Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Digital Publishing: Control.

Louis Shalako

One of the great selling points of digital self-publishing is control.

This is one of those dichotomous statements. Which is different from a dichotomous question.

Control can be quite illusory.

On one website, only about half my titles, published through Smashwords, actually appeared. Days or weeks had passed since OverDrive had come on stream as a Smashwords distribution channel.

On another site, Txtr, all of my titles appear. They all have current covers. Recent price changes appear to have gone through within 24 hours. The same is true of iTunes. The covers looked up to date and the price changes went through.

For the OverDrive issue, I contacted SW staff a few days ago, and let them know about the problem. 

They said they would re-ship the titles. Checking a couple of days later, there didn’t seem to be a change. I went back tonight and there is still no change. They might ship in a day or two and they might all go through, so anyone who reads this at a later date may find a significant change.

It might be safe to say that one channel has more control than another. When you click a button, everything works.

Since SW began a few years ago, at least one distribution channel disappeared, (Scroll-motion as I seem to recall), and Sony pulled out at a later date. If I check Diesel Books, I discover that I am listed as Louis Bertrand Shalako. I changed the metadata to Louis Shalako a long time ago. The Louis Shalako page only displays eight titles. Only a few titles appear on the first search, mixed in with other books in other genres. Louis Bertrand Shalako displays seven titles. That’s it. What’s interesting is that they’re all paperbacks. There are no ebooks there at all as far as I can determine. So once again, we have an issue of control. Basically I must contact SW staff and find out what’s going on—because I really don’t know, and without data we really don’t have much control. That’s not to say anything is beyond solution, but it does take time, follow-up and the occasional sort of audit of all your distribution channels. Basically, we go out there and have a look at all of them. One experiment I am currently making is to simply opt a title out of one of the distribution channels. It’s not appearing anyway—so no harm is done. A couple of weeks later, maybe by opting in again, they will appear in their proper state. This sort of bypasses SW staff, and would give me that option, i.e. more control.

As the number of channels grows, the need for the occasional channel-audit increases in proportion.

The fact that there are paperbacks on Diesel is not necessarily a bad thing. Those books suffer all the same pitfalls and tribulations as an ebook.  If your product is produced through Createspace, or Lulu, they also have their distribution channels. The longer those channels get, especially if a reseller has a few channels of their own, the possibility of breakdown increases. This is certainly true in the case of the Louis Bertrand Shalako metadata.

There are other cases.

I am referring specifically to Kobo distribution, whether directly from Kobo or via Smashwords. 

Kobo distributed (at one time, I don’t know if they still do) to Angus and Robertson or somebody like that in Australia. The books never had covers in the whole time they were up there. They are still listed on the website (last time I looked), without covers and listed as ‘unavailable.’ This doesn’t help the reader or the writer at all in terms of passive discoverability—and I am not likely to post or promote such a site because it would just be idiotic, right?

This is not so good for the passive discoverability, speaking specifically about the reader that knows my name and has a Diesel account, or an Angus and Robertson account and just happens to be going through there.

The customer has some other reason to be there—whether they went looking for something else, or they were just browsing. Each transaction or non-transaction is one very specific case.

If you have ever looked for a used car, or a new apartment, at a later date you may kick yourself for not asking enough questions.

Digital publishing is a machine. It has lots and lots of little buttons to peck away at.

Our job is to teach ourselves how to use it effectively.

Control over such a machine takes knowledge, and that’s what modern digital publishing really is all about. It’s all about knowledge.

It’s a big machine, and learning how to use it takes time and study.

It’s fascinating, it really is.

That’s one of many reasons why five years later, I’m still here.

That fascination is another selling point, for one such as I.


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