DBW Weekly Roundup: 4/7/11

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.

Battleground Amazon

Three stories this week are directly playing out at Amazon, but in three rather different sectors of the publishing industry landscape:

Are Books in Bookstores a Subsidiary Right?
Responding to a Publisher’s Lunch report that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had partnered with Amazon to act as (all but in name) “trade book distributor” for two of Amazon’s imprints, as well as revelations that Harcourt was part of Amazon’s bid for Amanda Hocking’s books, Mike Shatzkin over at The Idea Logical Company blogged:

From one standpoint, this makes a lot of sense. Amazon can sell the hell out of a book online, and they have long made print available through their CreateSpace program. But they can’t merchandise books in stores. Even paying extremely high print and ebook royalties, as they do, they can’t maximize an author’s revenues if they can’t deliver store sales of print in today’s world.

Are Ebooks the New Content Farms?
Publishing Trends has a 2-part discussion about the lack of copyright oversight in Amazon’s independently authored/published books and the suggestion, originally posed by Mike Essex of UK-based digital marketing agency Impact Media, that the new Google penalties on content farms would result in those writers turning to selling plagiarized ebooks.

From Publishing Trends’ article and interview with Essex:

Essex carried out an experiment for PT: “I took the lyrics to the song ‘This is the song that never ends’ and repeated them over 700-plus pages. No formatting, just one continuous block of duplicate text. Within 24 hours, it was live on the Amazon Kindle Store and I haven’t received a single message from Amazon about it. Surely an automated process would be able to easily tell I had repeated myself over and over, but this wasn’t flagged up.”

As a follow-up, Publishing Trends also has an enlightening summary of comments to their interview, as well as a description of the complaints process from one author.

What Is “Fair” Ebook Pricing?
Consumers are lashing out about ebook pricing by posting negative, 1-star reviews at Amazon.com, which does not require a purchase to leave a review, as reported at CNET. The article has inspired a lively discussion about ebook pricing and whether “gaming” the review system is an appropriate way for consumers to protest perceived unfairness in pricing.

Do Fixed-Price Systems Mean Lower Prices?

While we’re on the subject of pricing, Publishing Perspectives has a thoughtful piece about the ongoing debate in Europe about fixed-price systems for books, sparked by the Swiss Parliament’s recent decision to reinstate fixed pricing.

From the article:

In Germany, where fixed book price law is strong, book prices have actually fallen in comparison with other goods over the past decade. Swiss book prices, in contrast, have risen over the past four years. “Economic theories say that free markets produce lower prices, but interestingly in the case of books that’s not so,” commented Dani Landolf, director of The Swiss Publishers Association (SBVV).

While bestsellers get deep discounts, the majority of other books become more expensive to fund the price wars. Sabine Dörlemann, president of Swiss Independent Publishers (SWIPS), expressed frustration that books from small publishers with tight budgets were assigned higher prices, which reduces sales though the publisher sees none of that extra money.

More Publishers Moving to Transmedia?

This week, Random House and videogame producer THQ announced a partnership to create original IPs for transmedia franchising and collaboration. From the THQ press release:

The team expects the new IP to first appear as a collection of games and books, while they further develop a rich IP universe that will allow for ongoing shelf life through other media. Drawing on rich skills and expertise in transmedia production, the team aims to bring a new level of quality to mutually created properties, expanding IP creation in ways that will immerse fans more fully in the fiction regardless of media.

The move is a further evolution of Random House’s earlier interest in videogame partnerships, as seen in the book Homefront: The Voice of Freedom, a prequel to THQ’s first-person shooter game Homefront, and published earlier this year by Random House’s sci-fi and fantasy imprint, Del Rey.

A further sign of publishers moving into the transmedia space, Andrews McMeel is actively looking for a VP, Executive Producer in Transmedia, who “will work with the editorial team in developing AMP’s line of digital books. The company currently releases select titles simultaneously in print and digital formats and hopes to expand their multimedia offerings,” according to Publishers Weekly.

What’s the Big Deal about Harry Potter Ebooks?

Speaking of extended franchising, the Harry Potter exhibition opened this week at Discovery Times Square, but the real story is that the Harry Potter books might soon be released as ebooks, which would represent a major change in how the bestselling books are sold and distributed. How ebooks will add to the already massive sales numbers of the seven installments of Harry Potter books (reportedly 450 million copies sold) will be interesting to see develop, but also there is a fair amount of speculation in mass media over whether the Harry Potter ebooks will result in a jump in ereader sales.

Graeme McMillan, a tech blogger for Time magazine, sums up this sales issue:

The [Scotsman] newspaper quotes Liz Thomson, editor of publishing industry site BookBrunch, as suggesting that the rights may be worth £100m, going on to say that “Experts believe that move could revolutionize the world of electronic publishing, triggering rocket sales of e-book readers such as Kindle and the iPad.”

I hate to be a party pooper (as in ‘this might not actually be true’) but I’m not sure I agree with the idea that the digital versions of the books would be that big a deal; surely the time for that kind of impact has passed, given that the series finished four years ago.

Some agree with McMillan, making an analogy with when The Beatles catalog was released on iTunes: a boost in sales of the music, but not much else and certainly no revolution.

Meanwhile, Future Book blogger Phillip Jones has a completely different take on what the deal means, focusing on the move in terms of licensing and rights:

[Neil Blair, partner at the Christopher Little Agency] told me at the time: “We are talking with everyone. What we’ve got to try and do is come up with an arrangement that suits everybody, and which makes the e-books available to as many people as possible globally.”

The Christopher Little Agency does not need my advice, but reading between the lines, this looks like they should be looking at a wholesale arrangement with a global provider that can supply the books digitally to partners who can support the e-books on a local level. The partners would most likely be the current print publishers who have most to lose from any digital arrangements that don’t include them. Thus any deal is more likely to look like a licensing agreement than a straight “rights” sale.

Tweet of the Week

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.

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