My Borders Moment
I built the first iteration of Ebookling way back when I was living in New Zealand, which was before Thailand, which was before Iceland, which was before India, where I’m living now. It seems like several lifetimes ago, and in some ways, I guess it was.
At the time, I was convinced that the fledgling independent ebook industry was in a rut and needed a new contender to help grease the wheels.
Big-bin online booksellers like Amazon and iBooks weren’t providing the resources that indie publishers so desperately needed in order to perform on a larger stage outside of their immediate circle of friends, and there was little chance (about the same a winning the lottery) that a no-name author could emerge organically, powered by a grassroots movement of readers.
This was because of the nature of the online book business: you have access to just about every book ever with the click of a button, but that means unless you know what to search for, you’ll likely never find a new author’s book in the torrential flow of published materials. These booksellers throw their support behind established names and recognized themes, and much like the New York Times’ bestseller list, gaming the algorithms that get your book to the top of the pile is doable, but only really attainable for people with large, pre-existing audiences, or access to large piles of money and self-promotion campaigns.
Further, ebook formats are horrendous, and the gold-standard, EPUBs, are among the worst, although they are the easiest to work with on ebook readers, and are therefore the most popular.
I’m going to say right now that I don’t think much has changed from this original assessment.
The state of the industry is nearly the same as it was back then: the ebook format wars haven’t been fought in earnest, and indie authors are still in the weeds when it comes to getting their work noticed without having to become an expert at blogging, SEO, marketing or espionage.
After about a year of operating Ebookling, I’ve come to realize a few things about indie publishing.
First, I don’t think the answer to the problems listed above lay in creating a brand new mousetrap.
I worked hard with Justin and Miles (the incredibly talented guys who helped me evolve Ebookling from a concept into a full-fledged business) to build the current iteration of the site, but in doing so we created something that was essentially an Amazon/Smashwords/iBooks that did a few things better, and most things not-as-well or exactly the same.
It was our intent, of course, to come up with a store that would rival and beat these other entities, but we soon found the sheer bulk of programming and time that would be required to refine our concept into something capable of such a feat would be a far more immense undertaking than we three were capable of doing alone on a budget of $0 (and we now understand why these other companies keep thousands of employees and millions of dollars in their war-fund to get things done).
Second, there are decent tools available to independent authors through these existing stores, they generally just aren’t very easy to use.
I discovered this while publishing my last book, My Exile Lifestyle. Though I had worked with all of the existing ebook platforms before, I tried a lot of new things with this particular book, and in doing so I discovered that the tools they provided are actually quite sophisticated, they are just incredibly user-unfriendly, which ends up making them somewhat useless to the uninitiated.
Third, people are craving ways to make money from doing what they love, and that applies to both writing and reading.
One of the most popular facets of Ebookling has been our affiliate program, which differs significantly from other platforms in the way we distribute money and how quickly we make payments to our authors and affiliates. Most ebook stores will give a small percentage of the book’s sticker price to those who help bring in sales, but we saw that relationship as an opportunity to bring influential readers into the fold and allow them to make money by sharing their passion. We also paid monthly, whereas most online stores will take several (sometimes as many as 6!) months to pay authors for the sales they’ve made, which makes it difficult to make a full-time living from these profits.
This is tough to write, but I’m formally announcing that October 1 will be Ebookling’s final day of operation, and we will make the final round of payments to authors and affiliates then, as well.
The shop won’t be closing down because I think I was wrong about the impending rise of authorpreneurship or the current state of the industry; it will be closing because I think I was wrong in thinking that another shop was a viable solution to the problems keeping authorpreneurship from occurring on a larger scale.
The next step is not to mourn the passing of a project that I loved working on and learned a lot from, but to take what I’ve learned a build something new.
Ebookling was good, but I want to create something great, and I have a few new directions in mind that I’ll be refining and shipping away at, thinking through, and testing, before I start to work on the new (and hopefully better) solution. My plan is to have a minimum viable product by the end of the year, and then to launch the full-blown business shortly thereafter.
I want to thank everyone who helped make Ebookling a success – especially Miles and Justin, who are great guys and a blast to work with – and all of the authors, readers, and journalists/bloggers who cheered us on, contributed such great work and helped spread the word about what we were trying to do.
I called this post ‘My Borders Moment’ even though that title doesn’t really fit; Borders went bankrupt, and at the end of this experience I’m proud to say the Ebookling was profitable from day one and has continued to be profitable throughout its lifespan.
We could actually continue to run the business on autopilot and continue to make money from it, but that wasn’t really the point of starting Ebookling. Now that we’re aware of some drastic changes that need to be made, our efforts are better spent working on the next solution rather than trying to make more money doing something that we no longer believe to be optimal.
It’s time to move on and make sure this next business plan and product are doozies.
Ebookling will be a hard act to follow, but I’m already looking forward to winning over your support and enthusiasm again, and making sure that the next model is something we can take to much more ambitious heights!
If you have ideas or suggestions for the new project (things you’d like to see or would find useful in making your authorpreneurial dreams come true) or would like to be involved in its development in some way, shoot me an email.