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Go Read This | How in-app purchase is not really destroying the games industry | Sealed Abstract

On the face of it this is just a piece about the gaming industry, though a fascinating one. In fact this article raises issues for all content industries from games, to books, to newspapers, magazines and music.

It covers the gamut, the explosion of content, the role of market makers (in this case Apple – though to a lesser mentioned extent, Google), the use of price as a lever and the challenges of making money in markets that have become so large, diverse and saturated.

I’m reminded of two realities most forcefully when reading it, firstly that while digital unleashes greater freedom to create and make content of all kinds available, thus empowering the creator relative to the middlemen and women of the previous era, it also (in its current guise by power of platform) shackles them to the power of another middle-person (for books, mostly Amazon) AND makes a sustainable career even less likely because of the huge increase of content such freedom unleashes. Secondly, I am reminded of just how little information is publicly available to those looking at the book trade. Consider the information in this article about the nature of games sales in the iOS store and ponder how different our conversations might be about ebooks if these facts were more openly shared (some notable exceptions on that front would be Smashwords who share quite a lot of data).

Getting people to play your game in a market of 150,000 alternatives requires a different kind of marketing. For example, if the user can choose to pay $0.99 for your app, or pay zero for another app that’s probably just as fun, they’ll pick the free one. The result follows: 90% of apps are free in 2013 when weighted by monthly average users. And when you look only at those apps that use an experiment/test/data-driven approach for their pricing, you see a strong upward trend in more free apps. So the pricing experiments that these developers are running (you know, actual flipping research, not just speculating baselessly in an HN comment) are telling them it’s better to go free.

via How in-app purchase is not really destroying the games industry | Sealed Abstract.

Go Read This | Fast-Paced Best Seller: Author Russell Blake Thrives on Volumes – WSJ.com

There’s so much in this piece I have to take two extracts. This quote in particular is incredible:

“Being an author is like being a shark, you have to keep swimming or you die,\” he says. “People don\’t want to wait a year and a half for the next book in the series, they want instant gratification.”

But there’ lots more, like this section:

To ward off the sloppiness that inevitably comes with such speed, Mr. Osso pays two editors and a proofreader to comb through his books for errors and typos. His content editor, Dorothy Zemach, a freelance editor who used to work for Cambridge University Press, says it can be taxing to keep up. “There are evenings when my husband says, ‘Don’t check your email, there will be another book from Russell,’ ” she says.

via Fast-Paced Best Seller: Author Russell Blake Thrives on Volumes – WSJ.com.

The trend towards author services is so unstoppable now that it I becoming increasingly important that those providing the service are accredited and capable. This has got me thinking lots again about the author/publisher/agent triangle and how things might change in the years ahead.

 

New Zealand Map

Go Read This | Is This The End For New Zealand Publishing? | Stuff.co.nz

New Zealand MapReally wonderful piece over in The Dominion Post about book publishing in New Zealand. It has serious echoes of the Irish market and many of the same problems crop up for the publishers there.

I wrote a column for The Irish Times that touched on some of the issues mentioned. This really is interesting throughout and a must for anyone who wants to understand small market publishing:

Varnham struggles to secure writers. Who can afford to take months off to research and write a book for a $3000 advance? More government support – for writers and publishers – would help.
And, she says, ebooks are not the answer. They’re a fabulous way to get books out worldwide but sales are minimal and the return to the publisher is tiny.

“I think the answer for us is to persuade New Zealanders to buy more New Zealand books.”
She credits Awa’s survival to bookshops such as Wellington’s Unity, which stacks front windows with Kiwi stories.

“I always say I need valium before I go into the average bookstore in New Zealand. It’s so distressing if you don’t see your own books properly displayed and you just walk through a towering mountain of Dan Brown and The Hunger Games. Not to mention Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The only way bookshops will survive, says Booksellers chief executive Lincoln Gould, is if they work together with publishers to find new sales models.

In his less gloomy moments, Walker sees opportunity for small independents or writer co-operatives such as those emerging in the United States.

via Is This The End For New Zealand Publishing? | Stuff.co.nz.

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With MatchBook Amazon Pushes The Envelope, Again!

Amazon.com  Kindle MatchBookWith the jam made, I can finally sit down and write about MatchBook. Amazon has gotten very good at releasing solutions to problems within publishing that many people have been talking about for some time but mostly (see comments below) doing nothing about. You’d have to wonder if the industry in general (and I include myself here) will get tired of allowing them set the pace of this digital transition and start working with start-ups to change that dynamic?

My initial response to the announcement of Amazon’s new  product was summed up in the tweet below and I think it still holds though I stress two things:

  • I expect the price points to grow in number (to the higher side) and
  • I expect most publishers to see sense and come on board (there’ll be rights to consider)

But it’s worth working through those points and explaining them.

Incremental revenue
The great thing about MatchBook is that in essence it’s making money for old rope. Customers who avail of it already bought the IP in the book they are “upgrading” and are paying simply to format shift. They’ve no real reason to do this, they are unlikely to do so at full price but a discounted price may well prompt them to buy increasing the overall revenue from that customer for that piece of IP and increasing revenues for Amazon, the publisher and the author. No one in the current chain loses anything in such a transaction (bookstores were never in the transaction to begin with). Sure complications arise where rights have been reverted, but authors can make print and ebooks available again, and here’s a great reason to do just that! This is driving revenue per customer and per title smartly.

E&P bundling & Reason to shift to Digital
Taking these together as they make sense that way! Lots of folks seem to think E&P bundling is a good idea. I’m not sold on the value for me, and I’ll still buy mainly digitally only. But for wavering print buyers, E&P bundling makes a digital transition completely risk free encouraging them to try digital and maybe, just maybe converting them in the process. That’s good for Amazon. It’s okay news for publishers who at some point in the process will begin to wish all their readers were digital ones to enable them to kill costly print runs! For authors it’s neither one nor the other.

Reason to switch to Amazon
This one is clever. So suppose you are a digital buyer from Amazon (or indeed anywhere) and your print purchases are mainly gifts or illustrated and you normally by them from local bookshops, MatchBook is a real incentive to shift those purchases to Amazon just to get your hands on the digital editions for a limited fee. And, if you are a print buyer who buys anywhere but Amazon, this encourages you to shift to Amazon or your print to ensure you can (if you want to) get a cheap eBook version!

Incentive to digitize
Most interestingly to me is that by opening up the hitherto closed incremental revenue option, Amazon is encouraging publishers and authors to make old books available both in print and as ebooks. This drives increased selection for Amazon making it better and more effective at its core goal (in this market of selling books in whatever format). The lure of potential sales will see more ebooks published especially for backlist titles that might once have had decent print sales an area that might see an uptick too.

Objections
I had a long twitter discussion with Tom Bonnick from Nosy Crow about MatchBook the other day and he’s posted a blog about it here

I think it’s fair to say that much of his case is based in this piece (though he might disagree so I’ll leave it for him to respond if I’m wrong):

Conventional wisdom is that Amazon have been pinning their hopes on eBooks as the key area which might one day make them a profit (they’re certainly not making any money on sales of Kindle devices, which operate on absolutely wafer-thin margins). Yet MatchBook seems to fundamentally devalue that core product: it treats eBooks as commodities with no inherent worth; as products that can be given away for nothing as promotional tools. Even if the norm is for a $2.99 pricetag, rather than a straight giveaway, the inescapable conclusion is that the e-format is nothing more than an adjunct to print.

Tom’s logic assumes that Amazon is committed to digital sales (which, while currently true, may not always be so) and only digital when clearly, so long as a customer spends on Amazon, it largely doesn’t matter hugely to the company what format the customer buys content in. Amazon’s strategy then could be simply to improve the value of its ecosystem in its entirety to book readers and encourage them to upgrade from one format purchases to two format purchases driving incremental revenues per sale and per customer and per customer lifetime. If Amazon can gain customers from a bricks & mortar outfits because of this development and it can also drive increased revenues per existing customer then this could really grow its business.

A second key section in Tom’s post is this one:

who will want to continue paying the full price for eBooks as standalone products (which they have, at long last, managed to establish themselves as being) if they’re available for little or nothing when you buy the print edition? And what will MatchBook do to the general assumption about what eBooks “ought” to cost? What will that shift in buyer behaviour do to Amazon’s bottom line, I wonder?

The answer is that just as many people will be unmoved by the offer of a cheap upgrade from print (those who never intend to shift to digital and are not in any kind of wavering camp likely to be attracted to such offers), many (like me) see absolutely no use for print in most circumstances. In fact I view print as a nuisance for most of my reading (though I see it as incredible for several other circumstances). That Tom does not see this suggests he sees print as always having value, but in truth, often it does not have any value at all and so people like me will pay the full price for ebooks because they don’t need or want print.

Tom’s final concern is about bookshops. Actually Tom sees a potential upside of bookshops can get themselves into the bundling game:

But I think this could be a great opportunity for high street retail, rather than a death knell. If bookshops can get in on the act and start offering bundling as well, they may well be in a better position to take advantage of it. For a start, bookshops’ core products are print, rather than e-books, and so unlike Amazon, they won’t be undermining their own health by giving away the e-format. They’re also in a great position to be able to up-sell to customers: there’s no competition between an engaged and enthusiastic bookseller and a website algorithm. And if bookshops can build the right infrastructure, they might be able to offer customers e-editions in non-proprietary formats for more than one sort of device, rather than just the Kindle edition.

While, as you might imagine, I’m not sold on his logic for the benefits, I do see how bundling and up-selling (and I’d say not just up-selling of ebooks, but experiences and more) to print customers offers some potential for book shops. However, as I cautioned earlier, some print buyers simply have no interest in ebooks, arguably (though I may be mistaken) print buyers in local bookstores are probably the most resistant to them, making ebooks perhaps not the right up-sell for them!

On the other hand, Amazon’s very existence is a problem for the bookshops so MatchBook will not really change the nature of the problem, merely perhaps the keenness with which it is felt.

All things considered, I don’t see a negative for MatchBook from Amazon’s perspective drives forward where most others just have yet to push too hard. It may actually help drive adoption of E&P bundling and grow revenues for everyone (except bookshops!).

Go Read This | iPod eclipse — Benedict Evans

Lurking in a seemingly not related post about how the iconic Apple product is slowly becoming less important to Apple, is a great few lines about the nature of the music business and, more generally, the content business at a meta level:

One could argue that trying to charge a little extra and make more profit is more trouble than it’s worth for Google or Apple (or even profit-hungry Amazon) – better to offer it at cost or thereabouts to enhance the value of the broader platform, which is where the real money comes from (advertising and devices respectively).

The same thing is happening in books and video – content is a condition of entry to the platform game that you provide at cost. This obviously makes life pretty tough for startups – it’s hard to try to build your own ebook store or download-to-own music store right now when any device your customers might use probably already has an at-cost service built-in. The one place this might be different is in video, since in that business it is actually possible to have unique content – but of course this is very expensive.

via iPod eclipse — Benedict Evans.

These issues are of concern to everyone in the content business, from authors to publishers. That doesn’t mean we’ll be impacted equally!

 

 

 

Go Read This | Erotic romance author turned down Amazon publishing deal | Books | theguardian.com

Hoisted on their own petard one might say. The forces Amazon has helped unleash are making it difficult for its own publishing operation to recruit self-publishing authors:

An editor for Amazon’s Montlake Press, which specialises in romance, spotted Me, Cinderella? among the thousands of self-published books on the site, singling it out for its “very clean” writing. Rose was offered $5k, with 35% royalties, a post by the author on Reddit confirmed . But that turned out to be “less than I had made in my first month of sales”, Rose wrote on her blog.

She added that Amazon “couldnt guarantee anything – from cover image to pricing to marketing … As I looked through the Montlake catalogue, I saw a mix of breakout hits and complete flops … And I would have to pull my book from every publisher except Amazon.”

via Erotic romance author turned down Amazon publishing deal | Books | theguardian.com.

Amazon Steals Everyone’s Thunder Again (But Quietly)

Fascinatingly clever (if predictable in many ways) move from Amazon to extend the reach of its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) to the UK, Germany and France. By doing so it demonstrates very clearly that it is Amazon who is really driving the pace of development in ebook adoption and ebook retail. What’s more, it is making clear that its rivals are struggling to match its services to authors and readers within their own ecosystems. As the focus of ebook growth moves rapidly beyond the USA (has moved already in truth), Amazon is making the case for giving it exclusivity even more compelling.

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is coming to the UK, Germany and France later this month, bringing Kindle owners with a Prime membership over 200,000 books to borrow for free as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates. Independent authors and publishers using Kindle Direct Publishing KDP who enroll their books in KDP Select can be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in the UK, Germany and France, as well as the US. With the new lending libraries launching this month, the KDP Select fund has been increased by $100,000 to $700,000 in October, with a larger increase anticipated in November. Authors will earn money every time their book is borrowed from any of the lending libraries – in September, authors earned $2.29 per borrow, which is more than many KDP books earn per sale.

via Amazon Media Room: Press Releases.

What amazes me the most about this move is just how dangerous it is for the ebook retailing rivals who have yet to open their doors to self-published content. In reality only Kobo has a fully functional platform for self publishing authors beyond the USA (Apple does too, but only to the extent that those who have a nice Mac can access their iBookstore, but not everyone has a Mac).

Nook’s platform is US only, though the talk is that this will change soon, the longer B&N & Microsoft exclude non-US citizens from the service, the longer Amazon has to lock in exclusive content for three months at a time. It’s not that the content individually is necessarily compelling, but given the wide field of talent in question, some is sure to be winning material, even if much of it isn’t great. The trick is, of course, that Amazon is armed with the tools to sort, grade and sift through this mass of titles and to promote, suggest and even work with the best (or just the most saleable, let’s not forget that the goal is money-making not literature spreading).

I’ve talked before about how important authors are to the success of an epublishing platform and ecosystem. Sometimes I think the retailers agree with me on this, other times I think they only pay lip service to the idea. Perhaps that’s a lingering snobbery regarding self publishing authors (which is foolish, idiotic and wrong-headed in an age when some of the biggest writers are rapidly moving towards self publishing, are already self publishing or have emerged from the self publishing space). Perhaps it is a desire to avoid dealing with so many small accounts and the headaches of customer service and platform development that entails. Who knows, but the longer these ecosystems remain closed shops to direct author engagement the larger a lead they allow Amazon to build up on them.

Every author Amazon signs up for KOLL is three months of exclusive sales for Amazon, three months lost revenue for their rivals. More importantly it is three months of sales data and analysis for Amazon that no-one else will have. That’s especially important when a title is loaded into KDP & KOLL for the first time, before getting a look in elsewhere. What will happen when one of those sign ups turns out to be the next EL James? What will happen is that Amazon will sign that author up directly, before the KOLL period ends and the game, for that author, is up for the other platforms.

It is not just dangerous to rival retailers though. If Amazon succeeds in convincing enough authors that KDP & KOLL are the way forward and along with them, exclusivity, companies like Smashwords and other aggregators of self published content will be put in the position of having to justify their offering. As long as a vibrant market for content persists of course (and despite this move, we do have a vibrant market for content) everyone has room to move and grow.

So yes, this move is illuminating, it suggests that Amazon is still the pace setter and is capable of moving faster and more aggressively than anyone else (still, after five years). Kobo has started something of a price war for self published authors though, by offering a higher royalty to authors who use their self publishing platform. If this keeps self publishing writers committed to an non-exclusive policy then it will have been a wise move. I’m sure it is a smart response from a smart company, even if it is one that admits to a certain weakness in terms of the capability of their platform, but then competition doesn’t (and indeed shouldn’t) always mean matching your rivals move, but finding clever and novel ways to best them where your strengths lie.

What that in mind, Kobo and other Amazon rivals would do well to pay attention to Baldur Bjarnason‘s piece on FutureBook about how Ebook publishing platforms are a joke, pay attention that is and offer some of the services he mentions to self publishers asap.