London Book Fair swings towards indies

What a difference two years make. In 2012, I went to the London Book Fair at Earls Court and was struck by the downbeat mood, relatively low attendance and minimal focus on independent authors and self-publishing. This week, I went to the opening day of the London Book Fair on Tech Tuesday and the place was packed and buzzing, full of new exhibitors and visitors, with indie publishing taking a very prominent role.

Three of the major ebook retailers took stands at the show – Amazon, Nook Press and Kobo – the notable absentee being Apple’s iBookstore, although Apple rarely graces any trade show with its presence. The teams on the Amazon, Nook and Kobo stands were busy with plenty of visitors interested in details of self-publishing.

Kobo took an active approach in teaming up with the Alliance of Independent Authors to launch a guide, Opening Up To Indie Authors. The book aims to show how to integrate self-publishing into the wider publishing and bookselling industry.

Kobo also set up a discussion with some of the top-selling indie authors, including Hugh Howey, Stephanie Bond and Barbara Freethy, so there was plenty of interest for self-publishers.

Kobo (yes, Kobo again, they were very active) also organised free professional photo shoots at the Author HQ. You’d have made more than your entrance fee back on that alone.

Tech seminars

The Author HQ was introduced for the show as a response to the growth in self-publishing and it had a substantial programme, with a wide range of seminars covering many aspects of self-publishing. Some of the seminars included cover design, publicising your book, selling direct, book discovery, production and the power of a book series.

All the seminars I attended were interesting, although I found the tech-based presentations were sometimes rather basic. The problem with talks and presentations at places like the London Book Show is that the so-called theatres are relatively open stands with areas of seating so the general background noise of the show intrudes on the seminar and the sound system and presentation are never great at trade shows.

There was certainly demand for the seminars, which were very well attended, with many people standing outside the Author HQ and the Tech Theatre trying to follow the proceedings.

New approach to ebook distribution

The show brought in a lot of ebook distributors, which is a crowded sector I’ve always found a little puzzling. If you’re a self-publisher, then you have the well established Smashwords or the newer Draft2digital, among several others, while if you’re a traditional publisher it would surely pay to set up your own digital distribution to save on the 15% of net charged by disties.

However, one new ebook distributor that looks like it might have a different approach is Distee. This service offers 100% net royalties, making its money from a flat charge of £6.99 per month per book.

It also features unified metadata, so all stores are updated with one change and, unlike, many distributors, you can make any changes to price, details and content any time for free. It claims to offer advanced analytics and monthly royalty payments.

Using Distee would cost £84 a year per book, so you would have to be selling only a modest number of books to benefit. For example, if you had a book priced at £4.99 on Amazon’s Kindle store, you would get a net of £3.50 direct from Amazon for each sale. If you were going through a 15% distributor, they would take around £0.50 (it’s actually 52p but I’m rounding down for convenience) from that £3.50, leaving you with £3.00. You’d only have to sell more than 14 books a month (14 x £0.50 = £7.00) to be better off with Distee rather than a 15% firm.

The savings obviously get considerably more with higher sales. On 100 sales a month you’d be saving over £40 and on 1,000 sales a month you’d save £500 a month.

Many self-published books are priced at lower amounts, such as £1.99, so you’d need to sell 35 books a month there to benefit but that’s still a target of only 420 sales a year.

If you went direct, of course, you’d save the £6.99 per book per month charge and Amazon’s KDP is easy for direct publishing and iBooks, Kobo and now Nook Press are all open to direct uploads in the US, the UK and Europe. But it is time-consuming and sometimes problematic to publish direct with all four and you’d still have to use a distributor to reach a wide range of outlets and libraries.

In most instances, you’d go direct with the Kindle store at least plus maybe Nook and Kobo and perhaps use a distributor for the rest. Distee could be the first ebook distributor I’ve seen that could be a real one-stop shop as it claims to distribute to a worldwide network of retailers and libraries.

Distee uses the Autharium platform, which is a bit puzzling as that’s a website offering free editing and production facilities but charging 15% net for distribution, so I’m hoping to look into the service in more detail soon and will report on what I find.

My Independent Bookshop

Big publishers were out in force at the fair signing big deals and displaying a general sense of optimism as well as their forthcoming best-selling titles (can you be a forthcoming bestseller?) with those covers featuring the back of a lone man (or sometimes even a woman) in the middle distance against a stark background.

Perhaps the most interesting move, however, was from Penguin Random which revealed the launch of My Independent Bookshop, which will be a website featuring readers’ book recommendations and links to buy books through a network of 350 independent bookstores in the UK. The indie shops will get 5% commission on print books and 8% on ebooks.

Any move to help indie bookshops is a good thing and the Indiebound website in the US has done something similar successfully, although without the same curation aspect.

You can sign up for the beta of My Independent Bookshop now and the site is scheduled to launch officially in May.

I’m not a big fan of trade shows but I enjoyed the London Book Fair this year which was packed with content and look forward to seeing even more in the programme for indies next year.