Friday, March 8, 2013

Guest Post: Brand Gamblin

Today, we are getting back to our guest blogs, and I'm excited to welcome Brand Gamblin to my little slice of the web. Brand is an author and computer programmer. He started out writing video games for Microprose, Acclaim, and Firaxis. He created the cult comedy YouTube video, "Calls For Cthulhu", and has written several novels. He writes short stories and novels from both science fiction and fantasy.
Brand Gamblin
A few days ago I read an article on Anne R. Allen's blog, which starts out as a "Sky is falling" type of post, but ends up saying that indies will be okay. It's titled Indie Publishing in 2013: Why We Can't Party Like It's 2009 (go check it out. I'm not going anywhere).

I think she brought up some good points, but in the end, I think she's wrong. I don't mean that she is gilding the lily. I mean that she doesn't see the party.

She makes the (very valid) point that Amazon courted indies because they wanted to put pressure on the big six. She's right in saying that the legal system paid off for Amazon, forcing the big six to price the way we do, and endangering our little corner of sales. She's right when she points out how Amazon is getting draconian about their dominance of e-books, and they're caring less about the indies.

Honestly, though, I think she's missing a key point. That key point is "dominance".

Right now, yes, Amazon is the 800lb. gorilla. It is the de facto landing site for most e-books. It has branched out to other countries. It has tried to buy exclusivity to starve out competitors. But here's the thing.

It can't grow that way.

The Kindle Fire will stimulate Amazon, and it will see a flush of new sales in both hardware and e-books. But Amazon will not keep its dominance by selling more devices. In a few years, there will be a lighter, faster version, but it won't get them more sales. In fact, I predict that they will stagnate due to the very actions that worry indies right now.

Consider those draconian measures. Think about how you felt when they announced KDP Select, or when they told you that, if you want to sell in India, you either join KDP Select, or you take a 43% cut in royalties. Consider what they told third parties about advertising and free books. Now, rather than worrying about how we'll get by with Amazon's new measures, ask yourself how Amazon will get by without us.

As an analogy, consider Hollywood. Look at the top ten grossing movies from the past year, and ask yourself what they have in common. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games… They are all heavy with visual effects. In an industry that doesn't really care about story, they've learned that visual effects can sell a movie. So you would think that Hollywood would want to support them as much as they could.

Sadly, that is not the case. The Oscar winning team that brought us "Life of Pi" has recently filed for bankruptcy protection. When Ang Lee gave his acceptance speech, he completely failed to acknowledge them. Later, when he talked about them, he only said that he wished it could be cheaper.

When the team tried to talk about the bankruptcy at the Oscars, they were played off with Jaws music, and cutting off their microphone. What followed was a firestorm of protests from VFX teams. This has been coming for a while, but it is bubbling over with people saying, "Do you guys really want a dude in green body paint for the avengers 2?" Apparently, many of the companies have been dealing with problems where the producers make timeline demands, the teams work overtime to hit their deadlines, and then the deadlines are moved up to avoid paying bonuses for on-time work.

Hollywood seems to be treating this like the writer's strike, which is understandable. In both situations, they were faced with a creative group that they underbid until it they protested. However, there is one big difference between writers and VFX groups. That difference is the movie "Skyline".

You probably didn't notice the movie, and that's understandable. It didn't do too well in the box office, and was pretty universally panned. So what makes this movie so important? It was made by a VFX company.

Here's a company that totally bypassed the Hollywood structure. They basically produced a ten-million-dollar commercial for the company. They may have wanted the film to be good, but it wasn't a real necessity. They made a profitable indie movie.

Hollywood may try to play "Chicken" with VFX companies the way they did with the writers, but in reality, they can't win. Hollywood needs them more than they need Hollywood. There are indie options, and as long as they realize that, Hollywood will have to relent.

So let's look at Amazon again. They needed to get the big six to deal with them, so they supported indie publishers as much as possible, hoping to build dominance in this burgeoning sector. Now they have the big six where they want them, and they don't need to be nice to the indies anymore. Now they can demand what they want, slowly incrementing the requirements and decrementing the opportunities. But in this analogy with Hollywood, we are not the writers. We are the VFX companies. As soon as people say, "Wait a minute. I can sell my e-book just as easily on Smashwords, Gumroad, or IBookstore more freely than I can with Amazon", then they will start to lose us.

When people realize that they can reach more foreign readers, and support more devices, on Smashwords, they will decide that KDP Select is too high a price. When they realize that they can update a version on Gumroad in less time than it took to make the edits, they will want to be there. When they see the dedicated audience on Kobo, IBookstore, and Google Play, they will want desperately to avoid being locked into one distributor.

We're talking about a democratization of booksellers. The sellers have always been out there, but Amazon was always the safest bet for indies. Now that it's flexing its muscles, indies will start looking closer into those options.

Because, in all honesty, Amazon needs us more than we need them.

They just don't know it yet.

Thanks, Brand! Be sure to check him out all over the internet at Twitter, Google+, and his Blog.


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 The crew of the space salvage ship JN3-0518 have crash-landed on a planet that was colonized hundreds of years earlier, and has lapsed into a suspicious and superstitious dark age. With their advanced technical knowledge, the crew makes a living by faking miracles. Kings and clergy hire them to make ancient prophecies come true. But when they are tasked with making a prince ascend into light and power, they find themselves cast as kidnappers and witches.

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10 comments:

  1. That's a very interesting point of view, and I'm glad I read it. Only time will tell what will happen between the indies and Amazon.

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    1. It just shows how important it is for authors to stay aware of the industry.

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  2. I agree with Lexa. Only time will tell. It's an interesting take though. I do think Smashwords does more for indies than Amazon.

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    1. The more I hear about Smashwords, the more I am impressed by them.

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  3. It will be interesting to see what will be Amazon's next move in the next 6 months. As a group Indies have more power then they realize. Separately, they fall at the feet of the dragon. IMHO.

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    1. I think we are in for a lot of changes over the next year. Not just with Amazon.

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  4. Very interesting viewpoint, and a great guest post. Which gives me an idea: Sarah, how do I get you to do a guest post for my little site, cowboysdontswim.com? I love your style, and I'd love to have you do a piece on...well...anything you wanted. Please email me or add me on twitter (@craigsoffer) and DM me if you're interested. Keep up the great work.

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  5. Very interesting points! I do think Amazon will have to realize that it needs authors too, however I do know that they make zero profit from books right now by undercutting others. Definitely will be interesting to see how things play out!

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    1. When it comes to indies and amazon it is either a win/win or lose/lose.

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  6. I agree with the post that Amazon needs us, but they're starting act up and treat indies like crap. courting Indies help them sell lots of e-readers. Personally, Amazon has been good to me as an indie author. Even though Smashwords is expanding, I sell a thousand more books on Amazon than through Smashwords right now. I don't know how to break even there.

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