Fascinating plan this one, and seems pretty sensible from a copyright perspective. It has echoes of the way that HarperCollins has been engaging with new subscription services (ie: breaking out frontlist and backlist titles). One thing this brings to the forefront of my mind however is that this increasing move to split out front list will reinforce the hit driven nature of the business:
The good news is that so far sales in bookshops do not appear to have been affected by the project. Instead, Bokhylla often gives a second life to works that are still under copyright but sold out at bookshops, said Moe Skarstein. “Books are increasingly becoming perishable goods,” she told AFP reporter Pierre-Henry Deshayes, “when the novelty effect fades out, they sink into oblivion. Many national libraries digitise their collections for conservation reasons or even to grant access to them, but those are (older) books that are already in the public domain. We thought that, since we had to digitise all our collection in order to preserve it for the next 1,000 years, it was also important to broaden access to it as much as possible.”
But even this chart may understate the effects of copyright, since the comparison assumes that the same quantity of books has been published every decade. This is of course not the case: Increasing literacy coupled with technological efficiencies mean that far more titles are published per year in the 21st century than in the 19th. The exact number per year for the last 200 years is unknown, but Heald and his assistants were able to arrive at a pretty good approximation by relying on the number of titles available for each year in WorldCat, a library catalog that contains the complete listings of 72,000 libraries around the world. He then normalized his graph to the decade of the 1990s, which saw the greatest number of titles published. By this calculation, the effect of copyright appears extreme.
Heald says that the WorldCat research showed, for example, that there were eight times as many books published in the 1980s as in the 1880s, but there are roughly as many titles available on Amazon for the two decades. A book published during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur has a greater chance of being in print today than one published during the time of Reagan.
But in dollar terms, some decisions by copyright holders, rather than optimize the artist’s revenue and distribution, insure the opposite. When I asked to use a single line by songwriter Joe Henry, for example, his record label’s parent company demanded $150 for every 7,500 copies of my book. Assuming I sell enough books to earn back my modest advance, this amounts to roughly 1.5% of my earnings, all for quoting eight words from one of Mr. Henry’s songs.
In retrospect, this revised talk by Michael Tamblyn from Shortcovers at TOC Frankfurt was one of the most positive and enjoyable! Thankfully following some pressure on Twitter and such like, he put it up on Blip.tv! You should watch it!
This is a very clever post on building a channel (read niche if you will): Here
Mike Cane on Apple’s long term strategy for ebooks! You’ll like it: Here
People often disagree
Personally, I thought TOCFrankfurt delivered as much as might be expected of a one day conference. But there are those who disagree. Or at least so The Bookseller tells us:
Fionnuala Duggan, director of Random House Group Digital, told The Bookseller Daily: “Some of the speakers were computer programmers, who have peculiar and particular needs, and what is right for their type of publishing is not necessarily right for ours. There are broader questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be addressed before claiming that DRM-free is the answer. O’Reilly is just one of the many voices we need to listen to.”
Sara Lloyd, digital director of Pan Macmillan, was the first keynote speaker at the conference, and has also spoken at its events in New York.
She was cautious about suggestions that O’Reilly was pushing a certain agenda, but said: “The O’Reilly perspective is quite slanted by the content and market that they serve, and that perspective shines through in their choice of speaker and subject matter.” She added: “There needs to be a greater understanding of what the differences are between a computer software manual and a fiction bestseller. I’d like to see more of a consumer publishing perspective.”
Now perhaps I’m blinded by the fact that I attended TOCFrankfurt free of charge* because I spoke at the Pech Kucha session organised by George Walkley. On the other hand I couldn’t help but feel that those pushing a negative about the conference had some other motive than the schedule.
In fact her presentation (the best and most inspirational of the day to my mind) dealt with the thorny issue of simultaneous (or rather not simultaneous as the recent controversy over Bran Hambric indicates) releases of print and ebook versions of titles, the challenges of growing digital revenues while keeping the print company alive not to mention her valuable explanation of the publishing continuum for niches something I had a concept of but she put across very clearly.
Sourcebooks is not another O’Reilly whose success in digital and online endeavours has often been put down to its particular audience. Rather, Sourcebooks is a savvy active and realistic independent publisher. They may dwarf quite a few English and Irish independents but they are hardly in the league of Random House. It might serve Random and other to listen more closely to what Dominique had to say. It seems to me that there was far more than just O’Reilly’s viewpoint on display at TOCFrankfurt, as Kassia Krozser’s comment in the story makes plain:
I have one major question about Fionnuala Duggan’s comment about some of the speakers being computer programmers (just glancing at the bios of the speakers, I count one whose work is primarily programming, though, yes, some have that skill on their resume). The speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. While I agree that each publishing house has its own unique needs and requirements, that doesn’t mean commonality doesn’t exist. The comment about piracy suggests to me that the issue is more that the industry is not ready (or willing) to hear certain perspectives; my thinking is that you don’t have to agree with what’s being said, but it’s instructive to listen to these voices.
On DRM and Piracy for instance. Cory Doctorow is a forward thinker on Copyright that much is clear, but his views are well known and hardly that crazy. Much of what he says makes sense to “the people of the book”. I certainly have problems with excessive zeal for copyright and have no love for DRM.
Brian O’Leary of Magellan Partners drew quite a storm with his piracy talk but from talking with him afterward (I missed his session) his point was not that piracy is good or bad but that :
1) you need to measure it to see if it is costing you and how much it is costing you and
2) if it isn’t hurting your sales, is there a chance it is helping them? If it is, how would you measure that
The fact that he is basing that assessment on evidence rather than gut reaction gives his position a great deal of credence in my view and ought not be dismissed out of hand. The Bookseller seemed to cover that well in their defence.
And then there is the fact that I know and like Sara Lloyd. Any discussions I’ve had with her leaves me thinking she is not 100 miles away from where O’Reilly are on most issues, nor for that matter would her speech have indicated that she was either. I rather liked her notes that we were IN the revolution and that publishers should focus on platforms not devices. One might be misled into thinking that O’Reilly was an exemplar of focusing on platforms (hello Safari) and the more you read about their current sales, the more they provide evidence of being IN the revolution.
I’m tempted to say that perhaps the Bookseller made lukewarm remarks into something more than they were to spice up what’s proving to be quite a dull fair, but who am I to cast such vile suggestions …
More to follow soon Eoin
*Full disclosure, O’Reilly waived the conference fee and hosted a poorly attended speakers reception after the conference, but I paid my own travel expenses.