Transformation and Life Among the Giants

Transformation and Life Among the GiantsThe best super-early pricing for our seventh annual Digital Book World conference—moving from January to early March, still in New York City—expires today, November 9th. We are continuing to clear more speakers and panels for posting, including keynoter Virginia Heffernan, who will look at how the Internet and digital technologies have changed our fundamental relationship with content.

Two major themes of the new show will be transformation, and life among the digital giants.

While ebook sales levels on their own have found a level for now, the larger digital transformation of our business and the companies within it continues. We’ll highlight this in transformation stories from top executives at companies including Ingram, Rodale Books, Wiley, HMH, Sourcebooks and Harvard Common Press. Large and small, these companies have found innovative and dramatic ways of steering themselves to completely different business profiles than they were in a decade ago.

On the main stage in particular, we’ve assembled a fascinating group of three analysts from outside book publishing to look broadly at the digital giants—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft—how publishers and authors can live and navigate in their world.

Much more.


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How Barnes & Noble Is Hitting Back Against Amazon (Adweek)
Barnes & Noble has one obvious advantage that dot-com competitors don’t, and that’s spacious, comfortable stores—647 of them at last count—stores that the chain has gotten extremely good at turning into event spaces, most often for book signings with bestselling authors or celebrities hawking their latest tell-all tomes. But on November 14th, Barnes & Noble will be staging its most colorful event yet: all of its stores are inviting adults to come in, sit down and color.

B&N’s New CEO Sees Non-Book Items as Key to Holidays (Bloomberg)
For Barnes & Noble, it’s going to be a hands-on holiday season, said new CEO Ron Boire. The biggest U.S. bookstore chain is counting on new do-it-yourself merchandise, such as Raspberry Pi computer kits, art supplies, journals and even a Benedict Cumberbatch coloring book to lure shoppers at Christmas and beyond. Toys and other non-book items have been Barnes & Noble’s fastest-growing category, rising at a double-digit pace, Boire said.

Amazon VP on New Bookstore: ‘No Idea What’s Going to Happen’ (PW)
Never has the opening of a new bookstore been written about more than the launch of Amazon Books in the University Village shopping mall in Seattle on November 3rd. In spite of all the speculation about what Amazon is really up to with the store, Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books, said that the objective from the beginning has been to create a place where customers can discover and pick up great books. She downplayed the idea that the store was a prototype for other outlets that would sell a range of items that Amazon offers online. “The store is called Amazon Books,” she noted.

Declining Ebook Sales Hit Home (PW)
Lower ebook sales were a big factor in the weak financial performance at HarperCollins and limiting gains at Simon & Schuster in the quarter that ended Sept. 30th, 2015. At HC, EBITDA fell 23.6 percent relative to the similar period in 2014, dropping to $42 million from $55 million. Total revenue rose by less than 1 percent, but without the benefit of the August 2014 purchase of Harlequin, revenue would have been down about 2 pecent and EBITDA off 33 percent.

Earnings Tumble at HarperCollins (PW)
After a strong financial run that began last August with the purchase of Harlequin, HarperCollins had a rough quarter in the period that ended September 30th. EBITDA at the publisher dropped 2 percent in the period to $42 million, down from $55 million in the quarter a year ago. Parent company News Corp blamed the weak sales performance on lower sales of the Divergent series, and lower ebook sales for the publisher as a whole.

A Manifesto for New Business Models (Futurebook)
More and more books are being published every year. And yet, a reader has limited time. She wants to make the best use of it. Authors may not need a publisher to bring their books out in the market, but the readers will always need curation. Earlier, publishers did this by acting as gatekeepers. Only what they deemed worthy could be published. Not any longer. So the publishing community needs to think about how to create a business out of post-publishing curation.

Kindle Unlimited: Global Fund Stability and Marketplace Changes (Chris McMullen)
Amazon announced that the KDP Select global fund for November, 2015 will be at least $12M. It has consistently been $11M or more since May, 2015. So this shows some nice stability. Under the original Kindle Unlimited scheme, critics used to comment on how Amazon would low-ball the KDP Select global fund, promising around $3M at the beginning of the month, and then providing a much larger fund after the month’s end. Some tried to argue that Amazon was taking a loss because they raised the fund much higher than their initial projection.

I Thought the Amazon Store Was a Terrible Idea. Then I Actually Went There (Vox)
I entered Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar store completely convinced it was a terrible idea. I already had a snarky headline ready in my head: “I went to the Amazon store in Seattle. It was just as dumb as you think.” Except.. it wasn’t. I spent about an hour in Amazon’s downtown Seattle bookstore, which opened on Tuesday. And it actually made me think the store wasn’t that dumb. It might even be a good idea, a thought that still gives me cognitive dissonance. I went into the store expecting to write a takedown. I ended up buying a book and a pair of headphones.

Amazon’s Bookstore Is All About the Data (Digital Reader)
Amazon’s new bookstore is only a week old but it has already inspired more opinions than your average political debate. Some see Amazon Books for what it is, a wholly unremarkable bookstore, while others see it as either a threat to indie bookselling or as a replacement for the public library.

Apple’s Latest Amazon Putdown (Fortune)
Apple and Amazon first locked horns in the abook market, a conflict that dates back to Steve Jobs’ iPad and could end up at the Supreme Court. They’ve done battle in streaming television, with Apple TV carrying every competing TV service except Amazon’s Prime, and Amazon pulling the Apple set-top box from its and all its partners’ online stores. Now, in the shopping category that Apple opened this week on the App Store, the world’s most valuable company has put the largest online store at the bottom of its “shopping essentials” list.

Bertlesmann Confirms $230 Million Investment in HotChalk (Pub Lunch)
As anticipated since September, Bertelsmann is spending $230 million to buy a minority stake in HotChalk, a technology company that powers online degree programs. Along with last month’s RediLearning deal, their stake in Alliant University and the big deal about a year ago for Relias Learning, Bertelsmann has spent in the neighborhood of $1 billion for US-based education and edtech companies over the past year.

At the New Zola Books, Focus Is on Tech, Not Books (PW)
In the fall of 2011, New York literary agent Joe Regal founded Zola Books, an ambitious publishing, retail and social-recommendation website he hoped would spark changes within a book business increasingly dominated by Amazon. “We did not succeed,” Regal said, candidly. About a year ago, the Zola Books website quietly came down. As early skeptics had predicted, the company had bitten off more than it could chew. But this fall, with the help of a bestselling author and a few lines of powerful code, Zola Books is back. And though its approach may be dramatically simplified this time around, its mission remains the same: to diversify the retail market for books.

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