A Maturing Industry

One of the things I learned as a regulator was that there is an ebb and flow to things. In that case we’d get more and more proscriptive about what could and could not be done until people screamed bloody murder at which point the trend would move towards more principles-based requirements until people said, “well, that wasn’t what the rule said” and tried to get out of the principled requirement using semantics and it would reverse again.

Back and forth, back and forth it goes.

Right now we’re seeing a sort of tide shift with streaming content. One I personally hate. You want me to pay for you like you’re cable but then also make me watch a ton of ads that aren’t placed properly in your content so that it just randomly switches out mid-scene to an ad? Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of old DVDs I think I need to rewatch, thanks.

There was this big new area of exciting development with streaming at one point and all sorts of new players rose up and tried things and found their niche (love you Acorn), but now we’re in the consolidating, gotta suck every last penny out of the system stage. We’ll probably have to suffer through that for a few years until maybe some equilibrium develops or some new disruptive technology emerges to change things again.

There are rumblings that self-publishing is heading into some sort of contraction stage, too.

I think the glory days when there were more readers looking for content than writers who could provide it are long gone. That was five years ago or more, but people who got a good start then have kept acting like that’s still possible for anyone. It’s not and I think even they are finally beginning to realize that as people that were doing pretty well start to slide into obscurity.

I had a conversation two years ago with someone about self-pub and Amazon and how it all worked. Everything I told them was publicly available. Nothing was a secret. But I knew where to look. At the time, this person asked me how someone who was brand new would find that information. My answer was I didn’t know.

When I got started there was a forum that was the first place anything new was mentioned. That’s where I learned about Kobo promotions and Vellum and all sorts of other developments. And, yes, some of that moved to FB groups, but not in a great way IMO. And a lot of the inside baseball conversations just aren’t happening publicly anymore.

Because we’re now in a maturing industry in self-pub. The raft is full and the ocean is right there and no one wants to fall off the raft and drown. Which is not to say that there aren’t people helping one another or bringing others up or that that shouldn’t be happening. But if someone finds something that works for them today, they might not broadcast that fact to the world like they would have a decade ago.

Someone eventually will because there’s a whole ecosystem of people making money off of telling other authors what to do and any useful secret they find they’ll share immediately to up their clout. (This happens in one of the groups I’m in with someone who charges authors for marketing help. Of course, generally that will make that particular secret ineffective or much less effective in approximately three months’ time as everyone scrambles to get in on the latest thing.)

We also now have some very well-developed heavy-hitters in this industry. I think most of them are going to be solid going forward. They’ll get knocked sideways at some point by Amazon changes or something like that, but they’ve staked out their positions and as long as they keep delivering, they’ll be good.

What will happen is that a lot of people who didn’t make it to that steady place in time will fall off.

Maybe they keep publishing, but turn to a day job. Maybe they turn to trade pub. Maybe they quit altogether.

Some will innovate and find new ways to reach little pocket audiences. I know one author who has turned towards Kickstarter and using their own website for sales, for example.

But a lot are going to drop off in the next few years. Which, for the “easy money” types who killed it for a while there, farewell and good riddance, enjoy the next easy money wave you find to ride, wherever that may be. For the ones who always had a dream of being a successful writer and see that dream disappear, that’s gonna hurt. A lot.

Which is not to stay that you can’t still launch a successful pen name. I have a good friend who launched an incredibly successful pen name just this year after launching a different one two years ago. And another friend who launched a successful one about two years ago.

What those friends had though was the ability to write well and write quickly, the ability to hit the genres they were aiming for, the ability to package their books well for that genre, and the marketing know-how to launch those first books into the top 1000. Not a lot of authors have all those skills. Even a decade into this “self-pub revolution”.

I don’t think I have all of those to be honest.

Those friends were also writing for big genres. We too often fail to give credit to how important it is that you are writing for a big enough genre if you want to support yourself at this. Romance authors hate having this pointed out, but, hey, there are a lot more romance readers that read voraciously than there are readers who want another book like Tolstoy wrote. Doesn’t make it easier to write those books, just means those books have more of a chance to get some good sales when they are written well.

Yeah, so, maybe read up on how to succeed in a mature industry. Warning, though, that the definitions there of the shakeout we’re seeing/about to see aren’t great for this scenario, because I don’t expect consolidation, I just expect a lot of people to drop out with their books sitting there on Amazon forever not being actively promoted and with no new content being produced until probably at some point there’s a cull of books that don’t sell off of the various platforms. (Maybe. It’s electronic records so what’s the space it’s taking up, right? But still. If you’re not showing them in search indexes, why bother listing them?)

Anyway. With that cheerful thought I am going to go spend the day with my family and my dog (which I just tried to spell god, haha) up in the gorgeous Colorado mountains, because no matter where my own personal path goes in the next few years I don’t regret for one moment taking the last ten years for myself, my family, and my dog. Nor do I regret a single one of the books I’ve written or all the skills I’ve had the joy of learning.