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Go Read This | Mainframe Bookselling and Internet Commerce

Bookshops and their fate have been coming under increased scrutiny in the last few month. Whether they can be saved or not in an interesting question. My sense is that many of the chains will no longer be sustainable within the next three to five years in countries with high digital penetration. Local, second-hand and value booksellers though, and supermarkets selling limited lists will probably do okay, especially if the chains close their more marginal stores more rapidly than currently anticipated, and even in some cases if they follow existing planned closures:

This is a sad and quixotic result for a bookselling industry that was to a large degree birthed from a generation of 1960s entrepreneurs at Bookstop, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and other book chains, all of whom were technical innovators in their day, as David Wilk of Booktrix observed to me recently. In the 1970s, and then especially in the 1980s, this group of founders created the first automated efforts to describe supply chains, stock and inventory management, and analysis of consumer preferences using then state-of-the-art programming on mainframe and mini-computers. The extent to which one bookselling group gained more efficiency than another was in part due to the ability of each firm to capitalize on innovation in IT automation.

via Mainframe Bookselling and Internet Commerce | PWxyz.

On Amazon Publishing

It’s big news that Larry Kirshbaum is leaving Amazon Publishing, it’s just not so big as it appears, especially as the retailing giant is going nowhere, and its Kindle project is as strong as ever. That also doesn’t mean that Amazon Publishing will have an easy ride in the years ahead. Laura Hazard Owen sums up some of it nicely:

Nonetheless, at least seventy percent of the books sold in the U.S. are still print, so Amazon’s inability to get its titles into bookstores was a huge strike against the vision that it would be able to compete directly against general trade publishers on big fiction and nonfiction titles. And just because many have argued that the traditional book publishing industry’s business model is outdated didn’t mean that Amazon would be able to completely upend the way the industry does business in New York in two years.

via Amazon Publishing reportedly retreating in NYC. Thank or blame Barnes & Noble — Tech News and Analysis.

This recalls to me one of the three things I identified a bricks and mortar bookshops’ advantages in their struggle against Amazon and online retail for a talk at a booksellers gathering last year:

Physicality: being a place is an underestimated thing as is its almost completely ignored sister point Proximity: the idea that a bookshop is often a local place that is NEAR the reader or the customer. Where is Amazon? I wonder how many Irish people know that the company has a customer service centre in Cork and an engineering office in Dublin? Or indeed how helpful either fact is when you want something nearby?

The other two points I figured went in bookshops favour are Knowledge and Sympathy, tools and advantages that Amazon itself possess to some extent, but which are greatly added to by the physicality and proximity of bookshops.

I would expect Amazon to respond in three ways to this set back:

  1. Push its niche imprints more aggressively than ever because those imprints have massive advantages in specific verticals and can deliver real benefits to authors and readers.
  2. Work to convert more readers to digital or online book purchases (booksellers have made themselves Amazon’s true enemies now whereas in the past they were simply the hapless victims of Amazon’s usage of new distribution and sales systems).
  3. Find a new way to market for its printed books. This might be seen as a slight contradiction of 2, because it might require working with bookshops, but it would be a sensible strategy for Amazon to find SOME way to get books in front of people in large numbers. Several avenues suggest themselves; somehow convincing a chain or a group of indies to take them, selling the retail print rights to the best market offer (I’m sure bidders would emerge), doing a deal with retailers of other products with good footfall and a desirable audience (this might work), or simply hiring out empty retail space on short leases for book big launches (expensive but interesting potential, especially around peak season releases).

It’s very clear that Amazon has taken a defeat of some kind, frustrated by its competitors and by circumstances. I don’t expect that will end the company’s drive into publishing, it has created a much too valuable commodity with its platform to retrench at this point, but it will clearly require a rethink and a retool before the company can move forward again against the big fish in New York.

That would not make me happy if I was an executive in those same houses though, it would make me even more nervous. This reversal does nothing to counteract Amazon Publishing’s attractiveness to niche authors and the KDP Platforms dominance of digital self-publishing. Publishers will need to think and act smart if they are to take advantage of this Amazon misstep.

Go Read This | Why disruption goes unchecked | Studio Tendra

I see this everyday, small ways in which the old system has become undermined, at the margin. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is huge:

This has already begun to affect existing publishers in minor ways. I know of one example where what was in my opinion the most effective tactic for that genre (subscription website) was taken off the table before the conversation even started. Why? Because one of the authors was already running a subscription website in that niche and they were doing it much much better on their own than the publisher ever would have.

via Why disruption goes unchecked | Studio Tendra.

Go Read This | An Industry Pining for Bookstores | The Scholarly Kitchen

A fine post about bookstores, print and emerging ecosystems (I’ve written about before about this new emerging value web) by Joe Esposito over on The Scholarly Kitchen:

Trade publishers pine for bookstores.  Part of this is nostalgia, but part of this is an awareness that their businesses were built for one ecosystem and another one is evolving before their eyes.  People may clamor for print (which would reinforce the publishers’ historical position), but the marketplace is increasingly becoming reluctant to provide it.

The simple truth is that with one exception, every link in the value chain must be profitable or the entire chain breaks.  Bookstores are breaking and are taking the entire chain along with it.  Amazon’s hands are outstretched to receive the new customers, to play its dominant role in the new ecosystem.

The one exception?  Authors.  Most authors don’t now and have never been able to live on the proceeds of their work.  A few do, and do so spectacularly.  That spectacle draws authors in:  it’s not the prospect of a good and interesting job but the chance to win the lottery that makes a writer out of a normal human being.  When we express regret at the passing of the old print paradigm, don’t shed a tear for the authors.  Our sympathies should be with the booksellers, who held it all together.

via An Industry Pining for Bookstores | The Scholarly Kitchen.

On The Media Show

I recorded a piece about ebooks, digital change and self publishing for the media show last week. It’s right at the top of the show and I think it went pretty well:

There’s also a fascinating piece with the editor of the Irish Independent talking about the digital change going on at Independent (kicks off around 13.00 mins or so) and Brian Fallon from Distilled media talking about TheJournal.ie and the other brands in that group.

In Search Of The Number

There is a number I’d like to know, if I knew it, I think it would help me explain some things that currently seem inexplicable to some and unclear to me.

I know the number exists because I can phrase questions to which the number is the answer (maybe numbers is more accurate, but it’s got less impact). Those questions can be expressed two ways:

– the first; at what £/$/€ spend does a primarily print book reader become a primarily ebook reader?

– the second; at what number of books read does a primarily print book reader become a primarily ebook reader?

It has a follow on question:

– Which indicator is more reliable, ie: is a reader more likely to shift formats because they become comfortable reading ebooks or because they have managed to spend a certain amount of money on ebooks?

I strongly suspect that the answer to the follow on question is that a reader shifts when they become comfortable reading which happens after X (where X is the number) ebooks read. That point obviously changes for different types of readers and is probably very individual. However, there’ll be an average number of books, an average I guarantee that Amazon knows, that B&N certainly knows and that Kobo, Apple, Google and Sony know (or suspect).

If I’m right, and it is about making a print reader comfortable with ebook reading, then conversion is a case of making the offer compelling enough until the formerly print dedicated reader has shifted format without really realizing it.

When you think like that, and you think about 20p ebooks, which seems to have confounded and angered so much of the industry (though to me, just lacked a clear logic that I was aware of, it HAD to have a logic, even if the logic was wrong) they start to make an awful lot of sense. Once you’ve converted the print reader to ebooks (and especially if you shift them to your ecosystem) there’ll be loads of time to drive up the revenue you earn from that consumer. The lost revenue before they convert is simply customer acquisition cost.

See why the number is important to know?
Eoin

Thoughts On >> Waterstones & Amazon

I have to say, this notion didn’t once enter my mind when I thought about Waterstones options, not because it’s a bad idea (far from it) but because I never thought Waterstones and its management would even consider it. It’s fairly radical and the implications are pretty dramatic:

UK bookseller Waterstones is to sell Amazons Kindle book-reader and launch other Kindle digital services.Waterstones says the deal will dovetail with its current store refurbishment scheme, which is creating dedicated areas for digital books, free wireless internet and new coffee shops.

via BBC News – Waterstones to sell Amazons Kindle book reader.

If I was to sum it up I would say that it indicates Waterstones does not believe it can compete with Amazon in the digital space and has decided to concentrate on the print market.

Is that a good decision? Or is it making the same mistake as Borders made in allowing Amazon run its website so many years ago?

Alternatively it could be very seen as a sensible decision. It relieves Waterstones of the burden of competing with Amazon on more fronts and crucially reduces the need for a huge capital outlay on technology R&D (the kind B&N has committed itself to). It also enables the management to concentrate on making the stores profitable and on selling print books (still the company’s core product). It makes the decision about selling Amazon’s print books easier (I would think that’s a big one for authors). It probably presents more opportunities than it closes off for Waterstones in other words.

If I was to think of one single reason for the move being a good though I would say it is this, it allows Waterstones to stand still and observe for a little longer. The value of inaction is often underestimated and right now when the ebook retail and distribution space is changing rapidly and requires such a huge investment, this move brings revenue, options but most crucially of all, time to just see what happens while rebuilding the core bookselling business.

Impressed by the cojones if nothing else!
Eoin