Digital Distribution

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.

Go Read This | Smashwords Signs Distribution Agreement with Oyster

Smashwords keeps doing interesting and exciting things, no question about it. I’m intrigued by two things here, the first that with such a decent catalogue, Smashwords can now, almost on its own, create a viable market offering for a start-up with an innovative idea, the second that self-published material, as a block, is becoming more important by the day:

I expect Smashwords titles to begin shipping to Oyster in about three weeks.  At least 72 hours before we begin shipping to Oyster, I’ll send out an email alert to all Smashwords authors and publishers.  The email will contain complete financial details, including royalty rates and sampling thresholds, so you can make an informed decision about your participation.  It’s an author friendly deal so I expect you’ll be pleased.

Unlike KDP Select, Oyster does not require exclusivity.  It’s open to all Smashwords authors. A single Oyster user could conceivably read multiple books by the same Smashwords author in a single month, and the author will be paid for each book.  Smashwords authors will earn their royalty whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than a sample of their book.

Oyster’s subscription service will help our authors connect with a segment of the reading audience they’re not reaching anywhere else.  Oyster will also give authors yet another reason to steer clear of exclusivity and embrace full distribution with Smashwords.

via Smashwords: Smashwords Signs Distribution Agreement with Oyster.

Go Read This | Will you be in the nine percent of publishers that survive? | FutureBook

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.

On Innovation & Disruption

Baldur Bjarnason has a great post on his blog this week, Which kind of innovation? In it, he asks whether ebooks can be considered a true disruptive innovation (as per the work of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma) or whether they should be considered a sustaining innovation that the publishing industry flubbed.

It’s a great question and he supports it well, but I think he’s wrong in his assessment for a number of reasons. Firstly his premise is mistaken, ebooks are not the disruption, merely the manifestation of the disruption (of which more below) and secondly even if we are to accept his categorization of ebooks as the disruption/sustaining innovation, he misses a key point about the nature of the trade publishing industry that undermines his argument.

On Disruption
The error Baldur makes in looking at ebooks as the disruptive innovation rather than considering ebooks as part of a wider context. I would contend that ebooks themselves are simply one symptom of a much wider and radical transformation that is underway, digital creation and distribution of content.

This process has actually been ongoing for quite some time and began with the emergence of tools that digitized the back-end of the business; word processors, computers, design software, email and much more (which changed writing, editing, typesetting, design etc) and has over time moved from there towards more front facing aspects of the industry (production, distribution, selling) before starting to make a large impact on the consumer side of the industry, consumption in the form of ebooks and web-reading (not to mention making many other forms of content from music to games available to those consumers).

It is this process which is causing the disruption, not ebooks which are merely one, now obvious, fork that it enables. What’s more this process is very much a disruptive one. It enables self publishing, which Baldur points out has the potential to be very disruptive and I would argue already has been and will continue to be. It also makes real the competition between all forms of content in a very cutthroat way. Digital creation and digital distribution pits amateur against professional, curated against random, quality against crap and, probably most importantly of all, form against form and past creation against current creation. It makes accessible all things ever created (once digitized) and pits them against all other things ever created.

So yes, the ebook is just a format change, but it is not a sustaining innovation in any true sense of the word. Rather it is a symptom of an ongoing, radical and endless disruption of the creative content industry in all its guises (and one which is replicated across most industries that have an information/content/data/entertainment component which is to say, them all).

On Trade Publishing
But let us move beyond the argument of whether it is or isn’t disruptive in itself and onto Baldur’s case of why eooks are just a format change the industry flubbed. One of Baldur’s key points is this:

Unlike most disruptive innovations, ebooks were very quickly adopted by the publishing industry’s most profitable customers, people who buy the most, spend the most, and talk the most about books.

The problem here is that those consumers are not publishers’ most profitable customers, rather they are the customers of their most profitable customers, bookstores.

So when Baldur says:

Amazon’s release of the Kindle was like the iteration of the Thinkpad or the Powerbook that first made them viable as desktop replacements, not a disruptive innovation but a discontinuous sustaining one.

He needs to consider  the impact on bookstores before he can say the Kindle was a sustaining innovation. Ebooks might be just a format change but they are a format change which would, if they were adopted by a large enough group of consumers, wipe out publisher’s key trading partners. That is what makes them so disruptive to the industry even though they are only a symptom of the real change.

To ignore this key fact is to misunderstand the trade publishing industry as a whole.

Baldur also says that:

Ebooks are a sustaining technology that are being mismanaged into devaluing an entire industry (that mismanagement is a subject worthy of a series blog posts) while the true disruptors get to work in peace. (In the long run, Google is the real winner here.)

I have much to fault in this section.

First Baldur notes that ebooks have brought about a considerable devaluation across the industry (which presumably has been a boon for readers) something I question and isn’t really held up by the figures either even if you look at the most recent figures from the UK, print sales were down modestly but digital sales more than made up for it.

He rests the fault for this at the door of publishers who have flubbed the transition to a new format. BUT how else might they have acted? Ebooks threatened, and still threaten, to close  their most profitable route to market, bookstores.

The only booksellers who have successfully launched rival ebook offerings have done so only with great difficulty. Barnes & Noble has sunk considerable cash into the project and struggles to gain further traction in the US or any beyond the US, even as it has successfully spun out the entity and sucked in money from Microsoft. Kobo was started as an independent entity and recently sold by Indigo to a non-booktrade player.

If Ebooks were indeed sustaining and just a format change, we should be seeing the old order of trade publishing flourishing, we are not, our bookstores are dying. Publishers can and will survive ebooks, but their major customers look almost certain not to. Print booksellers are looking like the major casualty of a “format change” which seems to me an unlikely occurrence of that “format change” were indeed sustaining.

One thing Baldur certainly gets right about the implication of this true disruption wreaking havoc up and down the supply chain is that Google is happily egging the disruption on, but he misses that Amazon is too. if he got that, he might see this for what it is.

Go Read This | Predictions for 2011 from Smashwords Founder – GalleyCat

That Mark Coker is one smart fellow!

8. International ebook market explodes, causing publishers to rethink territory rights restrictions – The proliferation of affordable, high-quality dedicated ereading devices, smart phones and ereading apps, and the international expansion of big US-based ebook retailers into green field markets, will power significant revenue for US authors, publishers and retailers. Large publishers will miss some of this growth due to self-inflicted territory rights restrictions, whereas indie authors and small publishers won’t face the same limitations. Publishers begin to realize geographic territory rights hinder ebook sales by limiting distribution, and will instead look to carve rights (or hold on them) language by language.

via Predictions for 2011 from Smashwords Founder – GalleyCat.

Go Read This | KOBO™ BREAKS EBOOK RECORDS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON — Kobo

I’m always amused by press releases that include either selective or somewhat confusing stats. Kobo’s press release if full of those. However I’m intrigued by them. Try and see if you can get anything meaningful from it. Nice to see Emma Donoghue in the top gifted though!

Kobo became the first eReading service to launch an eBook gifting and gift card program and for the first time in history, eBooks “arrived” digitally in people’s email accounts this Christmas morning. The top three most popular eBooks gifted this holiday were:

• “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson

• “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” by Stieg Larsson

• “Room” by Emma Donahue

via KOBO™ BREAKS EBOOK RECORDS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON — Kobo.

LitNet NI Literature Forum, Belfast

On Wednesday I spoke at an inspiring event, the LitNet NI Literature Forum in Belfast. It was hosted by the Arts Council Of Northern Ireland and organised by Catherine McInerney of LitNet NI.

It brings together an amazing range of voices and opinions from the literary and publishing sectors in Northern Ireland, from agents to writers, arts officers to librarians, with a good sprinkling of organisers, poets, publishers and academics.

There was a great energy in the room and while the forum is ony a few months old, it seems to have a real head of steam. My read on the future was that it was secure. It seems ready to grow beyond its original founding and beyond indeed the LitNet NI beginnings into a truly inclusive voice for the literary & commercial publishing and reading sector in Norther Ireland.

So you can see why I found it inspiring, but there’s more.

The same day and the same event was the venue for the sectoral launch of PublishingNI a new company dedicated to promoting and growing Northern Irish publishing and writing.

There’s a real energy and passion at work in Northern Irish publishing sector right now and I was excited and pleased to be part of it.

As for what I spoke about, well I started off with a dispassionate overview of how digital publishing and distribution were fundamentally reshaping the world of books and literature, changing models we have come to see as ‘the right way’ of doing things. I got a little carried away towards the end of the talk and discussed the need for a concerted response from the entire reading and writing sector to the encroachment of technology firms intent and leading the sector in a direction of their choosing. Maybe it was in the air.

But then again, maybe it was a bit intemperate, but it’s not untrue.
Eoin