Monthly Archives: June 2015

Is the subscription model in trouble? Scribd dumps romance titles

30 June 2015

From author Bob Mayer:

Got this just now from Draft2Digital through which we have titles in Scribd:

As we all know, the concept of a subscription service for books is extremely new. There are several models on the market now for effectively monetizing subscriptions, and none of them exactly matches what we’re used to from traditional sales royalties. As the market experiments with different approaches, there are bound to be some missteps and false starts along the way. In fact, we should expect this business model to evolve even more in the near future.

Scribd took a significant risk putting in place a model that paid authors the same amount as a retail model for each book read by a subscriber. As we all know, romance readers tend to be incredibly avid readers. In trying to cater to this voracious readership while under this progressive payment model, Scribd has put itself in a difficult place. In a bid to better balance these operating expenses, Scribd is immediately slashing the volume of romance novels in its subscription service.

If you are receiving this email, then you are a Draft2Digital author who has published books in the romance genre to Scribd. This means that some or all of your romance novels are likely going to be delisted from their service today. (Books that are priced at free will not be removed.)

While a large number of romance novels will be removed from Scribd, it isn’t all of them. We aren’t privy to the exact guidelines Scribd is using to decide which romance novels will remain, and it’s our understanding that they remain in flux at Scribd. However, over the coming days, we will be working closely with Scribd to resolve the exact criteria and share them with you so that you’ll have the opportunity to restore all of your titles to the service.

Please Note: If you write in other genres, understand that those books will not be affected by this policy change.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and assure you that we are working with Scribd to explore alternative solutions to this challenging problem, always searching for new terms that could restore our full catalog to their service.

Believe me, this situation is just as difficult for Draft2Digital as it is for you. We also stand to lose a significant portion of our revenue due to this change. More importantly, we regret that we couldn’t give our authors more notice, but unfortunately we were informed quite late in Scribd’s decision-making process. It has been our highest priority throughout these discussions to preserve as many of your books in the service as possible, and we will continue to pursue that goal going forward.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

So. Make of it what you will. But to me it means a lot of steps in the wrong direction for subscription services. It means that if a certain genre gets too many borrows for the subscription price, yet the service has to pay authors, the system is breaking down. Something has to give. De-list titles. Already happening. Pay authors less? On the horizon.

Link to the rest at Write on the River and thanks to Jaye, Deren, Julia and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Bob Mayer’s books

PG says this is certainly upsetting, but it’s nothing compared to what happens to authors when their publisher goes bankrupt and both their royalties and their rights drop into a black hole.

Here are some thoughts from Mark Coker:

Scribd, the fast-growing ebook subscription service, today announced dramatic cuts to their catalog of romance and erotica titles.

Effective immediately, I estimate 80-90 percent of Smashwords romance and erotica titles will be dropped by Scribd, including nearly all of our most popular romance titles. Books priced at free are safe and will remain in their catalog.

Based on what I’ve been able to glean, the lower the price and the higher the word count, the better the odds the book will remain. Few books priced $3.99 and above will remain. Scribd is not publicly revealing the formulas for what stays and what goes, probably because much of this is still in flux. They’re cutting all publishers and distributors with the same blunt knife.

It’s ugly. The problem for Scribd is that romance readers are heavy readers, and Scribd pays publishers retailer-level margins for the books.

. . . .

Bottom line, romance readers – readers we love dearly at Smashwords – are reading Scribd out of house and home. Scribd’s business model, as it’s set up now, simply can’t sustain the high readership of romance readers. They’re not facing the same problem with readers of other genres.

. . . .

While I understand Scribd’s need to stem the bloodletting, and I support their decision for this reason, I don’t think they found the right solution yet. I think a better solution – one which would strike the right balance between the needs of readers, authors, publishers and Scribd – is to introduce tiered subscription options that would allow moderate readers to enjoy the Scribd service at the $8.99 level, but then offer heavier readers another subscription tier – possibly priced at $14.99 or $19.99 or whatever – that wouldn’t break the bank to the detriment of all authors.

Link to the rest at Smashwords 

Interview with a Bookstore: The Strand

30 June 2015

From LitHub:

The Strand was born in 1927 on Fourth Avenue on what was then called “Book Row.” Book Row covered six city blocks and housed 48 bookstores. Ben Bass, an entrepreneur at heart and a reader by nature, was all of 25 years old when he began his modest used bookstore with $300 dollars of his own and $300 dollars that he borrowed from a friend. Ben sought to create a place where books would be loved, and book lovers could congregate. He named his bookstore after the London street where writers like Thackeray, Dickens, and Mill once gathered and interesting book publishers thrived. The Strand quickly became a Greenwich Village institution where writers went to converse, sell their books and find a hidden treasure to buy. Today, the Strand is the sole survivor of Book Row’s colorful past, boasting more than 18 miles of new, used, and rare books.

. . . .
What’s your favorite section in the store?

The Rare Book Room is truly a magical place, and the dollar carts are heaven for any thrifty booklover, but my favorite would have to be the children’s department, especially the classic and vintage sections. I really love an old book with some character or with a heartfelt dedication from a bygone era.  –Maya S., Kids Department

. . . .

I have a real soft spot for the Banned Books table on our main floor. Whenever we have school groups in the store, I always stop there and try to explain it. I’m glad we encourage readers to learn more about the fight for freedom of speech across the globe.  –Brianne S., Marketing Manager

. . . .

If you had infinite space what would you add?

I would add an off-the-beaten-path room that is semi-private to house the Bereavement section and a few others, as well as comfy chairs, so people can browse sensitive topics in a quieter, less trafficked area.  –Amanda W.

I would try to add some large, floor-to-ceiling windows either on the second or second floor and set benches beside them. I’d then come to the store on my off hours to read there for hours. There is nothing like reading a book and having the sun shine on your back!  –Brianne S.

. . . .

A lounge where you can read your book and cuddle with puppies. –Patrick F., Second Floor

. . . .

What do you do better than any other bookstore?

I honestly believe we give the best recommendations. Everyone who works at Strand has a particular section they know inside-out. We also know each other’s specialty so if you don’t know a section all that well, you know who does and they get to spread their loved books to someone who is genuinely interested.  –Zoe K., Main Floor

The Strand is part of an extinct breed of bookstores in New York City. We have the best range of used books, including recently published titles. We also have the best and most diverse art book selection in New York, and possibly in the world.  –Maya S.

What the Strand does best is find ways to get books at cheaper prices. Our owner has gone on trips to England to get super cheap British versions of books; searching out remainders from different sources; getting used books from a huge variety of places, visiting libraries, houses, and estates to get huge lots of books.  –Amanda W.

. . . .

 Who’s your weirdest regular?

Who isn’t? Weirdos are what makes New York City great! One of my favorite aspects of this job is the wonderful people that you get to meet.  –Maya S.

The dogs who know where we keep the treats. I guess it’s not so much weird as adorable and amusing.  –Cynthia G.

. . . .

I like the man who talks to himself discussing the changes we’ve made to the tables. Sometimes I think he knows the store better than I do.  –Patrick F.

Link to the rest at LitHub and thanks to Dave for the tip.

A black bank of clouds

30 June 2015

The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky- seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

Last line from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Apple Loses Federal Appeal in E-Books Case

30 June 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a 2013 decision finding Apple Inc. liable for conspiring with publishers to raise the price of e-books.

The 2-1 ruling Tuesday by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan follows three years of litigation, millions of dollars in legal fees and a bold decision by Apple tochallenge the U.S. Department of Justice to a trial, even after all the publishers with which it was accused of colluding had settled their cases.

The iPhone maker is expected to pay $450 million, most of it to e-book consumers, as part of a November agreement with private plaintiffs and 33 states that joined the Justice Department’s 2012 lawsuit accusing Apple of violating civil antitrust law. The deal hinged on the outcome of the appeal. The penalty amounts to less than 3% of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s profit in the quarter that ended in December.

“We conclude that the district court correctly decided that Apple orchestrated a conspiracy among the publishers to raise e-book prices,” wrote Second Circuit JudgeDebra Ann Livingston. The conspiracy “unreasonably restrained trade” in violation of the Sherman Act, the federal antitrust law, the judge wrote.

. . . .

At the time, publishers were dissatisfied with Amazon’s aggressive discounts. Apple’s agreements ceded the power to set prices to the publishers, in what’s known as an agency model. But there was an exception: If another retailer were selling an e-book at a lower price, the publisher would have to match that price in Apple’s bookstore.

With a new outlet for their e-books, the publishers had the leverage they needed to reclaim some pricing power from Amazon, Justice Department lawyers said. Change was inevitable: The publishers couldn’t afford to sell their e-books in Apple’s store at Amazon’s discounted prices of $9.99 for most best sellers.

Prices on many e-books increased immediately. Lawyers for Apple said the company unwittingly facilitated the push against Amazon by the publishers.

But the Second Circuit majority said the evidence showed the technology company knew what it was doing.

“Apple understood that its proposed contracts were attractive to the publisher defendants only if they collectively shifted their relationships with Amazon to an agency model — which Apple knew would result in consumers facing higher e-book prices,” Judge Livingston wrote in a decision joined by Judge Raymond J. Lohier Jr.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

When PG first read the trial court’s opinion, he was impressed by two things:

  1. The good job the trial judge did in analyzing the evidence in the case and crafting an excellent opinion that was unlikely to be overturned on appeal.
  2. How amazingly inept the the price fixing conspirators in Big Publishing and Apple were. The evidence showed them to be a bunch of bumblers and their testimony during trial did nothing to ameliorate this impression.

In a nutshell, Apple can now ask for a rehearing in front of the three judges who just ruled against them or an en banc hearing before all the judges in the Second Circuit or try to persuade the Supreme Court to accept an appeal.

PG doubts any of these paths would change the result in this case.

He will warn all and sundry to expect sporadic outbreaks of Amazon Derangement Syndrome.

Kimble v. Marvel: Justice Kagan’s top Spider-Man jokes in a big patent case

30 June 2015

From Vox:

The Supreme Court settled a long-running patent case titled Kimble V. Marvel Entertainment. It was basically about patent holders and licensing fees, which isn’t that fun, but Justice Elena Kagan wrote the court’s opinion on the case, which was fun — mainly because she filled it with Spider-Man jokes.

Kagan, a self-avowed “avid comic book fan” managed to slip in lyrics from the 1970s Spider-Man cartoon theme song in the court’s written opinion, as well as the classic line “with great power comes great responsibility” — referring specifically to the court’s power to overturn legal precedent, and their responsibility not to do so without a compelling reason. In this case, Stephen Kimble — who created the mechanism that Marvel used to create the super-popular Web Shooter toys, which were gloves that fired silly string — wasn’t able to convince the court that he was owed royalties by Marvel after his patent expired.

. . . .

Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment poses a serious legal and policy question about the ability of patent holders to extract license fees after the expiration of the underlying patent that led to the fees. But it also has to do with Spider-Man merchandise, so Justice Kagan, who wrote the opinion, apparently couldn’t restrain herself from cracking a series of comic book jokes:

  • “The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).”
  • “Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.”
  • “To the contrary, the decision’s close relation to a whole web of precedents means that reversing it could threaten others.”
  • “What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “SpiderMan,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility”).”

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to Dan for the tip.

Amazon launches one-hour London delivery

30 June 2015

From The Bookseller:

Amazon UK has launched Prime Now in London, which will allow customers in the capital to receive purchases within one hour of ordering them.

Only Amazon Prime members are eligible for the service, in a further move to encourage customers to sign up to the £79-a-year membership.

Prime members will have to download the Prime Now mobile app for one-hour delivery, which can be used on over 10,000 items from Amazon.co.uk. Customers will have to pay £6.99 for the less-than 60-minute service, but can also elect a free two-hour delivery slot, running from 8am until midnight, seven days a week.

. . . .

Amazon said the one-hour delivery service is powered by its “growing network of fulfillment centres that utilize high-end technology to speed up order delivery times” and for now will be fulfilled by Amazon Logistics’ delivery station in East London. Among the orders Amazon suggested customers might need within an hour are “daily essentials such as coffee, batteries and nappies, as well as other popular items like games consoles, toys and sports equipment,” which will be delivered “right to their door in an hour or less.”

. . . .

While the company will not reveal exactly how many Prime members it has in the UK, it has said it is in the “millions”. Worldwide, the membership [grew] 53% last year, with “tens of millions” of members.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Disney Folds Publishing into New Interactive Media Division

30 June 2015

From Digital Book World:

The Walt Disney Company combines the division that houses its children’s publishing business with its interactive media division, in a move the company frames as a reaction to “changing consumer preferences” in a tech-driven market.

. . . .

The new structure is designed to share technological expertise and maximize opportunities and efficiencies across two divisions that have increasingly become focused on similar objectives of delivering cutting-edge, interactive consumer experiences and products. In addition, the change will more effectively leverage Disney’s extensive licensing structure and retail relationships across both segments.

“The timing of this announcement could not be better, with both divisions seeing great success in the marketplace with technology-driven initiatives alongside our more traditional lines of business,” said Leslie Ferraro, Co-Chair, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, and President, Disney Consumer Products.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

E.L. James event backfires when ‘Grey’ critics air grievances using #AskELJames

30 June 2015

From The Los Angeles Times:

E.L. James was thrown a curve ball on Monday when critics of her “Fifty Shades of Grey” erotica series crashed her social media event, using the hashtag #AskELJames to challenge the author for writing books they allege perpetuate rape culture and sanction domestic violence.

The social media event was planned after the release of “Grey,” a follow-up to her novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” that retells the story from Christian Grey’s point of view.

A sampling of the backlash:

. . . .

https://twitter.com/WeAreTheApex/status/615623263994052608

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times and thanks to Shelly and several others for the tip.

Email Newsletters for Authors: Get Started Guide

30 June 2015

From Jane Friedman:

Early in actor Bryan Cranston’s career, when his gigs were primarily composed of guest-starring TV roles in Matlockand Murder, She Wrote, he sent postcards to casting directors about his upcoming appearances. He told the New Yorker, “I knew 99 percent of them wouldn’t watch, but my face and name would get in front of them, and it would plant the subliminal message ‘He works a lot, this guy!’”

Later on, when he received three Emmy nominations for his role as the dad in Malcolm in the Middle, he took out “for your consideration” ads promoting his work. He said, “The whole idea is to put yourself in a position to be recognized for your work so opportunities increase. False humility or even laziness could prevent that.”

If Cranston’s career had begun in the Internet era, his communication tool of choice might have been the email newsletter rather than the postcard. While email lists have many uses (from selling your books to delivering paid subscription content), their most immediate use for freelance writers and authors is to keep readers and professional connections informed about what you’re doing.

Regular email contact with your readers creates a long string of impressions, so that your name stays at the forefront of their mind. When an opportunity arises—a book club needs a new book to read, a publication is searching for a freelancer to hire, a journalist is looking for a good interview subject, or a conference needs speakers—people are far more likely to think of you if they frequently see your name.

Because most people are overwhelmed with unwanted email, it may seem counterintuitive to categorize the email newsletter as one of the more effective, even intimate, forms of digital communication. However, email has so far proven to be a more long-term and stable tool than social media, which is constantly shifting. Emails can’t be missed like a social media post that disappears in readers’ feeds as more posts follow it. You truly own your email list, unlike Facebook or Twitter accounts. And if you use people’s email addresses with respect (more on that in a minute), those addresses can become resources that grow more valuable over time.

. . . .

Decide on your frequency and stick to it. Your efforts will be doubly successful if you’re consistent with your timing. For example, freelance journalist Ann Friedman (no relation) sends an email newsletter that reliably arrives on Friday afternoons. Weekly is a common frequency, as is monthly, but the most important criterion is what you can commit to. If you choose a low frequency (bimonthly or quarterly), you run the risk of people forgetting they signed up, which then leads to unsubscribes. The more familiar with your work your subscribers are (or the bigger fans they are), the less likely you’ll encounter this problem. High frequency is associated with list fatigue, when people unsubscribe or stop opening your messages. Fatigue is higher with weekly or daily sends, so daily sends tend to be more appropriate for news- or trend-driven content. For example, Alexis Madrigal does a daily send called 5 Intriguing Things.

Keep it short, sweet, and structured. Hardly anyone will complain that your emails are too short; the more frequently you send, the shorter your emails should probably be. It can also help to deliver the same structure every time. Every newsletter Ann Friedman sends has links to what she’s recently published and what she’s been reading, plus an animated GIF of the week. I send a 2x/month newsletter Electric Speed that focuses on specific digital media tools and news of interest to writers.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The establishment seems very unworried about being toppled by indies, and 5 other learnings

30 June 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Programming Digital Book World and the kind of consulting we do require that we spend a lot of time in our office trying to figure out what the industry should be thinking more about.

. . . .

A recent DBW agenda planning meeting, which had participation from most of the ten biggest trade publishers, some literary agents, and service providers ranging from marketing services to digital distribution providers, yielded a lode of really interesting ideas that we’re going to act on.

1. One thing that came through loud and clear was big publishing’s interest in hearing how books fit in the greater landscape of digital change. They want to hear from curators of other media and online retailers from other businesses about how they learn about their customers, position a variety of products, and work with search and social media.

2. One participant, whose business provides digital sales data and analytics to a variety of clients, posited that there are four “stages” of behavior that we want to watch around consumer interaction with books. His paradigm is that we want to know:

  1. How they find out about the book
  2. How they purchase the book
  3. How they read, or navigate, the book
  4. How they talk about the book

. . . .

Publishers want to concentrate marketing efforts where the decision is made, not necessarily where the transaction occurs. And, in fact, we’re figuring that as time goes by, more and more ebook readers will buy on the particular platform they most favor regardless of where they learned about the book.

. . . .

I’d be a lousy blogger if I didn’t save best — or most proactive — for last (except in the post titling, of course). I told the assembled group that I wanted to do a panel on “the future for indie- and self-publishing.” There was remarkably little interest in the subject from those in the room. One literary agent said, “four years ago, indie publishing had us quaking in our boots. We really wondered whether our whole business model would be upended. We don’t worry about that anymore.” Another said “we counsel our authors about self-publishing, but there is less interest in it and less of a rush to it than there was a couple of years ago.” The publishers were similarly relaxed about whatever “competition” self-publishing offers.

So, from the perspective of the publishing establishment, the whirlwind of change has slowed down, we are in a “new normal” and there is absolutely no shortage of writers pining to be published for the deals the industry is offering and the output from those willing writers continue to deliver sales that keep big trade companies profitable. If self-publishing is constituting some mortal threat to everybody’s existence, that appears less evident today than it did a few years ago. And, of course, every big publisher is set for the next X years (unknown numbers that might be different for every big publisher, but almost certainly three or more for all of them) with their single biggest intermediary relationship since they’ve all just done deals with Amazon. One big variable in their commercial calculus that had been highly problematic in the recent past is now stable for a while into the future.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

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