LibraryThing

Amazon & Goodreads

There’s been a lot said about Amazon’s latest move, the decision to buy Goodreads.

While I agree that Amazon has made a very sensible move in acquiring the company, it seems to be a far more strategic and defensive acquisition than anything else. The real value of the deal is in what it prevents rather than in what it enables.

All the talk about the data gained seems a little misplaced to me. Amazon, after all, has considerably more and better data on readers and via Kindle is getting even more as time goes on. Where Goodreads has only the expressed opinions and posted libraries of its users, Amazon has real sales and purchases and, increasingly, real reading data on readers not to mention reader class, book and book class level. No-one else comes close to that.

What the purchase does do though is prevent a valuable commodity from becoming a weakness in the future in the hands of a rival. In fact, almost all of Amazon’s acquisitions in the book space have been quite successful at keeping reader preferences and expressed opinion data at the global or non-publisher specific level from the hands of others. In many ways its minority interest in LibraryThing prevents a publisher from getting involved there too (I like LibraryThing and have a lifetime account).

So Amazon has gained a little but prevented a lot by removing yet another data-set from the hands of its rivals, whether it takes advantage of this data-set or not, it at least ensures that its rivals are considerably less data empowered than it itself is.

The Publisher in the Value Chain 2009 Edition

Eoin Purcell

This is what I said before
Back in 2006 I wrote a piece called The Publisher in the Value Chain. It was a response to a post by Rob Jones over at Snowbooks. The bones of the case I put forward was in the conclusion:

In publishing the price of writing a book was always low, but now the price of making a book is to all intents and purposes free too. Publishing it costs nothing now if you use a trick like lulu.com and very little if you use self-publishing services like Xlibris, Trafford.com or even Blurb.com. The Publisher will still be needed to absorb the risk because the risk has not going away, it is just changing, shifting and moving along the value chain from printing and design to marketing and distribution.

A few pieces recently have offered alternative interpretations and, times have also changed so I thought it was an apt time for thinking this through some more.

What has changed: Distribution
Well to begin on the digital and ebook side with we now have the models of distribution that we lacked in 2006. I’m not saying that this didn’t exist in 2006, because they did, rather than the last 2 and half years have seen the arrival of mass market type offerings in these areas.

Apple’s iPhone Apps (available from their App Store which is part of their iTunes service) have proved to be excellent platforms for throwing books at people and developers have mind the public domain for free (and paid for) content to supply to interested parties.

This market has only truly been made possible by the enormous success of the iPhone itself. In some senses too the ebook/iPhone Apps publishing market is an accidental creation unlike the music downloads and iTunes which was a deliberate strategy.

Amazon has launched the Kindle and just this past week bought Lexcycle makers of the Stanza App. They have previously launched their own iPhone app to try and capture some of the market that Apple sneakily and rather unexpectedly took from them (well I’m sure that is how they see it!)

There is also the very often overlooked Sony Reader that nonetheless seems to be doing alright and recently entered a partnership with Google to present 500,000 public books on the Reader.

And that brings us to Google itself whose Books Search project has reached an almost incredible position compared to its 2006 incarnation. With some 7 million books scanned and an agreement close to being locked in (though there are some problems with this deal from many viewpoints, lots of which elicit my sympathy) GBS is a beast that cannot be ignored, even if the two most successful distribution models to date are Apple’s and Amazon’s.

But leaving aside the questions it is pretty clear from this brief survey that a whole ecosystem for distribution is being created ebooks and digital content.

What has changed: Marketing
The change here is not as convincing I would suggest as it has been in distribution. Several very excellent sites have started to aggregate both information and readers. LibraryThing is my favourite bit other such as Goodreads, Shelfari and newer entrants like Book Army and FiledBy. Michael Cairns has a good post on this type of Curation as he calls it.

What hasn’t changed?
But the truth remains and is perhaps even more true that as I noted in 2006 by way of Mark Cuban:

Because in an ala carte world, the cost of reaching an audience is outrageous. And consumers arent ready to pay the freight to receive that programming.

As I have said before, the movie market is ala carte. Look at which content rises to the top in terms of revenues from consumers and visibility. The content from the biggest companies who have spent the most money to market .

In the book world, our products cost less than movies, but one movie visit (no including the extras) costs about the same as a decent book (though most paperback fiction is slightly cheaper). The revenue per title is considerably lower than most studio’s revenue per movie so our marketing budgets are commensurately lower, but our strategies are pretty much the same. Reach large audiences and spend money to get them to buy your books.

Visibility and discoverability are still the essential parts to the jigsaw. No-one, except perhaps Google who are indexing the content of all the books they scan, is in a position to change the game on this point. Certainly not the single author whose only hope is that a good blog and outreach will result in attention. For one in ten thousand of fewer it may well achieve that as Seth Godin eloquently points out, the 9,999 who miss out never even get heard of!

To market a book you still need money, you still need a distribution system that shuffles deadwood from warehouse to store (and back when necessary) yes in certain limited cases Print-on-Demand will float but for books that are selling by the thousands that is hardly a viable way forward. You need a sales force and you need know how. You need post release press attention that dedicated pr associates have drummed up and high profile editors have garnered by way of long term contacts.

In short you need someone who spreads risk across multiple authors so that taking a bath on three and losing a little on four can be offset by winning on one and breaking even on two.

Google might yet change the game, but that change will only be as random as internet popularity always is. What is more as Pete Waterman might explain in depth, Internet Stardom does not equal big paychecks!

And even if they do, authors will still need a partner to exploit the opportunities created by attention. They’ll need the ability and contacts I’ve just described or else the attention will go to waste. It may be that Amazon, Google and apple will step up to the plate but right now, that link is Traditional Trade Publishing.

Conclusions for 2009
And so, two and a half years on, where is the publisher in the publishing value chain? I think that Mark Coker has it partly right when he compares Publishers to VCs in his blog post over at Smashwords. We are the financiers of all the risk. That much has not changed.

Where he gets it wrong is in his follow up post about how the risk and the reward has shifted towards the author. The author cannot afford to absorb this risk and so he/she will fail to reap the reward.

The mantra of Cuban, remains accurate and doesn’t look like changing any time soon.

Clinging to the end of the value chain!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 26/08/2008

Eoin Purcell

Amazon are buying the rest of Shelfari. It is a smart move, I’m not sure if it makes me comfortable.
Here & Here

Tim Spalding of LibraryThing kicks of a solid debate on LibraryThing’s Talk forum about Amazon and Shelfari
Here

Personanondata adds his two interesting cents to the Shelfari/Amazon chat.
Here

That’s kinda of it for the Shelfari/Amazon Section.

This post from Kassia @ Booksquare is terrifying. It is well worth reading though
Here

Imperialism II, classic timesink.
Eoin

NOTE TO PUBLISHERS WITH SPARE CASH: BUy LIBRARYTHING but LEAVE IT ALONE WHEN YOU DO> IT”LL PAY DIVIDENDS FOR A WISE BUYER

Amazon buys Abebooks and a bit of Librarything

Eoin Purcell

Smart Move
By buying Abebooks which is cool but never really rocked my world, Amazon gets closer to the treasure trove that is LibraryThing.

Techcrunch, Techvibes and

What does it all mean?
I’ve been talking about LibraryThing since 2006 and finally realised what it was in 2007. If we are to believe Tim Spadling (and I would on this), it will mean very little for LibraryThing:

I congratulate Amazon on a shrewd acquisition. Abebooks is a great company, full of wonderful people. They have accomplished great things (link). I have no inside info, but I can foresee Amazon’s extraordinary technical infrastructure giving Abe a big lift.
Here’s the scoop:

* LibraryThing did not have any knowledge of or influence over this deal.
* The majority of LibraryThing is in my hands. Abebooks holds a minority of the shares, with certain notable but limited rights. This situation does not change when Amazon acquires Abebooks.
* Amazon will not get access to your data. The LibraryThing/Abebooks terms are specific. Abe gets only anonymized and aggregate data, like recommendations, and they can only use it on Abebooks sites (eg., Abebooks.com, Abebooks.de). Nothing has changed here.
* Abebooks customers won’t see much a difference. The name will survive and the Abebooks.com site will continue. Both employees and management will remain in Canada.
* LibraryThing remains LibraryThing. We will continue to uphold and advance LibraryThing values, including open data, strict privacy rules and support for libraries and independent bookstores.

For the online second hand book market though it’s a fairly big deal. Abebooks was pretty much Amazon’s only sizeable competitor outside of eBay and perhaps Alibris. With their acquisition, Amazon has built itself a nicely monopolistic position in that market.

My thoughts on this are good and bad. I’m happy to think that LibraryThing has an insulation (though I do think eventually the logic [AND VALUE] of LibraryThings development will result in LT joining Amazon) but I’m saddened that the second hand and rare book market is a little shallower.

Work weary after one day, strongly recommend this place if one is staying in the Loire.
Eoin

LibraryThing using Google Book Search’s API

Eoin Purcell

On the one hand this is pretty sweet:

The official Google Blog and the Inside Book Search Blog just announced the new Google Book Search API, with LibraryThing as one of the first implementors. (The others are libraries; I’ll be posting about what they’ve done over on Thingology.)

In sum, LibraryThing now links to Google Books for book scans—full or partial—and book information.

Google Book Search links can be seen two places:

* In your catalog. Choose “edit styles” to add the column. The column reflects only the exact edition you have.
* On work pages. The “Buy, borrow, swap or view” box on the right now includes a Google Books section. Clicking on it opens up a “lightbox” showing all the editions LibraryThing can identify on Google Book Search.

But on the other:
This is a little worrying. Google are stepping into the flow of traffic and pulling it in with content. You cannot blame them, they have put the investment in, they have been far sighted and now they are in a position to exploit that. I’m just getting a little uncomfortable with their power in this area and what they might mean going forward.

As a consumer I’m going to enjoy the feature though, despite my reservations and the limitations that Tim highlights in the rest of his blog post! But there is some good stuff too Here:

LibraryThing and its members can also like to take credit for moving the API along in another way. Your help with the Google Book Search Search bookmarklet forced the issue of GBS data. The message to Google was clear: our members wanted to use GBS with LibraryThing, and if Google wouldn’t provide the information, members would get it themselves. After some to-and-fro with Google, we voluntarily disabled the service. But I think it moved the openness ball a few feet, and that’s something for members to be proud of.

Worried and thinking!
Eoin