Mark Terry

Thursday, February 10, 2011

E-Book, Publishing, Library and Bookselling News

February 14, 2011
So, will libraries survive the e-book shift? One wouldn't think so, but that may not be true. People might prefer to check out an e-book. Here's a story from the Argus Leader.

The growing numbers took officials at Siouxland Libraries by surprise. In November, people downloaded 460 electronic books from the library website.

In December, the number jumped to 915. When January's total was tallied: 1,687.

"That," said Siouxland Libraries official Jodi Fick, "is amazing."

Pretty much my reaction, too. Also, um, weird. I've often wondered what the appeal of an e-reader would be to the person--and you know, I probably know more people like this than I know voracious book-buyers--who only buy a couple books a year or say, "Why would I buy a book when I'm just going to read it once," or who say, God love them, "I'll just go to the library." So apparently what's going on here is people buy the device, then can download free books through their library. However, you apparently can't do this with the Amazon Kindle.

In an international story, a supermarket company in the UK has put forth a color ebook reader called View Quest that costs 52 pounds. As of today, that's about $84 US. It's a small device, about five inches, but man, that's cheap.

Interestingly, there appears to be a market for used devices. You can buy a refurbished Nook e-reader for $79.99. Which begs the question, are they being abandoned by owners, or are the owners upgrading or changing to a different e-reader. Inquiring minds want to know.

And in case you didn't hear about it, USA Today had an article in yesterday's paper about self-publishing e-books, citing Amanda Hocking in particular, for having sold 164,000 books in 2010. I actually found the story moderately interesting (there isn't really anything new to those of us who pay any attention to this sort of things because, you know, it AFFECTS us), although of particular interest was not the bit on Hocking, but the part on H.P. Mallory, who sold 70,000 copies of her e-books since July, and as a result was offered a three-book contract with Random House, which she took. I'm sure some people think she's crazy, but I wonder what she thinks she's getting from Random she wasn't getting on her own. Only time will tell, I suppose.

And finally, in today's USA Today, an article about how small independent bookstores appear to be bucking the trend by staying in business by, uh, selling books at full price and stocking fewer titles and, uh... I have no goddamned clue, but I suspect that in the long-run some indie bookstores will make it and some won't, but I would guess community involvement and catering to a demographic that thinks the e-book is the work of the devil might help. God knows I love a good indie bookstore, but the nearest one to me is... I have no clue. Off-hand, the nearest one to me I've been to is Aunt Agatha's, which is in Ann Arbor, about 80 to 100 miles away from me. There used to be one in nearby Lake Orion, but it went out of business a decade ago.

13 Comments:

Blogger Jon VanZile said...

The most amazing thing to me about that Amanda Hocking story was how many books she sold in January. She went from 164,000 in 2010 to 490,000 in January alone. Even if she's only earning $.70 a title or whatever, that's still something like $340,000 for one month. But many of those are priced at $2.99, so it's actually safe to assume she cleared half a million dollars last month.

I do think there's a danger in focusing on the money ... but money is a convenient yardstick. And while she's the exception, through a long chain of events, I'm in touch sometimes with another author who's the exception, but in the traditional sense. She's a NYT #1 best-selling author who signed a major, multi-book deal with a top publishing house and has been translated into something like 30 languages. Her book is currently being made into a movie by Warner Bros. So she's at the pinnacle of traditional success—but the crazy thing is, from a purely monetary point of view, Hocking will probably make much more in the first six months of this year than this best-selling author has over her whole career so far.

What to make of that?

And for what it's worth, I don't think libraries are going anywhere in the long run. People will always take advantage of free access to information, whether it's on a computer, an e-reader or paper.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

I remember about a year ago, the eBook/eReader haters were crying about them killing libraries and how eventually, with the death of libraries kids wouldn't be exposed to books. I wrote about it then that I thought it would be the other way around. Kids love the latest gadget. I bet your kid got an iPod way before you did? So, what libraries needed to do, in my opinion, was to find a way to be able to allow books to be downloaded to people that had a "Libraby Card" (eCard?)and that after a week or two, the eBook would expire; in effect turn itself back in.

You made a good point about The Kindle and it not being able to download from Libraries. This is something the industry needs to, and will work out. The proprietary format. And in some ways they already are. Calibre http://calibre-ebook.com/
already has available, for free, eBook library management software which claims to be able to convert any eBook format to any other. I have a Kindle, so I can only attest to the fact that it can take PDF and Nook formats and convert them to Kindle fairly well (you do get some conversion error where it will scramble some letters here and there)this is no harder to put up with than the typos and formatting issues you can get in paper backs.Another "plus" for libraries in an eBook world is they wouldn't have to take up so much real estate and, inevitably your librarian would become an IT Tech to some degree. And, I'd hope that the availability of eBooks would eventually make the occasional reader into 'more than an occasional' reader. If the guy that only buys a couple books a year can check out a book from his library or download from his favorite Indie from his Laz-E-Boy, then maybe he'll read more books, and BUY more books.

I morned the death of the Indie book stores in an eBook World in a Blog about a year ago http://dirtylowdown.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/ebooks-ereaders-the-future-of-books-and-reading/
and that bothered me because-and I am an avid reader who could live without TV, but not books-I really love Indies. But, when you break down the business model of most Indies book stores what they have always had going for them was Customer Loyalty. Here, a year later, I see some Indies now offering eBook purchases available in their stores! http://www.russosbooks.com/
true, they can't compete with the prices at Amazon or some of the other on-line book super stores, but they never could in the first place but they have Customer Loyalty, so they still have a place in the market.

And to wind this up, as an aspiring author, I love stories where someone self publishes and then gets a book deal with a traditional publisher. As for why they would do it, after having success self publishing, I still think that Traditional Publishers have a place. They can market the authors work better and unload some of that from us that don't have Joe Konraths marketing know-how. Then there is the Electronic Art Work for eBooks, and the conversion process from one format to another. In short, the Traditional Publisher can free the author up to write instead of do all the other things involved in getting the book to the reader.

It's still an industry in flux, and tho' we've seen a lot of changes in just the last year, I think there are still a lot of changes that will be made. DRM, Industry Standard Formats, competing devices, pricing (there is no way an eBook should cost as much as a Paper Book)and author contracts just to name a few. In the end, it's all exciting.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jon--
Yeah, it's a hell of a lot of money. One of the things when I heard Joe K talk is the expectation of continued sales figures along lines like that and it makes me shiver, because I think you and I both know as full-time writers that income NEVER is that consistent, particularly when you don't have control over the sales. Still, it's a hell of a lot of money.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Robert--
I hear you, but the more hardheaded business side of my personality says that CUSTOMER LOYALTY is not a business model.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Mark-But customer loyalty is a business model, or at least a part of one. One of the reasons I'll go to an indie book seller is that that indie will call me at home when he gets a book in I have been looking for that is no longer in print. or, will talk about an author, or book, or some-such.You can't get that, or even the same sales person twice at B&N or Borders and you can't reach a person at all at Amazon. Granted, that Customer Loyalty goes way beyond just being an Indie. There is a level of personal customer service that supports and builds that customer loyalty. Companies like HP know this. Why would anybody buy a PC or Laptop from HP at $100-150 more, when the exact same product is available from ACER? (They are built in the same factory and designed by the same engineers)The reason is that if your HP laptop breaks, you'll get immediate customer service and a replacement sent from HP at HP's expense, where there is no Customer service from ACER and if you want the product replaced, you mail it to them at your expense and wait for them to mail you one back. The thing that drives Customer Loyalty is value added services, like that phone call about a out of print paperback, or that replacement of your laptop. Granted, some people will always buy the Acer and do without (or very likely never be interested in) that paperback.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Jon VanZile said...

Mark,

Yeah, part of me is still convinced that this little gold rush period has a finite lifespan. Once Amazon figures out a way to profit from restricting access, it will. Or the Big Six will figure out a way to convince e-book sells to agree to cut self-pubbers out again. Somehow, it just seems it has to end. There's too many billions of dollars at stake for the Big Six to passively watch their businesses get vaporized by people in their jammies uploading cheap novels.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jon,
I know. I feel that way exactly. Particularly since Amazon shifted the royalties from about 30% to 70%, I keep waiting for the Kindle device sales to flatten out, and then the company will start looking at their 70% royalty, saying, "Well, that's not 'industry standard,' so let's cut back on it." Even if they started messing with the numbers. For instance, initially, everything was about 30% (I don't remember if it was 30, 33 or 35), then they trumpeted that it was now 70%. But as you now know, it's 70% if you're a minimum price point of $2.99. I have absolutely no problem believing that Amazon at some point might start tinkering with a sliding scale, saying 30% for books priced under $2.99, 50% for books priced from $3.00 to $5.00 and 70% for books priced $5.01 and up.

And I know there's an argument that authors' sales won't slow because the market for the e-readers is expanding, but in my experience people buy a lot of books initially when they buy it, then it slows down as you rather sensibly realize you have more books to read than you have time. I also suspect at the moment--call me cynical--that an awful lot of people are jumping into e-readers because it's sort of the thing to do and we do love our gadgets, but if those people aren't necessarily big readers in the first place, I'm largely unconvinced that the platform's going to turn them into readers.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Robert--
I think Customer Loyalty is an important PART of a business model, built by a combination of branding, uniqueness and great service, but I don't think Customer Loyalty by itself is really a business model, particularly if one of your problems is that the product you're selling full price is being discounted everywhere else. The indie bookstore that was in nearby Lake Orion went out of business when Borders moved in 10 miles away--10 miles! The woman who ran it told me (and she was a total failure at the being pleasant thing, she was a bitch and I almost stopped coming completely after she snarled at my kids for no reason) that she could go two doors down to KMart and buy discounted bestsellers cheaper than she could buy them from the publisher.

Some indies do a nice job of branding themselves, particularly, it seems to me, the larger ones like Powell's in Portland, The Tattered Cover in Denver and Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. They become DESTINATIONS, which strikes me as being part of the branding. (And I've never been to Powell's or Poisoned Pen, but I have been to The Tattered Cover, which was nice, but didn't blow me away, although if I regularly visited downtown Denver I imagine it would be a regular stop).

I think indies will probably do a booming business in niche marketing and in used books, but they're still going to struggle against Amazon's convenience, backlist and pricing, let alone e-books.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Oh, and Jon--Troy, MI stopped funding their library, which blew my mind. Troy is pretty upscale, and I gather there's been efforts to refund and reopen, but that kind of freaked me out when I heard it.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Jon VanZile said...

If I was Amazon, I'd pretty quickly figure out how to offer the equivalent of online co-op. Google already does it with sponsored keywords ... so it makes sense that Amazon would do it too. Put a little cost into the system and watch the indies get squeezed out.

I will say, though, that I don't necessarily think that's a good thing. If fact, I think it's a good thing to open the gates wide and let it all flow out. I don't see any advantage in filtering or restricting content and information. But I do think it's human nature.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jon--I know, I mostly feel that way, too, but Amazon is a business and philosophically, they owe best efforts to be profitable to their shareholders. At the moment, I suspect the self-published e-books is pretty much a cash cow for them because they don't do much but stick them in their database and have accounting automated, but if they run into any financial issues, they'll do what all companies do, which is look for ways to cut back and increase profits. I in no way think Amazon's doing this the way they do just because they want indie writers to have a place to turn to.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

It's funny (almost) that you should mention Powell's, and it is a great place, love it and I have sat at concerts and heard some of the biggest rock stars in the world say the love coming to Portland, because they get to spend a day at Powell's. But, today ( I posted this on FB) they laid off 31 folks, that's like 7% of there work force, and they say they aren't done yet. They also say that eBooks have hurt them and I see that they finally got in bed with Google to distribute eBooks (its been a couple monjths since I was at a store or their site). Still, you can't go to Amazon for a signing.....

9:37 PM  
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5:48 AM  

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