Publishing

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!

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Go Read This | Automation Anxiety | Wilson Quarterly

So much in this I just don’t know where to start, but it has much to recommend it (also, a Joyce reference!):

More than a century has passed since that now-celebrated day in 1904 when Joyce’s creation crisscrossed Dublin, and for most of that time technology and jobs have galloped ahead together. Just as Bloom observed, technological advances have not reduced overall employment, though they have certainly cost many people their jobs. But now, with the advent of machines that are infinitely more intelligent and powerful than most people could have imagined a century ago, has the day finally come when technology will leave millions of us permanently displaced?

Judging by the popular press, the answer is yes, and there is plenty of alarming data leading some people to support that view. Between January 1990 and January 2010, the United States shed 6.3 million manufacturing jobs, a staggering decrease of 36 percent. Since then, it has regained only about 500,000. Four years after the official end of the Great Recession, unemployment is still running at a recession-like rate of around 7.5 percent, and millions of Americans have given up even looking for work.

via Automation Anxiety | Wilson Quarterly.

With MatchBook Amazon Pushes The Envelope, Again!

Amazon.com  Kindle MatchBookWith the jam made, I can finally sit down and write about MatchBook. Amazon has gotten very good at releasing solutions to problems within publishing that many people have been talking about for some time but mostly (see comments below) doing nothing about. You’d have to wonder if the industry in general (and I include myself here) will get tired of allowing them set the pace of this digital transition and start working with start-ups to change that dynamic?

My initial response to the announcement of Amazon’s new  product was summed up in the tweet below and I think it still holds though I stress two things:

  • I expect the price points to grow in number (to the higher side) and
  • I expect most publishers to see sense and come on board (there’ll be rights to consider)

But it’s worth working through those points and explaining them.

Incremental revenue
The great thing about MatchBook is that in essence it’s making money for old rope. Customers who avail of it already bought the IP in the book they are “upgrading” and are paying simply to format shift. They’ve no real reason to do this, they are unlikely to do so at full price but a discounted price may well prompt them to buy increasing the overall revenue from that customer for that piece of IP and increasing revenues for Amazon, the publisher and the author. No one in the current chain loses anything in such a transaction (bookstores were never in the transaction to begin with). Sure complications arise where rights have been reverted, but authors can make print and ebooks available again, and here’s a great reason to do just that! This is driving revenue per customer and per title smartly.

E&P bundling & Reason to shift to Digital
Taking these together as they make sense that way! Lots of folks seem to think E&P bundling is a good idea. I’m not sold on the value for me, and I’ll still buy mainly digitally only. But for wavering print buyers, E&P bundling makes a digital transition completely risk free encouraging them to try digital and maybe, just maybe converting them in the process. That’s good for Amazon. It’s okay news for publishers who at some point in the process will begin to wish all their readers were digital ones to enable them to kill costly print runs! For authors it’s neither one nor the other.

Reason to switch to Amazon
This one is clever. So suppose you are a digital buyer from Amazon (or indeed anywhere) and your print purchases are mainly gifts or illustrated and you normally by them from local bookshops, MatchBook is a real incentive to shift those purchases to Amazon just to get your hands on the digital editions for a limited fee. And, if you are a print buyer who buys anywhere but Amazon, this encourages you to shift to Amazon or your print to ensure you can (if you want to) get a cheap eBook version!

Incentive to digitize
Most interestingly to me is that by opening up the hitherto closed incremental revenue option, Amazon is encouraging publishers and authors to make old books available both in print and as ebooks. This drives increased selection for Amazon making it better and more effective at its core goal (in this market of selling books in whatever format). The lure of potential sales will see more ebooks published especially for backlist titles that might once have had decent print sales an area that might see an uptick too.

Objections
I had a long twitter discussion with Tom Bonnick from Nosy Crow about MatchBook the other day and he’s posted a blog about it here

I think it’s fair to say that much of his case is based in this piece (though he might disagree so I’ll leave it for him to respond if I’m wrong):

Conventional wisdom is that Amazon have been pinning their hopes on eBooks as the key area which might one day make them a profit (they’re certainly not making any money on sales of Kindle devices, which operate on absolutely wafer-thin margins). Yet MatchBook seems to fundamentally devalue that core product: it treats eBooks as commodities with no inherent worth; as products that can be given away for nothing as promotional tools. Even if the norm is for a $2.99 pricetag, rather than a straight giveaway, the inescapable conclusion is that the e-format is nothing more than an adjunct to print.

Tom’s logic assumes that Amazon is committed to digital sales (which, while currently true, may not always be so) and only digital when clearly, so long as a customer spends on Amazon, it largely doesn’t matter hugely to the company what format the customer buys content in. Amazon’s strategy then could be simply to improve the value of its ecosystem in its entirety to book readers and encourage them to upgrade from one format purchases to two format purchases driving incremental revenues per sale and per customer and per customer lifetime. If Amazon can gain customers from a bricks & mortar outfits because of this development and it can also drive increased revenues per existing customer then this could really grow its business.

A second key section in Tom’s post is this one:

who will want to continue paying the full price for eBooks as standalone products (which they have, at long last, managed to establish themselves as being) if they’re available for little or nothing when you buy the print edition? And what will MatchBook do to the general assumption about what eBooks “ought” to cost? What will that shift in buyer behaviour do to Amazon’s bottom line, I wonder?

The answer is that just as many people will be unmoved by the offer of a cheap upgrade from print (those who never intend to shift to digital and are not in any kind of wavering camp likely to be attracted to such offers), many (like me) see absolutely no use for print in most circumstances. In fact I view print as a nuisance for most of my reading (though I see it as incredible for several other circumstances). That Tom does not see this suggests he sees print as always having value, but in truth, often it does not have any value at all and so people like me will pay the full price for ebooks because they don’t need or want print.

Tom’s final concern is about bookshops. Actually Tom sees a potential upside of bookshops can get themselves into the bundling game:

But I think this could be a great opportunity for high street retail, rather than a death knell. If bookshops can get in on the act and start offering bundling as well, they may well be in a better position to take advantage of it. For a start, bookshops’ core products are print, rather than e-books, and so unlike Amazon, they won’t be undermining their own health by giving away the e-format. They’re also in a great position to be able to up-sell to customers: there’s no competition between an engaged and enthusiastic bookseller and a website algorithm. And if bookshops can build the right infrastructure, they might be able to offer customers e-editions in non-proprietary formats for more than one sort of device, rather than just the Kindle edition.

While, as you might imagine, I’m not sold on his logic for the benefits, I do see how bundling and up-selling (and I’d say not just up-selling of ebooks, but experiences and more) to print customers offers some potential for book shops. However, as I cautioned earlier, some print buyers simply have no interest in ebooks, arguably (though I may be mistaken) print buyers in local bookstores are probably the most resistant to them, making ebooks perhaps not the right up-sell for them!

On the other hand, Amazon’s very existence is a problem for the bookshops so MatchBook will not really change the nature of the problem, merely perhaps the keenness with which it is felt.

All things considered, I don’t see a negative for MatchBook from Amazon’s perspective drives forward where most others just have yet to push too hard. It may actually help drive adoption of E&P bundling and grow revenues for everyone (except bookshops!).

Go Read This | Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Acquisition of Hart Publishing

Really clear communication of strategy by public companies is not a given, so when I see it, I take note. Bloomsbury has been following a very clear strategy for some time, acquire bolt on (though not necessarily small) companies that add value in areas the company is seeking to expand.

The companies acquired have generally had one or both of two key ingredients. The first of these is intellectual property that can be exploited cross-platform and which compliment Bloomsbury’s existing IP, often such companies have not yet taken full advantage of the web. The second ingredient is either a promising digital play or a digital play that has already shown promise. Hart seems to fit both those features quite well:

The acquisition is consistent with Bloomsbury’s strategy to increase its proportion of academic and professional revenues to 50% of total sales in five years’ time. Academic and professional revenues are more predictable and have lower related costs of sale with higher margins and are much less reliant on retail bookshop sales. Around 50% of Hart’s revenue is generated outside the UK, thereby increasing Bloomsbury’s benefit from the global book market. The acquisition will also enable the Company to further develop its e-book publishing and expand the Bloomsbury Professional digital suite of services.

via Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Acquisition of Hart Publishing Limited – WSJ.com.

Go Read This | Like Dropbox For TV, Chromecast Changes The Game | LinkedIn

Interesting and smart stuff:

In the same way that making automobiles smartphone-compatible has proven to be vastly superior (and more cost-effective) than reinventing smartphone functionality and building it into every car’s dashboard, the television set paradigm has just shifted. Why pay extra for expensive technology built into your screen when you can bring your own bell and whistle to any screen you want?

That’s exactly what Google is saying with Chromecast.

While an arms race among television makers has been mustering over the development of “smart TV” that lets people use the Internet on the biggest screen in the house, Chromecast is like Dropbox for TV. Everywhere you go, you can have your stuff, on any screen, doesn’t matter if it’s “smart”, dumb, big, or small. And you can use your frigging phone or mouse instead of a remote. I think it’s one of the smartest moves the company has made in some time.

via Like Dropbox For TV, Chromecast Changes The Game | LinkedIn.

On Galbraith, JK Rowling & Debut Novellists

Cuckoo's CallingI can’t say I agree with this argument

But there’s another downside, which is the negative impact on thousands of writers the public has never heard of or, more importantly, had the opportunity to read. In that sense, it could even be argued that Rowling’s well-intended hoax has backfired, turning into yet another story about fame in the modern world.

via JK Rowling’s book ruse is a cautionary tale for unknown writers | Joan Smith | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.

For one thing, readers always have the opportunity to read debut authors, though they may never consider them and they may choose not to read them, given that readers’ time is limited and the chances of getting a bad book are high, it’s understandable that they often pick authors they already know and like.

Secondly the publishing industry has always been hit driven, there’s some argument that it is becoming even more so with the bandwagoning effect of the internet, but that’s a question of scale rather than kind. New writers always struggle to get exposure in this environment. But even the hits start small until something or someone pushes them over an edge, that can be advertising spend, celebrity endorsement, top line publicity, word of mouth or just dumb luck, but even JK Rowling started at the bottom with Harry Potter, the initial print run for The Philosopher’s Stone was around 1,00 copies!

Finally no writer is entitled to success, just as no publisher or bookseller is entitled to it. We all have to work to reach readers and entice them to read book (hopefully our books). Sometimes that means publishing a few books before gaining a readership, sometimes it may mean a writer never gains that readership despite being talented. There’s no foolproof way to guarantee success, you just have to keep plugging away at it and finding good partners to work with and hoping you can do everything right so that if success comes, you’re ready.

On The Media Show

I recorded a piece about ebooks, digital change and self publishing for the media show last week. It’s right at the top of the show and I think it went pretty well:

There’s also a fascinating piece with the editor of the Irish Independent talking about the digital change going on at Independent (kicks off around 13.00 mins or so) and Brian Fallon from Distilled media talking about TheJournal.ie and the other brands in that group.