Indie Writers Are Serious Business

Before I go too far with this rant, let me clarify that maybe I am reading too much into things. I’d like to be mistaken, but let me tell you how things look right now. Earlier this week, I received email from NOOK Press which, if you aren’t familiar with it, is the digital publishing tool used to publish books directly to the NOOK platform (if you don’t know what a NOOK is, it’s like a Kindle but for Barnes & Noble instead of Amazon). In that email, they announced a new service from NOOK Press: Printing! And not just paperbacks, they’re offering hardcover copies. You can even get dust jackets on your hardcover books if you want. Pretty cool, right? I thought so. My first impression was that it was serious competition for Amazon’s CreateSpace and Ingram’s Lightning Source/Ingram Spark offerings. Oh, if only that were true.

The first thing I looked for, after taking a quick glance at their trim sizes (i.e., the physical dimensions they offer) and cover options, was to see what kind of distribution service they offered. If you’re serious about publishing your book, there’s really no point having physical books printed if there’s no reliable way to get those books to people, which is normally through retail channels. The typical process would be to send the files to a printing service, the printer would distribute the books to the retailer, and the retailer would arrange for final delivery to the customer. When you publish through CreateSpace or Ingram Spark, you can (and presumably will) take advantage of their distribution options to get your books to real, live people waiting to give you their money, after ordering your book on Amazon, or buying it at a store, or ordering copies for their library, or whatever.

So, can you guess what kind of distribution is offered by NOOK Press? It’s quick and easy to describe: None. They offer no distribution at all.

Now, that in itself is not a big deal. There are a variety of companies out there that will take your digital files and print all kinds of things, including books. Before I moved it to CreateSpace, my first paperback Journey to Yandol, and other stories was originally printed by CafePress. Yeah, the place where you can get t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, buttons, clocks, and all kinds of fun things.

That type of book printing has a role in life, it just doesn’t have a role in serious publishing. It’s good for an ego stroke (it’s pretty cool the first time you hold your own book in your hands), and it can be good for gift-giving (a photo book of the grandkids, etc.). It might sound like a slam to call it a “vanity” press, but when those books have a tiny audience they’re not about commercial publishing success. So, is it possible to use that kind of service for serious publishing, where your book might be bought by tens, hundreds, or thousands of people, many who will be complete strangers? No. Absolutely not. Someone who wants to make a serious attempt at achieving commercial success with their books is going to need an ISBN and distribution.

You might wonder what’s the problem. After all, if it’s OK for CafePress to offer vanity printing, why not NOOK Press? The problem is what it seems to tell us about the attitudes of the people who run NOOK Press, specifically what they think of indie authors. Ostensibly, NOOK Press was designed for indie authors to seriously publish their works on the NOOK platform. But this in-print offering makes me think that was never the case at all. This tells me that the NOOK platform doesn’t take indie authors seriously. Why would they offer a vanity printing option with no distribution service? Unless, of course, they think indie authors are just dabbling, looking for an ego-stroke but not serious business.

And that’s complete nonsense. Even below the stratospheric indie sales level (Konrath, Howey, Hocking, etc.), there are many indie authors who are making a living from their work. Not just beer money, or enough to pay the occasional utility bill, but their entire income. Some, including some you may have never heard about, are making quite comfortable incomes. That only comes from selling a lot of books, and that only comes from taking their business (writing, publishing, book marketing, etc.) seriously. Sure, there are people who dabble with writing but never take it seriously; that happens in many life pursuits. But as a market audience, indie authors should not be dismissed en masse as dabblers. Many of us are taking it seriously, whether we’ve hit the make-a-living stage yet or not.

My ire comes down to market positioning. Businesses generally orient their product or service lines to a specific target market, and those markets are often divided between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). Walmart is a well-known example of a B2C business, since they do not position themselves to serve businesses but they definitely cater to budget-conscious consumers. A service like CafePress is another B2C example. A company like Salesforce, however, is not interested in serving consumers but positions itself to effectively serve businesses (B2B). Things do cross over and get a little more complex; for example, Staples serves both businesses and consumers, and Amazon sells to consumers but also serves businesses that want to sell through the Amazon platform.

The NOOK platform, currently a part of Barnes & Noble, also sells to customers (i.e., books for their e-readers) and originally seemed to serve businesses (indie writers) with a desire to sell through that platform. With one move, they seem to have shifted to a B2C focus. Oh, you wrote a cute little book? We’ll offer you a cute little service so you can give a nice copy to your mother. For the dabblers, that’s fine (and yes, I know, I’m taking a mocking tone about it, but it really is fine — for writers who don’t take their writings seriously). But with the B2C brush they are tarring what should have been a B2B focus on the e-book side.

Amazingly, NOOK Press has the audacity to say that their printing service is for people “from the professional author to the first-time writer” but no “professional author” is going to want to waste time on a book that has no ISBN or a book printing service that offers no distribution to retail channels. A first-time writer who doesn’t understand the importance of distribution? Sure, they might be fooled once by NOOK Press, but it won’t take them long to realize what a mistake it is to use NOOK Press for printing.

I consider competition good, and I’d like to see continued competition against Amazon’s Kindle platform, just for health of the market. In the past I encouraged attention to the NOOK platform. Now? I don’t think so. Maybe you should take a look at Kobo instead. They’re doing some interesting things with their devices, like the Aura H2O which is a front-lit e-ink reader that is waterproof. I think that's pretty cool, unlike the pathetic “print on demand” service now offered by NOOK Press.

About the Author
Stuart J. Whitmore is an author of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a photographer, technology developer, and more. If you enjoy reading his blog posts, you might also enjoy reading his books. Take a look at the books by Stuart J. Whitmore today, and download your copy of one that looks interesting to you!