On Kindle, you say?

A fairly long post about the advantages of self-publishing The Devil’s Playbook on Kindle, based on my early experiences so far.

The last few years have created a brave new world for the would-be author. Digital print, and the associated existence of online marketplaces, has dramatically increased the immediacy and size of the marketplace available to someone who wants to promote a product. But there is still the issue of actually creating the product and getting it out into that marketplace. And then there’s the issue of being heard above everyone else, but that’s a whole other matter.

It makes sense that digital marketplaces would create tools that made the process of producing a digital output simpler. The marketplaces make their earnings on sales, so if there are more products to sell then the wider their appeal, and the higher the likelihood of making their commission through a sale.

I am a fan of independent outlets and companies. I appreciate the importance for start-up entrepreneurs to be able to be innovative and creative, free of homogenising or risk-adverse corporate forces. However, I also think that large international companies and marketplaces are also important, as they can bring huge powers to bear in advantageous ways (or disadvantageous too, I’m not naïve; but that’s not the point of this post). Especially advantageous are when those marketplaces combine with the small independent groups to the benefit of both.

It is in this environment that I find Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) service particularly impressive, although I’ll admit that I’ve not really had much experience with anyone else. Using their size to give away services they have developed for free, Amazon allow a would-be author to design and publish a digital book with relatively little hassle. As much as possible, they offer to automate the cover design, the upload, the categorisation, the U.S. tax filing, distribution channel selection, ranking, checkout and purchase, feedback, and royalty payments. I’m sure that even just a few years ago any one of these could have been an enormous headache for an independent author. Now, they take very little time indeed.

I designed my own cover, and obtained the ISBN from the Nielsen agency myself. But Amazon did pretty much everything else, and the Kindle itself is the other end of the platform, accepting standardised files onto an easy to use device, creating an ecosystem that makes selling, buying and reading remarkably easy. I didn’t have to get a deal with a publisher, I didn’t have to find a market willing to sell my product, I didn’t have to select from a dozen differing formats, there were no arguments about royalties, and I don’t have to worry about the device that is reading it at the other end. Much.

Part of the Amazon program is the optional Select feature, which does make the product exclusive – for limited time periods – to Amazon, but otherwise they allow the author to sell on other marketplaces too, including on personal websites. I’m tempted to investigate this unless I decide to opt for the Select services, which I’m still trying to understand. Of course with being digital, and only on Amazon, it could be argued that I’ve limited my potential market to those with Kindle devices, but that’s simply not true.

In my experience from talking to others, one of the lesser known features of the Kindle marketplace is the Kindle app, available for free on both Apple and Android devices, including tablets and smartphones. Any e-book purchased on the Kindle store can be read on this app, meaning that anyone with a smartphone or tablet can still read my novel. And that’s not a small number of people. Reading on an app isn’t actually that hard, the app formats the text to the screen size, and turning a page is a simple swipe – it’s like having a small backlit book with normal sized print. Maybe not ideal for everyone, but many people don’t mind reading Facebook posts or news articles on their screens, so it’s easy to think of a e-book as just a way longer article. One that you can bookmark, highlight, save your place, sync with other devices to keep the same page on all of them, not get bombarded by adverts, and also, hopefully, enjoy the read.

It’s the result of a large corporation going to a lot of trouble to make it easy for someone to access a product they sell, and also going to a lot of trouble to make it easy for someone else to actually sell a product. Yeah, their motive is no doubt that they stand to make a lot of money; but on this one, I’m okay with that.

Personal preferences are still a factor, I won’t argue that. There is something lovely and tactile about a hardcopy of a book that a digital copy can’t replicate (although the latest Kindles are extremely impressive). The heft, the feel of the paper, the sound of a turning page and the smell of the binding; all are arguably parts of the reading experience that a Kindle just can’t replicate. As such, I understand that there are people who won’t read my novel until it is produced in hardcopy. But that’s okay, as Amazon also offer a print-on-demand paperback capability, too. On this service, once the print file is set up, a printing company can produce a copy of the book each time it is ordered, instead of doing huge runs of many copies at a time. Amazon say the quality is ‘library quality’, which sounds pretty robust to me. It’s an advantage of modern manufacturing capabilities, I guess.

The print file for a physical output is trickier to set up than the file for an e-book, and I need to understand the dimensions of my final output in order to get it right. I need to design a back cover and spine, and make sure that they are the right width, based on the paper size and number of pages. And I need to get a barcode. It is also more expensive to buy, being a physical product rather than a digital one. At my best guess, it will have to be priced at two to three times as much as the e-book, and I will get slightly less in royalties than on the digital version.

But there is no doubt that there will be people who prefer physical to digital, and I’ll admit I’d love to have a copy of my own book tucked away on my shelf at home. Plus I have some spare ISBNs already, so there’s really no reason not to do it once I get my head around the details. It’s not wasteful, as there won’t be a stockpile of unsold books lying around should I have written a flop (I don’t think I have, but still…). Only what is ordered will be printed. I hope they source their paper responsibly, though.

So watch this space; I’ll be sure to say when the physical copy is available. But if you can bring yourself to buy a copy of the digital version in the meantime… well, that’d be cool, too.