Month: October 2013

Go Read This | You know what’s cool? A billion dollars, that’s what’s cool. | FutureBook

If you read nothing else on Oyster and a Netflix for books, make it this by Chris Mceigh. The money quote:

So should publishers allow Amazon to go head to head with fledgling players for control of this new supplementary income stream or hold back from signing those licensing contracts with the Seattle giant till they see where the land lies?

It’s a choice that could define our industry in ways we can’t begin to imagine yet.

via You know what’s cool? A billion dollars, that’s what’s cool. | FutureBook.

On Amazon Publishing

It’s big news that Larry Kirshbaum is leaving Amazon Publishing, it’s just not so big as it appears, especially as the retailing giant is going nowhere, and its Kindle project is as strong as ever. That also doesn’t mean that Amazon Publishing will have an easy ride in the years ahead. Laura Hazard Owen sums up some of it nicely:

Nonetheless, at least seventy percent of the books sold in the U.S. are still print, so Amazon’s inability to get its titles into bookstores was a huge strike against the vision that it would be able to compete directly against general trade publishers on big fiction and nonfiction titles. And just because many have argued that the traditional book publishing industry’s business model is outdated didn’t mean that Amazon would be able to completely upend the way the industry does business in New York in two years.

via Amazon Publishing reportedly retreating in NYC. Thank or blame Barnes & Noble — Tech News and Analysis.

This recalls to me one of the three things I identified a bricks and mortar bookshops’ advantages in their struggle against Amazon and online retail for a talk at a booksellers gathering last year:

Physicality: being a place is an underestimated thing as is its almost completely ignored sister point Proximity: the idea that a bookshop is often a local place that is NEAR the reader or the customer. Where is Amazon? I wonder how many Irish people know that the company has a customer service centre in Cork and an engineering office in Dublin? Or indeed how helpful either fact is when you want something nearby?

The other two points I figured went in bookshops favour are Knowledge and Sympathy, tools and advantages that Amazon itself possess to some extent, but which are greatly added to by the physicality and proximity of bookshops.

I would expect Amazon to respond in three ways to this set back:

  1. Push its niche imprints more aggressively than ever because those imprints have massive advantages in specific verticals and can deliver real benefits to authors and readers.
  2. Work to convert more readers to digital or online book purchases (booksellers have made themselves Amazon’s true enemies now whereas in the past they were simply the hapless victims of Amazon’s usage of new distribution and sales systems).
  3. Find a new way to market for its printed books. This might be seen as a slight contradiction of 2, because it might require working with bookshops, but it would be a sensible strategy for Amazon to find SOME way to get books in front of people in large numbers. Several avenues suggest themselves; somehow convincing a chain or a group of indies to take them, selling the retail print rights to the best market offer (I’m sure bidders would emerge), doing a deal with retailers of other products with good footfall and a desirable audience (this might work), or simply hiring out empty retail space on short leases for book big launches (expensive but interesting potential, especially around peak season releases).

It’s very clear that Amazon has taken a defeat of some kind, frustrated by its competitors and by circumstances. I don’t expect that will end the company’s drive into publishing, it has created a much too valuable commodity with its platform to retrench at this point, but it will clearly require a rethink and a retool before the company can move forward again against the big fish in New York.

That would not make me happy if I was an executive in those same houses though, it would make me even more nervous. This reversal does nothing to counteract Amazon Publishing’s attractiveness to niche authors and the KDP Platforms dominance of digital self-publishing. Publishers will need to think and act smart if they are to take advantage of this Amazon misstep.

Go Read This | Kindle Singles and the future of ebooks | Joe Wikert

Good piece from Joe Wikert, even if I don’t completely agree with everything he says:

End the practice of artificially puffing up content
The greatest aspect of Kindle Singles is, of course, their short length. The first one I read was a Single about media and I remember thinking how a typical business book editor would have asked the author to turn this 30-page gem into a bloated 300-page mess. It happens all the time and its a function of both physical shelf presence and perceived value. In the ebook world there’s suddenly no physical bookshelf an individual title has to have a spine presence on. Now we just need to stop equating \”shorter\” with \”cheaper\”…more on that in a moment.

via Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies: Kindle Singles and the future of ebooks.

Go Read This | Finding your next book, or, the discovery problem – The Shatzkin Files

A fine piece by Mike, as ever, with a critical section at the end about the direction of online books sales which I think is often overlooked:

But is this all really part of a larger problem for publishers? Is online discovery really affecting the sales patterns for books? It would appear so. One of the global ebook sellers told me during Frankfurt that their online sales are far more concentrated than publishers’ sales tended to be, with a tiny fraction of titles under 5% making up a huge percentage of total sales nearly 70%. I am assuming here that this retailer’s data is typical; of course, it may not be. If memory serves, at the turn of the century Barnes & Noble stores saw only about 5% of their sales coming from “bestsellers” and, I believe relying on memory of detail, which I admit is not my most powerful mental muscle backlist outsold new titles. Publishers really live on the midlist. We know the long tail is taking an increasing share of sales and it would appear the head is too. Those sales come out of the midlist. It is pretty hard to run a profitable publisher without a profitable midlist.

And that would suggest that the increasing concentration of sales, which is likely the result of our hobbled ability to present choices in the digital sales environment, is a problem that publishers will want to address.

via Finding your next book, or, the discovery problem – The Shatzkin Files.

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Go Read This | Never say Never |David Worlock

A good piece from David this:

It was no place to pursue the argument, and if time had been available I might have learnt all sorts of clever things that Penguin Random House have up their sleeves to stave off change and preserve the status quo. The novel form as a narrative seems to me to begin with Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding in the mid-eighteenth century . Much of the last century, from James Joyce and Virginia Woolf onwards was occupied in trying to blow up the form Things that have a beginning often also have an end . Did Sophocles remark to Euripides, “Well, old boy, one thing is certain. We shall always have a job because plebs will always want three act tragedy!”

For this Never thing to work for fiction publishers the demographics have to be right , and I see no evidence that the form, if we discount the odd phenomena of Fifty Shades (perhaps itself a pointer to a future?), is growing or diminishing in audience. If I was working in fiction publishing, then I would want a small unit dedicated to second guessing the future – be it multiple media, narrative choice for the reader, the future of smartphone as a narrative platform or any of the other emerging network options for telling stories to each other.

via David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information marketplace | Supporting the migration of information providers and content players into the networked services world of the future..

Does seem strange to me that anyone would adopt this way of thinking. Maybe it’s the public front to a very different private thinking. I certainly hope so!