How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage (via @theguardian)

Some commentary from Cory Doctorow about the Amazon and Hachette fight that I’ve posted a few links to over the last few weeks. This touches on the DRM nightmare that enabled all this arm twisting. And everyone knows how much I love DRM!

In a sane world, Hachette would have a whole range of tactics available to it. Amazon’s ebook major competitors – especially Apple and Google – have lots of market clout, and their customers are already carrying around ebook readers (tablets and phones). Hachette could easily play hardball with Amazon by taking out an ad campaign whose message was, “Amazon won’t sell you our books – so we’re holding a 50% sale for anyone who wants to switch to buying ebooks from Apple, Google, Kobo or Nook.”

However:

[I]t is precisely because Hachette has been such a staunch advocate of DRM that it cannot avail itself of this tactic. Hachette, more than any other publisher in the industry, has had a single minded insistence on DRM since the earliest days. It’s likely that every Hachette ebook ever sold has been locked with some company’s proprietary DRM, and therein lies the rub.

Read the rest of the tricky explanation here: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/20/how-amazon-holding-hachette-hostage

Amazon vs Hachette: Don’t Believe the Spin (via @DavidGaughran, HT: @thecreativepenn)

My personal problems with Amazon aren’t secret, but in the interest of getting some perspective from a more balanced ‘actually they are kind of both untrustworthy’ view, David Gaughran writes about his experiences:

Hachette is being portrayed as some helpless fawn. Several articles have speculated that Amazon is “going after” Hachette first because, compared to the rest of the large publishers, Hachette is small and weak.

Don’t buy it. Hachette might be the smallest of the “Big 5″ on paper, but that’s only when you look at the American market. Hachette Book Group is owned by Lagardère Publishing – the biggest publisher in France and the second biggest in the UK. It has significant publishing interests across the rest of the world too, enough to make it the world’s second largest trade publisher overall.

Note: I’m no fan of Hachette either. Their price-fixing Agency model bullshit isn’t on my list of favourite ‘desperate to keep control’ business strategies either.

It’s almost like it’s the result of a very smart PR campaign. It’s almost like Hachette is part of a giant mass media conglomeration with billions of dollars of revenue and hundreds of outlets in which to push its message. It’s almost like Hachette is part of an international publishers’ association which has explicitly stated it will be flooding the media this year with stories intended to advance its interests.

Welp, I guess we’re all screwed.

Read the full article here: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/amazon-v-hachette-dont-believe-the-spin/

Publish and be branded (via @guardian, HT: @publisherswkly)

Jennifer Rankin writes for the Guardian about how publishers consider hugely succesful bestselling authors more like brands:

“Brand” may be an ugly word when applied to an author, literary agent Jonny Geller acknowledged, but it is only a shorthand for a way in which publishers are attempting to hold on to the reading public at a time when sales of print books are flat and electronic gadgets vie for readers’ attention.

Since I mostly see independent or smaller-press authors represented in my various social feeds, I’ve never really separated a writer from their ‘brand’ – perhaps I’m taking that term to mean something that it doesn’t in the Real World of Business.

The runaway success of Mantel’s story could be seen as a heartwarming tale for the book industry, but it comes at a time when many insiders worry such a tale will become increasingly rare as talented authors find it ever harder break through.

Again I don’t quite agree – it was always hard for talented authors to break through and, frankly, talent doesn’t really correlate very well with success. I think this paragraph is telling:

Authors with middling sales – like Mantel, before she led Thomas Cromwell up the bestseller list – are getting less care and attention from large publishers, with readers ever-more fixated on fantasy blockbusters, it is said.

I suspect that’s because large publishers really aren’t where the publishing industry is at anymore. Focusing on how they cope with the wave of new authors isn’t necessarily useful to form a view on how the industry as a whole is operating.

I’m no expert, but statements like this just don’t seem to describe a world that is any different to how it used to be:

“The large bestselling authors are taking a bigger and bigger share of the market,” said Andrew Franklin, founder of the independent publisher Profile. “Just as in every branch of late post-industrial capitalism, the rich are getting richer. New authors and struggling authors and mid-list authors are finding it harder.”

It’s an interesting and long read, nonetheless, and my pick-and-choose critique doesn’t quite do it justice. Have a read and let me know if I’m missing something: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/13/publish-brand-literature-hilary-mantel-jk-rowling

The Trouble With Genres (via @JohnRosePutnam)

John Rose Putnam considers genres:

I am a simple man. With books I recognize two types, good and bad, and two genres, fiction and non-fiction. What else does one need to know? Frankly all these different genres in vogue today seem like so many books neatly stacked into a multitude of boxes and crammed in a giant warehouse somewhere deep in the middle of nowhere.

Woodfin say this enormity of genres helps readers find the books they want. But I wonder if it doesn’t limit their choice instead, especially if readers only look in box, one narrow genre, for reading material. That is a lot like touring the town you live in and calling it a vacation.

I’m no bookseller, but last I heard genres were primarily a marketing tool. I agree with John’s frustration as a writer, though: I don’t want to try to categorise my writing, I write cross-genre, or, stuff, or, ah just read it. But the reality of having a surfeit of reading material is that readers do need some way of pre-selecting what they want to read, regardless of whether this limits their exposure to new material.

eg. “Ah, I have always read SF, so give me more of that kthxbai.”

John’s primary solution, browsing indiscriminately, is offered by good bookstores: having an excellent (and inevitably independent) bookstore is an exercise in exploration and discovery. I rarely go into a bookstore looking for a specific book – that’s what online retail is for; rather, I go into a bookstore to discover the new.

But…but they still use genres in the bookstore. What to do!?

Read the full article here: http://johnroseputnam.com/?p=661

Digital Publishing: 2014 and Beyond (via @gigaom, HT: @joostmoerenburg)

Joe Hyrkin talks about his

Digital publishing is now a mature, thriving industry, and yet many still insist that publishing is in its death throes. Book publishers know better: While hardcover sales declined slightly between 2008 and 2012 (from $5.2 billion to $5 billion), eBook sales grew at an astonishing clip during that period, rising from $64 million to $3 billion. And while digital publications are typically sold at a lower per-unit cost, profit margins are much higher – from 41 percent to 75 percent as publishers make the transition from print to digital.

There’s also a good infographic from October 2013 here, about book sale figures. Personally I baulked at the $15 eBook price, but I don’t buy DRM books so I have no idea if that’s normal: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114998/book-business-doing-fine

Joe lists three trends he considers important in the coming year of publishing:

  1. Twitter as the tip of the iceberg
  2. New long-form content discovery venues
  3. Growth in ad spending

Click through to the original article to dig into what he has to say about these things (Boo hiss at ‘ad spending’, personally): http://gigaom.com/2014/01/04/digital-publishing-how-it-will-evolve-in-2014-and-beyond/

Self-Publishing: How to Pick the Size of your Book (via @jfbookman)

A detailed article from The Book Designer on considerations for your self-published print book, including the different formats and sizes offered by the various online printing services and distributors:

Some pricing on digital books is in a range of sizes rather than having a different price for every different size, but that only helps a bit.

If you plan to print offset, you’ll need to specify the exact size in your request for an estimate. So one way or the other, it’s good to figure out near the beginning of your planning.

I can’t really add much to this. If you are looking into self-publishing in print I’d click through right now.

Full article here: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/book-sizes/

Kobo Purges Store of Random (Small/Indie) eBooks (via: @PandoDaily, @penenberg, HT: @dangillmor)

Adam Penenberg (editor of PandoDaily) writes about his experience of having his books (two thrillers) swept up in what seems like a giant overreaction by Kobo. This seems to have been spurred by British publisher WHSmith, which took down its entire website because some of Kobo’s eBooks (which were passed through into their catalogue automatically) offended their sensibilities. Adam writes:

Kobo’s rash move came on the heels of another rash move by a British publisherWHSmith, which has taken down its entire website, leaving a statement on its homepage. The company said it’s “disgusted” by “a number of unacceptable titles” that have been “appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours.”

The bigger issue here is that the purge broadly affects books that couldn’t remotely be expected to fall into what Kobo describes as: ‘“pedophilia, incest, bestiality, exploitation and sexual violence or force”’, and disproportionately those by smaller publishers:

It’s hard to believe Kobo’s claims that it’s “inspired by a ‘Read Freely’ philosophy,” which “stems from Kobo’s belief that consumers should have the freedom to read any book, any time, anyplace — and on any device.” That is, unless you want to read my two novels, and thousands of other titles that are not erotica and were either self-published or published by small, independent presses.

Seems like a knee-jerk reaction that will cost Kobo a lot of goodwill.

Read Adam’s article in full here: http://pandodaily.com/2013/10/15/kobos-porn-purge-hits-a-lot-of-innocent-bystanders/