Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Indie Books and The Mark of Quality - The Golden Quill.

Hi Guys,

Ok, this is something that comes up again and again in writing fora. The demarcation line between indie books and trade published books. The question of quality.

Over and over again we hear the same tired cries from those invested in the world of trade publishing - Indie books are substandard. Poorly edited, bad plots, bad formatting, rough covers etc etc. And to be fair there are a great many indie books put out by indie authors that simply aren't up to standard. Books that would not be published by a trade publishing concern.

And naturally the cry goes up from indies - including myself - this doesn't apply to all indie books. It probably doesn't apply to the great majority at all.

So the problem becomes, how to separate the properly edited etc indie books from the rest. And as usual there is a cry for some sort of quality mark. But as I've said previously, while I think the industry does need and want this, there are simply too many hurdles in the way for it to happen. If a private book assessment process was put in place, who would run it? Who would be neutral? Who would have the sufficient prestige for their sign to mean anything? How would it be paid for? And if authors paid would it be trustworthy or accepted? Would authors pay for it if it was too dear? And perhaps the number one problem, there are I think close to two million books on Amazon's Kindle. How the heck could anyone even do more than a few?

However, it occurs to me that there is another way. Another system, which while nowhere near as advanced or comprehensive as the aforementioned system, is achievable now with very minor effort, and at almost no cost. What's more it's a system that's already in use in the music industry. The gold record.

With gold records, artists receive them when they sell a certain number of albums. And maybe it's just a silly decoration to stick on the wall, but it's also a mark of quality. Not necessarily a good one. But as any free marketeer will tell you part of the reason things sell is because of quality. Poor quality products generally don't sell well. There are exceptions. Price points are an issue, and sometimes cheap overrides quality. (One huge argument against the practise of free books.) But at least it's something.

So my thought is that books could have the equivalent of a golden record system - a Golden Quill. Maybe in fact a quill system with bronze, silver, gold and platinum. So a book - trade or indie - might get a bronze quill for a thousand sales. A silver quill for five thousand sales. A gold quill for twenty five thousand sales. And platinum quills for a hundred thousand sales.

Naturally this would only be a system that Amazon could implement since they're the big boys on the block as far as indies and ebooks go. But it wouldn't cost them much to do since they already are counting sales for purposes of royalty payments, and I assume keep those records digitally for years for tax purposes. So one IT guy could spend a few hours adding a new column to the sales spreadsheet. A graphic designer could come up with a logo. And hey presto it's done!

Now each book when it sells one thousand copies after returns are subtracted, gets a bronze quill on its book pages. And each author page would presumably include the appropriate quills beside the appropriate books.

Now this system is good for indie authors. Or those indie authors who do work hard at writing good books and editing them professionally etc. Even if sales are lacklustre perhaps because they're in an unpopular genre, they should be able to hit bronze. And a bronze will hopefully help distinguish them from those who haven't reached this level of sales, perhaps because their work is not up to standard.

It's good for readers because they see the quill and can immediately know that another thousand readers have purchased the same book (note that this could never apply to freebies) and not returned it. That means that the book may not be the read of their dreams but it's probably not going to be a poorly edited mess for the slush pile.

It's good for Amazon too. They get to separate their books and authors into different piles. And when they find the ones they like because they sell, they can push them a bit harder, while those that never sell can be forgotten. And as any salesman will tell you you get better results from pushing things that already sell then you do from trying to push the unsaleable. They already do this from their sales ranks. Books that have higher sales ranks get more pushing than others.

Now Amazon already has sales ranks. But the problem of course with sales ranks is that they go up and down. So for the reader when they see a book with a poor sales rank, they don't know whether that was because this is a newly released book that hasn't yet had any exposure, it's an older book that's had its day, or because it really wasn't very good. The quill remains as a cumulative sales rank reassuring readers.

Amazon also has a review system, and I do support this. However reviews in my case come once every hundred and fifty or so paid sales, and can be remarkably fickle. A quill is just a number in the end.

Anyway that's my idea. The closest I think the industry can come to a quality mark at this stage. And if you like it, I suggest you suggest it to Amazon. I already have.

Cheers, Greg.