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Special Editions And Direct Engagement May Be The Answer To Stagnating Book Prices: Self-Publishing News Podcast With Dan Holloway

Special Editions and Direct Engagement May Be the Answer to Stagnating Book Prices: Self-Publishing News Podcast with Dan Holloway

On the Self-Publishing News podcast with Dan Holloway: New research says special editions and direct engagement may be the answer to stagnating book prices.

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Listen to Self-Publishing News: Special Editions and Direct Engagement

On the Self-Publishing News podcast with @agnieszkasshoes: Research says special editions and direct engagement may be the answer to stagnating book prices. Click To Tweet

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Show Notes

About the Host

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet, and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, He competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.

Read the Transcripts to Self-Publishing News: Special Editions and Direct Engagement

Dan Holloway: Hello and welcome to another Self-Publishing News podcast from here in Oxford where the weather is, as they say, as I'm sure I've said a lot recently, blowing holy. So, I apologise for noise coming in from the outside, trees banging on windows, other things variously Wuthering Heights related.

It's been quite a heavy week in the news this week; a couple of stories that I didn't get a chance to cover in the column, that I will weave into the rest of the news.

Ireland’s Basic Income for Artists Proves a Success

I will start by covering something I did look at, and that is the report into the first findings from a very interesting project in Ireland called Basic Income for Artists. This launched in 2022, it's a scheme that is paying 325 euros a week, guaranteed income, over a period of three years to 2,000 people working in the creative arts who were selected by lottery from 8,000 people who applied to take part in the scheme.

There is, and I have linked in the column where I look at it, a very detailed report, which I would thoroughly recommend that everyone reads in the Irish Examiner. One of the things that is really interesting about this is that the comments that we are seeing from artists reflect what I would have hoped/ imagined I would see, which is that people are feeling they can spend more time, or even devote themselves full time, to their art.

The really interesting thing about this is that it ties in really nicely with a lot of the income surveys we've seen recently, which have shown, most recently with the translators where we saw, I think it was 74 percent of them had another job outside of translation. When it comes to writers, whether it's the Indie Author Income Survey or Author Income Surveys for those who are traditionally published, the figure is around a half of people don't make all their income through writing activity, even if they are full time writers, as it were; they still have to do other things, some of it writing adjacent, like teaching, editing, for example, some of it just having a day job, which is something I can relate to.

That makes it very hard to dedicate the time you need to your writing to then break out of that area where you're in where you're not quite making enough money, and you feel, if only I could do it full time, then I would be able to generate the income to make me able to do it full time.

One of the interesting things about the basic income for artists program in Ireland is that this figure 325 euros a week, that's what, sort of 1,300-1,400 euros a month. That's the kind of figure that will lift a lot of those people who are making some, and a not insignificant amount of money from their writing, but not quite enough to be able to do it full time; it will lift them into a position where they can ditch the side hustle as it were, and make writing or the arts their full time focus, and that could be absolutely transformative.

So, it's a really encouraging set of results, and without being partisan, I would love to see it lead to more experiments elsewhere; ultimately people reconsidering how they think about basic income if they have been slightly more sceptical of it.

There are many reasons for and against having it, but people being able to devote their time to creative work, saying that wouldn't happen doesn't seem to be one of those arguments that we can use against it.

The Importance of Doubling-Down on Your Niche

If I could sum up the other two stories I covered, and one of the areas I want to look at that I didn't quite cover, it would be to say that the news this week has placed an interesting slant on what you might call the importance of niche, or of finding your space in the market and then really doubling down on that.

So, one of the things I talked about when I had a long conversation with Len from LeanPub at the end of last year, was that I felt that we might be almost coming full circle in the self-publishing world and coming back to the Kevin Kelly idea of a thousand true fans.

My feelings around that was driven by the growth of subscription services, deflationary pressures on the basic prices of books, but also an increasing willingness and desire of people who love books to have contact, to have real engagement with the authors they love, and maybe to spend a little bit more for a little bit more access or a little bit of a different product.

So, the two stories that have really fed that this week, first there was a fascinating bit of research by the analysis company Enders, who looked at the price of books between 2001 and 2020 and saw that the price of books in that period had risen. These are UK prices. So, $7.81 to £8.97, a real term rise would have taken that price to £13.80.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the price of books hasn't kept up with the price of inflation. This comes at a time when the price of producing books is going up and up, so obviously we know shipping costs are getting higher, there are all sorts of global issues around shipping, paper costs are getting really high, this is something that started in the pandemic and hasn't eased. So, the cost of printing books is going up, but people are paying less for them.

Now, Enders is very unsubtle in where it places the blame for this. It places it roundly at the doors of Amazon, basically. They actually do give the name, so I'm not doing anything untoward in mentioning that.

They say that what's really needed is more diversity in online retail of physical products, is how they put it, and that this is what Amazon is stopping. One of the things that I find really interesting is that they're talking about the problem with monopolies is that they drive prices down, not that they drive prices up, and that sort of flips things on its head.

Very interestingly, I'm also reading at the moment, Rana Faruha's fascinating book, Don't Be Evil. I'm sure you can guess which tech company that is about, but it is about the way that we need to, amongst other things, rethink what the problems are with monopolies.

Monopolies aren't just bad because they drive prices up for consumers, sometimes they drive prices down, but they can still do bad things.

The bad thing that the analysts here are pointing out is happening as a result of prices not keeping up with the rest of inflation, is that it is harder for people who make books to make a living doing so.

It's a very similar situation to what farmers trying to sell their products in an environment where supermarkets have an equal hold on the market and drive prices down, ostensibly serving the consumer, but not necessarily serving the people who actually produce stuff.

Another of the really interesting things they say is, they say prices need to rise for people to make money from books, but that doesn't necessarily need to be a rise in the base price of books. What they see a role for is more and more special editions, special content. So, that very much is related to this idea of what will fans pay for that your regular reader won't, and is it possible to make a living by producing really high quality, beautifully produced things and extra access for people who really want to have that kind of relationship with you?

We live in an age where you've got platforms like Patreon, Kickstarter, who are making it possible to do that or to produce that sort of special edition sense and extra content that people will get that, that your regular person, they can still read the book, but you might not necessarily be able to afford that something extra. So, you're not being deprived of the content, but people who can afford to pay a bit extra and want to pay extra can do so in order to get something special.

This is something obviously that we're very familiar with in ALLi with the whole Self-Publishing 3.0 idea.

The Increasing Role and Popularity of Libraries

The way that this ties into something that I didn't have a chance to look at, which is a fascinating piece by Guy Gonzalez, who is an old friend of ALLi's, I don't mean to say old, Guy, if you're listening, who works for, or writes for, Library Pass. It ties in with the increasing role and popularity of libraries, because obviously if we're making our money through special editions, then this is driving prices up. So, it is more important than ever to make sure that the people who can't afford that can get access to stuff.

One of the interesting things, Guy has a fascinating piece on the Library Pass blog, I would recommend thoroughly you have a look at. I will send the link to Howard so he can put it in the description here.

It enhances the story I ran a couple of weeks ago about Overdrive and how Overdrive are doing really well in increasing the number of digital downloads that people make from libraries. So, he points out that it's not just Overdrive. It's also Comics Plus and it's Sora, and Sora, of course, is the scholarly content catalogue. So, it's a textbook catalogue.

So, there are all sorts of ways that we can get our materials into libraries, and libraries are getting really good at lending eBooks. This feels like an ecosystem that is falling into place that is going to allow people to get hold of books if they need to and can't afford to pay a premium price. But nonetheless, for authors to be able to sell things at a premium price and make a living, and then obviously a basic income might be an additional part of that.

‘Fairly Trained’ AI Certification Body Introduced

That means I've actually taken up most of the podcast without talking about AI, which is absolutely fantastic. Two interesting AI stories this week though. The first really fits into this sort of idea of niche premium products, and that is the announcement of something called Fairly Trained, which is an unashamed take on the term Fair Trade.

It's a certification body which will certify AI platforms as being copyright friendly. So, it's the equivalent of an FSC stamp that you might see on paper or wood saying that this is sustainable forestry, or a fair-trade stamp saying that we pay producers a fair rate.

So, anyone who uses AI apps or AI tools can know whether or not copyright has been fairly treated. It's not 100 percent clear what they mean by fairly treated. I would hope it means at least transparency and compensation.

So, it's a really interesting development. Whether it has this potential to be the equivalent of the organic movement, the fair-trade movement, the zero-carbon movement, where people had been looking increasingly to make sure that the products they use align with their values.

Interestingly, we have seen a move away from this in recent years, or in recent months, as the cost-of-living crisis has bitten across the world. Some very interesting stories coming out of Wall Street about how zero carbon investment, for example, is less popular than it was a few months ago because people can't necessarily afford it. People can't afford the premium price associated with low carbon products, so there is less demand for companies that specialize in them, and as a result, investors are not seeing a potential downside to companies who cut corners on price at the expense of other concerns like the environment or paying suppliers.

So, it's going to be interesting whether this is coming at the wrong time, basically. It feels like something that might have done better a year or so back, and now it doesn't necessarily feel like a time when people have the bandwidth or the financial resources to start paying real attention to how the AI tools that make their lives easier and save them endless hassle are actually being trained.

It'd be interesting, it'd be good if that was the case, but that remains to be seen.

China Court Grants Copyright to AI-Generated Images

Then finally, this is a really interesting story that Mark Williams has run, which is about a legal ruling in China on the protection afforded to images that have been generated by AI. So, this is a case where someone has used Stable Diffusion, obviously a very widely used AI art platform, to produce images.

Those images were then used without the creator's permission. The creator sued the people who used them for breach of copyright and the Chinese courts ruled in their favour. So, that's a really interesting ruling. It suggests that in China, at least, AI-generated images can be protected by copyright.

So, that very much is not something that is familiar in practice, to many of us. We're used to thinking that the standard position is that if something has been generated using AI, it can't be original enough for us to have protection for those images, but it seems that in China, at least, they do. So, it will be very interesting to see how the rest of the world reacts to or follows that as these cases become more frequent and so there becomes more case law, and ultimately, inevitably more and different statute law across the world.

I'm sure there will be more to say on all of these things next week and over the coming weeks and months, but for now, I will be grateful that the roof hasn't blown off and leave you there. Until next week.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an independent author, developmental editor, and journalist who specializes in Jewish issues. He is also the news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors.

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