Important New Facts All Indie Writers Should Know About Tech Power in Publishing


Smart indie writers and publishers can learn a lot from studying how the mainstream is engaging and tackling the issues of modern publishing. While indie publishing does not have the heft of the mainstream, it is much more focused on the needs of the author, and much more agile in adapting to the marketplace. Here’s a report on how trends in publishing continue to shape and influence the book world for everyone, regardless of being mainstream or indie. The 2016 Digital Book World conference was held in March in New York City.  Peter Rubie


From The Bookseller.   (Published March 9, 2016) by Gayle Feldman

What a difference the passage of six years makes, Mike Shatzkin reminded us, introducing the Digital Book World conference in New York yesterday (Tuesday 8th March).

Since the first DBW in 2010, there has been the opening of the iBookstore; half of all physical shelf space has been lost; the Department of Justice has changed the playing field; self-published authors have blossomed, putting downward pressure on price; indie stores have seen a resurgence; Amazon has got into bricks-and-mortar, another front in their war for dominance. And that’s just a few among many developments.

Shatzkin said he saw publishers’ “greatest challenge” now as creating platforms to communicate with readers, and their “biggest failure” as not giving authors help to build a digital presence. The tech sector is gobbling the revenue pie, forcing content creators to eat a lot less.

The most talked about presentation of the day came early, from Jonathan Taplin: former road manager for Bob Dylan, producer for Martin Scorsese, and currently director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. The theme, “Sleeping Through a Revolution,” is also the title of his book coming from Little, Brown in 2017.

Taplin is worried that “platform, and not content, is king.” That’s not what the Internet’s countercultural founders wanted at all; they were into moral purpose and decentralizing control. It’s time we put moral and spiritual purpose into the framework, he argued.

He traced where things went wrong back to Peter Thiel – a Stanford libertarian follower of Ayn Rand – who founded PayPal, and set an example for others with his “who’s going to stop me” philosophy. Thiel and his followers wanted no government regulation; no taxes (e.g. the no-sales-tax “gift” to Jeff Bezos); no copyright; and no competition.

That has brought untold pain for musicians, journalists, many creatives working in film and TV, and moved money that would have gone to them over to Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Marry Thiel’s libertarianism with the late Justice Robert Bork’s idea that “the only thing that matters is price” – a concept that all too successfully infiltrated the Department of Justice – and you understand how Google has been allowed to accrue 90% of search share; Facebook, 75% in mobile social; and Amazon, to become a dominant monopsony in books.

Sounding like Senator Bernie Sanders, Taplin asked: “Is this tech revolution great for everybody or just a few at the top of the Forbes 400? Since 1980, wages have become separated from productivity. The world is getting less free. Google sells ads next to ISIS videos on YouTube. Huxley was right: we’re living in Brave New World today, and in a Colosseum culture, where Donald Trump has 6,000,000 Twitter followers.”

How, he asked, do we start a new revolution? Begin by taking antitrust enforcement seriously. We also have to ask how to use this economy to foster “artist cooperatives” (like Magnum in photography, or Sunkist in agriculture) to counterbalance tech power.

Dr Jessica Sanger of Germany’s book trade association Borsenverein dived into the nitty-gritty of two German antitrust cases. She referenced a June 2014 complaint about Amazon requesting a publisher to pay a higher discount on e-books; when the publisher said no, Amazon delayed deliveries of the publisher’s print books to customers (sound familiar?).

In June 2015, the European Commission launched a formal probe, but instead of concentrating on coercion, focused on a different aspect: Amazon’s asking for a “most favoured nation” clause. As of now, the practice of delayed deliveries has stopped, and Germany’s Tolino alliance is managing to compete with Kindle.

The second case involves Audible. The German Cartel Office launched an investigation in November about restrictive practices. Although it is ongoing, just the fact of the investigation has resulted in some of the restrictive practices having stopped.

Sanger noted that “the authorities prefer tackling restrictive practices. They’re not keen to go into abuse of dominant position – they need to do too much research to prove it.” The Borsenverein, as a trade association, “is not anti-Amazon. But [they] have made us more consumer-orientated, and we are not scared to tackle anti-trust law, an American invention that is being put to good use in Europe.”

The need for scale to compete in a world dominated by the tech companies was emphasized again this week with the announcement of the sale of Perseus’s publishing divisions to Hachette, and its distribution business to Ingram.

In a Q&A with Shatzkin, John Ingram, chairman and c.e.o. of Ingram Content Group, acknowledged that “this signals a change in our center of gravity. Going forward, the company will look more into the marketing area – discoverability…. It also allows us to be more aggressive about investments.”

Refreshingly, he admitted that when he got into digital early on, there were some “tough years” when things didn’t go well, and he had to deal with pressure from his relatives at the family-owned Ingram business. He made mistakes. “But we had to believe and hang on. There’s always tension between control and innovation. You’ve got to be open to cultural change. This isn’t my father’s Ingram.”

That necessary openness to change was emphasized as well by Mary Ann Naples, formerly of Rodale but who is now taking over as Disney publisher; by Sourcebooks founder Dominique Raccah; and by Quarto c.e.o. Marcus Leaver. For Naples, “transformation is the new safety, and company transformation rests on personal transformation. Embrace failure to play your best game; don’t let it paralyze you.”

Leaver talked of the “mindset change” he had to institute when he took over from a founder who had run the company for 36 years. “We changed from profit to purpose; hierarchy to network; control to empowerment; and short term to long term.  There was a huge lack of clarity and purpose and transparency. Fear of the unknown and unknowable had to be taken out of the creative process. If the person at the top of the tree says ‘I failed,’ it gives permission to the people in the room to make mistakes”.

Now Quarto “behaves as one organization with 44 imprints or businesses that are dynamic portfolios. We used to have 275 separate websites; we cut the publishing to ten categories, and sell as per those categories.”

The proof is in the pudding. Quarto is a listed company, and on 17th March, will announce $13.5m profit before tax, surpassing analysts’ expectations.

Sourcebooks is also on a roll; bucking the trend, its e-books were up 13% in 2015. Its personalized “Put Me in the Story” series is its most successful product. “The strategic problem is to add more value. Don’t worry about perfection; you iterate and start scaling. Understand the consumer experience. The goal is to fail fast and succeed faster,” Raccah advised.

Publishers Weekly Reports 60 New Indie Bookstores Opened in 2015

If you can remember the meet-cute premise of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan 1998 movie YOU’VE GOT MAIL (written and directed by the late, great Nora Ephron)–where the heroine is losing her independent bookstore when a Barnes and Noble-like chain store opens up around the corner–then you know what it was like on the Upper West Side when Barnes & Noble opened up on West 65th Street and Broadway Across from Lincoln Center. Chains like B&N and Border’s killed the little guys. Just all-out murder. Changed the landscape.

Of course THAT PARTICULAR B&N IS CLOSED. (Yes, that poor, teary-eyed woman hugging the side of the building was me.)

Want to find an independent store in your area? Visit

Books got cheaper. Meeting places were established for presentations. But some flavor in the business was lost, some passion from dedicated booksellers who were really readers themselves. Specialists who knew their customers as people. That was when bar codes got stamped on the back of covers, robbing publishers of real estate for quotes and descriptive copy. We went to controlled inventory systems and factory-like precision and timing of returns.

Fast forward to 2016…

Portrait Of Female Bookshop Owner Outside Store

Portrait Of Female Bookshop Owner Outside Store

Two decades have passed, and the industry is now in a second phase post-chain store disruption … we’re post digital disruption too, and things are stabilizing. Readers still like reading PRINTED BOOKs: physical objects. And people want to be able to buy them in stores. And there are owners of businesses who are creeping back into the landscape with new savvy about how to reach customers in person and online. They understand the value they bring to their neighborhoods and communities of like-minded readers.

Please enjoy this article from Publishers Weekly on the trend back toward indie stores and remember to visit your local bookstore.

Other articles you may like:

Independents in New York City

Indie Bookstores in NYC That Are Not the Strand

You can visit Stephanie at:

Reinventing The Book Club

Subscription Services

Subscription Services

There are interesting things going on in the book world these days around how we deliver and consume books, which is good news for indie authors and publishers. While the number of services has shrunk (Oyster recently closed and a lot of its staff went to work for Google Books), a lot of people make the case that owning “units of content” has become anachronistic when it comes to listening to music and video (a lot of people just subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime, or Spotify and Apple Music). So what about books? Mainstream publishers still believe most people buy and own books because it’s the most convenient way to “consume their product,” though they are beginning to explore other ways readers get their books, like subscription services and book clubs.

So this alternative pathfinding by publishers that parallels the music and video worlds has opened up opportunities for indie publishers to explore using subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and Scribd as possible ways to expand their reader base and help readers discover new authors and their books. Unlike music and video, that can be readily consumed in a couple of hours or less, a book is still a commitment of time over days in many cases, and thus owning it is more convenient than feeling like you have a gun to your head in order to consume it before the clock on the “borrow” runs out and you have to spend more money in order to finish the book you have out on loan. (Public Libraries just increase the time at no cost to you if you ask them regardless of whether it is a print or digital version.)

So as ebooks grow and take a larger share of book sales, and print sales become more available through vendors on the web, book publishers are re-assessing their “own-this-content” only model as digital content expands.  But people forget (including some in the publishing industry) that it was the book industry that started the book club idea, where by subscribing to a particular club got you more focused and cheaper versions of books you wanted to read, delivered to your door every month. And that model, while it took a hit because of the growth of mega book stores like Barnes&Noble that once stalked the landscape like dinosaurs but are now fading away, is resurfacing in a new guise in the digital world. And the reason is that book clubs, subscription services, whatever you want to call them, help shrink the overwhelming choices readers face and and as a result help readers and authors find each other like singles hoping to find Mr. or Ms. Could-Be-For-Me.

Authors and publishers, indies in particular, face an uphill battle in finding readers for their books. Everyone is so focused on getting the product done they don’t stop to think enough about distribution — ie., who’s going to read it once it’s done and how are you going to get it to those readers. Some readers come from friends or acquaintances, or clients, and others come from just blatant publicity and marketing about your book. You need to know who the core audience is for your book, and like a pebble entering water, that is the place you need to concentrate on first when publicising and marketing your book. Like the concentric circles that spread ever outward from that pebble entering water, the publicity about your book reaches groups and individuals who are less obviously connected to your core group.

But how we read is evolving. I don’t believe we are abandoning the printed book, at least any time soon in our lifetimes anyway, but the options of digital reading are a terrific way to get your writing in front of diverse readers. One of those options is the emergence of subscription services for reading. A subscription service essentially treats book reading like revamped versions of a book club, which in turn is a variation on a private library, or a service like Netflix.

Once upon a time, it was common for, say, The Doubleday Book Club, or the Military Book Club, to send books directly to a member consumer who has agreed to purchase a certain number of books per year from the club in return for a vastly cheaper and immediately available version of a best selling book, or books, that are often the latest offerings from a publisher.

So the idea of a subscription service model for readers is not completely new or unexpected. We’ve been doing it for years and continue to do it in the digital world with magazines for example through apps like Zinio or Press Reader. The ebook has made this a more affordable way to deliver a book to a reader rather than receiving it in the mail.
Prevailing wisdom is that the successful model of streaming music and videos via an app such as Amazon Prime, Spotify, or Netflix has primed the consumer to become atuned to a subscription model, and so books are slowly falling into line with this style of purchase. It is particularly useful for acquainting readers to a writer’s back list. (That is, titles already published and available as ebooks, print on demand books, or other formats.)

Is a subscription model of book sales good for authors? For all that they help authors — until they suddenly don’t — what is not good for authors is a retail monopoly (e.g. Amazon) or reduced income/revenue streams. The subscription model works to give readers, and publishers, more options. It works this way: The user gets a free trial, then pays perhaps $8.99 or $9.99/month. He or she can then read as many ebooks, comic books, or audio books as they want. You get unlimited access to their entire book libraries for this monthly fee. You can read as many books as you want, for as long as you want, and with each service, you can download books for offline reading. Unlike a traditional library, there are no due dates, so you can hang on to a book for as long as like, just like you would with a Netflix DVD. But, like a library, you do not own the books you read, and if you cancel your subscription, you can no longer access any of the titles you’ve saved. (It’s worth noting that actually, when you “buy” an ebook from Amazon you don’t actually “own” that either if you read the purchase fine print.)

Here are potential services to consider.

Scribd pays the publisher (that would be you, the indie/publisher author in this case) a good rate every time a subscriber reads one of your books past a certain threshold (about the same number of pages as “Look Inside The Book”). Scribd takes a risk that some readers read more than the $8.99 cost, but just like with a gym membership, many don’t read to that cap.

Scribd is similar to Oyster (below), and has a catalog of more than 500,000 books that you can borrow. The app is simply designed, with books organized into genres and curated collections for you to browse. Both services have many of the same books and seem to add the same books at the same time though not entirely. Scribd has audiobooks, many from publisher Penguin Random House, and more than 10,000 comics from Marvel, Archie, Boom! Studios, Dynamite, IDW/Top Shelf and Valiant.

One perk of Scribd is that beyond just e-books, the service also gives you access to thousands of documents, which include court cases, scientific studies, and even self-published books.


Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, and offers around 600,000 books that you can rent for as long as you want. The book catalog includes many popular and best-selling books, some of which you won’t find in the other services, including the “Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” series. There are also plenty of classics.

With Kindle Unlimited instead of an app you instead sign up for the service, and then download your choices to your Kindle. (You can also use the Kindle apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone to find and read books as well.)

You can’t yet download Scribd or Oyster books onto dedicated e-ink readers. The apps only work on tablets.

Lastly, though this is more for those who want to read rather than distribute their works at this point, it’s worth checking out what your local library offers in terms of ebooks and etexts.

Quite a few city libraries carry large catalogs of ebooks, both new releases and older e-books, that you can borrow for free. All you need is a library card. The only downside is that the books you borrow have a limited lending period with an expiration date, and it’s sometimes difficult to renew e-book titles.  What’s more, not every title is available, as part of the license the library signs with a publisher allows for a set number of “copies” of the book to be available for lending just as if the ebook was a print version of itself.

So when it comes to distributing your book and expanding your ebook reading experience, you should start exploring the library and subscription service options as a way of getting the attention of more readers.

Meet Rania Habiby Anderson, An Author Advancing the Careers of Women in Developing Nations

Rania Habiby Anderson is on a mission. She’s committed to accelerating the careers of women in emerging economies worldwide–in Africa, in Central and South America, in the Middle East, in Asia. For over four years, she has dedicated much of her time and funds to speaking with and surveying over 250 women in those regions one on one, in small and large groups, in person, by phone, or Skype, and through email correspondence. Her remarkable new book written based on this research and her own expertise is designed to provide women with the kind of frank and resourceful advice they need to succeed.Aptly titled UNDETERRED: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies is due out in early 2015.

With our help and on the basis of their own talents and efforts women everywhere will be able to find jobs, build careers, start businesses, create even more jobs, and fuel global prosperity.

Rania intends to give away as many copies as she possibly can to graduating female college seniors and start a wave of freedom and participation where the gender gap is greatest and career women strongly need support. This is their time in history to take the lead!

The ultimate vision is for the book to be translated into multiple languages, including limited to Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, which can be accomplished if enough people share Rania’s dream.

Crowdfunding Success for Our Sisters in Developing Nations

UNDETERRED is about empowerment. It’s about giving a whole new generation of women in emerging economies the ability to achieve financial self-sufficiency and to make a contribution in the world.

Two Things You Can Do Today

If unleashing the success of women around the world moves you, here are two things you can do TODAY:

1. Back this campaign now! Click here. It launched on October 21 and closes on November 7. The goal is $30,000 and EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR HELPS. Donate to help young women launch their careers or businesses.

2. Help spread the word! Share this project with one person you know who is also passionate about seeing women succeed.

“ENOUGH NEGATIVITY, says Rania. “I’ve grown weary of hearing the media and others talk almost exclusively about the obstacles women in developing and emerging economies face. While much of it is true, the fact of the matter is that there are also MILLIONS of women that we never hear about who are succeeding (see I want to share women’s progress, not their plight!”

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