First you strategically position your pieces…

Some months ago I used this recording of a scene from Independence Day to refer to Amazon’s moves into publishing. It would seem that Forbes thinks Amazon has been playing a very long game. An excellent article and while I’m not totally convinced of their infallibility  I’m sure that Amazon is absolutely thinking several moves ahead. 2012 is going to be a very interesting year. (Hat tip to Eoin Purcell)


Twas the Thursday before Christmas

And frankly I’m all tuckered out. It’s been a long year and I share Charlie Brooker’s view of 2011. I’m only hoping that the season opener doesn’t involve North Korea in any dramatic way whatsoever. Because there’s only one way to write that episode.

For a little recuperation I’m going to pop myself off the grid for a week or so and read some books and maybe even do some offline writing myself. Its lovely and summery here in Christchurch and I’m  looking forward to recharging the batteries in the sunshine. As a final round-up take a look at Robert McCrum’s 50 things he’s learned about the literary life.

Its been a really interesting experience writing this blog these past few months and I’d like to thank you for reading it. I hope some of what I’ve written has been useful or interesting to you. For me, the act of writing has been enormously useful in itself and is certainly helping me shape my thinking better.  While I don’t think I’m quite there with this blog yet, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve been inspired by paying really close attention to the wealth of interesting thinking across the book world this year. So I’ll be pondering how to improve things over the holidays and I’m keen to make it way better in 2012. And I have no doubt that 2012 will, for the book world at least, be no less eventful.

Take it steady, enjoy the holidays and see you in a few days.

Friday round-up

Lots of interesting things around today but only time for a very quick round-up.

This presentation, from the Economist is really interesting, partially because I recognise in its insights a great deal of my own change in behaviour as a reader, but also because its taking the nature of reader demand really seriously. I think that as publishing starts to fully inhabit a digital approach it will ease back in thinking about digital technology and look much more energetically at how to understand, interact with and reach readers. The truly interesting thing is what this medium does to the behaviour of readers and this ‘Lean Back’ concept is an interesting way of exploring that avenue. And it looks like the flexibility of tablet/smartphone technology is opening up some really interesting opportunities for a much more varied range of reading options.

The Amazon price comparison lash, backlash and counter backlash continues. My view being that price competition, if you decide to use it fulsomely, will inevitably lead you to run such promotions and that ultimately this is in many ways only a supercharged techie version of the (more genteely delivered) John Lewis price promise, ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. Yes it can be seen as bad sportsmanship but then again others will see that as playing to win and as can be seen from this press release Amazon is absolutely in the game to win. Next year will be pivotal.

‘We’re not shocked, just dissapointed’ The ABA strikes back

The ABA’s Oren Teicher hits back at Amazon’s $5 bounty move:

We could call your $5 bounty to app-users a cheesy marketing move and leave it at that. In fact, it is the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries.

Full letter here.

Still not cricket.

Through the keyhole

At this time of year, I tend to get a bit more homesick than usual. There is much to miss in personal terms but professionally, I’ve always loved the exhausting cut and thrust of the book trade at Christmas. So watching the Futurebook conference through the keyhole of twitter made me wish I was in London to experience it. While twitter is great for capturing the headlines, I would love to have seen and heard more of the meat of the discussion.

One element from the reports that has leapt out for me is how publishers are now defining themselves. Dominique Raccah from Sourcebooks says that ‘we are no longer a book publisher, we are a publisher’. Stephen Page from Faber went further saying that they are now a business ‘about reading and writing’. This second formulation interests me greatly. I like it because it maintains a continuity with the past, (in my opinion, good publishers have always been in the ‘enhancing the writing and encouraging the reading’ business as opposed to the ‘making paper things’ business), but it allows scope to widen and develop that concept.

This is, I think, an enormously liberating moment for the talented people in publishing businesses to unleash some new ideas that connect writer and reader. If we’ve always been in that business, why not find new ways to excel at it?

Phil Downer from Front of Store was there and he reports here. One further link to share from Michael Wolf at Gigaom. The pace of change would appear to be accelerating.

Love actually

What I find most interesting about James Daunt’s Independent interview is the real bookshop versus internet behemoth narrative. He chose, I’m sure deliberately, to set his comments almost as if it were a morality play with Waterstones as David, Amazon as Goliath. Now of course morality doesn’t really enter into it because neither company is good or bad, they’re just economic actors trying to secure customers.

Over the past decade Amazon has quietly played its hand brilliantly and positioned itself astutely in first the bookselling and now the publishing arena. It has developed a situation (in no small degree through its own action) where the momentum of the market now lies almost overwhelmingly to its advantage. It spotted the digital zeitgeist and has exploited its insights to huge effect.

The crucial step it took was right at the beginning, it seduced its customers and delivered to them with maximum efficiency with a year in, year out consistency at a handy price. So to change the narrative, this has been more about love than morality and Amazon has been an attentive lover, who never forgets a birthday or Christmas.

Waterstone’s is now trying to re-position itself to its core market and I suspect that the purpose of Daunt’s remarks is add a little tribalism back into the Waterstones culture by clearly identifying the target of their endeavour, the ‘serious reader’. These were, of course, Waterstone’s first loves upon which was built the original brand (the romantically described ‘inner-directed heavy book buyer’ as they were known in the mid nineties). It may well be the most effective strategy on offer to them and much as Waterstone’s has tried to appeal to a wider market, it has never felt like a brand designed to do that.

I’m all for a bit of tribalism in a company, it makes you realise that it has a culture and a set of values common to the entire organisation. I also suspect that there may be a touch of the Alex Ferguson brand of gamesmanship in James Daunt, stirring the troops and the pot. He clearly knows how to use publicity to support a brand image and most of the interview demonstrates that he has an instinctive understanding of how to play to an upmarket and locally driven clientele. Creating a kind of insurgent narrative about the enterprise is probably no bad place to begin in terms of winning back a place in the hearts of your customers.

My hunch though is that Amazon successfully wooed this segment long ago and has had a decade to cement its position in Waterstone’s old heartland. It’s infinite, consistent and convenient offer will be hard to beat. So if it is to recapture its once native ground, Waterstone’s will have to re-learn the art of seducing its customers, on price, range, service and even more importantly, sheer coolness. Relying on telling them that they ‘should’ may just simply get a ‘they’re just not that into you’.

Also on this, the technology editor at the Telegraph pushes back and you can see a number of comments over at the Bookseller site.

Update: Having said all that, I’m not sure that this is really cricket.