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 And just because many have argued that the traditional book publishing industry’s business model is outdated didn’t mean that Amazon would be able to completely upend the way the industry does business in New York in two years.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 | Tesco tablet expected on 23 September

Tesco-LogoIt has been clear for some time that probably only full-scale retailers have the capacity to respond to Amazon, Google, Apple and other digital giants. They have the advantages of scale, access to capital, direct customer interaction and customer inertia working in their favour.

Of course, those advantages are threatened by online retailers like Amazon and by the shift to digital consumption of media. It makes sense then that really forward-looking retailers will attempt to move into the digital distribution and retail space. Many of them have been offering online grocery shopping effectively for some time, long before Amazon or other newer entrants. Tesco has been making what look like smart moves in digital media for a while. It will be intriguing to see if this forthcoming tablet play works.

Success, however, cannot be measured by units sold alone. A good sign of it working would be of the company sells lots of tablets AND signs lots of people up to its digital content services. At the kind of price point the articles on the tablet are talking about, content sales and customer acquisition for the digital services are the goal in the short and medium term.

The question that arises for me is what’s the longer term play for Tesco? How can it build on success in the UK (if it materializes) and can it compete with the giants even if it does succeed in the UK. The costs of such competition can be quite hefty, as B&N has learnt to its cost:

Tesco might be able to hit the £99 price using a cashback-style promotion, Wood suggests: “I can see Tesco using substantial discounts on other services such as bundled media from Blinkbox, or vouchers for discounts on petrol or groceries through its ClubCard loyalty scheme.”

The tablet would take on competitors from the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon, and will be tailored to online shopping and video viewing – both areas where Tesco is looking to capitalise on its position.

via Tesco tablet expected on 23 September – and may be very low-priced | Technology | The Guardian.

The Three Most Important Lessons We Can Learn From Barnes & Noble’s Nook Setback

We should be really grateful to Barnes & Noble. The company just spent the last five years driving hard into a new space, consumer devices, and while it encountered much success, over the last quarter or two that success has crumbled away and has resulted in what some might consider an embarrassing and costly mess when many of its competitors in the tablet space have seen soaring sales.

Yet, despite those failings, there are several lessons that are applicable to all players in the publishing industry ones Barnes & Noble has learned at great cost and the rest of us can learn from.

1) Don’t overestimate your addressable audience

In retrospect it now looks like Barnes & Noble’s great success (and its ongoing success, let’s face it, it is still selling many hundreds of thousands of tablets!) was just a very spectacular penetration of the bulk of its available customer base or addressable audience, those already friendly to B&N and its products and willing to convert from print to digital book reading, the bookish digitants if you will.

The company clearly managed to persuade some, but not many of the non-reading (or light reading) early adopting market in its first year of offering tablets, but as more competition come on stream its ability to do that has collapsed. Barnes & Noble simply didn’t have the chops to sell to people beyond its target audience. This wasn’t apparent when the market was smaller and so it seemed like Barnes & Noble had really made a significant advance. That impression was plainly incorrect.

The bookish digitants are sated (at least for now) and the non-converted non-bookish digitants are not going to trust B&N over Apple or Amazon or someone else with a track record in consumer electronics or technology.

That’s an important lesson for anyone involved in a brand extension as dramatic and bold as the one Barnes & Noble tried to pull off. Be exceptionally careful to track monitor and understand the true size of your audience. If you take an ambitious view of what that audience is, be sure that ambitious view isn’t based on a hope! Listen to what your sales tracking is actually telling you about your customers. Don’t mistake early enthusiasm and success with a small group for evidence of wider adoption unless behind the raw figures you are actually reaching beyond your base.

Publishers need to be realistic too about just how big an audience they can reach and not over-invest in product or projects that ultimately won’t deliver results.

2) Books are not driving the tablet market

Oh I know this is hardly a revelation but it is an important thing to note, after all, we KNOW that books drove the adoption of dedicated ereaders. It’s particularly important because tablets seem to be making dedicated ereaders generally less attractive, certainly to those who don’t read many books and seemingly to those who do read lots of books. Not just that, this shift to tablets by a wider public hasn’t been driven by the tablets sold by booksellers. How else can we explain the massive fall off in sales for tablets sold by Barnes & Noble while the market for tablets exploded?

The reality is that even dedicated readers find the logic of buying a tablet that features any number of entertainment forms, email and web access more compelling than a dedicated ereader. Euro for Euro, Dollar for Dollar, Pound for Pound, it just makes more sense to buy a tablet than it does to buy an ereader for the majority of buyers.

Which means that the space dedicated to books on-screen is dropping dramatically as a percentage of the market. It means that book readers are faced with myriad choices of entertainment forms when they fire up their tablets or smartphones and books, face competition in its rawest form. At least the competition on a dedicated ereader was between books. Now it’s between movies, radio, tv, video, gaming, books, web browsing, magazines and pretty much anything that can be made function on a tablet or smartphone.

I’m not personally all that hopeful that reading will win this competition as often as it might need to, certainly not as hopeful as others seem to be.

3) In digital and online, there are huge surprises in store for us

I’m thinking and writing about this with respect to the book publishing and retailing industry, but it holds true for most other industries too. A year ago, it seemed to me and to others that Barnes & Noble had a nice thing going, that they were successfully making the transition from a bricks and mortar, print bound bookseller to something different, now we know that even if that is the case, the path will be a rocky one.

The key lesson I take from that is that we are still guessing when it comes to the power of the web and digital to transform our industry. I’ve felt very forcefully over the last two years especially that most big publishers feel like they have the digital problem solved, or are well on track to get there. They are seeing increased ebook sales and profits from ebook sales, authors are largely playing ball and while they still resent the scale of some of the technology companies they must work with to succeed in the digital space, they more or less have it down.

The truth is something very different. Potential banana skins abound From simple things like Amazon’s patent for reselling ebook licences (bound to have an impact on ebook sales especially of lead titles if it were ever to be put into practice) or like discovering that despite having a great product your brand just doesn’t resonate with consumers beyond your core audience and hence you lose a bundle of cash trying to sell them tablets or realizing that your main competitor is not the rival publisher of literary novels or commercial non-fiction but a game in which trajectory considerations are a more important aspect of gameplay than would normally be considered cool and various music video fads from Gangnam Style to Harlem Shake.

There are several other lessons we can take from the whole tale but these three strike me as the most salient and long-term of them all.

Eoin

Go Read This | The Changes Nook Media Must Make | Mike Cane’s xBlog

I will never understand why B&N has not aggressively grown PubIt beyond the US and even there seems to be content to glide rather than soar. Mike Cane get’s it:

Use those storefronts to pimp PubIT! Get the writers in your inventory, as Amazon has done with KDP.

Hold sessions that teach writers how they can create for and publish their books on PubIT. That’s a strategic advantage that Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Google cannot match. No print publisher can match it, either. Why hasn’t this been done from the start? I don’t know. But it needs to be done now. Nook Media can have books that Barnes & Noble will never have — because they are e-only.

via The Changes Nook Media Must Make | Mike Cane’s xBlog.

Go Read This | U.S. settles with publisher Macmillan in e-books case | Reuters

I think it’s fair to say this is more of a whimper than a bang!

Under the proposed settlement agreement, Macmillan must lift restrictions on discounting by e-book retailers and must report to the Justice Department its communication with other publishers.

Justice Department lawyers “expect the prices of Macmillans e-books will also decline,” as happened after settlements with the other publishers, Jamillia Ferris, chief of staff of the departments Antitrust Division, said in the news release.

via U.S. settles with publisher Macmillan in e-books case | Reuters.