Author Derek Haines has written a blistering diatribe against the current state of the self-publishing market. From such portents as Sony exiting the e-reader business, the end of Diesel eBooks, the loss of Flipkart and Oyster’s all-you-can-eat services, and Scribd paring its own all-you-can-eat selection down, he sees a “train wreck” coming.
That’s not all, of course. He produces a chart of a gradually-declining squiggly line as another sign from which he reads doom (he never clearly explains, nor is it captioned, exactly what that squiggly line actually refers to, though I’m guessing from context that it’s search activity about the term “self-publishing”). Then he flourishes another chart showing that regional search interest in the term “self publishing” is limited to the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. (Oddly enough, those happen to be the main countries where English is the primary lingua franca. Funny that an English-language search term should be most popular in those, huh?) From these, he concludes that self-publishing interest is on the wane and nobody cares about it outside a small portion of the world.
And he complains that Amazon has switched from paying authors per checkout to paying them per page for Kindle Unlimited! Whereby it used to be that people got paid just because someone actually borrowed a book, now they actually have to read it all the way through. (How terrible that people actually now have to want to read what you wrote for you to earn money, rather than you getting it simply because they thought your book looked nice on their electronic shelf!)
Self publishing as it has been since 2009 is dead. It was all so simple back in 2009. You wrote a book, published it, and readers bought it, or not. There were no conditions attached. Even subscription borrowing had some merit. You borrow it, I get paid. But now, it’s a convoluted disaster. I do not want to get paid for someone reading five pages of one of my books and then thinking, ‘oh damn, no vampires. I’ll try another book then.’
Maybe you should try writing a book with vampires in it, then? The world doesn’t owe you a living just because you wrote a book, you know. (Oddly enough, he even admits to that elsewhere in the essay, bemoaning the fate of poor naïfs who are lured into self-publishing by the promise of easy money “with no idea at all about book marketing, but with a firm belief that if they have written a book, they will make a fortune.” What’s sauce for the goose…)
So, Haines concludes, he will pull his e-books out of Kindle Unlimited as soon as he can, and redirect his promotional efforts toward paperback books. Fair enough. He wrote the books, he gets to decide how they are to be marketed. All the same, this post kind of reminds me of all the “short Amazon’s stock and sooner or later you’ll be right” posts I see pop up on Seeking Alpha from time to time.
And my response to this is the same as my response to that. Go ahead. Put your money where your mouth is. Short Amazon until the cows come home if that’s what you want to do. Withdraw from self-publishing if it makes you feel better. If you’re right, well, you’ll reap the benefit of your foresight while others get what they deserve. If you’re wrong, you’ll get what you deserve while others reap the benefit of their foresight.
Search results are not necessarily the best tea leaves from which to read (or make) a fortune. There could be any number of reasons why those charts are the way they are. Maybe fewer people feel the need to search on self-publishing now because so many of them already know how it’s done. Maybe other languages have their own terms for “self-publishing.” (Was that reflected in the chart’s methodology? It doesn’t say.) Anyway, the English-language e-book market has always been years ahead of other languages’, just because countries who speak it tend to have capitalist economies and there are so many people in the world who speak English. It hasn’t exactly needed buy-in from people who don’t speak English in order for authors who do speak and write it to make a living.
I can’t help thinking that if the self-publishing market really were on the wane, it would have shown up somewhere such as Author Earnings’s charts—but so far, they’re showing self-publishing’s marketshare steadily growing while traditional publishers’ are declining. So from those charts, it looks like traditional publishing is heading for the train wreck. (Is there such thing as a train wreck wreck?) Granted, those charts only measure Amazon’s market share, and take no account of all those other services that have had to close down. But all the same, that’s a pretty large chunk of the overall market, and any crisis in consumer confidence that affected the whole market should be affecting Amazon, too. Maybe those other businesses just weren’t able to compete with a much bigger one?
This isn’t the first time Derek Haines has been featured on TeleRead, by the way. In 2012, he complained that the Kindle e-book store’s liberal return policy allowed readers ample time to complete one of his books as many as three times before they returned it for a refund. (It’s amusing to juxtapose that complaint with his current complaints about Kindle Unlimited only paying a fraction of the book’s price even if the reader completed it. Be that as it may, Derek, at least with Kindle Unlimited you will get paid something for them reading it, whereas if they “return” the e-book they purchased you’ll get nothing. Which would you rather have, something or nothing?)
I have a hard time imagining that this sort of disillusionment with self-publishing is anywhere near universal, either among readers or authors. So, let the chips fall where they may. In a few more years, I expect we’ll know who was right.