Writers and the laws of economics

I am a big fan of The Sell More Books Show. Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen are bottomless sources of pertinent news and worthwhile advice for indie writers and small publishers.

I must, however, take issue with one of Bryan Cohen’s consistent positions, regarding writers and the nature of competition.

In the most recent episode of The Sell More Books Show, Cohen repeatedly asserted that writers are “all in this together”, that they aren’t in competition with each other. He also stated that he doesn’t “like competition”.

Bryan Cohen is a smart guy. He is also one of the most genuinely nice people on the Internet nowadays. In an online world filled with snark and cynicism, Bryan Cohen is consistently upbeat and charitable.

Nevertheless, writers are not exempt from the laws of economics. The indie publishing boom has lowered the barriers to entry, such that anyone and everyone can publish a book. Indie writers have responded by flooding the market. In some genres (especially romance and urban fantasy), there are now more books than readers.

Cohen is also aware that advertising prices have been bid up for authors. Facebook advertising is no longer profitable for most authors. Amazon ads are now either a break-even proposition, or barely profitable, for most authors. (And many authors report losing money on them.)

This is all a result of too many authors competing for a relatively fixed pool of readers.  What the indie author space really needs right now is a vast shakeout, much like what occurred in the aftermath of the dotcom bust of 2001~2002.

The indie author space underwent a speculative boom after Amazon lowered the barriers to publishing in 2009. A bust, and a shakeout, are overdue.

Boom-and-bust cycles, and shakeouts, are normal…and inevitable. They aren’t about being mean, or wishing failure on any one particular individual. They are a market response to the limited demand for any good or service.

But they are competitive in nature. As it went with the dotcom entrepreneurs twenty years ago, so it will go with indie authors over the next few years.

Indie authors aren’t “all in this together”. They are ultimately competing for readers who will spend only so much disposable income on books and entertainment.