DBW Weekly Roundup, 4/21/11

DBW Weekly RoundupDigital Book World presents a weekly roundup of some of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing that you may have missed, from all over the digital book world.

Ebook Sales Surpass Print, Again: Is This a Win?

Last week, the Association of American Publishers released their February 2011 sales report, which indicated, among other things,

According to the February results, once again e-Books have enjoyed triple-digit percentage growth, 202.3%, vs February 2010. Downloaded Audiobooks, which have also seen consistent monthly gains, increased 36.7% vs last February.

For February 2011, e-Books ranked as the #1 format among all categories of Trade publishing (Adult Hardcover, Adult Paperback, Adult Mass Market, Children’s/Young Adult Hardcover, Children’s/Young Adult Paperback).

This one-month surge is primarily attributed to a high level of strong post-holiday e-Book buying, or “loading,” by consumers who received e-Reader devices as gifts. Experts note that the expanded selection of e-Readers introduced for the holidays and the broader availability of titles are factors.

However, as Audrey Watters from ReadWriteWeb points out, among others, falling print sales are not really being matched or exceeded by ebook sales:

While that excitement to buy books might sound like good news for the publishing industry, the buzz over e-books hasn’t stopped sales overall from falling. For the year-to-date, sales of e-books have grown by almost 170% to $164 million. But the sale of print books, which is still a far larger portion of overall publishing revenue, has fallen by almost 25% to $442 million.

Can Publishers Avoid a Talent Time Bomb?

With the ongoing shift in ebooks versus print sales, of course, book publishers have had to incorporate new skill sets to keep pace with advances in technology. Looking specifically at gaps in skills, Suzanne Kavanagh from Skillset.org summed up a London Book Fair Panel that she chaired, called “The Talent Time Bomb: Can Publishing Learn New Media Skills?“:

From the summary:

In 2010, 28% of [UK] publishers reported skills gaps in their current workforce; with 64% of those reporting gaps in sales and marketing; 50% in technical skills; 46% for software; and 38% in business and entrepreneurial skills.

From another perspective, this time from the tech side, this article by Joseph Walker at FINS Technology (a job site from The Wall Street Journal), suggests that maybe publishers are between a rock and hard place when it comes to incorporating tech talent into the publishing workflow:

Publishing companies can have a hard time competing for top tech talent as they’re often unable to match the salaries offered by the Facebooks of the world. According to Payscale.com, the median salary for a software developer at a book or newspaper publisher is $61,100, compared to $69,000 at Internet companies like Google or Facebook. For an IT product manager, the salary gap can be as much as $20,000, with book publishers paying $66,200 compared to $84,900 at an Oracle or Microsoft and $83,200 at a Google. (The data was compiled by Payscale from surveys of full-time U.S. employees from April 2010 through April 2011.)

Kindle Library Lending: What Took Them So Long?

Amazon announced yesterday that it was making ebook lending through public libraries available through the Kindle, in partnership with Overdrive—big news especially in the context of the recent controversies over some publishers’ stance on ebook lending.

From the Amazon press release:

Customers will be able to check out a Kindle book from their local library and start reading on any Kindle device or free Kindle app for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone. If a Kindle book is checked out again or that book is purchased from Amazon, all of a customer’s annotations and bookmarks will be preserved.

In many ways, this is an extension of Amazon’s October 2010 decision to introduce ebook lending functionality between individual Kindle users, sparking many reactions in the digital book world that seem to echo eBookNewser Nate Hoffelder’s straightforward response: “What took them so long?” On how this might change publishers’ views regarding ebook lending in general, Philip Jones over at FutureBook summed up nicely:

The deal that will allow users of the OverDrive digital e-book library platform the ability to borrow books on their Kindles is a move that will surely once again make publishers look seriously at digital lending. How much easier was it to turn a blind commercial eye to e-book lending when it was confined to “lesser” devices such as the Sony Reader? How difficult will it be now when the biggest commercial driver of e-book sales is allow those customers to borrow from another source for free? Is it lost sales, or marketing?

Who Are the Gatekeepers in the Book World?

In other news, controversy has erupted around Nobel-nominated Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, published by Viking, for fabricating the details about his visits to Pakistan and his charity work, so much so that the management of his charity as well as his book have come under scrutiny after 60 Minutes investigated the bestselling author.

From the transcript:

Another place where no one has done much checking is into the financial records of Mortenson’s non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute, which builds and funds the schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is located in Bozeman, Mont., where Mortenson lives.

Mortenson says the charity took in $23 million in contributions last year – some it from thousands of school children who emptied their piggy banks to help its “Pennies for Peace” program, and some of it from large fundraisers.

Far from being an isolated incident, however, fabricated memoirs (and, the question of responsibility for them) have emerged quite frequently, as we are reminded by this litany of questionable cases from The Christian Science Monitor.

On a related note, but looking at the self-publishing world in “The Great Rise of Indie Publishing,” Alex Wilhelm over at The Next Web suggests that the real shift with digital publishing in who the true “gatekeepers” are:

But all we have shown thus far is that the old world of print was not completely effective at keeping out poor texts. The real question is how will indie published books avoid descending into the muck, with everyone publishing half-baked, poorly edited schlock? In short, many weak books will be published, but a different gatekeeper will separate the wheat from the chaff: the reader…. Readers have always done this, of course, at the bookstore looking down aisles of books, but in the digital world shelf space is infinite, so the work might be slightly more taxing.

It’s certainly a valid question, as controversies about the quality of books (both digital and print) continue to create something of a public relations problem for all parts of the publishing workflow, from authors accused of plagiarism to continued failures of editing and quality control (both by publishers and self-publishers).

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That’s just a taste of what you may have missed this week. To stay on top of the most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing, keep in touch via our RSS feed, follow us on Twitter, join your publishing colleagues in our LinkedIn group, and connect with the broader DBW Network.

The most interesting news, commentary and tweets related to publishing that you may have missed, from all over the digital book world.

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