Thursday, September 19, 2013

A New Outlet for Indie Books

Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine offers a link to a Forbes article about a new indie outlet: Libiro.

The article claims that Libiro is intended to compete with Amazon. One of the site's founders laments that indie authors get lost in the sheer volume of books offered by Amazon, not to mention the mammoth marketing budgets that the big publishing houses have at their disposal. No argument here, but there already is an alternate outlet for indie authors: Smashwords.

Smashwords, for those unaware, offers indie authors (and small presses) a venue to sell their work as well as distribution to the major online retailers. Name the outlet and Smashwords probably distributes to them. While the site isn't without its problems (the manuscript upload engine is called the "grinder" with good reason), it provides a valuable service to indie authors.

Unlike Smashwords, Libiro isn't offering distribution to major online retailer outlets. It intends to be an online retailer in its own right. The only formats it intends to sell are ePub and pdf and it is the author's responsibility to convert her manuscript into those formats whereas Smashwords does the work for her.

Libiro is based in the UK so for American readers, there may be some sticker shock as the prices are listed in pounds. As I write this, 1 £ is equal to $1.60. While exchange rates vary daily, this isn't far from the historical average.

I'll give Libiro points for its clean interface and recommendation engine ("people who bought this book also bought") but there's no preview feature. As a reader, not to mention a reviewer, it is important for prospective customers to be able to preview an author's writing. For me it's essential. I've seen many a book fail to live up to the promise offered by the book description and I have little patience for poorly edited work. This isn't anything new. Before Smashwords and Amazon offered it, we went to bookstores and picked up books to read a few pages.

As of right now, there's little incentive for readers to shop Libiro. The selection is limited—they have 70 books as of Tuesday—and the prices are higher. For indie authors, it's great to have another outlet to sell their work, not to mention the 80% royalty. But if no one visits the store, that doesn't mean much. There's nothing wrong with competition. As Libiro grows and improves, it should force Smashwords to improve its services in order to retain its UK business. But as for taking on the mighty Amazon, keep dreaming. People aren't looking for indie authors; they're looking for books. And, in that, Amazon is king.


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