Today I saw a tweet that pretty much summed up the sort of 'digital publishing speak' that most annoys me. I put that in inverted commas, because I don't actually believe that many people who work in publishing actually believe it for one minute. In fact, this sort of talk, the stuff that brings in the headlines, is the stuff peddled by people who think they understand the publishing industry – or at least love the opportunity for them to cry from the rooftops that books are dead. It's a big headline. One of the final frontiers of traditional media to go digital. To be 'massacred'. The last one that the big executives have lost control over. The commentators. They love this talk, but I just wish they'd shut up.
So, back to that tweet. Well – I fundamentally agree with it. It points out exactly what is wrong with the way these commentators operate. It was a quote from Stephen Fry:
I realise my source may seem less than credible. But in the spirit of the internet I thought I had better stick to my original source and credit them. And for those that want it verified, here it is from the horses mouth back in 2009. Yes, 2009, over four years ago. And I believe the point still stands.
Stephen Fry could see this situation back in 2009. The Kindle wasn't launched in the UK until 2010. Over a year later. Yet, commentators will still insist that print is dying, that it is no longer 'economical' to print books. I would have to disagree, however.
The thing with eReaders – be they tablets or e-ink – is that there will always be a barrier to entry. Price. That price has become dramatically reduced, with the Nook and Kobo Mini recently available for as little as £29. But even that is a barrier – and is most likely a price point that the manufacturers simply can't sustain. So with price comes a natural point at which people will no longer purchase an eReader, and I would argue that would leave behind a fair chunk of the population.
So what is actually dead? I would say big print. And by big print, I really mean the big publishers. Why? Because they have overheads. Huge overheads. Offices. Warehouses. Staff. And those staff have targets. And executives. Who are tasked with forever growing everything. Growth cannot be sustained forever.
Little print however, is much more manageable. By little print, I mean independent publishers. It makes sense for them to publish something on a smaller scale. Their overheads are smaller. They might only amount to a room in their house. If they really want, they can post books out themselves, direct to customers. They can do it well. They can offer better service to their customers. They can get to know their customers. They can produce enough stuff to make a living from – probably a fairly good living if they put in the effort.
All in all, little print is possible. It can make financial sense. And it will for many small publishers, and probably many big publishers too. There will always be that chunk of the market that doesn't want to pay for an eReader. There will always be that chunk of the market that can't afford to. And there will always be that chunk of the market that likes books for being books. A physical object. One that can be passed on. One that can be gifted. One that can be displayed. One that can be cherished. One that can be written on. One that can't run out of battery.
So print is not dead. Nor is the Kindle or any other eReader killing it. It is not a threat, just a changing marketplace. Each can live alongside each other – some titles will perform better in print, others in digital form. Some people may even like to buy both. At the end of the day, it is all about a passion for books and stories. How you experience that is just one piece of the puzzle.
Rather than books and print being dead – the headlines might as well say 'progress is happening' or 'managers must get off their arses and adapt to a changing environment'. Sadly, neither will grab your attention. There just isn't much of a headline in things changing slowly, and some people not getting as many fancy lunches. That's news for you.
Ok - I'm a little late off the blocks with this one, and this story broke over a week ago. Amazon has launched what it calls AutoRip
- which allows anyone who has bought CDs or Vinyl from Amazon since 1999, the opportunity to download nearly all of them from Amazon's Cloud Player (I assume there must be some rights exceptions).
There have been many opinion pieces written about this - mostly focusing on the reappearance of music tastes some of us would rather forget. There has also been a little commentary on what this could mean for publishing however - and that is where most of this will focus.
In music, you must remember that there is a more open ecosystem than books. Pretty much anywhere you download an MP3 from, you can move that around your computer, and are more likely to put it on any number of different devices. Amazon is clearly using this as a way to advance their market share in Music where there are a lot of competitors, but primarily iTunes. Amazon has access to vast amounts of consumer data from over the years - and they have very wisely decided to capitalise on it. Whether this has come about as a result of a condition which has been buried in Amazon's deals with labels for years, or is a new arrangement - it says a lot about how far the music business has come. From Amazon's perspective, I'm surprised it has taken them this long to be honest - but that may be indicative of the rights negotiations involve.
The publishing industry is at a very different stage at the moment, however. DRM and propriety formats, namely Kindle, still exist, and Amazon has a huge market share. You must also remember that since it launched, Amazon has also had a bigger market share in bookselling. Bookselling is where the business started, and I would bet that Amazon have probably sold a lot more books than they have music, as iTunes and high street stores dominated until the last few years. Therefore the implications of this, or a similar scheme, coming to Kindle could be huge.
In terms of market share, Amazon would become even stronger. Your personal library for roughly the last 15 years - even in cases where you may have resold the book - now available again to you. As far as ecosystems, and a proposition to the customer (particularly past heavy users), it is impossible to beat. Nobody else holds this much data on the publishing industry. Waterstones, the biggest retailer in the UK, has had several failed attempts at online bookselling, I doubt they hold useful data going back very far. In fact, for those of you that remember, Amazon used to have an online partnership with Waterstones between 2001 and 2006, so it's likely that Amazon own their early data too...
Now, I'm all for choice of whether to read my books on an eReader or in print, it is after all a major cornerstone of our business model. But the use of all of this historical data could only serve to increase the hold Amazon has over the publishing industry. A hold they are building upon with a closed ecosystem. One that means if you want to change to another device, you have to lose EVERYTHING you have bought before. Buying an eBook from Amazon is essentially renting it from them, and I don't know about you - but I like to own the things I pay money for! It is no secret that Amazon has been squeezing publishing margins very tightly - and for an industry that is already very hit or miss, and operating on tight margins - this is very dangerous territory indeed.
It is also worth noting that Amazon could expand this further. DVDs and Video could be another potentially huge opportunity for them with films and TV shows. The three combined would make a very powerful proposition - one that already includes Amazon Prime and its tie-ins to LoveFilm and free Kindle downloads. Two out of three could give them the power to force the third - could the publishing or movie industry afford to refuse these negotiations, and potentially be barred from sale? Android couldn't touch them and Apple would probably struggle too, neither of them have anywhere near that amount of sales data or clout. This could be how Amazon becomes the winner of the content game.
Would you use a publishing equivalent of Amazon's Autorip? Would it be a deal breaker over any other platform for you? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.
Whoops... This 'regular' blog has tailed off a little of late. But rest assured, that is for good reason. We haven't given up. Quite the opposite in fact.
So what has happened in this last two months? Well we have been busy getting a lot of the back-of-house stuff organised. From becoming a limited company at the start of April, we have also had to organise things like registering for tax, setting up bank accounts, getting business cards, setting up mobile phones and IT systems.
Crucially though, we have also been busy nabbing our first author! It's not signed on the dotted line yet, so I can't reveal too much - but everything is provisionally agreed. Our author has had considerable success self publishing his police procedural eBooks series, and we will be working with him to take on the print rights to the first of these, as well as selling the eBooks of all of his books through our own website. We are sure you will love his work, and hope to be able to make a proper announcement soon!
Alongside getting our first author on board, we have had to learn the art of the publishing contract and negotiate a great deal for both of us. Also, as we are now nearly ready to go, we are busy updating and finalising our business plan so that we can make the most of the support available from organisations such as Business Gateway
and Youth Business Scotland
(formerly Princes Scottish Youth Business Trust) to help the business progress as successfully as possible.
We are hoping to get back into regular blogging again soon, and will be working on getting a final website in place ready for our first book, which we are hoping to be able to publish by around Autumn this year! If all goes according to plan, we should be able to make pre-orders available shortly after we have the contract signed.
So kick back, relax, and 'enjoy the ride' - as we bring our books to you in a unique way. We are extremely excited, and hope you are too!
Needless to say, last week was a bit of a shock to the system. I went from being on the Isle of Lewis last Saturday:
to here on Monday:
With only a very minor stop in Inverness (hardly a sprawling metropolis), it's safe to say I was experiencing quite a culture difference. After three days spent in London for the London Book Fair
, I am now back in full swing (almost) and just about caught-up on life. So here is a very-edited round-up of what occurred on Monday at the fair. Sadly this was the day I missed, so this is mostly based on stuff that I've read about! I had to miss the most interesting day...
Man Sends Tweet!
One of the stranger tie-in events with London Book Fair, was a man sending a tweet. Beamed live to London from Waterstones in Inverness... Ok, that man was Ian Rankin, and yes he may have been announcing the title of his forthcoming book – but I still find the concept of the announcement a bit odd... It effectively boiled down to a man standing in a shop, being filmed posting something to Twitter.
For those of you that are interested, the new book is to be titled 'Saints of the Shadow Bible
' and again sees the return of Mr Rebus. This book is set back in Edinburgh, following on from 'Standing in Another Man's Grave
' which was mostly set in the Highlands. The new book sees Rebus re-join the force, after a change in the police retirement age. I, for one, am thoroughly looking forward to the new book!
Books Are My Bag
A brand new campaign devised by M&C Saatchi
was launched at the fair, in conjunction with the Booksellers Association
, Publishers Association
and The Society of Authors
. The 'Books are my Bag
' campaign has received significant support from a number of publishers and booksellers, and is an unprecedented cross-trade promotion of books and bookshops. The campaign claims to be the biggest ever promotional campaign for bookshops, and I am looking forward to seeing it in action when it launches to consumers in September.
The worst part about not getting to London until late on the Monday, was not making it to the fair in time for the launch. This meant I never managed to 'bag' myself one of the bags for myself. Now I might need to go to a bookshop and buy something, just to get one...
Amazon: Friend or Foe?
Foe. According to those questioned
as part of the Great Debate at London Book Fair, when given the statement 'Amazon is a positive influence on today's book industry'. At the start of the debate the results were Friend: 61, Foe: 85. By the end of the debate it was Friend: 59, Foe: 117. In percentage terms it went from 41% to just 33% that thought Amazon was a positive influence. Interesting stuff. Unfortunately, I missed the Great Debate, being stuck on a plane from Inverness to London...
So there are just three things that happened on the Monday at London Book Fair. All of which happened whilst I was at 34,000 feet. I timed that well.
You may be lucky enough to see a few more holiday snaps from the Isle of Lewis. One of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I've only got 400 pictures to choose from...
The short story has been the focus of many start-ups recently. eBooks and digital delivery have made the form-factor easier and more economical to deliver than ever before. Is publishing about to go through a transformation similar to that of the music industry, where consumers have moved from buying albums to singles? Is long-form fiction about to be ditched in favour of the short story?
I'll make my case straight away - I don't think the short story will have as big an impact as people believe. I believe that there is a developing 'niche' in short story fiction, which may serve a number of new entrants well. But, personally, I feel that this area will remain relatively small - and is already beginning to become slightly crowded with enthusiastic start-ups and established players.
The reason I believe this is that short stories are not what generally attracts people (like me anyway) to reading. Reading for me is split into two categories:
- Times when I am bored and want something quick to read, which requires minimal attention.
- Times when I have significant time to devote to reading, and want to indulge myself in a book, its characters and its plot.
Category 1 tends to be filled with reading news articles, features, or Twitter. I can read these while half watching TV, and this time allows me the opportunity to catch up on the stuff that is happening in the world (something which I tend not to do enough of).
Category 2 tends to be when I am going to bed or travelling. I generally have ample time to kill, and have set the time aside for reading. The main thing I tend to struggle with is starting a book - so once I have started a book, I like it to hold my attention for as long as possible. I enjoy exploring the world of the characters, getting deeply involved in their world. And once I start to get intrigued and attached to the story - it makes me go to bed earlier every night, to fit in more reading and immerse myself in the world of the story even more.
My argument is that short stories just wouldn't provide me with enough 'meat' to get into a book and enjoy it as much. I don't think that the detail is there and I would enjoy it as much. One other crucial point is that I don't feel the same value is there - if I did get really into the book, it would be over really quickly. I personally would feel that I was constantly forking out more money for books, and this would start to curb my spending.
Perhaps a way round this would be the subscription model, like that announced yesterday by Tim Waterstone, the founder of Waterstones (amongst other influential industry figures), in the form of Read Petite
- a subscription model of publisher-submitted short-story content. Read Petite will also offer long-form journalism, and I can genuinely see it performing well within the short story/quick r niche. But would I subscribe? I'm not so sure.
Maybe I just haven't found the right short story yet? I also realise I'm only one person - and many probably prefer being able to dip into a short book. But, at present, I can't see a reason why I would ditch long-form fiction in favour of a short story.
What do you think of the recent rise of short stories? Do you prefer a quick read, or something that holds your attention for days/weeks? Let us know! Comment below, or tweet us!
One of the biggest complaints from publishers (and indeed the wider media) when it comes to digitisation of the media, is how their industry is being ruined by piracy. The general attitude within the media is that piracy is always a negative, must be shut down, and must be slowed down by archaic Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. But there are many ways of looking at this, and I would argue (as would an increasing number), that although bad in principle – piracy is not completely terrible.
Neil Gaiman has been one of the most high profile authors to take this approach. In the video below, which was recorded in 2011, Gaiman discusses how he was initially fearful of his work becoming available online, that his copyright was being stolen from him. But then he started to realise that places around the world where he was being pirated the most, he also began to see an increase in sales. Intrigued, Gaiman persuaded his publisher to make one of his books available online for free for a month – which resulted in sales going up by 300% the following month through independent bookshops.
Gaiman goes on to describe why he is no longer afraid of piracy, by explaining that he used to ask people in talks to raise their hands if they had a favourite author – to which most people responded 'yes'. Then he would ask them if they discovered this author by being lent a book, or by discovering it in a bookshop. He suggests that only around 5-10% discovered it in a bookshop. These are the people that now avidly follow the author, are the biggest fans, buy all his books, look after all of his books. But yet, they never discovered the author by buying one of his books in the first place. They were lent it. That is how they found their favourite author.
The point Gaiman is making is that the pirating of books is simply equivalent to the lending of books. These people would probably not have bought the book in the first place. But they have now discovered a new author, they have been recommended an author, they may even discover their favourite author for the first time. And they are considerably more likely to buy one of your books in the future – something which they probably wouldn't have done otherwise. Therefore, is it really a lost sale? No.
Many in the industry may consider this too simplistic a view. They argue that digital files are different to physical books, in that an infinite number of perfect copies can be created, whereas a physical book will wear down over time. This much is true, and there are some people that will probably always turn to piracy, no matter how much they like your books – but would these people ever really have bought your book? If the files are taken down, the sites shut down, the people sharing the files are brought to justice – will that person really go out and buy the book instead? No.
The main reason I can see that they wouldn't go out and buy it, is that someone else will upload the file not long after. It might be more tricky to get hold of, but they will still find a way of getting it for free, and are unlikely to pay for it. Meanwhile, publishers are spending millions finding people that infringe copyright, rather than taking the time to realise why these people 'steal' their content, and taking the time to work out how to make the most of their 'terrible' situation.
So let's turn this terrible situation around. Let's look at what piracy could actually mean for the industry:
- The mean nasty pirate, Mr Pirate McStealerson, is bored one day. Browsing Twitter, he notices a friend has posted a tweet – "Check out @CaptainHook's book 'Piracy and the Internet' – a little tricky to get into, but really thought provoking stuff!"
- Mr McStealerson normally really trusts his friend and the books he likes. But his Kindle just broke, and he has just received a new Kobo reader. While he has a Kindle Fire for movies and music, he doesn't like reading on it all that much, and because it is made by Amazon he can't get the Kobo app. Besides, the publisher has only made the book available via Amazon for £15, so he couldn't buy it for his Kobo anyway. And £15 is just too much for something he can't read on his eReader.
- Mr McStealerson goes to Google and searches for 'Piracy and the Internet by Captain Hook ePUB'. The first result gives him a link to the torrent of the file, and he has downloaded it in less than a couple of minutes, for free. He opens up Calibre, and converts the file to a MOBI as well – this means he can read it on his tablet too when he is going to work. He has both files, on both devices in less than five minutes.
- Over the next week, Pirate reads the book. His friend was right, it totally transforms his views on the subject matter. He rushes straight out to the shop and buys a physical book for his best friend, Dave, who loves reading this sort of thing – his birthday is coming up anyway. Pirate also decides to start a blog discussing the topic at length, and shares posts with his friends regularly. Five of them go out and buy the book, either in physical or digital form.
- Captain Hook advertises a follow up to his book on Twitter. This time he has persuaded his publisher to make it available in all formats online, and for a bit less. Mr McStealerson buys the book straight away – actually, he had it pre-ordered a month before it came out! He also saw a limited edition print version advertised, and bought that before it came out too. He has also been involved in Twitter discussions with the author, and re-tweeted a lot of stuff about the book.
- During the month following the launch, the book sells twice as many copies as the first book ever did. The first book was heavily pirated, and so is the second one. The authors' third book does even better again though.
In this situation, is piracy really harming the author, the publisher, or anyone at all? Was Mr McStealerson ever going to buy the book? Have there been any lost sales? More people have bought the subsequent books. These people might never discovered the author, had they not discovered that first book through piracy.
The real result of piracy, is that the book has reached a much wider audience. One of the biggest battles in publishing is discoverability – anything that helps improve that situation, cannot surely be bad? Yes, piracy is bad in principle, in the fact that it is theft – and if too widespread would be detrimental to the industry – but piracy is a fact of the digital age. Piracy is pretty much proven to be unstoppable – so why should publishers spend so much time, money and effort trying to fight it. Wouldn't they be better off trying to make the most of it? Shouldn't the industry learn to use piracy to its advantage? I know which I would rather spend my time on.
Today I came across this talk from Andrew Losowsky, which discusses how the context within which a story is presented is incredibly important to the way in which it is experienced.
Context is something that is often underestimated when it comes to presentation in our world, not only with media products. As Losowsky demonstrates with the simple example of an A4 handout, the way in which information is presented is crucial to the way in which it is digested.
In simple terms, seeing a picture of a beautiful car, for example, is a completely different experience to that of seeing one in real life. Within what Losowsky calls 'the likely space', our reaction and experience is tied to the context of when you see the image of the car. In a picture this could be in a car magazine, where, within the likely space, it is pretty likely that you are going to see an image of a car that you like the look of. However to see it in real life, seeing this car may more likely belong in the possibility space than the likely space. You may see the car in a shopping mall, or an airport for example – where you may consider it relatively unlikely to see a car. Your brain engages with the story differently. The boundaries of what you are expecting to see are pushed, and your emotional response to that narrative is ultimately different.
"Everyone and everything is a story from the moment that it is perceived. To put it another way, your brain is a machine which turns atoms into stories."
Therefore, the point which Losowsky makes is that everything in life is a story. The way we perceive everything is a story, which is then organised in our brains in a way that makes us learn. Things which are likely within an environment are unlikely to cause us much concern, or to make us pay attention. These are perhaps the mundane, expected experiences of everyday life. When walking alongside a road, it is pretty likely that you will see a Renault Clio or a Ford Focus – and even if you had an unexpected emotional response the first time you saw the car, as you become more used to seeing it on a regular basis over time, it becomes the ordinary. Replace that Clio with a Bugatti Veyron, and it becomes something unexpected, it is outwith the likely space, it makes you pay attention, perhaps stop and stare, drool...
Seeing this other type of car, something you haven't seen in the flesh before, breaks the likely space. It is like someone pulling a gun out of their pocket while talking to them (albeit less extreme). It is going to have an emotional effect. Losowsky puts this down to the breaking of barriers of what is expected in the world, which causes dopamine to make us pay attention, take in this new 'reality', pay more attention to what is happening, and learn from it. Our brains create the story, digest the narrative – and that narrative is unique to us at that exact moment, in that exact place, at that exact time. The context, the medium of the story, and the narrative created all create a dopamine buzz, and the further the boundaries of the likely space are being pushed, the greater the buzz will be, and the more attention we will pay to the story that our brain is telling us.
Now perhaps the example of a car, in this context, is slightly out of keeping. It may even push the boundaries of what is in your likely space, and has perhaps made you think differently about it. You came to a blog from a publishing company, expecting to read something about the 'expressive potential of media', and thus probably thought my discussion would be limited to books. And now that I have acknowledged this, we are much more likely to move back into the likely space, where I will discuss books, briefly.
Of course, the narrative provided by an eBook is completely different to that provided by a physical book. One simple example people often cite as a reason for not liking eBooks is not having a real sense of how far they are through a chapter, or indeed through the whole book. With a physical book you can flip through the pages to find the end of the chapter, and keep your place with a finger. The weight of the book, the thickness of the pages, the number of pages left, all contribute to your sense of how much of the book is left.
The look, the feel, the presence of a book, the location in which you read the book, what has happened on the day that you are reading the book. All of these things contribute to the context of the story. They provide a different narrative, a different experience. A different level of engagement, and many opportunities to challenge what is within your likely space.
"Everything gives a story. Everything contains stories. The medium isn't the message, content isn't King, both of them are true, and both of them are not true. Everything makes up the stories that we understand. The medium is a part of it, the audience is a part of it, the space, the context. Everything that you can control, some things that you can't control."
Whilst pushing the boundaries too often can be overwhelming, I would argue that print publishing provides many more opportunities to affect a reader, and provide a deeper narrative, than an eBook would. Some may argue with this, citing interactivity with sound, video, etc., that are made possible in digital files. However I feel that because a print book is so finite, because it has a set of experiences attached to it through our memories, it has such an almost defined commonly held 'likely space', that the opportunities presented by print cannot be overlooked. Understanding the ways in which people become interested, and how it is possible to reshape the possible and likely spaces, could provide the greatest opportunity of them all. The opportunity to make everyone pay attention.
Andrew Losowsky is Senior Books Editor at The Huffington Post | @twitsplosion
The video was recorded at the Business Innovation Factory 'BIF-7 Summit'. Full information here
So it begins. This means our project is now real. It is happening. So we had best get on.
Welcome to ReBind. And more specifically, welcome to the ReBind blog. This is where we hope to share many discussions with you about publishing, great books, and generally anything that we find interesting. Along the way, we want you to learn a little about us, and get excited about our project.
‘What exactly is ReBind’, I hear you ask? Well, ReBind is a new independent fiction publisher. Currently in our early stages of development, we want to approach book publishing from a slightly different angle to many of our competitors. For a start, we want to involve you in the process, we want to build an active community of readers, we want them to connect with authors, and we want to make beautifully written (and made) books that we can all enjoy, how we want, when we want.
Primarily a digital publisher, we will publish our eBooks in many formats for your eReader, be it a Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iPad, tablet, phone… And the best part is all these eBooks will be DRM-free (if you aren’t sure what DRM is, we’ll probably rant about it a lot on this blog). Essentially this means that we won’t restrict how you read your book. So long as you have a device compatible with the file you have bought, we’re happy for you to transfer it between devices and read it how you wish.
In addition to all our eBooks being DRM-free, if you buy them direct from us, you will be buying the book in all formats, and you can download them again from your account should you ever need to. This also means if you change from (for example) a Kindle to a Kobo, you don’t have to buy the book again to be able to read it in the new format. We want you to have true ownership over your books.
But we have another side too. We also want to produce brilliant quality hardback books too. Initially, these will be limited edition, signed and numbered by the author, and all come with the free eBook in all formats. You can switch between the hardback and eBook as often as you like, you get the convenience of an eBook and the ability to indulge your love of physical books, without having to buy it all twice.
Wouldn’t it be nice to truly own the book you have paid good money for? Wouldn’t it be nice to follow the book develop? Wouldn’t it be nice to be a part of community of like-minded readers passionate about our books?
Join us on our journey to ReBind the book:
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