2020 - A Year of Change for Indie Kids Publishers

What worked in this topsy turvy world.

2020 is a year that will live in our memories! COVID-19 took over our lives, combined with a contentious, unpleasant U.S. political season. It meant schools had to rethink education from the ground up and figure out how to teach digitally. Parents/families had to reconfigure the childcare responsibilities and create solutions unthinkable before quarantine. To top it off, fake news swept the media in regular cycles until you didn’t know who or what to believe.

In the midst of that, we writers wrote. We read, we wrote, we re-wrote, and we published. I had one book come out in the worst possible 2020 month: April. And another in June. Once scheduled, they were almost impossible to pull and push to a different season, so I pushed forward, knowing that they’d need some extra TLC for the next year or two.

Yet, out of this year have come some welcome changes. Some initiatives I tried have worked, maybe because of the lockdowns. Here are some of the indie publishing wins for me this year.

1)    MimsHouseBooks.com. For the last few years, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable relying on Amazon as my main marketplace. They change the rules, they maintain control of my audience, and putting all my eggs in their basket was unwise. Last year, I discovered a new way of combining print-on-demand with a Shopify store and set it up. Read my blog post on the process of setting up an online bookstore.

When COVID hit, I set all my ebooks and audiobooks to free for 60 days as a way to support parents and teachers. It was great to see that people responded and appreciated it. It had the added benefit of shaking down the Shopify store, as well.

Usually, a Shopify store is a B-2-C, or business to consumer, store; you’re selling direct to the customer. I have done that with my store! But it’s been most beneficial in B-2-B, or business to business sales. When a school district, educational distributor, or other private customer wants to buy books in volume, the Shopify store has simplified the process immensely. On that level, it’s been a success, and I’ll definitely continue the Shopify store.

On the B-2-C level, I’ve had some limited success and plan to build on that in 2021. The problem for any Shopify store is how to attract customers. You must advertise—somehow. But where? Who is the best audience for this type of online bookstore? I haven’t solved that problem yet. But the B-2-B sales have kept the store alive and well. 2021 will be a year to add to the direct-to-consumer sales segment of my audience.

2)    An astronomical growth in audiobooks has been touted for several years now. Dutifully, I’ve had audiobooks created for each book, except the long novels which were cost prohibitive when no income was in sight. I’ve uploaded to a variety of distributors such as Overdrive and Findaway, and to a host of smaller educational platforms.

With students and families turning to digital content during lockdown, the question was this: would they also embrace audiobooks? The answer is a qualified, YES! My sales have taken off on two small distributors, each of whom report a growth of about 9x in usage and income. On the bigger platforms such as Overdrive and Findaway, there has been consistent, but minor growth. It’s been exciting to see some growth of audiobooks and I’m hoping that 2021 speeds it up even more.

3)    Likewise, ebooks have shown a consistent but minor growth. I’ve actually had sales on Overdrive, Mackin, Follett and other educational distributors. None of it is spectacular sales. But there are huge cracks in the general resistance to using children’s ebooks in a classroom. One interesting development is a new pricing model of classroom sets. For this pricing, a school rents or leases a classroom set (20+ copies) for 60-90 days (the exact details can vary) for a low price. For example, you may license a novel for classroom sets at $0.99/student.

The resistance to this model is that the schools hate to just lease or rent an ebook. But purchasing twenty or more copies at $9.99/ebook is beyond their COVID-strapped budget. This may be a short-term pricing strategy that will go away after quarantines are lifted. But it may be a budgetary strategy for schools in the long run; only time will tell.

What were your bright spots during this crazy year?

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