by Brandilyn Collins @Brandilyn
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.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 ...