Archive for Commentary
Critics and industry watchers can hypothesize all they want to about what’s wrong with publishing. Is it these upstart authors coming along and thinking they deserve to publish their garbage? Is it the publishers who wield their iron-leashed authority while practically stealing from authors with their abusive contracts?
No. It’s articles like this one by author Lynn Shepherd, which basically tells JK Rowling, “You had your shot, go back to writing kiddie books and leave adult fiction to us.” Shepherd goes so far as to say that Rowling’s continued publishing efforts are actually bad for the industry as whole, as evidenced by her headline. She suggests that Rowling continue writing for her own pleasure, but that she give up publishing.
This is what’s wrong with the industry. Through troll-like behavior, even “real” authors have taken public stabs at each other while the reading consumers sit back watching the tennis match-style back and forth exchanges. Happily, I am not expecting Rowling to respond to this garbage, as Shepherd’s most recent title is sitting firmly in the 700,000 range on Amazon’s bestseller list. If anyone cares, that’s about 696,000 spots below Snooki’s from Jersey Shore‘s book on motherhood.
And that makes me smile.
According to Shepherd, “So this is my plea to JK Rowling. Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo’s Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can’t wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word. By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.”
Luckily, news came today that there may be as many as seven planned titles in Rowling’s series, written as Robert Gilbraith, so Shepherd’s misguided nastiness is hopefully equally pointless. There is no room for public author bashing, certainly not from a disgruntled-yet-traditionally published author whose works just aren’t selling. Her sad attempts at marketing herself with a sensationalist headline and subsequent spoiled-little-girl rant will hopefully not pay off, while someone with the poise and talent of Rowling will ideally not even bother to read the post.
Sony has been selling e-readers since 2006 and only saw 300,000 units being sold until 2008. Everything changed when Amazon got into the eBook and e-reader market and the industry took notice. This increased the visibility of the Sony brand and they sold 800,000 units in 2010, just before the market peaked in 2011.
Sony has seen diminished sales since their peak and they have been on the downward trend ever since. In 2011, Sony accounted for 28% of all e-readers sold in Canada. In 2012, its presence diminished to 18% and in 2013 dropped down to 12%. Last year proved to be the beginning of the end for Sony, as they abandoned the USA market and instead are focusing on Canada, UK, Europe and Australia.
A few weeks ago Sony announced that they were closing down their Reader Store and all books would be transferred over to Kobo. All future e-readers, phones and tablets sold in North America would have the Kobo app loaded on it and Sony would cut a piece of commission for every title sold. Kobo is also paying Sony a licensing fee to have their bookstore replace the one that Sony has been running for a very long time.
Can Sony be saved? They have the financial resources to make it happen, here is my plan to save the Reader Store and bring their e-Readers back into prominence.
Saving the Reader Store
The Sony Reader Store has been operating for a very long time. It wasn’t really a viable bookstore until 2008 when they abandoned their proprietary LRF format and switched to EPUB. This attracted publishers and self-publishing platforms such as Smashwords to easily contribute content in a universally accepted format.
The Reader Store really expanded their reach in the last three years when it expanded into UK, Japan, Germany, Austria, Canada, and Australia, and opened up shop in France, Italy, and Spain in 2012. They have great market position in countries where the digital book selling market is not absolutely corner-stoned.
Natascha Helbig is the director of the Sony Reader Store in the US and Canada. She was instrumental in solidifying publisher relations and launching their book club, book discovery tools, and infographs. When the bookstore first started rolling out these features, she told me in an exclusive interview, “We always look for new and exciting ways for our customers to discover new books and authors, and to learn more about the authors they love. The Sony Readers Book Club was a great experience which brought us closer together with our customers and allowed us to all participate in a reading experience together. We had hundreds of applications for the club and our online chats generated millions of impressions. The book club was a great way to discover new authors and titles and facilitate lively discussions amongst our customers and authors, and those are themes you will continue to see at Reader Store.”
The Sony Reader Store right now is in big trouble. The fact that commissions from Kobo book sales make financial sense and licensing fees outweigh the revenue earned from Reader Store book sales speaks volumes.
If I was in charge of the Reader Store, I would first bring back their book club. They started to do it every month, but after six books decided to abandon the project. Considering it was basically being run through their blog, it makes sense that things fell apart. Book clubs were instrumental in bridging the community and starting a book culture at Sony. This is what they are sorely missing, anyone can sell books, but if you don’t have a community, you are nothing.
I would save the Sony Book clubs by implementing a Netflix of eBooks type of subscription system. You would pay $29.99 a year and get access to a new front-list title every single month. The exact title would be determined by user voting to insure that the one title that was available was voted on by the majority of people participating in the book club. The actual titles available for vote would be curated by someone at Sony to insure they can give the titles away and insure the author was available for a Q/A. Instead of relying on Facebook for community discussion, I would iron out a deal with Goodreads to have a special Sony Book Club discussion center. This could be accessed via the web and a new book club app I would have the boys in IT make. This book club app would be available for Android, where they could subscribe, talk, and read, while the iOS app would just have the social aspect since Sony can’t sell books on Apple. Finally, I would insure the author would participate in a live Spreecast, where they could appear on web-cam, answer peoples live questions and talk about the book.
Sony continues to see moderate success over in Europe and Australia. I would continue to operate normally in these markets, but I would expand into the rising markets where no one controls the digital ecosystem yet and Sony can leverage their strong brand. Brazil, Latin America, and South Africa are the easiest markets to break into due to the political climate and the strong reader base. It is important to not be complacent in the few markets you operate under and continuously have to expand into other markets. This keeps the brand fresh and brings new ideas to the table from local agents and publishers who are feeding Sony books to sell. It would also stimulate hardware sales, selling e-readers for less than the competition.
Website owners may be oblivious to this fact, but the Reader Store has a commission program. They pay bloggers, website owners, and authors 6% of any eBook they sell via people clicking on banner adverts. The problem is there is no information on this at all on the Reader Store website. This are no links to the program or easy enrollment options. Obviously, having other people promote your brand is the easiest way to advertise. I would revise this section, allow people to customize banners on any book they want, and pay people out at the $100 threshold once a month.
Sony needs to lower their prices on their eBooks. Often, they are double the cost of Amazon and basically on par with Apple. The average price of a fiction bestseller at Amazon is $9.99 and at Sony it is $15. Sony needs to sell books at the exact price that Amazon does for key markets in Europe. This is the only way they can promote themselves as being a true Amazon alternative, which is what allowed Kobo to get so strong, so quickly.
In the end, the Reader store needs to lower eBook prices, build community, open a proper subscription based book club, expand into foreign markets and leverage their name brand as a primary mover of growth. Sadly, the Reader Store team is tiny, there are less then eight full time people running the show, a few interns, and that’s it.
The Sony e-Reader Regains its Prominence
Sony has close to eleven e-readers in their product portfolio and has been a solid brand since 2006. When the company first started releasing e-readers they basically had no competition. Within four years they had hundreds of competitors, and they were caught unprepared for how fast the industry had grown in the few short years.
In the past, Sony would always release three new e-readers a year and for the last three years has only issued one. Sony also relies on 3rd parties for content, which often shoots them in the foot. They had an agreement with Google to hustle books directly with their PRS-T1 e-reader, but when Google changed their system and amalgamated everything into Google Play, it disallowed anyone with a Sony to buy books from the Play Store. Imagine having a new Sony e-Reader, using the device for the first time, and clicking on Google Books only to see error messages. The PRS-T2 did a little bit better of a job with Evernote and Overdrive Library lending. The PRS-T3 was a let down and was not even marketed in the US, Sony had abandoned the market completely.
The truth behind the decline in Sony e-reader sales, starts with the executive team. This actually hinders growth. The first thing I would do if I ran the hardware division is fire people like Stephanie Lang, head of group IT division of Sony France. She was instrumental in the e-reader designs and said that front-lite screens were a dead technology, instead she developed reading lights for the PRS-T3. Reading lights people, in 2014. Kindle, Kobo, Barnes and Noble all have close to three generations of illuminated screens, to allow you to read in the dark, and Sony bets on reading lights. You wonder why the e-reader brand is failing? It is because you have idiots like Stephanie that are oblivious to market trends and fail to see the virtues of forward thinking technology. I am surprised each new e-reader did not ship with a candlestick and a note saying “happy reading – the future is now.”
To turn around the Sony hardware division I would hire Bill Saperstein, who was the VP of Nook. He has experience in running a modern hardware company and Sony could get a breath of fresh air in the executive ranks. Sony needs to think in terms of being a startup again, pressing reset on the e-Reader hardware and starting new. Here is the plan.
Sony and e-Ink worked together in 2013 to develop Mobius technology. Mobius displays can weigh less than 50% of an equivalent glass based TFT and they can be cut to any specific size. This is what I would incorporate into the Sony PRS-T4 and also front-lit technology. Most people aren’t aware of this, but Sony e-Readers run Android. I would make deals with companies like Instapaper and load their rss/read it later service on it. This would be my counter to Kobo and Pocket.
The Sony 13.3 is the best e-reader I have seen in my entire life. It weighs almost half of the Kindle DX and other large screen e-readers. It has amazing resolution and was primarily designed for reading and editing PDF Files. No e-reader in the world gave you the robust level of reading and clarity as this reader gave me. Where is it now? Wallowing in obscurity at Sony Japan, in their business unit. Customers could not even buy these if they wanted to. There are rumors that it crossing over to the USA in April 2014, but at a $1200 price tag. Obviously, this would be the next great product. I would charge $500 for it and bill it as the best PDF e-reader in the world. I would market the hell out of this and use this as the flagship device, that schools, education and anyone who needs PDF Files for their work. Why Sony is sleeping on this e-reader, when it still has tremendous buzz surrounding it, does not make any sense to me.
Finally, as I stated above, all modern Sony e-Readers run Android. I would put our own Good e-Reader APP Store on it, and design it that the only apps to install would be e-reading, comic book apps, newspaper and magazine apps, and small productivity apps, such as Dropbox. No Android e-reader has a small app market built right into it. This is what is needed for Sony to distinguish themselves from the competition. Give customers a greater choice, give them more freedom, give them modern hardware, give them a reason to buy one. The company mantra should be – we empower readers.
I have looked at the major changes I would implement if I ran either the Reader Store or the hardware division. Sony seems too complacent and does not have strong motivation to do well in the market. Everyone working there in the executive ranks are there for a paycheck. They wake up in the morning, talk to publishers, get more books, and have them added to the site. They certainly aren’t issuing firmware updates, doing research and development, or staying current. They certainly are not innovative anymore and have lost the will to live. Sony right now is like a death row inmate, you don’t know when execution time is, but you get into a daily pattern of pseudo-zombie living.
Sony is an e-Reader brand that is dying. The writing is on the wall and the company will ultimately abandon their own store and line of e-readers within a year. Europe will follow North America’s suit once they get a few paychecks from Kobo. Kobo will then take over their entire digital ecosystem and Sony will just make tablets and phones.
Honestly, it is not that hard to turn things around. e-Readers are a low-cost gateway to expand with. It is hard to enter Brazil with a $700 tablet or phone, but relatively easy with a $100 e-reader. This is how the e-reader division should be organized. It is a gateway to success and open with Android to allow people to install their favorite reading apps, local newspaper apps or local news apps. You then release the 13.3 inch device to a very niche market, that is positively starving for something like this.
I wish I could just save Sony. I have been following the e-reader industry since 2008, I have a very unique perspective on how the worldwide market works for eBooks and e-Readers. I talk to hundreds of start-ups a year and travel all over the world looking at the latest tech. You get to a point where you can see who will do well and who will wallow away and fade. Unless Sony hires some new key executives and changes their approach for selling e-readers, eBooks, newspapers and magazines, they are doomed.
The Barnes and Noble Nook division is one of the most longstanding and successful brands in the e-reader and tablet sector. The bookseller jumped into the eBook revolution in 2009 with an online store and their own flagship device. Their first few devices sold like wildfire, but sales have tapered off with each subsequent release. Nook Media has been losing money each quarter for over a year and most of their executives in charge of books, hardware and accessories have all left the company. What if they hired me to run the show? Here is my game plan to turn Nook around.
Enhancing the Retail Experience
The average Barnes and Noble bookstore is around 26,000 square-feet in size. The Nook retail area, where devices are showcased are normally 1,000 sq ft, and larger stores have 2,000 sq ft.
This is a solid amount of space to showcase the Nook Glowlight, Nook HD and Nook HD+, which is the current generation lineup. Not to mention accessories, such as cases, and screen protectors.
The Nook display section has no consistency in overall design and customer experience. The flagship Union Square location looks way better than the store in Las Vegas. Once you start going to more rural bookstores, in smaller markets the Nook display section lacks. I have walked into bookstores and saw nothing more than a wooden table, with a blue sheet and stuff piled all over it.
If I was in charge of Nook Retail I would create a blueprint and template that all stores would have to abide by. I would mandate that all Nook areas would be close to the front entrance and by the window. It would feature a clean white overall design, with vibrant color coded areas where you would find devices, accessories and a Nook Kiosk. Having street traffic seeing a cool, hi-tech area would prompt them to come in the store. It is important to build a consistent experience, walking into a big store in New York, would be the same as walking into one in Seattle.
The Nook Kiosk would be another hardware innovation that all stores would get. It would allow customers to browse the Nook library of eBooks. They would be able to buy and send the books right to their devices, or pre-order ones that have not come out yet. If a new e-Reader or tablet is announced, customers would be able to order them in the Nook area, and make sure they are on the list. This would all be fed to a centralized Nook admin server, where stores could get extra allocated units. This would save time from the retail staff having to this manually, which is the only way to currently do it.
The average Barnes and Noble bookstore does not have an army of employes. I have witnessed that many in the store wear different hats, whether its inventory, cash, restocking or helping customers. The people in the Nook area, often are not dedicated and feature a revolving cadre of characters. I would mandate that every store location needs 3 trained people for the Nook area, two of which are full time and another that works when one the core people are sick, or on vacation. There would be regional trainers who would be responsible for each State, and would bring people into that State’s flagship store for a week of training. They need to be Nook Certified.
Accessories, Accessories, Accessories
Barnes and Noble has a line of accessories for their line of tablets and e-readers, none of which are really compelling. Sure you have the ubiquitous cases, screen protectors, charging cables and even a pair of Nook headphones. They need to solve this situation to make the Barnes and Noble accessories line, more modern and current.
If I ran the accessories division at Barnes and Noble, the first thing I would do is buyout a company called DecalGirl. They make custom art and designs for the back of Barnes and Noble e-readers and tablets. You can buy a vinyl decal and attach it yourself. You can also elect to buy custom cases with hundreds of funky designs. If a customer has their own vision of what they want their device to look like, they can use the automated online tools to customize their own and have it shipped out.
This is the exact type of service and design strategy that Barnes and Noble has to employ. Amazon is the only other company to offer something like this, but they don’t have a retail environment to put these in customers hands and showcase the product in a compelling fashion.
Barnes and Noble has to stop developing their own headphones and other accessories. The product line is really outdated and no new designs have been made in a number of years. Instead I would reach out to Pebble, Jawbone, Qualcomm, Fitbit, Beats by Dr. Dre and other smart accessory companies that make things like rings and necklaces. There is no denying that more people are buying these types of things from electronics stores, or companies like Best Buy. It would serve Barnes and Nobles interests to enhance their stores image with carrying an ultra modern line of accessories people are buying now in droves and will be buying in the near future. They likely would cannibalize their own accessory sales by doing this, but in the long-term they would make more money selling Beats headphones with a cool book design on it.
Barnes and Noble has their own app store, but it is only compatible for users living in the USA and UK. Barnes and Noble has a movie and video area, but again is only good for those two countries. The inclusion of Google Play suddenly made Nook accessible to more people, in more countries.
Many avid Nook users claim the Barnes and Noble App Store is woeful and does not feature a great selection of apps. The staff who is charge of curation and business development are under funded and short of brilliant minds. If I ran Nook Services, I would kill the App Store and Kill the television and movie rental business.
My intention is to remove all of the barriers that would hinder more international adoption of the Nook Tablet line. There is nothing worse than buying a new device and finding out nothing works in your country, and there is no way to uninstall it. It would free up internal resources to focus on more critical aspects of the business. Honestly, now that Google Play Services is on the Nook tablet, my bet is the metrics say more customers are downloading apps from Google, rather than Barnes and Noble now.
The goal is to find identity with Nook Services. Is the priority your own app store and television system or is relying on Google. You cannot do both and it is a waste of resources, management and time to do two things at once. Its one or the other, and I would bet on Google as a content distribution system.
The Synergy between Nook Press and Indie Titles in Bookstores
If there was one oportonity that Barnes and Noble is missing, more than anything else, is the synergy between Nook Press and their bookstores. Nook Press is the companies self-publishing program and is a direct follow-up to PUBIT! The platform itself pales in comparison to competitors programs like Amazon and Kobo. Heck, UK authors cannot even use Nook Press to publish in the US and UK.
If i was in charge of Nook Press and displaced Teresa Horner the first thing I would do is partner up with a service like Ingram Lightning Source. US authors would be able to self-publish books digitally and make them available for the retail stores to purchase. Ingram basically runs a giant print on demand system, where authors can have copies of their books printed, if someone places an order. This method proves to be quite popular with competitors.
There are obvious benefits of partnering with Ingram, rather then investing in a POD system from the ground up. It would save a massive amount of time and money to just bite the bullet and get in bed with Ingram. Eventually, once you figure out the logistics of the entire POD process, you can slowly roll-out your in-house alternative.
I have been following the entire eBook and e-reader industry since one year after the original Kindle came out. I have seen many major booksellers go bankrupt, some taking chances, some taking none at all. The most squandered opportunity that Barnes and Noble has missed in the last five years is getting self-published titles in their store, from their own authors. Barnes and Noble sorely needs a self-publishing super-star to carry the torch and be a walking banner for their services. They cant do that without Nook Press POD.
One of the big hindrances of Barnes and Noble international expansion for the Nook in general, is the complex publishing rights to books, magazines and other digital content. Since self-publishing does not abide by these same restrictions, Barnes and noble is in a position to expand their print on demand service and digital titles on a worldwide basis.
Nook Press would be a viable way to expand the Nook bookstore into other markets and launch with self-published titles and then make inroads with local publishers. The start of international expansion would be indie titles.
Expand or Die
Nook Media is at a cross-roads when it comes to their entire line of e-readers and tablets. The USA market, which is their core, is woefully saturated with offerings by Acer, Asus, Kindle, Samsung, LG, and a slew of others. How many quarterly loses of hardware sales do you need before you have that pivotal wake-up call.
If I was in charge of Nook Hardware, the overall emphasis would be international distribution and what do we have to do to make this a reality. Latin America, South Africa, China, Russia, Netherlands, Australia are all growing markets. Nook has to expand, there is no way the product line can continue if they dont.
The first thing I would do is make the tablets and e-readers as internationally friendly as possible. They are all running Android, it is quite easily to localize them to a foreign language. The Google Play store makes it relevant in almost every country and putting a priority on reading, is the name of the game.
The second, would require moving into Germany, Spain, and France, first. These are the markets that are most mature digitally and is a natural land crossing from the UK. I would hire someone with a decade of publishing experience to open a satellite office . Next, they would be able to say what stores would make sense to carry the devices. I would select bookstores, because that is where the readers are, you don’t want tech shops. Next, the agent would hire a small team of publishing veterans to make deals with anyone who made a deal with Kobo or Amazon to get their digital content in the localized store. The store, would only be on the tablets and e-readers to start and later the website. This is the blueprint to expansion on a superficial level. This move for localized content would keep the Microsoft overlords happy, because they would be able to market more books on Windows 8.
Does anyone really wonder why Sony abandoned the USA with e-Readers and Why Kobo did too? Why did Pocketbook pull out of North America all together and most companies bypassed it? It is because its a lost cause. If you are USA-centric with your hardware, you are neglecting all of the markets that have not been the focus of other companies international strategies. Pure Google tablets are boring, everyone who has one, has one already. People want something more compelling, a device to read technical PDF documents, to read books, to read a newspaper. Nook is all of these things at heart.
This article is not meant to talk about, if Barnes and Noble should get out of the e-reader/tablet game. For better or worse, they are basically committed to it for the long-haul. Making device recommendations is a fools errand, because technology changes so fast.
Nook has spent a copious amount of money on making devices, making bookstore, a self-publishing program, an app-store, movie/tv services and building accessories. There are too many things on the go, with little development happening on any one thing. Ditching the App Store, movies and television services would free up capital, talent and assets.
It is important to make partnerships to get self-published books in all Barnes and Noble bookstores and give the book buyers recommended options for the stars of Nook Press. Put the authors on a bookstore tour and build momentum. Get in newspapers, blogs and websites. Draw attention to Nook Press, make indie authors believe this is the best Amazon alternative.
Many bookstore chains are fiercely anti-Amazon and are always looking for alternatives. This has been the key to Kobo’s success, an upstart company who built a template on expansion and duplicated it many times. There is nothing holding Barnes and Noble back from doing this, other than just hard work and the will to persevere. I fear, the old management who has all left were just complacent. Living off past accomplishments, like a high-school football player dreaming of that big play they made, once. Nook is a basically a 30 something year old former football player, living off their past glories, and lost for a personal identity.
Book discovery has been a hotbed issue for the last two years as digital books become more prevalent in our society. Unlike real books, you cannot download the entire novel to read samples, instead an algorithm extrapolates the first ten or twenty pages and delivers them to your e-reader. The exact number depends on whether you are shopping with Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes and Noble. One of the biggest problems right now with eBook samples is you only get less than a chapter to determine if you like the book, in some cases you only have a single page to read.
When you are shopping in your favorite bookstore, it is quite common to pick up the book, read the jacket and flip through it. It is quite easy to pull up a chair and read the entire chapter if you wanted to and if it was compelling enough, purchase it. Some people go to the store on their break and complete an entire book in a few days, some would say they are bucking the system, others participating in the culture. This is the way bookstores have always functioned.
When you are on the fence about buying an eBook, often the only thing you can do is download a free sample. One of the big problems with this approach is the number of pages included in the sample. If a book has a large table of contents, a forward, likely you won’t even get to read the first chapter. I took a look at a title “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box,” by the Arbinger Institute. The entire first half of the sample chapter for this book is nothing but promotional testimonials — the kind of blurbs you’d see on the back cover of a paperback. Then follows the cover art and front matter. Finally, at the very end, you get to the actual content: barely what would fit on a single printed page, and just 4% of the total sample chapter file. It’s a brief introduction that indicates almost nothing of the substance and style of the book.
Barnes and Noble and Kobo also deliver samples to you and normally comprise of less than 10% of the book and most publishers actually have a say in how many pages of a book can be available in a chapter. If you self-publish with Nook Press or Kobo Writing Life, there is a difference in how many sample pages are available for the reader, then your average mega title published by Penguin.
I have basically given up on downloading samples of any kind of eBook these days. I have been burned too many times downloading a sample for the purposes of reviewing a new Kindle e-Reader or a new Android tablet. Instead, I am usually forced to buy a book because its nearly impossible to get a few pages into the first chapter, before the sample ends. eBook samples need to eliminate the table of contents and all of the other superficialis data, and start directly at chapter one.
A commentary piece by Kirsti Knolle came through the Reuters wire today, and it was jam packed with a lot of information that the industry already knows. It proves the point that we’re really good at observing what is actually taking place around us and we’re even better at discussing ad nauseum the things that have already happened. But where are the people who can tell us where publishing is headed?
There is a job for these people, these aptly-named book futurists, and they’re out there making their predictions and projections. People like David Houle and Kristen McLean attend various conference and make insightful speeches, and then they are left asking those in attendance the very same questions they asked at that very same event, only a year before. And probably the year before that.
One thing that Knolle’s article only touches on and is vital to the continuing growth of the publishing industry is better access to data. Right now, book data is a tight-lipped secret, guarded over and only discussed in closed door meetings. But how can an entire industry adapt to shifts and changes and fall in line with solid predictions, when no one is willing to share the information right in front of them?
It’s good to know that, according to Knolle’s article, one thing hasn’t changed: we still hate Amazon. I’m not sure why and I’m not even sure that most other people know why, but we do. They’re too big, but more importantly, they’re too radical. They do crazy things like let everyone publish a book, they pay their traditional authors monthly instead of quarterly…heck, their CEO even bought a newspaper at a time when print news media is fighting to go digital. We fear them for the changes they bring about across the publishing spectrum, and we hate them for being a disruptor.
One thing that Knolle does make clear throughout the piece is that eventually authors and publishers are going to come around to the idea that it really is all about the readers. Social reading is on the rise and fan interaction with authors via social media is becoming more and more commonplace. Readers are even developing a semi-brand loyalty to publishing houses and imprints, knowing what kind of content to expect from the brand. The true powerhouse driving publishing is slowly emerging as the reader.
Wherever the publishing industry ends up, both in the near future and the far, only one thing is certain: it won’t look a thing like it does now.
Many of the leading digital book stores all offer self-publishing programs. Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press and Kobo Writing Life all are viable platforms for indie authors to submit and sell their eBooks on a worldwide scale. Even Apple has got into the game by pulling curated content directly from Smashwords. All of these stores have a single thing in common, they list self-published titles side by side with traditionally published books. This is not a viable long-term strategy and these stores need to revise their approach.
A recent firestorm has erupted due to hundreds of adult eBooks with topics ranging from threesomes to incest are being listed in the same category as kids books. This has resulted in UK bookstore WH Smith shuttering their entire online bookstore. Kobo is has deleting close to a thousand titles on their platform and giving a scolding to the vanity presses who are responsible. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are addressing this issue in their own way, but are not publicly divulging anything.
Why hasn’t the industry embraced a dedicated self-publishing section and instead are listing the books right beside traditional published content? We have asked this very question to all of these companies at Book Expo America, Future Book and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Most have said their is no distinction between a self-published title and one done with a major publisher. A self-published section by its very nature might have a negative condentation. The bookstores basically have a vested interest in selling indie titles intermixed with everything else, because they make their commissions either way.
I think its very important for all major bookstores to have an indie section because small publishers and indie authors are abusing the system. I have seen many duplicate content with different titles and cover art listed in different categories in order to be visible. You might have an hardcore erotic book listed in Romance, Paranormal, Mystery and Thriller. Indies know that the more categories you are in, the more likely you will sell more titles. In other cases indie authors are stuffing their description and meta data with specific keywords to try and get their book to show up amidst popular searches. You even now have authors changing their pen name and book title to be very similar to popular authors. E.B James is one example of an author who capitalized on the whole 50 Shades of Grey gravy-train.
Major Publishers such as Penguin and S&S have seen their digital revenue increase to 24% within the last year. eBooks are doing nothing but generating more money and self-publishing is on the rise. With more titles being added every day by anyone with a word-processor the old way of listing the titles in the bookstore are not cutting it anymore. The firestorm about Kobo, WHSmith and adult content is nothing new, these books have been there for a longtime. If digital bookstores continue to maintain the status quo this can be an even bigger problem within a few years. eBook discovery will suffer and parents who buy innocently sounding books like “Daddy’s Playtime” might scar their kids for life.
e-Readers are a technology that is relatively fringe in nature and has seen its growth stymied by the rise of tablets. E-Ink Holdings is the company primarily responsible for 90% of all e-Paper technology currently on the market. Last quarter, they lost $33 million and has been in constant decline for the past year. What can turn the e-paper industry around and have a greater market appeal? The answer is relatively easy: split screen cases for phones.
Plastic Logic and Pocketbook have been working together on a new high concept product that will see production begin in October. It basically is a phone case, but instead of it being made of leather, it has an e-Ink display panel. Built within the new Pocketbook app in development, users can switch an e-reading experience over to the e-ink display, instead of the LCD Screen. The two companies have announced that they are making a new model for the Apple iPhone.
A recent Pew Research report stated that 91% of the United States population has a cell phone and 61% have verified it to be smartphones. Major companies such as Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Amazon all make solid revenue by selling eBooks to phone owners. The main problem with reading on small LCD screens is that readers end up straining their eyes and often get distracted by the multimedia. Having a split screen e-ink panel built into a highly functional case can minimize those issues.
In the next year, these types of display screens will catch on and companies like Kobo might see the benefits to offering mobile phone companies a subsidized case for new activations. eBook credit may also be offered as a further incentive to lure readers into their particular ecosystem.
Likely all the major players in the e-Reader and smartphone space are looking at this new technology as having high potential. Not a single unit has been sold yet, but something is compelling about a simple low-cost accessory that gives a full e-reading experience.
We live in a divided world where some people buy digital and the vast majority still buy the real thing. Major publishers are seeing 24% of their global revenue stemming from eBooks and print still reigns supreme. The gap is quickly closing and many industry experts agree the total eBook market will account for $9.7 billion worldwide in 2016, more than three times the $3.2 billion in 2012. Bookstores have always played a pivotal role in book discovery and book culture in general. How will the bookstore change when digital becomes the preferred format?
The quintessential bookstore has changed drastically since 300 BC when scribes would sell books directly to philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. It also is easier to start one, then it was in France. In 1810 Napoleon created a system by which, a would-be bookseller had to apply for a license (brevet), and supply four references testifying to his morality, and four confirmations of his professional ability to perform the job. All references had to be certified by the local mayor.
Bookstores large and small are hubs of social activity and drive book culture. Not only can you find a large selection of detectible delights to purchase but also meet authors and participate in discussions. It is quite common in New York for a local bookstore to organize parties or wine nights for companies such as Flickr.
Book discovery is central to bookstores and they invest significant time and money into aesthetics. Barnes and Noble, Indigo and WH Smith all have it down to a science on the art of product display and maximizing space to visually draw the eye. Your average best seller shelf is filled with vibrant colors and display stands hype up other notable authors or themes.
How will the modern bookstore change when by 2015 the amount of digital books sold will reach 50%? We have seen the collapse of Borders in the US, Whitcoulls in New Zealand and RedGroup in Australia. Thousands of small bookstores all over the world have also closed due to readers shifting to digital. How will bookstores transition from exclusively selling physical books to actively promoting eBooks?
The one worry many bookstores face is being a showroom for 3rd party eBook companies. This is evident in the relationship with bookstores that belong to the American Booksellers Association and sell books from Kobo. The indie bookstore makes very little commissions on each eBook and relies on selling physical books to stay in business. Barnes and Noble is the only one in the world with quite a large ecosystem of content and makes hefty digital returns.
Indigo, Chapters, WH Smith, Foyles and many other bookstores all sell tablets and e-readers in their stores. Over the course of the last few years, reading devices have been a boon to these stores and they are seeing modest returns. Indigo recently has been launching a series of Tech Zones, which significantly increases the size of their product display area. They now sell iPad, iPad Mini and an assorted array of new e-readers and tablets. When customers buy these devices, where do they go to buy books?
The bookstore of the future must develop their own eBook infrastructure in order to preserve their own identity and maximize profits. It is critically important that major chains develop their own digital bookstore and sell eBooks directly to their shoppers. It is simply not sustainable to encourage all of your patrons to buy the digital editions from Amazon or Apple There is always more money to be made by phasing out the middleman and reaching your audience directly.
Bookstores are not positioned well to start their own online eBook system. I have heard on many occasions that for the most part, they have all lost touch with the publishers. In the past, great relationships will directly forged with the publisher and that is how the stores bought their books. Now, its all agents and sales reps, the average bookstore never even speaks with the publisher anymore. The majority of stores now deal with companies like Ingram, and rely on them for books, magazines and everything else. With no direct line of communication with the publishers, it is going to be a long-road to cultivate a relationship and get their own digital bookstore going.
In the end, bookstores need to develop their own bookstore and develop a series of apps for readers to use. These need to be loaded on any tablet or e-reader that their store carries. If the hardware vendor does not want to play ball, you ditch them. Bookstores sustain themselves from selling books, magazines and hardware. They need to unshackle themselves from a strict reliance on a 3rd party and bite the bullet and develop their own digital storefront.
I have attended many different publishing and technology events this year, such as IDPF and Book Expo America, and covered O’Reily Tools for Change, Digital Book World, FutureBook and the London Book Fair. I have sat in on close to 70 different speaking engagements and there is one consistent theme. It is trendy to hate on Amazon.
Many speakers are capitalizing on anti-Amazon sentiments to attenuate a point or to give them instant credibility in the audience’s eyes. It’s quite easy to get a cheap pop by insulting them or to make a lighthearted joke. Almost every single speaker this year referenced Amazon or painted them in a negative light.
It is quite easy to go after a target that has seen monumental success and pioneered both e-Readers, eBooks and digital publishing. Amazon gets unjustified hatred just to get a headline.
I always laugh to myself when even well-known authors or owners of other publishing websites hate on Amazon. They often do it at the very beginning of their speaking engagements or when answering audience questions. I can expect about half of the speakers will do this and I laugh about their consistency to hate. You don’t have to insult a company or put them down just to illicit an audience response. Sure, it’s a company that everyone knows, but there is zero point in making yourself look like an idiot by jumping on the bandwagon.
Amazon is the most profitable eBook company in the world and has the most dominant line of e-readers. They have the most successful self-publishing platform and give free digital copies away when consumers buy the print book. They make the most money out of all the other resellers online. People try and emulate them in this sector, just like so many tablet and phone companies tend to emulate Apple.
I implore the greater internet at large and public speakers at publishing events to think twice before mindlessly placing blame on Amazon to get a cheap pop. If you have to seem relevant through insults and finger pointing, you don’t deserve to have people take what you say seriously.