First of all, may I wish anyone who happens to be reading this a very happy 2015! I’m not a great one for celebrating New Year, but it seems as good an opportunity as any to spread a little goodwill around.
And now, with that little courtesy taken care of, let’s get down to business…
What will 2015 bring for self-publishing? More to the point, what will it bring for self-publishers?
Making predictions is a tricky business, of course, and a sure-fire way to invite ridicule, especially if you’re shown to be wrong. Still, I like to look into my crystal ball every so often. It helps me to feel better about an unknown future. I can deal with anything if I know what’s coming, or at least if I think I do. Not knowing, on the other hand, drives me insane. So, without more ado – what does the New Year have in store for us?
The idea that self-publishing is a reliable route to success and riches was always a little bit of comforting moonshine, enhanced by a few high-profile success stories but vastly removed from the experiences of your average self-publisher. Those of us who are somewhat sceptical by nature never really swallowed it, and were not therefore unduly disappointed. However, plenty of starry-eyed innocents have probably been crushed by the past few years, in which it’s been increasingly difficult for anyone to get more than a few pounds, or a few crumbs of recognition, as a result of their efforts.
Bad news: it’s going to get still more difficult.
Why? A few little things indicate that this is so…
VAT reform in the EU
Ironically, for legislation that was (allegedly) designed to scupper mega-retailers such as Amazon, EU VAT reform is probably going to hit small businesses the hardest (see here and here). For those who have not yet heard of this (where have you been?), the legislation means that, as of yesterday, online retailers such as Amazon cannot charge a measly 3% rate of VAT by basing their EU operations in Luxembourg. That particular loophole has been well and truly closed. Instead, VAT will be payable in the customer’s country of residence, and in some cases will be up to 27%. EBooks in the UK, for example, now cost a significant amount more than they did just two days ago; and, weirdly, while print books remain exempt from VAT, eBooks do not. The days of ultra-cheap eBooks, it would seem, are coming to an end.
It’s going to be a bureaucratic nightmare for small retailers, presumably the very people the Amazon-haters might actually wish to support (and it will, ironically, probably have the ultimate effect of reinforcing Amazon’s primacy). The bureaucracy need not overly concern those of us who work with distributors like Smashwords or ‘Zon itself (if you sell anything via your own online store you’ll probably want to die by now), but it does entail a pretty stark choice. Either keep your eBook prices as they are and watch said prices in effect go up, or put prices down and try to absorb the tax hike yourself. Neither option is particularly attractive. I’ve decided to keep prices as they are. I don’t know whether this is the right decision, or what effect it will have. Time will tell.
For anyone who’s been trapped in a well in recent months, Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s new subscription service. For a monthly fee, readers have access to an unlimited number of books – or such books, at least, as are enrolled in the scheme. Good for readers, certainly, but is it good for authors? The jury’s out.
First of all, in order for your books to be eligible for inclusion, they have to be enrolled in KDP Select, whereby you make your book exclusive to Amazon for renewable 90-day periods. In return, your books will automatically be enrolled in KU, and you’ll be paid a certain amount of money every time a reader downloads your book. “Discoverability” is the key, supposedly. Who’s going to take a punt on a little-known author if they have to pay full whack? But if they are in effect getting the chance to sample your book for free, maybe they’ll give you a chance.
Well, maybe. Of course, it’s that blasted exclusivity thing that sticks in many people’s throats, including mine. Others are more upset about the fact that Amazon will in effect decide how much you get paid every time someone downloads your book. And you’ll be paid the same whether your book is 300 pages long or 10 pages long, or whether it normally costs 99p or £5.99. Amazon sets the rules, of course, and we have to play by them. Having said that, I can’t think of any other job where you’d be expected to take a pay cut for doing exactly the same amount of work.
There’s much to be said for subscription services. But the consensus seems to be that whereas other such services, like Scribd, treat authors fairly, Amazon does not. As I said, Amazon makes the rules, so they can do whatever they want. What will the outcome be for self-publishers? I don’t know. Not being enrolled in KDP Select, I probably won’t get to find out.
Ever more competition…
…and, contrary to what some doom mongers say, the competition comes not primarily in the form of tripe, but in the much more palatable form of a great many very good self-published books. We may look back on 2014 as being the year when self-publishing finally began to grow up, and when creating a well-edited, well-presented, industry-standard eBook became the default desire of most self-publishers. In any case, the point is that there are many very good books out there now. With so many excellent books to choose from, why should anyone read yours?
You might be feeling like this by now…
… but don’t get too depressed. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s New Year, and there is a silver lining. I predict that the get-rich-quick crowd will begin to leave in droves now, if they haven’t done so already. That will – hopefully – leave a core of committed, talented self-publishers who care about what they do and want to publish the best books they can.
Every rising stock grows through periods of re-evaluation, and eBooks are no exception. The bubble hasn’t burst, exactly. It’s deflated a bit, but I have the feeling that this is a temporary effect. And, lest I’ve made you miserable, here’s something to cheer you up: the incomparable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, dancing to a tune that seems somewhat appropriate…