You've no doubt read up on amazon.com's bold play this week to shore up its Kindle market share (estimated already to be 90% of all e-readers). They announced a new program, taking effect June 30, which offers a 70% royalty on Kindle editions priced between $2.99 and $8.99. That's double what they have granted before (and was timed to come just before Apple's announcement of a similar plan for their new iTablet. For more on the coming "price wars," see this article in Fortune).
This represents quite a nice chunk of the pie, even though the price point is low. For authors, it works out to be a very good deal, when 10% of list is not an uncommon number, especially in mass market.
Which is the point I want to make, one I have been pondering ever since the Kindle broke out wide: we authors may be entering an era that is very much like the mass market explosion post World War II.
What that ushered in was a golden age of paperback fiction in the 50's. Names like Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Jim Thompson. Some of the old pulp writers, like Erle Stanley Gardner, found new life and sales. While the old pulp magazines dried up, there was a market for good stories among the slicks—e.g., Collier's, Saturday Evening Post. The better writers got stories published there and made some extra scratch.
So what do we see now? Another mass market platform, this time electronic. The price points are equivalent to what people in the 50's would have paid in the drug store. True, publishers could actually get into the drugstores, on racks and spinners. But we have that analogue in the e-world. Buyers on amazon, for example, are directed to other titles they might be interested in, and so forth.
For authors, especially commercial authors—those who deliver an entertaining read—the prospects are intriguing. If they write great stories, word of mouth will spread, just like it does in traditional publishing. But now there's a 70% royalty, which is a whole lot better than the pittance the paperback writers of the 50's got.
But there's more good news, especially for writers like myself who have a ton of stories and concepts we'd like to write. We will be able to write different varieties of fiction––short form, novella and novel length, and see them brought to market in a fraction of the time it now takes to get one book out the traditional way.
I can see nice prospects for publishers and writers teaming up to take advantage of this new platform, even if it's just to supplement the traditional print model.
The short story especially interests me. I love doing them, but the short story market has long been a dead letter. Suddenly, there's new life. In fact, my colleagues and I here at Kill Zone are going to soon release our own anthology: Fresh Kills. It's been a matter of only a few months, from idea generation to writing to editing to e-publishing. And we don't have to print or warehouse the book.
Now, the temptation, especially for new writers who are thinking in terms of self-publishing, is to start throwing up (and I use that term purposely) their stuff before it's ready. We're going to see a lot of that. But a kind of Darwinism will take over, where the weak will be weeded out. The idea is to become one of the fittest and survive, even thrive. I would therefore advise new writers to hire a good freelance editor. You will only hurt your long term prospects if what you offer is junk.
How are traditional publishers going to react to all this? I don't know. Random House has entered an agreement with Apple, and that will change the landscape. The landscape will keep changing. We're in a whole new ballgame here, and the rules get updated almost daily. But as I said, I think there is a great chance for publishers and authors to partner up and make the best of this situation. I don't know that we're ever going to go back to hardcover prices. The production costs are too great, and consumers are rapidly being taught they don't have to pay hardcover prices, even for a new book by a celebrity author.
What that means for you, writer, is to keep concentrating on doing what you do, making your stuff the best it can be, then going to market. If you can write short stories (which are, in my mind, the hardest form of fiction), so much the better. Bottom line: if your stuff is killer, people will find it. If you write it, they will come.