There’s an old, old joke about how one handles an 800-pound gorilla. The answers usually include saying “Yes, Sir!” and giving him whatever he wants. For indie writers and self publishers, the 800-pound gorilla has always been Amazon. It dominate today’s book world, selling more books than anyone else, newcomer or traditional publisher. No one seems to have exact figures because they change minute by minute, but a safe estimate is that it has something in the range of ten million books available on its website.
From the time I first established my little self-publishing imprint back in 2009, I argued against allowing Amazon to gain complete control of my work. Certainly, I published my books on the Kindle site and used the Amazon-affiliated CreateSpace to print and circulate my paperback editions. But I was also determined to utilize as many sales outlets as possible. I always recommended Smashwords for its ability to place electronic editions in the Barnes and Noble and Apple i-Book catalogs, as well on an ever-increasing number of smaller book distribution sites. It cost me more to get my books formatted for different sites, but I thought it was worth it, and for a while, it was.
I also spoke out against Amazon’s new schemes to get writers to give them exclusivity over certain books. The promises of more support, free days, new promotions and things like paying lending libraries just didn’t seem worth giving one company a monopoly over publication. However, things change quickly in the publishing world, and I have slowly begun to realize that many of these changes are reader-driven. If one believes in a free-market system (and I do), then we need to listen when the market speaks.
In the past five years, the value of using multiple distribution channels has eroded noticeably. In 2010, I could count on selling some 500 books a year through Smashwords with royalties of approximately $2.00 per book—well worth paying someone $50.00 to format a new manuscript for Apple and B&N. Then—steadily—the numbers declined. In the first two months of 2016, I have sold exactly three books (total from 18 sales channels) through Smashwords, at a profit of $4.26. And meanwhile, formatting charges have increased to $100.00. It is simply no longer possible to justify avoiding exclusivity.
What has happened? I don’t have some magic explanation, but when i look at my Kindle sales I see steady growth; when I look at Smashwords, steady decline. Obviously the people who read my books have made a choice, for whatever may be their reasons, to do their book buying on Amazon. And if that’s where my readers are, that’s where I need to be as well.
So . . (drum roll for announcement!) . . . starting tomorrow, most of my books will be available exclusively on Amazon. That will make them eligible for inclusion in the Lending Library and on the list of free books available to Prime customers. Already tonight, someone has borrowed a copy of “Damned Yankee” and read 190 pages. For those of you who have purchased any of my books from other sites, rest assured that the copies have been archived there. So if the dog eats your Nook, you can download another copy of my books from Smashwords. However, if you want to make a new purchase, you will have to do so on Amazon. We’ll give it a 90-day trial and see how it goes.