Ebook first publishing might work

UPDATE: The Huffington Post carried an article by John Oakes (co-founder OR Books) last week which I missed.

I’m quite surprised there isn’t more news about this deal. Publishers Lunch* (apologies for the enormous robbery of content) reported on the sale of paperback rights for Going Rouge by OR Books:

Among other start-up muckrakers, John Oakes and Colin Robinson’s OR Books has sold paperback rights to their first title, GOING ROUGE, to Michele Matrisciani at HCI Books–which is reissuing the book today. Under OR Books direct-sale model, the book had not been available in traditional stores or online vendors, limiting sales despite the wave of Palin-related publicity. HCI president Peter Vegso says in their announcement “this title, although outside our usual publishing perimeters, presented an exciting and interesting challenge.”

Next up for OR Books is Norman Finkelstein’s book on “Israel’s Growing Isolation After the Gaza Invasion,” set for January, in which he “looks at how the reckless and disproportionate military action against the Palestinians in Gaza a year ago has led some of Israel’s closest allies to question their support for the country,” while “offering the possibility of something hopeful emerging from the tragedy of what occurred in Gaza.”

Oakes says eliciting a paperback partner will “certainly be a goal for each published work of ours.”

This is the almost perfect example of how one might expect a pure ebook play to develop over time, publishing ebooks to a time sensitive market while selling the rights to someone else for a paperback edition, enabling them to keep stock costs lows and cash flow high and letting someone else worry about the odd economics of the traditional model!

Mike Shatzkin has written quite a bit on these topics so it’d be worth reading one or two or even three of his posts.

We live in the most interesting of times!
Eoin

*A service of Publishers Marketplace a site that anyone interested in publisher should pay for.

Getting to Digital

Beastly goings on
There have been a few pretty big moves in the last few days towards what seem (At least to me) sensible models for getting digital and quickly. The first is Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast‘s deal with Perseus Press that the NYT featured yesterday:

Ms. Brown said that Beast Books would select authors from The Daily Beast’s cadre of writers, most of whom are paid freelancers, to write books with quick turnarounds. She said she planned to publish three to five books in the first year.

The beauty of the deal though is that they making digital first publications:

Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.

I rather hope this works, it certainly sounds like a good news story if it does. The model seems sensible, it capitalises on the eyeballs the Daily Beast is dragging and as The Big Money puts it in a sensible and thoughtful paragraph:

The good news is that this is exactly what digital publishing needs to fuel its growth: a product ideally suited to a new technology. Brown’s entry into the field validates the idea of writing specifically for the Kindle and its competitors, a huge vote of confidence in the tools. The less-great news is that for all of Brown’s talent for attention-getting, the Daily Beast may not have the right content to drive sales. Which just might be the point of the whole deal—with Brown using the book deal as a back door to better content.

Disney Digital
Disney Digital

Disney’s gamble
There have been some negative comments about Disney’s newly launched program that provides online access to 500. As the NYT (again) puts it:

In what it bills as an industry-defining moment — though rivals are sure to be skeptical about that — Disney Publishing plans to introduce a new subscription-based Web site. For $79.95 a year, families can access electronic replicas of hundreds of Disney books, from “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” to “Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!”

DisneyDigitalBooks.com, which is aimed at children ages 3 to 12, is organized by reading level. In the “look and listen” section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud. Chapter books for teenagers and trivia features round out the service.

I like this idea because it is heading more towards the type of product that can win the battle for attention and hold its own against numerous distractions. What is more, a site like this (and being a site is crucial) has a certain seamless quality, it fits into the web rather than standing aside from it in a “connected” device. It will simply be a rich content website that you happen to pay for! That is important! that, I believe, is the future.

Both these moves are taking big publishing digital very rapidly. This is a space to watch!
Eoin

Publishing Success In Ireland, Part Three

Eoin Purcell

Bestseller!

More on Category & Average Selling Price
So the bones of the category analysis makes it look like Fiction is the way forward. Before we decide if that is a real picture of events we need to dig a little deeper. For one thing we need to look at a critical piece of information, the Average Selling Price (SEE NOTE 1).

What is Average Selling Price (ASP) & Why it is important?

    1) ASP is the average unit price that a book sold at. In other words, revenue generated by sales, divided by units sold. This doesn’t mean every book sold at that price, many would sell for more, many for less but the AVERAGE price it sold at is what we are after.
    2) ASP is important because it give you a sense of what discount a book was sold at (EG if the RRP €14.99 but the ASP is €11.49, then it is very likely at least one market player is selling the book at a fair discount to RRP)
    3) From a publishers perspective if you see a book selling at a low ASP relative to the RRP, then you can guess that the publisher gave a decent sales discount to the retailer in order to see that book selling at a hefty discount.

A challenge to our fiction first thinking
When you dig into the ASP figures you can see that each fiction unit sold is worth considerably less than each unit of many other categories sold. This comes to light very dramatically when you look at the Top Ten Categories for 2008 by ASP.

The Top Ten Categories By ASP
The Top Ten Categories By ASP

What crops up there is quite amazing:

    For one thing only one of the top ten categories by revenue appears and that, Food & Drink General, at number 10.

    For another you can see that many of these categories are populated by low volume titles. The entire Architecture category is made up of one title. Which gives the interesting result that it generated the best return per unit in the whole Irish Consumer Market. Quite an impressive achievement.

    That list also cries out, special interest (or niche) Local History, Names & Genealogy for instance has a juicy ASP as does Natural History: General. These are categories that are unlikely to face stiff competition but are equally difficult to break into without niche links, know how and knowledge.

    Here is a nice one for you, National & Regional Cuisine is made up of two titles, both published by Avoca, who must be in effect, Ireland’s most successful self-publishers.

So, is it time to write fiction off?
Is Fiction all flash and underneath no action? Well yes and no. Clearly on a unit by unit basis, selling fiction is less remunerative. As Ivan O’Brien commented on Part II of this series that:

Non-fiction is split into heaps of sections, while fiction is only in a few, so it’s apples-and-oranges time. I guess the sums that would be worth doing would be to take, say, the top 1000 general fiction and top 1000 non-fiction (using the major heading rather than subdivisions) and seeing what the distribution of sales and revenues would be … without doing the sums, I would expect that fiction is dramatically skewed towards bestsellers, with non-fiction giving a meaningful return much further down the chart

To some degree he is right. General & Literary Fiction titles account for 45% of the top 100 but only 8% of the titles between 900 and 1000. Even at that they held their own account for about 8% of the units and about 7% of the Revenue for those 100 titles. It is still quite a skew away from fiction towards that end of the list.

BUT

General & Literary Fiction titles only accounted for 240 of the top 1000 Titles (24%), yet they accounted for 30.96% of the value and 32.86% of the volume. So despite that skew in favour of top selling titles, the Category still outperforms overall. That is worth something!

What does all of this teach us?

    1) That the ICM Top 1000 is heavily populated by Fiction titles (24%)
    2) That Fiction sells at a relatively low ASP (€ 10.71)
    3) That despite that, Fiction outperforms as a category in terms of Volume & Revenue
    4) That within the Fiction list, revenue and volume skew very heavily towards the top 500

None of that removes the attraction of Fiction. If anything it reinforces the idea that when you get Fiction right you can sell large quantities of it and because you are printing in higher runs, units costs are lower so even at a lower ASP it makes money. Still while the story must be fiction works at some level, we cannot ignore the subtext that I have hinted at: Non-Fiction can be very lucrative.

Part IV of this series will look more closely at Non-Fiction and why it is an attractive publishing sector. Part V will look at publishers and then, Finally I will wrap up with a conclusion that will mark art VI!
Still some work ahead of me!
Eoin

Note 1
It is important to remember during this phase of the analysis that Nielsen reports RETAIL SALES. If you want an accurate picture of what the PUBLISHER gets then divide the revenue figure by something like 2. This of course varies per title and by publisher but you’ll get a sense of the likely revenue from a sale if you follow that rule. To avoid confusion, I’ll continue the analysis based on the actual RETAIL SALES reported by Nielsen.

Publishers, Survival is not a right!

Eoin Purcell

Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)
Craning for a book (From Flickr user: gaspi)

Noble thoughts, but misplaced
I read an interesting blog post the other day about the demise of print publishing. It was written by Indie Publisher, Barbara Philips of Bridge Works Books on the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency blog. The ideas were worthy and valid (if pervaded by a sense that publishers have a RIGHT to exist) and in fact will work for a while, but overall the post was totally misguided.

For the record the suggestions were:

1) change immediately the pernicious practice of Returns. Speaking of buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler returns of unsold books to the publisher for full refunds is an anachronism that should be stopped immediately and all publishers, large and small, should rally against it and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced.
2) Make life easier for the beleaguered publisher. I’ve often observed there seem to be more writers out there than readers. If an author wants her book to be published by a legitimate publisher, with professional editing, distribution and publicity, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up, either by giving up advances on royalties or royalties altogether and taking a cut of the profits. This would be especially good for first-time authors.
3) Continue to expand other venues for book selling, and find new ones, for instance, publishing simultaneously in offset print and digitally. Right now, as we wrangle, a few large publishers are trying this method out.

Dealing with them one by one
Killing Returns is a double edged sword. Yes it will save publishers from the practice of retailers and wholesalers paying for new books by returning old unsold ones, but equally it will force publishers to cut print runs (reducing margin) and find better ways to sell books than stacking them high and hoping display does the trick (as it often does). I’m not saying this is a bad thing, in fact both these things would be good for publishers, it’s about time we printed the right amount of books rather too many and connecting with the audience properly is well worthwhile in the medium to long term.

Changing the publishing deal. This is eminently sensible. HarperStudio seem to be making some waves by following this strategy (Combined with Killing Returns). The problem, as I see it is that this remains a short termist strategy.

As the cost and difficulty of becoming your own publisher crashes (the last barriers remain access to bricks and mortar bookshops and distribution) more authors will take their self created platforms and followings and become their own publisher avoiding entirely the traditional distribution channels and selling online.

Being against Selling in more ways is like being against Apple Tart (Pie) or (Cotton) Candy-floss. Sure everyone wants to sell the same content in as many possible formats as we can, but what if consumers don’t want to pay anything like the were willing to pay for the print version?

The Traditional Publishing Model
The Traditional Publishing Model

These are not strategies, they are tactics
None of these moves are actions that will change the fundamental reality of book publishing for Indie or Major publishers. There are real strategies that might work (no-one knows though). You can delve into a niche like Osprey, Tor or Adams media. You can try and be the best marketer of general books as I believe HarperStudio is. Even better you can buy the best assets (Seth Godin‘s Purple Cow(s)) there are and use them as the foundation of your publishing business like Bloomsbury is doing. But the rest is just window dressing on a collapsing superstructure that cannot hold.

What The Digital World Enables
What The Digital World Enables

If you don’t trust my judgement on this, read Seth Godin’s recent post on competing with the single minded, read Mike Shtazkin on vertical niches, read Tim O’Reilly’s archive on publishing.

The world has changed. Publishers should certainly try and embrace a new way of business, but it needs to be entirely more radical than just killing returns, changing contracts, selling through more channels and sharing profits with authors. The industry needs to embrace the reality that power has shifted away from publishers and get on with figuring out if we can survive this shift the impact of which is only gradually being felt. Eventually everyone will realise that it has happened (Amazon and Google have certainly figured it out and so have Apple) and when they do, the change will become much more rapid. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SURVIVAL.

I am the proud owner of Season Two of Mad Men in DVD, sadly Season Three is already started, I am destined to be behind the curve in that show!
Eoin

I’m looking for a writer with a huge interest in Irish History

Eoin Purcell

Do you write about the Famine?

I need a non-fiction writer who knows quite a bit about the Great Irish Famine who can write 7,500 -10,000 words by the end of September 2009.

I can’t reveal the project yet, but anyone who is interested should drop me a line with a sample of your writing and a short 1 page cv @ eoin{dot}purcell{at}gmail.com

If you don’t write about the Famine, but do write non-fiction about Irish History, drop me a line anyway, there are several projects on the way that might suit. Ideally I’d have this locked down by the end of next week. Feel free to share this blog post as widely as possible.

Windy day today,
Eoin