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Self-publishing News: BookTok Centre Stage At Frankfurt

Self-publishing News: BookTok Centre Stage at Frankfurt

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at the publishing industry's attempts to use TikTok.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

Do listen to September's Self-publishing News podcast here. We talk about Spotify, of course, and took a deep dive into what the controversy over AI-generated art means for indie authors and the wider book business. This week's #indieauthorchat is in its usual Wednesday slot, at 8pm UK time, 3pm Eastern Time. Tim will be talking with us about what Spotify's audiobooks move means for us. And a reminder that you can take part in research on the traits of self-published writers at Kingston by taking the survey here.

TikTok Takes Over Frankfurt, but is it Really the Writer's Friend?

We need to talk about TikTok. Apparently. Though with 1.8 billion monthly users predicted by the end of 2022, it seems plenty of us already are talking plentifully. And – crucially – making it very successful. This week saw news that it was the top grossing app in the 3rd quarter of the year.

There are three stories about TikTok, or more specifically that part of the app’s community that we know as BookTok, that have been floating around the news this week. Let’s start with Frankfurt Book fair, which takes place later this month. This shows just how central TikTok has become to the book world. On Sunday 23 October, TikTok will take over the stage at the Fair. “well-known #BookTok creators will take over the TikTok Stage from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm” as they put it. And that’s just part of the programme. There will be prominent BookTok content every day.

This comes as Penguin Random House are doubling down on using TikTok to reach readers. PRH have reached a deal with TikTok. It will allow them to work with content creators to use the #BookTok hashtag to link to PRH titles in-app. It’s a big move, and one that could backfire massively. #BookTok is big on authenticity. And it, and its spillovers into other channels, can be brutal. Nowhere has that been clearer the past fortnight than the reaction to the publication of Alex Aster’s Lightlark. As I reported, Lightlark was snapped up for six figures following the author’s pitch post to TikTok. That’s a head above the parapet/live by the sword kind of move, and those metaphors have come home to roost in some very long, very untrammelled video takedowns of the book in the last few days.

One of the things that’s interesting about this somewhat homogenous embrace of BookTok is that the industry’s relationship with the app community is hardly universally positive. James Daunt’s comments about TikTok feel representative. He played the role of embarrassing dad trying to look cool to perfection. This is why I think it’s so important to be informed about trends rather than embracing or shunning them automatically. One of the biggest stories of recent weeks was Amazon changing their ebook returns policy. This was, of course, a response to the trend of returning fully read books for a refund, essentially defrauding writers. A trend that spread like wildfire… through BookTok.

A New Kindle That Lets You Write

It can feel sometimes as though ereaders are beasts from another era. But this week saw the announcement of not just a new ereader but a new Kindle, no less. The Kindle Scribe is an ereader that comes complete with a stylus to make notes with by actually writing. It feels extraordinary to think it's taken this long for a Kindle you can write on. But here we are.

PayPal's Latest U-turn Raises Questions over the Role of Payment Providers in Dictating Content Again

I go through phases where I talk about payment providers. This is usually in the context of a payment provider, whether that’s PayPal or Mastercard or another, putting pressure on a platform, publisher, or distribution channel. Usually, it involves pulling services unless certain types of content are withdrawn. There then follows an uproar from writers and others. And at the end of that process, the payment provider backs down.

This matters because we shouldn’t be at the mercy of payment providers when we make publishing decisions. When we think we are dealing with publishing services, our considerations should be on which to use because of the service they can provide us. That should be based on their own merits. We shouldn’t be having to think about which to use because of payment providers coming on heavy about content.

The most recent such controversy came when PayPal withdrew its services from the UK’s Free Speech Union, who used them to receive donations. The FSU defends, often by providing legal assistance, people who believe they have had their work “cancelled” because of its content. This includes authors dropped by their publishers. The FSU stated that it had itself been cancelled.

Subsequent events ended, predictably, in PayPal backtracking. As I have tried to do during other stories, I will not comment about the content in question. But there clearly remains an ongoing issue between payment service providers and those to whom they provide services. And that seems to revolve around a mix of arbitrariness, overreach, and lack of clarity that makes it very hard to navigate our use of platforms. If we don’t know what might be removed, when and for what. It becomes very hard to plan. And for small enterprises like indie authors, a high degree of certainty in planning is essential. PayPal in the US will be extending the list of unacceptable items for which it can remove its services from November 3rd. You can read the new list in full here. This may provide more certainty (depending on the enforcement) but probably not in the direction many would wish.

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Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I’m not at all surprised Amazon is bringing out the Kindle Scribe, since the Kobo Elipsa has recently been announced. Kobo and Amazon seem to be running in tandem, with Amazon generally offering more options (and price levels) and enticing the reader in with their convenient 5-month interest-free payment plans–I’m a sucker for those. I have both the Kindle Oasis and Kobo Libra, and they are almost identical (I use the Libra for much of my fiction reading since it syncs with the Libby app for my library books, the Oasis for nonfic because of its better handling of notes and highlights).

    My other comment is a big THANK YOU to the Authors Guild and Society of Authors for bringing extra pressure to bear on Amazon over the book return issue. I know a lot of indies don’t belong to either organization, and I think that’s a mistake–they both have considerable clout. The SoA is slowly becoming more indie-friendly (or grudgingly acknowledging reality, depending on your point of view) and the greater acceptance of online meetings and webinars since the pandemic is resulting in more accessibility. With grassroots forces such as BookTok (is it really grassroots, though?) to contend with, it sometimes helps to have a good old-fashioned monolithic institution to weigh in.

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