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The 6 Shifts of a Kindle Dominated Marketplace

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Every little while, technology is democratized to a point where everyone is once again put on equal footing.

It happened at the printing press. It happened with blogs. It happened with podcasting, and it happened with Twitter. It happens a little bit at a time, and as it does, I’m amazed by the average person’s ability to step up to the plate. Normal, supposedly non-qualified people become journalists, entertainers, or musicians. Everyone proves themselves capable, often despite the misgivings of those in the ivory towers.

Well, it’s about to happen again. I’m starting to see it now, and you probably are too.

The iPhone iPod has been out for ten years, and it’s reached a point of such ubiquity that everyone now also has an e-reader. They can push any text to their phone pretty much instantly.

So, this is about the time everyone starts to write books.

This is the time we all become authors.

I can start to see it already. The Domino Project is in full gear. I just received word that Chris Moore published his first book on his experiences in Cuba, direct to Amazon, for three bucks. Joshua just published his own, of short stories, since quitting his job. James Altucher continues to self-publish his work instead of going through mainstream publishers. And let’s not forget Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, whose most recent, Transistor Rodeo, got its movie rights optioned recently.

So, I was sitting having breakfast with Greg Isenberg the other day when this gem occurred to me: at one point, the internet was nerdy and uncool. Now it is hip and super popular. Those that got in early on the web, won. Those that got in late, not so much.

So our job is now to find the new uncool thing immediately. And right now, self-publishing via Kindle is definitely one of those uncool things.

No prestige, no money, no gatekeepers. Everything that goes the way of the vanity press is supposedly low-quality, but is it really? Soon, we won’t think so. Everyone will be doing it, and you’ll wonder why you never got in on it back then.

We’re all going to be peers. It’ll be about sales and reviews, not about advances. It’ll be about cutting out the middleman. Bloggers, and others with powerful platforms, will realize they don’t need the middleman at all (or rather, that Amazon has become the new middleman, and they do a better job).

Now onto what happens to authors themselves, and their work.

First, friction for a purchase is drastically reduced by a deeply discounted price point. $2.99 for fifty thousand words will significantly impact sales.

Second, a book no longer sits there on your desk. Anyone with an iPhone can hold 1,000 of them. So your most recently read/opened books become your RSS reader, with new things popping up all the time.

Third, add numbers 1 and 2 above and you naturally get many more unfinished books than you’re used to seeing– that is to say, readers not bothering to finish books. You don’t see the unfinished books at the bottom of your Kindle list, so you never finish them, and the price point means you didn’t waste much. New books on the top of the pile end up being tried out instead of old ones getting finished.

Fourth, this means shorter books end up dominating. Seth Godin has it right here.

Fifth, the ebook (or whatever we end up calling it) ends up becoming the midpoint between the blog post and the book. Some authors (many, actually) may stay here since it’ll provide them with enough income to survive and a direct connection to their audience. I’m thinking the Ev Bogue and Gwen Bell types.

Sixth, publishers naturally need to adapt– and they end up at the top of the market, grabbing the best of the ebook markets and offering them great deals (the way publishers like Wiley do with bloggers now).

Sidenote, all of these things are happening already. This post isn’t about the future at all; it’s about the present. Hope you’re ready!

* Filed by Julien at 4:14 pm under trends


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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26 Responses to “The 6 Shifts of a Kindle Dominated Marketplace”

  1. Jon Says:

    Right on, Julien.

    The more I publish, the better I get. No more waiting to hear what Editors have to say. It’s empowering.

    Good work behaves like Hugh MacLeod’s cartoons on the back of business cards. It travels. It goes into the world and it does it’s thing. It’s up to me, as an author, to define that thing i.e. make money (or not).

    I’ll have a book soon. I’ll publish it myself. It’ll cost less than a cup of fancy coffee. What do I care how many people buy it? Let’s be honest. There never was any money in poetry.

    But am I onto something? Is it possible to make a living writing poems now? Your article makes me think so. Thanks.

  2. Phillip Hullquist Says:

    This only makes your point all the more valid, but the iPhone has only been around for less than 5 years (June 2007 was the initial release). We’ve come a long way in those last five years.

  3. Joshua Fields Millburn Says:

    Julien,

    Thanks for the mention. I’m testing the $0.99 price point for the first month on this book to see what I can learn and get my fiction in as many hands as possible. I’m incredibly proud of this collection and I appreciate your support.

    Take care,
    JFM

    • Alex Schleber Says:

      Good thinking. Due to complete Content Overabundance, all digital content (at the entry-level) is trending toward $0 anyway.

      Here is what I wrote some months back:

      “…Sony is making a huge mistake by not going the $1/month route for complete/unlimited streaming music access with their own new offering…

      Because that would put it in the complete-impulse-purchase, don’t-need-to-think, will-likely-never-cancel-for-any-reason category. What if they could thereby garner 100 Million users, thus spending about $1.2 Billion [a year], or in other words about 20% of what still is left of the global music industry?!! …

      If Apple doesn’t do it, then someone else eventually will. Only then will some in the #dinomedia come to see, that the race was not about who was still going to eek out some residual “crumbs” profits from the Old System, but who was going to ***wholesale import the masses into their Ecosystem***”

      While this was geared toward the big players, I think it applies to authors, artists, etc. just as well: You need to first get Attention into your eco-system, building a price-point wall up-front is just crazy.

  4. ella Says:

    “The iPhone [sic] has been out for ten years, and it’s reached a point of such ubiquity that everyone now also has an e-reader.”

    ORLY?

    “Everyone”. I do not think that word means what you think it means.

  5. Alex Schleber Says:

    @julien, great points on #4 and #5, plus the idea to get into it is right now. I’ve been looking at the Kindle situation these last few months as well, there is definitely something underfoot.

  6. John Bergquist Says:

    I am ready to be uncool.

  7. Guy Kawasaki Says:

    I don’t see #6 happening–publishers adapting. I know a legacy publisher that is unable to fill an order for 500 copies of my book. UNABLE. I am constantly amazed.

  8. Katie Says:

    I’m on board with all of this until the “unfinished books” and “shorter books” point. I feel like we need a balance there. As a society we’re already moving too far towards “snippets” and “clips” rather than complete thoughts and works of art (whether that’s literature, film or any other medium.) I’m all for ease of publishing, bringing new authors more opportunity to get recognized and be read, but we can’t let that mean a decrease in quality (on the authors’ side) or attention (on the readers’ side.) If that is indeed the way of the future, or present, then I find it incredibly sad.

    • Alex Schleber Says:

      I agree on quality, but all too often with books in the past, quantity did NOT equal quality. There was an unwritten expectation that “a book” was supposed to be 200 pages or more (more being equated to “more gravitas” or something), that you would pay around $10-25 for unless there were other major discounts.

      But Seth Godin already began to challenge this assumption over the last 5+ years, and in reality, if you are able to say what you want to say succinctly (we’re talking non-fiction here), that is actually probably worth more.

      And of course now the eBook has begun to undermine the entire “trance of book buying” with impulse purchase territory pricing, so the expectation of “if I paid $15 the thing better have 200 pages” is going out the window…

  9. jean Says:

    Awesome post, Julien! I know if I don’t get on this, or anyone who is a writer for that matter(according to Sean Platt), will miss a huge opportunity!

  10. Doug Says:

    This is an intriguing blog. Also, I think you’re right. There’s really no question is there: evolve or die.

    My favourite author – Barry Eisler – turned down a publisher’s $500K advance, so sure was he that the traditional publishing business model was all wrong, and hadn’t yet got caught up with the reality of the e-world. There will always be hardcover books, for those who prefer the look, smell and feel of them. But for those who prioritise content (and lots of it please!) e-books are the only way to go.

    By the way – I’m typing this from my iPad, which has apps that allow me to shop from (and compare prices between) at least three different ebookstores.

  11. Stefano Says:

    Brilliant post, thank you Julien. I found it somehow reminiscent of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson: it conveys the same feeling that something big is brewing out there, and we’ll soon be just spectators if we don’t take the initiative and become part of it. When should we expect your next book?

  12. @amaaanda Says:

    You’re not kidding. We don’t even think before buying a 99 cent app or song for digital consumption, despite the fact that we have no real ownership. The 99 cent pricepoint will make it easy to sell books which are slowly but surely becoming popular again as the current generation tries to show each other how much smarter and ironic they are.

  13. David Meerman Scott Says:

    Julian – Spot on (mostly).

    Even in this world or self-publishing I do think there is still a role for traditional publishers as gatekeepers and distributors and doers of the pain in the ass stuff.

    I can send a manuscript and the publisher edits, designs, proofs, and in the case of dead tree books prints, warehouses, ships (all over the world).

    In the case of ebooks, the publisher modifies the manuscript into multiple formats (not just Kindle) including SONY reader, iTunes version for iPads, Kindle, and plain old PDF.

  14. Dave H Says:

    This is a great insight Julien! I’m hoping to get on the ebook bandwagon early (this year) with already thoughts on 2nd a 3rd (short) books …

  15. Johnny B. Truant Says:

    I’m so in love with the Kindle thing. Sean Platt has gotten me all worked up about it because he’s self-publishing fiction quite successfully. FICTION. Everyone knows that fiction is a sucker’s game, right? Can’t make money in fiction? If your writing doesn’t imply an ROI, nobody will buy it unless you’re Stephen King?

    Yeah, turns out that good fiction + smart marketing means that you can actually sell stuff now, on your own. So naturally, I’m writing a book that’s kind of like Dilbert meets zombies.

    I posted a call I did with Sean on my blog. It’s awesome, and I’m lame enough to have listened to it twice through while running a marathon.

    http://johnnybtruant.com/how-to-self-publish-on-kindle/

  16. Stu McLaren Says:

    Julien,

    To me, this really began back in 2000 when Stephen King launched his ebook “experiment” of selling one chapter at a time directly to his fans.

    He continued to publish chapters for a bit and they sold well (200,000+ copies) but he stopped because he ran out of ideas (if it were me, I’d be on chapter 374! LOL).

    But still, I think it proved that the lower price points ($1-$2) could translate into a decent income for those publishing content directly to end consumers.

    Amazon has just made this whole process 10X easier.

    Giddy up for all of us!

  17. Jim Kukral Says:

    “This is the time we all become authors.”

    Absolutely. You’re dead on. The same thing happened to me in 2001 when I started blogging. Everyone became publishers of content in that form. Then YouTube, everyone was able to become video content producers.

    Now digital books. The cycle continues. For those of you who spend so much time writing blog posts, did you ever wonder if you should maybe start turning those thoughts into smaller books?

  18. Marvin Kane Says:

    Wow, second time today I’ve read posts about the death of the middleman. First was actually Gary Vaynerchuk’s video blog http://garyvaynerchuk.com/post/11965171925/amazon-vs-publishers where he talks about Amazon getting into the publishing business. I’ve been wanting to be uncool my whole life. Guess this is my time. One thing I wonder about – in a world where everyone is a content producer, what happens to quality? or does the market take care of that by itself?

  19. Jscott Says:

    I look forward to reading books with more voice and less demographic pandering. Publishing houses and their editors have sterilized books. They taste bland and cause bloating.

    I can get over a few typos and awkward grammar.

    I will trade quants for quirks anyday.

  20. Anne Says:

    Well, the last thing I want is another electronic gadget. When the macbook dies I might get an ipad instead, but I’m definitely not getting a kindle. Would love to read your new book, but since I don’t have a kindle, I won’t. I’d probably pay for a PDF to read it, but I won’t pay for a kindle to read it!

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