Saturday, 22 August 2009

Every Little Helps...Kill the Industry

By Darren E Laws
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

e-Book Reader Wars...The Return of the Red Eye

The manufacturers of eBook readers are suddenly very serious about the concept of the eBook and the machines we will want to read them on. Sony has taken an aggressive stance with the announcement of a $199.00 machine while cutting the price of titles to a base level of $9.99. As usual for us poor Brits I dare say we are going to have to wait to see these machines. This is the third new e-reader announcement in under a week and it seems that reduced footprint is the order of the day with Merlin Digital also announcing a small reader. It will be interesting to see how the reduced footprint of both the Sony and the Merlin models is received in comparison to the cumbersome Kindle. Smaller machines have their benefits and may well appeal to holiday readers and those who want to read on the go. With a plethora of machines hitting the market and publishers finally waking up to the revenue stream available - all though they still struggle with marketing and pricing – it would seem that the next twelve months are going to be very interesting.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Will the Kindle be the UK’s Big Christmas 09 Gift?

Once again its rumour control from Amazon but it does appear that the Kindle will arrive in the UK in time for Christmas. Problems relating to the complicated mobile phone networks have been overcome and a UK Kindle will hit the stores for the season of avarice. But who will the Kindle appeal too? Will it appeal to techno-junkies; I doubt it, unless they like their techno retro. For me the Kindle has the refinement and functionality of a 1980’s computer. Great, if we were in the 1980’s.

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.

Until more functionality, colour screens and better design is incorporated into eBook readers they will not achieve the potential they obviously could. I hope to be proven wrong, but eReaders of one sort or another have been available in the UK for over a year now and I have yet to see one in public or know anyone who has purchased one. There are more reasons for publishers wanting them to succeed; among them is the acceptance of eBooks as a product. The general public have to go through a whole new learning curve related in purchasing digital content. This is also a reason why the publishing industry should be embracing mobile phone publishing as a serious platform and revenue stream. eBooks work equally well on mobile phones even with small displays and with the ability to process JavaScript mobile phone eBooks can had the added functionality of multimedia. We all know how mobile phones appeal to young readers. They already use phones as cameras, for videoing, listening to music, downloading film and surfing the net. Reading books is surely just a tiny leap if they are marketed correctly.

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.