OPLIN 4cast #380: The decline of the ebook?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

printing pressAfter we wrote a post about the woes of the e-reader industry a couple of weeks ago, we saw an article in the British press this past week (first link below) about the predicted decline of the ebook itself. Are ebooks in trouble, too? Could this be true? Is this just something that’s happening in Britain? No, it turns out that this is kind of old news, based on sales figures from the end of last year. And as is the case with many predictions, this one is a point of debate.

  • Waterstones founder: e-book revolution will soon go into decline (The Telegraph/Hannah Furness)  “‘I think you read and hear more garbage about the strength of the e-book revolution than anything else I’ve known,’ Mr Waterstone [founder of the Waterstone’s bookstore chain] told the audience in Oxford. ‘The e-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have, but every indication – certainly from America – shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK.’”
  • A mixed blessing in slowing e-book sales (Publishers Weekly/Jim Milliot)  “The slowdown, of course, didn’t come as a surprise, for as HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray told PW, ‘Nothing grows by triple digits for too long.’ The positive side of slowing e-book sales is that the decline of print books has slowed, prompting many of those interviewed to hope that the industry is entering a more stable and predictable period, one that will lead to a wide number of distribution channels to facilitate book sales regardless of format.”
  • Paper vs digital reading is an exhausted debate (The Guardian/Nick Harkaway)  “Digital will continue to grow for a while at least, and continue to exist, because it is becoming part of the world we inhabit at a level below our notice, no more remarkable than roads or supermarkets. Ebooks are here to stay because digital is, and quite shortly we’ll stop having this debate about paper vs ebooks because it will no longer make a lot of sense.”
  • How are declining ebook sales a ‘mixed blessing’? (Liquid State/Dee Caffrey)  “Just because one format is seeing a slight decline of sales (after the skyrocketing figures that ebooks have produced in the last 5 years), does not mean that the people no longer buying ebooks are now inexplicably turning to print books. That just doesn’t make sense. Nor are new consumers suddenly opening ereaders or print books, because this industry is already a fairly mature one – chances are, people who weren’t previously interested in books are not going to spontaneously flock to ebooks just because the format has changed. People who love books are most likely already in their format of choice, and no amount of new ereader technology will change that.”

Hunger fact:
The various organizations that track ebook publishing statistics almost all point to the fact that strong sales of The Hunger Games in 2012 skewed the numbers so much that 2013 looked bad in comparison.

OPLIN 4Cast #287: News from the open access struggle

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

At the end of 2010, the 4cast took a look at open access to scholarly information. While news on this topic may not be as frequent as news about ebooks, for example, or other more popular topics, there have been some significant, if gradual, developments in this area over the last year and a half. The whole discussion of open access may seem simply academic wishful thinking to some people, but the fact that the latest news all seems to concern practical things like money and politics might indicate that open access to research finally is approaching reality.

  • Open access victory in successful Access2Research petition (Electronic Frontier Foundation/Parker Higgins)  “Earlier this year, we saw the resounding defeat of the misguided Research Works Act, which would have severely restricted the amount of research that could be released under open access conditions. A group of researchers launched the ‘Cost of Knowledge’ campaign responding to the proposal, and allowed other academics to publicly boycott the bill’s primary supporter, the publishing behemoth Elsevier. In response to that boycott and other pressure, Elsevier withdrew its support for the Research Works Act in February, effectively killing the bill.”
  • MLA shift on copyright (Inside Higher Education/Scott Jaschik)  “Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA [Modern Language Association], said that the association’s new policy ‘was not responding at all’ to the legislation and regulations. Rather, she said, ‘we see that publishing needs are changing, and our members are telling us that they want to place their scholarship in repositories, and to disseminate work on blogs.’ Professors want to produce articles that ‘circulate freely,’ she said, and that reach as many people as possible.”
  • Open access to research is inevitable, says Nature editor-in-chief (Guardian/Alok Jha)  “Philip Campbell said that the experience for readers and researchers of having research freely available is ‘very compelling’. But other academic publishers said that any large-scale transition to making research freely available had to take into account the value and investments they added to the scientific process.”
  • Pay (less) to publish: ambitious journal aims to disrupt scholarly publishing (Ars Technica/John Timmer)  “Publishers that offer open access options need to recoup their costs without subscription fees, however, and had researchers pay for their publications with charges that are generally over $1,000. Now, a new open access journal is being launched that aims to turn the finances on their head. Researchers will only have to pay a one-time fee of $259 to gain lifetime publishing privileges in the journal, which will focus on biology research.”

Library subscription fact:
A May report commissioned by The Publishers Association and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers found that, if open access became mandatory, 46% of libraries would cut back their subscriptions to scientific journals and 65% would drop subscriptions to humanities journals.

OPLIN 4Cast #272: Finding the next (e)book

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

We know ebooks are very popular right now, and it’s also proving to be pretty easy for authors to self-publish in ebook format (and even sometimes encouraged). The logical conclusion is that the vast selection of ebooks available to readers is only going to get bigger as time goes on. With such a huge body of work to choose from, how will readers find the ebooks they want to read? Probably in the same ways they currently find any book, with only slight variations.

  • Discoverability in the digital age (Digital Book World/Matt Mullin)  “According to a recent survey, presented at the Digital Book World conference in New York last week [January 19], nearly half of readers discover new books through the recommendations of family and friends, and nearly a third discover them at bookstores.”
  • How do books get discovered? (Goodreads Blog/Patrick Brown)  “One of the biggest things we learned—or should we say confirmed—is the power of word of mouth. Searching for titles on Goodreads is the top way people find books for their to-read shelves. That means they first heard of it elsewhere—likely from friends or the media.”
  • How do people discover new books and authors? (Chocolate and Vodka/Suw Charman-Anderson)  “Both my graph and the Verso Digital figures show that self-published authors should focus on encouraging people to make personal recommendations for their work, as that is still the most important way that people find new authors and books. Simply telling your friends that you recently read a book and loved it appears to be the single most important thing you can do to help an author along.”
  • How ebook buyers discover books (Smashwords/Mark Coker)  “I was surprised only 3% of respondents looked first to the bestseller lists, which scored just as poorly as print media reviews. Possibly it’s a flaw in how I structured the survey. I was also surprised that retailer recommendations, such as the ‘people who bought this bought that,’ scored only 5%.”

Ebook sales (non-)fact:
Although there are reports that ebook sales figures showed slower growth in 2011 than in previous years, it’s difficult to know for sure because Amazon US did not report 2011 ebook sales (although Amazon UK reported a large increase).

OPLIN 4Cast #266: When is an ebook not a book?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

One of the nifty things about ebooks is their ability to transcend plain text. Illustrations and graphic design have always been recognized as an important component of print books, especially children’s books, but digital publishing opens up the possibility of doing much more with a book. “Enhanced” ebooks can manipulate and present content in ways and formats that are impossible in print books. At what point does the e“book” become something other than a book? And what will that mean for the ebook business?

  • Coliloquy launches interactive e-books that let readers choose the story (ReadWriteWeb/Jon Mitchell)  “Authors can adjust their future offerings based on what they learn about their audience from the choices they make. It’s in-story analytics. And the readers get the satisfaction of influencing the outcome not just of one story but of a whole series.”
  • NBC News is launching a Publishing arm to bring video into the e-book format (The Next Web/Anna Heim)  “Many e-books will be based on NBC News’ own material, including its coverage of current events and trends, but also biographies and documentaries. […] For NBC News, this represents an innovative way to monetize its content on e-readers.”
  • The e-reader, as we know it, is doomed (The Loop/Matt Alexander)  “They are cheap, lightweight, have long battery life, and operate well in direct sunlight, but they do little more than present traditional literature in an electronic package. And while that might be enough for some, it is clear that e-ink is progressing towards a colorful, responsive, video-capable future, and that is certainly not what constitutes an e-reading device. That is a tablet.”
  • How the long tail cripples bonus content/multimedia (paidContent/Seth Godin)  “Sure, there will be experiments at the cutting edge, but no, they’re not going to pay off regularly enough for it to become an industry. The quality is going to remain in the writing and in the bravery of ideas, not in teams of people making expensive digital books.”

Predictions fact:
Being the beginning of a new year, there is no shortage of predictions about ebooks in 2012. As for enhanced ebooks, pundits think they will either be “the next big thing” or won’t create enough profit to be viable.

OPLIN 4Cast #264: Libraries vs. publishers – Amazon wins

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Almost everybody would agree that 2011 was the year of the ebook, when they captured about 20% of all fiction sales. Almost everybody in the library world also seems to be upset with the large publishing houses, which apparently want to cut libraries out of their ebook distribution models altogether. But while libraries and publishers publicly battle each other, is Amazon relentlessly winning the ebook war? At the very least, they certainly seem to be stockpiling some scary weapons.

  • Amazon publishing expands into children’s books (Publishers Weekly)  “The deal will also mark the first time a number of the titles in the purchase will be published as e-books. Amazon Publishing v-p Jeff Belle said: ‘We believe the children’s book market segment presents a unique opportunity to innovate in both print and digital formats. And since many of these titles are not readily available as eBooks, we see a chance to connect a terrific group of authors and illustrators with more readers.’”
  • Cutting their own throats (Charlie’s Diary/Charlie Stross)  “Anyway, my point is that the Big Six’s pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder. DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you’re naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can’t read those locked Kindle ebooks – and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM.”
  • Secret of self-publishing: Success (Wall Street Journal/Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg)  “Amazon.com Inc. fueled the growth by offering self-published writers as much as 70% of revenue on digital books, depending on the retail price. By comparison, traditional publishers typically pay their authors 25% of net digital sales and even less on print books. For some established authors, these terms can make self-publishing a financial home run.”
  • Amazon launches $6M ‘fund’ to boost Kindle Direct Publishing, Lending Library (TechCrunch/Robin Wauters)  “Dubbed KDP Select, the fund aims to let indie authors and publishers ‘make money in a whole new way’. Here’s how it works: if a KDP author or publisher chooses to make any of their books exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days, those books are eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and can earn a share of the KDP Select fund.”

2011 wrap-up:
The publishing industry faced numerous threats last year, which are nicely summarized in an O’Reilly Radar article by Jenn Webb, Five things we learned about publishing in 2011.

OPLIN 4Cast #252: Ebook piracy

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Occasionally, the topic of ebook piracy generates some press, though not as often as you might expect. Last spring, for example, there was a flurry of interest around a British survey that concluded older women pirate more ebooks than music. The topic came up again last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Certainly if you search for “ebook” on a BitTorrent index site, such as Torrentz, you will find a huge number of files listed, and even if you weed out all the amateur pdf scans of books by specifying a commercial ebook format, like “ebook epub,” you’ll still see an amazing number of files being offered for sharing. But some people don’t feel that ebook piracy is necessarily a problem.

  • German book association decries e-book piracy (Associated Press)  “Gottfried Honnefelder, head of the group that represents publishers and booksellers, said at the fair’s opening news conference that around 60 percent of e-book downloads in Germany are pirated through Internet sources such as filesharing sites.”
  • Digital piracy casts shadow over ebook world (Agence France-Presse/Kate Millar)  “Thomas Mosch, of the Federation of German Technological Companies, believes it is a question of finding a balance and not scaring off well-meaning people willing to pay for legal content with over-rigorous measures. ‘You will never be able to do anything about 10 to 20% of piracy,’ he said. ‘But with 80 to 90% of people ready to pay, the publishing industry should be able to live.’”
  • Book piracy: a non-issue (TechCrunch/Paul Carr)  “Perhaps it was because ‘the kids’ care less about stealing books than they do about cracking the DRM on movies […], or maybe because the book industry learned from what happened to their audio and visual cousins. Either way, devices like the Kindle, Nook and iPad — and publishers willingness to embrace them — allowed a legitimate, and lucrative, electronic publishing industry to grow up before the pirates seized the initiative.”
  • Net pirates turn over a new leaf (The Sydney Morning Herald/Linda Morris)  “The publishing industry well understands the first step to preventing piracy is making sure all titles are available as ebooks in the formats they want at a price they can afford, Tim Coronel, publisher of the leading trade magazine Bookseller+Publisher, says.”

Publishing fact:
The German ebook market makes up only about 0.5% of all book sales, while in the U.S. ebooks currently comprise about 9% of book sales.

OPLIN 4Cast #249: Ebook publishing getting stronger

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

In the middle of last week’s excitement about public library books for the Kindle, the Aptara Corporation released their Third Annual eBook Survey of Publishers (40-page pdf). Aptara is in the business of producing digital editions of books for publishers, so the 20 questions in their survey dug deep into the ebook business as the publishers see it. Below we cite several commentators’ remarks on portions of the survey which they found interesting, but the survey contains a wealth of data beyond what’s discussed below. Taken as a whole, the survey responses indicate that ebooks are quickly becoming a very important component of the business of trade books — the adult fiction/nonfiction titles most often seen in libraries.

  • Newest Aptara survey charts changes in e-book market (Publishers Weekly/Jim Milliot)  “According to Aptara, all but 6% of trade publishers are currently developing e-books or plan to in the near future, putting the trade segment ahead of all other areas in its commitment to e-books, as 10% of STM [Scientific, Technical & Medical] publishers, 29% of college publishers, and 15% of K-12 publishers said they have no plans to publish e-books soon. Trade publishers have a good reason to be more committed to e-books than other segments — they generated the highest percentage of sales from the format.”
  • Leap in trade publishers’ e-book production (Bookseller/Philip Jones)  “The survey found trade publishers are also now catching up their peers in terms of revenue, with 20% reporting they now had e-book sales in excess of 10%, beaten only by college and corporate publishers. Amazon.com was listed as the biggest generator of sales by 56% of trade publishers, and by 38% of all publishers, with their own websites the second biggest category.”
  • Two e-book surveys showcase gains, growing pains (Shelf Awareness newsletter, 9/21/2011 issue)  “The survey found that publishers still rely most heavily on Amazon for distribution, but the percentage (18%) is steadily declining due to the proliferation of other platforms and channels, particularly ePub-based. But a rapidly expanding e-book sales and distribution market is making the pie bigger for all concerned.”
  • Aptara releases findings of its third annual digital publishing survey (Good E-Reader/Mercy Pilkington)  “One of the major surprises, though, was that many publishers are still not tapping into the wealth of their back list titles; this could be one of the reasons more and more authors are attempting to regain control of the rights to their older — and often out of print — works in an effort to revitalize interest in the author and in the works by self-publishing them to electronic platforms.”

Library-interest fact:
The survey result which we found interesting: 32% of trade publishers cited customer demand, rather than revenue or other factors, as the main driver for producing ebooks.

OPLIN 4Cast #241: Print books checkup

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

While the 4cast usually focuses on tech news, our stated interest is “headlines, topics and trends impacting public libraries” (see our masthead). Certainly one inescapable trend is that the print book industry is changing, largely as a result of changes in what/how people read. We’ve all seen lots of articles about how ebooks are making significant inroads on reading habits, and also leading to new ways of presenting reading content (like subscription books). So what’s happening with print books, that staple of the public library? Well, it looks like some segments of the business are quite healthy, while others are undergoing some tune-ups.

  • Paperback publishers quicken their pace (New York Times/Julie Bosman)  “E-books have made price an issue for publishers who are weighing the timing of a paperback. While there is often a huge gap between the cost of a new hardcover (say, $25) and its e-book edition ($13), paperbacks and e-books tend to be within a few dollars of each other, leaving many publishers to wonder if cost-conscious shoppers are reading e-books right away rather than waiting for the paperback.”
  • Despite overall decline in trade books, science fiction/fantasy will grow 3.4% in 2011 (Simba Information)  “According to the report, the science fiction/fantasy segment is gaining market share, adding half a percent in 2011 compared to 2010, as it more than triples its 1% growth rate from the past two years. ‘The sci-fi/fantasy segment has been a stable growth segment for the past few years,’ notes Michael Norris, Simba Information’s senior trade analyst. ‘Since the book market took a big hit in 2007, it has been inching closer to its previous high-point.’”
  • Print isn’t dead, says Bowker’s Annual Book Production Report (R.R. Bowker)  “In 2008, the production of non-traditional print-on-demand books surpassed traditional book publishing for the first time and since then, its growth has been staggering. Now almost 8 times the output of traditional titles, the market is dominated by a handful of publishers. In fact, the top three publishers accounted for nearly 87% of total titles produced in 2010.”
  • Print-on-demand and the future of independent publishing (PopMatters/Matthew Asprey)  [Interview with Matthew Moring, founder of Altus Press] “With each year, I think POD comes closer and closer to the same respectability as traditional publishing. It’s telling that so many mainstream authors are going this route, as are some of the old-school publishers. POD allow for the most esoteric books to see the light of day. Are we selling a million units a year? No, but there’s a long tail here… lots of things to publish for the same dollar that otherwise would be spent on a traditional publisher’s product.”

Trend fact:
Bowker’s survey of book consumers also revealed a trend that might affect all kinds of books: reading as a pastime continues to decline, with only about 57% of book buyers reporting that they read a book at least once a week.

OPLIN 4Cast #230: The Bookish experience

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

At the end of the first week in May, three major publishers announced their intention to create a joint online venture called Bookish.com. This comes at a time when bricks-and-mortar bookstores are having serious financial problems; Michigan-based Borders Group, for example, may have to close all its stores, since it’s reported that they can’t find a buyer. So how do publishers replace the physical bookstore experience, where readers could easily discover books? Bookish.com is one possible answer. (Of course, the library is another.)

  • Publishers make a plan: a ‘one stop’ book site (New York Times/Julie Bosman)  “The site intends to provide information for all things literary: suggestions on what books to buy, reviews of books, excerpts from books and news about authors. Visitors will also be able to buy books directly from the site or from other retailers and write recommendations and reviews for other readers. The publishers — Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group USA and Hachette Book Group — hope the site will become a catch-all destination for readers in the way that music lovers visit Pitchfork.com for reviews and information.”
  • ‘What should I read?’ A new site called Bookish hopes to tell you (Christian Science Monitor/Husna Haq)  “Bookish isn’t the first site to attempt to create an online community of bibliophiles. The social reading site Goodreads offers that already and is growing at a rapid clip of about 100,000 new users per month. But Goodreads has suffered from problems like reviews posted for books that aren’t yet written and a tendency to spam users and their contacts. Complaints have been rolling in.”
  • Bookish wants to help you find your next book (Information Today/Theresa Cramer)  “On the business end, Bookish will have a dual revenue stream. On one side, there will be advertisements on the site. [Bookish CEO Paulo] Lemgruber says that, at least in part, this is where AOL Huffington Post comes in: ‘They will provide access to their tools, but will also give us a wonderful platform for our editorial content. Additionally, AOL will act as our advertising sales team.’ Bookish, however, plans to also get into the book-selling business. Bookish is dedicated to working closely with book retailers, according to the press release, and in the coming weeks will reach out to explore ways to complement the retailers’ efforts and enhance all reader experiences.”
  • 5 ways to screw up “Bookish” (Huffington Post/Laura E. Kelly)  “When I read that Bookish founder Paulo Lemgruber said, ‘The main goal of Bookish is to make recommendations about books that will appeal to a reader’s particular taste,’ my heart sank. Amazon already does this in spades. Why compete with them (and who really finds Amazon’s soulless algorithmic recommendations that useful)?”

Confusion fact:
Bookish should not be (but probably will be) confused with Booki.sh, the e-book streaming site we mentioned in 4cast #215. Nor should it be confused with the New Zealand Bookish site. Nor with any of the myriad online book clubs and blogs with “Bookish” in their names.

OPLIN 4Cast #220: Turbulent times for publishers

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

No doubt about it, libraries are going through some very tough times right now. On top of draconian budget cuts, they have to deal with the latest anti-library antics of Those Dang Publishers. We tend to forget, however, that these are also very tough times for those publishers, as they watch the business models they have relied on for years become obsolete in the march toward new digital media and new distribution methods. For example, they face business pressure to sell their e-books through “agencies,” while at the same time facing legal pressure when they do. In today’s 4cast, we share a potpourri of recent writings that illustrate some of the new stresses on the old publishing industry.

  • Monetizing the book buying experience (Off the Page/Sheila Bounford)  “Of course not everyone behaves on impulse, and consumers do not have an obligation to buy in store. Those from outside the book industry do not necessarily feel a responsibility to support their local shop if the prices there are higher than online. In a recession customers are much more likely to browse, and then go home and buy online to save money. The key questions therefore are how else can physical bookstores monetize what they offer? And, should publishers be much more proactive in supporting them through increased discounts and other measures?”
  • Random House caves on agency e-book pricing (Ars Technica/Jacqui Cheng)  “Under the wholesale model, publishers like Random House would sell a certain number of books to a reseller (such as Amazon) for a set price, then the reseller would set its own price on each book. This works out well for the sale of physical books that have to be shipped, but not so much for e-books, where there are infinite copies. The agency model, by comparison, allows publishers to set their own prices for e-books and give 30 percent of the sale price to the reseller.”
  • EU raids ebook publishers in price fixing investigation (Guardian/Benedicte Page and Leigh Phillips)  “The focus for the price-fixing investigation is understood to be what is called the agency model, which has been adopted by almost all the biggest publishers for their ebook sales. This is distinct from the traditional wholesale model, in which retailers buy the books from the publisher and can then do what they wish with them. Under the agency model, the retailer acts as an agent of the publisher, which itself sets the retail price of the ebooks, with the retailer taking a commission. Publishers see the agency model as crucial because it allows them to trade with Apple, which was already using it for iTunes, and also to control the price at which their ebooks are sold.”
  • Gannett unveils image ‘reset’ (USA Today/David Lieberman)  “[CEO Craig] Dubow said he wants advertisers and others to see that Gannett [news] properties attract local and national audiences via different media, including the Internet, smartphones and tablet computers such as Apple’s iPad. To help make that point, the company’s properties will begin to prominently identify themselves as part of Gannett. In addition, the company will launch a national advertising campaign that includes the tagline, ‘It’s all within reach.’”

Profit fact:
ECKO Publishing provides a handy online tool for publishers to figure their profit on e-books distributed through various agencies, as well as some interesting agency rules publishers must follow.