Big Publishing

Did Apple Fix E-Book Prices for the Greater Good?

17 December 2014

From The New Yorker:

Had you listened to the lawyers presenting oral arguments to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit between ten o’clock and eleven o’clock on Monday morning, you might have assumed that someone was suing Amazon. Much of the discussion centered on whether Amazon had a monopoly on e-book sales a couple of years ago. At one point, a judge even suggested outright that Amazon could be described as a monopolist company that engaged in predatory pricing.

But the case before the court that day wasn’t about Amazon—not directly, at least. It originated in 2012, when the Department of Justice sued Apple and five book publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster) for allegedly conspiring to raise the prices of e-books in the run-up to the launch of the iPad, in 2010. Amazon, whose Kindle e-reader had a ninety-per-cent market share for e-books before the iPad’s introduction, had been buying them at the wholesale prices set by publishers, then reselling them at retail prices (typically $9.99 per book) that were often at or even below the original wholesale price. Amazon didn’t mind losing money on each sale, as long as the strategy helped sell Kindles and expand the e-book market. But publishers believed that the low retail price of e-books eroded the public’s perception of what books are worth. They also worried that the heavily discounted e-books were hurting hardcover sales, on which they depended for much of their revenue.

. . . .

So why the discussion now of whether Amazon was a monopolist before Apple came along? According to recent case law, price-fixing schemes designated as horizontal (that is, coördinated among competitors) violate antitrust law, no matter the parties’ intentions or the effects on the market. But “vertical” price-fixing (between a retailer and a manufacturer) may not be a violation, depending on such factors as the companies’ motives and the outcomes of their actions.

Last year, a federal judge named Denise Cote found that Apple had, in fact, collaborated in a horizontal price-fixing scheme, not that it had orchestrated a vertical one. Cote noted that Apple executives kept the publishers informed about what other publishers were up to; she also pointed out that Apple made clear to the publishers that it was important for as many of them as possible sign on to the proposed deal. Both of these activities, among others, Cote argued, showed that the company had facilitated horizontal price-fixing.

. . . .

On Monday, comments from the appellate judges in New York—especially Judge Dennis Jacobs—suggested that they might be more receptive than Cote to Apple’s line of reasoning. According to Agence France-Presse, Jacobs said, “What we’re talking about is a new entrant who is breaking the hold of a market by a monopolist who is maintaining its hold by what is arguably predatory pricing.”

. . . .

According to the Associated Press, when one of the judges, Raymond J. Lohier, Jr., asked a lawyer for the Justice Department how Apple and the publishers “could have broken Amazon’s monopoly of the e-book market without violating antitrust laws,” The lawyer noted that Apple could have let the competition among companies play out naturally without pursuing explicit strategies to push prices higher—or it could have sued, or complained to the Justice Department and to federal regulatory authorities. First told me, “My view of this has always been that vigilante justice is not appropriate—it was not even appropriate in the Wild West.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

PG suggests that, even if Amazon was abusing its position in the ebook world (not a certain thing by a long shot because it was trying to push prices down, a good thing for consumers), the solution to monopoly power is not to create another monopoly that abuses its power – by price-fixing, which is what the Price-Fix Six did.

How Jessica Mitford Exposed A $48m Scam From America’s Literary Establishment

16 December 2014

From David Gaughran:

Jessica Mitford took on the American funeral industry, the California Department of Corrections, and the Klu Klux Klan, but it was her exposé of The Famous Writers School which led toTime calling her “The Queen of the Muckrakers.” And if a courageous editor hadn’t reversed his decision to kill her story, it might never have happened.

Mitford had been aware of The Famous Writers School’s existence for some time. Anyone who was a frequent reader of newspapers, books or magazines would have seen its ever-present advertisements, inviting aspiring writers to cut out and apply for the free aptitude test. While Mitford was suspicious, she didn’t have anything concrete until her lawyer husband took on a new client.

Bob Treuhaft was approached by a 72-year old widow, living on Social Security, who had cleaned out her bank account to make a down-payment to The Famous Writers School. On the same day Mitford heard the widow’s sorry tale from her husband, she received a book in the mail for review: Writing Rackets by Robert Byrne, which also mentioned the school.

Mitford had lunch with Bill Abrahams not long afterwards – then the West Coast editor ofThe Atlantic. She shared tales from Byrne’s book on literary frauds and the story of the cheated widow, and Abrahams asked her to write a short piece for The Atlantic covering both.

The following day Abrahams called to say that the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, Robert Manning, had decided not to run the piece after all. While Manning agreed that the bold claims made in The Famous Writers School’s advertising were “probably unethical,” he pointed out that The Atlantic had made “many thousands of dollars” from those self-same ads and felt it would be equally unethical to run a piece criticizing the school.

. . . .

Mitford soon realized that the well-known faces attached to The Famous Writers School’s advertisements played a very different role than suggested. She knew she was going up against some powerful individuals – some of the leading lights of America’s literary establishment.

The Guiding Faculty of The Famous Writers School consisted of people like Paul Engle (long-time director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop), Rod Serling (of Twilight Zone fame), mystery writer Mignon Eberhart, Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Catton, and romance author Faith Baldwin. Day-to-day operations were managed by Gordon Carroll (Reader’s Digest editor) and John Lawrence (former president of William Morrow publishers).

The biggest name of all was the man Mitford would later describe as “the ringleader” – Bennett Cerf, founder and president of Random House, and household name in America since his long-running stint on What’s My Line?

. . . .

Mitford investigated how The Famous Writers School attracted students – focusing on those ubiquitous advertisements featuring the Guiding Faculty. Along with Baldwin, Eberhart, Serling, Catton, Engle, and Cerf, there was also John Caples, Bergen Evans, Clifton Fadiman, Rudolf Flesch, Phyllis McGinley, JD Ratcliff, Max Shulman, Red Smith, and Mark Wiseman – all noted writers in their fields.

The ads promised a free aptitude test which would “help you find out whether you can be trained to become a successful writer” and gave the impression that the Guiding Faculty would actually grade your test. The promotional materials also led potential students to believe that Cerf and his famous friends would act as their tutors and mentors throughout the course, and greatly exaggerated the market for freelance authors as well as the likely financial outcomes for students. Nowhere in the ads was the cost of the course mentioned.

After talking to various members of the Guiding Faculty, Mitford confirmed that they had nothing to do with either grading the aptitude tests or tutoring students. When Mitford presented Faith Baldwin with an ad which claimed the opposite, she responded with:

Oh, that’s just one of those things about advertising. Anyone with common sense would know that the fifteen of us are much too busy to read the manuscripts the students send in.

. . . .

The school was able to generate such staggering revenue (approximately $310m in today’s money) because of the huge enrollment numbers and the absurd price of the courses. 65,000 students were enrolled in 1970, including nearly 2,000 veterans via the GI Bill. The cost of the course – only revealed when a salesman came to your home to close the deal – was $785. That was a considerable sum in those days so most students went for the payment plan, pushing the cost up to $900 (approximately $5,800 in 2014 dollars). Mitford estimated this as roughly twenty times the cost of similar correspondence courses offered by universities at the time.

Mitford also established that the school was taking on students which had no place being on a professional writer’s training course: non-native English speakers with a poor command of their adopted tongue, those with no flair for language or composition, the barely literate, the penniless. The pass rate for those taking the free aptitude test – 90% – was so high because the bar was set ridiculously low.

. . . .

After being presented with complaints about the high-pressure sales tactics, The Famous Writers School said that its salesmen were carefully screened, that they received rigorous training in ethical salesmanship, and that every effort was made to ensure that their presentation of the course was both accurate and truthful.

But Mitford was never one to take such claims at face value and secretly arranged to witness one such salesman closing the deal in her neighbor’s living room. The salesman told a series of outrageous lies regarding the school. He said the Guiding Faculty spent a lot of time at the school grading assignments and mentoring the other teaching staff, that one of the faculty would personally review her assignments, and that the staff-pupil ratio was uniquely favorable – 300 instructors for 3,000 students – when in fact there were 55 instructors for 65,000 students (and 800 salesmen). He then disingenuously dangled the possibility of a publishing contract and made false claims about the success of graduating students.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

Can Apple Win Its E-book Appeal?

15 December 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

On Monday, December 15, Apple will finally get their crack at overturning its 2013 e-book price-fixing judgment, with oral arguments scheduled before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. What are the core arguments that will be pressed before the Second Circuit? What is at stake? And, can Apple succeed in overturning the judgment against them? Here is a short primer:

. . . .

Monday’s hearing is the main event: this is Apple’s appeal of Judge Denise Cote’s 2013 liability finding, in which the company was found to have conspired with five major publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster) to artificially inflate e-book prices.

The 2012 suit alleged that five of the then Big Six publishers, threatened by Amazon’s $9.99 e-book prices,colluded with Apple to simultaneously move the industry to an “agency” model in which the publishers would take control of consumer e-book pricing in conjunction with the 2010 launch of the iPad and the iBookstore.

The five Publisher Defendants settled the charges against them and avoided trial. They admitted no wrongdoing, butrefunded $166 million to e-book consumers, and submitted to two years of Department of Justice sanctions. Apple, however, fought the charges, and, on July 10, 2013, after a two-week trial, Cote found Apple had violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

. . . .

In Apple’s version of events, the company did “nothing more” than “[hear] out” the publishers’ complaints about Amazon and convey its “openness to pricing above $9.99.” Nothing in the evidence, they stress, definitively shows otherwise.

Did Apple exploit the publishers’ desire to blunt Amazon’s pricing? Sure—but at no time, Apple attorneys insist, did Apple knowingly join a conspiracy—it was simply trying to enter the e-book market under “rational” business terms. And its entry into the e-book market ultimately had “pro-competitive” effects, helping to dent Amazon’s 90% share of the e-book market.

“That Apple used the leverage created by market dynamics and the publishers’ well-publicized antipathy toward Amazon to enter the market is quintessential competition,” Apple argued in a July appeal brief, “not conspiracy.”

. . . .

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice counter that Apple did considerably more than “hear out” the publishers—and that Judge Cote got the case exactly right. In the DoJ’s appeal filing, U.S attorneys point out that the evidence against Apple was “overwhelming.” And, despite Apple’s dispute over “isolated pieces of evidence,” the judge “articulated the proper standard, and correctly applied it.”

U.S. attorneys claim they only needed to show there was “sufficient evidence” to enable “a reasonable fact finder to infer that the conspiratorial explanation is more likely than not.” And the volumes of evidence presented in the case, they say, shows that the alleged conspiracy was “more than merely plausible,” but made perfect economic sense: Apple wanted a retail platform for e-books on its new device, the iPad, but did not want to compete with Amazon on price. And the publishers wanted to end Amazon’s low prices, which they believed “devalued” their product.

. . . .

Lawyers say it will be an uphill battle for Apple. Look at it this way: to win, Apple must lead the Second Circuit to a completely opposite finding than the slam-dunk verdict Judge Cote came to, based on the same evidence, and a single, brief oral argument (each side is allotted just 20 minutes).

Apple’s appeal is also somewhat unusual in that it leans surprisingly hard on Cote’s reading of the evidence. Appeals generally hinge on legal and procedural errors. But in this case, Apple claims that Cote so abused her discretion that her conclusions are reviewable for “clear error.”Cleveland State University law professor Christopher Sagers, who has followed the case closely, told PW it is “definitely not impossible” that Apple could win. But, in his opinion, Cote’s reading of the evidence is sound, and some key parts of Apple’s arguments, because they revolve around findings of fact, could be deemed unreviewable.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG thinks Apple will lose its appeal.

However, PG also believes that the outcome of the appeal is irrelevant to the ebook world. Apple has failed as a savior of Big Publishing and high prices for ebooks. In a nutshell, Apple can’t compete with Amazon in selling ebooks.

At the time the Price-Fix Six hatched its little plot, Apple was going to introduce the iPad and everyone thought it would dominate the ebook world. Although the iPad started off as the only game in town, it’s not any more. Gartner estimated that Android tablets represented 62% of tablet sales in 2013 while iPad sales were 36% of the tablet market.

Theoretically, Apple could remove Amazon apps from the iTunes store, but doing so would upset iPad owners and accelerate the market decline of the iPad.

So, if the Court of Appeals confirms that Apple illegally fixed prices or decides it didn’t makes no difference to anyone but Apple. Amazon is the king of ebook sales and is likely to continue that role, at least in the near-term future.

Apple, E-Books and the Amazon Juggernaut

15 December 2014

From a law school dean via re/code:

Being sued by the government under the antitrust laws has historically been a rite of passage for great American companies like Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, DuPont, IBM, AT&T, Microsoft, Intel and Google. Apple is the latest to be inducted into this rarified company. In a 2012 lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that the Cupertino company conspired with seven book publishers to fix e-book prices. After being found liable by the federal district court in Manhattan in July of 2013, Apple is preparing to argue its case in the court of appeals today, Dec. 15.

Apple should be feeling good about its chances. Although the government’s case has superficial appeal, the record suggests that Apple’s actions may have benefited rather than harmed the welfare of e-book customers.

. . . .

First, although the point of a price-fixing conspiracy is generally to increase prices, there is compelling evidence that the shift from a wholesale to an agency model resulted in a decrease in the average prices of e-books. While the prices of premium books that Amazon had previously been selling below cost increased, Apple and B&N’s entry facilitated the vast expansion of the e-book market, including the availability of many new low-cost books. The net effect for consumers was an expansion of choice and variety at lower average prices.

Second, it would be misguided to judge the competitive effects of Apple’s behavior solely based on e-book prices. Amazon was strategically using low, and arguably anticompetitive, e-book prices to entrench the entire Kindle ecosystem. Market entry by new competitive ecosystems like the iPad/iBookstore required disruption of Amazon’s prevailing business model. Consumers undoubtedly benefited immensely from the introduction of the Nook and iPad and their associated online bookstores.

Link to the rest at re/code and thanks to Chris for the tip.

The Henry Ford of Books

13 December 2014

From Vanity Fair:

The planet’s best-selling author since 2001, James Patterson has more than 300 million copies of his books in print, an army of co-writers, several TV deals in the works, and an estimated income of $90 million last year alone. But where’s the respect?

. . . .

With 305 million copies of his books in print worldwide, Patterson is the great white shark of novelists, a relentless writing machine who has to keep swimming forward in order to feed, and who, together with his army of about two dozen credited co-writers, has been the planet’s best-selling author since 2001 (ahead of J. K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, Dr. Seuss, and John Grisham). Of all the hardcover fiction sold in the U.S. in 2013, books by Patterson accounted for one out of every 26. Altogether, he has produced more than 130 separate works—the “books by” page in his latest novels actually takes up three full pages. Forbes estimates his income for the year ending last June at $90 million. When I had a chance to ask Patterson about that figure, he at first said, “I don’t know,” and then followed up with “Yeah, probably.”

. . . .

His first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, about a Nashville newspaperman on a murderer’s trail, was rejected by 31 publishers before Little, Brown published it, in 1976. It won the Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America, but sold only about 10,000 copies. Since then—and especially since 1996, when he quit advertising to write full-time—Patterson has proved that his readers have insatiable appetites. He has produced a slew of books—detective series, stand-alone romances, illustrated novels for young adults and for middle-school readers—across a sea of genres, accounting, by his own estimate, for about 30 percent of Little, Brown’s total revenues. He is intimately involved in designing his books and devising their marketing and advertising campaigns, with the help of a special in-house unit of half a dozen staffers at Little, Brown dedicated solely to serving the Patterson empire.

“I’m sure there’s no publishing relationship like it,” Michael Pietsch—Patterson’s former editor who is now C.E.O. of Hachette Book Group (Little, Brown’s parent company)—told me recently. “Jim is the smartest person I’ve ever worked with, across a vast landscape of things you can be brilliant about—suspense, emotions, and readers’ expectations and how to work them.” Pietsch said Patterson had built “a kind of studio system in which he can imagine these stories into being, then work with co-authors so that these stories come into the world.”

Indeed, Patterson is to publishing what Thomas Kinkade was to painting, or the television producer John Wells was to a series like E.R. He is not a tortured artist in a garret but rather presides over an atelier that produces mass popular entertainment on an astonishing scale. He once said of his work, in a profile a decade ago, “I look at it the way Henry Ford would look at it.”

Link to the rest at Vanity Fair and thanks to M.S. for the tip.

The New Landscape

12 December 2014

From author Russell Blake:

I just looked at the Amazon top 100. #1 is a trad pub title at $2.99. #2 is a trad pub title at .99. #3 is an Amazon imprint pre-order at $4.99. #4 is Baldacci’s latest at $10.99, #5 is Michael Connolly’s latest at $3.99, #6 is Gone Girl at $2.99, and on and on and on.

For those indie authors who have seen a marked downturn in sales since KU came in, I believe that’s only part of the story. The other is that since Amazon got lower prices from trad publishers, the price of trad pubbed books is through the floor.

Which means that the tried and true gambit most indies have been using, which is selling based on price, at .99 or $2.99 or $3.99 or $4.99, likely won’t work particularly well anymore. Because when you can buy Gone Girl for $2.99 and Connolly’s latest at $3.99, why would most readers buy your book at or around the same price?

. . . .

Readers are now being presented with a host of worthy, readable, high-quality offerings at or below the same prices indies offered their books at, eliminating the bargain perception/edge that indies learned to rely on as a differentiator.

That will translate into crap sales for many, and the effective end to many careers that relied on their work being attractive because it was cheap. In a world where everything is cheap, selling based on price doesn’t work.

Bluntly, if you as an author want to sell books in this environment, you have to do it the old fashioned way: you have to write books your audience will gladly pay for, even if a dollar or two more than the latest Michael Connolly, or Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster. That means you need to up your game, that suddenly story and craft will matter more, and that simply being cheap, with a homemade cover and lackadaisical or no editing, won’t cut it.

That’s awesome news for readers. It’s disastrous news for many indie authors.

. . . .

Now for the good news. As my prior blog discussed, more authors than ever before are earning good money as indies. So it can be done. But those authors are very, very good at delivering a reading experience their following will pay for, and they value their readers above all – they don’t put out slop, they don’t think in terms of “good enough,” and they’re every bit as demanding of their work as the harshest acquisitions editor.

Link to the rest at Russell Blake

Here’s a link to Russell Blake’s books

For those unfamiliar with him, most of Russell’s books are self-published and he writes 7-10,000 words per day.

Russell points out in a part of his post that PG didn’t excerpt that, under the deep-discount clauses present in almost all tradpub contracts, the royalties authors receive from heavily-discounted tradpub books are much, much lower than the already-low ebook royalties tradpub pays for list price ebooks.

Thus, ranking high on Amazon’s bestseller lists at $2.99 doesn’t mean nearly as much money to a tradpubbed author as it does to an indie author.

Curtis Brown digital arm Studio 28 launches next year

12 December 2014

From The Bookseller:

Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency will officially launch its digital publishing arm, Studio 28, in March next year.

Studio 28 will publish in the UK and other territories, seeking rights from authors already on the agency’s books or “rediscovering and reinventing literary gems from 100 years of the agency’s backlist”. It aims to publish around 12 to 16 titles over the next year.

. . . .

Curtis Brown’s Rufus Purdy told The Bookseller: We are not any kind of threat to traditional publishing. At the moment it’s about exploring niches. It’s about working with authors and maximising their incomes and allowing them to get their books to market.”

Studio 28 was started after restaurant critic and author Jay Rayner came to Curtis Brown to say he wanted to publish The Apologist as an e-book with Amazon’s White Glove programme. The agency instead decided it would set up its own digital publishing arm.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

James Patterson is on a mission to #saveourbooks

12 December 2014

From the Los Angeles Times:

“There’s no evidence at this stage that the great books in our culture can be produced through the Internet right now,” says bestselling writer James Patterson. “If the equivalent of ‘Ulysses’ came along, out it would go on the Internet, it would get like about 12 Fs in a row — ‘I couldn’t get through the first page,’ ‘Couldn’t get through the first chapter,’ F-F-F-F-F, and ‘Ulysses’ would disappear.”

Patterson is not known for Joycean prose — he’s known for propulsive Alex Cross thrillers — but his prominence as one of the world’s biggest-selling authors has made him a prophet with a platform. He’s on a crusade to make books matter — to, as his hashtag says, #saveourbooks.

. . . .

“I’m just stepping up, trying to make some noise, and get others to step up,” he says self-deprecatingly, talking by phone from his home in Palm Beach, Fla. “With the Amazon thing, I could draw attention to the effect it’s having on a lot of writers — they were hurting.”

. . . .

Whether through his sharp analysis of the publishing industry, the more than 400 teacher scholarships he funds, student reading programs he sponsors, or online campaigns designed to reach the president, Patterson emphasizes the idea that reading is necessary and that a vital literary ecosystem is as important as clean water. “What kind of culture would we have without books?” he asks, his voice rising.

It’s rare for a heavyweight author to engage with the world the way Patterson does. Some live guardedly behind walls. Others dedicate themselves to the project of writing. Patterson, who spent 25 years in advertising at J. Walter Thompson before leaving to write full time, has found a different balance.

. . . .

To be as prolific as he is, Patterson now works with coauthors on his novels. In addition to Alex Cross, he has other series for adults — the Women’s Murder Club, NYPD Red — and stand-alone novels, including romances.

. . . .

Now 67, he sits down to write every day; he uses a pencil. “My desk right now is just covered with papers,” he says. “This year, I have done — and I’m not finished — over 1,000 pages of outlines. I love doing it; that’s one nice thing about it. But it’s a lot of work.”

. . . .

Patterson’s campaign to #saveourbooks urges people to get Obama to be photographed reading a book. He wants to improve reading’s brand image, to make it of value to kids, because he sees it as essential to their success.

Link to the rest at Los Angeles Times and thanks to Will for the tip.

 

 

Are book publishers blockbustering themselves into oblivion?

11 December 2014

From The Globe and Mail:

Publishers Weekly, the U.S. trade magazine, recently ran an article confirming that the number of seven-figure advances for novels is actually on the rise. It lists several recent acquisitions by big American publishing houses, mostly for debut novels, that involved payouts of more than $1-million. That’s right – debut novels.

. . . .

You might be wondering if you read that right, given what else you have heard recently about the demise of book publishing and the alleged poverty of respected authors. You likely have read that a famous writer was contemplating working in coal mines to make ends meet, and that, in this country at least, several foreign-owned publishing companies have been flailing about in a kind of budgetary panic, having fired, laid off or rearranged senior staff. This after a decade of decline in the book-selling business, with bookstore chains in decline and a near-universal sense that Amazon is the Eye of Sauron. It looks, from the inside, like turmoil.

So what on earth is going on? Are the publishers actually rich?

There are a few other things in the Publishers Weekly article that don’t make any sense. The story claims that the fierce competition for new novels stems from “a dearth of great material.” One anonymous publishing insider is quoted as saying, “The whole pool of talent is shrinking.” He or she even claims that there are “fewer submissions” nowadays.

. . . .

So they must mean that they are not, in fact, interested in the real talent pool, or in a wide variety of literature. What they are looking for are bestsellers, which tend to be particularly narrow kinds of books. Most of the gargantuan advances that have made headlines in the U.S. recently are for science-fiction and fantasy books. Every publisher is looking for exactly the same book – basically, they are looking for The Hunger Games again and again. When they say “quality,” they mean “mass appeal.”

The debut-author thing is also not representative of any effort to seek out the new and innovative. It’s simply a reflection of the fact that previously published authors have their sales figures already against them. Any writers without previous sales figures are actually at an advantage. They represent unblemished potential (or as some might call it, pure fantasy).

. . . .

Needless to say, things can get a little bit frantic in the process. When a buzz about a potential success begins, particularly at a booze- and caffeine-fuelled book fair in a foreign city, editors occasionally make large bids on books they haven’t even read. These bidding frenzies reflect a sort of modern-day tulip mania, and don’t always pay off.

But in concentrating on bestsellers to the detriment of other literature, the publishers are simply following the model of all the entertainment industries. Providing an eclectic variety of entertainments to please a diverse audience, as the free Internet can do, just hasn’t been lucrative for the conglomerates that own film studios and recording labels. They are in constant search of blockbusters.

As they grow larger and concentrate their efforts and investments on massive, sure-fire hits – the next Marvel movie, the next Taylor Swift album – the cultural landscape seems paradoxically smaller.

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail and thanks to BS for the tip.

Low-cost ebook conversions enabled massive growth of the market, but there were many errors

10 December 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Publishers have converted a huge number of their books into ebooks over the past few years.

For these converted books, most publishers think, “we’re done.” I think they should be thinking, “we’re just getting started.”

That’s the way it is with a 1.0 release of software, and I think publishers should view ebooks as software.

Let’s back up a bit. Why did publishers convert at all? Here are some possible reasons.

  1. They believed that ebooks would be profitable, especially since low-quality conversion was so cheap.
  2. They were skeptical that ebooks would be profitable, but low-quality conversion was so cheap that it was worth hedging their bets.
  3. They feared Amazon’s reprisal against their paper sales if they failed to get on board with Kindle.

. . . .

What I want to emphasize is that low-quality conversion, because of its low cost, was a critical enabler for entry into the ebook market.

I used to rail against low-quality conversion, to whoever would listen. Then, I had a humbling realization. Publishers did exactly the right thing in opting for low-quality conversion, because it allowed them to enter a new market quickly and with low initial investment.

But I haven’t become too humble: I think they did the right thing for the wrong reason. They think they converted cheaply and now they’re done. I think they did the right thing to convert cheaply, but they should just view those conversions as version 1.0.

. . . .

Another way of putting this is that publishers need to start treating ebooks as software, since ebooks are software.

  1. Software has bugs that need to be fixed.
  2. Software needs to evolve as its environment changes.

To be fair, nothing in publishers’ previous, paper-based business would have prepared them to understand the dynamics of software.

. . . .

One might think that publishers’ quality process savvy would have ported well to the world of ebooks. Sadly, this could hardly be farther from the truth.

As far as I can tell, these time-honored quality control processes almost never happen to ebooks. This is especially puzzling in the case of bug fixes, since the ebook medium drastically lowers the cost of reporting and fixing typos.

Paper books don’t have a button allowing a reader to report a typo to the publisher. But, Kindle books might as well not have such a button, since, in my experience, publishers hardly ever act on Kindle typo reports. I made hundreds of such reports before realizing that it is virtually pointless to do so.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says the 2.0 version of lousy ebook editions of backlist books won’t happen. Big Publishers regard ebook backlists as cash cows and you don’t put cash into cash cows.

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