Home » Big Publishing, Social Media » Reidy Hails Metadata, E-book Subscription at BISG

Reidy Hails Metadata, E-book Subscription at BISG

30 September 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Delivering the keynote address at the BISG annual meeting, Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy emphasized that book publishing has been transformed by the “ staggering amount of information available. There’s more information on publishing than ever before and I love it.”

According to Reidy, readers of literary fiction purchase e-books just as much as readers of commercial fiction, though both remain attached to the physical book. “The book is a permanent keepsake,” she said, “unlike a YouTube video.” Most readers, she said, seem to want e-books to be a “replica of the print book.” Enhanced e-books loaded with videos or other digital gimmicks, have been a failure, although its unclear why. “Is it because of the interruptions to the text or because we, the publishers, have failed to make them good enough?” she said.

Despite predictions that e-books might reach 50% of all book sales, Reidy said e-books sales have slowed and are likely to settle at about “25% to 30%” of total book sales. Although initially e-books helped jump backlist sales, Reidy said, “not anymore,” noting that “the novelty has worn off.” She said now “there are fewer readers” entering in the digital category and said the slowing growth in e-book sales have pushed publishers back to “highlighting books as beautiful physical objects.”

Asked if the higher pricing of e-books, in the wake of publishers’ new agency agreements with Amazon, had also figured in the slowdown of e-book sales, Reidy noted that in the wake of publisher settlements over e-book price-fixing charges in the case with Apple, “I’m not supposed talk about pricing, ” but added that “our data says that our pricing is effective.”

She pointed out that even the sales of books from S&S’s line of hip young YouTube authors, are overwhelmingly in print. Old-line media like major print, radio and TV shows, she said, were still the best way to drive sales of a book. “Even if most of those sales are through online channels.”

. . . .

 [A]ccurate metadata, “makes a huge difference in sales,” she said, highlighting how a simple change in metadata impacted the house’s experience with the novel Galveston, written by Nic Pizzolatto, creator of the hit HBO TV series True Detectives.

Originally published in 2010, the novel got good reviews and won an Edgar award, but sold about 1,000 copies, Reidy said. While there is no connection between the novel and the TV show, S&S saw the rising popularity of the show, and quickly changed the metadata by adding a note to the author bio that Galveston was written by the True Detectives creator. In 2014, Galveston sold more than 37,000 copies, print and e-books combined. “And this was not a tie-in. We did it with metadata,” Reidy said.

Metadata and social media, she said, “can be used to connect books to what’s going on in the world. We’re just learning how to do this. We can bring the backlist directly to readers but we need daily, as well as monthly and yearly planning. Real world feedback can shape our publishing program.” Publishers, she said, can use social media to “establish direct connections and relationships” with communities interested in their authors. “We need to give our authors reason to partner with us,” she said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Big Publishing, Social Media

59 Comments to “Reidy Hails Metadata, E-book Subscription at BISG”

  1. Asked if the higher pricing of e-books, in the wake of publishers’ new agency agreements with Amazon, had also figured in the slowdown of e-book sales, Reidy noted that in the wake of publisher settlements over e-book price-fixing charges in the case with Apple, “I’m not supposed talk about pricing, ” but added that “our data says that our pricing is effective.”
    ____

    Translation: Our ebook sales are down, thus our outrageous pricing of those books has done exactly what we wanted. Now if only we could get those lost readers to transition back to paper, our mission will be complete.

    • “our data says that our pricing is effective.”

      Heh …

      I think it would be great if Amazon for one week (say, starting black Friday) removed their price cuts on all hardbacks — and added the ‘suggested retail price of manufacturer’ to them. Then we’ll all see how ‘effective’ their pricing really is …

      (yes, won’t happen, but fun to think of the boost it would give indie — and all the heart attacks in new york!)

    • Our ebook sales are down, thus our outrageous pricing of those books has done exactly what we wanted.

      That’s how I interpreted that answer as well.

      Hah!

      I’m just pleased and amazed that she was actually asked if the (higher) pricing was a contributing cause to the ebook slowdown. In all the other articles on this topic, the reporter simply swallowed down whole the pablum that big publishing chose to dole out.

  2. Adding information about an author’s connection to a tv show to his bio is not meta data. It’s advertising.

  3. Reidy noted that in the wake of publisher settlements over e-book price-fixing charges in the case with Apple, “I’m not supposed talk about pricing, ” but added that “our data says that our pricing is effective.”

    Yeah, they’re “effective” alright. Effective at sending me to the library for most new releases by authors I like nowadays. Also effective at me keeping up my $9.99/month KU subscription, which I almost dropped. Much better value for my money in the current environment.

  4. Here’s Caroline Reidy’s take on ebook pricing, from a handwritten note of hers which was an exhibit showcased in the 2011 Apple trial that proved publisher price collusion:


    “Higher price slows Ebks/casual purchaser/keeps retailers/stops authors leaving.”

    When Reidy says “pricing is effective”, she means “effective at slowing ebooks sales.”

    I feel sorry for the poor Simon & Schuster authors losing money because their publisher doesn’t want their ebooks selling…

    • I feel sorry for the poor Simon & Schuster authors losing money because their publisher doesn’t want their ebooks selling…

      Hey, it’s all part of the nurturing, you know?

    • “Higher price slows Ebks/casual purchaser/keeps retailers/stops authors leaving.”

      I do not understand what positive effect the publishers expect as a result of abandoning the ebook market. Is it some kind of magical thinking that people who read ebooks – mostly avid readers – will return to print in numbers to make up for the lost sales?

      • Read? Yes.

        buy? I wouldn’t be so sure.

      • Reidy and the other Big Five CEOs aren’t quite as stupid as they might seem. They don’t care about the avid readers — they know that’s a lost cause already. Most avid readers have made the leap to ebooks already and aren’t coming back.

        No, the Big Five’s terror is that the casual, 5-book-a-year reader might follow.

        That’s why they are throwing up these price roadblocks that kill their own ebook sales.

        Those twice-a-year airport book buyers, holiday gift book-buyers, and the like make up a massive share of the Big Five’s income. And the Big Five can, via print distribution, dictate exactly which tiny handful of books and authors make up the vast majority of those sales — thus giving their business a certain predictability which disappears altogether in the ebook world.

        If those casual readers move to ebooks in significant numbers, the Big Five know their business model is dead and buried.

        ebooks are an existential threat for them.

        • That’s it, SDA. I think that’s the reason so much of the disinformation they’re spreading is aimed at disabusing people of the notion that a piece of hardware they already have (tablet computer, smart phone) is a good option for reading ebooks.

          • BigAl, I think you’re spot-on.

            It’s not entirely stupid, either. Those disinformation campaigns may get laughed at by avid readers. But for a person who buys 1 or 2 books a year, and doesn’t follow the industry, disinformation about publishing is pretty much all they hear…

        • Here’s the thing though, ebooks are profitable and, despite what they say, it is a growing market. Even assuming they/you are right that the ebook market is currently made up of avid readers and casual readers aren’t likely to follow, by raising prices beyond what a large majority of avid readers will pay, aren’t they cutting their own throat by abandoning that market?

          Red ink is also an existential threat.

          • Worse: casual readers are more likely to buy from Walmart, Costco, and yes, Amazon.
            They are shifting market share towards Amazon in both Ebooks and eBooks. The big losers of this policy are all Amazon competitors.

            • Their whole plan seems predicated on the idea that there are bookstores in easy reach for people. For a brief while there were 3 bookstores with 20 minutes of me, one of which was Borders. But now they’re gone and its back to the grocery store for books. Or it would be, if Amazon didn’t exist.

            • Not forgetting that it’s raising the bar to young readers, frustrating some of the “reading” ones to go pirate instead of paying customers…

            • I think Amazon is responding to these high ebook prices by shifting its deep discounting to best seller hardcovers, meaning, as you predict, more casual buyers will be buying at Amazon.

          • Ebooks are profitable indeed, and as you say, despite what the dingbats at the NYT think, they are indeed still a growing market… but unfortunately for the Big Five, they are a growing market in which the Big Five is unable to compete economically. Their business model has too much overhead. Even their “low” prices are too high for avid readers.

            The only reason the Big Five were selling so many ebooks pre-agency is that Amazon was more or less giving them away, by discounting them so deeply that Amazon on the whole made zero profit on Big Five ebooks. And the Big Five hated that, even though it put an extra 30% of pure profit on every ebook sale they made, because it meant that more and more avid book-buyers were shifting to ebooks… and to Amazon.

            So the Big Five tried to put on the brakes by instituting agency. But they basically screwed themselves worse.

            Here’s why.

            Amazon is now *forced* to take 30% profit on every Big Five ebook sale. So what does Amazon do with those profits? They give it back to the Big Five in the form of discounts on *hardcovers*.

            That’s why we are seeing so many Big Five hardcovers cost the same as, or even less than, ebooks.

            If you think about it, it’s frigging brilliant on Amazon’s part. Because guess what’s happening now?

            Anyone shifting from ebooks to print will do it by buying the print book on Amazon.

            And the hardcore *print* book buyers — the folks who go around sniffing hardcovers and wouldn’t read an ebook if you paid them to, are right now shifting their buying away from brick and mortar bookstores and onto Amazon, where those same front-table Big Five hardcovers are now available much, much cheaper than bookstores can afford to offer them.

            I’m willing to bet that when the dust settles, it will turn out that by insisting on agency the Big Five ended up inadvertently stabbing the brick-and-mortar bookstores — and themselves — in the back.

            Maybe the Big Five *are* as dumb as they seem. 🙂

            • Jinx. I can’t wait to see how they respond once they realize Amazon’s now doing the same thing to their wheelhouse.

              • Jinx. 🙂

              • I know, right?

                The Big Five handed Amazon the gun and aimed it at the bookstores for them… the very same bookstores that are the only thing keeping the Big Five’s current print business model alive.

                Hubris… leads to karma.

                Every single time. 🙂

            • I think Amazon doing something else with that 30% profit (in addition to what you suggested). I think they are funding Kindle Unlimited with some of it.

              • Great point you make.

                Who knows how many $10-a-month-paying subscribers KU has?

                But whatever that number, we know Amazon is spending probably twice as much as on KU as the $11.8 million they paid out to indies last month, because tradpub books and Amazon-imprint books are earning full compensation.

                So Amazon would need something like 2.3 million paying KU subscribers to cover what they are now paying monthly to authors and publishers, and that would mean — given the 2.3 billion KENP read last month — something like an average of 1,000 KENP read per paying subscriber at breakeven.

                That’s only something like 2-3 books a month on average per subscriber.

                I think that it’s a safe bet that they have fewer paying subscribers than that, but those subscribers are reading more than 2-3 books a month.

                But even losing money as it likely is, KU won’t go the way of Oyster (and soon Scribd). Because KU has huge indirect payoffs for Amazon, too — they can afford to invest in it and still come out well ahead.

                • “because tradpub books and Amazon-imprint books are earning full compensation”

                  That’s not entirely true. I know three publishers who are in KU under the per-page offer, and I wouldn’t bet on Amazon paying itself the full 70% royalty each time one of its books is loaned.

                • There was a comment a while back about the Apub titles in Kindle first getting a lump sum fee to be featured. So odds are they bookkeep those on KU at a per unit discounted rate.

                • Interesting if true.

                  I wouldn’t know. When A-pub came knocking about my books, I turned them down. And that was pre-KU, so KU earnings weren’t even a topic of discussion at the time. But I’ve heard from other A-pub authors since that they get paid for KU borrows as if they were sales.

                  Now you’ve got me curious.
                  I think I’ll touch base with some A-pub folks and ask.

                  ETA: it might be the A-pub folks who were already signed before KU got grandfathered into getting a full royalty for KU borrows. But A-pub authors who are getting signed in the post-KU timeframe now get a different deal. Now I’m super curious… 🙂

        • I was told (I don’t know if the stats support it or not) by a NY editor at a major house that the avid book buyer (purchases more than 5 books a year) account for significantly less of the market share than the casual book buyer (less than 5 a year). Like I said, I don’t know if it was true, but this person (who has been an editor at major houses since the late 70s) seemed to think that avid readers accounted for less than 20% of all book sales.

          The takeaway was that avid readers make an author have a long and successful career, but its the casual readers who keep the BPHs in the black. So, from that perspective, it makes total sense to have a strategy that is directed towards the casual reader.

          • Smart Debut Author

            Your NY editor was making the classic BPH-centric mistake of confusing Big Five frontlist hardcover buyers with “the market”.

            The most avid 10% of readers buy more than half of all books sold. But they rarely buy brand new, high priced frontlist hardcovers. Once upon a time, they bought MMPB and used books, but now they’ve mostly migrated to ebooks and audio — where the BPH now account for less than half of all sales.

            Avid readers make up the vast majority of the book-buying market now.
            Just not the BPH’s market. 🙂

            • I don’t think that’s a mistake. I think that’s called “cashflow” and “budgeting”. They are a business, and need to be able to make accurate estimates of sales in order to function.

  5. Just confirms my reading acquisition habits I started in 2010:

    1. Library
    2. Used book stores
    3. Non-BPH publishers
    4. Deep discounters like Costco

    Too bad the authors signed with someone who engages in anti-customer behavior.

  6. This woman is up Denial without a paddle. And whistling loudly.

    • @ Patrice

      Would you really expect her to be candid and truthful at a Big Pub kissyfest like BISG?

      Um, nah, don’t think so. Spin, baby, spin!

  7. This is the second article I’ve seen that mentions that Nic Pizzolato metadata story, like this is the most miraculous thing ever. This is basic marketing.

    • Factor in that tradpubbers are people who don’t grasp basket pricing strategies or price elasticity curves. Baby steps. First they need to understand 20th century practices before graduating to the internet era.

  8. Enhanced e-books loaded with videos or other digital gimmicks, have been a failure, although its unclear why.

    It’s perfectly clear why. It’s not the medium being sought. If I want to read, I want text. If I want video, I’d be browsing YouTube. I read quickly, I can skim, I can stop and ponder, but mostly, I give text exactly the amount of time and depth of attention I wish to give it. Video demands a set amount of time. Keep it out of my books. I often won’t click on a video even here at TPV.

  9. Enhanced e-books loaded with videos or other digital gimmicks, have been a failure, although its unclear why.

    It’s perfectly clear why. It’s not the medium being sought. If I want to read, I want text. If I want video, I’d be browsing YouTube. I read quickly, I can skim, I can stop and ponder, but mostly, I give text exactly the amount of time and depth of attention I wish to give it. Video demands a set amount of time. Keep it out of my books. I often won’t click on a video even here at TPV.

    • Depends on the book. For fiction, all I want is text without the other crap. I might make an exception in the case of a map like in The Hobbit, but certainly not a video.

      OTOH, in the case of non-fiction, like a textbook, a video or animated GIF can be very helpful, PROVIDED I’m allowed to skip past it.

  10. All hail Metadata, the Living God. Swear obeisance to it or perish.

    Hmmm, perish? Okaaaay…

  11. Great comments here. Interesting to consider the ways that the Big 5 may be viewing the market now.

    Have they accepted defeat with the voracious readers (who are just a fraction of the market)?

    I think maybe they have…

    • That would be dangerous thinking.
      Heavy readers are early buyers of bestsellers, *before* they become bestsellers. Lose them, and you’ll lose the means of launching new bestsellers.
      Still, they may think front table payola alone can get bandwagons rolling. I’ll happily watch them try.

  12. Whistling past the graveyard.

  13. I’m quite surprised nobody here reacted to this quote : “We need to give our authors reason to partner with us,”

    I hadn’t seen so far any public BPH acknowledgement of the author’s increased negociation power, which I attribute in part to indie publishing.

  14. I have a question.

    Does the publisher owe the writer a fiduciary duty?

    • It’s a contractual relationship so they only owe what the contract states they owe and I’m pretty sure no contract says anything about results.The author would have to argue bad faith negotiation or implied terms.

      Would need a great lawyer or compromising video of the judge to win. 🙂

      • It’s a contractual relationship so they only owe what the contract states they owe

        That is not necessarily true. When I practiced law, I always had a contract with my client, but the fiduciary duty was imputed by law.

        I am no expert on fiduciary duties. Is there among the readers of TPV a lawyer who can address this issue?

        Specifically, because the publisher places the writer’s work for sale and collects sales and holds the monies for a term, is a fiduciary relation created? Is a fiduciary relation created between the publisher and writer by other means?

        • I’m not even close to being a lawyer by the definitions I’ve seen, I would think Agents do and publishers don’t.
          Publishers are service providers but Agents are proxies representing the author.

          If there were a publisher fiduciary responsibility to be found, wouldn’t somebody have sued over the Agency Conspiracy? The Feds already proved authors lost money because of it.

          Mind you, it would be fun to see the class action suit that would follow and the pockets they be deep…

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