Let’s talk for a moment about one of the more interesting innovations that have come about in this digital age: specifically, bundles.
You know what I’m point at, right? These are gatherings of otherwise disparate books or stories into a single entity that the reader then picks up as a single entity. Given that indie publishers are the ones doing most of the innovation in the industry these days, they’re mostly from that group—small publishers with great books and who can move quickly.
Early Days: “The Boxed Set”
When they first started, these indie publishers didn’t even realize they were doing anything unique. We even called them “boxed sets.”
That’s how I thought of my first bundles—which are the way I gathered my Saga of the God-Touched Mage. That’s how it all started. Indie authors putting out segments of their series for broader consumption, and thereby enabling themselves to pass on savings to their avid readers by lowering the overall prices. (the pricing structure of the Saga for example, makes buying the whole package cheaper if you do it at once, and effectively provides me about the same revenue.
Then, Working Together, Bundles!
It didn’t take those folks who thought outside the box long before they were seeing new opportunities. Shared sets, right? Each of ten authors drop a book into a single package, one of them do all the production work, and Bam! You’ve got a totally new thing. Authors loved it because it exposed them to new readers. Readers loved it because it expose them to new authors, often on the super cheap. Ninety-nine books for $.99? Even if you don’t read ninety0seven of them, that’st a helliva deal!
This idea came with lots of administrative heartache on the backside, though. Somehow one of the publishers had to take the lead, push all the publishing buttons, and most importantly, handle money.
This is not a lot of fun.
Enter Service Providers
The obvious happened, of course. Seeing opportunity, bundling companies grew up almost overnight. Services like StoryBundle (where I have a novel in the current Moonscapes bundle), and BundleRabbit (where I have a work in the Beneath the Waves bundle). Both of these have been around for a couple y ears now (a long time in indie publishing time), and lots of interesting things are happening with them. I think it’s mostly due to the business models that each are innovating.
Let me look at both real quick-like.
The StoryBundle model works on high-profile packages that are available for only a short time. It also appeals to socially conscious folks because it lets readers choose to support great charities. Moonscapes, for example:
- Includes Kevin Anderson, Kristine Kathryn Rucsh, Matt Buchman, and Dean Wesley Smith, all writers with a high public profile. It also has me, Maggie Jaimison, Lisa Silverthorne, Annie Reed, and Blaze Ward, all writers who have indie published audiences, and some like me with a foot in the traditional short story markets.
Gives readers the ability to control their costs by selecting how much they are willing to pay for the bundle.
- Opens a gate to fund AbleGamers.org, a fantastic charity that is helping disabled gamers be able to enjoy this highly important social activity with their families and friends.
- And is only available for two more days—meaning if you want to pick up these 10 great books, you can’t wait much longer.
It’s a fantastic bundle, and as you can probably imagine given the quality of the bundle itself, has been doing quite well.
Did I mention you have only two more days to get it? [grin]
Beneath the Waves:
BundleRabbit has a similar dynamic regarding pricing. It also allows readers to support charities to the degree they want. But BundleRabbit has considerable differences in in the background in that (to me) it’s more of a curator’s marketplace than StoryBundle, allowing curators to gather stories and manage the production process. BundleRabbit is also considerably different in that it’s focused on the concept of the long-tail, meaning the bundles are available for long spans of time. Given this viewpoint, Bundle Rabbit has worked with distributors like Amazon and Kobo to make their bundles available through those paths. This gives their bundles a broader feel. It also gives curators a lot of room to innovate even further.
[open disclaimer here, in case it’s necessary. I know Chuck Heintzelman, BR’s proprietor, and we chat about stuff on occasion. I don’t think I’m doing anything to push folks one way or another here, but if you think so, there’s the root of whatever bias I might be showing!]
Beneath the Waves, for example, consists of 20 short stories. So in that sense, it’s a digital anthology. Since it’s going to be available for some time, the pricing has been set to be only $.99 until June 24. After that, the bundle will “jump” to $2.99. Both of these are great deals, of course (and you can always pay more if you want to support the authors, or a charity…which BundleRabbit also features). But BundleRabbit’s model provides this opportunity, whereas StoryBundle’s ticking clock model drives it’s sales pressure.
Did I mention, Beneath the Waves is $.99 for only the next few days?
Yes, I thought I did. [grin again]
And This Isn’t The End
I think you’re going to see a lot of indie publishers working these bundles in a lot of different ways in the next year or two. Groups like The Uncollected Anthology (which I’ve been a part of in the past) are beginning to play with bundles in new ways. Dean Smith and Kris Rusch are putting on a week-long creative workshop on how to think about curating, creating, and marketing bundles—and I’m betting that workshop alone will create some kind of new idea that will change something in some fashion that no one can predict until it happens … at which point it will be obvious that twist was coming.
What you don’t see happening right now is bundling with Traditional Publishers. That’s the thing, you see? For a multitude of reasons, indies can move fast. Much faster than traditional publishers. Sure, traditional publishers will always do single-author “Boxed Sets.” And traditional publishing knows how to do fixed anthologies and collaborations. But the bundle world is an interesting twist, and I don’t think traditional publishers have figured out how to make money doing it.
But there is money to make, and I’m expecting that sometime you’ll see traditional publishing figuring something out.
Of course, by then indies will be doing something else.
Because that’s how this works, you see?
If you’re paying very close attention, you’ll note that I have avoided using the term “writer” in this conversation. That’s because when I’m thinking about bundles, I’m doing my best to stop thinking like a writer. I’m trying to think like a publisher. The biggest problem I think a lot of writers have in this conversion, especially those who came up in the “old days” (and among those people I include me), is that the fact is that there is no such thing as an independent writer. Or, maybe the better way of saying this is that unless a writer is working directly for a company (*), that writer is, by definition, an independent. In that way, all writers are independent entities, and that has always been true.
(*) by “working for a company,” I do not mean you have a contract with DAW or TOR or whoever. If you enter a book contract as an independent writer, you are still an independent writer. You are, however, constrained to live by the contract you independently signed. If you sign an employment contract with one of those publishers, then you are no longer an independent writer. This may seem a bit pedantic at all, but to my mind is it not at all. All independent writers have the ability to sign away as much of their independence as they are willing to give a publisher, and sometimes, when they aren’t paying attention, a lot more.
The difference, though, is that writers who going it alone are now also working as independent publishers. And that’s totally different.
As I recently said to a friend: The great thing about publishing my longer work independently is that I get to make all the decisions. The bad thing about publishing my work independently is that I have to make all the decisions. [one big, final grin]
It helps, though, if you find these things fascinating. Which, of course, I do.
And in that light, bundles are an extremely interesting tool.
So, What are Bundles, really?
If nothing else, they’re giving readers more options and more ways to find writers. in a sense, they are mini-bookstores, right? I mean, think about it from the view of the old brick and mortar bookstore shopper. If you were like me, you went in, looked for authors you knew, grabbed a few of those, and then your eye would get caught by something different. By whatever random chance of book stacking and marketing gimmick, your eye would fall on something else that kind of looked like something you would like. You would glance at the cover, maybe read a few lines, and next thing you knew that book was being read.
Sounds a lot like what happens with a bundle, doesn’t it?
So, yeah. I like that.
What is a bundle?
Well, it’s a mini-book store. Or, if you prefer, it’s a portable shelf in a bookstore, filled edge to edge with stuff a specific reader wants to read.