PANIC! And Ways To Get Around It

Mar 15, 2016
Panic at the Disco

This is the only acceptable kind of panic!
image courtesy of BluEyedA73 via flickr creative commons

I’m going to be brutally honest with you. There is one thing that I can’t stand in life, the universe, and everything. And that thing is panic. Whether it’s people panicking about the fate of our country in this current election year, panicking because there’s a spider in the sink, or panicking because Amazon has changed the way they do this, that, or the other thing, panic for panic’s sake is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned about elections, spiders, or Amazon. All three of those things are decidedly concerning (some more so than others). And I’m not saying that actions shouldn’t be taken to avert disaster. By all means, ACT. But do it with a level head. Go out and vote for the candidate you think will steer your country in the right direction (and not just in presidential elections—state and local elections are actually FAR more important than national ones, but that’s a topic for another day). Get a newspaper and swat that spider—or gently move it to a place where it won’t harm you.

And as for Amazon? Wait, watch, and plan accordingly. But by all means, don’t get your blood pressure up as you scream, tear your hair out, and wail that we’re all doomed. DOOMED!

Okay. To anyone who just asked “What is this Amazon thing we’re panicking about?” Congratulations, you’re a normal person and not a writer. But if you are a writer, chances are you’re tempted to go into high panic mode right now.

Amazon has two things going on that have people ready to shift into panic. First, they’re cracking down on eBooks that either don’t have a Table of Contents or that have one at the back of the book. Many authors do put their TOC at the back of the book, both because one of the formatting programs out there does that automatically and because moving the TOC to the back gives you more content up front for readers who click on the “Look Inside” option on the Amazon homepage while searching for books.

But the reason why The ‘Zon is cracking down is because there are scammers out there who are raking in the dough through the Kindle Unlimited program by throwing up (and I do mean that in both senses of the word) trash books of hack work or plagiarized content—hundreds and hundreds of pages of it per “book”—and including links at the front of the book, sending readers straight to the last page so that they collect literally tens of thousands of dollars in false page reads.

This is bad. Amazon is trying to combat it (in spite of what nay-sayers assume about The ‘Zon not really caring. I think they care, but this is an enormous problem, and I don’t think they have the manpower, or enough magic wands, to tackle it and make it go away INSTANTLY, like we serious authors would like).

Non-panicked solution: Fix the TOC in your books. It took me less than a minute to fix the one they sent me a notice about. You lose space for that “Look Inside,” but you gain…well, not having Amazon send you nastygrams.

The other thing that has people in a panicky tizzy over at Amazon is their efforts to investigate the possibility of selling used eBooks. (Note the key words in that phrase: Their efforts to investigate the possibility—it’s nowhere near being a sure thing, as a certain newsletter would have you believe) That is exactly what it sounds like. A reader buys an eBook. They read it. They resell it on some Amazon-operated market. I used to do that all the time with paperbacks at my local used book store.

Authors are panicked because this would seriously cut into their profits. It totally would. IF readers actually jump on the bandwagon and list their books for resale once they’re purchased. IF Amazon is able to get all of the permissions they need and get past the new copyright laws which are being debated this year. IF it becomes something that makes sense for readers to do. There are a lot of ifs involved in this whole used eBook equation. And as far as I know, Amazon is still just looking into it. I also read somewhere that it would only be books in the KU program. Not sure about that.

So what do we do, panic??? Do we panic now???

NO!

Non-panicked solution: Avoid KU. Distribute your books as wide as possible. Put effort into marketing to iBooks and Kobo. Um, I’d say Nook too, but I think Nook is about to go under. For real this time.

Sub-solution: Authors, stop giving away Kindles as giveaway prizes! This is not rocket science. The reason Amazon sells so many eBooks is because they deliberately and calculatedly got as many Kindles into the hands of as many readers as possible. Amazon sells Kindles WAY below the cost of production, specifically so that they can control the eBook market because more readers have their devices than have iPads or Kobo readers. We can market to iBooks and Kobo until we’re blue in the face and have spent a zillion dollars, but if readers only own Kindles, we’re SOL.

iPad

image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via flickr creative commons

The inherent problem in this is that Kindles sell for as low as $49, while the cheapest iPad I was able to find was $269. Yikes! Makes it sort of hard to go giving those puppies away, right?

Actually, I don’t have a solution for that. It is what it is. It sucks.

Sub-solution #2: Produce paperbacks of your books that are formatted in such a way that you can sell them for competitive prices. The reason indie authors do so well in digital format is because we can undersell NY Publishers by a lot. Well, NY pubbed paperbacks are costing about $7 or $8 these days. Produce paperbacks that can sell for less and market those to your readers, and you might stand a chance.

In fact, I’d love to see more indie authors invest in paperbacks (and audio, but that’s super expensive) and do a big push to get people to buy paper. But it has to be cost effective for the reader.

At the end of the day, everything Amazon is doing makes life easier and books cheaper for readers. THAT’s why they’re so successful. They will continue to do that until…well, they’ll just continue to do that. We as indie authors have to face that fact, scale back the panic, and start thinking about ways we can keep our heads above water, avoid the thumbscrews Amazon is putting to us, and give our readers the best, cheapest reading experience possible. BUT, Amazon is an inevitability in this publishing game. We HAVE to deal with them, and since we have zero control over what they do—and I mean zero—we need to learn to adapt instead of balk every time they change a policy.

So to summarize: Don’t panic. Separate fact from hearsay. Seek to understand changes when they are made, and adapt your publishing and marketing strategy to best harmonize with those changes. Seek to understand the market you’re writing for, their needs and their habits. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

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