Thursday, June 9, 2016

Devaluation of Books, One Bundle At A Time


As you know, things are not good in the publishing business, and everyone blames Amazon or piracy. I truly believe a perfect storm of crap lead to this point, but there is one piece left out that no one seems to blame. I point a finger at the big book bundle offered for .99 or free. Authors are up in arms because readers expect free or cheap. Well, authors are conditioning readers to expect just that with big book bundles.

And this isn't a rant against readers. Why wouldn't they want free or cheap if it's there?

Big bundles came along about the same time as Kindle Unlimited and other things we like to blame for the plummet of sales. You've seen the bundles--a herd of authors offering full-length books for a steal. I just saw a bundle of 51 books for FREE, another for 48 FREE books, and heard of another big one (over 40 books) for .99. After I typed this, a blogger sent me an invite to pimp a 24-book bundle for $.99.

How do these bundles help our industry? They don't. They're great for the reader. They're great for those authors wanting a bigger newsletter pool or hope to hit a NYT or USA Today list because readers are downloading their bundle. Authors think they're going to boost sales on their next book or their backlist by partaking in a bundle, by gaining a "best seller" title. But it's not working. Readers don't NEED to buy books anymore. If you count it up, in the past week alone I could have gotten 163 free books. IN ONE WEEK.

These bundles are bad for all authors--self-published, small published, traditionally published. Gone is the day when $2.99 was considered "cheap" and a way to get around traditionally published books with a higher price point. Now, why would anyone pay $2.99 for a full-length book when they can get all that for cheap or free with one click on a bundle? If they read one book a week, that 51 book bundle is basically their year's reading right there. They're going to click on that and save their money for the big authors they've been waiting for, meaning the middle author is left out in the cold. That means most of us aren't going to be read.

At $2.99, an author will make some money. Amazon pays 70% royalty for books over that amount. Under that amount, Amazon pays 35% Obviously, big bundle authors make nothing on free, and they're going to split that $.35 from Amazon between them on each sale of $.99. Each of the 24 books for .99 authors are making less than a penny per book downloaded.

Do we authors honestly value our work at $.01 per download? Because I sure as heck don't.

I understand having a sale now and then. I support that. I support giving away books. I give away a lot during promo events. But when FREE or CHEAP becomes the standard to get numbers, everyone loses. The quality of product decreases. How can the quality of editing and cover art stay high when authors are making nothing despite the success of downloads? It simply can't.

If we authors wish to be valued again, then something has to change. It needs to change within OUR community. We need to look at what our work is worth and price it as such instead of giving it away. Garbage collectors don't work for .99 or offer a FREE bundle of streets! If you asked for that, they'd go on strike. They should! They collect their money, and they do their job. Entertainment is a worthy business, but we do our job first. Now it's time to put value to our time and efforts again.

And no, this isn't me being jealous of those bundle authors. Yes, I've been in a bundle, but it was reasonably priced for the amount of books we had in it and it sold well. I'm not a huge seller or one-click author. I'm okay with that, and my career will move forward when it does.

I'm going to continue to write because I love it, and I have to put the voices on paper. However, I'm incredibly discouraged with publishing. It's one thing to fight piracy and complain about Amazon. But no one is addressing the big bundle situation, and it's really time it happened (without being mean or nasty or taking screen shots and calling names).

This post took a lot for me to write. But as an author and an editor, I had to write it. Everyone in the publishing industry is pointing fingers at someone other than themselves. It's Amazon's fault. It's piracy's fault. Nope. It's OUR fault for devaluing our work. We did this. I was raised to take responsibility for my actions, and when I see the publishing world pointing fingers instead of banding together to make an industry standard, it makes me ill.

There is no them and us anymore. It doesn't matter if you're traditionally published, or self published, or published with a small company. We're ALL taking the hit. When I started publishing books under this pen name, a lot of authors were making money. Things were good. Four years later, few are seeing any income. We broke the gravy train, authors. And somehow, we need to fix this.

The question is...how?

26 comments:

Christi Snow said...

Bravo to you. I agree 110% with everything you've said. Love you so much, girly!! smiles...

Layna Pimentel said...

Thank you for writing this. Basically fessed up to my husband why royalties have been crappy for the last year in a bit. It's hard to compete with 99cent bundles when publishers (small ones) can't even justify pricing below 3.99. *hugs*

April Watts said...

I'm not an author, but I don't like the bundles. They seem to be really popular right now. I would rather pay for the book I want then get 20+ books for free. I have found the books are not as good usually, and the constant jump from one writer style to another is just frustrating.

But if you go to Amazon and search free books you can read for a good 6 months. It never used to be that way. That is what a Library is for.
Authors work to hard to just give there work away!
Again just my opinion.

Jean Joachim said...

Hallelujah! Amen. Somebody finally told the truth. You are right on the money. We have no one to blame but ourselves and we can stop this now, if we choose. Or watch our careers go down the toilet. Well said. I hope the author community is listening.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great article. It is so sad to see great writers and great books sell for $0.00 or $.99. Maybe as a give away on a promotion, but not every day. For some, writers have put in years on a book to give their readers enjoyment. If the readers want this, they can make certain more books are forthcoming by paying for the book. Wouldn't it be a terrible world without authors and books?

Susanne Matthews said...

As a new author, I was told by my publisher that having my books bundled would increase my readership--Maybe. One thing is certain, people who buy the bundles don't always read every book in them. True, I have seen some minor money from sales, but the reality is, I will never make a decent living this way. At the moment, my publisher has the same book in two bundles and will be offering it again in another 5 author bundle next month. To me that makes no sense, but neither does making .01 cents per download for a book me months to produce.

Mia Downing said...

Thank you all for your comments and support so far. Susan, a small book bundle is a little different in that readers can pick up an entire series for a little cheaper. It is easier for the reader, and I don't think those are harming the industry as much as the huge bundles.

Laura Taylor said...

Mia - well said! I've recently participated in a 12 author book bundle, and it was a complete waste of time. It weakened my sales on more than a dozen of my stand-alone books. I periodically do my own boxed sets, but that's as far as I'll go. My experience taught me a valuable lesson and prompted me to look at the overall book market place with new eyes. LT

Sarah Jane Butfield said...

Great to read an honest post, ditto the comments above!

Allyson Young said...

I am both an author and a reader. I devour books and am on Amazon everyday chasing my next read. The market is glutted with .99 bundles AND reads, and I flinch every time I see them promoted. How can I compete? How long can my publishers compete before they close up shop? Readers are getting the message that it's nothing to write and publish a book, no sweat equity, let alone the tangible costs, or worse, that authors make so much money they can afford to sell so cheaply.One only has to see the posts on FB to know that's true. It is disheartening, and I wish I had an answer...

Denise said...

I agree. I also think all these bundles that get people on bestseller lists are just watering down the value of the lists. It means little to me when I see bestselling author on whatever list when you are constantly writing only these books or in bundles like this. I think it unjustly devalues the books that people are getting on the lists at book pricing not discount pricing.

Kim Muhl said...

I am so proud of you for standing up and telling the truth about this! As a reader, I will download some of the freebie books to sample a never heard of author. I have found a lot of authors that I follow that way and turn around and buy their other books. But, I know I'm in the minority and not everyone does that. It saddens me that authors do not make as much money as they could from the sales of their books.

Ashlyn Chase said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I said this very thing on Facebook and started a sh*t storm. I said, "It's stupid," and perhaps that's why some authors reacted so defensively. A couple told me how wrong I was and how they became rich and famous this way. That was back before everyone was doing it. Just this year I've heard about 4 wonderful authors who had to go back to work...which means they can't make a living doing what they love and readers won't be able to read their books, because they won't have time to write them.

Tif Hassett said...

Your post is right on. Nobody can keep writing for basically free. We are our own worst enemy when we give away our work - it sends the message that writing is easy or of no value.

Lisa Gillis said...

Thank you for an insightful post. Hopefully will wake up the world of writers. To try and sell a book for 2.99 or 3.99 competing with so many authors at the free or 0.99 price point was hard enough, and then along came book bundles. After years when sales began to slow I finally gave into one of these. Yes it drove sales to the rest of the series, but only on a small scale. The resulting sales in no way made up for the loss of time and royalties on the bundle. The truth of the matter is, most readers buying these bundled books are not looking to pay more than a buck for a book and won't go onto the next even if they loved the first book.

Sandra Dailey said...

These big bundles are often low quality. I'd rather pay a higher price for a single book I'll enjoy reading. I do however think it's a good idea to lower the price on the first volume of a series. That's just good marketing.

Julia Barrett said...

True. A combination of factors - many of which we created - are destroying us. 'How low can you go' is killing sales for both indie and trad pubbed authors. Thanks for having the courage to write this.

Brynn Paulin said...

Excellent post!
Commenting as a reader, I don't buy bundles because they're too cumbersome. I do see a swing in free books coming around. At first this was a boon for readers (whoo hoooo! FREE!) but then discernment kicked in. A lot of people I know really analyze listings before they click. They've been burned by too many...um, not great...books and serials.
Speaking from the industry side: in this year's report from Mark Coker at Smashwords, prices are inching back up. “For the 2016 survey,” Coker writes, “$2.99 barely edged out $3.99 for the greatest average unit downloads,” although $3.99 had been the favored price point for the last few years. “However, we observed some shifting on the earnings front. $3.99 retained the mantle for the average price that generates the highest earnings, and $4.99 came in as the second best price, beating out $2.99.”
Unfortunately, free is still getting 41% of downloads. Interestingly, the 1.99 price point is dead. They actually found that box sets under-perform on sales. While 99 cents blew away all others in that category, it's pointed out that the best overall return on a box set came from one priced at 17.99 -- that blew me away.
I do believe you're absolutely correct about pricing negatively impacting the market, but it appears that things are starting to come around.

Sabrina Robert said...

Will definitely be sharing this post. The main reason I keep buying books at regular price is to keep authors writing. If they stop making money some will quit writing. Then where does this leave readers. With nothing but poorly written books. People need to wake up now. I'm sure they don't go to work for free.

Susan Gable said...

Excellent post, and spot on. Giving away free as a promotion now and again, fine. But yes, we are driving the nails into our own coffins and teaching readers not to value our products.

This isn't a new thing. I remember when the Confession magazines, who had paid writers .05 per word for at least 2 decades, suddenly changed their payment - downward, to .03 per word! And a lot of writers who had been writing for them stopped. But...there was a crop of others who were willing to write for the lower payment. Cutting their own throats and everyone else's as well.

Wil Wheaton wrote a great piece in response to Huffington Post's wanting to use his writing for free. (They don't pay writers. sigh.) http://wilwheaton.net/2015/10/you-cant-pay-your-rent-with-the-unique-platform-and-reach-our-site-provides/ - check it out if you haven't read it yet.

People treat us the way we allow them to, the way we train them to. And you've nailed it here. Thanks for writing this.

Natasza Waters said...

Book bundles are part of the perfect storm. It rolled into our industry promising an ominous outcome. Before it blew through every e-reader in existence, other elements preceded its arrival. Kindle Unlimited began to entice readers with all-you-can-read for $8.99 per month. Authors threw themselves under Amazon's wheels to be read, and hopefully discovered by new fans. The self-pub market meant anyone could publish a book, and many figured since their sister got an A+ in English class, they were good enough not to spend the money on an editor. Facebook, used by so many to get the word out, narrowed the visibility of our posts. What good is having 1,000 likes if only 6% are allowed to see them? And finally, the piracy industry which no one wants to take a harsh hand against is raising the flood waters leaving authors to swirl downriver, arms and legs flailing with no hope of being pulled from the rush. Where once we had the traditional pub world biting their nails to the quick because they no longer held all the marbles, they're sitting back, a mere six years later, watching a major meltdown occur. Divide and concur is still one of the most effective methods to bring down any unwanted powerful force. Every author is looking at their books individually and not seeing the whole picture. At some point, we're all guilty to some degree, (that includes me) but maybe it's time to come together, support each other and stop taking the apple offered by the devil and try to give some value back to our book writing.

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

I hear you.
That's probably all I can say.

D. Thomas Jerlo said...

Well said, Mia. We're becoming a dying breed. I could see this was going to happen years ago. A wonderful post.

Grace Burrowes said...

I'm in my first big bundle now, on the theory that it will attract new readers. I smart-url'd my backmatter, and... not so much. Contrary to what you might be experiencing, I've seen this very subject (and free) discussed at great length among indie authors. The consensus seems to be, the bundle is a marketing device whose time has come... and gone. It doesn't work the way it did before KU came on the scene, or even the way it did two years ago. Just as savvy authors use free sparingly and strategically, so too is the bundle becoming a project most authors have to be talked into. I'm honestly more concerned about subscription services, which only operate profitably if readers are paying something for (almost) nothing, or authors are giving up content for nothing (or nearly so).

Ruth Kaufman said...

My books have been in sets that did very well, IMO. One had over 1.1 million KU pages read in a month. Another releases Monday...we'll see how it does. But I think even sets of 4 train readers to wait until new releases appear in a box or go on sale instead of encouraging them to buy the authors' other books.

On the other hand, I wonder how many newer and established (indie or trad) authors sell enough books--even with great reviews and publicity--on their own to make them want to continue? How do you increase discoverability when there are soooo many books?

Nightingale said...

The market is definitely flooded.

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