The Fastest-Growing Format in Publishing: Audiobooks

24 July 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

The digital revolution that flummoxed the music, movie and publishing industries has given rise to a surprising winner: the audiobook.

Audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in the book business today. Sales in the U.S. and Canada jumped 21% in 2015 from the previous year, according to the Audio Publishers Association. The format fits neatly in the sweet spot of changing technology and changing behavior. Carrying around a pocket-size entertainment center stuffed with games, news, music, videos and books has conditioned people to seek out constant entertainment, whether walking to a meeting or sitting in a doctor’s office. For more multitasking book-lovers, audiobooks are the answer.

. . . .

Producers and retailers also are trying to hook people like 34-year-old Tiara Walker. Last year, facing a mounting reading list, Ms. Walker popped on her headphones and sailed through more than 50 titles, from Claudia Rankine and Shonda Rhimes to Stephen King and Gillian Flynn. This year, she’s already surpassed that tally.

Ms. Walker, an employment-services representative for Alabama’s Department of Labor, listens to audiobooks while watching her daughter’s softball practices, handling rote tasks at work and doing laundry at her home in Eufaula, Ala.

. . . .

Some 64% of American adults now own a smartphone, up from 35% in the spring of 2011, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2016, 63% of all cars sold will have a built-in modem or a smartphone connection via Bluetooth, wi-fi or USB, said Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for car-market researcher IHS Automotive Technology. Sales of audiobooks on CD are declining slightly but won’t disappear as long as cars have CD players, as most current models do, said Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association. Libraries now offer both formats.

. . . .

The surge in audiobooks marks “a massive turning point,” said Donald Katz, Audible’s founder and chief executive. “Many, many millions of people give us on average two hours a day.”

. . . .

Amazon also is more prominently featuring Audible’s Whispersync for Voice option, which allows e-book readers to toggle back and forth between an e-book and a discounted audiobook version. (Using this technology, someone could, for example, read a few chapters on the train home and then switch on the audiobook while cooking dinner.)

Whispersync sales were up nearly 60% in 2015 compared with the previous year—a reflection of both its increased visibility and an uptick in available titles to around 100,000, according to Audible.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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Could corporate tax put Powell’s out of business?

23 July 2016

From KOIN 6:

Could a proposed corporate tax cost Portland one of its biggest icons?

Powell’s Books is the largest new and used bookstore in the world, but its owner says she’s worried a measure on the November ballot could make it a thing of the past.

Ballot measure 97 is being called the “biggest tax change” in Oregon history. It would levy a 2.5% tax on businesses’ gross sales over $25 million.

Emily Powell told KOIN 6 News the tax would be “extremely damaging” to her family’s namesake business.

“We are a business that’s challenged every year to figure out how we are going to make our way,” Powell said. “If I knew how to find this kind of cost savings every year I would have found it already.”

Powell said the proposed tax would affect more than the store’s direct revenue.

“Pacific Power has said they’ll pass on the tax in a price increase and so our power bills are going to go up as well,” she explained. “It’s very likely our distributors will charge us more, our margins will go down.”

“Mind boggling” and “scary” are words she used to describe some potential effects the ballot measure could have on her business. She said the tax could force her to shorten employees’ hours and cut service in a way that doesn’t impact sales.

When asked about the worst case scenario — having to close the bookstore — Powell said she “prefers not to think about [it] but it is certainly keeping [her] up at night.”

. . . .

“Because this would be a new tax on gross sales — not profits — businesses would be required to pay the tax on their total revenues, regardless of whether they make a large profit, a small profit or no profit at all,” according to the OBA. “That would mean that many employers would have to raise prices or cut jobs, or both.”

Link to the rest at KOIN 6 and thanks to Dave for the tip.

While PG has fallen out of love with Barnes & Noble and most other bookstores, he says putting Powell’s out of business would be a tragedy. It’s a destination and Powell’s is one of the few remaining bookstores that actually has knowledgeable staff instead of employees who are most interested in finding another job that pays better.


23 July 2016

Ladies, if you want to know the way to my heart… good spelling and good grammar, good punctuation, capitalize only where you are supposed to capitalize, it’s done.

John Mayer

Secret Teacher: My pupils’ creativity is being crushed by the punctuation police

23 July 2016

From The Guardian:

“Sir, can you read my story?”

It’s a request that fills me with dread, because I know what will follow.

I will read the story and delight at how well developed the characters are, how effectively suspense has been built up and how great the ending is.

But none of that matters. All that matters in year 6 are the interim teacher assessment frameworks. These make it clear that writing an engaging story is of secondary importance – what really counts is being able to use the passive voice, chuck in a modal verb, employ cohesive devices and throw in some semi-colons.

I read the story. It’s good and the author is rightly proud. However, it doesn’t have many sentences starting with conjunctions and it is lacking colons and semi-colons. According the government-devised scheme for judging writing, this child is not working at the expected standard.

I have no choice but to convey some of this in the hope that this pupil will include some more fronted adverbials next time and please the powers that be. There is no room for discretion or negotiation in the framework.

. . . .

When we read a brilliant story, do we exclaim: “I loved how Charles Dickens used that semi-colon to separate two independent clauses” or “I like Roald Dahl but I wish he had used the passive voice a little more often”?

No. Instead we delight in falling in love with the characters or feeling the tension as they get into difficulty. The assessment frameworks tell our children that creativity and exciting plots are not important. They encourage children to see technical aspects as the central requirement of good writing.

The frameworks are also largely useless in providing helpful information to secondary schools. Take two children, Ali and Grace. Ali can do almost everything mentioned in the interim frameworks for the expected standard. In fact, he can also do some things which indicate that he is “working at a greater depth within the expected standard”. But he is missing one thing: he has not used a single hyphen in his work. This means Ali is below the expected standard for writing.

Grace, on the other hand, has used a hyphen in addition to jumping through all of the other hoops, so she is at the expected standard. And so secondary schools will be told that Grace is a better writer, on the basis of one hyphen.

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

Maverick women writers are upending the book industry and selling millions in the process

23 July 2016

From Quartz:

“I just wanted a story with a nice guy.”

In late 2012, author H. M. Ward had an experimental manuscript collecting proverbial dust on her computer. It starred a woman named Sidney and a man named Peter—an impossible nice-guy combo of handsome, strong, smart, patient, and, oh, super wealthy.

Ward had been writing since 2010 and had been down the traditional publishing route before, finding an agent and shopping her work around. Her instinct told her that publishers would have no interest in Peter. “If you take a nice-guy book to a traditional publisher,” she says, “They’re like, ‘That’s weird. Nice guys are boring.’”

So in April 2013, she published her manuscript online on her own. “I just put it up out of curiosity to see what would happen,” she says.

Despite reports that e-books are dying, Ward’s chance paid off, and continues to pay out today. According to the author, Damaged shot to No. 6 in Amazon’s Kindle store within a few days and held the No. 1 spot for several weeks. It spent a month on the New York Times bestsellers list for combined print and ebook. It was the first in two series of nice-guy books that would go on to sell 12 million copies in three years.

Publishers took note. In the year after Ward published Damaged, she was offered a series of deals from various publishers totaling $1.5 million, by her estimate. She turned them all down, and by the time she said no to her last contract, she was making eight figures as a self-published author. “It would have been a colossal mistake to sign with them at that point, financially,” she says.

Romance novels, home of heavy lids, hot breaths, and grabbed wrists, have long been the embarrassing secret money-maker of the book industry. But today, a renegade generation of self-published authors like Ward are redefining the romance novel, adapting to digital in a way that has long-lasting lessons for the book industry.

. . . .

 “Romance readers are a really, really different animal from any other kind of reader out there,” says Laura Bradford, who founded the San Diego-based Bradford Literary Agency, which focuses on romance fiction, in 2001. “They are incredibly voracious. They consume content like locusts.”

. . . .

Ward now earns seven figures a year. She writes in an email, “I’ve been able to hire staff, rent an office, and I admit I might take a private jet now and again. I was living below the poverty line when I started in publishing.”

But she claims none of it would have been possible with a traditional publisher.

. . . .

 With less overhead, self-published authors can set prices far lower than traditional publishers can, usually $3 or $4. Despite the lower prices, the high payout of self-publishing means that some ultimately take home far more than if they go with a publisher, even after accounting for their marketing and editing costs. That’s an added advantage for romance, where authors set their prices extra low because they know their readers read more, and are especially price-conscious.

Link to the rest at Quartz

B&N to Sell Self-Published Books In Stores

23 July 2016

From Book Business:

The big news about Barnes & Noble is that after twenty years of battling with Amazon they have finally made a competitive move that Amazon cannot match. Barnes & Noble, with 640 bookstores in 50 states, is giving self-published authors a chance to get access to their hallowed bookshelves.

. . . .

The news reads best at a quick glance: “…authors have the opportunity to sell their print books at Barnes & Noble stores across the country… participate at in-store events including book signings and discussions, where they will be able to sell their print books and meet fans.”

But the devil’s in the details: the program is for “eligible” NOOK Press authors, defined as “those print book authors whose eBook sales [of a single title] have reached 1,000 units in the past year.”

. . . .

In my coverage of last fall’s NINC conference I noted some remarks from publishing expert Lou Aronica. Lou provided a forceful reminder that self-published authors can’t afford to ignore print: it still accounts for some two-thirds of book sales overall. The larger problem is getting retail access for print. Independent booksellers have always been more open to dealing with self-published authors than the chains. But trying to get into the 2,311 outlets operated by the 1,775 American Booksellers Association (ABA) members is a logistical impossibility. Barnes & Noble has fewer total outlets than the ABA, but a lot more floor space.

Link to the rest at Book Business and thanks to Deb for the tip.

PG had a previous post on this subject, but revisited it for the last paragraph excerpted above.

Thinking about self-published authors as an industry, like traditional publishing, is, in PG’s charmingly humble opinion, a mistake.

If you’re talking about traditional publishers, you’ll find very little difference in their business methods and practices.

Indie authors, however, are individual entrepreneurs, much more flexible and innovative than tradpub, and able to discover and exploit parts of the market that are invisible to Manhattan.

While some indie authors may find good business selling into the print market, PG suggests that, for most, it’s an unprofitable time-waster. For anything but POD, it’s too much overhead, too much administrative work and simply not profitable.

Ebooks are a far more profitable pursuit than print for the large majority of indie authors. As Author Earnings has demonstrated, indie authors are dominating more and more of the ebook market on Amazon. And not just with price. Top-selling indie authors are far better marketers, even with small budgets, than traditional publishers.

And print is a declining market. Most avid fiction readers have already moved to ebooks and they’re becoming accustomed to great prices and instant availability. Articles about the renaissance of print are focusing on ripples in a rising river that’s flowing in the opposite direction.

Barnes & Noble had 726 stores in 2008 and it has 640 today.

In 2005, Borders operated 1,329 stores. Today, it operates none.

And no, independent bookstores have not made up for this decline.

RIP to the VCR

22 July 2016

From Slate:

This week, the Japanese company Funai Electric announced that it wouldcease production of VCRs. Since it was reportedly the last company to make the increasingly obsolete players, the news effectively rang the death knell of a technology that had survived long past its own moment. To better understand the enduring legacy of VHS, I called Caetlin Benson-Allott, an associate professor in the English department at Georgetown, where she teaches courses on film and media studies.

Benson-Allott, with whom I went to grad school, is the author of Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens, in which she explores the ways cinema reflected on and responded to home video technology. She spoke about the strange persistence of VHS technology, discussed its role in the rise of digital culture, and reflected on what she’ll miss most about it.

. . . .

Jacob Brogan: As a scholar of video technology, what was your reaction to the news that the VCR is finally dead?

Caetlin Benson-Allott: It surprised me to find out that manufacturers were still producing VCRs, because JVC—the company that invented VHS and gave us the term VCR—actually stopped producing them in 2008. The VCR itself was outmoded by the DVD player in 2001. That’s the year that people started watching more DVDs than VHS cassettes. So, while it was refreshing to see that VCRs had made it this far into the 21st century, it was interesting that it was eight years after the very inventor of the term had given up on the technology.

. . . .

Do you think that its shelf life means that VHS is going to stick around for a while after this formal end to manufacturing?

I think it means that it should, but “should” and “will” aren’t the same thing. As a university faculty member I’ve watched multiple institutions just flat out destroy or give away their VHS collections in favor of DVD. And now they’re considering getting rid of DVD in favor of subscription services.

. . . .

You argue in Shattered Screens that VHS transformed the process of making movies. Is that a legacy that will linger?

I think it has lingered! We don’t necessarily appreciate how much our use of DVD or streaming or electronic sell-through is based on videotape—Betamax and VHS. The idea of coming home and saying, “I’m in the mood for House of Cards,” or “I want to watch all of Martin Scorsese’s movies in order,” wouldn’t be possible without VHS. The expectation that our media is there when we want it—what Chuck Tryon calls on-demand culture—was born with the VCR.

Does that mean that VCR, maybe video tape more generally, trained us for the agency that we have in our contemporary media culture?

Absolutely! VHS and videotape gave us an expectation of access that—as Lucas Hilderbrand points out in his book Inherent Vice—is foundational to the way that we approach media today. If you try to think back and imagine what television and film were like before VHS, you had to wait. To see a film that wasn’t just released, you had to make a trek to your local repertory theater on the one night they decided to play it. And if you didn’t live near a repertory theater—as most Americans didn’t—you were out of luck.

. . . .

What will you miss most about VHS?

What I miss most—and I have to say I already miss this—about VHS are the video stores. I miss walking into the cornucopia that was my local Lincoln Video of Lincoln, Massachusetts, and finding out about some guy named Scorsese when I was way too young to be watching his movies. And then working back from him to other things that he liked. I miss having a relationship with a video clerk and the esoteric taste, the evolution of taste, that I got from knowing that guy or that gal.

We have that in a sense with the you-might-also-like function on Netflix, but that’s an algorithm replacing a human relationship, which is never the same thing.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

While reading the OP, it occurred to PG that he has no anticipation of obtaining ideas for his media consumption from a physical person as part of a commercial transaction – a video store clerk or a bookseller.

While PG is a reasonably social guy and enjoys face-to-face interactions with others, he receives better suggestions for media consumption from family and friends who don’t work in bookstores, online articles/discussions and Amazon than he would ever expect to receive from a Barnes & Noble employee.

He’s not trashing those who work in bookstores, but doesn’t think they have a very good idea of what he might like. (For the record, PG is reading a history of the Congo right now, not a book he would expect to see on the front table at his local B&N.)

There is also the problem that PG hasn’t purchased a physical book in years.


Every reader finds himself

22 July 2016

Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.

Marcel Proust

EFF lawsuit seeks to overturn DMCA ban on breaking DRM

22 July 2016

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

[T]he EFF has just filed suit against the US government on the grounds that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention provision, Section 1201, represents an unconstitutional restraint on free speech.

The suit takes aim at the practice of outlawing breaking DRM, with the Librarian of Congress permitted to make exceptions to the prohibition every three years, as well as outlawing any explanation of how to break DRM. The EFF calls this “an unconstitutional speech-licensing regime.”

“The government cannot broadly ban protected speech and then grant a government official excessive discretion to pick what speech will be permitted, particularly when the rulemaking process is so onerous,” said [EFF Staff Attorney Kit] Walsh. “If future generations are going to be able to understand and control their own machines, and to participate fully in making rather than simply consuming culture, Section 1201 has to go.”

The EFF is representing plaintiffs computer scientist Andrew “bunnie” Huang and computer security researcher Matthew Green. Huang is developing devices for editing digital video streams for his company Alphamax LLC that require the ability to break DRM in order to function properly. (Huang has previously shown up on TeleRead in connection with an open laptop he designed and successfully crowdfunded, so he’s not exactly new to advocating for open hardware.) Green is writing a book on circumventing security systems, and is investigating the security of medical record systems on a grant from the National Science Foundation—but he has had to avoid some areas of research because of concerns over Section 1201.

This is also, of course, the law that makes it illegal to crack DRM on ebooks so we can back up our purchases and convert from Kindle to ePub formats, or vice versa, or crack the DRM on DVDs or Blu-rays so we can rip the movies for mobile viewing.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG does not condone the pirating of copyrighted materials, including books.

However, the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act were mostly written by and for the big US movie studios and record companies (yes, PG is informed they’re still called record companies). The DMCA didn’t do much for indie authors.

PG believes that a reader who wants to read ebooks that were properly purchased on that reader’s iPad as well as his/her Kindle should be legally permitted to do so. Software or services that make this possible should be legal.

Of course, some people will use such software for illegal purposes. Some people will also use baseball bats for committing crimes, not playing baseball.

PG suggests that focusing on the prosecution of criminals who are performing acts which harm creators is a much better idea than writing laws which prohibit non-criminals from doing useful work that doesn’t damage the owners of copyrights in any way.


Amazon Enters Student Loan Business in Partnership With Wells Fargo

22 July 2016

From The Digital Reader:

Amazon has long focused on being the one-stop shop for college students, and now its adding student loans to its catalog. Amazon entered the student loan business in a partnership with Wells Fargo on Thursday, offering cheaper rates for loans to Amazon customers who pay for a “Prime Student” subscription.

The deal calls for Wells Fargo to shave half a percentage point from its interest rate on student loans to Amazon “Prime Student” customers, who also get benefits such as free two-day shipping and access to movies, television shows and photo storage.

“Amazon’s looking for increased membership in Student Prime. That’s what they want out of this deal,” John Rasmussen, head of Wells Fargo’s Personal Lending Group, said in an interview. “What we’re looking for is exposure to our products and services and awareness. That’s the extent of the relationship.”

. . . .

A borrower who would ordinarily qualify for a 3.39 percent rate would be able to get a 2.89 percent rate by paying for a Prime Student subscription, a bank spokesman confirmed.

. . . .

Rasmussen said Wells Fargo does not compensate Amazon as part of the deal, nor does Amazon receive any compensation from Wells Fargo.

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

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