Who’s Killing The Ebook Revolution?

Trash BooksThe ebook revolution is dying under the deluge of rubbish that is being passed off as books.

It may sound like a whole lot of moaning and groaning, but ebooks have in general not really helped author’s or small publishers’ income. Forget the outliers like Amanda Hocking, as these are rare instances of success.  Ebooks have in fact moved most of the profit in book sales to a few electronic distributors such as Amazon, B&N and Apple and killed street front bookstores with a sad loss of jobs.

As I begin to write my next book, I really wonder why I am bothering at all. Quite honestly, I can make more money from Adsense advertising on my blog or writing blog reviews for useless gadgets. At least these avenues will pay for the hosting fees of my website.

I see so many terrific new and enthusiastic authors (and a lot of really terrible writers as well) appearing with their fabulous new books everyday. Hopeful of fame and fortune from the self publishing bonanza. But it’s a bit like a gold rush. By the time you get there, all the gold is gone. Kindle ebooks in particular are now so numerous, and of which so much is rubbish, it has swamped the market to the point where it is difficult to find the decent books that are there to read.

Even worse is the new wave of ‘spamming authors’ who are proliferating at an astonishing rate on social media and in the process are devaluing the work of genuine authors, as well as polluting the enjoyment of social networking.

Yes, you could say I’m being pessimistic, and you’d be right. To be quite honest, I don’t see a bright future for writers. Unless that is, you’re happy to give your hard work away for next to nothing and watch monopolies profit from your labour and then envelope your work in an ever increasing pile of ebook garbage.

But then again, I’ll probably wake up tomorrow morning in a far better mood and get back to being a writer, come what may.



47 thoughts on “Who’s Killing The Ebook Revolution?”

  1. I agree, Derek — many have jumped on the eBook bandwagon and have done nothing but add slush to the pile.

    I have 3 questions for you:
    1. Do you think that the deluge of bad, self-pubbed material will empower traditional publishers, i.e., reinforce their (perceived) role as gatekeepers and arbiters of taste?

    2. Is it possible that paperbacks will, for a time, guarantee better literary/aesthetic standards, given how easy it is to self-publish on the web but not on paperback?

    3. Maybe it’s time for writers to partner up with other creatives, namely in visual media, in order to come up with products of greater value, relevance and quality?

    1. Interesting points Bell. My thoughts?

      1. Traditional publishers are not that affected by the ebook gold rush, but are under serious threat from Amazon now that they have entered traditional publishing with vigour.

      2. Paperbacks are still very simple to self publish and distribute. Before the advent of ebooks I was very happy with sales of my self published titles. Ebooks and Kindle have affected this market though.

      3. I firmly believe that the way to improve quality is for small Indie publishers to develop in the market and create their lists of writers and take some control over the quality of output. Not with the heavy hand of traditional publishing, but assuring that an ebook is readable and formatted correctly for a reader to enjoy.

  2. My prof smiled when he came to know I scribble a bit. ‘You’re young so you are supposed to be this optimistic’, he said, ‘The problem with the literary world is that odds are always stacked against you.Even before you’ve entered it. Unless you have good contacts with big publishing houses, everyone will try and manipulate you. But never ever sell your creativity or your integrity for that matter. That is more important.” I think he was right huh?

  3. You could always try the Creative Commons route. It might not be your first choice but it does offer a interesting incentive for people to buy dead tree versions to support your work.

  4. I agree that there are a great many ebooks that… let me be generous and say “were published before they were ready.” You need some way of figuring out which are worth reading. With print, it makes sense for the publisher to provide that filter, because they have to invest a lot of money in a book to stand a chance of making a profit on it. With an ebook, there are no upfront costs (or there don’t need to be), so the likes of Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing don’t see the need to be choosy. They make a profit on every copy they sell, so they can allow authors to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

    Readers still want and need a way to find good books, but there’s no longer a compelling reason why the publisher has to be the one to provide the filter. Other people can fill that role – and will, if they think there’s something in it for them.

    1. Strangely Steven, before the advent of the ebook, self publishing was alive and well in paperback form. For some reason, there were less problems then with quality. (There was of course some duds.) But when people bought a book, it had to have some substance. eg: Thick!

      Now anyone can belt out 10,000 words and call it a (ebook) book. I’ve written about this before. Amazon do not tell you how many words are in an ebook. So how does a reader know what they are getting? At least a few authors are honest enough to call them novellas, but a lot do not.

      1. Before ebooks and print-on-demand, the author needed to pay upfront to self-publish, which kept the numbers down. And it was next to impossible to persuade bookshops to stock self-published books, so most readers would never come across one. The Kindle has made us all into slush-pile readers.

        I think your point about length is a separate issue. I used to like long books, but as I get older, I find I’ve become more impatient for the writer to get on with the story. I’ve read quite a few traditionally-published doorstops that would’ve been greatly improved by the removal of a third to a half of the words. But I take your point about wanting to know how much you’re getting for your money. I’ll update my book’s entry on Amazon with the word count and approximate equivalent page count.

  5. Isn’t it a bit early to be killing off a “revolution” that’s still in its early stages? I’m aware of a fair number of writers who will probably never be best sellers, who are unknown to the general reading public and yet are selling their books at a satisfying rate. And none of them list their books at fire sale prices. But they’ve been at it a long time. Some of them have been through the traditional publishing mill and come out the other side. But they’ve all worked to establish a readership in a particular niche, both by staying in touch with readers and by producing a growing backlist. Oh, they also write well.

    1. What you say is very true. Many of my writer friends fit this category. Others are still traditionally published. Writers who have been through the mill and are now working for themselves are the ones I am interested in forging relationships with. Are you on Twitter? ;-j

      1. Jane George, sorry not to reply sooner. I missed your comment and was gone most of yesterday. I barely use Twitter, just to follow a few writers and publishers. I don’t use Facebook or Google+, so I’m very much swimming against the tide. My primary “social networking” is my blogs, with Goodreads as a secondary, and experimental trials that I move in and out of. But I don’t plan to earn a full-time living with my writing. I’m lucky enough not to need it, which means I can devote most of my time to the writing rather than promotion.

  6. I’m with you on this one, Derek. There’s so much not-ready-for-primetime work passed off on ebooks I’ve pretty much given up buying any that aren’t from a traditional publisher – and even those are suspect.

    1. Cyndi, considering how many really excellent self-published novels I’ve read, I have to say that rather than protecting yourself from inferior stuff, you’re shutting the door on an expanding reading resource.

      1. Perhaps, but there are only so many hours in the day, and many more worthwhile books to pursue that don’t require nearly as much search-and-find. I prefer to spend my few precious minutes reading, not foraging.

        1. I assume you have ways of finding the books you read. Recommendations? Reviews? Look Inside the Book, on Amazon? Exactly the same methods are available for self-published books. Do you simply forage through titles at random? If not, why would you think you have to do that with self-published titles?

          1. Reviews and recommendations, blogs I trust, etc. – and no, not the self-promotional flood that passes for social networking, unless it’s from someone I’ve learned to trust.

            But I think you’re missing the point. If I have to go searching for more titles, only to wade through proportionally greater numbers of less-than-professional efforts, it’s simply not worth my time and energy.

          2. I don’t think I’m missing your point at all. I go through traditionally published titles with exactly the same kind of frustration. And I don’t depend on self-promotion, which i didn’t even mention.

            The point *I’m* trying to make is that if you know how to look for good reading, any distinction between traditionally published and self-published is false and arbitrary.

          3. I find it very difficult to find a “good read” by just browsing and looking at star ratings or reviews on bookseller’s sites. I’ve even been burned by Amazon’s Book of the Month.

            I have to agree with Cyndi–it is very tiresome wading through the dross. Used to be you could, for the most part, count on a good read from a bestseller list – not anymore. I, too, want to spend my time reading, not endlessly searching.

            I have found a few blogs, by people in the publishing industry, that consistently recommend worthy reads. I’m glad for that.

          4. Great point Janet.

            Ebooks are (for good or bad) so connected to the Internet and Social Media, that the best way I have found to find good reading for my Kindle is to find authors, connect with them, find out what they are about and then make my decision about buying their book or books.

            So far, this has worked well. I have just finished two fantastic books by an indie author. And I mean ‘bloody good’! And this is certainly not my first discovery.

            I take no notice at all of reviews and ratings on Amazon as I know how easy it is to garner reviews. (I don’t do it. But that’s up to others to believe me.) If I wanted 100 reviews on Amazon I would have already paid for them!

            As an Indie author myself, I naturally want to read and support fellow Indies. But not pedlars of crap of which there are unfortunately far too many.

          5. Finding garbage in the literary world can happen no matter if it’s indie authors or trad published authors. A certain very popular thriller author sells millions of books worldwide, and God only knows why, because I’ve read indie authors who are better plotters, develop characters that have more depth, and write much better narrative. Just because it’s traditionally published by the Big Six doesn’t mean it’s not mediocre or even crap.

  7. “…it’s all a bit like a gold rush. By the time you get there, all the gold is gone.”

    This is exactly how I feel. I’ve been contemplating e-publishing my latest novel, but I cannot see how I will get noticed with all the other books out there. For those who missed the first wave, I think it will be difficult.

    And, yes, eventually indie publishers will have to exert more quality control. If readers are consistently disappointed in indie/self-pub ad books, and once they become savvy at spotting the traditional versus self-pub ad books, they will start to shun them. Unless , of course, they are willing to take a risk for 99 cents, which seems the case at the moment.

  8. You are right. For most writers, no matter which route they decide to take, it’s an uphill battle to get noticed. Will I keep writing, even if my books don’t sell well? Absolutely. I’ve been at it since I was fifteen. Whether anyone else reads them or not, it’s so much a part of me that I don’t really have a choice.

    1. Some things don’t change Kristy. Being an author has always been a battle to be noticed. The only change now is that the ‘pond’ has become and ocean, so it’s even more difficult now for small fish to attract attention.

  9. Unless, or until companies like Amazon and B&N come up with a ‘filter’ to sort the wheat from the chaff regarding e-books, I’m afraid we are all in the same boat.

    Once the product of all our hard work joins the millions of other books, good or bad, we have little or no control over them.

    There are no sure fire answers, no guarantee’s. Even those higher up the food chain from us have no control.

    Publishing is a lottery, stacked in favour of the publishers, not we writers.

    Will all of this stop me?



  10. I think the difference is soon going to be the quality of marketing support behind a book. Publishers, instead of controlling distribution of physical books, will be the experts in distributing the ‘brand’ of an author.

    1. Unfortunately Benjamin, publishers are abandoning marketing of their authors and sending them out into social media to promote themselves. A quick check of how many repped authors are on Twitter and Facebook will confirm this. So, where is the line now that defines an Indie?

  11. No. Twitter and fb are just new tools. If you’re with a publisher they’re maybe not doing traditionally book tours but are doing other things to establish the author. They won’t see their return on investment from the advance otherwise.

  12. There exists a great opportunity now for an already established arbiter of taste to create an arm that would embrace indie/self pubs. They could market the review/recommendation site as an adventure…looking for gold in the jungle of junk. I think traffic would be huge if the gatekeeper was well known enough. I’m not talking about paid reviews such as Kirkus (blecch). And I’m not talking about book bloggers, who are great, but are not an established ‘voice of authority.’ I can definitely see someone stepping into the void, just to be seen as edgy and current, if nothing else.

    1. Ding ding, we have a winner :-) This is exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of when I said “there’s no longer a compelling reason why the publisher has to be the one to provide the filter”.

  13. Reality sucks, doesn’t it? But shouldn’t some light fall on all those established authors who jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon (some of whom sneered at self-publishing for years previously) and kept telling aspiring authors they didn’t need publishers and bragging about their big royalty checks?

    The main problem is that all the attention about ebooks has focused on those Johnny-come-latelies in New York. There’s been a thriving independent ebook publishing industry since 1994, an industry, I’ll note, that was routinely criticized as being just another way for untalented writers to claim to be published. You know—vanity publishing, but with a pretense there was some sort of gatekeeping in place.

    In fact, that’s still the view of ALL of the major writers organizations, including the ones whose members are now loudly self-publishing. I hope I can be excused a bit of cynicism on the subject.

    When there’s an inexpensive way to produce a product, it’s a given a lot of people are going to think they can make a good buck utilizing it. On-demand printing and ebooks are just another example. I make no secret that one of the reasons we use on-demand is that it keeps our production costs down. When 95% of your books are by writers no one’s ever heard of, whose ability to promote themselves is a question mark, it just makes sense.

    It also needs to be noted that many independent bookstores only survive because they can utilize a system no other retail business can on a regular basis; they get to order stock then send it back for full credit if it doesn’t sell. On top of that, they receive financial support from publishers for hosting author events and giving books prime placement. In other words, most have never actually had to do what any other business does, which is make enough money from sales to show a profit.

    I think it’s too early to call apocalypse—our sales have been increasing steadily for the last five years. To no surprise, this year our print sales have declined significantly, but they’ve been more than replaced by the increase in ebook sales, mainly through the Kindle Store. On the other hand, I built our business model from scratch based on the new technologies, and we’ve worked that model with the help of our very talented authors.

    Maybe it’s just time to stop trying to fit the square peg of the old business model into the round hole of the new one.

    1. I really appreciate your comment Elizabeth. It really puts this into clear perspective. You are 100% correct. It is a round peg and square hole conundrum. Time for clear re-thinking my many of us.

  14. I agree wholeheartedly Jane. I know the NYT have started to take some notice of Indie authors, but not sure how they select their reviews. Seems to me mostly to be very established authors who have changed sides. There are many sites that could fill this void, but have yet to make any genuine contribution. I hope something better comes along.

  15. Seems a bit nostalgic, Derek. Surely you aren’t saying traditional publishers are the only ones in possession of the secret sauce to publishing success. That genie has long since left its bottle.

    As many of the comments have observed, the real challenge is how best to come up with a system that provides you, a potential consumer, with clear, factual guidance on where to invest your time or coins. Exponentially increasing choice, of itself, is not bad. Unless it smothers or paralyzes you with a fear to act because you’re unable to make some kind of informed decision.

    I suspect the next paradigm shift we’ll see is a significant one in the fundamental reviews, ratings, and recommendation systems. Something will rise to the top because it is successful and leads to positive results and confidence in its approach. Repeatedly.

    Until then, I think I’d rather have a world with more choice in it–including sub-optimal fare–than one where we’re spoon-fed by those who claim only they can dictate what consumers deserve.

    1. I have to agree Todd. I’m probably of an age when nostalgia and an aversion to change take hold. I should be more accepting.

      But your point about giving potential customers some guide is at the heart of this debate I believe. Amazon’s reluctance to include word counts on their ebook pages smells of a plot to deceive in my view. While their listings of paperback versions include a page count, this gives a customer at least an indication of what value they are getting.

      But what does 225K file size tell a buyer? This could be 80k words, or one image and one 10 word sentence.

      A word count is such a simple piece of information to provide. Smashwords by the way always include a word count on their ebook listings.

      So I have to conclude that Amazon’s failure to include this information is intentional. But why is the real question.

      1. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence… The file size is easier to measure than the word count. (Not much easier, but still…) They might think word count isn’t useful or meaningful to readers, who are used to measuring book length in pages.

        I hang out on a forum with a lot of newbie writers, and they regularly ask “how many pages should my novel be?” or “how many pages should I have for a chapter?” When the more experienced writers tell them that it’s word count that matters, they look at you (virtually) as if you’re speaking a foreign language.

        If we start telling readers the word counts of our books, initially we’ll confuse them, but eventually they’ll get used to it.

        1. You’re right about page count and word count. Increasingly, though, writers are discussing the value of including some information in your description, where descriptions are allowed, such a word count and whether the book is a novel, novella, or short story.

  16. It’s true that there’s a lot of low-quality, unedited work. But there are also a huge number of great indie books that I might never have had chance to read, so on balance, I like the freedom. I find books via friends’ recommendations and sites like Goodreads, and I always get the free sample before I buy the book. I don’t mind a few minutes ‘screening’ books.

    1. I agree Rachel. I download samples for any ebook I’m thinking about reading. Traditional or self published. Usually the first two pages tell me enough to make a decision. Not just about the quality of writing, but also the formatting. I’ve had a couple of experiences of extremely bad formatting from large publishers. Even they seem to be rushing material to Kindle and skipping some quality control.

  17. I, too, have discovered some really great books by indie authors. Some as good, if not better, than a few big names in the business. As a writer myself, twenty years in the making, I certainly appreciate the attention that my self-published book and blog are receiving. I also socialize a lot on Facebook, twitter, and goodreads, mostly with a lot of indie authors. At times when the moment strikes me I always make a point to recommend that every new writer have their books fully proofed and edited prior to publishing. The reason is simple enough. The quality of the work speaks better of the person who wrote it, as well as cutting down some of the negativity that surrounds self-publishing. Just last week on amazon chat, there was an ongoing groan about books by indie authors and a straight up request on how to get rid of them altogether. That is not a good thing to read when there are so many fantastic and entertaining indie authors out there who deserve their chance in the lime light. My only suggestion for potential readers is to download the free sample offered on the seller’s site. Small as it may be, having a glimpse into the author’s writing style will make it easier to decide if you want to purchase their book or not. I wouldn’t consider it a waste of time reading the sample because there is always a chance of discovering a truly gifted writer that you may have otherwise missed. Just saying. :o)

  18. I agree with Tracy. When I physically go to the book store, I sit down with a few books and quickly read through the prologue – and sometimes entire chapters – to see if I like the way it’s written and if I’m curious about the rest. It really is the equivalent of the free samples.
    My purchase decision is based on that sample, not the cover, not the publisher, not the reviews or even the summary. All those things will bring me to the sample.

  19. Derek, you never write a post that doesn’t make me want to respond! First-off, I want to remind you of what you said in “Self-publishing — Not for Dreamers” — that you write to be read, not to make money, and so that when you’re gone, someone will pick up your books and your words will still be alive. That’s exactly why I write! — and why a very private person like me has started all this flurry of self-promotion! Now I want to ask you what you mean by “wave of spamming authors.” I need to know the etiquette of using social media like Twitter, chat rooms, forums, message boards, etc. I’ve been sending tweets to individuals whom I thought might be interested — telling them what I was doing and referring them to my blog. I’ve made some interesting connections that way. Have I been “spamming?” Can I legitimately go into a chatroom or somebody else’s blog and speak about what I’m trying to publish? How else do I promote myself?

    Also, I have to say this: I’m a former librarian and one of the roles of libraries is to preserve knowledge. How many libraries are archiving ebooks? If you publish only as an ebook, can anything be more ephemeral? The Kindle or the Nook is going to wear out and be thrown away — nobody is going to sell the contents at a garage sale or to a used book dealer. And a great miracle has occurred — the Gutenberg Bible’s batteries have never needed recharging in 600 years! I believe that too much reliance on electronic media is going to damage the preservation of knowledge. That’s why I wouldn’t think of self-publishing solely on ebooks and why if it were possible I would have a hardback edition of every book I intend to publish. I want my words to still be alive long into the future!

  20. Ah! The spamming authors Lorinda. There are three main offenders or categories for me.

    There are the ones who use ‘rights free’ text to churn out book after book. Many of them are self hep or motivational crap, but they clog up Kindle especially.

    Then there are the spamming authors who fill social media streams with ‘check out my book’ or ‘buy my book’ every ten minutes without one iota of interaction.

    Or there are the spamming authors who think it is great marketing to ploy to turn off every new follower they get with ‘buy my book now’ auto DMs on Twitter, or worse, use the contact fields on your blogs etc to bomb you with messages and email.

    Then, as a bonus category, there is Goodreads! Ouch. Spamming author hell. ( I detest being incessantly invited to damn ‘events’)

    As for etiquette? Interaction, interaction, interaction and the odd promo. No one minds that.

    As for you point about books vs ebooks. I have extremely real books ready to deliver to my grandchildren. :)

  21. Sorry, my remarks were not directed at you, Derek, but rather at those who publish only on ebooks; they are likely to see their creative efforts evaporate.

  22. Morning, everyone.
    Derek, I saw your tweet this morning about spamming authors, clicked on it, found myself here on your blog, and I’ve learned a lot. Thank you. As a children’s author, I’ve been published and I’ve self-published. One major difference between the two is money. Unless you’re Steven King, there’s really not much money in being published by a traditional publisher — I find I’m making much more per book, self-published.
    Love your blog!
    Warmest regards,
    CJ Heck

    1. Thanks for dropping by CJ. Very interested to read your comment about self publishing. No matter how much I (we) moan and groan, it really is a great new opportunity for authors.

  23. I agree, it’s a great opportunity, but there’s one heck of a lot of work that goes into self-publishing, too. I used Createspace, a P.O.D., (Amazon.com). You must do all your own book formatting, cover design, uploading of pdf files, images, illustrations, etc., unless you want their people to do it — very high prices — so I chose to learn to do it myself. My first book was published traditionally 11 years ago, and the publisher provided an illustrator. I’m afraid my book was their first and last children’s book. Luckily, I’ve built up a nice following during those 11 years, and just recently, I self-published the sequel to it and illustrated it, too, so add that to the list of work to be done when you self-publish. In spite of the work involved, I’d still self-publish again.

    Have a question for you. I’ve seen ebook prices all over the place, really high and very low. I’ve priced my 4 books low — I’d rather sell a lot of them at a low price than just a trickle of them at a high price. What are your thoughts as to pricing?

    Thank you.

  24. Hi Derek,

    I imagine that you might have been in a particularly bad mood while writing this. Regardless, I do hear both of your points loud and clear.

    On the death of eBooks, I’d say that the ePublishing revolution is a bit of a double-edged sword. A few short years ago, none of the people who are self-publishing now would have made it to market unless they had gone through a vanity press. In the “olden days,” agents and publishing houses would have served the purpose of culling the horde, and shaping up the survivors’ books into market worthy products (bad and good).

    Today, the floodgates are open, and anyone who knows how to create an ePub file —and probably some that don’t—can be a (self) published author. I think this is good because there are a lot more good books out there that might have never been published. I think this is bad because there is more schlock than ever that is going on to the shelves from which readers must choose their next book. I think what is important here is for readers to find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    It’s my current belief that the reader has become the agent of the ePublishing revolution and that free samples are the litmus tests that would have been agent submissions prior. With the advent of eBooks and the Internet, readers can freely download these samples and decide whether to read further or not. After that, word of mouth should serve its purpose as the true marketing tool for the self-published works that abound today. And here is where we get to the icky marketing bit.

    I, myself, have fallen into the trap of thinking that social networking is the marketing tool for the self-published author, and I was wrong—I have done more than my share of “read my book” tweets and me culpa for that. I do now, more than ever, connect with people and engage in real conversations rather that simply broadcasting my marketing agenda. I do believe it takes a while for people to realize this, and I do believe it will get better in spite of the daily deluge of “robot marketing” we see that seems to grow consistently day-by-day.

    What one eventually learns is that social networks are for making friends online, and when your friends start treating you as customers it can be pretty irritating. It’s even more irritating when these are “friends” you’ve just met. There’s not much worse than saying, “Hello,” and getting a “check out my book” in an automated response. At the very least, there should be a little foreplay here, but unfortunately robots are not very good at that. Many today are using Tweet Adder and the like to do their “marketing” for them, and I wholly disbelieve that this does them any good. Hopefully, after a while, everyone will come around and realize that these social networks are not their exclusive marketing platforms and that “real” book marketing comes from their readers—not just spamming anyone that they can.

    Frankly, and this has been said before, the best marketing there is to be had is the word of mouth advertising that occurs when someone reads a good book and tells their friends about it. To elaborate on your point, it bothers me when people try to shove things down my throat—this goes for music as well. I prefer to hear music and decide I like it, just as I like to decide what books to read on my own accord. In fact, when I feel like I’m being sold on something, my natural inclination is to run away. I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in that regards.

    So, with all that said, I don’t believe that there will be a death in the ePublishing revolution. What will occur is an evolution where those with shitty books (that are shittily edited) and shitty marketing schemes—yes, I just used shitty three times and as an adverb to boot—will cast off a warning glow that is obvious to the reader. It will say, “Don’t read me, I’m a shitty book by a shitty author” (I just did it again). It will say this via poor reviews and an inglorious lack of sales. And that, Sir, I believe will be the saving grace that allows readers to finds self-published authors with excellent ePublished books amidst the flotsam and—better yet—among the traditionally published works that they should be worthy of contending with.

    All the Best,


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