The proposed merger of Penguin and Random House might be too late for a publishing industry seemingly set on self-destruction
There’s something quaintly touching about the spectacle of two publishing conglomerates – Bertelsmann and Pearson – arranging for their book-publishing arms (Random House and Penguin respectively) to huddle together for warmth against the icy blasts coming from California (Google and Apple) and Seattle (Amazon). When the deal (which still has to be approved by regulators) was announced, there was the usual corporate guff about “synergies” – aka job losses – and about how the new partnership will be “the world’s leading publishing house”, which will give it “the upper hand” in its dealings with Apple and Amazon.
Ho, ho. In the long view of history, the Bertelsmann-Pearson deal will be seen as just the latest instalment of a long-running story: a tale of formerly dominant industries trying to prevent their venerable business models being dismantled by the internet. The early victims were travel agents, record labels, newspapers, magazines and broadcast networks.
In each case, the relevant executives could be heard loudly declaring that while it was indeed the case that the guys “over there” (gesturing in the direction of some other industry) were being disintermediated by the network, nevertheless the speaker’s own industry was special and therefore immune from technological contagion. Universities and book publishers have been arguing like this for quite a while. The Bertelsmann-Pearson deal suggests that the publishers have finally heard the tocsin. Universities haven’t got the message yet.
The funny thing about the publishing industry is that long before it was really threatened by the internet it was busily rearranging itself so as to make it more vulnerable to it. The process was vividly described by sociologist John Thompson in his book Merchants of Culture, the best account we have of what happened to publishing. As Professor Thompson tells it, the transformation of the industry occurred in three phases. In the first, the retail environment changed as large chains (Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Borders et al) supplanted independent bookstores. This created a new phenomenon – the mass-market hardback. Second, a new breed of aggressive literary agent appeared, poaching authors and leaning on publishers for unsustainable advances for the aforementioned hardbacks. And finally, large public corporations (think Bertelsmann, Pearson, News Corp) started acquiring the smallish publishing houses that once constituted the bulk of the industry, in the process transforming something that was once based on private ownership, long-term thinking, the nurturing of authors and backlists into an industry driven predominately by the obsession of stock markets with short-term (ie quarterly) results.
Thus publishing turned into an industry that was inordinately reliant on blockbuster products to deliver the results that Wall Street demanded. The result was a market characterised by what statisticians call a power-law distribution – ie one in which a relatively small number of products sell in enormous volume while a “long tail” of other products sell in relatively modest quantities. The physical world of high street shops can’t handle a long tail for the simple reason that shelf-space costs money. Every book has to earn its rent. But internet outfits such as Amazon don’t have any problem handling the long tail; in fact, the company probably makes more from selling non-bestsellers than it does from blockbusters.
Which is how we’ve arrived at the point where our conglomerate publishing giants are getting really scared. They can see themselves heading down the slippery slope that made the record labels prisoners of the Apple iTunes store, except, in this case, for Apple read Amazon.
If you think that this might be good news for consumers, think again. Consider, for example, all those people who happily purchase books for their Amazon Kindles. (On the train the other day, five people in my immediate vicinity were reading on them.) The blogosphere was much exercised recently when a blogger, Martin Bekkelund, reported on the plight of a Norwegian woman – identified only as Linn – who found that she had lost all the books she had purchased for her Kindle. The device had been remotely erased by Amazon because of some mysterious “problem” with her account. Mr Bekkelund published the set of increasingly Kafkaesque emails Linn received from Amazon as she tried to find out why she had been victimised in this way. In the end, after the blog post received wide circulation, Linn’s Kindle was – just as mysteriously – reloaded with the books she had bought.
Except that she hadn’t really bought them. All she had done was to buy a licence to read them on “her” Kindle at Amazon’s pleasure. Which makes one wonder how the Trade Descriptions Act might view the company’s invitation to “Buy now with 1-Click” on a Kindle book.
Shares of Amazon are up more than 40% this year. It seems investors are getting too caught up in the enthusiasm about Amazon’s Kindle business and its small but growing cloud services division.
Visit link: Amazon: Great company, WAY overvalued stock
Amazon has shown off three new Kindle Fire tablets, two of which will be made available in the UK from late October.
View post: Amazon Kindle Fires come to UK
US bookseller Barnes & Noble seeks to loosen Amazon’s grip on digital book market in Britain
Barnes & Noble, the US bookseller, has secured a deal with John Lewis to distribute its Nook e-reader as it seeks to dent Amazon’s dominance of the UK digital book market.
John Lewis will be the first retailer outside the US to sell the Nook and will begin stocking it from this autumn in its 37 stores and on its website.
Launched in October 2009, the Nook has helped Barnes & Noble, the largest bricks and mortar bookshop in the US, eat into Amazon’s ebook market share. The popularity of its Kindle reader helped Amazon at one point claim to generate 90% of ebook sales in the US, but that has fallen to 60% as Apple’s iTunes store and the Nook make inroads. In Britain, publishers estimate Amazon controls 90% of UK ebook sales because of the lack of a digitally advanced rival .
Although the Nook range includes a full-colour touch-screen tablet, launched in February shortly after Amazon’s Kindle Fire, only its black and white e-ink readers will be available from launch in the UK.
“John Lewis is where knowledgeable customers turn for trusted advice on the best products to purchase, and they are a perfect partner to help launch Nook in the UK,” said Jamie Iannone, president of digital products at Barnes & Noble.
HaperCollins’s chief executive is about to launch an e-atlas – and, she says, that’s not the only way the world is changing
As the trays of cheese and wine begin to circulate for this autumn’s book launch season, one of the UK’s biggest publishing houses will be pinning its hopes not on a hardback, but on an app designed for tablet computers.
Alongside celebrity autobiographies from Victoria Pendleton and Cheryl Cole, and John Major’s history of music
For every 100 hardback and paperback books it sells on its UK site, 114 ebooks are downloaded in ‘reading renaissance’
Amazon.co.uk has said that sales of its Kindle ebooks are now outstripping its sales of printed books.
Underlining the speed of change in the publishing industry, Amazon said that two years after introducing the Kindle, customers are now buying more ebooks than all hardcovers and paperbacks combined. According to unaudited figures released by the company on Monday, since the start of 2012, for every 100 hardback and paperback book sold on its site, customers downloaded 114 ebooks. Amazon said the figures included sales of printed books which did not have Kindle editions, but excluded free ebooks.
In a surprise move in May, the company went into partnership with the UK’s largest bricks-and-mortar books retailer, Waterstones.
Much to the consternation of the publishing industry, Amazon has refused to release audited figures for its digital book sales, something it does for printed books. It told the Guardian that the company would not discuss future policy on the matter.
The company said its figures also showed that British Kindle users were buying four times as many books as they were prior to owning a Kindle, a trend it described as a renaissance of reading.
“As soon as we started selling Kindles it became our bestselling product on Amazon.co.uk so there was a very quick adoption … [And they] are buying four times more books prior to owning a Kindle,” an Amazon spokeswoman said. “Generally there seems to be … a love of a reading and a renaissance as a result of Kindle being launched.”
Despite revealing that more than half a million Kindle books are priced at £3.99 or less, Amazon said a boost in ebook sales was not just about cheap books and argued that much of its printed range was also sold at a low price.
Ebook sales have been given a boost by the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, which has sold two million copies in the past four months.
Three of the top 10 most popular Kindle authors of 2012 – Nick Spalding, Katia Lief and Kerry Wilkinson – were published by Amazon’s own Kindle Direct Publishing.
Jorrit Van der Meulen, vice-president of Kindle EU, said: “Customers in the UK are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books, even as our print business continues to grow. We hit this milestone in the US less than four years after introducing Kindle, so to reach this landmark after just two years in the UK is remarkable and shows how quickly UK readers are embracing Kindle. As a result of the success of Kindle, we’re selling more books than ever before on behalf of authors and publishers.”
• This article has been amended to stress that figures quoted solely reflect Amazon sales
Amazon (AMZN) plans to introduce a digital bookstore in Brazil and sell its Kindle e-reader in the country in the autumn, Reuters reported on Friday. A digital launch would be a prelude to a full retail operation, although that would face massive problems due to Brazil’s poor infrastructure and high taxes. “Come to hell with us, Amazon,” says one Brazilian bookstore exec. (previous) Post your comment!
See the rest here: Amazon (AMZN) plans to introduce a digital bookstore in Brazil and sell its Kindle e-reader in the country in the autumn, Reuters reported on Friday. A digital launch would be a prelude to a full retail operation, although that would face massive…
Listen.com founder Rob Reid compares the success of the publishing industry to adapt to the digital world and the total failure of the music industry. While the first MP3 player was greeted with a lawsuit, “the Kindle launched with licenses rather than lawsuits…and offered more than 90% of the day’s best sellers when it shipped.” Post your comment!
View post: Listen.com founder Rob Reid compares the success of the publishing industry to adapt to the digital world and the total failure of the music industry. While the first MP3 player was greeted with a lawsuit, "the Kindle launched with licenses…