Opening salvoes

Am still busy with this:

And this:

But audits and house moves aside there’s too much going on today not to comment a little. And of course it’s all about Amazon, Apple and agency. Ostensibly this is an anti-trust case focused on the agency sales model implemented by Apple and the 5 main US publishers.  But the stakes are what make the case really important. And what is at stake is the future no less of the book industry eco-system itself.

With bricks and mortar book retail declining rapidly in influence and Amazon’s market share now becoming pivotal, it may be that High Noon is approaching. If the US Department of Justice wins its case then the reputational and commercial damage to publishing could mark a seismic shift in the industry that places Amazon firmly in the driving seat.

So here’s a quick round-up of the issues and the responses. First an excellent precis of the issue from Laura Hazard Owen at Paid Content. John Sargent CEO of Macmillan responds here and John Makinson of Penguin here. A copy of the filing can be found here, and this is a good analysis of it from Philip Jones at The Bookseller.

In the UK, in the light of this Guardian story about Amazon’s tax status, former Ottakars chief James Heneage warns against a dominant Amazon and is joined by Tim Waterstone who piles on here.

As Eoin Purcell notes this is going to be really interesting.


Moving house and other blog impediments

I meant to be on blog way more this week but we’re moving house next weekend (5th time in five years, so weirdly used to it) and I’m busy with the BC annual audit. So very light posting till after that. Have been working on the author post though and I think I have a good idea of the ground I want to cover.

Until then, Happy Easter

Mood music

If its true that we’ve never read so much about writing, then it’s certainly true that we’ve never read so much about publishing. And certainly never so much about alternatives to publishing.
I’ve been thinking about a post on the status of authors, and in doing so I’ve found it hugely interesting to take a look at some of the ways writers (both famous and not) are now perceiving the industry. Now of course this is hardly a comprehensive survey but the volume of criticism of publishers does seem to be rising as the apparent opportunities to publish outside of the conventional channels increase.

So over the past couple of months I’ve collected some instances of these critical voices and I’m posting a couple of the more interesting examples here. My intention is to tease out and examine some of the recurring themes and perhaps to contribute something positive to the debate.Firstly, Andrew Sullivan, on quality control, marketing, timeliness and the potential of the future.

Ask Me Anything: What Do I think of the Book Industry?(VIDEO)Secondly some further views from author-readers of the Dish on the perils of selection, acquisition and, importantly, how we replay publishing decisions to authors.

Thirdly, the very successfully self-published Joe Konrath, nemesis of ‘legacy’ publishers, lets fly.

It’s difficult to know how representative these views are of authors in general, but there is undoubtedly a challenge. The digital revolution has clearly changed the dynamics of the author/publisher relationship.

But does this mean that the union of publishing and authors is coming to an end?

Agent Jonny Geller contributed this piece in a recent edition of the Bookseller and Hachette, as seen in this document has articulated its approach. But is it enough?

Read/view them and see what you think. I have some thoughts I’d like to share on the subject next week.

Amazon indomitable?

A quickfire post. I spent an hour yesterday at a literary festival session entitled ‘Are we the last real book readers?’. One of the contributors asked: ‘Have you ever read so much about reading?’. Quite.

Now here’s some more. Rightly the sites following the progress of the book industry are alight with the news of the US Department of Justice investigation into price fixing through the agency agreements. Good articles here at Paid Content and here at the Atlantic.

I need a little more time to think about this, but my feeling is that this is not a simple choice between price fixing or free markets. This is a matter of an entire book ecosystem that is far more fragile than we may realise even now.

But it would seem that not everyone goes along with the genius of Amazon’s business model. An interesting contra take from @firstadopter who questions the underpinning financial model of their shipping business and their digital positioning. I seem to remember that Jason Epstein in his The Book Business raised questions as to the viability of the maths of mail order bookselling. I must dig it out and see if it corresponds to @firstadopter’s critique. The article is worth reading and checking. given the amount of resource it must have required to penetrate the market thus far, it is not inconceivable that Amazon might overeach. To be watched.

I do agree with @firstadopter’s views on the Kindle Fire and ereaders in general. I’d like a dedicated ereader, but I don’t need one. I’m sure its a better reading experience but the iPad is a more than good enough reader (as is my phone) and it does way more. If I’m slimming down my life for convenience why do I need yet another gadget and its accoutrements? And the iPad has set the bar for the experience, why would I want a poor cousin?

The big threat perhaps is not ereaders but the fact that if I have a gadget that combines music, film and books then I will be tempted sorely to get my fix of story from some other medium entirely. We might read less because its handier, easier and (in some senses at least) richer to watch and listen.

(Hat-tip to Joe Esposito for the cue-in on the @firstadopter article)

Flashlight: Strobing the Book World #9

Still busy and thinking through my ‘authors’ post, but there’s a good deal going on that warrants comment albeit by necessity too briefly.

First up, I think this potential alliance between Barnes and Noble and Waterstones to internationalise the Nook is very exciting. Amazon will be tough to beat and Kobo have done some smart work as the insurgent start-up but to make this market work and continue the innovation there’s got to be more players in the game. Elsewhere you can see Eoin Purcell’s take on Barnes and Noble’s corporate culture here (with the NYT article he references here). The American Editor blog volunteers an idea about franchising the B&N brand (and idea I’d be very wary of, brand dilution alert). I suspect B&N (with added Waterstones?) vs Amazon will be a major theme for 2012. Update: even more on B&N. (HT Graham Beattie.)

The ebook reader advance looks to have moved forward substantially again over the Christmas period though perhaps not quite as quickly as was imagined before Christmas. Mike Shatzkin looks at some of the initial data. PW looks at the adoption of ereaders here and the rapid advance of the Kindle Fire here. Six million units sold in the final quarter of 2011. As I said, tough to beat.

Finally, I retweeted this over the holidays, but reading it again there’s much food for thought in an article by Stephen Page on the Guardian that looks at the history of publishing and segues that into a view of the future for 2012. Two money quotes:

There’s a riot of cross-dressing going on; a scramble as roles are redefined by usefulness, not legacy.


The demonstrable creation of value and the fair sharing of it. Publishers exist to create value and audience for writers, and this needs to be at the centre of all publishing endeavours.

Which will lead me on nicely to a future post.

‘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.

‘a high wall is nothing to a man who can fly’

And here are two more articles just to continue today’s theme:

Joe Esposito on what the fall of Borders can tell you about the world of business relationships (they are way more transient than you should ever assume). And Mike Shatzkin with his, as usual well-informed, take on the Makinson interview.