Libiro, PODG, And A Flash Of Green


“The Libiro Platform Is Serving A Niche Market”

It’s like the fabled “flash of green” said to be spotted at times just as the setting sun slips below the sea’s horizon: you’re never quite sure you’ve glimpsed the “indie-only audience.”

You read mildly feverish references to these quicksilver consumers in blog comments, of course. Allusions to them are often phrased along another horizon, that of far-flung hyperbole: “I could name you hundreds of people who read nothing but self-published books.”

Let’s say it clearly: It all may be true. This is a flame not yet fanned into full view. That doesn’t mean there aren’t sparks.

But when Kait Neese, vice-president with Texas-based Publish On Demand Global (PODG), talks about her recent distribution deal with the independent-only ebook store Libiro, she takes a more business-directed tone:

The Libiro platform is serving a niche market and focusing on the indie-only audience. That makes them unique and, in our opinion, increases their odds for survival as a start-up.

As a distributor of books published by authors, themselves, or by independent presses, PODG, incorporated in 2011, cannot help but walk a fine line between that kind of niche interest and the need for expansion. In comments to me, Neese next says:

The U.S. book market is quite saturated and the debate of “indie vs. traditional” is irrelevant at this point.

Ah, but if it’s “irrelevant at this point,” then how is it that an “indie-only” store is the way to go? That would seem to make the indie factor very specifically relevant, wouldn’t it?

The point here is not to “gotcha” Neese in a bad chicken-or-egg moment, but to indicate just how contradictory and unsettled a moment this can appear to be for self-publishing authors and/or independent publishers — and, by extension, for specialized booksellers and distributors trying to work with them.

Neese goes on to say, “The fact is, pure and simple, to be successful in this ‘new era’ publishing world you have to be available everywhere –on every site, in every format and in every country your potential reader may desire. This means having both print and digital editions, being on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, having optimized metadata, and of course claiming all of your social media accounts for branding.”

Both “niche” and “everywhere,” you see. Go big, but go little. Headachy yet?

Let’s look at it from Libiro’s side.

“We’ve Decided On A 75% Royalty No Matter What”

The UK’s Ben Galley, a self-published author, himself, started his all-independent ebook store Libiro a year ago this month:

Libiro is doing very well in my opinion. We’ve been focusing on building the author catalog for the last ten months, and now we’re looking at possibly hitting 1000 “homegrown” books on the store by our anniversary…We’ve been through two store designs in the past year, building in author dashboards and a whole new interface in March this year. The response to our concept has been great so far, and authors really seem to like what we’ve done with the store.

Libiro’s inventory, as the PODG arrangement begins to deepen the selection has stood at “around 850 books on the store” site, Galley says, “which accounts for about 400 authors.”

Galley is well-known in the self-publishing community, in part through his involvement with the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). He was co-author with Mick Rooney of the alliance’s first Choosing a Self-Publishing Service guide for authors. That 2013 edition on which Galley worked has been superceded by a 2014 edition, this time co-authored with Rooney by Giacomo Giammatteo.

In announcing his new arrangement to have Neese’s PODG begin more than doubling the number of ebooks Libiro offers, Galley is, maybe, going both big and small:

What PODG will do for us is increase our catalog by an incredible percentage. They will be delivering, once the technical details are figured out, around 50,000 books to sit independently on the Libiro storefront, alongside those authors who have come to us independently, and have taken a more DIY approach. 

His reference to do-it-yourself there is in recognition that by no means do all self-publishing authors use any distribution like PODG’s whatever. Many come to the Libiro platform, themselves — “a constant influx of authors,” as Galley describes it — and place their own works for sale at his store.

The PODG partnership, however, aims a much bigger pipe of content at the site, representing not only sheer numbers of books for readers to select but also an enhanced range of content. Galley says:

The PODG catalog is packed with different genres, and our hope is that together with our expanding catalog, this new influx will be an offering that a reader can’t ignore. The PODG authors are a range of authors from around the world and publishing in English via PODG. 

The summer has been spent, Galley says, with his Libiro cohort Teague Fullick sorting out how to ingest large batches of ebooks from the PODG feed and making them available for sale.

“Our batch system is almost implemented,” Galley says, “and we’re hoping to test it with the first 100 PODG authors by this week or next. That will the first 100 to go on the store. We’d also like the ability to implement any metadata or file changes almost instantly when a file is uploaded,” he says, “rather than the one- to two-week delay other platforms can suffer.”

And as for the question of whether the indie-only approach of Libiro creates an attractive niche or a dangerous ghetto, Galley stresses a non-confrontational position:

Our rationale for being indie-only is that it creates an interesting question over the dynamics of bestseller lists and how authors are perceived by the reader. By not stocking any book that comes from a traditional publishing house, we’re not taking a stand against them, but instead offering the authors a different playing field. Hopefully more of a level one. We also want to focus on supporting indies…We’ve decided on a 75% royalty no matter what the sale price or genre, and in doing so provide between 5-25% more for the author. This is a figure we want to keep as we expand.

“Synergy Between Our Two Organizations”

In some ways, Neese’s PODG is a distributor to distributors. In the States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, PODG uses Ingram as its distributor, acting as a funnel for self-published and independent publishers’ books to the big distributor.

“Our primary channels/areas of distribution are in Asia, India and Latin America,” Neese says.

Indeed, the PODG site carries a red-boxed message: “Content Needed For India Now. Get Started!” So, apparently, does one signal to self-publishing authors and independent publishers what one needs as a distributor. These are early days in such outfits as PODG, as you realize when, in clicking on tabs that say “Frankfurt Book Fair,” “London Book Fair,” “Bologna Children’s Book Fair” and so on, the pages are exactly the same. Each carries a form with which the visitor can request information.

“Our digital catalog,” Neese says, “consists solely of books published by these two demographics” — self-publishers and independent or “small press” publishers.

“Given that Libiro is an indie-only e-retailer,” she says, “the synergy between our two organizations is spot on and we are excited to be working with their team over the coming months for full upload of our digital catalog.”

Neese describes the wholesale distribution route to Libiro’s storefront embraced by their agreement:

We provide Libiro with the necessary selling materials — digital files and metadata — needed to then in turn upload [ebooks] direct to their e-commerce platform and make them available to their end users, the readers. Additionally, we’re working with the Libiro team for seasonal, on-site marketing and bundled promotions for our content. Our hope is this will help jump start awareness for our titles and trigger initial sales on the site.

Making The Smaller Bigger

Galley and Neese met on Twitter at the London Book Fair in April and then met in person at BookExpo America (BEA) in New York in June to begin developing their working relationship.

Ideally, she says, she’d like to see the entire PODG catalog represented at Libiro by the end of November. As a distributor, her focus is on points of sale, as many as possible: “You miss 100 percent of the opportunities you don’t take,” she says. “Listing our content on the Libiro platform allows us to expand our potential reader base.”

As for Galley, there’s not only the commercial drive but also his advocacy for self- and independently published authors.

“We want to showcase what indies are all about to the world,” he says.

And with that goal comes the need — having built up a following of author-providers and this distribution link — to pull on the world’s sleeve and call attention to the fact that this niche-shopping storefront is waiting: time to reach the customers. 

At the kind of scale Libiro and PODG would like to reach, we might finally get some reliable input on that purported bookish flash of green, the indie-or-bust readership said by some to be out there. Nothing says this crowd of ebook lovers has to read only self-published work, of course; even to make it a preferred niche would be an interesting choice. What’s more, there of course are precedents for such tastes in independently produced film and music.

  • Are there many folks consciously choosing independent production over story as their main filter? Remember that many in the self-publishing camp like to say that good-quality indie work is indistinguishable from traditionally published material. At what point does good quality run off this anticipated indie-loving crowd?
  • And is there a consumer sector that will specialize its reading and buying habits along indie lines? If so, what might be its motivations? When traditional publishers are learning to cut prices as their independent colleagues do, the deep-discount angle may not be a dependable lure. What else will generate the all-indie reader?

We may find out.

“A lot of our marketing is moving toward targeting readers now,” Galley says, “and building up a reputation as a popular store — on the reader’s favorites menu, so to speak.”

So far, Galley concedes, the emphasis has been on the catalog and on authors.

“We’re looking at around 100 buying customers at the moment,” he says, “with around triple that browsing. It’s low, I know, but our next phase — which consists of seed investment and moving to a dedicated office — will enable us to market en masse to readers and build up a considerable user base.”

Watch that sunset.