Read this before you take sides in the tussle between publishing houses and Amazon, Flipkart

25 October 2014

From Tech in Asia:

The tussle between big book publishers and Amazon, which started in the US, has now spilt over to India, where local ecommerce leader Flipkart has also been dragged in.

The arguments made against Amazon and Flipkart have a familiar ring – that their discounts will kill the publishing industry in the long run, that the two companies are becoming a duopoly, and that ebooks need to be priced higher for the sake of authors.

The publishing houses enjoy sympathetic coverage in the mainstream media in both the US and India, as the godzilla Amazon makes an easy target for scare-mongering. This report in The Economic Times, for instance, presents a one-sided view of the issue. It doesn’t alert readers that the claims made by publishing houses are exaggerated on several counts, not the least of which is that digital publishing and online distribution are hurting authors.

Ashok Banker, well-known Indian author of the Ramayana Series, is unequivocal when he explains how much he has gained from ebooks. He tells Tech in Asia:

The ebook editions of my books now outsell the print editions by a factor of easily 100:1. As in, for every 100 ebooks sold of a particular title, the publishers sell barely one print copy. To look at it another way, the print editions have increased in sales at a rate of about 10 percent each year, while ebook sales have doubled every six months or so for the past three years.

. . . .

By and large, however, the well-established authors, who manage to wangle decent royalty deals for printed books, pitch in for the brick-and-mortar publishing industry. And they are the ones usually quoted in the print media. Amish Tripathi, author of the much-loved Shiva Trilogy, had this sweeping statement in The Economic Times: “Online stores are not convenient for browsing as against a physical bookstore where people spend hours discovering new titles. This creates a problem for new authors who find it difficult to be visible on these sites.”

. . . .

Initially, when he submitted the manuscript of his first book to the publishers, all of them, without exception, rejected the book. Then Tripathi decided to self-publish. His agent invested in printing, and he in its marketing. The management techniques Tripathi learnt at IIM (Indian Institute of Management) probably helped him spread the word about the book on social media. “When my book became a best-seller within a week, and sold 45,000 copies in less than four months, the publishers came back to me,” he told me in an interview earlier this year.

. . . .

Ashok Banker too, despite a successful start to his writing career, got stymied by the “MNC factory publishers,” as he describes the major publishing houses. There were no takers for his Ramayana Series in India, which then got snapped up abroad. He explains what prompted him to eventually take the self-publishing route:

Once the Ramayana Series was bought by all those foreign publishers, the Indian publishers immediately became interested in my mythological retellings and bought Indian rights – but still did not expect mythology to sell as well in India as it might sell abroad. So despite the success of the series, when I tried to sell my next titles, they continued to reject them or offer abysmal advances. This was what prompted me to retain ebook rights of all my works and sell them independently on my own website and also on the Amazon Kindle platform.

Banker had the last laugh because mythology went on to become the biggest-selling category in Indian publishing. “Now my publishers want the ebook rights, but I’m not selling them at any price,” he says happily.

Link to the rest at Tech in Asia and thanks to T.M. for the tip.

Literary agents look to change ‘distant’ image

24 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

Literary festivals can “provide help and support for new writers” and enable them to ask questions in a “relaxing, happy, supportive environment”, event organisers and literary agents have told The Bookseller.

Festivals can also bring would-be authors closer to the publishing process by connecting them with agents, who want to move away from the perception that they are “very distant and difficult to meet”.

Earlier this year, the Battersea Literature Festival and the Literary Kitchen Festival included dog walks led by literary agents as part of their programme.

Agent Jo Unwin, of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency, said she started the dog walks “because it seems to me that the people who find it easy to submit to agents aren’t necessarily the best writers”. She added: “Some people feel more entitled to write than others, and it’s just a way to open things out a bit. Of course the danger with being too open is that you get inundated by unpublishable work, so it’s all a bit of a balancing act.”

. . . .

Andrea Mason, founder of the Literary Kitchen Festival, agreed: “Agents are people like us and they want your manuscript.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Is it time to chop down Amazon?

24 October 2014

From The Globe and Mail:

Amazon has knocked a hole in the book publisher’s barricade, agreeing to a new contract with Simon and Schuster, a CBSowned company. A settlement of the row between Hachette and the e-retailer over book pricing cannot be far off. Yet, in political terms, the jury is still out as battle rages between Amazon’s enemies, who accuse it of predatory pricing and of killing off bookstores, and its supporters, who say Amazon’s disruptive business model supports a community of self-publishers and offers consumers cheaper books.

. . . .

A thousand authors (not all of them with Hachette, and, notably, Stephen King) protested that writers were being held hostage by Amazon and, oddly, the American political Left has taken up the cause of big publishing. Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, accuses Amazon of behaving like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil – bullying suppliers and competitors by cutting prices. Franklin Foer, editor of New Republic magazine, calls for government and regulatory action to stop a new golden age of monopoly led by Amazon, Google and Wal-Mart.

It is difficult to feel sorry for big publishers. They have been digging their own graves for decades, ignoring new technology, relying on antiquated marketing and a small cabal of blockbuster authors to support a lifestyle business that employs college arts graduates from nice families.

That a community of established authors supports the big publishers is hardly surprising; the writers’ deepest fear is loss of the cash advance, a payment by a publisher that allows a trusted author to spend a year writing a book without the need of a day job to pay the bills. Amazon promises the radical low-budget, self-publishing solution to the untested, untried new author and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chairman, has proposed a deal that splits the cover price thus: 35 per cent each to the author and to the publisher and 30 per cent to Amazon.

Needless to say, it doesn’t appeal to Hachette, which would doubtless prefer not to hand over a third of publishing income to authors, compared with the usual maximum royalty of 10 per cent. But the real fear is that the Amazon model, pushed to its logical conclusion, would remove entirely the cost of publishers from the equation, replacing them simply with an agent or manager or nothing.

. . . .

But the fundamental question is whether we think fair competition is just about consumers getting a good price or whether we think that diversity of supply is a good in itself, something that we experience in healthy economies. If we think that more and better books are written when authors have financial backing, then we may need well-capitalized publishers. Better still would be a new model for the writing business, a new kind of Amazon that is prepared to risk capital on human creativity and not just suck the cash flow out of a river of cheap goods.

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

Germany’s Blloon launches in UK

22 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

Subscription e-book service Blloon launched in the UK today (22nd October), with titles from publishers such as Allen & Unwin, Faber and Profile.

The German company founded by Txtr boss Thomas Leliveld plans to target young people who “read up to 12 books a year”.

. . . .

The Blloon app can be downloaded from the iTunes store for free and the company said it has designed “a beautiful app with gamification at its core” which it believes will engage young people.

Anyone can read 1,000 pages for free and can continue reading by sharing and recommending books – or by inviting others to join the service. “Research shows that 85% of young people would be likely to recommend books if rewarded for it – this gamification gets young people talking about books and Blloon, while getting something in return,” the company said.

Further pages can also be bought as top-ups or provided monthly by upgrading to a premium membership at a cost of £3.99 for 500 pages.

. . . .

We aren’t offering an expensive ‘unlimited’ service simply because that isn’t the demographic we are targeting. And people can only read so much. We’re welcoming young people, the majority of whom currently read up to 12 books a year.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

What the closure of Bilbary tells us about the market

21 October 2014

From Futurebook:

Full disclosure. I liked Bilbary. I even went on BBC Radio 4 to say so. The site seemed to be an attempt to take the skills of the shop-floor bookseller or librarian onto the web, while at the same introducing a new way of acquiring that content, lending. I also thought its link-up with libraries was smart. There’s no particular reason why libraries should acquire e-books in the same way they acquire print titles, and Bilbary offered an alternative model. Was it then doomed to failure? Probably.

According to the liquidator’s account, which The Bookseller reports on today, while there was initial “interest from publishers, they later proved unwilling to enter into contracts allowing the trade books to be loaned, consequently the company secured content for sales only to enable it to get to the market sooner”. Liquidator Portland blamed “fundamental gaps in the company’s understanding of the market and the rise in level of competition that had developed” for Bilbary’s demise. “Despite the company’s efforts to cut costs by terminating staff contracts, vacating the rented premises and closing the Luxembourg office, funds of £1.5m was needed to continue with a re-structure of the business. An external investor had pledged to invest £750k, provided this was matched by existing or new shareholders, unfortunately the investor later took the decision not to invest.”

Bilbary’s likeable founder Tim Coates has his own take. The former Waterstones m.d. told my colleague Benedicte Page that the site was hampered by the terms discussions between Amazon and Hachette USA, meaning that investors could not be certain what business model would arise in the future. “The dispute between Amazon and publishers on e-book pricing [and the agency model] makes it impossible to invest. We are in a situation where investors are terrified of risking a new venture because no-one knows what the pricing structure will be. As long as the argument has been going on, any investor says, ‘What is the pricing model?’ and you can’t answer them. Bilbary was caught in the crossfire from the industry dispute and we weren’t alone.”

The liquidators were appointed on 29th April 2014—just as the dispute between Hachette and Amazon broke cover, but it is possible to understand why investors were jittery even before that. The shift to agency four years before meant a new way of doing business with publishers gaining new controls over how e-book content could be sold and at what prices. Surprisingly, a lot of booksellers were against agency: they recognised that it removed a key lever from their customer offer, and knew that publishers would take years to understand how to price to the consumer. The Department of Justice’s intervention in 2012 meant even this new way of doing business had to be re-written. During that time Amazon first lost, and then gained marketshare, with competitors such as Apple, Kobo, and Nook largely failing to make significant head-way in the major markets of the US and UK. At the same time, the massive growth in those two markets halted, at least for the major publishers, while a huge shadow market around self-published books rose – virtually out of nowhere.

Link to the rest at Futurebook

How Soon Will the Majority of Books Be Self-Published?

21 October 2014

From Publishing Perspectives:

Among the many ideas that rose to the forefront of discussions at this year’s Women’s Writing Festival was the idea of collaboration among writers, an idea that has come of age with the digital revolution. The best example of collaboration is the creation in 2013 of EWWA, the European Writing Women Association by Italian authors Elisabetta Flumeri and Gabriella Giacometti – primarily an Italian organization but open to all Europeans and engaged in a series of networking activities, with now some 165 members. Collaboration was a leitmotiv at the Festival this year too and often came into the discussion which centered on the “digital disruption” in the book market.

As might be expected in any discussion about the digital revolution and self-publishing, points of views diverged and the discussions between panel members were often heated. High points were reached when Maria Paola Romeo moderating a panel playfully suggested that the figure of the editor/publisher was on her way out.

But it was [agent] Andrew Lownie [who] made the boldest predictions, stating that in five to ten years from now, 75% of the books would be self-published, 20% would be publishing assisted by agents, and only 5% traditionally published.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Dana for the tip.

Man spends evening locked in Waterstones after staff shut up shop

17 October 2014

From The Telegraph:

Being locked in a bookshop over night with thousands of novels at your disposal might sound like a bibliophile’s dream.

But the reality is not so romantic, if one tourist’s experience in the Trafalgar Square branch of Waterstones in London is anything to go by.

David Willis, from Dallas, Texas, wrote on Twitter on Thursday night that he had been locked inside the shop after spending 15 minutes upstairs.

At 10.11pm, Mr Willis posted a picture showing a shuttered door and a rack containing pictures of Kevin Pietersen’s autobiograpy, along with a message claiming he had been trapped inside for the past hour.

He wrote: “This is me locked inside a Waterstones bookstore in London. I was upstairs for 15 minutes and came down to all the lights out and door locked. Been here over an hour now. Supposedly someone is on their way. #nofilter #london”

. . . .

Other Twitter users were quick to offer Mr Willis help with some telling him to call police, some offering him food, and others giving book recommendations to help him pass the time.

. . . .

And web developer Tim Archer said: “@DWill_ @Waterstones tell them you’ll be randomly moving the books until you are released, that should speed them up a bit.”

. . . .

Waterstones recently reported a rise in book sales again after years of decline due to competition from online retailers and the growth of e-books. The firm was unavailable for comment.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph

E-books fans reading more

16 October 2014

From The Bookseller:

E-book fans are upping their reading habit because e-books are cheaper than print copies, according to new research from Mintel.

The consumer research firm’s latest study, Books and e-Books UK 2014, shows that 26% of consumers who have bought an e-book in the last year are reading more than they used to because e-books cost less than paperbacks, a figure that rises to 38% of 16 to 24-year-olds.

Altogether, 31% of e-book buyers say they would prefer to read print books, but choose to buy e-books because they cost less. While 23% of book buyers said they felt that print books cost too much, only 16% of people felt the same about e-books. 36% of book buyers buy both e-books and print books, with 42% of those saying they always buy the cheapest version available.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon’s might divides opinion at world’s biggest book fair

15 October 2014

From The Economic Times:

US online retail giant Amazon may be absent from the stands at the world’s biggest book fair but it has still been at the heart of a heated debate.

Amazon threw a shadow over Germany’s book industry on the inaugural day of the Frankfurt Book Fair Tuesday by announcing the launch of a monthly flat-rate offer for unlimited access to e-book titles.

“We fear unfair competition on prices as well as authors’ fees through this service,” Austrian author Gerhard Ruiss told a discussion.

. . . .

A conference during the five-day book fair brought in to sharp focus the depth of feeling on both sides of the argument.

While one audience member stated they had “boycotted” Amazon for 20 years, another argued that the US company enabled new authors “to be published and find their readers” and pointed the finger at big publishing houses.

Online business is estimated to account for about 16 percent of the German book market, of which 50 to 70 percent are Amazon sales, according to figures by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association.

“In the last years we have invested a lot and we have learnt, even from Amazon… It’s a competitor, of whom we are not scared,” the association’s chief executive Alexander Skipis said.

But he accused Amazon of using “its dominant position to blackmail” publishers.

. . . .

“I don’t rule out Amazon ending up boosting cultural diversity,” journalist Dieter Schnaas, from Germany’s economic Wirtschaftswoche magazine, said.

“It doesn’t penalise consumers, quite the contrary,” he said, adding that he believed in the need to be cautious over calls for action against Amazon.

Link to the rest at The Economic Times

Local book industry concerned at proposed shake-up

30 September 2014

From Dynamic Business:

One of the more controversial proposals in the recent draft review of competition policy was its recommendation to lift parallel import restrictions on books, with the review warning this amounted to an implicit tax on Australian consumers.

The restriction prohibits the importation into Australia of a product by anyone other than the licensed Australian manufacturer or distributor, cutting off an important alternative source of supply.

Removing the restriction would see more books on offer for cheaper prices. The draft review, led by Professor Ian Harper, warned the continuance of parallel import restrictions would be similar to having a tariff in place because local industry remains shielded from international competition.

Australian consumers are also increasingly able to circumvent the restriction anyway. They can buy e-books or simply go online and have books shipped overseas from warehouses directly to their front door.

. . . .

He said the restrictions placed onerous limitations on the ability of bookstore owners to import products requested by customers. He said the restrictions also meant that the price of books was higher, forcing everyday Australians to pay more for their books.

“You could come into a bookshop, hold a book up and show it to them and say ‘I’d like a copy of this’. I would say, ‘I don’t have it. I’m not allowed to have it’,” Mr Strong said. “I don’t think the publishers understand it. I think they are just panicking. Embracing change helps business.”

“Lifting import restrictions is obviously better because you have access to more books and access to cheaper books.”

Link to the rest at Dynamic Business and thanks to Hugh for the tip.

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