News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (www.NobleDead.org); author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

Writer’s Corner: This Decade’s Challenge for Authors is… Exposure!

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17889273-young-nude-woman-showing-open-book-to-you-isolated-on-whiteNo, not exposing themselves (come on now) but their books. J.C. here, this time, with some thoughts on this scary (rather than titillating) topic.

How is it that a reader (of fantasy or other premise genre) discovers not just a new book but maybe a new author? Both the casual shopper and the specific fantasy shopper are of great concern here. Neither are served by online stores the way they used to be served by physical stores. The author, as well as the reader, is shorted by this. Let us face some assumptions in place of hard facts...

With a physical store, books out front in dumps and racks and on tables or along the ends of aisles were rotated when new ones came out. Not so much anymore, for more space in physical stores has been given over to ereader boutiques (bigger ones),  sundries, gifts, and impulse items… and coffee shops big enough to rival a Starbucks. With online stores, the walk-by exposure is lost... and so is that influence of first-sight exposure for a new book in the rotation.

No, front pages in online stores are not the same. I watched the "fiction" pages at major vendors and the approach (and its effects) do not match those of a physical store. Yes, there is stuff on the front page and the lead page of a topical / genre section, but those pages display less of what is new upon any one visit than in a physical… or at least when such stores still made an effort. Site content may rotate more often than in a physical store via scripting, but that scripting might be favoring certain books and authors selected as best for not just volume sales but speed per volume of overall sales.

How many of us click "Fantasy" as our first page link to check out? (And no, authors’ votes do not count here, just readers / customers.)  How many look at a genre’s subdivision lead page rather than going directly to search results for our favorite author’s works? Even if, how many return to that page (for the division or whole site) more than once and see new content rotated in?

Exposure is the deadliest challenge for authors in the growing ebook industry, and also for publishers far more than in the past. There is no easy solution for authors.  Even publishers, who used to pay up front or offer discounts for bookstore chains willing to do product placement, have limited options in the ebook world. Yes, some online vendors may/do offer a so-called equivalent, but it is not equal, and imagine the cost for such placement with a global ebook vendor vs. picking target stores or territories of stores in the physical world?

Think it would cost less online? Think again!

There is limited space on the vendor’s front page or that lead page of a topical division. Now add in paying extra to make sure that new book comes up more often in scripted product rotations. Add in even more to have the book added to territorial or language specific sub-sites/domains run by that vendor… and then add again for frequent rotations on those sub-sites.

Think I should shut up and not give the vendors new notions? Think again and again! You and I are already behind the curve. Whatever I mention here has already been considered by the major vendors. They are thinking about it right now.

As of 2008, some 1% of profit earned by the top publishers in the USA came from ebook sales. As of 2012, that jumped to 20%. (Sorry, I lost track of my source for these figures.) Where will we be in 4 more years? And the progression will not be arithmetic but closer to geometric.

Before anyone claims that the e-self-publishing phenomenon has much influence in this, think it through. E-self-pub is already approaching critical mass via aggregators and similar services delivering self-published (not “independent” publisher) products for a cut of the profits. Some aggregators are beginning to cull what they distribute, for they only make a profit if that self-published product sells, and they are becoming overwhelmed. The next level of culling will be by the vendors themselves; it costs money to not only store all of those ebooks as files but to transmit them. (NO, it is not free to transmit those ebooks, regardless that readers do not [yet] pay those fees.) Additionally, more and more of the aggregator services for encoding and distributing self-published ebooks are tacking on fees if not charging up front. So the e-self-publishing phenomenon is not going to impact product placement online as much as some might claim.

Products from major publishers and/or authors will still be the dominant driver for product placement where books are concerned. And more so because they have the money to do such placement versus self-publishers and/or aggregator services. Then the sales numbers for the author’s previous works come into question. Even if those numbers were once thought good enough, are they good enough to those vendors, especially into the future?

With limited page space on a vendor site, and only compensated by scripted rotation of products, how much longer before the sales figures of a particular author impact the placement of that author’s new book just released… even from a major publisher?

I have no answer for this question. I do not know how much this will influence product placement. I do know it will factor in by rational speculation. And the next level of culling will be the vendors themselves, based on what all of those titles cost them in storage if not transmission.

Control over exposure has always been limited for the author, and it has quickly dwindled to nearly inconsequential as Internet content overall has grown. The noise to signal ratio is now unimaginable. Options for exposure will soon grow more limited for publishers as well. In combination, since vendors have sales records for everything, and global vendors have the best of those in a global economy, how long before overall sales associated to a particular author determines how much exposure the author’s new book will be allowed?

Readers should pay attention to this as well. There is another hidden factor herein. How soon before the figure of “enough sales” required begins to rise? How soon before the number of not just new books but new authors requires greater expenditure by publishers? This as well means that e-self-publishing will never become the new standard of the book industry. It has nothing to do with bypassing a publisher when books do not get exposure as readers become overwhelmed and narrow the avenues by which they look for something new.

Neither publishers nor authors have control over setting this threshold anymore than they have much control now over exposure. The threshold for “enough” sales has always been pertinent to publishers and vendors. It may soon become pertinent to vendors and an additional new influence on exposure of a new book or a new author. These conditions already exist in a minor way. But when will that threshold rise and the options for exposure begin to fall?

When will readers’ have bigger blinders strapped on their heads as well, limiting the breadth of their exposure by all of this? Maybe it has already begun.

1 comment :

  1. I wonder how the models of online advertising set by Google and the like will impact how readers get introduced to books? There could a model where readers get more personalized pages from vendors based on prior purchases and ratings of books (like the Netflix and Amazon "recommended for you" lists) In that case the page "real estate" becomes less of a point.

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