Archive for the ‘ You couldn’t make it up… ’ Category

The State of Play in the UK: An Update – and Merry Christmas!

Okay, so I’ve been forced out of the cave by events. Which is ironic given it’s been other events that have kept me in seclusion. Namely local conditions here in sunny West Africa, which have conspired against my best laid plans.

But not for long. If all goes to plan I will be solar powered by the end of the month.!

Meanwhile, life has been chugging along between power-cuts. Next month sees MWiDP launch a new How To guide for writers. One with a difference, of course, as the title might suggest.

Co-written by award-winning blogging guru Anne R. Allen and NYT best-selling author Catherine Ryan Hyde, this is a How To with a difference, and will be updated every six months to ensure it’s always up to date. More details on this in coming weeks. Here just to say that every six months might not be enough.

For instance, take this line from the Introduction to the new book, written by our very own Saffi:

The only certainty is that there is no certainty. The publishing world is changing daily. What was established fact yesterday can be questionable today and history tomorrow. 

This past month has proven that to be very timely.

A short while ago I wrote a post on The State of Play in the UK – an overview of the British ebook market and what the near-future holds for those writers targeting the home of the English language. Given recent totally unpredictable developments in the UK I’ve been inundated with emails asking how I see the Brit’ ebook scene now.

At the time I was optimistic (aren’t I always?) that while the future of ebook Britain was bright, Amazon was facing the prospect of being eclipsed by the burgeoning Kobo which had teamed up with UK retailer W.H. Smith, and there was the much rumored partnership between Barnes & Noble and Waterstone’s, which would have brought the nook to Britain.

A formal announcement was expected at the London Book Fair in April, but the Book Fair came and went with no news.

In fact, unbeknownst to all but the privileged few, Barnes & Noble was simultaneously in negotiations with Microsoft, and shortly after the LBF an official partnership was announced between Barnes & Noble and Microsoft.

A deal that left Waterstone’s out in the cold, the nook plans for international expansion on hold, and my predictions for the UK ebook market seriously holed.

Suddenly it seemed like Kobo had an open goal for the British ebook market.

W.H. Smith is the second-largest bookseller in the UK, with stores in pretty much every major town, and countless stores in the big cities. A chain that, because it also sells stationary, DVDs, music, games and newspapers, gets far more footfall than Waterstone’s.

And Kobo was busy installing wi-fi kiosks and staff to promote the Kobo e-readers and tablet, while selling ebooks through the W.H. Smith ebook store it operates. With Kobo’s black and white e-readers significantly cheaper than the Kindles, and with Kobo’s tablet  (which is actually cheaper than Amazon’s best b&w device) facing no competition from the KindleFire, which remains unavailable outside the USA, it looked like Kobo was a sure-fire winner in the race for ebook supremacy.

Then came another bolt from the blue, just weeks after the B&N-Microsoft deal, as Amazon and Waterstone’s announced a partnership, in a move that left observers stunned. Me included.

On the list of the top one million least likely things ever to happen this was number one million and one. I honestly checked the date of the report when I first read this, thinking it must have been an April 1st post turned up late.

Waterstone’s boss James Daunt had previously been widely reported as comparing Amazon to Satan, and while that was probably wildly exaggerated by the media there’s no question Amazon and Waterstone’s were business rivals, not allies.  Observers compared the move to letting the fox into the hen-house. Of mortgaging Waterstone’s future for short-term gain. Some suggested it was the beginning of the end for Waterstone’s.

Amazon and Waterstone’s in partnership? You couldn’t make it up.

Not here to analyze the numerous unverified guesses as to what’s in it for Waterstone’s. The simple fact is we don’t know (and may never know) the detail of the deal. But what is clear is that Waterstone’s will now be selling the Kindle in its 300 stores across the UK.

True, the Kindle is already available in supermarkets and electronic goods stores in the UK, but there it’s just another gadget. One among many, easily passed by.

But for the Kindle to be sold in Britain’s leading bookstore gives Amazon unprecedented access to its prime target audience – book buyers. Would the nook ever have taken off were it not for the Barnes & Noble bricks and mortar stores?

Waterstone’s chief James Daunt is neither stupid nor suicidal (I’ve been following his moves closely since he took over running the company last year and have been impressed with his objectives, if not yet his achievements), and we have to assume there are major benefits to be accrued by Waterstone’s from selling the Kindle and directing customers to the Kindle UK ebook store.

Obviously Waterstone’s will make money on the sale of the device. But how will Waterstone’s make money once the customer leaves the store and buys ebooks from their own home? Possibly the Kindles sold will be linked to Waterstone’s in some way (perhaps getting the buyer to sign up a Kindle account whilst in store) and the company will receive a commission on future sales through that account.

What will happen to Waterstone’s own ebook store is equally unclear. At the moment Waterstone’s ebook store is a not insignificant player in the UK market (it still brings the Saffina Desforges brand significant revenue each quarter, although very few indies are there) and presumably will continue to operate. No doubt the Waterstone’s store will be able to pick up trade from customers who prefer not to use Amazon, and those who have  a device other than the Kindle.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Amazon will take over running the Waterstone’s store in the same way as Kobo now run the W.H. Smith ebook store.  That would be an impressive move by Daunt. But that’s pure speculation.

Reports suggest Waterstone’s will be investing serious money (“tens of millions”) into upgrading all the UK stores with wi-fi kiosks and trained staff. Rather like rival Kobo is doing with W.H. Smith, in fact, and as Barnes & Noble has been doing very successfully with the nook. I suspect this will be financed by Amazon. The Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, who owns Waterstone’s, may well have that kind of money to splash around, but impossible to see how it could be recouped, unless there is a commission on future ebook sales as per the possible scenario above.

But whoever is footing the bill, it looks like full steam ahead to upgrade the Waterstone’s bricks and mortar stores this autumn / fall and be in a position to market the Kindle in-store before Christmas.

For Waterstone’s, I suspect this deal was its last hope of competing in the digital future.  An offer it couldn’t afford to refuse. Waterstone’s was way behind with its digital strategy, despite running the second largest ebook store in the country. To understand just how far behind, consider this:

Last year, as the UK’s biggest-selling indie author and at number two in the Kindle store and just launching on Waterstone’s ebooks, we approached Saffi’s local Waterstone’s branch to do some promo.

The manager looked blank. “We have an ebook store?”

By late summer we were riding high in the Waterstone’s ebook charts, with two books simultaneously in the top ten, and kept off the number one spot only by the Steve Jobs biography soaring when Jobs died. We were the top most searched-for name in Waterstone’s ebooks. We approached a bigger Waterstone’s store in the hope of getting some media interest.

“We have an ebook store?”

By spring 2012 we were officially the biggest-selling indie author of the previous year, and Sugar & Spice was officially the eleventh biggest-selling ebook in the country for 2011.

Ever the optimist we approached a major Waterstone’s city bookshop.

“We have an ebooks store?”

Yet James Daunt clearly sees and understands that digital is the future. It’s just that, for whatever reason, he’s been slow to get the company’s ethos changed.

Still the optimist, I believe Daunt has joined with Amazon for the right reasons, and that Amazon will play this fairly.

Yes, it would be very easy for Amazon to use its presence in the heart of its biggest print-books rival to undermine Waterstone’s. Yes, it could easily take Waterstone’s down the Borders route, and then buy up the stores and all that prime real estate for a pittance, from its petty cash.

But as things stand Amazon has the perfect deal. It will have bricks and mortar ebook presence across the UK in the best possible way – in the country’s leading book-store. It will be able to go head to head with Kobo, its only serious rival on the international scene.

And while buyers will have to pay full VAT at UK rates on the Kindle devices sold through Waterstone’s, Amazon will continue to supply ebooks via Luxembourg at a fraction of that rate (just 3%), giving it a continuing price advantage over Kobo and all other rival sellers. If Amazon were indeed to run the Waterstone’s store that would give Waterstone’s a huge advantage over Kobo-W.H. Smith.

Whatever the detail, Amazon gets the best of both worlds, just as it always has. Bricks and mortar presence and off-shore tax advantages. But at a price – the survival of Waterstone’s as an independent nationwide book-store chain. If Waterstone’s fails Amazon would lose its bricks and mortar presence or have to take over the stores and lose the tax advantage. A symbiotic relationship unprecedented in publishing history.

What does this mean for the future of publishing in Britain?

Long term, that’s anyone’s guess. I just hope I’m right and Waterstone’s will survive.

Short term it means that the Christmas/New Year season 2012/13 is going to be UK publishing’s answer to the Rumble in the Jungle. The biggest booksellers and ebook players in  the country will be going head to head this winter for the hearts and minds of the British book-lover, both intent on converting the UK to e-reading.

It’s going to be an ebook bonanza for those of us lucky enough to have our ebooks in the right place at the right time. The clock is ticking. Select fans may want to reconsider their options.

Who will win? .

At the moment my money is on Kobo. Kobo is already way ahead with its plans for in-store facilities, potentially reaches a much wider audience (i.e. not just book-store shoppers), and has cheaper e-readers than Amazon. Most importantly it has a cheap tablet available. And it’s being sold in the store that sells magazines. Wonderful to read on a tablet. A total disaster on the Kindle.

If Amazon can get its act together and launch the KindleFire in the UK (promised since January but still no sign) then Amazon’s market supremacy will probably continue. Without a tablet to compete then Amazon faces losing its dominant position in the UK despite the Waterstone’s deal, just as it has now taken second place to Kobo in Canada.

Whoever the winner is in the retail stakes, it’s a win-win for us all as writers and self-publishers, with huge new market-share being opened up.

Make the most of it. It’s going to be a great Christmas.


State of Play in the UK – Opportunities Ahead As Britain Finally Embraces eBooks

As regulars will know, I’m not normally the flag-waving type. I may be be born and bred in Britain, but I’m about as un-British as you can be.  For my money, the best thing about being British is having a UK passport to go abroad, where I spend most of my time.

But this week I’m going to talk Britain. Ot at least, about the British ebook market and what the future holds, because suddenly things are looking very bright indeed.

But first, a word about KDP Select.


Amidst the gleeful cries of those who have had a good bounce from going free with KDP Select there is clear evidence of a fall in ebook sales overall as we hit February and into March, and especially so in the Amazon UK market.

Of course, we all expect the natural post-season slump. But for many, both in the US and UK, the anticipated Christmas bonanza with all those new e-readers coming onto the market, simply didn’t materialise. Partly because many new devices – the KindleFire, all the nooks, etc, were not and are not available outside the US, which rather skews international sales.

But both sides of the pond many writers, who were surging ahead in the latter part of 2011 and seriously thinking about giving up the day job, were brought down to Earth with a bump in 2012 when, especially from late January, their world stopped spinning.

For many more, the early success of Select, with the fabled post-free bounce, also faded as the five free days were used, the post-free bounce disappeared and Amazon’s spotlight moved on to the next lucky winner. Did the eighty days exclusive with Select after the free and post-free bounce justify the experiment as the flood of millions of free books through Select saturated the market?

From the feedback I’m hearing that’s at best 50-50. And of course it’s impossible to tell how many sales were “lost” on the other platforms as all those new iPad, nook and Kobo devices were fired up for the first time Christmas Day.

For many more in Select there were no lucky winners, period. It’s easy to get carried away on the euphoria whipped up by those who did well with Select and assume it’s a guaranteed winner. Just sign-up and reap the rewards.

But I’ve seen email after email from authors bitterly disappointed that thousands or even tens of thousands of free downloads converted to post-free sales in single figures or even zero. Needless to say they’re not rushing about on the blogs broadcasting their results like those who hit the jackpot. Which begs the question just how many it didn’t work for that we’re simply not hearing about…

In the UK of course the benefits were skewed from the start. Kindle UK isn’t privy to the borrowing option, as with so many Kindle US benefits. There’s no gift option on Kindle UK, for example. No KindleFire here, just the old b&w e-readers.

And as we all know Kindle UK is a smaller market place than Kindle US because e-reading has yet to take off in Britain.

But that could be about to change significantly. My prediction is the UK e-reading market is going to explode in the coming 12-18 months. Reaping huge rewards to those in the right places at the right time.

So a brief overview of the state of play in the UK.

One of the reasons Apple’s iPad is not leading the way with ebooks is that Steve Jobs famously dismissed ebooks as a waste of time. Citing the possibly accurate figure that 4 out of 10 Americans read less than one book a year, Jobs saw no future for ebooks, which became a sideline for the iPad.

It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” said the person with a vested interest in people reading less and spending more on music and games. So much for Steve Jobs the visionary.

By the time Apple realised their mistake Amazon had stormed ahead and seized the high ground. Of course they then responded with the Agency Agreement to try fight back. We all know the repercussions now as legal proceedings are prepared both sides of the Atlantic.

Not here to discuss that. David Gaughran has covered this issue far better than I could on many occasions. most recently here. But what’s significant is to grasp that Apple are belatedly taking ebooks seriously, and safe to say Steve Jobs’ successors will be revamping the iBooks store and making it a lot more user-friendly in the near future.

Apple has about twenty stores internationally, not least in the UK, and this is and will increasingly become a significant player for the UK market.

Leaving aside the accuracy or otherwise of the forty per cent of Americans who only read one book or less a year, it’s generally accepted that the UK is the world’s leading book-reading market per head of population.

It may not seem so when you look at your UK v US sales figures on KIndle, but that’s primarily a matter of ebook awareness.

Ebooks came late to the UK. Or rather, the Kindle came late, which was much the same thing. Other devices were available, but the introduction of Kindle UK in 2010 quickly gave Amazon dominance in the UK ebook market.

And despite appearances sometimes, it’s a significant market. Plenty of books are selling in six figures, and as e-reading in Britain increases so will your potential sales.

But unlike in the US, Kindle UK was pretty much unopposed. Apple, as above, simply wasn’t taking ebooks seriously. Kobo was barely established here. As for Barnes & Noble…

Amazon’s biggest competitor in the US simply doesn’t exist here. B&N doesn’t sell to the UK,and except through Smashwords it doesn’t allow writers to self-publish from the UK. No wonder Amazon took the UK by storm.

The only competition was the (at the time) small and neglected Waterstone’s ebook store and the equally pitiful W.H. Smiths ebook store. Yet Waterstone’s is the UK’s biggest book shop chain, and W.H. Smiths (stationers and general goods along with books) its nearest rival. Borders UK had gone to the wall several years before it happened in the US.

The Waterstone’s story was a sad tale of neglect and decline, as this company was passed around several buyers none of whom had the least interest in books until, most recently, it landed in the hands of a Russian billionaire, by when I had, Kindle UK aside, all but given up hope for ebooks in the UK.

Which was tragic. I loved Waterstone’s. It was my second home in the UK, especially where they had a decent coffee bar. The staff knew their products and would perform cartwheels to meet the customer’s requirements. Impossible to fault them.

Compare W.H. Smiths, where the girl at the book-ordering point, on being asked for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, asked which group it was by – and when I finally found the book and went to pay the checkout girl said she’d studied that book for her degree course. You couldn’t make it up…

But back to Waterstone’s.  Last year we found we had two top ten hits in Waterstone’s ebooks. Nowhere near Amazon sales levels, but still a worthy achievement. I happened to be in the UK and we tried to arrange a photo-shoot at Saffi’s local Waterstone’s store, so asked to speak to the manager.

“We have an ebook store?”

We contacted Waterstone’s HQ in London. No response. Meanwhile over in America B&N were inviting ebook sellers to do in-store readings and signing, introducing ebook booths, and pushing ahead with the nook.

This was about the time Waterstone’s was sold yet again. I despaired of Britain’s book future, let alone ebooks.

But the new man in charge of Waterstone’s, James Daunt (left, no tie), apparently with the full backing of (left, with tie) said billionaire Alexander Mamut (so there may just be the funds available to make it happen) is intent on transforming the stores nationwide and taking it into the digital age to compete head on with Amazon in the UK.

I’ve been following Daunt closely ever since, and have been very impressed with the way things are shaping. Rumour and speculation abound, but it seems some sort of partnership with B&N is imminent, at the very least to sell a branded in-store e-reader in the UK, and possibly much more.

This month B&N holds its first workshops in the UK, and a B&N presence of some sort, again almost certainly with Waterstone’s, seems just a matter of time.

Even as this happens Kobo, recently bought out by a huge Japanese corporation, so suddenly not short of cash itself, has appointed a new director of UK operation, has e-reader distribution deals with several major UK retailers, and just happens to run the ebook store for the UK’s second largest book-seller, W.H. Smiths.

All this just as the early adopter phase for e-readers comes to an end and the reticent late-comers stage begins. Lost? See my post Are The Big Six Publishers Really Dying?

Suddenly the UK market is being transformed. Kindle UK is facing serious competition here for the first time, and we can expect a very rapid uptake of ebook reading in the UK in this coming year. I strongly suspect the Christmas 2012 season will be a bonanza like none before for ebook sellers in the UK market.

Of course, accelerated ebook sales means the closure of the bricks and mortar stores is brought forward too, right? The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away…

But it needn’t be so. Over at Anne R. Allen’s today I explain why, far from seeing bricks and mortar stores close, the digital revolution could give a whole new lease of life to “real” bookstores, even as print inexorably disappears from our shelves.

There’s never been a better time to be a writer or a reader. Or a publisher. Or even a book-store owner!

The future is bright. The future is digital, with coffee.

Mark Williams Has Risen From The Grave


Okay, play time’s over. I’m back!

Contrary to popular opinion I haven’t been lounging on the beach all day while nothing was happening here at MWi. For those of you unfortunate enough to have had emails from me recently it may not have been obvious, but I have been struggling with Africa’s most common malady. To anyone who’s emailed and not had a reply, sorry! I’ll be making vast efforts to catch up over the weekend.

For now just to add that my recuperation was greatly aided today by news that Sugar & Spice came in not only as the top selling UK indie title last year, but also ranked eleventh highest-seller out of ALL ebooks sold in the UK in 2011.

What more could one ask?




Sibel’s Sex Slave Diary Gets Much-Deserved Recognition.

Sibel Hodge’s book Trafficked: Diary of a Sex Slave, has been listed as one of the top forty best books about human rights this week.

I featured Sibel’s book here on MWi just last month, applauding Sibel’s courageous decision to step completely outside her chicklit writing brand to address  a very real issue of modern-day slavery through a fiction novel.

On her own blog, Sibel writes:

I’m absolutely amazed and honoured today that my novella Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave is included in the 40 Best Books About Human Rights by Accredited Online Colleges! This list has some amazing and thought-provoking books on there concerning all human rights issues from Genocide and Civil Rights to Slavery, Trafficking, and Women’s Rights. Included on the list are autobiographies by Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

What a list to be on!

In the old world of trad publishing Sibel clocked up some 200 rejections before going it alone and proving the gatekeepers wrong with her hugely successful indie chicklit series. See the hugely popular MWi post The C-Word and Other Profanities for more background on Sibel’s rise to indie success.

In Trafficked Sibel proved she can do far more than just write chicklit. She also proved that stepping outside the box and ignoring the “rules” about author branding and what we can and cannot write can bring huge rewards too.

And what better reward than recognition like this!

Trafficked is an indie published novel about a modern-day slave trade, written by (adopt condescending voice here) a “chicklit” author. It’s barely had time for the e-ink to dry since its release, and already is receiving accolades to die for.

Sibel Hodge, we salute you!

Trafficked is available on,, B&N and iTunes.

Setting The Record Straight: Missing Bestseller Reappears Amid Rumor And Speculation.

Twenty days after it mysteriously vanished from Kindle UK, our bestselling novel Sugar & Spice finally reappeared overnight, just as coverage of the problem peaked. We can only speculate as to whether this bad publicity for Amazon helped speed the process.

But amid the understandable concern that most fellow authors expressed, some naysayers jumped on the bandwagon to suggest Amazon had deliberately pulled the book due to some policy breach and that we were desperately trying to cover this up with a fabricated story about a missing link.

I guess the problem when dealing with a bunch of fiction writers is that they have overdeveloped imaginations.

At the time of writing we have not had confirmation from KDP that the book is back, nor any final explanation of  what caused the problem, but let’s be absolutely clear:

Amazon did not “pull the book”  – this was a technical glitch, that has happened to other authors as well as us. It is only the fact of this book’s bestseller status and the twenty days it took Amazon to rectify the problem that has brought this to everyone’s attention.

For the record I reproduce below all the emails from KDP so far concerning this issue.


During the latest frenzy of exchanges over what really happened with Sugar & Spice there were some widely publicized suggestions that we were trying to “game the system” by having a US Edition and a UK version of this novel.

This is an appropriate place to set the record staright on this matter too.

We took numerous negative reviews from American readers who complained about bad-spellings (British English!), British slang, and not understanding the British police and criminal justice system. Even Red Adept marked us down because she didn’t understand certain UK prison-slang terms, and she also made comment about the British spellings.

Bear in mind this was a British novel writen by two British authors, set in Britain with British characters in British locations and institutions, and written in British English.

In the event we took the decision to totally rewrite Sugar & Spice for the US market. Not just American English. We relocated the entire story to New York state, with American characters, American locations and the American criminal justice system. It took us almost as long to research and rewrite the US version as it did to write the original.

We elected to use the same cover (with US Edition clearly marked) precisely so as not to mislead buyers into thinking this was an entirely new novel. Both novels are available and readers can make a clear choice as to which one they elect to read.

The comments about gaming the system are both inaccurate and grossly offensive.

What follows are all the responses from KDP to date regarding the missing book. It should be clear from reading these that there was never at any time any suggestion that the book had “been pulled”.


From: Kindle Direct Publishing
Subject: Your Amazon KDP Inquiry
Date: 9 November 2011 16:08:17 GMT
To: private email address
Reply-To: “”

Hello Sarah,

I’m very sorry for any frustration this issue has caused. We’ll need a little time to look into where your book went.

We will contact you with more information by the end of the day on 3-5 business days.

Thanks for your patience.


Laverne L.
Kindle Direct Publishing
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From: Kindle Direct Publishing
Subject: Your Amazon KDP Inquiry
Date: 14 November 2011 00:09:35 GMT
To: private email address
Reply-To: “”

Hello Sarah,

I’m sorry for the delay in resolving your issue concerning the availability of your Kindle title on the UK Kindle store.

My colleague is currently researching your issue with the technical team and will follow-up with you shortly with a resolution. It usually takes 1-2 business days for this sort of research, but in this case it’s taking a little longer. I’m very sorry about this delay.

Further, Amazon KDP will not reimburse for any lost sales of your Kindle title. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to you.

Thanks for your cooperation. We look forward to seeing you again soon.


Hemanth Badri
Kindle Direct Publishing
Connect with KDP and other Authors on Facebook:


From: Kindle Direct Publishing
Date: 19 November 2011 05:54:26 GMT

To: private email address
Subject: Your Amazon KDP Inquiry
Reply-To: “”


I’m extremely sorry for the delay this issue has caused. One of my colleagues is currently working with the appropriate department regarding this.

It usually takes 1-2 business days for this sort of research, but in this case it’s taking a little longer. I’m very sorry about this delay.
She’ll be in touch shortly with an answer for you. Thanks for your patience.


Seeta C


From: Kindle Direct Publishing
Date: 23 November 2011 19:12:51 GMT
To: private email address

Subject: Your Amazon KDP Inquiry
Reply-To: “”
Hello Sarah,

I understand your concern, and I apologize for the trouble you’ve been having.

This issue had already been raised to our tech team for research, and they’re currently working on a fix. They have identified that the issue is with a search attribute associated with your Kindle title. I have now notified them to have this worked upon on top priority, and get it fixed ASAP.

We should have this resolved very soon. I will also have one of my team members check on the status of the issue constantly, and get back to you as soon as the issue is resolved.

Again, I’m very sorry for any inconvenience caused due to this delay.

Thanks for your understanding.


Kindle Direct Publishing


From: Kindle Direct Publishing
Date: 26 November 2011 11:16:20 GMT

To: private email address
Subject: Your Amazon KDP Inquiry
Reply-To: “”
Hello Sarah,

I am very sorry for any frustration that this issue had caused.

I see that this issue is still being investigated by the appropriate team. We’ll try to resolve this issue as soon as possible and get back to you to notify the same.

Thanks four your understanding and for your patience.


Anuradha Baskaran
Kindle Direct Publishing


We’ll update with any further observations from KDP if any are forthcoming.

Meanwhile a huge thankyou to everyone who expressed their support publicly (especially to David Gaughran for making sure this issue got a far wider coverage) or privately.


MW and Saffi


Sugar & Spice is available as it has always been from and is now available once again at


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Aakash

One Year Old Today!

Happy Birthday Sugar & Spice!

Yes, our debut novel was released one year ago today. And what a year!

From unpublished and unwanted (agents called it “unsellable” and “the last taboo”) to the UK’s biggest selling indie ebook. And to celebrate our first anniversary we find ourselves not just in the top five in the e-charts of Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N, but our second release, Snow White, is in the top ten just behind it! You couldn’t make it up…

But success on Waterstone’s has been slow coming. No question Amazon led the way and no question Amazon has provided most of our sales so far. After all, Amazon is the biggest ebook store in the world,  and can only get bigger, right?

Well, it’s the biggest at the moment, but for how long?

* * *

Over at WG2E last week I was talking about the future of ebooks. Or rather, what will be in them. I return to that subject today over at WG2E in a post entitles Back To The Future II. But First A Word From Our Sponsor. If you think the big downside of ebooks is no more advances, think again. Advances will be back, and bigger and better than ever. But not from the trad publishers. Pop over to find out more.

As I said there last week, 2012 is going to be a whole new reading world from 2011. 2013 will be different again. And what 2015 may bring really takes us into the world of science fiction. If I said that by 2015 the Amazon Kindle empire could be eclipsed by the Third World, you’d probably think I’d let the West African sun frazzle my brain completely, and have overstepped the mark from fiction into outright fantasy.

But think back. Two years ago the USA was just coming to terms with the impact of the Kindle. E-readers weren’t new, and the first Kindle looks a cumbersome beast compared to the KindleFire. But it changed the world in a way Sony and the rest failed to do.

That a revolution was taking place seemed clear, but no-one could have predicted just how big and how fast it would take hold. Last year the UK caught up with its own Kindle site. As 2011 draws to a close we have France and Germany with Kindle sites too, and while nothing’s official there’s every chance we’ll see an Italian and Spanish site very soon. Quite possibly before Christmas.

It’s very tempting to get excited about the Spanish site as an inroad to the huge Spanish-speaking markets of South America (always assuming we can sort reliable translations) but realistically it will be no such thing. Buyers in Mexico and Argentina will no more be able to buy from than they can from, or It will be a closed shop serving Spain.

Yet as we run up to 2012 the USA and the UK are unquestionably the two largest e-reading countries in the world, and Amazon reigns supreme.

We all know Christmas and the New Year is going to see another huge leap in e-reader sales, and the Kindle will be even more firmly entrenched as the market leader in the USA and UK.

Moreso in the USA where the KindleFire is released in a week or so. It’s yet another minor setback for the satellite Kindle sites, where the KindleFire won’t be available for the foreseeable future. Bear that in mind when you American indies look at your hopes and expectations for sales on the UK site going into 2012.

But as indie authors, wherever we are, we know we’re in for a treat. Of course there will be an Amazon sale of cheap trad pubbed titles to compete with, but the pie is getting bigger. More readers to go round. It seems like we can’t lose.

By 2015 I expect Amazon Kindle to continue to dominate the US and UK e-reading market. And that’s great. The USA has a population of 312 million people. The third largest country in the world by population. And they speak English! Well, after a fashion. 🙂

The UK clocks in at #22 in the population stakes, with just 62 million. But it will be the second biggest English language e-reading market as we start 2012. That’s nearly 375 million people who might read our ebooks.

And as Kindle prices come down (free with content packages is my prediction for Xmas 2012) it’s a safe bet Amazon will still be dominant by 2015. Its position is pretty much unassailable. But for the rest of the world Amazon is a lumbering giant, at best lacking vision, at worst with tunnel vision dismissing the Third World, even the English-speaking world, as unworthy of its attention.

* * *

As a resident in West Africa my own ebooks, let alone yours, are unavailable to me on Amazon. Luckily I already had a UK account set up, and with some playing about I can still download ebooks through Kindle UK. But for anyone without a UK account Kindle UK is off limits and they have to use Only, does not provide downloads to “Africa”.

By the way, six of those countries shown above (I’m in that tiny litle yellow strip called The Gambia, far left) are English-speaking, with a combined population of 200 million. That’s 200 million people who cannot buy your books through Amazon, just in that part of West Africa…

And for those countries where it does offer a download via Amazon then adds a $2 surcharge, regardless of the ebook price. As David Gaughran pointed out way back in May, this has nothing to do with local taxes or any other charge outside Amazon’s control. It is a charge Amazon deliberately chooses to impose on customers outside the Kindle zones (when it offers ebooks at all). And none of it goes to the authors.

Why does Amazon do this? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Many of these countries are, to put it mildly, not as financially developed as the USA and UK. Why charge $2 more to a buyer in, say India, where most prospective readers would struggle to raise 99c? Equally, why charge $2 extra to a buyer in Europe just because they are outside the Kindle site zones?

As a writer I want to reach as many readers as possible. As a writer in the English language I realise that my market is restricted. But it extends far wider and is far bigger than the USA and UK.

Consider. Some sixty countries in the world speak English as their primary or official language (as a point of interest the USA, UK and Australia do not have an official language). Some are pretty small. The Gambia has just 1.7 million people. Liberia 4 million. Sierra Leone 5 million.

Not worth bothering with? Amazon think not. In fairness to Amazon, they have an arrangement where you can download some ebooks in South Africa. But they seem to think no-one speaks English in the rest of Africa, so who cares?

Well, Zimabwe has 13 million people. Zambia 11 million. Uganda 30 million. Tanzania 40 million. Malawi 13 million. Kenya 37 million. Ghana 23 million. Cameroon 18 million. Nigeria 148 million. And don’t go thinking it’s all mud-huts and famine. This is downtown Lagos, Nigeria.

The point is, this is some 350 million people in Africa who Amazon have decided cannot read your ebook. If we count countries where English is the second language the numbers increase still further.

Nor is it just Africa. Five million people in Singapore, as but one example, cannot download from Amazon, and for those in the other English-speaking countries who can, that nasty $2 surcharge makes is most unlikely they will.

Do we care? We should.The above image shows the world by population density. The darker the shade, the more people. Compare with the map below that shows the English speaking world

English is the second language of the rest of the world, and the official language of many. In countries like Pakistan and India English is the de facto language of business, commerce, and leisure. All schools teach in English and the younger generations are fluent and affluent.

Pakistan has 170 million people. India rather more.

In fact, at 1.2 billion it is well on the way to eclipsing China. And because we’re writers and don’t always understand numbers, let me put that into perspective. The population of India alone is four times bigger than that of the USA.

Further, most educated people in China speak English as their second language. The population of China is also four times that of the USA.

Yet Amazon only sees India in terms of cheap labor to fob off customer complaints on KDP. It has a China site, but no Kindle site there. Nor in Japan. And KDP only supports the standard Latin alphabet, so it’s of no use to indies if we can translate our books into Hindi, Mandarin or Japanese. KDP cannot even cope with the variant alphabets of eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

But let’s stick with the standard English word for now. Even here we’re looking at two billion potential customers in India, China and Japan who if they do speak English will still have to pay the $2 surcharge if they want to read our books. Somehow I think they’ll look elsewhere.

Ebook stores are opening everywhere, and while Amazon plays games in Europe and grows increasingly complacent, the rest of the world is moving on.

But, I hear you say, most of the rest of the world cannot afford books, let alone Kindles, so it doesn’t really matter.

Rest assured it does and it will.

I live in one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet the fact that I haven’t got a cell phone makes me quite an oddity. Almost everyone has a cell phone. The biggest companies in the country, by far, are the cell-phone operators. Technology is changing lives here. Smart-phones that can read books are becoming common.

The same goes for wi-fi internet. Having a landline phone connection is an unheard of luxury here. But now we can buy up cheap pre-owned laptops and smart-phones discarded as the rich West upgrades to the latest luxury, and link to the world.

And in the richer parts of Africa, like Nigeria, they’ll soon be sending their hand-me-downs to Europe and the USA as they expand.

In India, they’ve just gone one whole step further. Rather than wait for the West’s fancy tablets to come down in price, they’ve taken matters into their own hands.

Say hello to the $35 tablet. No, that’s no typo. India has produced its own Android tablet, the Aakash.

So okay, it’s not going to win any awards for cutting edge technology and design. I’m sure you’d rather have a KindleFire or an iPad. But at $35 (£23 for you Brits, $34 AUD down under) I’d be very happy to get hold of one.

More importantly, e-reading technology in tablet form has now joined smart-phones as an affordable option to more than half the English speaking world.

Will they now rush out and download the Amazon app so they can pay the $2 surcharge and buy our books from the Kindle store?

Exactly. They’ll look elsewhere, where ebooks are available and affordable.

As indie authors we need to do the same. We need to be looking at alternative outlets and local pricing to suit local pockets, not based on what we’d pay and expect back home.

Charging a dollar for an ebook might seem like we’re giving it away, until you consider a dollar can feed an entire family  in some parts of the world. Besides, the sheer volume of potential sales in a country with a billion people means a lower price can pay off big time.

* * *

Amazon isn’t going to disappear any time soon. But you can bet when JK finally releases the Harry Potter ebooks they’ll be snapped up the world over, including in India, Pakistan and Nigeria and by the ESL speakers in Bangladesh, China, Japan, etc, by people who don’t have Kindles and either cannot or will not buy from Amazon. There’s plenty of other outlets available.

Chances are Harry Potter will be the first ebook they download.  For many it will be the first western book they read. But when those readers then move on to look for their next ebook, will it be one of yours? Or will you be a prisoner of Amazon?

Time to bring the headless chickens home to roost.

The New Renaissance

Way back in May I ran a post on MWi entitled Reformation and Renaissance: the Future of Publishing.

It was a period of gloom among many of the literati. Borders was in its death throes and sensible people were seriously talking about the demise of the publishing industry. That somehow the book world was going down the pan, and taking literature with it.

Books stores were closing almost daily. Prints runs were getting shorter. Writers couldn’t sell their latest scripts because agents were turning authors away, because publishers weren’t buying.

The only glimmer of hope on the horizon was digital.

But agents were running about like headless chickens scaremongering about e-books. Publishers were running about like headless chickens scaremongering about ebooks. Everyone, except us indies, were running about like headless chickens

There was no way ebooks could rescue the publishing industry. After all, how many people had ereaders? And what about the dreaded tsunami of crap we were all going to drown in?

Here at MWi I was having none of this nonsense.

No question there is a revolution in publishing taking place. It is a Reformation unparalleled in publishing history.

But far from seeing the death-throes of publishing I think we are seeing a painful rebirth. A revival – dare I say a Renaissance? – on an unprecedented scale, where every author who has a good quality book will, in the near future, have a chance to reach an audience.

The epublishing revolution opens up huge new opportunities for those willing and able to take advantage.

The future for readers, writers and those publishers willing and able to move with the times, is brighter than at any time in history.

And not just in the US and UK, I said in another post, but internationally.

The digital revolution will sweep the rest of the world far faster than it has the US and UK. Make sure you’ve got a ticket for the ride!

As I said back in May, largely to deaf ears,

With epublishing, there’s suddenly infinite shelf space for infinite categories and sub-categories, and the most intimate niche markets can be catered for with negligible outlay by the publisher.

Far from being less books, publishers can now reproduce their entire backlist of everything they’ve ever published (if they have the rights) and once that happens readers will be able to read that book they loved as a child, long since out of print, or a novel previously only available in some far off land.

A revolution is taking place that we are not just witnessing, but are participants in. It’s up to us how far we get involved, but burying our heads in the sand is no longer an option.

Fast forward October and Publishing Perspectives  has this headline:

Backlist Catalogue: The Backbone of Digital Publishing.

Check out the story. Agents fighting over one another to get the rights to authors’ backlists so they can turn them into ebooks. The exact same agents who six months ago were telling us all how ebooks were a fad.

You couldn’t make it up…

* * *

The other big stories from Publishing Perspectives?

Markets to Watch in 2012

The growth markets in 2011 include Russia — which, according to one agent, is “perking up” — as well as Eastern Europe, Spain and Latin America, especially Brazil. “Brazil is one of the most dynamic markets right now.”

As I said six months ago,

The digital revolution will sweep the rest of the world far faster than it has the US and UK.

Germany and France now have their own Kindle stores. Spain’s and Italy’s are imminent. Ebooks are growing worldwide faster than anyone anywhere expected, with Russia and Brazil marked as the bonanza markets for 2012. For the MWi record, add China, India, Thailand and east Europe for 2013. If things are slow…

Kobo is busy mopping up a huge portion of the European e-market that Amazon has been slow to grab. Across Europe sales of English-language ebooks are soaring (especially in Scandinavia and eastern Europe) and we can expect a similar picture to emerge worldwide given the dominance of the English language. Kobo has said that its English-language sales to non-English countries are up 300% this year over 2010, with Sweden leading the charge in Europe, up 359%.

All looks bright apart from Barnes & Noble, who are still playing the US card, crazy idiots that they are, and excluding international buyers. That said, they are making a killing with a huge collection of Spanish, German and Italian language ebooks for sale to their Spanish, German and Italian speaking American customers. Amazon missed a trick there!

* * *

Also in Publishing Perspectives yesterday:

Film: An “Emerging” Market

More than a quarter of all the films produced in the world come from books. Just think about the success of Harry Potter, Bridget Jones, Brokeback Mountain — all these films come from books. The publishing industry is getting closer and closer to the film industry, both of them start to work like a team. The cooperation between publishing, film and games is an even newer development, and it will be the next big thing in the course of the next two to five years.

Sounds familiar? At the weekend here at MWi  we were looking at Lee Chambers and how he was using his ebook to build support for the film he had already written. In the discussion that followed I said,

As with books, the future of film is in niche markets, not blockbusters. As technology brings down production costs and SFX remove the need for expensive studios and location shoots indie films will take off big time and with the KindleFire and iPad already able to play films it’s just a matter of time before we see Kindle film store and iFilms flooded with indie productions.

And of course these indie film-makers will all need scripts and books to take scripts from.

You heard it here first!

* * *

So the future is bright.

Yet there is still a pervasive air of pessimism, especially among the indie publishers. Bob Mayer summed up the issues in a post entitled The Sustaninability of an Indie Author – will self-publishers survive?

Bob knows the business well, from both sides, and it’s an article I commend to you.

But I don’t share his pessimism.

Bob is talking about the big names, like his own self, and he’s right – Things will get a whole lot more difficult to grab the top places in the charts as the trad publishers bully and bribe their way back into position.

But that was always going to happen. We were saying this on MWi way back in April.

Bob bemoans the inability of  indie publishers to advertise and buy space on Amazon. But for the average indie publisher, without a huge backlist and a twenty-year reputation like Bob has, that was never going to be an option anyway. It’s irrelevant to most of us.

I greatly respect Bob’s views, but his situation, like Joe Konrath’s and the other big names on the indie circuit, are not typical of 99% of indie authors, who have no print history, no backlists, and no loyal readers to carry with them.

What we’re seeing now is crunch time for the indie movement.

Trad-pubbed authors with no serious backlist, who have belatedly jumped on the indie bandwagon, seeing the 70% royalty and thinking it was a new job-for-life because the trad publishers were ignoring ebooks, are going to be sadly disappointed. Trad publishers have never been ignoring ebooks.

All the time their publicity departments were denouncing ebooks as a fad they were quietly throwing money into digitalization. The trad publishers are many things, but stupid is not one of them. Sure, they’ve just been slow to turn the ship around. But turning it is.

Bob says,

To think that the current business environment will stay the same and that traditional publishing will not morph into something that embraces eBooks is burying my hand in the sand.

Spot on, Bob. As I say constantly on MWi and WG2E, as indie authors we have to adapt to survive.  As indies we have to stay at least one step ahead of the game. Which is Bob’s philosophy too.

Where I depart from Bob’s view is on his attachment to the charts. As Bob says,

Traditional publishing had finite shelf space.  That’s not a problem with eBooks.  Infinite shelf space.  BUT:  finite room on lists and in placement.  So, while shelf space isn’t a choke point any more, placement is with eBooks.  There can be millions of books available on Amazon but only 100 titles can be in the top 100 in a genre or overall.  Only so many titles can be featured on a screen or in those emails Amazon and Barnes and Noble send out.  Just as shelf space was a choke point in trad publishing, placement is a choke point in eBooks.  Your eBook can be out there but if no one finds it, it does you no good.

And this is where the crunch comes. The trad publishers WILL regain control of the charts because they have the money and muscle to do so. It’s the reason why most major trad-published players will stay trad published, and why most indie authors who do make progress will join them.

It’s a trade off between the higher royalties available self-pubbed, against the chance the trad publisher will put their money and muscle behind your book and make sure it gets noticed.

As indies we cannot compete.

Sure Saffi and I have had two top 100 hits in succession, but we’re not banking on it happening again. If it does, great. It’s a bonus. But any indies  relying on chart success as the trad pubs regain their stranglehold is going to be seriously disappointed.

The big question is, does it matter?

Bob says,

So, while shelf space isn’t a choke point any more, placement is with eBooks. 

True, and for Bob, with his huge backlist and his established fanbase this will diminish his sales, which at the moment are phenomenal. Yes, Bob will inevitably see a drop in sales, because his level of success is unustainable in the current model.All ccredit to him for recognizing that and planning to deal with it.

But Bob’s success is pure fantasy for start-up indies who missed the start of the race, when it was shooting fish in a barrel,  or who don’t carry a much deserved reputation and backlist with them.

99% of indies, rightly, see selling in thousands as a major achievement. Bob’s sales numbers are pie in the sky for most of us. He will see it as failure if his sales drop below some magic number most of us would give our right arms to come remotely close to.

His pessimism is right. For him. It can’t last.

But for new writers to see this as some excuse to lurch into despondency is just crazy.

The pie is getting bigger, and for all except the top sellers in their field it’s good news.

Bob cites the choke point of placement as a major obstacle to sales.  But it is exactly the same as existed before with print.

Millions of  print books managed to sell in the olden days without ever getting into a top 100 chart. Millions of ebooks sell today without getting near the top 100. Millions more ebooks will tomorrow.

If we want the e-plinth and the accolade of top chart-positions in the future then we will need to have a huge backlist and reputation like Bob and Joe Konrath, sign-up with the money-and-muscle guys and compromise on royalties and control, or be extraordinarily lucky.

The indie honeymoon is over, sure. I said that back in April.

But the indie writer still has huge opportunities ahead, and staying nimble and thinking ahead is the key.

It’s never been a level playing field, and never will be.

But the current mood of doom and gloom is unwarranted. Indie writers just need to stay focused and be realistic.

Oh, and write good books.

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