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.
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.