OverDrive Gets Better & Better – But Is Smashwords Delivering On Its Promises?

Go Global In 2014First a reminder. OverDrive saw over one hundred million digital downloads in 2013. Most of these happened at OverDrive-partnered digital libraries worldwide, but also at partner retail stores, which include Waterstone’s here in the UK, and stores like Kalahari and Exclus1ves in South Africa, among many others.

OverDrive have recently upped their game yet again with the addition of embedded samples, a feature aimed at the library catalogues but which can easily be used by indie authors on their blog or website, or even in social media.

Embedded samples? Essentially when the reader clicks on the sample link, instead of just being taken to the product page in the OverDrive store the first pages of the book will open up right there in your browser to start reading. Then if interested you can be redirected to your local digital library to download the full book.

OverDrive also has another great feature with the embedded samples. Bing users who search for your title will see in the right-hand sidebar (where Google puts its ads) an embedded sample link to the OverDrive ebook version. See an example here at the OverDrive library blog -

All great stuff by OverDrive – the most forward-thinking and innovative of the wholesale distributors – but back to our headline.

Two months back Smashwords made big news with the partnership with OverDrive whereby 200,000 non-erotica titles were going to be available in the OverDrive store.

Wonderful! Except to Michael Kozlowski over at Good Ereader, who ran with the headline OverDrive inundates libraries with 200,000 horrendous indie ebooks.

Don’t be shy, Michael. Tell us what you really think.

Eight weeks on, the big question is, has OverDrive been inundated with 200,000 Smashwords indie ebooks, horrendous or otherwise?

If you are a Smashwords author and did not opt out of this distribution then, two months on, you ought to be there by now, right? After all, two months is plenty of time, and the default Smashwords position is that you get distributed to new partners unless you specifically opt-out.

So why is it all the indie authors we have contacted, who are with Smashwords and did not opt out of OverDrive, are seeing a big blank when they search for their title or author name in the OverDrive store?

 ~ ~ ~

Back in mid June Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader broke the news that OverDrive, apparently, was shunting self-published titles into an indie ghetto.

We say “apparently” as we’ve not been able to locate this ghetto, but the quote Nate has from OverDrive concurs with his headline. OverDrive do indeed have a separate section – somewhere –  for “self-published” titles.

Well, it’s their company and they can do what they like. If OverDrive has some objection to self-published titles then it has every right to close the door to them.

But that’s the point. It didn’t.

The team at OverDrive are not stupid. They did not blindly sign a deal with Mark Coker, oblivious to the fact that Smashwords are the biggest distributor of self-published titles on the planet, bar none.

The deal OverDrive signed with Coker specifically excluded erotica titles. That’s a telling point. Because if you go to the OverDrive catalogue you will find any number of erotica titles. OverDrive has no problem with erotica per se.

Try this for size: https://www.overdrive.com/media/465867/letters-to-penthouse-xxxx

In fact the OverDrive catalogue is showing some 13,000 erotica titles. So when OverDrive specifically excluded Smashwords erotica titles they did so for a reason. Because Smashwords’ reputation precedes itself as a free-for-all where anything technically legal in the US is acceptable.

Let’s be clear. OverDrive accept erotica titles. They just don’t accept Smashwords erotica titles, because they know the only quality control at Smashwords is the formatting guidelines.

And our guess is they take much the same position on Smashwords self-published authors. Because it seems Smashwords self-published authors are being shunted into a ghetto, not all indies.

Indie authors who have enough titles to warrant setting up a direct account at OverDrive have no problem. Indie authors using an aggregator like Ebook Partnership have no problem. Their titles are readily available in the OverDrive catalogue, both for libraries and for retailers, and we can confirm from personal experience (one of our team has been with OverDrive and Ebook Partnership for many years) that they are seeing great sales from stores like Waterstone’s, and library borrows across the globe.

But let’s get back to Smashwords.

The day after Nate ran his piece the story was picked up by The Passive Voice and Mark Coker responded.  The comments section is worth wading through, but here’s some key premarks by Coker.

On June 19 Coker said, “I’m investigating”, before assuring us “everything will work out in the end.”

Well that’s nice to know, Mark, but that was a while ago ago and your silence on this since has been deafening.

Back to what Mark Coker said over at The Passive Voice on June 19.

 “The deal with OverDrive happened because so many librarians demanded it, because so many patrons wanted these books, and because OverDrive is committed to serving libraries and their patrons.”

So why have they put Smashwords titles in a separate category that can only be found from a drop-down menu that almost no-one knows exists, including librarians who use the OverDrive portal every day?

Coker noted that some 100,000 titles had already been “ingested” by OverDrive when the official announcement was made, and that it would take 4-8 weeks to complete the process. Tons of indies saw that, according to the Smashwords dashboard, their titles had shipped to OverDrive.

We’ve held off those two months before raising this, but the simple fact now is that even if only those original 100,000 titles from Smashwords were ingested, still none are showing up in the OverDrive store.

Are they in the indie ghetto? We don’t know, because neither we nor anyone else knows how to access this ghetto. If even librarians cannot find it, let alone readers, what point the Smashwords-OverDrive deal in the first place?

In theory the Smashwords partnership with OverDrive (even though only for libraries, not for OverDrive retail outlets) should be up there alongside the Scribd and Oyster deals as tributes to Mark Coker’s commitment to the cause of indie distribution.

But all the evidence so far suggests we’ve been sold a pup. There is very little evidence Smashwords is delivering on its promises on this occasion.

~ ~ ~

And it would seem that Smashwords still does not know what’s going on. We heard from two authors on June 22, over a month after Coker said “I’ am investigating”.

One contacted Mark Coker direct and Coker confirmed he is working on this matter. Other than saying it was OverDrive calling the shots there was no further explanation.

That same day we heard from an author who emailed the Smashwords Sevices Team asking why his titles were not in the OverDrive catalogue.

Smashwords Services Team member Raylene B told the author, “We’re currently shipping out titles to OverDrive in batches. It can take multiple weeks for implementation!”, adding “You can periodically check for your titles at OverDrive by using the link: https://www.overdrive.com/search?q=XXXX where “XXXX” would include the book title’s ISBN #.”

No mention to this author that, actually, you won’t be able to find your titles there regardless, because if they are actually getting to OverDrive at all they will be in a secretive ghetto no-one knows how to find, but which most definitely is not via the link provided.

So are Smashwords titles available from OverDrive or not?

In the comments at The Passive Voice Coker was very clear:

“They (OverDrive) just invited 200,000+ Smashwords titles into their catalog. They’re going to merchandise our buylists. We’re going to work together to try to sell a lot of patron-pleasing books and gain our authors and publishers a lot of new readers.”

On the Smashwords bloghttp://blog.smashwords.com/2014/05/smashwords-and-overdrive-to-bring.html – a few weeks earlier Coker had been even more specific:

 “This agreement marks a watershed moment for indie authors, libraries and library patrons around the world.

It’s also a big deal for thousands of small independent presses around the globe who now have a convenient onramp into the OverDrive network.
Millions of library patrons will now have access to the amazing diversity and quality of the Smashwords catalog.”

Really?

Further down on this same blog Coker says:

 “The full Smashwords Premium Catalog of non-erotica titles is eligible for the distribution to OverDrive.”

Eligible? “Eligible” does NOT mean “will be distributed to”. In fact, it doesn’t mean much at all when you take into account Raylene B’s reply that Smashwords is sending batches of ebooks to OverDrive. Especially when you look at what Coker has to say about batches on that same Smashwords blog (this, remember, two months ago).

 “To help librarians streamline collection development, in the weeks ahead OverDrive and Smashwords will create curated buy-lists lists libraries can use to purchase the most popular indie authors and titles. Libraries will soon have the option, for example, to purchase the top 100 YA fantasy novels (approximate price: ~$400), or the top 1,000 most popular contemporary romances (~$4,000) or top 200 complete series across multiple categories (~$2,000), or the top 200 thrillers, mysteries, epic fantasies or memoirs.  With most of our bestsellers priced priced at or under $4.00, you can do the math to appreciate how incredibly affordable these collections will be.  We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.”

Let’s run that last sentence again.

 “We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.”

This suggests Coker and co. are going to cherry-pick established Smashwords best-sellers on Apple, B&N and Scribd (the main Smashwords outlets) and parcel them out to OverDrive as potentially available to purchase.

So, the lucky few who get “curated” may, possibly, be bought as part of a package, always supposing anyone knows where the indie ghetto is and can be bothered to look there.

The rest of us? Nobody knows. Including, it seems, Mark Coker.

~ ~ ~

 Note for those indies who want to be in the actual OverDrive store, not just the ghetto:

To get to OverDrive direct you need a minimum of ten titles. By all accounts the process is not a walk in the park.

For those who meet their requirements, you can also access OverDrive through Ebook Partnership, IPG or Perseus. If anyone is aware of other roads in, do let us know.

And if any Smashwords authors have actually seen their titles available in the OverDrive catalogue courtesy of Smashwords, we’d be delighted to be proven wrong on this.

 

Ebook Bargains UK

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Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Ebook Subscription Service – Great For Readers, But What About Authors?

Go Global In 2014

So the long-rumoured ebook subscription service from Amazon is finally out in the open. Sort of.

Amazon has been keeping quiet and everyone else is wildly speculating about how successful it will be. Now it appears to actually be live, in a beta sort of way, and no doubt more details will emerge.

Obviously it’s going to be huge. For readers it’s a no-brainer. The best thing since the Kindle was launched. The big question is why it took Amazon so long and they let rival operators get a head start.

The answer to that of course lies at the heart of the wider issues to be addressed here.

Obviously Amazon has the tech skills, the content, the contacts and the financial muscle such that it could have done this years ago. That it is only going down this route now is testament to two things: First the success of Scribd and Oyster. Second, that the ebook subscription service is not easily compatible with Amazon’s existing business model.

At risk of stating the obvious, Scribd, Oyster, Epic and the other early-movers in this field are not retailers. Yes, you can buy direct from Scribd but that’s not its key role.

On the other hand Amazon is an ebook retailer. The subscription service, no matter how you look at it, is an afterthought brought in reluctantly because Scribd and Oyster proved the model works and they are eating into Kindle market share. Amazon has no real option but to compete head to head with Scribd and Oyster.

And no doubt it will now do it extraordinarily well.

The issue for Amazon, and for we authors, is that once it goes live Kindle Unlimited is going to impact not just on the wider ebook market, but on Amazon’s own sales.

In operating a subscription service Scribd and Oyster are not cannibalizing their retail sales because they don’t already have a retail store where readers are already spending a ton of money. Amazon on the other hand…

 ~ ~ ~

Logical to assume subscription ebooks will not be as lucrative as direct sales, else Amazon would have gone down this route long ago. Make no mistake, we love the idea of an Amazon subscription service. For how long now have we been saying subscription ebooks are the new black? But this is unquestionably a reluctant,  reactive move by Amazon.

And indies may feel the pinch.

Put simply, anyone spending more than ten bucks a month on ebooks from the Amazon Kindle store is going to be better off in future using the subscription service.

And there’s the thing for indies – subscribers will inevitably gravitate towards higher-priced books because they will get more value for their money.

There are already several big (but not Big 5) trad players on board with Amazon’s subscription service, and safe to guess that the wildly-speculated-over negotiations between Simon & Schuster and Amazon have nothing at all to do with a takeover bid and everything to do with getting S&S titles into the subscription store. Both S&S and HarperCollins have substantive inventory in the Scribd and Oyster catalogues, so it would be no great leap for them to sign up with Amazon for the same service.

What impact will that have on indies?

Quite a dramatic one, is our guess.

Consider: Once you’ve invested your monthly ten bucks into the Kindle Unlimited service (which will no doubt be a recurring deduction from your card, so you won’t even need to think about it after day one) then why would you bother downloading that 0.99 title from Joe Nobody (at which rate you would need to read ten ebooks a month just to break even on your payment) when suddenly you can get all those much more expensive titles from names you know and trust, or names you know and have been tempted to try, but were never going to risk six or seven dollars each for?

Yes, indies can of course increase their prices – but then suffer the consequences in the main Kindle store where by and large indies have an impact because they can price low.

This will inevitably skew the playing field yet further towards the bigger publishers, and towards Amazon’s own imprint titles and Amazon-exclusive White Glove titles (which naturally will get heavy in-store promotion).

It will also skew the charts.

Safe to assume any full read of a subscription ebook (by the look of things that will mean anyone who reads more than 30%) will count as a sale for the charts.

So taking the above scenario that subscribers will gravitate towards downloading known names at higher prices from trad publishers and heavily-promoted titles from Amazon imprints / White Glove, and throwing in the logical assumption that subscribers will only ever “buy” direct from the Kindle store if a title is not in the subscription service, the extra traffic generated is going to shift inexorably away from most indies.

More trad pubbed titles in the charts mean more visibility and therefore more sales, both direct and through subscription downloads – which in turn means more visibility, and therefore more sales…

Without at least some of the Big 5 on board the Amazon subscription service is going to find it hard to compete with Scribd and Oyster, so a safe bet Amazon will be pulling out all the stops – and making whatever short-term concessions are necessary – to get at least a few of them on board.

Which makes us wonder if one of the sticking blocks for Hachette in their negotiations has actually been about Amazon demanding they put their titles into the subscription service.

Even without the Big 5, Amazon is claiming to have 600,000+ titles in the scheme. Compared to about 500,000 for Scribd and Oyster, both of whom have two Big 5 players on board. We know both Oyster and Scribd have substantive indie titles on board through Smashwords and D2D, so safe to presume the Amazon numbers include – and probably mostly comprise – KDP titles.

Amazon are also throwing in audio-books via its Audible arm, but indications so far is that these will number mere “thousands”, which in Amazon-speak could mean anything between 2,000-9,000 (7,000-8,000 seems a common guess). Most likely indie ACX titles.

UPDATE: It appears “thousands” s indeed just 2,000, but you also get a free three-month subscription to Audible.

In both instances it looks like indie titles will be part of the mix whether we like it or not, which will present an interesting dilemma for the many indies who have so far eschewed Scribd and Oyster on principle, because they think subscription services are bad news for authors.

UPDATE: initial reactions are that only Select titles are in, and maybe not all of those.

Assuming we are co-opted in, like it or not, the issue of author remuneration arises.

Publisher’s Lunch has a story behind a pay-wall suggesting Scholastic and similar big (but not Big 5) players will be getting a full payment for every title downloaded and read 30% of the way through or more. What that full payment will be will depend on their contract, of course.

With Scribd and Oyster indies typically get about 60% after the aggregators take their cut. The question is, can indies expect 70%, or even 60%, from Amazon?

Our guess is maybe, if in Select.

Obviously the more Amazon can claim it has exclusive material not available on rival subscription sites, the bigger its appeal. So this seems like an ideal opportunity for Amazon to follow the well-established precedent (think India, Mexico and Brazil Kindle stores) of just 35% for non-Select titles, and 70% as a reward for going exclusive with Amazon.

An alternative to a fixed or two-tier percentage rate, and one being hawked around the Amazon forums, is that indie authors will be paid from the KOLL fund that currently is shared among authors who get a book “borrowed” by Prime members.

Which raises two issues.

First, to keep with the video and music download options Amazon could make ebooks “free” for Prime members. The monthly ebook subscription would cost more than Prime membership over a year so it be an incentive to get people to sign up to Prime.

But – second issue – if the KOLL fund (currently at $1.2 million) was used to share between the many more indie authors who would see downloads through the subscription services, even allowing for the skew as outlined above, then the amount each author got would reduce dramatically.

A simple expedient (and most likely) would be to increase the fund. Small change for Amazon, and giving authors the hope of making more. But the existing KOLL arrangement favours higher-priced indie authors, for the same reasons that were outline above that will favour higher-priced subscription ebooks – it’s simply better value to choose the highest-priced ebook(s) from those that interest you.

One other key question as yet not being asked is if this will be a US-only scheme or whether the other Kindle countries will be allowed to play ball. Past experience suggests it will be US-only initially, then rolled out to the UK and perhaps Germany.

Many parts of the world already have their own subscription services (that long pre-date Scribd and Oyster) but the UK is notably lacking. Brits can use the Scribd subscription service but few even know it exists.

No question if Amazon were to launch a Kindle UK ebook subscription service that would be very, very well received this side of the pond.

But that brings us full circle to our initial point. We are unlikely to see a UK ebook subscription service from Amazon unless there is a serious UK competitor to compete against.

As above, while Brits can sign up to Scribd few even know it exists, and the likelihood that Scribd would set up an independent subscription service in the UK geared to a British audience is remote.

And so to this parting thought – totally speculative, but not beyond possibility.

There is one UK player that has deep enough pockets, good enough standing with the content providers, a big-enough customer base, and the motivation to bring a “Netflix for ebooks” model to the UK.

Could we see a trad-pub only subscription service launched in the UK by Britain’s breakout supermarket ebook store Tesco Blinkbox?

 

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Advice To Indie Authors – Don’t Overlook Kobo.

Go Global In 2014

 Don’t Overlook Kobo?

Well we would say that, wouldn’t we. So why the headline?

Because actually it’s not ours. It’s a headline from the ever-unpredictable GoodEreader, which just two weeks ago was asking if Kobo and B&N should close their self-pub platforms because they were so utterly pointless.

That was Michael Kozlowski, who makes absolutely no secret of his utter disdain for us indies – as witness this tirade against self-publishers just six weeks ago when the Smashwords-OverDrive deal was made public. “OverDrive inundates libraries with 200,000 horrendous indie ebooks.

Mercy Pilkington on the other hand takes a more tolerant approach. So much so we’re repeating some of it here.

As Mercy says,

“…one of the unfortunate truths about self-publishing is that many authors make it as far as uploading to KDP, then don’t go any further…Mostly through a lack of awareness of other opportunities and difficulties authors faced in trying to create accounts on other sites, many indie ebooks simply languish alone on KDP.”

Both points are valid, although free-to-load/pay-as-you-sell aggregators like Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital make it pretty straight-forward to get into many other retailers.

The real issue is lack of awareness.

While Amazon’s KDP is a natural first port of call for any writer making their first foray into self-publishing, these same new writers will also tend to make their first port of call for industry knowledge the blogs of the self-appointed indie-spokesmen.

And that’s where the problem lies.

Because many of the self-appointed indie spokesmen and their blogs are closely aligned with Amazon and have little interest or incentive in letting their audience know about alternatives.

Some go out of their way to run negative stories about any competitor to Amazon (B&N and Nook come in for particularly harsh treatment), while performing acrobatics to make Amazon’s less-endearing side seem nothing but a PR ploy by those nasty trad-publishers.

Innocent newbies reading these blogs and the comments that go with them (and often seeing any contrary viewpoint denounced as a troll) will be left in no doubt that there’s only one show in town and they would be totally wasting their time with any other retailer.

No matter that in the real world 3,500 of every 10,000 ebooks sold in the US is happening on a retailer other than Amazon.

~ ~ ~

 For indie authors who are getting the red carpet treatment from the Amazon imprints or the elite agented-authors-only Amazon-exclusive White Glove programme Amazon may well be the be-all and end-all of their existence, but for most authors Amazon is just one of many retailers they could and should be in.

Amazon’s sixty-five per cent market share is undeniably impressive and as we constantly reiterate here on the EBUK blog, Amazon is THE most important retailer for most indies right now. But that still leaves 35% of the US market going to other retailers.

And internationally the figure is much, much higher.

Michael Kozlowski this week called Britain’s Tesco Blinkbox a “breakout” ebook store. No surprise to us. We’ve been predicting the impact of Tesco on the UK ebook market for a long time now, as regular readers will know.

Too soon for actual figures showing how much market share Tesco and Sainsbury are taking in the UK but safe to say it’s happening.

In Germany Amazon has seen its market share decimated as the Tolino Alliance stores got their act together in 2013 to challenge Amazon’s dominance. Now down to just 40%.

Elsewhere around the world, Canada and Australia aside, Amazon has yet to make an impact. As Mercy Pilkington notes , Amazon and B&N et al simply do not “have the global reach that Kobo has, with a market presence in nearly 200 countries.”

While our guess is Google Play will continue to lead the way for global ebooks, Kobo is still our best bet for second place.

Not that you’d know it reading the Zon-centric blogs, but Rakuten – Kobo’s parent company – are a major global online player, competing with Amazon at many levels.

Rakuten is not the kind of operator that will buy a venture like Kobo and that let it drift into oblivion. If it seems that Kobo’s international expansion has ground to a halt lately we suspect that’s due to the new guy in charge taking a step back and looking at what Rakuten can actually do for Kobo, rather than letting Kobo just carry on as a parallel company in a parallel universe. Our guess is Rakuten will soon begin a programme whereby the Kobo stores are integrated into the myriad existing Rakuten partner sites, which will dramatically increase Kobo’s reach.

But even without that Kobo is still a major international player, no matter how much the Zon-centric blogs prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Thanks Mercy Pilkington at GoodEreader for the reminder.

 

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

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Ebook Formatting & Ebook Conversion From MS Word Doc – Mobi, Epub and Smashwords-Friendly Epub – All 3 For Just £10 GBP!

GoGlobalIn2014_500Those of you who manage to get to the end of our posts will know we finish off with the legend “Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter”.

From day one we set out to do something a little different from the myriad other promo newsletters out there, and to offer the best possible value to indie authors.

So we are delighted to introduce our new ebook formatting and conversion service, and we think you’ll find the prices are more than competitive.

~ ~ ~

£10 GBP equates to a little over $15 USD. For that we take your MS Word doc manuscript – any length – and turn it into an industry-standard IDPF mobi ebook file, AND a generic epub ebook file AND, if required, a Smashwords-friendly epub file.

Industry standard IDPF?

IDPF is the International Digital Publishing Forum. They are the Trade & Standards Organization for the Digital Publishing Industry.

They have a free epub validator here: http://validator.idpf.org/.

Just load up your epub file and it will come back approved or rejected. If your epub doesn’t pass the IDPF validator check it WILL NOT be accepted by an aggregator, such as Smashwords, Bookbaby or Ebook Partnership, or the wholesaler catalogues of Ingram, Copia, Gardners, Baker & Taylor and OverDrive or a host of other retail outlets.

Mobi?

Mobi files are what Amazon use on their site.

Generic epub?

Epub is the standard format for 99% of retail outlets and an IDPF- validated generic epub file will work with pretty much any of them.

Smashwords-friendly?

Regulars here at the EBUK blog will know we encourage indies to diversify, diversify and diversify, to get their work out on as many retail platforms as possible. And with alarming frequency we get feedback saying indies have tried but their MS Word doc can’t even get through the Meatgrinder into the Smashwords Premium Catalogue and into the Smashwords partner stores, let alone into the other aggregators and retailers that require an IDPF-validated file.

Yes, they can pay for a professional epub, but ebook formatting and conversion prices can be outlandish, and many formatters charge you once for the epub and then charge you again for a mobi version.

And having paid out for those ebook files indies then find that the epub file will still not be accepted at Smashwords because it doesn’t contain the magic words “published at Smashwords” (or unsubtle variation thereof) on the title page, which you don’t want in your Amazon, Apple, Kobo or B&N ebooks if you are going direct, and which will not be allowed by Bookbaby or Ebook Partnership, so they need another epub file formatting for Smashwords, at yet more expense.

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As part of our commitment to giving indies affordable alternatives we’ve been looking at a range of services (see below for what we have in the pipeline) that we might be able to offer alongside the global ebook promo newsletters and the blog.

And so we are delighted to introduce our ebook formatting and conversion service.

Obviously we are not offering any fancy extras for this price.

This is £10 GBP for a respectably-formatted ebook file with embedded cover image, a working Table of Contents at the front, and live links (for example, to your author page or other books) if included in the original document.

If your book has images (other than the cover picture), graphics, tables, fancy drop-down capital fonts or other specialised font requirements (standard MS Word fonts and italics, bold, underline, etc are fine) then that usually involves one helluva lot more work to get right. We may be able to help, but more likely you’ll need to go to one of the specialist formatters.

But for a straight-forward novel, we can send you back a good-quality industry standard mobi, epub and Smashwords-friendly epub file – all three – for just £10 GBP.

And we aim to turn-around all orders within 48 hours.

You can submit and make payment via the Ebook Bargains UK website, or just send your MS Word doc to us at info.ebookbargainsuk@gmail.com and we’ll send you a Paypal invoice.

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Finally, we mentioned other projects in the pipeline. None of these will be happening overnight, but in the not too distant future we hope to bring you:

EBUK Cover-Connect – Prêt-A-Porter and Bespoke Ebook Cover Designs.

We’d all love a bespoke cover for our ebooks, and over on the EBUK website we’ll be offering space for professional ebook cover designers to showcase their wares, so instead of traipsing all over the web trying to find a designer you’ll be able to locate a whole bunch of them here at EBUK.

But bespoke designs can get expensive, and especially for an unknown indie name needing to set a low retail price to find those first readers it can take an eternity to break-even. Which is where prêt-a-porter designs come into their own.

Prêt-a-porter? Many designers offer off-the-peg ready-to-go ebook covers with some great graphics and then sample text (title and author name) over the top. You choose the cover image you like, the designer replaces the wording with your own title and author brand, and you have a great ebook cover for a fraction of the cost of a bespoke design.

We’re also looking at an image gallery on the EBUK site where photographers and artists can showcase their works with a view to them being used for ebook covers.

EBUK Editorial-Connect.

Again, we plan to set aside space on the EBUK website for editors and proof-readers to showcase their services and, as with the cover-designers, make the EBUK site a go-to-place for indie author needs.

Finding the right editor for your particular book can be a real chore. Just because an editor is great at knocking your draft romance novel into shape doesn’t mean they know the first thing about science fiction or thriller writing, so we aim to provide a go-to-place where indies can find a range of editors covering all genres without having to jump randomly from one website to the next and hope they stumble across what they need.

EBUK Translation-Connect.

A little more ambitious, but we plan to make space available on the EBUK website to set up an exchange whereby indie authors can connect with translators globally and make their own private arrangements (pay-up-front/percentage deals/overseas marketing deals, etc) to get their works translated and out there in that ever-expanding global ebook market.

EBUK Voice-Connect.

As we’ve discussed on our blog recently, we believe audio-books represent an exciting opportunity for indie authors globally, but we are acutely aware that the only realistic option for most indie authors right now is to use Amazon’s ACX.

No question ACX is a great service, but there are other ways to get the job done, and you may find you can do far better in terms of royalties, editorial control and distribution by doing it the indie way.

Voice-Connect, like Translation-Connect, will be a place where voice-artists, producers and indie authors globally can find one another and make their own private arrangements to get their ebooks turned into a-books.

As it happens this project is quite well advanced and we have a number of voice-artists eager to connect with authors. With luck we’ll have this service up and running in the next few months.

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.

 

Google Play, Glocalization and the Global Ebook Market – and why Google Play will be the first major western retailer to open ebook stores in the Middle East and Nigeria .

 

Go Global In 2014

In trying to stay ahead of the game and plan for the future it’s useful to step outside our industry boxes now and again and look at the bigger box our own box is in.

Ebooks require software and hardware, obviously, and while (as Japan shows) being an advanced digital nation doesn’t in itself guarantee ebooks will take off in a big way, it’s certainly an indicator. Which is why identifying the countries trending digitally helps savvy retailers identify where to develop ebook stores. And in turn helps the savvy author think about the future of the global ebook market.

Google have this down to a fine art. While Amazon’s international expansion has self-evidently ground to a halt (sorry Joe Konrath, but your prediction that Amazon would become the dominant global ebook player in 2014 was never a runner) Google Play recently added another dozen global ebook stores to their already impressive list.

But before taking a closer look at Google Play and glocalization let’s talk boxes.

In our ebook box it’s easy to shut out the rest of the industry and pretend it doesn’t matter. Even though we all know ebooks make up only a fraction of publishing industry revenue and overall book sales we conveniently ignore this fact to keep up the facade that trad publishing is doomed and indie authors can earn far more on their own.

For those who treat Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings Report as gospel, check out the comments on Chuck Wendig’s blog where Howey admits that, actually, he makes more from trad publishing than he does from Amazon.

It’s even easier to shut out the bigger box that is digital development, and to ignore one of its key drivers – games. But keeping a close eye on the gaming industry is a good predictor of the shape of things to come for ebooks, because the technology – and increasingly the retailers – go hand in hand.

VentureBeat recently ran a post on the global gaming industry – and the top 100 countries are worth closer examination. You can check out the full top 100 list here/.

There’s no breakdown of how these numbers equate to dedicated consoles as opposed to mobile devices, but safe to assume for most “Third World” countries inordinately expensive console systems are mostly not an option and it is m-devices (smartphones, tablets and phablets) that are where the action is. And the shift from console to mobile will be increasingly pronounced in the “First World” too.

The key point here is, many people embracing gaming technology around the world will be doing so on ebook-friendly devices. Not to mention many console systems can also double as ereaders and some even have their own ebook stores – more on this in another post.

Perusing the top 100 gaming nations is instructive for two reasons.

First, Google Android devices and the Google Play store tower over the non-console gaming world. It’s no coincidence that most of the 57 Google Play ebook stores all feature high on the gaming top 100 list.

Point two follows on from this. The other 43 countries on that list are safe bets for Google Play Books stores to magically appear in in the not too distant future. Google Play have already demonstrated clearly that the size of the country and its wealth is neither here nor there. Among their latest roll-out with ebook stores are such small and impoverished nations as Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

The number of ebooks they sell there will be miniscule, but Google are playing the long game. And because they are first and foremost a digital company, not an e-commerce company like Amazon, it means they value these small markets.

By contrast Amazon’s international ebook stores are simply adjuncts to its existing and planned print-book distribution network. Which is why while Google Play can give Belgium, Austria and Switzerland their own ebook stores Amazon demands ebook buyers swallow their pride and go to a neighbouring country, which in the case of Switzerland isn’t even in the same currency. Even where Amazon goes digital-first, as in Brazil, it’s simply as a spearhead operation to bring the bigger Amazon e-commerce store into play.

For this reason Amazon is never going to be a major global ebook player, and will continue to surcharge readers in the few countries outside the Kindle Zone it allows to buy from the US store. It has no interest in the wider international ebook market beyond its broader e-commerce ambitions.

But back to that games chart.

At 31 and 33 in the global gaming chart are Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Egypt is at 37, Iran at 47, the United Arab Emirates at 52, and Kenya at 68.

Currently the only country in Africa with a dedicated major western retailer ebook store is South Africa (Google Play, ‘txtr, and a localized Kobo store – plus some domestic stores supplied by OverDrive). The Middle East (and most of Africa) is off-limits not just for stores but even for downloads.

A reminder here: Despite all the Middle East countries and all the African countries being listed in the KDP drop-down menu, leading indies to believe they can sell ebooks in these countries, Amazon actually block downloads to most of them and imposes a $2 or more surcharge on the ones it does allow to buy from the US site.

Nigeria, an English-speaking nation with a massive population (180 million), is obviously key contender for the second African ebook store for Google Play, and Egypt and Israel the likely first candidates for the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE will no doubt have additional political hurdles to clear regarding content, but hopefully won’t be far behind. And for the rest of Africa, while it’s mainly the Arabic-speaking North African countries that are on the top 100 gaming nations list (Morocco and Algeria notably) it’s a safe bet Google Play is looking at the bigger picture in Africa.

Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi and Senegal are all contenders, along with Kenya, to be not far behind Nigeria in Google Play’s sub-Saharan ambitions.

And looking further ahead, Google Play will have ebook stores in every country in the world in the foreseeable future. Google is investing heavily in satellite internet, which will mean the Google Play store will be accessible literally anywhere on the planet to those who have a receiving device and to those who can make payments.

Google is currently rolling out its Android One project designed to get even more inexpensive Android devices into the developing nations’ markets, with India first on the list. It’s an exciting project that will eventually go hand in hand with the satellite project to bring internet access to every part of the globe.

Obviously Google is a business, not a charity, and these altruistic ventures have a key business angle – every Android device is a potential repository for the Google Play store, and for us indies that will eventually include a Google Play Books store.

But having a Google Play store on your device is no use if you don’t have the means to buy from it. Which is where Google Play again has the edge over its global rivals.

One of the reasons Google Play is proving to be the only western retailer capable of embracing the global ebook market is glocalization.

Glocalization – What It Means and Why Most Western Ebook Retail Giants Will Be Left Behind.

Japanese spending on mobile apps was just 36% of US spending in 2012. In 2013 it was bigger than the US. And one company led the way – Google Play. Not just leading the way, but surging ahead. Google Play not only equaled Apple iOS revenue, but is expected to leave Apple standing in 2014.

In previous posts we’ve mentioned how m-commerce – spending on mobile devices (smartphones, tablets and phablets) had rocketed, why m-commerce is the future, and why global ebook sales are going to expand exponentially. Apps are how it all happens.

The reason there has been such a surge in Japan, and the reason Google Play is raking in the cash and leaving others – even the mighty Apple – behind, is because Google Play understand glocalization.

Glocalization is a combination of two words – global and localization. Put simply, being in foreign countries but doing local business.

When Google Play hit Japan it didn’t just turn up with the Google Play US site with some Japanese window dressing. It glocalized. It didn’t just set up a store and let people pay with local currency with credit/debit cards. Crucially it added the preferred payment system in that country. Carrier billing.

Now carrier billing may be meaningless to you and I, but if you live in Japan its second nature.

Android owners on NTT Docomo, KDDI, and Softbank can pay for their apps, or Google ebooks, or Google music, etc, in a single payment, along with their airtime, data, and messaging fees, right to their carrier.

When a savvy Japanese reader is choosing their next ebook they don’t want the hassle of setting up accounts with Amazon or filling in their credit card details to Kobo, etc, etc. Google Play is integrated with their carrier (ISP / mobile phone supplier with probably a ton more services included) and they just buy from Google Play and the item appears on their monthly statement.

Yes, Amazon’s one-click is pretty cool too, and that’s the same thing, right? Or as good as.

Well, if you’re in the US or UK it’s pretty cool, granted. But supposing you live in, say, India? True, Amazon has a Kindle site there now, but Amazon’s famed one-click isn’t available, and when you want to pay you actually pay in the USA.

Amazon famously only allows internationally-enabled card to be used for payment, and only allows local currency on some products, forcing buyers to pay in USD for the rest, with all the additional costs that incurs with exchange rates, bank fees, etc.

In the small-print on Kindle India Amazon helpfully advises: “If you’re unsure whether your credit or debit card is internationally-enabled, please contact your bank to confirm.”

Be honest. If a foreign company set up shop in your country and gave you all those hoops to jump through just to buy an ebook, when there are perfectly good local alternatives, how long would you stay there?

No wonder Indian readers are sticking with Flipkart, Landmark and Infibeam, or going to the next-generation stores like Rockstand and Newshunt, all of whom understand people living in India want to pay in Indian currency using Indian payment options.

And no wonder Google Play is soaring ahead in Japan and around the world.

The biggest hurdle for Amazon’s international aspirations is payments. Amazon, as per the Kindle India example above, expects you to pay with a card because that’s how it is in America. The complete opposite of glocalization.

Amazon its expanding its own payments system, but as with everything Amazon it’s a walled garden. This seemed (and was) a great idea from Amazon’s perspective in the countries it got a head start in. Readers who bought into the Kindleverse in the early days will find it hard to ship their ebooks to other devices should they decide to move on.

But what Amazon is finding to its cost is that it doesn’t just keep existing customers locked in. It locks prospective customers out.

If the rumoured Kindle Sweden and Kindle Russia stores ever do materialize the readers who are already buying ebooks from existing retailers will face the same issues should they want to go the Kindle route. With the additional problem of payments thrown in.

In Russia only 35% of metropolitan18-35 year olds use bankcards at all – and far rural areas the number is far fewer.

It’s a similar story in most of the developing world. People pay by cash (even for digital goods, by paying over the counter at their local equivalent of a 7/11) or use e-wallet solutions or carrier billing, because – again as per the Kindle India example above – even if they have local bank cards it’s unlikely any international retailer will recognize them. And if they are recognized the buyer will get stung for currency exchange fees.

On top of all this comes brand reputation. Amazon has a reputation (deserved or not, it exists) as the Big Bad American Wolf that enters a country with the sole purpose of decimating local competition to build its own business up.

Google? Google is also in the business of making money, but its approach is just the opposite.

Google’s Android system has just reached the one billion user benchmark. Android has almost doubled its user-base in just twelve months.

When it comes to the global markets Google is a universally recognized brand beyond compare. Which means the Google Play store will be the first port for huge numbers of users.

Google Play “only” has 57 global ebook stores so far, but the direction is clear, and the gaming numbers indicative. While Amazon is on hold at a dozen or so Kindle stores Google Play is on target to have over 100 ebook stores in the next year or so, and be in every country in the world in the not too distant future.

Most importantly for us indies, for most of the current 57 countries Google Play Books is in, and for pretty much all future ebook stores they open, Google Play will be the only big western retailer available to readers. What competition there is globally will come from the next-generation players emerging from the Asia-Pacific region. Or what we Brits call the Far East.

Google Play may never be a match for the Kindle and Apple iBooks stores in the US and UK – but for the rest of the world Google Play is our best hope for a global readership.

 

Ebook Bargains UK.

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Audio-Books – The Next Big Thing For Indies

Go Global In 2014

The American Librarian Association Annual Conference has been noting the very clear upward trend in audiobook (a-book) downloads. It’s something we should all be looking at very closely, because it presents enormous opportunities for indie authors willing to step outside the sheltered world of ebooks and Amazon.

Obviously Amazon’s Audible ACX package is the go-to place for indies contemplating a-books, and no question they make it relatively easy – but don’t expect to get rich off the proceeds. We all know how they recently slashed royalties for indie authors.

Even authors who have gone the DIY route and used their own resources to professionally create a-books are finding the Amazon option to distribute leaves much to be desired. Especially of you make the mistake of locking yourself into their exclusive programme.

Not here to look at alternatives to ACX (that’s another post another time) or the very real possibility of doing your own recordings at home, other than to say this:

Traditionalists will say it can’t be done, and you MUST pay a professional outfit because ONLY THEY can make a quality product.

But didn’t they say exactly the same about ebooks?

If you can avoid the ludicrous costs of a recording studio and a professional voice artist then it means you can produce an indie a-book at the fraction of the cost of a traditional a-book – and crucially, sell it at a fraction of the price of a traditional a-book, giving you a competitive edge in this fast-growing market.

Again, isn’t this exactly what we do with ebooks now?

More on how another time. Here’s the why.

Obviously there is demand for a-books. They’ve been around since forever, and are loved by regular readers and non-readers alike.

Of course back in the stone-age it meant having a bunch of magnetic tape cassettes or later CDs to cart around alongside the play-back device. And it meant finding a store that had the a-book you wanted, or later an online store and paying and waiting for delivery.

In the twenty-first century it’s a couple of clicks and the download arrives in seconds to play on probably the same device you listen to music or read ebooks on.

One reason libraries are seeing such increased interest in a-books is of course the price. Where a trad-pubbed ebook might cost $10 a trad-pubbed a-book will cost $30. A major deterrent to buying from a retail store. Libraries charge a token fee, if at all.

But if you are cutting out the middle men and bringing the production price right down, and if you can step outside the Amazon box and expand your availability beyond the Audible store, you can sell your own a-books at a fraction of the price, and crucially offer free chapters to let prospective buyers get a taste of your work.

And increasingly you will be able to get your a-books into the library catalogues just like you have the option (though very few indies seem bothered) to get your ebooks into the world’s libraries.

OverDrive is by far the planet’s biggest library supplier for digital content (and the only one with access to the massive China market) but 3M Cloud and Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 are also significant players (an upping their game), and there are lots more.

Global digital libraries are a really exciting prospect for indies with digital content in any format, and along with the ever-expanding subscription services (a matter of time before they start offering audio on subscription too) are a big threat to the cozy Amazon-centric world we all grew up in a few years ago.

One key area for growth will be the “foreign” markets – that is, markets where English is not the first language.

How so? While many people have a good command of the spoken English word, reading English is a skill less easily acquired. In vast tracts of the world print books are unaffordable or simply unobtainable – especially in rural areas – so even in countries where English is widely spoken or the official language the key word is “spoken”. Thanks to TV and radio, DVDs, tourism, etc, the English-language is far more widely spoken than it is read.

And that of course is how it’s always been. The spoken word is a natural form of communication. Reading and writing, wonderful as they are, are artificial constructs we have to learn.

Not for nothing are all the ancient classics spoken-word sagas that eventually became written books. Not for nothing did Shakespeare write plays focussed on the spoken word that everyone could enjoy rather than write books that few could read and even fewer could afford. Not for nothing did Charles Dickens tour America playing to packed theatres filled with people listening to him read out loud his own books.

In countries where literacy levels are low but access to digital growing fast (which is basically most of the world) the opportunities ahead for indies who can produce sensibly-priced and widely-distributed a-books are boundless.

And because the a-book is simply a spoken version of the ebook there’s no editing, re-writing or new writing involved. You’ve already done all the hard work. You’re just making your masterpiece available to a wider audience.

~ ~ ~

Okay, having said above that we’d look at the how another time, a few quick suggestions on how now for those keen to get started. We’ll come back on this in detail another time.

First off, this is a book, not a music album. It will almost certainly be one voice the whole way through, with no background sound effects or other problems to sort. You DON’T NEED a hugely expensive recording studio with the latest interplanetary hi-tech equipment that the next Rolling Stones album might require.

That said, for the more ambitious indies the possibilities are endless. Multiple voices for multiple characters, opening chapter sound effects, or even turning your book into a radio broadcast.

But let’s stick with a straight-forward a-book here.

Obviously the voice must be the right one. It may be you. It may be a friend, or it may be an amateur or professional voice-artist.

That needn’t cost. Approach your local amateur dramatics societies, theatre groups or even local colleges and universities and sound out interest. Many budding thespians and voice-artists would jump at the chance of the “work experience” in return for getting a full credit on the finished product.

A fancy recording studio may look great in the promo-photos, but it’s not a pre-requisite. While the mike on your laptop might not be best-suited, you can pick up far better quality recording equipment for very little outlay.

Because you are only recording a voice straight to a mike, not a range of music that has to be matched up, you don’t have to worry too much about the acoustics where you actually make the recording. So long as it’s very quiet and you’re not going to suddenly hear police sirens, aircraft taking off or screaming seagulls or children in the background, then it shouldn’t be hard to find the right place to record.

Stringing all the recording sessions together is, like ebook formatting, a skill you can easily acquire or farm out to someone to do for you. And again, you might find the local theatre or college has willing participants willing to help out for a token fee or a credit that will look good on their CV.

Once you have the finished recording it just needs wrapping up with an a-book cover for the digital version to go out on the myriad digital distribution channels, and if going this route, a CD cover for the physical version (CreateSpace will make it very easy for you to sell the CD version on Amazon, and then there’s eBay and a ton of other options available).

~ ~ ~

No, there’s no get-rich-quick instant-gratification buzz for authors who go down this route. With all the big-name authors with big-name narrators on board it will be even harder to crack the a-book bestseller charts than it is wthe ebook charts.

But for those who understand being a professional career writer means thinking about the next five years, not just the next five weeks, audio-books should be a key part of your strategy.

 

Ebook Bargains UK

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Yet More Reasons Why Flipkart Is The Place To Be As The India Ebook Market Blossoms.

Go Global In 2014

As you cannot possibly have missed, Amazon have got into the smartphone business, with a ridiculously expensive gimmick phone whose only redeeming feature (for Amazon) is that it is locked into the Amazon store and will in theory increase sales there.

As we’ve said here many times, the market leader in India is Flipkart, with some 80% market share. While Flipkart offers multiple local payment options – and of course uses the local currency – Amazon has only a handful of payment options and can’t even be bothered to let Indians pay in rupees for many products.

And the odds of Kindle India ever being a success just got a lot worse as as Flipkart launched its own series of smartphones.

Just a week after launching its own tablet, the Digiflip. BTW the Digiflip (the first of a series of tablets) comes complete with Flipkart store credits, to get buyers spending at Flipkart, and also complimentary ebooks, to make sure Digiflip buyers realize there’s a great Flipkart ebook store too.

Like the Amazon phone the Flipkart phones, plural, will be geared to drive customers to the store. But unlike the $600 Amazon phone (cheaper if you sign up to AT&T for two years) the Flipkart phones will kick off at around fifty bucks equivalent, targeting the Indian consumer market.

It’s not clear yet if the smartphones will include complimentary ebooks like the Flipkart tablets do, but we’d guess it likely. The whole point of the devices, after all, is to drive traffic to the Flipkart store.

India is the world’s fastest growing smartphone market. True, just 19% of its people have access to the internet, but don’t be put off by that, because we’re talking a quarter of a billion people in just that 19%.

Flipkart (indies can get in via Smashwords or Bookbaby) will be bringing a lot of new traffic to its store with these new phones and the new tablet. And plenty of other operators are getting in on the cheap smartphones act too.

Every single smartphone and every single tablet bought is another possible resting place for your ebooks – not just from Flipkart but from any ebook store with an app, anywhere in the world – and when we start talking in the telephone numbers that make up the global smartphone and tablet market the odds that your ebooks (presuming they are available) won’t be on some of the devices diminishes by the day.

The nascent markets of the developing world are also the target of Google and Mozilla, both aiming to get affordable smartphones in the hands of as many people as possible.

But remember, people who can afford only cheap smartphones will – if they are readers – be looking for cheap ebooks. Don’t price yourself out of the second largest English-speaking market by pricing your books at silly prices in India.

Take full advantage of a loophole in the Amazon KDP system. Until it’s changed you can currently set your Kindle ebook at just 49 rupees on Kindle IN while still pricing appropriately back home in the US, UK or wherever.

Keep your price below 100 rupees and do the same on the many other Indian ebook sites you could/should be in – Flipkart, Infibeam, Newshunt, Rockstand, Landmark, Pothi, Crossword, Google Play, etc – and you might just find yourself a bestseller in a land where the numbers could soon get very, very interesting.

Globally the same applies. Where Amazon hasn’t got a Kindle store – which is most of the world – it cannot enforce its pernicious MFN clause to dictate what price you list ebooks at on other retailers. So wherever possible, price low in the nascent markets, and you might just get lucky and find a vast new audience for your works.

Ebook Bargains UK

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Far more than just the UK.