Publishing Downturn

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 11/12/2009

Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews to close. Frankly I find this a little strange. Even spinning them off might have been better, though survival on their own would have been pretty unlikely without serious reorganization and a fundamental rethinking of the business models.
Here

Canongate is profiled in the Wall Street Journal, that Jamie Byng has an eye for a book that can be packaged. It’d almost make ya jealous.
Here

Frankly, I don’t buy this Apple Tablet nonsense much. Apple cannot single-handedly change the industry, though they may try. In any case when Steve Jobs announces this on a stage somewhere, I’m sure I’ll want it, but until then, I shall waste no energy waiting or wanting.
Here

On the other hand, both Mike Shatzkin and Michael Hyatt have articles about new display systems for content that they claim will change the book world as we know it. I think both are right that change is coming but I have more sympathy with the Sports Illustrated demo video on Michael Hyatt’s post. After all that looks like a faster webpage with some extra features rather than something new. Webpages are the answer and so putting the web in every hand you can is the way forward for publishers and makes more sense than creating new, confusing and unnecessary formats. The trick is to make the customer pay for access to your content, not find a fancy way to display it.

Publishing Success in Ireland, Part Five, Summing Up

This series has been an exciting and interesting one for me to write and research. The first four parts are the real meat. You can read them one by one:

Publishing Success In Ireland, Part One
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Two
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Three
Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Four

So what have we learned with this series?

    1) Success is a lot more mundane than most people think.
    2) 1500-2000 units will put your book in the top 1000 books of that year.
    3) The industry is dominated by the forces of UK publishing
    4) That Fiction outperforms but is heavily driven by hits (making this Fintan O’Toole article nonsense*)
    5) That Average Selling Price makes a real difference

Have I anything new to share?
I’ve three new facts to share today.
– Up to the last Nielsen figures (28/11/2009) the Irish Consumer Market was down approximately 4.52% in Value
– Volume was up 5.42% though
– ASP was down 9.43%

These three facts indicate a number of unsettling features of the Irish book market.

Firstly, price is driving higher volume, but that is at the cost of driving down the ASP. This is surely putting everyone in the chain under extreme pressure.

Secondly, while there are some startling figures for individual books (70K+ for Secret Scripture for instance) as a whole, the Average Sale per Title is down somewhat (if this figure means anything).

Thirdly, Irish publishers are doing A LOT worse than the market as a whole. Not having full data makes this analysis superficial only so treat it with caution, but I estimate that nearly every Irish publisher has suffered a fall in sales much larger than the market fall. This has been driven by the heavy push booksellers are sensibly putting into bestselling titles, making the space tougher for smaller titles.

In short, success however modest, will be even more precarious going forward!
Eoin

* Also Dan Brown (who O’Toole picks on) has sold, 57193 copies of The Lost Symbol in Ireland so far this year.

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 19/10/2009

The Frankfurt Cleared The Air Edition

Richard Eoin Nash’s post on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog is all kinds of excellent:

Not only, it turns out, are the readers of the world looking to buy our content if we can deliver it to them digitally, but the world’s leading hardware companies are looking to help us. Along with Sony, iRex, TXTR, and other dedicated reading device manufacturers exhibiting, presenting, and working the floor, two Apple executives were traversing the halls of the Fair to let publishers know all the opportunities that await them on that platform. (Let it be said: that platform, right now, is the iPhone. Not any other rumored device. Apple has not been in private discussions about a larger device and reports that they have are a hoax. But Apple does believe in the opportunity for the publishing industry’s content, contrary to the occasional snarky comment from Jobs.) Apple is working to improve the Books section of the App store to make it more browsable, and they are trying to help publishers find the right developers to work with.

You should take the time to read all the contributions from Richard and his fellow Book Fair Bloggers, they provide a nice slice of the fair.

Brian O’Leary has put the slides for his trouble causing presentation on piracy up on Slideshare, when you read through, you’ll find it hard to find the controversy and wonder just how tightly poised those knee-jerk reactions are.

The news of Google’s Google Editions, which first came to light back in June has been formed up by more recent news. Like this AP story:

Tom Turvey, head of Google Book Search’s publisher partnership program, said the price per book would be set by their publishers and would start with between 400,000 to 600,000 books in the first half of 2010.
“It will be a browser-based access,” Turvey said Thursday at the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair. “The way the e-book market will evolve is by accessing the book from anywhere, from an access point of view and also from a geographical point of view.”
The books bought from Google, and its partners, would be accessible on any gadget that has a Web browser, including smartphones, netbooks and personal computers and laptops. A book would be accessible offline after the first time it was accessed.

Of course as you would expect it is platform neutral (if web based/cloud based is neutral), omnipresent and smart. Anyone who thinks that devices are the future is living in the past.

There is a whole load of other stuff on the margins, but in terms of signal, I think this is it!
Eoin

Getting to Digital

Beastly goings on
There have been a few pretty big moves in the last few days towards what seem (At least to me) sensible models for getting digital and quickly. The first is Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast‘s deal with Perseus Press that the NYT featured yesterday:

Ms. Brown said that Beast Books would select authors from The Daily Beast’s cadre of writers, most of whom are paid freelancers, to write books with quick turnarounds. She said she planned to publish three to five books in the first year.

The beauty of the deal though is that they making digital first publications:

Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.

I rather hope this works, it certainly sounds like a good news story if it does. The model seems sensible, it capitalises on the eyeballs the Daily Beast is dragging and as The Big Money puts it in a sensible and thoughtful paragraph:

The good news is that this is exactly what digital publishing needs to fuel its growth: a product ideally suited to a new technology. Brown’s entry into the field validates the idea of writing specifically for the Kindle and its competitors, a huge vote of confidence in the tools. The less-great news is that for all of Brown’s talent for attention-getting, the Daily Beast may not have the right content to drive sales. Which just might be the point of the whole deal—with Brown using the book deal as a back door to better content.

Disney Digital

Disney Digital


Disney’s gamble
There have been some negative comments about Disney’s newly launched program that provides online access to 500. As the NYT (again) puts it:

In what it bills as an industry-defining moment — though rivals are sure to be skeptical about that — Disney Publishing plans to introduce a new subscription-based Web site. For $79.95 a year, families can access electronic replicas of hundreds of Disney books, from “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” to “Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!”

DisneyDigitalBooks.com, which is aimed at children ages 3 to 12, is organized by reading level. In the “look and listen” section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud. Chapter books for teenagers and trivia features round out the service.

I like this idea because it is heading more towards the type of product that can win the battle for attention and hold its own against numerous distractions. What is more, a site like this (and being a site is crucial) has a certain seamless quality, it fits into the web rather than standing aside from it in a “connected” device. It will simply be a rich content website that you happen to pay for! That is important! that, I believe, is the future.

Both these moves are taking big publishing digital very rapidly. This is a space to watch!
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

Self-publishing Attracts Star Authors Too

Eoin Purcell

UPDATE: Covey has signed a deal with Rosetta & Amazon making Amazon the exclusive distributor of Covey’s ebooks backlist! Pretty big news: Here’s more in the New York Times:

Amazon, maker of the popular Kindle e-reader and one of the biggest book retailers in the country, will have the exclusive rights to sell electronic editions of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and a later work, “Principle-Centered Leadership.” Mr. Covey also plans to gradually make other e-books available exclusively to Amazon, which will promote them on its Web site.

The move promises to raise the already high anxiety level among publishers about the economics of digital publishing and could offer authors a way to earn more profits from their works than they do under the traditional system.

Mike Cane has a post on it too

Self-Publishing Talk
This morning I had a very engaging chat with a student writing a thesis on self-publishing in Ireland and comparing it to self-publishing internationally. The discussion was wide ranging (though perhaps a bit too much of me). At one point I mentioned thatin some ways traditional publishing was getting caught in the middle with the lower tiers of publishing falling into Print on Demand and self-publishing territory (as I discuss here) and the upper tiers ripe for big stars to defect to self-publishing options. I couldn’t think off hand of an example (except for an author I worked with recently who only recently revealed a plan to self publish whose name I couldn’t reveal).

Then I came home and logged into twtetr and read this twitter comment (yes I use it compulsively: http://www.twitter.com/eoinpurcell) pushed me to this Wall Street Journal article about the plans of Stephen Covey:

Stephen R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” will launch a new self-published line of short books tomorrow called the Insight Series.

You don’t get much bigger than Stephen Covey, frankly he is massive.

Authors are brands
Really they may well be the only brands publishers have unless they manage to create a sensible strategy around their own names like Tor.com, Mills & Boon and Osprey have. If they don’t act to create better partnerships with these top level authors, I believe they will loose a lot of them to self-publishing enterprises like Stephen’s effort. It is simply too lucrative a proposition for many of them.

If you ask me (and you haven’t) game is heating up. It is becoming clearer by the day that the existing models of publishing are unsustainable. Change is unavoidable. I wonder will we, as an industry, respond?
Eoin

PS: If you’d like to think some more about that Author as Brand concept, here is a nice audio piece from New Hamphsire public radio featuring Sarah Weinman on the topic. It is well worth listening to.

Hire me, I am a man of leisure

Eoin Purcell

Why I have so much time
Yesterday I was laid off by Mercier Press. I’m not bitter or angry, sometimes companies have to make decisions that no one likes but that are necessary given the economic climate. It helped that I had commissioned a list for almost the entire year 2010. I will miss many of my co-workers at Mercier.

Honestly, I see this as a great opportunity. I’ve made no firm plans yet so I thought I would put myself out to the market and see what came back. Until I update this post I am available for short-term, medium and long-term work. If you have an offer drop me an e-mail (eoin.purcell AT gmail.com). I’ll consider anything publishing- or writing-related, but I’ll be honest (as my readers know) I’m no copy editor or proofer!

Looking forward to the future,
Eoin