Monthly Archives: April 2017

Amazon five-minute share surge worth $4.4 billion for Jeff Bezos

28 April 2017

From The Sydney Morning-Herald:

A surge in after hours trading for Amazon.com added $US3.3 billion ($4.4 billion) to the fortune of Jeff Bezos, putting him less than $US5 billion ($6.7 billion) away from becoming the world’s richest person.

Bezos saw his fortune surpass $US80 billion for the first time, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The 53-year old has added $US65.2 billion to his net worth since the index debuted in March 2012 and ended on Thursday (US time) with a net worth of $US79 billion. His net worth will surpass $US80 billion on the index for the first time if the gains hold on Friday.

. . . .

Amazon shares added almost $US50 in around five minutes after the company projected sales that may beat estimates in the current quarter, furthering an unbroken 20-year streak of double-digit revenue growth.

. . . .

The stock has jumped over 20 per cent this year.

Link to the rest at The Sydney Morning-Herald

How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

27 April 2017

From The Guardian:

Here are some things that you can’t do with a Kindle. You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, crack a spine (brutal, but sometimes pleasurable) or flick the pages to see how far you have come and how far you have to go. You can’t remember something potent and find it again with reference to where it appeared on a right- or left-hand page. You often can’t remember much at all. You can’t tell whether the end is really the end, or whether the end equals 93% followed by 7% of index and/or questions for book clubs. You can’t pass it on to a friend or post it through your neighbour’s door.

A few years ago, I was given a Kindle. I had become a student again. I was reading lots of books and I needed them cheap and light. But now the Kindle has slipped to the back of the desk drawer behind the Blu-Tack that comes out only at Christmas. Meanwhile, the stack of hardbacks and paperbacks on the bedside table has grown so tall it has spawned sub-stacks on the floor; when I get into bed at night, it is like looking down on a miniature book city. I don’t want to speculate about what goes on in other people’s bedrooms but I suspect it might be something similar, because figures published today by the Publishing Association show that sales of consumer ebooks have dropped by 17%, while sales of physical books are up 8%. Consumer spending on books was up £89m across the board last year, compared with 2015. So why is the physical book winning through?

Ten years ago, when the Kindle launched, the idea was miraculous. Here was the ability to carry hundreds of books enfolded in a tiny slip of plastic, countless stories in a few hundred grams. It seems hard to believe when you look at the thick, black plastic surround – stylistically it bears more resemblance to a cathode ray tube TV than a tablet – that it predated the iPad by two years. Within five hours, it had sold out, despite a price tag of $399 (then £195). A decade on, lay a Kindle next to a smartphone or tablet and it looks so much older, while the reading experience it delivers has scarcely progressed.

“It was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. “But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren’t trendy tech reading devices and I don’t think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.”

. . . .

“The physical book had become quite a cheap and tacky thing at the turn of the millennium,” Daunt says. Publishers “cut back on the quality of the paper, so if you left a book in the sun it went yellow. They were gluing, not sewing. They would put a cover on a hardback but not do anything with the hard case underneath. Nowadays, if you take a cover off, there is likely to be something interesting underneath it.”

. . . .

Once upon a time, people bought books because they liked reading. Now they buy books because they like books. “All these people are really thinking about how the books are – not just what’s in them, but what they’re like as objects,” says Jennifer Cownie, who runs the beautiful Bookifer website and the Cownifer Instagram, which match books to decorative papers, and who bought a Kindle but hated it. Summerhayes thinks that “people have books in their house as pieces of art”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG says this is a big day for Amazon Derangement Syndrome at The Guardian. The books department must be cutting their pills in half again.

As for the Bookifer crowd, here’s a better alternative.

The moment you make a mistake

27 April 2017

The moment you make a mistake in pricing, you’re eating into your reputation or your profits.

Katharine Paine

‘Screen fatigue’ sees UK ebook sales plunge 17% as readers return to print

27 April 2017

From The Guardian:

Britons are abandoning the ebook at an alarming rate with sales of consumer titles down almost a fifth last year, as “screen fatigue” helped fuel a five-year high in printed book sales.

Sales of consumer ebooks plunged 17% to £204m last year, the lowest level since 2011 – the year the ebook craze took off as Jeff Bezos’ market-dominating Amazon Kindle took the UK by storm.

It is the second year running that sales of consumer ebooks – the biggest segment of the £538m ebook market, which fell 3% last year – have slumped as commuters, holidaymakers and leisure readers shelve digital editions in favour of good old fashioned print novels.

“I wouldn’t say that the ebook dream is over but people are clearly making decisions on when they want to spend time with their screens,” says Stephen Lotinga, chief exeutive of the Publishers Association, which published its annual yearbook on Thursday.

“There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness, or fatigue, from so many devices being used, watched or looked at in their week. [Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”

. . . .

The issue with consumer ebooks aside the UK book industry is in fine fettle. Total sales of print and digital books and journals climbed 7% to £4.8bn last year, the largest growth since 2007 when digital sales were first included.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Randall for the tip.

PG didn’t see any reference to how many ebooks were sold by publishers and authors who don’t report their sales to the Publishers Association. He also didn’t see Amazon’s name on the list of members on the Publishers Association website.

“Screen fatigue” sounds like something the marketing department invented. PG wonders if they considered “bookstore fatigue” or “high prices fatigue” while they were brainstorming.

Here’s a link to an interesting analysis of last year’s Publisher’s Association Yearbook at Publishing Perspectives, ‘As We Trade Less Neurotically’: A Nice Chat About Those UK Publishing Numbers.

The Publishing Perspectives article raises an issue PG would like to address more directly: Absent Amazon Derangement Syndrome, a decline in ebook sales of traditional publishers is hardly something the traditional publishing business should be celebrating.

Ebooks are a great business for traditional publishers – send an ebook file to Amazon and check once a month thereafter to see how much money Amazon sends back. No printing and shipping bills to pay, no inventory to manage (or to pay someone else to manage), no returns to deal with.

If Amazon hadn’t opened the gates to the unwashed horde of self-published authors, demonstrated that lower ebook prices resulted in much larger sales and then started its own imprints when the first ADS plague hit traditional publishing, the Publishing Association would be giving Amazon an award each year at its annual meeting for improving the profitability of UK publishers.

A pound (or dollar) of profit from an ebook licensed to a reader by Amazon counts for just as much as a pound of profit from a printed book sold by Blackwell’s.

A 17% drop in ebook sales is a disaster for the UK publishing business. Any assumption that each ebook not acquired is offset by a printed version that is purchased instead doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

For one thing, obtaining an ebook by touching an iPad screen is a much more effortless transaction than going to a physical bookstore to locate and buy a printed book. The alternative to an iPad ebook transaction may well be tapping on the Amazon Video app to watch a show.

 

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria

27 April 2017

From The Atlantic:

You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.

At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.

It was to be the realization of a long-held dream. “The universal library has been talked about for millennia,” Richard Ovenden, the head of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, has said. “It was possible to think in the Renaissance that you might be able to amass the whole of published knowledge in a single room or a single institution.” In the spring of 2011, it seemed we’d amassed it in a terminal small enough to fit on a desk.

“This is a watershed event and can serve as a catalyst for the reinvention of education, research, and intellectual life,” one eager observer wrote at the time.On March 22 of that year, however, the legal agreement that would have unlocked a century’s worth of books and peppered the country with access terminals to a universal library was rejected under Rule 23(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.When the library at Alexandria burned it was said to be an “international catastrophe.” When the most significant humanities project of our time was dismantled in court, the scholars, archivists, and librarians who’d had a hand in its undoing breathed a sigh of relief, for they believed, at the time, that they had narrowly averted disaster.

. . . .

Google’s secret effort to scan every book in the world, codenamed “Project Ocean,” began in earnest in 2002 when Larry Page and Marissa Mayer sat down in the office together with a 300-page book and a metronome. Page wanted to know how long it would take to scan more than a hundred-million books, so he started with one that was lying around. Using the metronome to keep a steady pace, he and Mayer paged through the book cover-to-cover. It took them 40 minutes.

Page had always wanted to digitize books. Way back in 1996, the student project that eventually became Google—a “crawler” that would ingest documents and rank them for relevance against a user’s query—was actually conceived as part of an effort “to develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal digital library.” The idea was that in the future, once all books were digitized, you’d be able to map the citations among them, see which books got cited the most, and use that data to give better search results to library patrons. But books still lived mostly on paper. Page and his research partner, Sergey Brin, developed their popularity-contest-by-citation idea using pages from the World Wide Web.
By 2002, it seemed to Page like the time might be ripe to come back to books. With that 40-minute number in mind, he approached the University of Michigan, his alma mater and a world leader in book scanning, to find out what the state of the art in mass digitization looked like. Michigan told Page that at the current pace, digitizing their entire collection—7 million volumes—was going to take about a thousand years. Page, who’d by now given the problem some thought, replied that he thought Google could do it in six.. . . .He offered the library a deal: You let us borrow all your books, he said, and we’ll scan them for you. You’ll end up with a digital copy of every volume in your collection, and Google will end up with access to one of the great untapped troves of data left in the world. Brin put Google’s lust for library books this way: “You have thousands of years of human knowledge, and probably the highest-quality knowledge is captured in books.” What if you could feed all the knowledge that’s locked up on paper to a search engine?

By 2004, Google had started scanning. In just over a decade, after making deals with Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, the New York Public Library, and dozens of other library systems, the company, outpacing Page’s prediction, had scanned about 25 million books. It cost them an estimated $400 million. It was a feat not just of technology but of logistics.

. . . .

The stations—which didn’t so much scan as photograph books—had been custom-built by Google from the sheet metal up. Each one could digitize books at a rate of 1,000 pages per hour. The book would lie in a specially designed motorized cradle that would adjust to the spine, locking it in place. Above, there was an array of lights and at least $1,000 worth of optics, including four cameras, two pointed at each half of the book, and a range-finding LIDAR that overlaid a three-dimensional laser grid on the book’s surface to capture the curvature of the paper. The human operator would turn pages by hand—no machine could be as quick and gentle—and fire the cameras by pressing a foot pedal, as though playing at a strange piano.

What made the system so efficient is that it left so much of the work to software. Rather than make sure that each page was aligned perfectly, and flattened, before taking a photo, which was a major source of delays in traditional book-scanning systems, cruder images of curved pages were fed to de-warping algorithms, which used the LIDAR data along with some clever mathematics to artificially bend the text back into straight lines.

. . . .

In August 2010, Google put out a blog post announcing that there were 129,864,880 books in the world. The company said they were going to scan them all.

Of course, it didn’t quite turn out that way. This particular moonshot fell about a hundred-million books short of the moon. What happened was complicated but how it started was simple: Google did that thing where you ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and forgiveness was not forthcoming. Upon hearing that Google was taking millions of books out of libraries, scanning them, and returning them as if nothing had happened, authors and publishers filed suit against the company, alleging, as the authors put it simply in their initial complaint, “massive copyright infringement.”

. . . .

As Tim Wu pointed out in a 2003 law review article, what usually becomes of these battles—what happened with piano rolls, with records, with radio, and with cable—isn’t that copyright holders squash the new technology. Instead, they cut a deal and start making money from it. Often this takes the form of a “compulsory license” in which, for example, musicians are required to license their work to the piano-roll maker, but in exchange, the piano-roll maker has to pay a fixed fee, say two cents per song, for every roll they produce. Musicians get a new stream of income, and the public gets to hear their favorite songs on the player piano. “History has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests,” Wu writes.

But even if everyone typically ends up ahead, each new cycle starts with rightsholders fearful they’re being displaced by the new technology. When the VCR came out, film executives lashed out. “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone,” Jack Valenti, then the president of the MPAA, testified before Congress. The major studios sued Sony, arguing that with the VCR, the company was trying to build an entire business on intellectual property theft. But Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. became famous for its holding that as long as a copying device was capable of “substantial noninfringing uses”—like someone watching home movies—its makers couldn’t be held liable for copyright infringement.

The Sony case forced the movie industry to accept the existence of VCRs. Not long after, they began to see the device as an opportunity. “The VCR turned out to be one of the most lucrative inventions—for movie producers as well as hardware manufacturers—since movie projectors,” one commentator put it in 2000.
It only took a couple of years for the authors and publishers who sued Google to realize that there was enough middle ground to make everyone happy. This was especially true when you focused on the back catalog, on out-of-print works, instead of books still on store shelves. Once you made that distinction, it was possible to see the whole project in a different light. Maybe Google wasn’t plundering anyone’s work. Maybe they were giving it a new life. Google Books could turn out to be for out-of-print books what the VCR had been for movies out of the theater.If that was true, you wouldn’t actually want to stop Google from scanning out-of-print books—you’d want to encourage it. In fact, you’d want them to go beyond just showing snippets to actually selling those books as digital downloads.. . . .

Those who had been at the table crafting the agreement had expected some resistance, but not the “parade of horribles,” as Sarnoff described it, that they eventually saw. The objections came in many flavors, but they all started with the sense that the settlement was handing to Google, and Google alone, an awesome power. “Did we want the greatest library that would ever exist to be in the hands of one giant corporation, which could really charge almost anything it wanted for access to it?”, Robert Darnton, then president of Harvard’s library, has said.

Darnton had initially been supportive of Google’s scanning project, but the settlement made him wary. The scenario he and many others feared was that the same thing that had happened to the academic journal market would happen to the Google Books database. The price would be fair at first, but once libraries and universities became dependent on the subscription, the price would rise and rise until it began to rival the usurious rates that journals were charging, where for instance by 2011 a yearly subscription to the Journal of Comparative Neurology could cost as much as $25,910.Although academics and library enthusiasts like Darnton were thrilled by the prospect of opening up out-of-print books, they saw the settlement as a kind of deal with the devil. Yes, it would create the greatest library there’s ever been—but at the expense of creating perhaps the largest bookstore, too, run by what they saw as a powerful monopolist. In their view, there had to be a better way to unlock all those books. “Indeed, most elements of the GBS settlement would seem to be in the public interest, except for the fact that the settlement restricts the benefits of the deal to Google,” the Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson wrote.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

The Beautiful and Bizarre Moments of Seattle’s Independent Bookstores

27 April 2017

From The Stranger:

Independent bookstores are the best. You never know when you’re going to have a profound experience browsing the shelves, an encounter with a famous writer, or an unexpected flirtation with someone who has the same taste in books as you do.

On April 29, nineteen Seattle-area bookstores are participating in Independent Bookstore Day. If you visit all of them and get your Indie Bookstore Challenge passport stamped at each, you get 25 percent off at all those stores for a year.

Two years ago, 42 people completed the challenge; last year, 120 people did; this year, maybe you?

In anticipation of Independent Bookstore Day, I visited a few of the participating bookstores and put their staff members on the spot: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened in their store?

. . . .

Third Place Books

17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park, 206-366-3333

Events manager Wendy Ceballos recalls booking John Irving and Hulk Hogan on the same night. The Lake Forest Park location is big enough to do multiple events at once, so they do it sometimes, but this was a particularly interesting pairing. “John Irving was onstage and had like 200 people, and Hulk Hogan had a signing line only. The audiences couldn’t be more different from each other, and they were sort of bumping into each other. And I got them in the back room, and of course John Irving knew who Hulk Hogan was, and Hulk Hogan had no idea who John Irving was,” Ceballos said.

Seattle Mystery Bookstore

117 Cherry St, 206-587-5737

“We do have a ghost,” one employee said when I asked if there was anything mysterious about the store. “About 15 years ago, one of the staff came out from the back hallway and asked her colleague if the man back there had been helped. Her colleague told her there was nobody back there. When they looked, there was indeed nobody back there. The woman who saw the man described him as a dark figure wearing a long overcoat and a funny round hat. And a few months later, a guy came in who said that his great-grandfather had had a barbershop in our space back in the time of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909, and the next time he was in he’d bring us pictures. The next time he came in, weeks later, he brought a picture of this space when it was a barbershop and a picture of his great grandfather, who was wearing a long dark overcoat and a bowler hat. The woman who had been working and had seen the dark figure didn’t know the term for a bowler hat.” He paused to let that sink in. “And occasionally books fly off shelves. We usually say, ‘Hello, ghost.’ And two women who work here with me now occasionally feel someone futzing with the hair on the back of their head. That’s when they know it’s time for a haircut.”

Link to the rest at The Stranger and thanks to M. for the tip.

Barnes & Noble Names Demos Parneros as Chief Executive

27 April 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

 Barnes & Noble Inc. named Demos Parneros as its new chief executive, making him the fifth leader in four years to be tasked with turning around the bookseller’s fortunes.

Mr. Parneros is being elevated from chief operating officer, a position he had assumed at Barnes & Noble in November. A veteran retailer who previously spent nearly 30 years at Staples Inc., he faces numerous challenges at the bookstore chain.

In March, the company reported a disappointing holiday quarter in which same-store sales fell 8.3%, and the Nook tablet and e-book business continued to lose money. Like many retailers these days, Barnes & Noble is grappling with declining store traffic as consumers have embraced shopping online.

During an interview, Mr. Parneros, 55 years old, said attracting customers to Barnes & Noble’s 634 bookstores is his top priority. He expressed confidence that the bookseller can compete effectively if it offers “something unique and different. Everything is on the table.”

Although book prices are typically cheaper online, he said, customers in recent surveys conducted on behalf of Barnes & Noble said they continue to enjoy the bookstore experience, include the cafe.

“People care about price,” he said. “But they also like visiting our stores. We’re looking at everything we’re doing to be sure we are on trend.”

. . . .

He added that the typical Barnes & Noble store is larger than he would prefer, noting that the advantage of Barnes & Noble’s vast assortment of titles is less critical at a time when consumers can find millions of books online using their smartphones.

. . . .

Mr. Parneros succeeds Leonard Riggio, the chain’s largest private shareholder with an 18% stake. Mr. Riggio, 76 years old, had intended to retire in 2016 but instead took the reins as acting CEO after Ronald Boire was dismissed as chief executive in August.

Barnes & Noble’s shares have lost a third of their value since then, and the company has a market capitalization of about $650 million. Mr. Riggio will remain as chairman.

Mr. Parneros expressed support for the retailer’s Nook device and e-book business, saying that it remains crucial to the bookseller’s strategy of providing books to its customers in any way they want them. Nook sales, which include devices, e-books and accessories, declined 25.7% to $38.4 million for the fiscal third quarter ended Jan. 28.

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

Nicollet Mall Barnes & Noble will close this weekend

27 April 2017

From Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal:

The downtown Minneapolis Nicollet Mall Barnes & Noble will close its doors this weekend.

A store associate at the downtown bookstore said its last day of business will be Saturday. Nicollet Mall was the home of the downtown Barnes & Noble since 1994.

. . . .

The Barnes & Noble space has 11,100 square feet on the ground level and 14,000 square feet on the second floor.

The most likely future scenario for the site will be for one business to take the ground-level space with two different tenants splitting the second level. Sources have told the Business Journal that a few high-end restaurants have expressed interest in the ground floor.

Link to the rest at Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal

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