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April 06 2012

Publishing News: A magazine platform, ala Netflix

Before we dip into the news that caught my eye this week, here's a thought-provoking excerpt from a new interview with Clay Shirky over at the blog:

"Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word 'publishing' means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That's not a job anymore. That's a button. There's a button that says 'publish,' and when you press it, it's done ... Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Now publishers are in the business not of overcoming scarcity but of manufacturing demand. And that means that almost all innovation in creation, consumption, distribution and use of text is coming from outside the traditional publishing industry." (Read the entire interview here.)

Now, here are a few stories that got my attention in the publishing space this week.

All-you-can-eat magazines

Ken Doctor over at Nieman Lab took a look at Next Issue, a newly launched Netflix-like magazine platform. He describes the venture:

"It offers single-priced, all-you-can-eat access to top-shelf magazines, including Time Inc's People, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and Time; Conde Nast's Vanity Fair, Allure, and Conde Nast Traveler; Hearst's Esquire and Popular Mechanics; and Meredith's Better Homes and Gardens and Fitness. Thirty-two magazines in total, at launch."

Though there is some comparison to be found between magazine and newspaper revenue losses in the digital era, as both so far have failed to fully embrace the web for profit, this platform appears to be disruptive in a big-picture fashion. As Doctor points out in the post, the big difference here with newspapers — and I might add book publishing houses — is the five big magazine companies that together own Next Issue (Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, and News Corp.) pooled their efforts to create the platform.

Doctor describes the pricing tiers and offers a nice analysis of how this endeavor might play out — it's well worth the read.

Also in magazine-related news, Zite is expanding its offerings, with the blessing and support of eight publishers (nine if you include its parent company CNN), with its new Publisher Program.

Tom Krazit at GigaOm took a look at the program and explains that though no money is changing hands, publishers will be allowed to place house ads at the bottoms of their sections linking readers back to their websites or apps. And though Zite initially had issues with publishers, the tension is waning. Krazit reports:

"... publishers are starting to realize that they can attract new readers through apps like Zite and build their brands, [said Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite] ... he said that content publishers have the same discoverability problem that small mobile developers have to confront, and that apps like Zite can drive traffic to those publishers that they wouldn't otherwise enjoy."

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Google's multifaceted ebook approach loses a facet

Google jostled indie booksellers again this week with an announcement that it will discontinue its ebook reseller program come January 2013. Scott Dougall, Google's director of product management for digital publishing, explains the situation in a blog post:

With the launch of Google eBooks in 2010, we introduced a multifaceted approach to selling ebooks: online, on devices, through affiliates and through resellers. One part of that effort — the reseller program — has not gained the traction that we hoped it would, so we have made the difficult decision to discontinue it by the end of January next year.

It's important to note that the separate affiliate program will not be affected. Jeannie Hornung, a spokesperson for Google, told Good E-Reader: "... booksellers will still be highlighted in the 'Buy this book' section of Google Book search, supported with our affiliate program and have access to free Books APIs."

Indies may not be left selling solo, however. American Booksellers Association (ABA) president Oren J. Teicher told The Next Web:

"... we have every confidence that, long before Google's reseller program is discontinued, ABA will be able to offer IndieCommerce users a new alternative e-book product, or choice of products, that will not only replace Google eBooks as it currently works on IndieCommerce sites, but that will be in many ways a better product."

The original letter the ABA sent to booksellers can be found here, and (hat tip to ShelfAwareness) the ABA is offering an FAQ about the situation.

People who e-read buy books

The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project released a new study report on ereading this week. The report findings show a marked increase in the number of people ereading:

"... some 43% of Americans age 16 and older say they have either read an e-book in the past year or have read other long-form content such as magazines, journals, and news articles in digital format on an e-book reader, tablet computer, regular computer, or cell phone."


Findings also show that by February 2012, 21% of adults in the U.S. had read an ebook in the past year — up from 17% in mid-December 2011.

And those numbers are likely to continue to rise in a steep incline. A post on the study over at Reuters notes that "Forrester, a consultancy, has forecast that nearly a quarter of Americans will own an e-book reader by 2016." The post notes Amazon's marketshare as well: "Online retailer Inc has about 65 percent of the e-book market, according to Cowen & Co estimates."

The Pew study, which was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, generally focused on reading behavior, both print and digital. And the news for publishers looks very positive on one front: According to the study, readers — especially ereaders — prefer to buy books:

  • A majority of print readers (54%) and readers of e-books (61%) prefer to purchase their own copies of these books.


And some stats for publishers afraid of losing sales via library card holders: 14% of readers reportedly borrowed the last book they read from a library — however, 12% of those who purchased their last read started their search at the library. You can find a nice selection of the study's library statistic highlights at INFOdocket.

One of the more surprising areas of the study looks at the devices on which people are reading. I found the percentages for computers and, in the U.S., for cell phones notable:

  • 42% of readers of e-books in the past 12 months said they consume their books on a computer.
  • 41% of readers of e-books consume their books on an e-book reader like original Kindles or Nooks.
  • 29% of readers of e-books consume their books on their cell phones.
  • 23% of readers of e-books consume their books on a tablet computer.

You can view the report in full here. Lee Rainie, the head of the Pew Internet Project, also will be the featured guest on today's Follow the Reader discussion on Twitter at 4 p.m. EST. You can join in at #followreader.


February 24 2012

Publishing News: IPG says "no" to Amazon's new terms

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

IPG stands up to Amazon

IPGlogo.pngThe Big Six aren't the only ones concerned about Amazon's growing hold on the publishing industry. This week, the Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the second largest independent book distributor for small, indie, and mid-size press titles, started pushing back. On Tuesday, IPG president Mark Suchomel sent a note to the company's distribution clients announcing that Amazon failed to renew IPG's agreement to sell Kindle titles of its books. As Suchomel explained in the memo (which can be found in full at PaidContent):

"As of today, the website no longer offers for sale any electronic titles from any of IPG's client publishers ... As has been publicly reported, is putting pressure on publishers and distributors to change their terms for electronic and print books to be more favorable toward Amazon. Our electronic book agreement recently came up for renewal, and Amazon took the opportunity to propose new terms for electronic and print purchases that would have substantially changed your revenue from the sale of both. It's obvious that publishers can't continue to agree to terms that increasingly reduce already narrow margins. I have spoken directly with many of our clients and every one of them agrees that we need to hold firm with the terms we now offer."

Melville House reported Wednesday that Amazon pulled the "Buy" buttons for all IPG Kindle titles — 4,443 according to the New York Times, as the post noted — "because IPG could not accept Amazon's new demands." The Melville post has a nice roundup of the story coverage and noted one of the larger underlying issues:

"These are the kinds of companies that don't have the resources to absorb something like this so easily. They will be more damaged, more deeply endangered, than a Big Sixer could have imagined. There's every likelihood that some of those little publishers sell most of their books on Amazon. This could put them out of business."

This could put them out of business, or force the small publishers to work directly with Amazon. The Melville post also suggests the situation may be an instance of Amazon sending a message to the Big Six and that things may be coming to a head: "There is in any event no question that this is a critical moment between the big houses and the monopolistic retailer."

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The battle to democratize the ereader continues

NookLogoOn the heels of an increase in sales, Barnes & Noble turned up the heat in the ereader battle, launching an 8GB Nook tablet for $199 and lowering the price of the Nook Color to $169. In a press release, William Lynch, chief executive officer of B&N, stated, "In the third quarter, our traffic and sales in stores were the highest we've seen in five years." According to the release:

"The consolidated NOOK business across all of the company's segments, including sales of digital content, device hardware and related accessories, increased 38% during the third quarter to $542 million, on a comparable sales basis. NOOK unit sales, including NOOK Simple Touch™, NOOK Color™ and the new NOOK Tablet, increased 64% during the third quarter as compared to the same period last year. Digital content sales increased 85% on a comparable basis."

B&N includes apps, newsstand and book sales in its digital content category. Reuters reported that "the Nook business is expected to generate $1.5 billion in the fiscal year ending in April."

The Nook line acquired a new sales outlet this week as well, as Office Depot announced Thursday that it would sell the devices, joining the likes of Target, Walmart and Staples.

Brick & mortar has come full-cycle: We're back to the indies

Novelist Ann Patchett appeared on "The Colbert Report" this week. She was introduced by Colbert as "an author who is working to save independent bookstores," at which point Colbert quipped, "Independent bookstores! I should buy one of those on Amazon." The five-and-a-half-minute segment was funny, of course, but Patchett recently opened Parnassus Books, a brick-and-mortar bookstore in her hometown of Nashville, and had a few interesting comments as to why she did this and why she thinks brick-and-mortar has a future:

"We had two huge bookstores [in Nashville], both over 30,000 square feet, one an independent, one a Borders — they both closed. Suddenly, I'm living in a town with no bookstore ... both of those stores were profitable every month they were open; they closed at corporate levels, so they had larger issues ... We've had the cycle: Little bookstore does well; it gets bigger. Crushed by the superstore — Barnes & Noble, Borders chains. They were then crushed by Amazon, and now we've cycled all the way back. Suddenly, people are saying, 'I want to have a place to take my kids for story hour on Saturday; I want to have a place to go to a book club or see an author read'."

Colbert also addressed the issues of discovery and of opting to shop at a bookstore versus the convenience of buying on the Internet.

You can view the entire segment in the following video.


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