Tag Archives: books

Why Are Publishers Happy About Missing Out on the Digital Revolution?

The chart you see above is from Gallup and Pew measuring the percentage of adults in the U.S. who have not read a single book in the year measured.

It was 8% in 1978 and has been hovering at 23-27% in recent years. This is not a trend one associates with a growth industry. Meanwhile, I see newspaper editors, authors, and book publishers celebrating the death of the ebook without looking at this long-term trend of reading decline.  Are they dancing on their own graves?

It seems likely that print book reading has been in decline since around the time the Internet came on the scene because of new entertainment choices.  We know from many studies that people are spending more and more time engaged with content provided on a networked screen: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Facebook, Instagram, streaming sports, and so on.

Yet in the traditional book publishing industry, the collective decision was made to raise ebook prices to about what paperbacks sell for to save the old industry. And in the process kill the only networked screen innovation the book industry could participate in, the digital book for Smartphone and tablet reading. Vested interests across the supply chain published stories about the inferiority of reading books on a screen. How people remember less when reading digitally. An active campaign was undertaken to ward off innovation by The Establishment. (Them again!)

The inclination in the face of change is to duck one’s head in the sand and hope you can make it though the storm.  Maybe YOU can make it, but what about future generations who want a viable book industry? This is analogous to the old wooden ship builders deciding not to enter the iron age. Or the suits at Kodak who smugly looked at industry-funded Photo Marketing Association research, ignoring what was happening in the larger world. Just as with AAP research, the photo industry research ignored the emerging players and their market growth quietly occurring outside the normal competitive landscape.  Do you remember when supermarkets sold food but didn’t make it available to eat in the store? Someone smart decided competition was happening all around them at restaurants so along came Whole Foods, where people now eat right next to where others pay.  Brilliant!

We know from looking at traditional publishing financial results that publishers gave up easy profits when they chose to ignore the future of the ebook and hide in the print past. The only way the old business models have survived is through continued consolidation, which means pumping through more titles in lower volumes to fewer readers to just about stay even. For now. When the next recession comes, that will change again. Those higher number of titles coming from fewer traditional publishers with less staff  has to translate into a poorer experience for authors as a byproduct.

Crossing the chasm from the old, which provides most of the current income, to the new is nearly impossible. This is why competition almost always comes from the outside, from new players who have no investment in the old ways so are free to seize opportunities while the old plays a difficult balancing game. I experienced this firsthand when the 35mm photo industry had huge investments in obsolescent technology and equipment, while needing to  also invest in the digital new, the sum being a very expensive, unsustainable business model, which was too much weight for the likes of Sony, Konica, Kodak, and Polaroid.

The publishing industry seems to have throttled back the digital new more than was needed. No one I speak with in the book industry can answer the important question: “How many sales did you lose when you raised your ebook prices to the same as paperback?”  If you apply the strategic thinking of dividing customers into clusters of Most Engaged, Somewhat Engaged, and Not Engaged, I would expect many in the Somewhat Engaged group bought fewer books once ebook prices went up to the current high (I would say absurd) levels.  Yes, the Most Engaged are stepping up as they always will in continuing to support the old print business and indie booksellers, but can publishers survive well into the digital future in a highly competitive screen-based entertainment marketplace with just the Most Engaged?  I doubt it.

A possible better way to straddle the change would be to launch the hardcover edition that all publishers currently offer for those Most Engaged customers, and hold off on both the ebook and paperback editions until a year later when released simultaneously.  Price the ebook at $9.95 intended for the Somewhat Engaged shoppers. The $16-$20 paperback sales should not be hurt much by this change, as those who prefer to read in paperback will pay $10 more. And the net margins should be higher, without returns and printing costs. Bookstore sales should stay flat, especially when Barnes & Noble is out of the mix. The smart indie booksellers can do well in this overall environment that allows publishers to play a new game, as well as an old one.

I hear authors and industry insiders blaming Amazon for lowering book prices and reducing everyone’s profits as a result. (Same thing they said about Barnes & Noble back in 1986.) They claim this is now (ironically) why Barnes & Noble is on the ropes. I disagree. Barnes & Noble is on the ropes because they are caught in the middle, too large to compete with indie bookstores and too small to compete with Amazon. The core issue is not Amazon and lower book prices, but an overall shrinking market for book reading. That is the challenge people should be focusing on, not whining about how the shrinking pie is being affected by unfair competition. Ebooks were that path forward, as a new competition for other forms of digital entertainment, but pricing ebooks at $14.95 will never attract those less engaged potential book buyers. Duck and cover is not a winnable long-term strategy. You can’t go home again. You can be progressive or regressive.

It’s the same old question: do you see digital as a threat or an opportunity? It is in fact both, so don’t forget about the opportunities.

Missing out on the digital revolution is not an option for book publishers who want to operate well into the future. Actively promoting and celebrating the decline of the one new good thing that has come along to make the industry competitive with all other entertainment options, strikes me as self-defeating strategy.

The Changing Face of Publishing

(This first appeared under a different title on the Book Business Website.) Let me preface this by saying I run a literary fiction micro-publisher operating much in the mold of how full-service traditional publishing has for years, although because my overheads are so low, I pay my authors 50% of print and 70% of ebook royalties, something I realize large publishers cannot do.

As self-publishing continues evolving, it strikes me that traditional publishers are losing one of our most important services for authors: bookstore distribution. The very distributors publishers have relied upon for years are hedging their bets (and expanding their revenues) by tapping into the self-publishing market. For example, both Ingram and BookBaby offer authors distribution to chain and independent bookstores. And the Espresso Book Network continues to expand a new retail solution for bookshops, libraries, and others. Not to mention the obvious: more and more consumers simply prefer buying print books and ebooks from Amazon.

More than just distribution, though, these new upstarts also offer the production tools needed to easily produce print books and ebooks. So there goes the production expertise competitive advantage of many publishers.

I realize many authors ardently support their publishers. I also know many are frustrated that their royalties are not higher, especially for ebooks. Traditional publishers and reviewers mostly dismiss self-published titles as “trash,” but what happens when established authors with large followings decide to go out on their own? Did you see this week that five of the top ten bestselling books sold by Apple come from self-publishing?

Any author can buy editing services. Any author can hire a book PR firm with social media expertise and mainstream media connections. And now any author can gain distribution to all the places their titles are currently sold.

There are many good authors frustrated at how fast they are forgotten in the Big Houses who pump out thousands of titles per year. I would think a lot of authors would rather hire the editorial and marketing services they choose on their own dime, using a portion of the extra royalties they receive from self-publishing at both book launch and as part of a sustained multi-year effort. To take complete control of their own book’s destiny, as opposed to assigning it to a company operating with high employee turnover and low morale. (Take a look at the recent Glassdoor ratings of the Big 5 as an indication of current employee morale.)

I believe this threat is greater for books than it would be for some other product type. Authors pour everything they have, over many years, into writing their beloved books. Giving their babies away to others is a big risk, especially for those who feel burned or overlooked in the past.

All it takes to demoralize an author working with a Big 5 publisher is to lose your editor in a layoff. Without that internal champion, you are sunk. The ensuing organizational chaos that follows just makes it more painful. This is a huge gamble on a co-dependent relationship where neither side typically feels great about it all the time.

The big strategic question for publishers is increasingly becoming how much does an author need to pay you to provide equal or better services available from somewhere else? Right now, the number they are paying is larger than the newer markets demand. The one big advantage of traditional publishing to authors is the royalty advance. But the few big names are getting more and more while the rest are getting less and are in essence being asked by the publishers to fund those large advances with their reduced 25% ebook royalty rates. How long will they put up with this?

So what should publishers be doing that they aren’t already? I realize many are working to establish their own direct-to-consumer businesses, which is a good start. But I am a skeptic when it comes to this, probably because my career working in five different industries trying this same thing has demonstrated that people like to shop where people shop frequently. The supermarket. Or Amazon. Or the local indie bookstore. Remembering to buy once or twice a year from a manufacturer with their own unique reseller site is inconvenient. And in my experience, the costs to the manufacturer (in this case publisher) become actually higher than the margins they provide to resellers offering a variety of products. Those resellers own the majority of the customer transactions. The tech and staffing requirements to run an in-house direct marketing and IT team will surprise most who are new to that business model.

How about providing a sliding scale royalty on ebooks based on performance, same as done in contracts for print? 25% for ebooks up to a certain number sold, 40% after that. But I doubt this will happen and also am not sure the margin is there. The poor author, giving 15% to an agent and then 15% to themselves. The publisher and resellers are getting most of the slim retail margin for themselves. Which is why I feel the current rules of the old business are not sustainable going into the future. So do you let others disrupt you or try and do it yourself?

Worst of all for publishers, they don’t own the content they deliver. They are completely at the mercy of their authors’ decisions on how they choose to publish going forward. Contrast this with a software publisher who owns the product they make and sell. So, in the spirit of looking for new ways to survive, why don’t publishers focus more on offering content outright and sell it under their own name. The Random House Book of Birding. Random House is the author, the staff produces the book, just as software engineers do for Apple and others.

I post this in part to make sure publishers are paying attention to the services their distributors and laid-off editors and marketers are providing through new channels. This is precisely what I saw in the photo industry as customers and staff moved from Kodak and Polaroid to Epson (first digital camera), Adobe (editing), and HP (ink and paper). And then, of course, Apple, Samsung, Facebook, Instagram . . .

 

#ebookschangelives

The more I read and hear from near and far, the more I realize that ebooks are changing many lives in positive ways.

Many writers no longer have to endure years of agent rejections before publishing their work. Many readers are discovering new authors because they like ebooks and like paying less than what the popular authors ask.

At last, there is a great new place for the less popular people to hang out, a place so big, it feels like infinity.  It’s the world of digital.

Publishing consolidation continues to make publishers more cautious about trying something new. They are surviving on the Donald Trump books and blockbuster novels from well-known established writers. There’s that word again: established. As in establishment. Increasingly becoming the common enemy that might possibly be the only way to reunite our country. But that’s what they do best and whom they serve best. “You get the customers you deserve.”

Worldreader is demonstrating daily how ebooks are changing lives in remote regions of the world. Not just ebooks, but digital reading. On phones. On network-connected screens that overcome the heartless barriers of geography.

Civilizations no longer need that one great river or port to flourish.

The new Nile of our times is the Internet. And this is great news for a better future. Which is why we are launching our new hashtag:  #ebookschange lives. Please come visit us in this new world, on Twitter, Facebook, and unknown worlds to come.

#ebookschangelives

Another Way to Help Indie Bookstores in the Digital Age

Did you know you can help several leading indie bookstores add to their bottom lines by ordering select Publerati titles from their Espresso Book Machines?

The Espresso Book Machine is a networked print-on-demand service producing high-quality trade paperback titles in minutes. Let’s face it, with close to 60% of all print and ebook sales being made online these days, indie bookstores need all the competitive advantages they can find. Print-on-demand books can be picked up in store or mail ordered and are a great new way to help indie booksellers tap into the vast network of online titles, which simply cannot be stocked in preprinted inventory the way large online resellers do.

Here is a list of U.S. bookstores with an Espresso Book Machine. Help support them and Publerati by ordering one of our titles for store pickup or mail order.

The Tattered Cover in Denver, CO; the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA; Prose and Politics in Washington, DC; Powell Books in Portland, OR;  Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI;  Boxcar and Caboose, Saint Johnsbury, VT;  McNally Jackson, NYC; Third Place Books, Seattle, WA.  Machines can also be found in select Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million locations.

The current Publerati titles available through this growing international network are: Normal Family by Don Trowden, Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney,  An American Gospel by M.T. Daffenberg, and Dancing in the Kitchen by Susan Sterling.

Publerati only publishes literary fiction and believes that ebooks and print-on-demand are important ways to maintain the viability of this genre going forward. Check out our titles and unique goodwill business model here.

 

Summer Tidbits from Publerati…

Here are a few items of interest to avid book readers:

1)  Ellen Cooney, author of the Publerati novel Thanksgiving, has a wonderful new novel coming on August 5th titled The Mountaintop School for Dogs, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Ask for it when you are browsing your neighborhood bookstore.  And please read Thanksgiving if you haven’t already, available in all ebook formats and as an on-demand paperback  from the Espresso Book Machine (locations worldwide).

2) Jane Smiley has a new novel called Some Luck, which I plan to read soon, although I am deep into our slush pile and behind on my own reading and editing at the moment following a bout with Lyme Disease.

3)  The Publerati novel Normal Family by Don Trowden was brilliantly excerpted in a recent Ohio newspaper review. It is always great when a reviewer takes the time to share some of the better language found in a novel. One we especially like is when the drunk grandfather, who has just been pulled from the river after submerging the rest of the family on a perilous fishing outing going nowhere, refuses Coast Guard help and marches off in his soaked woolens. He is 6’8″ and a Falstaffian character who was once a famous author and explorer. The young protagonist sees this as: “Grandpa swerved up the lawn like Frankenstein in search of unsuspecting villagers.” This novel contains many similar examples of original and amusing language.

— Caleb