Sony

Go Read This | Sony exits and the ebook business loses an original player – The Shatzkin Files

Worth reading mike’s thoughts on Sony’s move:

The wild card here is if some big outside player — Walmart being the most frequently mentioned — saw benefits to having the ebook business or even the whole book business in its portfolio. That’s happened in the UK, where supermarket chain Sainsbury’s bought a majority stake in Anobii a UK-publishers-backed startup, analogous to Bookish in the US and Tesco bought Mobcast because the ebook business was one that they thought fit in well with their offerings and customer base. Both Sainsbury’s and Tesco made statements about strengthening their “digital entertainment” and online retailing propositions. Tesco is investing in devices as well. Kobo has made it a pillar of their strategy to find brick-and-mortar partners all over the world.

via Sony exits and the ebook business loses an original player – The Shatzkin Files.

Go Read This | Smashwords: Farewell Sony Reader Store

More n the end of Sony’s eReading efforts in the US and it’s impact of Smashword, which in the very words of Mark Coker makes clear why this, although notable, is not that huge a deal:

Sony’s devices and ebook store predated Amazon’s, so when the history books of the indie author revolution are written I hope historians give Sony the credit they deserve as a true pioneer.  My sentiments and appreciation for Sony and their awesome people aside, the impact on Smashwords authors today will be minimal.  The Sony store, as most authors know, is one of the smaller retailers in the Smashwords distribution network.  To put this in perspective, on a typical month, less than 2% of our authors’ monthly sales come from Sony.

via Smashwords: Farewell Sony Reader Store.

Go Read This | The Future of Reader Store | Sony

This isn’t exactly surprising but it’s still something of a wow moment. n the one hand Sony is in retreat in more areas than just ereading so, what’s so newsworthy about this but on the other the fact that one of the pioneers of digital books has called it a day and is effectively pulling out is notable. And that Kobo would appear to be the emerging only viable candidate t rival Amazon is also notable:

Although we’re sorry to say goodbye to the Reader Store, we’re also glad to share the new and exciting future for our readers: Reader Store will transfer customers to Toronto-based eReading company, Kobo—an admired eBook seller with a passionate reading community. We strongly believe that this transition will allow customers to enjoy a continued high-quality e-reading experience. As a result of this change, we will close Reader Store in the U.S. and Canada on March 20, 2014 at 6 p.m. (EST).

via The Future of Reader Store | Sony.

Go Read This | 2014 Publishing Predictions

Jane Little’s 2014 predictions list is wide-ranging and fascinating throughout. One point that I believe warrants mention is below and relates to online communities. One curious feature of the list is that Amazon seems to have got there already with a few points. Perhaps there is a danger of us all-seeing the future of books the same way Amazon see it. That would be unhealthy. In any case, there’s so much in there you’d be best reading it yourself.

Penguin and Random will buy a large reading community.  Right now other than streamlined distribution services, the merger hasn’t resulted in much of a change. Each publisher has its own sales, marketing, editing, and acquisition teams. But data about readers is more important than ever and so is the issue of discovery. Traditional publishers need a community of readers already built. They don’t have the time to create it from the bottom up and their efforts like Bookish and Book Country have been failures.  Their best option is to buy Wattpad or Scribd and given that Wattpad is venture capitalist-backed, Wattpad is the more viable candidate.

via 2014 Publishing Predictions.

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

The Future Of Publishing In Microcosm | The Increasing Internationalization Of Irish Publishing

Yesterday I was a little unfair to Easons for the pronouncements of the company’s spokesperson and the tone of the article on its ebook strategy which suggested the company was about to embark on a  mission to build a rival platform to B&N and Amazon, something that would surely have been a valiant, if doomed, effort.

When I thought about it for the rest of the day though it got me thinking about just how much ebooks are changing the profile of book publishing and bookselling and how quickly that is happening. For instance I am almost certain of two things about the Irish ebook market:

1) That foreign based platforms and retailers account for the majority of sales (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Sony etc)

2) That like in the print world UK publishers (and their local imprints) publish the majority of ebooks bought in Ireland both in terms of units and revenue

I’m also close to certain about a third item, but without evidence I cannot prove it, here it goes anyway:

3) That US-based publishers sell more units (and I don’t doubt generate more revenue) from ebooks in Ireland than domestic Irish publishers do and are perhaps second only to the UK publishers (and their Irish imprints)

The first and the last points there are pretty radical statements. The first represents a huge change to the Irish experience of the book industry. Right now in print terms, most books bought by Irish consumers are sold to them by Irish retailers, Easons the principle one but others like Dubray, The Book Centres, Kenny’s, O’Mahony’s, Hughes & Hughes and many many others. That is despite the growth of physical sales through Amazon and the internationally owned (except for Dunnes Stores) supermarket chains. The wholesale and distribution businesses are also heavily Irish owned (with some British presence, increasingly on the Library supply side of things).

The Difference Digital Makes

But the situation is dramatically different on the ebook side of the house. Easons is the only ebook retailer of note in the Irish context (others should shout out if I’ve unfairly missed them out). On the ebook distribution side, EpubDirect are the only (and admittedly impressive) crew actually making a go of that business and even they don’t make up for the fact that the majority of ebooks sold in Ireland will have been distributed through other channels.

You can argue the toss over why this is the case but several factors loom large:

1) Irish publishers have been slow to digitize their content (though they are getting there now)

2) Irish retailers have been slow to embrace the web (except for a few notable exceptions) and slower to embrace eCommerce (again a  few notable exceptions aside) and, finally, even slower again to embrace ebook retailing

3) The costs of developing ebook platforms, ebook retailing sites and ebook distribution systems are high, the Irish market is small, while it might have been possible to forecast the potential to gain customers outside of the island, it is a difficult result to actually achieve (which makes EpubDirect’s success all the more impressive) which mitigates against anyone investing in them

In terms of sales, while UK publishers and their Irish based imprints have come to dominate the book trade, significant numbers of books published by Irish houses continue to sell in print form and account for anything between 15-25% of the trade. With ebooks however, sales from publishers whose books would not traditionally have been made available in Irish territory is increasingly likely. For instance a US published book that does well but might not get a print deal outside of the US has as much (if not more) opportunity to sell in Ireland as any other ebook, the key is whether it is high in bestseller/popular lists or promoted by the retailer for some reason

The only ebook store that really seems to cater specifically for the Irish ebook market is Apple’s iTunes so when Irish publishers do start to make content available they have to fight against ALL the published content there is, not just all the domestically published content and all the UK published content as they do in the print world. Further the people making decisions about ebook merchandising are rarely based in Ireland as once they were (or indeed still are in the print world) and therefore open to some discussion or indeed charm (not inconsiderable amounts of which the Irish are possessed).  You see the problem.

The Outside Context Problem

The Irish publishing industry is fast running into what might be described as some fashion of an ‘Outside Context Problem‘ wherein the new arrivals on the scene are vastly superior in terms of abilities, vastly superior in terms of resources and possessed of superior technology. While some of the participants in the market might grasp the nature of the problem and respond as effectively as they can, the truth is that the disparity in attributes makes success unlikely and the new threat is very much an existential one.

Which sounds very dramatic but think of it this way. The Irish consumer market for trade books is around €150 million a year and 15 million units all in. Suppose only 30% shifts digital over time or €45 million and 4.5 million units. That would leave only €105 million up for grabs for Irish retailers in print form and 10.5 million units. The impact on stores, book publishers and other market participants would be pretty dramatic. There would be closures and job losses and the industry would be considerably weaker. And that’s just the impact on the retail side of the trade. The impact on the publishing side of the trade is unknowable, but there is little doubt that it would be significant and would probably be negative for the domestic publishers (see my earlier paragraph on why). The UK publishers will probably cede sales to US-based publishers, especially if US publishers seek to enforce global ebook rights deals on authors.

We are probably headed in the direction of 30% digital pretty quickly. If we even approach the kind of conversion to digital sales that seems to be happening in the US or even the UK, we can expect that 30% figure to be a reality by 2015. By then the Irish industry will have changed radically and will become almost unstoppably more international not just in terms of the books that sell her, but also in terms of those who sell them. US publishers will probably be the second biggest publishers of ebooks bought by Irish readers (if not the first having overtaken the UK).

There’s interesting evidence of this too from the other side of the fence. The AAP reported that ‘total eBook net sales revenue [for US publisher] for 2011 was $21.5 million, a gain of 332.6% over 2010; this represents 3.4 million eBook units sold in 2011, up 303.3%.’

Frustratingly the APP did not share details for Ireland (those were contained in the full report but not as a single territory, rather as part of a larger group of English language territories) so we don’t know how well those publishers are doing here. Still, we can assume that they did well relative to the size of the market.

What’s more, Ireland and the story of change in the publishing industry really acts as a microcosm for the rest of the English language publishing industry (indeed it acts as a microcosm for any small market which shares a language with a much larger market be it French or German or Spanish or Chinese).

In some ways the whole industry is encountering the ‘Outside Context Problem’ I mentioned earlier as software and technology firms move into a traditionally physical business, but for larger companies, responding can be easier because of their scale and their resources make for a wider context as it were. It’s the small markets where the combination of these larger players and the changes in technology make for such a difficult problem.

Beautiful day here in Dublin!
Eoin

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Interestingly (or maybe just interesting for me) I wrote some time ago about the impact of divergent rates of digital growth on small markets, and in many ways this post is all about that impact. The increasing internationalization of the Irish publishing industry is driven by the very issue I highlighted: Divergent Growth Rates In Digital.

On THE Platform And What That Means

When you look at this ebook game from a distance it seems to make a little sense:

1) Microsoft & NewCo. = Content, Device, Apps + possible future Mobile play via Nokia & Windows 8

2) Apple = Content+ Device, Apps + Mobile play

3) Amazon = Content, Device, Apps + Whispersync making Mobile already a significant play in my book but an actual partnership not yet to hand

4) Google = Content (-ish), Apps + Mobile (with Motorola) and a Device neutral stance

Leaving Sony and Kobo somewhat on the sidelines missing some element of the game. Of course those two, like the previous four also have a crucial component in the forthcoming game, lots of cash. And, seeing as folks seem to be tooling up for a platform war, I reckon they are gonna need that.

Of course we know already that all the players in the top league have some fashion of a flaw.

For Amazon the very success of the company’s ebook strategy has created a huge problem in that they are now the team to beat. Apple has a locked down and locked in strategy as closed as the rest of its walled gardens and there’s little chance of it opening voluntarily. B&N and Nook well they as yet have little international footprint (what does this move mean for Waterstones digital strategy?) Google, well where to start with Google? Its execution in the ebook space has been poor and right now does not inspire confidence, though it does have what I think is the better long-term concept.

The biggest problem for everyone though is that a platform war is pretty pointless in anything longer than a medium term horizon (by which I mean 5-10 years). Just as Google is failing to maintain its grip on attention and Facebook is growing stronger every day, someone will rise to take Facebook’s place and then another will rise to take theirs. This impermanence of pre-dominance is, for me, a defining characteristic of the web, and it is driven by the incredibly low to non-existent barriers to entry online because the WEB IS THE PLATFORM, which fosters competition, innovation and experimentation.

That is not to say that those who succeed will inevitably meet a doom, Google is doing quite handsomely thank you, and no doubt Facebook will do well for some time too. Which means that in the medium term a successful ebook platform will milk the system just as Amazon appears to be doing right now. I just believe that their platform has no long-term, sustainable foundation. Moving against Amazon is mostly pointless, rather the focus should be on finding a way around Amazon using the web as a platform and not relying on another closed platform.

Where does that put publishers? In a familiar spot I would argue. I wrote a piece two years ago about ebooks and how it was important that publishers focus on:

developing an expertise in how to sell content in many different forms and at many different prices to different audiences. Publishers should be platform agnostic, selling wherever readers are willing to buy and not focusing on if it is an e-book, an app, online access, segments, chapters, quotes, mash-ups, readings, conferences, or anything else (a point made Friday on Publishing Perspectives by Clive Rich).

Strangely I don’t think I would change a word of that paragraph today. Nor would I shy away from the other recommendation I made:

publishers need to focus on two long-term objectives: audience development and content curation. Neither of these are specific to digital activities, meaning that they will only serve to bolster the print side of the business as well, whether it declines rapidly or gradually.

I just wish I could recall them when I make my day-to-day decisions!
Eoin

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PS: Worth reading all these pieces:

1) The Window Is Closing

2) Why Ebooks Will Soon be Obsolete

3) Microsoft Looking To be Third Time Luck In Its Bid For Ebooks