Digital

How Different Are Books Digitally?

Martyn Daniels has a good piece over on his Brave New World Blog about why books differ digitally from other forms of content. The nub of his case is (if he’ll forgive me quoting such a chunk – I’d encourage you to go read it):

Whatever the route taken the stupid thing would be to continue to merely pour the same content into a digital container. This logic is flawed as it not only creates competition where competition is not needed and can be counter-productive, but it fails to understand the technology, the cultural changes that are happening and the opportunities that are available for the two that matter – the author and the reader.

via Brave New World: HELLO! Books Are Digitally Different.

I hear this a lot from folks, that ebooks are a misunderstanding of the innovative capacity of digital creation and distribution. I may even have written something that touches on that territory in the past (cf: this piece*). I think this viewpoint misses two crucial issues.

First, that readers and writers have found these crippled tools to be “good enough“. And they think them so “good enough” that they account for 30% of the market. That’s a pretty compelling argument for viewing ebooks as the right technology at the right time.

The second is whether anyone is looking for such innovations. The question those seeking to make more exciting and innovative products from books have to answer is straightforward; will those new products entice ebook readers away from ebooks, entice print readers from print books when ebooks didn’t do so, or entice new readers to read where ebooks and print books didn’t?

I think it’s possible but unlikely that ebook readers will be interested, improbable and unlikely that print readers will have their heads turned, and simply unknowable if non-readers will suddenly turn to reading in  clever and innovative new guises. It is far more likely that content from beyond the book world will succeed in eroding the attention time devoted to books (of all forms) in established markets than books** will, in any form, colonise the attention time currently devoted to other content forms (I wrote about the impact of this in the Irish trade in The Irish Times last weekend).

To counter that trend, we will need to find new ways to market ebooks and digital reading to existing print readers in the coming years and that may involve new forms, as Martyn suggests, but one wonders just how much can be done to change reading before it becomes not reading, but something else and whether given the “good enough” nature of ebooks for so many, we need to do so.

When viewed through this lense, ebooks are the heavy infantry at the front lines of the battle to protect and grow the overall attention time devoted to reading, not a mistake or a failure of imagination.

Eoin

 

 

*In my defence, I’d argue that the line was one intended to spur publishers to action, and is, in any case, four years old an eternity in ebook terms!

**Spotted today, by way of Benedict Evans, this rather interesting piece of news about how mobiles are changing reading in the developing world an area where many of the factors I commented on above will be less relevant and where there is a good chance that reading can actually gain serious traction in digital form, even in the face of competition from other forms, though ultimately as incomes there rise I would expect other forms to gain back attention time.

Go Read This | Tom Weldon: ‘Some say publishing is in trouble. They are completely wrong’ | Books | The Observer

In the piece below, Weldon is on the money and authors should keep that in mind:

He thinks publishing a new book is a bit like running a startup company, or – in an analogy closer to this horse-racing enthusiast – a flutter at the track, where “relentless optimism” is blended with controlled risk-taking.

via Tom Weldon: ‘Some say publishing is in trouble. They are completely wrong’ | Books | The Observer.

Go Read This | the left room» Blog Archive » some quick thoughts on that report on author earnings

Much to think abut in the aftermath of Hugh Howey’s data dump! Thos is just one of the many god posts on it:

The reality is that publishing anything is a unique path. If you have a book, and you’re trying to decide whether to self- or traditionally-publish, there is only the apparition of help for you in these figures. It might be that you traditionally-publish and sell 100 copies, and would financially have been better off self-publishing. It may be that you sell a million copies through traditional publishing. That doesn’t mean that you’ve left money on the table simply because those million sales if self-published would have netted you more. You can’t say what might have happened had you chosen a different route – whether you would have got those 100 or those million sales or something different. This is one problem I see with Howey’s piece (and numerous others). The number of copies a book can sell is not some intrinsic part of its make-up. The way you choose to sell it, and what happens along the way, will play a huge part and can’t be discounted.

via the left room» Blog Archive » some quick thoughts on that report on author earnings.

Go Read This | The Future of Reader Store | Sony

This isn’t exactly surprising but it’s still something of a wow moment. n the one hand Sony is in retreat in more areas than just ereading so, what’s so newsworthy about this but on the other the fact that one of the pioneers of digital books has called it a day and is effectively pulling out is notable. And that Kobo would appear to be the emerging only viable candidate t rival Amazon is also notable:

Although we’re sorry to say goodbye to the Reader Store, we’re also glad to share the new and exciting future for our readers: Reader Store will transfer customers to Toronto-based eReading company, Kobo—an admired eBook seller with a passionate reading community. We strongly believe that this transition will allow customers to enjoy a continued high-quality e-reading experience. As a result of this change, we will close Reader Store in the U.S. and Canada on March 20, 2014 at 6 p.m. (EST).

via The Future of Reader Store | Sony.

Go Read This | How To Create Value With A New Thing

An interesting piece by Baldur yet again. In lots of ways touching on the dangers of innovation and change to incumbents:

Building up in-house digital product development is risky and expensive, especially at the start when you have to build up the necessary expertise and tools to do the job and change your organisations implicit value network.

The problem is that changing an organisation’s value network is next to impossible without firing everybody (yourself included) and replacing them with different people. Adding individuals who have different values from those prevalent in your organisation won’t change the value network. It’ll just make your new hires miserable before they quit or get fired. Which means that building a top notch, in-house digital product development team is going to be difficult for most publishers.

via How To Create Value With A New Thing | Studio Tendra

Go Read This | The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishing – The Shatzkin Files Pt. II

I’ve already linked to this, but it warrants a second link. If you want to understand the basic problems facing book publishers in 2014, then read this post. In it, replace the large publishers and niche players that Mike refers to with small general players and consider how the trends and realities he discusses endanger them. It’s both illuminating and unsettling:

But that’s today when the online-offline division may be near 50-50 overall and is 75-25 for certain niches. If those numbers become 75-25 and 90-10 over the next five years, the bookstore market really won’t matter that much to most authors anymore. Whether through self-publishing or through some fledgling publisher that doesn’t have today’s big publisher capabilities but also doesn’t have their cost structure, authors will feel that the big organizations are less necessary than they are now to help them realize their potential.

via The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishing – The Shatzkin Files.

When Mike talks about the challenge publishers will face in retaining authors, I’m struck by how his thoughts reflect those I wrote back in 2006 (Authors Will Drive Change) early in my blogging about this ongoing shift we’re all a part of:

What’s more you can package your content in any variety of ways. Make a podcast or your poetry and push it on iTunes. Act out your play and upload it to YouTube or your preferred location. It is easy to do it all now and to do it well. Maybe the cost of a decent designer or video editor will take a summer to save for or a winter of being cold avoiding buying new jumpers but the costs are so achievable it is exceptional.

The point is that publishing is no longer just about books and even more it is no longer about waiting for a publisher to decide your work is good enough for print.

Options abound and as more and more writers realise that they will take advantage of it. E-books will push this change even more. There is no reason why authors’ royalties should be the same on e-books as they are for paper books and in many ways there is no reason why the authors cannot sell e-books themselves rather than through a publisher. Why should you sell a paper publisher your digital rights when there is no need?

Of course the real growth in power for authors is with two groups; the super successful authors who already command high advances and special treatment, and those who were never going to be published anyway. In both cases options abound for changing the current model.

Where things are less easy to decide is the mid-list. Here, as bookstores fail and ebook sales gravitate towards the winners and the margins, there may be difficult years ahead for those who fall into either the average writer space or the average sales space.

None of that solves the headaches publishers face!

Go Read This | Mainframe Bookselling and Internet Commerce

Bookshops and their fate have been coming under increased scrutiny in the last few month. Whether they can be saved or not in an interesting question. My sense is that many of the chains will no longer be sustainable within the next three to five years in countries with high digital penetration. Local, second-hand and value booksellers though, and supermarkets selling limited lists will probably do okay, especially if the chains close their more marginal stores more rapidly than currently anticipated, and even in some cases if they follow existing planned closures:

This is a sad and quixotic result for a bookselling industry that was to a large degree birthed from a generation of 1960s entrepreneurs at Bookstop, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and other book chains, all of whom were technical innovators in their day, as David Wilk of Booktrix observed to me recently. In the 1970s, and then especially in the 1980s, this group of founders created the first automated efforts to describe supply chains, stock and inventory management, and analysis of consumer preferences using then state-of-the-art programming on mainframe and mini-computers. The extent to which one bookselling group gained more efficiency than another was in part due to the ability of each firm to capitalize on innovation in IT automation.

via Mainframe Bookselling and Internet Commerce | PWxyz.