"publishing WIR" entries
Publishing News: Amazon continues its trek toward total retail domination
Luring students, looking at publishing's ecosystem, and using big data for big publishing.
Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.
Amazon targets students with print textbook rentals
In headline news this week, Amazon expanded its digital textbook rental program to include analog books. Students can now rent physical paper textbooks, complete with prior students’ scribbles, for less than buying a used book (in many cases). Sean Ludwig at VentureBeat reports that most textbooks rent for $30 to $60 and are rented for the typical 130-day semester.
According to Amazon’s FAQ on the program, shipping in both directions is pretty easy to get for free: rentals are eligible for free Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25 and are also eligible for Prime free Two-Day shipping for Prime subscribers. Students can also sign up for the Amazon Student program and get six months of free Prime Two-Day shipping, then get a Prime membership at a discounted rate of $39 per year (the “adult” version of Prime is $79 per year). Amazon will conveniently autosubscribe student members to adult memberships upon graduation. Sounds a lot like those “free” credit cards that came with swag during my college days, designed to suck you in from the get-go.
Which brings me to Martin Sosnoff’s look over at Forbes at Amazon’s path to becoming the “Wal-Mart of the Internet.” Sosnoff writes:
“The Amazon story is about scale and momentum in general merchandise sales, here and abroad. I don’t care how many Kindles they deliver or their burgeoning downloads in books, music, video games and streaming of films. All this activity is designed to suck you into buying TV sets, washing machines, even disposable diapers and bottled water by the case.”
Or as O’Reilly publisher and GM tweeted in relation to Sosnoff’s post, “Books are nothing more than roadkill on Amazon’s highway to total retail domination.” So as publishers are frantically trying to find innovative ways to compete against Amazon, Amazon is just using publishing, in all its variations, as a means to an end.
Which brings me to Jim Tanous’ post at The Mac Observer, looking at ebook DRM: one possible positive outcome of this one-sided publishing battle against Amazon is the potential eradication of DRM. As Mathew Ingram pointed out last December at GigaOm, publishers “handed Amazon and Apple the stick of digital-rights management, which the two companies are now using to beat them.” And publishers are starting to come around to understand that DRM isn’t just locking content away from pirates (which it doesn’t do anyway), but that it’s locking content in to closed platforms, ala Amazon Kindle.
After looking at the new StoryBundle platform that give readers a bundle of books for whatever price they want to pay, all DRM-free, Tanous writes: “I was struck by how the DRM-free nature of the books mirrors a growing trend by publishers and independent authors to make their products easily available on multiple platforms and escape the stranglehold they fear Amazon holds on the market.”
Tanous looks at the overall trend, including fantasy publisher Tor’s removal of DRM from its catalog earlier this year and publishers like O’Reilly and Double Dragon that don’t use DRM. He notes that removing DRM removes the constraints on “customer mobility between providers and platforms” and that publishers’ recognition of this and subsequent changes to distribution and sales models, such as StoryBundle’s model, “will not only be good for consumers but for the overall health of the eBook market as well.”
Publishing News: Consequences and questions from the Twitter kerfuffle
Twitter suspends an account, Time Inc.'s new chief has a consumer plan, and ereader technology needs a "kick in the pants"
Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the publishing space this week.
On Sunday, Twitter suspended British journalist Guy Adams’ account after he tweeted NBC executive Gary Zenkel’s email address. Much kerfuffle ensued, Adams wrote a letter to Twitter, Twitter’s general counsel Alex MacGillivray apologized for the way the situation was handled, and Adams’ account was reinstated.
Reviews in the aftermath were interesting. The account suspension ultimately had the opposite of the intended effect, pointing a spotlight at Adams’ tweet and garnering it far more attention than it likely would have had otherwise. Meghan Garber at The Atlantic put together a Topsy chart of the response to Adams’ tweet, which showed the response began as pretty much nothing and then exploded upon his account suspension.
Kashmir Hill at Forbes also reviewed the situation and the surrounding drama, and concluded that the biggest loser was the complainant, NBC: “Beyond having their exec’s email spread far and wide over the Internet, it’s reflected poorly on their stance on free speech and garnered much more negative press for them than they could have imagined when they first complained.”
Mathew Ingram at GigaOm took a look at the bigger picture and identified a serious issue raised by Twitter’s actions:
“… as it expands its media ambitions and does more curation and manual filtering of the kind it has been doing for NBC, Twitter is gradually transforming itself from a distributor of real-time information into a publisher of editorial content, and that could have serious legal ramifications.”
Ingram points out that Twitter isn’t interested in being a publisher or being seen as one, but notes the company is walking a fine line: “If the company is filtering and selecting messages, however, and possibly letting certain parties know when a legally questionable one shows up, that is much more like what publishers do …” Ingram’s post is this week’s recommended read — you can find it here.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Publishing News: You may not own what you think you own
Two lawsuits address digital content copyright, Macmillan puts its money where the future is, and publishers experiment with QR codes.
Courts are establishing copyright laws regarding digital media resale and tweet content ownership, Macmillan is funding the business that will replace it, and QR codes help publishers market and collect consumer data.
Publishing News: NewCo's global spread
A call for NewCo to expand its focus, ereading data is influencing content, and Hugh McGuire talks ebooks at TEDxMontreal.
B&N plans to open Nook stores worldwide; Joe Wikert says their store focus need a technology turn. Elsewhere, WSJ reporter Alexandra Alter looks at data generated by ereading, and Hugh McGuire argues ebooks belong on the web at TEDxMontreal.
Publishing News: Penguin goes back to the library
Penguin and library lending, ebook cost accounting, and Knight News Challenge winners.
Two NYC libraries will get Penguin books, ebooks often cost more to make than publishers earn, and one news startup addresses shrinking resources with editorial analytics.
Publishing News: Google's win may be Amazon's loss
Google and France reach an agreement, a look at the Espresso Book Machine, and ebook industry predictions.
Book-scanning lawsuits against Google were dropped in France, perhaps spelling trouble for Amazon in Europe. Elsewhere, the Espresso Book Machine is proving a plus for retailers and authors, and Laura Hazard Owen digs into PricewaterhouseCoopers' data.
Publishing News: There's no such thing as degrees of DRM
Harry Potter ebooks, Google surveys and the DoJ's investigation.
J.K. Rowling disrupts the publishing industry, at least for this week. Elsewhere, Google looks to help web publishers with survey revenue and Tim Carmody takes an in-depth look at the DoJ's investigation into agency pricing.