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:

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:

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:

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):

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:

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:

Independent US Bookshops Growing (via: @theEconomist, HT: @michaelmeloni)

We’re super supportive of independent bookshops here at Literarium, so this news is great:

Since 2009 more independent bookshops have opened than closed in America. Sales grew by 8% in 2012, when many book chains saw a drop in revenues. Barnes & Noble’s sales in its stores decreased by 3.4% in its most recent fiscal year. Borders was doing so badly that in 2011 it shut its doors for good.

Obviously the news isn’t all great, but it shows to me, at least, that readers continue to desire a personal relationship with the supplier of their books, despite Amazon’s ebook dominance, especially in the US, where these figures come from.

Mr Aaron thinks independent bookshops have two big advantages over their bigger rivals. The first is that they are small enough to get to know their customers well. They see them, they talk to them, they recognise regulars, and they know how to keep them coming back.

The second is in the article. There’s more there too, so take a look, book store lovers:

New Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More eBooks (via @markcoker, HT: @thecreativepenn)

Mark Coker from Smashwords has collated the results of a Smashwords author survey, and there’s a whole bunch of fancy graphs and juicy data in there.

I’ll just post the headers for each section, to give you an idea. It’s really great information, and if you want to optimise your strategy for selling books you certainly can’t go wrong with some Cold, Hard Survey Result Facts.

  1. Ebook Sales Conform to a Power Curve
  2. Viva Long Form Reading:  Longer Books Sell Better
  3. Shorter Book Titles Appear to Have Slight Sales Advantage
  4. How Indie Authors are Pricing Their Books:  $2.99 (USD) is the Most Common Price Point
  5. How Price Impacts Unit Sales Volume:  Lower Priced Books (usually) Sell More Copies
  6. The Yield Graph: Is $3.99 the New $2.99?
  7. A Closer Look at the Yield Graph Reveals Why Indie Ebook Authors Have a Competitive Advantage over Traditionally Published Authors

There really is too much for me to post without spoilering the lot (yes, spoilering is a word now*), but I found this an interesting comment from Mark:

Already, many successful indies, borrowing from the playbook of publishers, are assembling freelance teams of editors, cover designers, formatters and distributors.  Tell me again, what can a publisher do for the ebook author that the author already do for themselves faster, cheaper and more profitability?

In general I’m in the camp of ‘assemble a team of freelance professionals to produce a book’. I realise that some authors are capable of being the person who does that assembling, and that other authors are more than capable of doing all those tasks themselves, and I’m also aware that this approach is quite expensive. I think it produces the best books though. Not that I have any evidence of this.

Anyway, read the survey results and Mark analysis. It’s very interesting:

(*send your hate mail to Shakespeare)

How To Record, Produce And Distribute Audiobooks (via @thecreativepenn)

Joanna Penn writes this back in March, but it’s a good look at audio books. She interviewed J. Daniel Sawyer about his experiences producing audio books:

Your book is not just a physical book or an ebook. There are plenty of other subsidiary rights that you can exploit and audiobooks are high on the list because of the rise in popularity of listening during commutes or workouts, and the increased penetration of smartphones. In today’s interview, we explore how you can get into this market.

My experience with audiobooks is very limited. I listened to all of ‘World War Z’ read out by various actors, and it was great; I listened to Carl Sagan reading from ‘The Demon Haunted World’ and it made me sad.

There’s a podcast of the interview, as well as a transcript, so if you’re interested in the process of producing audiobooks it’s a good place to start. Take, for example:

Essentially, you will always make mistakes while reading. A single read when you’re really good will take about 4: 1 editing time. So for every finished hour of audio, you need at least 3 or 4 hours of production. If you’re just starting out it can be more like 10 hours production to 1 of finished audio. This is why it can be expensive to produce good quality audiobooks.

Read it here:

Tor’s DRM-free ebook experiment, one year later (HT: @nztaylor)

Tor kicked the expensive, unworkable DRM locks off their digital books just over a year ago:

For our particular readership, we felt it was an essential and fair move. The genre community is close-knit, with a huge on-line presence, and with publishers, authors and fans having closer communication than perhaps some other areas of publishing do. Having been in direct contact with our readers, we were aware of how frustrated many of them were by DRM. Our authors had also expressed concerns at the restrictions imposed by the copyright coding applied to their ebooks. When both authors and readers are talking from the same page, it makes sense for the publishers to sit up, listen and take note—and we did!

Have a read through to see what their customer and author responses were.

Read it here:

US Independent Booksellers Looking Healthier Than Ever (via @aptronym)

This article starts out with a touching post about a community coming together to help an independent bookstore during Hurricane Sandy last year. It’s representative of the community niche that independent bookstores occupy, as compared to the chain bookstores of yesteryear. (Yes, I’m saying yesteryear because does anyone, truly, still envision a Borders store as being representative of bookstores these days?)

Sales at independent bookstores rose about 8 percent in 2012 over 2011, according to a survey by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). This growth was all the more remarkable since the sales of the national chain Barnes & Noble were so tepid. “I think the worst days of the independents are behind them,” says Jim Milliot, coeditorial director for Publishers Weekly magazine. “The demise of traditional print books has been a bit overblown. Everybody is a little anxious, but they are starting to think they’ve figured it out for the time being.”

Note that these figures are for the American independent bookselling industry, but I would expect (and hope) that Australia has an even healthier independent retailer industry:

While beloved bookstores still close down every year, sales at independent bookstores overall are rising, established independents are expanding, and new ones are popping up from Brooklyn to Big Stone Gap, Va. Bookstore owners credit the modest increases to everything from the shuttering of Borders to the rise of the “buy local” movement to a get-’er-done outlook among the indies that would shame Larry the Cable Guy. If they have to sell cheesecake or run a summer camp to survive, add it to the to-do list.

I like the following excerpt, which is a kind of reflection of other industries affected by technological change (eg. music industry, film industry, etc, all of whom threaten the apocalypse if [new technology] is introduced):

E-books are just the latest in a string of threats that were supposed to kill off independents. In the 1930s, some people believed the paperback would mean the death of bookstores. In the 1970s, it was mall chains like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

“Those are all gone now,” says Mutter.

That’s not to say bookshops aren’t shutting down, but it seems that this particular sector of the market is rapidly exploring different business models in an attempt to find the best balance in this new book selling world:

One, sci-fi bookstore Singularity & Co., relies on a business model with several different income streams – including all four partners working additional jobs. Co-owner Ash Kalb, for example, is a lawyer who works with tech start-ups. “I have the best law office in the world,” he says. “My law office is a sci-fi bookshop.”

Singularity & Co. started as a publisher. It rescues one out-of-print science-fiction title a month, purchases the rights from the copyright holder, and republishes the book digitally. Subscribers get access for a $29 annual fee, or can buy a title individually.


“These days, community-building is the most important key to an indie bookstore’s success,” says owner Christine Onaroti. “I believe that the days of just putting books on a shelf and hoping people will come in to buy them – [that] is not realistic….”

I would love to hear in the comments from any Australian booksellers about how well this matches their own experience.

Full (long) article here: