Recently I have been thinking a lot about the relationship that I am trying to build with small presses and today at work an analogy occured to me to explain why I have made certain business decisions.
See, at my day job I frequently have to locate replacement parts for different kind of building systems–lighting, plumbing, HVAC. If I’m lucky I can find a manufacturer’s label on the part someplace, and then I contact the manufacturer.
Sometimes the manufacturer has a parts department or a sales department, but more often than not they will tell me that they don’t sell factory direct, but if I give them my zip code they’ll give me the contact information for a distributor in my area.
At first glance this sounds dumb. You’ve got a customer on the phone with money to spend and you’re not going to take it? Give the sale away to someone else?
But it does make business sense in the long term, because the manufacturer wants to have a good relationship with their distributors and stealing customers by undercutting their prices is kind of a dick move to pull on your business partners.
I think of myself as the manufacturer in this scenario and the small presses as my distributors. And for a number of reasons I’m committed to not selling directly to customers–by which I mean putting my work up on Amazon or other ebook retailers under my own name.
(My novels are a different story since they aren’t available through a small press. I would absolutely be open to taking them down and letting someone else publish them, but until I get an offer they’ll stay up.)
For my stories, though, I want them to be available only through indie presses. That’s the deal–if you want a Misha Burnett story you have to do business with one of the outlets that I sell my work through.
“Available through these fine retailers!” like the late night TV commercials say. That means my reprints, as they become available, will be released by one of those presses, or not at all. If you want “A Hill Of Stars” you can just go buy Cirsova #1 because I’m not putting the story up on Amazon under my own name, although the rights have reverted to me and I could.
I’m turning away customers with money to spend? Yes, I am.
The main reason that I am doing that is I believe strongly that if indie fiction is going to thrive it’s going to do so because of indie publishers. Right now the ebook and POD market is very fragile. There are a few outlets that overwhelmingly control customer access and they can choke it off any time they like. The only thing that will shift the balance of power is presses with enough customer muscle to be able to negotiate with the big retailers or to create their own distribution outlets.
With very few exceptions solo authors will not be able to generate that kind of economic power. Independent publishers could, given time–but only if they are supported by their authors. When authors put their stories up directly once the rights revert they are, in essence, selling factory direct and undercutting their distributors.
Now, I will admit that I sell through a lot of distributors. This year I will be adding Storyhack and Switchblade magazines to my list of outlets. So it’s not as if I am giving any one publisher a monopoly on my work. I am less committed to any one press (although there are some that I have a very good working relationship with) than I am to the idea that authors should not be in direct competition with publishers for sales.
That’s sabotaging the whole indie movement, in my opinion.