Month: August 2009

Take Unge’s Survey on Books

Getting Data
I got an e-mail from a UCC Student, Ugne Rauckyte, who needs ppeople to take an online survey on Books and bookselling in Ireland. The goal is below and I think it is pretty important that we get as much data as possible about the Irish market, because we lacks an awful lot of it. Please take some time to do the survey!

I am a masters student in UCC conducting some research into the bookselling industry. This survey is aiming to find out the new trends and changes in consumer preferences and tastes in the bookselling industry. All responses are 100% anonymous and will be kept confidential. I would be very grateful if you could take a few minutes to fill out the questionnaire. Your help is very much appreciated.

The poll is here!

Damn it is rainy today, if you happen to be inside near a computer watch our minister for finance trying to save his version of NAMA on rte.ie/live!
Eoin

Robin Writes A Book: Everything Old Is New Again

There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
US author & satirist (1842 – 1914)

This may just be the coolest thing I have come across today!
I love the draft premise for the text and enjoy that he references one of my favourite writers, Gabriel Zaid who wrote one of my favourite books So Many Books, which was published by one of my favourite publishers Sort of Books in pitching for your support. Genius!

Hold on a second though
Although this is a great story and one worth watching and following (speaking of which, CNet covers it well, here) the whole project raises a few big questions:

    1) What does this mean for Writers?
    2) What does this mean for Readers?
    3) What does this mean for Publisher?
    And
    4) What does this mean for Booksellers?

1) Writers
If this proves anything it is that the publishing world has shifted. You can and will have the opportunity to connect with readers directly. it is a chance you MUST seize. You need to be taking specific actions to make sure that in a year, or two or three you too can connect like Robin has. In short you need to become strategic. ARE YOU READY FOR PRIMETIME?

2) Readers
Boy are you in for some fun! Writers and publishers are waking up to the fact that you have not one, but two valuable assets in your hands. The first is the one we have always seen and that is money. The second is attention and Robin has show yet another way in which capturing that can lead to money. You have a lot of power in this system, but as everyone knows, WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. You may well be determining the future of our literary culture when you give something your attention. Remember that!

3) Publishers
What more can be said? Read my post from earlier this week and answer me this, with that much energy and verve, HOW COME ROBIN SLOAN IS NOT ALREADY UNDER CONTRACT?

4) Booksellers
Nothing in this is comforting for booksellers, except one thing, passion (and books, but that’s two things). People are passionate about books, they love them, reader or writers. They make videos about them and they convert people to them. If you could harness Robin Sloan and his ilk, bring their passion for the books you sell into your store somehow, you could provide a much more community-like atmosphere, perhaps even become the hub for book related discussion and debate, sell coffee, services and books, just as many independents and chains do now, and with passion win over customers, readers writers and publishers. I HAVE NO ADVICE OF A SOLID NATURE. I wish I did.

One final thought
Thinking this through, it is also a reversion to an older method of publishing one based on pre-subscribed patrons to finance a work. This model has merit in this age of confusion and broken systems! Good luck to Robin!

My brain is buzzing tonight, it really is!
Eoin

Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Three

Eoin Purcell

Bestseller!

More on Category & Average Selling Price
So the bones of the category analysis makes it look like Fiction is the way forward. Before we decide if that is a real picture of events we need to dig a little deeper. For one thing we need to look at a critical piece of information, the Average Selling Price (SEE NOTE 1).

What is Average Selling Price (ASP) & Why it is important?

    1) ASP is the average unit price that a book sold at. In other words, revenue generated by sales, divided by units sold. This doesn’t mean every book sold at that price, many would sell for more, many for less but the AVERAGE price it sold at is what we are after.
    2) ASP is important because it give you a sense of what discount a book was sold at (EG if the RRP €14.99 but the ASP is €11.49, then it is very likely at least one market player is selling the book at a fair discount to RRP)
    3) From a publishers perspective if you see a book selling at a low ASP relative to the RRP, then you can guess that the publisher gave a decent sales discount to the retailer in order to see that book selling at a hefty discount.

A challenge to our fiction first thinking
When you dig into the ASP figures you can see that each fiction unit sold is worth considerably less than each unit of many other categories sold. This comes to light very dramatically when you look at the Top Ten Categories for 2008 by ASP.

The Top Ten Categories By ASP

The Top Ten Categories By ASP

What crops up there is quite amazing:

    For one thing only one of the top ten categories by revenue appears and that, Food & Drink General, at number 10.

    For another you can see that many of these categories are populated by low volume titles. The entire Architecture category is made up of one title. Which gives the interesting result that it generated the best return per unit in the whole Irish Consumer Market. Quite an impressive achievement.

    That list also cries out, special interest (or niche) Local History, Names & Genealogy for instance has a juicy ASP as does Natural History: General. These are categories that are unlikely to face stiff competition but are equally difficult to break into without niche links, know how and knowledge.

    Here is a nice one for you, National & Regional Cuisine is made up of two titles, both published by Avoca, who must be in effect, Ireland’s most successful self-publishers.

So, is it time to write fiction off?
Is Fiction all flash and underneath no action? Well yes and no. Clearly on a unit by unit basis, selling fiction is less remunerative. As Ivan O’Brien commented on Part II of this series that:

Non-fiction is split into heaps of sections, while fiction is only in a few, so it’s apples-and-oranges time. I guess the sums that would be worth doing would be to take, say, the top 1000 general fiction and top 1000 non-fiction (using the major heading rather than subdivisions) and seeing what the distribution of sales and revenues would be … without doing the sums, I would expect that fiction is dramatically skewed towards bestsellers, with non-fiction giving a meaningful return much further down the chart

To some degree he is right. General & Literary Fiction titles account for 45% of the top 100 but only 8% of the titles between 900 and 1000. Even at that they held their own account for about 8% of the units and about 7% of the Revenue for those 100 titles. It is still quite a skew away from fiction towards that end of the list.

BUT

General & Literary Fiction titles only accounted for 240 of the top 1000 Titles (24%), yet they accounted for 30.96% of the value and 32.86% of the volume. So despite that skew in favour of top selling titles, the Category still outperforms overall. That is worth something!

What does all of this teach us?

    1) That the ICM Top 1000 is heavily populated by Fiction titles (24%)
    2) That Fiction sells at a relatively low ASP (€ 10.71)
    3) That despite that, Fiction outperforms as a category in terms of Volume & Revenue
    4) That within the Fiction list, revenue and volume skew very heavily towards the top 500

None of that removes the attraction of Fiction. If anything it reinforces the idea that when you get Fiction right you can sell large quantities of it and because you are printing in higher runs, units costs are lower so even at a lower ASP it makes money. Still while the story must be fiction works at some level, we cannot ignore the subtext that I have hinted at: Non-Fiction can be very lucrative.

Part IV of this series will look more closely at Non-Fiction and why it is an attractive publishing sector. Part V will look at publishers and then, Finally I will wrap up with a conclusion that will mark art VI!
Still some work ahead of me!
Eoin

Note 1
It is important to remember during this phase of the analysis that Nielsen reports RETAIL SALES. If you want an accurate picture of what the PUBLISHER gets then divide the revenue figure by something like 2. This of course varies per title and by publisher but you’ll get a sense of the likely revenue from a sale if you follow that rule. To avoid confusion, I’ll continue the analysis based on the actual RETAIL SALES reported by Nielsen.

Barnes & Noble to distribute Smashwords content

Eoin Purcell

Now this is very cool news
Smashwords have announced a rather great piece of news:

Smashwords has signed an agreement with Barnes & Noble to distribute Smashwords ebooks.
As you might imagine, we’re thrilled.
Until today, it was difficult if not impossible for many independent authors and publishers to gain such mainstream digital distribution. Now with Smashwords, virtually any deserving author, anywhere in the world, can receive broader distribution for their ebook.

Read the rest of the Smashowrds post here and some coverage from Teleread here.

I have much to add here, I’ll post more later today.
Eoin

Publishers, Survival is not a right!

Eoin Purcell

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Noble thoughts, but misplaced
I read an interesting blog post the other day about the demise of print publishing. It was written by Indie Publisher, Barbara Philips of Bridge Works Books on the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency blog. The ideas were worthy and valid (if pervaded by a sense that publishers have a RIGHT to exist) and in fact will work for a while, but overall the post was totally misguided.

For the record the suggestions were:

1) change immediately the pernicious practice of Returns. Speaking of buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler returns of unsold books to the publisher for full refunds is an anachronism that should be stopped immediately and all publishers, large and small, should rally against it and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced.
2) Make life easier for the beleaguered publisher. I’ve often observed there seem to be more writers out there than readers. If an author wants her book to be published by a legitimate publisher, with professional editing, distribution and publicity, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up, either by giving up advances on royalties or royalties altogether and taking a cut of the profits. This would be especially good for first-time authors.
3) Continue to expand other venues for book selling, and find new ones, for instance, publishing simultaneously in offset print and digitally. Right now, as we wrangle, a few large publishers are trying this method out.

Dealing with them one by one
Killing Returns is a double edged sword. Yes it will save publishers from the practice of retailers and wholesalers paying for new books by returning old unsold ones, but equally it will force publishers to cut print runs (reducing margin) and find better ways to sell books than stacking them high and hoping display does the trick (as it often does). I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact both these things would be good for publishers, it’s about time we printed the right amount of books rather too many and connecting with the audience properly is well worthwhile in the medium to long term.

Changing the publishing deal. This is eminently sensible. HarperStudio seem to be making some waves by following this strategy (Combined with Killing Returns). The problem, as I see it is that this remains a short termist strategy.

As the cost and difficulty of becoming your own publisher crashes (the last barriers remain access to bricks and mortar bookshops and distribution) more authors will take their self created platforms and followings and become their own publisher avoiding entirely the traditional distribution channels and selling online.

Being against Selling in more ways is like being against Apple Tart (Pie) or (Cotton) Candy-floss. Sure everyone wants to sell the same content in as many possible formats as we can, but what if consumers don’t want to pay anything like the were willing to pay for the print version?

The Traditional Publishing Model

The Traditional Publishing Model

These are not strategies, they are tactics
None of these moves are actions that will change the fundamental reality of book publishing for Indie or Major publishers. There are real strategies that might work (no-one knows though). You can delve into a niche like Osprey, Tor or Adams media. You can try and be the best marketer of general books as I believe HarperStudio is. Even better you can buy the best assets (Seth Godin‘s Purple Cow(s)) there are and use them as the foundation of your publishing business like Bloomsbury is doing. But the rest is just window dressing on a collapsing superstructure that cannot hold.

What The Digital World Enables

What The Digital World Enables

If you don’t trust my judgement on this, read Seth Godin’s recent post on competing with the single minded, read Mike Shtazkin on vertical niches, read Tim O’Reilly’s archive on publishing.

The world has changed. Publishers should certainly try and embrace a new way of business, but it needs to be entirely more radical than just killing returns, changing contracts, selling through more channels and sharing profits with authors. The industry needs to embrace the reality that power has shifted away from publishers and get on with figuring out if we can survive this shift the impact of which is only gradually being felt. Eventually everyone will realise that it has happened (Amazon and Google have certainly figured it out and so have Apple) and when they do, the change will become much more rapid. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SURVIVAL.

I am the proud owner of Season Two of Mad Men in DVD, sadly Season Three is already started, I am destined to be behind the curve in that show!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 26/09/2009

Eoin Purcell

It is nice to know that success in publishing is by no means ruled out for even for those who have passed on. Julia Child‘s Mastering The Art of French Cooking is storming the New York Times Best Seller Charts because of the movie? Who know why, but great story.

Daily Financelooks under the hood” of Jane Friedmann’s newish outfit and what she may be up to:

A publishing executive who preferred not to be quoted by name said that the wholesale consolidation and downsizing in the book business over recent years has created the perfect conditions for a venture based on snapping up and monetizing forgotten books. “A lot of editorial intelligence and institutional memory has been laid off or merged out of existence,” he says. “There’s a lot of owned intellectual property that’s radically underexploited.”

Rumour has it that Amazon is launching the Kindle in Europe very soon. I am not so sure.

Interesting thoughts on the future of the publishing industry from Douglas Rushkoff in Publisher’s Weekly. I’m not sure I agree with everything, but some of it makes sense:

Publishing is a sustainable industry—and a great one at that. The book business, however, was never a good fit for today’s corporate behemoths. The corporations that went on spending sprees in the 1980s and ’90s were not truly interested in the art of publishing. These conglomerates, from Time Warner to Vivendi, are really just holding companies. They service their shareholders by servicing debt more rapidly than they accrue it. Their businesses are really just the stories they use to garner more investment capital. In order to continue leveraging debt, they need to demonstrate growth. The problem is that media, especially books, can’t offer enough organic growth—people can only read so many books from so many authors

Mike Shatzkin floats some thoughts on debut pricing for ebooks and so does the Bait ‘n’ Beer blog. Both worth reading.

Several book purchases made today, 1, 2, 3, 4 in fact!
Eoin

Some Monday afternoon history links

Eoin Purcell

A quick round up of ten historical subjects that warrant a movie being made about them. This is fascinating stuff and the blog is well worth reading.

A fascinating Wall Street Journal article that is designed to calm newspaper executives nerves but I think is more interesting for those with an interest in History.

Military History books still selling in the US, despite the downturn! Good news I think.

Not a bad day today,
Eoin