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Indie Authors And Book Publishing Subscriptions: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

Indie Authors and Book Publishing Subscriptions: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

Despite skepticism in some quarters, book publishing subscriptions look like they’re becoming the next big thing in publishing. Subscriptions allow publishers to build direct relationships with readers, create new offerings based on consumption data, and build a steady, recurring revenue stream.

But what do subscriptions mean for indie authors? How do we join the action and how will we be paid? And can we build our own subscription models?

Join Orna Ross and Joanna Penn in this #AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast as they explore subscription models and book publishing.

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The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor IngramSpark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Now, go write and publish!

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Book publishing subscriptions are becoming the next big thing in publishing. What does that mean for indie authors? @OrnaRoss and @thecreativepenn have answers. Click To Tweet

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Read the Transcripts on Book Publishing Subscriptions

Joanna Penn: Hello everybody, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Advanced Self-Publishing Salon. That’s what we are doing today. I’m Joanna Penn, here with Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna. Yes, advanced, that is the key word, none of the rest of it matters, just so long as people realize this is not for beginners, and definitely not today, I think.

Joanna Penn: No, absolutely. Today we are covering the subscription model for publishing and what that means for indie authors in particular.

But before we get into it, as ever, we are authors, that’s what we do, and we like to start with a bit of news. So, Orna, what’s going on with ALLi?

#Audiblegate and #SelfPubCon Update

Orna Ross: I suppose the big newsy bit is around London Book Fair, that there won’t to be an Author HQ at London Book Fair this year, and so there won’t be an ALLi presence. So we just confirmed that now. Various things are happening with London Book Fair, they’re not sure exactly what format it will take. It will certainly have some digital format, but aside from that, they’re not sure, but we will be running our SelfPubCon at the end of the year to align with Frankfurt. On the 23rd and 24th of October. Our theme this time will be writing craft, so we’ve been planning and processing all of that over the last little while.

At the campaign level, we are still working on the audible situation with TERM, The Equitable Rights Movement, formed by Susan May and Colleen Cross. Those of you who publish the audio books will have had your information from ACX about your dashboard, and essentially, we are still confused. It hasn’t fully answered our questions. In fact, it’s created a bit more confusion. We have put some queries into audible, but in the meantime we’re, kind of, recommending that people recognize the fact that accepting the changes that have been made is to accept that authors should be liable for returns, and our line is very much that these returns, which Audible/ ACX is now calling qualified returns. These are not what we call true returns, which are what we feel is the only returns that an author should be liable for. If somebody has read more than a quarter of the book, 25%, then it’s not a true return. Anybody who gets fed up with the book and returns because they don’t like it, absolutely fine to take the payment there. But if it is Audible’s easy return and exchange scheme, then authors really shouldn’t have to pay for that at all.

So, yeah, things go on there, and we have a petition running and a newsletter if you want to sign up for that.

What else is happening? Well, we have a whole new publishing process and team coming in to work on our short guides, which will be available to members in the dashboard. We just finding that people want more and more, rather than big comprehensive guides, small guides to particular issues around where they’re at, at the moment.

So, we cover these to some extent on our blog, selfpublishingadvice.org, but people want a little bit more in-depth stuff. So, we’re doing these kinds of 10,000-word short booklets on specific items and hoping to release one of those a month going forward, and just getting a team of people together who can help us to do that.

So go, go, go, as usual.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Well, I mean, it just goes to show, I’ve been seeing quite a bit of stuff in the group and people saying, oh there’s so much to do when you’re an indie author that’s not the writing, and that is true. That is true. We can’t deny that, but what we have now is, we have ALLi, and we have community where we help each other, and there is a way to do it. Whereas, I feel like before, there wasn’t so much a way. So, I think you’re exactly right, having these little guides for things. And also, I would say to people, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, then just take one bit at a time.

You do not need to master everything all at once, even before you’ve written your first draft of your book.

I mean, this is the advanced show, but I am saying this to myself because I’m really tired, because I’ve been in that finishing energy mode. My, How to Make a Living with Your Writing, the third edition, which was basically completely rewritten, almost completely rewritten, like 90% rewritten, updated version, third edition, and, logically, you think, an updated edition will be not much work. And it was huge amounts of work. And then obviously I narrated the audiobook and I do large print, paperback, hardback, eBooks, and I’m wide, and all of these things, and it’s like, goodness me. And then I also did the German edition of Your Author Business Plan.

So, all of that finishing energy, it’s not the creating stuff, it’s all the publishing and the launching and putting it out into the world, and to be honest, I had some moments of, I don’t enjoy this bit. I’m not enjoying this right now. I think the weather’s been mad and all this, but I was like, okay, once I’m over this hump, and once they’re out there in the world, then I can just ignore them again, because most of my marketing is the podcast and ongoing stuff. So, another bit of encouragement to people is, with the business models we generally recommend, it’s a longer-term thing, so once it’s out, you can relax and the circle turns again, and I’m now back into the creative mode, the research, the first draft, and that’s pretty exciting.

So, on that I wanted to also to challenge people, because we’ve all had the pandemic, we’re still in the pandemic, and I’ve been thinking a lot again about, what is the book you would be upset about if you’ve died without writing it. And I keep coming back to that.

I also had a birthday this month and it was like, okay, so I’m now writing that book, the book I’ve avoided pretty much for at least 15 years, which I’m calling the shadow book, and if you listen to my podcast, you will have heard about it. So, I’m back into creation mode. I’m scared of this book, which means it must be a good one to write, but I wanted to just remind people of the circle of creation we go through and the different forms of energy we have. So Orna, where are you with your circle of energy?

Orna Ross: My circle of energy realized that I needed more assistance. So, ALLi and Orna Ross are very linked in terms of publishing processes and writing processes. So yeah, I’ve really spent the last couple of weeks now building out a whole new kind of writing and publishing process and team, because I realized if I don’t get assistance with the non-fiction, the fiction, you’re talking about the stuff you’d be upset if you haven’t published it, well, some of those books for me have been hanging around for a long time and not getting to them, because non-fiction always seems to dominate. So, I really feel for the first time, that I’m, kind of, across everything in a way, and just to speak to your point about overwhelm, I think it is inevitable to feel overwhelmed periodically, and it usually means that you’re going through a growth spurt. It does settle down and, I think, what you said there is the thing that we really need to keep in mind. You can only ever do one thing at a time. You literally only can in any given moment, and to try and keep the mind as focused as possible on what the one thing is, and eventually the overwhelm does clear. So, the hardest thing sometimes it’s just to keep going, but that is the thing. The thing we need most is that resilience and that ability to keep on coming back.

So, yeah, I’m also doing a big experiment with my Creative Self-Publishing. So, the eBook will go out as normal, though I am giving it a bit more launch juice than usual, but I’m actually trying to license the print in different territories, just really to go through the process and see what’s possible for an ordinary kind of book, rather than a standout fiction book or whatever, an ordinary nonfiction book is possible in this climate, in this day and age, are people interested. So, I’m working with an agent on that project, and then the audiobook. And seeing, also the release of each format. Normally, I put things out together, whatever I have ready goes out there. I’ve been very patient with this one, holding back, and the eBook will go out separately to the print, to the audio and seeing each of these as a publicity kind of opportunity and just doing it in a different way, just for the sake of experiment, to see.

Joanna Penn: Good, fantastic. And again, experimentation, this is what we do. We just keep on trying different things and who knows? Things change so much, and everything moves on, and in fact, just to say with the launch of How to Make a Living with Your Writing, the third edition, most of my sales were direct sales of eBook and audiobook. I don’t do print direct; I just can’t deal with that hassle. But with eBook and audio book, it was a big launch direct, and in fact, so much so that someone emailed me and said, it doesn’t look like your ranking’s that high on Amazon. And I was like, yeah, I don’t really care because I just got money in my bank account, like right now.

Orna Ross: Bank before rank!

Joanna Penn: Bank before rank, totally. And I’m very encouraged because more and more people are buying eBooks and audiobooks direct from me, and I’m encouraging authors to do that. Obviously, we’re going to talk about that more as we go through the year, but that kind of control is super important.

So, should we get into our topic? Anything else before we get in?

Orna Ross: No, let’s do it.

What are book publishing subscriptions and why do readers enjoy them?

Joanna Penn: Okay. So, today we’re talking about subscription models and the impact on authors. The reason we wanted to talk about this is because we see a lot of negativity in various groups and discussions, not just amongst authors, but also in the publishing industry as a wider whole, a traditional publishing industry like, Oh no, the apocalypse, the streaming apocalypse, and a lot of this comes from the music industry, but as we’re going to talk about, things are changing, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

So, let’s start with a definition, what are subscription services and why are they so good for customers? So, I’ll start from the customer perspective. So, I want everyone listening to think of yourself, think of what you already do for your subscription.

So, for example, I have Spotify for music and podcasts. I have a paid Spotify. I have Amazon Prime, which includes TV and free delivery. I have Netflix, I have Apple Plus TV For All Mankind, which is an amazing show. I also have Apple plus fitness, which syncs with my Apple watch, which I absolutely love. I also have recently got Kindle Unlimited, for the first time ever, because so many books, traditional publishing and indie, are now on that, although I still buy a lot of eBooks. I’m also on Audible, which is slightly different because it’s a credit model as opposed to unlimited. But those were just my entertainment options, let alone the things I pay for through my business for being an author.

But the whole point is, we have to think customer first. Why do customers love this? You pay an amount of money and you get unlimited stuff that makes your life easier and happier. So, my challenge to everyone before is to really think, how has your own behavior changed as a customer with subscription models?

What do you pay for monthly that you have as a service? So, access over ownership. So, Orna, what about you? You go into some more detail.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I do a lot of the similar ones that you do including, as well as some of the stuff you talked about, Prime, Apple Music, Netflix, I do Insight Timer, and then there’s all the business stuff. I mean, so much of what I buy as an author /publisher is done on a subscription model. And then I find myself signing up for more email newsletters, that’s a new kind of subscription model that I’m in. I support various people on Patreon, and then I also have those old newspapers and magazines that plop in through my letterbox, also subscriptions, you know, that was the old way to do it.

So, lots there, but I think when it comes to subscription modules, in terms of thinking of ourselves, and setting them up, I think there are three kinds of options that are available to us, and all the subscriptions that we buy fall into one of these three.

So, you’ve got the pure subscription model, where your revenue is fixed, and you pay a monthly or an annual payment and it goes through. You’ve got a consumption model where the revenue is variable. So, an example would be on Patreon, you can sign up per month to support a creator, or you can sign up for the per creation model, where you only pay when they actually make something and put it out.

And then the other model is the hybrid there’s always the hybrid model isn’t there, where they bring the two together, and you’ve got some kind of combination of fixed and variable. I’m a huge subscription fan. I like it as a consumer. I also really like it as an author, and I’m moving more and more towards that.

So, I mean, in a way, ALLi is a kind of subscription. People pay an annual fee, and in return for that they get all sorts of benefits and downloads and services, and so on. I’ve always liked the membership model, and I’m moving more and more towards using my Patreon more for my regular followers and, you know, the true fans thing that we were talking about a couple of shows back. I really like it because it’s a real, authentic relationship, and that suits me. It suits my personality, and it suits the kind of publishing that I want to do, because I’m more interested in that sort of genuine engagement and connection, than with the star system, which is a sell as many as you can kind of thing.

It’s a different kind of model. I think it’s something that every author should be thinking about.

How can book publishing subscriptions benefit indie authors?

Joanna Penn: Right. Well let’s take a step back, because you’ve jumped in on a Patreon there, but that is, I think, as you said, that’s the relationship side of it, but most authors are going to be experiencing subscription services where we have no relationship with the customer. So, let’s look at those first and then we’ll return to Patreon, because I feel like it’s a bit like a funnel.

This is how I tend to think of subscription. The services we want to take advantage of are the ones where they have a ton of people, think of them like a really big net. So, my podcast for example, is on Spotify. I don’t know if this goes out on Spotify, but Spotify is a great example. They have a fantastic algorithm, and I really want them to do audiobooks, which is something that may well happen this year.

But let’s just go through a few. Obviously, eBooks, we’ve got Kindle unlimited, which we will return to, but there’s also things like Bookmate, Blinkist, Kobo plus, Scribd, 24symbols, Perlego, there’s lots of that. So, that’s eBooks. For audiobooks, the big ones are Audible, Storytel, but obviously Scribd is also audiobooks as well.

There are print subscription boxes, but I feel like they’re slightly different because they’re not really an all-you-can-eat thing, and I don’t see them being open to all of us in general.

So, I think the main thing to think is that the stuff we’re talking about on the bigger level are services where you can, for most of them, you can be non-exclusive, for some of them i.e. KU, there is an exclusivity requirement.

And by putting your books into these services, you will be basically paid, not a sale, you’re paid a pool amount. We’ll come back to the money in the moment. But for me, the idea is to reach that type of reader who is quite different to the reader who might buy your hardback print book, or who’s going to become a patron. So, for me, it really is this funnel idea where I want to be on all the platforms and be able to reach all the people, and some of them will come down and may buy other formats. They might buy a workbook, they might join my Patreon, they might click affiliate link, or whatever. So, that’s kind of how I see it.

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, what we’re talking about here is subscription really is discovery, because, again, it’s so hard to generalize, that’s the other thing. I think the important thing to say is a subscription is like every other aspect of being an indie author, there’s more than one way to do it, and there’s more than one kind of model to follow. So, for some people, it is about getting very personal and doing the premium products, and maybe doing that direct. And then for others, as you say, it’s the subscription, maybe only seeing it as a discovery, and just being in there being really important. But I think also it’s important to recognize that different genre behave in different ways with subscription, and that certain genre do very well on the big subscription platforms and others, not so well.

So, always starting with the kind of books that you write and the kind of person you are, your personality and the kind of consumer that you want to read, because there are some people who will buy on subscription, and they buy on subscription only. They are more than catered for in their needs in subscription, they wouldn’t dream of buying an e-book, never mind a premium product.

So, having a think about that as well, and different platforms also behave very differently. So, all we can give here today is very much the top-level view and the overview. And in terms of thinking about your own strategy and how you want to step into this world, then you need to think that through very carefully and also look at how different platforms work. Become a consumer yourself, be on the receiving end of it.

So, a lot of the principles that apply to self-publishing generally very much apply here too.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think, again, the sort of attitude of the publishing industry and the music industry was, Oh no, this will cannibalize the sales of books, print books, whatever else, records CDs. But there are a number of things. We’ve got a few examples here.

So, one, thanks to Spotify music, retail sales are up 11% this year, after 15 years of decline. What’s so fascinating right now is the music industry is at least a decade ahead of us. I was looking for Radiohead. Oh, where is it? It was 2007 when Radiohead, I know, 2007, they put their album up for pay what you want. They were the first big name to go independent, to go direct to consumer. 2007. So, we are well downstream, and funny that I was talking about happily selling direct now after so long. So, what’s happened in the music industry is that streaming has grown an industry in decline. And I mean, someone like me, I am not someone who had spent any money on music for at least a decade, maybe more, and now I’m paying monthly to Spotify, and most of that’s going to Bon Jovi, to be honest, Madonna, some big names. I’m not a massive music fan, I’m still listening to what I did in my twenties, but it was interesting.

This other thing that I just found in the New Publishing Standard, which is a fantastic globally focused, wide-focused blog by Mark Williams. This is about Storytel. So we get obsessed with Audible in the US, the UK, but Storytel essentially now has a global catalog with more than 500,000 titles in 30 different languages.

The Nordic market is the most developed audiobook market in the world, and they basically say that the total book market grew 8.7% in Sweden, subscription grew over 30%, and audiobooks as a format make up 57% of all Swedish book sales. And this is something I heard about back in November at The Future Book, they basically said, 90% of all fiction sales in 2020, were audio book.

So, this is a market that has print, but has also gone hardcore audio, not really doing much with eBook. And what’s interesting with Storytel is they are, obviously, they’re subscription, that’s why we’re talking about them, but they are taking the markets that Audible is not, and that is very, very interesting.

And you can get on Storytel through you Findaway Voices, for example, if you have your audiobooks wide.

So, for me, I see a direct relationship between the way that Spotify and streaming has grown the music industry to how streaming audio books are growing the book market, and potentially changing people’s relationship to reading.

So, I wanted to, sort of, share that as a very encouraging move.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. And I think the other encouraging thing that came out of all of that was that 60% of users on Storytel said that they read books in different genres now than they would have. So, the other thing about subscription is it allows people to take a chance on a book that they wouldn’t if they had to pay for it. And again, that’s really good from the discovery perspective.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. And then I did just want to mention, I haven’t quite finished the book, I was trying to finish before this evening, it’s called Tarzan Economics by Will Page, which just came out this week, and he’s Spotify’s CFO or something, which is about pivoting through disruption and the metaphor with the Tarzan is to swing from liana to liana you have to have them both in your hands at one point, but then you really have to let go of the old one in order to swing onwards, and that’s really what he’s talking about with how the music industry fought for a decade to stop this happening, to fight piracy, and in the end, it was the pirates that they actually employed to build Spotify. Really fascinating stuff.

So, that’s what subscription is and why we think it’s great.

What are the problems with book publishing subscriptions for indie authors?

Joanna Penn: Let’s talk about what the problems are. So, Orna, what are some of the problems with subscription models?

Orna Ross: So, I think the publishing industry has very much mirrored the mainstream music industry with the concern that, if people can get unlimited stuff on subscription, then why would they buy a book? And so, eBook sales and print, and audiobook too, would be cannibalized by subscription models. Also that digital content would just keep going down and decreasing the value of the book. Also I think there is a concern that too much power is concentrated in big companies.

So, we are seeing that with Audible and the agreements that were agreed there are definitely anti-creator. The author has very little input in it. And I think also the contracts and agreements, from our point of view, we’re concerned that some services are switching to subscription, not flagging it properly, not really getting proper agreement. So, it’s really important that creators are consulted in terms of changes that are made, because swinging from one tree to another is all very well, but if you don’t know you have been swung, that’s completely different, just to completely bowdlerize the Tarzan metaphor there, but we need to be kept formed as creators and in some cases that’s not happening.

So, we need to sign up for subscription, and in order to do that, we need to know what we’re signing up for and what the terms and conditions are, and so on and so forth. So, there are opportunities in these changes for creators to be sidelined in some ways. So, we need to be very careful about what we’re signing when it comes to subscription agreements. Not to say that they’re necessarily bad, but that they do fit with whatever strategy we have, and that we understand what we’re signing.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely, and I think probably the biggest issue I see is that these sites, let’s call them sites, or apps, become a walled garden. So, what’s interesting is, in fact it’s so funny, it was Frankfurt book fair in 2019. I had not considered Spotify until I heard them do the keynote at the audiobook conference at Frankfurt Book Fair, and I was so impressed by them and their technology, and I’ve subsequently been more and more impressed with what they’re doing that I was like, yeah, I want to be on here as a user because I want to understand how it works so that I can get on it when I can as an audiobook creator. And it’s interesting, what happened is I don’t use Apple podcasts anymore, and I used Apple podcasts for probably a decade, and I moved over because of their superior algorithm. That’s basically it.

Now, what company might have a superior algorithm in the workspace, I wonder? I think one of the biggest issues is, well, for the platform they want the exclusive content. Spotify has exclusive podcasts. Amazon has exclusive content in KU. Audible exclusives, blah, blah, blah.

So, for me, the biggest challenge now is that I want to be on every platform. I want to be in KU, but I do not want to be exclusive. So, Kobo plus, for example. As ever, Kobo is wonderful, and it has a non-exclusive subscription service. Scribd is also non-exclusive. And then what I like, obviously we’re not going to talk about the other problems with Audible, but at least you can go to ACX and be non-exclusive. There is a non-exclusive contract where, yes, you get lower royalties, but you still get to then publish elsewhere, hence why I’m on Storytel, not just Audible, and all the other retailers. So, for me, what I would like is a chance to be on every subscription model service and reach those readers in the same way that traditional publishing does, like JK Rowling is in KU with Harry Potter. So, obviously, why can’t I be?

What do you think, Orna? Do you think this is the next big fight, getting us non-exclusive authors in?

Orna Ross: Well, we’d certainly like that.

It’s interesting that two different branches of Amazon use exclusivity in completely different ways. So, where we have been speaking about Audible problems in regard to one area, in this area, great. And this is what we’d like KDP to do, to actually pay more royalties to your exclusive people, but don’t shut everybody out. So, yeah, let’s ask them.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I think so. And I think that to me is the push.

And then, of course, as we’ve talked about before, it’s about having your author ecosystem so that you can bring people into your own subscription model, like a Patreon or, you know, there are various, we talked before about SubStack, for example, for email lists. So, there are lots of programs that are now allowing us to make money in different ways from various platforms.

So, I guess our overarching feeling is that the opportunity is there to be part of these subscription models, and because I’ve been reading a lot about the music industry, all of the recommendations. So, I went to South by Southwest, this big conference digitally, obviously, not to Texas.

It was very sad, but everything they talked about for the music industry was exactly what we talk about, which is don’t put all your eggs in one basket, don’t make all your money off Spotify, you should have some revenue from Spotify, some revenue from selling direct, some revenue from online concerts: they’re doing concerts in Fortnite now and all this type of thing.

And again, what we’re saying is, yes, take advantage of it, but it’s not your only stream of income. Actually, I should mention, I did a survey, I don’t have the exact figures here, but it was something like, nearly 800 authors did my survey, of which only 4% had one stream of income, of which it was either eBook sales only, or freelance writing. Everyone else had multiple streams of income, of which this kind of thing was only one of them. So, that was really encouraging. Although obviously, self-selected audience in my world, but I think that’s the main thing. As ever, don’t have all of your eggs in one basket, and how can you branch out and use these services, but not entirely all your income?

Book publishing subscriptions are not going away – we need to use them to our advantage

Orna Ross: Absolutely. I think the important thing to say is, it’s not going away. Consumers want it now, and expect it in almost every arena of life, and so it is inevitable. So, I would say, there is a lot of resistance in traditional publishing to the subscription model, and lots of authors are resistant too, but I think an attitude shift is the best policy here, where we can actually accept that there’s no point in fighting the inevitable. It makes much more sense to harness your energy and work up your own strategy, where you can take advantage of what’s happening and where the readers are going and what they want. And penalizing customers for their choices is never a good plan for a business.

Joanna Penn: Actually, on that, really interesting thing, because, of course, this returns thing has got everyone’s mind going, but I saw somewhere some reader, I think it was on Twitter. It was like, what do you do when you finish your book, and someone had said, I return it and get a new one. And the reaction, all these authors piled on to this person, but then there was a realization that probably she was reading in KU, and that is what you do in KU, you return the book, and you get a new one.

Orna Ross: It’s a library.

Joanna Penn: Yes exactly. So, we have to adjust our minds, but it was so interesting because people got completely the wrong end of the stick. Maybe it’s because of everything that’s been talked about with Audible when people are doing that, but even then, if people are doing that, they’re allowing that, we should not be penalizing the reader. You see angry authors over the internet telling readers off for the behavior that the platforms allow them, and in fact encourage them to do. So, we must have the relationship with the reader, don’t make people feel bad for whatever choice they have in what they do. So, I think that’s important too. This, sort of, let the reader read however they want to read, and try and encourage some of them onto your email list, into your other streams of income, I guess. You have to just bite your tongue.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. I think authors underestimate sometimes the role that they can play in educating the reader, because readers don’t understand how things work. They just see the outside, whatever is coming towards them. There is a real opportunity each time to explain to readers how much better we do if they buy directly from us on our websites, for example. They don’t necessarily know that. Or with the Audible thing, with a lot of readers, when it’s explained to them properly and with care, and with an understanding of their position, that, Hey, when you return a book, the money is taken back from me.

Oh, I didn’t know, I had no idea. What should I do? And it’s a proper conversation. Not to let author anger get in the way of, ultimately, what we’re always-

The reader is King, Queen, Princess, and Prince, and we’re always trying to please them. That’s actually our job, to serve our readers.

So, to take that approach, I think, it’s always better for everybody.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and for me, attraction marketing is the basis of what we do in order to make more revenue. If you’re useful and helpful, and you are generous, it does work. I know it’s hard for people to believe, but I know this works, I’ve been doing this for a long time now and it does work.

So, I hope that helps, in terms of the attitude.

Some people have asked, how do you market specifically to these platforms? The main thing is to just be, you know, this is a podcast that goes out everywhere. Whoever’s listening they could choose to read one of our books on Scribd for example, or they could choose to go to Storytel, or whatever.

So, by doing any kind of wide marketing, you’re going to reach readers wherever they are, and I think what’s happening more and more, I’ve got Google Play Books on my podcast this week, and the more you hear about this stuff, the more you realize that people don’t read in exactly the same way, by genre, by country, by language, by territory, by preference, and so being everywhere and just putting your stuff in the world and linking to everything. So for example, bookstoread.com, which is run by Draft2Digital, you don’t have to publish through Draft2Digital to use it, BooksToRead gives you one link that will link to tons of different places where people can get your book, you can also link to those on your website.

So, I’ve started linking direct to Scribd for example, because I’ve noticed that’s having a bit of an uptick. So, just be aware that readers might just choose to read in whichever way they want.

And the other thing that I noticed is that the latest studies on 2020 book sales was that 67% of book sales revenue in 2020 was the backlist. So, older books that are now being re-read, rediscovered, or just discovered for the first time, because the metadata is better. That’s very similar to a lot of the music industry stuff. I mean, we’ve seen the big deals, Bob Dylan, people selling their backlist because that backlist is making a ton of money.

So, the other recommendation is, relax and create yourself a backlist.

Orna Ross: The most important thing to do, absolutely. Whether you’re selling subscription, direct, on a platform, no matter what you’re doing, keep on writing. That’s the most important thing.

Joanna Penn: It is. Anything else, Orna, or should we announce next month’s show?

Orna Ross: I think that’s about it on subscription. If people have questions, as ever, they can just drop us a line at [email protected], and we can answer your specific questions if you have any.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. So, next month we’re returning, as the cycle turns once more, we’re turning back to the craft side. We’re going to talk about researching your book for fiction and nonfiction. Both of us do a lot of research. We’ll be talking about how to do research for different types of books in-person, online, various other ways. How much research do you need? Analysis by paralysis.  When to stop. And how to attribute your research in your books. All of these are critical to creating our books.

So, yeah, anything else, Orna, before we say goodbye?

Orna Ross: Nope, that’s it for this month.

So, happy writing everybody and happy publishing.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Hi, Orna and Joanna,

    I tremendously appreciate ALLi. It is a font of knowledge and a true advocate for indie authors.

    However, I have to disagree with some of the points made here to place books—digital or audio—in a subscription service.

    Let’s start with the false comparison of digital book content with movies and television shows which are streamed within digital networks. Since screenwriters work within a guild (in the US, Writers Guild of America), they have a minimum in which they are paid on any project. Of course, they don’t own the copyright. The producers do. Producers also have guilds (In the US, the Directors Guild of America), which negotiates minimums with the streaming networks. And actors, through SAG, have minimums for their participation as well.

    At this point, at least in the US, authors, indie or traditionally published, aren’t allowed to unionize precisely because we own the copyrights on our intellectual property. And though the Authors Guild is making headway on a US Congressional bill that may allow us to bargain collectively so that we aren’t subjected to practices that pay so little for our intellectual property or that tie it up for too long a period, its efforts may not yield this status for some time.

    This leaves it to us, the authors, to determine which royalty models work in our favor.

    To be clear: a subscription isn’t a royalty model. To be more accurate, it is a “consumer loyalty” model that benefits the storefront at the content provider’s expense.

    Amazon (and its subsidiary, Audible) and Kobo—both of which offer digital books or audiobooks to subscribers—and other online storefronts NEED our content to sustain their consumer retention rates. But their subscription programs do so at our expense, paying us, on average, .004 to .005 per page turn, vs. a flat royalty, based on a price point we set, for the whole book. For example, if you have an ebook that is 409 page turns at .0045, you’re making 1.89 for a completed read, vs. 68% of your retail price of, say, 3.99, which is 2.71. In other words, a third of your royalty.

    The only mitigation of this tremendous royalty drop offered to authors by the online storefronts is that our books “will be exposed to more readers.” What is not mentioned is that there is little or no promotional effort on the part of the online storefront to showcase our subscription books. For example: whereas being in KU may result in the rise of the book’s Amazon algorithm and that utilizing “5 Free Days out of 90” may help it bump along to a larger audience and get it a few more reviews (which may also incrementally help the book’s Amazon algorithms), the financial result of this 90-day commitment may not be worth it, especially when you consider the loss of going exclusive to one online storefront.

    As for the come-on that Amazon has “increased the pot,” I would love to know how many of the books enrolled in KU and earning those bonuses are, in fact, published by an Amazon imprint.

    The irony: Indie authors are always the canaries in the coal mine. We test everything: story ideas, cover looks, genre concepts, reader response, reader loyalty—not to mention price points! When pricing our first-in-series at Free or .99, but then raise the second eBook to 3.99 or 4.99 or 5.99, we do so knowing that the reader and we will be satisfied with the transaction. The online bookstores take their stated percentages. It’s a win-win for all.

    Orna is right to point out that “authors underestimate sometimes the role that they can play in educating the reader.” To that end, when readers ask me why more of my books aren’t currently in audio, I explain how much time, effort, and money it takes to create an audiobook, and how little I make—primarily via Audible—because of that specific platform’s inflated retail cost, which does nothing more than propping up its subscription service. I also explain that we are pricing our books around, or less than, the price of a Starbucks Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte should make them happy. It will take them hours to read them. Whereas the latte can be nursed for, what, a half-hour, tops? No contest.

    I then point them in the direction of audiobook stores that pay us a flat royalty per download: for example, Chirp and Authors Republic.

    Readers want the authors they love to keep writing books for them. They make it clear to us in their comments, reviews, and emails that they will pay what we ask because they love our stories, our voices. They realize we have to pay our rent, that we must feed ourselves and our families.

    Spotify and other music subscription services killed royalties to musicians. I know several who bemoan the few pennies they make per download. To make money in their art, they are left with only doing live performances—most of which are flat-fee gigs; whatever merch or online access they can sell in pennies to them. And of course, COVID has killed concerts as a profit generator. This article explains how and why:

    https://www.businessinsider.com/musicians-organize-unionize-spotify-streaming-apps-royalties-deal-contract-2021-4

    The axiom “Everyone is doing it. It’s what readers want…” makes us our own worst enemies: something we can not—and should not be.

    We own the content. Content is king. We can set the terms in which it can and cannot be sold. If we want to earn a fair price for our intellectual property, we should not buy into marketing programs like online bookstores’ subscriptions that cut our royalties from dollars to pennies.

    It starts by joining together and saying “No” to this egregious practice.

    ALLi could—and should—be a leader in that regard.

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