The literature industry’s fear of technology is what really sits at the centre of this debate. There have always been two complementary and effective ways of countering Amazon’s dominance, and neither has been taken up in the (English-speaking) publishing world: these are investing in building national ebook stores, as has been done in France, Germany, Scandinavia and elsewhere; and relaxing the ferocious demands of Digital Rights Management, which make purchasing an ebook from anyone but “verticals” like Amazon and Kobo a virtual misery.
On my kindle waiting to be read after The Signal & The Noise:
I could review this book for another thousand words, and still have more to say. In that, this book is incredibly valuable. We’ve not had much exposure to the minds of those driving the eBook revolution, and to have something to engage and in places disagree with strongly is rather novel. There are some very nice idealistic long-term statements in here, and though this is no exhaustive business history we get an idea of some of the thoughts behind the technology. I cannot in all honesty say I’ve been blown away by what I’ve read, but it has given me a more direct perspective on another experience of eBook History. Merkoski’s peek behind the curtain is valuable, it will be interesting to see if the conversation goes somewhere new from here.
Great post from Brett Sandusky here. I disagree with some of it, but the main thrust I agree with very much:
What I hope will be coming down the pike is not just an acceptance of direct-to-consumer as an necessary channel, but what I’ll call for now the curated distribution experience. Right now, we take so much time to polish our content and our products, and then we just throw away. All this content curation we’re doing or at the very least talking about makes no sense at all if we simply hand over the UX ownership to retailers and their locked devices. In fact, not owning the whole customer experience with regards to digital has basically reduced us to little more than book packagers for our retail partners. And, we’re not even getting paid for it.
Without DRM, as Berlucchi explained, anybody can sell ebooks that can be read on a Kindle. Once Pottermore decided they could live without DRM, they faced Amazon with a very difficult choice. The ebooks were going to go on Kindle devices whether Amazon wanted them there or not. Either they could ignore them or they could play along. I am sure the “play along” deal includes compensation to Amazon for the sales they refer (as it does B&N and, according to a quote from Redmayne, other distribution relations and affiliations will be enabled going forward.)
In other words, in a refreshing change from recent history, the content owner was able to present Amazon with a “take it or leave it” proposition. They decided to “take it”. They were wise. The game was changing either way.
All of this will happen despite, or perhaps because of the fact that, the actual slice of value captured by each player changes in size and shape. Publishers will be forced to cede more revenue to authors, the idea that 25% Net is a defensible long-term ebook royalty rate is a farce best forgotten about quickly.
E-books will push this change even more. There is no reason why authors’ royalties should be the same on e-books as they are for paper books and in many ways there is no reason why the authors cannot sell e-books themselves rather than through a publisher. Why should you sell a paper publisher your digital rights when there is no need?
I think Mike is right to say that Pottermore marks a decisive point of change. It is the point at which owning the brand becomes essential, the point at which the 25% slice for the author stops being enough and the changed power balance between author and publisher begins to bite really hard.
If publishers hope to use author brand and scale to attract readers direct then they need to persuade the authors to work with them. That’s gonna take money and a whole new approach to working with the author. I expect we’ll see more of that.
The other change I believe it will drive even further is that of Niche or community driven content publishing. If selling without DRM enables big publishers to flourish as retailers (or for that matter niche publishers with scale in a single niche), then there is even more incentive for them to pull readers together in communities of interest (or rather to build stores that appeal to those existing communities of interest) and sell content to them directly rather than spending all their marketing on pulling them to a mass appeal site that only offers them content that works for that reader by chance event or a well placed cookie!
So I see Niche coming back with a vengeance, and community at its side, perhaps even a third horseman in the shape of an industry newly engaged in open standards, weak DRM and a willingness to innovate. That’s rather exciting if you ask me.
Not only, it turns out, are the readers of the world looking to buy our content if we can deliver it to them digitally, but the world’s leading hardware companies are looking to help us. Along with Sony, iRex, TXTR, and other dedicated reading device manufacturers exhibiting, presenting, and working the floor, two Apple executives were traversing the halls of the Fair to let publishers know all the opportunities that await them on that platform. (Let it be said: that platform, right now, is the iPhone. Not any other rumored device. Apple has not been in private discussions about a larger device and reports that they have are a hoax. But Apple does believe in the opportunity for the publishing industry’s content, contrary to the occasional snarky comment from Jobs.) Apple is working to improve the Books section of the App store to make it more browsable, and they are trying to help publishers find the right developers to work with.
Brian O’Leary has put the slides for his trouble causing presentation on piracy up on Slideshare, when you read through, you’ll find it hard to find the controversy and wonder just how tightly poised those knee-jerk reactions are.
The news of Google’s Google Editions, which first came to light back in June has been formed up by more recent news. Like this AP story:
Tom Turvey, head of Google Book Search’s publisher partnership program, said the price per book would be set by their publishers and would start with between 400,000 to 600,000 books in the first half of 2010.
“It will be a browser-based access,” Turvey said Thursday at the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair. “The way the e-book market will evolve is by accessing the book from anywhere, from an access point of view and also from a geographical point of view.”
The books bought from Google, and its partners, would be accessible on any gadget that has a Web browser, including smartphones, netbooks and personal computers and laptops. A book would be accessible offline after the first time it was accessed.
Of course as you would expect it is platform neutral (if web based/cloud based is neutral), omnipresent and smart. Anyone who thinks that devices are the future is living in the past.
There is a whole load of other stuff on the margins, but in terms of signal, I think this is it! Eoin
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.
But start we must
So how about with this piece from Crain’s New York about a new ebook publishing house (strangely sans website yet) OR Books. The house is run by, John Oakes and Colin Robinson, two veterans of New York’s independent literary scene. To my mind the most interesting tidbit in the article was in terms of their business plan:
Publishing only e-book and print-on-demand editions, OR won’t have to deal with any returns. The company also won’t share revenue with distributors, wholesalers and bookstores, which together can collect as much as 60% of sales. The savings will go into online marketing campaigns that will run about $50,000 to $75,000 per title—huge sums for so-called mid-list books.
Print-on-demand trade paperbacks will sell for $15 apiece, but the partners have yet to decide what to charge for e-books. Typically, prices for new titles range from around $26, or the same as a hardcover, to the discounted $9.99 that Amazon charges for most of its Kindle titles.
OR will also make a small number of books available to cooperating bookstores on a nonreturnable basis. And it will consider a title a success if it sells just 5,000 electronic copies.
I’ve added the emphasis there. That, frankly seems a pretty significant sum to be even contemplating in ad spend online (or will that mean print ads for ebooks? And the ebook price is not yet set? Stranger and stranger I say.
In negotiations with the Association of Spanish Literary Agencies (ADAL), the publishers have agreed to price ebooks at 80% of a printed books cover price, with a standard 25% royalty rate. Booksellers will be offered a maximum discount of 50%.
The truth, plain and unvarnished
I’ll only cover three items today and perhaps do a follow up post tomorrow, but that third item must be Andrew Savikas’ really gauntlet throwing down piece over at o”Reilly Radar in which he basically calls B*llsh*t in people who think the value is in theur conent. twitter has been abuzz with publisher types praising it all day and with real reason. it is clear, concise and devastating for those who disagree with his perspective:
“But people are still buying content when they buy a book or an album,” the argument goes. Yes, they are. The same way that you’re buying food when you go to a restaurant. You are purchasing calories that your body will convert to energy. But few restaurants (especially those you visit frequently) have ingredients any different from those you can get yourself at the corner store, for much less money. So it can’t be true that your primary goal is to purchase food; you’re purchasing a meal, prepared so you don’t have to, cleaned up so you don’t have to, and done so in a pleasing and convenient atmosphere. You are paying for the preparation of the food and the experience of eating it in the restaurant, not the food itself  (beyond the raw cost of the physical ingredients, which in the case of digital content is effectively zero).