FuturEbook

Amazon Steals Everyone’s Thunder Again (But Quietly)

Fascinatingly clever (if predictable in many ways) move from Amazon to extend the reach of its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) to the UK, Germany and France. By doing so it demonstrates very clearly that it is Amazon who is really driving the pace of development in ebook adoption and ebook retail. What’s more, it is making clear that its rivals are struggling to match its services to authors and readers within their own ecosystems. As the focus of ebook growth moves rapidly beyond the USA (has moved already in truth), Amazon is making the case for giving it exclusivity even more compelling.

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is coming to the UK, Germany and France later this month, bringing Kindle owners with a Prime membership over 200,000 books to borrow for free as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates. Independent authors and publishers using Kindle Direct Publishing KDP who enroll their books in KDP Select can be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in the UK, Germany and France, as well as the US. With the new lending libraries launching this month, the KDP Select fund has been increased by $100,000 to $700,000 in October, with a larger increase anticipated in November. Authors will earn money every time their book is borrowed from any of the lending libraries – in September, authors earned $2.29 per borrow, which is more than many KDP books earn per sale.

via Amazon Media Room: Press Releases.

What amazes me the most about this move is just how dangerous it is for the ebook retailing rivals who have yet to open their doors to self-published content. In reality only Kobo has a fully functional platform for self publishing authors beyond the USA (Apple does too, but only to the extent that those who have a nice Mac can access their iBookstore, but not everyone has a Mac).

Nook’s platform is US only, though the talk is that this will change soon, the longer B&N & Microsoft exclude non-US citizens from the service, the longer Amazon has to lock in exclusive content for three months at a time. It’s not that the content individually is necessarily compelling, but given the wide field of talent in question, some is sure to be winning material, even if much of it isn’t great. The trick is, of course, that Amazon is armed with the tools to sort, grade and sift through this mass of titles and to promote, suggest and even work with the best (or just the most saleable, let’s not forget that the goal is money-making not literature spreading).

I’ve talked before about how important authors are to the success of an epublishing platform and ecosystem. Sometimes I think the retailers agree with me on this, other times I think they only pay lip service to the idea. Perhaps that’s a lingering snobbery regarding self publishing authors (which is foolish, idiotic and wrong-headed in an age when some of the biggest writers are rapidly moving towards self publishing, are already self publishing or have emerged from the self publishing space). Perhaps it is a desire to avoid dealing with so many small accounts and the headaches of customer service and platform development that entails. Who knows, but the longer these ecosystems remain closed shops to direct author engagement the larger a lead they allow Amazon to build up on them.

Every author Amazon signs up for KOLL is three months of exclusive sales for Amazon, three months lost revenue for their rivals. More importantly it is three months of sales data and analysis for Amazon that no-one else will have. That’s especially important when a title is loaded into KDP & KOLL for the first time, before getting a look in elsewhere. What will happen when one of those sign ups turns out to be the next EL James? What will happen is that Amazon will sign that author up directly, before the KOLL period ends and the game, for that author, is up for the other platforms.

It is not just dangerous to rival retailers though. If Amazon succeeds in convincing enough authors that KDP & KOLL are the way forward and along with them, exclusivity, companies like Smashwords and other aggregators of self published content will be put in the position of having to justify their offering. As long as a vibrant market for content persists of course (and despite this move, we do have a vibrant market for content) everyone has room to move and grow.

So yes, this move is illuminating, it suggests that Amazon is still the pace setter and is capable of moving faster and more aggressively than anyone else (still, after five years). Kobo has started something of a price war for self published authors though, by offering a higher royalty to authors who use their self publishing platform. If this keeps self publishing writers committed to an non-exclusive policy then it will have been a wise move. I’m sure it is a smart response from a smart company, even if it is one that admits to a certain weakness in terms of the capability of their platform, but then competition doesn’t (and indeed shouldn’t) always mean matching your rivals move, but finding clever and novel ways to best them where your strengths lie.

What that in mind, Kobo and other Amazon rivals would do well to pay attention to Baldur Bjarnason‘s piece on FutureBook about how Ebook publishing platforms are a joke, pay attention that is and offer some of the services he mentions to self publishers asap.

Ebooks Are Boring? So What?

Nick Atkinson has an interesting post over on FutureBook this morning. In it he asks three questions he feels people aren’t asking about ebooks. The ones he hits on are:

EBooks  aren’t actually that exciting, so why are people buying them?

Why am I rubbish at selling books online?

Where the heck is my audience? They used to shop at Borders.

he’s got a refreshing perspective on some of those:

So why are we struggling so much to make a digital book look and feel like a book? I remember the overwhelming sense of disappointment, anti-climax and resignation that I felt when I first looked at an eBook, way back when, on the Iliad – a device thankfully confined to myth and legend (it had a STYLUS for god’s sake). Even now, working with a conversion supplier I’m proud to partner with, who does a good job of stretching the ePub and Kindle formats, whenever we get our eBooks back, we still often gaze misty-eyed at the print edition and wonder where the design went and that’s just on text-based product. If you are honest, you’ve felt the same way. We’ve had moments where we’ve tried to shoehorn full-colour books into reflowable epubs to see what would happen, got the files back and laughed out loud at ourselves for even bothering.

via 3 important questions about digital that nobody is asking. | FutureBook.

Not that he’ll be put out, but I disagree with the first half of his post pretty strongly in that I actually like ebooks as they are, simple text files. I don’t want enhancements.

There’s a peculiar, and seemingly pervasive, fear among publishers that the written word just isn’t compelling enough for their readers (one well addressed by James Bridle here) in the digital age. It’s something I just don’t understand. Afterall text is fine in print, why not in digital form?

The rest of it though, I’m mostly on board with and it speaks to the quick presentation on Niches & Communities I gave to publishers during the Pecha Kucha session at TOC Frankfurt in 2009.

Not, I stress, that I think ebooks are the end of all things book related as I myself wrote for Publishing Perspective some time ago:

THE critical concern should be developing an expertise in how to sell content in many different forms and at many different prices to different audiences. Publishers should be platform agnostic, selling wherever readers are willing to buy and not focusing if it is an e-book, an app, online access, segments, chapters, quotes, mash-ups, readings, conferences, or anything else (a point made Friday on Publishing Perspectives by Clive Rich).

Rather than expend their energy focusing on one format that may be fleeting, publishers need to focus on two long-term objectives: audience development and content curation. Neither of these are specific to digital activities, meaning that they will only serve to bolster the print side of the business as well, whether it declines rapidly or gradually.

Still, a good post that will no doubt generate discussion!
Eoin 

My 2010 Publishing Heroes

Last year I chose some folks who I though had made 2009 interesting in publishing terms and I believed would do the same in 2010. I think I was broadly right about them. You can see the 2009 list here. For 2010 I’m doing the same.

Richard Nash ~ The Risk Taker
Nash is moving ahead with Cursor a new type of publishing company based on communities, authors, shorter contracts and generally many of the ideas that have been floating around books for a few years now. He’s fiery, inspiring and willing to take a gamble (and be wrong too). He has spoken several times over the last few years about where publishing is going and he never fails to offer rich and convincing arguments to back up his point of view. I’m hoping he’ll be successful, not least because his first imprint community is called Red Lemonade!

Gareth Cuddy ~ The Doer
Sometimes you need people who just get down on the ground and shift dirt. IN many ways that is what Gareth Cuddy has done in Ireland. His DirectEbooks has been selling ebooks for some time now and as he would no doubt concede himself, right now the market is not mainstream, but it is getting there. He’s been pushing for more Irish publishers and small publishers to get into epublishing and through his EpubDirect service he’s offering publishers a decent way to get digital fairly quickly.

Rebecca Smart ~ The Changer
Osprey really shouldn’t be cool (except maybe to military history nerds) but it is. It has created an online community for military history buffs and pioneered direct marketing methods that keep the company engaged with its readers and released a book on Zombies (complete with accompanying video). It recently bought the apparently unconnected Angry Robot Sci-fi imprint from HarperCollins and have shepherded it to great success. Much of this is down to Rebecca Smart’s savvy leadership and ability to drive change. She’ll no doubt say that the great staff behind her at Osprey are as much responsible and I think she’d be right, but even the best Army needs a good general.

Mike Shatzkin ~ The Thinker
Mike is pretty darn smart. What’s more, he’s pretty darn good at putting his thoughts down in a clear, concise and accessible way. If you don’t read his blog, you really, really should. As one of the brains behind Digital Book World (a conference I’ll sadly not be attending this year) he has managed to start the in-depth conversations that US Trade Publishers NEED to have if they are to survive the shifting playing field of digital publishing.  For that alone and the pleasure of reading the posts he shares so freely, he makes the list.

The FutureBook Team
The last choice is always a hard one when one is creating a small list. So I’ve cheated and chosen a team. I’ve done this for a few reasons. Firstly I think FutureBook (a blog and conference run by The Bookseller) came to life quickly, embraced the web rapidly and grew by engaging in a fashion that felt very web native and very focused on community and providing value. Secondly I felt that in doing that they provided a critical hub for debate and discussion about ebooks outside of the US but in the English language. It made ebooks real for many publishers and booksellers outside of the US and that was pretty useful in a year that has been dominated by digital developments. So well done to Samantha Missingham, Philip Jones et al, a fine job, well done.

Go Read This | Publishers should be stirred, but not shaken by Bond move

Philip goes on to conclude that Publishers have much to bring to the party. he might be right, but the core power they used to have of reaching people through distribution is now gone, the balance of power has shifted and Authors or Rights Holders have a greater ability to operate without publishers:

She told me: “Penguin accepted long ago that they didn’t have the digital rights. Of course they wanted to do it, but why would we. With a brand like ours, people are looking for the books anyway, so the publicity and marketing will happen. It also gives us greater clarity of sales, which books are selling and where. We are very lucky to have such a big brand.”

Of course the deal will be interpreted as a shot across the bows of traditional publishers. And why not? Despite the energetic way that the estate has looked after the Bond brand in recent times—including the development of the Young Bond books and the new titles written by Sebastian Faulks and the Jeffery Deaver version to come—it is unlikely that the estate would have seen an opportunity to self-publish in this way until fairly recently. It has seized the opportunity at the right time, and in a way that will allow it see closely how the market develops.

via Publishers should be stirred, but not shaken by Bond move | FutureBook.

Wordpress Books Tag Page

Links Of Interest (AT Least To Me) 01/07/2010

Wordpress Books Tag PageI’ve been doing some fascinating reading the last few week and thought I’d share the ones that stuck with me. You may have noticed a few reblogs appearing in the stream. I’ve been using WordPress’s reblog button and loving it very much! These are non-reblogged though. Also impressed by their much improved tag pages. Like this one, for books.

An excellent open letter by Brian O’Leary to Scott Turrow about piracy, data and good and bad decision making.
Here

A very fine article over at Slate (Thanks to SarahB for the tip) on ebooks and paper and why one will not replace the other. Agree or disagree, the writing is solid.
Here

A nice find in general, Slow Media, one I was directed to by the excellent blog Casual Optimist.
Here

James Long over on Speculative Horizons has a great list of four upcoming titles by four of my favourite fantasy writers.
Here

Smashing line for literature at the Kilkenny Arts Festival this year.
Here

Philip Jones points to the clash in perception of the future for books in the digital age between Jeff Bezoz and Hachette UK’s George Walkley. Nicely done too.
Here

With the Russian spying scandal in the US, Yale University Press talks spies! Well worth the read and considering a new book purchase too.
Here

Despite a tough market, Barnes & Noble have been very upbeat about the future in terms of digital and print sales. I hope they are right.
Here

The summer seems to be rolling in this year (when does it not), but at least it’s been a good one so far!
Eoin