Amazon takes half of UK’s online retail spend

22 April 2014

From The Bookseller:

More than half of Britain’s online retail spend goes to Amazon, working out at £70 for every man, woman and child in the country, according to a new BBC television programme.

. . . .

Amazon is now so ingrained in everyday life that the word itself has become a verb, an Amazon shopper told the show. “If I want to know something, I’ll Google it. If I want to buy something, I’ll Amazon it,” he told the BBC.

Part of the documentary was filmed at The Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference last November. Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director at Profile Books, told the programme that to publishers Bezos was like “God”.

He said: “Amazon are undoubtedly the most important player in the book world today. Whether print books or e-books. They really are the central platform around which the whole publishing industry is operating these days. Publishers think about Jeff Bezos kind of like how they might think about God – as a very distant, inaccessible figure who is all powerful and all knowing.”

. . . .

Another of Bezos’ ideas is that when hiring, Amazon staff should always pick someone smarter than themselves to make sure the intelligence levels at the company will keep rising.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Rich Pickings for the Small and Beautiful

21 April 2014

From Digital Book World:

Here in the UK, the acquisition of Constable & Robinson is leading to virtually all of its workforce being let go, Quercus will be next having been bought and, more globally, the Penguin Random House merger is starting to leak hundreds of jobs. I understand business is business, but it is the cloudy nature, the hidden words, the political answers that enrage. Job losses should never be handled by PR departments.

. . . .

However, this article is not intended to be one of doom and gloom. The point I wanted to make was that an interesting trend is happening – due to the above but also generally a large number of very skilled workers are moving from their conglomerate employers to smaller companies.

. . . .

Going further, at the London Book Fair, and probably aided by our recent recruitment drive, I was approached with incredible regularity by people in between meetings asking if any further vacancies are coming up. It immediately became clear that something quite dramatic is happening here.

. . . .

Those with ambition and drive in publishing are now looking out their windows, or into their computer screens, and seeing the best independent companies taking risks and innovating quickly and cleverly, as they have to do to survive. These key people have an inborn desire to succeed, and so it is only natural they want to move away from the required structure of larger companies and into the movable, continual evolution of smaller ones.

. . . .

In summary, job losses particularly where avoidable will always make me enraged, and I think we have an obligation in the industry to shine a light where it’s happening. But there is comfort in an exciting migration. Just an in music and art where in my lifetime I have seen a sudden independent scene reinvigorate a weary market, a very exciting trend is starting to emerge in publishing.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG always hopes anyone who is laid off is able to find a good new job quickly.

However, having worked with both large and small companies, he will say that the skill set necessary to succeed in the former may be much different than that required to make meaningful contributions in the latter.

More to the point for the primary audience of The Passive Voice, if you’re a traditionally-published author, you really don’t want your editor and others with whom you’ve dealt to “transition” to a small and beautiful company.

In recently merged or acquired organizations, an almost superstitious attitude can arise toward those who were pushed out and their pet projects. Those projects can become tainted by an aura of failure. If they were any good, their champion wouldn’t have been fired. If the inheritors of the departed employee’s responsibilities can avoid such projects, perhaps they’ll be spared when the next round of layoffs appear.

Norway pursues possible publisher cartel favoring own book chains

16 April 2014

From TeleRead:

After the reports of Amazon entering the Swedish market amid possible restricted competition, now Scandinavian neighbor Norway has reportedly seen a crackdown on anti-competitive practices in the local book trade. According to the Norwegian press reports, the Norwegian Competition Authority (Konkurransetilsynet) has raided the offices of the country’s big four publishing houses – Aschehoug, Cappelen, Gyldendal, and Schibsted – to investigate a possible cartel designed to restrict book supply to supermarkets and other outlets in favor of the publishers’ own-branded book chains.

Norway has a highly restricted publishing and book market that might facilitate such abuse. As per research in Regionalism and the Reading Class, by Wendy Griswold, the Norwegian state buys 1000 copies of every book published by a Norwegian publisher, and pays an annual subsidy to every member of the Authors Union.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Leaner and More Efficient, British Printers Push Forward in Digital Age

14 April 2014

From The New York Times:

At a media conference a few years ago, the editor of The Guardian newspaper, contemplating the future of print, recalled his paper’s installation of its newest presses in 2005.

“I had a feeling in my bones that they might be the last,” said the editor, Alan Rusbridger.

The efforts of traditional print media executives to grope their way into the digital future have been well chronicled. But what about the executives even more tightly bound to the presses — the people who run big printing companies?

Ask Roy Kingston, the 55-year-old chief operating officer of Wyndeham, a privately held company that is one of Britain’s biggest printers and whose portfolio includes the British circulation of The Economist and Men’s Health magazine. A player in the printing game for three decades, he has felt the digital onslaught. And so far, he has survived to tell the tale, even if not everyone in his industry has been so fortunate.

“This boardroom is about the only thing that hasn’t changed around here,” he told a visitor, sitting at an antique conference table in the heart of Wyndeham’s printing plant here. “Everything else in this plant is different. All the equipment has been changed, and so have the people.”

. . . .

In many ways, printing itself has gone digital. Industrial-strength laser printers enable big printing plants to make quick and cost-effective small-batch runs on demand. Even Wyndeham’s big offset machines — which print from lithographic plates created from digital files — are so highly automated that a crew of just a dozen or so can put them through their paces.

“This is almost a peopleless business now,” Mr. Kingston said as he walked through the huge but mostly deserted printing hall. “At one point we had 350 people in this plant. Now we have 114. But the amount of work has more than doubled.”

Back in the 1990s, Mr. Kingston said, the plant had three presses that could turn out about 20,000 copies of a 32-page publication in an hour. Now there are two machines that are capable of producing triple that amount.

. . . .

 Britain’s printing industry, though large, is not the biggest worldwide. It is ranked fifth by revenue behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany. Yet its challenges and opportunities are emblematic.

. . . .

 The global printing industry, with estimated revenue of $880 billion last year, will continue to grow by about 2 percent a year until 2018, driven mainly by emerging market countries, in the view of Smithers Pira, another research company. China will probably overtake the United States as the world’s biggest print market this year, Smithers Pira said, while India will slip ahead of Britain into the No. 5 spot by 2018.

. . . .

 Book publishers, who are not under the same time constraints as newspapers or magazines, are looking much farther east, with printing increasingly moving to Asia, where the labor costs are even lower.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

UK Library eBook Pilot Shows Library Loans Drive Sales

13 April 2014

From The Digital Reader:

It’s been just over a month since the Publisher’s Association launched a year long e-lending pilot in partnership with 4 libraries in the UK, and the early results are showing that ebook borrowers are also buyers. Janene Cox, the president of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), was speaking at the London Book Fair last week when she told The Bookseller that “people who loan books, buy books”.

The pilot, which is funded by a grant from the British Library Trust,enables the participating libraries to lend ebooks from a special catalog of 1,000 titles, most of which are otherwise unavailable to libraries.

There’s not enough information on just how much this pilot has increased ebook loans, but there is some early data to show that pilot is generating sales. In Derbyshire, for example, 464 ebooks were loaned in the first monitoring period, leading to about 20 sales to library patrons.  According to Cox, many of the patrons bought the ebook while they were  still only part of the way through reading the loaned ebook.

. . . .

One of the less obvious goals of this pilot is to show publishers that they benefit from library ebook loans. I don’t know that there is enough evidence yet from this pilot to prove the point, but this is a point worth proving.

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

The end of the beginning

8 April 2014

From The Bookseller:

After the excesses of the early years, did we all wake up in 2013 with a digital hangover? It can sometimes feel like it. Coming off the back of three years of treble-digit e-book growth, last year’s growth rate, of around 20%, was a detoxifier. In truth though, this party has barely even begun. As Amara’s Law argues, we tend to overestimate the impact of digital changes in the short term, but underestimate them in the long run.

. . . .

The numbers (those available to us) are not in dispute. The Bookseller reported in its issue on 24th January this year that e-book sales grew 18% in 2013, based on data supplied by all of the big publishers. It has since been backed by Nielsen’s Books and the Consumer report, which showed, based on consumers’ responses, that purchases of e-books were up by 20% in 2013. The Bookseller estimated that 74 million e-books were sold in 2013; Nielsen put out a figure of 80 million. The difference was Nielsen’s  larger estimate for sales of self-published e-books; it believes they account for 20% of overall e-book sales.

For those in doubt (and disappointingly some still are) both sets of data contain Amazon figures. But the caveats are important. There are huge chunks of the e-book market that we do not have sight of, and the data we do have is partial and estimated. I think a section of the e-book market, mainly Kindle-based, will be forever unknown.

. . . .

However, I don’t think the overarching message would change. The champagne days of treble-digit digital growth for all are clearly behind us. What we perceived as an explosion of e-reading was actually a market shift: for some sections of the reading community the e-book represented something new and convenient, and they flocked to it in their droves, downloading more than they’d ever had access to before, at low prices, and reading, I suspect, only a proportion of it. That—along with Fifty Shades of Grey and The Hunger Games—served to inflate the e-book space at a time when the print market was heading in the opposite direction. It also overemphasised the slowdown.

The next generation of e-book adopters may be slower arriving, and more promiscuous in their choices. Ideally, they will read across different platforms and be attracted to books by levers other than price. But in truth nothing is certain. Except clearly it is wrong to suggest that the e-book is going away, or that there is some kind of titanic struggle between the different formats, or those who work on them. What I see when I go into publishing businesses are editors as delighted by their e-book sales as well as their hardback sales, but relieved that one format did not kill off the other.

. . . .

When I interviewed Penguin Random House chief executive Markus Dohle in Berlin two weeks ago he said he thought the group’s growth rates would average out at around 2%–4% annually, driven by emerging markets and new business models. He expected the mature markets (the UK and the US) to grow by around 1%–2%.

. . . .

The inevitable lull that has followed a quieting of the e-book market is not to be dismissed. As one senior executive put it to me recently, the “bed-wetting” is now a thing of the past. As I wrote in The Bookseller Leader last week, it seems to me that publishing can now look forward from a stable base.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG thinks 1-2% projected growth by the largest publisher in the US/UK markets is anything but a good sign for traditional publishing. PG would bet that Amazon’s book sales are growing significantly faster than that.

If Amazon sells more books than anyone else and it’s growing faster, what does 1-2% projected growth say about what’s really happening with physical bookstores?

People who write about the book business seldom recognize the market impact of authors (other than the occasional 50 Shades-style megabook). In PG’s behemothically humble opinion, most business-savvy authors are engaging with large traditional publishers these days only (or at least primarily) because those publishers offer access to physical bookstores and can push a bunch of books into those stores if the publisher decides it’s going to be a big book. As the number of physical bookstores shrinks, that tradpub benefit becomes less valuable.

While a lot of individual authors have reached the tipping point at which they’ve decided they’ll make more money traveling the indie road and either quit or never engage with traditional publishing, PG suspects there’s a tipping point up ahead when self-publishing will become conventional wisdom in the same way that “show, don’t tell” is in the writing world. The default choice for the ambitious author will be self-publishing.

If you’re looking for a parallel, think of the Blackberry. PG got an early Blackberry that just did email when he was doing a lot of business travel and it was wonderful. He remembers keeping track of the location of the Delta flight attendant while holding his Blackberry up against the airplane window during take-off to suck in as many emails as possible before entering the email dead zone.

He was happy when Blackberry offered an email/cell phone combination so he could give up his Nokia phone and just carry one lump in his pocket or (horrors!) on his belt. Blackberry’s physical keyboard was a lovely tool for composing emails. PG doesn’t remember exactly how many Blackberries he had, but there were several.

Then came the smart phone. And the even smarter phone. Email became an app, one of many apps.

For PG, the Blackberry physical keyboard would still be the best for thumb-typing, but he uses Siri for 90% of his email/text compositions. Plus email comprises a much smaller portion of what he uses his phone for than it did during the pre-iPhone era when Blackberry dominated the business market. Today, most business publications limit their Blackberry stories to the “will Blackberry survive or not” genre.

Blackberry didn’t stop doing what it did best. It just couldn’t change fast enough to keep up with competition.

Hence the comparison with traditional publishing.

Self-publishing is a far more threatening competitor to Randy Penguin than HarperCollins is or ever will be again.

The all-new monthly literary prize – for self-published authors

8 April 2014

From The Guardian:

As DIY publishing gains respectability and established authors join the throng, the Guardian is joining forces with Legend Times to find the best self-published novels, in any genre, every month.

. . . .

The paper is teaming up with publisher Legend Times to support and showcase what it said was “the fantastic quality of writing that can be found from independent authors”, as the sector continues to boom. New figures from Nielsen’s Books & Consumers survey show that self-published books accounted for one in five of the 80m ebooks purchased in 2013. “No longer can the mainstream industry ignore what the general public have been reading and enjoying for a number of years, with many self-published authors outstripping the sales of novels published traditionally,” said the Guardian.

. . . .

The Guardian and Legend’s new prize is open from today to self-published novels written in the English language – translations are also welcome – with submissions to be read by a panel of Legend’s readers. The panel will draw up a shortlist of up to 10 titles a month that will then be read by expert judges, with the winning entry to be reviewed in the Guardian, online or in the paper.

Claire Armitstead, literary editor of the Guardian, said the paper had decided to launch the prize because “the phenomenon of self-publishing over the last couple of years has become too big for any of us to ignore”.

. . . .

“We are hoping to be a magnet to find the needle in the haystack,” agreed Tom Chalmers, managing director of Legend Times. “Everyone has a computer these days, and everyone is writing, which is brilliant, but it also means the market is completely flooded. That makes it quite hard if you don’t have a natural social media presence to get your work to the top, and to get noticed.”

The prize, he said, was aiming to find the “brilliant” self-published books that are out there, and to “bring these gems to the forefront”. “People in the publishing industry and literary awards in general are often too quick to disregard the work of self-published authors, missing the wealth of creativity and innovative writing there is out there,” said Chalmers.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

It’s getting tough to find a book. But it’s worth it

8 April 2014

From The Globe and Mail:

Walk the streets of a major Canadian city and you can buy food from every exotic port in the world, dozens of types of coffee brewed in countless ways, sneakers that cost more than appliances. The only thing that’s hard to find is a book.

Independent booksellers are going down like bowling pins. In Toronto, the past few months have seen the death of at least three beloved bookstores. It’s a countrywide malaise: Oscar’s Art Books in Vancouver, Hull’s in Winnipeg, Collected Works in Ottawa, Macondo Books in Guelph, Ont., the Nicholas Hoare mini-chain – all gone. Even the country’s biggest chain, Chapters Indigo, is feeling the pinch. It’s recently shut two Toronto locations and is about to close another.

. . . .

“Extortionate rents and low sales,” one publisher said succinctly when I asked her why she thought we were suddenly seeing the equivalent of a First World War battlefield. When I say “suddenly,” of course, I mean, “on the horizon for a long time.”

. . . .

“There’s less browsing online than there is in a physical bookstore,” says Noah Genner, CEO of BookNet Canada, which gathers research and sales data. People are less likely to buy impulsively online than they would confronted with a table of books with “2/3 off” stickers. In a shop, a customer might come in to buy a game or a birthday card and leave with a book as well. Their eye might be caught by a pretty cover or a blurb from another author.

. . . .

The latest BookNet figures show that sales in Canada dropped 3.4 per cent between 2012 and 2013 (which is actually a relief after the 10-per-cent drop the year before). Those figures don’t include downloads: BookNet estimates that about 17 per cent of purchases are e-books. When the e-book figures are added to physical book sales, Mr. Genner thinks it’s likely we’re reading as much as ever.

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

“Less browsing online than there is in a physical bookstore.” “People are less likely to buy impulsively online.”

PG knows quite a lot of Canadians who definitely live on Planet Earth. He never realized there were any who didn’t.

Should those of us South of the long and friendly border be concerned?

Amazon Is ‘Evil’ According to Digital Minds Conference Opening Keynote

7 April 2014

From Digital Book World:

“Amazon are evil bastards–I loath them, I fear them,” said best-selling British author Anthony Horowitz, giving the opening keynote speech at the London Book Fair’s Publishing for Digital Minds conference in London, quickly adding, “but I use them all the time because they’re wonderful and that’s part of the problem.”

Referring to Amazon’s dominance in the book and ebook retail market and the low rate of taxes it pays in the UK (just a few million pounds on over £4 billion of revenue, according to Horowitz), the author of dozens of books was setting the stage for day of speeches, panels and networking at the pre-London Book Fair conference for digital publishing executives. Little subtlety was used, evidenced by his candid remarks regarding Amazon.

. . . .

Horowitz also spent time talking about the precarious position many publishers find themselves in, their business models being disrupted by the rise of self-publishing and the changing retail landscape. Despite knowing that he could get a higher percentage of sales from his current books if he left his publisher, he said that he needed the support — editing, packaging and marketing and distribution strategy. He also thanked his publisher for sticking with him through his early, less profitable years as an author.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Star authors take to the road to counter fall in bookshop sales

6 April 2014

From The Guardian:

Authors on rock star-style tours, animations of famous fictional characters, merchandise based on children’s stories – all these are now in the armoury of Britain’s biggest publisher as it fights back against the decline of the high-street bookseller.

. . . .

Tom Weldon,UK chief executive of Penguin Random House, said that, as traditional ways of reaching book-buyers disappear, the company is looking to build a closer relationship with readers, to tell them about “books they might fall in love with”.

“It is a sad fact of life that there are fewer physical bookshops than there were. And traditional media is declining – including, sadly, newspaper books pages,” said Weldon.

. . . .

Speaking in his first national newspaper interview since Penguin and Random House completed a merger last July that brought 15,000 authors under one roof, Weldon said his industry had responded better to digital disruption than either film or television, which had struggled to control intellectual property rights. “The challenge isn’t digital; it’s how you tell people about the next great book. Because anyone can get published now, but how do you capture the readers’ attention?”

. . . .

Jo Twist, of the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, said the £3bn games industry was complementary to traditional publishing and brought “an innovative and creative edge to stories” to suit a growing population of people who love playing.

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

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