Indie Thoughts: The Kind of Competition Publishers Want

David Gaughran puts it all into perspective.

Since the huge shift to online purchasing and e-books, a common meme is that there is some kind of “discoverability” problem in publishing.

The funny thing is readers don’t seem to have any problem finding books they love. Any readers I talk to have a time problem – reading lists a mile long and never enough hours in the day to read all the great books they are discovering.

The real discoverability problem in publishing is that readers are discovering (and enjoying) books that don’t come from the large publishers. What these publishers have is a competition problem not a discoverability problem.

They have reason to. I had a stab last year at estimating how much of the e-book market self-publishers have grabbed in the US, pegging it at around 25%. The much more rigorous Author Earnings reports have confirmed that estimate, showing that self-publishers had captured 30% of the unit sales on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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So when large publishers say that the discoverability puzzle hasn’t been solved online, they are really expressing despair at retailers recommending books not published by them.

And when large publishers say that online retailers haven’t matched the experience of buying in physical stores, they mean that they wish there was some way to relegate all that stuff from small publishers and self-publishers to the warehouse, and have tables piled high with James Patterson and Snooki.

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The fear-mongers always forget Amazon’s core philosophy: recommend the product the customer is most likely to purchase. It’s interesting to note that this is the exact opposite of traditional co-op: recommending the book that the publisher wants purchased.

While it’s revealing to look at sites like Bookish and consider what Big Publishing would do with retail or discovery, we already know what it does with self-publishing. Exploitative vanity press Author Solutions runs self-publishing companies for HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Harlequin, is owned by Penguin Random House, and is now recommended by Publishers Weekly.

Large publishers want to decide what gets published, what gets distributed, what gets recommended, what gets discovered, and what gets sold.

Amazon – and the digital revolution it instigated – has made that impossible.

Anyone can publish. Distribution has been blown wide open. Large publishers have lost power over what books get recommended and discovered too, with the agnostic approach of sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub. And large publishers have definitely lost control of what is getting sold: self-publishers have grabbed a huge chunk of the market, and more and more writers are beginning to realize they don’t need a publisher to reach readers and make money.

This is the real reason why Big Publishing hates Amazon. Large publishers face real competition for the first time and they don’t like it one bit.

More at Let’s Get Visible.

Publishers have lost the barriers to entry that used to keep most of the competition out. Amazon set up a totally new distribution channel that has grabbed at least 41% of the book market.

Forty freaking one percent!

And of that 41% percent, it appears self-publishers have about as much of that channel as traditional publishers do.

Think about that for a second.

Almost half of book distribution is now out of publisher control. With no barriers, the hordes are running in to sell their books, pushing publisher books out of the good spots. The number of competitors is growing. And the publishers can’t get Amazon to relegate the riffraff to the back rooms. Can’t get them to feature only their books.

Worse still, it appears lots of readers don’t mind that at all.

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