The newest brand in consumer markets: Authors

There are over 500,000 books being published each year from traditional publishing houses such as Knopf to small Indie presses like Titan. A growing amount of books are being self-published from various platforms. This is a consumers and book lovers paradise with endless books but this same utopia can be an author’s downfall. Authors are becoming a dying breed. Yes more books are being published but not many books are selling. In 2013 authors in the United Kingdom were not even making enough money for the minimum standard of living according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Flood, 2014) Authors may publish their books hoping to become the next James Patterson or J.K. Rowling but due to a saturated market cannot even afford rent. The digital market of eBooks and self-publication may have hindered author’s abilities to profit in their profession rather than help them. However the digital realm can also help authors. Authors have to now be more than storytellers they have to evolve and become a brand.

In a traditional publishing business model the story will carry the book and marketing teams and publishers will sell the book. The author’s platform can help but may not always be needed. Some authors prefer to not be in the spotlight. Now the author is a full brand and their book is the commodity. Self-publishing is the path most new authors will tread on due to the lack of editorial gatekeeping and the majority of the profit is given to the author not split between the publishing house and the agent. Amazon’s kindle has a direct publishing platform so authors can publish directly to the Amazonian marketplace (Collins, 2013)Within the Kindle direct publishing there are several tools for authors for them to get their books noticed among the myriad of books already available in the marketplace. One way authors can do this is by “selling” their books for free.  Although this seems a completely backwards strategy, how can authors make money if they give their content away for free?

Books published through Kindle’s direct publishing can be a part of their free book promotions for a limited number of days. The program is “seeking to sell at high volumes rather than high margins” (Collins, 2013)This is all to encourage word of mouth marketing thus selling greater volumes of books after the promotion is over. The Kindle Direct is just one platform, Smashwords Bookbub and Story Cartel are a few other websites that provide books for free or little cost. Story cartel gives readers free copies of books in exchange for honest reviews. Their goal is to create buzz and hype around a book through good reviews so other consumers will purchase the items. Story Cartel also helps authors create a community and relationship with its readers. They help create an author’s brand so readers will purchase future books from the author.  Authors are now also sending free eBooks to ‘big mouths’ in their community to generate more recognition. Thompson (2012) refers to ‘big mouths’ as “anyone they can think of who has some position of influence, whether they are review editors or agents or opinion leaders” (pg. 248). In the age of the internet bloggers are key ‘big mouths’ and authors can target them to help promote their book and also themselves by being featured on blogs and podcast.

The business model of free is something Chris Anderson is a strong advocate for. He explains, “how most free books are based on freemium” (Anderson, 2009, pg. 158). In his Ted Talk he quotes how “free is abundance not a scarcity” (Anderson, 2004). It can be a free chapter or the whole book but it draws readers in and it helps spread the author’s brand. In this model authors have to give away some or all of their content to build a relationship and community with their audience. If books are free they are also less likely to become pirated and posted on the web by random users. Instead a free book directly from the author promotes the author’s name and his other products as well. Tim O’Reilly a publisher notes, “the enemy of the author is not piracy but obscurity” (in Anderson, 2009, pg. 161). Giving out the books for free helps authors to not become another nameless book in the sea of books being published.

There are limitations on the free business model and a major one is not having a brand or a platform. Once an author has an established brand then the price of the content will not matter to readers they will pay to read the next book written by their beloved brand named author. J.K. Rowling is a prime example of how a brand affects sales. She published her second adult novel The Cuckoo’s’ Calling under the name Robert Galbraith. Originally the book sold approximately 13,000 worldwide (Stewart, 2013). After Rowling was ‘unmasked’ the book sold up to 1.1 million copies and was at the top of best seller list (Stewart, 2013).

 

According to Forbes the strongest brand in publishing is Jack Reacher created by Lee Child (Vinjamuri, 2014). According to Codex Group data, people are willing to pay a significant premium for their brand authors (Vinjamuri, 2014).

It is not all about the platform but the brand, Vinjamuri (2013) argues, “before a book can possibly be a bestseller, it needs to reach critical mass.” New authors need to establish a brand to become noticeable amongst the plethora of books but this does have major implications for the publishing industry.

Writers who achieve a brand status will profit greatly even if they give away one of their books for free. The readers will most likely purchase other items from the author. This model works well if an author is writing a series versus stand-alone titles (Sargent, 2014). Authors must join the rest of the creative industries and face the reality of the digital world. The fashion industry has knock offs and cheap imitations but it does not stop fashion houses and brands from growing. Johanna Blakely(2010) discusses how copyright and piracy do not affect the fashion world because they have a culture of copying.  She argues that even with no copyrights and knock offs, brands will still continue to profit because their customers are not going to purchase knock offs. They want to purchase the brand (2010). 

The implication for authors as a profession is quite drastic. Authors will now have to write but may not get big advance checks especially if they take the self-publishing route. Most authors in the current market are already living the reality of not having any advance checks or having drastically smaller ones from publishing houses. Writing is now just one aspect of the profession. Previously an author could avoid the limelight and just sit at home and write books and if the story is captivating and publishing house is promoting it then will sell. Now there are hundreds of stories being published some have the power of the big publishing houses but most are just being typed up on computers then being published almost instantly. Authors must now have a relationship with their readers and start to build a community. Authors can gather email addresses of readers in exchange for a few free chapters or sometimes the whole book. This allows the authors to generate mailing list so they can target their audience directly (Collins, 2013).  

There are some criticisms to this new direction that authors are going towards. Just how publishers though that Amazon will and has devalued the price of the book, when authors give their books away they are devaluing their profession (Anderson, 2015).This argument is valid it may decrease the worth but consumers ultimately have to purchase the goods. They are a key factor in the market and can change the market as well. There are some authors who do see the changes of the industry and are embracing the new direction. Lawrence Lessig gave away thousands of copies of two of his books one that was previously published and a new one and he states it “that the openness has extended the long tail of my book” (Hilton & Wiley, 2010). Being open helps authors gain other opportunities such as film production, writing in magazine and teaching and speaking fees (Hilton & Wiley, 2010).

Publishing houses are already going through changes with the new technologies such as Ebooks and self-publishing platforms. With authors putting up their content for free publishers can now look at the stories and authors with out doing any work. Editors no longer have to look through manuscripts they can look though the various free books and see which books are creating the most buzz and have a following. With this route publishers would be finding books that already have an audience and sell bestsellers. Hypothetically the guesswork for finding bestsellers would be erased. This does not mean that traditional publishing houses will cease to exist. Even with authors going self-publishing routes, Ewan Morrison states how authors will jump to a “proper publishing deal as soon as they are able” (Barber, 2012). A classic example of this is Fifty Shades of Grey that was once as on a fan website for Twilight for free then was ‘picked up’ by Vintage House to follow a more traditional publishing route.

The publishing industry as a whole is affected by the changes in the author’s profession. The traditional elite author is not sustainable anymore neither is elite publishing. The days of editors and publishers being gatekeepers are fading. Authors are now letting their works be seen by the masses for free and in exchange gaining recognition and developing a brand.

Work Cited

Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The future of a radical price. New York: Hyperion.

Anderson, C. (2014, February) Technology’s long tail. Retrieved November 1, 2015 

Anderson, P. (2015, January 28). ‘Who Decided Our Worth?’ Do Free Books Give Away Authors’ Value? Retrieved November 7, 2015, from http://thoughtcatalog.com/porter-anderson/2015/01/who-decided-our-worth-do-free-books-give-away-authors-value/ 

Barber, J. (2012, Jul 26). ‘There will be no more professional writers in the future’. The Globe and Mail Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1027833869?accountid=13800 

Blakley, J. (2012, April 1). Lessons from fashion’s free culture. Retrieved October 1, 2015.

Collins, S. (2013, October 17). Why Successful Authors Are Giving Their Books Away for Free. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simone-collins/why-successful-authors-ar_b_4115300.html 

Flood, A. (2014, July 8). Authors’ income collapse to ‘abject levels’ Retrieved November 7, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/08/authors-incomes-collapse-alcs-survey

Hilton III, J., & Wiley, D. (2010). Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning54(2), 43-48.

Sargent, B. (2014, May 27). Are Book Giveaways Still Worth It for Indie Authors? Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/62424-are-book-giveaways-still-worth-it-for-indie-authors.html 

Stewart, J. (2013, August 30). Long Odds for Authors Newly Published. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/31/business/cuckoos-calling-reveals-long-odds-for-new-authors.html?_r=0

Thompson, J. (2012). Merchants of culture: The publishing business in the twenty-first century (Second ed.). New York, New York: Plume.

Vinjamuri, D. (n.d.). The Strongest Brand in Publishing is. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2014/03/04/the-strongest-brand-in-publishing-is/ 

3 Comments

  1. The essay was proficient in pointing out the current trends of the publishing landscape, where traditional authors are ‘becoming a dying breed’, a growing number of self-published authors and an oversaturated book market. However, it was ambiguous as to which one ‘way’ authors can follow to make a living: is the focus on creating a brand or offering free content? If giving away free content is a method of building the brand, it should be clearly stated as it felt if the essay was jumping back and forth between the two.

    It is good that the author of this article could foresee that giving away free content will end up in community building, valuable word of mouth marketing and build upon the author’s brand. However, if many authors follow this method ad gives their books are given away for free, how will they stand out in an oversaturated market? Also, by giving away books to ‘big mouths’, do you think there is a possibility of these reviewers to be the new ‘gatekeepers’ of the publishing industry in a world where there are just too many books?

    For new authors without a brand image, would giving away free works be viable to make a living? Though it could be an investment for future proceeds, are there any other methods in which the author can secure funds to ensure that they are firstly able to live, then to write? [e.g. crowd funding] The ability to give something away for free is a luxury; if you’re able to live without earning from the products you put out, perhaps then authors either have to already have had a substantial amount of money or maybe being an author as a sole profession will not be possible in the future.

    The importance of creating a brand with a loyal following is important as seen by the examples offered in the essay. Both Lee Child and J. K. Rowling have been successful in harnessing a large readership and were able to capitalize upon it. However, to create that brand, many marketers and capital were needed to make and sustain that happen. How will new authors be able to push themselves
    Perhaps this model will work to make big name authors bigger, while newer authors will have to struggle for until they find that stroke of luck that will propel them into a ‘big book’ author.

    I appreciated the example of Fifty Shades of Grey where uploaded free content with a large following can translate into propelling self published authors back in to the ‘proper publishing’ industry. If that content can be accessed for free, what can convince readers to spend money to buy it? Do you think this will work for books of different genres? As the nature of the story attracts readers that like Twilight or more commercialized fiction, this example may not translate over to more literary work as it is perhaps more challenging to create buzz or cult following around it.

    This essay needs to consider more about how readers and creative industries will be affected by free content/author branding. Giving away free content does allow more and easier access, which can arguably improve the creative industries. However, if too much focus is upon building brand image, the quality of writing and content may be compromised (though this is subjective) which will negatively affect readers and creative industries as whole.

    • **sorry I forgot to paste the revised version of the 4th paragraph

      The importance of creating a brand with a loyal following is important as seen by the examples offered in the essay. Both Lee Child and J. K. Rowling have been successful in harnessing a large readership and were able to capitalize upon it. However, to create that brand, many marketers and capital were needed to make and sustain that happen. Can self published authors, who manage their own publicity channels, be able to achieve this without the expertise/wisdom of traditional publishing houses? Will traditional publishing houses invest in new authors, without a guaranteed track record, in the same manner today? Perhaps this model will work to make big name authors bigger, while newer authors will have to struggle for until they find that stroke of luck that will propel them into a ‘big book’ author.

  2. This essay is well written and organized that presents the need for authors to market themselves as a way of standing out in a crowded marketplace. There is a good thread throughout the essay that explains the approach, and then delves into some of its implications. The essay would have been made stronger by two general changes: 1) a more careful definition and use of what the author means by “branding” (i.e., is it self-marketing? is the selling point the person of the works? etc.); and 2) by further research into the potential success of this model (i.e., beyond the hyper successful examples of Both Lee Child and J. K. Rowling).

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