I just read an article that should be of interest to every writer. It’s called, “Who Has the Balance of Power over Data?” by Emma Barnes.
You, as a hard-working writer of fiction, an “artist,” (or perhaps a more humble hobbyist) may think that a question about publishing data is beyond your ken, but in this, you are very wrong. It hits much closer to home than you imagine. It’s about marketing your books – getting them to people who will read them and care.
Some authors think that they know, or can figure out, everything they need to know to sell their books. They know they need a “good” cover (other authors tell them so, right?), a snappy title, and an effective book description. So they spend a lot of time or money developing one – in rigid adherence to their own standards. Other authors don’t think they know or can figure out what they need to know, so they hire people to do these things for them (or basically ignore the questions).
The fact is, no one knows what consumers want or want to pay ahead of time. The question is data-driven. That is, you only know it works if it works. You take your best shot, make changes, and take another shot. You ask question and compare answers, and you watch your prospects and observe their buying process. That’s data.
The article focuses on the big publishers, like Hachette. As Barnes notes,
Take a look at pretty much any major publisher’s website. This [citing an example] large publisher can’t sell ebooks or audiobooks from its website, although they’re far from alone. They don’t know how much retailers are charging, and they don’t even know the retail price of their own imprint’s book…
The gist of the article is that publishers have allowed retailers to be the owners of all that information. The publishers, by not learning the data have dramatically damaged their negotiating position with the retailers (like Amazon), who do learn the data and routinely use it.
The information in question allows the company possessing it to have a primary relationship with the consumer. When Proctor & Gamble spends vast resources building its own data base on consumers, it is in a position to “disintermediate” the retailers. That is, it can take over the process of selling directly to customers and eliminate the middle man. Being able to do so, it has never had to do it – the power forces retailers to negotiate differently with it.
Imagine what would happen if you could both offer KDP Select, for example, AND “go wide” by selling with other distributors. Do you know that some authors can?
As writers, we are the true suppliers in this chain. It is possible for us to control every part of the distribution of our books – if we develop that ability. As Barnes points out, “owning the cart” (the shopping cart customers use) is key to seizing control. If you have a link to Amazon on your page, you don’t own the cart, Amazon does. My priority as a businesswoman is to own my own cart – and that means setting up payment and distribution capabilities.
If you’re an author, I suggest you do the same.