Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A little humor for your Tuesday

From Cracked.com: "8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to E-books"

#3: How will people open secret passageways? Seriously, if you can't pull a cleverly titled book out of a bookcase to get it to swing open, what else are you going to do? You have to put an artifact in a slot or push a really obvious wooden carving every time? Boy, that is going to get old fast.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Million Shades of Grey

I'm not even going to describe what 50 Shades of Grey is-- if you don't know already by all the controversy, hype, and love surrounding it, you can read about it here on Amazon-- but this is to repeat what a lot of people have already heard, which is that E.L. James, the author, is estimated to have made somewhere in the area of $50 million from sales and rights.

Besides the actual e-book content, there is quite a bit to interest in these figures. First, her sales are split almost evenly between paperbacks and ebooks-- 9.8 million and 9.6 million, respectively. Some people have commented that, due to the nature of the subject matter, a lot of people prefer reading her books on their ereaders because no one can tell what they're reading just by looking at them, which may account for some elevated sales of ebooks. Another factor is the fact that her paperbacks and ebooks came out at the same time in the US, allowing people to freely choose which format they wanted to read in. One look at Amazon will tell you that a Kindle edition of 50 Shades is selling for $9.99 and paperback is selling for $9.57. As we have seen in the ebook pricing struggle being waged with the Department of Justice, for a while now publishers have frequently staggered the publishing so that hardcovers were available for weeks or months before ebooks, and once the ebook was published (for example at $12.99 or $14.99) the paperback would be available at a much lower price (maybe $7.99).

Perhaps the most astonishing fact in the E.L. James figures, however, is the speed at which her sales have exploded. All of these sales occurred over the past six months. To put it in perspective, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series (consisting of four books) didn't reach those figures for three years.

It will be very interesting to see whether or not her sales have plateaued in the coming months, as well as if publishers begin to revise their schedules perhaps to mimic her simultaneous ebook/paperback editions. Also, I guess, if there is suddenly a dearth of erotica in mainstream publishing. That would be pretty interesting, too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Get in line with Dante, Keats, and Shakespeare.

Guys, remember when all the monastic copyists got mad because the Gutenberg press became more popular than them?

Project Gutenberg, one of my best friends and also the website that existed even before the Amazon Kindle for giving away free post-copyright books, has now added a digital self-publishing portal. They're calling it the "Author's Community Cloud Library," and it seems that as long as you are willing to post your content for free, you get to upload whatever you want. From what I can tell it requires that the uploader have also already formatted the book for digital download, as opposed to the Kindle site which will provide some rudimentary formatting for you.

While I don't think it will take off like the Amazon self-publishing portal (you can't get paid by Gutenberg, after all), I can see it becoming useful for some niche groups. Academic writers looking for publication and exposure, I think, will find the writer's community interesting, and also authors who are still in some discovery/early writing stages. It's definitely limited in what it offers, but I think people looking for someone to download (probably more erudite/academic texts, too, as opposed to the commercial popularity of Kindle publishing) and give any feedback or commentary will find it worth a second look.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Where are the stats on how often people use their tablets in the bathroom?

According to an illuminating list put out by The Economist (12 stats that matter to digital publishing):

  • More than a third of US adults are expected to own a tablet by 2014.
  • iPad users look at 40 pages of content (unspecified whether web or book) on average per use.
  • The Financial Times has approximately 305,000 print subscribers and 285,000 digital subscribers.
Guess people still aren't reading, though, huh? Maybe we need to revise that line of thinking.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Which side are you on?

I really enjoyed writer and publisher Bob Mayer's article over at Digital Book World: The Great Publishing Wars of 2012. While negativity over the future of publishing and literature has been ongoing for decades now, it seems to have increased since the Department of Justice brought suit against five of the top six publishers for price fixing and colluding. Mayer's opinion piece is refreshingly positive and confident about the future of publishing. His article is very concise and well-written, so rather than quoting and commenting here, I suggest clicking on my link above and going over to DBW to read and enjoy.

In just a few paragraphs, he raises some of the most important questions facing publishing today:

  • Must either traditional or digital publishing "triumph" over the other? What does it mean for publishing when people are taking "sides" against each other?
  • Will either of these "sides" ultimately triumph? Or is this a futile struggle that is ultimately damaging to publishing?
  • What can people in the publishing field do now to succeed in a very tenuous industry?

You can listen to the terrific song "Which Side Are You On?" by the Dropkick Murphys while reading...

Friday, July 6, 2012

My eReader is judging me for not finishing "The Mill on the Floss".

If you have a Kindle, you may already have been aware of what the Guardian reported this week: ereader companies are collecting information on your reading habits.

Knowing which passages prompt a book to be thrown aside, which books are read at high speed and which are dipped in and out of is likely to be even more useful, and Humphrey believes this knowledge could eventually affect what's published.
As mentioned in the article, ebooksellers have yet to use or sell the information. Also, while it's not discussed in the article, the data that they can collect only pertains to the sellers' proprietary books-- if you have PDF files on your Kindle or Nook, for example, they are not tracking which items you have and where you leave off in those documents.

It's not the first time that reading habits have been studied without readers' knowing it. In recent memory, the Patriot Act was passed to allow federal agents to track public library users. The Guardian article goes so far as to cite the ever-popular Big Brother of Orwell's 1984 when describing insidious data tracking. Some people-- including some booksellers-- are coming out strongly against collecting reader data as an invasion of privacy. Others-- perhaps very interestingly the publishers-- see the data for its possibilities in improving the market for the reader. If people are buying one book and stopping a quarter of the way through, in the future a publishing house might reconsider purchasing another book from that same author. From another side, authors might fear this kind of data tracking-- if a threshold number of people aren't reading the book all the wall through, their publishing deals might be in jeopardy-- or welcome it, if the data can better direct their editing to better please their audience.

How do you feel knowing that Amazon and other ebooksellers are aggregating data about your reading habits? How do you see this kind of information being used in the future?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Department of Justice Sues Publishers Over E-Book Pricing

It has been speculated for several weeks now that the DoJ was going to sue five major publishers for alleged ebook price fixing and general collusion, and as the Wall Street Journal broke today, they have done just that.

Publishing does not often hit the forefront of business news, so it presents a very interesting and unique case to analyze. Today I am going to present some basic facts and milestones that led to the official lawsuit:

In 2007, Amazon debuted the Kindle and, it is fairly safe to say, single-handedly made ebooks successful for the first time in history. Other electronic book devices and formats had existed before, but never before was it commonplace to see people reading from them, or finding that they sometimes preferred ebooks to print books.

To promote Kindle device sales, Amazon began selling ebooks at low prices. Amazon arguably has the best selection of content among the top tablet makers (including powerhouses like Apple, Samsung, or Sony) and that is also arguably the biggest draw to purchase those devices. Making a wide range of content suddenly very affordable is a huge draw.

Publishers were alarmed at this practice because, although they were used to selling their books wholesale to Amazon, they saw low ebook prices as threats to their hardcover and even paperback sales, through which they still make a majority of their revenue. Why would someone buy a new John Grisham novel for $27 in hardcover when they could get it on their Kindle for $9.99? Some publishers began to see Amazon's new practice of discounting bestsellers and new books in the electronic format as predatory pricing.

Predatory pricing is one of the more difficult anti-competitive cases to prove because true proof can only be shown after the practice has already done its damage; competitors must already have been driven out of the market. A company will price something so low, at a loss to themselves, that they drive other companies out of the market. That company has to expect that they will be able to succeed even after taking hits on extreme prices. Even if the company is sued at that point, simply ceasing predatory pricing will not bring back the competition-- they may even already be a monopoly. There must also be high costs to entering the market for the strategy to have any hope of success, and a lawsuit would also have to prove that the pricing was in fact staggeringly low, rather than the product of common price competition. In short, even if Amazon was ever investigated for predatory pricing, it would be almost impossible for the charge to hold water.

The publishers thought they had such a case on their hands. And if the DoJ's lawsuit finds what it's looking for, then they will find evidence that the next step was to collude and create their own anti-competitive strategy.

It's not terribly hard to find, though. In fact, I found it a few months ago when I read Walter Isaacson's popular biography of Steve Jobs.

In a discussion that the author had with the computer tycoon, Jobs revealed that, prior to unveiling the iPad, he had a meeting with the largest publishing houses in the United States, known as the "Big Six": Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, and Random House. Jobs wanted to let them use a retail model known as "agency pricing" for the iBooks store and corresponding app that would open with the iPad. Unlike the wholesale model that had originally allowed Amazon to set its own prices once it purchased books from the publishers, the agency model would force a retailer to allow the publisher to set its own prices and retain a larger portion of the sale. Publishers, as they have been doing on the Kindle book store, could set their ebooks at $14.99 or higher, in theory to match whatever the print book price is. In order to get Amazon to change to such a drastically different model, however, they would have to force their hand.

One publisher couldn't withhold their books; they would just get blacklisted by Amazon in all likelihood. A collusion of publishers, however, could threaten to withhold the most sought-after book titles, essentially forcing Amazon to allow the new pricing model in order to sell the best content. It had nothing to do with perceived "value" of ebooks versus print books-- multiple authors have already sold millions of dollars worth of ebooks on Amazon, often by self-publishing and selling at $1.99 or even lower. And it led to higher prices in ebooks, so it wasn't about getting better prices for the customers. It was all about getting a larger cut of the sale for these massive publishing houses.

In Walter Isaacson's book, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, "We'll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway."

And so the E-Book Price Fixing Scandal was born. Of the Big Six, only Random House stayed out of the alleged collusion, at the time willing to continue with the traditional retail model, and they alone remained free of the Department of Justice investigation. Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster settled with the DoJ and agreed to break their price fixing contracts with their retailers-- Penguin, Macmillan, and Apple (the supposed competing retailer looking to get an edge on their Amazon rival) are willing to fight it out.

I will continue to follow this case as more details of the settlement-- and potentially the visible changes to Amazon ebooks sales-- begin to come to the surface.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are ebooks easier to read than print books?

I missed this Guardian op-ed response to Jonathan Franzen’s assertion that ebooks are making us dumber and less attentive to reading, but I am glad I found it now. Check out Henry Porter’s piece for a polite, thoughtful, and factually-supported refutation of Franzen’s claims against ebooks. Of particular interest: “…the information passing through our minds has risen threefold in the past 30 years and increases by about 6% every year,” which is to say that people are consuming more and more information, rather than less and less.

I would wish to add to this as well the idea that ebooks also make reading more potable and accessible, which could cause an increase in reading. We read tens of thousands of emails every year because it is so quick and easy to use email as a primary source of communication; we send them because we can. Why not expect reading to increase if a book becomes easier and faster (and someday cheaper) to acquire, and to carry around? Neil Gaiman, eminent author and blogger, last year wrote about his newfound ease of completing The Count of Monte Cristo, now that he could carry such a lengthy tome on his lightweight ereader or smart phone, which he could pick up and read at any spare moment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Harry Potter has come to eReaders

I definitely missed the midnight premier party this time around.

 Yesterday was the debut of the Harry Potter ebooks, and in truly grand style Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major ebook retailers displayed screenshots of the books on ereader devices on their home pages. Author JK Rowling teamed with OverDrive to sell the ebooks exclusively on her personal Pottermore site, which means that even when you find the books displayed on Amazon, you must buy them through the external Pottermore link. While setting up a new account was a little inconvenient when compared to the Amazon “One Click” buying experience, the book file is sent instantaneously to your Amazon account (or Barnes & Noble account, or wherever you store your elibrary) for your downloading pleasure.

What does this mean for ebooks? Sales figures will be interesting to see—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is famously the fastest-selling book of all time, with 11 million copies distributed within 24 hours back in 2007—but it will be particularly interesting to see how many copies are sold and how quickly considering the vast amount of print copies sold in relative memory. If millions of people already have their print copies of Harry Potter, are they willing to re-buy them for their ereaders? Or will these ebooks signal yet another, new generation of Harry Potter readers, for whom the ebook will be their first Potter experience?

Are you buying your Harry Potter ebooks?

Friday, March 9, 2012

eReaders don't want you to read eBooks.

You guys, I love the internet!

I went on the Atlantic website to read an article about Amazon this week and found a link to another article responding to this piece from the New York Times: "Finding your book interrupted... by the tablet you read it on."

It is such a good article. Citing a single survey of publishers showing that a decreasing number believed that multipurpose tablets were ideal for reading ebooks, and a few quotes from publishers and general readers, the article tells us that it is harder than ever to pay attention to what you're reading because tablets offer too many distractions. Those minxy iPads and Kindle Fires "tempt" us with too many more interesting apps and emails and other alternatives to book reading. While they quote one reader who finds the struggle to pay attention to a book a kind of welcome challenge, and one publisher who thinks multipurpose tablets encourage ebooks for people who might not normally purchase a single-purpose ereader, the general sentiment is that tablets make it too hard to get into the "reading experience."

While the comments section of the article, as well as the Atlantic piece of hilarity: "Books on paper fight analog distractions," point out that this is not the most scientific of behavioral findings, there are a number of commentators (and the subjects from the NYT article) who are strongly on the side that tablets are too distracting. That reading is not the "same immersive experience" on a digital reader as it is in paper, etc. As I continue to follow publishing news, I find it's the same argument in the comments sections over and over: "I like books on paper that I can touch/I like being able to carry a thousand books in my hand." So, I encourage you to go over and watch the eternal argument play out.

But my favorite part of this is the guy that they're quoting saying that his tablet is too distracting for reading, saying he gets distracted by all the apps, which are just "beg[ging] you to review them all the time."


Is that a thing? Do people spend hours and hours reviewing apps? Is that a popular activity of which I have been mercifully ignorant for years? I have a Kindle, and iPhone, a PC, etc., I feel like I am "with it," so to speak. I am unaware of this "app reviewing" black hole that people get sucked into. I mean, what happens when you start reviewing "review" apps? Like when you review the Yelp app? And then someone reviews your review of that review app? Okay, maybe this could be interesting...

See, I feel like that is not a real thing. I feel like maybe he means "using" his apps, or "reading" emails. And I think that miss-spoken phrase is symptomatic of the problem with this article, which is that some people are going to read books all the way through and some people are going to get distracted. Some people are going to prioritize their tablet so that they're not jumping from app to app, and some people are going to get distracted "reviewing" all of them. And sometimes you're one of those people, and sometimes you're the other; everyone gets distracted when they're reading, whether its on an iPad or a paperback book. Everyone gets distracted when they're working, when they're talking on the phone, and even when they're driving. I got distracted from reading one article by reading another article, which distracted me from writing one blog post to writing an entirely separate blog post. It's the "immersive experience" of life, and perhaps, ultimately, not the most newsworthy of news items.

Happy Friday, guys!