There is no avoiding the fact that the Big 6 publishers created their own problem in the Kindle. Amazon provided them with an easy way to start making a move into digital publishing when it was just getting off the ground and they jumped at it. That alone wasn’t the problem, though. The issue was that they were so paranoid about the medium that they managed to lock people into the first platform they purchased any significant number of books through. Let’s face it, nobody is better at successfully selling, suggesting, and just generally getting people interested in books than Amazon.
I’ve talked here before about how the Kindle deserves its place as the top selling eReader primarily because nobody else has come close to designing a store that gives customers so much of what they want. The suggestions are often eerily accurate, the categories make sense, and the search options are almost always up to a given task. Even Barnes & Noble can’t come close because of how used to the store-based practice of sponsored marketing they are. Given a choice between accurate recommendations based on personal purchase history balanced against similar customer profiles and recommendations based on what publishers decided to pour an advertising budget into, the choice is fairly simple.
We know that Apple’s price fixing scheme was not the answer in the long run. Not only did it not work particularly well to decrease Amazon’s influence, now the publishers are enjoying legal troubles for their efforts. They do have plenty of reason to want more diversified distribution, though. Looking at Amazon’s treatment of the IPG is enough to highlight some of what it means to be completely at the mercy of a single distributor.
The problem these publishers really need to address is that of their DRM. Amazon has not required publishers to participate in their DRM scheme, to the best of my knowledge. That was forced by publisher paranoia over piracy. If done away with, they are afraid that eBook profits will plummet.
Here, it seems like publisher interests are actually well served by the design of the Kindle. Without losing existing Kindle owners as customers, publishers could easily begin selling their titles without DRM and encourage wider competition. Best case scenario, this would allow publishers to open their own cooperatively stocked eBook store. It would also make possible the creation of smaller stores taking advantage of the same opportunity.
If somebody got truly ambitious, it wouldn’t even be hard to create a Kindle alternative that allowed for essentially the same experience. There are any number of Kindle clones on the market already that do the job fairly well and could probably do it better if the provider felt it was worth the investment in development. There’s no incentive if they can’t attract customers because Kindle Store purchases are locked down to Kindles.
All of this hinges on publishers looking past the possibility of piracy. How is that really so difficult, though? The DRM on eBooks is already laughably easy to get around, judging by how common stories of switching platforms through format conversion have become. If somebody really wants to pirate content, it is going to happen anyway. If these companies genuinely believe that the only thing keeping most Kindle owners from helping themselves to hundreds of free books is the DRM scheme, they’re fooling themselves and working against their own best interests.
While it is hardly the only place that media piracy is coming up these days, eBook piracy is very much on the minds of publishers and booksellers. There has been some informed speculation made that possibly as many as 20% of all eBooks currently loaded into devices like the Kindle are pirated rather than purchased. The number is almost shockingly high for some and seems to demand a response. The big question is what action could and should be successful.
Since I’m assuming that this reaches a relatively well informed and reasoning audience, I don’t need to spend much time on the fallacy of assuming that every eBook loaded onto a Kindle thanks to piracy is a lost sale. Naturally this is not the case as studies have shown repeatedly when looking into music, movie, and video game piracy. Most of these same studies have shown that piracy does not have any strong negative effect on sales at all, but let’s assume for the moment that at the very least it allows the market trends to shift based on where customers see the most value to be gained for their money.
This is where the piracy “problem” gets relevant. Publishers wish to control the perceived value of their product. It is problematic for them if customers are able to get the same quality of experience from a $3.99 eBook that they do from a $17.99 hardcover, as this has an adverse effect on a mainstay of traditional publishing. Unfortunately, this sort of control can only be exercised in a situation where the publishers can regulate the flow of new work being made available to customers. eBooks naturally render this impossible, especially given how simple it is to choose self publishing these days thanks to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others.
Do I agree with the idea that books should lose value in an environment where there are too many of them to possibly read? Not entirely, but that’s just the way things work. If you have two similar titles being offered for wildly different prices then the cheaper one is likely to win out, barring dramatically successful marketing efforts. The only way that piracy really plays into this is in allowing readers to still have access to their favorite authors in situations where they would feel unable to justify paying now-outrageous prices. This is not necessarily a view of the emotional or philosophical “rightness” of the act, just an awareness of the psychology at work.
When it comes right down to it, you can’t stop piracy. No matter how restrictive the DRM, there are always more people interested in breaking it than maintaining it. What you can do is adapt to the market and respect your customers. Publishers who insist that if they can just shut down piracy sites and force Amazon to set high prices for Kindle books then all will be well are deluded. The only way to control piracy is to make legal acquisition affordable enough and simple enough that the alternative is too much of a hassle to be considered. The problem is not that the Kindle allows readers to access files they pick up from anywhere on the net, it’s things like the Big 6/Apple Agency Model implementation that try to freeze an entire form of media into an economic model that no longer functions.
In what is just the latest point of conflict between Amazon and Barnes & Noble over their relative positions in book sales, B&N has announced that they are unwilling to stock any Amazon published works in their stores. It is clearly an informed decision that responds to multiple pressures coming from Amazon.com and online retailers in general, but it also raises the question of whether the Brick & Mortar chain can make such a bold move without drawing customer attention to the value of owning a Kindle.
The stated reason behind this decision is that Amazon has been increasingly successful in arranging exclusivity agreements with major publishers and authors that have prevented the competition from being able to provide the best possible service to their Nook customers. A fair point, and not one that many people would disagree with. Amazon is definitely fond of throwing their weight around. At the same time, however, it is a general admission that the Nook is unable to manage to compete on equal terms against the Kindle as things stand right now and possibly not the best way to reassure customers and investors of the long term viability of the product line.
This also relates to the extremely controversial practice of “showrooming” that has made headlines regularly ever since Amazon released their price check app for iOS and Android smartphones. Since Amazon’s structure allows them to save a great deal of money on things like local stores, they can offer lower prices on a wide variety of things. This is especially the case with paper books, where it is extremely unusual to fail to catch a deal compared to any local retailer. A company that relies on their overt physical presence as much as Barnes & Noble does will obviously be negatively affected by such instant access to price comparisons since it deters impulse buying and turns their stores into profitless showcases for another company. By refusing to carry the physical copies of Amazon’s new publications, they clearly hope to demonstrate to those lured into exclusivity agreements that the Brick & Mortar is still vital to success.
Again, I can’t help but feel that this is a big gamble. If Amazon were not already well ahead in book sales then this would not be a problem in the first place. The Kindle has, thanks to their huge investments and the very exclusivity arrangements that B&N is unhappy with, built up the most substantial library and user base in the eReading world. It will take something drastic to knock them back down to a manageable level, but the idea that Barnes & Noble showrooms can have that kind of influence is questionable.
This feels like something that will end up turning major authors into Kindle exclusives whether they intended to be or not, further devaluing the selection at Barnes & Noble. While they have also declared that these books would still be available through web services, it will take a lot of customer loyalty for that to be a viable purchasing option compared to Amazon.com.
When it comes to publishing an indie book, the Kindle Direct Publishing program has done wonders for new authors all over the place. Some, like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, have manages to hit it big as a result. In spite of these examples though, it is impossible to deny that for the most part people don’t take most self published works too seriously at first glance. There are a few big factors that I believe play into this.
The first would be, as sad as it is, poorly designed cover art. Even if you are writing for the Kindle, the first thing people are going to see will be the cover you have chosen to represent your work. A piece of clip art or quick Photoshop-ed photo will only serve to indicate that you couldn’t be bothered with quality control. Nobody will deny that marketing is the most important of making an indie book take off and your cover is the most basic piece of marketing.
Second, and somewhat more intuitive, is editing. If you get comments in reviews about having a poorly edited book, that will work against you. Nobody really likes to read badly written prose even when it tells an amazing story. It can completely destroy immersion at key moments. Now, obviously nobody is perfect and even the best books slip through to print with errors, but that doesn’t mean there is any excuse for failing to triple-check your work and find somebody else to look over it for you too. You’re expecting people to pay money for this in the end, so it should be worth a little extra effort.
Third and finally, is the quick release schedule. While it has become almost commonplace to hear the advice that Kindle publishing requires you to release a book every 6-12 months to retain reader interest, this should be considered very carefully. While you will definitely start making money faster the more of a back catalogue you have going for you, it is more important to make sure that the best possible product is going out. Five poorly reviewed books will not only earn you less money than two well reviewed books in the same time period, they will pull you down even if later works improve dramatically. When you write you are building your name into a brand. Keep in mind how you want that brand to be perceived.
Naturally this is all fairly general and there are a few reasons that all of these points, especially the last one, can be less important for certain projects. There is significant potential in self publishing these days thanks to the Kindle though, and it is painful to see potentially great authors being ignored thanks to missteps made in the rush to get a piece of the readership. Just remember that readers are going to keep reading. The Kindle is more popular all the time and unlikely to fall away as the most widely used eReader in the world any time soon. Take your time and make something you can be proud of.
We are well aware now what the big Apple announcement for January was: their new iBooks Author program. It is a program that allows for easy creation of books, most notably textbooks, for free. iBooks might have failed to kill the Kindle platform, even given the whole Agency Model collusion with publishers (the legality of which we’ll have to wait and see about), but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up. After some experimentation with the new program I find myself conflicted. I wanted it to be mediocre, but it’s not. And therein lies the problem.
You see, there is a bit of a problem with the program’s EULA. It won’t be a deal breaker for just anybody, but there is definitely important information to be aware of. By using the iBooks Author program, you are agreeing that not only will anything you sell be available in Apple’s eBook store but also will never never be sold for the Kindle, Nook, or any other non-Apple device.
Before going into the subtleties of the wording, and there are a few arguments with varying degrees of merit that have been made toward the harmlessness of this clause, consider that this can definitely be read as a response to the recent Amazon effort to gain author exclusivity. The only difference is that Amazon brings in authors with a chance at more money while Apple just quietly restricts their distribution rights with a clause that users not only never explicitly accept, but don’t even see unless they go out of their way.
That said, there are a few situations where I think this will be an extremely valuable thing to have. If you are planning to create and distribute your work permanently free of charge, I have yet to find a more intuitive, affordable tool for making textbooks or manuals. If your book was always intended to be marketed primarily to users of the iBooks store, this probably won’t have much of an impact on you.
Now, let’s acknowledge some ambiguities in the wording and clarify some of the many common points of contention:
Restrictions Only Apply To iBook Format: FALSE
The definition of “Work” used in the EULA clearly indicates that anything generated using the software counts. It does not matter if you export to PDF, for example.
Apple Is Stealing Author Copyrights: FALSE
Anything you create is yours from the moment you create it unless you explicitly hand over permission. What Apple is doing is telling you where you can sell it. Using iBooks Author allows them to restrict distribution of your work, but otherwise seems to offer them no rights to it.
All This Applies To Is The Formatted Product, Not The Content: AMBIGUOUS
Leaving aside the textbook for a moment and assuming we are talking about a book that is completely text based. If you want to release a Kindle version, it would seem possible to just copy the text and reformat. The wording of the EULA describes “Work” recursively as “any book or other work you generate using this software”. This can, and hopefully would be, read to mean that only the final, fully formatted output is affected, but the ambiguity is troubling.
It Is Free Software, They Have A Right To Expect A Return: TRUE-ISH
Nobody is forcing you to use this program. It is being provided free of charge by Apple and provides far greater functionality than any other free program out there for the same purposes. Most such restrictions are aimed toward restriction the active use of the software rather than restricting how a creator can manage their own work, though. Neither illegal nor unprecedented, but odd and somewhat troubling.
Not A Consumer Targeted Software Anyway: FALSE
This one comes up a lot. Despite the large number of advertisements being done involving the cooperation of such publishers as Pearson and McGraw Hill in the iBooks Textbook initiative, there has been no indication that they are contributing work under the same agreement. This is free software pointed at teachers and authors in the advertising (particularly the promo video). It has bundled templates to simplify the work, a simple drag and drop interface, and tons of automation. There is depth for those who need it, but definitely not aimed solely at experienced professional textbook publishers.
Apple Can Prevent A Finished Book From Ever Being Sold: TRUE
All that is required for a book to be covered by these restrictions is that it be a product of iBooks Author. Publication is neither automated nor guaranteed, and just because Apple turns you down does not mean that you are free to market your work through another platform or sell through your own means.
Apple Offers Better/Worse Royalties Than The Competition Anyway: FALSE
Apple is effectively offering the same cut of all sales to authors as the vast majority of authors receive when selling for the Kindle and nearly the same (within 5%) as that offered to Nook sellers.
Now, I’m not about to claim that this is the most horrible thing ever done to authors or even that it is deliberately malicious. Some have claimed that just as this is a 1.0 software, so is the EULA in early versions too and ambiguity will inevitably be removed. If so, and there was no intent to deceive or control, so be it. It is already a complicated enough process to get anything out of your eBooks that authors should be aware of what they are getting into, though. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be locked out of the Kindle platform by accident when that’s where all the readers are.
This is good software. Possibly great software. But the limitations aren’t the same as you get when publishing a Kindle Edition, where all you need to worry about is not selling things cheaper elsewhere. Under the current wording it seems to literally stop you from reaching an audience. That’s just unpleasant, and something that people need to be aware of when deciding whether or not iBooks Author is for them.
Recent reports indicate that later this month we can expect to see Apple host a press conference related to, of all things, eBooks. After news that the Kindle Fire has had a noticeable impact on iPad sales this past quarter, clearly something has to be done. This is not official as of yet, but multiple sources in positions to be aware of such plans have passed along the same information. While we have no way as of yet to know for sure where this will lead, the most common rumors seem to point to Apple’s launching of a digital self publishing platform to compete with the Kindle Direct Publishing program.
In reality, such a move on Apple’s part would be quite surprising. In addition to the fact that simply matching the competition seems to offer far less reward than the effort would be worth given that the iBooks store has failed to really take off so far anyway, Apple is already making about as much on each book sold to owners of their devices as they would be likely to make off a program competitive enough to draw in new authors. Keeping in mind the fact that anybody publishing through Amazon’s KDP program, or even Barnes & Noble’s slightly less popular PubIt, will already be available to iOS users, the only real motivation for Apple here would be to draw authors into an exclusive arrangement in some way to enhance the iBooks selection. Amazon has already begun a similar effort tied into their Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, so this would not necessarily be a shocking move, but there is little reason to suspect that Apple is desperate to suddenly push into the eBook market in a major way.
Since we can be fairly certain that whatever the announcement is about will be related to publishing in some way, however, there are a few other possibilities. Textbook rental is one of the more likely possibilities. While Amazon’s new Kindle Format 8 provides some more robust formatting options to publishers and the Kindle Fire obviously handles the demands of textbooks more easily than E INK reading devices, so far the Kindle Textbook Rental program has failed to draw much attention. Given the iPad’s larger screen and Apple’s strong presence on college campuses, it would make sense for them to jump to fill in this gap in the market before anybody else beats them to it.
It is also possible that this has something to do with the ongoing class action lawsuits against Apple and the Big 6 publishers over price fixing and the imposition of the Agency Model around the time the iPad was released. In the past month the situation has become quite a bit more intense, with the US Justice Department joining in and at least 15 ongoing suits. It would seem unlikely that the company would want to comment on an ongoing legal battle, but given claims of detailed inside information on the part of certain plaintiffs there is always the chance that preemptive spin on an anticipated settlement attempt might be in order.
The one thing everybody agrees on is that this will not be a hardware announcement. While there is still speculation with varying degrees of believability about a smaller iPad meant to compete with the Kindle Fire, that will have to wait until later. For now, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect.
For those who have been paying attention, it doesn’t come as much of a shock to hear that people are unhappy about the rise in price of Kindle eBooks caused by the Agency Model pricing forced on Amazon by the largest publishing houses in the business. Apple came out with iBooks as a means of adding value to the iPad’s initial launch, and in doing so arranged things to prevent Amazon from having an advantage. They went to the publishers, worked out an industry-wide deal, and ended the era of the affordably priced eBook. Now, finally, somebody is calling them on it.
The basis for the suit is a number of early indications that Apple knew ahead of time that all of the major publishers would be turning on Amazon at the same time. A much publicized Wall Street Journal article from early 2010 had Steve Jobs clearly aware of the impending changes and certain not only of his company’s ability to price match but of the publishers’ willingness to boycott Amazon in order to change the state of the market. While Amazon did make every attempt to keep the Kindle Store free of such manipulation and price hiking, in the end each publisher is the controller of its own works and they were forced to concede defeat in order to keep the content available to Kindle readers.
The suit charges Apple and the five largest publishing companies with antitrust violations, among other things, and would seek to represent anybody who has purchased an eBook since the prices jumped over 30% practically overnight last year. If successful, the Agency Model would be completely overturned, as would the arrangements currently in place preventing price discrepancies between retailers.
There is every reason to believe that this has at least a chance of success. It is not even the first legal obstacle that publishers have faced since they turned on the Kindle. In 2010 both Amazon and Apple were brought to talks with the Attorney General of Connecticut, who had concerns that the abrupt change would lead to a situation where competition between companies would be impossible. Such anti-competitive behavior would of course be a dangerous thing to be involved in, but the companies being looked at at the time were clearly not colluding. This time, looking at Apple and the publishers, it might not pass quite so easily.
Though it will be months, at best, before there is even an indication of which way this is likely to turn out, it is possible that there will be some change in the meantime. eBooks are the only area where the publishing industry seems to be growing lately, and the Kindle platform is the driving force behind eBook sales in the US. Anything that publishers can do to improve sales will be to their advantage, and they have shown at least some small interest in the potential from reduced pricing. Will it be enough to change the face of eBook publishing without legal intervention? Time will tell. It seems inevitable that publishers will come to their senses eventually and drive their numbers up any way that works, though, and the success of the lawsuit is still just speculation.
J.K Rowling, long term eBook holdout, has decided to finally let the Harry Potter series out for the Kindle and into the eReading marketplace in general. It’s good news for fans of Harry Potter, fans of eReaders, and basically everybody but the publishers. You see, Rowling has retained her electronic publishing rights and stands to make pretty much pure profit from every sale these electronic releases bring along. The only question now is what this will mean, if anything, for how eBooks work in general from this point on when it comes to major publications.
First, I should point out that Rowling has voluntarily agreed to pass along a portion of her eBook profits to her publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing and Scholastic. No word on precisely how much, to the best of my knowledge, but it shows that this isn’t a cutting of ties to the industry. We also know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble have stated that they are working with the Pottermore site to make sure that the new Harry Potter publications work with the Kindle, Nook, etc. with0ut much trouble. This last fact could mean anything from simply optimizing the layout to offering some degree of post-purchase integration with the respective platforms. It is too soon to tell on that.
I’m going to work on the assumption here that Rowling is putting aside any real integration with the Kindle or Nook platforms to avoid giving either Amazon or Barnes & Noble a cut. They’re likely simply trying to take advantage of the inevitable popularity of the eBooks to promote themselves by association. That’s about the best they can hope to get from it. For smaller book retailers, however, this is likely going to come as bad news. Even more so for children’s booksellers.
Even if Pottermore, the site that Rowling will be selling her material through, takes off, will it change things for either publishers or retailers? I am of the opinion that it will not. This is a very unique case. Most publishers make a point of acquiring the eBook rights at the same time as everything else when they sign a new author. Especially now that the eBook industry has become such a big thing compared to what it was when Rowling got started. As such, no way for big names to make a move like this after they become big names. Newer authors, especially self-publishing authors, will not have the resources to push sales to users of the Kindle and Nook while still maintaining their distance from the respective platforms. Even if they did, it isn’t like Amazon will jump at the chance to work closely with just any author who wants to circumvent their cut of the profits in a creative way.
Honestly, I would say that the only impact this will have is directly on the Harry Potter series. There isn’t transfer to the rest of the eBook world. It is too soon to say if the Pottermore site will do well, and most of that will likely have to do with considerations beyond the eBook availability. Even if it does, the only people to benefit will be the Kindle-owning fans and Rowling herself. It isn’t a sign that changes are coming.
Not too long ago, Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) announced that they were finally officially selling more Kindle Edition eBooks than they were print books, even discounting free book downloads. It was a big deal and, I think, still is. It indicates changing perceptions of what a book is to a reader at the conceptual level. I’m not saying that the battle is won or anything, but milestones matter.
Since that time, people have reacted in a number of ways. Publishers have expressed skepticism, which makes perfect sense given their level of investment in keeping eBook prices as high as possible. People like me who are fans of the Kindle, its associated platform, and the community building up around it have expressed the obvious enthusiasm. I’m not claiming a lack of bias on this point. At least one analyst, a Michael Norris, has publicly called the claim “obnoxious” and expressed the opinion that the whole announcement was a publicity stunt made possible by taking things completely out of context.
Context is indeed what matters here. Norris goes on to express the opinion that Amazon must be padding their numbers with some apparently astounding sales from the popular Kindle Singles program. While I’m skeptical of the claim that the Singles are where Amazon is making most of their sales, having looked through the selection more than once, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that the Kindle Singles are shorter doesn’t make them “not books” in my eyes. Really, I don’t think it does for this guy either. I believe what he is objecting to is the fact that a product selling for $0.99 can hold as much weight as a product going for $12.99 when it comes time to compare sales. He comes out and says “Obviously, when you’re selling units so inexpensively, you’re going to sell more of those than, for example, a $14 paperback print book” and thinks he’s making a point against eBooks.
This gets to the heart of the matter, and I think it explains the difference between what customers want to know and what publishers would like them to know. As a reader and buyer of books, both electronic and otherwise, I am more interested in the number of copies being sold than I am in how much profit somebody is making off of them. I’m not a stockholder. If somebody tells me that in spite of 20% of all book sales in a year being eBooks only 5% of a specific publisher’s income came from them, I wonder what that publisher was doing wrong, not what is wrong with eBook loving customers.
What I’m trying to get at is that saying that the numbers are misleading just because they address an aspect of the transition to a new medium that you don’t like is not cool. Yes, this is a different context from what you may be used to, but it is not out of context. If anything, it highlights a more relevant piece of information about the new publishing business than most other things I have seen. Is the announcement a bit self-serving on Amazon’s part? Of course, or why would they have made it? It wouldn’t be useful, though if it didn’t tell people something they wanted to know. The Kindle is doing well, possibly better than anybody could have expected at this point, and whether or not that had to do with Kindle Singles it seems that people were interested enough to take notice.
Lately, I can’t help myself but notice a new emerging movement of free e-books haters. Mind you, I’m not talking about the pirated free e-books haters. That emotional response to copyright infringement is congruent. I mean a group of people, who dislikes the fact that:
1) free e-books exist;
2) free e-books are popular among readers.
Where do I see these people? Well, they tend to hang out around Kindle-related websites leaving vehement anti-free e-books comments here and there. You probably know what I’m talking about.
To my astonishment, I discovered a common trait among the free e-book haters (how about I just call them FEH): they tend to be authors themselves. So, why would the wise writers be so against the fact that their fellow writer decided to offer his/hers work for free?
It appears that FEH perceive readers as ungrateful, evil crocodiles who only want to consume free stuff and never pay for the literary labor. Well, that’s just silly! A thankful reader, who enjoyed a freebie will always go looking for more books by the author he/she enjoyed.
So, I have a theory. You see, FEH usually are recently sprouted authors with one e-published work, with some useless subject matter, say How to Choose Your Paper Mate Pen Wisely: a Very Thorough Guide (sponsored by Paper Mate). So, if they put their sole literary child out there for free, then how would they make their first billion? And that’s how we get “Free e-books spoil people! Let’s close all the public libraries!” (© imaginary FEH).
Of course, this theory relies on a completely hypothetical situation, which is most likely absurdly inaccurate. However, the point is that Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) influenced publishing towards making it more accessible. As a result, the modern literary world not only expanded, but also became more commercialized. There are many emerging authors, who write not for the love of writing, but for the chance to “win” a lottery in publishing business. And the concept of free books is just standing in their way.
I hope I’m wrong about it. Although, if I’m somewhere close to the truth – dear FEH, your chances to make a fortune on a useless guide will come true only in case if a million of e-book shoppers will stumble and fall on “buy this guide” button. Or, it might be one unfortunate shopper – stumbling and falling a million times. Perhaps, you might need to reconsider changing a profession from a pure business person to a business person, who writes well. And very possibly, the hostility toward free e-books will somewhat diminish in its proportions.
– one (e-)book(/guide) author