New life for used ebooks

Old ebooks and clever thinking can create new opportunities for publishers.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“The Used Ebook Opportunity“). This version has been lightly edited.

Used Books by -Tripp-, on Flickr

I’ve got quite a few ebooks in two different accounts that I’ve read and will never read again. I’ll bet you do, too. In the print world, we’d pass those along to friends, resell them or donate them to the local library. Good luck doing any of those things with an ebook.

Once you buy an ebook, you’re pretty much stuck with it. That’s yet another reason why consumers want low ebook prices. Ebooks are lacking some of the basic features of a print book, so of course they should be lower-priced. I realize that’s not the only reason consumers want low ebook prices, but it’s definitely a contributing factor. I’d be willing to pay more for an ebook if I knew I could pass it along to someone else when I’m finished with it.

The opportunity in the used ebook market isn’t about higher prices, though. It’s about expanding the ebook ecosystem.

The used print book market helps with discovery and affordability. The publisher and author already got their share on the initial sale of that book. Although they may feel they’re losing the next sale, I’d argue that the content is reaching an audience that probably wouldn’t have paid for the original work anyway, even if the used book market didn’t exist.

Rather than looking at the used book world as an annoyance, it’s time for publishers to think about the opportunities it could present for ebooks. Read more…

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Publishing times, they are a-changin’

Panelists at the inaugural NYC Publishing Innovators Meetup discuss changing publishers' roles.

The NYC Publishing Innovators Meetup group held its inaugural roundtable in its quarterly speaker series in July. Panelists, led by Kat Meyer as moderator, included: Ned Lomigora, co-founder of Zeeen.com; Diane Gedymin, executive editor at Turner Publishing; Peter Balis, director of online sales, John Wiley & Sons; Linda Holliday, CEO of Semi-Linear; Jesse Potash, founder, PubSlush, and; Michelle Toth, founder, 617Books. The thesis was: “What role can publishers play in supporting a direct relationship between readers and authors?” The discussion was energetic, but everyone agreed on one thing: the times, they are a-changin’.

Key points from the full discussion include:

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way — Utilizing technology, authors with the time and will to publish and market their books can bypass traditional publishers. Technology “is the great enabler and democratizer.” [Begins at the 13:20 mark.]
  • Is it good? — Quality content matters; curation is a valuable role for professionals, from freelancers to traditional publishers, but a panelist postulates that an alternate path can be found in the tools available to authors who self-publish, including community. [Begins at 24:05.]
  • Should publishers worry about losing big authors to self-publishing? — If traditional publishers are going to continue to add marketing value, they need to master the new technology toolset and grow it. Publishers lag behind other industry leaders as to what they do online. [Begins at 34:19.]
  • The distance between readers and writers is shrinking — Whoever owns the sale owns the relationship with readers, and effective marketing is key to establishing that relationship. [Begins at 38:05.]
  • What is distribution in today’s world? — A spirited discussion begins with the declaration that you can’t distribute a book “with the push of a button.” Publishers create books in multiple formats sent to multiple vendors for sale via multiple channels, with metadata included for discovery purposes. [Begins at 47:02.]
  • Transparency in e-publishing — Peter Balis talks about the complex process of publishing in various formats, information that should be shared with aspiring authors who want to self-publish and self-distribute. [Begins at 56:00 with insightful follow-up comments starting at 1:05:40.]
  • Our understanding of what a publisher is is changing — Jesse Potash addresses changing roles and perceptions, and how experts can potentially replace certain roles publishers currently fill. [Begins at 1:00:25.]
  • Branding — A great discussion about the role branding is playing in today’s world starts with a question from the audience. [Begins at 1:25:21.]

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Publishing News: Self-publishing to be the option of first resort?

Publishing News: Self-publishing to be the option of first resort?

Mark Coker talks publishing disruption, the DOJ gets snippy, Robin Sloan programs a book review, and NFC gets a dispenser.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention this week in the publishing space.

Self-publishing disruption

Suw Charman-Anderson at Forbes began running an interview series with Smashwords’ founder Mark Coker this week. The first in the series addressed the disruption of self-publishing in the traditional publishing world. Coker says the traditional publishing model is going to be turned upsidedown, that “self-publishing is going from the option of last resort to the option of first resort.” He notes that self-publishing often has had an associated stigma while traditional publishing has not, but says “over next few years we’re going to see that reverse.”

Coker also argues the disruption to traditional publishing isn’t only going to come from outside the traditional ecosystem:

“We’re also going to see a mass defection of some of the best traditionally published authors. This has already started to happen among primarily mid-list authors, who do reasonably well and then their books go out of print. A lot of those authors are republishing their back catalogues as self-published ebooks, and they are earning more money, enjoying more creative freedom, and having more fun than they did working under the thumb of traditional publishers.”

The disruption is becoming apparent in the sales of indie books, Coker says. He points out that “if you look at the top sellers on Barnes & Noble or Amazon, indie authors are appearing more frequently in their bestseller lists. They’re starting to dominate and take significant sales away from traditional publishers.”

In the second part of the interview series, Charman-Anderson talks with Coker about marketing. He says that “marketing is not as important as people think it is” and that writing a high-quality book is “the best marketing an author can do.” He notes that marketing is important for building a platform, but argues that investment in quality trumps investment in promotion:

“If you’re getting ready to release your book and you have $3,000 burning a hole in your pocket, and you can either invest that in a marketing campaign or editing, I’d say invest it in editing. It’s all about writing a book that sells itself.”

Both series installments are well worth the read and can be found here and here. Charman-Anderson writes that the next interview in the series with Coker will address book pricing and length.
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The value of free

The value of free

Allen Lau on how Wattpad leverages free content.

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


We’ve been talking about pricing in July, and how could the conversation be complete without coverage of the free content model? Wattpad is a fairly new company that’s built completely upon free content. In the following interview, I talk with Wattpad CEO and co-founder Allen Lau about how they’re leveraging free content and how you might be able to as well.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Sharing and discovery — The numbers are impressive, as Wattpad serves almost 10 million unique visitors every month who post their own content as well as read submissions from other community members. [Discussed at the 0:48 mark.]
  • Connecting readers and writers — Publishers need to establish a direct relationship with their customers, and this is something Wattpad excels at. [Discussed at 1:34.]
  • Paid content is not on the horizon — Allen doesn’t want to rule anything out, but at this point, Wattpad is more focused on creating reader/writer connections, not charging for content. [Discussed at 2:10.]
  • How can “free” benefit authors? Visibility and discoverability on Wattpad lead to a number of other benefits, including monetization elsewhere. [Discussed at 2:58.]
  • How can a sustainable company be built on “free”? — Allen is a bit coy with his answer to this one, but it’s clear Wattpad’s goal is to build an enormous content platform first and the revenue will follow. [Discussed at 6:43.]
  • The Margaret Atwood deal — Ms. Atwood clearly understands the rules of publishing are changing, and she appreciates the community benefits Wattpad has to offer. [Discussed at 8:30.]
  • Wattpad’s customer base is evolving — Like many new online services, Wattpad has its roots in the teen market, but that is rapidly changing. [Discussed at 10:12.]
  • Don’t fear “free” — Wattpad isn’t some outlier the publishing industry can ignore. There are plenty of opportunities for any publisher to experiment with free and freemium content. Don’t forget that we’re competing for people’s time, and much of that time is currently spent reading free content. [Discussed at 11:19.]

Read more…

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Publishing News: B&N embraces the web

Publishing News: B&N embraces the web

Nook gets webby, Baldur Bjarnason gets angry, and publishing gets surveyed.

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.

B&N launches Nook for Web

Just last week, Valobox co-founder Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) wrote a post about the strengths of the web and lamented that ebook publishers have “remained oblivious” to the advantages — her post was part of last week’s Publishing WIR. This week, Barnes & Noble stepped up to the webby plate and announced Nook for Web.

Chris Davies at SlashGear reports that “the new service runs in Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer, with instant access — registration free — to ebook samples, and then the same purchase options as on a Nook Tablet or similar device. … There’s also synchronization with any other Nook device or app you may be using, so you can stop reading on the web and pick up where you left off on your tablet.”

B&N also is giving away six bestseller titles as a promotion until July 26, but as Matt Elliott at CNET discovered, “before you can add one to your library, Barnes & Noble forces you to sign up for an account, which entails providing a credit card number, billing address, e-mail, and phone number.” So, anything beyond reading a sample will require registration.

The company also hasn’t completely embraced the advantages of the web — as Davies points out in his post, readers still can’t annotate on the platform, and on a browser-based system, “it would be easy enough for B&N to add such a feature.”

The other thing you can’t do with this new platform is view it on your iPad or iPhone, as Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch. As counterintuitive as this seemed on first blush (B&N’s website says iPad support is “coming soon”), I recalled statistics from a recent survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (which I wrote about here):

  • 42% of readers of e-books in the past 12 months said they consume their books on a computer.
  • 41% of readers of e-books consume their books on an e-book reader like original Kindles or Nooks.
  • 29% of readers of e-books consume their books on their cell phones.
  • 23% of readers of e-books consume their books on a tablet computer.

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Publishing News: Subscription experiments and the dangers of paving cow paths

Publishing News: Subscription experiments and the dangers of paving cow paths

Subscription sales models tested, a "holy trinity" of web opportunities missed, and publishing's future assessed.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Publishers test subscription model waters

TED BooksTED Books launched a new app this week, TED Books for iOS, that not only allows them to sell directly to consumers, but also to experiment with a subscription sales model. Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent notes that the app also is built on the Atavist publishing platform, which allows for audio features and embedded video. Hazard Owen describes how the app sales model works:

“Readers can buy the books a la carte for $2.99 each or can purchase a subscription: $14.99 for three months of books. That price includes six books, with one new one delivered every two weeks. ‘Founding subscribers’ — those who sign up in the first 90 days — get free access to all the books in the back catalog. (Authors are paid advances and also get a royalty each time their book is downloaded.)”

Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica took a hands-on look at the app and concluded “that book and subscription prices were right in the sweet spot, though the app itself (while functional) could use a little more polish before it becomes great.” Her observations include issues with subscribers not being able to preview content before downloading; the comment system only applies to books as a whole — there’s no way to highlight a section and comment within the book; and comments also are only viewable to those who’ve already purchased the book, not to potential book buyers. Glitches in social media sharing features, however, seemed to present the most frustrations. Cheng writes:

“I tried to share a TED Book over Facebook via the app, but when I tapped the Facebook option, a white screen came up in the center for a second and then went away. And when I tapped the Twitter button, it simply brought up a blank Twitter box like the one built into the rest of iOS. There was nothing attached — no book summary, no screenshot, not even a link to TED for my Twitter friends to click on. The e-mail sharing option only starts a new e-mail with a picture of the book cover attached. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed with the sharing options here — they almost may as well not even be included in the app for how limited they are by default.”

You can read Cheng’s entire account of the app here.

In other subscription experiment news, Next Issue launched its all-you-can-read magazine subscription app for iOS this week, a few months after launching on Android. Laura Hazard Owen reports at PaidContent that the platform currently offers 39 titles, “with more expected later this year,” and outlines the various subscription options, from $1.99 to $14.99 per month. But is it worth the money? Hazard Owen concluded that the $14.99 premium subscription ought to be a bargain for her family, “except it doesn’t include print issues and two of the magazines [they] subscribe to, Martha Stewart Living and the Economist, aren’t available, at least for now.” Lauren Indvik at Mashable also addressed the value proposition and notes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s 2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average American household spends $100 per year on reading materials, a category that includes books, newspapers and magazines.”

Value aside, is it even a model that will work in the age of digital disruption? Mathew Ingram argues at GigaOm that the biggest problem Next Issue faces is that its model of selling entire magazines doesn’t fit the way people are starting to consume content — articles-at-a-time, Flipboard style — and that the platform is “paving a cow path.” Ingram also describes the bigger picture issue that is plaguing magazines as well as newspapers:

“If Next Issue were to pull individual articles out of its magazines and collect them based on popularity or some other algorithm — or made it easy for readers to share individual articles and other content outside the walled garden of the app itself — that might make it more appealing to those who have gotten used to a Flipboard-style model for consuming content. But it’s not clear that magazine publishers would be interested in doing that. For them, the game is about increasing circulation figures so they can try to keep their advertising revenues from bottoming out as print-based revenue continues to decline.”

You can read more on Ingram’s thoughts here.

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