Tag Archives: eBooks

Publishing houses: closed for business

Over the past few months there have  been many articles written about the closure of bookshops across the country. What hasn’t been reported as much is the closure of publishers. The Guardian recently reported, that 98 UK-based publishers have gone out of business over the past year, which is 42% more than the year previous. And it is not just book publishers which have been closing, but newspaper, journals, periodical and directory publishers have also closed down over the past year.

It is thought that with pressure from the internet and online retailers such as Amazon, independent publishers in particular are struggling to make profits as margins are made smaller to compete with discounting on books. Digital piracy is also a problem for publishers, as well as being able to locate secondhand books at the click of a button. It is this latter issue which has threatened niche academic and educational publishers. Sites such as Amazon Marketplace has made it much easier for people to get their hands on textbooks, for example, and whilst this may be good news for students, it is not so great for the publishers who do not receive anything.

These statistics outline one of the main causes of publishing house closures:

Growth in sales of ebooks, whose average price is £3 or less, compared with £5.50 for a paperback, has also undermined publishers’ margins. UK consumer ebook sales rose by 134% to £216m in 2012, while print sales fell by 1% to £2.9bn, meaning that consumer ebook sales now represent 7.4% of book publishers’ total sales, according to the UK Publishers Association.

From these figures, it clearly shows that ebooks are only accounting for around 7% of book publishers’ sales. When you compare £216 million ebook sales to £2.9 billion print book sales, I think it’s safe to say that print is still the alpha male in this industry.

Although it still doesn’t stop the fact that many businesses are closing, including the Evans Brothers (the publisher who published Enid Blyton’s works 1930-1960). It is also suggested that one of the other reasons for publishing houses closing is due to the end of the Net Book Agreement in 1997 (an arrangement first established in 1899 which allowed publishers to set a fixed retail price for their books and thereby refused to sell stock to retailers who discounted their products). A couple of years ago, The Guardian wrote that it was time to bring back the Net Book Agreement.  While this is a point to consider, it is difficult to suggest what is best for the industry, as bringing it back would mean consequences to booksellers, for example. These vicious circles of possibilities and events revolve around the fact that change is sadly inevitable. We are still in a time where change is continuous and where it can also be a good thing. It’s just knowing how to adapt to change that businesses must bear in mind in this day and age.

Kindle Matchbook: is Amazon’s brand new programme another blow to booksellers?

Amazon is launching a new scheme which could potentially pose yet another threat to other booksellers. IPG’s Children’s Publisher of the Year award winner, Nosy Crow, posted an article on their blog today, informing people of the internet of Amazon’s latest programme: Kindle Matchbook.

The new programme will only be available for customers in the USA and will allow customers to purchase former print purchases, but in ebook form for a reduced price of $2.99, $1.99, $0.99 or for free.

Whilst this will undoubtedly be great for those avid Amazon regulars, Tom at Nosy Crow commented on the fact that ebooks will be devalued as a result and we shall return to past arguments that consumers will come to expect books (whether ‘e’ or print form) to be low in price, thus they will be less inclined to buy books at a greater price from their local bookseller on the high street. On the other hand, the question of whether customers will want to buy another copy of a book which they already have is debatable. In addition, Nosy Crow’s blog article speculates the fact that consumers will be more likely to buy print books from Amazon so they can get the ebook version at a cheaper rate (or in some cases, for free); however, surely Amazon will be selling their products at a loss rather than at a profit (which of course then makes less of a profit for publishers).

The main question is: how will this affect mortar-and-bricks booksellers (or other online retailers for that matter)?

Certainly, it is apparent that booksellers are changing the way they practice bookselling to stay in touch with its customers. And in comparison with Amazon, it is without a doubt that they offer a greater service to customers. A knowledgeable and enthusiastic sales assistant in a bookshop is by far better than a pop-up post on a website. As Nosy Crow’s post suggests: mortar-and-bricks retailers’ main products are print books, whereas retailers such as Amazon are trying to make ebooks their greatest product; therefore if booksellers were to introduce a programme or scheme equivalent to Kindle Matchbook, booksellers technically would not make a loss, as their main sellers are physical books.

Looking at the positive side, I think it can definitely be assumed that Amazon’s new venture will provide booksellers with an opportunity to develop further and therefore create an ever better experience for its customers. Yes, it is a shame that bookshops are having to drastically adapt and change to stay alive in the current industry, but publishing as a whole is not the only industry changing out there. In addition, the programme does specify that it is only available in the USA at the moment. In a way, it can be said that this gives British booksellers an advantage (and a head start)! Game on, is what I say!

A ‘digital-first’ future for publishing?

Whilst carrying out my regular scouring of the internet for anything publishing related, I came across the term digital-first. On looking more into the term, it appears that many publishers are looking to release new titles in digital format only, in order to predict as to whether the book can sell well in print format. Some of the first publishers to trial this new concept are HarperCollins and Harlequin.

The former announced earlier this year that mystery line, Witness Impulse, would be one of the first lines which the publisher would release digital-first. The first ten titles shall be released in October under the imprint, William Morrow.

Dan Mallory, the man behind the line noted that digital-first publishing was the most effective way to market unknown books and authors. He also highlighted that the launch involved libraries as they aim to deliver titles through ebook loans. Shawn Nicholls, marketing director for Impulse (an imprint of Morrow), mentioned that digital-first is ‘part of a larger branding campaign to build sales for midlist authors overall and to help readers discover’.

As  my previous blog entry suggests, discovering books through digital formats, i.e. the internet in particular, will become easier with apps such as BookVibe. Integration with digital is increasingly becoming a part of everybody’s daily life. Should ‘digital-first’ be embraced by more publishers in the future, it can be suggested that browsing for books online will become easier. (Now don’t even get me started on what this will mean for bricks-and-mortar booksellers!)

‘Internet English’ destroying language?

The Guardian published an article today which piqued my interest. It posed the question: Is internet English debasing the language?

It got me thinking that with the evolution in internet technology constantly changing, what does this mean for the English language and is it being devalued as a result? And with the digital era in publishing, does this also devalue the English language in e-publications?

Robert McCrum, former editor-in-chief at Faber & Faber and current associate editor for The Observer, stated his concern over ‘the abuse and impoverishment of English online’ and what he perceives as ‘the overall crassness of English prose in the age of global communications (being blogs, emails, etc.)’

He did also mention the fact that depending on various websites and blogs, there is bad and very good writing all over the web. McCrum stated that ‘there’s just more writing at all levels of quality’. It can be argued that more people have access to the internet in this day and age and people are communicating through a multitude of mediums, therefore English is likely to be written in different levels of quality. With social media having a vast presence on the internet, today, and different generations using the sites, the quality of English language will undoubtedly vary. Take Twitter, for example. Twitter users base their entire communication messages on 140 characters or less, therefore creating a different level of English, for example, some people may choose to use ‘text’ language in which to get their full message across.

It has already been seen with the rise of ebook technology, that some ebooks may be published with grammatical errors which poses the question as to whether the English language is devalued in e-publications. There is no denying the surge in ebooks being published over the past year, and particularly with the many options available for people to self-publish their works, the quality of what is being published may not be to as high a standard as ebooks which might have been published by a publisher. In addition, many academic publishers are enhancing people’s access to journals through online access, and with the introduction of Open Access, does this mean that the English language could be devalued? In particular for academic publishers, I feel that the standard of publishing is too high for it to be thwarted by the internet.

So, as publishers continue to adapt to the digital age, it will be interesting to see how ‘internet English’ will continue to change the way in which we write over all aspects of the internet.

Do you think ‘internet English’ is destroying language?

Another article which may be of interest: George Orwell’s critique of internet English

The cost of browsing

I just listened to a really interesting podcast from 7 February 2013 on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Bottom Line page about the digital revolution’s impact on the book trade. It featured Jonny Geller (Curtis Brown), Victoria Barnsley (HarperCollins) and Michael Tamblyn (Kobo).

One of the main discussions from this podcast was discussed in an article on The Bookseller‘s website: ‘Barnsley: bookshops could charge for browsing

An intriguing concept to consider – paying to browse around a book shop? Barnsley stated in the podcast that Barnes and Noble gave a recent statistic that 40% of their customers merely use the store as a place to browse before going home and ordering what they wanted online. So, in theory charging people to browse would be a great way for a bricks-and-mortar business to benefit in the current revolution where e-retailers rule. I can see how it would be great for bookshops, particularly if in the current economic climate it would be the line between a bookshop staying open or closing down. Certainly, I think the high street needs bookshops, whether they are small independents or national companies such as Waterstones.

I agree with Barnsley in the podcast where she states that we still need physical bookshops to discover. As well as this, I have to admit that I am one of those people who actually enjoys looking around a book shops: the smell of books, the look of crisp and new books and lined up along the shelves, the feeling of being surrounded by some of the greatest written works of all time and the prospect of being surrounded by academic works published by some of the most influential and respected publishers from around the world. The thought of paying to even look around a bookshop is a sad concept.

The Bookseller‘s article points out the fact that only 35% of fiction books in the UK are bought from a physical bookshop. With this pressure on booksellers, Barnsley says that the concept of charging to browse is not such a crazy idea in the current economic climate. Personally I feel that if booksellers have to resort to this in order to survive then they will have to, but I will not deny that it would be a sad day should the day come.

Listen to the podcast in full.

Controversy over the 20p ebook

When I saw an article on The Bookseller‘s website about the 20p ebook promotion, I immediately wondered what ebook sellers were aiming to achieve by pricing ebooks at such a low price.

According to ‘The Digital Reader’, publishers have stated that the low price has devalued the ebook and as a result the consumer will come to expect this low price permanently. However Peter Shea, the digital manager for Sony Digital Reading services affirms that ‘it is not the new price of the ebook and is merely a discount in which customers can enjoy for the time being.’

Meanwhile Nick Harkaway states on a FutureBook post that publishing houses have advanced to cater for the massive change in the industry and these changes are still going unnoticed with ‘absurd’ ebook pricing and the quality of the ebook itself being poorly presented.

It can also be observed that these 20p ebooks are keeping potential new releases that would be bestsellers off the top spot as observed in The Bookseller‘s article a couple of days ago.

Whilst I think this is a great way in which to introduce the consumer to the ebook, I do believe it could prove damaging to the industry should it continue. For a start, the publisher would no doubt receive less profit for its sales and as Peter Shea rightly said, consumers could come to expect this discounted price all the time which could create a decline in ebook sales once the prices are altered.

Waterstones and Amazon collaboration: A good idea?

Waterstones and Amazon collaboration: A good idea?

For one of our first lectures on my Publishing course, we were asked to go into Waterstones (or a book shop) and observe the way in which it is laid out.

Needing no excuse to have a look around, I started on the ground floor and noticed the stand quite near to the entrance with Kindles on it. I remember reading an article in The Guardian earlier in the year about the deal between Waterstones and Amazon. Reading the article, I found myself agreeing with Philip Downer who states: ‘Waterstones falling into the arms of Amazon feels like a victory for Amazon’. Surely Waterstones are playing a dangerous game teaming up with one of their competitors?

It certainly marks a new way of shopping for books. One commentor (MatGreenfield, 21 May 2012) on the article has suggested that when customers buy a book, you can also get the digital copy to go with it which would be a great way to introduce people to the ebook market.

The risk of pushing people away from print is a danger, however. The future seems uncertain for Waterstones, and with the launch of the Kindle Fire being advertised in the store, it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to it.