In the news today, we’ll talk about Amazon’s new Kindle Vella serial subscription service and what this latest model means for indie authors. It’s all part of our continuing coverage of the rise of book subscription services and the opportunities and dangers they pose. We’ll also talk about the London Book Fair’s decision to go all virtual this year.
These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with Alli News Editor Dan Holloway and book editor Howard Lovy. Together, we will bring you the latest in indie publishing news.
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About the Hosts
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines 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 on Kindle.
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Subscription Services
Howard Lovy: Hello, and welcome to Self-Publishing News. I’m Howard Lovy, and joining me from the home of Inspector Morse, the tough streets of Oxford university, is Dan Holloway. Hello, Dan, how are you?
Dan Holloway: Hi, I’m good. Term is just starting here in Oxford, so that’s always an interesting time of year. I’m looking forward to all are students coming back online.
Howard Lovy: They’re all crowding online and they’re not physically crowding the halls there, right?
Dan Holloway: I guess about half of them are here, largely it’s the medics that are here, the people who have to work in labs. I shouldn’t say it like that. It’s scientists who have to work in labs. Medics working in labs makes it sound like they’re cooking up some sort of Frankenstein stuff, doesn’t it?
Howard Lovy: Well, that’s what you’re doing, you’re coming up with new vaccines, right?
Dan Holloway: That’s true. Yes, it is still exciting to be at the heart is the world’s effort on that.
Howard Lovy: So, what have you been up to?
Dan Holloway: I’m trying to do lots of more writing about creativity. I found out today that it is World Innovation Day. So, to celebrate world innovation day, I’m trying to write much more about creativity, and how the world can be more innovative. So, what are you up to?
Howard Lovy: I’m continuing to grow my editing business while my own work in progress is neglected in a window way deep in the recesses of my computer, but I’m meeting some interesting authors with some great stories to tell. So, I’m happy to live vicariously through my clients.
So, speaking of stories, here’s a good transition to the news, the way a lot of us are getting our stories both, I guess, cinematically and through reading is through subscriptions, and there’s lots of news, seems like every week there’s new news in the subscription model, and Amazon apparently just came out with something new. Can you tell us about that?
Dan Holloway: Yes, we’re used to Kindle Unlimited as being Amazon’s, in terms of e-books, their subscription thing. But it’s very old and very clunky, and it’s been very controversial because it’s been quite easy to game it. So, you have things where people would get a table of contents at the start and someone would press chapter one, and that would take them to the end of the book, and then the author would get paid for 3000 pages read.
Howard Lovy: I’m shocked. I’m shocked. Certainly, no ALLi authors are involved in any of that.
Dan Holloway: No, quite. So basically, anyone who’s actually just writing to make a living was being cheated out of part of that pot. So, they’ve now launched Kindle Vella, which is only available in the States to start with, but it’s basically a serial. It allows you to do serial subscriptions, so you can pay to unlock a chapter. If you like that chapter, you can pay more tokens to unlock another chapter, and each token buys you a hundred words. So, if a chapter is 1200-words long, you pay 12 tokens, and tokens work out at about, as an author you make about half a cent per page. It’s very complicated, I put the whole formula on the news column this week. It depends how people buy their tokens, it depends on all sorts of different things, but basically you make half a cent per page read.
Howard Lovy: This, kind of, harkens back to the old days of Charles Dickens serializing all his books.
Dan Holloway: Yes, it’s exactly that sort of model, and basically in addition to writing these fantastic chapters that make everyone turn the page, you can put in notes at the end reminding people; there’s a little click button that says, if you click this button you’ll unlock the next chapter, and you can put a little note before that saying, please, I know you realize this is absolutely amazing, you’re desperate to read the next chapter, so click here and you can do that.
Howard Lovy: End each chapter on a cliffhanger, literally, have your hero facing a life and death struggle, so you must pay your tokens to read the rest of the book.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, it’s the sort of thing that’s just designed to drive fiction into this really homogenous type of narrative.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, that’s not necessarily a good thing for writers, especially in fiction where you want to build and build a story, and sometimes the first few chapters is nothing but story-building, but now you have to think of giving people a reason to pay more.
But I think most readers, at least the readers I know, and this is the way I read, is I’ll stay with a book, even if I don’t like the first few chapters.
Dan Holloway: Yes, I’ll certainly give it a fair shot. I wonder if that’s because we’ve paid for the whole book. If we haven’t paid for the whole book, would we still read like that? It’s interesting. Do we get more impatient with a book if we know we can cut our losses, because we’ve only paid a few pence, would we be more inclined to do so?
Howard Lovy: From the authors’ point of view, how do you think we should view this as this? Is this a way that we can really make money for every word we write, or is this a way where we can make less money off each book?
Dan Holloway: Well, I suppose it depends a lot on the kind of books you write. This is going to bring us to some of our next story, but subscription works really well for certain genres. I can see that it’s going to work really well for thrillers, it’s going to work really well for romance, because romance readers will read a lot. I think they also tend to be more forgiving if they like an author, it’s traditionally more successful as a subscription model.
I’m not sure for the writers in genres where readers aren’t used to subscribing. So, I think, what Amazon’s done well is this is something they are adamant they can’t be accused of imitating here, so they sat back and waited to see how things are going, and that means that they’re able to deliver something which probably works really well for people who read and write in genres that have already been shown to work really well.
Howard Lovy: Right. Do you think they’ve learned from the streaming services, like for example, Amazon Prime or Netflix, where we’re not talking about chapters, but we’re talking about individual episodes of a series where it’s sticky, you have to go to the next one, to the next one, to the next one.
Dan Holloway: Yes, I think, it was interesting, I was reading something recently about the structure of a Netflix series, and it’s absolutely true that these eight-part Netflix series, they are all structured the same. You can guarantee, and then you get the buildup, and the buildup, and then in episode five we’ll got a flashback to an origin story. It’s absolutely extraordinary how formulaic they are, but clearly there’s a formula that’s been found that works well, and I guess authors will be working to that.
Howard Lovy: Right. Well, I’m sure you’ll continue to follow up Kindle Vella, and let us know the reaction of authors and then how things are going.
Meanwhile, there’s more subscription-based news going on, Patreon just received a huge influx of cash, I believe, and that has some impact on indie authors, although I think a limited number of indie authors actually use Patreon.
Dan Holloway: Yes, again, if people search the ALLi website, there are some interesting posts from people who do. The person I always think of most is, Orna, because Orna has done, it always seems, really well with her poetry on Patreon. And poetry, obviously lends itself to Patreon really well, because you’ve got short, concise content that gives people real value, but it’s nice and discreet. It’s not a whole book. It’s something that maybe takes less long to produce, but still makes people feel as though they’ve got something really valuable.
Howard Lovy: I should mention here, for those who don’t know, that we’re talking about Orna Ross, the director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, our fearless leader, who is also a poet on Patreon.
Okay, so go ahead.
Dan Holloway: Patreon, yes, so the latest injection of cash, it got 155 million in a new funding round, and that takes its value to $4 billion.
This reinforced something that I talk about quite a lot which is just how small, in monetary terms, just how small what we think of as big publishing is compared to other areas that, as indies, we explore less, but are nonetheless opportunities for us.
So, Simon and Schuster, when we had the big five, before it became the big four, when Simon and Schuster was sold, it was sold for $2 million. $2 billion, rather. So, that’s half the value that Patreon now has. We think about Patreon as being this tiny thing, but it’s twice the size of one of the world’s biggest publishers. It makes you think about the opportunities out there. We were talking about subscription and places that do subscription well, and one of the most famous ones of those is Radish, and they write various genres of romance. And, I was saying, it’s a genre that people read a lot of and works very well for subscriptions, and they’ve just been acquired for $354 million. So, it’s big money in subscription.
Howard Lovy: So, who acquired them?
Dan Holloway: It’s a Korean company called, Kakao. Yes. They paid a little bit of money last year and they’ve given a lot more now, so it’s quite exciting how much the subscription is taking off.
Howard Lovy: It sounds, the way I understand it, that indie authors have more success in romance than pretty much any other genre.
Dan Holloway: Yes, and we’ve always led the way in romance. So, a lot of the leading romance authors are indies, and that was driven in large part by, well, there were two reasons, the erotica movement that found itself hampered by the constraints that publishers were putting on them and decided to go alone, and then on the other hand, there were people like Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy, who are really famous, and anyone who’s ever been to a Book Fair will have been to the Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre lecture, who were authors who took their rights back. They’d had publishers, they’d done reasonably well, but they worked out they could do better on their own. So, they got the rights to their books back, and then they started to sell them, self-publishing, and they’ve done really, really well, making six/seven figures out of it. Because it’s a large volume market, people who are writing romance and people who write in erotica write a lot, and people who read in those genres read a lot, and often publishers, I guess, can’t keep up. Whereas, if you can keep up with the demand of your readers, you can keep people reading, and people will come back and read a book every couple of months from you.
Howard Lovy: Right. Whereas Patreon, you know, anecdotally, I’ve spoken to indie authors who have not had very much success with Patreon.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I think poetry is the obvious genre. The other genre I think people do well in is graphic novels on Patreon. I think indie authors who don’t do so well treat it as just something else, it’s part of going wide. So, we hear a lot of indie authors saying, I’m going to go wide, I’m going to be on every platform, I’m going to do audio books, I’m going to do eBooks, and it is part of the puzzle. I think it’s very hard to do well because it takes quite a lot of effort to keep communicating with people.
Howard Lovy: It does. I tried a Patreon a couple of years ago to support a podcast, but it seemed like too much work for too little return.
Dan Holloway: Yes. As I say, I think if people who do it and that’s the only thing they do and they have the community on Patreon, they do really quite well out of it.
Howard Lovy: So, we’ve talked before about, there’s Patreon, there’s Radish that you just mentioned, there’s Scribd. So, with this new Kindle, it sounds like subscriptions is, sort of, the future of everything right now?
Dan Holloway: I think it’s been the future of everything for quite a long time, but we’re starting to see it more now. We’re really not seeing indie authors doing it as much as we might do. So, I think that’s something it would be good to see more of.
London Book Fair
Howard Lovy: Well, we’ll keep an eye on that. Meanwhile, the other big news, I don’t know if it’s big news in the indie world, but the news about the London Book Fair this year, it’s going to go online, all online this year, which I think might disappoint quite a few people.
Dan Holloway: It’s going completely online. It’s relevant to indies because obviously, this is one of the places where ALLi has quite a big annual gathering. So, you will find us at Author HQ, ALLi members will appear regularly on the panels, we have a big stand there, and of course, the highlights of the whole of London Book Fair is the Amazon after party for ALLi, where the food is really quite exceptionally good, and it’s all paid for by Amazon. So, that won’t be happening this year.
Howard Lovy: We’ll have to have more of a virtual dining experience.
Dan Holloway: We’ll have to cook our own cocktail sausages and mini burgers. Yeah.
Howard Lovy: That’s right. So, how is this going to work, though? The whole point, I think, of a lot of these book fairs is for the schmoozing and to meet people serendipitously and go from booth to booth. Can that really be recreated online?
Dan Holloway: The answer is, they’re still working on how it’s going to work. This is one of the problems with these big book fairs, and it happened last year, and it made exhibitors very upset, because they took a long time to make a decision, and when they eventually had made a decision, people had already sunk a lot of money into it. They’d done promotional materials, which they couldn’t then use. They’ve taken a long time again, this year, the organizers are Reed who are the same people who organized BookExpo, which obviously now is no more.
So, I wonder how many more Reed-organized big book fairs we’re going to see. They don’t seem to be very good at making decisions quickly.
Howard Lovy: Right. It sounds like even after the pandemic, whenever that might happen, things will never be the same. I think people are going to be reluctant to go to any event with a large crowd. Meanwhile, of course, ALLi has always been ahead of the curve and we’ve always had an online conference.
Dan Holloway: We change what we do. What we did in America, a little bit, so the year before the last BookExpo, we moved so we no longer coincided with BookExpo. Instead, we shifted to Digital Book World, which is, how to put it politely, it’s a slightly more exciting and dynamic, and forward-looking part of the book trade.
So, it remains to be seen what we’ll be doing with London Book Fair, I think. We have some connection with it through things under the historical connection to the actual event, as well as our online event, and with things like the Selfies Awards, which are awarded at London Book Fair, which is the premier book prize for self-published books. And as so happened in the first two years, ALLi members have done very well in the short list, shall we say. So, I would be very hopeful of some ALLi success there, so I’m sure there’ll be a big London Book Fair connection.
Howard Lovy: Okay. Well, someday it’s on my list of things to do, to actually take a flight once it’s safe again, to England and attend the London Book Fair, whenever it’s back, and if it’s back, when that happens I will definitely, finally, see you in person. I’ve known you virtually for a couple of years now.
Dan Holloway: We’ll have to film a podcast then.
Howard Lovy: Exactly, that would be brilliant.
Dan Holloway: I filmed a podcast with Rohan Quine an ALLi stalwart there several years ago, looking out over a wonderful balcony where it’s held, and you’re looking out over the Harper Collins and Bonnier and the Bertelsmann’s stand, you get this wonderful panoramic view, and you can see the pigeons in the eaves above. So, it’s a great place to film a podcast.
Howard Lovy: Wonderful, and I’ll expect a tour of Oxford University, where you can show me all the Endeavour and Inspector Morse sights.
Okay, Dan, well, thank you for the news update and we’re going to keep our eye on subscriptions and the latest from book fairs, and anything else that pops up.
Until then, I’ll talk to you next month.
Thank you. Bye.