Ebooks Are an Abomination

From The Atlantic:

Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them. Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful.

If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why.

When discussed in the present tense, ebooks means Amazon Kindle ebooks. Competitors are out there, including tablets such as the iPad and the various software that can display books in electronic format. Precursors are also many. Ebooks appeared on Palm handhelds in the late ’90s. Microsoft made a reader for its equivalent, Windows CE. The first commercial e-ink reader was made in 2004 by Sony, not Amazon, although you’ve probably never heard of it. Barnes & Noble still makes the Nook, a Kindle competitor that seems like the Betamax of ebook readers. Before all of these, it was always possible to read on computers, portable or not. Adobe’s PDF format, first released in the early ’90s, made it easy to create and share print-formatted documents, viewable on any platform with a PDF reader. And you have been able to scroll through Word (or WordPerfect or WordStar or plain text) documents for as long as computers have existed, even if few would call such an experience reading.

Stop and reread that last clause, because the key to understanding why you love or hate ebooks is pressurized into it. Agreeing that books are a thing you read is easy enough. But what it means to read, what the experience of reading requires and entails, and what makes it pleasurable or not, is not so easy to pin down.

. . . .

Reading is a relatively useless term. It describes a broad array of literacy practices, ranging from casually scanning social-media posts to perusing magazine articles such as this one to poring over the most difficult technical manuals or the lithest storytelling. You read instructions on elevators, prompts in banking apps, directions on highway signs. Metaphorically, you read situations, people’s faces, the proverbial room. What any individual infers about their hopes and dreams for an e-reader derives from their understanding of reading in the first place. You can’t have books without bookiness.

Bookiness. That’s the word Glenn Fleishman, a technology writer and longtime bookmaker, uses to describe the situation. “It’s the essence that makes someone feel like they’re using a book,” he told me. Like pornography or sandwiches, you know bookiness when you see it. Or feel it? Either way, most people can’t identify what it is in the abstract.

Fleishman and I took a swing at defining bookiness anyway. A book, we decided, is probably composed of bound pages, rather than loose ones. Those pages are probably made from paper, or leaves akin to paper. These pages are likely numerous, and the collection of pages is coherent, forming a totality. The order of that totality matters, but also the form of bound pages allows a reader random access to any page, via flipping and fanning. Books have spreads, made of a left (verso) and right (recto) side. You can look at both at once, and an open book has the topology of a valley, creating a space that you can go inside and be surrounded by, literally and figuratively. Some books are very large, but the ordinary sort is portable and probably handheld. That held object probably has a cover made of a different material from the leaves that compose its pages. A stapled report probably isn’t a book; a coil-bound one with plastic covers might be. A greeting card is probably not a book; neither is the staple-bound manual that came with your air fryer. Are magazines and brochures books? They might be, if we didn’t have special terms for the kind of books they are.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to D for the tip.

Can Salman Rushdie and Substack Revive Serialized Fiction?

From The New Republic:

Salman Rushdie, the Booker Prize–winning novelist, insists that he is not, like so many media members before him, going to Substack—at least not full-time. He won’t be publishing his next book on the newsletter platform. Instead, he’s taken an advance from the company to fool around with “whatever comes into” his head. This will apparently include a serialized novella. “I think that new technology always makes possible new art forms, and I think literature has not found its new form in this digital age,” Rushdie told The Guardian. “Whatever the new thing is that’s going to arise out of this new world, I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”

“People have been talking about the death of the novel, almost since the birth of the novel,” he continued. “But the actual, old fashioned thing, the hardcopy book, is incredibly, mutinously alive. And here I am having another go, I guess, at killing it.”

Rushdie isn’t wrong. The physical book has, somewhat improbably, maintained its supremacy in the digital age. Unlike the DVD or CD, nothing has truly emerged to threaten the analog; the printed page hasn’t yet had to make a “vinyl comeback.” At the same time, the book has hardly adapted to the internet age at all. Whatever the genre, books are simply not at all different than they were a few years ago, and no one seems particularly bothered about it. Not too long ago, there was a brief push to embrace things like QR codes to unlock digital supplementary material, but readers weren’t interested; the Kindle, meanwhile, is dominant among e-readers in large part because it so eerily replicates the feel of reading a physical book.

Yet it’s highly unlikely that Rushdie—or Substack—will plot the novel’s, let alone the book’s, next act. For years, people have been predicting that the internet would radically upend the future of literature, and yet, stubbornly, literature has refused to change. One reason for the book’s continued relevance is that it remains a surprisingly robust and effective piece of technology in its own right—every effort to find its future only ends up reminding everyone about what it already does better than other mediums.

Less than 10 years ago, the consensus within much of the publishing industry was that the physical book was on its way out. Just as Napster had killed the CD and Netflix the DVD, Amazon’s Kindle, unveiled in late 2007, heralded a seismic change for a medium that had held sway for more than 500 years. The book had been slowly falling in the public’s estimation ever since people ran out of a movie theater, in 1896, thinking that a train was going to kill them.

By the late 2000s, the reasoned thinking was that the book was an inferior communication technology, about to be left behind by the startling array of digital entertainment options.

It didn’t seem like such a bad bet: Digital books would soon outpace physical ones. This change would, in turn, bring about a dramatic change in form. Writers were limiting themselves when thinking only in text: Why not explore audio and video? Why not turn the book into an immersive experience? Why not allow readers to interact with the story itself, turning any book into a Choose Your Own Adventure experience?

There were two big problems with this thinking. The first was that what many of these theorists were describing was not, in fact, a book. In many instances, what they were describing was closer to a video game: an experience in which readers guided a narrative with audiovisual dimensions. The oddest thing about reading many fevered imaginings of the future of the novel was that they had been played out in things like Metal Gear Solid. (My own favorite game series, The Witcher, is a rarity in the game world, as it’s based on a series of Polish short stories, suggesting that the literature-to-game pipeline is being curiously underexploited.) There was, moreover, no evidence that readers truly wanted to be overwhelmed by audio and video while reading: Many, in fact, were turning to books precisely to escape the information overload that defines life in the twenty-first century. As Lincoln Michel argued on his Substack, it turns out that people just like books, and print books in particular.

The second error that these media futurists made was overestimating how vulnerable the book was to digital technology. Many people, when they listen to music, like to jump around between artists: The iPod allowed them to do so seamlessly. Movies are consumed in one two-hour period, and most people don’t know what they want to watch before they sit down on the couch, a problem solved by Netflix. But most people read one book at a time—no one was lugging an entire library to the beach. A Kindle can store thousands of books, but who cares? Having an ocean of literature at your fingertips is neat, but it doesn’t change the time-tested user experience of reading in a dramatic way.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Needless to say, PG disagrees about ebooks vs. printed books.

As he’s mentioned before, he will occasionally purchase a printed book for one reason or another, but always regrets it later. Even a single not-very-fat printed book is more trouble for him than an ebook. A 600-800 page printed book is a horror to read.

Happily for the overall welfare of humanity not everybody is like PG.

PG himself would not like to live in a world of other PG’s. He cherishes the amazing variety of people he interacts with and is quite happy that they are different, even much different than he is.

Plus, the idea of a female PG makes him shudder.

Big Business of Library E-Books

From The New Yorker:

teve Potash, the bearded and bespectacled president and C.E.O. of OverDrive, spent the second week of March, 2020, on a business trip to New York City. OverDrive distributes e-books and audiobooks—i.e., “digital content.” In New York, Potash met with two clients: the New York Public Library and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. By then, Potash had already heard what he described to me recently as “heart-wrenching stories” from colleagues in China, about neighborhoods that were shut down owing to the coronavirus. He had an inkling that his business might be in for big changes when, toward the end of the week, on March 13th, the N.Y.P.L. closed down and issued a statement: “The responsible thing to do—and the best way to serve our patrons right now—is to help minimize the spread of covid-19.” The library added, “We will continue to offer access to e-books.”

The sudden shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before.

There are a handful of popular e-book venders, including Bibliotheca, Hoopla, Axis 360, and the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America. But OverDrive is the largest. It is the company behind the popular app Libby, which, as the Apple App Store puts it, “lets you log in to your local library to access ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines, all for the reasonable price of free.” The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools, which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes. As libraries and schools have transitioned to e-books, the company has skyrocketed in value. Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015. Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.” The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”

In the first days of the lockdown, the N.Y.P.L. experienced a spike in downloads, which lengthened the wait times for popular books. In response, it limited readers to three checkouts and three waitlist requests at a time, and it shifted almost all of its multimillion-dollar acquisitions budget to digital content. By the end of March, seventy-four per cent of U.S. libraries were reporting that they had expanded their digital offerings in response to coronavirus-related library closures. During a recent interview over Zoom (another digital service that proliferated during the pandemic), Potash recalled that OverDrive quickly redirected about a hundred employees, who would normally have been at trade shows, “to help support and fortify the increase in demand in digital.” He recalled a fellow-executive telling him, “E-books aren’t just ‘a thing’ now—they’re our only thing.”

Before the pandemic, I had never read an e-book, and didn’t particularly want to. But, during the lockdown, I spent nearly every day wandering my neighborhood in a mask and headphones, listening to audiobooks. I wanted to hear a human voice and feel the passing of time; Libby became a lifeline. As a dual citizen of the Brooklyn Public Library and the N.Y.P.L., I toggled between library cards, in search of the shortest waiting list. I did what previously had been unthinkable and spent a hundred and eighty dollars on a Kobo. I read more books in 2020 than I had in years. I was not the only one; last year, more than a hundred library systems checked out a million or more books each from OverDrive’s catalogue, and the company reported a staggering four hundred and thirty million checkouts, up a third from the year before. (Barnes & Noble, which has more retail locations than any other bookseller in the U.S., has said that it sells about a hundred and fifty-five million print books a year.) The burst in digital borrowing has helped many readers, but it has also accelerated an unsettling trend. Books, like music and movies and TV shows, are increasingly something that libraries and readers do not own but, rather, access temporarily, from corporations that do.

. . . .

In the two-thousands, OverDrive helped publishers set up online stores and sold e-books directly to consumers through its own marketplace. The company also persuaded a few presses to license their e-books to libraries. At the time, the six largest publishers tended to sell their goods through online retailers, such as Amazon, which released its e-reader, the Kindle, in 2007. But, gradually, the Big Six began to sell digital rights to libraries under a “one copy, one user” model. As soon as one reader returned an e-book, a second reader could check it out, and so on, with no expiration date. “At the beginning, we were really trying to replicate what happens on the print-book side,” a publishing executive told me. Digital books, which could in theory be duplicated for free by any librarian with a computer, would still have waiting lists.

“We then saw the first wrinkle in one copy, one user,” Potash said. In 2011, HarperCollins introduced a new lending model that was capped at twenty-six checkouts, after which a library would need to purchase the book again. Publishers soon introduced other variations, from two-year licenses to copies that multiple readers could use at one time, which boosted their revenue and allowed libraries to buy different kinds of books in different ways. For a classic work, which readers were likely to check out steadily for years to come, a library might purchase a handful of expensive perpetual licenses. With a flashy best-seller, which could be expected to lose steam over time, the library might buy a large number of cheaper licenses that would expire relatively quickly. During nationwide racial-justice protests in the summer of 2020, the N.Y.P.L. licensed books about Black liberation under a pay-per-use model, which gave all library users access to the books without any waiting list; such licenses are too expensive to be used for an entire collection, but they can accommodate surges in demand. “At the time of its launch, the twenty-six-circulation model was a lightning rod,” Josh Marwell, the president of sales at HarperCollins, told me. “But, over time, the feedback we have gotten from librarians is that our model is fair and works well with their mission to provide library patrons with the books they want to read.”

. . . .

Libraries now pay OverDrive and its peers for a wide range of digital services, from negotiating prices with publishers to managing an increasingly complex system of digital rights. During our video call, Potash showed me OverDrive’s e-book marketplace for librarians, which can sort titles by price, popularity, release date, language, topic, license type, and more. About fifty librarians work for OverDrive, Potash said, and “each week they curate the best ways each community can maximize their taxpayers’ dollar.” The company offers rotating discounts and generates statistics that public libraries can use to project their future budgets. When I noted that OverDrive’s portal looked a bit like Amazon.com, Potash didn’t respond. Later, he said, with a touch of pride, “This is like coming into the front door of Costco.”

Alan Inouye, the senior public-policy director at the American Library Association, told me that consolidation could reduce competition and potentially drive the cost of library e-books even higher. “OverDrive is already a very large presence in the market,” he said. The company’s private-equity owner, K.K.R., also owns a major audiobook producer, RBMedia, which sold its digital library assets to OverDrive last year. But, Inouye added, OverDrive’s influence is an important counterweight to the largest publishers and to Amazon, which dominates the consumer e-book market and operates as a publisher in its own right. (Amazon did not make its own e-books available to libraries until May, when it announced a deal with the Digital Public Library of America.) When I asked Potash about the concern that consolidation could also give OverDrive too much influence over the market, he called that “a far-fetched conspiracy theory.” He cited the company’s track record of advocating for libraries, adding, “I’m a big fan of free-market capitalism.”

To illustrate the economics of e-book lending, the N.Y.P.L. sent me its January, 2021, figures for “A Promised Land,” the memoir by Barack Obama that had been published a few months earlier by Penguin Random House. At that point, the library system had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512. Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book, which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy. As of August, 2021, the library has spent less than ten thousand dollars on two hundred and twenty-six copies of the hardcover edition, which has a list price of forty-five dollars but sells for $23.23 on Amazon. A few thousand people had checked out digital copies in the book’s first three months, and thousands more were on the waiting list. (Several librarians told me that they monitor hold requests, including for books that have not yet been released, to decide how many licenses to acquire.)

The high prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run, according to several librarians and advocates I spoke to—libraries, venders, and publishers will probably need to negotiate a new way forward. “It’s not a good system,” Inouye said. “There needs to be some kind of change in the law, to reinstate public rights that we have for analog materials.” Maria Bustillos, a founding editor of the publishing coöperative Brick House, argued recently in The Nation that libraries should pay just once for each copy of an e-book. “The point of a library is to preserve, and in order to preserve, a library must own,” Bustillos wrote. When I asked Potash about libraries and their growing digital budgets, he argued that “digital will always be better value,” but he acknowledged that, if current trends continue, “Yes, there is a challenge.”

Readers of the future are likely to want even more digital content, but it may not look the same as it does now. Audible, which is owned by Amazon, has already made listening to books more like streaming, with subscribers gaining access to a shifting catalogue of audiobooks that they do not need to buy separately. “We have moved away from owning, to accessing,” Mirela Roncevic, a longtime publishing and library consultant, told me. Maybe readers will expect books to feel more like Web sites, and an infinite scroll will replace the turn of the page, as it has in the digital magazine you are reading now. Perhaps readers will want images and videos to be woven seamlessly into the text, requiring a new format. The e-book as we know it “will not last,” Roncevic insisted. Lending libraries were once an innovation that helped spread literacy and popularize books. Roncevic wants libraries to continue innovating—for example, by experimenting with new formats and license models in partnership with independent or international publishers. “Libraries have more power than they sometimes realize,” she told me.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Most people prefer reading paper books over digital books on tablets, phones

From Study Finds:

Digital books on tablets, smartphones, and devices like Amazon’s Kindle are certainly convenient, but according to a new survey most people still prefer a good old fashioned paper book. There’s just something satisfying about turning the page and holding a physical book in one’s hands, as over two-thirds of adults say they always opt for a real book over digital reading.

Put together by Oxfam, researcher polled 2,000 respondents in the United Kingdom regarding their thoughts on paper books versus digital books. Close to half (46%) enjoy physically turning pages and 42 percent prefer the feel of a physical book in their hands. One in four say they love the smell of paper books. Meanwhile, another 32 percent feel like they become much more immersed in the story while reading a paper book and 16 percent go for traditional books because they remind them of libraries.

. . . .

Interestingly, over a third of respondents (35%) enjoy buying paper books because that allows them to proudly display them on their bookshelf as a background during Zoom meetings.

All in all, only 16 percent of adults prefer digital books and a meager eight percent who favor audio books. On average, the survey finds most adults own 49 books and read for three hours per week.

“People prefer to read physical books because they offer something more tangible and grounded. There’s something that can feel more “permanent” about real books over digital formats,” says Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, in a statement. “Reading offers us a form of escapism. It provides us with a break from our everyday lives, and often also, an opportunity to learn something new and expand our minds.”

. . . .

Three-quarters say they’re considering donating books they’ve finished and 72 percent usually buy used books themselves. Moreover, this research suggests that books are the top item most adults are willing to buy used. Seventy-one percent say they buy used books because it is cheaper and 52 percent do it because it is better for the environment.

Link to the rest at Study Finds

Bookshop.org Continues to See Strong Sales

From Publishers Weekly:

Online bookseller Bookshop.org is on track this month to surpass $15 million returned to independent bookstores since the company began in 2019. That figure is in addition to the $250,000 it donated to Binc’s “Survive to Thrive” campaign. “It is a milestone we are anticipating surpassing by the end of July,” Andy Hunter, CEO of Bookshop.org, said.

Sales have reached $29 million this year, including tax and shipping, and are up 17% for the first half of 2021 compared with 2020. That increase comes despite an expected decline in sales compared to a year ago since April, when most bookstores around the country began to reopen form normal business. In the April-June period, sales were down 20% from the comparable time in 2020, less than the 30% drop that Hunter had been expecting. “Last year, June was very busy for us, particularly with the huge sales of antiracist books with the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the country. This year is more like a normal June.”

The site currently hosts 1,100 bookstores, with 400 using Bookshop exclusively for their e-commerce and another 700 that use it in addition to their own e-commerce solutions. Notably, among the top 10 highest earning bookstore sites on Bookshop, six are Black-owned bookstores, Hunter said. Of the sites top-selling books, several are multicultural and diverse titles, including How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith (Little, Brown), Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford (Flatiron), Yoke by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman), and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (Knopf), The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris(Atria) and Long Division by Kiese Laymon (Scribner).

“Our bestseller list does not look like the typical list,” Hunter said. “It reflects the diversity and iconoclastic nature of the community we serve.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

How to Develop a Marketing and Promotion Plan as an Indie Author

From Jane Friedman:

I’m going to be honest, my initial foray into researching self-pub author publication and marketing threw me into a tailspin of information overload. There are so many paths and options to choose—but that’s the whole beauty of self-publishing, isn’t it? The following article was born of several author acquaintances asking me what paths and options I chose to launch my debut historical novel, Discerning Grace.

Before You Begin

Join the Facebook group called Wide for the Win.

No, seriously. Stop reading and go join them. It’s a brilliant free resource.

Even if you hate Facebook or don’t use it that much, you really should hop back on there just for this group. They really are that good! They share a boatload of intimate strategies about self-publishing. Search the Tree of Knowledge first. Readeverything there before you even think about asking questions on the main feed.

If the Tree of Knowledge is too tricky to navigate—it’s huge with zillions of threads and conversations—you can always buy the Wide for the Win ebook. It’s the brain child of Mark Leslie Lefebvre (from Draft2Digital) and Erin Wright (head honcho of Wide for the Win Facebook group). The information is much more structured and easier to navigate.

Setting Goals

I had to decide what I wanted from the first six months of my authoring journey: to be in the best-seller charts, to have thousands of downloads on a freebie, to garner early reviews, to grow my newsletter subscribers, or to roll in money like Scrooge McDuck?

I’ve picked two early goals: garner early reviews and grow newsletter subscribers.

My first-year goals

  1. Publish Discerning Grace (Book 1) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)
  2. Get as many reviews for Discerning Grace (Book 1) as possible, on all storefronts
  3. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  4. Publish Grace on the Horizon (Book 2) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)

See how I don’t even mention $$$ or sales numbers in this first year? That’s not my goal (yet).

My second-year goals

  1. Publish Grace Arising (Book 3) in all formats
  2. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  3. Run a BookBub 99c promo with Discerning Grace (Book 1) with the idea of achieving sell-through to Book 2 and Book 3
  4. Publish the trilogy box set (all 3 books in one)
  5. Run another BookBub promo on the box set
  6. Test paid advertising on Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub

Only after I’ve achieved these goals am I going to worry about money and sales numbers or paying for advertising. And only then will I work my strategies to grow these numbers into something that makes me a living (that’s a whole different topic for a different article—and for when I’ve crossed that bridge).

Now that I’ve laid out my goals, I’m going to stick to them. Of all the research I’ve read, it seems that most indie author careers only take off after 5 to 7 books. With only my first trilogy planned, I have a loooooong way to go, but having this knowledge also prevents self-flagellation in these early days. I’m running a marathon here, not a sprint.

Important: I Chose to Publish Wide

I am publishing wide, which means I am not prioritizing Amazon as an exclusive publishing platform over any other storefront. It just so happens to be one of my storefronts where my books are available. Here are the distributors I’m using.

  1. Ebooks: distributed through Draft2Digital(which distributes to Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, plus loads of other smaller international online storefronts, as well as libraries).
  2. Paperbacks: printed and distributed through IngramSpark (which distributes to Amazon storefronts in many countries, Barnes & Noble, plus smaller international online storefronts, and libraries).
  3. Audiobooks: produced and distributed through Findaway Voices linked to my Draft2Digital account but is a separate company (which distributes to all the same storefronts and libraries as Draft2Digital that also accept audiobooks, plus a few extra)
  4. Google Play: I’m only direct with this storefront because Draft2Digital doesn’t distribute to them

Some may think I’m nuts for not publishing directly to Amazon because Draft2Digital will take an additional 10% of my royalties (as it does from other retailers too), but the way I see it is if I was prepared to let an agent and a traditional publisher do the legwork, I would have been sharing a boatload more in commission. So, I personally don’t have an issue with giving Draft2Digital their dues for uploading to all the storefronts on my behalf.

I chose this route because self-publishing requires learning a lot (no, seriously, A LOT!) of new technology. My brain could only handle learning the dashboards of these four publishing/distribution companies to start with (preserving my time and sanity).

I was also cracking under the pressure of just THINKING about fixing a launch date with so many unknown variables ahead of me. So, I decided on a soft launch to take the pressure off myself. It’s for this same reason that I didn’t set up pre-orders and don’t ever plan on using them. I’ve seen too many tears from authors when it goes wrong. I’m not comfortable adding a potential problem to my plate.

Also, you know the saying, ‘Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’? Using different publishing platforms ensures that if one company goes belly-up (or even has technical glitches), my books will remain in circulation in the other formats.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

As regular visitors to TPV know, PG is a big fan of Amazon.

He is also a big fan of Draft2Digital (disclosure – he provided D2D with legal services early during the company’s life).

In PG’s transcendentally humble opinion, D2D has a better platform for formatting an ebook than KDP provides. Mrs. PG has some books that are exclusive on Amazon (for the higher royalty rates) and others that are published on Amazon directly and on other platforms via D2D, so he’s familiar with the ebook formatting/publishing and sales reporting systems of both organizations.

With the vast technical resources of Amazon, one might think that Kindle Direct Publishing would have a sophisticated and flexible publishing platform for indie authors.

That ain’t so.

In PG’s observation, very few of the visible parts of the KDP publishing platform have been changed or updated in years and years and years. The publishing interface is clunky and has only become sort-of intuitive because PG has used it so frequently.

The KDP sales reports are also kindergarten stuff. They might have been impressive so some fifteen years ago.

There is a KDP Reports Beta that has been in “Beta” for months and months. KDP Reports Perma-Beta would be PG’s suggestion for a more-accurate title.

The Beta is an improvement, but still pretty pedestrian in its capabilities. Anybody who was reasonably competent in Excel could put together a more useful sales analysis spreadsheet and related graphs in a day or two.

Perhaps PG missed it on KDP, but he didn’t see one of the more common features present on a lot of other reporting websites – Export to Excel. Everybody has a Click to Download to Excel button.

D2D has Click to Download a whole bunch of information about sales:

  • Royalty Statements
  • Ebook Sales Reports
  • Print Sales Reports
  • Tax Form Downloads
  • An Account Ledger which appears to go back to the beginning of time for any author doing business with D2D.

To the best of his knowledge, the only KDP data you can export to Excel is information from the KDP Quality Notifications Dashboard – something of interest to Amazon folks who probably get dinged by their bosses if a single typo exists the appendix of more than three KDP books.

For the record, PG says you should try to avoid typos in your ebooks and fix those which anybody finds, but compared to detailed and timely sales information for indie authors, an Excel spreadsheet with comprehensive sales data is far more important.

And whatever information that allows an indie author to sell more books, to see what promotion strategies do and don’t work to goose downloads, should be of interest to KDP as well because more information lets smart authors figure out how to sell more books.

One additional point – The Kindle Create ebook formatting tool provided by KDP offers only ugly and generic design themes for ebooks. Yes, you can read them, but the resulting ebooks definitely have a generic, computer-generated look.

Draft2Digital has far more sophisticated ebook formatting tools than KDP offers. The resulting ebooks convey quality in the way they look in addition to the words they contain.

Therefore:

Amazon KDP – Wake Up! It’s 2021! If anybody from the Mother Ship notices what you’re doing, they won’t like what they see!

Draft2Digital – Keep on doing a Great Job! You can continue to be smarter and faster than The Zon!

Kindle Vella: Return of the Serial

From Indies Unlimited:

Amazon, never content to rest on its laurels, has announced a new avenue for storytelling: Kindle Vella. Many writers have already discovered the lure of publishing a serial, a short episode or a chapter at a time. Hugh Howey’s Wool, if you remember, started as a short story, then he expanded on the series little by little. It was already wildly popular before he accepted a six-figure deal with Simon & Schuster.

We’ve all seen how some series, either books or movies or both, can garner a large following. If we’ve got a captivating story line with complex characters interacting in interesting and surprising ways, our readers want to know what happens next. And while some of us might go months, even years between books — possibly losing readers during the hiatus — a series of short chapters released relatively quickly can keep those readers engaged and wanting more.

Okay, so how does it work?

First of all, Kindle Vella will only be available to US-based authors writing in the English language; our counterparts in other countries will have to wait to see if it gets expanded. Readers will be able to access it on the Kindle iOS app and on Amazon.com. The program is not operational yet, but should be by mid-July, according to Amazon. Even so, authors can submit their work prior to the launch, and their stories will go live as soon as the program does. If you’d rather wait until the program is fully operational, you can publish your work with a scheduled release date.

Amazon suggests publishing your series as one 600-5,000 word episode at a time, and also recommends publishing the first few episodes quickly so readers can dive right into the story. There will be a Kindle Vella store where your stories are marketed, and readers will pay by buying Tokens that unlock the episodes. The first few episodes of any series will be free, but then the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode will be determined by word count: one Token per 100 words. Authors will receive 50% royalties on the amount readers spend on Tokens.

In order to keep the Kindle Vella experience unique, authors may not publish the same content as a book. If, at the end of the series, you do decide to format it as a book, you must unpublish it from the Kindle Vella library. Likewise, you cannot break down a previously published book into episodes for Kindle Vella. If your work is a continuation of a previously published book, you may, however, include up to 5,000 words from that prior book in your first episode to set the stage. Content that is freely available in the public domain or online is not eligible for Kindle Vella.

Amazon is also introducing some new features that will allow readers to interact with your story in ways similar to social media. Readers can follow authors and sign up to be notified as soon as new episodes are released, and they can give episodes they particularly like a thumbs up. They will be able to assign a Fave every week to the story they enjoyed the most, and the stories with the most Faves will be featured in the Kindle Vella store. 

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

Three Crucial Changes to the Book Publishing Industry

From Writers Digest:

The new book Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing documents in detail the changes in the book publishing industry in recent years. Author John B. Thompson gives a glimpse of three crucial changes.

When I set out, around 10 years ago, to study the impact of the digital revolution on the world of books, there was a great deal of uncertainty—and, in some quarters, considerable apprehension—about what might happen when digitization took hold in the oldest of our media industries. Many people in publishing were looking over their shoulders anxiously at what had happened in the music industry and thinking: This could happen to us too. The print-on-paper book could suffer the same fate as the vinyl LP—why not? The textual content of books could be digitized just as easily as music could, and the physical book could be swept aside by cheaper and more efficient forms of content delivery. Like the vinyl LP, the old-fashioned print-on-paper book could become a collector’s item, still cherished by the aficionado but banished to the margins of the industry.

In the years immediately following the launch of the Kindle in 2007, it looked to many like the physical book could indeed suffer the same fate as the vinyl LP, as e-book sales surged. But it soon became clear that the e-book surge was going to be short-lived: By 2012, the rapid growth of e-books had come to an abrupt halt. For some kinds of books, especially genre fiction like romance, mystery, and sci-fi, e-books were by then accounting for a sizable proportion of sales—as much as 40–50 percent. But in other genres, like nonfiction and children’s books, e-books represented a much smaller percentage of sales, and that percentage was either leveling off or declining. If the digital revolution in publishing was about e-books, then it seemed that this was, at best, a stalled revolution. In any case, it certainly didn’t look like a re-run of what had happened in the music industry.

However, the digital revolution in publishing was never only, or even primarily, about e-books: E-books were just one aspect of a much more complex and varied series of transformations that were disrupting the publishing world. In Book Wars, I take the reader on a journey through the decades of disruption that began around 2000 and continues unabated today, a period that has witnessed an enormous proliferation of new ventures and initiatives which, taken together, have radically altered the landscape of contemporary publishing. The world of books today looks very different from the way it looked 30 or 40 years ago. Among the many changes, three stand out as particularly significant.

. . . .

1. Amazon Online Retail

First was the rise of Amazon and the transformation of the retail side of the book business. Amazon was a child of the digital revolution—it wouldn’t have existed without digitization and the internet. In an astonishingly short time period, Amazon grew from its humble origins as a small tech startup in a Seattle garage to become the most powerful organization the world of books had ever known. Today, Amazon accounts for around 45 percent of all print book sales in the US and more than 75 percent of all e-book sales, and for many publishers, around half—in some cases, more—of their sales are accounted for by a single customer, Amazon. Never before in the 500-year history of book publishing has there been a retailer with this kind of market share, and with market share comes power, including the power to negotiate favorable terms with suppliers and to command the attention of readers. It’s hard to over-state the significance of this development: Its consequences are profound, not only for publishers and for other booksellers who struggle to compete with Amazon but also for the whole ecology of the publishing world, including the ways in which books are made visible to readers and discovered by them.

. . . .

2. Self-Publishing Boom

A second enormous change has been the explosion of self-publishing. Of course, self-publishing is not new: It can be traced back to the so-called vanity presses that emerged in the early and mid-twentieth century. But the new age of self-publishing that was ushered in by the digital revolution is very different from the old vanity presses. The key idea that underpins this new age is the idea that authors who want to self-publish their work should not have to pay for the privilege, and the organizations that facilitate self-publishing should not be making money by charging fees to authors. On the contrary, self-publishing organizations or platforms should be there to help authors publish their work, and these platforms would pay authors if and when their work sells, taking a commission on sales to cover their costs. It was this simple but fundamental idea, turning on its head the relationship between author and self-publishing organization, that underpinned the explosion in self-publishing that occurred from the early 2000s on, starting with pioneering organizations like Lulu and Smashwords and continuing through the establishment of Amazon’s self-publishing platforms, CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, and including many other platforms and services. The world of self-publishing is now an enormously complicated world in its own right—a parallel universe that exists alongside the world of traditional publishing and that has grown enormously in recent years. Quite apart from the sheer volume of self-publishing output, the growth of this sector has altered the traditional power structures of the publishing world. The established publishers and agents who have long acted as gatekeepers in the publishing world, deciding which authors and projects should be published and on what terms, could now be bypassed by following entirely new pathways to publication that had been opened up by the digital revolution. Of course, publishing a book is one thing, getting people to notice and buy it is quite another, and traditional publishers continue to have much more marketing and sales clout than most self-published authors. But there are many indie authors who have managed to earn appreciable amounts of money from their writing, even if the commercially successful indie authors still represent a tiny fraction of the total. Apart from the financial rewards, the growth of self-publishing has massively increased the range of options available to writers, creating a more varied publishing environment in which authors can move back and forth between traditional publishing and self-publishing, depending on what they want to achieve and the options available to them at the time.

. . . .

3. Reader-Centric Business Model

The third change is in many ways the most fundamental: the digital revolution transformed the broader information and communication environment within which publishing existed, thereby creating both the necessity and the opportunity for publishers to adapt to a new and rapidly changing world of information and communication flows. For centuries, publishers had thought of themselves primarily as B2B businesses: They produced books and sold them to intermediaries in the book supply chain—to retailers and wholesalers. Publishers didn’t have a direct relationship with readers and they didn’t know much about them: The job of dealing with readers was left to the booksellers. But this traditional model of the publishing business was radically disrupted by the digital revolution. As competition from Amazon led to more and more bookstore closures, publishers realized that they could no longer count on physical bookstore to do what intermediaries in the traditional book supply chain had always done: make books visible and available to readers. They realized that they had to jettison the old model of the publisher as a bookseller-focused business and become more reader-centric: in other words, they had to re-orient their businesses in such a way that readers were not an afterthought but rather a central focus of their concern. And just as the digital revolution forced this shift upon publishers, it also made available to them a variety of new tools with which they could build direct channels of communication with readers and do so at scale. It is this fundamental shift in publishers’ self-understanding that is likely to be one of the most significant consequences of the digital revolution in publishing, one that will continue to play itself out in the years to come. 

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

Colombia’s pandemic-driven online book sales boom

From The New Publishing Standard:

Chile-based online bookstore Buscalibre saw a 196% increase in sales in 2020, rising from 270,000 to over 800,000 units shifted, as lockdown closed bricks & mortar bookstores.

Three months after the pandemic began, reported La Republica,

Penguin Random House registered an increase in the sales of the book El amor en los tiempo del cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez, in physical and digital version, growing 183% in Spanish and 621% in English.

Of course that does not mean the English-language version outsold the Spanish version by three to one (percentages in the book trade are never that straight forward), but it is indicative of the boom in online sales experienced by the twelve year old company, now also operating in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Spain and the USA. Juan José Daza, Buscalibre country manager for Colombia, Mexico and Peru, told La Republica that sales in Colombia are expected to be up 20%, from 100,000 to 120,000 units per month.

While the Colombian Book Chamber reported an overall fall of 30% in book sales last year as regular book channels were locked down, 15 regional book fairs that normally pull in large in-person crowds went virtual.

Colombia’s flagship Fil Bogota event was the first major pandemic-induced book fair cancellation of 2020 in Latin America, as early as March. In 2019 Fil Bogota, or FilBo, attracted over 600,000 visitors.

But between July and November the Colombia book trade got its act together and the virtual book fairs pulled in a total of 2.1 million visitors.

No word on how many sales that may have driven, but the shift to online consumer engagement with books is clear, leaving the big question how much that might be reversed as the pandemic’s impact subsides.

Some are optimistic. Take Esteban Restrepo, Natalia Osorio and Alejandro Rubiano, co-founders of the “new” (2019) Colombian online bookstore Bukz, which from a user base of currently 8,000 expects to shift 50,000 books before the end of this year, and is targeting annual sales of 250,000 valued at US$2.7 million by 2025.

. . . .

Digital books have also shown growth, of course, but estimates are they still represent only around 5% of the Colombia book market right now.

Does that mean print is still king? Of course, but what really matters is how consumers will respond as more and more digital options become available and the print and digital choices are comparable. Those 2.1 million online book fair visitors, and the boom in online sales of print books, make clear Colombians are comfortable shopping online.

All it needs now is a serious digital books player to enter the market, but right now there’s no Kindle store here, Apple and Kobo are only notionally present, and local players struggle to find adequate content at appropriate prices.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Paper beats pixels on most picture books, research finds

From The Hechinger Report:

Digital picture books have been a godsend during the pandemic. With libraries shuttered and bookstores a nonessential trip, many parents have downloaded book after book on tablets and smartphones to keep their little ones reading. The technology allowed my daughter to read the Berenstain Bears, a classic picture book series, to a younger cousin over Zoom when a family trip was canceled. Despite my wistful sentiments for paper and colored ink, I marveled at the bond that could be sustained over screens and pixels. 

But when the pandemic is over, many parents will face a dilemma. Should they revert back to print or stick with e-books? Do kids absorb and learn to read more from one format versus the other?

A new analysis of all the research on digital picture books, published in March 2021, helps to answer this question. The answer isn’t clear cut: paper generally has an edge over digital but there are exceptions. Digital books can be a better option with nonfiction texts and for building vocabulary. Some digital storybooks were better; researchers found that certain types of story-related extras seemed to boost a child’s comprehension but they were rare. 

In large part, the research on digital picture books for children echoes what we’ve seen in studies of e-books for adults. Reading comprehension is superior on paper but the benefit of paper appears to be stronger for adults and smaller for children. Scholars think the reasons behind the brain’s preference for paper may be different for the two groups. In the case of adults, it may be a lack of effort that we’re putting into reading on screens. In the case of children, it may be that many of the bells and whistles that are commonly added to digital picture books — buttons to click on, pop ups, games and sounds — are distracting.

Digital picture books have been around since the 1980s but there’s surprisingly little research that directly compares how much young children absorb in digital and in print and measures learning in a reliable way.

. . . .

Children up to age eight were included in the studies. Some were old enough to read independently but listened to an audio narration of a digital book with headphones. In a study of the youngest children, under two years old, parents held their children in their laps for both formats. In the digital version, a recorded voice read a book about animals aloud as a parent tapped the screen to turn the digital pages. In the print format, the child heard her own parent’s voice reading the names of the animals that were pictured on the pages, such as a horse or a koala.

By chance, this toddler study showed stronger learning outcomes for the digital picture book. Gabrielle Strouse, an educational psychologist at the University of South Dakota who ran this experiment, told me many of the children in her study had never seen a digital book and the novelty of it may have been mesmerizing, causing the children to pay more attention.

In most of the other studies, children were able to navigate the digital books themselves. Sometimes the digital texts were static just like the printed page. Other times, the text moved or changed to a bold font as the child heard the words.

Children were attracted to the many types of interactive buttons, pop ups and games that are embedded in digital books. A tap in the right place might play a noise. Children could seek treasures hidden on the screen. A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood might ask the child to color the character in with a virtual paintbrush or drag the character to perform an action. “It’s fun and enjoyable but it has nothing to do with the story,” said Natalia Kucirkova, a professor of early childhood development at the University of Stavanger in Norway.

Kucirkova, one of the authors of the March 2021 picture book meta-analysis, explained that her team wanted to learn which digital enhancements were working and which weren’t. They categorized all the add-ons as either story related or not story related. They found that the more unrelated bells and whistles, the worse a child’s comprehension was after reading the digital version of the story, compared to the print version.

Kucirkova believes that many digital books are overstimulating children and the unrelated add-ons are overtaxing a child’s “cognitive load.”

“With digital books, children get a lot of stimulation from the different senses,” Kucirkova explained, as they take in letters and pictures with their eyes, sounds with their ears and tap the screen with their fingers. “The amount of information that an individual needs to process is bigger if you have a lot of stimulation. The feedback they get from the digital device overwhelms children.”

By contrast, the researchers found that story-related enhancements reinforced the narrative and improved comprehension. Repetition of new vocabulary words that were central to the story helped. One book prompted children to use the story characters in the digital book to build their own story. “Those creativity games are very conducive to story recall,” said Kucirkova.

Another digital book asked the child to share the story with someone else. Other effective digital prompts were directed at a parent, telling her or him what to point out or ask while reading a digital book with a child. In a book about a little frog, a parent could point and ask a question, “Could the frog be here?” simultaneously connecting with the child and the story line. In other words, actively reading a digital version of a picture book with your child is good for comprehension.

“Even small digital enhancements actually make a lot of difference both ways, they can work well, or they can distract the child,” said Kucirkova.

. . . .

Indeed, when the authors looked at the books in the 39 studies by genre, the digital version was generally better for nonfiction, where there often isn’t a narrative story line to follow. Fiction, by contrast, was generally better on paper.  

I talked with Virginia Clinton-Lisell, a reading specialist at the University of North Dakota who has studied digital books. She pointed out that the slight harm to reading comprehension may be worth it if the digital books are so engaging that your child reads more books. None of these 39 studies looked at whether children read more when they had access to digital books. 

“A parent shouldn’t be overly concerned about a small difference in comprehension for a particular book,” said Clinton-Lisell. “Bottom line, if it’s a digital book that gets your kid to read, that’s great.”

Link to the rest at The Hechinger Report

PG notes that the title of the OP doesn’t take some of the material in the OP into consideration.

Additionally, he will note that the technology and design of modern printed books has been honed and improved for hundreds of years, generally speaking to maximize commercial success (which is not a bad thing at all). Most children’s ebooks with which PG is familiar are adapted from printed books as opposed to being born digital.

The iPad was introduced 11 years ago. The first Kindle was introduced 14 years ago. If you were to pick up the latest iPad or the latest Kindle and compare it to the first version, PG suggests that the first version would seem very outdated. Screen technology, interface design, size and weight have all evolved at a very rapid pace. That evolution is far from over.

As the OP implies, publishers of ebooks for children are all over the place with the technology they build into their content. PG would remind one and all that the trade publishers of books for children are, by and large, owned by the same people who own and run trade publishers focused on adults. Scholastic is the exception with both trade titles (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Goosebumps, Magic School Bus) and titles marketed through school book clubs, book fairs, etc.

PG can’t speak to Scholastic (also headquartered in New York City), but the other big trade publishers are not noted for their technology accomplishments and willingness to pay the salaries necessary to hire really good tech types.

PG’s bottom line on ebooks v. print for children is that the ebooks, including both the content and the device components, are a long way from reaching their full potential. He has nothing against printed books for either children or adults (and still owns a lot of printed books for children and adults, some of which are regularly used by various offspring), but he wouldn’t bet against ebooks for children over the long run.

Book sales are up, but bookstores are struggling. It matters where you shop.

An Opinion Piece from The Chicago Tribune:

Two striking statistics recently reported by Publishers Weekly:

  • Print book sales rose 8.2% in 2020 versus 2019, according to NPD BookScan.
  • Bookstore sales fell 28.3% in 2020 versus 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The year-to-year increase in book sales was the largest since 2010, and was led by demand for books to keep children occupied during the period of remote schooling. Juvenile nonfiction was up by 23%, young-adult nonfiction by 38%. But adult books were up as well. By every measure, more books were sold in 2020 than in 2019.

Those gains aren’t reflected in bookstore sales, though, as pandemic-related closures and restrictions kept us away. The worst months for bookstores were April and May, the leading edge of the lockdowns, but even as restrictions loosened, sales remained 20% or so below previous year levels.

. . . .

I want to suggest that books are not merely a consumer product. Instead, I’d like us to consider books as part of a larger ecosystem, which includes writers, publishers, booksellers and readers, and that good books depend on all parts of the ecosystem being healthy. As such, we cannot be indifferent about where we buy them.

Bookstores are a key component in making sure there is an interesting variety of books that connect with readers of differing stripes. If we lose bookstores, we will lose the places where word-of-mouth hits are born. We will lose the places where we may discover something we’d never heard of, simply because we brush past it on a table. We will lose one of the important congregating places where people who value books come together in fellowship. We will lose the place we might stop in after brunch on a beautiful afternoon when we need to walk off a meal and aren’t ready to go home yet.

We will lose booksellers, the people who tend to book system the same way a gardener works the greenhouse.

. . . .

Right now, with publishing and books, we could be at peak variety. The somewhat worrisome consolidation in corporate publishing is being offset with a greater thirst for diverse voices and books, not to mention the continuing growth of scrappy independent publishers.

But if we narrow the channels through which books are sold, we will also narrow the kinds and varieties of books that will be sold. Books will still sell, because just like apples, you have to have books, but we will be missing something if we lose that variety.

It is fantastic news that book sales have weathered the pandemic — better news than we could have hoped for — but to revivify the ecosystem as a whole will require us to examine our patterns of purchase. We need to make intentional choices about where we shop to seed the return of bookstores.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

PG suggests that this is one of the weaker special-favor pleas for traditional bookstores that he recalls reading during the past few months.

The very best place to find diverse voices and for diverse voices to flourish is online.

What about costs for readers of varying income levels?

Ebooks are usually less expensive than printed books. They certainly cost less to manufacture, transport and warehouse.

What about environmental impact? P-books v. E-books = No Comparison.

Ebooks win production, transportation and disposal/recycling hands-down.

Available inventory to allow a customer to buy the book they really want?

Every physical bookstore in constrained in exactly the same manner – it has only so many linear feet of shelf space.

That shelf space must be used to sell books. The fewer copies a book is expected to sell, the less shelf space it will be allocated by the operator of the store.

As a general proposition, having several copies of a given book on the shelf is more likely to catch the eye of a browser than having only a single copy of a book. Several copies on the shelf also means that if someone buys a copy, there are still other copies available to be sold. An employee doesn’t have to immediately recognize that a single book has been sold, then restock the shelf in order for a book to be effectively on sale for customers.

Limited size = limited inventory. Limited inventory = more white-bread, mass market books.

Like many others, PG has enjoyed exploring megabookstores like Blackwells in Oxford, Powell’s in Portland and The Strand in New York. However, giant bookstores are a dying breed. See, for example, Barnes & Noble. And even a giant bookstore has a limit to the number of books it can stock.

Plus, absent a lot of free browsing time, a customer’s discovery experience in a physical bookstore, large or small, can be less than ideal. If you like to wile away the afternoon looking for a good read, go physical. If you prefer to wile away your afternoon actually reading a good book, go online.

Back to inventory, online bookstores can and do stock a much wider variety of books than a physical store. Do you want to allow an author who is a member of an under-represented group in the book business a chance – online is your solution. Would you like to encourage Navajo voices to share their experiences and views with a larger audience off the reservation? Online, baby.

Plus a good online bookstore (like Amazon) makes it much easier for most prospective purchasers to locate a book they will like than Powell’s, even though PG has experienced excellent (for a physical bookstore) customer service in Portland.

There are simply far more methods of locating a desirable book online than there are in a physical bookstore and a much better likelihood of finding a book you will love online.

As one example, one word: Reviews.

Yes, some online book reviews are unreliable, but so are book reviews in newspapers and magazines. At least online, you are much more likely to be able to read more than one review by a single person, reflecting that single person’s class, education, preferences and biases.

Plus, on Amazon, in addition to seeing which books people are buying, Amazon Charts lets you see which books people are actually reading.

Hint for those purchasing gifts, particularly for young adults and children: Seven of the top Ten Most-Read Fiction Books when PG wrote this post were written by J.K. Rowling. The list of Most-Sold Fiction Books was much different.

Comparing the Top Ten Most-Read and Most-Sold Fiction Books, PG noted only two books that were on both lists:

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

and

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Does anyone working in a Barnes & Noble store at minimum wage (or the equivalent of minimum wage for a wealthier community) have that knowledge?

As they say in movies and on TV (but not that often in the courtroom) PG rests his case.

Know thy reader

From The Bookseller:

With the levelling off of e-book sales, many have begun to wonder whether the book publishing industry will be spared the kinds of disruption experienced by other sectors of the media industries. But the digital transformation of the book publishing industry was never fundamentally about e-books anyway: e-books turned out to be just another format by which publishers could deliver their content to readers, not the game-changer that many thought (or feared) it would be. The big question that the digital revolution posed to book publishers is just as pressing today as it was a decade ago: it’s the question of how publishers understand who their ‘customers’ are, and how they relate to and interact with them. 

For most of the 500-year history of the book publishing industry, publishers understood their customers to be retailers: publishers were a B2B business, selling books to retailers, and they knew very little about the ultimate customers of their books, the readers. The digital revolution has forced publishers to think again about this model and to consider whether there might be something to be gained by becoming more reader-centric. This fundamental shift in publishers’ self-understanding is likely to be one of the most significant and enduring consequences of the digital revolution in publishing. 

But how does a publisher actually become more reader-centric? Over the last decade or so, many publishers have come to realize that one of the most effective ways to make their businesses more reader-centric is to build their own dedicated databases of readers so that they can interact directly with readers via email. Building a customer database can be a slow and laborious process, but with focus and creativity, a publisher can grow a list remarkably quickly: one senior manager I interviewed at a large US trade publisher explained that they had decided to build a customer database in a particular area of their publishing programme and, using a combination of paid ads, partnerships and sweepstakes, they succeeded in getting half a million people to sign up in the first year alone.  Having these email addresses and customer information in your own database is much more effective than relying on social media and gives you much more control, as you are not reliant on the algorithms of social media companies to determine which posts get fed through to people’s news feeds. Moreover, with emails to readers, you can get a much higher level of engagement than with many other retail goods, in part because many readers have an emotional connection with authors whose books they enjoy and they want to know more about any new books written by their favourite authors.  The benchmark for email open rates is 20%, but the open rate for emails relating to books by brand-name authors can be as high as 60%.

But it’s not just mainstream pubishers who are using digital technologies to establish direct relationships with readers: some start-ups on the margins of the publishing field have taken this much further and are pioneering new kinds of publishing that integrate reader input into their decision-making processes. One example that will be familiar to many in the publishing world are the crowdfunding publishers, Unbound in the UK and Inkshares in the US.  While many people think of crowdfunding as an innovative way of raising capital (and it is), the real genius of crowdfunding is that it is an audience-building machine. The crowdfunding model means that every new author brings a few hundred new readers into the system – their friends and family members and the people who have a particular interest in the book they’re proposing to write, and the book goes ahead only when enough readers have pledged their support for the project. Crowdfunding models like Unbound and Inkshares are creating a new kind of relationship between authors and readers in which readers are not simply the buyers of books but, rather, their co-creators. At the same time, they are building networks of engaged readers that enable them to capture customer data rather than leaving it for Amazon to hoover up. By using crowdfunding to create a system of reader curation, they are turning the traditional model of publishing on its head.

. . . .

The real opportunity that the digital revolution opens up for publishers is that, for the first time in the long history of the book, it is now possible for publishers to do something they could never do before: build direct channels of communication with readers and do it at scale. This is a central feature of the digital transformation in publishing, and those publishers that succeed in making their businesses more reader-centric, learning not just how to market more effectively to readers but how to listen to them too, are likely to be the ones that will ride the wave of the digital revolution most successfully in the years to come.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Leveling off of ebook sales? Email lists? Reader-centric? Crowdfunding?

PG is certain that the author of the OP (and the book shown below), an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge is an intelligent and probably likeable guy, but PG was a bit surprised while reading the OP that The Bookseller (and, presumably, its readers) will think that anything described is actually new information or insight about the book business these days.

A bit of ebook history for those who may not know or remember it:

  • While ebooks predated Amazon ebooks, for all intents and purposes, as a meaningful segment of publishing, ebooks didn’t exist until Amazon started selling ebooks and inexpensive ebook readers. (Widespread adoption of small digital screens on phones definitely helped as well.)
  • As a classic example of Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, the creative executives and companies that drove the dynamism, growth and profitability of print publishing, bookstores, newspapers and magazines during the second half of the twentieth century didn’t understand how important electronic media would become and how quickly electronics, including digital electronics and digital networks, would replace print as a means of written communication to audiences large and small.
  • Jeff Bezos moved to Bellevue, Washington, rented a house with a garage and became entranced with the potential of web commerce in 1995. He decided that books were a great product to sell online because of the large worldwide demand for literature, the low unit price for books, and the huge number of titles available in print. That decision started a business that would upend the business empires of the great publishers of New York, then move on to disrupt traditional bookselling and publishing around the developed world.
  • At the same time Amazon was going public in 1997, Barnes & Noble sued the company, claiming it wasn’t the the world’s largest bookstore, but was, instead, a book broker. Bezos settled out of court and kept going.
  • Barnes & Noble CEO Leonard Riggio would have been much smarter to use the money he paid his lawyers to buy Amazon stock because $100,000 invested in Amazon on the day it went public would have been worth more than $120 million as of May 2020.
  • Sometime in the summer of 2009, executives at the highest levels of Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster started meeting secretly in the private dining room of a Manhattan restaurant to develop a strategy to prevent Amazon and other ebook retailers selling their ebooks at a discount from list price.
  • At the time, these five publishers were producing 48% of the ebooks sold in the United States.
  • In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services contacted these New York publishers to set up secret meetings for the purpose of discussing ebook pricing.
  • Apple planned to unveil the iPad on January 27, 2010, and start shipping iPads in April. As part of the launch, Apple wanted to announce its new iBookstore that would include ebooks from the major publishers.
  • The Apple VP told the five publishers that Apple would sell the majority of e-books for prices between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, substantially more than Amazon was charging.
  • Apple planned to use the same “agency” model which it used in its App Store for distribution of e-books. Apple would be a sales agent and the Publishers would control the price of their e-books in the iBookstore. Publishers would pay Apple a 30% commission on each sale.
  • Apple didn’t want Amazon to be able to sell ebooks at a lower price. The agreement between Apple and each of the big publishers would include a so-called “most-favored-nation” or “MFN” clause which allowed for Apple to sell e-book at its competitors’ lowest price. If the big publishers allowed Amazon to discount prices, Apple could discount them an equal amount and take its 30% commission from that price.
  • The Big Publishers concluded that, if Amazon didn’t play ball, their ebook customers would simply buy iPads and buy their ebooks at the iBookstore. Finally, there was a powerful enough tech company to take on Amazon in the ebook game.
  • On the day of the iPad launch and the announcement of the iBookstore, including an announcement of Apple’s ebook pricing, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. Jobs replied that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”
  • This public statement expressed the terms of the agreement. The big publishers, acting in concert, would jointly force Amazon to increase its e-book prices with the threat to cut off Amazon’s ebook supply. If Amazon refused to increase prices, Apple would be the only place to buy ebooks from the major publishers that controlled most of the book marked. If Amazon knuckled under and raised its prices, Apple would face no price competition.
  • The United States Justice Department and 31 states filed suit against Apple and the five conspiring publishers for violating longstanding US antitrust laws. Three of the publishers settled the claims on the date the suit was filed, admitting they had violated the law. The other two publishers settled the case prior to trial, also admitting wrongdoing.
  • News reports stated that the publishing executives had not consulted their own attorneys about whether their actions were legal or not. (PG notes that any law student who had completed more than three weeks of a one-semester law school antitrust course would have known that this scheme was a clear-cut violation of the law. No legal gray areas available for this hot mess.)
  • After a trial, Apple was found to have wrongfully violated US antitrust laws. Apple appealed the decision as far as it could go and lost. Apple was forced to pay $450 million in damages for its wrongful actions.

And the OP describes ebooks as “the wave of digital revolution” as if this is new information.

PG believes that no one would dispute that Amazon is by far the largest outlet for independently-published ebooks anywhere in the world. Amazon does not break out indie ebook sales in its own accounting reports.

Veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin, estimated that, between 2011 and 2013, self-published books grew from nothing to almost 30% of the book units sold in the US. This growth coincided with a period during which ebook sales also increased rapidly.

The Alliance of Independent Authors estimated that in 2016, in the US, fewer than 1200 trade-published authors who debuted in the last ten years earned $25,000 a year or more, compared to over 1,600 indie authors who earned $25,000 per year or more.

In 2020, ALLi reported that 8% its members had sold more than 50,000 books in the prior two years.

An Enders Analysis in 2016 found that 40% of the top-selling ebooks on Amazon were self-published.

PG won’t say the ebook and indie revolutions are over, but will say that the trends of the last ten years have undeniably been moving towards more ebooks and more money for indie authors. Any industry statistics that limit themselves to ebooks sold by traditional publishers are missing the majority of the overall market.

PG further suggests that for most authors, indie or traditionally-published, a dozen legitimate positive reviews on Amazon are worth more than a signing at your local Barnes & Noble.

The author of the OP is promoting a book he recently published.

Libby is stuck between libraries and publishers in the e-book war

From Protocol:

On the surface, there couldn’t be a more wholesome story than the meteoric rise of the Libby app. A user-friendly reading app becomes popular during the pandemic, making books cool again for young readers, multiplying e-book circulation and saving public libraries from sudden obsolescence.

But the Libby story is also a parable for how the best-intentioned people can build a beloved technological tool and accidentally create a financial crisis for those who need the tech most. Public librarians depend on Libby, but they also worry that its newfound popularity could seriously strain their budgets.

Before 2017, e-books were still pretty niche, and checking out library e-books was torture. In 2016, just over a quarter of Americans had read an e-book within the previous year, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Not many people even knew their libraries offered digital books. Overdrive — the digital marketplace for publishers and libraries, and the creator of Libby — was (and still is) clunky, slow and unintuitive. Overdrive hit just under 200 million checkouts in 2016; in 2020, that number more than doubled, surpassing 430 million.

Few noticed when the cute, friendly virtual library app launched in 2017. Libraries are never very good at selling themselves, and neither is Overdrive. But the app’s seamless, user-friendly experience was so exceptional that it spoke for itself. Libby became a cult favorite for book lovers and dedicated librarygoers, and almost every public library in the country, already dependent on Overdrive for their growing digital collections, loved that they could make reading online a little bit easier. It was the public library’s best-kept secret.

And then in March 2020, when libraries closed their doors and books sat gathering dust, the Libby app became so much more than a cute reading tool. People turned to digital books and were delighted to discover they were so much simpler than remembered. You could access the web app anywhere on any computer, and everything synced to a phone app as well. You could download library books to Kindle. You never needed a password. You could use more than one library card. Libby downloads increased three times their usual amount beginning in late March. E-book checkout growth and new users on Overdrive both increased more than 50%.

Libby had helped to save libraries.

It had also accelerated a funding crisis. Public library budgets have never been luxe, and book acquisition budgets in particular have always been tight. Though it may seem counterintuitive to readers, e-books cost far more than physical books for libraries, meaning that increased demand for digital editions put libraries in a financial bind.

Because e-books are not regulated under the same laws that govern physical books, publishers can price them however they choose. Rather than emulate the physical model, where libraries pay a fixed cost for a certain number of books, they instead offer digital editions through a license that usually includes a limit on the number of times a book can be checked out, the length of time a library holds an edition, or both. Just like with movies, music and software, book publishers have moved from an ownership model to a subscription model for their digital products (none of the major publishing houses responded to multiple requests for comment for this story). Librarians sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to circulate one copy of an e-book for a two-year period, a number that could theoretically add up to thousands for one book over decades, according to a 2019 American Library Association report to Congress.

The librarians I spoke with celebrate Libby. They love that more people are reading digital books. But they can’t help but quietly curse the technological problem that brought them here.

“It is definitely problematic,” said Michelle Jeske, the city librarian for the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association. “You’re buying it in print, you’re buying it in e-book, and in audio e-book, CD, and in Spanish. With either a steady or decreasing collection development budget, it’s a serious problem.”

Despite Overdrive’s dominance, the company has escaped criticism for the funding crisis. Overdrive makes good money on the digital book-lending business; it’s the largest marketplace for publishers to sell to public libraries in the U.S., is expanding rapidly in other major publishing powerhouse countries like Germany and China, and offers a popular school reading app called Sora. More than 23,000 new schools and libraries joined Overdrive in 2020 alone.

“It’s important for us to have the same values and standards that the libraries do, protecting privacy and confidentiality, making information accessible in as broad a ways as possible,” said David Burleigh, the communications director for Overdrive. Overdrive also became a Certified B Corporation the same year it launched the Libby app, and it now leverages that status to avoid getting mucked up in the financial fight.

The ALA lobbying arm has been pushing Congress to consider regulating digital media to address this problem, and it’s no secret to anyone who reads Publishers Weekly that tensions between librarians and publishers have spilled over into public animosity. “Publishing is a tough tough world, and it sometimes has felt like librarians and publishers have been pitted against each other. They need to make money, and we need to be able to serve our public. There has got to be some place in the middle,” Jeske said.

Publishers justify the increased cost of e-books because they say the new technology has reduced friction too much, hurting their sales. They have argued that Libby and libraries have made it too easy for people to read books without buying them. Macmillan, one of the big five publishers, placed an eight-week embargo on library sales of new e-book releases in late 2019 for just that reason, though it reversed its position in March 2020 because of the pandemic. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market. As the development of apps and extensions continues, and as libraries extend their reach statewide as well as nationally, it is becoming ever easier to borrow rather than buy,” wrote John Sargent, Macmillan’s then-CEO, in an open letter to librarians justifying the embargo.

And though librarians like Jeske and Eileen Ybarra, the e-book coordinator for the largest digital collection in the country at the LA Public Library, vehemently disagree — they believe it’s still too hard for people to access digital books — they say that in one respect, the publishers are absolutely correct: Overdrive wants to make the e-reading experience as frictionless as possible.

“That’s the idea. It’s to make it as easy as possible for people to read as much as they like,” Burleigh said. “Ease,” “accessibility” and “efficiency” are his keywords: He repeats them over and over again in every conversation about his company’s app.

Overdrive doesn’t believe that frictionless library lending hurts publishers. In fact, Burleigh said, it actually can help.

While Burleigh wouldn’t directly answer questions about Overdrive’s role in reducing the friction — it would be awkward for business if he did, given that Overdrive mostly makes money through a cut of what publishers sell on its platform — he pointed to research that shows that increased library lending actually helps book sales. (Overdrive funds Panorama, the independent group that conducted the research.)

“Libraries are part of the ecosystem. They’re not competing necessarily with booksellers,” Burleigh said, adding that the research shows that when people read more, it creates a channel of discovery for lesser-known books.

. . . .

Burleigh said that Overdrive advocates for a wide range of funding models and the best deals for libraries, but he also hesitated to describe an “ideal” solution for e-book pricing that would satisfy everyone. “It’s a good question. I don’t know that I have the answer. Publishers have different strategies. Libraries have different strategies.”

Link to the rest at Protocol and thanks to DM for the tip.

The OP constitutes PG’s Exhibit 723,467 in support of his proposition that major publishers are run by idiots.

  1. You hate Amazon because it’s too successful at selling books because it knows how to price books optimally to generate the largest number of sales to optimize profits from those sales.
  2. Once again, demonstrating the stupidity of groupthink you put all your ebook lending eggs into one basket and give the entire business to Overdrive, mainly because it’s not Amazon.
  3. PG doesn’t know if Overdrive is run by smart people or not, but it recognizes a great opportunity for a quasi-monopoly-scale profit that a mind-blown ex-hippie drug dealer could see. To whit (or, to wit (PG is old-style on this topic)), that it can deliver organized groups of electrons that it receives from publishers to libraries almost for free.
  4. There is no technological reason that each major publisher could not put together its own version of Overdrive’s system and deal with libraries directly. (Yes, the publishers would have to hire some outside technology experts to build the system, but graduates from the computer science departments of any number of major and minor universities could handle the job providing that they graduated in the top half of their class. (LexisNexis has been doing the same thing for thousands of years. (PG knows this because he worked there when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (and it was not rocket science then))))

PG is in an uncharacteristically-charitable mood (probably an unannounced side effect of the covid vaccine), so he will lay out a plan for Big Publishing to extricate itself from this self-made car-crash.

  • Fly to Seattle (you can share a chartered jet to save money because you love private meetings with no one listening in)
  • Enter Bezos Mansion dressed in sackcloth on bended knees
  • Beg the Jeffster to please, please, please forgive you of your follies and save you from your stupidity
  • Explain that you know the smart folks at Amazon can put together their own version of Overdrive over a long weekend (you might offer to reimburse any overtime expenses Amazon accrues and provide food and Jolt Cola for all concerned)
  • Change back into New York business attire on the plane flying back. Imbibe freely because you aren’t going to be fired after all. Glance out the window to view terra incognita.
  • A week later, send a joint letter (more Big Publishing “cooperation”) to all libraries in America announcing that they have an alternative to Overdrive that will cost them less and is coming to them from (through gritted teeth) Amazon.

PG feels much better now. For a moment, it was almost like he wasn’t sheltering in place.

PG is familiar with Libby because his local library uses it for ebook lending. Libby works, sort of, and reminds him of the 80’s.

Amazon’s discovery, lending and check-out systems for books are light-years better than Libby (Libby even uses Amazon to deliver ebooks to PG’s Kindle Fire). Amazon may already have the bones of an ebook lending reporting system for publishers in the KDP reporting system.

Making a deal with Amazon could solve Big Publishing’s Overdrive problem and make them more money with one flight to Seattle.

In PG’s limited view, only one potential cloud my be on Big Publishing’s ebook lending horizon – the possibility that each of the major publishers signed an exclusive contract with Overdrive.

There’s only so much PG can do for really stupid people.

One of his rules for practicing law is “Don’t do business with fools.”

One of PG’s observations on the practice of law is “Fools can be so ingenious.”

But, if everything always worked out as expected, life would get boring pretty quickly.

PG is feeling rather wise, which is a sure sign he’s acting stupidly.

Rowman & Littlefield aims for international digital growth

From The New Publishers Standard:

Put simply digital opens up markets where a traditional print-focused strategy, with all the inherent costs involved with printing, warehousing, distribution and remaindered stock, will often be unviable.

. . . .

Rowman & Littlefield’s Alex Kind . . . has pivoted to the newly created role of European and digital sales manager, which will see Rowman & Littlefield take direct account management of Europe for the first time in its history. Kind will also be heading up R&L’s acceleration of digital delivery of content globally.

. . . .

It’s not clear how much this particular decision is down to last year’s pandemic-driven global pivot to digital publishing, but is an example of the way western publishers are looking afresh at digitally-focussed global opportunities.

. . . .

As this year unfolds and the pandemic continues to ravage the planet, we can expect digital to assume an ever more central role in the global publishing ecosystem.

Savvy publishers will, like Rowman & Littlefield, be exploring the global possibilities a hybrid print and digital strategy brings, not clinging to pre-pandemic models that were already in decline before this decade began.

Link to the rest at The New Publishers Standard

PG notes that this took long enough for someone in traditional publishing to notice.

US indie authors have been international with their ebooks since about five minutes after KDP provided checkboxes for Canada, Britain, and Australia. He assumes UK, Canadian and Australian indie authors made similar decisions within similar timeframes.

(PG expresses gratitude that, as opposed to kilometers, pounds, euros, etc., his English-speaking distant cousins around the world all share the same methods of expressing hours and minutes as their kin in the US do.)

Amazon.com and ‘Big Five’ publishers accused of ebook price-fixing

From The Guardian:

Amazon.com and the “Big Five” publishers – Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster – have been accused of colluding to fix ebook prices, in a class action filed by the law firm that successfully sued Apple and the Big Five on the same charge 10 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed in district court in New York on Thursday by Seattle firm Hagens Berman, on behalf of consumers in several US states, names the retail giant as the sole defendant but labels the publishers “co-conspirators”. It alleges Amazon and the publishers use a clause known as “Most Favored Nations” (MFN) to keep ebook prices artificially high, by agreeing to price restraints that force consumers to pay more for ebooks purchased on retail platforms that are not Amazon.com.

The lawsuit claims that almost 90% of all ebooks sold in the US are sold on Amazon, in addition to over 50% of all print books. The suit alleges that ebook prices dropped in 2013 and 2014 after Apple and major publishers were successfully sued for conspiring to set ebook prices, but rose again after Amazon renegotiated their contracts in 2015.

“In violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Defendant and the Big Five Co-conspirators agreed to various anti-competitive MFNs and anti-competitive provisions that functioned the same as MFNs,” the complaint states. “Amazon’s agreement with its Co-conspirators is an unreasonable restraint of trade that prevents competitive pricing and causes Plaintiffs and other consumers to overpay when they purchase ebooks from the Big Five through an ebook retailer that competes with Amazon. That harm persists and will not abate unless Amazon and the Big Five are stopped.”

. . . .

Hagens Berman sued Apple and the Big Five publishers for fixing ebook prices in 2011, in a case that would eventually lead to suits from several US states and the Department of Justice, which accused Apple of colluding in order to break up Amazon.com’s dominance in the ebook market.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Connecticut Investigating Amazon’s E-Book Business

From The Wall Street Journal:

Connecticut is actively investigating how Amazon.com Inc. sells and distributes digital books, according to the state’s attorney general, the latest of several state and federal probes into the tech giant’s business practices.

The investigation is examining whether Amazon engaged in anticompetitive behavior in the e-book business through its agreements with certain publishers, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement.

Connecticut asked Amazon to provide documents related to its dealings with five of the largest U.S. book publishers, according to a subpoena issued in 2019. The Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit that investigates technology platforms, obtained the subpoena through an open records request and shared it with The Wall Street Journal.

. . . .

“Our office continues to aggressively monitor this market to protect fair competition for consumers, authors, and other e-book retailers,” Mr. Tong said in a statement.

The publishers cited in Connecticut’s Amazon subpoena include HarperCollins Publishers, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp ; Lagardere MMB; SCA’s Hachette Book Group; Penguin Random House, a unit of closely held German media company Bertelsmann SE; Simon & Schuster, the book publishing arm of ViacomCBS Inc.; and Macmillan. Penguin Random House has agreed to acquire Simon & Schuster, pending regulatory approval.

. . . .

The Connecticut investigation is one of several ongoing probes into the Seattle-based company’s market power. In October, the House Antitrust Subcommittee completed a 16-month investigation into Amazon and other technology companies, concluding that Amazon has amassed “monopoly power” over sellers on its site.

. . . .

Amazon is the dominant U.S. e-book retailer, accounting for 76% of digital books sold in the U.S. in September, according to Codex Group LLC, a book audience research firm. Rival sellers of digital books include Apple, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Barnes & Noble.

The e-book market has been controversial for years. Amazon kick-started the business when it introduced its Kindle e-reader in November 2007, a launch that offered digital bestsellers for $9.99. The discounted offering helped Amazon build market share, but publishers believed it hurt the industry.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

What happened to the ebook revolution?

From GoodEreader:

It’s been 12 years since the Kindle first appeared on the scene, and within a couple of years, it became clear that e-readers were no passing fad. In fact, the experts of the day confidently told us that in the dim and distant future of 2020, print books would be largely relegated to the role of decorative shelf fillers, and we would all have a personal pocket electronic library.

That’s not quite the way it turned out. In fact, ebooks constitute around 20 percent of book sales, with the rest being traditional print volumes. A decade ago, we’d have expected those numbers to be the other way around by now. So what happened? It all comes down to two factors, consumer habits and money.

. . . .

Generation Z represents the 20-somethings who have never known a world without the internet and social media. You’d expect them to be the ones to lap up ebooks, but that’s simply not proved to be the case.

Here’s the thing. The average gen-z-er spends hours of every day in front of a screen, and not just for Snapchat and Facebook. Even when it comes to, for example, playing card games, usually seen as a traditional way to pass the time with physical cards at hand, or even watching TV, the smartphone screen is becoming the platform of choice. Yet when younger readers want to read a book, they prefer to put the tech aside and do so the old-fashioned way.

Incredibly, the main users of e-readers are their parents and even grandparents. Baby boomers, in particular, fell hard for e-readers. They negate the need to go out to a bookstore, and the whole question of print size becomes an irrelevance, as they can zoom the page as much as they wish.

. . . .

But as e-readers gained popularity, the major publishers became increasingly uncomfortable. They felt that this $9.99 price tag was devaluing books. Worse, many understood that Amazon was probably selling at a loss in order to corner the market. Would this mean that a couple of years down the line, they would start putting the squeeze on their suppliers?

This was when Apple joined the fray. A competitive market had to be a good thing, and Apple was determined that $14.99 should be the minimum cost. Where things got tricky was when they signed up the six major publishers to their price plan, essentially forcing Amazon to either play ball or have no ebooks to sell.

This resulted in years of antitrust lawsuits and over $150 million in sanctions against the publishers. But the standard was set. ebook prices are now dictated by “industry convention” and Amazon is forced to adhere to them.

The result? While the ecommerce giant can discount print books as much as it likes, it has no such flexibility over the ebooks. It’s a situation that still seems imperfect, and is certain to be revisited over the coming year or so. In the meantime, ebooks are not going to disappear. But it seems the age of print is far from over, too.

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

PG is a bit skeptical.

“ebooks constitute around 20 percent of book sales, with the rest being traditional print volumes”

PG hasn’t seen this particular stat anywhere and the OP doesn’t cite any authority for it.

Plus, there’s the question of what “book sales” means. Is it units sold or dollars? Is it traditional publishers (who overprice ebooks) or has the author of the OP gotten information about Amazon’s ebook/print book sales info which includes indies. (PG doubts that)

Or does the author of the OP not know about indie authors? Or buy the New York attitude of “Pay no attention to the rabble”?

PG included the portion of the OP that discussed the Apple/Big Publishing antitrust case because the author of the OP got that wrong as well. Nothing in the antitrust litigation required Amazon to price tradpub ebooks at the price set by publishers. Amazon wasn’t a party to the antitrust litigation because it hadn’t done anything wrong.

Amazon pricing BigPub ebooks at prices that are too high was a wonderful gift to those indie authors who participate in KDP. They get the best of both worlds – the authors make more money selling ebooks and they can still substantially underprice ebooks from tradpub so readers get a good deal, too.

At this point in The Lockdown Era, it seems pretty clear that (unfortunately) a whole lot of retail stores, including physical bookstores, are not going to reopen when lockdowns end.

It’s not just that the landlords of the bookstores are going to terminate their leases. It’s also that the bankers that hold the mortgages that the landlords aren’t able to make payments on are going to foreclose and find new tenants. Or the real estate investors that own the shopping center or strip mall where the bookstore is located will be interested in tenants that aren’t likely to file for Chapter 11 (or 7) bankruptcy relief.

But PG could be wrong.

Apple Slashes App Store Fees for Smaller Developers

From The Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. is halving the commission it charges smaller developers that sell software through its App Store, a partial concession in its battle with critics over how it wields power in its digital ecosystem.

The iPhone maker said that starting next year it will collect 15% rather than 30% of App Store sales from companies that generate no more than $1 million in revenue through the software platform, including in-app purchases. The fee will remain 30% for developers whose sales through the App Store, excluding commission payments, exceed $1 million—meaning the reduction won’t affect such vocal Apple opponents as videogame company Epic Games Inc.

Apple’s 30% take has been at the heart of complaints this year from other tech companies and some users over how it manages the vast digital world of people who use iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices. The policy is also central to a major legal battle with Epic, and to government examinations in the U.S. and Europe of Apple’s competitive behavior as a gatekeeper between software makers and the hundreds of millions of people who use Apple’s gadgets.

Critics have charged that Apple’s commission is too large, is unfairly levied against different companies, leaves customers footing the bill and leads to workarounds by some developers to avoid the fees.

. . . .

A tiny fraction of developers account for the vast majority of sales in the App Store, which is central to a services unit that brought Apple $53.77 billion in revenue in its latest fiscal year. Research firm Sensor Tower estimates that only about 0.2% of the 1.8 million apps in the App Store generated more than $1 million last year, and says that group accounted for an estimated 92% of Apple’s App Store revenue.

The fee cut, therefore, gives Apple ammunition to rebut claims that its practices hurt smaller developers, while leaving untouched the vast bulk of its App Store revenue.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG was interested in this article because apps and ebooks are really quite similar to each other (although a dropsy epidemic would rage through New York publishing if such a statement were to be uttered within hearing range.)

Apps are electronic code and ebooks are electronic code as well. Apps run on tablets, smartphones, etc., and ebooks “run” on the same devices. Ebook readers don’t use their thumbs as actively as people who play app games on their phones, but, fundamentally, both purchase software for their electronic devices.

Apps and ebooks are sold online through digital storefronts in exactly the same manner.

Unlike app developers, when it comes to royalties, more than a few authors may analogize the sales of ebooks to the sales of printed books with printing costs, shipping fees, physical stores, warehouses full of books, etc., etc.

From the point of view of those who are running ecommerce at Amazon and Apple, ebooks and apps are just two different file formats.

It would be interesting if the people running iBooks caught the spirit of their much larger and more profitable contemporaries in the App department and decided that indie authors are pretty much like small app developers and should be paid 85% of the purchase price of ebooks instead of a much small percentage.

On more than one occasion, PG has been accused of being an Amazon shill because he likes the way Amazon treats indie authors and says so.

However, PG thinks it would be a great idea if Amazon treated indie authors like Apple treats small indie app developers and reduced Amazon’s take on KDP indie ebooks so authors received 85% of the proceeds Amazon collected for their books. (Amazon could also get rid of its ridiculous “Delivery Cost for a Digital Book” charge at the same time.)

Metazoa

From The Wall Street Journal:

Life undersea has a mesmerizing strangeness, from glass sponges—lacy matrices draped with cellular nets—to rococo sea dragons and soft corals like trees in a slow wind. It’s the stuff of a thousand documentaries, but for Peter Godfrey-Smith the spectacle is a curtain-raiser to a profound scientific drama, in which the lives of quite un-human creatures illuminate deep mysteries about the nature of sentience, and what it means to possess a mind.

In “Metazoa,” the scuba-diving historian and philosopher of science tackles these questions with eloquent boldness, reminding us that “life and mind began in water.” Mr. Godfrey-Smith continues the journey he began in “Other Minds” (2016), which focused on the octopus, the closest we have to an “intelligent alien”: an invertebrate with a big, complex nervous system and capacities for play and adaptation. Now he expands the exploration to multicellular animals as a group—the Metazoa of the title—homing in on those marking key transitions in the evolution of mind.

As a biological materialist, Mr. Godfrey-Smith sees consciousness as an evolutionary product emerging from the organization of a “universe of processes that are not themselves mental.” He makes no claim to having cracked the conundrum of how meat gives rise to mind. Instead, to get under the skins of his slithering, bobbing subjects, he builds evidence from the evolutionary record to create a picture of the “different forms of subjectivity around us now.” “Metazoa” sweeps readers from Aristotle through the Darwinian revolution and on to current research into the origins of life, spider cognition, the evolution of warm-bloodedness and beyond. He also revisits philosopher Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” the 1974 essay that famously probed the primal difficulties of understanding subjective experience in other organisms.

. . . .

From sponges and corals, “remnants and relatives of early forms of animal action,” Mr. Godfrey-Smith glides on through arthropods, cephalopods, fish and the creatures that eventually clambered onto land. In each group, he probes the complex effects of evolutionary innovations. Nervous systems, which probably first emerged as simpler neural nets more than 600 million years ago, tie “the body together in new ways”: Neurons have thousands of synapses, enabling vast interconnectivity. The emergence of bilaterally symmetrical bodies allowed movement with direction and traction—a big step.

. . . .

As nervous systems evolved further, other kinds of activity and integration arose. Octopuses, revisited here, are a compelling case. Two-thirds of the cephalopod’s half-billion neurons are lodged in its eight arms, part of a “distributed brain’” that may help in controlling its shape-shifting body. Combining his observations with findings on the animals’ behavioral complexity and sensitivity, engagement with novelty, play and problem-solving, Mr. Godfrey-Smith sees octopuses as conscious, although their perspective is probably “protean and perhaps sometimes chaotic.”

. . . .

In fish we meet vertebrates with muscle, motion, jaws—and another sensory paradigm. The special cells called neuromasts that form their “lateral line” system sense pressure and vibration, and together act, in Mr. Godfrey-Smith’s evocative phrase, as a “giant pressure-sensitive ear.” In the lab, carp have distinguished between classical music and blues, and even between artists such as John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. Mr. Godfrey-Smith speculates that this capacity for pattern recognition might emerge from gregariousness—the complexity of fishes’ social environments giving rise to memory and recognition skills.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG was going to insert a WordPress Block for Amazon Kindle which allows you to look through a few pages of the ebook like the Look Inside feature on the Amazon website. However, the publisher of Metazoa, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, like a number of other members of the traditional publishing artisans’ guild seldom offers Look Inside which, PG suspects, also disables the Free Preview function of the WordPress Kindle Block.

PG wonders if the sharp minds of the artisans’ guild have ever thought that offering Free Preview as a routine part of a book launch might increase ebook sales or online sales of printed books? After all, the single most common act of someone who wants to find a book in a physical bookstore is to open a copy of a prospective purchase and read a few pages.

PG suspects Amazon has data on what percentage of potential ebook browsers use Look Inside and can statistically ascertain what impact the Look Inside feature has on ebook purchases. If anyone has seen or heard of what appears to be reliable information on this topic, PG would appreciate a note through the Contact page so he can read it as well.

PG suspects ham-handedness is behind the no-Look-Inside for newly-released traditionally-published ebooks.

Here are a couple of thoughts:

  • Ham-Hand/Brain-Dead Reason #1 – No Amazon Look Inside feature will send droves of prospective purchasers to physical bookstores so they can look at the book and buy it there. No extra charge for virus exposure.
  • Ham-Hand/Brain-Dead Reason #2 – Some smart and evil person will figure out how to hack through the Look-Inside view to the entire underlying ebook file and make illegal copies. Of course, at least some smart and evil persons have enough money to buy access to an ebook from Amazon, hack through any copy protection, make a copy, then return the ebook to Amazon for a refund. If PG were such a person, he would probably automate the entire buy-the-ebook-make-a-copy-return-to-Amazon-for-a-refund-with-the-reason-for-return-chosen-on-a-random-basis. The processing of purchasing different ebook titles via a large variety of different IP addresses, customer names and credit card numbers so such purchases and returns don’t look like they’re coming from the same customer is, to the best of PG’s knowledge, already part of the craft of stealing ebooks and other digital products.

For the record, PG has absolutely no sympathy or concern for those who would steal books, electronic or physical. A book isn’t a loaf of bread required to sustain life in a desperate human. Stealing a book is stealing from whoever wrote the book.

If PG were king for the day, he might concoct a particularly gruesome penalty for anyone who steals from an author, hacker, crooked publisher, crooked literary agent, etc.

That said, “shrinkage” is regarded as a regrettable expense of doing business by almost every retailer selling goods ranging from peaches to socks to screwdrivers. Business plans for new retailers almost always include a provision for shrinkage.

Physical books have been stolen forever. Allowing customers to roam around bookstores looking at any book they like is fundamental to the business of such bookstores. Minimizing theft is one of the many reasons smart bookstore owners and employees watch customers carefully. Providing attentive service can increase store profits in many different ways.

End of harangue. PG blames Covid. Have a nice day.

Build and Manage Series Pages in the Kindle Store

From The Digital Reader:

For a number of years now Amazon has been making series pages for Kindle ebooks. One of their bots would identify all of the books in a particular series, and then list them all on the same page so that a reader could buy all of the books at once, paying retail.

I can’t find my first post on the topic, but I always thought this idea was a good one because it aligned with how I buy ebooks (when I find a new favorite author, I buy their backlist).

And now Amazon has given authors the option of creating series pages on their own. A couple days ago they published an announcement in the KDP support forums:

You can now publish and update eBook and Paperback series detail pages automatically through KDP. With the launch of series in KDP, you can:

  1. Create a new series: For any titles in your KDP account, create an ordered or unordered series to help readers on Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk and Amazon.de find all the books in your series on a single page.  Learn more.
  2. View and organize your series: Navigate from a series title on your Bookshelf to view and manage books in your series. Review series details and titles to ensure the information is up-to-date for readers. Learn more.
  3. Edit an existing series to control how it appears to readers: Adjust description. In addition, add, remove, re-order or change whether your titles are main or related content. Learn more.

If you already had an eBook series detail page available on Amazon.com, we’ve added that series in your KDP account. You can view existing series in your account by visiting your KDP Bookshelf and checking the box on the bookshelf for “View titles in series”.  If you don’t see your series in your account, you can create a new series by following the steps here.

Not all features are available in every marketplace. Series that contain paperback and pre-order books are available on Amazon.com, but not Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de. We’re working to add more series features in the future. For more information on KDP series, click here.

Does anyone know how long this feature has been available?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Library ebook lending surges as UK turns to fiction during lockdown

From The Guardian:

They may have been closed for months during lockdown, but amid long days and many on furlough it has emerged that the nation turned to local libraries for cultural sustenance – with a surge in the lending of ebooks, and crime thrillers in particular.

In total, more than 3.5m additional ebooks were borrowed between the end of March and mid-August, according to the charity Libraries Connected, an increase of 146%. Adding audiobooks and e-comics, there was an increase of 5m digital items borrowed.

Gillian Galbraith’s Blood in the Water, the first of the Alice Rice mysteries featuring the Edinburgh detective, and published in 2007, was the most requested adult ebook. The former first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, was also among the most popular lends. The comedian and TV show judge David Walliams claimed three of the top 10 slots in most-borrowed children and young people’s ebooks.

Library online membership in the UK increased more than six-fold during lockdown, with demand for ebooks and audiobooks one of the main drivers.

“Library membership has surged,” said Nick Poole, the chief executive of the UK library and information association CILIP. “The increase in registration for online membership cards was huge, between 600 and 700%, which is amazing.”

With library buildings closed for up to four months, and people at home, services had to move swiftly online. A survey by Libraries Connected found audiobook checkouts increased, overall, by 113%, magazines by 80%, newspaper by 223% and comics by 497%.

There was growth in digital offerings across many areas including rhyming and reading sessions for young children, instruction sessions to access online services, author-led events, school readiness programmes, and jobs and arts clubs.

More than 75% of libraries delivered online services during lockdown. Some reached more than 20,000 views, according to Libraries Connected. One toddler reading event, which was staged on Facebook, had a 400% increase in views.

While the borrowing of physical books still massively outnumbers that of ebooks, a report by the charity suggests digital borrowing is not just an early lockdown “fad”. After experiencing an initial surge, the higher level of demand has been sustained.

. . . .

As the licensing model for digital services continues to operate restrictively for public libraries, public expectation of availability may outstrip supply

. . . .

“One of the brilliant things that happened was publishers really stepped up,” said Poole. “Ebooks cost a lot of money. Publishers, during the lockdown, said they would either waive or reduce licence fees so they really helped us out in terms of making ebooks available.”

. . . .

“People might think we don’t need the physical places any more, which obviously we really, really do because the library is doing so much more to support the community than just reading,” he said, adding: “Yes, absolutely we have found this new digital audience [but] we also need to continue supporting [the] face-to-face audience.”

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

PG notes that the “Ebooks cost a lot of money” really means, “Traditional publishers charge public libraries extraordinary high fees for a license to lend a copy of an ebook.”

Duplicating the ebook itself and delivering it costs a fraction of a second of computer time and, depending upon the speed of the internet connection at the library on the receiving end, pennies at most to deliver (and more probably, no extra cost at all if the publisher or wholesaler has not been dumb in negotiating the terms of its access to the internet.)

As regular visitors to TPV will immediately understand, library licensing practices of traditional publishers are designed to prop up their sales of dead-tree-to-hell-with-climate-change printed books.

C:\ Thinking in an http: World

From Publishing Perspectives:

The “Battle for Attention”—part of the title of Bookwire‘s conference report from Frankfurter Buchmesse—became a lot more vivid for many professionals participating in the digital evocation of the trade show last week.

That’s because the enormous fair, which draws more than 250,000 people annually in its physical setting at Messe Frankfurt, was, for once, almost entirely online.

. . . .

Without those beloved print volumes propped on shelves in stand and after stand, without the gliding moving sidewalks between halls, and without the beeping of catering trucks moving in reverse, the center of international publishing for a week was just a click or two from your Netflix and Amazon Music accounts.

. . . .

[W]hat Videl Bar-Kar, who heads up audio at Bookwire GmbH in Germany, presented Thursday (October 15) was the result of survey work that reached 2,335 people in Germany aged 16 to 65 about their media use. In addition, 1,000 consumers of ebooks, audiobooks, and/or podcasts were surveyed about their usage patterns.

A recording of Bar-Kar’s presentation, like others in the Frankfurter Conference series, has not been posted for review, so as yet we can’t offer you a link to see it. Frankfurt’s organizers say that these recordings of four days of conference programming and other events will be available “soon.”

. . . .

What develops as you look at the report is a question of the wisdom of gauging podcasts along with audiobooks and ebooks. Podcasting is not necessarily in the same vein as audiobooks and ebooks because a podcast (unless someone sits at the mic and reads a book to listeners) is not the delivery of a book. There are variations and content hybrids, of course—and a podcast certainly may make a powerful marketing tool for a book—but the inclusion here of podcasts with audiobooks and ebooks presents something like one apple (podcasting) and two oranges (audiobooks and ebooks).

. . . .

Digital Content Becoming ‘Mainstream’

What Bar-Kar and his research refer to as “mainstream” refers to people using two or three of the digital media in question—ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts. It’s not clear from this work if it’s possible to know what percentage these formats’ usage comprised of a user’s overall media array. If a user said she’d used an ebook or audiobook in the last six months, how does that compare with how many print books she’d read, how many films or television series she’d viewed, and so on?

  • Of those surveyed, 43 percent said they’d used at least one ebook, audiobook, or podcast within the last six months. Some 48 percent reported using “a number of these in parallel.
  • Twenty-one percent said they use all three formats, and 27 percent said they use two of them.

. . . .

A favorite question, of course, is whether audiobook, ebook, and/or podcast consumption tends to preclude a user’s consumption of other content. The standard response of those who work in audiobooks, ebooks, and/or podcasts is, “Of course not!” And this survey doesn’t disappoint.

“They only cannibalize each other to a minor extent” is the charming lead answer here. Nibbling on each other’s toes, as it were, nothing worse than that.

“Ebooks, audiobooks, and podcasts hardly cannibalize each other at all,” the survey writers say. “A maximum of 14 percent of users said that they use ebooks, audiobooks, or podcasts at the expense of one of the other two media. While ebooks and audiobooks are used for relaxation and entertainment more so than podcasts, podcasts tend to expand knowledge and education and/or are more informative about current issues.”

Well-intended as it may be, this commentary is probably the least reassuring in the report. Unless one has a chart of one’s format usage and thus can tell, “Gosh, a half-hour of my podcast time was eaten up by my e-reading,” it’s quite subjective as to how much a user might feel is going into one mode or another.

And the more important area of inquiry here is about the challenge that other media (including podcasting may present to reading in various formats. Many people today say that with so much beautifully produced storytelling available in television and film formats, their reading in all modes is taking a hit. By contrast, attrition to other forms of reading is less a worry. If publishing “loses” someone from print to ebooks, publishing should feel relieved that they didn’t move to Streamer City and stop reading entirely.

. . . .

The survey does offer this comparatively useful point—still inside the publishing sector, but going beyond the three key formats in question: “Looking at cannibalization effects on traditional media, just under half of ebook users (44 percent) said that they read fewer printed books because of their digital counterpart. This figure was 25 percent among audiobook listeners.”

. . . .

In short, things are still unsettled in terms of where podcasts stand next to books, especially in the audio space.

If you’re fond of podcasts, you may call them complementary. If you’re not, you might call them competition.

. . . .

Perhaps easier to get our publishing heads around, a section of the survey asked “Which are Your Favorite Media”? Here, it looks as if reality has arrived at the door to reading’s future in this particular survey.

By far, the respondents went for video streaming and television as their favorite of several media.

Radio and print books were next, followed by gaming, online news, and newspapers.

Digital audiobooks and podcasts came in behind all of those. Ebooks fared a bit better, beating out online news and newspapers.

Not even those podcasts were competitive to media outside the trio in the survey, except for physical audiobooks, which in most markets have long been on the decline as downloaded audio took over.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Although downplayed, the author of the OP seems to be feeling what came to PG’s mind as he read the OP:

WHAT CENTURY ARE GERMAN (AND MAYBE OTHER NATIONALITIES) PUBLISHERS LIVING IN?

Podcasts vs. print books?

PG is suspect of “cannibalization” studies in general.

The fundamental proposition is that if people start doing more of something, they are doing less of something else.

This assumes that “something” = an activity that makes someone, usually a large commercial organization, money directly or indirectly.

So, for example, if a meaningful portion of the populace starts spending more time in voluntary charitable activities, that activity is not part of the cannibalization equation.

Ditto if someone starts taking Yoga seriously and spends time thinking of Oneness.

Second Ditto if someone who is feeling overly confined due to a life-threatening pandemic goes to a restaurant that observes social-distancing by closing half of its seating, and hangs out while having a good conversation after lunch with someone else. (Coincidentally, this is exactly how PG and Mrs. PG spent a couple of hours this afternoon. The conversation included, but was not limited to, PG’s mostly-useless comments as Mrs. PG read a couple of the most recent chapters from her WIP.)

Podcasts?

PG is not a podcast person, but wonders if people who listen to podcasts do so instead of reading books of either the electronic or let’s-cut-down-another-forest variety.

PG is happy to be instructed/corrected/updated/straightened-out/brought-into-the-21st-Century, etc., by podcast people.

Trainwreck Fall Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

I adore a good gothic and a somewhat creepy novel (but not too creepy, mind you), so in June, when a reliable friend recommended Simone St. James’s The Sun Down Motel, I ordered a copy immediately, and read it the moment it arrived. Loved it. It’s in my recommended reading list for July.

As soon as I finished, I ordered a copy for my sister, who also likes this type of book. Immediately, a notice flashed on my screen: she wouldn’t get the book until September. I was stunned. I looked at the publisher, thinking I was dealing with a specialty press, but no. I wasn’t. How odd.

That was my entire reaction: How odd. The book had released in February, so I should have been able to get my hands on a copy quickly. But I couldn’t.

That same thing had happened with a couple of other books I had ordered for my sister back in May. They were backlist for an author I knew my sister hadn’t tried, but would love. It took six weeks for her to get the books, with the shipment getting delayed more than once.

Because so many other things were going on, I hadn’t put my experiences together with something I wrote about at the end of April. Traditional publishing was headed for a trainwreck, and I was worried about it.

Part of the trainwreck was—and is—the closed bookstores. Many are still closed. But a lot of that trainwreck had to do with publisher panic, old systems, supply chains, and more.

When the pandemic hit, everyone thought we would get through the damn thing in a few months. We’d club that virus into submission, and return to normal life—or close to normal—by summer.

. . . .

Some industries aren’t very nimble. They can’t just shuffle one thing to accommodate something else. Traditional publishing is like that.

(This is where a handful of my indie-writer readers usually check out. I suggest you don’t, because I’ll be talking to you below. We’re part of an industry and a large part of the industry is mismanaging a crisis, which will have an impact on you. So, breathe, and dive back in.)

With the bookstores closed, some companies moved their biggest spring and summer releases to the fall, hoping that all would be better by then. There was some wiggle room, because traditional publishers had tried to avoid publishing anything important in November since it is a presidential election year. So there were some empty weeks.

But not enough of them. The schedule got shuffled, then reshuffled, then shuffled again. I know some books got canceled entirely, but many have just been moved to the next available slot on the schedule.

That is, they got moved to an available slot on the schedule, if the book is expected to do well. If it was a standard midlist book, it got shoved somewhere random, so that it can be printed, shipped, and sent to bookstores—who ordered their copies pre-pandemic.

Yeah, even if the book doesn’t come out now until fall of 2021, many of those orders remain exactly as they were. Even if the bookstore isn’t selling as many copies in its brick-and-mortar store. Or if the bookstore has shuttered its brick-and-mortar store—or closed entirely.

Here’s what a lot of readers don’t know—consciously anyway. Traditional publishing is built on velocity—that is, how many books sell in a short period of time.

The system that traditional publishing is using was designed post-World War II (or as I said to a friend yesterday, after the World War II generation survived its once-in-a-lifetime crisis). Back then, there were very few bookstores, and those that existed had limited space. Most books were sold in other retail venues—drug stores, department stores, magazine stands, and the like—which again, had limited space. In other words, there was only so much room for books in those places. Rather than keep old inventory on the shelf, retailers who sold books churned them—getting rid of those that were still on the racks after a month or two, and replacing them with new inventory.

This was easy to do, because in the Great Depression, the publishing companies subsidized anyone who sold a book by removing cost of excess inventory. Retailers could return books for full credit within a specific window. Which meant that retailers could make bad decision after bad decision, and not lose a heck of a lot of money.

They could also churn at no cost to them, replacing the old inventory with the new.

That practice created the idea that books were like bananas; they spoiled if they didn’t sell within a few weeks. And, indeed, there are horrid photos from the 1990s of Dumpsters filled with books behind shopping malls, because many publishers allowed retailers to strip the cover off books (and toss the rest of the book away) and still get full credit. Saves shipping costs, doncha know.

Even though it’s a stupid 75-year-old business model, traditional publishing still banks on velocity. And traditional publishing is fairly stupid about velocity. If an author’s sales numbers go down, no matter what the reason (y’know, like closed bookstores and a pandemic), that author will be offered a smaller advance next time—or will be cut loose. It’s brutal and unrealistic, and it’s on the horizon for so many writers.

. . . .

In addition to the messing up of the schedule, there were supply chain problems and the bankruptcy and auction of the two remaining major web press printers here in the States.

. . . .

The best way to sell books (as demonstrated by study after study) is word of mouth. My sister is at the end of a recommendation chain that went from my friend to me to my sister. My sister hasn’t even had a chance to read and recommend yet. By the time I wanted to give a copy to my sister, the book was out of print. The reason for the nearly three-month delay was because there were no copies of the hardcover in the warehouse—and no printing scheduled until September.

That September printing was probably ordered in May, which meant that the May numbers might not reflect the actual interest. The Times noted that one of the hot political books of August, which I had actually forgotten about (because so many hot political books have followed) had a similar problem:

The CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s new book “Hoax,” about the relationship between Donald Trump and Fox, was out of stock on Amazon this week shortly after its August 25 publication date, and showed a ship time of one to two months. Mr. Stelter’s publisher, One Signal, a Simon & Schuster imprint, which initially printed 50,000 copies, has ordered another 100,000 copies.

Two-month delay from August 25 on a political book places that 100,000 copy rerelease at the end of October, a week from the November election. 

. . . .

Ah, I hear you all now. What about the ebooks?

This is where traditional publishers have—pardon my crudity—fucked themselves blue. Stelter’s ebook costs $14.99. The ebook for the St. James that I mentioned above is $13.99.

Ridiculous, right? But it’s part of traditional publishing think. They want readers to buy the hardcovers, so they’ve priced ebooks unbelievably high, which is causing another problem. From that same New York Times article:

Some worry that the current crunch could reverse the yearlong trend of stable and sometimes rising print sales, sending readers back to digital books, which are less lucrative for publishers and authors, and especially brick and mortar retailers.Sa

Less lucrative for authors? On what planet? Oh, yeah, right. The traditional publishing planet. I’ve seen article after article that talks about how ebooks are a bust, that they don’t make money, and that sales of ebooks are “depressed.”

Yeah, if you overcharge for them.

. . . .

So, if the reader can’t get the novel that caught their attention this week by ordering it online, and if the reader won’t pay over $10 for an ebook, and if the reader can’t get the book from their library, what does the reader do?

The reader moves on to a different writer, another book, something new and different. Sales—and fans—aren’t allowed to build.

At all.

. . . .

As The Guardian noted, the blockbusters will make it into the retail stores. But those midlisters won’t. There just isn’t room. And with overpriced ebooks and no library access, there’s no way to discover these writers.

So many writers have gone to traditional publishing because those writers believe traditional is better at getting books into stores (really?) and is better at promotion. Let’s ignore the first part, shall we, and assume that some poor traditionally published writer was actually slated to get promotion on their book.

First, as The Guardian notes, there’s not enough room in the literary press to cover all 600 books that were released on September 3. There isn’t enough room to cover the books that will be released after September 3.

And if you were lucky enough to get a rave review from a reputable publication? Well, you better hope your publication date remained the same. Because review copies were mailed months in advance, and the review was written months in advance and published to time with your original release.

The Times quotes Sasha Issenberg whose book The Engagement: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage was slated to release in June for Pride Month. He got a stellar review in Publisher’s Weekly. Only his book got pushed to early September, then late September, and now won’t come out until June of 2021.

Will the bookstores that ordered the book even open the boxes when it arrives? Remember the order at all? Will the bookstore even be in existence when the book arrives? Will readers remember that they wanted the book in June of 2020? Will the publishing company redo their promotional efforts for the book?

Oh, wait. I can answer that last one. No, they won’t. They’ll expect Issenberg to do it, and maybe he might be able to finagle some interviews and additional reviews on his own, the way an indie writer would do things. But his book is going to tank, unless someone does an intervention. And believe me, there will be a lot of other things that will have grabbed our attention by Pride Month 2021, and none of them will be his book.

. . . .

[N]ewly published traditional writers? They’re screwed. They really are.

A handful of them will be resilient enough—and smart enough—to learn how to indie publish their next books. But most of these traditional writers won’t be that resilient. Their dreams are going to die a horrid, horrid death.

I empathize…up to a point. If they want to learn how to publish books, point them to our Publishing 101 class, and then stay out of their way. They’ve had years of warning to stay away from traditional publishing, and they didn’t listen. They’re probably not going to listen now. You know the rules about drowning victims, right? Send them a lifeline. Don’t get close enough to let them grab you and pull you down.

After I published the first Trainwreck piece, I heard from indie writers who panicked. They asked if they should stay away from the crowded fall schedule. I said no.

Because the real business model for publishing in the 21st century is this: readers will discover books over years, not weeks. Put your book out there. Yeah, maybe some reader won’t find it until 2022. That’s okay. Then they get to read your entire backlist.

Indie writers aren’t dependent on velocity. To have a successful career, we need widespread availability. We need to be in all the possible markets we can. We want our readers to find reasonably priced ebooks from all the major vendors

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This is a first-class Kris Rusch analysis of traditional publishing and PG strongly suggests reading the entire OP (which is substantially longer than this excerpt).

PG will add only a bit of reinforcement for the main point Kris makes in the OP: Traditional publishing is a very poorly-run business. It might be compared to that great restaurant you used to enjoy, but don’t think about much any more because the prices are steep and the last time you went, the kitchen wasn’t doing the job it used to.

The other factor PG has mentioned before is that even if the New York top brass was inclined to really innovate and make aggressive changes, the companies that own the large New York publishers – large European media conglomerates plus CBS (Simon & Schuster) are not going to be receptive to innovative changes, particularly if such changes might possibly result in lower short-term profits.

The CEOs of the major New York trade publishers are really middle-management in their business organizations. From PG’s prior personal experience with large European media conglomerates, he is 99.99% confident that cutting ebook prices to potentially goose sales numbers is a non-starter. The people who own the NYC publishers are just as locked into traditional strategies and practices as the NYC underlings Kris describes.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

If you want to make a contribution directly to Kris for her insights, here’s a link to her Patreon page.

Hold On, eBooks Cost HOW Much? The Inconvenient Truth About Library eCollections

From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

As we continue to stay home as much as possible, even the most die-hard “give me paper or give me death” readers have been dipping their toe into the ebook waters. And they’re discovering what long-time users have known forever.

Good news! You can get ebooks from your library!

But (bad news) only if you’re willing to wait for-EVER for the most popular titles.

Even for some of the less popular titles, wait times are much longer for ebooks than their print versions, and it’s just gotten worse as ebook popularity has dramatically increased this spring and summer.

Which leads to the following questions:

Why do you have to wait for an ebook at all?!
Why doesn’t my library just buy more copies?!
And the conclusion I’ve come to for both questions is: I think most publishers hate libraries.

I wish I were kidding.

When libraries and publishers entered the ebook landscape, they went with a model they knew and understood: they licensed library ebooks with a one copy/one user. While some other models have come out since then (such as cost-per-circ, where the library pays every time someone checks a book out, which you see with services like Hoopla) one copy/one user remains the most common way ebooks are sold for lending. However many licenses a library buys is how many people can read a book at a time.

So why doesn’t the library just buy more copies?

Because ebooks for libraries are really, really, really expensive.

Really expensive.

And then we don’t even get to keep them. Librarians pay wholesale for print books that can remain in circulation for literal decades, but ebooks are very different in terms of access and in terms of cost.

. . . .

So I started a project where every week I shared what was on the best seller list and how much those books cost. I shared specifically how much the library would spend to buy those titles in a paper book or an ebook and how much those same books (paper and ebook) would cost for a regular person. 

. . . .

First, let’s look at averages for print, digital book, and digital audio.

On average, the Suggested Retail Price for a print book (aka the price that’s printed on the cover) was $24.78.

On average again, Amazon would sell you (a reading consumer) a paper copy of that print book for $16.77.

Your library could buy a print copy from their vendors for $14.14.

Looking for digital?

You could buy that same book on average for $12.77 on your Kindle.

The library had to pay an average of $45.75.

YES WE HAD TO PAY THAT MUCH. 3.5 TIMES MORE THAN YOU DID.

On average, this means that we (libraries) can buy 3 print copies for every single ebook license, and still have some money left over.

$14.14 + $14.14 + $14.14 = $42.42 for 3 print books in circulation
vs.
$45.75 for a single license of an ebook.

And then there’s audio.

If you’re curious, the average price to buy the book on Audible was $27.28, but for libraries to get it in digital audio? $69.76.

. . . .

Of the popular titles included in this dataset:

  • 44.3% of digital library books were between $50.00 and $59.99.
  • 19.4% of digital library books were between $60.00 and $69.99.
  • 18.2% of digital library books were between $20.00 and $29.99.

In other words:

64% of ebooks cost over $50 for libraries, but none of the titles included in this data set are that much for anyone else.

99% of Kindle books cost $19.99 or less, but only about 13% of library ebooks do.

. . . .

Pour yourself another drink, because it gets worse when the usable lifespan of these purchases is examined against the price per item.

. . . .

86% of the ebooks from that list have to be repurchased on a regular basis, most commonly after 24 months, even if the book is never checked out.

This is why libraries can be reluctant to take an ebook chance on an unknown author.

When libraries buy the ebook, the terms of purchase are actually a lease. The publisher will take the book back after 24 months. If libraries want to still have that ebook available for checkout, they need to buy it again.

Publishers do this because, once again, they’re working off the print model, and print books don’t last forever. They get eaten by the dog or dropped in the tub or coffee gets spilled on them or after it’s been checked out a million times, it just wears out. And if people still want it, we’ll buy another copy.

But…(and this is a big but)

Remember how much libraries pay for print? ($14.14 on average, see above?)

How they pay even less than the average Amazon price?

The average price of an ebook that has to be repurchased is $49.48.

Wait, isn’t that higher than the average price of library ebooks?

YES IT IS.

The more expensive a book is, the more likely we have to rebuy it on a regular basis.

Only 1% of the books that cost over $50 don’t have to be regularly repurchased.

I know it doesn’t make sense.

Prices and terms for digital books are set by the publisher, and most publishers have broad rules that apply to all of their books.

And some very large publishers *cough* Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and Hachette *cough* have set high prices for books that expire quickly.

Why would they do this? Because they can. If libraries want to provide what our users want, we’ll pay their prices on their terms, no matter how ludicrous, because what choice do we have?

. . . .

Some publishers refuse to sell digital formats to libraries.

Major side-eye to every single Amazon imprint and company, which includes Lake Union, Audible, and more. All of those wonderful Audible exclusive audio books? Are Audible exclusive, which means libraries cannot acquire them.

Some self-published authors don’t make their stuff available on OverDrive, and if they’re part of Kindle Unlimited, they’re not allowed to.

How big of a problem is this?

Libraries were unable to buy 1.5% of this year’s bestsellers in ebook.

It’s worse for audio–libraries were unable to buy 15% of this year’s bestsellers in eaudio.

. . . .

If libraries have to pay that much money for an ebook and can only keep it for 24 months, they’re going to concentrate purchasing power on titles they know will circulate heavily, to get the most bang for the limited buck. Which means lots of blockbuster sure-bets, and less midlist or new authors.

For romance readers, fans of Avon and Harlequin are in luck, because they’re both HarperCollins imprints. HarperCollins charges Suggested Retail Price and libraries can keep the ebook for 26 checkouts. As with most romance publishers in mass market paperback, most of their ebook titles are $7.99 and libraries can keep them until they use up all 26 checkouts. While it’s still not as good as print (which libraries would pay less money for and which usually last far longer than 26 checkouts) it’s still the best pricing offered by any of the major traditional publishers.

But St. Martins is Macmillan, and Macmillan charges $60 for new ebooks (regardless of Suggested Retail Price) and their ebooks expire after 24 months, even if no one checked it out. Berkley is Penguin Random House, and they charge $55 for new ebooks that libraries can only keep for 24 months.

That can be really hard math to justify! With our vendor discount, libraries usually pay $4.95 for a mass market paperback with a Suggested Retail Price of $7.99, so they can buy a full dozen print copies for the same price of a single ebook (and that ebook expires after 24 months)

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and thanks to DM for the tip.

PG will note that the digital vendor his library uses is perfectly capable of proving any publisher with anonymized data reporting how many people checked out an ebook, how many people returned the ebook without reading it, how many people read part of the ebook (and how many pages they read) but returned the ebook without finishing it and how many people read the entire ebook.

PG is disappointed that Amazon won’t provide a simple path for indie authors to make their ebooks available to libraries at a price set by the author. Just like perma-free, ebooks in libraries can be a superb way for readers to discover new authors and books, helping authors and Amazon sell more.

PG will note that the digital vendor his library uses sends him to Amazon to download a library ebook which, on the book’s regular Amazon product page where the Add to Cart button is replaced by a Borrow button which he clicks to send the ebook to his selected reading device. So it would appear that much, if not most, of the plumbing is in place for indie authors to make their ebooks available to libraries.

Visitors to TPV can feel free to harass KDP and anyone else at Amazon to urge them to allow library purchase of KDP ebooks for lending by the libraries. Amazon could even require a minimum license price for library loans of indie ebooks if it felt library borrowing would eat into Amazon’s revenue stream from ebooks in some way.

If PG were in command of Amazon’s indie library sales initiative, he would be inclined to redesign the landing page where a library patron came to borrow an ebook to show other books by the same author, perhaps some Also-boughts or Also-borrows and an opportunity for the borrower to voluntarily link her/his Amazon account so Amazon could understand even more about the borrower’s interests.

#1 Most Popular Book

In connection with the release of Mrs. PG’s latest book, she ran a price promotion on the first book in this series, featuring a female Oxford professor/amateur sleuth.

Yesterday, early in the evening, she checked the performance of An Oxford Murder, Book 1 of her series, and was pleased to discover that it had a Best-sellers rank in the US Free Kindle Store of #1 for all ebooks, regardless of genre.

A bit earlier this morning, her book was still ranked #1 overall in the US and, on Amazon UK, #3 for Historical Mysteries.

When PG just checked, the book was ranked #4 overall for free books and #1 in Historical Mysteries, #1 in Women Sleuths and #2 in Literature & Fiction, each in the Free Kindle Store. It’s still hanging in as #3 for Historical Mysteries in the UK store.

Mrs. PG has always enjoyed good sales at the launch of a new book and for her free book promos, but this one is particularly good.

With respect to her latest book, Murder at Tregowyn Manor (which is priced at $2.99 for the ebook), most of her sales are coming from the US, as usual, but she’s also generating nice sales numbers from Australia and the UK as well.

PG shares these results for the benefit of other indie authors who may find them useful for their launch plans.

PG thanks all the kind visitors to TPV who have continued to support Mrs. PG’s books over the years since the launch of TPV.

Trade-Published Romance Sees a Coronavirus Boost in the States

From Publishing Perspectives:

Since 2012, traditionally published romance has been in “a steady decline.” Much of this, of course, parallels the rise of self-publishers’ entry into the velvet-roped arena.

If there’s a category in which self-publishing can claim to have walked away with the goods, it’s in low-priced romance ebooks, consumed by enviably loyal readers often at a rate of several titles per week.

The COVID-19 lockdown stage in the United States, however, “helped to lift the category’s ebook sales,” McLean’s report says.

“Unit sales for romance ebooks,” she writes, “increased 17 percentage points from January through May 2020. In all, 16.2 million romance ebooks and print books were sold during this time period.”

Total romance book sales in the trade–which had declined 11 percent in January 2020 over January 2019–began trending upward in March.

The category showed strong growth through the acute COVID-19 shutdown period, with print and ebook sales closing slightly higher–0.1 percent–in May, because of an impressive rebound in ebook unit sales.

Those unit ebook sales rose 17.4 points from January through May 2020. This meant that ebooks made up 60 percent of romance category sales, and romance ebook unit sales increased 10 percent between January and May 2020.

. . . .

In breaking out growth subjects, McLean sees historical romance in the lead on a unit basis, both in print and ebook formats, “but top-selling ebook titles differed from print sales leaders.”

  • Golden in Death by JD Robb (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, February) led ebook sales in the overall romance category, followed by Hideaway by the dependable Nora Roberts (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, May) and Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas (HarperCollins/Avon, February).
  • Print sales were led by Window on the Bay by Debbie Macomber (Penguin Random House/Ballantine, February), followed by Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks (Hachette Book Group/Sphere, October 2018), and Country Strong by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin, January).

In her comments, McLean says, “With brick-and-mortar retail bookstores closed in the States this past spring, ebook sales–which have always been stronger for romance than in other categories–really took off.

. . . .

“Print romance also rose slightly, as newly housebound readers looked for fun and immersive germ-free reads while waiting out the pandemic.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Publishers who didn’t care about digital are putting a lot of money into that now

From The New Publishing Standard:

Arts Council England is, for those unfamiliar with the UK’s troubled political divisions, the government-funded arts body for the southern part of the UK, England, as opposed to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This week the Council’s literature director Sarah Crown has been warning that despite spring 2020 financial support from the Council and from government furloughs, many independent publishers are struggling, and with the imminent threat of renewed lockdowns as autumn and winter loom, small publishers are “not out of the woods” yet.

The comments came in the UK trade journal The Bookseller’s webinar on the future of small presses where Crown stressed that while the literature sector of the arts scene was faring better than the performing arts, with theatres and cinemas closed, the survival of small presses was essential to the overall health of England’s arts.

. . . .

As summarised by The Bookseller, Crown said:

A priority for the literature sector of ACE is to help small presses move from “the fragile business models they are operating in currently”, and emerge from the pandemic with more sustainable structures that are not dependent on the next book sale.

At which point one might expect that digital-first publishers would be faring better than those who placed too much reliance on print and were hardest hit by the lockdown, but digitally-focussed publishers like Hera Books were finding that’s not the case, not because demand was low, but because competition was fierce.

Hera Books’ Lindsey Mooney explained the company was experiencing a plateau in sales:

This month, the trajectory we’re on is not great, we’re not doubling sales every month like we were (in part due to) big name authors discounting heavily” (but also because) publishers who didn’t care about digital are now putting a lot of money into that.

Cherise Lopes-Baker, commissioning fiction editor at Jacaranda Books, said that Jacaranda was commissioning fewer titles because of the uncertain future for bricks & mortar sales and consequently had,

pivoted to digital,

meaning investing in an online bookstore as well as digital books.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Spain’s Book Market: 40 Percent More Online Buying During Lockdown

From Publishing Perspectives:

[Spanish] consumers cited entertainment and disconnection from the situation (97 percent), relaxation (93 percent), and tranquility (90 percent) as the key values of reading during the lockdown. And 72 percent of respondents reported buying books online.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG doesn’t usually include two posts in a single day from the same source, but the confluence of the Spanish and US ebook market reports was too much for him to resist.

US Ebook Market: NPD Sees a 31-Percent Jump in Unit Sales in April

From Publishing Perspectives:

On the heels of its second-quarter report on the American book market, which we covered here on Monday, the NPD Group today (July 21) has released new data showing that ebook unit sales in April rose by nearly a third over the previous month: a new indication of how consumers reached for digital retail under the constraints of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Year over year through April, NPD PubTrack Digital saw trade ebook sales decline by 6 percent, a total 55 million units sold. But Kristen McLean, who leads book industry analysis for NPD, says that when she looks only at April—in many parts of the States the first full month of stay-at-home measures—ebooks made that 31-percent jump in unit sales over March, selling an additional 4.2 million units.

“With brick-and-mortar retail bookstores shut down in the United States this spring,” she says, “the ebook format became more popular during the COVID-19 crisis. Ebooks are easy to purchase, can be read instantly after being downloaded, and eliminate any concerns over infection or availability.”

. . . .

Sales growth for adult ebooks was led by general fiction, which rose 23 percent in April compared to March according to data from NPD BookScan.

The leading general fiction title in April was Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. . . The film tie-in was released in March, the same month that Liz Tigelaar’s Hulu series adaptation with Reese Witherspoon premiered.

The romance category posted 22-percent growth in April compared to March, led by First Comes Scandal by Julia Quinn . . . .

Adult nonfiction title unit sales grew 37 percent in April compared to March 2020.

Categories with the highest ebook unit growth included biography and memoir, which rose 40 percent in April, led by the April 2020 Oprah Book Club selection, Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family . . . .

Cooking ebooks posted the second-highest unit growth, rising 96 percent in unit sales in April compared to previous month.

. . . .

Children’s ebooks declined 12 percent over the first half of the year, with 5.1 million units sold, McLean points out.

But in April, children’s ebook fiction grew 78 percent in April over March, while children’s nonfiction grew 39 percent.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG expects Amazon had a good month for ebook sales in April.

What we’ve learnt about lockdown reading

From The Bookseller:

The past few months have restricted physical access to bookshops, interrupted supply chains and created a raft of logistical complexities for the publishing industry. Even with restrictions easing, traditional consumer marketing and PR are trickier to execute safely. However, our data at The Pigeonhole over the past few months demonstrates that readers are embracing digital in a big way.

Launched in 2014, The Pigeonhole is on online book club which serialises books and hosts an interactive, review-driven community that discusses the books, both on the app and through Google Hangouts. In the past 12 months, we serialised 180 books for our community, including The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Double Agent by Tom Bradby, Buried by Lynda La Plante and Humankind by Rutger Bregman. We have over 12,000 active members including over 700 Amazon/Goodreads reviewers, and also provide book club services to schools and companies.

The good news for us, and the book industry in general, is that more time has been spent on our apps during lockdown than ever before. Engagement has increased by 80%, with more than one million monthly page swipes during the past four months. Demand for serialisation places has increased by 56%, and the average number of reviews has increased by 78% since late-March – now averaging 57 reviews per title (with that number regularly topping 100 in projects where the author has been a hands-on presence). Readers have also migrated to our digital book club to partake in an established reading community during this prolonged period of isolation.

1.    An author’s digital involvement moves the sales needle

Readers love it when authors take an active part in their digital serialisation, reading along with participants, responding to comments, and providing digital media to enrich their book’s digital edition. Our review figures correlate with the level of author involvement; a conversational author provides a more powerful message than a review request. The conversion rate is even higher for those readers who take part in our Google Hangout events with the author.

2.    Readers are not 9 – 5

The average length of a reading session has gone up by 60% to an average of 21 minutes. A lack of commuting has actually increased the length of time users are on the platform. Activity on the platform spikes at 5 – 7 am (even on the weekends) and again at 2 – 3 pm. There is a surge on Wednesday afternoon when we send our 12,000 strong userbase email exhibiting all our new books – many of which now often sell out within hours.

. . . .

4.    Digital non-fiction is consumed in a different way to digital fiction

To keep up with the increased demand for content from our community, we have started serialising non-fiction. With 2-3 nonfiction titles available each month, our understanding of how different genres are consumed is deepening. Broadly speaking, non-fiction serialisations have smaller groups, readers take longer to finish books, and the conversation is more considered. Readers are more likely to consume a non-fiction book over 20 days rather than the usual 10 for a fiction title, dipping in and out in a more staccato pattern.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Case for E-galleys

From Publishers Weekly:

One of the biggest “first-world problems” to arise during 2020’s necessary isolation in response to Covid-19 has to do with e-books. I’m specifically talking about e-galleys, the early versions of books that critics, reviewers, and librarians often receive from publishers in place of paper versions.

Back in 2005, I ordered the first-generation Kindle straight away. I loved it, too. But it wasn’t my first go-round with electronic reading. At two magazines where I’d worked, I’d tested different e-readers. I was an early adopter, and I’ll never apologize for it.

However, in the 15 years since buying that first device, I’d fallen off the e-reading bandwagon. I’d moved on from working at the intersection of publishing and technology to a role as a literary journalist and book critic. As I began writing more and more, I began receiving more and more print books. No longer did I have to request a galley or a finished book; the floodgates burst, those floodgates being the shelves in my home office, which now groan with galleys, ARCs, trade paperbacks, and hardcovers.

I’m not complaining. It remains a thrill for me to dig into a pile of book mail and see the beautiful volumes that authors and publishers work so hard to write and produce. My home has “real” books in almost every room, and don’t get me started on the books I’m saving for our daughters to share with their own children one day.

But the e-readers I’ve had over the years have convinced me that there’s a time and place for digital copies. For me, that time and place is in my professional life. Being able to download books from NetGalley and Edelweiss, or receive PDFs from various imprints, has saved my shoulders, eyes, and calendar. I no longer tote multiple books with me on business trips or vacations or even across town. My e-reader allows me to store hundreds of titles, so I always have books for assignments, books to consider, and books for pleasure in one place. The e-ink of the Paperwhite is easy on my eyes, and at times when I choose to read on my phone or a tablet, I can easily adjust the font depending on where I am and which glasses I have nearby.

Almost all of my colleagues—editors and producers and reviewers—say they loathe e-galleys. They complain about them loudly on social media, and more quietly at lunches, moaning about how they need the “feel” of a book, need to be able to flip back and forth, to highlight passages, make notes in the margins. “No e-galleys! No PDFs!” they cry, yearning for the day when Covid-19 isolation ends and they can once more receive large piles of Tyvek envelopes filled with paper.

First, I say, enjoy the feel of a book on your own time; when we’re trying to decide which of a month’s five dozen novels belongs on a list, its feel has nothing to do with its candidacy. Second, you can highlight and annotate e-books quite easily—maybe even more easily, than you can paper books. Third, while it’s true that flipping back and forth is tougher with a digital volume, the blessed search function makes up for it. Want to go back to the spot where the protagonist drops the vial of poison? Just type in vial and there you are. I’ve found the blessings of e-galleys far outweigh their curses, and that goes for PDFs, too—a little more unwieldy, but similarly convenient.

To my digital-shy colleagues, I would also say: think about resources. Digital devices do drain them, but if you have devices already—and I know you do—then receiving digital books saves on the production materials, shipping materials, and fuel used in creating and distributing print galleys.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG recently wanted to read an older book by Aaron Elkins that Mrs. PG had recommended to him and was part of the paper library that hadn’t been donated to the local library.

It just didn’t feel right and making certain he didn’t lose his place when he took a break was a bit of a pain. Instead of just putting his Paperwhite down, knowing that it would look exactly the same when he picked it up again after five minutes, 30 minutes, 90 minutes, etc., PG had to prop the ancient trade paperback open and worry that he might bump it in a typically clumsy fashion when he came back to sit down. (PG knows: First World Problem).

The biggest drawback is that PG loves to read while lying flat on his back. No pillow, just a mattress. Just flat. A careless moment on a motorcycle in college adjusted PG’s spinal column a bit, so ultra flat feels perfect.

He’s mentioned his weird-looking prism glasses before. They slip over PG’s computer glasses (which work better than no-line bifocals) and make reading very pleasurable. The featherweight Paperwhite is easy to hold with one hand and PG’s right thumb is just as automatic as his paper-turning right hand used to be.

Coronavirus Worklife: Rakuten Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn

From Publishing Perspectives:

A crisis like the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is like a crucible for an industry like publishing—which already has had its share of disruptions, of course.

In a talk delivered to the Digital Publishing Summit and Readmagine 2020 conference that continues this week, Tamblyn expanded on many of the issues and challenges he and his team based in Toronto were just starting to look at when his Kobo Italy staff and Grupo Mondadori worked together in mid-March to deliver free ebooks to quarantined Italians as one of Europe’s most fearful virus outbreaks was taking hold.

. . . .

Tamblyn mentioned that he and his employees were working from home voluntarily—to find out where the pitfalls might lie “on our own terms.”

What he would learn, he says now, was much more and fell into three categories:

  • What was learned about how Kobo works as a company during this (and implications forward)
  • What was learned about readers and relationship to reading
  • What was learned about the industry as a whole

For example, he says, Kobo was accustomed to its factories in China and Taiwan coming to a halt in production during the annual Chinese new year celebrations in January. That, Black Friday in November, and the week leading up to Christmas, he says, are the key tech-industry “high holidays” that normally can affect production and operations.

But of course, this year, the Chinese new year—which he calls “doubly important” because factories close completely in China and Taiwan—was different. “Because everybody who left for new year to go home and visit their families, Tamblyn says, “didn’t come back. For the first time in living memory, the new year holiday at the end of January was extended by a week.” As Wuhan and other zones would become locked down and factory production halted, companies like Kobo were faced with new difficulties in supply.

“How long would it be before we could make new e-readers?” was the question, Tamblyn says.

By February’s end, the company’s manufacturers were back to about 50 percent of capacity.

. . . .

“The least interesting question was the remote work question.” Kobo had had staffers working remotely for five years or longer. “We’re spread across offices in Toronto, Taipei, Dublin, and Darmstadt. And we have a Japanese parent company that has prioritized video conferences as necessary for good communication ever since we were acquired in 2012.”

Being as accustomed as they are to remote working, Kobo has given all its employees the option of working this way until at least January 2021, Tamblyn says. “If we can start to open up, we don’t expect to be able to bring back more than 25 percent of our employees at one time until a vaccine is found. And some will probably stay remote permanently. And that’s okay.”

“Big things” that Tamblyn says they’ve learned from this element of the experience will be part of “the new normal for us” will involve the fact that, “the hard parts of working from home turn out to be child care, roommates, bad connectivity, lack of home-office space.” The most common reasons employees ask to come back to work are just such difficult conditions at home.

. . . .

“It turns out,” Tamblyn says, “it’s never been about the office. It’s always been about the people. And that with the right tools and habits and rituals, culture can be strengthened and maintained without people being in one building.’

As services unlock, he says, “Our headcount will get bigger but it will get more spread out.”

. . . .

“We were able to sell more e-readers with all of our 10,000 stores closed than we had forecasted to sell with them open,” he says.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG thinks Mr. Tamblyn sounds like a smart guy.

Although it has little to do with indie authors, who overwhelmingly work from home, PG has heard and read the same sort of observations from others who are not irrevocably locked into the traditional office mentality.

On occasion, PG has received feelers about various types of employment, but has declined to pursue them because they would have required him to move to a new location. PG has moved a great many times during his life and has lived in his present location longer than he has in any other and enjoys the feeling.

Had any of the job opportunities included a “stay where you are” element, PG would not have politely declined them almost immediately.

Hiring the right employees is the most important task of any successful business. Current technologies (and likely future extensions of those technologies plus other technologies few can imagine today) make physical presence in a physical office of an employer less and less valuable. A great employee who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away provides great value plus her/his employer doesn’t have to pay the recurring cost of a physical office for the employee, which can be extraordinarily high in major metro areas. The more talented the employee, the larger the office he/she will expect.

The Pandemic’s ‘Acceleration of Trends’

From Publishing Perspectives about the ‘Digital Publishing Summit / Readmagine 2020:

Today (June 2), Wischenbart has given a Presentation of the Digital Consumer Book Barometer in the first of the day’s two sessions. A man of several brands, Wischenbart produces, among them, the Digital Consumer Book Barometer as one of his projects. Others are the Global Ebook Report and the Global 50 Ranking of the Publishing Industry, along with Frankfurter Buchmesse’s CEO Talks series.

. . . .

The “barometer” looks at developments relative to ebooks and audiobooks primarily in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—the German-language core markets, in other words—with additional input from Italy, Spain, Brazil, and Mexico.

And in the case of this year’s report, it’s important to note that Wischenbart’s observations take us to the time just before the world pandemic of the coronavirus COVID-19 began to lock down the hardest-hit markets on which the report focuses. In that sense, then, the research can be seen as a kind of baseline before the damage—in some cases wreckage—would begin to upend publishing in the Worldometer system tracks as 213 countries and territories.

. . . .

Wischenbart tells Publishing Perspectives in an exchange prior to his presentation online today, that the status quo before the COVID-19 crises was already characterized by “some significant developments and challenges.” He lists:

  • A growing pressure on prices in the digital offer
  • Consumers who naturally switch between digital and analog formats
  • Consumers who similarly switch between reading and listening—or may be gradually changing their primary mode
  • Purchase vs. subscription
  • Streaming capabilities and library lending
  • Steady growth in downloaded audiobook sales, although the format’s sector remains a small percentage of most markets—in the audio-friendly US market, for example, 8.9 percent in March, per the Association of American Publishers’ StatShot

“These trends and patterns shaped the year 2019,” Wischenbart says. “It’s to be expected that these deep shifts will have an even greater impact on publishers and retailers in 2020″—and that would have been the case even had a novel coronavirus not imposed historic barriers to sales and production worldwide.

Another interesting, associated effect of the pandemic was the UK government’s sudden decision to drop its VAT on digital reading seven months before it had been planned, to help locked down readers find safe digital reading material while being asked to stay home. That was a case of a long-overdue correction to an anomaly in a market that long had charged zero VAT for print, but 20 percent for digital products.

. . . .

“Publishers certainly earn money with higher-priced offers with comparatively low sales,” Wischenbart says, “up to €15 euros for an ebook and more than €20 euros per download for the audiobook. But the price trend was clearly pointing downward.”

Wischenbart says he sees a hardening of the price ceiling in Spain and Italy, he says, where before the pandemic hit, €10 had become the most that consumers would pay to download an ebook. And overall, he says, the trend was universal toward “the cheapest offers” in the digital markets he was studying.

. . . .

The importance of bestsellers, Wischenbart says, has generally been seen to increase in ebooks much more than in audiobooks. In audio, in the markets he’s looking at, he says he sees romance, children’s and YA books, the midlist and backlist being more prominent than bestsellers.

. . . .

Like most specialists, Wischenbart says he sees an upturn in digital reading consumption during the pandemic. This is something stressed by Xu Hai of China’s vast Phoenix Publishing & Media in his interview with us for our Coronavirus Worklife series.

Wischenbart agrees, though, of course, that it’s yet to be seen how lasting the virus-driven changes in consumer behavior may be.

And as he looks forward to what may be effects in play from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he lists:

  • The question (as raised by Xu Hai in China) of hybrid users: are consumers who may have been print-bound, so to speak, now more open to digital–and even more attracted to digital?
  • Ever greater competition between various media, formats, and the battle for consumers’ attention and time—what Rakuten Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn (who speaks on Thursday for Readmagine) has called “the attention economy” in which all publishers must “fight for time,” the limited time of consumers
  • More competition between established “core actors” in the publishing space and newcomers, new entrants into the markets

. . . .

[T]he overriding impact of the pandemic on digital publishing might be as an accelerant. The advent of the inconveniences and impositions of the locked down experience may have caused existing trends such as more segmentation between consumer sectors to speed up.

If indeed the pandemic has collapsed time in speeding up consumer adoption of one form of reading or to speed up consumer transfer from, say, reading to more film and television consumption, then the most watchful and agile publishers are the ones who’ll be ready to respond as these effects become more evident.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Bookshop, Hummingbird Sales Skyrocket

From Shelf Awareness:

At Hummingbird Digital Media, which is an American Booksellers Association Marketplace partner for e-books (Hummingbird also sells downloadable audio), sales in the last four weeks have risen 1,315% over the previous four weeks, according to president and chief visionary officer Stephen Black Mettee. For the year to date, sales are up 1,000%.

Hummingbird’s bookstore count has jumped 25% since the coronavirus began spreading in the U.S. although there are still some bookstores that haven’t signed on.

Mettee’s take: “Some bookstores had been slow to embrace e-books and audiobooks. I think as we come out of this–and we will–we’ll find bookstores making digital sales a more important part of their business. That will just make independent bookstores stronger overall. A silver lining in a particularly dark cloud?”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

7 reasons why ebooks are better than printed books

From Business Insider:

I have always been a book worm. When I was eight, I even won an award for “being an avid, spontaneous reader” (my reward was a book — a beautifully illustrated version of “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett).

Growing up, my room was full of shelves upon shelves of paperbacks and hardcovers. I kept a journal to remember all the books I had read. I scorned people who bent the corners of pages instead of using a bookmark, I couldn’t imagine marking up a book with a pen or highlighter, I hated when book spines cracked or covers bent.

When ebooks came on the scene, I thought they were ridiculous. Why would I want to read on a digital device when I could hold a lovely physical book, when I could smell the pages and have the satisfaction of turning real pages? I was, in short, a book fanatic.

I tell you all this because I’m never not surprised that I am now an ebook evangelist.

It all started when I (accidentally) became a tech reporter and I started to review e-readers. At first, I disliked having to test them and eagerly awaited going back to my paperbacks, but then I started traveling a lot for work and something clicked: Ebooks are good!

Ebooks vs. books: Why are ebooks better?

  1. They are much more portable than physical books, so you can carry dozens if not hundreds or thousands of them around with you on a device that weighs less than half a pound.
  2. You can download them in a matter of minutes so you don’t have to wait for them to be delivered if you ordered them online.
  3. You don’t have to go to the store to buy them.
  4. They are never out of stock because they are digital files.
  5. You can get many ebooks for free from Project Gutenberg, Amazon, and your local library.
  6. Ebooks often go on sale, so you can get bestsellers for $1 to $5. You can follow BookBub for deal alerts.
  7. They come with fun features like sharing highlighted quotations on social media, looking up words in the dictionary as you read, digital bookmarks, and much more.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Collins makes hundreds of books and resources available for free

From The Bookseller:

Collins has made hundreds of books and learning resources free for teachers and families as schools close over the coronavirus.

The firm is giving free access to its online learning platform, Collins Connect, for the length of the school closures. The platform is for both primary and secondary schools and is home to learning and teaching resources for a range of subjects including English, maths and science at all levels, as well as international curricula.

On collins.co.uk it will also be providing free resources and support to parents who have children at home. It includes more than 300 e-books from its Big Cat reading programme, activity sheets, a times tables practice tool, revision and PDF downloads of many of its titles. Collins is adding resources daily to the site.

In addition, Collins will be enabling free access to textbooks in e-book format for schools that are already using its titles in the classroom so that pupils can continue their learning at home.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Morocco’s National Library goes digital as country locked down

From The New Publishing Standard:

Morocco is among the many countries closing libraries to help contain the Coronavirus threat, and as elsewhere, it is turning to digital to ensure services are not halted.

The National Library of Morocco in Rabat (BNRM) is among numerous Moroccan public institutions shifting to a work-from-home policy and a commitment to providing digital content in lieu of physical products.

Morocco’s schools closed a week ago, in stark contrast to the UK, which only closed schools this weekend, and the USA, where the government continues to send out mixed messages, leaving governors and mayors to take the lead and protect lives.

But like many countries across the Middle East and North Africa, the belated realisation of the value of digital means the transition from physical, in-class education and social support to online is a slow and cumbersome process.

Morocco World News reports that the BNRM says it will,

offer online administrative services to its subscribers, and access to electronic documents including legal deposits, manuscripts, magazines, books, and more.

The library will adopt a work system that doesn’t require its employees’ physical presence, opting instead for video chats to carry out administrative meetings.

Remote educational activities will replace lessons and classes, allowing students to stay at home and continue studies.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

OverDrive Reports Record Digital Borrowing in 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Public libraries around the world generated a record level of digital content circulation in 2019, providing patrons access to more than 326 million e-books, audiobooks and digital magazines, a 20% increase over the previous year, according to a report by Rakuten OverDrive, a digital distribution vendor for libraries

According to the report, 73 public library systems in five countries each loaned over 1 million digital books over the past year, including eight systems that hit the million loans mark for the first time. Among the top digital library lending systems are the Toronto Public Library (6.6 million digital loans), Los Angeles Public Library (the top U.S. library with 5.9 million digital loans); and the National Library Board of Singapore (the top lender outside of North America with 4.2 million loans).

According to the OverDrive report, the increase in digital borrowing represents the “library’s role as a valued discovery channel” for publishers and authors. Nevertheless, the OverDrive report on digital lending comes in the wake of continuing concerns by publishers that digital borrowing may undermine book sales. These concerns have led to a continuing dispute between publishers and libraries over efforts by some publishers to restrict the ability of libraries to offer digital access to their titles.

According to the OverDrive data, the number of e-books borrowed rose 15% in the year to 211 million; digital audiobooks borrowed jumped 30%, to 114 million, and 59 million children’s/young adult checkouts took place, a gain of 27% over 2018.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG thought publishers’ concerns about consumers borrowing physical titles from the library instead of buying them at bookstores had been resolved a long time ago. If lending libraries and the consumer behavior they enable were dangerous or fatal to publishers and physical bookstores, such damage would have manifested itself long ago.

If it makes sense for publishers to sell physical books to libraries with the understanding that the library is going to lend the book and the publisher will receive no incremental income from such loans, nothing about ebooks should really change the underlying business considerations. With the specialized software the library uses to lend a copy of an ebook and delete it from the reader’s device at the end of the loan, the likelihood that ebooks lent through the library are going to be pirated is lower than those sold (licensed) through Amazon where no such automatic deletion function is built into the ebook management system (at least to PG’s knowledge).

Here’s an excerpt from the help file of Libby, a popular (the most popular?) lending software used in the United States:

Books are automatically returned to the library on their due date. When they’re returned, they’re also removed from your Loans and deleted from your device (if downloaded).

PG has noted before that on a scale of most to least sophisticated marketers and advertisers, traditional publishers are at the bottom, just below used car lots and payday lenders.

Why?

Free samples are a long-time staple of advertising and promotion campaigns for a variety of products.

Perhaps there are physical bookstores that do not allow visitors to leaf through and read parts of books as part of the shopping process, but PG is not aware of their existence. Such consumer behavior is sampling. Amazon permits the same behavior in its bookstore. No one expects that everyone who samples a product will purchase it.

If sampling was not a reliable method of increasing sales, PG expects retail establishments would end the practice.

If a reader borrows an ebook from a library by an author she hasn’t read before, from the reader’s perspective, that’s another form of sampling. (In this case, the publisher receives some compensation from the library for licensing the book in the first place.)

If this instance of book sampling is successful and the reader enjoys the book, then returns it to the library and looks for the next book in the series or another book by the same author and finds a two-month waiting list to borrow that next book, the reader is only a few clicks away from buying the next ebook by that author on Amazon and starting to read it in a couple of minutes. The reader may even purchase a printed version of the book she has borrowed and enjoyed for her own physical library, sign up for the author’s and/or publisher’s email list, etc.

Discovering a great new author and buying other books written by that author is a far more frictionless process with ebooks than it is with physical books. Going to a physical bookstore to buy that book requires transporting oneself to that store, hoping the store stocks the book, etc., etc. Buying a physical copy of the book from Amazon involves a wait of at least one or two days.

The incremental cost of goods for the publisher in creating, storing, transporting, etc., a copy of the second ebook is probably zero. The same costs for a physical book are definitely more than zero.

A sophisticated seller would be overjoyed to sell products with no incremental costs of producing and transporting those products instead of dealing with the costs and friction involved in selling physical products. Bill Gates, Microsoft and a lot of other people and business organizations have become extremely wealthy from selling organized collections of electrons.

Kobo’s 10th Anniversary

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Sunday (December 15), Rakuten Kobo [reached] its 10th anniversary.

. . . .

In any week, [Kobo CEO Michael] Tamblyn says, Kobo will deliver ebooks to some 150 countries. “Over the course of a year,” he says, “we’ll hit all the countries the United Nations recognizes and a few others.”

. . . .

The operation also has localized merchandizing and/or other partnerships in some 25 countries. The catalogue available through the retailer comes in at between 5 and 6 million titles.

At the end of November, another new market was opened: Vincent Chang in the Singapore Straits Times welcomed the introduction of Kobo’s e-readers to the island nation

. . . .

And that factor in itself—leading with a line of e-reading devices—is a clue to how Kobo has become the most purposefully internationalized player in the digital reading industry.

“It’s been really interesting too look back over the development of the company, you know,” Tamblyn says, “to look at how we achieved the position that we have and what were some of the decisions we’ve made that resulted in that. Out of all the startups that we were on the starting line within 2009, why are we still standing? So many others have gone away. And we need to take that point of retrospective as we get ready for the next 10 years.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that this is a business that rewards scale,” he says. “It definitely helps to be one of the big players in the space. But it also rewards diversification.

“We see a third of our sales coming from Asia, a third from the Americas, north and south, and a third from Europe.

“We do see ups and downs in individual territories,” Tamblyn says. “We see individual markets peak and then plateau. We see other ones start slowly and then accelerate. And spreading ourselves out—realizing that this is a long game as opposed to something to be won in a couple of years—has given us a lot of resilience and diversification. And that’s allowed us to keep going when a lot of others didn’t find themselves able to get that critical mass.”

. . . .

The January 2018 announcement of Kobo’s partnership with Walmart in the United States drew widespread attention in the world industry.

Already well recognized for its emphasis on international expansion and partnerships, Tamblyn had taken a turn into a market he’d effectively conceded years earlier to Amazon’s dominance. What made the Walmart arrangement clever, of course, was that it integrated the Kobo offer into Walmart’s growing online retail effort, meaning that Kobo had landed, effectively, as the big-box retailer’s in-house vendor in the field.

Walmart had the same reason Kobo did to want to build its online presence in the American market: Amazon.

“Walmart, when you look across its entire portfolio of e-commerce,” Tamblyn says in his interview, “is really pushing hard on being that strong competitor in the US. They’ve been a great partner to work with, and there’s still a lot more we can do in that channel. So really this past year has just been getting us started.”

But asked if the success of the Walmart partnership doesn’t turn on the fact that Kobo can ride the energy of that huge company’s online expansion, Tamblyn has another approach.

“There were a couple of pieces” to the arrangement, he says.

“One is that we want to be where readers are, where books are getting purchased, where people are showing up and making shopping decisions about reading—so we can introduce ebooks and audiobooks to them. And we can do that in a place where they’re already showing up for that reading experience every day.

“So that has us looking at each individual market in terms of where is there a great retailer who has access to that customer in a privileged way. At the same time, who sees themselves as being in a competitive battle with those big ecosystem players—Amazon, Google, Apple—and wants to hold on to that customer and retain that reading relationship with them over time?”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Why Online Mobile Publishing Is the Future

From Publishers Weekly:

Every young writer’s dream probably goes a little something like this: Start writing a book, publish it online, and gain a massive fan base from all around the world. Then find ways to monetize and gradually make writing a main source of income and transition to doing it full-time. And who knows, maybe later down the road, Hollywood comes knocking and a passion project gets turned into something for the big screen?

That’s exactly the story of Bi Chu, a Korean writer who found stardom publishing his work online. He’s published eight popular stories to date, including They Say I Was Born a King’s Daughter, an international hit. On the Chinese entertainment platform Tencent, the title reached more than 100 million views in 40 days. In the U.S., on online comics and novels platform Tapas, the title has grossed over $600,000 from micropayments alone.

These days, apps are where most digital media consumption is happening—especially among younger millennial and Gen-Z audiences—and bite-size stories optimized for mobile reading provide a highly engaging form of entertainment media. Even in the era of video streaming, reading still has its place. It’s an easy-to-navigate medium where readers can control the pace of consumption (whereas a 40-minute video can’t easily be sped up).

The publishing industry laments that young people don’t read anymore, but they actually read more now than ever—think Twitter feeds and Reddit comment sections. It’s the traditional print books that are losing ground, and publishing needs to fundamentally change to suit today’s mobile audience.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Publishing Your Ebook Is Changing on Smashwords

From The Book Designer:

This is a third and final perspective in my publishing strategy trilogy, a drama festival with three events, Amazon and Ingram being the earlier performances. There have been five-week breaks between these theatrics as I proceed in the Joel Friedlander modern publishing ecosystem.

If you want to distribute your ebook through Amazon directly and then also to “every ebook vendor beyond Amazon,” how should you do it? Smashwords is my recommended choice.

Non-exclusive is my chosen publishing survival mantra in book/ebook publishing. I work with Amazon directly, but am non-exclusive. I also think this is the healthiest approach for all citizens who control “knowledge products” in our society, meaning books/ebooks. We need as much diversity in the marketplace of ideas as we can arrange. Diversity in the marketplace is a socially desirable goal.

I have always wondered what percentage of ebooks sold in America are sold on Amazon. I have heard a lot of folks say 60% for several years. But recently a couple of knowledgeable people said the figure is higher. If you have credible info on this, please share it with us.

I wanted a way to distribute my ebook with Amazon and beyond Amazon. My targets would be Apple Books (formerly called iBooks), B&N ebooks, Kobo, and all the other vendors. How would I do this?

. . . .

I decided years ago, in my first ebooks, to proceed with BookBaby for two ebooks. They did and still do a good job. But revisions of my ebooks with BookBaby will require a substantial new cost, as I understand it. In Amazon Kindle and in Smashwords, I can simply write over the file at no cost. So I switched to Amazon direct and to Smashwords for “everyone else,” which is what I recommend now for ebook distribution.

. . . .

Details of Financial Return to the Author in Kindle, Ingram, and Smashwords

Authors need to keep track of exactly the cash returned to them in sales from their participation in each of these publishing ecosystems.

With my $4.99 ebook, how much do I earn today in the various structures?

Amazon Kindle

In Amazon Kindle, the formula appears to be 70% of retail, but after a delivery fee, which depends on ebook size.

Your ebook on Amazon must be in the recommended $2.99-$9.99 range to get the 70%. The return appears to drop to 35% when you are out of compliance regarding the recommended ebook prices.

. . . .

IngramSpark

In IngramSpark the formula for ebooks appears to be 40% or 45% return of retail price and there is no restriction on price parameters.

. . . .

Smashwords

In Smashwords, the situation is both simple and more complicated.

When Smashwords sells one of my ebooks in Apple Books, as an example, it appears that I earn 60% of list. For Libraries, the return is 45% of list.

However, Smashwords also has its own internal selling ecosystem, so my book in that structure appears to net for me 56% to 85% of list. The details are granular. Mark Coker recently wrote me about this as follows:

“For sales through the Smashwords Store, the percentage is based on the total amount of the shopping cart. The author earns 85% net where net = the purchase price minus the PayPal fee. So, for some common price points it would be 56% for a 99 cent ebook, 74% for a $2.99 book, 76% for $3.99 and 80% for books or shopping cart totals over $7.99. The easiest way for you to get the exact percentage at different price points is to log into your account, click publish, then enter sample prices into the pricing calculator. It’ll display a dynamic pie chart that shows how much is earned at each price for each channel.”

. . . .

Smashwords, as well as IngramSpark, does not appear to penalize authors who want to price their ebooks above $9.99. Two of my travel journalism colleagues, experts in their niches, like this set-your-own-price approach. They have their niche markets and are able to command higher than $9.99 for their ebook products. On Amazon their return would drop to 35%.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Perhaps it’s time for another exploration of Smashwords and IngramSpark, but PG’s long-ago experiment with non-Amazon platforms resulted in very few sales for Mrs. PG’s books.

While PG was on The Book Designer site, he discovered that Joel Friedlander, book designer extraordinaire, had vastly expanded his collection of templates for the interior design for various types of books. You find all the design templates here.

For the last two of Mrs. PG’s books, PG has used KindleCreate (if the link doesn’t work for you, just Google KindleCreate), a free downloadable book formatting mini-program.

KC has worked pretty well and none of Mrs. PG’s readers have complained, but Joel’s templates address some of KindleCreate’s shortcomings (in PG’s eyes):

  1. KC only has four different formatting templates (and to PG’s untutored eye, only one looks good enough for Mrs. PG’s books.)
  2. KC is tightly-integrated with KDP (good), but the file it produces doesn’t seem to be useful for anything but publishing with Amazon. No Epub sites need apply.
  3. Additionally, PG couldn’t find any way to adjust anything in the file produced by KindleCreate in MSWord. Any problems with the final ebook file could only be addressed with the very limited KC program.

PG would be interested in hearing other comments about KindleCreate vs. MSWord-based templates from visitors to TPV who are familiar with both.

Open Access: It is up to librarians to make it happen

From No Shelf Required:

In the past few years, the book and library industry has witnessed many lively discussions about the present and the future of the Open Access (OA) movement and its sustainability for both academic publishers on the one end (i.e., those who need sustainable business models to produce quality content that can be shared openly for years to come) and libraries and academic institutions on the other (i.e., those who need to support it financially in order for it to keep going, because, without their investment, OA fails publishers, authors and the scholarly community at large. Most such discussions focus on what OA can and cannot do for librarians and publishers. Less often, however, they involve those two sides discussing how their actions (and inactions) affect those who are supposed to benefit from the idea of open access and open science: scholars and researchers. More specifically: scholars and researchers in countries where access to science and scientific knowledge remains sparse and uneven and where libraries do not have the means of supporting their academics and scientists the way libraries in the more developed parts of the world do.

. . . .

The goal, therefore, was to discuss the impact of OA on research globally and consider if the promise of OA to equalize access for users and researchers beyond the most affluent academic markets is being achieved. This helped center the discussion around the following: Do researchers have access to freely available academic content as much as we assume they do? Do they know where to find it? How easy is it for them to find it? Are the sources and platforms available to them delivering a quality user experience? And are scholars around the world able to take advantage of the new publishing opportunities afforded to them through various initiatives?

. . . .

North America and Europe are seeing the highest usage of OA books, while Latin America and Africa are seeing the lowest, with Latin America, in particular, lagging behind the rest of the world.

The panelists also discussed OA publishing models and their success in countries where Open Access is vibrant as well as in those where it is still emerging; the costs involved for researchers to publish Open Access; ways in which users in emerging markets benefit from OA content; and the role of academic libraries—large and small—in providing the necessary support.

. . . .

If we consider, for a moment, the sheer number of OA initiatives unveiled in recent years, and the volume of quality content made available OA, it becomes obvious that the scholarly community has made great strides in figuring out what works and what doesn’t, both with journals and with monographs. Publishers and scholars are certainly not objecting to the concept of publishing Open Access. On the contrary, they seem more eager than before to embrace OA publishing possibilities and opportunities (KU alone works with over 100 publishers, ‘unlatching’ books by hundreds of HSS and STEM scholars each year; likewise, IntechOpen works with tens of thousands of scholars worldwide to help them publish their scientific findings and make them widely available).

Indeed, if at this point in the OA narrative, the issue isn’t whether the publishing community is willing to embrace an entirely new way of operating, the ball is back in the court of academic libraries and academic institutions. And questions again arise: Will libraries continue to set aside significant funding to support OA, or will they, in the face of limited budgets, marginalize OA content in favor of subscription products and services?

. . . .

The average STEM book which would have comfortably sold a couple of thousand units a few years ago is now achieving only a few hundred. For the print market, OA has shown to be excellent publicity and (what remains of) print sales hasn’t been detrimentally impacted . . . .

. . . .

Similarly, few academics are aware of the more liberal terms available through OA licenses, including author retention of copyright and flexible content reuse compared to the more traditional copyright-transfer type of agreement . . . .

Scholars are increasingly aware that OA edited book publications (or ISBNs) have comparable submission, review, decision and publication times. Typically, OA book chapters demonstrably achieve higher impact – through greater discoverability, downloads, citations and online mentions – and so for scholars seeking deep dissemination of their work, OA books are an attractive option . . . .

. . . .

The industry should embrace all colors, flavors, and degrees of Open Access and remain more tolerant when applying the standards. New techniques and services must be created to reduce the ‘handicap’ of indie publishers . . . .

. . . .

The majority of researchers don’t really care about the publication method, as long as they have access.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

For visitors to TPV who have not seen previous posts about the world of academic/scientific publishing, here are the basics:

  1. Traditional academic/scientific journals are generally owned by one of a handful of academic publishers who have consolidated their ownership of various publications that were formerly owned on an individual basis over a period of years.
  2. Traditional academic/scientific journals are available via very expensive subscriptions, the cost of which has escalated substantially during the past several years. Some college/university/research institution libraries are unable to afford these costs and, consequently, are not able to provide access to some publications to professors, students and researchers.
  3. The authors of the articles appearing in academic/scientific journals, particularly those in junior/intermediate positions need to publish articles in respected journals in order to retain their jobs and obtain promotions to more secure positions.
  4. Typical publishing contracts offered to authors by traditional academic/scientific publishers require the author to transfer copyright ownership to the publisher and pay the author no royalties other than a few copies of the publication. Any financial benefits from their writings come to the authors via improved job prospects or enhanced employment security from their current employers.
  5. To add insult to injury, many academic/scientific publishers require the author to pay a fee to the publisher when the paper is submitted, ostensibly to cover the publisher’s costs of managing the process of peer review. Thereafter, for accepted papers, some publishers charge the author a per-page “printing” fee and/or a separate publication acceptance fee.
  6. Peer review of papers submitted to academic publishers by teachers/professors/researchers to determine the validity/credibility of the content, methods, conclusions, etc., of the submissions is generally performed by other teachers/professors/academic authors in the field who receive no monetary compensation for their work from the publishers. Non-monetary compensation may come to reviewers via more favorable reception of future papers written by those reviewers when the papers are submitted to the publisher.
  7. After a slow start, academic/scientific publishers are reaping the substantial financial benefits of electronic subscriptions to their publications.
  8. Despite the lowered costs of distributing many of their publications electronically (instead of printing, warehousing, shipping, etc. physical copies of the publication), academic/scientific publishers typically sell subscriptions to their publications in expensive bundles that include popular as well as less-popular publications. The largest publishers will not sell a subscription to a particularly useful single publication in an unbundled form. Institutions in poorer parts of the world are often unable to afford the costs of these bundled subscriptions, depriving their professors/researchers/students of access to the latest developments in a scientific/technical field.

The Open Access movement described in the OP is an effort by a variety of researchers/educators/scientists/academic librarians to recreate the infrastructure provided by traditional academic publishers for authors and institutions on a less-expensive basis.

The Internet Is for Everyone, Right? Not With a Screen Reader

From Wired:

A few weeks ago, Lucy Greco heard a story on NPR about more clothing retailers shuttering their stores and moving online. Oh, great, she thought, recalling some of her past experiences with online shopping: “You’re clicking on something that says, ‘graphic graphic graphic,’ or some numbered file name, or some gibberish like that.”

The internet can be like this for Greco, who is blind and uses a screen reader to wayfind online. Screen readers convert display text into synthesized speech or refreshable Braille, giving visual displays an audio equivalent. But many websites have features that make them impossible for her to use—unlabeled graphics, forms with missing field labels, links mysteriously named “link.” Greco says she runs into issues like this “90 percent of the time” that she spends online. When she does, entire chunks of the internet disappear.

Since the 1990s, the popular narrative of the internet has been one of progress: More people are online than ever and the web is increasingly open. But today, the internet is far from fully accessible. By some measures, it’s gotten even worse.

There are around 7 million people with a visual disability in the United States, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

. . . .

One study by an accessibility software company this August found that 70 percent of the websites it surveyed, ranging from ecommerce to news to government services, contain “accessibility blocks,” or quirks in the design that make them unreadable with assistive technology. Another accessibility report analyzing the top million homepages on the web estimates that just 1 percent meet the most widely used accessibility standards.

Link to the rest at Wired
.

 

Major Public Library System Will Boycott Macmillan E-books

From Publishers Weekly:

With Macmillan’s controversial embargo on new release library e-books set to begin in just two weeks, PW has learned that the King County (WA) Library System has decided it will no longer purchase embargoed e-book titles from the publisher.

“Despite months of discussion and advocacy, Macmillan continues its position to embargo multiple copies of e-books,” writes King County Library executive director Lisa Rosenblum, in a note sent to fellow library directors (and shared with PW). ”Therefore, effective November 1st, KCLS will no longer purchase e-books from Macmillan. Instead we will divert our e-book funds to those publishers who are willing to sell to us.”

The King County Library System, headquartered in Issaquah, Washington, is one of the nation’s busiest and best library systems, circulating more than 21 million items every year. It has earned a coveted five star rating from Library Journal. And for five years running, King County has been the top digital-circulating public library system in the country, logging more than 4.8 million checkouts of e-books and digital audio in 2018.

In her note, Rosenblum acknowledged differing opinions among public library staff around the country on whether to boycott Macmillan e-books, and said King County’s decision was ultimately driven by two reasons: one “pragmatic” and the other “principled.”

As for the pragmatic side, Rosenblum explained that King County has pledged to readers to limit the wait time for any title to around 3 months. “Not allowing us to purchase multiple copies of an e-book for two months artificially lengthens the queue, triggering more of the same title to be purchased than would have occurred if we had been allowed to buy for the first two months,” she explains. “With an ever-increasing demand to buy a wide variety of digital titles, we do not think this is the best use of public funds.”

. . . .

The “principled” argument, Rosenblum says, is to send a message to other publishers that public libraries cannot accept limits on basic access. To do so, she writes, would “profoundly” change the public library.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has posted about this stupid plan by Macmillan before here and here.

Suffice to say, this is harmful to libraries and those who use them and unlikely to generate significantly more revenue for Macmillan.

As far as Macmillan’s justification – that library patrons will buy more Macmillan books if they can’t borrow them, PG expects this is likely the case in the short run. However, as library patrons continue to discover new authors they love through the books they borrow, and buy books from those authors, and tell all their friends how great those authors books are, Macmillan is short-changing its owners and its authors by effectively giving up on a major (and free) source of additional sales.

As compared with purchasing advertising and giving big discounts to Barnes & Noble (is that still a thing?), whatever dribs and drabs Macmillan fails to garner from regular library patrons who decide they simply must read whatever Macmillan claims is the latest and greatest instead of borrowing a different book are a drop in the bucket compared to the priceless word-of-mouth avid readers provide.

Publishing Your Book Is Changing on IngramSpark

From The Book Designer:

I continue our saga about a new upload of a self-pub book to the standard folks. What if you haven’t done this in the last couple of years? What’s new?

I discussed the Amazon Kindle print book/ebook in some detail in my last post, which was Publishing Your Book is Changing on Amazon Kindle.

. . . .

So, is there a publishing life beyond Amazon Kindle? The answer is a definite yes, from my perspective. Moreover, authors play an important role in keeping our publishing system healthy by succeeding with a diversity of suppliers.

I want my printed books to be sold in independent bookstores, such as Book Passage, near me in California. They could do a direct order from Ingram or get consignment books from me.

I want a print-on-demand (POD) manufacturing source that would be acceptable to independent bookstores, plus chain bookstores, such as Barnes & Noble. I want a manufacturer who supplied libraries.

For all this I need Ingram. I also want some “Ingram-manufactured” books to sell to individuals and at events where the folks may not be “Amazon-friendly.” There are raging controversies about the book-selling ecosystem, as you probably know.

I also want my ebook version in iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and other ebook retailers beyond Amazon. For my ebook-for-everyone-beyond-Amazon, I chose Smashwords. I’ll discuss Smashwords next time in my “every-five-weeks” column in Joel’s publishing ecosystem.

. . . .

So, is there a publishing life beyond Amazon Kindle? The answer is a definite yes, from my perspective. Moreover, authors play an important role in keeping our publishing system healthy by succeeding with a diversity of suppliers.

I want my printed books to be sold in independent bookstores, such as Book Passage, near me in California. They could do a direct order from Ingram or get consignment books from me.

I want a print-on-demand (POD) manufacturing source that would be acceptable to independent bookstores, plus chain bookstores, such as Barnes & Noble. I want a manufacturer who supplied libraries.

For all this I need Ingram. I also want some “Ingram-manufactured” books to sell to individuals and at events where the folks may not be “Amazon-friendly.” There are raging controversies about the book-selling ecosystem, as you probably know.

I also want my ebook version in iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and other ebook retailers beyond Amazon. For my ebook-for-everyone-beyond-Amazon, I chose Smashwords. I’ll discuss Smashwords next time in my “every-five-weeks” column in Joel’s publishing ecosystem.

. . . .

The big new decision with Ingram, of course, was whether to move my four earlier books from their Lightning Source world over to the newer IngramSpark realm. Then I would place the new book also in Spark. After studying this, it appeared to me that a change was appropriate. So I requested it.

The Ingram response on this was fairly hospitable. As in all systems, the quality of your Customer Service experience can vary.

Here is what happened:

  • Ingram said they would add an opt in to change to Spark on my Lightning Source page, with the words Learn About Spark. This did appear, upper right center, in small type on my page. I almost missed it.
  • The “migration” from LSI to Spark proceeded smoothly and in an orderly way. I was required to sign the Global Distribution agreement and an Ebook Agreement, even though I was not uploading an ebook at this point.
  • Once I made the migration from LSI to Spark, they said it would be one-way. You are not coming back. That was OK. I did not plan to go back.
  • The prices for printed books would be the same, they said. I always choose the 55% discount because that is what is needed to get bookstore sales.
  • It appeared that with Spark I would avoid the $12/year Market Access fee that LSI charged for each of my titles each year. That would be welcome.
  • It appeared that, as a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), I would have a code and could avoid book setup fees. That would also be welcome. The book setup was a $49 cost. Later updates of the interior or cover file would incur a $25 charge, however, as I understood it.
  • I had a personal rep in LSI, but never used the service. So I felt no loss without a personal rep in Spark.
  • I had options for bank credit payments, etc. in LSI for large orders, rather than a simple credit card, but never used it. So, no loss. I could continue dreaming of imagined bulk purchases of my books. You will be among the first to learn about this when the lightning strikes.
  • Spark also appears to be an ebook-selling structure, not an option at LSI. I noted this, but did not intend to use Spark for selling ebooks at this time. I’ll watch to see how the Spark ebook option develops.
  • A welcoming note from Spark was encouraging. It had lots of their self-pub educational resources listed. Amazon Kindle, IngramSpark, and Smashwords are all major author-learning ecosystems if you take advantage of their how-to posts and videos.
  • When I engaged Spark in an online chat, they always sent an email follow-up with all the chat documentation written out. That was helpful. The chat was always so immediate that I had little desire to call by phone.
  • In one chat, for example, their rep confirmed that my book in IngramSpark would automatically show for librarians in the Baker & Taylor library listings, even if I did not spend $85 to advertise my book in their Ingram/Baker & Taylor catalog. That was good to hear.

I uploaded my new book in the PDF form requested. The system appeared to save everything as I moved forward. I first posted all the book data and then uploaded the interior file. All was saved.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Projected Ebook Revenue – World-Wide

From Statista:

  • Revenue in the eBooks segment amounts to US$13,669m in 2019.
  • Revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2019-2023) of 2.7%, resulting in a market volume of US$15,231m by 2023.
  • User penetration is 12.9% in 2019 and is expected to hit 14.5% by 2023.
  • The average revenue per user (ARPU) currently amounts to US$14.38.
  • In global comparison, most revenue is generated in United States (US$5,487m in 2019).

Link to the rest at Statista

At ‘Captions’ Hearing, Judge Hammers Audible’s Fair Use Argument

From Publishers Weekly:

If the decision to issue a preliminary injunction against Audible’s “Captions” program comes down to fair use, Audible may be in trouble.

Over the course of a 90-minute hearing on Wednesday, federal judge Valerie Caproni appeared thoroughly unmoved by Audible’s defense of its Captions program, and highly skeptical that Audible’s plan to scroll snippets of computer generated text alongside audiobooks in its app should be called anything other than what it is: reading.

Opening the day’s arguments, the plaintiff publishers’ attorney Dale Cendali told the court that Audible’s Captions program was “quintessential” copyright infringement, and was quickly engaged by Caproni, who questioned whether the “clunky” experience of Captions really competed with reading a book. Cendali, well prepared for the question, responded that Captions didn’t need to be “a substitute” for a book for it to be harmful. Captions “provides a reading experience,” Cendali stressed, “saying it is something other than that just doesn’t make sense.”

. . . .

Cendali hit all the major points in the publishers’ complaint, finding a mostly receptive audience in Caproni. Captions is not transformative, she argued, and it is commercial in nature. Despite its “public benefit” argument, Audible is in fact seizing what should be a negotiated right to gain a competitive advantage over its competitors, Cendali stressed. If allowed to go forward, Captions would harm the market for books, e-books, and immersion reading; weaken rightsholders’ ability to license works in other markets; “devalue and cheapen” those rights by offering the feature as a free add-on; and the poor quality of the Captions program would cause reputational harm to authors and publishers who might be associated with a shoddy program, their works wrested from their control without permission.

The last point seemed to especially hit its mark with Caproni as an example of the kind irreparable harm—distinct from the market harm also in play—required to win a preliminary injunction. “As much as there might be a moral rights issue [in U.S. copyright law] this is a moral rights issue,” Cendali argued. “The damage this does would be impossible to measure. Money damages cannot make up for this. It affects the entire industry. This is a sea change, what they are trying to do. That’s why you have all these publishers, authors, and the agents here together. That shows you how dramatic it is.”

. . . .

Captions is designed to work alongside an audiobook, not “divorced” from it, [Amazon’s attorney] argued, and it does not provide a reading experience.

“What do you mean it’s not a reading experience?” Caproni interjected. “It’s words.”

What followed was a strained back and forth about what constitutes reading a book, with Reisbaum suggesting that seeing words as you listen to them is, well, something else.

“The fact that you can see the words doesn’t make it a book,” Reisbaum insisted at one point, trying to convince the judge that Captions is an enhanced audio experience, not a book experience—users couldn’t flip forward or back at their own pace, for example, nor could the text be stored, or shared, or skimmed. The experience was designed to increase comprehension of the “words” that Audible customers have paid for. Caproni didn’t appear to be buying it. “They paid to have the words read to them,” she pointed out.

. . . .

Cendali reiterated that none of the publishers’ agreements granted Audible the right to generate and distribute text.

But that’s a conclusion not supported by evidence before the court, Reisbaum insisted. The parties have acknowledged that they have valid license agreements. Captions is a program to be used with that licensed content. Without seeing those agreements, and where Audible is alleged to have breached them, how does the court know that speech-to-text is not covered under those licenses?

But perhaps the most surprising moment came when Caproni realized that Captions had not launched, and that a launch was not imminent. Why was she being asked to grant a preliminary injunction?

. . . .

The publishers strongly protested. “We beg you to rule on the motion,” Cendali pleaded with the judge, saying that the uncertainty surrounding the Audible program was already impacting the publishers, harming their ability to do other deals. Caproni replied that it was only a preliminary injunction at stake, that there would still be uncertainty even if she granted it. Why not get right to trial and resolve the issue?

“They can’t just do a head fake,” Cendali said referring to Audible’s still unannounced launch date, adding that not ruling on the motion would give Audible “a get out of jail free card.”

“It’s not a get out of jail free card,” Caproni responded. “I don’t have any get out of jail free cards. What I have is a chance card,” she said, pointing out that the publishers could possibly lose the motion. Caproni reserved ruling for a later date.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Physical books still outsell e-books — and here’s why

From CNBC:

Do you prefer reading an e-book or a physical version? It might be a surprise, but for most people, old school print on paper still wins.

Publishers of books in all formats made almost $26 billion in revenue last year in the U.S., with print making up $22.6 billion and e-books taking $2.04 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers’ annual report 2019. Those figures include trade and educational books, as well as fiction.

While digital media has disrupted other industries such as news publishing and the music business, people still love to own physical books, according to Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers’ Association in the U.K.

“I think the e-book bubble has burst somewhat, sales are flattening off, I think the physical object is very appealing. Publishers are producing incredibly gorgeous books, so the cover designs are often gorgeous, they’re beautiful objects,” she told CNBC.

People love to display what they’ve read, she added. “The book lover loves to have a record of what they’ve read, and it’s about signaling to the rest of the world. It’s about decorating your home, it’s about collecting, I guess, because people are completists aren’t they, they want to have that to indicate about themselves.”

. . . .

It’s more than a decade since Amazon launched the Kindle, and for Halls, there is also a hunger for information and a desire to escape the screen. “It’s partly the political landscape, people are looking for escape, but they are also looking for information. So, they are coming to print for a whole, quite a complex mess of reasons and I think … it’s harder to have an emotional relationship with what you’re reading if it’s on an e-reader.”

. . . .

Sixty-three percent of physical book sales in the U.K. are to people under the age of 44, while 52% of e-book sales are to those over 45, according to Nielsen.

It’s a similar picture in the U.S., where 75% of people aged 18 to 29 claimed to have read a physical book in 2017, higher than the average of 67%, according to Pew Research.

Link to the rest at CNBC

With data from the Association of American Publishers and the Booksellers Association in the UK, PG notes a distinct lack of information in the OP regarding how many ebooks Amazon sells in the US and UK. Unless he is much mistaken, the statistics quoted in the OP don’t include sales of ebooks by Amazon Publishing and indie ebooks via KDP.

When PG last checked, in addition to not collecting ebook sales information, Nielsen (now NPD) Bookscan figures didn’t include printed or POD books that weren’t registered with Ingram.

 

Pearson Launches Digital-First Textbook Strategy

From Copyright and Technology:

Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, announced on Tuesday that it is transitioning to a digital-first model for textbook publishing, moving away from the print-edition-based model that has been the foundation of higher education publishing for centuries. In its press release, the company announced that it will move almost all of its 1500 U.S. textbook titles to continuously-updated digital-first content and will only make print textbooks available on a rental basis.

This is a major turning point in higher ed publishing. Pearson’s move contrasts with that of its rival Cengage, which launched a subscription model called Cengage Unlimited last year. Whereas Cengage is offering access to all e-textbooks from its catalog to students at a rate of $120 per semester or $180 per year, Pearson is renting them individually for an average price of $40. Both Pearson and Cengage will make print textbooks available as rentals only. The e-textbook rental model has been around for several years through providers such as eFollett and VitalSource (formerly CourseSmart, a joint venture of Pearson and other higher ed publishers).

. . . .

Yet the switch to digital-first has a whole host of implications beyond student access or pricing models that indicate how big a deal this is. Higher ed publishers have been talking about going digital-first for many years, and there are several reasons why none of them — at least none of the major publishers — have done it until now.

First are all the implications of moving from one edition at a time to a program of continuous updates for digital textbooks. This requires major changes to editorial processes and technologies, and it requires that textbook authors — typically full-time faculty members at universities — commit to continuous updates to their material rather than committing only to one edition of a book at a time. Pearson has been putting in place the editorial infrastructure and processes required to do this for several years now and has been leading the way in setting standards for online educational content such as EDUPUB.

Then there are all the rights clearance challenges. Textbook publishers typically license thousands of items of content for use in each of their textbooks — illustrations, photographs, quotations, tables, etc. — and do so for discrete editions of those textbooks. In many cases, those rights have to be re-cleared for continuously-updated digital textbooks.

. . . .

The impetus for Pearson’s announcement is very simple: higher ed publishing is (finally?) in enough pain to make these disruptive transitions necessary. Publishers have been competing with a combination of used textbooks, third-party textbook rental services such as Chegg, and course instructors using online materials that are free and potentially more up-to-date than material that had to be committed to print-oriented textbooks months or years in advance.

Publishers’ strategy in coping with these forces over the past several years has been to keep raising textbook prices. But as prices go further and further into the stratosphere and backlash increases, that strategy has become self-defeating; Pearson’s revenues are expected to fall up to 5% in the U.S. this year.

. . . .

The other important implication of digital-first is that it can enable publishers to build their own distribution channels to students, bypassing college bookstores as well as third party distributors like Chegg and MBS Direct. The first evidence of this happening for e-textbooks was in 2014, when the four major publishers involved in the CourseSmart joint venture sold it off to VitalSource, a unit of the publishing services giant Ingram Content Group. The deal involved moving CourseSmart e-textbooks to VitalSource’s platform, and the publishers decided not to make all of their titles available on a platform they didn’t own. More recently, Pearson and McGraw-Hill have been working towards distribution channel control for print textbooks through something called consignment rentals. And certainly Cengage Unlimited is a further move towards distribution channel control by publishers.

It seems likely that Pearson will insist that students engage with its own service to obtain their course materials as part of its digital-first strategy.

Link to the rest at Copyright and Technology

PG says this is entirely about money – killing the used textbook market once and for all plus taking all the markup generated by sales of new and used titles from college bookstore and redirecting that money to the publisher.

PG hopes college and university departments are motivated to create their own course materials and distribute those to their students at a reasonable price. This could benefit individual professors with an additional income stream and help the students avoid piling on more and more student loans to acquire textbooks they won’t be able to keep or sell after the class ends at exorbitant prices.

Microsoft’s Ebook Apocalypse Shows the Dark Side of DRM

From Wired:

Your iTunes movies, your Kindle books—they’re not really yours. You don’t own them. You’ve just bought a license that allows you to access them, one that can be revoked at any time. And while a handful of incidents have brought that reality into sharp relief over the years, none has quite the punch of Microsoft disappearing every single ebook from every one of its customers.

Microsoft made the announcement in April that it would shutter the Microsoft Store’s books section for good. The company had made its foray into ebooks in 2017, as part of a Windows 10 Creators Update that sought to round out the software available to its Surface line. Relegated to Microsoft’s Edge browser, the digital bookstore never took off. As of April 2, it halted all ebook sales. And starting as soon as this week, it’s going to remove all purchased books from the libraries of those who bought them.

Other companies have pulled a similar trick in smaller doses. Amazon, overcome by a fit of irony in 2009, memorably vanished copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from Kindles. The year before that, Walmart shut down its own ill-fated MP3 store, at first suggesting customers burn their purchases onto CDs to salvage them before offering a download solution. But this is not a tactical strike. There is no backup plan. This is The Langoliers. And because of digital rights management—the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell—you have no recourse. Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort.

“On the one hand, at least people aren’t out the money that they paid for these books. But consumers exchange money for goods because they preferred the goods to the money. That’s what happens when you buy something,” says Aaron Perzanowski, professor at the Case Western University School of Law and coauthor of The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy. “I don’t think it’s sufficient to cover the harm that’s been done to consumers.”

. . . .

Presumably not many people purchased ebooks from Microsoft; that’s why it’s pulling the plug in the first place. But anyone who did now potentially has to go find those same books again on a new platform, buy them again, and maybe even find a new device to read them on. For certain types of readers, particularly lawyers and academics, markups and annotations can be worth far more than $25. And even if none of that were the case, the move rankles on principle alone.

“Once we complete a transaction you can’t just reach into my pocket and take it back, even if you do give me money,” says John Sullivan, executive director of the nonprofit Free Software Foundation. “It’s not respecting the freedom of the individual.”

. . . .

More than anything, Microsoft’s ebook rapture underscores the hidden dangers of the DRM system that underpins most digital purchases. Originally intended as an antipiracy measure, DRM now functions mostly as a way to lock customers into a given ecosystem, rather than reading or viewing or listening to their purchases wherever they want.

. . . .

“This is why we call DRM media and devices defective by design, or broken from the beginning. There’s self-destruction built into the whole concept,” Sullivan says. “This is still the prevalent way of distributing media. That companies still pull the plug is still surprising and frustrating.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG gently suggests that any lawyer who annotates a copy-protected ebook which resides online is not terribly wise.

PG probably has a moral (but not legal) obligation to remind one and all that, in the click-to-accept license agreement they entered into when they bought their MS ebooks, purchasers almost certainly agreed to not circumvent any copy protection software locking those ebooks up.

He will also remind the same group that, regardless of whether the license specifically prohibited circumvention, hacking copy protection is still illegal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, specifically 17 U.S.C. 1201. Violating this prohibition carries both civil and criminal penalties.

That said, PG suspects Microsoft will turn a blind eye to any evidence those who licensed ebooks from them have hacked the copy protection in order to make copies of the text.

However, publishers of the ebooks may not react in the same way.

PG hasn’t checked into the nature of Microsoft’s ebook copy protection or the copy protection used by publishers of ebooks sold by it, but, at least some copy protection software (I’m looking at you, Adobe) has, at least in past days, collected information about ebooks residing on computers, tablets, ereaders, etc., and sent it back to the mother ship. In 2014, this included ebooks using Adobe’s copy protection software and other ebooks that did not use Adobe software. See this post and related posts on The Digital Reader for the gory details.

PC suggests that those who have purchased ebooks from Microsoft decide whether they care about losing any of them. If the answer is yes, these readers can use some or all of the money they receive from MS to buy replacement copies somewhere more reliable.

If any visitors have made more than cursory annotations to any Microsoft ebooks, PG suggests the safest route from a DMCA violation standpoint would be to contact the publishers of those ebooks and ask for their help in salvaging the text and annotations. (Go ahead and contact the authors, too. They may have more reputational capital at stake than the publishers do.)

PG thinks Microsoft deserves a lot of heat for orphaning ebooks it sold without a way for purchasers to preserve access to them. For example, did MS think to contact Amazon to see if it could provide MS book-buyers with copies of the same titles from Amazon? If not, why not?

Why not throw some brains into a solution that won’t alienate Microsoft customers instead of refunding the money the customers spent plus $25? If the customers wanted money instead of books, they probably wouldn’t have purchased any books from MS in the first place.

For PG, nothing else has so effectively communicated the message, “We’re Microsoft and you’re not,” for a long time.

For the record, PG has not ever purchased any ebooks from Microsoft and is unlikely to do so in any future life.

If anyone does attempt to salvage MS ebooks, PG would be interested in any details of their experience they might care to share. If they don’t want to leave a comment, they can email PG via the Contact link on TPV.

If PG were advising any of the publishers (particularly publishers of books for readers in various learned professions), PG would suggest that the publishers do everything possible to collect contact information regarding any of their ebook purchasers impacted by Microsoft’s decision and take affirmative steps to communicate with those readers and offer to provide replacement ebooks in one of the other ebook formats in common use.