Bloodbath at the Kindle U.K. Corral

Just a few weeks or so ago I warned of the floodgates opening, with the news that JK Rowling was to finally release her Harry Potter novels as e-books.

This would, I suggested, have every dead-tree publisher in the country re-evaluating their position on e-books and accepting, however reluctantly, that e-books had come of age.

B&N: useless in the UK

Amazon were already selling more e-books than paper, and the CEO of Barnes & Noble (just as Borders went into liquidation) had stated e-books would become the dominant delivery format within two years.

In fact things are moving faster than anyone dared predict. The APP just produced figures for February showing e-books outsold paper across ALL trade categories in the US.

Here in the UK e-reading has been slower to catch on, and traditional publishers here slower to take advantage. With B&N’s nook completely useless here (non-US citizens cannot buy from B&N) e-readers were very much “an American thing” until Amazon gave us all a boost with the latest Kindle. Suddenly not only could we read e-books easily, but we could upload them easily too.

“Indie” writers like us have been able to take full advantage of the stagnation of the dead-tree publishers and to get a good foothold before the dam burst.

But as I’ve warned time and again, it was a window of opportunity that could not long last. Publishers would, any time now, realise that charging the same price for an e-book as for a full price paper version was not the way forward. How long before they realised they can actually make more money by selling cheaper to far more people.

Answer: not very long at all. This weekend saw the first wave of the tsunami as the dam was breached.

Publishers let loose a raft of back-list paper-published books with “names” and an established readership onto the Kindle – but at “indie” prices. Battle commenced.

Except, it wasn’t so much a battle as a bloodbath.

The Kindle Top 100 this morning is a different world from the weekend just gone. It’s a morning-after battle-field and the casualties are littered everywhere. The casualties being the big-name authors with e-books at paper prices, and of course the “indie” publishers.

This morning Kindle UK indie-publishers will have looked at the charts through barely parted fingers, not knowing what to expect.

Just this weekend fellow indie Jake Barton’s Burn Baby Burn had bounced confidently into the Kindle top ten and was threatening to join us in the top five. This morning Jake’s excellent book has almost dropped to the top forty.

Steve Carter’s quirky romance novel Love, Sex and Tesco’s Finest Cava, which gave us some sleepless nights just a week or so ago, is right back in the seventies.

And so on and so on…

It may be this is just an Easter promotion and things will return to normal for the summer, but I suspect not. Even if it is an experiment, the sheer volume of sales now being picked up by the back-list e-books will more than justify the tiny margins, and more cheap e-books will inevitably follow. The dam may not have burst, but it’s definitely been breached.

And what of Sugar & Spice? Well, that seems to be, as Berthold Brecht might have said, the exception that proves the rule.

Somehow we managed to cling on to the number one thriller spot, and as I write are still in the top five over-all. Which proves it can be done!

So yes, the battle just got a whole lot harder, but it is still possible to compete with the “names” as an indie.

And the sooner we see a few more indie writers back in the top twenty the better. So get to it, guys!

  1. Glad to see you guys are holding on. Been interesting to watch things from both sides of the pond. Indies seem to be holding their own over here. Have a good one.


    • Thanks, Cahrles. It’s certainly a different experience here. I think our reliance on the Kindle here is a major factor in why the US and UK e-reading evolution is so different.

  2. Congrats for staying on top. That shows it’s a really good book.

    But now I’m rethinking again… Maybe the window of opportunity for new indie e-book authors has closed?

  3. In a bizarre twist of fate we have actually increased sales and nudged up a place in the charts!

    As best I can gather this is an Easter promotion, and in theory prices for the “pros” will normalise in a few weeks. We’ll see…

    But it does appear to have brought new buyers into the market and early indications are that indies outside the top 100, while dropping in the charts, are not seeing a comparative drop in sales. It’s the top 100 sellers that are feeling the heat. losing position in the top twenty seriously reduces exposure to casual browsers looking to buy what is hot…

    I think, Anne, that no question things will get harder for indies as we go through the year. But for someone like yourself that knows their way around the social media scene and can reach a wide audience from day one, it seems like a good bet regardless. After all, every day your books aren’t out there is a day’s sales lost.

  4. Having launched my books onto Kindle between Feb and now on the assumption that the window of opportunity would indeed be narrow, I shall be disappointed if it slams shut before the end of the year. By then I had hoped to have 4 books up, three fantasies from a Chronicles and one hist.fict.
    I’m pleased that you think it will be the top 100 that are most affected and that the also-rans, of which I am one, may just keep pootling along.

    It would be naive to think that mainstream publishing won’t launch a massive counter-bid for e-book control, but it would be reaffirming to think that this year has really levelled the playing field. I can honestly say that since I received my own Kindle reader, I’ve not read one mainstream author and have loved all the indie titles I’ve bought.

  5. It will be interesting to see what happens in the first week of May when the current promo ends.

    But every trial like this brings us closer to it becoming the norm. We already had Gordon Ferris and Stephen Leather holding poll position with paper-published books at indie prices, dictated by their publisher.

    It attracts new buyers who then go on to pay bigger prices for other books by these authors. It makes commercial sense, and a big publisher can afford to run a title at near zero profit, as with Hard Landing at £0.49, to pick up rewards elsewhere with the same authors.

    No question things will get a lot tougher as the dead-tree publishers fully realise what’s at stake and what they can make.

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