The Indie Book Tidal Wave …What Does it Mean for Bookstores, Publishers & Writers?

wave-clark-little03We’re all agreed: the publishing industry is in upheaval. A kind of change that ripples in fractal waves throughout its entire expression and existence. A kind of change that creates a great paradigm shift. A kind of change that heralds in a new world.

Of course, much of this is due to a change in perspective: how we approach things and direct ourselves; the models and designs we use as our vehicles of expression; and how we apply them in relationship with our world.

So, what I’m saying is that the publishing industry is changing because we are changing, not the other way around. We are directing that change. We are directing that change every bit as much as we are directing changes in other important elements in our lives.

You don’t need to embrace new-age spirituality, mystery school teachings, non-locality particle physics, quantum entanglement or “intuitive science” to appreciate that our entire existence as a species, a living community and a planet is in upheaval.

You know what I mean. Wherever you look, it’s crazy (put your own examples here; there are too many). And in the midst of all this, miracles happen. What does this have to do with indie publishing? Well, nothing…well, everything. Let me tell you a little about me and my books…

I’ve had over a dozen books published with small to mid-sized presses as well as my own small press, recently started up. My first book made it to the shelves of big bookstores like Chapters/Indigo and Barnes & Noble. I’ve seen my books on the shelves of small indie bookstores in Toronto and Vancouver areas and in a Paris bookstore. I’ve also had the heartache of seeing too many of my books returned from these same large bookstores, no longer “stocking” a particular title (although they kept it in their online catalogue). Over the years my thinking as both writer and publisher has shifted: mostly to do with what bookstores are doing; who to publish with; and what formats to provide my readership (e.g., e-book, print, audiobook).

Along with that shift, my definition of “big thinking” also changed. The possibilities are endless in a world where an unknown individual can achieve worldwide fame through a single twitter feed.

In the first in a new series of articles devoted to “Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing” Dean Wesley Smith recently shared some interesting facts and opinions about how changes in book production along with reader technology has affected the industry.

He dispels the notion of many indies that their books can’t easily get into bookstores. Distribution channels for books, particularly indie books, are more than arcane. Smith advises indie publishers and writers that, “If you are already doing some things correctly, there’s a big chance your books are already in bookstores and you don’t even know it.” He’s right. I’ve published several of my books with indie publishers and both my publisher and I were unaware of some of the bookstores my books ended up in all over the world! I only found out because I frequently google my books for just such surprises. “And of course, in this new world,” Smith continues, “you don’t even know what it means ‘to have your books in a bookstore’.”

What does it mean to have your book in a bookstore? It’s in the store if it is sitting on one of the shelves, says Smith. It’s also “in the store” if it’s in the bookstore’s online database, which is where most indie books end up—virtually there, if not actually there. Considering how most people shop for books these days, and the inadequacy of shelf exposure (only so many books can appear on the shelf with their covers visible as opposed to their less compelling spine), this is not necessarily a lesser thing for the indie writer and publisher.

Ten years ago, says Smith, most bookstores used to order “to stock”. Today smart bookstores order “to replace”. This is now possible because of quicker distribution, and swift and high quality digital POD methods of book production (including neat quirky things like Espresso Book Machines or EBMs). Along with this new policy comes another potential change in the transaction model—that of returns. Smith reports that the returns system is “drifting away and is now under 18% standard and still dropping.” They were more like 50% not too long ago, which can be potentially disastrous to a small publishing company or self-published author with small revenue-base. Smith reports that many large publishers are even offering no-return choices, usually with higher discounts, which bookstores are accepting. This is great news again to small and new publishers, who cannot afford the uncertain and sudden cost of returns. Of course, returns will likely remain as a reassurance to booksellers when picking up unknown titles. In fact, this practice was adopted to permit booksellers to carry more new and untried authors without putting them at grave risk.

Smith confirms something I envisioned a while ago: that bookstores won’t disappear; instead they will morph into a more diverse set of small and specialized stores, stocking less numbers of any one book (one or two copies tops) for show with the ability to order new books and get them quickly. This is the new model Smith talks about: stock low and order to replace. So, “instead of ten of the last Patterson, there are two of the Patterson and eight other author’s books in the same shelf space,” says Smith.

So, for indie book publishers and writers, and bookstores who carry them, we are seeing the rise of a new paradigm; new trade arrangements that include consignment agreements, small but diverse inventory, and huge opportunity.wave-clark-little05

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

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