Amazon Encore: Again, Again, Again

You have to wonder just how many books Amazon Encore has to publish before we consider it a fully fledged book publisher? I wrote a long post about the implications of Amazon Encore here some time ago. In it I said:

Sure this can be extended and it is clearly being set up to do so. Amazon is in a great place to carry out their program to almost any conceivable scale. That in itself should indicate that they intend to extend. If you don’t believe it look at what Barnes & Noble have done in Classics and Rediscovered titles and you will get the idea.

But add to it the previously mentioned POD set up, they wouldn’t even need to expend extra capital on print runs, they’d be able to deliver books on demand so even if a huge proportion of the titles failed, their costs would be lower than the major publishers and the bookstore publishers too. That competitive advantage would be added to the fact that they wouldn’t have to pay a retailers discount unless they were selling to the retailers themselves. In effect, aside from what the author and their agents can grab from the chain, Amazon with Encore has successfully placed itself in control of the entire value chain of which I wrote some more about last week but didn’t quite count this in.

And now, quelle surprise, Amazon has expanded the encore program by 300%! I’ll admit from 1 to 3 is not a huge leap, but if every season (twice a year say) they leap 300% by the end of 2012 they would be publishing over 2000 titles. Of course that is an exaggeration I doubt that Amazon will expand the division at that speed but even at a lesser pace they could easily be publishing 100, 200, 300 titles a season.

Are we ready for that? I don’t think we are.
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 15/09/2009

Just under a month to TOC Frankfurt & the Frankfurt Book Fair. If you twitter, search using the following hash tag and youy’ll see lots of people are talking about it #fbf09. There’ll be a TweetUp (Which I’ll miss, but there you go) at the fair this year and I’d nearly put money on a European publisher acquiring something Twitter related for their list, though I’ll wait and see!

There have been a few interesting stories bouncing around the web the last few days on writing and publishing and where we are at with them. The Bookseller has a feature on how the downturn is affecting Author Pay, David & Charles have made a radical decision to realign themselves along a vertical basis, the result is layoffs in the short term but something else in the medium to longer term. In the same week I stumbled across this fine article about GeoCities and online communities in the American Prospect, lessons we should note and think about as we embrace the idea of verticals. Speaking of Verticals, Filedby.com was chosen by CUP to expand an author promotion platform in which they use some of Filedby’s premium features to help authors develop an online presence.

Digital publishers (and aspirants) everywhere were saddened by the news that Quartet Press has been disbanded after running into a string of problems too insurmountable to continue. The site carries the message, but Mike Shatzkin and Kassia Krozser (in two [1,2] excellent articles) carried on some detailed discussion and analysis. I’m not happy about this outcome for the founders, but I’m sure we will see more from them soon.

And then there was Dan Brown and his latest book the Lost Symbol which is variously being hailed as the ruin of us all (DJ Taylor in the Independent) or something of a saviour (Jeffery A. Trachtenberg in the the Wall Street Journal). Amazon and Waterstones have been selling it at half price for about three months, and don’t they look like genuis’ now that The Book Depository and the Multiples have launched a massive price offensive?

And in sad news, it’s bottoms up to Keith Floyd who died today, the video above shows him at his somewhat slowed down more mellow best. For a decent interview of recent origin, try this Daily Mail article!
Eoin

Tor.com is a publishing.com

Tor.com gets even smarter
Thanks to Digital Book World (haven’t had time to read my RSS fees today) I learned this by twitter:

The Tor.com Tweet
The Tor.com Tweet

Tor.com are launching Year’s Best Fantasy 9, POD only through Tor.com rather than Tor! The long and the short of it is this:

Tor.com is proud to announce the immediate availability of David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer’s definitive anthology, Year’s Best Fantasy 9.
This highly anticipated release also marks something we’re particularly proud of: Tor.com’s debut as a publishing entity, distinct from Tor Books and as a separate imprint under our shared corporate overlords at Macmillan.
YBF 9 is available only as a print-on-demand book, in keeping with our mission of always exploring alternative forms of publishing. Similar to the launch of the Tor.com Store, this title is one of our various publishing projects that seek to experiment with the available alternatives to publishing’s traditional sales, distribution, and delivery mechanisms.

You can buy the book in their online story here.

How smart are they?
Very. This builds on their nicely and still quietly and matter-of-factly launched Publisher Agnostic Store (links goes to my article on that development).

This also reinforces the concept of the Digital Vertical Niche that Mike Shatzkin likes to speak of and which I am also a fan. I’m intrigued and I really hope this works becuase in terms of new business models, this move is pretty much at the forefront.

Looking forward to good results, saddened by other news though!
Eoin

Self-publishing Attracts Star Authors Too

Eoin Purcell

UPDATE: Covey has signed a deal with Rosetta & Amazon making Amazon the exclusive distributor of Covey’s ebooks backlist! Pretty big news: Here’s more in the New York Times:

Amazon, maker of the popular Kindle e-reader and one of the biggest book retailers in the country, will have the exclusive rights to sell electronic editions of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and a later work, “Principle-Centered Leadership.” Mr. Covey also plans to gradually make other e-books available exclusively to Amazon, which will promote them on its Web site.

The move promises to raise the already high anxiety level among publishers about the economics of digital publishing and could offer authors a way to earn more profits from their works than they do under the traditional system.

Mike Cane has a post on it too

Self-Publishing Talk
This morning I had a very engaging chat with a student writing a thesis on self-publishing in Ireland and comparing it to self-publishing internationally. The discussion was wide ranging (though perhaps a bit too much of me). At one point I mentioned thatin some ways traditional publishing was getting caught in the middle with the lower tiers of publishing falling into Print on Demand and self-publishing territory (as I discuss here) and the upper tiers ripe for big stars to defect to self-publishing options. I couldn’t think off hand of an example (except for an author I worked with recently who only recently revealed a plan to self publish whose name I couldn’t reveal).

Then I came home and logged into twtetr and read this twitter comment (yes I use it compulsively: http://www.twitter.com/eoinpurcell) pushed me to this Wall Street Journal article about the plans of Stephen Covey:

Stephen R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” will launch a new self-published line of short books tomorrow called the Insight Series.

You don’t get much bigger than Stephen Covey, frankly he is massive.

Authors are brands
Really they may well be the only brands publishers have unless they manage to create a sensible strategy around their own names like Tor.com, Mills & Boon and Osprey have. If they don’t act to create better partnerships with these top level authors, I believe they will loose a lot of them to self-publishing enterprises like Stephen’s effort. It is simply too lucrative a proposition for many of them.

If you ask me (and you haven’t) game is heating up. It is becoming clearer by the day that the existing models of publishing are unsustainable. Change is unavoidable. I wonder will we, as an industry, respond?
Eoin

PS: If you’d like to think some more about that Author as Brand concept, here is a nice audio piece from New Hamphsire public radio featuring Sarah Weinman on the topic. It is well worth listening to.

There is literally too much digital news to know where to start

Eoin Purcell

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.

Wherever Spanish is read
Everywhere online and digital if the latest reports are to be believed. The top three Spanish publishers have joined forces to create a digital distributor. Seems eminently sensible. A much fuller article can be read on Publishing Perspectives a relative but very interesting newcomer to the publishing news scene, focused on international views and opinions. from the text it seems like these major players have developed a pretty sensible model too:

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 [2] (beyond the raw cost of the physical ingredients, which in the case of digital content is effectively zero).

And to finish the sad news, for the staff of Borders in Blanchardstown, the book buyers and the publishers of Ireland is that the only Irish store in the UK arm is closing along with four UK based branches. It is a real shame, I liked the store though I will freely admit I got there irregularly. I wish there was some way to avoid this outcome.

Not happy this evening,
Eoin

Publishing, but not as we know it

Eoin Purcell

A screenshot of SCD Library Website
A screenshot of SCD Library Website

Hopes & Dreams
I went to Children’s Books Ireland’s talk on Thursday 11th June on the future: Publishing but not as we know it | ebooks, digital publishing and children’. Aside from the very minor quibble, that the panel had no publisher (odd given the topic) it was nonetheless by far the most interesting group assembled to talk about the topic that I have seen for some time in Ireland.

I arrived late and so missed Samatha Holman of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency who I have seen talk recently about Google and possess probably the best understanding of Copyright law (both national and international) in Ireland. This added greatly to the discussion because it enabled her to cut through the hopes, dreams and wishes right down to the what was allowed and what had yet to be agreed, always useful when discussing the future!

I also missed Peadar Ó Guilín which annoyed me, as I found his contributions to the discussion after the main talks, fascinating, even if he seemed an evangelist for no longer needing publishers*. If I have him wrong, I’ll apologize.

Two other panelists really fascinated me too. The first was speaking as I arrived, John McNamee, President European Booksellers Federation spoke about the challenges of bookselling in the future and spoke of a vision where he sold the customer the intellectual property for a fee and then asked what format he would prefer it in. Seems a nice idea, though my gut told me that it wouldn’t work at a decentralized level and would work at a much more central level. But then, being proved wrong on that one, would be a bonus.

By far the most revelatory though was the South County Dublin Librarian, Georgina Byrne. She revealed the extent of their download services something its seems that has floated beneath the radar of nearly everybody in Irish publishing (certainly non-one has ever mentioned it to me).

They have partnered with Overdrive and now deliver up to 3000 titles in ebook and audio book form to members via their download zone.

If you like paper and love paper books then the message Georgina had to share was a depressing one. Children love the libraries Tumblebooks service which offers children’s books online. And, if you listen, read an watch one, you can see why. I tried Dinotrain and it is fun!

As Samantha Holamn said during the discussion, the panel and teh subsequent discussion was by far the best she had attended because it looked forward and I think that was due in large part to Oisín McGann who chaired the event quick wonderfully offering his well considered contributions and links out to funny and informative videos throughout.

I’ve left numerous side issues out but needless to say there was much discussion on Agents, Publishers, Contracts, Google, a little about Amazon, Scribd and a little about revenue models and changing cultural norms. It was a shame I had to leave so quickly when it ended I’d have liked to discuss some of the issues more with the panelists. Still, a thoroughly thought provoking evening.
Eoin

* It always amazes me that people would relish the disappearance of publishers wholesale. Yes some publishers might not be excellent and sometimes working relationship have become strained or just plain broken, but surely as an industry over the lifetime of their existence, publishers have been more than simply blood suckers?

All your base are belong to AMAZON

Eoin Purcell

Sometimes you get tired of being outmaneuvered

In some senses, what Amazon launched yesterday with Amazon Encore is neither that amazing a project, after all there have been several small-press or self-published titles taken on board by large publishers as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, nor is it even that innovative, Authonomy is at its core a way to tap the self published and slush-piled manuscripts out there in the wild.

But the key point is that this moves Amazon directly into the role of publisher as James Bridle makes clear on his post on the topic:

It’s been a while coming, but some of us have been predicting this move for some time: Amazon have finally made it to the penultimate step on the publishing chain. I say penultimate, because although they are now, by any definition, a publisher, they still appear to be cherry-picking from existing books rather than seeking out their own authors.

I think this move suggests a couple of key questions:

    1. 1) Who benefits most from this (and conversely who hurts the most because of it)?
    1. 2) Can it be extended?
    1. 3) Will there be a reaction?

First, Cui bono

On the face of it, this seems like an amazing opportunity for the author, reading her Amazon blog she certainly seems happy. Amazon’s platform (and as Personanondata point out platform is pretty key) allows for so many things that the average (or small press) publisher cannot. View for instance the neat homemade (and windy) video that amazon have on the main product page. The extra push that Amazon can give a product is really impressive. It will certainly be interesting to see how this works. I think it is fair to say then that the author gets a fair shake of this tail, though it would be interesting to see how the royalties split out.

As for the publisher who backed the book in the first place (always assuming that this encore element remains true) the deal is a win-win. So long, that is as rights for the project were acquired to begin with. A smart author would try and retain the rights for any potential Amazon Encore deal if that was even remotely possible. but allowing for the rights being with the publisher, they will surely gain something from the deal, though if the split of revenue is as one sided as in the case of the new amazon blogs-on-kindle deal (70-30 in favour of amazon) it’ll not be a huge amount. So there is a sense that the publishers who are “chosen” will benefit. But a note of caution from two sources Personanondata & James:

Amazon as producer is a subtle but important change in the operations of the largest retailer. I often mull what would happen to some of the largest publishers if they lost their top two or three authors to Google or Amazon. It may be that the Amazon Encore program sets the stage for a much larger program by Amazon to establish their own publishing and media production operation – their content supply – that feeds their retail presence. There may be further ramifications from this seemingly innocuous press release.

Those who suggest they’ll just keep picking stuff up from the little guys hasn’t been paying attention. In the last five years Amazon have, in addition to dominating online bookselling, bought a book social network, a major print-on-demand supplier, a complete end-to-end self-publishing system, pretty much the entire used books marketplace, the biggest audiobook distributor, the best iPhone ereader, and designed, built and delivered the only truly mass-market dedicated ereading device, with a proprietary format that sets them up to be the iTunes of eBooks.*

It’s big, it’s scary, it’s Amazon. But the publishing industry is under so many different pressures at the moment, this is unlikely to be as big as it could be: Amazon don’t want to annoy their major suppliers, not too much, and not yet. They will though, and by that point, they’ll be past caring. Like Google with their ebooks programme, they’ve been given so much leeway for so long, they think they can do whatever they like, and chances are, they’re right.

So, there is a benefit but they might just eat publishers lunch next week, next month, next year or next decade!

Second, Extension

Sure this can be extended and it is clearly being set up to do so. Amazon is in a great place to carry out their program to almost any conceivable scale. That in itself should indicate that they intend to extend. If you don’t believe it look at what Barnes & Noble have done in Classics and Rediscovered titles and you will get the idea.

But add to it the previously mentioned POD set up, they wouldn’t even need to expend extra capital on print runs, they’d be able to deliver books on demand so even if a huge proportion of the titles failed, their costs would be lower than the major publishers and the bookstore publishers too. That competitive advantage would be added to the fact that they wouldn’t have to pay a retailers discount unless they were selling to the retailers themselves. In effect, aside from what the author and their agents can grab from the chain, Amazon with Encore has successfully placed itself in control of the entire value chain of which I wrote some more about last week but didn’t quite count this in.

And third, reaction

In many ways, there is nothing publishers can do. Amazon is a major customer and now (or for some time, quietly) a competitor. No action that publishers can take in the short term will change that. In order to really reacte, publishers will need to change the game with a much longer term and strategic move. So far most of the discussion seems to centre on the idea of community building and niche curating. I think this is certainly a useful suggestion though as I have mentioned before, the other arm of Amazon’s tool shed (self-publishing & POD) suggests that even that niche strategy may not be a feasible bolt hole.

Conclusion

The long and the short of it is the best reaction is to wait-and-see, to plan and to strategize and quietly (or nosily if you wish) put in place the blocks that will move your position away from an over dependence on Amazon. To that end I am pleased that Ireland is as yet somewhat immune to the Amazon leviathan. Despite our proximity to the UK market, sales through Amazon remain somewhat restrained, firstly by postage and secondly I think, by the more conservative nature of the Irish consumer who seem to be a bit slower in embracing internet retailers (not that some people aren’t taking advantage of the bargains available online).

Still tired of being outmaneuvered but thinking through how best to react in the long term.

Eoin

PS: For those who don’t get the title reference see here