Go Read This | Erotic romance author turned down Amazon publishing deal | Books | theguardian.com

Hoisted on their own petard one might say. The forces Amazon has helped unleash are making it difficult for its own publishing operation to recruit self-publishing authors:

An editor for Amazon’s Montlake Press, which specialises in romance, spotted Me, Cinderella? among the thousands of self-published books on the site, singling it out for its “very clean” writing. Rose was offered $5k, with 35% royalties, a post by the author on Reddit confirmed . But that turned out to be “less than I had made in my first month of sales”, Rose wrote on her blog.

She added that Amazon “couldnt guarantee anything – from cover image to pricing to marketing … As I looked through the Montlake catalogue, I saw a mix of breakout hits and complete flops … And I would have to pull my book from every publisher except Amazon.”

via Erotic romance author turned down Amazon publishing deal | Books | theguardian.com.

Amazon Steals Everyone’s Thunder Again (But Quietly)

Fascinatingly clever (if predictable in many ways) move from Amazon to extend the reach of its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) to the UK, Germany and France. By doing so it demonstrates very clearly that it is Amazon who is really driving the pace of development in ebook adoption and ebook retail. What’s more, it is making clear that its rivals are struggling to match its services to authors and readers within their own ecosystems. As the focus of ebook growth moves rapidly beyond the USA (has moved already in truth), Amazon is making the case for giving it exclusivity even more compelling.

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is coming to the UK, Germany and France later this month, bringing Kindle owners with a Prime membership over 200,000 books to borrow for free as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates. Independent authors and publishers using Kindle Direct Publishing KDP who enroll their books in KDP Select can be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in the UK, Germany and France, as well as the US. With the new lending libraries launching this month, the KDP Select fund has been increased by $100,000 to $700,000 in October, with a larger increase anticipated in November. Authors will earn money every time their book is borrowed from any of the lending libraries – in September, authors earned $2.29 per borrow, which is more than many KDP books earn per sale.

via Amazon Media Room: Press Releases.

What amazes me the most about this move is just how dangerous it is for the ebook retailing rivals who have yet to open their doors to self-published content. In reality only Kobo has a fully functional platform for self publishing authors beyond the USA (Apple does too, but only to the extent that those who have a nice Mac can access their iBookstore, but not everyone has a Mac).

Nook’s platform is US only, though the talk is that this will change soon, the longer B&N & Microsoft exclude non-US citizens from the service, the longer Amazon has to lock in exclusive content for three months at a time. It’s not that the content individually is necessarily compelling, but given the wide field of talent in question, some is sure to be winning material, even if much of it isn’t great. The trick is, of course, that Amazon is armed with the tools to sort, grade and sift through this mass of titles and to promote, suggest and even work with the best (or just the most saleable, let’s not forget that the goal is money-making not literature spreading).

I’ve talked before about how important authors are to the success of an epublishing platform and ecosystem. Sometimes I think the retailers agree with me on this, other times I think they only pay lip service to the idea. Perhaps that’s a lingering snobbery regarding self publishing authors (which is foolish, idiotic and wrong-headed in an age when some of the biggest writers are rapidly moving towards self publishing, are already self publishing or have emerged from the self publishing space). Perhaps it is a desire to avoid dealing with so many small accounts and the headaches of customer service and platform development that entails. Who knows, but the longer these ecosystems remain closed shops to direct author engagement the larger a lead they allow Amazon to build up on them.

Every author Amazon signs up for KOLL is three months of exclusive sales for Amazon, three months lost revenue for their rivals. More importantly it is three months of sales data and analysis for Amazon that no-one else will have. That’s especially important when a title is loaded into KDP & KOLL for the first time, before getting a look in elsewhere. What will happen when one of those sign ups turns out to be the next EL James? What will happen is that Amazon will sign that author up directly, before the KOLL period ends and the game, for that author, is up for the other platforms.

It is not just dangerous to rival retailers though. If Amazon succeeds in convincing enough authors that KDP & KOLL are the way forward and along with them, exclusivity, companies like Smashwords and other aggregators of self published content will be put in the position of having to justify their offering. As long as a vibrant market for content persists of course (and despite this move, we do have a vibrant market for content) everyone has room to move and grow.

So yes, this move is illuminating, it suggests that Amazon is still the pace setter and is capable of moving faster and more aggressively than anyone else (still, after five years). Kobo has started something of a price war for self published authors though, by offering a higher royalty to authors who use their self publishing platform. If this keeps self publishing writers committed to an non-exclusive policy then it will have been a wise move. I’m sure it is a smart response from a smart company, even if it is one that admits to a certain weakness in terms of the capability of their platform, but then competition doesn’t (and indeed shouldn’t) always mean matching your rivals move, but finding clever and novel ways to best them where your strengths lie.

What that in mind, Kobo and other Amazon rivals would do well to pay attention to Baldur Bjarnason‘s piece on FutureBook about how Ebook publishing platforms are a joke, pay attention that is and offer some of the services he mentions to self publishers asap.

I Think Publishers Have Lost The Battle & The War

The thing about the end of Agency is that it’s not over. That is to say that the rearguard action by the legacy publishing establishment isn’t finished. And make no mistake, Agency Pricing and the rules and agreements that supported it were an attempt to stop the clock and buy the established players a breather against the tide of innovation. That the establishment chose to work with one of the greatest innovators in another sphere doesn’t make the move any less defensive, Apple certainly didn’t break too much new ground in the digital book world (though the game is a long one and they may yet).

For the record, the legacy establishment is almost duty bound to protect its position and I  don’t resent the position it held. In many ways I have been a beneficiary of the legacy publishing system. Legacy publishers are in the position they are in because they were successful in an age that valued their corporate skills and in which scale was important and profitable.  Agency was about protecting that model, that profit.  It was couched in language that suggested it was about protecting the value of writing and the incomes of authors (and to be fair, many of those offering those lines do honestly believe them), but really it was about protecting company revenues and shareholders profits. I’m fine with those goals, I’m not fine with pretending or convincing myself I’m being noble when I’m not and I’m also not fine with the reader paying the price for that protection.

Readers were by far the biggest losers in the Agency world. Thus the actions of the big six ran directly counter to their most important stakeholders. The big six hadn’t yet realised that readers had become their biggest stakeholders. They still answered to other management.

The problem is that the publishing system as it stands is being ripped to shreds by digital change.  We do need a publishing industry, we don’t necessarily need THIS publishing industry, the legacy one. There is no reason why any individual publisher MUST survive or that quality publishing won’t happen if the legacy publishers do fail.

The Agency battle was and is not really one over the creation or publishing of quality works nor even one over the price we might charge for those quality works or who sets that price, it is over the allocation of profit/revenue within the system that allows for the creation and publishing of quality works.

Authors will get paid if the big six fail, books will get published if the big six fall, books will get written, published and read if everyone currently in the industry somehow stopped being in the industry tomorrow. Sometimes publishers forget that.

The shame of it all is that if the big six publishers accepted the inevitability of change and directed their efforts towards the new opportunities and the radical restructuring that’s required rather than trying to fight, what I believe is a hopeless and misplaced rearguard action, they would have achieved more AND kept the audience with them.

That’s the key, because resisting puts them on the wrong side of the fight. Resisting the shift towards digital distribution and the attendant earthquake in industry structure makes publishers the bad guys. After Agency, suddenly publishers are not the nurturers of talent but the maintainers of high prices, not the finders of new voices but the conniving capitalists, the slick backroom dealers, not the men and women who live for the written word. Their companies are known worldwide for being sued by the US Government and for alleged collusion rather than for being companies with iconic brands and valuable legacies.

There IS a danger that an non-agency world might (though I think the possibility unlikely) have resulted in an Amazon monopoly, but even if it had and even if the changes being imposed DO lead to some form of monopoly, then at least publishers would have been on the RIGHT side of that monopoly, calling for action, on the side of the readers, the writers and the general wave of opinion rather than falling, as the record labels did before them, into the arms of fear and foolish resistance to change that they cannot control.

So the legacy system made a calculation that Agency could be gotten away with, and they were wrong. It might have boosted their revenues, given them a huge sense of control and power (attractive in a publishing world that has been so buffeted by change recently)  but now, as the tide of blood rushes back out of the head and calmer times (populated by longer more reflective periods of courtroom drama and negative headlines) lie ahead perhaps the big six and those who favoured Agency might reflect not on the loss of Agency and it’s ‘possible’ negative consequences for their business models but on the loss of the moral ground, the real loss of the audience’s goodwill and the battle, not to maintain not just profitability, but, more importantly, legitimacy and to rebuild their image among readers the world over.

It has been a long week!
Weekend Abú!

Eoin

No New Normal – The Value Web

For some reason this has been a very hard post to write. It’s a rather strange situation for me as in essence what I’m writing about is really a very basic idea. Maybe it is because I’m afraid that people will misunderstand it or take the wrong message from it. Which if I’m honest means I’m not writing it clearly enough. Oh well! Here goes nothing.

~~~

I want to write about this very simple idea:

That as the impact of digital distribution begins to be felt along the trade publishing value chain, what will emerge is not a NEW VALUE CHAIN as much as a new VALUE WEB, an environment that sees, not one way to generate value in the industry but many ways of doing so. What’s more, this state will persist because no particular method will emerge as the single ‘way’ of trade publishing (if that term even retains relevance), at least not for some time to come.

Everyone (at this stage) thinks that the trade publishing value chain is endangered. They’ve even created a word to describe it, disintermediation. And Everyone is right.

What I think they tend to ignore is the way in which the value chain is endangered. It’s not a simple change that we are experiencing, it’s far more dramatic and complex then is often imagined.

Until recently, the trade publishing value chain looked something like this:

Author > Agent > Publisher > Distributor/Wholesaler > Retailer > Reader

Some people fear that Amazon or Google or Apple will make a big move and the result will be something like this:

Author > Amazon/Google/Apple > Reader

And there’s some real danger of just that happening. You only have to look at how companies like Apple and Amazon have facilitated self-publishing and in so doing excised huge swathes of the old chain from certain sectors of publishing. Certainly on Amazon’s part the ambition to disintermediate the publishing industry has been obvious for some time, at least if you were paying attention, it was certainly clear long before they made this announcement, but sometimes it takes BIG HEADLINES to make people pay attention.

There’s an added complication in that authors themselves (or some of them at least) might just wish for something that looks more akin to this:

Author > Reader

And what’s to stop that? After all there is no reason why using Paypal or some other selling tool, an author could conceivably sell ebooks directly to readers and maybe even turn a small trade by doing so. You could argue that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Platform is a close approximates of that, but I think the platform ownership position of that player means its role is greater than just a service provider.

Hold on tight
But, and it’s a huge but, despite all this evidence of disintermediation there is absolutely no reason to believe that one way of reaching an audience or one way of delivering value will win out for ever and in every instance. For example:

  • Random House has just disintermediated the agent by doing a deal directly with Tom Sharpe for digital rights, and that is by far NOT the only way in which publishers, big and small are finding new ways to operate in the digital era.
  • Bricks and mortar bookstores, despite being at the coal face of the digital wave, are not against a bit of disintermediation themselves. B&N is quietly disintermediating everyone in the self publishing world (just like Amazon is) via Pubit service for their Nook platform. You should expect to see them take their print publishing arm (Sterling) even more seriously then they already do after Amazon’s announcement.
  • Agents are building direct channels to consumers and publishers, long the supposed victims of the piece are beginning to find direct selling attractive and capturing audiences to (hopefully) turn into readers.

The point being that as this digital distribution wave of change washes over the industry, it will radically reshape the value chain in unpredictable ways.

For some titles it will force authors to make hard decisions, it will reduce the predominance of publishers (or at least the traditional ones) while elevating the role of platform owners like Amazon, B&N, Apple and maybe even Google, but for some titles it will broaden the role of publishers and if they are lucky and smart maybe even the surviving booksellers.

All of this will happen despite, or perhaps because of the fact that, the actual slice of value captured by each player changes in size and shape. Publishers will be forced to cede more revenue to authors, the idea that 25% Net is a defensible long-term ebook royalty rate is a farce best forgotten about quickly.

Agents may find their 10% under threat too, especially on backlist titles, unless they offer something more valuable then just conversion, after all, their authors are pretty much able to upload a file to a platform for conversion themselves.

Authors themselves will face greater competition both from the increased numbers of writers (Good and Bad) facilitated by digital distribution and the existing databases of ALL titles ever published digitized and available for distribution. If most authors already have low incomes, then they will get lower. Though I’d also expect the winners to become even more gigantic!

As the influence of bricks & mortar retailers wanes, especially the chains, so too will their ability to demand such high levels of discount. I’m pretty sure the platform owners will be able to squeeze most players for a greater share of the revenue. How powerful they will become remains dependent on just how easy it becomes to read a file you buy one place anywhere (currently easier then I’d have imagined).

None of them will go away though. For some books, print will remain a huge segment of the market and bookstores or supermarkets will remain the best place to sell them and traditional publishers will probably remain the best home for such books. For others, the author’s platform will be large enough to justify a going-it-alone route, but even for the biggest authors, for the right book. partnering with an agent, a publisher or a platform owner might be the right move. That’s where the web comes into play.

The tidy chain discussed at the start begins to look, and will be in real life, a whole lot more complicated.  Instead of a publishing value CHAIN, we have something more akin to a value WEB. Different actors can work together on different projects depending on their needs at a given time. And that means title-by-title projects, agents taking on roles more akin to producers (or publishers or retailers or maybe all of them doing so but not on every title). Of course for large parts of the business the platforms and self-publishing will suffice, but overall, the change will be dramatic and will, I think, look something like this:

It’s not all going to be plain sailing
Of course there are going to be losers. The least well positioned players in the game are wholesalers and physical bookstores. Their roles are uniquely challenged because of the shift in format from physical to digital. Yes, as I have said, some print market will persist but what size and shape that will have in twenty years time is anyones guess, what we DO know is that it will be smaller and because of that we’ll have fewer physical bookstores, but how that shakes out we cannot be sure.

I’m sure too that we’ll see casualties among the publishing houses that currently thrive. Some because they make bad decisions and fail to adapt and some from just bad luck. Other will lose market share and fall under the wing of other players, maybe they’ll be publishers too, or maybe they’ll be retailers or platform owners.

The funny thing about this disintermediation business is that the only clear winners are at the ends of the old chain, writers and readers. The writer’s win is tainted by the knowledge that though their options, the costs of and their routes to publication will have expanded greatly, their chances of earning a living from writing will have decreased rather dramatically too.

Readers on the other hand will be faced with a surfeit of choice, less of a problem then most people imagine, but still an issue if too much time is wasted in filtering through those options. On the other hand they can expect to see the price of individual pieces of content to fall, especially when the creator, however talented and however the web has coalesced to deliver that content, is an unknown.

Is Feidir Linn,
Eoin

Go Read This | The Economics of Self-Publishing an Ebook

An interesting piece on the business of self-publishing. I was struck in particular by this section pointing to the weakness of content producers in the self-publishing plane. That said, this strikes me as some kind of preferential treatment by booksellers and ultimately a bad decision by B&N, but perhaps there is some logical reason for it:

This is not to say steering clear of the big publishers doesn’t cause complications. So far, Folsom has not been able to sell the foreign rights to her work, meaning right now she can only market her books to an English-speaking audience. “We cannot get anyone to buy our foreign rights. I’ve emailed agents, tons of them. The response I get is, ‘Well, if you’re not also interested in selling your US e-rights, then I can’t represent you.’ I’ve even contacted foreign rights agents directly who don’t deal with domestic issues and even those are rejecting us. They say if they can’t go to a publisher abroad and say that you’ve been published with Random House, or Penguin, or wherever, then they’re not going to be interested.”

Without the collective bargaining power of a major publisher, an indie author may also have less clout with those companies distributing their books. Folsom told me that Barnes & Noble’s Nook store unexpectedly ceased offering free sample chapters for self-published erotica novels last week. This means that a potential reader could no longer read a few pages of the author’s work before deciding whether to purchase it. The effect on sales, Folsom said, was devastating; she saw a 35% drop overnight. So far, Barnes & Noble has not explained why this option has been removed for indie authors, but erotica published by traditional publishers has remained untouched.

via The Economics of Self-Publishing an Ebook.