Tuesday, 14 December 2010

DRM…Does it Really Matter?

The argument goes on and the longer it does I am coming to the conclusion that DRM may be the idiot child we don’t like to talk about. By this I mean, that the point of DRM is actually misleading the industry. For years those in the pro-DRM corner argue that it wants to protect the rights (intellectual and artistic) of its authors and fight piracy. What are the realities of this stance?

How does DRM stop piracy? In reality it doesn’t. Any person with thirty seconds to spare can find freeware on Google to remove DRM from eBooks. What the real issue here is consumers rights to transfer the product between systems and machines. The industry wants to enforce license control. If a publisher can force a consumer to repurchase as a by-product of this action then ‘all the better’. Yet, how many in the pro-DRM corner can put their hands on their hearts and say they have never copied CD content to an iPod or taped a TV programme or passed a physical book to a friend or resold a book. We never own the content, we merely buy the license to view, read, listen or experience. I wonder if the industry has ever calculated the impact of book sharing against loss of potential sales.

I am not saying that there is not a real threat; and the area this ‘threat’ comes from is a new generation that has grown up seeing the Internet as nothing more than a free shop where digital content is never purchased. How much of the purchasing demographic are represented by these freeloaders is not known but it is significant. This is where the argument is both won and lost for DRM. In trying to shackle this group - who in reality will spend the thirty seconds or so needed to find freeware to break DRM - we are hand tying honest consumers who wish to purchase eBooks but swap them between machines and maybe even friends, in the same way we do with physical books.

It is strange that we have no qualms about people lending books to friends and giving them away once read. I think we will have to adopt the same mentality for eBooks. After all, word of mouth is one of the strongest forms of publicity available. Many pop groups have adopted the same thinking, knowing that they can build a fan base this way and that sales do actually follow. I am not advocating the wholesale piracy of eBooks, far from it; but being pragmatic. The industry needs to come to terms with a solution which is realistic enough to know that those who want to copy digital content (no matter if it is a book, film, news or music) will do so. The vast majority of us are law abiding citizens and realise that if revenue is severely impacted through outright piracy that there will be no money available for new talent to come through.

Where does that put the publisher and the author, both of whom want to ensure that they can sell eBooks at a price which encourages book lovers to purchase digital content? I as a publisher have no qualms with eBooks being swapped between as many machines as the purchaser owns. He/she should also have access to their content for as long as they wish with the ability to re-download as often as required. I do have issues with people copying and reselling content purely for their own financial gain thus depriving the publisher and author of making a fair living.

So, DRM...is it necessary? Can we adopt new methods which encourage file sharing without impacting on revenue? The industry must target the person who sees no wrong on copying content and reselling it and it is here that the law must also protect the industry and the author.

Friday, 12 November 2010

eBooks and the Agency Pricing Model – Getting the Balance right

Wow, this year has passed with the alacrity of an elephant downhill skiing with a force ten gale behind it, blasting it down a near vertical drop.  So far it has been an interesting year, with lots of developments on the digital publishing side of books. 

The current arguments about retailers accepting the ‘agency model’ dominates the current buzzvine in never-neverland or ‘the world of publishing’ as we more commonly know it.  Do publishers have the right to set the prices of their eBooks?  To that question I adamantly say ‘yes’, but only if they are being sensible about the pricing of eBooks.

A couple of months or so back I posted a video talking about the pricing of eBooks and invited the Amazon eBook forum to take part in a discussion about pricing.  As you can imagine things got pretty heated, pretty quickly. At the time I said that if I felt our eBooks were priced to high I would review the situation.  Our eBooks, typically are priced at £4.95 against a price of £7.99 for the paper version.  This debate and the current arguments on pricing has indeed made me review.

I think consumers do have a strong argument that eBooks are overpriced but the argument has to be balanced against many factors, especially for smaller publishers who invariably have higher over-heads.  Out of the sale price comes a cut to the retailer, a cut to the distributor or aggregator, a portion to compile and conversion of the original file (Yes, this is a one-off fee, but still has to be accounted for). Most importantly, the author royalty payment which is between 45 and 50% net at Caffeine Nights has to come out of what is left.  Then there is marketing and promotion to be accounted for before the publisher get his/her reward. 

I agree some costs such as conversion and file production are one-off but many are not and when a retailer takes anywhere upwards of 30% to 60% and the distributor also takes at least a similar figure, there is not much left to pay the author or the publisher.  Small publishers won’t see the sales of the Stieg Larsson’s or James Patterson’s of this world, nowhere near it, but they do provide a valuable service and feed the market with new and up-coming talent.  For this service to continue there has to be a realistic price attributed to eBooks.  This is the question most publishers are struggling with.

eBooks, unlike their paper versions also carry VAT – a cost in the UK which is also due to rise by another 2.5% in January 2011, so 20% of the rrp will go straight to government. Whilst this can be claimed back if you qualify, smaller publishers may not initially do so.

For me, if I set an eBook retail price of £4.99 all of these factors have to be accounted for, but the bonus is that this is still a new channel, a new market which, even though eBooks have been with us for over a decade, is suddenly opening up and becoming viable. So one may argue that it is ‘extra’ revenue.  This is not entirely true, as there has been no real statistics to show the impact against actual physical paper volumes.  Having said that it can be assumed that the majority of eBook sales will be new money. 

Selling through Amazon we (Caffeine Nights) can actually be more competitive and see a decent return even when, like we have with Amazon, decided to reduce our standard eBook price from £4.95 to £3.95 or $7.99 to $5.95.   This is more possible because Amazon also acts as the distributor, thus saving the publisher extra fees.

I do believe it is the right of the publisher to set the rrp but it has to be done to ensure that the consumer is not exploited.  Many consumers have bought Kindles or eBook readers at great cost and don’t want to be blackmailed by publishers. Some leading publishers are selling eBooks at parity with their paper counterparts, this is ripping off the consumer and should be stopped, now. 

For this fledgling industry of eBook publishing to thrive we need competitive pricing but we have to listen to the consumer too.  It is odd how many of these publishers are quite happy on the other hand to give away paperbacks to supermarkets at ridiculously low prices, this is a double insult to the health of the industry as consumers then have an unrealistic expectation of prices and how much it costs to produce a book and many actual book stores are closing through lost sales. One may argue this is being hypocritical but supermarkets are not bookstores, they do not make a living by offering mass choice especially when it comes to books.  In fact they offer the direct opposite, a very limited choice, mostly of mass market titles and general pap.

Publishing is eating itself by being greedy on one hand and simply insane on the other. £1.99 paperbacks, mass pulping, stupid transportation costs and environmental impact because of over production of titles with no discernable market, leaves some publishers with the only option of pulping or giving books away in a supermarket.  All of these things are killing the industry and now the confusion over eBook pricing just confirms that this industry needs to take a long and seriously hard look at itself to avert an impending crisis.  

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Elephant in the Library

A Nielsen report shows 39% of iPad users regularly read books on their machines.  Viewed in context this is a great boost for eBooks even though it means 61% don’t…yet.  There could be a number of reasons holding back a large proportion of these consumers from fully realising the potential of the iPad in terms of an eReader.

Many will have no interest in reading this way instead preferring paper or even reverting to e-Ink machines such as the Kindle. Others probably don’t read…period.  The upshot of these stats though is very encouraging considering Apple shifted 7 million units since the launch earlier of the iPad in 2010.  If nearly 40% are purchasing eBooks regularly then the adoption of eBooks as an everyday media format is secure.

Pricing of eBooks will remain a hot topic to many publishers it is the elephant in the library.  Another recent survey showed that 62% of consumers are not prepared to pay for online content, a figure close to the 61% of iPad owners who are not using their machines to read books. I doubt there is correlation or if there is it would be interesting to know what the reason is that is stopping people either paying for online content or downloading eBooks.

Although eBooks have been with us for well over a decade now, the next two to three years are the vital time to ensure electronic books become established in the psyche of readers and general consumers alike.  How many people will wake up on Christmas morning to an iPad or Kindle and begin the experience of digital reading, and of those how many will receive eBooks as gifts and recognise the value of an eBook in the same sense as if it were a paper or hardback volume?

If we get the pricing right and the consumer recognises the value of an eBook, then the elephant in the library may roar its delight rather than create an obstacle we all want to skirt around. 

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Why you should have to buy eBooks but what should you really expect to pay?

Many publishers have been asked to quantify why they charge what they charge for eBooks and many are keeping quiet.

There is a misconception that eBooks cost nothing to produce and it could not be further from the truth. There is physical costs in time, effort, production and distribution associated with eBooks. Each eBook has to be totally reset for eBook publication and conversion into different formats, this is a time consuming and expensive process.  And that is before we begin to include other costs such as promotion, advertising and marketing. Even more expensive.

Because we have lived in a world where up until now there has been availability of many free eBooks and many sub-standard eBooks which have had very little cost associated, consumers have been happy to download them for free and this has led to a false expectation that all eBooks should be free or only cost pennies.  The market has grown up considerably in the last six months and consumers have to make the transition too.  Quality products which are well produced and marketed have to have a reasonable cost attached.  The cost per title also includes the cost to the reseller usually between 35 and 60%. Authors have to be paid for their hard work and publishers should also be rewarded for their hard work too. So £4.95 for an eBook which retails at £7.99 for the physical paper version is a good balance.

Some publishers are charging too much for their eBooks and consumers will vote with their wallets and rightly so but an eBook which costs a third to a half less than the paper version is a price which will make the market sustainable and allow strong growth, leading to more choice for consumers.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

POD and Pad…Welcome to the future of publishing

There is an interesting and level-headed article in this week’s Bookseller by Tom Tivnan exploring the virtues and adoption of POD.  Something we at Caffeine Nights have been extolling since we began.  It would appear that many major publishing houses are now finally looking at the benefits.  Like all environmental changes for good it won’t be driven by a need to make the world a better place but by finance and the market.  For smaller publishers such as us, POD is actually a more expensive option per title with lower financial returns but we are driven by other motives such as the desire to change the industry.

What is driving this change among the establishment is linked to the arrival of the iPad, the new Kindle and the buzz around eBooks.  Publishers are waking up to the fact that they need to be able to respond and compete. Having thousands of copies of titles sitting in warehouses with no prospect of knowing if a demand will ever be created to sell those titles is not efficient.  We have sais this for years.  The truth is our way of working is harder and requires a more consistent approach with the media, stores and the buying public to ensure we create and sustain demand.  We like hard work and know what is required.  It will be interesting to see who else does.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Carry on up the jungle…

So Amazon are finally opening a UK eBook store and launching 2 new eReaders. They say they will set the price of the eBooks for sale, which is a little typical of its approach in publishing.  It is clear they wish to dominate and fully control the market.  I wonder if they are going to allow UK based publishers who don’t have a US presence or bank account into their exclusive little club or if they are going to continue excluding publishers even to their official UK store.  It will be interesting to watch what they are going to do.  Apparently the new store will have 400,00+ titles on it.  As a UK based publisher, today was the first I heard of the store, so I know our books are not (initially) going to be on it which is a shame. Our only route to getting onto the Kindle in the US is currently through Smashwords, maybe our books will be included through this route but its about time Amazon opened up to the fact that there is some pretty decent British based publishers out there who want their eBooks available through it store. It would also be nice if they allowed publishers to set their own prices.  Our eBooks retail at £4.95 which we believe is a fair price against our paperback which retail at £7.99.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Book to The Future

The launch of the recent Futurebook monthly events should tell the organisers of book fairs that the demand and thirst for knowledge for information on digital publishing under one roof is great.  Bar Chocolate in Soho was packed to the rafters on Thursday evening, so much so that many spilled onto the street outside for room, air and a place to network.   

Many thanks to Sam Missingham from the Bookseller for having the foresight to organise the event and I look forward to attending future meetings.  It is clear that the industry needs an organised digital book fair to discuss many of the topics buzzing around the ether in a small bar in Soho. For now the regular ‘Book to the Future’ meetings can suffices in terms of an exchange of knowledge, it is also clear that The London Book Fair (LBF) might not be the vehicle for such an event. For the past three years the LBF has pandered to the old guard with just a cursory nod toward digital publishing.

I think we need something new, something organised from outside the mainstream.  The establishment have had their chance to embrace digital and some of them are doing a great job with it while others are content to bury their heads in the sand. It would be great of course to have the full support of the proactive embracers of new publishing technology for a Digital London eBook Fair.

Publishing needs to move forward and examine all the opportunities open to it in terms of delivering content.  From augmented reality to fully immersive and interactive eBooks.  A forum to showcase technology and discuss the future book is needed. I know it would be hugely popular.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Who will re-invent the Book

We are in the transition point for books as people are introduced to eBooks and reading on electronic devices.  These eBooks naturally have to have a smooth transition which won’t alienate readers used to traditional book formats; hence we have page turning effects and formatted layout but eBooks will change.  The traditional formation will evolve, multi-media will make books something more contextually in-depth and rich adding layers of content providing a complete audio/visual experience which grows around the ‘reader’ taking him or her further into the realms of fiction like never before.

As a new generation of book readers evolve they won’t be locked in to the same mindset as the early adopters of digital books.  Technology will expand out options and the arrival of ePub 2.0 and subsequent versions will further enrich the eBook reading experience.  Content will always be king but the thrilling aspect will be the variety and richness of the content that can be delivered within a reading experience.  We will move away from page turning software and the concept of the page will also disappear.  Interactivity and cross-platform multi-media will become the norm in many instances.  Publishers will have to look at ways of delivering this new content, invariably authors will also become part of the overall process of the production of the eBook of the future. 

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Quiet Revolution and The Quiet Death of the eReader

As much as I love and support the idea of eReaders and e-Ink I think this technology will be absorbed by a new breed of multifunctional machines.  eReaders per-say are dying before they even had a chance to be born.  Consumers want functionality and not a machine that looks like it was designed in the 1980’s and has the same limitations.  Frankly the mass market is just not prepared to adopt a machine which only reads books.  The iPad is proving that there is a market for ePub to sit within a multifunction machine.  Where this puts companies which have invested so much time and money into machines - which will only share a very small proportion of the mature market - I don’t know, but publishing MUST wake up to the reality that consumers will drive the market and not publishing's desire to implement technology it does not want or particularly understand.

Manufacturers such as Dell and Elonex and a host of others are already developing tablet machines as a low cost alternative to the iPad and recognise that consumers will be attracted to alternatives which retain elements of computing which they understand, they do not want a one stop machine, hell, they can buy a paperback if all they want to do is read.   The traditional eReading machine will never become a part of our culture the way an iPhone or iPad will.  Equally I don’t expect to see hoards of people populating coffee shops with computing tablets, the adoption of ereading machines will be a quiet revolution which takes places in the solace of our homes.

Monday, 17 May 2010

When an Apple leaves a Bitter Taste

As fantastic as the iPad may (or may not) be Apple’s sensitivities regarding the human nipple may seem amusing to the majority of sensible minded people but underlying the right wing Puritanism is a serious and worrying message which publishers, readers and those who want to ensure freedom extends creatively beyond the written word to concept and design. These freedoms of publishers and artists to choose words and imagery which rightly supports their work must not be dictated by hardware manufacturers, religious zealots or those so weak that they fear the downfall of civilisation could be brought about by the image of a nipple or a god or through the thoughts of a writer who dares to espouse a view which sits uneasy within a warped doctrine.  This is not to say that people have the right to offend without thought or consequence, but we have to seriously look at exactly what it is which cause the offence in the first place and why. Amazon remove books from the owners of the Kindle, Apple will not publish a magazine because the cover shows, shock, horror, a nipple, a cartoonist in Denmark lives the rest of his life in fear because of a drawing, an author in England has an armed guard and endured a fatwa because of some words.  There is a common connect between these actions and it is that they are all driven by fear and a lack of tolerance.  If this were the dark ages one could easily understand but this is the enlightened 21st century.  Art pushes the boundaries of thought and questions what it is which makes us part of the human race.  Sometimes this challenges our perceptions of who we are, and I guess this is frightening to some.

Apple and Amazon’s behaviour has been as ignorant and blinkered as that of many religious fundamentalists whose only desire is to drag humanity back to the squalid pits of enslaved barbarism and it is a worrying sign when they become the ‘guardians’ of judgement rather than leaving consumers to make that call.  A few years ago Janet Jackson’s nipple cause a hue and cry in the USA when Justin Timberlake ‘accidently’ ripped open her top to expose a semi-bared breast during the Superbowl final. Admittedly the pierced offering was not the most attractive sight in many peoples eyes but the furore which followed was totally hysterical and ended Ms Jacksons career overnight.  This prudish censorship is mostly driven by the Christian right wing in America and I guess the over reaction of Apple and Amazon is caused by a desire not to incur a similar wrath.

As publishers we have to make decisions on whether something is going to stretch and challenge perceptions, but when words and pictures become a matter of life and death one has to ask how fundamentally weak can civilisation be that it is threatened by something so natural as a nipple or harmless as a cartoon depicting a god.  There is a very serious threat behind all forms of censorship and while I am not saying we have the right to offend people with impunity we must draw a line in the sand when something so simple can lead to such unjustified outrage.  We are all grown up enough to know how to protect children from harmful and hateful material, yet we willingly expose them directly to doctrines of religious hatred which enforces feelings of racism and segregation. Regardless of belief we all share a common bond and that should be one of humanity.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

LBF…The deathly rattle

Sometimes a big decision has to be made for the sake of the event. I think the reputation of the LBF has been badly harmed by going ahead with an event that clearly suffered due to the lack of International attendance. The digital zone continues to be nothing more than lip service by an industry that doesn't know what to do with it. The seminars were frankly poor in content and substance. At one point I wondered if much of the content of one of the seminars I attended had been made up on the fly. The LBF seriously needs to raise its game or it will lose its prominence on the world stage. I may attend Frankfurt now to see if I can make up for lost time and opportunities and if Frankfurt turns out to be more useful than London why would I ever return to the LBF.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

London Book Fair 2010 - Report


The 2010 London Book Fair lived up to my worst fears and expectations.  The Icelandic ash cloud wreaked havoc across the event with a host of no-shows and cancelled appointments.  I am not sure of the visitor numbers but they were markedly down on previous years and I have never seen so many empty stands,  As far as the quality of the show goes I have to say it was equally disappointing. 

Whether this was a reflection of the no-shows or just general malaise it was hard to say.  Personally I am opting for the latter as the quality of the offering seemed lazy.  Many of the seminars offered nothing in terms of quality of content with hosts seemingly happy to offer information that was neither new, innovative or showed any effort in terms of strategic thinking. The ‘Digital Zone’ like previous years is once again nothing more then paltry lip service with many of the companies (squeezed into a very small area) rightly complaining of the many restrictions hoisted upon them from the show organisers.  While the publishing industry continues to say that digital publishing is a vital and growing part of the industry it is clear that in truth they wish it would go away.  I got the distinct impression that the organisers are patting themselves on the back for being so innovative.

On the product front, it was good to see some new e-reading devices made to accommodate the myriad of publishing formats for eBooks.  Although this is beginning to look like closing the door after the horse has well and truly bolted, as ePub is going to be the industry standard.

The iPad made its unofficial UK debut with the machine being displayed at many stands, and whilst the machine is impressive in the way Apple excel in terms of style, design and functionality, I was left wondering if there is longevity in the machine.  It is surprisingly heavy and possibly just too large to be used every day as an alternative to an eReader and without the usefulness of a physical integrated keyboard, does not fill the criteria of a laptop.  The eBook app is slick and extremely functional and will without doubt increase the popularity of eBooks throughout the world.  Something worries me about the usage of these machines past the honeymoon period though and I can see many of these becoming a must have item which becomes quickly neglected.  The LCD screen make reading over longer periods harder on the eyes than e-Ink readers but the ability to integrate multi-media content is a definite plus in its favour.  The cost of the machine though may prove prohibitive for many who are not swayed by just wanting the coolest gadget on the block.

There are many new machines creeping up on the heels of the iPad and one of those that will be a strong contender is a machine from British company Elonex who have a smaller slate computer with a colour LCD display retailing at £99.  Sadly it was not possible to see a working model to test the eBook functionality but the price and overall usability will make this a very popular machine.  Elonex already have a number of e-Ink readers and the range is increasing with 3G and Wi-Fi models being rolled out soon.   

The Green Reader Ltd has a range of small machines which are promising and being pitched with an eye for the environmentalist.  Whilst I don’t believe these machines are any greener that many of the competitors the readers were packed with features and functionality and not too large. Notable aspects of the Green Readers is their ability to read in any language and an impressive 2.5GB memory.

On a positive note some new eBook retail platforms are appearing in the shape of FirstyFish and a new eBook store on Facebook called ReadBoox.  Both of these look extremely promising.

Overall you have to ask the question as to whether the London Book Fair is running out of steam and the answer on yesterday’s performance is yes.  Let’s hope net year sees a marked improvement in quality, access and content.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Independent Publisher Out-Performs Majors with Crime Fiction Debut Novel

News Release
Date: 27 March 2010
Independent Publisher Out-Performs Majors with
Crime Fiction Debut Novel
Caffeine Nights Publishing celebrated the launch of Nick Quantrill’s crime thriller Broken Dreams on March 16th in front of a sell out audience at the Crime & the City event at the Phillip Larkin Centre in Hull. Nick, whose book has received fantastic coverage in the Yorkshire region with TV, radio and newspaper interviews, went on to a sell-out book signing in under two hours at Waterstones in Hull. The signing taking place in a week which reported the lowest sales of the year out-performed recent ‘celebrity’ book signings and set a benchmark for an unknown author with a debut book from a small independent publisher by selling all 43 ordered copies.

Editor Note

Nick Quantrill was a winner of the HarperCollins Crime Tour Competition in 2006 for his short story ‘Punishment’ before he went on to complete Broken Dreams.

Broken Dreams is published by Caffeine Nights Publishing – rrp £7.99.
Review copies of Broken Dreams are available from the publisher on request.

Synopsis - ‘Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill

Joe Geraghty, Private Investigator, is used to struggling from one case to the next, barely making the rent on his small office in the Old Town of Hull. Invited by a local businessman to investigate a member of his staff’s absenteeism, it’s the kind of surveillance work that Geraghty and his small team have performed countless times. When Jennifer Murdoch is found bleeding to death in her bed, Geraghty quickly finds himself trapped in the middle of a police investigation which stretches back to the days when the city had a thriving fishing industry. As the woman’s tangled private life begins to unravel, the trail leads Geraghty to local gangster-turned-respectable businessman, Frank Salford, a man with a significant stake in the city’s regeneration plans. Still haunted by the death of his wife in a house fire, it seems the people with the answers Geraghty wants are the police and Salford, both of whom want his co-operation for their own ends. With everything at stake, some would go to any length to get what they want, Geraghty included.

If you would like a review copy of Broken Dreams please email info@caffeinenights.com and place ARC in the title/headline of your email along with a postal address or email address if you require the eBook version. ARC’s are available to press requests for review purposes.
If you would like to interview NickQuantrill, please call 01634 837049 and ask for Darren.
Broken Dreams – ISBN 978-0-9554070-2-4, paperback, RRP £7.99
Broken Dreams - ISBN 978-0-9554070-3-1, eBook, RRP £4.95

Sunday, 21 March 2010

A Week to Remember

The launch week of any new title is an exciting time but when it is your first title especially so.  We have spent two years trailing the market with test titles, tying up distribution deals and getting to grip with digital technology.  This week we launched ‘Broken Dreams’ by Nick Quantrill and had an excellent public relations push for the title with the media.

ITV Yorkshire produced an excellent report on their nightly Calendar programme for Nick and BBC Radio Humberside carried out a ten minute interview.  The newspaper coverage for Nick was especially good with the Hull Daily Mail including two features (one in the main section – entertainment and one in the business section) plus a separate mention of the book signings. We also gained a major feature in the Yorkshire Daily Post including a podcast on its website by journalist Nick Ahad.

In-between all of this activity we secured two highly successful book signings at Waterstone in Hull and the Hessle Bookshop. We also arranged future book signings at Waterstones in other cities plus a ticketed book event at Simply Books in Pocklington, which will be a great night with radio actor Pete Haslam reading from Nick’s book and Nick answering questions from the audience.

Kicking this first week of activity of Nick was invited to Crime and the City at the University of Hull, Phillip Larkin Centre.  The event was a sell-out and Nick read from Broken Dreams and answered questions.

With a number of other events lined up and more PR to support it we hope to continue the push and keep the interest of the media and the book buying public.

To create success you have to work hard and be proactive and fight against discrimination, short-sightedness and ignorance.  You have to be stubborn, refuse to take no for an answer and learn to roll with the punches and there are quite a few punches and low blows.  But if you have a quality product, talented authors willing to work hard and a plan to get your product to the media and the public then you are in a better position than most.  It is very early days for Caffeine Nights Publishing and nothing is certain but we want to make a difference.  We want to change the way the industry works and thinks.  It’s a long road and we are at the very beginning, but it is exciting…

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Waste on Demand- Why POD is the Green Alternative the Industry doesn’t want?

There is an alternate reality where in a sane world business revolves around demand being created, supplied and fulfilled.  This world does not rely on an artificial or should I say superficial business model which is based solely on waste, heavy on resources and harmful with its impact on the environment.  Yet this world, crazily, is ignored by the majority of people owning and operating the industry.  In fact the industry works against a business model which is not built on a vanity turnover, excessive and unsustainable waste and greed.  I am of course talking about the crazy world of publishing.  The more sustainable model of ‘Print on Demand’ (POD) can address many issues of waste, environmental impact and democratise the industry, so why is it not a natural choice.  It is clear that many forces in the industry conspire against it becoming the chosen model for the industry moving forward and those factors run deep within the whole industry from distribution through to bookstores. 

For instance when our titles are set up we state that we allow returns just like any other publisher, yet part of the distribution chain which allows our books to be ordered just like any other publisher makes a decision which we cannot control not to allow these returns to happen – even though we have given permission for this to happen.  Believe me, we would rather books were not returned but we are realists and if a book is returned after sale for whatever reason we would rather have that book come back so it can be redistributed or checked for whatever reason. This is how the system works with mainstream publishers and it means that booksellers reduce their risk when overstocking. Overstocking is a part of the publishing business model which Caffeine Nights Publishing is against as it is not sustainable and carried out solely to enhance publisher and book store turnover.

A pattern starts to emerge where it is clear that some parts of the industry are against POD for a number of reasons.  Many of them are spurious and most are designed to protect a system which clearly is coming to an end.  Some bookstores won’t order a POD title because a distributor won’t accept the return or will only sell it as a ‘firm’ sale even though the publisher has expressly stressed that it is willing to accept returns.  The bookshop will then make a decision not to stock a title which it can’t return.  The bookstore may even turn down requests to have author signings because of this in the mistaken belief that it is the publisher’s decision.  POD means that book store managers could actually order a very limited number of a single title and have it in stock or respond to demand and order it when requested. Surely an ideal situation if distributors would play ball.

There is also a myth perpetuated by many elements in the industry that POD is inferior quality, in fact that all elements of publishers using POD is inferior, from design right through to content.  This is a number one myth perpetuated by an industry which refuses to accept POD and new smaller publishers.  Yes, it is true we don’t have the resources the major publishers have, but the fact is and what frightens many of them, is that you don’t actually need the deep pockets to produce a quality product people want to read and enjoy. The music industry has fought long and hard against change but gradually accepted it and seen that it can be healthy ad exceptionally creative.  Publishing is still very class driven and pretentious, so I guess the reactions to protect a business model which has been around since the year dot is not wholly unsurprising.

Book shops all over the world can order out titles in whatever quantities they wish to but we would rather that ordering was based on demand and fulfilled this way.  We don’t believe in printing a million copies of our titles unless we can actually sell a million titles.  Sales are far more important than having our titles sitting on shelves for months on end unsold, but for a large part of the publishing industry they don’t care as long as they hog space in stores and provide turnover for both parties.  These publishers don’t care if books are returned in their thousands or tens of thousands;there is always the remainder stores and supermarkets to flog off excess quantities at massively reduced prices and if that doesn’t work there is always the shredder and landfill.  Because let’s face it in the quantities in which they are produced each copy probably costs a matter of pence.

Does this mean POD publishers have no ambition?  No, we want to have million sellers not million returners, but we also want to be given an even and fair playing field in which to operate. If a publisher says he will accept returns then why cannot the distributor accept that fact and allow the books an even chance.   

Saturday, 13 February 2010

London Book Un-Fair 2010

The early signs are not promising for this year’s London Book Fair or at least the omens are not good.  Back in December I went online to purchase tickets to visit, six weeks later and four phone calls it was finally discovered that my purchase which initially through a ‘computer’ glitch had gone through twice had indeed not gone through at all.  The organisers had all of this on record but never once contacted me either by email or phone. A further phone call persuaded them to take my credit card details by phone.  A week later I finally received an invoice but still no tickets. Now this in itself shouldn’t be too disconcerting, after all we are all used to bad service but after I had finally managed to extract my badge number to log into the site and begin the usual process of making appointments I found that this function has been scrapped.  One of the single most useful aspects of the whole LBF website has been scrapped.  No longer is it possible for visitors to go online at the site and make appointments through the calendar system which has worked so well for the last few years.  It seems parts of the industry don’t want ‘outsiders’ coming in to their cosy little club. 

The Internet has democratised publishing and it scares the pants off certain parts of it.  Digital publishing has arrived and it scares the crap out of most of it.  I am hoping that this year we see a much greater presence for digital publishing with more emphasis on eBooks and eReaders.  Of course it would be great to see Apple their with the iPad or even Microsoft with its ‘Courier’. I hope this year we start to see more acceptance of new independent publishers who are changing the face of the industry.  We need doors being opened and not closed and personally I would like to see the area for agents, TV & Film rights and International rights made far more accessible.  It is not impossible to get appointments but clearly it is designed to keep interlopers out. 

Only time will tell if this year will be a step forward or a step into the dark.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Independents wish it could be Christmas everyday.

By Darren E Laws

Independent bookstores and Foyles, the largest independent bookstore in the UK, have reported excellent Christmas trading figures despite maintaining recommended retail price on titles or minimal price cuts.  Whether this trend continues as the year progresses will be interesting to see but it is encouraging and maybe shows that the consumers love affair with the traditional bookstore is not over yet. The holiday season is a traditional time for strong sales growth, with many people giving books as gifts.  So it is not unusual to expect increased footfall and sales recorded, but it would appear that many consumers have made a decision that price may not be the key factor when making that purchase.  So what are the key reasons for this growth; the answer has to be choice.  Consumers have made the decision that the supermarkets might have the strength when it comes to bargaining power but they don’t have the range.  Ultimately consumers want choice even if it comes over price but the sad reality is that Christmas does not come every day and while these trading figures are good news, they won’t sustain shops for the other 11 months of the year when consumers pick up their top 20 bestsellers for the supermarket.