Ebooks

Digital page turner

12 July 2017

From The Nation:

After online shopping, internet-based finance, mobile payments and bicycle-sharing, the digital dimension in China is taking in its sweep the world of books.

The publishing industry has gone digital in a big way, spawning a market comprising 300 million users of mobile devices who read electronic books in China.

The market, which has two key sections in hardware (reading devices) and software (e-books), reached about 12 billion yuan ($1.7 billion) in sales last year, up 25 percent year-on-year, according to a report by the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association.

. . . .

With nearly an 8 percent share of the global market, China now trails only North America, the largest market for e-book readers in 2016 with a 68 percent share, and Europe (almost 14 percent share), according to market consultancy QYResearch.

. . . .

Just like in North America, where the e-book reader device market is dominated by manufacturers such as Amazon, Kobo and PocketBook (which account for a collective 75 percent of the market share), the e-reader market in China has a few big names.

Amazon with its Kindle range of devices is the common leader in both markets, but it is followed by iReader and newcomers such as e-commerce giant JD in China.

As the e-book reader pioneer, Amazon.com has created an ecosystem comprising users, digital versions of printed books, e-book stores online and e-book readers. Amazon said the China market is important for it.

Last month, it announced a strategic partnership with Migu Culture and Technology Group Co, a subsidiary of China Mobile Communications Corp, and also launched a feature-rich Kindle created exclusively for Chinese readers.

The device presents more than 460,000 Kindle e-books and over 400,000 online literature titles from Migu, one of the largest online literature platforms in China.

The made-for-China Kindle X Migu device retails for 658 yuan. “China has become the largest market in the world for Kindle and enjoys a very strong growth momentum,” said Bruce Aitken, vice-president of Amazon China and general manager of Amazon Reading.

He said Chinese book-lovers are increasingly switching over to digital reading devices, and are willing to pay for e-books. This makes Amazon bullish on the future prospects of the digital publishing industry in China.

. . . .

“We find Chinese users refer to the dictionary a lot. Especially their use of the English dictionary is higher than in any other countries, so we specifically designed a function of tips about new words, and provide English-to-Chinese/English definition automatically for Chinese readers,” Aitken said.

Amazon, he said, will launch more new functions over the next year.

Compared with printed books, the cost of e-books is very low. In fact, some of the e-books are free of charge or cost just a few dollars.

For instance, the printed version of The Shortest History of Europe, one of the top five bestsellers in 2016, is priced 25 yuan, while its e-book version retails for only 2.99 yuan.

Link to the rest at The Nation

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Europe’s Geo-Blocking Debate: Booksellers on the Ropes

9 July 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

To outsiders, the details of European booksellers’ argument with geo-blocking may come as a surprise.

For one thing, geo-blocking not about “portability” of ebooks and other digital products which consumers have already purchased. For another, the booksellers—at least as represented by the European & International Booksellers Federation (EIBF)—not opposed to selling e-books across borders.

What the EIBF is protesting against, however, is the EU’s proposed legislation on rollback of geo-blocking, because it forces them to sell ebooks to users in all EU countries. This requirement to service the union’s wide range of member nations’ varying taxation levels, fixed prices, and other constraints is too costly for many booksellers to bear.

In April 2017, the European Parliament issued a draft law outlining instances in which geo-blocking—restricting content sales and access to services based on the user’s location—would no longer be allowed. Included in this proposed legislation is an end to geo-blocking sales of ebooks across the EU.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Paul at The Digital Reader for the tip.

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The Page After the Last Page

6 July 2017

After PG finished a book last night, he found the following on the page immediately following the last page of the novel:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Dear Reader,

THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading Betrayal. I hope you enjoyed it. If you would be so kind as to take a moment to leave a review on Amazon or elsewhere, I would be very grateful.

Reviews and referrals are as vital to an author’s success as a good GPA is to a student’s.

I know this can be a bit of a pain, so if you write a review, please email me at tim@timtigner.com and I will forward you the unpublished story behind Betrayal and my thoughts on what happens to the characters next. I thought that would be a fun way to say thank you.

All my best,

Tim

 

Amazon Review Link for BETRAYAL:

US

AU CA DE ES FR IN IT JP UK

Usually, PG is the kind of reader who actually stops at the last page (and drives indie authors nuts), so he doesn’t claim to be an expert on marketing after the last page, but he thought this was nicely worded.

The Amazon links and email address were hotlinks.

Opinions on the best practices for after the last page marketing would be welcome in the comments.

As you may have gathered, the book was (and is) Betrayal and finishing it kept PG up way past his bedtime.

UPDATE: After PG posted this item, several well-informed visitors to TPV pointed out that giving a reviewer anything of value in exchange for a review was a violation of Amazon’s Terms of Service.

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Bookselling in the Age of Amazon

26 June 2017

From Shelf Awareness:

“At the end of the day, bookshops needn’t fear Amazon,” James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said during a keynote speech last week at the Australian Booksellers Association’s annual conference in Melbourne.

. . . .

“If the bookshops are good enough, if the relationship with your customers is truly there, if your booksellers are enjoying themselves and you’ve trained them and you’ve respected them and you’ve allowed them to develop their skills… then our customers truly will remain loyal to us.”

. . . .

Starting when Amazon opened operations in the U.K. in 2000, the behemoth “slowly ate away at the High Street [downtown] market,” he said, and now has about 60% of the market, including 95% of the e-book market. The casualties have been extensive: most chains, including Borders, Ottakar’s, Dillons, Hammicks and James Thin, have disappeared. Indie bookstores declined from about 1,550 in 2005 to about 600 last year. Indies now account for about 5% of the market, and Waterstones about 16%. “Amazon virtually destroyed us,” Daunt said.

But “all is not doom and gloom,” he said. Amazon is known for doing a few things very well, particularly offering customers low prices on books and shipping quickly. As Daunt put it, Amazon is “alluring for one reason only: they’re cheaper.”

As a result, there is much that bricks-and-mortar stores do that Amazon can’t, from putting on events even “in the smallest of shops” to more generally “giving people a sense of excitement about books,” making books relevant, and keeping books “in the forefront.” He added, “We as booksellers have a duty to create excitement about books. If we do so, we’ll continue to have customers come through the doors.”

. . . .

In one of the most striking changes at Waterstones, the company reduced its return rate to 3% from 20%. In part this came about from better buying but also from forgoing substantial promotion co-op from publishers, to the tune of £27 million (around $35 million at current exchange rates). The “wholly destructive cycle” involved publishers “paying us to take particular books.” Besides abrogating buying decisions to publishers, the program also made Waterstones stores less distinctive from one another as well as from their competitors. The change, he added, was painful, like “coming off heroin,” but it had “massive benefits.” Besides improving returns, it “stopped us filling up our shops with books customers didn’t want to buy” and improved working capital by tying up less money. Eventually stock came down 20% and title count rose 20%. The company has also gone from two to five stock turns. He noted that with stock turns below five, “a lot of books are sitting there getting dusty, getting unattractive.”

Cost cutting included reducing head office costs by 60%, cutting costs in the centralized warehouse by 16%, and cutting store payroll by 16%.

. . . .

The emphasis on selling and being on the sales floor, also “brought energy into the shop. If you’re literally running around and don’t stop, customers feel that energy.”

Even though Waterstones staff has been cut, Daunt said he’s increased pay for the remaining employees. At Daunt Books, booksellers are paid a salary rather than by the hour. Waterstones pays by the hour but is starting to pay salaries. “We need to pay booksellers more and make it so people see this as a career,” he commented.

. . . .

When it named The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry its Book of the Year for 2016, the title, which before then had sold under 1,000 copies, became a bestseller. Waterstones’ “books of the month” promotions have also increased sales “dramatically” for each title.

He noted that Amazon doesn’t have any impact on these titles, and called it an “urban myth” that people come into stores saying they can get titles at 50% off on Amazon. To the contrary, there is a sense, he said, that “a book bought from a bookshop is a better book…. When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it’s not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop.”

. . . .

“Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop,” he commented. “The book is never an expensive item,” particularly for the many customers who “we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee.”

. . . .

The Waterstones website “doesn’t produce any sales for us,” accounting for less than 3% of the company’s revenue, Daunt said. But targeted e-mails lead to increased sales in shops, and social media is “an opportunity” for local bookshops to communicate with customers.

. . . .

Waterstones sells “a lot more things that aren’t books,” with children’s the most successful area, and has done so in “careful and measured ways,” so as not to “compromise ourselves as a bookshop.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness 

While he read this, a phrase floated into PG’s mind from an unknown source, “the myths and fables we tell ourselves”.

Traditional Publishing Myth #1: Consumers don’t feel any emotional attachment with Amazon like they do with a local bookstore.

Does anyone who regularly purchases from Amazon not feel a little buzz when a package appears at their door? It’s an event which is followed by an unboxing experience. (If you don’t think unboxing is an experience search YouTube for unboxing. Millions of people watch videos of perfect strangers unboxing their Amazon purchases.)

In survey after survey, Amazon is ranked as one of the most admired and respected companies in the world, usually fighting with Apple for first place. PG has never seen Barnes & Noble or Waterstones on any of those lists.

Amazon has a superb reputation and that reputation carries over to all its product areas, including books. Amazon reviews, sales rankings, etc., are a gold standard for many book purchasers. PG doesn’t discount the existence of phony reviews, but he thinks most Amazon regulars aren’t fooled by such reviews, particularly when a book has dozens of reviews.

When it comes to spending his money PG would certainly give more credibility to a few dozen Amazon reviews about a book than he would to recommendations from a minimum-wage bookstore clerk who will soon be moving to McDonalds because the pay is better.

If a book doesn’t meet expectations, Amazon makes it simple to return it for a full refund. With an ebook, the return process is almost instantaneous.

Locating his receipt and trekking back to a bookstore to return a book is something PG is almost certainly never going to do. The book remains somewhere in Casa PG, reminding PG of his bad purchase choice whenever he sees it.

Traditional Publishing Myth #2: Ebooks are a fad and printed books are making a comeback.

Spare me.

Everybody carries a cell phone and almost everybody consults it on a regular basis. Sometimes, they look at illustrations and photos and cute puppy GIFS, but most of the time, they’re reading text. Actual text messages, email, the latest celebrity gossip, Facebook, The Wall Street Journal, Google search results, Wikipedia, etc., etc.

As of the second quarter of 2015, US consumers began spending more time in mobile apps than watching television (and that includes times when the TV is on in the background and no one is watching it). As TV viewing stagnates, the time spent with mobile apps has increased every quarter since then.

The idea that people who spend hours each day receiving information and entertainment from a screen will prefer switching to a printed book on a regular basis is delusional.

PG would probably be labeled as a frequent reader under most systems for categorizing readership. He reads from books every day. He has purchased hundreds and hundreds of physical books, many of which still populate his bookshelves. The same could be said for Mrs. PG.

PG is not a teenager and hasn’t been for some time. He remembers being a teenager, but suspects many of those memories have been smoothed and brightened during the intervening years.

But he’s on his fourth iPhone.

Over the last couple of years, PG has purchased some physical books, usually through Amazon and always when the title doesn’t offer an ebook version. He always regrets these purchases because they sit on a TBR pile that never grows smaller.

He starts to read each book, but when he puts it down, he never picks it back up again. It’s just not a satisfactory experience for him any more. He just won’t read any long-form text document unless it’s an ebook on his Kindle Paperwhite.

PG has run out of time before he has run out of Traditional Publishing Myths to debunk. Perhaps he’ll return to the topic in a future post, but don’t count on it. Feel free to add your own myths in the comments.

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Standard eBooks Is a Gutenberg Project You’ll Actually Use

23 June 2017

From Lifehacker:

I’m always trying to save a few bucks when stocking up on books for my beat-up Kindle or my iPad. I’m not a big ebook reader, but I do use it to crank through classic books I should have already read—books too unwieldy to carry during my morning and evening commute. Luckily for me, there are thousands of free books available from places like Project Gutenberg. Just one problem: a lot of them look terrible.

. . . .

You, like me, probably want properly formatted ebooks for your devices, or books with covers that aren’t white text on a blue background. So Standard Ebooks, a volunteer-driven project, is republishing public domain ebooks to comply with today’s ebook readers and standards. Each book’s page has its word count, reading score, and a synopsis of the title, along with a changelog for the book itself.

Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style guide, lightly modernizes them, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to take advantage of state-of-the-art e-reader and browser technology.

The differences between your average book from Project Gutenberg and Standard Ebooks are pretty substantial. First off, all Standard Ebooks books are presented with aesthetically pleasing front covers rather than sparse text covers.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Andy for the tip.

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Japan e-book distributor Media Do to build ‘AI translator’

6 June 2017

From Nikkei Asian Review:

Japanese electronic book distributor Media Do will develop an artificial intelligence-based automatic translation system to make its e-books available for English-speaking readers.

The company hopes to reach a broader market and promote digitization at a time when Japan’s book market is shrinking.

Media Do has teamed up with two Tokyo-based AI startups for the project — Internet Research Institute and A.I. Squared. Media Do will invest about 1.1 billion yen ($9.82 million) to acquire about 20% of each company through a third-party share allotment at the end of this month.

Both startups have developed unique technology for summarizing and translating text. The summarization technology analyzes the relationships between words and sentences in a given piece of text and extracts key sentences to create a summary.

The translation technology “learns” set phrases in both Japanese and English — on top of vocabulary and grammar — to enhance the quality of its translations, a process known as deep learning.

Link to the rest at Nikkei Asian Review

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Ebooks undermine your freedom and privacy

5 May 2017

From The Guardian:

It was disappointing to see yet another comparison of physical books and ebooks that focused on convenience, style or mere taste (Kindles now look clunky and unhip, G2, 27 April). There are substantive differences that affect the freedom of people who read. For many titles, the only copy you can buy is a printed one. The ebook versions are “licensed”, not sold, and the licence says you agree not to give away or lend “your” copy to anyone else, nor to make and redistribute more copies.

These requirements drive me away from them. My conscience balks at carrying out an agreement to be unhelpful to others; breaking the licence is a lesser evil, but I don’t want to make an agreement I know I would be obliged to break. I therefore refuse to agree to such a licence. Perforce, the books I pay for are printed copies that I truly buy.

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

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In solidarity with those who understand what is happening with eBook sales

28 April 2017

From Talking New Media:

This post is about blogger solidarity… that is, it is response to the frustration expressed by Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader concerning the ongoing debate about eBook sales. He was reacting the recurring misreporting that eBook sales are down, when actually they are only down for the major publishers represented by the various trade associations.

Nate points to articles in some of the The Guardian, and The Telegraph, in particular, that can’t seem to get it through their heads that not all eBook sales are represented by the publishers that are members of these associations. There are other publishers, and self-publishers, that sell through other channels, and these sales won’t be included in the reports put out by the associations.

But there is another problem, that some media reporters are invested in believing that print is having a resurgence. There is, of course, no evidence for this, but faith is a powerful thing.

Now Nate covers the digital book field, but what is happening on that side of the business is happening on the magazine and newspaper side, as well. Despite falling print circulation and print advertising levels, there are those who simply want to believe that digital media may not be all its cracked up to be.

Link to the rest at Talking New Media and thanks to The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG wonders if the reporters and publications disseminating the ebooks are dead/print is back meme believe they can actually change the behavior of their readers. Or if the authors first developed sentience 15 minutes ago.

“Printed books are the new black.”

“All the right people will be carrying hardcovers this summer.”

“Look for more beautiful covers on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account.”

“Headless body in topless bar . . . with a book!!!”

.

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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.

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‘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.

 

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