Indie is a Startup: What’s Your Problem

by Rich on July 8, 2011

When startups talk with investors, one of the main questions they have to answer is “What problem are you trying to solve?”. It tells investors about the startup’s understanding of the market, the size of the opportunity they want to chase, and their ability to communicate with potential customers about how a new product or service can be helpful. In short, it gives an investor a summary of the startup’s potential.

Writers have plenty of good (and bad) reasons to go indie. Money, control, and opportunities which might not exist in traditional publishing are easy to identify.

But indie publishing is an¬†entrepreneurial¬†undertaking. You have to consider what’s in it for the reader. Are there benefits you can provide a reader by indie publishing that you can’t provide traditionally?

I can see three.

1) Indie lets productive writers get more books into readers hands more often.

Dean Wesley Smith and Bob Mayer love to talk about speed. They are very highly productive writers, producing several books each year. They publish under several pen names, which Dean assures his readers is more common that anyone expects. A key reason for pen names, beyond genre boundaries, is trad publishing’s expectation that authors release books annually. I’m sure there are plenty of historical reasons for this which make as much sense as the size of the space shuttle being based on the width of a horse. Any reasons tied to print runs, distribution, or shelf space no longer apply to ebooks. So either ebooks are restricted for print revenue protection or publishers have a lot of momentum and don’t feel like changing. Either way, an author who can produce multiple books per year has a harder time getting them to fans.

2) Indie serves fans of less main stream genres and forms

Successful writers know their niches. If your niche is out of fashion (horror, westers, cold war spy thrillers) your readers won’t have any options on the shelves. Story size is also driven by shelf requirements. Shorter books don’t have much spine width, so they look bad on a shelf. The spine print is small and value perception is lower. Short story collections aren’t popular with publishers. Serial fiction is long out of vogue. There are readers for all of these. Indie allows writers to reach those readers whose needs are largely ignored.

3) Books are less expensive

Authors earn much higher royalties in indie, so they can charge less for books and still earn well. Readers save money, or can read more on the same budget.

A startup with a pitch that said “We can get customers more of what they want, meeting demand our competitors are too inflexible to meet, earning more while charging customers less,” would have pretty good odds. They’d certainly have an investor’s attention.

What benefits do you see for your readers in indie publishing?

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