News items pointing to a different model for book publishing

Individually recent news clippings might not mean much to an author. Taken together, there is an unmistakable pattern. The times are a-changing, and we’re getting glimpses of what’s in store — and how to take advantage of this.

R.R. Bowker, the company in the USA responsible for issuing and tracking International Standardized Book Numbers [ISBNs] announced that in 2007, some 411,422 books were published in that country. Not that many new titles were launched because an ISBN is assigned to each edition. So a title might have a hardcover edition, paperback edition and mass market edition, each with its own ISBN. About one-third of the ISBNs (134,773) were for new print-on-demand (POD) produced titles. [Wow -- that's a huge increase since I published the very first ever POD title in 1995 when founding Trafford Publishing.] Overall, the number of new books published each year has increased by 66% over 5 years.
What isn’t counted in the 411,422 are the eBook and audio book editions — add those in and I’ll bet the consumer (and retailer) is faced with choosing between over one half million new editions per year now. And that’s just the USA’s output.
What’s this telling us? There is more competition every day, so it is harder to get your story publicized. There are also more editions — publishers are electing to offer multiple methods to sell the same content, instead of focusing solely on a hardcover edition — this is what I refer to as the “multiple long tails” strategy.

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LibreDigital has a new partnership with OverDrive. LibreDigital provides a service for publishers whereby book content is displayed and repackaged and marketed in a variety of ways, through a variety of retail channels. The term for this service is “digital content aggregation”. OverDrive has established eBook sales relationships with over 7,500 libraries and retailers — LibreDigital’s publisher clients can now access OverDrive’s distribution channels.
What’s this telling us? Again, this is taking content and feeding it into multiple long tail channels.

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Microsoft has abandoned its Live Search Books program after dumping tens of millions of dollars into scanning tens of thousands of printed books. This program was Microsoft’s direct competition to Google’s Book Search.
Of note: Ingram Digital (which was doing the scanning of printed books under contract to Microsoft) is hoping to gather up publishers who participated in Live Search Books, signing them to Ingram’s own evolving digital content aggregator offerings. Ingram Digital is jockeying to become a one-stop portal for publishers to eBook and POD sales channels, and multiple publicity mechanisms (including Ingram’s own Search and Discover platform).
What’s this telling us? Even Microsoft, with its deep pockets, needs to pay attention to what is economically viable. It had no revenue stream attached to this ambitious undertaking.

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Publishers Weekly reports that:

eMusic.com has added about 500 DRM-free digital audiobooks to its selection from nine new publishers including Simon & Schuster, Hay House and BBC Audiobooks UK. Another 500 are coming soon. eMusic currently has an inventory of about 2,500 audiobooks; it is selling approximately 13,000 titles a month without DRM protection. Among its publishers is Random House which is expected to add another 3,000 titles shortly.

What’s this telling us? Digital Rights Management [DRM] has essentially been abandoned by the major book publishers, who are anxious to build new revenue sources. Is 13,000 titles per month a lot? Likely that is about $130,000 per month or under $2 million per year in gross sales — a drop in the bucket when royalties are split between all those publishers. Audiobook sales in MP3 format are growing fast, but they are not “there” yet. For an independent author, this illustrates where the market is headed, especially when cell phones get cheaper data transmission rates (coming soon).

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Harlequin Romance is steaming ahead with eBook production and other digital promotions — with some success in sales. Check out an interview of Harlequin’s Malle valik on CBC Sparks with Nora Young:

http://www.cbc.ca/spark/blog/2008/05/full_interview_malle_valik_on.html

Penguin (according to Publishers Weekly) has reported that e-book sales from the first four months of 2008 have surpassed the house’s total e-book sales for all of last year. According to the publisher, the spike is “more than five times the overall growth in sales, year-on-year, through April 2008.” Penguin Group CEO David Shanks said he attributed the jump, in large part, to the growing popularity of e-book readers.
What’s this telling us? eBooks are coming on stream quickly. Watch for ever-increasing sales across all retailers as cell phones become better eBook readers with larger screens. Authors: get your content into eBook format!

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New York Times stories report that Sony Music is trying to squeeze about $1 million per year in revenue from sales of old photos. In this business environment, “every million counts.” Warner Records is doing the same with their archival photos. Sony’s John Ingrassia said, “The difficulties in the business have opened people’s eyes to things we didn’t consider doing.” Universal Classics, a jazz label faced with drastically reduced sales of its CDs, is diversifying into managing artists and their tours.
What’s this telling us? The book industry is only a few years behind the recording business in terms of impacts from new technology (i.e. people buying — or pirating — music as MP3 downloads, instead of buying CDs). See these music giants squirming to cut costs and find new revenue sources. Changes are already starting with the biggest book publishing companies. Action generally comes after the denial stage. One top Canadian government official, who shall remain nameless, told me she met recently with the top people at all of Canada’s largest book publishing companies, and had never seen a group of business people who looked so scared about the future. Let’s hope they can agree to stop selling books on a returnable basis — and save an ailing industry billions each year.

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There’s a great article on NPR in the USA about Hachette’s new imprint called simple “12″ — as in publishing just twelve new titles each year. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18664871
“Nobody has any idea what’s going to hit. I think that publishing is basically a corporate form of legalized gambling,” says Jonathan Karp, publisher and editor in chief of Twelve.
Karp’s team is bucking the traditional shotgun approach, to instead focus on quality and publicizing fewer titles (“think quality, not quantity”). Their publicist can now concentrate on promoting one title instead of 6 or more at a time.
What’s this telling us? For your own book, you’d be wise to focus on the QUALITY of writing, editing and design — and then hone your marketing. Add in a multiple long tails approach to sales and promotions, and you will be where the industry is going to be (not trying to emulate where it was and can no longer stay).

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thanks for sending me your thoughts,

Bruce Batchelor, Agio Publishing House

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