Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The First “Indie” Blockbuster

I was thinking a bit today about those books that hit real blockbuster status in our society.  Not just bestsellers, or even number one bestsellers, but books that sell so many copies and become such a part of our culture that nearly everybody on the planet has heard of them, if not read them.

I’m talking about books like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or The Da Vinci Code.  Of course the Harry Potter books, and also the Twilight series.  All of these books have tens of millions of copies sold and counting, and whether you like them or not, it can be argued that they’ve left a mark on our culture simply by the phenomenon of their success.

All of this got me to thinking; will there ever be a self-published mega-blockbuster?  An “Indie” book that everyone seems to be talking about, if not reading?  There have been plenty of “Indie” success stories, with self-published authors selling more than a million copies of their books, but these have all been at discounted price levels.  None have done it at full retail price, let alone sell the estimated 80 million copies of The Da Vinci Code.

Part of me thinks it isn’t possible without the marketing reach of the big six publishers.  After all, they’ve got an army of publicists, marketing and advertising departments, cover designers, and a direct pipeline into the remaining brick and mortar bookstores.

An independent writer doesn’t have these things, but who’s to say they couldn’t?  Who is to say an independent writer couldn’t hire an entire team on their own?  The way things are going, with more and more readers switching to e-books and more writers foregoing publishers altogether, it almost seems like the self-pubbed blockbuster is actually inevitable. 

Perhaps the more interesting question is, will this first blockbuster come from a real “Indie” writer working their way up from the bottom, or from an author with a traditional publishing background who decides to make the switch?  My guess is the latter.  Someone who is already famous has a lot less work to do in convincing readers to take a chance on their work.

Imagine if Stieg Larrson had survived to witness his great success.  What if, after his original three book deal, he’d opted to go it alone on his next one?  Some might say why bother, given the way things worked out for him so far, but on the other hand, current e-book royalty rates from the major publishers are stuck at 25 percent of net.  “Indie” writers on Amazon earn 70 percent of gross. 

On a printed copy a traditionally published author can expect to earn around 10 percent or less of net, compared to about 30 percent or more of gross through Amazon’s Createspace.  On top of all of this, the self-pubbed author needs no agent.  That alone ads 15 percent more to their bottom line.

One of these days a famous writer with blockbuster potential is going to go it alone.  Or, just perhaps, lightning will strike and a real “Indie” writer will somehow hit blockbuster status.  When it does finally happen, given self-publishing royalty rates, this person stands to become very, very wealthy.

It will also be a particularly significant nail trad-pub coffin.  Just imagine how many traditionally published authors might jump ship after witnessing that kind of success…  I don’t think traditional publishing companies will ever disappear completely, but if I were in charge of one, the prospect of a self-pubbed blockbuster would make me very nervous indeed.

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