Why Indie Authors?

BigAl’s Books and Pals concentrates on reviewing books from independent (“indie”) authors available for ereaders, primarily Amazon’s Kindle, but also the Nook from Barnes and Noble.  For those who are curious and don’t mind reading a long screed I’ll explain what that means to me and why I chose that focus.
What is an Indie Author?
For my purposes I define an indie author as any author whose book isn’t published by one of the “Big Six” publishing companies plus a few other large publishers such as Harlequin.  (For those who care the "Big Six" are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, and Simon & Schuster.  They publish books under these and several “imprints” or other brand names such as Signet, Bantam, Harper Torch, etc.)  Once we exclude authors published by the biggest publishers three categories of authors remain, all of which I consider indie authors.
First, books published by small, independent publishing companies.  Their decision making process in deciding whether to publish a book is different from that used by the Big Six.  (I’ll have more about this later.)
Second, backlist books previously traditionally published by one of the Big Six, but now “out-of-print.”  Rights for these books frequently revert to the author.  Many authors have chosen to make these books available on for the Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers without involvement from the publisher.
Third, are books where the author chose to “go it alone.”  They may have tried going the traditional route of attempting to get a literary agent to represent them who will then attempt to convince one of the Big Six to publish their book.  Terms like “self publishing” or “vanity press” used to be used to describe this.  In the past these terms had negative connotations and in many cases rightfully so.  However, the book world is changing – independent bookstores have been going out of business for years and now the big chains are struggling for survival too.  The introduction and rapid mainstreaming of eBook readers is quickening this slide.  Today many authors, even those traditionally published in the past, are choosing the do-it-yourself route because it is more cost effective, more timely, and in many cases more rewarding to them than the traditional publishing route would be.  The knocks against authors who self-publish is no longer always valid.

Why I read Indie Authors

Within a few months of purchasing my Kindle I found I was primarily reading books from indie authors.  The reason is the lack of homogeneity compared to traditionally published books, especially those on the bestseller lists.  It also turned out to be a sound financial decision.
When you read and purchase as many books as I do the book budget is far from trivial.  As a rule books from indie authors are going to be cheaper.  Partly this is because without the high overhead of a publishing company an author can make as much or more per book and still price their eBook much lower.  Another reason for the discrepancy is that eBook prices from the Big Six are artificially high, sometimes significantly more than the lowest priced paper book currently available.  (If you’re interested in the reasons, Google “agency pricing model” and you’ll find more explanation than you care to read.)
For an explanation of what I mean by lack of homogeneity (or more variety if you prefer) I’ll compare the book business to the music business.  Currently, at least in my opinion, the book publishing business is going through the same pains the music business has and continues to experience as electronic distribution methods have gained traction.  A very small number of companies also control the vast portion of recorded music, the same as publishing.  As they have felt the financial crunch, they’ve moved more and more toward aiming their “product” at what I call the lowest common denominator - the music (or books) that have the most widespread appeal.  They’re in search of blockbusters. 
However, this means that anything a little different, those bands or books that don’t fit what’s “hot” or are different from what has sold before are too big a risk because their business model depends on big sellers.  Personally, I prefer something that is different – less predictable than that.  I find that much more often in both indie music and books written by indie authors.
The case against Indies

Many people are perfectly happy reading only bestsellers.  They are happy with a known quantity.  There is nothing wrong with that, bestsellers, by definition, are the kinds of books that appeal to a large number of people and they have the mega-bucks in promotional dollars behind them to get the word out.  Call it a matter of taste.
The other knock you’ll find against Indies is two-fold.  Both relate to not going through the traditional publishing process. 
Before a major publisher decides to release a book, several people starting with an agent and ending with one or more editors and others have to be convinced it meets their criteria.  That criteria involves things you care about as a reader (a good story told well) and things you don’t (does it fit within a particular genre, do they know how to target the right market, do they anticipate they’ll be able to sell enough copies to make it worthwhile).
A traditional publisher also means extensive resources are there to proofread, edit, and quality control the final product.  Grammar and typographical errors still happen in traditionally published books – very few books achieve perfection in this area.  Without the major publisher’s resources, indie authors have to provide for this quality control themselves.  There are a number of ways to do this.  Most reach the same standard as a traditionally published work, but many fall short.
This is where book blogs like this that specialize in independent authors come in.  We can help you separate the wheat from the chaff.  Point you towards books you might like and steer you away from others.  Another good book blog to follow is KindleObsessed.

Also of potential interest is The IndieView, a website with several resources for readers and authors including a list of other indie book review sites and a list of indie book reviews from around the web which is updated frequently.