the future of books

Go Read This | What’s a book? It’s whatever you want it to be — Tech News and Analysis

In case you missed it, stop thinking book or ebook and think, content and the many ways to sell it:

This kind of “format shifting,” in which a newspaper or magazine takes content that has already been published and reformats it for the Kindle or some other device, makes a lot of sense. That content can theoretically reach readers who might never have picked up the newspaper or magazine, or who missed it when it was first printed, or who want to read it in book form while sitting on their couch or at the beach rather than on a computer. And if the cost is low enough, they will be willing to pay for that convenience.

via What’s a book? It’s whatever you want it to be — Tech News and Analysis.

Go Read This | The subtext of REDGroup’s collapse | Josh Dowse | Commentary | Business Spectator

Fascinating throughout but this passage is striking both because it highlights the remaining defence of publishing and because if it is believed by publishers, it heralds the demise of publishing as we know it. Getting ‘its internal dynamics’ right means gutting the publisher as it stands and forever changing the way the industry works:

Publishing is neither printing nor distribution. It is neither paper nor e-ink. It is the creation and support of content, and the delivery of content in whatever ways are both appreciated by readers and profitable. At the moment, the industry is being buffeted by the simultaneous rise of e-books, online retailing and retail chain discounting, as well as changes to copyright policy. It must get its internal dynamics right to remain attractive against more and more home, computer and mobile entertainment.

via The subtext of REDGroup’s collapse | Josh Dowse | Commentary | Business Spectator.

Go Read This | Waterstone’s needs to find its Nook | FutureBook

Nice post from Philip here. Personally I think the physical retail presence and access to HEAVY BOOK BUYERS and BROWSERS via that retail presence is the key to Barnes & Noble’s success with the Nook.

It’s an odd story in a way but it reinforces the idea that one of the key weapons in the future of the industry is knowing the customer OR having access to them directly. The three winners in the ebook space right now, Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble all have either huge databases of customer information or direct access to them in places where they part with their money, we shouldn’t miss that when thinking about this today.

Many people wrote off the Nook when it first launched in the US. The name was a bit, well, odd. It had a funny colour strip that didn’t serve much use, except to show book jackets. The e-books available weren’t cheap enough, when compared to Amazon’s overly aggressive pricing. And it had initial shipping problems, a sure-fire technology killer. It was seen as the last gasp of a dying mammal washed ashore by a particularly arch digital wave.

We neglected to look at the two key advantages it had over the Kindle. There was the innovative sharing function, which Amazon has now copied, that gave users a sense of having purchased something tangible—not just a license to read. And of course the ability to read any book for free in one of the chain’s 700 shops, making a physical connection to the shops via digital. The latter gave it something Amazon could never have.

via Waterstone’s needs to find its Nook | FutureBook.

Quick Link : The Ideal 21st Century Publisher: A Remix | Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

This fantasy publisher of mine would be niche-focused, of course, and would view books, print and digital, as but one medium for the stories it acquires, and likely only publish 6-12 physical books/year — a mix of novels, anthologies and comics, featuring work by its authors and their fans. A tightly integrated and sustainable list would be emphasized over volume, and mutually beneficial partnerships would be prioritized over traditional vendors and intermediaries.

via The Ideal 21st Century Publisher: A Remix | Guy LeCharles Gonzalez.

On Publishing Economics & Cannibalism


UPDATE: The Sunday Times (Ireland) has picked the post up in an edited version for their Think Tank column today.


There has been some debate over whether cannibalisation of print sales by digital sales is actually occurring and what’s more some debate about whether, if it is occurring, it matters a great deal, all mostly prompted by The Bookseller’s recent piece on ebook sales beginning to impact sales of print books:

For example, the e-book market share of the science fiction and fantasy sector globally for the 10 weeks since June was 10%, more than treble the genre’s market share of print book sales. The share taken by romance and saga books was 14%, seven times its print market share.

Julie Meynink, business development director of Nielsen BookScan, said though it was early days, data from Nielsen BookScan US, which globally represents the biggest share of e-book sales, showed a decline in print sales within these two sectors. In the year to date sales of romance books in the US are down 7.5%, while science-fiction and fantasy sales are down, even when the effect of Stephenie Meyer is stripped out. Estimated e-book sales from the Association of American Publishers show that the e-book market has risen 10-times since 2008, with sales accelerating this year with sales over the first two quarters up 180% on 2009.

Ahead of the seminar, Meynink said: “There has been over-performance in the growth in e-book sales in the romance and science fiction categories, when compared to the market share of print book sales, and this correlates with a fall in print book sales in those sectors.

Sorry for the long quote, you should read the whole piece. The highlighting is mine. I want you think through that bit as you read this. Meynink is telling us that ebooks are pushing aside print sales in specific genres that are at the forefront of digital adoption. No messing there, no room for shifting the territory or fluffing the message – the rise correlates with the fall.

Evan Schnittman has an interesting analysis in which he posits that ebooks are not the issue, it is the changing way people interact with books when they shift towards digital and that it’s not such a problem in the medium to long run:

The good news is that the same Nielsen study shows a significant portion of the ereading market buys more ebooks than they did print books. Furthermore, the study also shows that 80% surveyed would never consider buying a dedicated ebook reading device. So in the end, the book-selling world may lose 25% or so of its print customers to ebooks, but those customers will likely buy more product than they would have if they didn’t use an ereader.

Publishers must face the vibrant and growing market of ebooks with a view that their print runs and print sell-through have been and will continue to be downwardly affected by the loss of consumers to ebook reading devices. However, this isn’t cannibalization, it’s an opportunity for market expansion by feeding ereading consumers more of what they want to find.

I Think People Are Misunderstanding The Issue Here
I’m not sold on this market expansion argument. And I’m not sold on it for a specific reason. We are looking at the problem through the wrong end of the lens. The customer isn’t the issue, the publisher is. Simply put, for most publishers and on most titles a 10-20% shift to from print to digital undermines their economic model. Costs per unit will rise and revenue per title will drop if that kind of shift happens, and coping with it won’t be easy.

A loss of 10% or even 20% of print sales when the print run is over 10,000 isn’t catastrophic, especially if ebook revenues bring in some of that lost revenue. It won’t help the economics of a title, but it won’t kill them either. The more you print the less and less it costs per unit and the more and more room for manoeuvre you have regarding price and discounts. Sure, you’ll feel some profit pinch, and your revenue per title will dip, but overall if most of your books sell in excess of 10,000, you will be able to cope with a reduction in the region of 10-20% (though if the digital share grows beyond that it MIGHT become an issue).

But most books are not printed in quantities in excess of 10,000. In fact, in Ireland, I’d warrant that the average print run is circa 3,000 if not a little bit lower. From what I know of the US and the UK, this figure might be slightly higher, perhaps 4-5,000.

Those kind of books (hardback or paperback) are only just viable at current price levels. It’s one of the major issues publishers face. Paper prices have risen dramatically this year, but book prices haven’t risen to reflect that. If publishers are forced to cut print runs on top of absorbing cost increases, the profit per book sold will decrease dramatically.

Looking At It Clinically
If ebook starts to take 20% of a books sales, the print run becomes increasingly non-viable. Only two decisions really remain at that point, reduce costs or increase price.

Suppose a publisher looked to reduce costs, they might cut the print run even more, but each unit would then be more expensive and printers don’t really like doing runs below 3000 so the price might end up being pretty much the same. They could use cheaper materials and thus reduce the attractiveness of the product. They might squeeze the author’s percentage, but authors could self-publish when the deal gets bad enough and if an agent’s involved that’ll probably not happen.

So the other option is to increase the price. This is likely to reduce the demand from readers in the bookstore, and make it harder to get shelf space in physical stores. Even independent bookstores are wary of taking books that they know are more expensive than readers expect and readers have come to expect good prices.

On top of which the higher prices could shift more readers towards digital editions exacerbating the problem that kicked this all off to begin with!

I suspect that leaves the publisher in a pretty tough spot, they are pushed on costs and they have no flexibility on price. They can’t really dramatically increase the price and they cannot dramatically reduce their costs. UNLESS…

They Go Digital
The left-field option is to cut the print cost out of the equation and with it the cost of distribution and go digital only (perhaps with a print-on-demand option) with a title. That changes the economics of the project and is scary as hell for traditional publishers, because then pricing is weird for them, involving only fixed costs and very little in marginal costs per unit sold.

But, and this is the crucial point, if they follow this route, they have the prospect of profitable sales whereas if they stick with a mixed print and digital set up they will lose money.

What would you do?
I suspect that many publishers, those at least who fit squarely into this bracket I’ve described here, will start to see this logic. They will begin to adapt their model to reflect the changes they need to make. They will pull physical books and release ebook editions, at first they’ll also do print on demand or short run digital editions. Over time, they will actively recruit their readers to digital, because they know they have to do these things to survive and profit from the changed realities. It may or may not be enough.

Those that don’t, unless they actually are lucky or good enough to move from titles that routinely sell around 3,000 to titles that sell in excess of 10,000 units, will definitely perish. That’s not fair you might say, but they have the option to change. If they just think it through and start making those changes now or VERY soon.

Of course you see now why we were looking at the problem through the wrong end of the lens, if publishers shift to digital to enable profitable publishing, that may very well mean readers don’t get to choose if they shift to digital because for certain books they may very well be forced to.


Related:
I’ve talked about how this reduction in print runs will affect physical bookshops

Go Read This | E-book sales begin to cannibalise print | theBookseller.com

This was, in some senses, bound to happen. If it proves to be true it is the start of the erosion of the print business model, the one that sees publishers forced to cut print runs, reduce their benefits of scale in print and perhaps encourage them to begin converting print readers to digital ones.

The growth in e-book sales in genres such as romance and science-fiction is leading to a cannibalisation in sales of printed books, according to Nielsen BookScan data.

Sales of printed romance books have fallen for the first time since records began at a time when e-book sales have more than doubled.

The data, released as part of a seminar held yesterday with Enders Analysis, ‘Digital Seminar: e-books and their impact on the market’, showed genres such as science fiction and romance are “overperforming” thanks to the tastes of early adopters of e-books. For example, the e-book market share of the science fiction and fantasy sector globally for the 10 weeks since June was 10%, more than treble the genre’s market share of print book sales. The share taken by romance and saga books was 14%, seven times its print market share.

via E-book sales begin to cannibalise print | theBookseller.com.

Go Read This | Gamebooks, branching narratives and adventure

Well worth reading and thinking over and over and over!

And it is all these things that make gamebooks great, and unique. While there have been plenty of things that are similar, very few have proved quite as uniquely engrossing or successful at marrying the pretending to the rules as has the branching narrative. The early ‘80s turned out a lot of treasure hunts, and while Masquerade was beautiful to look at, readers weren’t enchanted by the magical escapism so much as caught up in an explosive collision of puzzle fever and expensive prizes. Picture puzzle books came in every shape and size in those days, Fighting Fantasy author Ian Livingstone even wrote one, but none of them had the same power to gleefully hijack your identity as the CYOA and FF-type gamebooks. In fact, in my view, the closest thing to a gamebook isn’t a book at all; it’s not even Dungeons&Dragons. It’s the text adventure video game – and its modern young nephews, the Interactive Fictions and all the text-based online games that seem to co exist happily and modestly in the same niche today.

via Gamebooks, branching narratives and adventure.