hours” about the changing role of the home or personal computer in everyday life.  I’m just going to allude to the fact that you can use an Apple Air or its predecessors to read e-books, using the same apps you might use on your mobile device.

It’s possible. It’s just that a laptop tends to not be the preferred device for most consumers who own more than one kind of Apple device.  And there are a lot of people who own multiple Apple devices.  In 2012, USA Today reported that roughly half of American households had at least one Apple product.  And the numbers didn’t end there; the article also stated that: “Americans don’t stop with just one device. Homes that own least one Apple, own an average of three. Overall, the average household has 1.6 Apple devices, with almost one-quarter planning to buy at least one more in the next year.”  And that was in 2012!  And when it comes to the iPad specifically, there’s even more reason to be hopeful: according to a report from the Stamford Advocate (drawing upon a longer piece for the Business Insider)  that’s so hot off the press it might smudge if you even look at it, Apple Inc just reported its quarterly earnings and the outlook for iPads remains good, despite a slight decline in total global tablet sales.  The Stamford Advocate’s Jay Yarow records Apple’s CEO Tim Cook as saying: “70% of people planning to buy a tablet plan to buy an iPad, per [a] ChangeWave survey.”  Seventy percent!  And that’s on top of the 200+ million units sold prior to 2014.  So, in summary … there are a lot of iPads out there, and there will be plenty more, as Apple continues to dominate the tablet market.

steve jobs with ipad

But what does this mean for you as an indie, hybrid, or self-publishing author?  Do people really use iPads the way they would use dedicated e-readers like Kindles and NOOKs?  As illustrated by this article for PC Magazine, the matter of what constitutes a dedicated e-reader and how it’s different from a tablet like the iPad has grown steadily more confusing.  Everyone more or less admits that they like the look and feel of the dedicated devices (which eschew backlighting, making for a more comfortable experience) but they are more likely to purchase a tablet like the iPad because of its versatility.  An iPad can simply do more, the general opinion runs, even though many devices like the new Kindle have a whole suite of apps a la tablet, and many tablets (including the iPad) have Kindle apps to sync a person’s reading experience via the Cloud.

In theory, it would be entirely possible to own a Kindle, an iPhone, an iPad, and a Macbook laptop, and move seamlessly from one device to another, picking up on one where you left off on the other––including if you happen to be listening to an audiobook version on your iPhone and use the WhisperSync function.  WhisperSync means you no longer have to worry about trying to find your place, even if you’re switching back and forth between reading and listening to a given book.  (Have I mentioned that I “nerd out” over technological innovations like this?  Ones that actually make life easier?  I do.  Often.)

So, yes, people really do use their iPads as their primary reading devices, in part because they’re so easily integrated into a larger “reading experience” as designed and made possible by Apple’s entire product line.  And because the iPad runs on an app-based (or “application-based”) operating system, you as an author need to know how best to make your books discoverable to the average iPad user.  Consider this list by ZDNet of top ebook apps as downloadable through the App Store:

  1. iBooks (Apple’s own signature e-reading app)
  2. Amazon’s Kindle app
  3. Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Library app
  4. The Kobo Books app
  5. The Google Play Books for iPad app
  6. The Bluefire Reader for iPad app

… and it’s worth noting, before even discussing the pros and cons of each app, that all of these apps are downloadable for free through the App Store, even if the content for them must be subscribed to, purchased, or loaned (in the case of both Bluefire and the Overdrive Media Console app, which are favorites of many public libraries which offer downloadable ebooks in addition to their physical lending collections).  Books with half a century under their belts are (for the most part) available under Public Domain, and many of these classics are available for free in a variety of formats.

Now, don’t get me wrong, but even while all of this is great news for readers, it doesn’t necessarily make for light work for you, the indie author.  Why?  Because, with so many reading app options easily available on the iPad, the chances of readers discovering your work diminishes with every app your book is not available through.  Not to mention, you probably want to make a profit, so a library’s free ebook loaning system doesn’t benefit your bottom line at all––unless readers run out of time and end up purchasing a copy in order to finish (which does, on occasion, happen).  In summary, it’s a good idea to cover all of your bases and not just the “big three” of ebook sales (Amazon, Apple, and B&N).  Google Play has been on the uptick ever since its creation as the primary sales conduit to devices running Android operating systems, but now it’s emerging as a contender for iPad owners as well, after the development of an attractive and intuitive app for iPads.  The Kobo Books app and the Adobe Reader app should also be kept in mind––many readers enjoy the streamlined experience of opening .PDF files with the Adobe Reader app, so you should not rule out offering a .PDF download of your book through some online retailer or your own personal website.  Basically, the more places a reader is likely to see your book, coupled with more ways and editions and formats in which it can be downloaded, the more likely that reader is to spend hard-earned currency on purchasing your book.  Balancing expense (of time, energy, and money) against discoverability is, perhaps, one of the trickiest of self-marketing arts that you must master––but you’re not alone.  We’re here to help, and to be a sounding board for your own strategic plan!

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.

The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide (Part IV––the Samsung Galaxy Tab)

Last week, I examined the dedicated e-reader designed for use with Barnes & Noble’s stores, both digital and brick and mortar––the NOOK.  And if you read that post, you’ll recall that I mentioned Barnes & Noble will no longer be producing a dedicated e-reader, and in fact is no longer producing an e-reader at all; it is, however, lending its name and all of the might of its online platform to the latest incarnation (or should I say “one of the latest incarnations?”) of the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  The resulting hybrid will give Barnes & Noble customers the necessary continuity to keep using the interfaces to which they have become accustomed, while also lifting the burden of production and distribution (at least, partially) from a company that is still, ultimately, struggling to keep its foot in the door of print book distribution.  Amazon’s Kindle store and Apple’s iPad have collectively changed the course of ebook distribution and consumption, whether we like it or not––and like so many others, Barnes & Noble and Samsung are hoping to create the next best thing, or a near-approximation of the iPad that still gives the bookseller an edge of control over the end user.

(There are altogether too many options on the iPad for a bookseller’s tastes––too many apps and too many readable file formats within those apps.  The more options, the less easily a bookseller can drive sales in a particular direction––and profits.)

Samsung Galaxy Tab

But we’re not here to talk about the new tablet (although you can read a most thorough CNET review here).  We’re here to talk about the original Samsung Galaxy Tab series, which is now up to at least its tenth iteration … if not a higher number (they throw in variant names, with the “Galaxy Tab S” and “Galaxy Tab Pro” and so on complicating a neat and orderly numbering system).  The entire line is noted, however, first and foremost for being the first (or among the first, depending on who you ask) to embrace a full Android operating system––and as such, it became a solid, distinct, and direct competitor to both the iPad (which runs on Apple’s iOS) and the Kindle (which varies a bit from iteration to iteration, but for the most part employs a heavily modified and limited version of Android).  I think it’s worth mentioning both tablets like the iPad and dedicated e-readers like the Kindle in the same breath when it comes to the Samsung Galaxy, because the relationship between the two is hybridizing so quickly as partnership projects like the Samsung Galaxy NOOK become the new normal.

Here’s the thing with the Samsung Galaxy Tab series that gives it an edge over the Kindle and the original NOOK: it’s a fully-fledged tablet, with a far wider range of capabilities as a device than a dedicated e-reader.  You can access the Google Play store, and run a whole slew of apps that have little or nothing to do with books, and yet the reading-related apps you can download are beautifully designed and presented, so the e-reading experience is still highlighted and underscored as important to app developers.  Many people rate the average Samsung device as somewhat less responsive and intuitive than the iPad, but Apple is famously canny about using software to create closed loops around its hardware (that is, the average iPad has to be “jailbroken” before it is “hackable”––you have to actually tamper with the operating system to render it more adaptable).  Basically, Android-based operating systems like the ones the Samsung Galaxy Tablets run are way more easy to customize, tinker with, and generally geek out over.

Samsung Galaxy NOOK

And there are a lot of Samsung Galaxy Tabs out there.  There are no hard and fast numbers for me to quote to you, but it’s safe to say they’re not hurting too badly if they have the capital to launch “boutique” or specialized lines like the NOOK hybrid.  (Each iteration costs a lot of money and time and talent capital to design and maintain and run support for.)  Some recent reports do, however, indicate that sales were not quite as high as they should have been––and as the company supposedly reported them to have been––and this is a matter of great concern.  Samsung has the benefit of a large support network and a diverse portfolio to fall back on if one project or device doesn’t sell well; Barnes & Noble had no such safety net, and thus lost its ability to respond effectively to rapidly shifting market demands.

Here’s what you need to know as an author when it comes to the Samsung Galaxy Tab: it’s not going anywhere.  Oh, iterations come and go the way my love of rain comes and goes (and boy, does that one fluctuate a lot).  But the great thing about a series like this one is that Samsung will continue to make new additions as long as the market exists and as long as there is a demand for Android-based devices that aren’t locked into being dedicated e-readers like the Kindle.  Customers want variety and customizability, games and work and literature all in one device, without the need to untangle multiple cables or swap out chargers on the nearest wall outlet.  And as long as there are Android-based operating systems, the Google Play store will remain an important distribution point to keep an eye on.

Are you selling through Google Play?  I personally hope so, and if you are and would like to share your story, please (please please) drop me a line in the comment section with all of the details.

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.

The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide (Part II)

Last week, I launched us into a new series about e-readers, and the pros and cons of using each different e-device (don’t worry, this won’t be quite the epic saga that the Beginner’s Guide to Social Media primer turned out to be!).  This week, I’ll be taking a closer look at perhaps one of the most talked-about e-readers of all time, the Kindle.  No doubt you’ve heard a lot about Amazon’s entry into the e-book sphere before, and elsewhere, in part because it was launched by a massive company still on the upswing in popularity, with the built-in infrastructure to ensure a strong debut––and in part because it remains a solid performer, especially in its newer incarnation, the Kindle Fire.

jeff bezos with the kindle
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with the new Kindle Fire HD

Just how many people own a Kindle?  A 2014 Forbes article reported that “roughly 43.7 million Kindle devices had been cumulatively sold till the end of 2013,” but, well, Amazon isn’t really talking, except when it’s super proud of itself, so the data Forbes was using may or may not be representative.  Even though in 2014 the Pew Research Center was marking an uptick in e-reader (specifically, Kindle) and everyone seemed, for the most part, highly optimistic about e-readers and therefore e-book distribution, some more recent data seems to indicate a plateauing of that trend … if not a slight reversal.  According to an article by Business Insider contributor James Cook, “for the first time ever the number of tablets shipped has decreased”––and Amazon’s Kindle line has been the hardest hit, with a decrease of some 69.9% in respect to shipments.  That’s a lot.  And the numbers are still so new that few tablet users are speculating yet as to why the Kindle has taken the brunt of the market change.  Is it because users have grown bored, or because Amazon hasn’t reinvented the wheel since the Kindle Fire was released two years (or two lifetimes, in today’s rapid-fire technology-hungry universe)?  But wait––what about the Kindle Paperwhite (the “Kindle 3”)?  Why does nobody seem to be getting on the Paperwhite train?  Is it because people are actively migrating away from Amazon, or from tablet computers, or from e-books?  The numbers seem to be holding mostly steady for e-books downloaded and read, so what’s the deal?

I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

Still, in the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the Kindle (Fire and Paperwhite):

They’re beautiful devices, designed and manufactured specifically to make thumbing through your digital library as tactile and responsive a practice as running a hand across a physical bookshelf––or at least, these e-readers are about as close as you can get without engaging your sense of smell.  (They do, however, make use of your fingertips and your ears as well as your eyes.  There’s some benefit to a multimodal interface, in terms of absorption of information, or so I’ve been told.)

And don’t forget that while sales may have dropped this last year (and significantly), the Kindle and Kindle Fire have out-sold almost every other dedicated e-reading device out there.  There are millions––dozens of millions––of Kindles out there already in use.  So yes, it still remains completely and absolutely worthwhile to sell your book as an e-book edition through the Kindle Store.  The total number of units sold alone should indicate this, but as the aforementioned Pew Research Center report also says, 3 in 10 American adults read an e-book last year, most of them on a tablet or dedicated e-reading device.  That’s a lot of e-books, my friends.  And Jim Tierney over at Loyalty360 reports that Amazon Prime Membership jumped by 53% in 2014––to around 40,000,000 (that’s 40 million) total adults.  And what with the advent of the Kindle Lending Library––a controversial offering, to be sure––Prime subscribers can opt to read certain select e-books for free.  That’s a lot of potential future readers.

Not much has changed when it’s come to the disadvantages of owning a Kindle, except for the fact that Amazon has taken away any grounds for complaint about the graphics, display quality, and user interface.  Their customer support system is pretty nifty, too, and users seem to like it.  No, you still can’t take the Kindle into the bathtub with you, and you probably don’t want to hurl it off the edge of a parking garage unless you actually want to watch it break, but these tablets do qualify as robust, insofar as tablets are allowed to.  Lending books to friends is possible, but still not quite intuitive.  Universities are starting to get on board with letting students use e-book editions for courses, but this still remains an underutilized possibility.  And no, it’s not an actual book you can hold in your hand and sniff for that “old-book” smell.  (But that’s what perfume is for, right?!)

I’m not about to try and sell you on buying a Kindle––or any e-reader, for that matter––but I do think it’s worth oohing and aaahing a little over the modern creature comforts technology has provided us.  An interlinked dictionary that I can access while reading?  Handy.  Highlighting and bookmarking?  Essential.  And much more difficult to “lose” when we’re speaking of a digital item.  And it’s nice, too, to have the option of reading multiple file formats on the same dedicated e-device without having to switch between apps.  PDFs?  No problem.  TXT?  DOC?  The Kindle’s got you covered.  And for now, people aren’t quite tossing them in a blender just to watch sparks fly, so I wouldn’t quite put up the crime scene tape just yet––if Amazon has proven anything, it’s proven just how much it loves to be on top!

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.