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.
I see this everyday, small ways in which the old system has become undermined, at the margin. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is huge:
This has already begun to affect existing publishers in minor ways. I know of one example where what was in my opinion the most effective tactic for that genre (subscription website) was taken off the table before the conversation even started. Why? Because one of the authors was already running a subscription website in that niche and they were doing it much much better on their own than the publisher ever would have.
via Why disruption goes unchecked | Studio Tendra.
It’s a funny thing, but over the last few years I have found myself, occasionally, thinking less radically about the future than I should be and I can’t help but think that this stems from the fact that I am working on building up/rebuilding a legacy publisher. I suppose all of us print dominated publishers are the same. Of course, when I notice it, I scare the hell out of myself and try and snap out of it, but it worries me all the same:
What’s more, even publishing insiders who have a phenomenal grasp of digital may end up still thinking within existing paradigms, cleaving to industry norms despite their best efforts. The same happened in journalism and it’s very hard to combat because we aren’t always aware of our own inbuilt biases and assumptions. To paraphrase journalist Steve Yelvington, human mothers only give birth to alien babies on SyFy.
via Will you be in the nine percent of publishers that survive? | FutureBook.
A fine post about bookstores, print and emerging ecosystems (I’ve written about before about this new emerging value web) by Joe Esposito over on The Scholarly Kitchen:
Trade publishers pine for bookstores. Part of this is nostalgia, but part of this is an awareness that their businesses were built for one ecosystem and another one is evolving before their eyes. People may clamor for print (which would reinforce the publishers’ historical position), but the marketplace is increasingly becoming reluctant to provide it.
The simple truth is that with one exception, every link in the value chain must be profitable or the entire chain breaks. Bookstores are breaking and are taking the entire chain along with it. Amazon’s hands are outstretched to receive the new customers, to play its dominant role in the new ecosystem.
The one exception? Authors. Most authors don’t now and have never been able to live on the proceeds of their work. A few do, and do so spectacularly. That spectacle draws authors in: it’s not the prospect of a good and interesting job but the chance to win the lottery that makes a writer out of a normal human being. When we express regret at the passing of the old print paradigm, don’t shed a tear for the authors. Our sympathies should be with the booksellers, who held it all together.
via An Industry Pining for Bookstores | The Scholarly Kitchen.
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!