I hope your end of 2017 was truly a celebration of the past year and all that you accomplished. If not, then perhaps a celebration of surviving last year, with a promise to start 2018 with fresh energy and a solid plan for publishing your work.
I thought I would start the new year, by sharing parts of a guest post I did December 2, 2017 for Romancing the Genre’s: Top 5 Developments to Watch in 2018 and Beyond. I know I’m taking these Top 5 Trends into consideration as I set up my goals for this year and next. It not only impacts my editorial calendar in terms which books I’m going to publish, but it also provides opportunities for me to publish my content in other ways than just ebooks and print books. That will be both a challenge and a great learning and analysis opportunity for me this year.
Top 5 Developments to Watch in 2018 and Beyond
2017 continued to bring new technologies to market that are specifically designed to help indie authors or small business creatives to compete well against big business. These new technologies provide more support for user-friendly options in book formatting, book and audiobook distribution to a global market, the ability to engage with thousands of fans without spending all day doing it, and options for advertising and driving traffic to books in a way that doesn’t require thousands of dollars to compete. More analytic tools are now available to track what works and what doesn’t. I believe the availability of these tools has now put the small business person (indie authors) on par with big businesses in terms of access to a global market.
I have only one major prediction for 2018. That is that things will continue to change more quickly. Therefore, it is the agile business that can embrace change that will win the day.
My longer term prediction is that, by the end of this decade, the ability of independent creatives to go direct to their fans and cut out the costs of middlemen (Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google, etc.) distributors will be a viable income generating option through decentralized distribution of content through blockchain technology. The means to do this is already tested and working in the marketplace with other businesses. The only thing holding it back from working in indie publishing is a lack of context and enough early adopters to prove its viability. This is the next big paradigm shift that can truly change the publishing landscape to be tilted to the economic benefit of independent creatives instead of large centralized enterprises.
Here are the trends I’m focusing on in 2018
- Phones Continue to Be the #1 Technology for Communication, Reading, and Computing. Statistics tell us that globally more than 2 billion people have smartphones and use them as their primary means of shopping and communication. (Statista, 2017) The top users are NOT in the U.S. They are in China and India. Some of this is because they have larger populations than the U.S. However, it is more than that. It is in the rural areas of these countries, where traditional communications infrastructure (electricity, underground or above ground cables) are non-existent, where smartphones have become the primary way to communicate with the world.
This translates directly to readers as well. In areas of the world where libraries don’t exist or local bookstores are hard to maintain in smaller villages, people who love to read do so on their phone. For example, did you know that Pakistan, the 3rd largest English Speaking market, now has 141 million mobile phone users? (46 million are 3G/4G subscribers). Yet no one seems to be distributing to them except Amazon which, evidently is crazy difficult for them to use on their phones. (Pakistan info from Mark Williams, The New Publishing Standard blog)The author who ignores the importance of the phone, for both reading and engagement with their readers, will be left behind. Any apps that allow us to communicate directly through phones are bound to be the new growth and discoverability engine.
- Individualized and Personal Communication Venues Nurture and Retain Readers. Most of us have noticed the rise of images and video in online communication and sales. It is no longer acceptable to simply use words. There are many ways to take advantage of this without having to be a live video star. Invest in ways to create image libraries that are reflective of you as a writer and a person. Free ones like Pixabay are a good start, as well as monthly or bulk purchase options in stockphoto companies like Depositphotos and others. Both Google and Facebook are ranking videos higher in terms of reach. These don’t need to be long—thirty to forty-five seconds is great. It can be you reading an excerpt from your book, sharing a moment in your life, or talking directly to your fans. Don’t like showing your face? Not a problem, use those images and narrate over it. Fans want to know you are real and that you share some of the same challenges and foibles they have. The perception of a personal moment with you goes a long way toward building loyalty.Individualized communication used to be email. It is now moving toward text messaging, and Facebook messenger use in particular. Twitter has benefited from a variety of individualized automation tools, and now Facebook has options too. Watch for technologies like chatbots (e.g., Manychat and Chatfuel) to provide individualized assistance for common questions, without you having to be at the ready 24/7. These can be as easy as a phone tree Q&A engagement or as difficult as using natural language keywords to pick up on what the reader is asking without having to have click boxes. Authors may choose to use chatbots as a supplement to personal communications with fans and as a supplement to their email lists for growing engagement and sales.Note: These chatbots are not ONLY relegated to Facebook Messenger. They can also be used on author websites. I would not be surprised to see them implemented on other social media platforms in the future.
- Audiobooks continue to be trending up. We are nowhere near the peak of audiobook demand yet. Particularly globally where audiobook sales are rising at a faster pace than ebooks. There are now several large companies competing with Amazon’s Audible platform: Kobo/Rakutan; Findaway Voices; and Playster represent three different dimensions of audiobook production and distribution, from narration and production management, in Findaway Voices, to retail with Kobo/Rakutan, and packaging subscription services across ebooks, audiobooks, games and Apps with Playster. Each of these corporations have global market reach and they provide terms of service and payment options that are more beneficial to authors and creators than the Audible/ACX contract. These are not the only players competing with Amazon. There are numerous independent audio production companies with distribution contracts around the world, and both libraries and booksellers are looking to audiobooks in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ingram jump into the audiobook distribution game by 2020. All of these companies represent a larger group of opportunities for indies to distribute widely and not be tied to exclusivity contracts, yet being able to compete successfully with pricing and distribution options previously not available to most indie authors.
- Author Direct Sales Can Become an Income Generator.Three years ago I predicted this was going to be a game changer, when digital delivery and secure sales came on the scene with Gumroad and Square, among others. However, I failed to recognize the need for strong customer support across multiple e-reading platforms. My own foray into ebook direct sales ended in me withdrawing because of the end-user support for downloads. However, in November 2017, BookFunnel announced integration with direct sales options for authors. This means you can sell ebooks direct (making more money for you on a per book basis) and have BookFunnel deliver and support your users on the download process. BookFunnel has an excellent reputation in customer support and has become known and used around the world by millions of readers for the deliver of free books.BookFunnel has now integrated with major payment systems like Payhip, Selz and PayPal through WooCommerce (a WordPress based ecommerce system). They will continue to find new integrations as their customer feedback suggests. I’m sure that other companies will also enter this market when they see more bestselling indie authors embracing it. This solves the ebook download support problem in the direct sales market and that makes it a viable option once more.
- BlockChain is the major content distribution disruptor on the horizon. There is a lot of buzz about this but it is hard for most people to get their head around. How it works in the backend is very complex. In a nutshell it allows creators (authors, musicians, film and video creators) the ability to distribute and sell or license their intellectual property in a decentralized way that keeps costs down and transactions transparent. Let’s parse that explanation a little bit.
Currently all vendors, from Amazon to Google and social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Medium are all centralized platforms. This means that a single corporate entity controls all the data, all the transactions, the display and/or purchase of content. In short, they make all the rules and charge the creators whatever amount they believe the market will bear to provide these platforms (e.g., 30-60% of book sales). Both the consumer and the authors have no choice but to follow those rules in order to be a part of a wider market.More important, centralized systems can, and do, make arbitrary and unilateral decisions. We’ve seen this happen on all these platforms: Amazon suddenly removes all reviews or shuts down an author account without letting you know in advance. YouTube suddenly decides no one can advertise on the platform unless they have at least 10K followers. Kobo removes all romance titles in fear of the influx of pornography to their partner stores. Sometimes the unilateral negative impact is eventually corrected. Often times it is not. In all cases there is no warning and even when corrected has had a lasting negative impact on sales and reputation.In contrast, a blockchain content distribution system is decentralized. That means it is not controlled by one company’s servers AND it is not owned by any one entity. Instead it is spread across multiple individual servers and users (think peer-to-peer but in a controlled and accountable way). The blockchain distribution platform preserves an unchangeable record of all actions. That record creates an environment of total transparency for both content creators (authors) and media/digital consumers (readers, listeners). It also ensures that all views, comments and ratings reflect the REAL interactions with the content. With nothing deleted, or the inability of people to inflate ratings without everyone knowing they did so by using a click farm, it leaves no room for trolls or bad players to thrive because their past bad behavior is in the open and can’t be erased.
With blockchain-based content distribution, authors can be paid within seconds of a consumer paying for a download. Readers would also know their purchase was directly supporting the writers they enjoy. Authors who consistently deliver good quality content, that people are willing to pay for, win big in this scenario. Yes, there are a still a lot of questions about exactly how this works, and the details of security are still being tested. However, my prediction is that this will be the major disruption to the status quo of centralized control of content for decades to come.
How to keep up with the digital publishing environment? Pay attention to the new kids. Those who first stepped into the digital indie book movement in 2010-2011 tended to be people over the age of 40—people like me who were brought up in the traditional publishing paradigms and took those models into the indie publishing world. However, the new “rules” of indie publishing are closely tied to digital technology foundations, not a print foundation. And digital technology changes and develops new options approximately every 6-9 months. This younger demographic, the Internet and app savvy generation, sees the world differently. They have unleashed new automations that are simultaneously personalized and able to manage thousands of fans. They have moved the focus from solely being about words to also being about images and videos. This new app-based, multimedia communication paradigm IS increasing engagement—not only within their young demographic, but also up the line to their parents and grandparents.
Personally, I’m excited about what is available to us now. Like many other writers of the baby boomer generation, I kicked and screamed when the reliance on social media became apparent and ubiquitous around 2013-2014. In fact, I only joined Facebook because my 84-year-old mother was on it and stopped sending regular emails with her news. That is what convinced me it wasn’t only my children’s generation who embraced this new digital social world. It was people of all ages who saw the ease of communicating with larger networks of friends and family and found it enjoyable. More importantly the technology is accessible to a variety of users.
Now that I’m able to see the world through a different lens–that of a younger generation–I do see the possibilities and I truly believe it gives all indie authors a very competitive platform that can often out-perform traditional print-based and in-person based. The indie author’s inherent agility, as a small business, and our willingness to put in the time to reach our readers on a more personal level, is the difference that makes us competitive.
Will the above trends impact your own goals for 2018? What about beyond this year?
I’ll be back within the week to share my own goals for readying my publishing for this year and beyond.Lets Connect!. Follow me on your favorite social media sites