BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN INDIE BOOKS AND STORES

by Brandilyn Collins @Brandilyn

Brandilyn Collins is a best-selling author of 28 books. She is best known for her Seatbelt Suspense®–fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists and an interwoven thread of faith. She also writes insightful contemporary novels, often laced with humor. Her awards include the ACFW Carol (three times), Inspirational Readers’ Choice, the Inspy, Christian Retailer’s Best (twice), and Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice. She loves to interact with readers on Facebook. Check out all her books on her website.

Last month I told you about the Stakeholders Team that has
been put together to address the issue of stocking indie paper books in stores.
As a forerunner to assembling this team, the editor of CBA Retailers+Resources asked me to write an article for the
February issue about the gap between indies and stores, and how the
Stakeholders Team came about. That issue is now available. I am running the
text of my article below (and a sidebar on indie titles), with permission from CBA. Go here to subscribe to the magazine.  

Booksellers And Independent Authors
Build Bridges
Last year after my publisher’s fiction line was discontinued,
I faced a crossroads in my career. Was this the impetus I needed to become a
fully independent author? I’d already released one indie novel and had been
considering making the switch. After a good deal of prayer and due diligence I
took the plunge, choosing not to sign with another publisher.
Soon in my new venture I began to focus on the large drawback
that exists in the indie world: the dearth of indie paper books on the shelves
in brick and mortar stores. The large
majority of indie units are sold online, either in ebook or paper form. As a
result ebooks of new releases far outsell the paper versions—exactly opposite
from my experience in working with publishers.
Indie authors—both in the Christian and secular industries—have
simply learned to live with the reality that their books won’t show up on store
shelves. In truth, because indies make a much higher profit per unit sold than
they would earn from a publisher, many are pulling in a very nice income even without
sales from brick and mortar stores. So they haven’t seen the need to spend
their energy on vying for shelf space.
But I consider the lack of being in bookstores a major
concern. I chose to walk away from publishers for my own business reasons. That
doesn’t mean I chose to walk away
from bookstores. Over the years I’ve built a loyal readership of my Seatbelt
Suspense® novels. Many of those readers still shop in bookstores. Plus, I’m
concerned to see more and more book products move from the shelves to strictly online.
That’s hurting the bottom line in stores. Meanwhile the trend of authors
turning indie is on the rise. Many of my traditionally published colleagues are
expressing serious interest in indie publishing—either through turning indie
full time or releasing indie titles as they fulfill their contracts. (See “Indie
Releases From Previously Traditionally Published Authors” for a small sampling
of titles.) Because of this trend, it’s clear the gap between indies and
stores is only going to widen.
Who is losing as a result? Everyone in the industry. Both authors
and stores lose potential sales. Distributors lose their potential cut from these
sales. Meanwhile online retailers grow even more powerful. As the overall industry
and bookstores are hit, publishers also suffer.
Hmm, I thought. Why doesn’t somebody fix this?
For my first indie Seatbelt Suspense®, Sidetracked, I teamed up with a press that guaranteed the novel
would be sold into bookstores through a distributor. Sidetracked is selling off shelves, and I have seen a profit from
that endeavor. However this approach required a large amount of upfront money
for producing the book, marketing it, and print-runs. It took months to pay
back that investment and begin to see a profit in paper. (Meanwhile the ebook
version was immediately earning well.) This approach isn’t something I want to
continue doing. And many indie authors can’t afford it at all.
As I researched further into the issue of indie books not
being stocked in stores, I saw that indie books often are available for order through distributors. But the bookstores don’t know about these books, because
there are no sales people presenting them to the stores. And booksellers don’t
have time to try to find new titles on their own.
So there lay the real crux of the problem: how can indie
books be sold into bookstores?
During the ACFW conference last September I approached CBA’s
managing editor with this issue. Could we work together to try solving the
problem? CBA has been very responsive. They were quick to see that, while
various industry stakeholders have the same questions regarding indie
publishing trends and the impact on everyone involved, no one group has all the
answers. The potential opportunities soon became apparent—and the decision was
made to bring together representatives from around the industry to work toward
solutions that “win” for everyone.
And, boy, am I learning more about this problem. Why hasn’t
someone fixed it? Because it’s large and multi-faceted, with no pat solution. And
it certainly can’t be “fixed” by one person. Every aspect of Christian
publishing represented by the stakeholders team will need to be open-minded in understanding
the issues from the other parties. Those issues range from the retailers’ ability
to return unsold books, to the authors’ need for a high enough per unit profit
balanced against being at risk for those returns. In addition, retailers will
be concerned about content in the books. Without a publisher in the mix, who’s
going to vet that content? Meanwhile distributor salespeople have quotas to
attain, which are more easily met by selling books in bundles (as from a
publisher), than individual books from indies. Is there a way for indie books
to be bundled?
Further, there are two groups of indie authors—those who
were once traditionally published and have proven sales in brick and mortar
stores, and indie authors who have never been traditionally published. That
latter group breaks down even more. Some indies are so new to the industry that
retailers won’t want to risk stocking their titles. But other indies have built
a solid readership and are pulling in a lot of online sales every month. Will
retailers be willing to give them a chance?
Our stakeholders team hopes to report on our progress this
summer at ICRS so the discussion can continue on a wider scale. We don’t yet know
what the answers will look like, but we are willing to try to find a solution
for the good of the entire Christian publishing industry.
And I strongly believe we do have to find a solution, one that will continue to evolve as
needed. Our industry is facing difficult times. Online sales, ebooks, indie
authors—all of these have been disruptors to traditional publishing and
bookselling. The disruption is only going to continue. So all of us must look
forward. A smaller problem today is likely to become a major problem tomorrow. Do
we sit back and wait for it to get worse—or do something about it now?
I urge my indie author colleagues to not focus solely on online sales. What happens in the future when
those online sellers are, in turn, disrupted? I urge retailers to not view
indie authors as producers of books that stores can’t sell. What happens when
more and more books are written by indies? And I urge distributors to help
create a solution to this problem so they, too, can capture the income they are
currently losing.
We all have to work together to bridge the gap between indie
titles and bookstores. As one CBA representative put it, “I doubt that everyone
working on their own ‘status quo’ basis is going to move the needle. But by
everyone understanding the value and needs of the others, we can make a
difference.”
The stakeholders team welcomes your thoughts on this issue.
Please send an email with the subject line Bridges
to cellis@cbaonline.org.

Brandilyn’s latest Seatbelt Suspense®, Sidetracked, (over 180 5-star reviews) is on sale for $0.99


When you live a lie for so long, it becomes a part of you. Like clothing first rough and scratchy, it eventually wears down, thins out. Sinks into your skin …