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."


[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:

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:

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:

Buying Used Books by the Grocery Bag (HT @writerscentreau)

I've joked about buying Dan Brown novels by the pound, but it seems this bookshop has it worked out:

To help keep books circulating in and out, Kerby offers store credit for returns, but limits locals to one grocery bag of returns per day. She has to enforce it often. Some people come in with stacks upon stacks of books, some in good shape and some not so much.

After Terry Dean's complaints last week regarding people being entitled and expecting to read for free at libraries, we see:

Betty [a happy customer] has nothing against libraries, but said it’s the customer service at Pendleton Book Company that keeps her coming back.

Surprising? Of course not. People have always been happy to pay for something when it provides extra value. Commerce is not a simple equation where free trumps everything.

Check it out:

What Aren't Bookstores Doing? (via @bookriot)

Jenn Northington collected suggestions from the audience on the topic of what bookstores could be doing to improve their business. At a guess I would think that yesterday's idea to charge customers to browse isn't on the list. Here are a few of the suggestions that stood out from me from what Jenn brought back from the panel at the Book^2 Camp 'unconference':

  • Mine your [bookstore] data in a non-creepy way, curate for individual customers based on past sales
  • Justify the higher cost of your books to customers, despite all the obstacles, by providing services (like above) that are just. not. possible to get from online retailers. [Tom: I have commented on this before: a bar charges more for alcohol that you could just buy cheaply from discount liquor stores, yet bars aren't going out of business; consider this]

There are many other suggestions, and it's worth checking out the whole list:


Harper-Collins CEO says paying for the privilege of bookstore browsing is not an insane concept (HT: @pnpbookseller)

[SPOILER: It is an insane concept.] I've filed this under humour because frankly it's too ridiculous to take seriously.

However, this isn't an article by The Onion, and it's something the CEO of Harper-Collins said.

HarperCollins c.e.o. Victoria Barnsley has said the idea of the bookshop as a book club, charging for browsing, is "not that insane", given the level of threat faced by the general bookshop.

I'm no bookseller, but if 'the level of threat faced by the general bookshop' is so severe, then putting a pay wall between the customer and the threatened shop isn't 'not that insane'. It is, in actual fact, utterly insane.

If someone at the top of a major publishing house is that out of touch with the concept of how shops work, one has to start wondering how out of touch with commercial reality they are in general? Let's see what this visionary of modern publishing thinks about DRM:

Barnsley said there was a major debate within the industry over DRM, commenting: "If you don't have it, the risk is that there's a lot of sharing . . . [but] keeping it on allows retailers like Amazon to continue running their walled gardens which is not a good thing."

No surprises there.

Let me correct her statement: if you don't have it, it makes no difference, because every DRM'd eBook is already freely shared. DRM provides no barrier to even the casual computer user frustrated by it. The only thing DRM does is a) waste a publisher's money b) treat customers as criminals c) allow companies to lock legal customers into their own ecosystems (at least she got that bit right).

Read it and weep:

iBook Lessons: Hardback-only Memory of Light release frustrates would-be epurchasers (via @tuaw)

'Memory of Light' is the last book in the Wheel of Time series. I personally don't care for these books, so don't expect me to get too excited about the completion of this fantasy series. In a case of old-fashionitis, however, the book was released by its publisher Tor in dead-tree version only, leaving a lot of people who simply prefer to read eBooks stuck waiting until April 9th, 3 months in the future. Of course the book will be available as a pirated copy in approximately minus-one days, just like all other popular books, so anyone realistically expecting to be able to read it on launch day will, in-fact, be able to do so, without the inconvenience of DRM and for less money.

[R]umors are swirling as to why Tor made the decision it did: specifically, whether Jordan's widow and editor forced their hands, and if the NY Times bestseller ratings could be skewed by a simultaneous ebook release that would limit the prestigious hardcover fiction numbers in favor of less desirable ebook listings.

The ways of publishers are complex and deep, and it's perfectly possible they were forced through contractual agreements to release the book in this way. After all, Tor has a very modern stance on ebooks, releasing big chunks of their back catalogue in consumer-friendly non-DRM formats. This object-first approach to such an anticipated release as 'Memory of Light' is certainly not the optimal money making strategy:

Back in 2009, publishers began delaying ebook releases, as they noted that ebook sales cannibalized hardcover sales. Even then an Amazon spokesperson was quoted by the NYT saying, "Authors get the most publicity at launch and need to strike while the iron is hot. If readers can't get their preferred format at that moment, they may buy a different book or just not buy a book at all."

Also noteworthy is that the book is receiving many 1-star reviews on Amazon in some kind of misguided campaign to pressure the publisher into changing its release schedule. reviews do not work that way! Goodnight!

Please, if you're reading this and you're upset, do not comment on a book in the book reviews section of a store if you aren't reviewing the book. Seriously.

Read the entire article here to get a glimpse at this bizarre process:

UK Bookshop number halved in 7 years (via @thebookseller)

Just a quick one: even the UK Bookseller association thinks the conclusions drawn from this research are a little extreme.

[Bookseller Association chief executive Tim] Godfray said: “While the overall picture in terms of the number of independent booksellers in the UK is still one of contraction, our figures contradict the Experian results and indicate this rate of decline actually has been slowing for the last two years. We are not seeing the end of the bookshop.”

From my own perspective as a reader and buyer of books, this is the kind of result I expect: a rapid closure of the weakest bookshops, followed by a decline in closures as the industry adapts. A modern bookshop needs to foster community and be a place of discovery, a real life recommendation engine, even. I'm therefore inclined to agree with the gentleman from the Bookseller Association that this is merely a sign of an adapting industry, not a dying one.

Read it here:

A New Form of Price Gouging? (via @PnPBookSeller)

Jon Page from Pages & Pages Booksellers comments on eBook price gouging of retailers:

We are all familiar with traditional price gouging where a retailer “prices goods or commodities much higher than is considered reasonable or fair.” It is something we often accuse petrol stations of before long weekends and there have been allegations made against some retailers after Hurricane Sandy in the US.

But there is a new form of price gouging which is occurring in the eBook world and it is escaping notice because consumers are not the ones being gouged, it is eBook retailers.

As someone who buys books and has not the slightest insight into the difficult word of running a book store, it's sobering to see the costs incurred by small retailers. Of course, it's no secret that Amazon uses loss-leading strategies in the hope that a future monopoly will recover costs used to drive competitors out of business.

This form of price gouging, where the small retailer is gouged in ordered to preserve a publisher’s return, only helps to speed up the process. What boggles my mind is I know publishers don’t want a dominant Amazon yet some of them continue to sell books in a way that leads in only one direction: a book world with only Amazon.

I've previously suggested a way that small book sellers can compete with giant online retailers in this article (tl;dr: by making your store a community site, much like how bars survive in a world of liquor stores despite charging more for the same product). However, this doesn't seem to work well for the ephemeral process of buying an eBook, which is as easy as (easier than?) buying one in a store.

Note: I ground my teeth with frustration when Jon listed a DRM fee as part of his baseline costs.

DRM helps nobody. Again.

Read the entire article here:

More Self-Publishing Home Truths (via @ian_sales)

Ian Sales fills us in on his experience with self-publishing:

Adrift on the Sea of Rains has been in print for just over six months and has so far sold around two hundred copies in all three formats. I didn’t set up Whippleshield Books and self-publish because I thought it was a sure-fire route to riches and success. I’d much sooner someone else had published the book. But I did it myself because a) I wanted it done quickly, and b) I didn’t want to compromise on my vision. Happily, I got the book out on time, and no one has had a problem with the way I structured the novella.


Ian breaks down some of the things he has learnt on his journey into these headings:

  1. Most forums have indiscriminate zero tolerance spam policies
  2. It’s not a level playing field, and Amazon has its thumb on the scales
  3. Never mind the quality, feel the weight
  4. Reviews are better for the ego than the bank balance
  5. Once tarred, that’s you forever that is

Click through to find out what this might mean for your own self-publishing journey:

Readers are Still Buying Books in the Same Cycle (via: @tglong)

Anthony Wessel from DigitalBookToday points out on Terri G. Long's blog how the eBook sales cycle is still finding its feet:

I read Indie author’s blogs about the lack of sales in the past months. Most Indie authors have only been through one or maybe two holiday seasons. A book is a product. Just like with most products there is a sales cycle on a year to year basis.

This sounds pretty straightforward, but with the recent rapid increase in the quantity of e-readers, Anthony describes a sales cycle still trying to settle back down into a regular flow:

The digital book sales for the 2012 holiday was different. People received a lot of Kindles/Tablets under the tree. The only problem was that they had no books on them to read. The result was a Christmas sales season that happened in January, February, and March for eBooks. This was very reminiscent of the PC computer days of the 80’s and 90’s. Families would get PC’s under the tree and then would have to go out after the 25th to purchase software.

If you are a self-published author wondering where all your sales have gone, it's worth having a read of the rest of his analysis. It's a nice summary of sales cycles and anomalies, something an experienced bookseller would already know, but which is probably news to you (as it was to me).

Link here: