Books

Go Read This | It’s Here: A Library With Nary a Book – NYTimes.com

Fascinating piece by Ed Nowatka of Publishing Perspectives rom the NYTimes.com about the new digital library in Texas. I’m struck by the way that digital can, if we allow it to, reinvigorate libraries as well as make them so much cheaper to run and stock:


“We have maintained from the beginning that we are a digital library, not a bookless library,” said Ms. Eklof, who, like the rest of the staff, wore a sporty BiblioTech-branded polo shirt. Books or no books, she said, the goal is the same: to give residents access to information and research assistance.

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It is also economical. At a cost of $2.2 million to build, stock and staff, BiblioTech is a bargain compared with the downtown library being built in nearby Austin, which has a budget of more than $100 million. BiblioTech’s yearly operating costs are budgeted at $1.1 million. “Getting it going cost us a third less than the $3.7 million Bexar County contributes annually to the San Antonio public library system, which has 26 libraries,” Ms. Cole said.

via It’s Here: A Library With Nary a Book – NYTimes.com.

Go Read This | MONSTER PORN: Amazon’s Crackdown On America’s Latest Sex Fantasy – Business Insider

There is literarlly NO accounting for taste:

She branched into other genres, penning ebooks like “Taken By Pirates” and “Seduced By The Dark Lord,” but her “Cum For Bigfoot” series was the biggest money-maker. “I started cranking them out,” she says. “If there was a market there for monster sex, I was gonna give it to them.” She even brought in her family to help with the workload. “My dad, who’s an English instructor, was my editor,” Wade says. “My mom did the German translations” — including the equally popular “Komm für Bigfoot.” “I even had my own 401k. It became a cottage industry.”

via MONSTER PORN: Amazon’s Crackdown On America’s Latest Sex Fantasy – Business Insider.

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Making Frenemies: Kobo, Easons & Ebooks In Ireland

20131030_192630Easons, which once had ambitions to launch its own ereader, has joined forces with Kobo. The deal will see Easons selling Kobo devices in its 60 stores and has attracted little negative comment unlike Waterstones deal with Amazon last year. In fact it seems, so far, to have been pretty universally welcomed in the Irish trade.

Easons has, despite the aforementioned ambitions, chosen the path of least expense with regard to making its ebook offering credible and coherent. That meant, although its e-store concept was attractive, it was selling several different brands of device and its ebook platform was off the shelf and was not always as smooth as possible. What’s more its options were somewhat limited. Tesco has been selling Kindle ereaders since before last Christmas at prices well under €100 and Amazon has spent hundreds f millions making those devices and the ecosystem surrounding them, very user-friendly. The Waterstones Kindle match-up has sat oddly with the trade, the deal has also put Kindle ereaders and tablets in front of readers in many places. So Easons has been faced by deep pocketed rivals and the most likely platform partner already pretty much wrapped up with rivals.

We don’t yet know how successful this move to partner with Kobo will be. Easons is still offering Sony ereaders from its website (on 2nd November) and Kobo’s ebook offering not yet live through the retailer’s website either. Even so, Kobo has launched a new consumer facing ebook site for Ireland which will surely power Easons ebook store when the partnerships rolls out properly. The site’s not perfect yet, for instance, I can’t yet find out where to but one of the company’s tablets in Ireland yet, but that’s an easily resolved issue.

Irish facing stores are a rarity in the ebook space, on Kindle, users must choose between buying their ebooks from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. While the process is fine and workable, it still presents pricing challenges and means picking out Irish bestsellers can be hard. Apple offers an Irish facing ebook store but there’s every indicator that sales through the store have been relatively low.

The bigger question for me is what will all this mean for ebooks in Ireland. The last year or so has seen most Irish publishers begin to take ebooks very seriously with some publishers quietly indicating that digital sales are no accounting for double-digit percentages of units sold (though often a lower percentage of revenue given the disparity in price). The best indications I’ve seen suggest that while fiction is the leader, there are some fine performances  in non-fiction too and that backlist is proving its worth yet again.

“One in five books sold on Easons.com are ebooks”

Interestingly, Conor Whelan, Easons MD, said at the launch of the Kobo/Easons partnership (which took place at the launch of Kobo’s new Irish offices, itself during the Dublin Web Summit) that: “One in five books sold on Easons.com are ebooks” a fact that sailed over many people’s heads, but struck me as a very nice nugget of information. It indicates that Easons is doing much better at selling ebooks on its own than we might previously have imagined, thus suggesting the Kobo partnership might really drive ebook take up and sales in Ireland if it can connect with readers.

I’m intrigued that the offering will include more that just the ereaders. Kobo’s tablet offering is really quiet good (in the non-iPad league that is) and at €149.99, the Kobo Arc 7 will provide Easons with a reason to get non-readers in the door that the ereaders on their own simply will not. In fact at that kind of price point, the tablet may well be the most attractive part of the device line up.

Kobo has found a strong partner to grow mind-share and market share in Easons. It does have a very large presence on the high streets of Ireland as well as an impressive brand and awareness in Irish readers mindsets. The company also runs highly successful media campaigns in the run-up to Christmas and ereaders and tablets will be a leading gift category yet again in 2013 and ebooks still have lots of room for growth in Ireland.

The problem is that Kindle is dominant and massively so, and will not be pushed aside  easily. It will require a by a determined new brand and dogged execution both on the device side of things (which means hoping Easons can deliver) and on the ebook sales and promotion side of things (which means work for Kobo and its staff).  It does seem to me though that even if Kobo only manages to build a secure second player position, it could be to both its and Easons advantage. It the companies can make it work, we might begin to see the kinds of percentages that the US & UK have been seeing over the last year or 25-30% units being sold in digital form.

Here’s hoping!

AmazonBoxes

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.

Books overload

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.

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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Go Read This | Hardie Grant buys Quadrille | The Bookseller

Interesting move by Hardie Grant. in buying Quadrille it’s acquired one of those interesting properties that has book solid print viability (lovely books) and decent prospects of digital expansion via online niches:

Hardie Grant, set up in 1997, employs 150 staff across offices in Melbourne, Sydney and London. In London, it has a staff of seven, selling Australian books into the UK as well as commissioning new titles. The company previously distributed Quadrille’s titles in Australia.

Stephen King, m.d. at Hardie Grant Books UK said: “We’ve been in the UK now for four years, and are very interested in expanding our reach in international markets. Quadrille is a great fit for us—one of their Carluccio books was the first title we distributed in Australia in our early days.”

Cathie said: “Hardie Grant have been Quadrille’s distributor in Australia for many years, and are already close colleagues of the company, so we are delighted to have found a like-minded, independent partner to take the company forward in its illustrated books and stationery publishing and strengthen its presence in the digital arena.”

via Hardie Grant buys Quadrille | The Bookseller.