Ask The Editor

September 14, 2009

Biggest challenge for publishers=biggest opportunity for authors?

The Frankfurt Book Fair is conducting a survey of publishers to learn what they believe will be the business models of the future.

The second question on the survey is interesting because it points to a potential shift in the balance of power in publishing from publishers to authors.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges for the media industry? (Please check three answers)

Along with digitization, piracy, the economic crisis, oversupply and other issues, one of the 10 possible answers that you get to choose as among the three biggest challenges to publishers:

– Strengthened position of authors (increasing possibility for direct marketing without a publisher/bookseller)

The fact that this is one of the possible answers tells you that the market is shifting dramatically.

The fact that the following is also among the possible answers tells you we are at a crossroads.

– Concentration of distribution channels

Either authors will gain significant power in the new marketplace or big players like Google and Amazon will so overwhelm us all that we would do well to learn a new trade that will always be in demand, like plumbing.

We live in interesting times.

– Anita Bartholomew

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May 13, 2009

Is Amazon becoming a publisher — or simply promoting its self-publishing options?

From its press release, announcing the new venture:

Amazon customers raved over “Legacy,” a self-published novel by 16-year-old Cayla Kluver, with customer review titles such as “loved it, loved it,” “rich lyrical tapestry and story” and “breathtaking in scope and execution!” Despite winning several prizes from literary groups and accolades like this from readers, Kluver’s debut novel achieved only modest sales. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced a new program, “AmazonEncore,” to help readers discover exceptional books from emerging authors, such as the program’s first book, “Legacy.”

AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon uses information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales. Amazon then partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers. This summer “Legacy” will be revised by the author and re-issued as an AmazonEncore edition in print on Amazon websites around the world, in physical bookstores, as a digital download from the Kindle Store in less than 60 seconds, and via spoken-word audio download on Audible.com.

There’s no word on what Amazon means when it says it “partners” with authors. Amazon may, indeed be acting like a traditional publisher and offering advances, royalties, etc. But AmazonEncore may, instead, be a re-branding or expansion of Amazon’s current self-publishing tools. It’s not clear yet. But, what if Amazon is merely selecting certain self-published books for more favorable design, distribution and marketing treatment? And what if it’s using this as a marketing tool to promote its self-publishing arm?

That seems more likely to me — and, if so, appears to be a smart marketing move.

I hate to be a cynic but, stay tuned for the details.

– Anita Bartholomew

March 19, 2009

Google and Sony take on Amazon’s Kindle

Talk about a smart move for Sony. It’s made a deal with Google that will allow all Google’s public domain (expired copyright) books to be read on the Sony reader, the Kindle’s biggest rival.

Amazon requires that all Kindle books get purchased through Amazon and appear in its proprietary format. Sony doesn’t require you to buy all your electronic reading material for its reader from it and, as far as I know, never has. But that difference hasn’t been publicized. Or, if Sony has tried to publicize this, the media haven’t covered it.

Getting access to all the public domain classics that Google has scanned gives it a publicity boost. (I believe owners of Sony’s e-reader can already use the Sony devices to read many if not most of the same public domain classics via Project Gutenberg).

– Anita Bartholomew

UPDATE: My colleague, George Sheldon, pointed out that, on the Kindle 2, you can read Word documents, not just documents prepared in Kindle’s proprietary format, and the device has the ability to convert other formats to its own. Like Sony, it can access Project Gutenberg public domain books.

March 6, 2009

Barnes&Noble to challenge Amazon in ebooks

Barnes&Noble is buying Fictionwise, an ebook seller that will allow it to open an ebook store and go head-to-head against Amazon in the ebook business.

It’s a smart move. Amazon just announced that its Kindle application will be available on the iPhone. But Fictionwise, the new B&N acquisition, is already available on iPhones, on which it offers thousands of titles.

And, unlike Kindle titles, which require using Kindle as the application, either on the Kindle device or a supported iPhone or iPod, Fictionwise titles can be read on a variety of applications and devices. That means that there are fewer limits on its expansion. Amazon has tried, in every area where it’s become the leader, to crowd out the competition. When it comes to technology, however, if history is any guide, you want an application to be broadly adopted across platforms, not limited to a few.

February 16, 2009

Coming in January 2010: the Kindle killer

I’m delighted to learn that a new e-reader  is being developed: a super-thin, lightweight device with a large enough screen that you will be able to read a full magazine page without scrolling.

It’s not that I plan to rush out and buy one. I like my paper books just fine. But, if ebooks are the future, I don’t want a proprietary system from Amazon to become the de facto monopoly distribution system.

We’ve seen what happens when Amazon is in position to strong-arm
publishers on traditionally printed
and POD books.

This device will be open source — meaning that you won’t be limited to reading text in a system owned by the e-reader’s makers, which is now the case with the Kindle. It will handle Word, pdf, and other documents, and it will cost about what Kindle costs.


January 30, 2009

Amazon sales are up — good news for writers?

Amazon is doing well at a time when just about every other business is tanking.

Some highlights from its announcement:

  • North America segment sales, representing the Company’s U.S. and Canadian sites, were $3.63 billion, up 18% from fourth quarter 2007.
  • International segment sales, representing the Company’s U.K., German, Japanese, French and Chinese sites, were $3.07 billion, up 19% from fourth quarter 2007. Excluding the unfavorable impact from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, International sales grew 31%.
  • Worldwide Media sales grew 9% to $3.64 billion, compared with $3.33 billion in fourth quarter 2007.
  • One has to wonder how much of its success is due to business practices that have the potential to harm publishers, writers, and others in the business. For example, it recently strong-armed publishers into either using Amazon’s print-on-demand services or forfeit “buy now” selling opportunities with the online retailer. (Without the “buy now” button, publishers have to compete with sellers of used copies and don’t qualify for the free shipping that makes Amazon so attractive to buyers). That move prompted a class action lawsuit.

    Amazon also demands higher than customary discounts from publishers, which cut into the profits of both publishing company and author. Protest and Amazon, again, cuts off the “buy now” opportunity to buy a publisher’s books. It also drops such publishers from its promotions.

    Now, Amazon, distributor of the Kindle e-book reader, has decided not to carry any e-books except those that use the Kindle proprietary format. It’s a move, like the others, designed to cut off competition.

    So, is Amazon’s success good news for writers? Not if Amazon continues to strangle competition and force publishers and others to accept its terms or take a hike. It would be far better for the industry if there were several online booksellers thriving — and giving book buyers a multitude of choices.

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