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Director’s Desk: Indie Communities as Contexts Change

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Bole-NewBy Angela Bole,
IBPA Executive Director

[Originally published in the April 2014 edition of IBPA’s Independent magazine.]

A small San Francisco based book conference has been slowly making its mark over the past several years. It’s called Books in Browsers — BiB for short — and, according to conference organizer Peter Brantley, it was developed based on the premise that digital technology “lowers barriers for entry into new forms of publishing, enabling a range of experiences in digital contexts that were not previously possible.”

It should come as no surprise to those who know me that I wholeheartedly subscribe to that premise. To be sure, these lower barriers to entry have opened up many exciting possibilities for IBPA members. At the same time, however, they have replaced a supply-chain philosophy of traditional publishing that’s relatively simple to understand with something altogether different.

Peter BrantleyThis is because, in the end, the “range of experiences in digital contexts” described by Brantley (photo right) doesn’t simply refer to the production and sale of e-books. What we’re talking about here is a shift in the way readers engage with books and literature generally.

It’s a move from a one-to-one author/reader relationship to a more networked engagement with content that brings readers together with other readers and books together with other mediums — all connected through social media and a sometimes unfathomable access to any book currently available via a handheld device.

IBPA members have some advantages here. In a blog post earlier this year, for example, self-published author Hugh Howey pointed out that, by his count, half of the top 10 bestselling science fiction authors on Amazon were self-published. What makes this even more interesting is the complete lack of any new traditionally published science fiction authors on the list. All 10 authors were either established (think Orson Scott Card and Kurt Vonnegut),or indies.

(As an aside, Slaughterhouse-Five remains one of my all-time favorite books. How great must it feel to see your work on a top 10 list with Kurt Vonnegut’s? Pretty impressive company to keep, if you ask me.)

But getting back to the point: According to Howey, one explanation for the significant emergence of indie authors — either self-published or published by independent presses — on top 10 lists is something IBPA strives to provide for its members on a daily basis: a sense of community.

Howey (photo right) writes:

Hugh Howey“I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere else (makes me wonder if it’s a daft idea), but I think the #1 advantage self-published authors have right now is a sense of community. We hang out in the same forums (usually KBoard’s Writers’ Cafe); we chat with each other on FB and in private groups and through email lists; we congregate at conventions and conferences; and we share with one another. We share sales data. We share promotional tools and ideas. We let one another know what works and what doesn’t. If there’s a glitch with a distributor, we point it out. If there’s a way to increase visibility, we tell everyone. If we stumble upon a secret, we broadcast it.”

As evidenced by IBPA’s slogan, “Helping each other achieve and succeed”, fostering a sense of community has been an integral part of our association philosophy since we launched back in 1983. It’s interesting to consider a corollary between a group of networked indie publishers and self-published authors finding success in a world of networked readers. One community speaking to another community. Or, in some cases, one community being the other community, as well. It’s a mash-up of authors and readers and a blurring of the lines of authority.

But what do you think? Do you attribute any of the success you’ve achieved to sharing within a community? If so, which forums have played a crucial role in connecting you with your fellow publishers, self-published authors, and readers?

Drop a note in the comments section of this blog to start a conversation.

Bole-NewAbout the Author: Just before Angela became IBPA’s Executive Director, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager.

Angela also serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum.

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