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Why O’Reilly Media is no longer selling books online

21 August 2017

From The Bookseller:

We recently announced that O’Reilly is no longer selling books and videos on shop.oreilly.com. We heard from some of our customers that they were unhappy about that decision, especially because no other sellers offer DRM-free e-books in multiple digital formats. They’re right about that, but there’s more to the story. And since we’ve always been transparent with our customers, here’s some additional context about why we made those recent changes.

O’Reilly has always been a privately held, self-funded company, and it’s a distinction we wear with pride. We don’t have any investors but our customers, who fund us by buying our products and services. That keeps us attuned to what the market is really telling us. But it also means we have to make decisions as we grow and change while living within our means—decisions about investments, about markets, and about our customers and employees.

O’Reilly started out as a book publishing company. I remember with pride joining the “animal” brand. But from the beginning, I knew that our core competency was not the actual books we printed but rather the knowledge of the network of authors and speakers who agreed to work with us to produce important and relevant content. That talent developed content that worked its way into books. But we always recognized that there were other ways to spread that knowledge, which led us to add a conference business, and a digital subscription business.

. . . .

Access to new subscription customers, both individuals and businesses, gave us even greater visibility into the needs of our users, which also took us into topic areas beyond technology. At the same time, digital enabled new learning modalities such as video and interactive content.

. . . .

Meanwhile, sales of books have declined consistently year after year since 2000! E-books expanded the market for a while, and direct distribution from oreilly.com was a great way to make them widely available while traditional retailers other than Amazon were slow to embrace that market. But starting a few years ago, e-book sales too started to flatten, and then to fall. Running oreilly.com as a distribution platform was effective, but also costly. It required a dedicated investment in e-commerce software, staff, marketing, and so on. It also required us to choose whether to direct incoming customers to the declining e-commerce business to buy standalone units, or to our growing subscription business.

As the slowdown accelerated, the contrast between the rapid growth of the subscription business and the interest in learning in new ways became ever more striking. Now, don’t get me wrong, we believe in books, and the effectiveness of text as a tool for sharing knowledge, but the business model that had given us such a great start three decades ago has changed deeply. Amazon is pretty much the only retailer still supporting computer books, and the unit sales are a small fraction of what they were in the past. We came up with creative ways to keep publishing books, supplementing our “definitive” books with smaller reports that we give away for free download, or as sponsored products, to capture either niche technologies or new approaches to learning. But all of this new creation meant we had to grow while balancing our total investment spending.

. . . .

So we had to make a tough decision, and we chose to support the side of the business that has the most customers, that is growing the fastest, and that supports all of the learning modalities that customers are demanding.

But we are also sensitive to those who still prefer to learn from and to own books. We are still publishing books, and you can buy them directly, either on paper or in a variety of electronic formats from a number of resellers, just not directly from us. We’ve closed our online store, not our publishing operation! We still support those who prefer the model of ownership to subscription.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Ebook Subscriptions, Ebooks

17 Comments to “Why O’Reilly Media is no longer selling books online”

  1. Sorry to hear any business is struggling, that usually means jobs, but I had to laugh at

    “As the slowdown accelerated”

    Maybe I haven’t had enough caffeine yet, but that just got me laughing…

  2. “… from a number of resellers …”

    Amazon I’d presume?

    I can understand not selling directly if the sales aren’t enough to cover the shipping and tax filing software.

  3. Actually, the whole article is a really interesting read. Tech publishing in particular is an odd animal. The window was always small for books on a particular version of an OS, database or other tech, and it’s shrinking constantly. Producing a full printed book on, say, Oracle 11i, can take months. Then almost as soon as it’s released, a new version is too.

    As the article describes, O’Reilly has smartly moved more and more to a subscription model over the past decade. This is better for companies purchasing their content – you can have consistent costs, and provide your team with virtually everything they need. I understand it’s also much better for the writers. They can write shorter pieces, update them frequently, and get paid more or less monthly.

    • Imagine trying to sell object pbooks on Windows10 with new features and gui tweaks every sixt months. Even with early access to code to get the updated edition out in time for the general release, they would have barely six months worth of sales to work with before the next release.

      And other subscription-based software changes even faster.
      In the Age of Software-as-a-service standalone books (ebooks included) are at a disadvantage against Wikis, videos, and other online options.

      Living on a Internet Time is driving ever more businesses to the internet. The disruptions continue.

  4. Al the Great and Powerful

    “In the Age of Software-as-a-service standalone books (ebooks included) are at a disadvantage against Wikis, videos, and other online options.

    Living on a Internet Time is driving ever more businesses to the internet. The disruptions continue.”

    True enough, if you live in a cloud of continuous high-speed Internet service, but that subscription is worth jack squat when the internet is down. I want my tech references available when my system is down…

    Al the former technician

  5. I thought there was an issue with O’Reilly sending books purchased on its site directly to Kindles and Amazon shutting that down. Or did I imagine that?

    • I think you imagined it. You (publisher) can “email to Kindle” without any legal-type hassles from Amazon.

      Amazon doesn’t lock down the Kindle to only product from their own store. BUT they do make it clunky – not as easy as poke the “Buy Now” button and wait for the download. (Plus, you obviously do not get the “Verified Purchaser” label for any review you might do.)

      Not a monopoly violation by any means – but if Bezos ever gets cross-wise with the wrong politicians, a court could probably be convinced that it is a “restraint of trade” issue…

      • Nate at the Digital Reader might be by to tell you you’re wrong, but I’ll post this link to his article on it from two years ago so he won’t have to. 🙂


        I’m surprised to see it say that Smashwords and others are allowed to send books this way (or maybe it is were at some point in the past). I never saw that option there. I know that you have to have the sending email address setup to allow it to send your kindle ebooks in advance. Otherwise they could get around this by changing up the sending email address.

        • Thank you for the link. Actually at it, Nate quotes O’Reilly (in 2015): “Amazon is discontinuing the Send to Kindle feature we offer on oreilly.com at the end of September. Regrettably, they have not made an alternative process available that we can provide to you through oreilly.com. If you valued this feature you can contact Amazon and request that they either re-enable it or create an API-based solution for publishers to implement.”

          He also mentions other publishers this has happened to.

        • And as you theorize in the article, “Anybody who even realizes they can buy Baen e-books from somewhere other than Amazon will probably be tech-savvy enough to deal with sideloading e-books already.”

          I think you’re probably right.

        • Hmm. I would occasionally be lazy and not fire up the Amazon account and search for a book when I was already on the Bar. (Forgetting that I then had to do the gyrations on Amazon, sigh.) Checking…

          Yep, the last time I acquired a title direct from Baen, via e-mail to Kindle, was January 14, 2017. (The Hot Gate by John Ringo.)

          • Addenda: That Teleread article is from 2015 – and you know how fast things change around. Now, they do get around it by having you email to your personal account, then a forward to your “email to Kindle” account. Part of the clunkiness.

            Baen still has the directions on their site:

            Emailing books directly to your Kindle

            Depending on which Kindle you are using and how you are connecting to the Internet, Amazon may charge a modest fee for emailing an Ebook to your Kindle. For US customers, the fee is 15 cents for 1 MB of data (almost all of our Ebooks are less than 1 MB). For non-US customers, the fee is 99 cents for 1 MB of data.

            To authorize Amazon to email Baen Ebooks to your device, follow these steps:

            Navigate to http://www.amazon.com and log in to your account.
            Under the “Hello, ” greeting, click Your Account
            Scroll down to where you see Digital Content and click on “Manage Your Content and Devices” under Digital Management
            Log in again, if prompted
            Under Manage Your Content and Devices, click the “Settings” tab
            Scroll down to where you see Approved Personal Document E-mail List and click “Add a new approved e-mail address” (this will be under the list of approved email addresses)
            In the pop up, type your personal email address then click “Add Address”
            You should see a green Success! message once it’s entered. Also, you’ll see the email address listed on the Approved Personal Document E-mail List
            Log in to your account on Baen Ebooks and navigate to your purchased Ebook’s product page
            Click “Email book to Me”
            Enter your personal email address into the email address box
            Press send
            Check your email. You should receive an email from Ebooks@baen.com with a .mobi file attached.
            Forward this email to your Kindle, making sure the .mobi file remains attached. Within 15 minutes, your Ebook should be on your Kindle.

            For more information about Amazon fees, check out the Kindle section in our Ereader Instructions.

            • Another addenda, come to think of it. Consider what would happen if some of the bad actors out there got hold of your “email to Kindle” address. Spammer gold…

              Now, if Amazon were smart (IMHO, but I am not Jeff, he decides what is smart for them), there would be a program for publishers that their “Send to Kindle” options go through the Amazon systems – thus capturing the data for referral selling of other books. Maybe a slightly larger cut for the publisher. This isn’t a big deal for the publishers – running their own fulfillment apparatus eats up almost all of the “extra income” from not cutting Amazon in on the action. And none of them have the ability to push “Recommended for you” or other after-sale follow up directly to a customer’s Kindle.

    • I believe Amazon reserves the right to limit access via send-to-kindle. As long as you’re under their radar, you’re Ok. StoryBundle uses this method. I assume they are under the radar.

      • It’s a volume thing, apparently.
        High volumes of emailed books from the same publisher seems to be the trigger.

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