Friday, July 29, 2011

CreateSpace versus Lightning Source (Ingram Spark) - Title Comparison

With the current pressure from Amazon, or at least that is what it seems like, for self-published authors and Indie publishers to switch from Lightning Source to CreateSpace for POD services, I was curious just how many titles CreateSpace prints.

An advanced search on Amazon showed there are some 85,115 paperback titles, 18 hardcover books, 1,801 Kindle books and 4 audio CDs that are "published" by CreateSpace. I am sure this number is low and includes only items which have CreateSpace provided ISBNs or a similar method of indicating CreateSpace is the publisher.

I had to talk to Customer Service today about a new title I just made available on Amazon as well as some issues with switching an title from Lightning Source to CreateSpace for distribution via Amazon. I asked if she knew how many titles CreateSpace published and she just laughed and said she had no idea where to even begin to look to find out that information. 

Is the answer to this question a closely guarded secret? Who knows. I do know the change in policy on the part of Amazon has wreaked absolute havoc on my Amazon sales for my book at Lightning Source. I sold a grand total of THREE copies this month and on a bad month this book sells over 50 copies.  

The slide in Amazon search results has started as well. The book has dropped from 3rd in its primary category to 6th. Kindle sales for the book have remained strong and July has been Game Strategy's best month so far in the Kindle store.  Hopefully the change over to CreateSpace has taken place quick enough to prevent further erosion of sales rank in the search results. The book has not been ranked this low since it was introduced in 2009.

For those who are curious as to what I am  referring to concerning Amazon and Lightning Source, you will want to read Amazon expert Aaron Shepard's most recent post (July 6, 2011 and updated July 21, 2011) about Amazon's apparent change of policy.

Why was I curious about how many titles CreateSpace is the print-on-demand service for? I just wanted to see if Amazon's change in policy is to push authors to CreateSpace. The numbers were lower than I expected but certainly do not include all the titles with ISBNs owned by the authors or the small publishers who use CreateSpace for print-on-demand.

I will continue to look into this if for no reason other than to satisfy my own curiosity. A comparison of titles printed by CreateSpace and the total number of titles printed by Lightning Source might be interesting if I can obtain the numbers.

Note: Lightning Source is now part of IngramSpark.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Law of Supply and Demand and the Increase in Popularity of the Kindle

I began offering Kindle versions of some of my books when CreateSpace initially offered their Kindle Conversion service for the low price of $69. This service is for books already published using CreateSpace so my lone book with Lightning Source had to be converted by another service. I choose to use eBook Architects for that project and while it cost more, the results were excellent and I received a file for the Nook as part of the purchase.

Kindle sales have grown to the point that I sell more Kindle books per month than POD and the revenue is starting to add up. Despite my fears, and the fears of some authors, offering both POD and Kindle versions does not seem to have hurt sales of the more profitable print versions.

So, as I prepare for the three peak months of the year for sales, I have been considering which of my  unconverted back list  titles are worth the investment of converting to Kindle. Since I have sold a grand total of one book for the BN Nook, the cost of having a title converted to a Nook friendly format is just not worth the investment at the moment.

Why not just have all of the titles done by CreateSpace? Well, it would seem there is a catch now. The conversion is just $69 IF you don't have charts, photographs, graphics, etc. Most of my books do and this dramatically increases the cost.

I have been shopping around looking for a balance between quality, cost and time required to do the conversion. CreateSpace is still the best bet for me. I have been happy with the results thus far and the price is still the best. Working with the customer service people and the actual teams that do the conversion work has become easier now that phone service is readily available.

What I have noticed in prices and waiting periods for work to be done seems to indicate the future in self-publishing is in ebooks if not the Kindle. The law of supply and demand says if demand outstrips supply, price goes up. This certainly seems to be the case with Kindle conversion services. The reputable companies that have positive references have all increased their prices and the time required to perform the conversions.

This would indicate more and more books are being converted to Kindle editions and the demands placed on the reputable companies for their services are driving prices and conversion times upward. If this trend continues there are some important implications for self-publishing authors.

First, as more books are offered in the Kindle format, the competition for Kindle sales will increase. For me, this means I need to convert my books to Kindle as soon as possible so I can promote my books and build their sales rankings at Amazon. As new books entire the market, the new books have to compete with mine for sales ranking position, not the other way around.

Print-on-demand will become the second option in printing, although it will remain to be more profitable until the Kindle pricing structure offered by Amazon changes. I doubt off-set printing will be used by self-publishing authors in the future.

Last, the low entry costs of publishing books in the Kindle format will increase as the demand for conversion services increases. The only way around this cost increase is to learn to do the conversion yourself. After several attempts, I have given up and will simply pay for the service. My time is too valuable to me.

Who knows what self-publishing ebooks will be like in just one calendar year from now. As much as I love paper books, I have not purchased one in nearly a year. I carry around about 100+ Kindle books in my small Kindle device.

Now if I can just figure out how to project material from my Kindle in my classroom for my students, that will be something.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What's Going on With Amazon and Lightning Source? I'll Be Moving My Book to CreateSpace

I really don't like being treated like I am irrelevant, even if I am. I don't like being told what to do. Does anyone? For the most part, I like Amazon. As an Amazon customer I have no complaints. Amazon deserves its reputation as a customer centric business. 

As a CreateSpace customer I have no complaints. There have been problems at times, but CreateSpace has always resolved the problem to my satisfaction. Today, in a day and age where talking to a human on the phone to resolve a customer problem is rare, I talked to not one, but three, CreateSpace employees! Questions answered and issue resolved in less than 7 minutes!

Right now I am not very happy with Amazon as a tiny self-publisher. My best selling book, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball, is my lone book with Lightning Source. June is a terrible month for books sales for me, yet this title sold briskly. In fact, Amazon sold out its entire stock of the book.

At the time, I watched with interest as the number of books listed as remaining in stock dwindled, and in the month of June no less! Then it happened. The dreaded notice of ships in 2 to 3 weeks appeared. Amazon did not order copies to replace those it had just sold.

To make matters worse, August is when coaches go back to school and sales for this title begin to pick up with a peak for the year in the months of October, when practice starts, November and December. Now is not the time for this book to not be available.

Thank goodness for the Kindle version as it is selling well, but I still sell about 4 POD copies to each Kindle copy. At least I did until Amazon seemingly pulled the plug on Lightning Source.

It would seem I am not the only author experiencing this change with books printed and distributed through Lightning Source. Amazon has quietly been allowing its stock of books from LSI to sell out and then list as shipping in two or three weeks. Amazon is not talking about this current business tactic and there are quite a few self-published authors who use LSI and rely on Amazon for the bulk of their sales. LSI, when asked, is not more forthcoming with details either.

After following the ongoing discussion at the POD Publishers group on Yahoo, I have decided to utilize what Aaron Shepard refers to on his blog post on this important subject as Plan B. I am moving my book to CreateSpace for Amazon sales and leaving the title at LSI for Barnes and Nobles sales. I won't make as much per copy, but I will be selling copies.

Barnes and Noble does not generate very many sales for any of my titles and I doubt, after spending 2.5 years of "Aiming at Amazon" I can drive my sales to B and N in time to take advantage of the annual peak buying season for this title. I think my time and efforts are better spent writing more books and doing other things.

I have worked to hard to let this book die before it is ready. As of this morning it held the number four spot in the search rankings for books on the topic of coaching basketball. With no sales in the last three weeks, it won't be long before the title begins to decline in its sales ranking.

One consolation is I will be able to obtain copies directly from CreateSpace at a lower cost per copy than LSI. I sell copies when I speak at coaching clinics so this is an advantage of sorts. At least that is what I am telling myself.

More than the slightly lower profit per copy, I don't like being forced to go to "Plan B." I don't like being not informed by Amazon what is going on and I like even less like my tiny publishing firm are unimportant (though in the grand scheme of things it is and I know it). This is my business. I have worked hard and invested many hours and money that could have been spent elsewhere.

I am certain I am not the only self-published author who has watched in horror the events of the past four to six weeks as Amazon has put this plan into effect. Our efforts matter to us and Amazon could at least communicate in some form what is happening and if this is a permanent change or not.

In the mean time, I don't feel like I have a choice. This book is too valuable to me to let it die because of a change in Amazon stocking policy. So, I will do what must be done and make the change.

Amazon, love it and hate it. What's a self-publisher to do? Even if CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, at least I like them and you can talk to someone at CreateSpace.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Quick Review of BookCoverPro Cover Design Software

I took advantage of the 4th of July sale by BookCoverPro and purchased the Deluxe version of the company's book cover design software. So far I have successfully created two book covers using the company's templates that come as standard items in the software package.

Any time you obtain a new software package it takes quite some time, at least for me, to learn how to use all of the bells and whistles. Once I decided to try using the templates I had five roughed up covers within an hour. I selected one of the five rough attempts and honed into a nice looking cover even my wife thought looked good.

I did try to make a cover completely from scratch and after spending several hours gave up and went back to the templates for the second cover I created, a redesign of a cover for a book already in print. This is not a condemnation of the software, just a comment on the fact that to create something from scratch will take quite a bit more effort to master the learning curve.

Some authors may object to using templates out of the fear of creating a cookie cutter  book cover. BookCoverPro provides a wide range of backgrounds, the ability to change colors and other items to create a unique cover. Even with the permanent, fixed features of the templates, BookCoverPro allows for the creation of additional text boxes and the introduction of photographs and images from outside the selection made available by BookCoverPro.

The software can be purchased as a download or a CD. A 20+ page manual is available for download and provides basic instructions on the features of the software and is quite helpful. Yes, I read the directions!

For the money I spent this was a great deal. I can create a unique cover in a short period of time for less than half of what I would spend to have one professionally created, and that is on the low end of the cost spectrum for custom covers.

As with any investment in a business, the owner should look carefully at the benefits of the money invested. If you only have one or two books and do not plan to publish multiple books, you might be well served to pay a professional to create a unique cover for you.

If you plan to publish multiple books, even at the full price of $187 for the downloadable version and $202 for the CD version, this software is well worth the price. The basic BookCoverPro Standard version is available for $97 but comes with only one template, as opposed to 49 in the Deluxe version, and additional templates may be purchased for $14 each. For $212 a CD and downloadable package can be obtained. Additional licenses for the Deluxe version may be purchased for $99 each and additional licenses for the Standard package may be purchased for $59.

While I have not tried this feature yet, the software has tools to convert the cover designed for print to an e-book cover.

Perhaps the best feature of the software is every cover created by the software using the templates provided are designed to be used and accepted by the two main print-on-demand companies, CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lightning Source and Amazon - Do You Need To Move Your Books To CreateSpace?

Evidently the glitch I mentioned in an earlier post is not the issue causing my best selling title to show as being available in 2 to 3 weeks but rather is due to new tactics by Amazon. This particular book is printed by Lightning Source Inc.

Aaron Shepard seems to have a good understanding of what is going on and can explain the situation and how to resolve it much better than I can. With that said, I would like to steer you to his post about the issue of using LSI for your print-on-demand printer and dealing with Amazon.

A Glitch at Lightning Source? CreateSpace Chugging Along! Thank Goodness for Kindle!

My best selling book, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball, has hit the skids at Amazon. The glitch appears to be with Lightning Source and no one can seem to give me an answer as to what is going on. Normally, you will see in red letters an encouragement from Amazon to buy the book as only so many copies are left in stock! Nice push from Amazon.

In the past, as soon as the number of copies Amazon had sitting in a warehouse got down to two or three Amazon would stock up again, especially in the months of October, November and December. Now, sales have come to a screeching halt and an examination of the product listing shows the book will ship in 2 or 3 weeks.

The issue seems to be with Lightning Source and not Amazon. July is a slow month for books sales to begin with but when the book is your best selling title, you never like to see anything stand in the way of sales any time of the year.

All of my titles at CreateSpace are listed as available, in stock or with so many copies remaining in stock. A quick check of my Member Dashboard shows the books that usually sell this time of year are doing so and are selling through Amazon for the most part.

While I make less per sale, at least my Kindle edition of Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball is still selling. Note to self, finish converting your remaining titles to Kindle editions as well.

CreateSpace is so much easier to use than Lightning Source that if it were not for the ability to set a short discount I would not use Lightning Source at all. I also had a support question for CreateSpace that was answered with in 12 hours. I still do not know what the issue at LSI is and it has been over a week since the issue cropped up.

Will keep you informed when this is resolved.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Job Loyalty and the Publishing Industry - I Wasn't Fast Enough

With the recession still lingering, Americans are not changing jobs as frequently these days. At least those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs. I was checking my e-mail and found one of those news stories e-mail services often post when you sign-in to check your e-mail. It did not occur to me to bookmark the story and when I went back to do so, the story had been rotated off the page.

The story in question was about the ten jobs in the United States with the least turnover. Number six or seven on the list of ten was jobs in the legacy publishing industry. The average term of employment at the time of the study was 5.7 years with their current employer. The national average is 3.4 years.

I don't want to see anyone lose their job, unless they have done something to deserve it. You have to wonder though what is going on through the minds of many of the people currently employed by the legacy publishers. 

J.A. Konrath wrote a post yesterday about the bulk of the negative talk about self-publishing trends being a danger to the quality of books published. Konrath states most of the negative talk comes from legacy authors who feel threatened by current trends as well as the legacy publishers themselves.

With the number of authors simply opening up shop on their own, declining sales for the traditional publishers, and the stories that have to be floating around the offices of editors, designers and proofreaders who have gone freelance to serve the rising numbers of self-publishing authors, it has to be a source of concern for those who remain behind in the traditional publishing industry.

For many it must be a fearful time. They possess skills that have value in the self-publishing world but value the security of steady employment with benefits, not to mention the "respect" of working for a "real" publishing company. At what point in time does an individual decide to abandon security and go out on their own?

Another question that must be going through the minds of many of these skilled employees is what if I stay too long? When do I go out on my own? If I leave too soon and the self-publishing "craze" passes, how will I get my foot back in the door of a traditional publisher? What if I wait too long and when the number of self-publishing authors levels out and the editors, etc, who are established have locked up the industry?

We live in interesting times.

Friday, July 1, 2011

BookCoverPro Offering July 4th Sale on Deluxe Version of its Software!

For those who are interested in moving towards creating your own book covers, BookCoverPro is offering a sale for its BookCoverPro Deluxe version (download only) for the price of $99. The sale ends on July 4th.

I have no connection to the company nor do I own or use the software. However, I have been considering purchasing it and using it to create my own book covers.

California verus Amazon - Who Will Win? Technology and Changes in Self-Publishing

The state of California has gone after Amazon, and other on-line affiliate businesses, in an effort to generate tax revenue. Amazon has responded by thumbing its nose at California and canceling its relationship with the on-line vendors involved. For an excellent post complete with excerpts of statements by parties involved, visit The Publishing Maven's blog.

Over and over I have read if you want to draw readers to your blog, state something controversial. At the risk of offending any readers (they say never discuss politics and religion) here goes.

Governments, all of them, need to learn to live within their means. That means spend less or no more than what you take in. The rest of us have to live in this manner or face the consequences and our governments, local, state and national, all need to do the same. If you want to spend more money on one item, you have to spend less somewhere else. Living on a budget requires you operate in this manner.

The politicians in California, and everywhere else, I am fairly sure are surprised by Amazon's reaction. They shouldn't be. If someone poked me with a sharp object I would move quickly to remove myself from the general area of the person poking me. Businesses react the same way when it comes to costs the business operator can avoid or feels are cumbersome.

As to the brick and mortar stores who have trouble competing with Amazon, I say this, create your own on-line presence and develop a niche market that you serve best. Create loyal customers through fantastic service and make sure your products are quality. Work to create more customers through word-of-mouth advertising. In the case of book sellers, use Amazon to help sell your books or other products. The man in the brown truck is your friend! UPS is in the business of helping small businesses deliver their products quickly and efficiently.

Technology changes things in big ways. It is a historical fact. The arrival of first the railroad and then the automobile spelled the end of the horse and buggy as a common means of transportation. Machine guns and barbed wire changed how Europeans engaged in land warfare, resulting in the horrible slaughter of trench warfare in World War I. The personal computer and the internet has changed the world in profound ways and will continue to do so. The only real certainty is change will happen.

Technology has made self-publishing a viable business model today. While some of the stigma of self-publishing still remains, the powerful combination of Amazon, B&N,  the print-on-demand technology and business model, excellent and relatively easy to learn to use software and the recent development, acceptance and surge in e-book readers has made the world of self-publishing one in flux.

Within five to ten years, the world of publishing as it is now known will not exist. Those publishers who do not adapt to the new reality will go the way of the buggy maker. Those who do, will prosper.

Government needs to learn to adapt as well. Regardless of the political party in control of the government entity, governments must learn to spend less than the amount of revenue taken in. Tax increases are not the answer. Learning to operate like a business and being financially efficient are. If a government entity offers a service, it should be of a quality as high, or higher, than what private enterprise can or would offer. Why higher? Because the taxpayer has no say in whether or not to purchase the service. The private consumer does. Therefore, the service must be of a high quality since it is being imposed on the "consumer."