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This week I came across this article about the epublishing bubble. It’s a sombre read for an author who is planning to publish on Kindle this year. Ewan Morrison’s predictions about the future of epublishing may or may not be true, but what is most worrying from my perspective is the realisation that authors are being sucked in to a business model that can only benefit the very few.

It’s like this: publishing on Kindle is cheap (free if you design your own cover and forgo proofreading – and unfortunately many self-publishing authors do!), it’s simple, and it’s very, very fast. As traditional publishing becomes more closed-off and competitive, more and more authors seek their fortunes with Kindle-versions of their books. (There are, of course, other e-readers available, but we’re focussing on Amazon just now.)

Do you know how many books there are available on Kindle? In fiction alone, there are 418,067 titles available as I write this. Sorted by popularity, Amazon doesn’t let you search from the bottom up, and I don’t have the time – or the inclination – to click ‘next page’ forty-one-thousand times, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you which unfortunate book is at number 418,067!

But I’m glad it’s not mine. My point is, there are literally thousands of books available which will never be downloaded, or which will be downloaded by such a tiny number of readers it makes the work which goes in to writing and producing a novel seem ridiculous. Amazon uses the recommendation system to bring books to readers’ attention, and – like Google – the most read books will drift to the top, and be recommended even more, and the least read will be lost in the deep dark world at the bottom of the Amazonian sea.

And then you find out (see Ewan Morrison’s article) that this is not some dreadful flaw in the system but it is, in fact, Amazon’s perfect business model. To quote:

After a long year of trying to sell self-epublished books, attempting to self-promote on all available networking sites, and realising that they have been in competition with hundreds of thousands of newcomers just like them, the vast majority of the newly self-epublished authors discover that they have sold less than 100 books each. They then discover that this was in fact the business model of Amazon and other epub platforms in the first place: a model called “the long tail”. With five million new self-publishing authors selling 100 books each, Amazon has shifted 500m units. While each author – since they had to cut costs to 99p – has made only £99 after a year’s work.

Hmm. Makes you think. Of course, we all hope that our novel will be different; that we will rise to the top, be recommended and recognised, be successful. But we can’t all be winners, can we? Some of us will sink without a trace.