Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Battle of the Indies – There is No Winner, Yet

Currently there is a quiet war going on between independents. No, not unaligned politicians, but between and among writers, publishers, and booksellers. Each is fiercely waving their banners over the smoldering pile of the old-line bookstores and publishers. I fully realize that the Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, and the other big houses won’t go away, but their power has been significantly diminished and in some genres, destroyed. The gaggle of editors and agents that feed their furnaces, are also reacting with predictable actions and threats, “I’ll tell you, if you publish independently, you’ll never work in this town again.” Kind’a silly if you ask me

What is more of a concern are the independent bookstores (Indies) that are turning a cold shoulder toward independent publishers (also called Indies). While they profess to be independent and are fighting off the remains of the national bookstore chains (where is Crown, Borders, et al?) to survive they seem to continually put up barriers to small publishers and independent writers. I hear “Your books aren’t up to our requirements for professional quality.” “You can’t supply my needs, sign up with Ingram or some other distributor.” “Don’t bother me, I want to go out of business on my own terms, I keep a low inventory.” “Okay, but you have to do it on commission.”

In an article in the current issue of Alive, a very well done local magazine here in the East Bay of Northern California, Anita Venezia (friend and author of a wonderful novel set in Italy) offers her thoughts on the mess were in (go HERE). We writers are all trying to find a voice and to be heard over the sturm and drang of the publishing world. Sure we all want Da Vinci Code numbers, Nora Roberts reads, and even the ridiculous advances someone like Bill Clinton gets. But to be turned down by your local bookstore, the one you supported for twenty years; is a serious kick in the butt. Good God man, didn’t you watch You’ve Got Mail, didn’t you understand the premise? I’m here to help you, not just to annoy you.

There are many independent associations of writers and bookstores throughout the US. Each region has its small chain of well-run local bookstores that offer not only well stocked shelves but book signings, speakers, and even some even battle with Starbucks and Peets with coffee and pastries. In the parlance of urban planners they become “Third Places,” where citizens come together to relax, meet, and read. Of course the bottom line is commerce, sit a while, buy a book, buy coffee. They claim to be Independents yet they seem to act like the big boys when it comes to independent writers and publishers. “Go away kid, you bother me!”

But there are changes in the wind, in fact in some quarters it’s a gale. Apple is trying very hard to recreate the school textbook market in their image (and you know, it might work!). Amazon is starting to get all “proprietary” with teases and new “opportunities,” see its KDP store. The number of ebooks being sold is climbing in a classic bell curve (but will they level off?). The number of eReaders (remember I claim to be its the inventor – GO HERE – for proof), is growing. Kindles, iPads, Nooks, eReaders, and on and on, pick your poison. If there is one sure thing, it’s that this thing ain’t over.

The opportunities for new models in marketing and selling ebooks is huge, (take that Indie bookstores). Currently there are many ideas flying around but with little proof of success. I know there must be at least one model that works across many platforms (if you have an idea – post below in Comments, let the world know!). 

We writers toil in the dark of early mornings and stolen hours from friends and family. We are certifiable and many of us should be committed. But we love to tell our stories (even the ones about mind reading zombies from Des Moines who own Prius dealerships so they can steal your credit card numbers), it’s just what we do. 

More later . . . . .

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