Read between the lines of the e-book debate

25 May 2016

From The Globe and Mail:

People in publishing are wielding statistics against each other, in the perennial e-book versus print debate, and nobody seems quite sure of what they all mean. All the publishers I know assert that sales of e-books have plateaued and everyone is investing in print again.

In U.S. and British media, much has been made of the fact that recent stats show e-book sales slipping and print book sales slightly advancing or at the very least holding their own. Sony is no longer selling an e-reader. Amazon is opening physical bookshops. This has led to much gleeful crowing by opinion columnists who grew up reading paper books and are thrilled that the promised bookpocalypse never happened. They are saying, See? People were never going to turn away from the ancient sensual pleasures of paper after all; of course it is more pleasant and natural to hold a non-electronic object. Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, fumed, “Virtual books, like virtual holidays or virtual relationships, are not real. People want a break from another damned screen.”

There is a great deal of ideological bias at work here. Some people just really want e-books to fail. They just don’t like them. Ugly as “virtual books” sounds, it is obviously absurd to say that reading on a screen is “not real.” Nothing about words is real: They are all just words whether on a phone or on a wall and they can be equally powerful.

. . . .

What is not reported in the statistics is all the outsider writing: all the thousands of self-published novels and memoirs and self-help guides that are published, quickly and cheaply, in electronic form. Their success only continues to grow. And sellers such as Amazon are doing their best to provide these works directly to consumers, bypassing publishers altogether.

This is really an astounding truth, and it is more interesting and significant, I think, than questions of physical format. Personally, I don’t feel too emotional about the paper/screen schism: I am happy to read in any form and both are convenient for different reasons. Self-publishing is on a constant rise in both formats.

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail

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Waterstones cuts e-book deal with Kobo

23 May 2016

From The Bookseller:

Waterstones is to stop selling e-books from its website and instead divert customers to Kobo’s reading platform for digital sales.

The chain book store will begin informing customers of the change from 14th June and explain how those who already have Waterstones digital libraries can transfer them to Kobo’s platform.

James Daunt, m.d of Waterstones, said he took the decision because the Rakuten-owned e-book company could provide customers with “ultimately an excellence of service we ourselves are unable to match.”

Customers who try to buy e-books from the Waterstones website will be directed to, with Waterstones presumably benefitting from a cut for every sale it has helped to create, the same deal Kobo has with WH Smith and independent bookshops.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says that just as you probably wouldn’t want a bunch of tech nerds running a physical bookstore, having bookstore people attempting to do ecommerce will result in a less than optimum outcome.

Plus there’s that little matter of directly competing with the best ecommerce company in the universe.

David’s books get thumbs up from the USA

21 May 2016

From the Dewsbury Reporter:

David Jester, 31, will re-release his online hit An Idiot in Love in June alongside five other works after American powerhouse Skyhorse Publishing signed him up.

His DIY debut novel topped Amazon’s book charts in both the UK and US, fetching 6,000 downloads within the first 24 hours of self-publication.

It went on to sell more than 10,000 copies in its first month of release in 2012 and remained at the top of the Amazon best-sellers list for 12 months.

Mr Jester said: “I’ve been writing since I was 18. I tried to get published the traditional way for the next eight to 10 years with no luck.

“In 2012 I decided to self-publish and the first book was An Idiot in Love. That was a big success.

“Even after the sales of the books I still couldn’t get an agent in the UK or get people to read the books.”

But San Francisco literary agent Peter Beren spotted Mr Jester’s off-beat talent.

This led to him signing the six-book deal with Skyhorse Publishing, which boasts Nobel Prize-winning novelist Samuel Beckett and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel on its roster.

All of his e-books will be re-released by the publisher.

Link to the rest at Dewsbury Reporter

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

Be under no illusion: Malcolm Turnbull wants to destroy Australian literature

20 May 2016

From The Guardian:

It may seem at the moment that the only thing that will save the Australian book industry is moving every publisher and writer into Christopher Pyne’s electorate, and making them all wear hi-vis jackets and safety helmets.

For we have in recent weeks discovered that the Turnbull government is considering proposals for a writer to not have any rights in their work 15 to 25 years after it’s first published. So Mem Fox has no rights in Possum Magic. Stephanie Alexander has no rights in A Cook’s Companion. Elizabeth Harrower has no rights in The Watch Tower. John Coetzee has no rights in his Booker winning Life and Times of Michael K. Nor Peter Carey to The Kelly Gang, nor Tim Winton to Cloudstreet. Anyone can make money from these books except the one who wrote it.

The Abbott and now Turnbull governments’ record drips with a contempt for writers and writing that leaves me in despair. They want to thieve our past work, and, by ending parallel importation restrictions and territorial copyright, destroy any future for Australian writers.

That contempt has been made concrete in the report of the Orwellian titled Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission doesn’t dare call books books. Instead they are called – in a flourish not unworthy of Don de Lillo –cultural externalities.

In their perverted world view, the book industry’s very success is a key argument in their need to destroy the book industry, and this determination to destroy an industry is revealed in their reports as the real aim of these proposals.

Just one highly revealing quote from the Productivity Commission:

The expansion of the books production industries over recent decades has attracted and held productive resources, notably skilled labour and capital, that have thereby been unavailable for use in other industries. The upshot will have been reduced growth in employment and output in other parts of the economy.”

Replace the clumsy phrase “book production industries” with the word “kulak”, and you would have ideological cant worthy of Stalin.

. . . .

Where is prime minister Turnbull’s much vaunted innovative economy in this decision? Where exactly, prime minister, are the jobs and innovation in destroying jobs and innovation? We employ people, some 25,000 by last count. We make billions, we pay tax, we make things and we sell them here and we sell them around the world. And all at no cost to the taxpayer. And now prime minister Turnbull would destroy it all.

We are not a subsidised industry. The fossil fuel industry gets $18bn of subsidies. A single South Australian submarine worker gets $17.9m. And writers? The total direct subsidy for all Australian writers is just $2.4m. That’s it. And that’s all.

. . . .

This is a speech given to the Australian Book Industry Awards in Sydney on 19 May

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

PG is not at all familiar with Australian politics, so many nuances underlying this article will be imperceptible to him.

In the US, the foundation for copyright law is found in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution which grants congress the power:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The “limited Times” part of copyright law has bounced all over the place.

The Copyright Act of 1790 set the duration of copyright protection as a term of 14 years from the recording of the copyright registration, with the right to renew for one additional 14 year term should the copyright holder still be alive. This structure mirrored the provisions of the Statute of Anne in Britain.

Today, the duration of copyright protection is for the life of the creator plus 70 years in the US.

As far as changes in the Australian law are concerned, Australia is a signatory to the The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works which requires that copyright protection last for at least 50 years after the author’s death for any work except for photographic and cinematographic works.

PG is not certain whether The Berne Convention is a bulwark or a speed bump for the supposed intention of the Australian government to substantially reduce the term of Australian copyrights.

UK Nook Owners Now Discarding Their “Useless” eReaders

19 May 2016

From The Digital Reader:

When B&N announced that it was closing its Nook UK Store and handing its customers off to Sainsbury’s, I predicted that some Nook owners would find themselves with worthless hardware which neither B&N nor Sainsbury’s would support, and sadly, that has come to pass.

. . . .

“I purchased a book and transferred it to my Nook but it cannot read the format so my wife and I will dispose of our Nooks and not get involved with Barnes & Noble ever again,” one wrote in the comment section of this blog. Another expressed similar frustration, writing “We have two Nooks which are now completely useless. I have downloaded a book to one of the Nooks from Sainsburys but it says it is an unreadable format. I have decided to dispose of the Nooks and never get involved with Barnes & Noble ever again.”
And a third Nook owner is reporting an even more serious problem: “I need to reregister my Nook. At the moment I cannot do so, which means I cannot access the 300+ books I have on there. It has all been transferred to Sainsbury’s but they can’t or won’t help me.”

. . . .

B&N is going to have to do something to help the third owner, but it sounds like most of the problems experienced by Nook owners in the UK are the usual problems with transferring DRMed ebooks from a computer to an ereader. It’s really hard to be sure without having one of the uncooperative ereaders in my hand, but that is what this sounds like.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Learn to Self-Publish

18 May 2016

From Delano:

Girls In Tech Luxembourg and Amazon Luxembourg are hosting a workshop on how to independently publish with the online vendor. Guest speaker Martin Gehmacher will teach participants everything they need to know about self-publishing with a hands-on introduction of actually publishing a book.

A former TV and radio journalist from Austria, Gehmacher crossed the Atlantic to discover North America and ended up in Seattle working for Amazon. He joined the Kindle Direct Publishing team in 2010, just before they launched Kindle annd Kindle Direct Publishing in the UK and Germany. In 2012 he moved with his family to Luxembourg, where he works mainly with independent German top authors and literary agents who publish via Kindle Direct Publishing

Link to the rest at Delano

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.

Birth of a Publisher

12 May 2016

From Authors Electric:

OK, so this is not about self-publishing and it’s not exclusively about digital, but it’s a case study of how two people with more ideals than sense decided to start a publishing company that would operate rather differently from the traditional model and the Big Five. If anyone else out there wants to follow suit, it might help you to avoid some of the mistakes we made.

. . . .

It was in the Roxy bar in Siena some time in July 2014. I was there drinking coffee with my husband Stephen Barber (I think he had a round cake too) and we were sitting outside, when the heavens opened and we were going to get soaked.

We ran inside and ordered another round of coffee while we waited out the storm. I had a notebook and pen with me (naturally) and we had been talking for some time about possibly starting an independent publishing house. We knew from blogs like this and the experience of friends that it was getting easier for complete tyros to bring out good-looking books.

We talked and roughed out a possible two-year publishing schedule. There are a couple of books Stephen wants to write and I had the feeling that no-one was going to want to publish my next two YA novels, which were both historical, so this could be a vehicle for both of us.

But I was also acutely aware of the tough time fellow YA novelists were having in getting publishing contracts – great writers, some of them prize-winning but writing the kind of books that just weren’t fashionable currently.

. . . .

It took a bit longer to take the definitive steps towards making it real but in October 2014 we registered The Greystones Press with Companies House. It was on a Sunday and took less than an hour. Setting up a business bank account with HSBC, however, took MUCH longer.

. . . .

My agent had sent a synopsis and some sample chapters to the main publishers the year before but had replies like “we already have a book on Shakespeare” or “we’ll need to see the whole text.” For someone who had been accustomed to sell a book on a paragraph or two of an idea, this could have been a bitter blow. But I determined that this was just the way things were now and wrote a different novel – of which more anon.

But having missed the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014, I suddenly realised that I had to get a move on if I wanted to make this year’s 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.

I finished the first draft on January 22nd 2015, aware that no conventional publisher would be likely to get the book out in time, allowing for revisions, submission and then my agent sending it round all the publishers. So we said, “October then”, to get it out at the same time as the other Shakespeare titles.

. . . .

So we had some books. But what next? We had initially decided to do a small print run of paperbacks for review copies and author copies and then do Print on Demand (POD). And we would do ebooks too.

What we had to find was editors, designers and other team members. So we joined the Independent Publishers Group (IPG), got their book and started trawling the Net for likely people. Then we had a piece of good fortune – we found Talya Baker, who not only is a superb copy-editor but took on the role of Project Manager for fiction for us.

Talya, with whom I’d worked briefly at Bloomsbury, introduced us to the other rock of our enterprise, Nigel Hazle, Text Designer.

. . . .

To stop this post from being too long, I’ll whizz through some of the stages: we had to discover about writing Advance Information sheets (AIs), Press Releases, buying ISBNs and tangling with Nielsen’s Title Editor online.

We had to commission and provide material for a website, write contracts, decide what to do about PR, choose covers for five books, work out how on earth we were going to publish the illustrated book (of the kind we positive were not going to do, remember), re-think the whole POD and ebook model, have stationery designed, etc. etc.

. . . .

We had been veering towards Ingrams (Lightning Source) because of the shipping costs from America of using CreateSpace but as we were going to be a small independent publishing house rather than a self-publisher, we were fearful that bookshops would not only not stock but also not order our titles if they were POD only. A brutally frank email from a US publisher we were talking to made us think again about our publishing model.

. . . .

Kindle accounts for 85% of ebook sales so we have gone for the KDP Kindle Select option, which brings in 70% of the price, in return for exclusivity.

If you want your books available for other platforms, the royalty drops to 35%. Our margins are so tight on the paperbacks (see, I even talk like a publisher now) that it will be n Kindle if anywhere that we make some money, enough to enable us to publish more books.

Link to the rest at Authors Electric and thanks to Diana for the tip.

PG says these new publishers seem to be intelligent and well-intentioned people, but he wondered about the contracts they ask their authors to sign. Specifically, how long those contracts last.

PG hopes they did not follow standard industry practice and make their publishing contracts last for the life of the copyright or some other ridiculously long period of time.

It’s a big risk for an author to sign up with a new publisher. Most such publishers (like most new businesses) will not be successful and close their doors within a few years. If the authors can walk away with their work, both author and publisher can agree it was a tough learning experience but tomorrow will be a brighter day.

However, if the author’s work is tied up with a typical publishing contract, the author may not be able to walk away with his/her work. Rights to those books may go to whoever buys the assets of the failed publisher, either via the bankruptcy court or in a forced sale.

The publisher’s founders may have been the nicest, most honorable and well-meaning people in the world. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no guarantee that owner #2 will be of similar character. Every industry includes a collection of sleazeballs and thieves and publishing is no exception.

There are two simple contractual means of avoiding or ameliorating the author’s damages. Either one is good. Both are better.

  1. A Change of Control contract provision. Boiled down to basics, this clause says if the current owners lose ownership or control of the publisher, the author has the right to terminate the publishing contract and all rights to his/her book will revert. (PG notes that, if the publisher files for bankruptcy relief, the bankruptcy court may have something to say about enforcement of the Change of Control provision. Further discussion would put you to sleep.)
  2. A contract that lasts for a specific and limited period of time. Three years, five years, seven years would seem to give a publisher, old or new, the opportunity to demonstrate that the relationship is worthwhile to the author. If everyone is happy, they can renew the contract for another specified period of time. If not, entering into the contract may have been a regrettable experience, but not a disastrous one for the author.


Russian culture ministry denies reports of book burning

10 May 2016

From The Guardian:

The Russian ministry of culture has denied that a widely reported book burning ever happened, after the Russian Writers’ Union (RWU) submitted a petition to the government voicing concerns about the destruction of books.

In January, Russian authorities were reported to have burned 53 books and removed more than 500 other volumes from two university libraries in the north-western Komi republic, on the grounds that they contained sentiments “alien to Russian ideology”.

Most were textbooks published with money donated by the Soros Fund, run by hedge fund billionaire and outspoken Putin critic George Soros. The Open Society Foundation and the Open Society Institute’s Assistance Foundation, both financed by Soros, were declared “undesirable organisations” and forced to stop their work in Russia in November 2015.

A spokesperson for the education authorities in Komi later said reports of book burning had been misinterpreted by the media, and that the books had been withdrawn from circulation and stored in a warehouse. Culture minister Vladimir Medina later said that burning books was “totally unacceptable”.

. . . .

A spokesperson for Russia’s ministry of culture told the Guardian via email that the RWU’s fears were “groundless” and that book burning “could be regarded as censorship which is prohibited by the Russian constitution”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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