Books are Back: Romanticism Lives!

by Cynthia W. Moore

I Love Books

Photo from: https://brewingthoughts.quora.com/E-Books-vs-Printed-Books-The-Dilemma

Digital Book World published an article on their blog entitled “Who Cares How You Read? Just Read.”  Writer Laura Brady wrote that “There has been a lot of press lately about data that looks like it’s pointing to declining book sales and surging print sales.”  Well, if third quarter data counts as data, she is, indeed, correct.  Publisher’s Weekly recently posted that third quarter eBook sales were “down” at HarperCollins and “weak” at Penguin Random House.  Is the ever-climbing eBook sales graph line headed to the long tail?  Perish the thought!

The digital publishing industry is just hitting puberty and suitors of all kinds are lining up at the door.  Brady writes that, although she is now an eBook developer, she “loves books [and] started working in publishing because of a romantic idea of what books and the people who publish them are all about.”  She even admits that she doesn’t “apply the same romanticism to the business she works in now.”  Ah, there’s the rub.  People really do have an attachment to their books.  Reading books digitally is utilitarian.  You can’t really cuddle up to an e-reader, but you can get your work done.

Even playground bully Amazon has weighed in on the disruptive mess it has created by changing its status to brick-and-mortar bookstore owner as well.  Many “Like” the move and the comments are overwhelmingly favorable.

Laura Brady, though, is really addressing publishers and doing some much-needed PR for eBooks:

“I think there are certainly a lot of misconceptions about ebooks—that they can’t be nicely-designed, that they are worth less than print, that reading them is a “less-than” experience. None of these things are true. But they will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if publishers believe them and put little to no energy or creative attention into their digital publishing programs. Just like mass market paperbacks upended a staid publishing culture in the ‘30s, ebooks aren’t going anywhere and need to be a critical part of the publishing planning process.”

Brady goes on to say that “Some of us are working constantly to make future-proof ebooks that are nice to look at and easy to consume despite the confusing proliferation of specs and devices.”  Apparently it is up to publishers to save eBooks’ fourth quarter sales and thereby the industry overall.  Sometimes, though, I like rooting for the underdog and unlike Brady, I do “get jazzed by the smell of paper” in a newly purchased book.

Sources:

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/who-cares-how-you-read-just-read/

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/index.html

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/financial-reporting/article/68440-bestsellers-offset-weak-e-book-sales-at-penguin-random-house.html

http://publishingtrendsetter.com/industryinsight/long-tail-publishing/

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/its-time-to-turn-your-back-on-amazon/Content?oid=19708679

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/11/03/454250311/amazon-opens-a-real-bookstore-in-seattle

________________________________

Cynthia Moore is a writer and former educator who joined the M.P.S. in Publishing program at The George Washington University to gain cutting edge industry know-how to launch her own publishing venture.

Advertisements

The Amazon Books Experience

Amazon opened it’s first brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle on Nov. 3, 2015. Located in University Village, an outdoor shopping center across the street from the University of Washington, the location has been described by reviewers as both “unimpressive” and “bizarre.” Amazon has built it’s brand on being the “go to” location for anything and everything consumers could ever want— an unending, virtual megastore, but the first physical location of an Amazon store seems to be anything but. Rob Salkowitz of Forbes referred to the small bookstore as “more Waldenbooks than Barnes & Noble.” The first reviews are reporting that the store, which claims it has hired professional, qualified booksellers to “curate” it’s shelves, is lacking in selection and offers a strange variety of what appears to be excess stock.

interior

Even stranger still is the way customers are made to shop in the store. There are no prices listed for any of the books or merchandise; the customer must scan a bar code using the Amazon app on their smartphone (if they don’t have the Amazon app or a smartphone, a bookseller will scan it for you). All the shelf tags contain the star ratings and snippets of reviews that you would see when shopping online, but absolutely no pricing information. When asked why the process of browsing for books is made so difficult for the customer, Amazon explains that its prices may fluctuate and they want to ensure that they are offering the same price to every customer, the one that is listed on Amazon.com.

Shelf-tag-example-e1446666660295-1200x1444

In his review of the bookstore Salkowitz asks a question that I’m sure most Amazon Books shoppers were left asking themselves: If you’re going to open a physical location of an already massive online bookstore, why open such a crappy one? His answer hits the nail on the head… Amazon Books doesn’t care about selling books. Instead of titling this post “The Amazon Books Experience” perhaps “The Amazon Books Experiment” would have been more appropriate.

By requiring shoppers to price scan using their Amazon app anytime they’re interested in a book, the customer is unwittingly sending Amazon their shopping habit information, preferences, and history, along with all their personal information. All this data is being tracked by Amazon’s massive cloud data service. So maybe Salkowitz is right, maybe this tiny brick and mortar bookstore born from it’s megaparent, Amazon.com, isn’t really a bookstore after all, but the physical location of Amazon’s experiment in blending physical and digital commerce. Very sneaky, Amazon, very sneaky. Let’s hope this isn’t the future of all of our retail shopping experiences— where our movements, histories, and data are tracked at every turn. Let’s hope that Amazon retires back to the web where it belongs soon, and that another monopoly on the way we shop hasn’t just been born.

Check out Salkowitz’s article here:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2015/11/04/amazons-retail-store-has-nothing-to-do-with-selling-books/

***Heather Hickox earned a Bachelor’s in English at Middle Tennessee State University and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Professional Studies in Publishing at the George Washington University. Her writing has been published in several editions of Collage: A Journal of Creative Expression and VSA TN’s 40 Days Around the World. Heather is a Writing Facilitator for The Carnegie Writers, Inc. in Nashville, TN.

Amazon & Bookstores May Both Have It Their Way

Recently, British book retailer Waterstones announced that many of its stores have ceased sale of Amazon’s e-reader, Kindle. Although this decision was induced by the product’s “pitiful” demand, the e-commerce company does not fret. With the release of their newest version in 2012, the Kindle Fire, Amazon entered their tablet into the playing field amongst strong competitors like Apple. Unveiled at a cheaper price compared to the classic monochrome Kindle sold by Waterstones, the Kindle Fire is expected to cannibalize Amazon sales of the e-paper Kindle, and continues to beat out other basic e-readers.

With increasing Kindle sales for Amazon forthcoming, Waterstones does not regret their decision to pull the product. The company would rather clear their shelves for new book releases, as the book retailer believes that their customers do not equate to Amazon’s Kindle market. Bookstore customers generally visit the store to browse and purchase physical books, while enjoying the sensory experience. Devices like the Kindle detract from that experience.

The decline in sales of basic e-readers does not write off the profitability of e-books, however; Kindle readership is strongly supported through its application across smartphone, tablet, and desktop platforms. E-books offer features untouchable by the traditional book, such as the ability to modify font sizes, share passages, and integrate hypertext. Although the e-book consumer is still ever-present, physical bookstores rejoice as readers seek their products as an escape from the multitude of screens they encounter on a daily basis. This may be an indication that print and electronic books are separate markets, and should be without fear of one overtaking the other.

Japan’s Bookstore Industry Strikes Back at Amazon

By Kristen Hauck

Contrary to many predictions, physical books and brick-and-mortar bookstores have not vanished in the years since the rise of e-books and online retailers. And Amazon, seemingly secure in its position as the world’s undisputed media sales champion, has begun to encounter formidable resistance from the traditional book selling and book publishing worlds.

With stores in Asia, the U.S., and Australia, Japanese chain Kinokuniya may be the biggest bookstore you’ve never heard of. The company is making moves to shake up the book world in a way that may have far-reaching implications. The Guardian reports that Kinokuniya has purchased 90% of the print run of Novelist As a Vocation, the latest collection of writings from Haruki Murakami, Japan’s most popular and prolific writer, in a bid to severely limit Amazon’s stock of what is guaranteed to be a hot seller. The book, which hit shelves on September 10, isn’t exclusively available at Kinokuniya—the company has distributed a substantial number of copies to other bookstores, as well. (Read the full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/25/bookshop-buys-up-90-of-new-haruki-murakami-print-run-to-limit-web-sales.)

Without the advantage of the massive selling power of Amazon and other online retailers, this could spell bad news for the publisher, but the genius of the plot is in the guaranteed selling power of this particular title. Readers are certain to seek it out any way they can. If applied selectively and shrewdly, all players stand to gain from such a strategy (except, of course, Amazon). We may not be likely to see this exact scenario play out in the U.S.; a bookstore needs to have the resources to make such a move, and I’m not sure our equivalent, Barnes & Noble, is currently up to the task. And as the article mentions, there is no single author who dominates sales in America the way Murakami does in Japan. U.S. booksellers will likely need to take a different approach (or be on the lookout for the next big thing—a book release that will beyond a shadow of a doubt generate the kind of hype here in the States that Murakami does in Japan), but bold, creative moves like this will surely be needed if traditional bookstores are to remain competitive.

E-book Sales Decline for Some “Big 5” Publishing Companies after New Amazon Contracts

Written by Kate Leboff

Articles by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, writer for The Wall Street Journal, on September 3, and Ashlee Keiler for the Consumerist, on September 4, report that the sales of e-books have sharply (and surprisingly) declined in 2015 after Amazon allowed three of the biggest publishing companies in the world to set their own prices for their digital books. So, prices were raised, and revenue has dropped. It seems that readers not only dislike paying more for e-books as they do for tangible, print editions but are even less likely to buy those marked at an even higher price than their print versions.

Lagardere SCA’s Hacette Book Group, News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers, and CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster, three of the biggest and baddest publishers in the industry, have cut deals with Amazon recently. Winning the autonomy to set their own prices seemed to be beneficial for publishers and the industry, keeping that aspect of the publishing process out of Amazon’s hands, but instead it is hurting their sales and revenue.

“Publishers succeeded in preventing Amazon from lowballing prices, but ‘unfortunately, it may be that consumers aren’t happy with the higher prices,’ said Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of publishing consulting firm Idea Logical Co.”

Photo sources: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Alfred A. Knopf; Hachette Book Group
Photo sources: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Alfred A. Knopf; Hachette Book Group

In contrast, Amazon’s Kindle e-book sales and revenue have gone up and continue to do so in 2015 for their books not published by the “Big 5.”

The “Big 5,” who choose to sell books on Amazon via the Kindle bookstore, sell their titles about $5.86 more, about 118% more than all other e-books listed, according to Codex Group LLC.

“’Since book buyers expect the price of a Kindle e-book to be well under $9, once you get to over $10 consumers start to say, ‘Let me think about that,’ said Codex CEO Peter Hildick-Smith.”

Hachette priced James Patterson’s new e-book release at $9.99 in 2014, but his latest at $14.99. WSJ’s Trachtenberg reported that the company has seen a 24% drop in their digital book sales for the first half of this year. And things aren’t looking promising for companies with these raised prices on their e-books in comparison of those, which are significantly cheaper, set by Amazon.

Many publishers are claiming that this drop in e-book sales is not due to the Amazon deal that allows for higher pricing but a decline in fewer “hot” titles.

One publishing executive told the WSJ that the industry is a  “title driven business. If you have a good book, price isn’t an issue.”

It seems unclear and is too early to tell if this claim is true or that publishers do not want to admit that the deal cut with Amazon for the ability to set their own e-book prices was a flop rather than a success.

Will publishers need to change their game to halt major cuts in their sales and revenue or will e-book consumers eventually accept these higher prices in their desire to read and own those titles published by and sold on Amazon by Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and other big name companies?