Monthly Archives: January 2014

Success Story: 8 Hints From The Publisher Who Said No To Amazon

31 January 2014

From Forbes blogs:

Publishing isn’t an easy industry to break into and smaller, independent houses tend to get swallowed up by the bigger fishes. Barefoot Books bucks that trend. Barefoot was launched in 1993 by Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland, who wanted a business that would be flexible enough to combine with bringing up their children (they have seven between them) – and Barefoot has not only stayed the course but gone from strength to strength. The company, offers beautifully crafted books for children, although many readers keep them into adulthood. Barefoot is now thriving in both Oxford in the UK and in Concord, Massachusetts, US – but don’t expect to find Barefoot Books piled high in your supermarket or available at a knock-down price online. Traversy and Strickland first took the bold decision to step back from selling in major chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble – and last year they cut all ties with Amazon, the biggest of them all.

. . . .

Co-founder Nancy Traversy explains the Barefoot model

Be different – and once you’ve decided how to be different, stick with it 

“I think probably our biggest point of difference is how we define ourselves. We have an unwavering commitment to creating beautiful, high-quality amazing books for children and never compromising on standards, despite what distribution channels might ask for. Over the past 22 years we’ve created around 600 absolutely beautiful books. People often say they can spot a Barefoot book a mile away, even though we work with a wide variety of writers, illustrators and designers. A lot of publishers make beautiful books, but we think of ourselves not just as a publisher but as a way of life and that has underpinned our business since we started it from our homes in 1992 and launched it in 1993. We have a real commitment to introducing children to other cultures and diversity, using stories to bridge boundaries, and we started the business because we felt there was a gap in the market for books like that: not just books you’d see in your own culture, but books about traditions from all over the world that expose a child to the idea that not everyone is the same. We also believe in the importance of imagination in children’s lives. I believe strongly that space to imagine, play and be is important and the role of story in nurturing children’s imagination has always been core. The third major strand is nurturing children’s creativity and inspiring them.”

. . . .

Thinking on a human scale doesn’t mean thinking small

“I was lucky enough to work at home for eight years. I’d been to business school, spent time at Pricewaterhouse, worked in the design industry, but had never worked in publishing. With hindsight, that was a good thing – we were able to be pioneers, I was able to think outside the box, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I questioned the way that books were always sold through the big chains. I felt it was much more rewarding to connect direct to families. When my children were small, I’d do events at schools, at fairs – we relied on the power of word of mouth. Because our books were so high-quality and special, it didn’t seem right to stick them in a supermarket, pile them on a table. I remember one trade fair where we were asked for a package that would have included, for example, changing a cover. It was very tempting, we could have sold a million copies, licensed all over the world – publishers do that and it’s a very valid model but I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking ‘We can share with our friends, with friends of friends.’ From a very early stage we were out in the community. The human connection is so important in getting people behind you and supporting you, and you don’t get that in a chain, or through mail order, or on Amazon.”

. . . .

If big business can’t fit with your model, maybe you don’t need big business

“In the US, I got caught up in Borders and Barnes & Noble, because that’s just what you do. For three years we sold to them and it was soul-destroying. The books were just a commodity. You had to pay for ‘table real estate’, shift large numbers, pay for the space and often books came back – this is a returnable product. We sold better in some areas than others but we never really knew how much we’d sell or how much we’d get paid. We’d be getting returns and reorders on the same day! It was the opposite of what we wanted to do and we made the decision in 2006. And when Borders went down, we were among the few publishers who didn’t lose money. When we stopped with Barnes & Noble, we actually made more as we didn’t get the returns. Amazon: we shipped to them and then I realised how much they were discounting our books. Our World Atlas, for example: Amazon was selling it at 60 to 70 per cent off the published price and our Ambassadors [independent sales representatives of Barefoot who generally sell face-to-face through events in schools, farmers’ markets, homes, etc.] couldn’t compete. The penny dropped. I said ‘If we are going to support these women, we can’t do this.’ We realised that if we weren’t selling to the chains, we shouldn’t sell to Amazon: we should focus on the model that we started. The decision to pull – maybe it was brave, but it was the right one. It’s too easy to be dragged in and it felt dishonest: we were competing against our own channel, and I knew I could never scale the Ambassador community if I was working with Amazon.”

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Where to put the entrepreneur in publishing?

31 January 2014

From FutureBook:

It’s a word I had never heard of before starting out in business – four syllables that I have apparently become rather than something I aimed for. However, these four syllables are now everywhere – in the press, on TV (see Dragon’s DenThe Apprentice etc. etc.), in books (see autobiographies from those on aforementioned TV shows etc. etc.), and Twitter appears awash with entrepreneurial advice.

And more than having begun embracing them, the publishing industry is calling out for them. The need for urgent change is now, in the majority of places, accepted, as is the understanding that much innovation and new drive comes from entrepreneurs.

. . . .

I also want to mention authors in this, in particular self-published authors. The boom of the self-published market has been unmistakable and a look at Amazon will see more chart entries than Cliff Richard. But look through the huge sellers and a pattern will quickly emerge – often they have been driven upwards more by entrepreneurial zeal than unforgettable writing ability.

We are seeing authors, who are great promoters, tireless in their engagement on social media and peer sites, relentless networkers who, aided by the low price points dominant in the ebook charts, sell their books in the tens of thousands. I do get concerned by the quality of writing, the skew away from reading a book that will stay in your life forever, and often think about what will be read from this generation in 100 years’ time? It would be very wrong and a waste to try to crush this entrepreneurialism, but how best to handle this trend?

One suggestion is we should get these entrepreneurial authors to stop writing and start working in publishing – after all, the sales numbers, in the current market, will appear almost utopian to a lot of publishers. I would say if writing is their true passion they are often better focussed on their own work than that of others, but the industry should certainly learn from how they promote and drive sales of their work – the attachment to and understanding of their market is something most publishers urgently need to be better at.

My answer would be that the trend is going to handle itself as the self-published market becomes more regulated, particularly by peers, as the mainstream media and booksellers finally give due attention to self-published work and as authors, rather than being sold a dream, become clearer as to what is required to find the pot of gold. I think three groups could develop – the entrepreneurial writers pushing their books, those publishing as a hobby and those of memorable quality that are pulled (by readers rather than their writers) from the ranks.

Link to the rest at FutureBook

Every story has already been told

31 January 2014

Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.

Anna Quindlen

The Last Word on Winepress Publishing

31 January 2014

From MacGregor Literary:

So faithful readers will recall that a couple years ago, the woman who started vanity press success story Winepress Publishing, Athena Dean, had announced the business had basically been taken over by a cult, and was being run by a guy who had bullied her into handing over her business  to the church.

. . . .

It’s fascinating reading — a seemingly normal woman sucked in by a group of true believers, she lost her family and business over it, and eventually woke up to the fact that she was the victim of a manipulative group of religionists. I made one comment on it on Facebook (my exact words were:“Holy cow. I mean… WOW! This will blow the socks off of anyone who’s been involved in CBA publishing in recent years. Wow…” ) and that was enough to earn the wrath of the  guy in charge of both the church & the publishing company. They sent me a cease and desist letter, complete with really cool bible verses and a laughably funny “thou shalt not” tone that sounded right out of a 1950′s biblical epic movie with Charleton Heston. Bullying and obfuscation is their stock in trade, so of course I blogged about it . . . I figured if they were doing this to ME, they were doing it to others in publishing, and somebody needed to say something.

Sure enough, it turns out those wacky folks at Winepress had been threatening and cajoling people with their legal letters and threats for a long time. But a funny thing happens when you shine a little light on darkness — people begin to see the problems. And LOTS of people saw the problems at Winepress.

. . . .

I’ve seen some crazy stuff in my years in Christian publishing, but never anything like The Winepress Follies. They kept up the “We’re So Holy” act for a long time, and included a good bit of “We’re Also Not Being Treated Fairly,” but one quick look at the websites is all most normal-thinking people needed to see what they’re like. Check out the Sound Doctrine Church and what people have had to say about them over the years, or look at their “HardTruth” website, or at the laughably slanted “news reporting” they’ve created at

. . . .

Anyway, Winepress Publishing has closed their doors. Not because they couldn’t find more suckers to pay them money to publish their books (from all appearances, business was still good). Church members are telling whoever will listen that the company shut down because of all those evil attacks from nonbelievers.

Link to the rest at MacGregor Literary and thanks to David for the tip.

David also says check out the numerous comments.

Book publishing may not remain a stand-alone industry and book retailing will demonstrate that first

31 January 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Book retailing on the Internet, let alone an offer that is ebooks only, hardly cuts it as a stand-alone business anymore. The three companies most likely to be in the game and selling ebooks ten years from now are Amazon, Apple, and Google. The ebook business will not be material to any of them — it is only really close to material for Amazon now — which is why we can be sure they will see no need to abandon it. It is a strategic component of a larger ecosystem, not dependent on the margin or profit it itself produces. And the rest of their substantial businesses assure they’ll still be around as a company to run that ebook business.

Kobo is owned by Rakuten, a large Japanese online retailer. They started a global  expansion in 2005, buying up ecommerce companies in different key markets, including in the US. They also have invested in Pinterest. I don’t know what it is, but I have to believe that deep in Rakuten’s strategic consciousness there is a larger reason for them to have Kobo, probably based in the opportunities inherent in having a consumer’s email address and credit card information and knowledge of what s/he reads. So they also have a base bigger than the ebook business.

Barnes & Noble demonstrates the principle that books alone and one market alone just aren’t enough. They were able to use their US store presence to jump-start the Nook, but after they grabbed the low-hanging fruit among their store customers for digital reading, they quickly ran out of steam. Without a global presence and without a strong online store ( has been deficient, and an albatross, for years), they just don’t have the ballast to be competitive. And that’s a shame, because B&N is the player that could make the most powerful consumer offer in the book space. They have online and offline, print and digital, but it really hurts them that the execution of offline print isn’t up to competing with Amazon and the overall coordination that would maximize the power of all these capabilities is not in evidence.

. . . .

The book publishing industry scratched its collective head for years as Jeff Bezos and his crew grew a giant online bookseller without keeping much margin and had Wall Street shovel money at them to grow and invest. The widespread wisdom in publishing in the late 1990s was that Amazon was performing some kind of parlor trick that would shortly come to an end. Instead, they built on their customer base, their tech, and their reputation for service to expand way beyond book retailing. And today they can afford to run a profit-less book retailing and publishing operation (if they want to; I have no evidence that they don’t make profits and don’t claim to know), taking the margin out of the game in a way that would squeeze any competitor trying to make a profit from book retailing.

. . . .

This is a paradigm that leaves Barnes & Noble out in the cold. Their business, on which they must make money, is selling books. They are trying to diversify their merchandise selection a bit in their stores, but that’s a strategy that is both difficult to execute and has nowhere near the upside that Amazon, Google, and Apple have with their other businesses. This is an unfair fight where B&N is dependent on margins from their ebook (and book) sales while their competitors, if perhaps not totally content to break even on that business, aren’t materially affected if they do, or even if they lose a bit of money on that aspect of their business.

. . . .

[P]ublishing — like book retailing — is likely to become a subsidiary function pursued in strategic support of larger goals. Unlike in retailing, this will not be consolidated among a few players, but as widely scattered as the subjects about which books are produced. But the core challenge for the legacy publishing establishment, that they will increasingly face competition that doesn’t need the profits from that activity as much as they do, will be the same. Book publishing as a stand-alone industry with most of its significant players earning all their profits within it is in the process of morphing into something quite different, starting with the retailers.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Fate of Girl Genius omnibus at Tor causes friction between the Foglios and Patrick Nielsen Hayden

31 January 2014

From TeleRead:

Last night, Phil Foglio posted to his LJFacebook, and blog a story of frustration with Tor, who had opted to try launching a line of graphic novels starting with the first Girl Genius omnibus edition. They came out with a low-priced hardcover, but when the Foglios wondered when the paperback would come out they started getting the runaround. As they were trying to get the matter resolved, friends pointed them in the direction of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, ostensibly Tor’s editor-in-chief. (He actually isn’t, but I’ll get to that in a bit.)

So after a year of this (yes, an entire year. We are Slow to Take Offense, here at Studio Foglio), I write to Mr. Hayden, asking him if our editor is dead, or just fired? This question surprises him, as he saw her in the office that morning. He seems sympathetic. We even have a face-to-face meeting at worldcon the next week where he explains that TOR just really doesn’t know how to sell graphic novels, and when someone takes on a job they don’t know how to do, they tend to just stick their fingers in their ears and hope that eventually, it goes away. Fair enough, I am occasionally like this with The Experiments.

I mention that we’ve been selling graphic novels fairly well for quite awhile, and that we’d cheerfully give them pointers. However, if they just can’t wrap their heads around it, which seems obvious since after three years they have yet to sell through the initial print run (We’d have done it in 16 months- and that’s with no advertising, which is a fair comparison, as they did no advertising either), then we’ll just sing a chorus of “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You”, and then we’ll publish them ourselves, because if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s publish and sell Girl Genius graphic novels.

But we can’t. Because our contract with TOR says we can’t publish “a competing product” for five years. Okay, what can we do about this? But now, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has apparently decided that we’re too much trouble.

They closed by calling upon their readers to pester Mr. Nielsen Hayden [it’s not “Mr. Hayden,” it’s a hyphenated married name sans the hyphen] since they and their agent haven’t been able to get through to Tor themselves. However, it comes out that’s not the whole story.

On his blog “Making Light” this morning, PNH responded explaining his side of the situation. He is not in fact Tor’s editor-in-chief because Tor doesn’t have one.

. . . .

But then Phil made this public post ascribing all his problems with Tor directly to him, which he feels is more than a little unfair.

Bottom line: As far as I can see, Phil’s problems with Tor are being dealt with now. Sending me dozens of angry emails isn’t going to get them dealt with any faster or better. If you want to send me email telling me I’m a craphead for not having answered Phil Foglio’s emails from late November to mid-January, okay, guilty as charged. But I’m not the guy on a golden throne proposing and disposing the actions of all the other senior editors at Tor. I’m someone who had the bad judgement to offer to try to help with a problem, and then got sufficiently overwhelmed by other urgent matters that I wasn’t actually able to help in the timely fashion I said I would. This was reprehensible of me. My other mistake: Not clearly extricating myself the moment it became clear that Phil’s agent was going to persist in the impression that I’m Phil’s editor’s boss.

If you think these errors are a good enough reason for the stream of crap Phil is now directing in my direction—and exclusively in my direction—then I suggest you might want to reconsider.

. . . .

[T]here’s a lot of institutional inertia in big publishing houses. Authors going for months without hearing anything is a pretty common story.

Link to the rest at TeleRead


Amazon’s Revenue Surges But Disappoints

31 January 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

Holiday sales lifted Inc.’s fourth-quarter revenue 20% over a year earlier, spurring profit but not enough to match Wall Street projections.

The Seattle retailer’s shares tumbled in after-hours trading on the results and a disappointing outlook for its current quarter. Amazon said it could lift the $79 annual fee for its popular Prime two-day shipping service by as much as $40.

. . . .

The company ramped up expenses during the quarter, hiring 70,000 temporary workers at its warehouses and distribution centers in expectation of big sales gains. But the holiday season was marred by shipping problems at United Parcel Service Inc.  that caused some customers to get their packages after Christmas prompting Amazon to issue $20 purchase credits.

. . . .

Amazon Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak said higher use of Prime two-day shipping and “the increased cost of fuel and transportation” were factors in considering raising the membership price by between $20 and $40 a year in the U.S. Mr. Szkutak said the addition of new services to Prime, like streaming video, were making the program more costly to operate.

. . . .

For the fourth quarter, Amazon reported net income of $239 million, or 51 cents a share, compared with $97 million, or 21 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts were expecting a per-share profit of 66 cents, according to Thomson Reuters.

. . . .

Sales rose to $25.59 billion from $21.27 billion. Amazon in October had estimated sales would range between $23.5 billion to $26.5 billion. Analysts were expecting $26.1 billion.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Piracy, Saviour of the Book Industry

30 January 2014

From Forbes blogs:

Piracy is portrayed as many things by many people. For the content industries, it’s portrayed as theft, despite that being legally inaccurate. For a subset of the free culture movement, piracy is just an expression of the adage that “information wants to be free”. For many, it’s a moral outrage. For some, it’s the only practical way they can access content, either because the item is not available any other way, or it costs far more than they can afford. And for others, it’s a protest against the evil hegemony of the film, music and book industries.

. . . .

Unfortunately, too many people across the publishing world have learnt the wrong lessons from the music industry and Hollywood. They focus on scaring people away from piracy, or suing them, or getting into a technological arms race with the DRM crackers — a race they are doomed to lose, by the way.

Instead, we need to face facts. Piracy’s here. It’s staying. We can’t stop it. So we need to find inventive and attractive ways to work around it.

. . . .

We need to think about what offers we can make to readers to encourage them to buy legitimate copies of our books, rather than download them for free. Is this bundling ebooks with paper books? Or special editions? Or box sets? Or merchandise? So many obvious opportunities for experimentation that pirates simply couldn’t match.

We need to create direct relationships with readers — and by ‘we’, here, I mean both authors and publishers — so that we can give them a reason, many reasons, to buy from us and not download illicit copies. We need to enable direct sales channels that we control, so that we get the benefit of all the data and intelligence that produces.

. . . .

I suspect that most people who go into publishing have a bit of an allergy when it comes to numbers, so hire in a statistician or analytics expert to help turn numbers into actionable intelligence. Stats by themselves aren’t the goal; improving your businesses’ bottom line is the goal. Data can help but only if you treat it with respect, understand its limitations, and talk its language.

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs and thanks to Kathlena for the tip.

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