PART ONE: SECRET PROJECT UPDATES (Long—but important.)
Traditionally, the first big section of each State of the Sanderson focuses on my year and what I’ve written. I’m going to bump that down, however, and talk to you a little about the Kickstarter books—and what you all can expect. This is important information if you’re interested in the Secret Project books at all, regardless of whether you backed the Kickstarter or not. However, if you did back the Kickstarter, expect an update email in the next couple days with more details and instructions to prepare for the Year of Sanderson.
EBOOKS for BACKERS
On January first (and every three months thereafter) you will get an important email from us. In it will be a link to your BackerKit account, where you can download your copies of the Secret Projects. These will be DRM-free copies, in your choice of Epub or PDF. We will also include some instructions on how to get these onto common e-readers, like Kindle, if you want to read that way. It’s extremely important that your email address filed with BackerKit be up to date. If you aren’t sure, look HERE.
EBOOKS for NON-BACKERS
If you didn’t back the Kickstarter, but want to read the books (and I hope you do!) they’ll be available starting the 10th or 11th of each month that a book ships to the backers. You’ll need to wait just a little longer than them, as we want to be absolutely certain that everyone has their copies and all is working before we sell them to anyone else. But they should be available on all platforms you expect—at least in English.
AUDIOBOOKS for BACKERS
If you chose a backer tier in the Kickstarter that included audiobooks, you are going to have three ways to get your books. This is probably the most important section here, as—looking at the numbers—the majority of my fans prefer audiobooks these days. So pay attention.
FIRST: AUDIO FILES. You will be able to click that same link in your email to download the raw files in mp3 and m4b format, to put onto your device and listen as you want. We’ll include instructions on how to download and use a common audiobook player. This is because these books won’t be on Audible—we’re selling them ourselves. Indeed, one of the big reasons I did this Kickstarter like I did is because I worry about Audible’s dominance in the market. For that very same reason, I’m suggesting that instead of just listening to the raw files, you look at one of our partners listed next.
SECOND: SPOTIFY. Yes, Spotify does audiobooks now; they launched this in the US, UK and Australia earlier this year. And so, I’m extremely excited to say I’ve reached a deal with Spotify to distribute the Secret Projects—free for every backer who pledged a tier that included the audiobooks. Again, clicking the link in the email mentioned above will take you to a page that lists all your available downloads, as well as a unique code for Spotify. You’ll be able to use this code to unlock a free copy of the first Secret Project and listen on Spotify. (And you’ll get a new code every three months for the next ones.)
You need a Spotify account to do this (they are free), which is why we’re also giving you the option of the raw files. Using Spotify or our next partner isn’t required—however, I want to encourage it. I’ll explain more below, but I’m hoping that bolstering real competition to Audible will help all authors going forward. For the same reason, we have a third partner.
THIRD: SPEECHIFY. Speechify (no relation to Spotify) is a really cool service that does text-to-speech for people. It started as a tool to help those with dyslexia, something that is very important to me, as the father of a dyslexic son. (He uses his Speechify tablet daily to help him with his disability.) Speechify’s big thing is letting you see the text as you listen, to help both with reading comprehension and disability. And that they can turn any ebook or PDF into a high quality audiobook for you.
I have really enjoyed working with this company, and they want to move into a larger market. (They already have a sizable number of subscribers, but want to draw attention to their service by starting to offer audiobooks and ebooks for sale.) They have agreed to give each applicable backer an audiobook for each Secret Project as well. This makes it easier for you to access the books on your phones, so you don’t need to figure out how to download a massive audio file and lose your place in the book. Your unique code for Speechify will be available on that same BackerKit page, where you will find your available downloads. To get ready, just download Speechify by visiting https://speechify.com/sanderson (signing up is free). And you’ll get a new code every three months for the next ones.
Though keep in mind that Speechify’s audiobook store currently works only on iOS for iPhones with iPad support coming in January; their other products on Android, Web, and Google Chrome are due to add audiobooks and ebooks later in 2023.
So feel free to pick your way to get the book! Or download all three versions, and see which experience is best for you!
The only thing I ask is that, on your honor, you don’t give away or sell the codes. I’m giving you three options as a way to make this as convenient for you as possible, which is also the reason that the files from me also have no DRM. As always, I don’t mind (I even encourage it) if you share my books with family and friends, but in this case I would greatly prefer if you didn’t give away the extra codes you get.
I’ll dive deep into more of why I picked these partners in the next section, which I encourage you to read, even if you’re a backer.
AUDIOBOOKS for NON-BACKERS
On the tenth or eleventh of each month a book goes to backers, we will put the audiobooks up for sale. They will be on several services, but I recommend the two I mentioned above. Spotify and Speechify.
The books will not be on Audible for the foreseeable future.
This is a dangerous move on my part. I don’t want to make an enemy of Amazon (who owns Audible). I like the people at Audible, and had several meetings with them this year.
But Audible has grown to a place where it’s very bad for authors. It’s a good company doing bad things.
Again, this is dangerous to say, and I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty. I have an Audible account, and a subscription! It’s how my dyslexic son reads most of the books he reads. Audible did some great things for books, notably spearheading the audio revolution, which brought audiobooks down to a reasonable price. I like that part a lot.
However, they treat authors very poorly. Particularly indie authors. The deal Audible demands of them is unconscionable, and I’m hoping that providing market forces (and talking about the issue with a megaphone) will encourage change in a positive direction.
If you want details, the current industry standard for a digital product is to pay the creator 70% on a sale. It’s what Steam pays your average creator for a game sale, it’s what Amazon pays on ebooks, it’s what Apple pays for apps downloaded. (And they’re getting heat for taking as much as they are. Rightly so.)
Audible pays 40%. Almost half. For a frame of reference, most brick-and-mortar stores take around 50% on a retail product. Audible pays indie authors less than a bookstore does, when a bookstore has storefronts, sales staff, and warehousing to deal with.
I knew things were bad, which is why I wanted to explore other options with the Kickstarter. But I didn’t know HOW bad. Indeed, if indie authors don’t agree to be exclusive to Audible, they get dropped from 40% to a measly 25%. Buying an audiobook through Audible instead of from another site literally costs the author money.
Again, I like the people at Audible. I like a lot about Audible. I don’t want to go to war—but I do have to call them out. This is shameful behavior. I’ll bet you every person there will say they are a book lover. And yet, they are squeezing indie authors to death. I had several meetings with them, and I felt like I could see their embarrassment in their responses and actions. (Though that’s just me reading into it, not a reference to anything they said.)
Here’s the problem. (I’m sorry for going on at length. I’m passionate about this though.) There are no true competitors to Audible. Sure, there are other companies that can buy your book—but they all just list on Audible, and then take a percentage on top of what Audible is taking. Apple? Their books come in large part from Audible. Recorded Books? They are an awesome company, whom I love, but their biggest market is Audible. Macmillian, my publisher? They just turn around and put the books on Audible.
I had a huge problem finding anyone who, if I sold the Secret Projects to them, wouldn’t just put them on Audible—and while I can’t tell you details, all of their deals are around the same low rates that Audible is paying indie authors. Audible runs this town, and they set the rates. For everyone. Everywhere. (I had one seller who really wanted to work with me, who will remain unnamed, who is consistently only able to pay authors 10% on a sale. For a digital product. It’s WILD.)
I found two companies only—in all of the deals I investigated—who are willing to take on Audible. Spotify and Speechify. My Spotify deal is, unfortunately, locked behind an NDA (as is common with these kinds of deals). All I can say is that they treated me well, and I’m happy.
Here’s where the gold star goes to Speechify. Let me tell you, they came to me and said—full of enthusiasm for the project—they’d give me 100%. I almost took it, but then I asked the owner (who is a great guy) if this was a deal he could give other authors, or if it was a deal only Brandon Sanderson could get. He considered that, then said he’d be willing to do industry standard—70%—for any author who lists their books directly on Speechify a la carte. So I told him I wanted that deal, if he agreed to let me make the terms of our deal public.
I’ve made enough on this Kickstarter. I don’t need to squeeze people for every penny—but what I do want to do is find a way to provide options for authors. I think that by agreeing to these two deals, I’m doing that. We have the open offer from Speechify, and we have Spotify trying very hard to break Audible’s near-monopoly.
I hope this will rejuvenate the industry. Because I do like Audible. I worry that they’ll stagnate, strangle their creators, and end up burning away because of it. Real competition is good for everyone, including the companies themselves. Lack of it leads to a slow corporate death.
So I’m not putting these books on Audible. Not for a year at least. Maybe longer. I need to be able to make a statement, and I realize this makes it inconvenient for many of you. I’m sorry. I really am. And I know it’s going to cost me a ton of sales—because right now, people tend to just buy on the platform they’re comfortable with. The Lost Metal preorders were 75% audio—almost all through Audible. I know many of my fans, probably hundreds of thousands of them, simply won’t buy the books because it’s super inconvenient to go somewhere else. Indeed, Audible locks you into that mentality by making you sign up for a subscription to get proper prices on audiobooks, which then makes you even more hesitant to shop around.
But please take the time to try these books somewhere else. I’ve priced them at $15—the current price of a monthly subscription to Audible at their most common price point. You can get these books with no subscription and no credit. (Though you do have to buy on Spotify/Speechify’s websites—and not through their apps—because of monopolistic practices by certain providers. Something I’m not qualified to say much about currently. Besides, this rant is already too long.)
Each book you buy somewhere else helps break open this field. It will lead to lower prices, fewer subscription models, and better pay for authors. Plus, these partners I’ve gone to really deserve the support for being willing to try to change things.
Whew. Okay. Rant over. Let’s talk print books.
PRINT BOOKS for BACKERS
The first book is being bound right now! We had a scare last month when the material for the covers didn’t arrive because of shipping delays, but Bill (our print book rep) worked some miracles and got things ushered along. Then we were hit with another setback: as we speak, a giant snow storm is descending on our printer’s location, and that’s going to delay the books even further, as we will not receive them until after the New Year. All of this will cause some slight delays on the first book, as we will need to package and ship the first box throughout the entire month. Some might stretch into February. We promise to do what we can to prevent that, but it might not be in our control. But fortunately, everyone will have their ebooks and audiobooks right on the first day.
PRINT BOOKS for NON-BACKERS
These will take longer than the ebook/audiobooks to come out. You see, we knew supply issues could be a problem—it’s the story of all marketplaces these days. So we wanted to be extra, extra careful not to have these on sale too soon, lest we risk people being able to buy the books in stores before backers got their copies. (Which would be wrong.) However, in publishing, you have to pick dates like this super early for (again) supply reasons.
So we picked a three-month delay. When the second Secret Project goes out to backers, the first Secret Project will appear in bookstores in the English-language countries. At this point, you’ll have two options.
My publishers (Tor and Gollancz) will be releasing their own editions, in line with the other editions of my books you might have bought from them. Our Dragonsteel editions will remain the premium edition of the books, which we will sell ourselves. Both the books and the swag boxes will be available for pre-order on Dragonsteelbooks.com on the 10th of each month (at the same time as the audiobooks and ebooks are released to the public), but they will not ship until after we have completed backer shipments. The individual premium hardcovers (with the extra art, special cover treatments, etc.) will be $55, and all extra boxes will be $65.
I’m sorry for the long delay, but it was what felt right when we put these deals in place.
Whew. That was a long bit of information! Sorry to go on at length, but there was a lot to get through.