POD to Mainstream

Bookshops Are Dead: And I Killed Them


2009 was a weak year for me in book reading terms. I read perhaps 26 or so (with some extra I’m fairly sure I have forgotten):

    1) Europe Between The Oceans
    2) A Fire Upon The Deep
    3) The Ascent of Money
    4) Blood of the Mantis
    5) The Training Ground
    6) Dragonfly Falling
    7) The Blade itself
    8) Millennium
    9) Before They Are Hanged
    10) Ireland in 2050
    11) Gutenberg Revolution
    12) Empire in Black & Gold
    13) Empire of the Sea
    14) Edward I: A Great & Terrible Kind
    15) The Last Argument of Kings
    16) The Steel Remains
    17) The Dreaming Void
    18) The Adamantine Palace
    19) Defying Empire
    20) The Darkness That Comes Before
    21) A Shadow in Summer
    22) A Betrayal in Winter
    23) An Autumn War
    24) Young Miles
    25) The Stars My Destination
    26) Earthman, Come Home

On the other hand I bought quite a few more than that, perhaps something like 50 or 60 books. I’m hoping to push the read figure up towards 45 or so and if I’m really lucky, I might even average one a week.

Serious thoughts
I was thinking while calculating this poor reading effort of the changes that Seth Godin pointed to in a recent post:

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

He drew a comparison with books and Amazon’s recent somewhat questionable Kindle news, that they sold more books via Kindle than in paper on Christmas day:

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

I think Seth is right and yet wrong. He is right, bookstores as we’ve known them are dead. But Amazon killed them long before they released the Kindle. Cheap books delivered through the mail are the way forward for those of is who buy in large numbers (I’m probably a medium rank buyer of books).

The Book Depository sucks up a good 60% of my book buying at the moment and accounts for almost all my new book purchases with 10% or less spent in chain stores or supermarkets. The rest is spread very unevenly as follows: 25% in second-hand and car-boot sale locations (Ravenbooks features here and I suspect in 2010 will feature even more) which is made up almost exclusively of out of print and pre-2000 books, the last 5% or so gets spent fairly randomly everywhere from good independents, to local shops with self published titles and random online direct purchases and ebooks (I’m still primary print and suspect I will always be so, despite a belief and passion for digital text).

He is wrong, however, when he says that the top rank of book buyers are gone for ever from print, because many of those buying books on Kindle will buy some, get some free and eventually return to print books, many more of the top buyers will simply ignore digital books in favour of print because they like it.

This is not a defence of print against digital (like this op-ed from Jonathan Galassi president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux) as, ultimately, I believe the bulk of books will be read digitally before the end of the teens, but it is not as simple a case as music when whether or not you had a cd or an mp3 makes little difference to the listener, the quality was just the same and the process of using it fairly similar too. Books on the other hand are usable on their own without input from a device of any kind and with the proviso that there is light. Those readers who, like me, still enjoy the experience of reading in print will still buy in print even as the price of print books rises.

So there will be demand for print books but at a much reduced level (because many others will shift to digital as will casual readers and new readers) and the economics of bookshops will become completely skewed favouring the online Emporia. Booksellers can react by hand-selling to customers and making themselves relevant as Ravenbooks has (I am increasingly sure of finding a pile of relevant books there every time I walk in) and no doubt this will mean concentrating on older books, out-of-print books and second-hand books, books that appeal directly to the customer, and print-on-demand books printed directly on site (though I am less convinced of the economic case for this).

Whatever way you look at it though, by not buying in chain stores, and rarely enough in independents, I killed the chain bookshop and I got away with it!

More to come today!
Eoin

Innovative Book Publishing Models: Hol Art Books

Museum Legs, by Amy Whitaker

Museum Legs, by Amy Whitaker

Team publishing
I’ve written about Hol Art Books once or twice before but I neglected to mention them when they issued their first books and I wanted to address that. Hol Art is based on a remarkably simple to outline and yet difficult to get right system called team publishing. They have a nice guide to how it operates on their website:

Team Publishing
In a departure from traditional publishing, we bring authors and publishing professionals together online to collaboratively identify, evaluate, and develop our titles. The processs is open to everyone.

• You and your team select, edit, design, and promote the book.

• We print, distribute, and market it in our seasonal list of titles.

• And everyone–the author, the team, and Hol–gets paid a percentage of the book’s sales, for as long as it sells.

Hol Art lets you start a project, join a project and general become the life blood of a venture. It is actually fairly genius.

Why this is smart
I’ve discussed before why self-publishing is attractive for both authors at the top of the publishing ladder and at the bottom too. That is because as the costs of the actual physical publishing process (editing, design, printing a book) drop relative to the less tangible (to the author) costs (distribution, marketing, acquiring attention and successfully promoting and selling a book) the role that publisher play that is of use to the author SEEMS to become less valuable. I stress seems because publishers who are wise will look at what they do well and concentrate their resources on doing that.

Many houses now have few if any in house editors and work almost completely with freelancers. This tends to work for both parties, reducing payroll costs for publishers and enabling better balance for those freelancers. Quite a few houses have outsourced design in the same way and few small or medium publisher have ever handled distribution themselves anyway.

What I like about Hol Art Books is that they have taken that kind of thinking and applied it sensibly to their own chosen niche. Art books tend to be more expensive to print so they pay that cost, marketing tends to be more niche focused so recruiting a publicist to each team is very sensible. And, to top it all off, they are totally and scarily open and honest, just read this piece about the money side of affairs if you doubt me!

Hol Art have a nice, new and (I think) viable model. It will be interesting to see if this can be adapted for other niches. I suspect there is room for it. The type of model might sit very well with the discussion from Publishing Perspective last week (MJ Rose & Robert Miller).

Going with the flow
Interestingly too, it goes towards the ideas about how the work force will be reshaped in the coming decades. Ideas I first encountered in Nine Shift but remarkably read today again on the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog.

I still think there are things that Hol Art could add to the model, and maybe they might work better as part of a larger entity (even a museum or university) rather than a solo enterprise, but you have to admire what the founder Greg Albers has created.

Enjoying exploring the work of Molly Crabapple, great stuff!
Eoin

Tor.com is a publishing.com

Tor.com gets even smarter
Thanks to Digital Book World (haven’t had time to read my RSS fees today) I learned this by twitter:

The Tor.com Tweet

The Tor.com Tweet

Tor.com are launching Year’s Best Fantasy 9, POD only through Tor.com rather than Tor! The long and the short of it is this:

Tor.com is proud to announce the immediate availability of David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer’s definitive anthology, Year’s Best Fantasy 9.
This highly anticipated release also marks something we’re particularly proud of: Tor.com’s debut as a publishing entity, distinct from Tor Books and as a separate imprint under our shared corporate overlords at Macmillan.
YBF 9 is available only as a print-on-demand book, in keeping with our mission of always exploring alternative forms of publishing. Similar to the launch of the Tor.com Store, this title is one of our various publishing projects that seek to experiment with the available alternatives to publishing’s traditional sales, distribution, and delivery mechanisms.

You can buy the book in their online story here.

How smart are they?
Very. This builds on their nicely and still quietly and matter-of-factly launched Publisher Agnostic Store (links goes to my article on that development).

This also reinforces the concept of the Digital Vertical Niche that Mike Shatzkin likes to speak of and which I am also a fan. I’m intrigued and I really hope this works becuase in terms of new business models, this move is pretty much at the forefront.

Looking forward to good results, saddened by other news though!
Eoin

There is literally too much digital news to know where to start

Eoin Purcell

But start we must
So how about with this piece from Crain’s New York about a new ebook publishing house (strangely sans website yet) OR Books. The house is run by, John Oakes and Colin Robinson, two veterans of New York’s independent literary scene. To my mind the most interesting tidbit in the article was in terms of their business plan:

Publishing only e-book and print-on-demand editions, OR won’t have to deal with any returns. The company also won’t share revenue with distributors, wholesalers and bookstores, which together can collect as much as 60% of sales. The savings will go into online marketing campaigns that will run about $50,000 to $75,000 per title—huge sums for so-called mid-list books.

Print-on-demand trade paperbacks will sell for $15 apiece, but the partners have yet to decide what to charge for e-books. Typically, prices for new titles range from around $26, or the same as a hardcover, to the discounted $9.99 that Amazon charges for most of its Kindle titles.

OR will also make a small number of books available to cooperating bookstores on a nonreturnable basis. And it will consider a title a success if it sells just 5,000 electronic copies.

I’ve added the emphasis there. That, frankly seems a pretty significant sum to be even contemplating in ad spend online (or will that mean print ads for ebooks? And the ebook price is not yet set? Stranger and stranger I say.

Wherever Spanish is read
Everywhere online and digital if the latest reports are to be believed. The top three Spanish publishers have joined forces to create a digital distributor. Seems eminently sensible. A much fuller article can be read on Publishing Perspectives a relative but very interesting newcomer to the publishing news scene, focused on international views and opinions. from the text it seems like these major players have developed a pretty sensible model too:

In negotiations with the Association of Spanish Literary Agencies (ADAL), the publishers have agreed to price ebooks at 80% of a printed books cover price, with a standard 25% royalty rate. Booksellers will be offered a maximum discount of 50%.

The truth, plain and unvarnished
I’ll only cover three items today and perhaps do a follow up post tomorrow, but that third item must be Andrew Savikas’ really gauntlet throwing down piece over at o”Reilly Radar in which he basically calls B*llsh*t in people who think the value is in theur conent. twitter has been abuzz with publisher types praising it all day and with real reason. it is clear, concise and devastating for those who disagree with his perspective:

“But people are still buying content when they buy a book or an album,” the argument goes. Yes, they are. The same way that you’re buying food when you go to a restaurant. You are purchasing calories that your body will convert to energy. But few restaurants (especially those you visit frequently) have ingredients any different from those you can get yourself at the corner store, for much less money. So it can’t be true that your primary goal is to purchase food; you’re purchasing a meal, prepared so you don’t have to, cleaned up so you don’t have to, and done so in a pleasing and convenient atmosphere. You are paying for the preparation of the food and the experience of eating it in the restaurant, not the food itself [2] (beyond the raw cost of the physical ingredients, which in the case of digital content is effectively zero).

And to finish the sad news, for the staff of Borders in Blanchardstown, the book buyers and the publishers of Ireland is that the only Irish store in the UK arm is closing along with four UK based branches. It is a real shame, I liked the store though I will freely admit I got there irregularly. I wish there was some way to avoid this outcome.

Not happy this evening,
Eoin

All your base are belong to AMAZON

Eoin Purcell

Sometimes you get tired of being outmaneuvered
In some senses, what Amazon launched yesterday with Amazon Encore is neither that amazing a project, after all there have been several small-press or self-published titles taken on board by large publishers as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, nor is it even that innovative, Authonomy is at its core a way to tap the self published and slush-piled manuscripts out there in the wild.

But the key point is that this moves Amazon directly into the role of publisher as James Bridle makes clear on his post on the topic:

It’s been a while coming, but some of us have been predicting this move for some time: Amazon have finally made it to the penultimate step on the publishing chain. I say penultimate, because although they are now, by any definition, a publisher, they still appear to be cherry-picking from existing books rather than seeking out their own authors.

I think this move suggests a couple of key questions:

    1) Who benefits most from this (and conversely who hurts the most because of it)?
    2) Can it be extended?
    3) Will there be a reaction?

First, Cui bono
On the face of it, this seems like an amazing opportunity for the author, reading her Amazon blog she certainly seems happy. Amazon’s platform (and as Personanondata point out platform is pretty key) allows for so many things that the average (or small press) publisher cannot. View for instance the neat homemade (and windy) video that amazon have on the main product page. The extra push that Amazon can give a product is really impressive. It will certainly be interesting to see how this works. I think it is fair to say then that the author gets a fair shake of this tail, though it would be interesting to see how the royalties split out.

As for the publisher who backed the book in the first place (always assuming that this encore element remains true) the deal is a win-win. So long, that is as rights for the project were acquired to begin with. A smart author would try and retain the rights for any potential Amazon Encore deal if that was even remotely possible. but allowing for the rights being with the publisher, they will surely gain something from the deal, though if the split of revenue is as one sided as in the case of the new amazon blogs-on-kindle deal (70-30 in favour of amazon) it’ll not be a huge amount. So there is a sense that the publishers who are “chosen” will benefit. But a note of caution from two sources Personanondata & James:

Amazon as producer is a subtle but important change in the operations of the largest retailer. I often mull what would happen to some of the largest publishers if they lost their top two or three authors to Google or Amazon. It may be that the Amazon Encore program sets the stage for a much larger program by Amazon to establish their own publishing and media production operation – their content supply – that feeds their retail presence. There may be further ramifications from this seemingly innocuous press release.

Those who suggest they’ll just keep picking stuff up from the little guys hasn’t been paying attention. In the last five years Amazon have, in addition to dominating online bookselling, bought a book social network, a major print-on-demand supplier, a complete end-to-end self-publishing system, pretty much the entire used books marketplace, the biggest audiobook distributor, the best iPhone ereader, and designed, built and delivered the only truly mass-market dedicated ereading device, with a proprietary format that sets them up to be the iTunes of eBooks.*
It’s big, it’s scary, it’s Amazon. But the publishing industry is under so many different pressures at the moment, this is unlikely to be as big as it could be: Amazon don’t want to annoy their major suppliers, not too much, and not yet. They will though, and by that point, they’ll be past caring. Like Google with their ebooks programme, they’ve been given so much leeway for so long, they think they can do whatever they like, and chances are, they’re right.

So, there is a benefit but they might just eat publishers lunch next week, next month, next year or next decade!

Second, Extension
Sure this can be extended and it is clearly being set up to do so. Amazon is in a great place to carry out their program to almost any conceivable scale. That in itself should indicate that they intend to extend. If you don’t believe it look at what Barnes & Noble have done in Classics and Rediscovered titles and you will get the idea.

But add to it the previously mentioned POD set up, they wouldn’t even need to expend extra capital on print runs, they’d be able to deliver books on demand so even if a huge proportion of the titles failed, their costs would be lower than the major publishers and the bookstore publishers too. That competitive advantage would be added to the fact that they wouldn’t have to pay a retailers discount unless they were selling to the retailers themselves. In effect, aside from what the author and their agents can grab from the chain, Amazon with Encore has successfully placed itself in control of the entire value chain of which I wrote some more about last week but didn’t quite count this in.

And third, reaction
In many ways, there is nothing publishers can do. Amazon is a major customer and now (or for some time quietly) a competitor. No action that publisher can take in the short term will change that. In order to really reaction, publishers will need to change the came with a much longer term and strategic move. So far most of the discussion seems to centre on the idea of community building and niche curating. I think this is certainly a useful suggestion though as I have mentioned before, the other arm of Amazon’s tool shed (self-publishing & POD( suggest that even that niche strategy may not be a feasible bolt hole.

Conclusion
The long and the short of it is the best reaction is to wait-and-see, to plan and to strategize and quietly (or nosily if you wish) put in place the blocks that will move your position away from an over dependence on Amazon. To that end I am pleased that Ireland is as yet somewhat immune to the Amazon leviathan. Despite our proximity to the UK market, sales through Amazon remain somewhat restrained, firstly by postage and secondly I think, by the more conservative nature of the Irish consumer who seem to be a bit slower in embracing internet retailers (not that some people aren’t taking advantage of the bargains available online).

Still tired of being outmaneuvered but thinking through how best to react in the long term.
Eoin

PS: For those who don’t get the title reference see here

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

SXSW – Far From The Madding Crowd

Eoin Purcell

Twitter it up
There has been extensive coverage of the New Think For Old Publishers panel at SXSW on 14 March. By most accounts it was a complete and utter disaster for publishers. Here’s a sample of opinion more here, here and here

As per usual Kassia krozer @ Booksquare summed both sides up pretty well in my view:

Let me be clear. Absolutely clear. Not one word spoken in that session, either from the panelists or from the audience, was new or innovative. The panel, well, we’ve all heard job descriptions before. The audience? That was one very long line of people saying the same things we’ve been saying to the publishing industry for ten years. And yet the publishing people treated our comments as if they were items to be added to a list.

It got me thinking?
What do we as publishers actually want to change? Are we, like the frustrated audience members angry at things in the industry that we would see change? In an ideal world where we got to direct digital change what would we like that change to be? Would authors join us in this campaign?

What would publishers do?
I think most publishers would like a simple platform that allowed them to offer their content online and be paid up-front for it. That seems easy doesn’t it. Except our cousins in newspaper land have lost their lunch trying to monetize their content online and almost all of them have surrendered to free service with ads and most of them are failing even with that.

What’s more the book is pretty much the most simple platform there is right now and lots of people like it. So moving away from it seems a little wild for most publishers. On top of that authors don’t seem keen to hang round waiting for the digital world to start rewarding them either. Whenever a book deal presents itself, bloggers and journalists all take them.

Where does that leave us for digital distribution and selling? Well e-commerce is nice, except you get Amazon and its crazy glitches and its harsh terms. On the other hand, ebooks seem to be starting to break through but you still have to deal with Amazon for those too!

Of course you might take the perspective that if we were to drive digital change, we would drive it along a path that gave our books (content) more attention (such tools even exist). If we were to drive change we would use it to sell more books directly to our customers in order to learn about them at the customer level and so tailor our products to their taste and their pocket. If we could drive digital we would build communities about our content and aggregate content from other publishers to help support our own. But then I’m just talking crazy!

Maybe I am talking crazy but
The problem I have with the current penchant for beating publishers up is threefold:

1) Many publishers (not to mention authors) are doing some pretty amazing things. Tor is building a wonderful, engaged and exciting community of readers around SF&F, Osprey have already done so around Military History. Penguin have spent a small fortune on trying new tools for reading and writing fiction. Macmillan and Random and Harper have all embraced blogs and Facebook and twitter and the web in general seeking new audiences, fresh feedback and platforms for their authors.

2) Despite the urge for the new, it doesn’t yet pay for itself and it may never do so. Andrew Keen is right about that if nothing else. Without money, artists will not create and currently the system that rewards both the artistic and the serious (or not serious) non-fiction author is breaking (if not entirely broken) and the chances of fixing it anytime soon are slim. Unless we revert to older methods of financing art and journalism, campaign funding, endowments, patronage and subscription (all being tried in modest enough [and a few large scale] ways) we may lose something pretty valuable.

3) Radicals are not always right. Even if we might accept that in this case it seems like digital is the way forward, that doesn’t mean publishers will survive the shift. Its not unreasonable of them to be reluctant to leap when right now there is a damaged but viable system in place that delivers unspectacular but solid enough revenues and profit figures.

To wrap it up!
Which leads me to my final thought, despite my own leaning towards a digital future, it is still entirely possible that the paper book remains the preeminent (I note not only) form of publication well into the next century and beyond. It currently seems likely to remain the most profitable (not the only profitable form) form of publication too. If you are an exec at a leading paper book publisher, then it’s a big bet right now to put the house on digital. If you get it wrong you’ve cut open the golden egg laying goose to show her insides to the public and have only the guts to show for it, the public were not that impressed and have watched the show for free on youtube. If you get it right you might still loose the golden goose and the people who benefit are your authors.

So to the radicals I say, lay off the publishers, some of them don’t care, but others are actually succeeding in changing the system and many many more are trying to figure out a way to make it happen without going out of business or destroying their companies, a not inconsiderable consideration in the current environment!

Eoin
PS: None of which changes the fact that I want to be able to buy an ebook version of a novel even if it is only just released in the US and I live in Ireland!