Print to Web

Bookshops Are Dead: And I Killed Them

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2009 was a weak year for me in book reading terms. I read perhaps 26 or so (with some extra I’m fairly sure I have forgotten):

    1) Europe Between The Oceans
    2) A Fire Upon The Deep
    3) The Ascent of Money
    4) Blood of the Mantis
    5) The Training Ground
    6) Dragonfly Falling
    7) The Blade itself
    8) Millennium
    9) Before They Are Hanged
    10) Ireland in 2050
    11) Gutenberg Revolution
    12) Empire in Black & Gold
    13) Empire of the Sea
    14) Edward I: A Great & Terrible Kind
    15) The Last Argument of Kings
    16) The Steel Remains
    17) The Dreaming Void
    18) The Adamantine Palace
    19) Defying Empire
    20) The Darkness That Comes Before
    21) A Shadow in Summer
    22) A Betrayal in Winter
    23) An Autumn War
    24) Young Miles
    25) The Stars My Destination
    26) Earthman, Come Home

On the other hand I bought quite a few more than that, perhaps something like 50 or 60 books. I’m hoping to push the read figure up towards 45 or so and if I’m really lucky, I might even average one a week.

Serious thoughts
I was thinking while calculating this poor reading effort of the changes that Seth Godin pointed to in a recent post:

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

He drew a comparison with books and Amazon’s recent somewhat questionable Kindle news, that they sold more books via Kindle than in paper on Christmas day:

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

I think Seth is right and yet wrong. He is right, bookstores as we’ve known them are dead. But Amazon killed them long before they released the Kindle. Cheap books delivered through the mail are the way forward for those of is who buy in large numbers (I’m probably a medium rank buyer of books).

The Book Depository sucks up a good 60% of my book buying at the moment and accounts for almost all my new book purchases with 10% or less spent in chain stores or supermarkets. The rest is spread very unevenly as follows: 25% in second-hand and car-boot sale locations (Ravenbooks features here and I suspect in 2010 will feature even more) which is made up almost exclusively of out of print and pre-2000 books, the last 5% or so gets spent fairly randomly everywhere from good independents, to local shops with self published titles and random online direct purchases and ebooks (I’m still primary print and suspect I will always be so, despite a belief and passion for digital text).

He is wrong, however, when he says that the top rank of book buyers are gone for ever from print, because many of those buying books on Kindle will buy some, get some free and eventually return to print books, many more of the top buyers will simply ignore digital books in favour of print because they like it.

This is not a defence of print against digital (like this op-ed from Jonathan Galassi president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux) as, ultimately, I believe the bulk of books will be read digitally before the end of the teens, but it is not as simple a case as music when whether or not you had a cd or an mp3 makes little difference to the listener, the quality was just the same and the process of using it fairly similar too. Books on the other hand are usable on their own without input from a device of any kind and with the proviso that there is light. Those readers who, like me, still enjoy the experience of reading in print will still buy in print even as the price of print books rises.

So there will be demand for print books but at a much reduced level (because many others will shift to digital as will casual readers and new readers) and the economics of bookshops will become completely skewed favouring the online Emporia. Booksellers can react by hand-selling to customers and making themselves relevant as Ravenbooks has (I am increasingly sure of finding a pile of relevant books there every time I walk in) and no doubt this will mean concentrating on older books, out-of-print books and second-hand books, books that appeal directly to the customer, and print-on-demand books printed directly on site (though I am less convinced of the economic case for this).

Whatever way you look at it though, by not buying in chain stores, and rarely enough in independents, I killed the chain bookshop and I got away with it!

More to come today!
Eoin

Nintendo DSi & FLIPS: A Review

Just before Christmas this year (2009), I was sent a Nintendo DSi and three FLIPS digital books free of charge and no strings attached (well with a view to reviewing them string attached) by O’Leary PR.

First, a word on reviews and sending me products. I’m not normally into that kind of thing. After all, I’m not here for freebies and they really won’t sway my opinion one way or the other. O’Leary responded to a post I wrote about the impact of digital change on Children’s books and the product they sent was very appropriate to my work so I felt it was a good deal on both sides. In other words, it was a rare event and one I’d suggest is unlikely to occur too often.

To business
The DSi is a very pretty piece of engineering and computing. It reminds me almost immediately of my old GameBoy and that can’t be a bad thing, after all that was glued to my hand for about two straight years. But when you start playing with it you realise that a GameBoy doesn’t even come close. It’s not just that the DSi has a camera, wi-fi connectivity, two screens and notably colour (which I never even imagined was a possibility) but it’s also the touch screen interface (admittedly with a stylus which seems very early noughties now) the screen shifting capability and the download-able content that make this a special piece of kit. it won’t ever replace my wonderful iPod touch but I did find myself thinking that for certain purposes, especially complex games like Settlers and Civilization, the DSi would have lots of advantages over the touch.

The meat
Electronic Arts announced its first FLIPS products in October 2008. They went on sale in December. So what are they? Essentially digital book packages.

I spent most of my time using the Artemis Fowl FLIPS, if only because that was the one that appealed most to me and not because the author, Eoin Colfer, is Irish. You get quite a lot for the money you pay. At a retail price of just £24.99 you get 7 books and a bundle of extras. The best thing about the FLIPS is that they are not just books made to work on a device, the books have embedded features like links to information that might be useful or helpful to a new reader, collectible pieces of code that build into a readable text as well as illustrations displayed on a double screen in what seemed to me a most book-like manner.

I’ve enjoyed reading on the DSi, the page turning is much easier to deal with than some e-reading devices, the refresh is quicker and the enhancements bring a new dimension to the experience. I also like the reward structure, that might just encourage some reluctant readers to engage, but then again, given the choice of a game over a book package, I suspect most people will skip the book and buy the game.

One thing I really like about the FLIP though is the fact that it is a bundle of books. I can see this being an attractive way to package books for children and adults. But there again that leads me to my problems with the product which are twofold.

The Problems
Firstly that in some ways, FLIPS just highlights the core challenge of books and reading in a digital connected world, as the possible uses of free time explode the danger for books is that time that might be spent reading can as easily be spent, surfing the web, playing games, watching video, listening to streamed music or doing any of the variety of digitally enabled forms of entertainment what ever handheld device you happen to be carrying allows.

Secondly that the FLIPS feels all the time like a tame version of the web. Why bother with these little cartridges is what I wonder, enable the text on a website with the links embedded, make the enhancements available online too and charge for access to the bundle, update it when new books are released and cross sell products if you want but crucially make it available to anyone willing to pay on any device anywhere that’s connected to the web.

Who wins when book publishers package books like this? Device makers I reckon.

Enjoying the last day of 2009!
Eoin

Children’s books & digital

I have to say, when I read this news from EA Games last month I was not TOO blown away:

Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: ERTS) today announces the development of FLIPS, an innovative new book range created for the Nintendo DS. FLIPS has been designed to give children of all ages a fun new way to read their favorite books. EA has worked with some of the UK`s leading publishers of children’s books and magazines, including Egmont and Penguin Publishing, to bring modern classic titles from critically acclaimed authors such as Cathy Cassidy, Eoin Colfer, Enid Blyton, and the various writers from the popular boys series, `Too Ghoul for School` to the DS. Each FLIPS title features multiple books and the first four titles will be released exclusively on Nintendo DS in the UK on 4th December 2009.

But then I saw one (the Artemis Fowl-Eoin Colfer collection) in action at the CBI Digital Developments Seminar on Saturday 28 November in Tallaght Library. I’m still not blown away but I am more impressed than I thought I would be. The device is the same as any DS but the program is actually fairly clever and offers a range of extras that kids might just find enjoyable, though to a certain extent it remains in essence a book on screen. I don’t think this will be converting non-readers into readers. Still, interesting move.

One of the discussions that I tumbled into on Saturday was whether digital products opens a new market for books and will deliver new readers. I’m not sure that it will in any real sense. It may make it easier for people who have always read to read digitally, or enable people who have wanted to read but couldn’t to read with great ease, but NEW readers, people who simply didn’t read out of choice deciding to read on screen, seems unlikely, especially not book length pieces.

Still, one interesting development I spotted [in Publishers Weekly] today is that ScrollMotion are launching a series of releases for their Iceberg ereader which will be heavily child focused with:

animations, audio content, interactivity. Picture books in the Iceberg Kids format are more than books—they’re activities. The app has a sleek and entertaining aesthetic and navigational system (though all e-books will be sold as separate apps for the moment, they all share the same design and navigation system), featuring five buttons—”Read,” “Bookmark,” “Index,” “Record,” Settings,” “Help”—that make musical sounds when tapped.

To accommodate full-page illustrations in the iPhone’s small format, the application automatically pans around the illustration while the child or parent advances through the text on that page. By pinching the screen, one can move around the entire illustration at will. The text can be made larger or smaller, and automatically moves to accommodate the art.

I remain unconvinced by the need for these type of applications when they could be as easily hosted on a decent website, that had a mobile access mode, but still, it is good to see development on the area one way or the other.
Eoin

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

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

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 04/08/2009

Eoin Purcell

Interesting effort here by RTÉ who seem to be getting the hang of cross media productions following the success of their Judging Dev and Our War enterprises:
Look Of The Irish

The Book Oven opens for business finally and impressively with the first in a new set of tools to make publishing easier and funn-er! Read the post about it here and sign up for their Bite Sized Edits program here.

UPDATE:
Will Somebody Please Hire This Woman: this is very slick. Debbie Stier gives credit where it’s due and calls for book publishers to hire more people like Marian Schembari

That’s it for today, though I have many more links to share once I get some time to read through and share!
Eoin

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