Sunday, 27 December 2009
So Christmas came and went and all the retail outlets are returning sales figures and stats. While it’s still too early to call it is clear that the book buying public have stayed true to form in purchasing the most popular title of the year during the festive season. The honour going to Dan Brown for ‘The Lost Symbol’ as the book most people found in their Christmas stocking. The bad news is that this title only sold 58,468 copies in the week to Saturday 19th December; this is nearly ⅓ of the titles sold to last year’s biggest seller.
Meanwhile the public appetite for ‘celebrity’ named driven titles seems to drive on with seemingly unabated hunger which is almost as depressing as the dip in sales, the closure of bookstores and the failure of publishing houses to grab the bull by the horns and stop supplying supermarkets with titles at prices which make a mockery of recommended retail prices.
We are moving into a year which may make 2009 seem like a golden year. VAT increases next week, while this won’t have as big an effect on the book trade as other areas it will still impact greatly because anything which reduces consumer spending ability will impact on non-essential purchasing and books, when all is said and done, are non-essential in the grand scheme of putting food on plates and people worrying about remaining in employment.
So why does the industry keep churning out titles using the same business model which had led us to this point? On the 24th December, Borders UK closed its doors along with a number of other industry related companies who have struggled all year against an economic tide which has become a veritable tsunami. Like Border UK some of these companies may not reopen come the New Year. The fault does not lay with the bookstores that are unable to compete with 40 heavily discounted top fiction and non-fiction titles residing in the crop of supermarkets which have had such an impact on the industry but with the business model employed by the major publishing houses who rely on a false turnover of income with titles printed by the thousands and shipped back and forth to bookstores, remainder shops and supermarkets. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of these publishing houses that are prepared to give away their titles to supermarkets and then complain about the declining state of the industry.
The more publishing feeds supermarkets even with this substantially reduced list of titles the less the consumer will care to venture into book stores and search the thousands of titles available, especially as these stores simply cannot compete on price.
Many people who wake up with Dan Brown this year may not see the supermarket sticker that has been removed. I’m all for fair competition and do not blame the supermarkets for wanting to give a bargain to their customers, but I do squarely lay the blame at the feet of the publishers that continue to readily supply titles at a pittance at the cost of the industry, the author and the vital lifeline to that industry and to the consumer...the book store.
For smaller publishers who do not totally rely on selling thousands of copies through an ever decreasing base of book stores but are learning to embrace new digital platforms, there may be solace, but the bell is tolling for many major publishers and I am sure that we are going to hear a resounding chime that will reverberate through the industry that will shake the industry to its core in 2010.
The question is: Who is the bell tolling for?
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
There is no denying 2009 has been a tough year. I blogged a year ago about the recession and the impact it was going to have on publishing and I have spent the past year talking about the positive aspects which publishers and authors can turn to their advantage. A year on it appears that the impact of the recession is still hurting the retail sector, especially in publishing. The current turmoil at Borders UK shows the severity of a sector in trouble, and many book shops are going to be hoping for a little comfort and joy over the coming holiday season. Supermarkets are doing their utmost to cripple the industry through ridiculously reduced retail prices and even more frighteningly reduced range and options. Publishers are not helping by bowing to their demands the way farmers did. The results of which we have seen in our high streets, towns and villages for the past two decades as local shops – many of them having been established for generations – were forced to close through not being able to complete on price, even if the level of choice, standards, knowledge and understanding of both product and consumer was far superior. What supermarkets don't kill, the lack of flexibility on behalf of landlords and retail business rates will and if we add the submission of the publishing industry to cheapen and give away its products and brand then the future could be very bleak indeed.
It would appear that 2010 is going to be even more challenging a year than the last. A local bookstore close to the town I live in, one which has supported local authors with stocking titles and organising book signings, is closing its doors in a few weeks for the last time after 30 years of service to the area leaving only one chain store and supermarkets as the shoppers choice to purchase books from, not just in that town but the town next to it too.
With the demise of Dillons, Ottakers, Books etc and Borders UK, the outlook does not appear too bright for chain stores let alone the small independents, so what are we left with? A future dominated by one chain store and the supermarkets; Waterstones, appear to have changed its position regarding the way it handles distribution and orders. It is now trying to take on the supermarkets at their own game with promotions that position celebrity novels and teen biographies above genuine new talent. This is commercial suicide unless the approach opens the eyes of consumers in their stores to the increased range over their local ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury or Tesco. One thing is for sure, I do not want to be writing about the death of Waterstones in a year's time.
eBooks are being seen as the light at the end of the tunnel and maybe they will realise a genuine revenue stream for authors, publishers and retailers alike, somehow thought I can't see Santa delivering huge numbers of eReaders this Christmas, though I would love to be proven wrong. It appears Amazon is still struggling to get its act together regarding the Kindle in the UK and Sony is not capitalising on the strong market share it should have established here over the past year.
With all this turmoil happening is it any wonder more and more authors are going down a self-publishing route. This is one of the few growing trends in the industry and possibly the one which may be the most worrying for established publishers. Knowing what is involved in setting up a company and taking a book from conception to birth and then on to graduation, I understand the work involved and it is not something I would actively encourage, unless the author has a huge support network; having said that I can understand the frustration with an industry which seems set on pushing the self-destruct button. Our own submission season this year which usually runs for a minimum of three months is closing after only 30 days. The reason why is down to the huge numbers of submissions we have received and to allow us to stay on top of things and provide a decent return time for the authors, be it yes or no.
We hope to open our books again in the New Year, once we have had a chance to review each and every manuscript, but if we reach our target with this batch then nothing will happen again until November 2010at the earliest. The one thing I can say about this year's submissions is that the standard has improved tremendously since last year. I don't know the reasons for this, maybe like wine it is just a good year with the right conditions to deliver a vintage year. Or maybe it is the result of the larger publishing houses cutting back acceptance letters through budget restraints and culling their current long lists...who knows?
What I do know is that for all authors' life is getting harder on all fronts and in some respects the same can be said of publishers and retailers. So maybe now is the time to stop trying to commit commercial hari-kari and have the gumption to set realistic recommended retail prices which actually mean something and stick to them. People willingly part with between £10 and £20 for a film on DVD which will give two hours entertainment. Yet publishers seem unwilling to stand by an rrp of under £10 for a novel which will give many more hours entertainment. I would not like to know the author's royalty payment on a novel sold in a supermarket for £1.99, but I do know you would need to sell a hell of a lot to make it viable.
Friday, 6 November 2009
But only for a short while. Our goal this year is to sign five excellent authors and already this year’s submission season has got off to an excellent start even though the books only opened on Sunday 1st November. Last year we only signed two authors – Nick Quantrill (Broken Dreams) and Greg Dawe (Theta Head) both of whom have novels being published by us early 2010. I have been asked by people why we take so long to publish being that we are only a POD company. I answer why should it be a rushed experience with no editorial guidance for the author or marketing support. We are a ‘new wave’ publisher who believes in digital technology and on lessening the environmental impact with our approach and we take each submission seriously, as seriously as a traditional publishing house.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
With Borders announcing the closure of its UK brands, Books Etc and Borders Express and ever-increasing competition from supermarkets the world of publishing is looking for a saviour and some see eBooks as being the golden egg laid by the goose. It is true there is a number of new eReaders about to hit the stores but with the recession still having an effect it may be timing that is the biggest enemy.
Waterstones has increased its product display for the Sony machine in its stores and this will raise the profile of the machines and eBooks among those who are unaware of the product but it won't lead a stampede to the tills. There may be a sales blip at Christmas as the curious struggling for the latest must-have gadget or are at a loss for what to buy as a present for a loved one. Unless 2010 shows a real end to the economic downturn publishing may have to endure not only more store closures but disinterest from a public strapped for cash and struggling to cope with a technology which unless fully explained may appear pointless to a majority of potential customers.
Unless the major publishing houses and the supporting media tell the story that needs to be told to the public, eReaders could become a lost opportunity and possibly one of the last opportunities for quite some time. We have seen the erosion of independent book stores from our high streets as they fall to the competition of the chain stores. We are witnessing the erosion of the chain store as it falls to the competition of the supermarkets. If the trend continues we will soon be left with a choice of few titles available (Supermarkets are not known for their wide reaching stock buying, instead choosing to concentrate on a handful of popular titles), fewer authors making a living from writing and ultimately fewer publishers.
We are not at the last chance saloon yet and publishing is pretty much to blame for the state of the trade, so eBooks really could be a saving grace, but there is a combination of events which must occur for them not to become a redundant technology. Much of the onus lies with publishers ensuring they are talking with the people who make the readers, the people who buy the readers and by sticking to a format which is usable across a range of readers. At present this still has not been universally accepted, though ePub should get the nod thus saving another damaging battle between formats which leave the consumer afraid to buy a machine which will not be supported. We all remember what happened to Betamax or HD DVD and the negative impact it has when the public spends its hard earned cash on a system that gets dropped. In a recession people are looking at every penny and need persuasion that their hard earned money is not going to be wasted on yet another technology which won't receive the support it requires.
Sunday, 27 September 2009
The question which prompted my reply was:
"Why only 5 books? Surely POD/electronic publishing isn't all that complicated"
There are hundreds of POD publishers out there (go to Preditors and Editors for some fine examples) who will publish anything and everything and many more that will charge a lot of money for the privilege. Caffeine Nights Publishing is neither. I thought I gave the clue away when I used the word quality, maybe I should also have added discerning. Publishing five new authors a year allows time to treat each book and author selected the quality of service their endeavours requires. We are a new company and maybe I have made some errors of judgement but personally I like to support each author with a decent PR push for their work. After all it is my time and money that is supporting this venture and I have a vested interest to see a return on that investment. Last year we received numerous submissions and most of it would undoubtedly have been picked up by many of the POD publishers who will print the details of a bus ticket without caring about the impact it has on the already tarnished reputation of POD. Most submissions simply were not good enough.
Our books go through a process of editing, re-reading, re-reading and re-reading before they get anywhere near final proof. Our covers are professionally and individually designed in consultation with the author but we have final say on artwork. We have set up excellent distribution channels for eBooks as well as printed and will be rolling eBooks out in the last quarter of 09. Finally, where possible with UK based authors we will be providing a filmed author interview and/or book trailer for each title. By choosing five authors it enables us to retain control over the quality of product, reputation and brand. Sure I could set up a company to fleece authors and bang out any old crap, but I chose the hard road instead by providing a service which is not too common with POD companies and a level of support for authors to ensure that each title receives individual attention.
POD has a poor reputation but many mainstream publishers are seeing the benefits and now publish titles using the technology. Many POD publishers have brought this poor reputation by offering a service which exploits authors and delivers nothing in return except a handful of sales to friends and relatives. I want Caffeine Nights to position itself in new territory which offers a digital publishing service but is not afraid of having high standards.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
By Darren E Laws
I do not share the recent excitement in the publishing world following the release of Dan Brown's, 'The Lost Symbol' and my criticism has nothing to do with the content of the book, which is probably a rollicking read. My problem and the problem for publishing is that the real lost symbol is this '£'.
I don't know what deals publishers Transworld/Bantam Press are offering retailers to sell the book but with hard back copies being sold for as little as £5 on a book that has a recommended retail price of £18.99 is it any wonder that the industry is in the state it is. Have publishers no concept of perceived value. If Asda is selling the book for £5, which is less than most paperbacks, imagine what price they are buying them at. Sure 'The Lost Symbol' will storm to the top of the bestsellers list but here's the real question. Would it not have done so anyway?
If I were Dan Brown I would be a little upset because the royalty at this sale price for a hard back must be exceptionally low. Though I dare say Mr Brown probably won't notice too much of a dent on his bank balance.
The buzz and the hype around this book would have ensured that if Bantam had the nerve to play hardball with chain stores and supermarkets the price of the book could easily have held at a respectable £12.99 which would be an honest price for a hardback publication. People would still have bought the book in huge numbers and the perceived value of the product would not have been damaged.
Look at how Nintendo control the availability of the Wii every Christmas, making it one of the top selling presents for the past three years. They create demand and then sell at a price which reflects the quality of the product. What Bantam is doing is actually making it harder for other publishers to compete without cheapening their product and brand.
Selling a new and wanted product at such a low price, while one may argue is good for the consumer, actually begins to hurt the industry as a whole and that cannot be good. If I were to offer books at half price or less it tells the public two things:
- The original rrp is set unreasonably and unrealistically high
- That all of my products should be subject to the same discount
This in turn leads people not to trust the pricing model – at £18.99 for a hard back I certainly don't. It also puts extreme pressure on independent bookstores or smaller chains which cannot negotiate such silly rates as Asda obviously have. Again this hurts the industry. So who is to blame?
I like a bargain as much as the next person and I in no way blame anyone for buying The Lost Symbol at knock down prices. I just can't see the sense in the publisher doing it.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
By Darren E Laws
If Amazon with the Kindle and the Sony with the eReader think they are going to monopolise the eReader market in Europe there are one or two surprises heading our way from Eastern Europe which may change the landscape. While I still firmly believe that mobile phones will have the edge for the eBook market, there is one or two devices in development that are adding functionality that will equal both of the main players and then some.
Ukrainian company Pocketbook have launched the 360 an eBook reading machine that is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatible reads ePub, RTF, DOC and HTML among other formats. The 360 has a tilt reading function which readjusts the text layout no matter which way you turn the machine. For a look at the machine follow this link http://techvideoblog.com/ifa/5-pocketbook-360-e-ink-reader/
It is clear that there is going to be a lot of competition in the market and that is an excellent thing as it will drive down prices and add more functionality to devices. What is clear is that the first colour screen eReader is going to leap to the top of the pile and it isn't far away. Small tablet devices will cross over in this area and the Smit mid-560 with its Google Android operating system will begin to look appealing because of its multi-functionality. This machine is designed and built in China and looks impressive. It is small and because it runs on Android and has been manufactured in China there is a good chance that when it hits these shores the price will be competitive.
I am sure there are many more machines in development from large and small companies alike and each will bring something new and interesting to the market.
Saturday, 22 August 2009
Everyone likes a bargain and it is human nature not to want to pay more for something than is necessary. Money after all is hard to come by. But at what point do we stop to look at the impact our shopping habits is having on our local economy. Arguments rage about the loss of specialist and local stores as supermarkets continue to encroach on a number of retail sectors. The ironic thing is that supermarkets sell this argument on the basis of broadening our choice. Yes, they are broadening our choice in a supermarket context but as small stores close through the impact of losing sales to the likes of Asda, Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons among others, we have to begin to question the social consequences as well as the blow to the local economy.
Book sales are a great example of how supermarkets are decimating specialist retail trade. A quick trip down the aisles will reveal paperbacks as low as £1.99 and sometimes less. Great for the consumer who will never want to set foot in a bookstore but bad news for real book lovers. Try purchasing anything other than a ‘popular’ title in a supermarket and then think about the consequences of having little or no alternative as genuine bookstores close.
Publishers currently have their pants in a twist over the Internet, digital content and eBooks but it appears they are quite happy to let supermarkets ride rough-shod over paper sales. The restriction on choice in a supermarket is appalling and will never match that of a decent bookstore even a chain bookstore. I for one do not wish to see any of our books in a supermarket at a give-away price. I know what the margins are and believe me they are slim especially when you take the ancillary costs of marketing, promoting, PR and any other supporting mechanisms out of the bottom line. The major publishers might be able to afford to prostitute their authors but the real price is that they are killing the industry. This all comes back to the old business model adopted by the major players. Print tens of thousands of books of each title and when they don’t sell, give them away to supermarkets and remainder outlets at knock-down prices. How much longer can the industry afford to do this? The major publishers are acting like parasites prepared to eat their own bodies when there is no longer any flesh on the carcass.
It’s crazy when you listen to the top publishers bleating over the state of industry, it would appear they don’t even know they are responsible.
Sunday, 9 August 2009
Saturday, 1 August 2009
Or will it be serious readers ready to abandon paper for pixel after a lifetime of strolling around bookstore picking up books and browsing new titles by thumbing through physical pages of neatly laid text. This too somehow I doubt.
Readers are resilient and adaptable if nothing else though. Recent surveys have proven that the UK reader’s affair with traditional bookstores is already on the wane. A huge shift in the buying habits of readers has seen a marked transition to supermarket purchases. These soulless monoliths can hardly be compared with the charm and comfort of a book store with an in house cafe. So price and convenience is a defining factor. This group of readers, if they had the available income would almost certainly opt for an eReader like the Kindle; sadly though the majority of these readers are on a lower income and not as likely to be able to afford buying an electronic reader. They have more pressing matters for what little disposable income they may have.
As a publisher, the Kindle has appeal in providing a new platform, I will definitely be making our titles available to the platform. So I am not knocking Amazon’s endeavour; it’s just the functionality of the machine that concerns me. This is by no means a small piece of equipment. It may be light and thin but it’s bulky and not very pretty. I know looks aren’t everything but they are factors in deciding popularity, unfortunately. We all know the quiet girl/guy with the glasses and few friends is actually the girl/guy you should be going out with because he/she will try harder and is less vacuous, whereas the glamour boy/girl is often all looks and little substance. But look at the popularity of the iPhone, it has some great apps and looks really good, yet behind it is some pretty ancient technology in phone industry terms. Whereas the Kindle looks like it was designed by boffins without a single aesthetic bone in their body.
Do people really want to carry around another piece of IT that can fail, run out of power or just be another burdensome artefact to get through customs while going on holiday? Let alone running the risks of breakage. We have laptops; we have phones, hell, we even have books, so are we ready to accept another lump of silicone and plastic whose only function is as a repository. I hope so, I really do, but I’d rather hedge my bets and ensure we don’t neglect mobile phone publishing in the race to embrace a Kindle whose market will be limited.
Saturday, 18 July 2009
Meanwhile over at Borders the US conglomerate has been keen to sell off its ugly sister, the UK arm of its business. The good news for UK readers is that the buy-out is being led by Channel 4 chairman, Luke Johnson, a man who turned around the failing Pizza empire Pizza Express in a similar deal. There is no denying that Borders may be an uphill battle but it is good news for the staff and 70 branches of the chain store.
Not such good news though for 100 people at Penguin who lost their jobs in a savage culling, which also saw the retirement of Helen Fraser, the managing director of Penguin UK. With many publishing houses refusing to change a business model that is based on waste while paying no attention to the environmental impact I dare say Penguin won’t be the to feel the pressures of the current economic recession.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
While many POD publishers are seeking the acceptance of the industry and wondering when the platforms for eBooks and other digital forms of publishing are going to truly catch on, it is apparent there are many battles ahead to win within linked sectors of the industry. Literary agents for one would rather their artists go unpublished than use a publisher who does not want to go down the traditional route.
At Caffeine Nights Publishing we occasionally get the odd leftfield submission, one that makes us stop and think. Recently one such incident occurred when a leading London agent submitted two novels to us. One novel was from a well known actor/comedian/writer and the other from a lesser know author. Both titles were excellent and the sort of titles we would normally be thrilled to publish but it was clear from the outset that the literary agent representing these two artists has not done their homework. Whether the manuscripts came to us via an intern or someone new in their position it is not clear, but the nature of the introduction letter and any lack of following submission protocol showed either arrogance, contempt or naivety, three qualities certainly not lacking in the world of publishing.
Of course the moment we informed the literary agent of our approach to publishing and our policies of not giving advances or printing thousands of copies of a title before establishing if there is a demand for the title, the agent got cold feet and withdrew the submissions with a reply that hinted that they would search the bottom of their unsellable pile to forward us something more suitable. Of course I wasn’t meant to feel insulted at such a slight. The inference being that POD and digital publishing is not ‘real publishing’. The agent in question did not even have the grace to return answers to a couple of questions I posed. I sometimes wonder where the real professionals are in this industry. Simple courtesies can go a long way to making amends for prejudice.
I am quite sure that both authors will find a home and I will follow both titles with interest to see whether they make the light of day. It would be an interesting scenario if one did not. I truly hope this is not the case. They say pride comes before a fall and one can’t help thinking the world of literature and publishing is certainly not without its fair share of hubris.
Thursday, 11 June 2009
By Darren E Laws
Twitter is a brilliant tool which if used correctly can elevate the profile of the sharpest marketer, generate interest in a brand, or even build a passionate army of followers and fans awaiting your every tweet. Sadly though much of what exists is truly banal and the very fact that a celebrity such as Ashton Kutcher – a genuine ‘D’ list actor and husband to Demi Moore – is the most popular person in Twit world, tells us more about the rise of this popular culture tool among the masses than almost anything else. So, will the burning bright light that is Twitter begin to fade soon or does it have genuine longevity and use in terms of social media and social marketing. Many think so and are placing faith usually only seen by religious zealots into the tool.
Popularity is one thing and maybe Twitter’s current explosion is due to a number of social trends current faced by the media; downturns in traditional revenue streams, declining free time and attention spans, plus an increase in reality celebrity culture have all no doubt paid a apart in its success. While many bloggers see Twitter as a natural extension of their art and the chance to refine their message into short and concise paragraphs, the majority of users see it more as an evolution from texting, and maybe it is this point which sticks in the craw of social media entrepreneurs. I recently heard one bright young thing in the world of PR/journalism saying that he now only accepts proposals through Twitter. The rush to look trendy and embrace Twitter is amusing and one can’t help but cast a cynical eye over the way media wishes to manipulate the tool.
The challenge for many has been trying to utilise the service and even make money from it; and these two elements go pretty much against the grain of the bulk of its users caught up with telling the minutiae of their lives in 140 characters or less.
It is possible to build an army of followers, most of whom are only interested in having you reciprocate allegiance. If this happens then is it worth having a couple of thousand ‘twitters’ as your ‘friends’?; in fact how do you being to differentiate between those truly interested in hearing your short missives and those who do not. And even if you can, how do you keep their attention without resorting to a blow by blow account of your oh so trivial life.
The art of a good tweet is obviously judged in the end by the rapture in which you hold the audience. Twitter’s strength and weakness both lay within the limitations of the service in terms of what it allows us to say and more importantly, how we say it. There are some excellent tools or apps being devised to broaden Twitter’s appeal but what we must never forget is that Twitter is another form of communication and as such companies see this as a media channel and thus a revenue stream. If this proves too difficult to excavate the interest of the rich, the famous and the powerful will also soon dwindle.
People love Twitter because they think that Ashton Kutcher (feel free to replace this celebrity with any celebrity of your choice) is talking to them and as such the proletariat are playing their part in the world’s largest and possibly ultimate reality celebrity experience. There is nothing wrong with this but unless we understand why people are using Twitter we could be wasting a lot of time and energy trying to influence an audience who really choose not to care. I dare say the return at the box office on Mr Kutcher’s next movie may be of as much interest to sociologists as it is to movie producers and business in general.
Friday, 22 May 2009
By Darren E Laws
Debate is raging over the quality and price of eBooks compared to their paper companions in certain parts of the publishing industry. Is all of this internalising actually missing the point and is this a ruse by publishers still unsure of how to deal with digital publications? There are some in the industry who think eBooks will 'blow over', that they are merely a 'passing phase', and there are others already writing the obituary of paper books.
We have witnessed the painful recognition of the music industry as it struggled for the best part of a decade over a similar question. In fact there are many industries that have been transformed with the introduction of the computer and the Internet to a global market. There are some industries though which are also failing to move quickly - or quick enough - to either recognise the impact and benefits or changes that will affect their performance or existence.
TV, radio, newspapers, movies, in fact all forms of information and entertainment mediums are having to rethink their approach and how to generate income from the opportunities that spring forth. So to some degree it is understandable that publishing is struggling to cope. Some publishers understand and are now developing platforms and content that is exciting with value added content given to the reader as a bonus, while others will never grasp what it means, other than a perceived notion that digital is a threat that will erode its long established foothold on the market.
The truth as always will lie somewhere between, with those who are brave enough to walk with the pioneers reaping the early benefit; but if for one moment you think paper books will disappear overnight you are as mistaken as those who refuse to accept the onslaught of digital technology in publishing. The love affair of the reader and a paper book will not be replaced by Kindle's, eReader's, mobile phones or whatever surprise Moore's law will throw at us, not just yet at least. Reading a book on a plane or a beach or just before bed can all be achieved with a digital device, but somehow paper has an intrinsic bond which for the foreseeable future will not be replaced. How long that foreseeable future lasts is dependent on how consumers embrace technology. I guess we already know the answer to that if we look at the recent history of technological advancement over the past twenty years.
The bookstore of the very near future will also be a digital repository holding millions of titles which could be transferred to digital devices or printed on demand, there and then in the store; but the physical contact and thrill of picking a book up and flipping through the pages as we decide whether to buy a book or not is an emotional decision. Scanning through a digital catalogue is a more clinical decision and one where choosing a title is a process that has already to some degree been made. But there are no guarantees, when I was growing up our high streets were littered with record shops selling vinyl records at first and then making the transition to cassette and CD, there was also a boom time with the introduction of home computers and software shops. Around the same time home video rental stores were popping up everywhere. We never dreamed that there would no longer be a demand for the content sold in these stores. All of these stores have virtually disappeared now.
Whether our emotional bond with the printed page remains is questionable, because there is a new generation of reader growing up who may just prefer digital delivered content, and as the transition takes place it may become a seamless period which is in tandem with the decline of high street sales. This is why bookstores will also need to provide digital services to consumers, because if they don't then it is clear that Internet bookstores are already well placed to fill the gap on all fronts.
So the challenge facing publishing is how to balance the onset of untested technology and delivery platforms in terms of consumer response and what to do if that response achieves its potential. This is quite a challenge and a very exciting time to be in publishing.
Saturday, 9 May 2009
By Darren E Laws
The publicity the Kindle DX has achieved this week with its launch must have pleased Amazon and while one may argue about the benefits of the machine against the Kindle 2 the good news for publishers, authors and of course readers is the seeming acceptance of the eBook as a method of delivery. This acceptance is quite a leap for the media who have until now been cynical in its approach to digitally delivered content. Now maybe this is because in America where the Kindle is currently available the current economic climate has left many news and publishing houses teetering on the brink of financial collapse and I am not talking about small local companies here. Established and highly influential companies have felt the blunt and brute force of the recession and the impact this has had on sales and more importantly profits has led to a radical rethink about revenue streams. The same problem is confronting a lot of media providers in the UK, many of whom are now ready to look at new delivery platforms for their content.
The excitement of the Kindle DX in the States is mainly driven by the machine's ability to work with PDF as well as Amazon's own bespoke format. Many people argue that until there is a single format for eBooks that its progress will be hampered. I don't believe this to be the case where eBooks are concerned and I'll tell you why I think this to be so. We are now dealing with a far more sophisticated generation of digital users and I am not relating this to age but to education and choice. There are a number of different formats available for eBooks, some of these such as ePub for instance will dominate but newer kids on the block such as DNAML offer publishers, authors and readers a different experience with a more seamless blend of multi-media content, colour and audio as well as a choice of digital rights management (DRM). DRM is often seen as the scourge of the music industry and one of the reasons that piracy was so rife. The truth actually falls between (music) publishers setting unrealistic charges to deliver MP3 (or other format) content and a generation of Internet users who felt that file sharing was perfectly legal without thinking about the long term implications of mass piracy. There are still a significant proportion of people who want something for nothing and there always will be but the introduction of machines such as the Kindle will begin a process of education that introduces paying for content on a legitimate platform.
The challenge for publishers is to set the price for delivering that digital content at a level which is realistic enough to generate return on a business model that makes the process worthwhile but is viewed by readers as exceptional value for money. Once the general buying public recognise and see no difference between online digital book stores and their brick and mortar equivalent then the rise of the eBook will be an unstoppable force within the industry. People are already prepared to purchase every conceivable type of product from the Internet and many are already subscribing to receive the delivery of digital content in one form or another, be that music downloads or movies. The next logical step is books and news content and while it may be argued that this has been happening for years we are on the verge of something truly exciting with digital content being delivered to mobile phones, dedicated eBook readers and direct to computers. Does it matter which machine or which format this is happening in? I really don't think it does. We are now in a new era where choice can sit comfortably with content and how people wish to read that content. Publishers looking for a simple answer that will dominate the market do not understand how this new market is developing. There actually is room for this level of choice and different platforms. This is not a simple battle between Betamax and VHS or DVD and BlueRay or even BlueRay and HD DVD and the reason why this is the case is that the development of all of these platforms, formats and machine's has been independent of publishers and thankfully the small group of large publishers which dominate the high street bookstores. This in itself explains their reluctance to embrace the many different options available on the market today. They don't like the democratization of publishing one bit. The stuffy, inbred world of publishing is coming to its knees with a look of confusion etched on its face. Some are finally waking up to this new world of publishing, others will fall and die.
The future of publishing is exciting and we are entering a world where users will still want paper books and newspapers, how and where they actually get their content though is going to change radically. Bookstores are going to become digital repositories hosting titles from publishers all over the world, they will be able to send those digital titles to machines such as the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) to be printed in-store or direct to mobile phones and eBook readers through Bluetooth technology. Readers will purchase directly through websites downloaded to the reading machine of their choice and DRM will be sophisticated enough to allow content to be freely transferred between the different machines within a household or user. Is this future far away? I have already seen all of this technology working and as a publisher see nothing but benefit. For me it means our titles can fight for a place alongside that of much larger publishers. This just would not have happened even one year ago.
So bring on the Kindle DX and all of its successors. The machine itself may have faults but the one thing you cannot fault is that it is offering the market access to books and news content in a new and exciting form even if at the minute Amazon is only offering the product to America.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
By Darren E Laws
It was fair to say last year's London Book Fair was a disappointment on a number of levels, the chief one being that I saw an industry which was ignoring all forms of digital publishing. I saw an industry that was happy and content with itself (with no good reason) and the sad fact was that if you wanted to find any nod toward publishing in the 21st century you had to search really, really hard. What a difference a year makes. Maybe it is these recessionary times or maybe it is just that the sleeping giant has finally awoken but new digital technology was no longer hiding in the shadows. Like a gay uncle at a wedding it was out, proud, and reasonably loud.
It would be unfair and hard to judge exactly what the biggest single development was but for me as a publisher using Print On Demand (POD) it must have been seeing the Espresso Book Machine up close and personal. The exciting development being Blackwell's decision to purchase one of these fantastic machines and put it in their flagship store in Charing Cross. The machine has a much reduced footprint from earlier version and something which the makers 'On Demand Books' assure me will get even smaller over the coming years. It is without doubt impressive watching the machine print, cut, glue, bind and trim a book in front of your eyes in around five minutes. Even more exciting for customers of 'Lightning Source' (LS) is the agreement signed between On Demand and Lightning Source which will roll out to LS customers first in the US and then here in the UK soon after. What this means is that wherever you see an Espresso in a consumer outlet you will be able to print fresh copies of LS printed books as quickly as it takes to make a cup of coffee.
EBooks have really raised their game in the past year and the London Book Fair reflected that with an area set aside for digital publishing. It would appear that the industry is also recognising the fact that it is not enough to just build fantastic looking eBooks with multimedia functionality but also to start addressing distribution issues. One company whose software I personally like is Australian company DNAML who Desktop Author program is one of the slickest and easiest pieces of software to make excellent eBooks. Their decision to exhibit at the show comes at a time where there are more exciting developments happening to the software they develop and to the websites and platforms they are offering publishers and authors alike.
Other areas of interest are the mobile phone publishing platforms and it was good to talk to a couple of companies already advanced with their technology. One in particular, mobilebooks.com run by Austrian company, Blackbetty, is only months away from launching a new digital platform in the UK. Blackbetty is already in advanced discussions with major retailers in the UK and expects to roll out it service to retail outlets via its Bluetooth pods by 2010. Canadian company, Indigo, already have an integrated system which downloads eBooks to mobile phones over a variety of phone networks and the openness of discussions between these companies and willingness to talk about each other's platforms was refreshing and healthy.
On an entrepreneurial level there were companies offering promotional services for mobile and digital publishing. Dark Tower Solutions for instance provides a platform to deliver messages to an audience via short code text numbers. This offers publishers an opportunity to drive readers to their product via unique content such as authors reading chapters of their latest titles or short interviews or sample chapters, in fact anything which can be sent to the recipients' mobile phone.
Last year I left the show somewhat depressed and not overly optimistic for the future of publishing, this year, even in a recession, I have left the show with a renewed sense of hope. EBooks are being accepted, the public is becoming aware that they can read novels on mobile phones and eBook readers such as the eReader, Kindle or even the BeBook. POD it would seem is no longer a dirty word in publishing; in fact it is a clean, green word and being accepted by all publishing houses as a way to meet the demands of a changing publishing world. Let's hope the next twelve months sees continued development and acceptance.
Saturday, 4 April 2009
Advertising, Public Relations, Marketing and the Magic Wand
By Darren E Laws
The reason the big publishers have big sales is that they get their books in front of people in many different ways and they have the budget and expertise to do it -whether that is in-house or hired agency. A heck of a lot of smaller publishers want and expect the same results and sales without investing in marketing, pr or advertising; or by doing it using low impact, free or cheap services.
But there is no magic wand except experience and knowing who your target audience is and how to talk to them. The old adage of only 50% of my advertising works, I just wish I knew what 50% does have some truth to it but in reality advertising is far more sophisticated than that. Have a marketing budget that is realistic to the results you want to achieve and use it wisely. Negotiate with all media to get the best deals and have a plan. Now in the midst of a recession is a good time to buy advertising space, skilful negotiation can obtain some excellent deals. Also have patience; it takes time and money to build campaigns that work. I know a lot of this will make many people think 'yeah, that sounds expensive' but real marketing should be an investment and that is why it is often best carried out by those who know how to do it. This is not to say that you cannot do a great job yourself as long as you spend time researching your audience and strategising how best to talk to them.
Everyone expects results in days now, and this may be the fault of the Internet. Whilst you can obtain a quick response from good PR, the best strategy is to make your advertising budget last and plan for the long term.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
By Darren E Laws
It would appear that the larger publishing houses are finally cottoning on to the fact that there could be money to be made from eBooks. I guess when you are in the midst of an economic depression, you are making swingeing redundancies, cutting marketing spend (suicidal!) and still paying authors million dollar plus advances and facing falling sales, you need to claw the money back somehow.
And what better way than to double your profits on eBooks overnight by cutting the royalty (in half) which it pays to authors. When I say authors I mean this more pluralistically as opposed to the very small minority who take the lions share with huge advances. Frankly, if they earned half the royalty it would be no big deal.
But the fact is that Random House among others feel it is fine to reduce the royalty rate it pays its authors just at a time when eBooks finally appear to have not only credibility in the market but also a platform and devices on which to read them; be they Kindle's or iPhones.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
By Darren E Laws
Does the level of literacy drop in a recession? Faced with increasing pressure to maintain profits, are publishers abandoning taking risks with new authors and plumping for the relatively safe and cosy celebrity lit novel or autobiography. A look along the books shelves would lead you to determine that is indeed what is happening, but the facts are that mainstream publishing has been venturing down this road for years; long before the recession reared its ugly head. To some degree, who blames them? They are after all businesses and need to run at a profit to remain in operation and if that means rows of ghost written fodder vomited out of the orifice of publishing for the general consumption of the iliterati, then who cares. Well, you should.
I am all for the democratisation of the Internet and the far reaching and positive impact it is having on publishing, but this current wave of literary gastro-enteritis pooping out of the backside of some of our leading publishers has little to do with broadening choice. Novels by 'D'-list 'celebrities' currently fill remainder book stores to the gunnels. Confirming that this is not what the public wants no matter how much the media tell us it is. Well, of course they would do that because, it invariably, they would argue, leads to increased sales. If that were true celebrity magazines and newspapers would not be having the appalling time they are with their own circulation figures. The days of hype are over and we face a new austerity the like of which we have not faced for many a generation. It may be argued that in these days of turmoil we need a ray of harmless light to shine upon the dreary outlook and yes of course we do.
So what is the answer – faced with a future of increasing inanity and the further 'dumbing down' of our population hardly begins to prepare us for life after recession or even how to cope during it. The irony of course is that publishing like no other form of art or entertainment is so pretentious and yet it is happy to perform fellatio on any passing trend. Could you imagine a mega rock group sending their new material to their label and waiting for some University grad to edit and rewrite the material before it is unleashed on the world, or an artist who has just finished a painting that took anywhere between two to five years to paint that was then reviewed by someone with no discernable interest in being an artist and repainted in sections until it was 'just right'. It just wouldn't happen. Pretentious doesn't even begin to describe an industry so beset and riddled with class anxiety and fear. But all of those crushingly conceited elements of the industry trip over themselves to publish the latest ghost written twaddle from the celebrity of the moment. There is no point in naming names because these people are disposable. The publishing industry picks them up sucks them dry (not that there is much sustenance in the first place) and spits them out or watches gleefully as they self-implode temporarily sending sales rocketing.
I dare say a ghost writer (and the irony of this is certainly not lost) has already been employed by Jade Goody's publisher to write the closing chapter on her short and ultimately very sad life. Do people want to read it? They do because the media tells them. Even if the event is covered step by painful step on (again the irony is not lost) 'Living TV'. I have no beef with the celebrity whoever they are; please do take the publisher for every single penny you can get, because one day this bubble – much like the banking industry – will burst.
On a personal note I wish Miss Goody peace and understand her reasons for doing what she is doing and there is a very positive message from Jade's personal tragedy in that many young women are having cervical smears. Please Miss Goody, take your publisher for every cent you can get and then some.
As per usual the hypocrisy of the class driven world of publishing which doesn't mingle easily with the great unwashed is prepared to exploit the masses for financial gain and treat them like idiots in the process. Welcome to the iliterati.
So where does this leave publishing in the 21st century? Somewhere up its own arse but like a contortionist with its head buried in the sand. No change from the 20th century then.
Saturday, 14 February 2009
By Darren E Laws
I tuned into BBC’s The Money Programme with high expectations to see an investigation into the current state of play in the world of publishing but was disappointed to find a programme that did not even scratch the surface of the challenges facing the publishing industry today. Instead it went down the lazy route and rolled out the dinosaurs for sound bites and the usual pop culture diatribe that we once used to associate with tabloid newspapers.
Watching the programme was like seeing someone guide the last lemmings on earth blindfolded to the edge of a cliff. What is frightening about ‘Media Revolution – Title Fight’ is that it is clearly a programme that has been pitched and set to an audience that believes it is witnessing a revolution in the publishing industry. How could the programme ignore the impact of digital technology, yet it did. Instead it concentrated on the removal of the net book agreement, yes this was a turning point and an important factor in where we are now, but the net book agreement was abolished over a decade ago, a lot has happened since then. Obviously a lot which the mainstream publishers choose to ignore as did the makers of this programme.
The focus (which the BBC is still continuing through other radio and TV programmes) on celebrity biographies is interesting and one which the major publishers see as a saviour of its inability to face digital and technological change or actually read and sign interesting new talent, rather than throwing money at ‘celebrities’ to write, or paying huge advances in bidding wars, which cannot be a sustainable business model especially in this day and age.
I am hoping Will Self is aware of the impact of digital technology and not just how Amazon has screwed publishers to the rafters while the supermarkets pick over the remains of the corpse they have so delightfully served up. Famine or feast? We have an industry running around doing an awesome impression of an ostrich with its head well and truly buried in the sand or up its own backside.
So did the programme have its finger on the pulse of what is happening in the industry. It had its finger on the pulse of the class discriminating, ego-centric, narcissistic monsters that populate the industry. The people who have too much power and too little understanding of the real world. The people who are the cause and reason the industry is in the condition it is in today. The dinosaurs.
It was almost laughable when they lauded the Richard & Judy programme as a powerful influencer in the world of publishing. The latest viewing figures for this programme is now 8,000 per episode. Hardly the viewing figures or influence achieved by Oprah.
Overall the programme was screened five years too late. BBC you have a lot to learn about the industry as it stands today. Sadly for the publishing industry afraid to embrace digital technology or address a business model eighty years out of date, I fear that it may never learn until it is too late to do anything but severe damage limitation…a bit like addressing the problems of our financial institutions.
Saturday, 7 February 2009
By Darren E Laws
This may be difficult to read especially if you are an aspiring author, but are authors as much to blame for falling profits, closing bookstores and the current failure of the publishing world to embrace new digital media platforms?
Reading many forums, blogs and articles on various sites it becomes clear than many, many authors (aspiring or otherwise) wish to continue living in a cloud cuckoo land where the age old business model of paying advances and expecting a living wage on the basis of absolutely no sales exists.
The global economic crisis has led to a massive downturn in profits across the board which is striking the very foundations of companies that have been established for decades and in some cases hundreds of years.
The publishing industry has the reactive qualities of a dinosaur on diazepam and sadly it has instilled a culture of acceptance in generation after generation of authors that the only business model is one that was adopted by publishers in the 1900’s. Namely large upfront advances based on nothing more than a hunch and a publishers marketing machine. Well, the world has moved on buddy and it is no longer the case that publishers can afford to continue going down this rocky road.
The Internet now exposes how authors expect this model to continue no matter what the economic climate says. I have read countless threads where authors appear to be viewing the world of publishing through rose coloured glasses. For example comments such as “Well if they are not going to pay an advance they are just crooks, or they’re POD with no established route to bookstores.”
Yes, what a great idea, let's just fill every bookstore across the country with hundreds of copies of books regardless of the demand and then see those books return in six months to be shipped off once more to a remainder shop or back to the printers for pulping. How environmentally sound and what a great business plan…not.
Let's examine how well the world of publishing is coping with the current situation. Bookstores are closing, profits are shrinking, publishers refuse to look at new delivery platforms, and sales are in decline. Yet still I see unpublished authors bleating on about how a publisher is not a real publisher if he is not putting his hand into his own pocket and paying the author hundreds or thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds before a solitary sale has been made. Cuckoo!
Business cannot run this way any longer. In fact I don’t know of many other businesses which allow such a model to operate. Do you think Tesco or Wal-Mart would let you walk away with all their stock on the basis that one day you may be able to pay the bill?
Until we see a paradigm shift in thinking in both authors and publishers it may be that we have to face the fact that many established companies are going to collapse never to rise. Authors, I appreciate you think your work is the best thing since sliced bread, that’s what I think with every novel I complete, but the truth is you are only as good as your sales and that is all the reward you deserve. It is the only sustainable business model, like it or not. Yes, there will always be exceptions and bidding wars. Good luck to the companies which want to get involved in that particular strand of madness.
Sunday, 1 February 2009
By Darren E Laws
Although Tripping has only been published as an eBook on one site for four weeks it has achieved an astonishing 318 downloads pushing it above many books from established publishers such as Hachette Book Group and Harper Collins among others.
What amazes me about this is the democratization of the Internet and how what really matters at the end of the day is a good story and not the size of the publishing house behind it. The sheer amount of ‘Word of Mouth’ gained from these downloads alone is invaluable.
The publishing industry is still divided about the worth of eBooks and long may it remain so because while it dithers small company’s such as Caffeine Nights Publishing can take on larger publishers with a much more even footing. If I was to publish Tripping at as many eBook stores as I could those figures could well be in the high thousands. Guess what my next step is…
Saturday, 17 January 2009
Caffeine Nights Publishing is pleased to announce the publication of its first eBook. Tripping is now available in electronic format and available to download from www.cnpublishing.co.uk and a number of Internet bookstores.
Caffeine Nights Publishing have used the latest page turning software for their eBooks to give the reader as real an experience as they can have while reading from a screen.
The publication in this format follows the Kent based company's announcement last year that their books will be available later this year to download direct to mobile phones.
Darren E Laws, author of Tripping, is excited with the prospect of these digital editions. "I am pleased that we are being innovative with our books and looking at new delivery platforms. It does seem that 2009 might well be the year eBooks finally come of age and be accepted in the mainstream. More and more people know of devices such as the Kindle from Amazon and Sony's eReader, and the technology available now to make eBooks is definitely bringing another level of experience to readers everywhere. Multimedia aspects such as video and audio/mp3 files will broaden the whole book reading experience."
One of the key benefits eBooks brings is also an environmental bonus with trees being spared the axe and thousands of road miles of transportation being removed from the equation. eBooks also bring a price benefit and in these times of economic worry readers can still subscribe to their favourite authors at a fraction of the price as many eBook are up to 50% cheaper than their paper equivalent. Many publishers are also offering parts of the books for free as tasters.
Tripping is now available for only £3.99 with the first 30 pages free
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
By Darren E Laws
Sad news reaches me today that one of the UK’s leading independent bookstores Murder One in Charing Cross Road, London has become the latest victim of the economic downturn. Murder One, only months away from its 21st year in business, succumbed to the pressures of the crunch as owner, Maxim Jakubowski, failed to find a buyer for the store. Jakubowski whose planned retirement at the end of the year has been brought forward by the failure to find a buyer threw the towel in rather than dragging out a painful and lingering death for the world famous crime bookstore specialist.
Murder One has long been a friend to independent publishers and were kind enough to stock our crime fiction title ‘Turtle Island’. The fact that a specialist in the heart of book land in London’s West end can disappear without a buyer coming forward is a sad day for publishers everywhere. As an independent publisher it is difficult enough persuading bookstores to stock titles from a new author so it is doubly depressing when an outlet such as Murder One ceases trading. I cannot imagine another specialist crime book store filling the void too quickly, especially with the current economic conditions prevailing.
As this year evolves we will see other shocks that reverberate and impact on the world of publishing. There will be more pressure than ever before on retailers and the Internet will play an important and increasing part providing a platform for niche publications as often the only source to find certain titles.
To Mr Jakubowski and all the staff, Murder One will be sorely missed and leave a void in Charing Cross Road and for readers and writers of crime fiction everywhere.
Thursday, 1 January 2009
By Darren E Laws
Though it is hard to see the positives in the current economic cycle these are exciting times. There is a huge element of the unknown but in the world of publishing publishers are at last beginning to see the benefits of digital technology. Whether this is because other doors are closing or there had been a conversion on the road to Damascus who knows? But the upshot is that various platforms and media delivery systems are converging and now only the foolish publisher or author is going to ignore them.
The world is changing and the way we are doing business has to adapt and develop if we are not to wither on the vine. Our books are going to be available to download to mobile phones late this year and we have finally found a a system that delivers eBooks with an element of style, quality and security that controls the digital rights management for our authors. In the past eBooks have invariably either looked bad or offered no way of controlling sales. Many sites still offer eBooks as no more than PDF versions of a word file. In this day and age of page turning software it is no longer justifiable or aesthetically pleasing to do this and it gives eBooks a bad name.
The Kindle, eReader and Iliad will add further scope to publishers as we get to grips with the technology and the hardware becomes more commonplace, and lets not forget that print on demand (POD) is constantly evolving. Hopefully 2009 will see the Espresso Book Machine rolling out into the commercial and retail sectors, opening up a whole new digital library to readers who will be able to see their books being printed and bound before their eyes. One thing is for sure is that as a publisher and an author I am going to ensure that out titles are available in as many formats and markets as possible in 2009.
Here’s wishing you a Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year with all the success you deserve.