The December numbers are in for Amazon’s rather controversial Kindle Owners‘ Lending Library (KOLL) and for some people they turned out to be quite good. Right around 295,000 rentals were made of the approximately 70,000 titles available to be checked out in December alone. Given the $500,000 fund allotted to compensate KDP exclusive authors for these rentals, that means approximately $1.70 per lent copy was handed out. Things went over so well, in fact, that Amazon is throwing another $200,000 into the pool for January’s authors. This will bring the total to be divided up to $700,000, though of course it will also quite possibly be divided among even more authors this time around.
Among the more notable success stories, we know that the top ten most popular KOLL authors put together nabbed over $70,000 from these rentals alone. That is around a 30% increase over other monthly income from the same works. The top earner was Carolyn McCray, author of a number of paranormal romance and mystery/thriller titles, who is quoted in the Amazon Press Release as saying that “KDP Select truly is a career altering program”. Romance writer Amber Scott, 16yr old children’s author Rachel Yu, and the puzzle book producing Grabarchuk family made up the rest of the highlighted triumphs, with over $6,000 in KOLL related income apiece.
In these cases, obviously there has been no significant downside to the program. The fact that participation in it requires exclusively making one’s work available exclusively to Kindle owners may have more of an effect on many others, however. What the press release numbers do not tell us is the average income that an author managed to pick up this month, aside from the fact that it was a measurable percentage increase over participating authors’ usual monthly income from Kindle Store proceeds. It would be interesting, if pretty much impossible, to compare how many authors saw a jump in profits compared to the number who actually lost income due to exclusivity. It seems safe to assume that this was the case for at least some people.
As with anything related to self publishing, however, most of the success will have to come through some form of author driven advertising. Random hits by interested browsers are nice, but word of mouth is frequently not enough to drive sales on its own even for a skilled and prolific writer. The lending community opens the door to new readers, but so far is not arranged in such a way as to point readers toward any particular title.
Overall this success is a plus for any fan of the Kindle. Owning one gains some ongoing perks in the form of book rentals, success stories among authors will surely lead to even more participants, and Amazon has immediately shown themselves likely to increase the compensation pool. We’ll be watching the program here in months to come as the situation stabilizes. You can’t really assume that holiday Kindle sales are having anything but a positive effect on everything related to the eReading line, so it might be the end of first quarter before we can say anything definitive about ongoing positive trends. Still, off to a good note.
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.
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.
This isn’t a new topic, but it also doesn’t seem to be going away. There are some very loud people convinced that the Kindle spells the end of the book and they’re quite willing to say so. In a very, very limited way, they’re right. The problem is that they’re missing the point.
You see, books have come a long way already over the years. It doesn’t matter if you decide to cite oral tradition, serialized texts, or pretty much anything else as the origination point for the modern concept of the book, it’s not possible to deny that the book as we know it is an evolution from something else. The transition to the medium we know and love today, which is itself distinct from the books produced prior to the printing press for example, has allowed for more variety and enjoyment to emerge than ever before. The Kindle, and other eReaders like it, is simply the next stage in the ongoing progression. It takes the established situation and makes it more efficient to deliver, less restrictive in terms of publication, and more generally accessible overall.
In a way, this is the heart of the problem. The publishing industry isn’t built around the text. In the end, it doesn’t matter if they are selling the most amazing piece of literature ever written or the latest exploitation of the vampire romance novel phenomenon so long as people are buying. The industry makes its money by selling the book as a physical object and offering the person or people who produced the information inside a cut of the profit. If you take away the paper, their model seems less sustainable.
If anybody sitting at home can do the work to get a novel written, polished, and put up for sale with no need for a middle-man and at a higher percentage than the publishing houses are prone to offering, then what is the point of courting them? What we need to see now is some initiative on the part of these companies. What are they bringing to the table? It isn’t enough to cite history and what they’ve done before. If the Kindle is supposed to be single-handedly destroying publishing as we know it, you have to assume that it has more to do with what the public considers to be worth their money than it does with Jeff Bezos being an evil genius bent on taking over the world.
If they are going to stay afloat, people need to be informed about what advantages there are in going with a publisher. The doors need to open up a bit. If this isn’t enough, then it isn’t a sign that somebody is out to get them, it’s a sign that publishers simply aren’t providing authors with decent value anymore. The industry isn’t changing on a whim, it’s changing because things like the Kindle platform are making it possible for authors and readers to avoid the red tape and pointless markups that are left over from a time when successful publishing was literally impossible without an impressive backer. We’re moving on.
As things come to a head between publishers and providers, and as Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) and Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) compete over the digital self-publishing market, Amazon is attempting to place themselves firmly in the forefront of publisher attention by offering the potential for doubled royalties to users of their DTP self-publishing platform. The gist of the announcement is simple; If you publish a book through their service and the digital copy is at least 20% cheaper than the print copy, listed between $2.99 and $9.99, and have Text-to-Speech enabled, you will get 70% royalties on all your eBook sales instead of the standard 35%.
Let’s face it, this gives Amazon a huge advantage when it comes to providing content for the Kindle and all related software readers. As much as the traditional publishing industry balks at the concept, independents are coming out of the woodwork these days and some of them are making big names for themselves in the eBook marketplace(J.A. Konrath makes a good example). By keeping them happy and coming back for more, money in this case, Amazon has a chance to gain fairly exclusive rights to loads of great talent. It’ll be interesting to see what the response is both from the industry and the competition!
After years of Amazon’s dominance in the self-publishing ebook marketplace, Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) has decided to enter the scene. Eligible independent publishers and self-publishing authors will be able to add their content directly into the BN.com and Barnes & Noble eBook Store Catalogs, giving them immediate exposure to one of the largest electronic book marketplaces on the net with all the perks already built in. Books published through this PubIt! system, as it is called, will be accorded the usual digital rights management one would expect out of Barnes & Noble, an industry standard ePub format for distribution, and a presence accessible through any of B&N’s many platforms including the nook eReader and their many computer-based software and cellular downloads. While there has not, as of yet, been any discussion of what the royalty model will be for these publishers and authors, there have been assurances that it will be competitive and simple to use and understand.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a groundbreaking new technology or idea. It does, however, bring Barnes & Noble in line with Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) as they attempt attempt to secure their place alongside or even ahead of the Kindle and its ever-growing pressence in the ebook market. Sure Amazon got there first, but who will make it most worth their authors’ while as time goes on? More options have to be good for the lesser known names out there.