Wednesday, February 04, 2015

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN INDIE BOOKS AND STORES

by Brandilyn Collins @Brandilyn

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling author of 28 books. She is best known for her Seatbelt Suspense®--fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. She also writes insightful contemporary novels, often laced with humor. Her awards include the ACFW Carol (three times), Inspirational Readers' Choice, the Inspy, Christian Retailer's Best (twice), and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice. She loves to interact with readers on Facebook. Check out all her books on her website.

Last month I told you about the Stakeholders Team that has been put together to address the issue of stocking indie paper books in stores. As a forerunner to assembling this team, the editor of CBA Retailers+Resources asked me to write an article for the February issue about the gap between indies and stores, and how the Stakeholders Team came about. That issue is now available. I am running the text of my article below (and a sidebar on indie titles), with permission from CBA. Go here to subscribe to the magazine.  

Booksellers And Independent Authors
Build Bridges

Last year after my publisher’s fiction line was discontinued, I faced a crossroads in my career. Was this the impetus I needed to become a fully independent author? I’d already released one indie novel and had been considering making the switch. After a good deal of prayer and due diligence I took the plunge, choosing not to sign with another publisher.

Soon in my new venture I began to focus on the large drawback that exists in the indie world: the dearth of indie paper books on the shelves in brick and mortar stores. The large majority of indie units are sold online, either in ebook or paper form. As a result ebooks of new releases far outsell the paper versions—exactly opposite from my experience in working with publishers.

Indie authors—both in the Christian and secular industries—have simply learned to live with the reality that their books won’t show up on store shelves. In truth, because indies make a much higher profit per unit sold than they would earn from a publisher, many are pulling in a very nice income even without sales from brick and mortar stores. So they haven’t seen the need to spend their energy on vying for shelf space.

But I consider the lack of being in bookstores a major concern. I chose to walk away from publishers for my own business reasons. That doesn’t mean I chose to walk away from bookstores. Over the years I’ve built a loyal readership of my Seatbelt Suspense® novels. Many of those readers still shop in bookstores. Plus, I’m concerned to see more and more book products move from the shelves to strictly online. That’s hurting the bottom line in stores. Meanwhile the trend of authors turning indie is on the rise. Many of my traditionally published colleagues are expressing serious interest in indie publishing—either through turning indie full time or releasing indie titles as they fulfill their contracts. (See “Indie Releases From Previously Traditionally Published Authors” for a small sampling of titles.) Because of this trend, it’s clear the gap between indies and stores is only going to widen.

Who is losing as a result? Everyone in the industry. Both authors and stores lose potential sales. Distributors lose their potential cut from these sales. Meanwhile online retailers grow even more powerful. As the overall industry and bookstores are hit, publishers also suffer.

Hmm, I thought. Why doesn’t somebody fix this?

For my first indie Seatbelt Suspense®, Sidetracked, I teamed up with a press that guaranteed the novel would be sold into bookstores through a distributor. Sidetracked is selling off shelves, and I have seen a profit from that endeavor. However this approach required a large amount of upfront money for producing the book, marketing it, and print-runs. It took months to pay back that investment and begin to see a profit in paper. (Meanwhile the ebook version was immediately earning well.) This approach isn’t something I want to continue doing. And many indie authors can’t afford it at all.

As I researched further into the issue of indie books not being stocked in stores, I saw that indie books often are available for order through distributors. But the bookstores don’t know about these books, because there are no sales people presenting them to the stores. And booksellers don’t have time to try to find new titles on their own.

So there lay the real crux of the problem: how can indie books be sold into bookstores?

During the ACFW conference last September I approached CBA’s managing editor with this issue. Could we work together to try solving the problem? CBA has been very responsive. They were quick to see that, while various industry stakeholders have the same questions regarding indie publishing trends and the impact on everyone involved, no one group has all the answers. The potential opportunities soon became apparent—and the decision was made to bring together representatives from around the industry to work toward solutions that “win” for everyone.

And, boy, am I learning more about this problem. Why hasn’t someone fixed it? Because it’s large and multi-faceted, with no pat solution. And it certainly can’t be “fixed” by one person. Every aspect of Christian publishing represented by the stakeholders team will need to be open-minded in understanding the issues from the other parties. Those issues range from the retailers’ ability to return unsold books, to the authors’ need for a high enough per unit profit balanced against being at risk for those returns. In addition, retailers will be concerned about content in the books. Without a publisher in the mix, who’s going to vet that content? Meanwhile distributor salespeople have quotas to attain, which are more easily met by selling books in bundles (as from a publisher), than individual books from indies. Is there a way for indie books to be bundled?

Further, there are two groups of indie authors—those who were once traditionally published and have proven sales in brick and mortar stores, and indie authors who have never been traditionally published. That latter group breaks down even more. Some indies are so new to the industry that retailers won’t want to risk stocking their titles. But other indies have built a solid readership and are pulling in a lot of online sales every month. Will retailers be willing to give them a chance?

Our stakeholders team hopes to report on our progress this summer at ICRS so the discussion can continue on a wider scale. We don’t yet know what the answers will look like, but we are willing to try to find a solution for the good of the entire Christian publishing industry.

And I strongly believe we do have to find a solution, one that will continue to evolve as needed. Our industry is facing difficult times. Online sales, ebooks, indie authors—all of these have been disruptors to traditional publishing and bookselling. The disruption is only going to continue. So all of us must look forward. A smaller problem today is likely to become a major problem tomorrow. Do we sit back and wait for it to get worse—or do something about it now?

I urge my indie author colleagues to not focus solely on online sales. What happens in the future when those online sellers are, in turn, disrupted? I urge retailers to not view indie authors as producers of books that stores can’t sell. What happens when more and more books are written by indies? And I urge distributors to help create a solution to this problem so they, too, can capture the income they are currently losing.

We all have to work together to bridge the gap between indie titles and bookstores. As one CBA representative put it, “I doubt that everyone working on their own ‘status quo’ basis is going to move the needle. But by everyone understanding the value and needs of the others, we can make a difference.”

The stakeholders team welcomes your thoughts on this issue. Please send an email with the subject line Bridges to cellis@cbaonline.org.





Brandilyn’s latest Seatbelt Suspense®, Sidetracked, (over 180 5-star reviews) is on sale for $0.99

When you live a lie for so long, it becomes a part of you. Like clothing first rough and scratchy, it eventually wears down, thins out. Sinks into your skin ... 


5 comments:

Ron Estrada said...

Thanks again for your hard work, BC. I've been especially concerned with this since my writing has taken a turn toward YA and middle grade. Teens and tweens still buy most of their books in paper format (ironic, no?). I want to keep writing for this group of readers because a) I love it and b) they desperately need to hear from a Christian worldview. If my books never see the inside of a bookstore, though, my reach will be limited. Thanks for keeping us up to date on this matter. You're a blessing to us all.

Ane Mulligan said...

It's not just Indie authors who aren't in Bookstores, Brandilyn. Small Presses who do POD are hard to get into bookstores, too. Again, they don't know about our books. Most small presses use Ingram and they allow returns, so why aren't we getting coverage? I don't know. But I'd love to find out more.

Eddie Jones said...

As a small press publisher I don't even approach bookstores. I wish them the best and hope they survive this decade, but the owners and managers I've spoken with are just trying to keep the lights turned on. In my opinion to ask them to stock anything but items flying off shelves is asking for charity.

For most authors. the solution isn't brick and mortar stores, it lies elsewhere. We're launching a direct-to-consumer sales force. I have no idea if this will work. But the trend is for more online social networking which leads me to think there might an opportunity there for old school word-of-mouth book selling.

We'll see if it works. lpcbooks.com

Ane Mulligan said...

That's really great, Eddie. My thoughts were for those who aren't so Internet savvy, yet they are a large readership and that's senior citizens. They're one of the largest reading groups, but they go to the bookstores.

The industry is changing day by day, that's for sure.

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Brandilyn,

This is so typical of your thoughtful approach to life. THANK YOU for acting on your concerns. I might call you Esther for awhile. ;)

Like Ron, we also indie publish MG and for the exact same reasons, though ours aren't Christian per se. (Our fans often mention they appreciate a good adventure story written from a Christian worldview.)

The series is in a few gift shops and pet stores in our city/region but for the most part, we sell them at festivals, fairs and schools, and a bit online.

How can we help?