Book Publishers Go Back to Basics

16 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Book publishers are giving an advance review of the industry’s future, and it looks a lot like the past.

After a decade of technological upheaval and lackluster growth, executives at the top four U.S. consumer book publishers say they are done relying on newfangled formats to boost growth.

It has been nearly 10 years since Amazon.com Inc. introduced its Kindle e-book reader amid the financial crisis, destabilizing publishers and challenging their well-honed business models.

Now, e-book sales are on the decline, making up a fraction of publishers’ revenue, and traditional book sales are rising. The consumer books industry is enjoying steady growth in the U.S., with total revenue increasing about 5% from 2013 to 2016, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Executives gathered in Frankfurt for the industry’s biggest trade fair said they are returning to fundamentals: buying and printing books that readers want to buy—and they are streamlining their businesses to get them out faster than ever before.

. . . .

The shift is a surprise reversal for an industry that experts just a decade ago predicted was facing radical change, if not a slow death, because of digitization and changing reading habits. Instead, e-book sales in the U.S. were down about 17% last year, according to the AAP industry group, while printed book revenue rose 4.5%.

Interviews at the Frankfurt Book Fair with the top four consumer book publishers in the U.S.—Penguin Random House, CBS Corporation’s Simon & Schuster Inc., Lagardère SCA’s Hachette Livre and News Corp ’sHarperCollins Publishers—showed the decade of seeking cover from outside threats is over, but the fight to overcome the lackluster growth it left behind has just begun.

One thing all agree on is the need for speed. Companies are reinvesting in printed books after years of cost-cutting, and they are building pipelines to bring author’s words into readers’ hands faster.

. . . .

Mr. Murray blamed flagging e-book sales on “screen fatigue,” and said HarperCollins was upping investment in printed books, “the value anchor” for the entire business.

Printed books are “more beautiful now,” he said. “You’ll see endpapers [and] a lot more design sensibility going into the print editions because we recognized that they can’t be throwaway.”

. . . .

And after years “spent taking pennies out of the cost of making a book,” the company is raising the quality of its print editions again, she said.

. . . .

Simon & Schuster’s Ms. Reidy said a young generation of internet natives has been turning to print books—a trend she noticed when her company signed a deal with Rupi Kaur, a poet based on Instagram, to sell and distribute her work in the U.S.

Her young fans “don’t want the e-book at all. They want the physical object,” Ms. Reidy said. “They want to own something that is connected to the person they like online and, number two, because they can share it.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Nothing but clear sailing ahead for traditional publishing according to the view from Frankfurt.

“Screen fatigue” again.

PG did a quick search and could not find any large organizations outside of publishing that are talking about screen fatigue. If it’s more than a figment of Big Publishing’s hopeful imagination, Apple, Facebook and Google should be desperately afraid. PG hasn’t seen any indication of that.

Shorter Attention Spans

12 October 2017

From Shelf Awareness:

“You have whole generations being trained for shorter attention spans than books require,” said Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, during the annual CEO Talk at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday.

. . . .

Reidy described the battle for the consumer’s attention and time as the “main thing,” the “number one challenge” facing publishers, and one that has gotten only more critical since the advent of things like social media and especially video streaming services. She said it behooves publishers to “make sure in every way we can” that books remain “central to the discussion of what’s going on in the culture.” At the same time, Reidy and Dervieux agreed that for all of the dangers that they pose, social media does provide new opportunities for reaching consumers more directly than ever before and for finding new authors to publish, whether they be Youtubers, bloggers or Instagram poets.

“I’m not so sure that we should be so anxious about it,” said Dervieux. “For the moment, no indie author has said to us, ‘no, I prefer to stay [independent], I don’t want to have my book published.’ “

When asked whether today’s hostile political climate factors into decisions on what books to publish, Reidy answered that it does, adding that things have gotten so contentious that people of opposing viewpoints often “don’t even want to understand” the other side. She said that S&S has always “made a point” of publishing points of view “from all sides” and “books we feel can help elucidate the conversation,” and she suggested that the industry “would be in trouble” if publishers decided to publish only books “we all agree with.”

“The real question is the books that don’t make us as comfortable, and should we be publishing those too,” said Reidy. She encouraged publishers to “make sure that we stay open to cogent and well done books of all points of view, so that the discussion can continue on the level that we as publishers can hopefully help provide.”

. . . .

On the subject of self-published and independent authors, Reidy said that self-publishing has certainly caused traditional publishers to lose some customers; in particular the market for mass market romance novels has all but “dried up.” What used to be a huge paperback market, she explained, has largely gone to digital original. But while self-publishing may cause some consumers and authors to turn away from the traditional system, it also affords publishers an opportunity to “make the case of what it is we provide,” which Reidy described as everything from “the editorial and marketing to legal representation and copy-editing.” Dervieux, meanwhile, said that he did not think self-publishing was a competitor, but may actually be “the exact opposite of what we are doing.”

Noting that it’s been 10 years since the mainstream adoption of e-books began, Reidy and Dervieux talked about why they think the dire predictions of the death of print have not come to pass. Reidy proposed that while nothing “went wrong” with e-books to cause the leveling-off of their popularity, consumers most likely simply “got tired of screens.” She noted that for years before e-books, publishers had been “taking pennies out of the cost of making a book,” but when digital became widespread, publishers began “spending years putting value back into the book.” Dervieux wondered if perhaps the industry expected “too much, too soon,” from the e-book format, and remarked that even by the “grace of Jeff Bezos and huge discounts,” such a large shift in consumer habits could not happen in such a hurry.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Stanford University Press pioneering digital academic publishing through innovative program

1 October 2017
Comments Off on Stanford University Press pioneering digital academic publishing through innovative program

From Stanford News:

Stanford University Press is redefining the world of traditional academic publishing through an innovative publishing program.

The press was the first academic publishing group to offer scholars a way to publish and peer review academic research that involves digital tools not usually found in online journals. The idea for the program, launched last year with the help of a $1.2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, came out of press director Alan Harvey’s desire to “break the box of publishing.”

. . . .

Since the 17th century, scholars have traditionally published their academic findings and analysis in a written or print format. A rigorous peer-review process and a network of respected academic journals and societies evolved to vet that scholarly work.

With the advent of the internet, academic publications, like other formerly print-only material, were digitized and transferred online, but these publications continue to be static text or images like the original print versions.

The type of research the press’s initiative showcases does not have roots in print. These works are digital-only productions, applying techniques such as interactive data mapping, narration and slideshows to bring the research to life.

Until the kickoff of the press’s digital publishing program in 2016, scholars were unable to publish these unique, interactive academic works and have them undergo the rigorous peer-review and professional publishing process that printed works receive. Digital works like these often resided on a researcher’s personal website or other online platforms devoid of academic review.

. . . .

Mullaney’s project, The Chinese Deathscape, integrates interactive maps with accompanying scholarly analysis, examining the spatial relocation of graves in China over time. Mullaney’s work, scheduled to be published in spring 2018, is one of six digital-only projects the press plans to release in 2018 and 2019.

Those projects will join Enchanting the Desert, the first interactive project the press published in 2016. The work, authored by former Stanford postdoctoral scholar Nicholas Bauch, is a book-length examination of more than 40 landscape photographs and audio narrations included in acclaimed photographer Henry G. Peabody’s 1905 slideshow of the Grand Canyon.

. . . .

The press’s staff developed a peer-review process specifically for interactive projects. Each project is assessed by three to four of the author’s peers who provide objective, independent evaluations. Some are specialists on the project’s subject and others are technical and visual experts. The feedback includes suggestions for the research and analysis, but also for the interface and online accessibility of the digital product.

“So far, it’s been a closer process than it has been in the print world,” said Friederike Sundaram, an acquisitions editor for digital projects at the press. “We go back and forth to really create a publication that fits our needs as publishers as well as the author’s needs as scholarly communicators.”

Link to the rest at Stanford News and thanks to Paul for the tip.

B&N didn’t have the culture or financing to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google

22 September 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

During its annual meeting held Tuesday morning at its flagship store in New York City, Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio supported its new CEO, Demos Parneros who was named to his current role in April.

During the meeting, Riggio called Parneros “the perfect fit” to help the company grow its top line and improve profits. Observing that Parneros “has brought lots of energy to the company,” Riggio said he is looking forward to watching the executive over the next few years, noting that Parneros shares his vision and will revive B&N “store by store.”

. . . .

Riggio also assured shareholders that B&N is no longer in the tech business. While the Nook e-reader and e-books will remain a part of the company’s offerings to customers, bricks and mortar stores will be its focus. Riggio explained that when e-book sales began exploding several years ago, B&N felt it had no choice but to enter the digital market. In retrospect, Riggio said, B&N didn’t have the culture or financing to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google.

Instead, according to Riggio, B&N will focus on its physical stores and will partner with technology companies to keep a presence in the digital space. “There is no business model in technology” for B&N, Riggio acknowledged.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG says the Nook business was doomed from its earliest days. The big reasons are:

Riggio didn’t want to pay for top online talent.

This was evident from the first time PG visited the Nook Store. Poorly designed and poorly executed. And it never really changed.

Real tech talent is rare and in great demand. In the beginning, for the right money, skilled tech people would have gone to work at Nook, but Barnes & Noble wanted to pay bookstore salaries.

PG has no idea if Nook tried to hire really good talent at the right price after it became clear that the Nook Store was a disaster. Unfortunately, by that time, serious tech talent wouldn’t have come regardless of salary because nobody wants to clean up someone else’s mess and a line mentioning the Nook Store would have been deadly on the résumé.

Besides, nobody would have believed Barnes & Noble stock options would ever make them rich at that point.

The Nook Store set ebook prices at a level designed to support the print book prices in its stores.

One of PG’s least favorite things to hear during a product planning meeting is, “We don’t want to cannibalize our existing business.”

The problem is that, if your business is cannibalizable by you, it’s cannibalizable by somebody else. Jeff Bezos has always been a happy cannibal.

Low ebook prices combined with instant availability fueled Amazon’s early dominance. Over time, by cultivating successful indie authors, in part by using Kindle Unlimited, Amazon has added tens of thousands of high quality titles that Riggio couldn’t sell if he wanted to.

Amazon vs. Big Bookstores and Big Publishing is going to be a classic business case used in MBA programs around the world for decades to come. Brains and speed beat money and size once again.

People who Pirate eBooks Do Not Buy Them

12 September 2017

From Good Ereader:

There are millions of pirated ebooks online and many publishers have begun to go after the pirates and either shut them down or block access to websites via an ISP. New research suggests that this might be futile, removing ebooks online does not influence sales. That is it say, pirates are not suddenly buying the book from an online retailer such as Amazon or Kobo.

Three researchers from Poland’s University of Warsaw conducted an analysis that covered some 240 books  in the Polish market in 2016, with a range of genres represented by titles published by 10 companies that agreed to take part in the program.

“We signed an agreement with a professional agency that deals with such research activities,” Krawczyk told Ludwika Tomala from Poland’s news agency PAP. The agency removed pirated copies of some 120 books” from the Internet, Krawczyk said to Tomala. “Whether pirated copies were easy or difficult to obtain turned out not to have an actual impact on the sales of a given book.”

“While most of the publishers suspected a negative impact of piracy on legal sales,” the researchers wrote, “we find no evidence of a significant shift in sales because of pirated copies being available online.”

. . . .

It is estimated that pirated content costs the publishing industry over $315 million dollars in 2016.

Link to the rest at Good Ereader

Defending the Honor of Ebooks (and Innovation)

31 August 2017

From No Shelf Required:

Is the ebook a dead format? How eBooks lost their shine. The Scientific Reason Actual Books Are So Much More Memorable Than Ebooks. US Ebook Sales Decline. These are some of the headlines I’ve seen recently perpetuating the (suddenly popular) notion that ebooks are not ‘in’ anymore. That they have somehow failed us. That nothing compares to the reading of actual physical objects in the world. That the challenges the publishing industry has seen with ebooks (i.e., declining sales) point in the direction of a ‘format’ on the verge of dying.

Such articles aren’t only written by informed bloggers and journalists but also by industry professionals with significant experience in the publishing and library and info rmation science markets, particularly those catering to consumers and public libraries. They exhibit a great deal of knowledge and sensible arguments about the challenges the publishing community (trade, in particular) has had with ebooks, focusing largely on the shortfalls of various business models to deliver revenue as predictable as revenue from print, the technological issues associated with ‘formats’  that haven’t been able to deliver a fully satisfying reading experience, and, not to be overlooked, the fierce competitiveness within the market itself, which has often resulted in ‘the powerful’  thriving even if their offerings were inferior to those by various start-ups (most of which perished in recent years).

In short, technology has not been able to ‘disrupt’ book publishing the way it has disrupted other industries in the not-so-distant past (e.g., music, news), and here we are at a crossroads again, asking some existential questions.

I have written countless articles on NSR explaining the benefits of ebooks to transform the world (the core mission of this portal) and pointing publishers, librarians, and all who work with books in one way or another in the direction of more open-mindedness, sensibility, and courage to step beyond what is familiar, safe, and predictable. I have often argued that the challenges we have been facing were not brought on our industry by external factors but by our own unwillingness to chart new territories and create better conditions for those very users we often point to when justifying declining sales.

In light of this emerging trend to dismiss ebooks as a force to be reckoned with in its own right (and I see it as an undeniable force), the attempt here is to put the spotlight (back) on the true value and potential of ebooks, yet to be discovered and explored by publishers and libraries.

. . . .

The main reason we have been slow to tap into the promise and potential of ebooks to deliver results for publishers and public libraries, I believe, has been our reluctance to take the necessary steps requiring us to transform within. In essence, we have ‘managed’ ebooks far more than we have ‘led’ with them. Managing, whether in private corporations like publishing houses or government institutions like libraries, means we need not make drastic changes to who we are as professionals and what we’ve done for centuries. Leading, on the other hand, requires us to get uncomfortable, take risks, and possibly be blamed for an experiment that fails.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

9 Reasons Why We All Need Accessible Ebooks

25 August 2017

From Digital Book World:

Books want to be read. They don’t care who reads them, or what skills or challenges readers have. The more people curl up with a paperback or a Kindle or a browser, the better for all books.

But not every book is readable by every potential consumer. This is true of books in every format: all kinds of print, audiobooks, and ebooks.

Accessibility lets us make one book for all users. Instead of having the print edition and the braille edition and the large print edition and the audiobook, we can include everyone in our audience with one format: the ebook.

. . . .

[Accessibility]-conforming EPUB3 ebooks open the door to many underserved populations, populations we are all part of. Here are nine of them.

  1. Blind readers are locked out of the print reading experience. That’s why an ebook reading device’s text-to-speech engine is such a boon. Well made ebooks go far in providing a quality experience.
  2. Another audience: those with poor eyesight. They don’t necessarily need to use text to speech, but they can do with some help with text legibility. Ebooks are fantastic alternative for these readers. Font choice and resizability, device orientation alternatives, white vs. sepia vs. night viewing,  all contribute to making content more seeable. There are best practices in accessible ebook-making that take advantage of how devices are used.
  3. The population is aging. Wherever you are, whoever you’re selling to, there are older people who could use some help with reading. Whether they utilize text to speech, large font sizes, or a combination, they can continue reading as much as they ever did. Well thought-out ebooks create a great opportunity to keep these readers engaged.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Why O’Reilly Media is no longer selling books online

21 August 2017

From The Bookseller:

We recently announced that O’Reilly is no longer selling books and videos on shop.oreilly.com. We heard from some of our customers that they were unhappy about that decision, especially because no other sellers offer DRM-free e-books in multiple digital formats. They’re right about that, but there’s more to the story. And since we’ve always been transparent with our customers, here’s some additional context about why we made those recent changes.

O’Reilly has always been a privately held, self-funded company, and it’s a distinction we wear with pride. We don’t have any investors but our customers, who fund us by buying our products and services. That keeps us attuned to what the market is really telling us. But it also means we have to make decisions as we grow and change while living within our means—decisions about investments, about markets, and about our customers and employees.

O’Reilly started out as a book publishing company. I remember with pride joining the “animal” brand. But from the beginning, I knew that our core competency was not the actual books we printed but rather the knowledge of the network of authors and speakers who agreed to work with us to produce important and relevant content. That talent developed content that worked its way into books. But we always recognized that there were other ways to spread that knowledge, which led us to add a conference business, and a digital subscription business.

. . . .

Access to new subscription customers, both individuals and businesses, gave us even greater visibility into the needs of our users, which also took us into topic areas beyond technology. At the same time, digital enabled new learning modalities such as video and interactive content.

. . . .

Meanwhile, sales of books have declined consistently year after year since 2000! E-books expanded the market for a while, and direct distribution from oreilly.com was a great way to make them widely available while traditional retailers other than Amazon were slow to embrace that market. But starting a few years ago, e-book sales too started to flatten, and then to fall. Running oreilly.com as a distribution platform was effective, but also costly. It required a dedicated investment in e-commerce software, staff, marketing, and so on. It also required us to choose whether to direct incoming customers to the declining e-commerce business to buy standalone units, or to our growing subscription business.

As the slowdown accelerated, the contrast between the rapid growth of the subscription business and the interest in learning in new ways became ever more striking. Now, don’t get me wrong, we believe in books, and the effectiveness of text as a tool for sharing knowledge, but the business model that had given us such a great start three decades ago has changed deeply. Amazon is pretty much the only retailer still supporting computer books, and the unit sales are a small fraction of what they were in the past. We came up with creative ways to keep publishing books, supplementing our “definitive” books with smaller reports that we give away for free download, or as sponsored products, to capture either niche technologies or new approaches to learning. But all of this new creation meant we had to grow while balancing our total investment spending.

. . . .

So we had to make a tough decision, and we chose to support the side of the business that has the most customers, that is growing the fastest, and that supports all of the learning modalities that customers are demanding.

But we are also sensitive to those who still prefer to learn from and to own books. We are still publishing books, and you can buy them directly, either on paper or in a variety of electronic formats from a number of resellers, just not directly from us. We’ve closed our online store, not our publishing operation! We still support those who prefer the model of ownership to subscription.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Kindle Unlimited Funding Pool Grew in July 2017 as the Per-Page Rate Dropped

16 August 2017

From The Digital Reader:

July is the last month before the new KENPC changes take affect, and it went out with a bang. Amazon reported yesterday that the funding pool rose by $1 million in July 2017, to $19 million.

. . . .

At the same time, data collected by Self-Publisher Bibel shows that the per-page rate decreased significantly from June 2017, from 42 thousandths of a cent to 40 thousandths.

That is a drop of 20% in the per-page rate so far this year, leading some authors to announce they are quitting KU.

  • US: $0.0040 (USD)
  • Germany: €0.0027 (EUR)
  • UK: £0.0031 (GBP)
  • Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy: €0.0040 (EUR)
  • Canada: $0.0040 (CAD)
  • India: 0.7847 (INR)
  • Brazil: R$ 0.0098 (BRL)
  • Japan: 0.5001 (JPY)
  • Australia: $0.0035 (AUD)

Link to the rest and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

The state of ebooks: Anti-DRM sentiments at Worldcon 75

13 August 2017

From TeleRead:

The “State of Ebooks” panel at Worldcon 75 was one of the smaller but more eagerly followed panels at the con, with almost every seat taken.

. . . .

Irene Vartanoff became a convert to ebooks and self-publishing, she said, due to the portability of ebooks, and the economics and lead times of self-publishing, which underlined that writers no longer needed to wait around for traditional publishers. Nielsen Hayden recalled the early experimental days of ebook publishing in the late 1990s as a time when people joked about the huge number of man-hours of meetings spent on the medium compared to the few dollars of profit. “Things have changed since then.”

For piracy and DRM, Nielsen Hayden said that Tor has seen no loss of sales or business since it went fully DRM-free. He cited Bain Books’s policy of keeping books DRM free, and piracy as essentially a tolerable cost-of-doing-business. And if a show of (clapping) hands from the audience is any proof, the argument over DRM just isn’t an argument any more. No one wants DRM. When someone from the floor asked why publishers still insist on DRM, Nielsen Hayden said: “you’re asking the wrong publisher.”

. . . .

Nonetheless, publishers have come round to ebooks. “Publishers like them. They have fewer materials costs,” said Nielsen Hayden, though he also pointed out, “they’re not free to make; they’re certainly not free to make well.” And he maintained that books should still come out, and remain core to the business, while “to do something in e only is going to bring a kind of stigma.” Self-publishers of ebooks only, however, can still succeed, especially those writing in “a narrow but intense niche,” instancing “narrowly defined romance tastes… that appeal to a few people, but to those, it appeals a lot.”

. . . .

One strong argument for continued quality print publication everyone buys into is avoiding obsolescence of formats. Nielsen Hayden noted that a book published around 1600 could be dropped into the sea, left for hundreds of years, retrieved, and would still be readable.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

“One strong argument for continued quality print publication everyone buys into is avoiding obsolescence of formats.”

PG suggests obsolescence of traditional publishers is a much more likely issue.

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