Things Publishers Fear: #4 ~ Price

I’ve put the fourth part of my series on modern publishing live over on EoinPurcell.com:

Price is a problem in the real world as well as the digital one. You only need to look to last winter’s price war in the US to see that. Amazon and Walmart kicked each other (and publishers) in the head to prove they had the best price for some key hardcover titles. The price point flavour of the day was $9.99. Then Target joined the fray.

The problem of course is that these price wars and ebook protests are driving a value perception home in consumers minds. On the one hand it reinforces the idea of ebooks being “worth” less than physical books and on the other, the price of physical books is too high, why else would retailers be selling them at such large discounts.

Whither Publishing In The Twenty Teens?

I’ve posted a short essay on where we are and where we are going, publishing wise, over at EoinPurcell.com:

The means of publication and distribution have been opened up to many, many millions. Digital printing has been slowly but surely reducing the barriers to print publishing and the impact of that has been felt mostly at the bottom of the publishing ladder as self publishers flourish and wither, succeed and fail not always because of merit or flaws but with impressive determination and in large numbers. But digital PUBLISHING, using the Internet as the platform, this is quite a revolutionary thing.

2009 Stats & Top Posts

WELCOME TO 2010

For all the stat nerds
Wordpress tells me that I had 39,468 views in 2009 a solid 20% increase on 2008.

The top three referrers to the site were:
1) Twitter
2) Nathan Bransford
3) Emerging Writer

The Top Three Posts were:
1) Publishers and the tangled Web: Guest Blog
2) 4 Reasons To Think That The Kindle International Was Released Early
3) How many books do you need to sell to be successful in Ireland?

Happy New Year!

FutureText Part Two – Publishers, Authors and the changing book

Eoin Purcell

*UPDATED TO REPAIR LINKS: NOTE TO SELF: VOODOO PAD HAS SOME LIMITS*
From Consciousness to publishers survival
Yesterday I wrote about consciousness and how the “new” consciousness we see rising is an illusion in my view. It was all kicked off by this article and so it makes sense to go back to the elements in there that I really agree with . For instance:

I foresee a time coming soon when the main edition of most books will be the download, and bookshops will then be the equivalent of vinyl record shops. New and exciting writing, the stuff that changes the world, will be published via the internet. Will the young share their reading matter as today they share music and films?

A book is a book is a book
So lets look at that. Some time ago I wrote a three part series on the future of books. In A book is a book is a book I wrote:

If an e-reader appears that quickly changes the market and shifts content online and into digital form as rapidly as music sales have shifted, traditional publishers will be faced with enormous difficulties. Their print runs will need to slide, their high costs need to be removed and eventually some books will simply no longer be printed in books and will remain exclusively as eBooks.

Which of course is no major deal. Why on earth should publishers worry? Does it really matter if a book is sold as a paper product, as an audio CD, as a downloadable eBook or as part of a subscription based updatable online book, or indeed some combination of these?

And I still believe that. Publishers should be platform neutral and content orientated. We should be book publishers, website publishers, subscription sellers and database managers. we should nugget-ise and sell content as granularly as we can in as many formats and for as many platforms as we can.

What about the authors
Nothing in that presents a problem for our current discussion but it does mean that publishers and authors need to change and Mark hits that point quite nicely here:

For a commissioning editor, the pressing question is this: when most books are sold on the net as downloads, how will this change their content?

But Mark thinks that this will spell the end of the Novel. I’m not so sure about that, as I said yesterday. But, as I wrote in the second part of the series I mentioned above, the move towards digital liberates writers and will definitely lead to changes:

we now operate in a world where sales do not have to be of the traditional type (bricks and mortar stores). Authors can sell books themselves on Amazon or EBay or Lulu.com or in fact their own website if they like. They can use POD and self publishing just like Skint Writer is and capture the best part of the value that traditionally went to a publisher. Or you can post it to a blog and build audience like Lee on Mortal Ghost is here.

What’s more you can package your content in any variety of ways. Make a podcast or your poetry and push it on iTunes. Act out your play and upload it to YouTube or your preferred location. It is easy to do it all now and to do it well. Maybe the cost of a decent designer or video editor will take a summer to save for or a winter of being cold avoiding buying new jumpers but the costs are so achievable it is exceptional.

The point is that publishing is no longer just about books and even more it is no longer about waiting for a publisher to decide your work is good enough for print. Options abound and as more and more writers realise that they will take advantage of it.

That could be very important and it brings to mind something Blathnaid Healy wrote in an as yet unpublished piece on music and patrons:

Internet digital downloads reduces the role of the record companies who have essentially become the modern-day ‘patrons’ of music.

Music like other arts, because of the cost to produce it, has always needed a backer or a patron. For years record companies have fronted the cash for bands to record and distribute their music and for this patronage bands have surrendered some artistic control. But all that is changing because of readily available recording software and distribution platforms on the Internet.

If major bands like Radiohead continue to release full-length digital copies of their albums online we can predict the effect it might have on the record companies, but what about the music. Will it change?

In high art or ‘classical’ music when the role of the patron was reduced it had a big impact on the type of music being created: structure, melody and rhythm were all experimented with.

Authors and publishers will change
So where will it all go? We know I disagree with Mark’s vision:

The great new literary form that will replace the novel will, I believe, arise on the net and will take on its wild frontier spirit, its intellectual risk-taking, its two fingers at academic control-freakery. But it will also help forge a new form of consciousness in a much more fundamental way that has to do with the form of the internet.

Because we are all plugging ourselves into one great electronic mind, we will gradually lose the sense of each being shut off in a private mental space, as esoteric philosophy has long predicted. Our mental space will be out there and, as with Facebook, everyone else will have access to it. I don’t know what this new literary form will be, but I suspect it will be co-operative and as slinkily responsive to whoever is looking at it as Schroedinger’s cat. I can’t wait.

Is there another option? The Editor’s Corner at the Book Depository (always on the ball), Mark Thwaite points us at Martyn Daniels’ post about the future of books on the Bookseller Association blog that talks about where the industry is going:

The paper book will not disappear but the current economic publishing model and value chain will change. The only certainty is that there will still be authors and there still will be readers but everything in between is up for grabs.

I think Martyn is right
Everything is up for grabs. Our consciousness is not changing like Mark suggests but there is something big happening publishers have no god given right to survive.

I kinda hope we do though because I really love what I do!
Eoin

Talking to the (Irish) Publisher: Ivan O’Brien

Eoin Purcell

Introduction

What it is:
An occasional series of posts where I get answers to the same four questions from different publishers*.

Why I am doing it:
Partly because there is so little web based discussion of Irish Publishing. Partly because I think people will like reading the stuff. Mostly because I will find it interesting.

And the Questions:

1) What is the biggest current threat to Irish publishing?
2) What do you believe Irish Publishing’s Unique Selling Point is?
3) Do you think that Irish publishing receives enough state funding (or too much)?
4) Do you think Digitization, e-books and all that goes with that is a threat or an opportunity?

And today’s instalment:

IVAN O’BRIEN (O’Brien Press)

The O’Brien Press was established in 1974, evolving out of a family-run printing and type house, and over the past 32 years has established a reputation for quality and excellence in publishing for adults and children.

The O’Brien Press launched its first publication in November 1974. Me Jewel and Darlin’ Dublin, written by Eamonn Mac Thomais, was brought out while the author was still in jail and was an immediate success. It has been reprinted many times, and has become a minor classic.

The answers:

1) What is the biggest current threat to Irish publishing?
Probably the insane margin crunch brought on by the combination of a range of factors: the biggest single one is probably the all-conquering march of retail price-promotions, both in-store and online.

Even when a book is a success, it’s that much harder to make any real money on it to justify the investment. You also have steady increases in the advances that are being offered to authors, largely driven by the arrival of outposts from most of the conglomerates in Dublin. The level of advance you are expected to deliver presupposes a substantial success, so the cost of failure is that much higher.

Salaries and rents are also increasing much more rapidly than book prices, which have been pretty much static for a decade now. Throw constant pressure from retailers for more discount into the mix, and there’s not much left for the publisher!

2) What do you believe Irish Publishing’s Unique Selling Point is?
We are small, nimble companies that know our market well. We come up with great ideas that are tailored for our buyers, and produce high quality products rapidly. And we really care. I’m not sure how unique that all is, of course!

3) Do you think that Irish publishing receives enough state funding (or too much)?
No, not even nearly enough. Ireland’s march to Boston and away from Berlin (led by the all-conquering competition authority) means that the cultural value of publishing is largely ignored. We are able to point to our great writers winning awards all over the place, and quietly gloss over the fact that most of these are published in Britain.

To claim that this will have no effect on the cultural integrity of the work is niaive at best. Irish state supports for publishing are well below the levels of just about anywhere else — just go to any bookfair and see the size of and investment in the Czech, Catalan, Welsh, Canadian (I could go on!) areas, and compare them with poor old Ireland. Our cultural presence at these events is minimal, which is indicative of the esteem in which publishing is held.

4) Do you think Digitization, e-books and all that goes with that is a threat or an opportunity?
Yes. It is both a threat and an opportunity.
Threat: the investment required to built a robust digital infrastructure is beyond the scope of most small companies, so we will all have to choose partners/providers to exploit the new markets. This will be expensive and will involve substantial up-front cost, with no guarantee of return and (critically) relatively little control over how things evolve. Margins will be squeezed as never before.

Opportunity: new markets and a (more or less) level playing field in delivery, if not in marketing. If we invest enough in making our books findable, searchable and pertinant, there is no reason for us not to complete with the big boys. If we are nimble enough in terms of exploiting online marketing opportunities, we can shout a lot louder than our normal voices would suggest is possible.

A very fine start I think you will agree.
Onwards,
Eoin

* I may at my random leisure and fancy choose non-publishers without apology or explanation (though they will all involve book type folk).