5-18 Powell's City of Books, World's Largest Indie Bookstore by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Maggie Lynch's Top 5 Developments to Watch in 2018 and Beyond

This past year has continued to bring new technologies that are designed to help indie authors or small business creatives to compete well against big business. These new technologies provide more support for user-friendly options in book formatting, book and audiobook distribution to a global market, the ability to engage with thousands of fans without spending all day doing it, and options for advertising and driving traffic to books in a way that doesn’t require thousands of dollars to compete. More analytic tools are now available to track what works and what doesn’t. The availability of these tools has now put the small business person (indie authors) on par with big businesses in terms of access.

I have only one prediction for 2018. That is that things will continue to change more quickly. Therefore, it is the agile business that can embrace change that will win the day. My longer term prediction is that, by the end of this decade, the ability of independent creatives to go direct to their fans and cut out the costs of middlemen (Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google, etc.) distributors will be a viable income generating option by 2020 through decentralized distribution of content through blockchain technology. The means to do this is already tested and working in the marketplace with other businesses. The only thing holding it back from working in indie publishing is a lack of context and enough early adopters to prove its viability. This is the next big paradigm shift that can truly change the publishing landscape to be tilted to the economic benefit of independent creatives instead of large centralized enterprises.

Here are the top five trends to watch and capitalize on during 2018.

1.      Phones Continue to Be the #1 Technology for Communication, Reading, and Computing. Statistics tell us that globally more than 2 billion people have smartphones and use them as their primary means of shopping and communication.  (Statista, 2017) The top users are NOT in the U.S. They are in China and India. Some of this is because they have larger populations than the U.S. However, it is more than that. It is in the rural areas of these countries, where traditional communications infrastructure (electricity, underground or above ground cables) are non-existent, where smartphones have become the primary way to communicate with the world.

This translates directly to readers as well. In areas of the world where libraries don’t exist or local bookstores are hard to maintain in smaller villages, people who love to read do so on their phone. For example, did you know that Pakistan, the 3rd largest English Speaking market, now has 141 million mobile phone users? (46 million are 3G/4G subscribers). Yet no one seems to be distributing to them except Amazon which, evidently is crazy difficult for them to use on their phones. (Pakistan info from Mark Williams, The New Publishing Standard blog)

The author who ignores the importance of the phone, for both reading and engagement with their readers, will be left behind. Any apps that allow us to communicate directly through phones are bound to be the new growth and discoverability engine.

2.      Individualized and Personal Communication Venues Nurture and Retain Readers. Most of us have noticed the rise of images and video in online communication and sales. It is no longer acceptable to simply use words. There are many ways to take advantage of this without having to be a live video star. Invest in ways to create image libraries that are reflective of you as a writer and a person. Free ones like Pixabay are a good start, as well as monthly or bulk purchase options in stockphoto companies like Depositphotos and others. Both Google and Facebook are ranking videos higher in terms of reach. These don’t need to be long—thirty to forty-five seconds is great. It can be you reading an excerpt from your book, sharing a moment in your life, or talking directly to your fans. Don’t like showing your face? Not a problem, use those images and narrate over it. Fans want to know you are real and that you share some of the same challenges and foibles they have. The perception of a personal moment with you goes a long way toward building loyalty.

Individualized communication used to be email. It is now moving toward text messaging, and Facebook messenger use in particular. Twitter has benefited from a variety of individualized automation tools, and now Facebook has options too. Watch for technologies like chatbots (e.g., Manychat and Chatfuel) to provide individualized assistance for common questions, without you having to be at the ready 24/7. Use these as a supplement to your personal communications with your fans and as an alternative to email lists for growing engagement and sales.

3.      Audiobooks continue to be trending up. We are nowhere near the peak of audiobook demand yet. Particularly globally where audiobook sales are rising at a faster pace than ebooks. There are now several large companies competing with Amazon’s Audible platform: Kobo/Rakutan; Findaway Voices; and Playster represent three different dimensions of audiobook production and distribution, from narration and production management to retail and packaging. Each of them have global market reach and they provide terms of service and payment options that are more beneficial to authors/creators than the Audible contract. These are not the only players, but they represent a larger group of opportunities for indies to distribute widely and not be tied to exclusivity to compete with pricing and distribution.

4.      Author Direct Sales Can Become an Income Generator. Three years ago I predicted this was going to be a game changer, when digital delivery and secure sales came on the scene with Gumroad and Square, among others. However, I failed to recognize the need for strong customer support across multiple e-reading platforms. In November 2017, BookFunnel announced integration with direct sales options for authors. This means you can sell ebooks direct (making more money for you on a per book basis) and have BookFunnel deliver and support your users on the download process. BookFunnel has an excellent reputation in customer support and has become known and used around the world by millions of readers for the deliver of free books.

BookFunnel has now integrated with major systems like Payhip, Selz and PayPal through WooCommerce (a WordPress based ecommerce system). They will continue to find new integrations as their customer feedback suggests. I’m sure that other companies will also enter this market when they see more bestselling indie authors embracing it. This solves one major problem in the direct sales market and that makes it a viable option once more.

5.      BlockChain is the major content distribution disruptor on the horizon. There is a lot of buzz about this but it is hard for most people to get their head around. How it works in the backend is very complex. In a nutshell it allows creators (authors, musicians, film and video creators) the ability to distribute and sell or license their intellectual property in a decentralized way that keeps costs down and transactions transparent. Let’s parse that explanation a little bit.

Currently all vendors, from Amazon to Google and social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Medium are all centralized platforms. This means that a single corporate entity controls all the data, all the transactions, the display and/or purchase of content. In short, they make all the rules and charge the creators whatever amount they believe the market will bear to provide these platforms (e.g., 30-60% of sales). Both the consumer and the creator (authors) have no choice but to follow those rules in order to be a part of a wider market. More important, centralized systems can, and do, make arbitrary and unilateral decisions. We’ve seen this happen on all these platforms: Amazon suddenly removes all reviews or shuts down an author account without letting you know in advance. YouTube suddenly decides no one can advertise on the platform unless they have at least 10K followers. Kobo removes all romance titles in fear of the influx of pornography to their partner stores.  Sometimes the unilateral negative impact is eventually corrected. Often times it is not. In all cases there is no warning and even when corrected has had a lasting negative impact on sales and reputation.

In contrast, a blockchain content distribution system is decentralized. That means it is not controlled by one companies server AND it is not owned by any one entity. Instead it is spread across multiple individual servers and users (think peer-to-peer but in a controlled and accountable way). The blockchain distribution platform preserves an unchangeable record of all actions. That record creates an environment of total transparency for both content creators (authors) and media/digital consumers (readers, listeners). It also ensures that all views, comments and ratings reflect the REAL interactions with the content. With nothing deleted, or the inability of people to inflate ratings without everyone knowing they did so by using a click farm, it leaves no room for trolls or bad players to thrive because their past bad behavior is in the open and can’t be erased.

With blockchain-based content distribution, authors can be paid within seconds of a consumer paying for a download. Consumers would also know their purchase was directly supporting the content creators they enjoy. Authors who consistently deliver good quality content, that people are willing to pay for, win big in this scenario. Consumers (readers) equally deserve the ability to directly support the authors they enjoy. Yes, there are a still a lot of questions about exactly how this works, and the details of security are still being tested. However, my prediction is that this will be the major disruption to the status quo of centralized control of content for decades to come.

How to keep up? Pay attention to the new kids. Those who first stepped into the digital indie book movement in 2010-2011 tended to be people over the age of 40—people brought up in the traditional publishing paradigms. But the “rules” of indie publishing are closely tied to digital technology foundations, and those change every 6-9 months. This Internet and app savvy generation sees the world differently. They have unleashed new automations that are simultaneously personalized and able to manage thousands of fans. They have moved the focus from solely being about words to also being about images and videos. This new app-based, multimedia communication paradigm IS increasing engagement—not only within their young demographic, but also up the line to their parents and grandparents.
You can learn more about how you can capitalize on these trends to build your own brand and market your books through Maggie’s most recent release, SECRETS to Effective Author Marketing: It’s  More than “Buy My Book” or look for her boxset of the first three books in her Career Author Secrets series, releasing in mid-December.

Maggie Lynch is the author of 20+ published books, as well as numerous short stories and non-fiction articles.  Her fiction tells stories of men and women making heroic choices one messy moment at a time. Maggie is also the founder of Windtree Press, an independent publishing cooperative with over 200 titles among 20 authors.

Maggie and her musician husband live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and are the slaves of two demanding cats. In 2013, after careers in counseling, the software industry, academia, and worldwide educational consulting, Maggie chose to devote her time to her career as a full time author. Her fiction spans romance, suspense, fantasy and science fiction titles. Her non-fiction focuses on guiding authors to success in planning, distributing, and marketing their completed work.


Cathryn Cade said...

Great article!

Maggie continues to be a force in demystifying publishing, promotion and sales for indie authors. I've used her DIY Publishing book since its debut, so I'm thrilled she updated the content.

Very intrigued by her theories regarding the new technologies and trends.

I have used BookFunnel to distribute free books to newsletter subscribers, but I did not know they could be used to sell books, hmmmm...

Paty Jager said...

Great information, Maggie! You amaze me with all your knowledge and helpfulness!

Sarah Raplee said...

You are my go-to source of information about the ever-changing world of Indie publishing, Maggie! I'm thrilled with your new series!

Maggie Lynch said...

Thanks Cathryn, Paty, and Sarah. I think my head is now too big to get out the door of my apartment. :) The truth is anyone can keep up this stuff if they are willing to read a lot of articles. There are so many bright technical experts out there with deep expertise in certain technologies. Far deeper thanI could really endeavor to understand.

I do try to keep up with all the changes, but believe me I miss or discount things all the time. For example, I would not have predicted that people would prefer to do everything on their cell phone--including reading--rather than have a different device like a nice sized tablet. I think my old eyes that can barely see print on my cell phone couldn't imagine it, yet it's true around the world for both economic and practical reasons. It goes to show we can't make judgments based solely on what "I" prefer.

I am fortunate in that I have a science and technical background so I can usually parse the jargon words and put into the context of writers and publishers. Whenever I see new technology that really seems viable I try to jump in and use it. I'm in the midst of building my messenger bot in ManyChat and hope to have it done before the end of the year. And in January, I'm going to start putting articles and short stories into a blockchain environment called Steemit. I'm excited to test this technology where people choose to support writing. For anyone who is interested, I'll keep you posted on my forays into new technologies via my DIY Publishing blog on my website.

Judith Ashley said...

And if you want a direct link to Mggie's DIY Publishing blog, here is it. It does take you to her post on why she writes author guides but you'll be there and can bookmark the url.

Judith Ashley said...

Maggie, your technical background means you can figure these things out. I'm not sure I could actually do that as so many technical things are confusing to me in the first place. I can learn them but only by actually doing the process numerous times and that isn't always a guarantee. I still have problems answering my smart phone. One would think after several years I'd have that swipe from left to right down but that isn't necessarily true!

Maggie Lynch said...

Hi hear you, Judith. In spite of my technical background some of the simplest things are hard for me. I think that's because I learned computer science before the GUI (graphical user interface). I remember when that first showed up on my PC way back in 1985. I knew and understood DOS, but GUI? I almost threw the thing out the window because it was such a paradigm shift to look at icons and pictures and use I mouse to point and click. Of course now I don't know how I lived without it. But there are still things that don't get used. For example, I rarely use drag and drop--even though it is central to MACs. It's just not the way I learned.

The point is, it is hard to relearn wired brain processes. The key is to do what you can. To get some basic understanding of the purpose. Have a good understanding of the analysis and ROI. Then, if you decide you really need it, pay someone else to set it up and monitor it.

I'm looking to do that myself these days. I can do most of these things but the question becomes how much time will it take and would I be better off spending that time creating more books? I think creating more books is important and just because I understand the technical stuff doesn't mean I love it. :)

Diana McCollum said...

Hi, Maggie!!! you are my go to person for publishing. I've read and use the DIY publishing book many times. I'm looking forward to your next self-help book on publishing & marketing.

I'm with Judith, I can't really learn a lot of tech no stuff by reading. I have to sit with someone who can show me. I use to go to Adult Ed classes to learn web site design and different program uses. I think I need to check into that again.

Great blog post!!!

Madelle Morgan said...

Fascinating post, Dr. Lynch! I had never heard of blockchain. I just subscribed to your blog and I'll be watching for your box set.

I did know that Facebook sponsored ads with a single image/no text get more impressions, but thanks to you I now understand the context.

BTW, I tend to Control C cut and Control V paste, not drag and drop, even tho' the first computer I owned was a MAC SE and I own a MacBook. Old habits die hard. :)


Barb said...

been to your website and subscribed. I love how you pay it forward and I need all the help I can get. Great post.

Maggie Lynch said...

Thanks Madelle. Yes, I still do the CTRL C and V too. Old habits die hard. At least it still works. :) Marketing book is within a week of coming out and the box set too.

Barb. Thanks for subscribing. As for needing help, we all do! Just need different help at different stages. There is always something more to learn.