Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tag Me, Tag You Blues! Or, It's the End of the Indie World as We Know It!?

"There they are, the four riders of the Big Six Apocalypse: NOOK, Kindle, Sony E-Reader, and Ipad."

Oh man, you'd think those crazy asses who predicted the world would end on May 21 actually only got the date wrong by a little over a week. This past weekend when Amazon decided to pull their tags on E-Books (you know, those descriptive words you add to a title so that browsers can find them more easily when shopping), a whole bunch of my colleagues and cohorts immediately saw the four horsemen riders of the Apocalypse shoot down from the heavens and along with it, the end to what seemed like a very profitable run in Kindle E-Book heaven.

Add to that some unexplained lackluster sales across the board, and you have legions of indie authors contemplating their final meal: Will it be meatloaf or fried chicken?

I'm of the opinion that yes, tags are important. But I'm not of the opinion that tags alone create monumental sales. What creates great sales are the tried and true 4 rules of the indie games, or any variety of publishing game for that matter:

1. Great Cover
2. Great Product Description
3. Great Price
4. Great Book

After that you add in social media marketing, a virtual tour, a trailer, and just plain writing more great books, and you have yourself a career that should earn you steady sales that will increase with time, according to how fast your tribe of loyal readers grows.

Tags are cool because I can tag another bestselling hard-boiled mystery author and she can tag mine, and when John Q. Public goes to my Amazon page for THE INNOCENT or THE REMAINS for instance, they also see her name and then perhaps we both get a sale. But there are other ways to tag on other social media sites like Crime Space and Edgey Christian Fiction and even still on Amazon, so long as there is a paper version of the novel available.

Some people believe that the loss of tags is really the result of a conspiracy between the Big 6 publishers and the chiefs at Amazon to do away with the popular indie titles. I don't believe this is the case, because one, it would probably constitute something illegal like a payoff or payola, and two, why would Amazon shoot their hugely successful indie publishing program in both its feet just to give in to a dying white elephant?

Others believe the tags will re-appear one day soon since it must be a glitch that destroyed them in the first place (such as a Lady CaCa, excuse me, GaGa, download). This is possible I guess. Some have even been reporting that sales numbers aren't showing up and that rankings are dipping on a disproportionate scale with actual sales. Now there's a fantasy I really want to believe since I too have dipped somewhat in the ranks this week.

But you know what? Sorry Charlie, that's freakin' life.
And you know what else? Don't put all your eggs in one fragile basket. Amazon is cool, but it's only one store. Chime in on some NOOK fan sites, or sell more books off your website or your publishers website. Give some E-Books away for God's sake. The point is not to be caught with your pants down in this business. A lot of people have been asking me why I'm still writing journalism, and this tag business is precisely why.

Ok, so answers...we all want answers.
Well, I don't have any, but here's what I have to offer:
My gut reaction is that the tags will never return. And that the reason Amazon has limited product descriptions for indie novels from 7 to 2 is because the indie books are proving more popular than the company would ever have believed them to be. That said, I believe they are trying to level the playing field a little to give the higher priced novels produced by the NYC legacy publishers more of a fighting chance. The biggy novels make up a huge portion of Amazon's sales, and like Obama's stimulus packages, they're trying to light a fire under some of the same old, same old mega authors . That's what I believe anyway.

But here's what else I believe:
That tags or no tags, the most popular indie authors (and my publishing house has at least three of these authors...) will realize a 20% to 30% decline in sales this month, but that decline will be short-lived as other ways to tag and to market will inevitably put these players back on top. If nothing else, these top players will once more reach the top by simply following the aforementioned golden rules. They will also write new material, unaffected by one store's attempt at leveling a playing field that truly isn't meant to stay level.

Yo, grab up the new Concrete Pearl, the first in a new series starring the sexy and brassy Spike Harrison!!!!!



  1. Thanks - I wondered why I wasn't being noticed. ;-) I am just starting out and even though I enjoy making my own covers, I do get that little depression going after I publish the next ebook. And no, I don't have the money to self-publish a paperback at one of those cool sites.

    Plus if my hubby didn't have a job, we would be wondering if our next meal would be coming from the VA center. I wish I could work. But with my other problems (Wegener's Granulomatosis) my doc believes that my life is extended if I don't work. So that leaves writing.

    Geez I know I wrote a novel there. And Congrats on your numbers. Now I'll watch and see if Amazon doesn't try to do the Google thing. (you know, grab the market and then squeeze out the little guys.)

  2. Good post, and I do wonder why they chose this as they make more money in the long run by having authors like Amanda H make news and give them some free press. What makes news, a who-was-that, making a million bucks or the same old NYT bestseller selling more books? But that is why I don't run Amazon... =)

  3. Emails from Amazons tech support reassure that the tags will come back. They seem as puzzled about the loss of tags as the authors. Whether there's more going on behind the scenes *shrug* can't tell you that. All I can tell you is what I have from the company's front line.