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)


‘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.

Flashlight: Strobing the book world #8

So post Frankfurt two articles have caught my eye and both are, I’m sorry to say, not too sunny. The exact nature of the future is always hard to predict, but I think its safe to say that while the world in general is in economic and political turmoil, the book industry has its own localised maelstrom fully underway. The next year, I am certain, will be very interesting and highly disruptive.

So our two heralds are Eoin Purcell, whose excellent blog and twitter feed are well worth following. His article is a dissection of what he believes to be the three choices now open to bookshops. Its a bleak analysis, but I suspect he’s right.

The second is the New York Times with this article that outlines Amazon’s growing presence as a publisher. I have no doubt that Amazon will push really hard into this arena and their muscle and control of their channel will make them very powerful very quickly. In some ways it is part of the general trend to close the gap between writer and reader, that may lead to a host of new business models emerging. However the author quoted at the close expressed an age-old sentiment:

“My hope is Amazon will think it’s wonderful and we’ll go happily off into the publishing sunset,”

Delete Amazon, insert publisher name of choice. In the end all writers want a home from which their books will be birthed and launched and that will ensure that their books are read. I suspect Amazon will be no more successful at that than anyone else.

Worth also taking a look at Phil Downer’s Frankfurt presentation and I hope Jurgen Boos is right. At least about the experimentation and potential for start up businesses.

Finally, this is a really nice piece from author Damon Young about his relationship to reading in print and digitally. From the Australian magazine Meanjin.

Flashlight: Strobing the book world # 5

I’ve got a rather full agenda at present. There’s suddenly a lot to think about in all sorts of ways and while a lot of it should be on the blog, I’m a bit pushed for time to think and write.  Here in the interim are some of the things that I’ve been been looking at this past week.

Not a lot to say on the demise of Waterstone’s 3 for 2 promotion largely because it is just the retirement of a promotional tactic and not the fall of the Roman Empire. The fact though that it caused so much ink to be spilled is in itself a telling comment on how important this simple pricing mechanic had become to the perception of the Waterstone’s brand.

Critics of the move are absolutely right to point out that it will have an impact on sales but I think the point has been missed that what we are seeing is not just a shift in promotional strategy but a deliberate alteration of their brand positioning. Clearly this is an attempt to move away from a value-led proposition to a more value-added proposition. I have no idea whether this will work because I can’t yet see what the full shape of what that new offer will look like. Obviously this is risky but while the sales impact may well hurt, if Waterstone’s is successful in redefining its territory, it may pay off. We watch with interest.

James Bradley is an Australian novelist who has written a very thoughtful, considered response to Ewan Morrison’s Edinburgh Festival lecture. Absolutely a must read. As is his book The Resurrectionist I might add.

Faber and Faber partnering with Perseus is highly interesting news, marking as it does, the evolution of Faber’s business model towards an offering that supports the business of publishing in tandem with the publishing itself.

Alan Cooper gives a new view of how the local bookshop might reinvent itself.

Paul Carr cuts up rough with Graham Swift on the remuneration of authors.

And who could forget its Booker Shortlist day. Very interesting list it is too. Have absolutely no idea which book will win.

Lastly I really enjoyed watching the Twitter feed from last week’s #Bookcampaus run during the Melbourne literary festival by If:Book Australia. Great idea and surprising how much inspiration you can get from 140 characters at a range of over 2500kms. I also enjoyed this lecture by If:Book’s Chief Executive Kate Eltham.

Flashlight: Strobing the book world # 4

It’s definitely an interesting newsday in the book world.

Kicking off with this article by Ewan Morrison from the Edinburgh Book Festival via the Guardian. It’s an excellent, though very bleak, article that I need to digest some more before commenting on properly.

I’m interested in this piece which looks at the possible entry of some unusual players into the book market. No doubt many non-traditional players will seek to enhance the offer to their customers through selling content actively, but the fact that there might be some increased competition to Amazon in the UK is highly significant. I also think it interesting that Argos would consider developing a reading device, which in terms of their product range would be a much easier sales proposition for them than ebooks themselves.

This piece from Philip Jones is good, both for its observation that the tenor of the publishing/bookselling debate is still worryingly defensive in character and for invoking Douglas Adams.

This article from the National Literacy Trust is a timely reminder that the universality of the skill of reading is one we cannot take for granted.

Lastly, from Galleycat I hear that The Decemberists have reenacted a scene from David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest in their latest video. Which is as good a reason as any to have a musical interlude.

Update: This piece from Marcus at Vicbooks is just lovely.

Booker longlist

Drum roll please….

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape – Random House)
Sebastian Barry On Canaan’s Side (Faber)
Carol Birch Jamrach’s Menagerie (Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent’s Tail – Profile)
Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)
Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger’s Child (Picador – Pan Macmillan)
Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)
Alison Pick Far to Go (Headline Review)
Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
D.J. Taylor Derby Day (Chatto & Windus – Random House)

Will be pondering my tips for the shortlist. Four first timers which is interesting but no Anne Enright or Philip Hensher.

Tonight I will be live-tweeting the New Zealand Book Awards in my best bib and tucker (follow me at @MrGatsby).

Posting has been slow, I know. I’m wrestling with a piece on publishing fiction. It might actually be several pieces. Getting there. Slowly.