iBooks

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.

Go Read This | Google Nexus 7: ebooks’ sleeping giant finally has its own reader | The Verge

Nice piece from Tim Carmody over at The Verge. I think he’s asking the right questions and saying the right things. I’d note one small thing though, which is that ALL the tech giants have been using reading to sell tablets, its obviously feeding back to them that users may THINK they want tablets for reading books until they actually get them and use them for almost everything else:

In other words, books and magazines are important not for their own sake, but for Google’s long-term strategy. For years, Google Books has been a store with no physical storefront, even as Apple and Amazon convinced millions of us to walk around with networked shops in our bags and pockets. Add in the rejected settlement and ongoing lawsuits with the Authors’ Guild over out-of-print books, and Google’s attention wandered elsewhere. Meanwhile, book retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble carved huge chunks out of the Android tablet market. The booksellers’ customer base helped them branch out, forking the platform and substituting their app stores for Google’s.

via Google Nexus 7: ebooks’ sleeping giant finally has its own reader | The Verge.

On THE Platform And What That Means

When you look at this ebook game from a distance it seems to make a little sense:

1) Microsoft & NewCo. = Content, Device, Apps + possible future Mobile play via Nokia & Windows 8

2) Apple = Content+ Device, Apps + Mobile play

3) Amazon = Content, Device, Apps + Whispersync making Mobile already a significant play in my book but an actual partnership not yet to hand

4) Google = Content (-ish), Apps + Mobile (with Motorola) and a Device neutral stance

Leaving Sony and Kobo somewhat on the sidelines missing some element of the game. Of course those two, like the previous four also have a crucial component in the forthcoming game, lots of cash. And, seeing as folks seem to be tooling up for a platform war, I reckon they are gonna need that.

Of course we know already that all the players in the top league have some fashion of a flaw.

For Amazon the very success of the company’s ebook strategy has created a huge problem in that they are now the team to beat. Apple has a locked down and locked in strategy as closed as the rest of its walled gardens and there’s little chance of it opening voluntarily. B&N and Nook well they as yet have little international footprint (what does this move mean for Waterstones digital strategy?) Google, well where to start with Google? Its execution in the ebook space has been poor and right now does not inspire confidence, though it does have what I think is the better long-term concept.

The biggest problem for everyone though is that a platform war is pretty pointless in anything longer than a medium term horizon (by which I mean 5-10 years). Just as Google is failing to maintain its grip on attention and Facebook is growing stronger every day, someone will rise to take Facebook’s place and then another will rise to take theirs. This impermanence of pre-dominance is, for me, a defining characteristic of the web, and it is driven by the incredibly low to non-existent barriers to entry online because the WEB IS THE PLATFORM, which fosters competition, innovation and experimentation.

That is not to say that those who succeed will inevitably meet a doom, Google is doing quite handsomely thank you, and no doubt Facebook will do well for some time too. Which means that in the medium term a successful ebook platform will milk the system just as Amazon appears to be doing right now. I just believe that their platform has no long-term, sustainable foundation. Moving against Amazon is mostly pointless, rather the focus should be on finding a way around Amazon using the web as a platform and not relying on another closed platform.

Where does that put publishers? In a familiar spot I would argue. I wrote a piece two years ago about ebooks and how it was important that publishers focus on:

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 on 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).

Strangely I don’t think I would change a word of that paragraph today. Nor would I shy away from the other recommendation I made:

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.

I just wish I could recall them when I make my day-to-day decisions!
Eoin

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PS: Worth reading all these pieces:

1) The Window Is Closing

2) Why Ebooks Will Soon be Obsolete

3) Microsoft Looking To be Third Time Luck In Its Bid For Ebooks

Ebooks In Europe: The Game Really IS Afoot

Kindle has just launched officially in France at €99 and a decent seeming catalogue of French titles to go with the English language books already available. Of course Amazon has also opened the French market to self-publishers and independent publishers through their Kindle Direct Platform.

Yesterday Google brought its UK ebook store online. Last week, iBooks launched in over two dozen countries around Europe. And this only six months since Amazon launched Kindle in Germany.

It is clear now that the pace of adoption of ebooks will rise in Europe if only because availability of ereaders AND ebooks is increasing rapidly here.

What’s more the price for the new Kindle, at JUST sub-€100 is very attractive. I can see many Kindle boxes under the tree this Christmas.

That means the luxury of waiting is no longer an option for booksellers. Waterstone’s may not have time to wait for the perfect ereader. To my mind it NEEDS to launch one pre-Christmas.

In short, the game is afoot and who wins is by no means clear!
Eoin 

Go Read This | Thad McIlroy – Future Of Publishing » Don’t Compare Specs, Compare Content

Excellent post by Thad this, read and think:

As you can see, Apple is missing half of the 10 titles on this week’s ebook bestseller lists (narrowed down to just self-published titles). That has to be troubling to Apple and its publishing partners. Apple and the big trade publishing houses could argue that the sorts of people who buy 99 cent ebooks aren’t iPad/iPhone owners. That would not be a clever argument. I would argue that after launching the iBookstore with great fanfare Apple is acting very much like a company that doesn’t much care about ebooks.

Barnes & Noble faces a different problem. None of the books here sells for over five bucks and yet Amazon manages to discount many of the titles from Barnes & Noble’s list prices, on average over a third off (of course it’s prices are lower still compared with Apple’s).

via Thad McIlroy – Future Of Publishing » Don’t Compare Specs, Compare Content.

Go Read This | Hachette UK to set e-book prices from Monday | theBookseller.com

Hello Agency pricing, bye bye cheap ebooks?

In an email seen by The Bookseller, Gardners, wrote to retailers telling them of this change from Hachette, which it said would be effective from Monday, 20th September. Gardners provides e-books for retailers including Tesco, The Book Depository and independent bookshops. In an attached agreement document for retailers, it said: “[Retailers] shall agree that it shall not alter the customer price of any e-book without [Hachette’s] prior written consent.”

Gardners said retailers must sign up to the agreement if they wish to continue selling Hachette e-books. The email added: “Please note that due to the stringent requirements in the agreement I am unable to negotiate and this agreement will be applied to every reseller, including Amazon and Apple. These are not Gardner terms, but the publisher’s and may I suggest that should you wish to ‘discuss’ the terms, direct the queries to the publisher.”

via Hachette UK to set e-book prices from Monday | theBookseller.com.

Ryu Murakami to Release Novel Directly Through Apple iPad – Japan Real Time – WSJ

Author’s Will Drive Change as I’ve said before, especially those with an existing following or those with nothing to lose. How publishers can respond to this is worth thinking about and I suspect that means create ebook exclusive deals with authors that agree the lions share going to authors in exchange for exclusive hardback or paperback rights.

Let the nightmare begin. Novelist Ryu Murakami plans to release his latest novel exclusively for digital bookworms through Apple Inc.’s iPad ahead of the print version. Mr. Murakami, the acclaimed author of over 15 novels including “Coin Locker Babies” and “In the Miso Soup”, replaced the publishers with a software company to help develop the e-book titled “A Singing Whale,” or “Utau Kujira” in Japanese. The digital package will include video content and set to music composed by Academy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, according to the Japanese business daily Nikkei. The newspaper reports the e-book will cost 1,500 yen ($17) and will be ready to download pending Apple’s approval. Apple Japan and Mr. Murakami did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.

via Ryu Murakami to Release Novel Directly Through Apple iPad – Japan Real Time – WSJ.