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February 10 2012

Publishing News: B&N boycott becomes booksellers' cold war against Amazon

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my eye this week.

The booksellers' cold war rages on

NoEntry3.pngTwo weeks ago, Amazon made a move that might have landed it access to B&N brick-and-mortar stores. Last week, B&N slammed its brick-and-mortar doors in Amazon's face. This week, B&N was joined by Canada's Indigo Books and Music and Books-a-Million, and also (in effect) by the American Book Association (ABA) — in what the Guardian dubbed the "cold war between North American booksellers and Amazon."

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Janet Eger, vice president at Indigo, explained the company's position: "In our view Amazon's actions are not in the long-term interests of the reading public or the publishing and book retailing industry, globally."

The ABA denied the initial reports by Publisher's Weekly (which has since edited its original post) that it joined the "boycott," but it did remove Amazon titles from its IndieCommerce database this week and made an overall change in its policies. As PW reported:

"Not only has IndieCommerce decided not to list these titles, but it has created a new policy that states 'only publishers' titles that are made available to retailers for sale in all available formats will be included in the IndieCommerce inventory database'."

Individual stores, however, can opt to add Amazon books as custom products to their own websites if they so choose.

Amazon didn't appear to be phased by the news. In fact, the company appears to be focused elsewhere: Rumors of Amazon's plans to open its own brick-and-mortar store heated up this week when GoodEReader reported on a proposed location in Seattle.

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DRM is publishers' ace in the hole against Amazon

Ace2.pngBattle techniques for the Big Six to use in this cold war against Amazon were proposed this week as well. Paul Biba at TeleRead suggested that the Big Six have greater control and influence than they realize — they just need to wield it:

"There is no reason why the Big Six can't offer exclusive deals to Kobo and B&N. Give them a three-month exclusive selling period for expected ebook best-sellers and do away with the agency pricing during that period. After three months, make the ebooks available to everyone and reinstate agency pricing. This would boost competition and play against Amazon's exclusivity program."

The problem with this strategy is the same problem that would arise if publishers cut out Amazon altogether — consumers would be alienated and sales would suffer (let's face it, Amazon's got the biggest piece of the market share pie at this point).

Publishers do, however, have an ace in the hole — they just need the courage to play it. O'Reilly publisher and general manager Joe Wikert pointed this out in very clear terms in a post at Publishers Weekly:

"In a terrific blog post entitled "Cutting Their Own Throats," author Charlie Stross argues that publishers' fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors — an unintended consequence of DRM. Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM, since even the music industry has seen the light and moved on from DRM."

Transferability and cognitive friction improve the reading experience

Alan Jacobs at the Atlantic made a couple of thought-provoking observations about reading this week. In one post, he compared Nick Carr's affinity for the "fixities of the printed book" and Kevin Kelly's for the "fluidities of the ebook." He argued that both Carr and Kelly's observations, though they make good points, are too narrowly focused on the book as an object, rather than as "a tool for use." Jacobs shared a story about losing his Kindle, but not losing any of his content and annotations as a consequence, and observed:

"So what we have here is best described not as fixity or fluidity, but as transferability — a reassuring kind of consistency across platforms and formats. You might say that this is fixity enabled by fluidity: the reproducibility of pixels combined with the stability of Amazon's enormous database amount to insurance against the fragility of any particular designed object. (And by downloading my books and annotations to two or three 'designed objects' I also insure myself against the failure of Amazon's databases.)"

In another post, Jacobs took a look at the cognitive experience of reading and suggested that retention is improved by increased "cognitive friction" — the effort required to read, annotate, highlight and otherwise process digital content. Both posts (here and here) are well worth the read.

Photo (top): NO ENTRY by markhillary, on Flickr

Photo (bottom): battle 002 by Paul J Everett, on Flickr

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February 03 2012

Publishing News: B&N closes doors on Amazon Publishing

Here are a few of the stories that caught my attention this week in the publishing space.

Barnes & Noble puts its foot down on Amazon

NoEntry.pngLast week, Amazon teamed up with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to print and distribute the Amazon Publishing East Coast's adult titles under a new imprint, New Harvest. Some speculated the move might get Amazon through the brick-and-mortar doors of B&N. This week, B&N made it clear that not only would HMH's New Harvest imprint not make it in the door, but that no Amazon Publishing title would. In a post for the New York Times, Julie Bosman quoted from a statement made by Jaime Carey, B&N's chief merchandising officer:

"Our decision is based on Amazon's continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent. These exclusives have prohibited us from offering certain e-books to our customers. Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content. It's clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest."

O'Reilly's general manager and publisher Joe Wikert called on B&N this week to disrupt the industry — maybe this is its first move. Bosman also took a look at B&N's position in the industry and its importance to the publishing ecosystem, especially in the face of a competitor like Amazon. Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic mulled the prospects of Amazon killing publishing and argued: "In a financial arms race, publishers simply can't beat Amazon's arsenal."

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Breaking up is hard to do

Amazon had issues with a social networking partner this week as well. As of Monday, Goodreads no longer displayed book data from the Amazon Product Advertising API, opting instead to move its data partnership to the Ingram Book Company. A Goodread's representative told Laura Hazard Owen that "the [API license agreement] terms now required by Amazon have become so restrictive that it makes better business sense to work with other data sources." Owen outlined some of the specifics on the restrictions:

"Amazon requires sites that use its API to link that content back to the Amazon site exclusively — so a book page on Goodreads would have to link only to its product page on Amazon and not to any other source or retailer ... Amazon also does not allow any content from its API to be used on mobile sites and apps."

Jon Mitchell at ReadWriteWeb took a deeper look into the situation — and explained why Goodreads will survive its breakup with Amazon.

The news caused some readers to worry about their cultivated Goodreads bookshelves. GalleyCat detailed potential data issues and offered up a Goodreads link that allows users to check on the state of their shelves to see if any tidying up is necessary.

Jonathan Franzen waxes absurd on ebooks

BrokenKindle.pngThere's no shortage of things slated to be destroying society, and this week, author Jonathan Franzen added ebooks to the list. The Telegraph quoted Franzen speaking at a book festival in Cartagena, Colombia:

"I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change. Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it's going to be very hard to make the world work if there's no permanence like that."

Chenda Ngak at CBS's techt@lk took offense at Franzen's remarks, stating: "Even if I agree with him, as a book lover, his statements are too condescending to take seriously." Jonathan Segura at NPR chimed in as well, calling Franzen's comments "absurd" and pleading that we "get past the e-books versus print books thing." Segura's final comment pretty much summed up the overarching sentiment:

"We should worry less about how people get their books and — say it with me now! — just be glad that people are reading."

Photo (top): Kiftsgate Court, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire - No Entry - sign by ell brown, on Flickr

Photo (bottom): Broken Kindle by kodomut, on Flickr

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January 25 2012

Coming soon to a location near you: The Amazon Store?

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Jason Calacanis (@jason), co-founder of Weblogs, Inc., and currently host of This Week in Startups is never afraid to voice his opinions. One of his recent articles entitled The Cult of Amazon Prime caught my eye because it paints such a vivid picture of Amazon's growing market dominance. I appreciate the leadership role Amazon has played over the years, but I'm also concerned about the dangers of one vendor controlling too much of the market. Calacanis agreed to discuss my concerns in this interview.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Does Amazon Prime spell the end of the local mall? — It won't happen immediately, and there will always be some need for in-person shopping, but Amazon Prime is already having an impact on the local shopping experience. [Discussed at the 00:40 mark.]
  • Serendipity is overrated — Jason makes a good point about how what you discover at a brick-and-mortar store is often what the vendor or its supplier want you to discover, and this experience can easily be recreated with the "people who bought X also bought Y" model. [Discussed at 2:40.]
  • Coming soon to a location near you: The Amazon Store? — Rather than continuing to use BestBuy and other stores for showrooming, Jason talks about the possibility of Amazon creating their own specialty retail presence where you could touch and feel big-ticket items and have them shipped to you the next day. [Discussed at 4:01.]
  • The instant gratification problem won't exist forever — Amazon has already implemented same-day shipping in some locations, and it's possible a resolution to the state sales tax issue Amazon is currently in the midst of could lead to broader same-day delivery service. [Discussed at 6:01.]
  • AmazonBasics is a preview of what's to come — We're all familiar with private label goods at the local grocery store. AmazonBasics is a similar program. Today, it only offers gadget accessories, but it could easily lead to Amazon toothpaste or breakfast cereal down the road. [Discussed at 7:22.]
  • Don't fear the controlling, manipulative market leader — I'm skeptical of this, but Jason believes that technology and other efficiencies make barriers to entry so low that a market leader who exploits its position will get knocked off by a new startup. [Discussed at 14:24.]
  • Walmart vs. Amazon: Who will compete with Amazon to keep them honest? — Jason believes Walmart is the only serious threat. [Discussed at 18:34.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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January 13 2012

Publishing News: Stats from Amazon's KDP Select program might require a decoder ring

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week in the publishing space.

Amazon's KDP Select stats raise more questions than they answer

AmazonLogo.pngAmazon released statistics from its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program this week, but deciphering what the numbers mean is tricky — the program may or may not be lucrative for authors. Reuters explained the program:

KDP Select is an off-shoot of Kindle Direct Publishing, a system developed by Amazon that lets authors publish their books themselves online. If authors make a title exclusive to Amazon's Kindle e-book store for at least 90 days, the book is eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and authors can earn a share of a $6 million annual pot of money based on how frequently the book is borrowed.

The Amazon press release said author Carolyn McCray "earned $8,250 from the KDP Select fund in December," and quoted her as saying that "[p]articipating in KDP Select has quadrupled [her] royalties." The release cites increases for Rachel Yu and Amber Scott as well, and says that "[t]he top ten KDP Select authors earned over $70,000 in the month of December from their participation in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, a 30% increase on top of the royalties they earned from their paid sales on the same titles in the same period. In total (paid sales plus their share of the loan fund), these authors saw their royalties grow an astonishing 449% month-over-month from November to December."

But don't drop your publisher and jump on board the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select train just yet. As with most statistics Amazon releases, there are nearly as many questions raised as stats provided. Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent laid it all out on the table, presenting Amazon's press release statement with stats and then listing a variety of questions those stats sparked. A couple important questions she raised include:

  • "How much money did the average participating author make? The top ten are doing well, but what about the rest? How many authors made $0 from their participation (or actually lost money because, in order to participate, they had to remove their e-books from all other etailers?)"

  • "Also, how does the top ten break down? What did the #1 KDP Select author make from his or her participation, and what did the #10 author make?"


  • Owen's breakdown of the situation is thorough and well worth the read.

    And in a nice rounding out to the issue, Forbes called out Amazon on the data — or lack thereof — it provides to self-publishers:

    "If we are to approach self-publishing as a business proposition, we need to understand not just the market for ebooks but also the performance of our own works within that market. Just as a web publisher needs to understand traffic stats, so ebook publishers need to understand ebook stats. Except Amazon's Kindle store gives ebook publishers only the barest minimum of information."

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    Books in the digital age are an entrepreneurial exercise

    Regardless of where and how you self-publish, the process isn't as easy as it might seem on first blush. Author Daniel Markham put together a nice list of lessons learned and details to keep track of after publishing his first ebook, "ScrumMaster." He said: "The content is the least of it ... If my marketing and sales pipeline don't work? Hang it up. It was a waste of time."

    Along that same vein, a post at The Atlantic took a look at publishing in the digital age. Referring to the most recent issue of Nieman Reports, The Atlantic piece says:

    "... books are an entrepreneurial exercise, combining the selection of a subject, the self-confidence to stay with it through the reporting and writing ordeal, and a commitment to marketing the results, which for many authors is an especially unfamiliar process."

    The Guardian also put together a panel of self-publishing experts who came up with 20 tips for self-publishing. Those particular tips mainly are directed at academic publishing, but many could apply to any genre, and some of the linked resources were genre neutral as well.

    The digital rights quagmire continues

    The topic of rights reared its murky ahead again this week. Jane Friedman tackled the topic in a post inspired by a question posed to her by author Dr. Liz Alexander: (in short) in a traditional publishing situation, who holds the ebook rights, author or publisher? Friedman says it's "a very slippery issue" and lists several reasons why:

    • "Contract language may be ambiguous as to who holds rights, and the language may be interpreted differently (there is little legal precedent to refer to in these situations)."

  • "Who retains ebook rights — author or publisher — is a controversial issue."
  • "Who holds rights to the text versus images may be different."
  • "Who holds e-book rights based on territory can be even more confusing."


  • Friedman's post addresses each issue in-depth and provides a nice summary of the rights controversy thus far.

    Digital rights issues, however, aren't purely theoretical for Friedman — the Wall Street Journal took a look this week at the lawsuit HarperCollins recently filed against Open Road Integrated Media, which is run by Friedman, in regard to Open Road's plan to release the ebook edition of "Julie of the Wolves." Open Road's COO Chris Davis responded to the suit:

    "It appears to us that HarperCollins is trying to intimidate authors, overturn established law and grab rights that were not in existence when the contracts were signed many years ago. We are confident that we will successfully defend authors' rights and we look forward to filing our response in court."

    Here's transactional and intellectual property attorney Dana Newman talking about digital rights issues at last year's Tools of Change for Publishers conference:

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    August 19 2011

    Publishing News: Amazon lands "4-Hour" author Timothy Ferriss

    Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news. (Note: Some of these stories were previously published on Radar.)

    Timothy Ferriss signs with Amazon Publishing to "redefine what is possible"

    AmazonLarry Kirshbaum is not sitting on his hands. Amazon hired Kirshbaum in May to head its New York operations and this week he signed his first best-selling author, Timothy Ferriss, and acquired rights to Ferriss' new book "The 4-Hour Chef."

    In Amazon's press release, Ferriss made it clear that he feels Amazon, as a publisher, has a better hold on digital publishing than its competitors:

    My decision to collaborate with Amazon Publishing wasn't just a question of which publisher to work with. It was a question of what future of publishing I want to embrace. My readers are migrating irreversibly into digital, and it made perfect sense to work with Amazon to try and redefine what is possible.

    A few feathers were ruffled by the announcement. As noted by The Guardian, Victoria Barnsley, chief executive at HarperCollins UK, voiced concerns over Amazon's aggressive moves into the publishing sector:

    Amazon's foray into book publishing ... is obviously a concern. They have very deep pockets and they are now a very, very powerful global competitor of ours ... They are very, very powerful now — in fact they are getting close to being in a sort of a monopolistic situation. They control over 90% of physical online market in UK and over 70% of the ebook market so that's a very, very powerful position to be in. So yes, it is a concern.

    Amazon will publish "The 4-Hour Chef" in April 2012.

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    RR Donnelley's latest acquisitions position it for digital success

    This week, publisher RR Donnelley acquired both LibreDigital and Sequence Personal. With these moves, RR Donnelley is doing something about the digital situation that so many bemoan — it's repositioning to give its customers what they want, how they want it. That's the root of what the publishing business is all about, after all.

    In a post at The Bookseller, novelist Kate Pullinger said, "I think the big publishers have got themselves into a difficult situation with the stranglehold that Amazon, Apple and Google have on bookselling currently." One could argue the situation is more disruptive than difficult. Instead of fighting against the stranglehold, perhaps it's better to focus on the unlimited potential the disruption brings. Embracing change might be more work than staying the course on a sinking ship, but the publishers who do — like RR Donnelley — will be the ones who remain in a position to succeed.

    The roles of advertising and sponsorship in the future of book publishing

    This segment was written by Joe Wikert

    Felix Salmon recently wrote an article talking about how the New York Times paywall is working because it's porous. He contrasts that to other paywalled sites that haven't enjoyed the same success as the Times. As I read Salmon's article I was thinking less about porous vs. rigid paywalls and more about DRM'd vs. DRM-free books.

    There are definitely some similarities here. At O'Reilly we believe in a DRM-free world because we trust our customers and we believe they value our content enough to pay for it rather than steal it. It would be naive of us to think this philosophy totally eliminates the illegal sharing of content though. We just happen to believe those situations shouldn't cause you to penalize all your customers. Shoplifting happens from time to time at your local grocery store but that doesn't mean the store manager should put everything under lock and key.

    But it was only when I read Fred Wilson's follow-up post to Salmon's article that I realized what other connection this has to book publishing: advertising, sponsorship and other revenue streams. As Fred points out, the Times doesn't necessarily have to charge for each online page view since they run ads on every page served.

    I'm not suggesting we can suddenly give away book content and make the exact same amount of revenue with advertisements. But what I am saying is that advertising and its close cousin, sponsorship (e.g., "This book brought to you in part by..."), can and will play a role in the future of book publishing. Every publisher won't necessarily experiment with that model, but many will.

    This story continues here.



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