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)


Cowboys and Zombies

It feels like an age since my last post. Its been a hectic fortnight and I’ve been somewhat distracted, but an equilibrium of sorts has been restored.

Today though its well beyond time for a little light posting, with some recommendations and thoughts.

Sometimes in all the digital brouhaha we forget the power of well-staffed bookshops. Yesterday I was doing my customary ‘in between books’ ramble around Unity Books when proprietor Tilly Lloyd spied me and pounced. The approach began with some seemingly innocuous questions; was I a triple acquarian (wasn’t terribly sure what that meant actually, as far as I know I’m a scorpio)? Did I have a younger brother? How did I feel about westerns? And before I knew it I was the proud possessor of the The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. A book I did not know I needed but am now very much enjoying. Tilly I salute you on a sublime rendition of the art of hand-selling.

Very much enjoying these analyses, from Nils Pratley at The Guardian and Philip Downer, of WH Smith’s performance. Whatever else you may think about it they have a plan and at present it seems to be working. Do you need to be a beloved brand to work?

Over at Idealog there’s a great piece that gives some insight into what the marketing enabled publisher of the future might look like and is supported partly by this piece at Publisher’s Marketplace talking about how shifts in publishing structures.

Peter Brantley’s recent article at Publisher’s Weekly here, is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to. In the past, we kept our ‘media’ in very separate compartments physically and therefore in many ways mentally. We waited for our favourite TV shows each week, read books in bed or on the tube and listened to the radio in the shed. Each had their place and to some extent that division was a kind of market regulation, they didn’t compete with one another to the fullest of their potential. Now we can carry all of these on one device in our pockets. We can access them when and where we choose and they are directly vying for our (limited) capacity to give them our attention. Peter outlines the issues this raises very well:
And that’s so much more of a problem for all of publishing, really, than just Kobo or B&N, because now the competition is for the customer’s attention across all media, in one device. It means that publishing has to very seriously consider what kind of experiences creative artists can design that will be appealing on highly portable mixed media platforms.
We are witnessing a convergence of media consumption that will shape the way we seek information, inspiration and entertainment in a truly fundamental and Darwinian way.

And to finish, who better to write a Zombie story than Roberto Bolano and not just a story but an animated story. Imagine running this as a serial?

Bueller, Bueller…

Publishing is getting really interesting, a truly fascinating presentation from Brian O’Leary at the Books in Browsers conference:

More Books in Browsers here. Am working my way through them. So much food for thought, I’m going to have to do some writing on it this week.

New Zealand at Frankfurt round-up

New Zealand at Frankfurt 2012

It really looks like the New Zealand at Frankfurt programme got off to a good start. The stunning video here with the press conference. Additionally here are radio interviews with publisher Fergus Barrowman, Ministry of Culture and Heritage Communications Manager Lucy Orbell and poet Kate Camp. Publisher Peter Dowling gives his view over on Beattie’s blog.

The official website is at

‘I live at the edge of the universe, like everybody else’

New Zealand launches it’s 2012 Frankfurt campaign and it does so in style.
This launch video is absolutely beautiful.

Creative by Colenso BBDO and words by a host of New Zealand Writers ending with Bill Manhire on the line above. Colenso have a great track record with this kind of work.

Update: Here is the press conference.

Flashlight: Strobing the Book World #6

As I predicted September is proving to be a very hectic month. However I’m on course for normal so bear with me.

And so to keep the pilot light on, here are some more of the things I’ve been watching and reading.

Firstly, the latest Mike Shatzkin post which demonstrates that we are still a long way from having a settled ebook marketplace. Could this confuse the average consumer? Absolutely yes. I think it’s also relevant to the point I make here about the discoverability of fiction. Mike is finding things difficult when he knows what he wants. How much harder is it when you don’t?

This interesting branching out of publisher into bookseller, cafe and event space is something I think (and hope) we will see more of as book companies start thinking of themselves as experience brands as much as product brands.

A couple of other new business models are worth checking out here and these guys at Paper Radio are great.

I think these two articles (New York Times and Teleread) on who can now be a publisher are really fascinating and link clearly to the opening up of long form writing (beyond journalism but shorter than a book). Interesting territory this and because its where a lot of my reading is at these days, I’m hoping it will lead to more dynamic and timely publishing.

There’s an interesting debate, started by an article from writer Seanan McGuire, being had over on Teleread about the potential social impact of e-reading.

The Economist and Harvard’s student newspaper The Crimson both run pieces about the rapid changes in book industry economics. Makes me think that maybe we should run a ‘stats of the week’ counter here on the blog and chart the changes.

Sadly, this last weekend saw the final demise of Borders in the US. Some of their staff composed this widely circulated ‘ode to a bookstore death‘. I understand their frustration and lord knows I’ve had some ‘customer encounters’ myself working in bookshops, but somehow I read this and I can also understand why trucking off to Amazon could save a customer a lot of hassle. Many people are intimidated by bookshops and having people look down their noses at you for liking Nicholas Sparks is not terribly helpful in the great scheme of things. Reading is a journey and I’ve met too many people (working in bookshops) who with little formal education found their way to War and Peace by beginning with Pet Sematary. Just starting is an enormously powerful step into an imaginative world.
They are right about Glenn Beck though.

It might also be the case that genre is really where its at. Go plot!

I’m not sure about this article or indeed this (though full marks for effort guys) but I do think that one of the interesting elements of technological convergence is that it may also provoke an artistic convergence. Games are becoming increasingly sophisticated narratively and perhaps we should push that further rather than being appalled by it. We need good stories, if a great game can provide engagement with them, why should we worry?

And finally two excellent sites on the art of book covers, which I will really have to do a post on at some point. 20 best here and the absolutely wonderful gallery site The Jacket Museum here.

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.