Author Topic: A thought on how it could get much tougher  (Read 22043 times)  

Offline blakebooks

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A thought on how it could get much tougher
« on: December 20, 2013, 07:15:18 am »
This will probably be one of the most unpopular posts ever posted on KB. I would ask that before anyone responds, that readers make a distinction between their hopes, and what is likely to happen. The purpose of the post is to examine a possibility nobody, including me, would much like, but which, I believe, posits a chilling possible future.

I was thinking last night about how the biz is going to develop over the next 24 months. The conclusion I came to wasn't good.

First, I looked at things from Amazon's perspective. I have no idea how big their revenues are from books, but lets use a round number for ease of calculation: $100 million. Whether that's high or low is immaterial for the purposes of this exercise.

Once B&N fades to black, there is Apple and Kobo. But Amazon will likely have the vast majority of sales, and with it, market share.

I believe at that point, it will do something nobody wants to contemplate, but which makes perfect sense: It will double its bottom line revenues overnight from indie publishers.
 
How?

Cut the royalty rate from 70% to 35% on all self-pubbed books. Presto. Double the net margin on the majority of their sales with the flick of a switch.

Before everyone jumps in and argues that can't or won't happen, because it's not in our best interests, consider honestly how many authors would pull their books from the channel that accounts for 90% or so of their sales, due to this lower rate. Maybe a handful, but the majority would stay in, because 35% is still way better than nothing from that channel. So sales on the top line number wouldn't suffer for Amazon, because readers wouldn't know or particularly care, and the bottom line would effectively double on every book they're paying 70% on now. Double the money, with no measurable loss of anything, except goodwill from a segment that would gripe, but still keep their books for sale via Amazon.

In this scenario, most of us would see a halving of our revenues. It would be zero sum.

Amazon would still reasonably argue that it's a better deal than trad publishers are offering at 25%, and it would be correct.

We could posit that it would empower Apple and Kobo to get more business, but that's BS. How? If anything, it would mean Apple and Kobo could also follow suit, cut their royalty rate to 35% as well, doubling their take, with no ill effects.

I see exactly zero reason this won't happen. Once you control the channel, it's time to make money. This change wouldn't alter book sales one iota, so it would be a massive win for Amazon, with literally no downside.

I'm not sure what we could do to prepare for this, other than getting ready for it psychologically. But I thought I'd throw it out there, because my hunch is it's a matter of when, not if.

Fire away.



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    Offline valeriec80

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #1 on: December 20, 2013, 07:19:22 am »
    Well, someone predicts this every three months or so. It has yet to happen. Amazon could do it. I was actually self-publishing back when they only gave us a 35% royalty across the board. That wasn't that many years ago.

    Anyway, I think it's highly unlikely.

    But this is why the best defense is a good mailing list, who will buy direct from you if necessary.

    Offline Quiss

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #2 on: December 20, 2013, 07:22:39 am »
    Well, actually, I've carried that possibility around in my head since I got into this. Given their share of the market, it seems almost inevitable.
    The response may well be higher prices and some authors simply dropping out.

    Offline Jim Johnson

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #3 on: December 20, 2013, 07:27:49 am »
    But this is why the best defense is a good mailing list, who will buy direct from you if necessary.

    That was my thought as well.

    Offline Mark E. Cooper

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #4 on: December 20, 2013, 07:28:28 am »
    Also, and this is something I have thought about a lot since going full time, Amazon "could" just say 70% ONLY for those who sign exclusive with Amazon. 35% for everyone else. Now I know I hate that, but to live on my royalties I would probably have to pull all my stuff and go exclusive. Way to revitalize Select you think?

    The numbers can be anything of course. They could say 50% for exclusivity and 35% for the rest. It really is just numbers to them after all. We see how they are often tinkering with algos. This would just be another experiment for them.
    « Last Edit: December 20, 2013, 07:30:04 am by markecooper »

    Offline Leanne King

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #5 on: December 20, 2013, 07:29:19 am »
    I wouldn't be so quick to assume that Apple would follow suit. They started the whole 70% shebang, and those are their terms in other stores than books (apps etc). They make a bit of cash from their iStores, but it's peanuts compared to the hardware business. Their stated aim is to make cash on hardware and provide the ecosystem to encourage hardware sales. Screwing indies wouldn't help that aim, so I don't think they'd do it.

    Apple isn't Amazon, but as many have reported here, they are selling more and more books. If Amazon halved their rate, I think you're right that very few authors would leave, but I bet many more would put a huge effort into driving sales to Apple. Every sale via Apple is a lost sale to Amazon.

    The same applies to Kobo and Google. Maybe less so at the moment, but offering double the royalty of their biggest competitor would be a hell of a way to motivate authors and publishers to help drive sales their way.

    Offline 41413

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #6 on: December 20, 2013, 07:31:08 am »
    Sure, it's possible. It's hardly a new idea. Like Valerie, I published my first book on DTP when 35% was standard, and I had as much control over the change to 70% as I would a change back to 35.

    What's the point in worrying about it? Merry Christmas. Go get drunk on egg nog and find something more productive to think about. Like your dogs.

    Offline 69959

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #7 on: December 20, 2013, 07:33:23 am »
    After seeing what FB has been doing, I believe it.

    But this is why the best defense is a good mailing list, who will buy direct from you if necessary.

    Exactly why I'm now focusing on building my list rather than anything else.

    If Amazon halved their rate, I think you're right that very few authors would leave, but I bet many more would put a huge effort into driving sales to Apple. Every sale via Apple is a lost sale to Amazon.

    Authors would definitely have to band together in something like that.

    Also, and this is something I have thought about a lot since going full time, Amazon "could" just say 70% ONLY for those who sign exclusive with Amazon. 35% for everyone else. Now I know I hate that, but to live on my royalties I would probably have to pull all my stuff and go exclusive. Way to revitalize Select you think?

    The numbers can be anything of course. They could say 50% for exclusivity and 35% for the rest. It really is just numbers to them after all. We see how they are often tinkering with algos. This would just be another experiment for them.

    That would suck, but I could see that happening too.

    Offline blakebooks

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #8 on: December 20, 2013, 07:33:53 am »
    Quiss: Sure, some might drop out, but they won't matter, because their sales won't move the needle. As to higher prices, as we've seen, it's the market that determines what it's willing to pay, not authors. So that tactic will likely stall pretty fast.

    Valerie: Mailing lists will certainly help, but nowhere nearly enough to offset the sales from the biggest channel in the world.

    Pelagios: Not sure that indie authors have all that much clout in herding consumers to sites they prefer. I haven't seen any evidence of that. As to "screwing indies" I'm not sure they'd view paying more than trad pubs do as "screwing" them.

    Marekcooper: That's a good point, and would be entirely consistent with what we've seen to date in their motivation. And you're correct, it could just as well be 50% as 70%.


    Offline Pnjw

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #9 on: December 20, 2013, 07:36:39 am »
    Of course they could change the royalty rate, but there isn't much about their business model to suggest they will. Amazon has always been a high volume-low profit outfit. Customer service is king and we (authors) are a type of customer. I don't see them willingly giving up marketshare to Kobo or Apple.

    No sense in worrying about it anyway. You either roll with the punches or drop out of the fight.
    « Last Edit: December 20, 2013, 07:39:06 am by Deanna Chase »

    Offline Joe_Nobody

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #10 on: December 20, 2013, 07:39:42 am »
    I just posted this response over on Miss Grace's thread (clobbered). I think it has relevance here as well:

    Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war)

    While my sales have been strong, I feel changes are in the air. I can't describe it... can't point to facts or metrics, but my instincts are bristling. Something is happening.

    The last time my little-inner voice tugged on my ear, well, bad things happened. We'll just leave it at that.

    So I'm preparing for war. I'm getting ready for a shake-down, last man standing type of year in 2014. I believe it is a combination of things:

    - The big houses leveraging their girth
    - The flood of indies hitting the market
    - The public's ever-evolving expectations of ebooks and pricing

    Eventually, one of two trends will begin to impact our business: Either the ranks will be thinned, or the market will expand. In reality, it will probably be a combination of both.

    Personally, I feel well positioned for any looming engagement. My sales are strong, my fan base is growing, I have well-stocked war chest in both cash and IP, and the prices of my books allow for maneuver. That being said, I wouldn't want to be a new writer starting out... not now... not in today's environment.

    I don't want a fight, wish it wasn't necessary. But I don't think any of us will have a choice.   

    Offline Sam Rivers

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #11 on: December 20, 2013, 07:40:55 am »
    There is another factor at play.  Having lots of Indie authors allows Jeff to keep sticking it to the big publishers who stuck it to him early on.

    I doubt he will rock the boat since he is getting what he wants - sweet revenge!  :'(

    Offline Hudson Owen

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #12 on: December 20, 2013, 07:41:19 am »
    Could happen.  But hey, I work in Terror Target Number One.  Not long ago a home-grown jihidi parked a van at the curb in front of the building where I work in Lower Manhattan with a 1,000 lb bomb in it.  He returned to his Queens apartment and made a cell phone call he thought would trigger the bomb.  Turns out to have been a fake device and the feds swooped in on him.  If A-zon drops the bomb and 35% percent of me crawls away--hey, I'll live to scribble another day.

    Offline a_g

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #13 on: December 20, 2013, 07:41:45 am »
    Yeah, this is something I've considered ever since I first decided to do this. Amazon isn't exactly known for their altruism toward anyone except their own bottom line. While I'm not worrying about it at the moment, it is something that stays in the back of my mind.

    I also have to wonder how this will affect smashwords and d2d for those who distribute to Amazon through them.

    There is also the possibility, as Quiss suggested, that prices will go up. If that happens, how are the readers going to react now that they've also gotten used to the current pricing for self-pubbed?

    Since we already have the tools at our disposal to format books into the major reader formats, I also see the possibility of moving to selling direct from our websites.  Not that Amazon will feel it, I guess. Who's to say? For those who were used to the old way of doing things and moved on out because of a change, there will be those coming in fresh who may willing accept this new standard percentage.
    Urban Fantasy numbah one: 10%

    Offline JRTomlin

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #14 on: December 20, 2013, 07:49:22 am »
    Also, and this is something I have thought about a lot since going full time, Amazon "could" just say 70% ONLY for those who sign exclusive with Amazon. 35% for everyone else. Now I know I hate that, but to live on my royalties I would probably have to pull all my stuff and go exclusive. Way to revitalize Select you think?

    The numbers can be anything of course. They could say 50% for exclusivity and 35% for the rest. It really is just numbers to them after all. We see how they are often tinkering with algos. This would just be another experiment for them.
    I think this is a much greater possibility than Amazon just arbitrarily cutting royalty rates across the board. We have to keep in mind that Amazon says a substantial portion of its book income comes from indies. They don't want to kill the golden goose (so to speak) but they may well want to get more from it.

    On the other hand, predictions about what will happen in publishing are so rarely correct, I tend not to take them too seriously, not even those from Blake. :)

    ETA: I could easily raise my prices a dollar and probably not seriously hurt sales. It wouldn't make up the difference but would reduce the pain slightly. I wouldn't raise them more than that though even at a reduced royalty rate. And I might... might... consider going exclusive with Amazon again although I wouldn't like being arm twisted into it.

    « Last Edit: December 20, 2013, 07:51:51 am by JRTomlin »
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    Offline Edward W. Robertson

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #15 on: December 20, 2013, 07:50:29 am »
    Of course they could change the royalty rate, but there isn't much about their business model to suggest they will. Amazon has always been a high volume-low profit outfit. Customer service is king and we (authors) are a type of customer. I don't see them willingly giving up marketshare to Kobo or Apple.

    No sense in worrying about it anyway. You either roll with the punches or drop out of the fight.

    This would be my take. Seems antithetical to their business model to allow others to out-compete them. Slashing royalty rates would be an end-game move, a sign that Amazon has won forever. But there's no "victory" here. It's like a game of Space Chess that never ends. The moment Amazon takes the pressure off their competitors is the moment the other stores start reclaiming the board.
        

    Offline thesmallprint

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #16 on: December 20, 2013, 07:52:04 am »
    I think J Bezos is a genius in business. Amazon's long term strategy appears to be domination of all markets in which they're involved. Third party sellers of other goods are already moving from Amazon to Google where it's much cheaper to do business.

    Google Play will become Amazon's potential nemesis in the book market. I believe Mr Bezos could accomplish just about anything in business, except beating Google.

    Happy Christmas to all KB folks from Bonny Scotland!

    Joe

    Offline Blerch

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #17 on: December 20, 2013, 07:52:45 am »
    I could see them making KDP a requirement for 70% royalties. That would essentially kill the indie market for other distributors, which can be either good or bad (Amazon can promote having the most indie authors, but with no barrier to entry, that could backfire).

    I agree with Joe Nobody. Something is changing, but what, I can't say. I haven't been publishing for long, but I've done a lot of research on how it involved over the past few years. I predict some sort of barrier to entry for indies, but I have no idea how that would look.

    Offline blakebooks

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #18 on: December 20, 2013, 07:53:16 am »
    Joe: Like minds think alike. Can't put my finger on it, but I feel the sea change, like the water being sucked out before the tsunami. My hope is that with B&N in the game they can't afford to do it just yet.

    Deanna: We are not Amazon's customers. We are vendors. If we don't like the royalty/commission they pay, we are free to go elsewhere. The customer wouldn't know or care if a bunch of indie authors went elsewhere. In other words, we need them far more than they need us, especially now that the DOJ decision gutted the price fixing by the trad publishers.

    Everyone: I'm not saying this is the end of the world. Many would still make more than nice livings. Just half as nice as before.

    JR: Cutting royalties to 35% would kill no golden gooses. I'm pretty sure all of the indies who are selling decent amounts would still be writing and selling. They'd just make less. More than with trad pub, so still a good deal, but no longer a borderline windfall.

    Ed: Amazon's royalty rate has very little that I can see to do with how well they're doing as a vendor. And frankly, I don't see how slashing it would enable their competitors to reclaim the board. How would you see that working?


    Offline Leanne King

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #19 on: December 20, 2013, 07:54:17 am »
    Pelagios: Not sure that indie authors have all that much clout in herding consumers to sites they prefer. I haven't seen any evidence of that.

    Oh I don't know. If most Bookbub promotions only included links to Apple (and other 70% stores), that would have a noticeable impact on Amazon's bottom line, and would increase visibility of the iBookstore among consumers. And that's just one channel authors can use.

    Amazon also have an image problem to worry about. Particularly in Europe they are being very publicly bashed (unfairly I believe, but comprehensively nonetheless) about their tax affairs, employment practises, and in France at least, their perceived anticompetitive behaviour. Cutting the royalty rate of "hard working independent authors" would do nothing to improve that image. Maybe they don't care, maybe they can wait until the current fuss has died down, but it's something they have to take into consideration.

    Whatever happens, it's out of our control. At the end of the day they're just one channel among many. I'll continue to develop all available channels, diversify where possible, and not worry about what could happen.

    Offline Ben Mathew

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #20 on: December 20, 2013, 07:54:56 am »
    I wouldn't be so quick to assume that Apple would follow suit. They started the whole 70% shebang, and those are their terms in other stores than books (apps etc). They make a bit of cash from their iStores, but it's peanuts compared to the hardware business. Their stated aim is to make cash on hardware and provide the ecosystem to encourage hardware sales. Screwing indies wouldn't help that aim, so I don't think they'd do it.

    Apple isn't Amazon, but as many have reported here, they are selling more and more books. If Amazon halved their rate, I think you're right that very few authors would leave, but I bet many more would put a huge effort into driving sales to Apple. Every sale via Apple is a lost sale to Amazon.

    The same applies to Kobo and Google. Maybe less so at the moment, but offering double the royalty of their biggest competitor would be a hell of a way to motivate authors and publishers to help drive sales their way.

    +1

    I rest easy on this. By reducing royalties Amazon will become vulnerable to Apple and Kobo and scrappy startups. It wouldn't be a smart move for Amazon, and so far Amazon has not sacrificed long-term growth to short-term profits. Online retailing is a tough market where competition is always just around the corner--no matter what your current market share is.

    Offline JRTomlin

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #21 on: December 20, 2013, 07:55:41 am »
    Joe: Like minds think alike. Can't put my finger on it, but I feel the sea change, like the water being sucked out before the tsunami. My hope is that with B&N in the game they can't afford to do it just yet.

    Deanna: We are not Amazon's customers. We are vendors. If we don't like the royalty/commission they pay, we are free to go elsewhere. The customer wouldn't know or care if a bunch of indie authors went elsewhere. In other words, we need them far more than they need us, especially now that the DOJ decision gutted the price fixing by the trad publishers.

    Everyone: I'm not saying this is the end of the world. Many would still make more than nice livings. Just half as nice as before.

    JR: Cutting royalties to 35% would kill no golden gooses. I'm pretty sure all of the indies who are selling decent amounts would still be writing and selling. They'd just make less. More than with trad pub, so still a good deal, but no longer a borderline windfall.

    Ed: Amazon's royalty rate has very little that I can see to do with how well they're doing as a vendor. And frankly, I don't see how slashing it would enable their competitors to reclaim the board. How would you see that working?
    It might for them if a lot of authors went to Google and Apple. Drastic changes in a good income stream that costs Amazon relatively little from its own funds doesn't seem like something they'd do in a hurry.
    I do not accept the Terms of Service which were instituted without notification. I do not consent to VerticalScope reproducing content I posted on this forum in any newsletter, website, or another forum. I've requested account deletion; however, the owners of this forum REFUSE to delete my content. Further, I repudiate any association with ads that are sexist, racist, and demeaning to women which are now appearing on this site.

    Offline Edward W. Robertson

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #22 on: December 20, 2013, 07:56:30 am »
    Or let's put this another way. If you were Jeffy B, is this a move YOU would make?

    I wouldn't. I'd never take the boot off the throat of the competition. Dang man, now I want a Death Star.
        

    Offline JRTomlin

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #23 on: December 20, 2013, 07:58:05 am »
    I think J Bezos is a genius in business. Amazon's long term strategy appears to be domination of all markets in which they're involved. Third party sellers of other goods are already moving from Amazon to Google where it's much cheaper to do business.

    Google Play will become Amazon's potential nemesis in the book market. I believe Mr Bezos could accomplish just about anything in business, except beating Google.

    Happy Christmas to all KB folks from Bonny Scotland!

    Joe
    Happy Christmas back at you, Joe, and a good hogmanay. :)

    The kind of strategy that Blake is talking about is more in line with Walmart than Amazon but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. More than a few people have predicted it over the past couple of years. I am a bit skeptical since I don't see Amazon ceding the playing field to their competitors, but that's one person's opinion and the only opinion that matters here in the end, on Amazon policy, is Uncle Jeff's. So we'll see. :)


    « Last Edit: December 20, 2013, 08:01:23 am by JRTomlin »
    I do not accept the Terms of Service which were instituted without notification. I do not consent to VerticalScope reproducing content I posted on this forum in any newsletter, website, or another forum. I've requested account deletion; however, the owners of this forum REFUSE to delete my content. Further, I repudiate any association with ads that are sexist, racist, and demeaning to women which are now appearing on this site.

    Offline Zoe Cannon

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    Re: A thought on how it could get much tougher
    « Reply #24 on: December 20, 2013, 07:59:50 am »
    Meh, it's possible, but I doubt it. If Amazon lowers their royalty rate, a lot of indies will raise their prices, and that combined with the way traditional publishers have been lowering their ebook prices over the past few months would likely mean fewer people willing to take a chance on an indie book (not to mention readers being able to afford fewer books in general). Amazon makes more money off indie books than trad-pubbed books, don't they? I don't think they would want to diminish the indie market the way this change would. Maybe having to pay less in royalties to authors would be enough to offset the overall drop in sales, but it seems like a risky move for them.

    "Looking back, I think a lot of the time I was thinking, 'Yeah, this is great, but the next one'll be better. This is all a road upwards, and one day we'll get to that plateau.' But there isn't any plateau, folks. Happiness is the journey."
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