Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Books as Oil Wells

One thing that hit me when I was studying the self-published ebook fad is that many authors came to the conclusion that their books were meant as paydays. This is okay. Unless you're trying to produce something that is solely a work of art, you need to keep a commercial eye on the ball. It's unfortunate that the self-published market is more like a produce store filled only with rotten fruit, but that's not the point I'm trying to make today.

What the more successful of the self-published writers (for some reason they like to call themselves "indie writers", even though they're all fodder for Amazon.com, a burgeoning monopoly) have learned is that their books are like oil wells. An oil well can make you a lot of money. Or it can make you a decent amount of money. It can make you no money at all. It can even break you (too bad this doesn't happen more often with self-published books).

One thing about oil wells is that they are not perpetual. That pool of oil or lake of oil or even sea of oil will run out at some point. Most successful ebooks will explode out of the gate like a newly tapped gusher. It will then subside just a bit and then begin to taper off and eventually cease selling altogether. This is the way of book sales in any market, but it's compounded in the ebook market.

It's a rare author who can pen a book that keeps on selling month after month, year after year, decade after decade. I like to use Richard Matheson's seminal paranoid fantasy I AM LEGEND as a good example of an excellent book that just keeps...on...selling...year...after...year. Deservedly so, I must add. (It's a classic of apocalyptic fiction.)

But almost all ebooks have a short life-span. And what the most clever of the so-called "indie" writers have done is to just keep drilling. Well after well. They churn out one book after the other, spilling their literary bowels onto the marketplace and trying to hang on to the fans that they have inexplicably earned. When one well runs out, go to the next. On and on. As long as they can keep this oil well strategy making them a living, they're not going to stop. Hell--we live in a free enterprise system and we shouldn't begrudge them their little success stories (save for the fact that, ultimately, they're harming the book market).

"Give us the ka-chunk ka-chunk!"

So, if you're going to start into that game of self-publishing, do what the more clever of the ebook fadsters have already learned: churn that shit out. Keep it coming. Drill that next well. Frack every reader out of the substrate. What I'm hoping you all eventually do is drain that lake completely dry and go extinct. No more wild-catters in the writing biz. Then literature can return to the world.

No comments: