Attendance figures for the 2012 London Book Fair won’t be released for weeks, until the numbers are audited, but judging from the fairly strong traffic in the main hall (along with a large China contingent), it seems likely this year’s attendance will top the 24,802 who came to last year’s event. But one new exhibitor stood out at this year’s fair: Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
With a booth nicely situated near the Digital Zone theatre, Amazon saw steady traffic, answering questions for potential authors, and making some of their most successful self-published authors available to talk about their experiences. “It’s been great,” Atif Rafiq, general manager of Amazon’s KDP unit, told PW, noting steady traffic at the booth, good attendance at a one-hour session on Monday afternoon, and overflow attendance at two short presentations in the Digital Zone Theatre. It was Amazon KDP's first time at the fair, and Rafiq said Amazon KDP would also exhibit at the upcoming BookExpo America in New York in June.
Amazon’s presence was part of a noticeable increase in the amount of programming geared toward self-publishing at this year’s fair. At the Author Lounge in Earls Court 2, roughly half of the programs focused on self-publishing, with titles like: Why Self-Publishing Is Not Only the Future but the Present; Serious Self-Publishing from Manuscript to Market; and E-Books for the Self-Published Author. Authors have always come to the London Book Fair, although not in large numbers—just 1,039 attendees of the nearly 25,000 who came to London in 2011 identified as authors. But as technology makes publication easier, and marketing more effective, that number appears poised to grow, whether to learn best practices or new skills, to potentially meet an agent, or, to find an alternate route to market, whether Amazon, or Lulu.com.
In fact, self-publishing got some excellent exposure on this year’s main program, with sessions including Should the Publishing Industry be Afraid of Self-Publishing? And both Lulu.com CEO Bob Young, and Wattpad’s Allen Lau participated in the Great Debate, one of the fair’s largest, most popular sessions. While that session was framed around an intentionally trumped-up question—whether upstarts would displace traditional publishers—there is now a growing sense of self-publishing’s place in the overall ecosystem, and it has evolved quickly from the days of the "vanity presses."
On one hand, self-publishing is potentially a great benefit to the industry. Since it is virtually impossible to get the attention of an agent or publisher unsolicited, self-publishing not only offers exposure to writers whose work might never find its way off the slush pile, it also offers agents and editors a chance to see how a work might be received by an audience, and how industrious authors will work to market their own books. But self-publishing does present challenges, such as higher royalty rates, flexible pricing, and quick-to-market publication times. Innovation in the self-publishing arena will almost certainly pressure traditional publishers to adapt some of their practices and policies, and sooner rather than later, or risk ceding a potentially lucrative part of the reading business to companies like Amazon.
As publishers' recent legal troubles in the U.S. suggest, one of biggest challenges, is pricing. The bestselling books in the Kindle store are often priced at 99 cents, clashing with a traditional publishing industry that still clings to what Audible.com CEO Don Katz called “unit economics” at the LBF’s CEO panel. Self-published authors, meanwhile, are willing to try low prices that can spur major sales.
In the Amazon KDP session on Monday afternoon, it was hard not to be impressed by the vision laid out by Rafiq, who touted Amazon as heavily invested in “authors.” He touted the potential to earn up to 70% royalties, with books going live in as little as 24-48 hours. There is a print-on-demand function for authors interested in that, and a suite of other tools. And KDP authors reach a global market on the world’s most popular e-reading platform, which, in the short time it has been around, has already seen 34 authors sell 100,000 copies.
Two of those authors attended the London Book Fair this year, and spent time at the Amazon booth relating their experiences. Kerry Wilkinson, the author of the #1 Kindle-store-selling Jessica Daniel series, has become one of Amazon KDP’s bestselling authors worldwide, with the first book in his series, Locked In, published in July 2011, selling over 150,000 copies. That success has since landed him a deal with a traditional publisher—in March, he announced he’d signed a deal with Pan Macmillan.
And Rachel Abbott, a U.K. author whose Kindle book, Only the Innocent, hit #1 in the U.K. Kindle store and has in now sold nearly 100,000 copies. A former executive at an interactive media company, Abbott wrote and re-wrote the book, which got excellent feedback from agents, but no offers of representation. None of them thought they could sell the book.
Undeterred, and using the feedback she’d been given, Abbott published the book last fall with Amazon, once KDP became available in the U.K., and after watching sales initially tick along a few copies at a time, she sat down and wrote out a marketing plan. She hit the chat rooms and social media, and she dropped the price of the book from $1.99 to 99 cents for a four-week promotion. By February she’d hit #1, and sales were humming along. Abbott has since signed with an agent, and is at work on another book. “I’m really glad I didn’t have an agent or a publisher back then,” she told PW. “Because I wouldn’t know what I know now.”