Month: May 2012

The Future Of Publishing In Microcosm | The Increasing Internationalization Of Irish Publishing

Yesterday I was a little unfair to Easons for the pronouncements of the company’s spokesperson and the tone of the article on its ebook strategy which suggested the company was about to embark on a  mission to build a rival platform to B&N and Amazon, something that would surely have been a valiant, if doomed, effort.

When I thought about it for the rest of the day though it got me thinking about just how much ebooks are changing the profile of book publishing and bookselling and how quickly that is happening. For instance I am almost certain of two things about the Irish ebook market:

1) That foreign based platforms and retailers account for the majority of sales (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Sony etc)

2) That like in the print world UK publishers (and their local imprints) publish the majority of ebooks bought in Ireland both in terms of units and revenue

I’m also close to certain about a third item, but without evidence I cannot prove it, here it goes anyway:

3) That US-based publishers sell more units (and I don’t doubt generate more revenue) from ebooks in Ireland than domestic Irish publishers do and are perhaps second only to the UK publishers (and their Irish imprints)

The first and the last points there are pretty radical statements. The first represents a huge change to the Irish experience of the book industry. Right now in print terms, most books bought by Irish consumers are sold to them by Irish retailers, Easons the principle one but others like Dubray, The Book Centres, Kenny’s, O’Mahony’s, Hughes & Hughes and many many others. That is despite the growth of physical sales through Amazon and the internationally owned (except for Dunnes Stores) supermarket chains. The wholesale and distribution businesses are also heavily Irish owned (with some British presence, increasingly on the Library supply side of things).

The Difference Digital Makes

But the situation is dramatically different on the ebook side of the house. Easons is the only ebook retailer of note in the Irish context (others should shout out if I’ve unfairly missed them out). On the ebook distribution side, EpubDirect are the only (and admittedly impressive) crew actually making a go of that business and even they don’t make up for the fact that the majority of ebooks sold in Ireland will have been distributed through other channels.

You can argue the toss over why this is the case but several factors loom large:

1) Irish publishers have been slow to digitize their content (though they are getting there now)

2) Irish retailers have been slow to embrace the web (except for a few notable exceptions) and slower to embrace eCommerce (again a  few notable exceptions aside) and, finally, even slower again to embrace ebook retailing

3) The costs of developing ebook platforms, ebook retailing sites and ebook distribution systems are high, the Irish market is small, while it might have been possible to forecast the potential to gain customers outside of the island, it is a difficult result to actually achieve (which makes EpubDirect’s success all the more impressive) which mitigates against anyone investing in them

In terms of sales, while UK publishers and their Irish based imprints have come to dominate the book trade, significant numbers of books published by Irish houses continue to sell in print form and account for anything between 15-25% of the trade. With ebooks however, sales from publishers whose books would not traditionally have been made available in Irish territory is increasingly likely. For instance a US published book that does well but might not get a print deal outside of the US has as much (if not more) opportunity to sell in Ireland as any other ebook, the key is whether it is high in bestseller/popular lists or promoted by the retailer for some reason

The only ebook store that really seems to cater specifically for the Irish ebook market is Apple’s iTunes so when Irish publishers do start to make content available they have to fight against ALL the published content there is, not just all the domestically published content and all the UK published content as they do in the print world. Further the people making decisions about ebook merchandising are rarely based in Ireland as once they were (or indeed still are in the print world) and therefore open to some discussion or indeed charm (not inconsiderable amounts of which the Irish are possessed).  You see the problem.

The Outside Context Problem

The Irish publishing industry is fast running into what might be described as some fashion of an ‘Outside Context Problem‘ wherein the new arrivals on the scene are vastly superior in terms of abilities, vastly superior in terms of resources and possessed of superior technology. While some of the participants in the market might grasp the nature of the problem and respond as effectively as they can, the truth is that the disparity in attributes makes success unlikely and the new threat is very much an existential one.

Which sounds very dramatic but think of it this way. The Irish consumer market for trade books is around €150 million a year and 15 million units all in. Suppose only 30% shifts digital over time or €45 million and 4.5 million units. That would leave only €105 million up for grabs for Irish retailers in print form and 10.5 million units. The impact on stores, book publishers and other market participants would be pretty dramatic. There would be closures and job losses and the industry would be considerably weaker. And that’s just the impact on the retail side of the trade. The impact on the publishing side of the trade is unknowable, but there is little doubt that it would be significant and would probably be negative for the domestic publishers (see my earlier paragraph on why). The UK publishers will probably cede sales to US-based publishers, especially if US publishers seek to enforce global ebook rights deals on authors.

We are probably headed in the direction of 30% digital pretty quickly. If we even approach the kind of conversion to digital sales that seems to be happening in the US or even the UK, we can expect that 30% figure to be a reality by 2015. By then the Irish industry will have changed radically and will become almost unstoppably more international not just in terms of the books that sell her, but also in terms of those who sell them. US publishers will probably be the second biggest publishers of ebooks bought by Irish readers (if not the first having overtaken the UK).

There’s interesting evidence of this too from the other side of the fence. The AAP reported that ‘total eBook net sales revenue [for US publisher] for 2011 was $21.5 million, a gain of 332.6% over 2010; this represents 3.4 million eBook units sold in 2011, up 303.3%.’

Frustratingly the APP did not share details for Ireland (those were contained in the full report but not as a single territory, rather as part of a larger group of English language territories) so we don’t know how well those publishers are doing here. Still, we can assume that they did well relative to the size of the market.

What’s more, Ireland and the story of change in the publishing industry really acts as a microcosm for the rest of the English language publishing industry (indeed it acts as a microcosm for any small market which shares a language with a much larger market be it French or German or Spanish or Chinese).

In some ways the whole industry is encountering the ‘Outside Context Problem’ I mentioned earlier as software and technology firms move into a traditionally physical business, but for larger companies, responding can be easier because of their scale and their resources make for a wider context as it were. It’s the small markets where the combination of these larger players and the changes in technology make for such a difficult problem.

Beautiful day here in Dublin!
Eoin

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Interestingly (or maybe just interesting for me) I wrote some time ago about the impact of divergent rates of digital growth on small markets, and in many ways this post is all about that impact. The increasing internationalization of the Irish publishing industry is driven by the very issue I highlighted: Divergent Growth Rates In Digital.

Easons Will NOT Be Building A Platform For Ebooks Anytime Soon

Waterstones decided to team up with Amazon and one of most compelling reasons for that was the sheer cost of developing an ereader and a fully fledged ebook platform (just look at B&N’s capital expenditure and increased costs and their need for cash to support their successful Nook business, hence their deal with Microsoft). Which is why reading the paragraphs below make so little sense:

Ireland’s largest book retailer, Easons, revealed plans yesterday to enter the market as well. “We are not getting into bed with Amazon, that is for certain,” a spokesman said.

“But as part of a €20m plan to modernise our entire chain, we will be providing live wi-fi in our stores from this summer and dedicated e-book areas which will permit customers to download e-books from our website. The next phase of this process is to launch our own Easons branded e-reader.”

Rival

This means that the Irish market leader will follow in the steps of the US market leader, Barnes and Noble, which has already developed its own digital reading device to rival the Amazon one.

via Hodges Figgis and Easons to sell rival e-books – Irish, Business – Independent.ie.

If B&N struggled to build a platform and needed $300 million and a Microsoft partnership, and Waterstones joined forces with Amazon, some portion of a €20 million modernisation fund simply wont be enough to do it for Easons, even given a smaller market.

Unless
That is unless the spokesperson simply meant that Easons would use a white label ebook reader with an Eason logo on the outside. That wouldn’t be the worst idea ever, but it certainly does not mean Easons will be following in B&N’s steps!

As Philip Jones, deputy editor of The Bookseller, commented on Twitter:

A nice, nice day here in Dublin,
Eoin 

Further Thoughts On Waterstones And Amazon

Yesterday I wrote a post that was generally favourable to the deal between Amazon and Waterstones:

If I was to think of one single reason for the move being a good though I would say it is this, it allows Waterstones to stand still and observe for a little longer. The value of inaction is often underestimated and right now when the ebook retail and distribution space is changing rapidly and requires such a huge investment, this move brings revenue, options but most crucially of all, time to just see what happens while rebuilding the core bookselling business.

I still think the above holds true. One major issue has begun to loom larger in my thinking though, and that is the impact of Waterstones dedicated heavy readers converting to dedicated digital readers on Amazon’s platform. The sales those dedicated heavy readers drove will be lost to Waterstones.

That brings me to the issue of lock in and whether, in the new ebook world, it exists in any real sense. The truth is that it does in a modest form, but without doubt it is relatively easy to move away from any individual content silo or platform to any other platform because unlike music, which we listen to repeatedly, we only occasionally re-read the books we buy once we have have read them for a first time.

So the fear of lock in is a misplaced one in my view. As publishers see sense (which I think they will) and move away from DRM systems an ever greater interplay of retailers and devices in the ebook space will be enabled and lock-in will be even less important.

That means it might even be possible for Waterstones to re-gain its lost heavy readers at some point in the future. No doubt the company hopes that the short- to medium-term play it has gambled on with Amazon pays off and enables them to refurbish and revitalise their physical estate and in doing so regain customers, rebuild profitability and take charge of their own future when they have done that.

I still think the logic of this move works, if they CAN make the print side of the business more profitable, more slimline and more flexible. Otherwise, we will look back in five years and it will look like a huge mistake. It’s a big gamble, but I think it’s worth it.

Eoin

Thoughts On >> Waterstones & Amazon

I have to say, this notion didn’t once enter my mind when I thought about Waterstones options, not because it’s a bad idea (far from it) but because I never thought Waterstones and its management would even consider it. It’s fairly radical and the implications are pretty dramatic:

UK bookseller Waterstones is to sell Amazons Kindle book-reader and launch other Kindle digital services.Waterstones says the deal will dovetail with its current store refurbishment scheme, which is creating dedicated areas for digital books, free wireless internet and new coffee shops.

via BBC News – Waterstones to sell Amazons Kindle book reader.

If I was to sum it up I would say that it indicates Waterstones does not believe it can compete with Amazon in the digital space and has decided to concentrate on the print market.

Is that a good decision? Or is it making the same mistake as Borders made in allowing Amazon run its website so many years ago?

Alternatively it could be very seen as a sensible decision. It relieves Waterstones of the burden of competing with Amazon on more fronts and crucially reduces the need for a huge capital outlay on technology R&D (the kind B&N has committed itself to). It also enables the management to concentrate on making the stores profitable and on selling print books (still the company’s core product). It makes the decision about selling Amazon’s print books easier (I would think that’s a big one for authors). It probably presents more opportunities than it closes off for Waterstones in other words.

If I was to think of one single reason for the move being a good though I would say it is this, it allows Waterstones to stand still and observe for a little longer. The value of inaction is often underestimated and right now when the ebook retail and distribution space is changing rapidly and requires such a huge investment, this move brings revenue, options but most crucially of all, time to just see what happens while rebuilding the core bookselling business.

Impressed by the cojones if nothing else!
Eoin

Go read This | Whats the right price for ebooks? updated : CJR

Interesting piece on price I found via: Book2Book earlier today

The marginal-cost-is-all argument also fails to take into account copyright law, which essentially grants each new work a sort of miniature monopoly. If I write a book about something, you can’t republish it unless I give the okay, or unless it’s 70 years after I kick the bucket and the copyright expires. You can argue about whether copyrights are too long or too restrictive, but we grant them so creators and investors do the creating and investing they otherwise would do much less of if anyone could profit off their work. Just because a product is digital doesn’t mean it’s infinitely abundant—as long as the law is enforced.

via Whats the right price for ebooks? updated : CJR.

Go read This | Binaries Aren’t Going to Work « Wordisms

It’s a day of good posts on publishing and books and how they are going to work:

I often get annoyed at people ruing that the Internet has destroyed book culture, because this tends to clump blogs, online magazine and journals, and independent or DIY presses alongside content farms, auto-aggregated “reviews” and recommendations, and corporations intent on selling your data to other corporations. But that’s not to say that there isn’t a threat from the Internet, it’s just that the threat to book culture is not from digital, per se. It’s from corporate entities really, really interested in finding ways of exploiting book culture, sucking it dry and leaving its bloated corpse behind when it’s finished.

via Binaries Aren’t Going to Work « Wordisms.

Go Read This | Serious Nonfiction in the Digital Age

Great piece. And one that warrants a solid response, which I will think on before I write anything else:

So when digital evangelists prognosticate about the future of publishing, as they love to do, and about what “needs” to go away, serious nonfiction is now one of the first things I think about. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and want to read more of it and notice twentysomethings have little perceived patience for weighty tomes. Maybe it’s because I’d rather have pragmatic conversations about what categories are best suited to digital — genre fiction obviously, certain commercial strains of literary fiction, basically any book that needs to have a completed manuscript done before it’s shopped around, or can be finished very quickly post-proposal — and which ones won’t be. Maybe it’s because the very institutions that support serious nonfiction are themselves in more financial trouble than they used to be.

via Serious Nonfiction in the Digital Age.