DBW Weekly Roundup, 5/31/11

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.

Need to get caught up on what happened last week at BookExpo America? Check out our BEA Special Supplement for coverage of some of the conference’s major talks and themes.

What Are We Going to Do Without the Oprah Effect?

Everyone is talking about Oprah, and rightly so, her cultural, charitable, and marketing influence has been undeniable during her tenure. As Oprah leaves the stage, though, book publishing’s endemic discoverability problems have been highlighted, from many out-of-industry news sources, such as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Financial Times.

Summarizing the Oprah Effect, minOnline’s Steve Smith writes:

According to Nielsen, special Oprah editions of her Book Club selections have sold over 22 million copies in the last ten years. Topping the list is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (3.37 million copies) and James Frey’s controversial and partially faked A Million Little Pieces (2.7 million). Oprah’s championing of literary figures helped sell another 2 million copies of Elie Wiesel’s Night and even 1.3 million more of Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

The Oprah effect could be especially pronounced for unknown authors. The Oprah edition of Uwen Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them sold 405,000 copies compared to only 47,000 in other editions. The Oprah edition of Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle sold three times as well as the original hardcover.

What cannot be counted, of course, is how much Oprah’s support of reading and the book trade helped revive or sustain popular interest in long-form reading experiences during an age when attention spans are short and the business models for book stores appear to be failing. The book and bookseller industries are losing a key sales driver at just the point when she is needed most.

Meanwhile, publishers will likely have to look to other sources for buzz-making, perhaps reaching out to communities such as 1book140, a Twitter-based book club from The Atlantic.

Or, perhaps, the upcoming publisher-created e-commerce and community site, Bookish?

Or, outreach communities that blur the line between author and reader, like the genre-fiction-centered Book Country?


How Do We Weather the Amazon Effect?

While we look to the horizon to find the next Oprah Effect, there is no doubt that retail giant Amazon continues to impact book publishing on many fronts. In addition to the recent announcement that Kindle books were now outselling all Amazon.com print sales, Amazon’s decision to allow EPUB files on the Kindle might be a blow to publishers adopting Adobe DRM.

So, Amazon’s a Publisher?

It might not have really been much of a surprise: Amazon is expanding its role as a book publisher as two recent moves signal that Amazon is investing in earnest in its publisher capabilities. The first was Amazon’s announcement last week that the retail giant was opening a mystery and thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer.

The second announcement came on opening day at BookExpo America: prominent literary agent and ex-CEO of Time Warner Larry Kirschbaum will head up Amazon’s general trade imprint slated to start in July.

According E-Reads’ Richard Curtis, speaking to TheBookseller.com,

“I think Larry is an iconic branded figure in the American book business and will be the perfect person to bring the old and new worlds of publishing together.

“However, because of Amazon’s dominant retail position, their wealth and leverage could have a dampening effect on competition. B&N’s publishing has had that effect: as an agent, I’ll call a publisher and pitch a non-fiction project. ‘We’d love to do it,’ they’ll tell me, and then add, ‘but we know Sterling will undercut on price for the same kind of book.”

Meanwhile, Mike Shatzkin over at The Idea Logical Company, writes:

I’d say one of the pennies dropping might be at B&N, where they are probably reconsidering their title acquisition strategy. If their biggest retail competitor is going after the biggest authors directly, can they afford not to?

Five years ago we lived in a world where every book that mattered sold more copies at brick stores than it did online. Five years from now every book that matters will sell more copies online than it does in a brick store. The Amazon decision may mark the commercial turning point of that massive shift.

The Age of the (Amazon) Author Is Now?

Even though an early source of BEA buzz, Amazon’s move evinced the strongest reactions from independent booksellers, some of whom have called for a boycott of the retailer’s new imprint. Drawing the line in the sand, self-pubbed author J.A. Konrath, having just signed with Thomas & Mercer, defends the imprint and his decision to sign with it, in an impassioned blogpost:

Amazon allowed me to get into bookstores–something self-pubbing couldn’t do for me without a lot of extra work on my part. They offered me a terrific deal, and have done more marketing and promotion than any of the publishers I’ve previously worked with.

They’ve treated me with nothing but respect, listened to and implemented many of my ideas, and have been an absolute joy to work with.

They’re the new publisher on the block. But they’re already doing it better than anyone else.

On a similar note, thriller author Barry Eisler, who had gone “self-pub” instead of taking a $500,000 two-book deal from St. Martin’s, announced at Publisher’s Launch eBooks Go Global that he had signed a lucrative frontlist deal with Amazon.

All of this, of course, is set in the context of “a new era of the author,” the key takeaway from “New and Evolving Publishing Models” panel at the BEA. But, is this a future proposition or a current state of affairs? As book publishers struggle to find new business models to navigate the market disruptions brought about by the rise of digital books, the “new era of the author” doesn’t seem imminent–it seems to have arrived.

What’s in Store for the “Normal” Bookstores?

Turning away from retailer Amazon, two announcements from “traditional” book retailers this past week might have gotten swept away by all the attention to the BEA. The first is the acquisition of HMV’s UK book chain Waterstone’s, sold to Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut for a reported £53 million.

From an article in The Guardian:

HMV said that it needs to reduce its borrowing requirements in the short term to “achieve a satisfactory refinancing” and “has concluded that the most timely and effective way to achieve this is through the disposal of Waterstone’s”.

“We expect this deal to enable the group to achieve a reduction in the group’s borrowing requirements, and, in turn, focus on plans for transforming the HMV Group into a broad-based entertainment business,” said Simon Fox, the chief executive of HMV Group.

The proceeds of the sale – which will see £40m paid on completion in June and £13m in October – will be largely used to reduce HMV’s borrowing requirements.

Even though official sentiment about the acquisition is positive, Philip Jones over at FutureBook is less than enthused:

There is surely no-one involved in the book business that does not love physical books and bookshops. There is a magic to this business that could make a book buyer pay more for a physical book stocked at Daunts than a Kindle version, or even an Amazon-powered rendition. But there is not enough of this magic in the whole world to sustain a 300 store national book chain operating in a market where upwards of 10% of what used to be physical sales have disappeared online. This is not a competitive assault led by a niggly rival, it is a change in habit – the reading habit.

That this change in habit has undeniable impact is reinforced by Books-A-Million’s less-than-stellar quarterly results. From the announcement:

Net sales for the 2012 13-week period decreased 11.1% to $104.0 million, compared with sales of $117.0 million in the year-earlier period. Comparable store sales for the 2012 first quarter decreased 13.2% when compared with the 13-week period for the prior-year first quarter. Net loss for the first quarter was $3.5 million, or $0.22 per diluted share, compared with a net income of $2.0 million, or $0.13 per diluted share, in the year-earlier period.

According to Publishers Weekly, “BAM’s Terry Finley called the first quarter a ‘very difficult sales environment’ that reflected the erosion of print book sales to e-book sales, a weak bestseller lineup, and soft media environment, exacerbated by the tornados that ripped through the southeast.”

Turning to BookExpo America, new models for bookselling were explored: from print-on-demand schemes to Xerox’s Espresso Book Machine and beyond, while at the American Booksellers Association annual meeting, ABA CEO Oren Teicher addressed the impact of digital publishing on the brick-and-mortar retailer.

Teicher, as reported by Publishers Weekly:

“As I hardly need to remind everyone here, these are not normal times in the book business. We are living through a period of unprecedented change and staggering challenges. It can no longer be business as usual,” he said.

Teicher noted that the slide in the number of indie bookstores has halted, with more than 400 new stores opening since 2005, and that bricks-and-mortar bookstores remain the essential showroom for ensuring the sale of a broad spectrum of books. Although e-books have reached a tipping point and outsold other formats for the first time in February, “ABA in no way believes that print books are going away,” he said. “Nothing can replace the physical book.”

But things must change, said Teicher, noting that industry practices go back more than half a century, predating I Love Lucy. Referring to ongoing discussions with publishers, he said that the ABA is making progress in working together to create a new, sustainable business model. As a chilling reminder of what’s at stake, he cited statistics after digitalization in the music industry, which has seen a 64% drop in sales from its peak year in 2000, and much of that loss is due to the closing of physical stores.

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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  1. Pingback: “The Era of the Author” | eScribe Services


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