KDP

Some Thoughts On B&N’s Nook problem

The news from B&N’s Nook division is bad:

The NOOK segment (including digital content, devices and accessories), had revenues of $125 million for the nine-week holiday period, decreasing 60.5% as compared to a year ago.  Device and accessories sales were $88.7 million for the holiday period, a decrease of 66.7% from a year ago, due to lower unit selling volume and lower average selling prices.  Digital content sales were $36.5 million for the holiday period, a decline of 27.3% compared to a year ago due to lower device unit sales and lower average selling prices.

via Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

I’ve got more sympathy for B&N than some, indeed I think we should be thanking it for spending so much of its investors money to discover some important things for us.

For a time it seemed to me that Nook was a success. Perhaps that was naive of me, but it seemed like a good match, dedicated book people selling digital content to dedicated book readers. The lurch towards tablets was probably not a good one, prompted as it was by the iPad and the Kindle Fire, it might have seemed like a fabulous strategy, but in truth (but sadly in retrospect) it was too expensive and too long a game for B&N to ever win against its much better funded and positions rivals.

The big question for B&N is whether there is a profitable ebook and digital content business to be pulled from the mess of Nook. The shocking drop in digital content sells in the holiday period is blamed on two things, lower device sales and lower average selling prices.

Taking those one by one the device sales driving content sales suggests two things which would be clear to anyone looking in on Nook. For too long, the digital content side of the business has been a slave to the device side. Too little effort has been made to open content sales to those without devices, too little effort on gaining ground on smartphones and tablets other than Nooks.

If the digital content side is to thrive then B&N will have to encourage readers to buy Nook content everywhere and anywhere they can connect to the web regardless of device and to do so more easily than they currently can (which probably means rethinking the company’s current DRM strategy). In some ways the failure of the tablets (and note, I laud even what might be termed a failure here. B&N has still sold a LOT of devices) probably makes this a likely development anyway. Hopefully it will be a rapid one too.

The second issue is a bigger one in many ways. Average selling price is falling across the ebook space (or, at least, it would appear to be). Only increased unit sales will make up for that. However, if B&N is suffering more from this problem than others, not even unit sales will suffice to push it along.

What’s more, if unit sales don’t increase in line with the market, B&N will begin losing market share (if it hasn’t already). It’ll have to either increase its stock of exclusive content (which sounds like an impossible task given Amazon’s attractiveness in this area) or get market share back through converting customers of one platform to Nook readers, or grow quicker than the market as a whole, or by slowing down the flood of exclusive titles that Amazon is building somehow enabling them to capture some of that value.

I’ve written several times about the value of the KDP platform for Amazon and how valuable such a platform could be to the other ebook retailers yet how each of them in their own way has relatively closed policies with regard to them. Since I first wrote about this back in 2011, only Kobo has opened up in a real way. We are seeing the power of Amazon’s foresight in this space now. The giant added 200,000 exclusive ebooks through KDP in 2013, a perfectly avoidable situation.

B&N succeeded in selling nearly $4,000,000 worth of digital content a week in the holiday season, which is nothing to sniff at. I just hope it can push harder and increase they sales in 2014 opening up to wider audiences and starting to challenge Amazon’s exclusivity advantage with self published authors, that would be good for the wider industry as well as for itself.

Somehow I Missed This Incredibly Important detail of Kindle Worlds: MONEY

Five minutes ago I read a press release from Amazon about how it was expanding its Kindle Worlds project to incorporate new writers (and impressive ones at that). i was struck by how many of those new writers came from or were converts to the world of self-publishing and it reminded me once again how powerful and useful Amazon’s policy of accommodating self-publishers and small publishers has been in their development of a digital publishing platform (see my thoughts on this earlier in the week over on Medium).

And then I read these paragraphs and my brain exploded:

“Good storytelling for me starts with great characters, no matter the format,” said Kindle Worlds Archer & Armstrong author Scott Nicholson. “I’m thrilled that Amazon has been pushing the digital frontiers to open up even more sharing of ideas and building new communities around the most popular characters and stories.”

Amazon Publishing will pay royalties to both the rights holders of the Worlds and the author. The standard author’s royalty rate (for works of at least 10,000 words) will be 35% of net revenue. Amazon Publishing will also pilot an experimental new program for particularly short works—between 5,000 and 10,000 words. For these short stories—typically priced under one dollar—Amazon will pay the royalties for the World’s rights holder and pay authors a digital royalty of 20%.

Before I read those words, I thought Amazon Worlds was a clever piece of distraction from Amazon, a way to get more people on the Kindle platform, perhaps a mine for future talent and a stick to beat publishers with. After reading those two paragraphs I realised that Amazon Worlds is a whole new revenue stream for aspiring writers and established writers, it’s co-opting the edge and making it mainstream and crucially introducing a revenue model that work for everyone.  What’s more in this model, because they own the platform and delivery system they still keep a chunk of the revenue.

I’m annoyed at myself for missing the import of this earlier (I can only say in my defence that the original Kindle Worlds press release came to me while I was on holidays in spain and my mind was very far from business models and digital publishing.

Think  about this new model for a few seconds. Successful writers, who in genre fiction were already pretty supportive of fan-fiction anyway, now have an active reason to support and encourage fan-fiction that is licensed by Amazon. They have a reason to drive people onto the kindle platform because when they see stories based on their worlds and characters, they will profit from them.

Would be writers have a great reason to use the opportunities afforded to them by kindle Worlds to hone their skills, for one its free and legal, for another they might actually benefit by selling some copies of their work and finally they might get noticed by doing it. noticed by the original creator of the world they choose to writer in or about, or noticed by Amazon Publishing which can spot their talent (read sales data) and can snap it up before anyone else even notices that a new talent has emerged!

All round Kindle Worlds is a much bigger deal than I realised!

Eoin

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.