The new digital model that treats books like magazines

24 May 2016

From The Bookseller:

The digital revolution has been something of an asteroid for the whole publishing industry, but it has presented particularly gnarly challenges to libraries, colleges and schools.

How to transfer collections from the stacks to the screen? How does digital lending work, both practically and financially? Which texts would publishers be willing to digitise, and which would languish in analogue ignominy on the shelves?

As institutions have rushed to evolve their offerings, it has become increasingly obvious that e-books are not always the solution – especially when it comes to specialist texts.

“Complicated books need to be digitised exactly as they are,” explains Adam Hodgkin, co-founder of Exact Editions, a digital platform for magazine publishers that was launched in 2005.  “Many books, especially those that are highly designed or heavily illustrated, are not being sold effectively to institutions, mainly because the e-book file format does not work for precisely laid out pages.”

. . . .

Having spent the past decade turning complex consumer magazines into their precise digital doppelgangers, the Exact Editions team is now hoping to do the same for books.

. . . .

Although Exact Editions digital books will look exactly like their print counterparts, they also feature advanced search technology, smart linking capabilities and institutional functionality. They can be read across web, iOS and Android native apps using IP authenticated network access, and when purchased, the institution receives the book as a perpetual access acquisition, including no usage limits and instant availability for all users.

. . . .

“Because book publishers have hitherto been thinking about supplying digital books to universities as analogous to making a print sale, it appears rather illogical or even unfair to charge much more than would be charged for the printed book,” Hodgkin says. “But this mindset ignores the value that comes from granting and delivering campus wide, multiuser, perpetual access to a digital resource.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG wonders if the people who opposed Google Books will have anything to say about this plan.

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How the Kindle won the e-book market

24 May 2016

From Chris Meadows at TeleRead:

Columnist David Gewirtz discusses how the early Kindle—a fairly ugly and really expensive block of plastic—managed to conquer the nascent e-book market in a way no other device had managed since the Palm Pilot first prompted commercial e-book sales back in the ‘90s.

. . . .

I think Gerwirtz fundamentally misses the mark on what the Kindle’s innovation was, however. He puts the Kindle’s success down to combining device-agnosticism with the vertical integration of selling books, but he doesn’t even mention what I see as the Kindle’s real secret—the way it used its always-on 3G connection and its one-click purchase patent to make e-book purchasing dead simple.

Earlier e-book platforms, from the Palm Pilot all the way up to the Chinese OEM e-ink readers that used to be a drug on the market, required their users to download a file, plug the device into the computer, and then copy the file across. It might seem simple to you or me, but we’re techies. In my experience working phone tech support for Best Buy TVs, I’ve had people have endless trouble with the simplest of cable-connecting procedures. Even if people can figure it out, they just don’t want to mess with it.

The Kindle was the very first platform where you could simply tap a link on the e-book you wanted, and then start reading it seconds later. No need to download files, plug a cable in, and sideload. You tapped, and then you started reading—just like magic. Hence, it was the first e-reader that actually had a broad appeal to ordinary people—people who couldn’t figure out how to make their VCR stop flashing 12:00 could buy and download an e-book with no fuss or muss.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Simon & Schuster Hit with eBook Royalties Class Action

21 May 2016

From Copylaw:

A book is a book, except when it comes to eBook royalties. That’s the premise of a class action lawsuit filed on Thursday, May 19, 2016, in New York Supreme Court by class representative  Sheldon P. Blau, MD.

The lawsuit alleges Simon & Schuster has been cheating its authors by improperly categorizing eBook transactions as “sales” rather than “licenses.”

The distinction is significant, because the royalty rate for sales is much lower than the rate for the license of rights.  If categorized as a license – rather than a sale — the author receives 50% of net receipts, rather than 25% of net typically paid to authors for the “sale” of an eBook.

. . . .

The eBook royalty class action looks back approximately six years, the statute of limitations on contract actions in New York State.  It alleges Simon & Schuster engaged in a “pattern and practice of paying Plaintiff and others similarly situated royalty payments for the distribution of licenses for electronic books, or “e-books,” at a rate for book “sales,” or some other lower rate than that required for “license” transactions.”

This issue arose, in a different context, in F.B.T. Productions v. Aftermath Records, a 2007 federal lawsuit brought by Eminem’s management company against his record label over digital royalty rate splits.  Like the music industry, publishers have taken the position that digital downloads should be accounted for as sales not licenses.

Link to the rest at Copylaw

PG is pleased to hear about this and wishes the plaintiffs well.

New Report Shows Importance of Digital to Canadian Pubs

20 May 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

BookNet Canada released its third annual “State of Digital Publishing in Canada” report earlier this week, charting the course of e-book trends in the country. One of the findings showed that e-books are becoming more important to publishers’ total revenue.

When asked what percentage of their overall revenue came from e-book sales, 14% of publishers said the format accounted for more than 30% of revenue, up from 8% who said that in 2013 and 2014. And 67% of publishers said e-books accounted for 1%-10% of overall revenue for 2015; last year, 69% of publishers said e-books accounted for 1%-10% of overall revenue.

In some other findings, the report found that 67% of Canadian publishers released their e-books simultaneously with their print books last year, up from 65% in 2014.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Books are back. Only the technodazzled thought they would go away

13 May 2016

From The Guardian:

At last. Peak digital is at hand. The ultimate disruptor of the new information age is … wait for it … the book.

Shrewd observers noted the early signs. Kindle sales initially outstripped hardbacks but have slid fast since 2011. Sony killed off its e-readers. Waterstones last year stopped selling Kindles and e-books outside the UK, switched shelf space to books and saw a 5% rise in sales.

Amazon has opened its first bookshop.

Now the official Publishers’ Association confirms the trend. Last year digital content sales fell last year from £563m to £554m. After years on a plateau, physical book sales turned up, from £2.74bn to £2.76bn.

They have been boosted by the marketing of colouring and lifestyle titles, but there is always a reason. The truth is that digital readers were never remotely in the same ballpark. The PA regards the evidence as unmistakable, “Readers take a pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital.” Virtual books, like virtual holidays or virtual relationships, are not real. People want a break from another damned screen.

. . . .

As so often, the market leader was the music business. Already, by the turn of the 21st century, its revenues were shifting dramatically from reproduction to live. This was partly because recording and distributing music became so cheap there was no profit margin, but it was largely because the market had changed. Buyers, young and old, wanted to witness music played in the company of like minds, and were prepared to pay for the experience – often to pay lots. Soon the same was true for live sport, live theatre, even live talks. The festival has become king. The money is back at the gate.

Books must be the ultimate test. Admittedly some festivals now give away books for free and charge instead to hear the writers speak.

But just buying, handling, giving and talking about a book seems to have caught the magic dust of “experience”. A book is beauty. A book is a shelf, a wall, a home.

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

For PG, a book is a means for transmitting a story. Ebooks do that better for PG than physical books do.

What the Inventor of the World Wide Web Sees for the Future of Ebooks

13 May 2016

From BookBusiness:

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 with the goal of making content on the internet interoperable and accessible, and today it is the primary way that people access the internet. Berners-Lee, keynote speaker at IDPF DigiCon @ BEA 2016, has a similar vision for the ebook and believes that publishers can utilize open web standards to interlink ebook content and share ebooks seamlessly across a host of devices and screens.

. . . .

The merging of ebook and web standards could occur faster than many in the industry may have anticipated, thanks to the possible merger of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Berners-Lee, director of the W3C and Bill McCoy, executive director of the IDPF, announced this possible partnership at the close of the keynote. “It’s not a done deal,” said McCoy, “We are still exploring it.”

. . . .

Permanence. In a world of where ebook and web technology converge, ebooks will no longer disappear when new devices and formats emerge. They will live on because they are written in what Berners-Lee described as “the simplest coding language,” HTML 5. This is the foundation on which all web content is built, and Berners-Lee anticipates it will soon be the coding language on which all digital content is created.

Seamless. Because ebook content of the future will be created in HTML 5, it will seamlessly transition across different platforms as well as different content types. “Even though it creates some trouble [to make content interoperable], the trouble is worth it,” said Berners-Lee.

. . . .

Trackable. Along with interlinking, content should be trackable, said Berners-Lee. Publishers must have the ability to understand how books are being read and shared. “We should live in a world of linked data,” he said.

Link to the rest at BookBusiness

The Convertible Cloud: Ebook Conversion Online

12 May 2016

From The Book Designer:

This month I’ll talk about online conversion tools — all of the ones I’m going to discuss are attached to the retailers and distributors that you are going to be interested in.

. . . .

As before, these are the major retailers you will probably be looking at:

  • Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
  • Apple’s iTunes Connect (iBooks Store)
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press
  • Google Play
  • Rakuten’s Writing Life (Kobo)

They are the five largest ebook retailers in the US, and the sites I almost always recommend that clients upload to directly (rather than using a distributor). Three (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Rakuten/Kobo) have online conversion tools; Apple and Google only allow you to upload completed ebooks (ePub files), so they’re not going to be part of this discussion.

To compare the tools, I’m going to use the same chapter from my novel Risuko that I used to test the desktop apps — with one change: I’m adding two images — one centered and one inset on the right-hand side of the second paragraph — to test how the different sites handle pictures, in addition to text.


. . . .

KDP is probably the most important retailer site for most self-publishers, and so we’ll start here.

You can upload files in a number of formats to KDP: Kindle’s native mobi format, the universal ePub format, HTML, a PDF, and, of course, our friend the Word doc.

. . . .

Click the Browse button, find your file, hit the Upload button, and within a few minutes, the page will offer you the choice either to preview the converted ebook or to download the mobi file. The best way to test an ebook is to download the file and load it onto a Kindle — preferably several, ideally of different generations (i.e., old-style Kindle, Paperwhite, Kindle Fire) and a couple of different apps (Kindle for Android/iOS/Mac/Windows). The online previewer and Kindle Previewer app will, however, do a pretty good job of showing you how the book will look on various Kindles/Kindle apps.


Not bad. The pretty brush fonts went away, but the images are placed and sized properly, the text is correctly justified, and the line-space remains consistent. If I could, I’d play with the size of the drop cap (it’s four lines high instead of three, and it’s set slightly below the level of the top line), but I can’t, so I’d live with it

. . . .

As I suggested at the end of the post on desktop conversion apps, none of these online conversion tools works quite well enough for me to count on. KDP came the closest, but even in that case, I’d rather upload an ePub file for KDP to convert to a mobi ebook that will display properly on both older and newer Kindles and apps.

Now, admittedly, I chose a slightly complex manuscript that was intended to test the capabilities of the conversion engines. If you eliminated the drop cap, the two images, and the brush font from the chapter-header style, all of the tools would have managed more than passably. There might have been other errors — in my experience there frequently are — but if you’ve given your manuscript the bare minimum when it comes to formatting, they might serve you just fine. They’d also have looked pretty boring.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to Maggie for the tip.

Price Too High Wishlist

11 May 2016

In case you didn’t read through the comments to Ebook Sales Decline Continues, J.A. and Mike said they have a “Price Too High” or “Overpriced” wishlist on Amazon.

When they see an interesting traditionally-published ebook that is overpriced, they simply save it to the Overpriced wishlist and wait for the price to come down.

PG has several different wishlists, but just added an Overpriced Books list.

PG reads a lot of history and the definitive account of The War of Jenkins’ Ear will be just as timely in six months at $2.99 as it is today at $12.99.

Visitors to TPV have also mentioned eReaderiQ, which lets you create watchlists and will email you when a favorite author releases a new book, a book drops to a price that is reasonable for you, becomes available on Kindle, etc. PG also uses CamelCamelCamel which provides a price-drop service for books or anything else Amazon sells.

One of the nice things about these services is that they will alert you to temporary price-drops, unannounced one-day flash sales, etc.

Cory Doctorow: Peace In Our Time

11 May 2016

From Cory Doctorow via Locus:

E-books are game-changers, but not in the way we all thought they would be. Far from taking over print, e-book sales have stagnated at less than a quarter of print sales and show every sign of staying there or declining for the foreseeable future.

But e-books continue to be a source of bitter controversy that divides publishers from two of their most potentially useful allies: writers’ groups and libraries.

Below, I’ll present two thought experiments for how libraries and writers’ groups could find common cause with the Big Five publishers, using tech projects that would make a better world for writers, readers, literature, and culture.

First up, libraries. Libraries are understandably exercised about the high prices they’re expected to pay for their e-books – as much as 500% more than you and I pay on the major online services. To add insult to injury, HarperCollins makes libraries delete any e-book that has circulated 26 times, on the bizarre grounds that:

a) Its print books are allegedly so badly bound that they disintegrate after 26 readings (this is not actually true); and

b) This defect in the robustness of physical books is a feature, not a bug, and should be im­ported into the digital realm.

. . . .

Publishers have a much bigger e-book problem than library pricing: Amazon’s dominance in e-book sales. Worse than that: Amazon is also a publisher, one that competes head to head with the Big Five, chasing the same authors to write the same books for the same readers.

Amazon knows, in realtime, how publishers’ books are performing. It knows who is buying them, where they’re buying them, where they’re reading them, what they searched for before buying them, what other books they buy at the same time, what books they buy before and after, whether they read them, how fast they read them, and whether they finish them.

Amazon discloses almost none of this to the publishers, and what information they do disclose to the publishers (the sales data for the publishers’ own books, atomized, without data-mineable associations) they disclose after 30 days, or 90 days, or 180 days. Publishers try to fill in the gaps by buying their own data back from the remaining print booksellers, through subscriptions to point-of-sale databases that have limited relevance to e-book performance.

. . . .

Here’s my thought-experiment: what if libraries cloned Overdrive in free, open source code, which every library in the world could use, and which libraries could pay independent contractors to patch and improve. Rather than paying an annual fee for Overdrive that pays for the soft­ware and dividends to Overdrive’s investors, the libraries would adopt the model that has made Drupal and WordPress so successful: paying independent contractors for service and upkeep, and collectively shar­ing the benefits of the incremental improvements made through these transactions.

The openness of the platform is key, because that’s what lets the libraries assert that they are able to collect aggregated statistics on usage and circulation that are sufficiently zoomed-out as to not compromise patrons’ privacy, but are still full of the key insights publishers need to compete with Amazon, their best and biggest frenemy, publisher, and retailer rolled into one.

. . . .

It’s critical that we make sure these deals ben­efit writers, because e-books are also a hot potato in writer-publisher dynamics. The Author’s Guild has taken a public stand demanding that writers to get 50% of net proceeds from e-books as a standard deal – double the current rate. Publishers have not taken this call very seriously so far.

But there’s a way to triple the writer’s share of e-book royalties, with­out costing the publishers anything, and, in so doing, take away some of Amazon’s market dominance.

That way is to allow writers to retail their own books.

The standard deal looks like this: retailers get 30% of the gross book price, and writers get 25% of the net (17.5% of gross) as a royalty. If writers were the retailers, their royalty would jump from 17.5% of gross to 47.5% of gross, for the books that they sold.

How could this work? Groups like the Authors Guild, and even its rival Authors Alliance (a group that calls for more liberal copyright rules, on whose advisory board I sit), or even both together (this being one of the few areas in which they can both agree), could raise a grant from a foundation to create an e-book retail platform that writers could host themselves, plug into their WordPress of Drupal sites, or embed as a widget on Facebook and Tumblr. This platform would allow writers to retail their own e-books, and would have a central hub, ‘‘Fair Trade E-books,’’ where readers could, with one search, find the writer’s store for whatever books they were seeking.

Writers who sell their own e-books offer two things that Amazon can’t match. The first is the assurance to readers that when they buy from writers, they help the writers they love triple their earnings, while not spending a penny more. The second is the ability to buy books from a single store, regardless of geographic location.

. . . .

The Big Five would have to come to the table, of course: they’d have to offer retail accounts to their own writers, which would incur some real accounting expense on their end. But as this service is born digital, the accounting tools could be built into the retailing software, developed in consultation with the Big Five, to plug right into their accounting systems.

Link to the rest at Locus

PG says there’s some notable hand-waving in this plan.

First, a bunch of programmers, working for free, will clone Overdrive. Presumably without violating any software patents or copyrights of Overdrive. While Overdrive drops into a deep sleep.

Second, a bunch of non-profit organizations notably short on programmers or programming expertise get a grant from a foundation to build an ebook retail platform that would compete with Amazon.

Of course, it’s dead simple to sell ebooks better than Amazon does. That’s why Amazon’s days as an etailer are numbered. Nook and Kobo have been eating Amazon’s lunch. Beating Amazon would be a cinch for the Authors Guild and some foundation-grant programmers.

Large organizations with deep pockets and the ability to hire lots of very smart people (Walmart – Annual Sales: $482 billion) are losing to Amazon. Amazon’s ecommerce platform is a work of sublime genius. And getting better every day.

PG is sure Cory means well, but an alternate universe would be necessary for his plan to succeed. With time travel back to Bezos’ place of birth.

E-book Sales Decline Continues

11 May 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

First-quarter financial reports filed by three of the country’s largest trade houses last week found the decline of e-book sales continuing. (A fourth company, Pearson, said in its quarterly update last month that Penguin Random House saw “reduced demand” for e-books in the first quarter; Pearson owns 47%of PRH.)

E-book sales at HarperCollins fell 23% in the quarter ended Mar. 31, 2016, compared to a year ago. HC CEO Brian Murray attributed the decline in part to extremely strong e-book sales ofAmerican Sniper and the Divergent trilogy in 2015. He also noted that sales of print books have been up for the first nine months of HC’s current fiscal year (which ends June 30) compared to the same period in fiscal 2015. Murray said the market seems to have found an equilibrium between print and digital sales, which he believes is a healthy thing. For the quarter, revenue at HC fell 10.9% and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) declined 35.7%. Murray expects results in the fourth quarter to improve.

. . . .

 Revenue at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s trade division dropped 6.8% in the quarter, and its loss increased compared to the first period of 2015. HMH blamed the revenue decline on lower e-book sales as well as a drop in e-book subscription revenue. The decline in e-book sales was attributed to fewer movie tie-ins. Sales of cookbooks were up.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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