Sunday, 16 December 2012

DRM – The Great Misnomer

There is a lot of rubbish written about DRM and to be frank, we all know it doesn’t work for those who are determined to hack it. However for the majority of readers who are legal, law abiding citizens, they don’t care and probably don’t even know or care what DRM is or does let alone if it is DRM free. Why don’t they care, because unlike music, games and movies most readers keep their book collection on a single machine to read and for those that don’t, five machines is ample enough to move a book between. The great misnomer is believing all the hype about DRM, how it affects the poor reader. This is total crap. The average reader consumes his or her books without anything inhibiting their enjoyment of their books. So we then have to address the other issue; are some publishers lofting themselves on white chargers and slapping themselves on their own pious backs as champions of DRM free titles. The answer to this is sadly, yes.

In reality DRM doesn’t actually do anything except maybe stop kids who are too lazy or too untech savvy to crack it, so it does offer some protection from exploitation at a basic level. As mentioned, those who wish to crack it can do so easily. The average reader who now outnumbers the early and vocal adopters of ebooks (These are the people who believe that all eBooks should be free) is willing to actually pay for their books and read them (generally) on the machine they purchased them on.

As the eBook market has matured with the number of readers increasing (These are now the people willing to pay for books and keep a library in the cloud) the issue of DRM either pro or anti will diminish. This is because the majority of people are honest and feel that the content they purchase belongs to them regardless. How many machines does the average reader want his/her content on? What has happened here is that the industry has become so fixated on the argument of piracy by comparing it with the music industry that no one has stopped to compare what is two distinctly different sets of consumers. The music industry is mostly driven by a much younger audience who have little interest in paying for content. Lets examine how they perceive this. They hear music on the radio for free, they tune into MTV and a host of other TV music channels for free, music is short and relies on repetitive plays/listens for it to become popular and many artists/record labels release their content to platforms such as YouTube to be consumed for free. So this audience has been educated to believe that they shouldn’t have to pay for music. Therefore it is perfectly reasonable (their view not mine) to upload/download, swap, share and generally pass around for free.

The book industry seems to have got so caught up with not making the same mistakes as the music industry that it has assumed the audience is the same. The fact is that it is no longer the same audience. It was at first, when the early adopter was kids looking for more free content (regardless of whether they would actually read it) but now the uptake is a more mature market where the thought of sharing files the way music files are shared is not part of their psyche.

Without generalising too much, the biggest threat to file sharing from the younger generation is going to be academic books. They are too busy watching movies, listening to music and playing online games to spend hours reading other than their school and university obligations. So the whole debate about DRM is a bit of a misnomer. Of course I am not discounting professional thieves, conmen and rogues who will exploit any loopholes in content security, these people are so determined they will crack whatever is placed in front of them. The fact is that with the book industry, the market is actually far more limited than the music, movies and games industry.

The book industry and its majority of consumers are happy purchasing their digital content and reading it on a single machine (Though even with DRM they have the ability to use this on 5 machines – how many do they do they need in reality?). The industry has indeed changed but I think publishers have so got caught up in a spurious argument that it has failed to see that its core audience has changed as it has grown and developed from the early adopters. Even this does a miss-service to younger consumers, many of whom are also prepared to pay for content. 

So the next time you see a publisher boldly shouting ‘Our titles are DRM free’ ask yourself a question as to what they are really saying or understand about the current market and if it is no more than an attempt to make themselves look good while not actually conceding anything. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

GOING INDIE: THE WRITER IN THE DIGITAL AGE

On Thursday 22nd November I was invited to sit on the panel of an event looking at publishing in the digital age. I was on the panel with one of our authors, Shelley Weiner, Rachel Ogden a director from publisher marketing company Inpress, and Justine Solomons from Byte the Book. The event was hosted by Rebecca Swift, director of The Literacy Consultancy in Farringdon where the event was held. A broad range of subjects was discussed and it was clear from opinions on the panel that there were areas of great contention especially the shifting tide of sway held by the voice of the reader now being one of the main influencers of a books popularity rather than the considered opinion of reviewers. Times are changing and there is a paradigm shift toward popularism over literature. All I mean by this is that digital has opened the door of democracy taking the opinion of a few select reviewers/judges and given that power to readers. This is the reason why it is important for publishers and authors to engage with their readers and equally important to know who their readers are.

Rebecca Swift did an excellent job in keeping the panel on topic and opening the conversation to the packed house of 50 who turned up on a cold November evening. Shelley Weiner gave a very thoughtful and considered talk on what going indie meant for her following a reading from her novel The Audacious Mendacity of Lily Green. This kicked off the evening adding plenty of strands of conversation.

It was clear from the audience response that Amazon is a big issue for many readers and writers alike, seen as both the bogeyman and the democratiser of publishing. Topics on the night ranged from royalty rates, self-publishing, hybrid publishing, editing, proofreading, the recent mergers of Penguin and Random House as well as the proposed Simon & Shuster rumblings.

My overall thoughts are that the passion for publishing out there is in a far more healthy position than many realise and although this is only a snapshot of 50 or so people, there is clearly a desire to accept change and find ways to exploit that change while still wanting to protect bricks and mortar book stores. Whether this can be achieved is doubtful as I fear for the long-term survival of book stores in the high street, especially independents who are had tied through finance and often by a mind set that is set in the good old days. Those days are gone and unless stores adapt they won’t survive.

Publishing equally has many obstacles and the same can be said for publishers, unless we adapt and learn then we too will become redundant. We have to work with the likes of Rachel from Inpress and listen to forward thinkers like Justine from Byte the Book while listening to our readers and being innovative in our own thought and ensuring we can make ideas turn into strategies.

Friday, 9 November 2012

GOING INDIE: THE WRITER IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Event Announcement

Smaller independent publishers are enjoying a renaissance in the internet age. For writers they can offer the kind of personal attention and access to digital services that may be hard to find in the mainstream. At what point, therefore, might a writer approach small presses rather than a large publisher? What, if any, is the role of the agent in this changing world? Can it be financially viable for a writer to be published by an indie press? And – most importantly of all – who can we trust (small press or large conglomerate) to ensure that the best quality writing finds the audience it deserves?
Join Rebecca Swift, Director of The Literary Consultancy to consider these questions with a highly qualified panel:
Shelley Weiner whose new novel ‘The Audacious Mendacity of Lily Green’ is published by the go-ahead indie, Caffeine Nights
Darren Laws, head of Caffeine Nights
Rachel Ogden, Director of Inpress, an organisation that seeks to ensure that small presses do not get lost in the marketplace
Justine Solomons, whose member organisation, Byte the Book, helps inform writers about how digital publishing really works.
Thursday 22nd November 2012
Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3GA
6.30pm – 8pm
Tickets: £10 (Glass of wine included)
To book call Free Word at: 020 7324 2570

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The end of the road for indie book stores

Are London indie Books shops now a closed shop? If you are not famous, don’t have a large following or can’t guarantee selling 80 copies (seriously this figure was quoted to me by an indie store) then there is no way you are going to get a book signing even in an indie store. What is depressing is that we hear indie stores moaning their lot, crying and whinging about how tough it is and not willing to host an event where there is absolutely no risk to them financially and only a chance for them to make money. I have run into closed minds, pretentious fools and scared rabbits in headlights. The one thing they all have in common is they are all doing NOTHING. It’s almost as if they are paralysed with fear and content to continue on this course of inaction until they put up the shutters and close their doors for good. And if this happens we will continue to hear them blaming everyone but themselves. It’s eBooks fault, it’s Amazon’s fault, it’s supermarket’s fault, it publishers fault…boy can these guys whine! You know what, it’s your own damn fault. Engage with publishers, talk to authors, you are part of a community…talk to them. Sure times are tough and that’s more reason to be pro-active. The next time a small publisher gets on the phone to you asking if you will host a book signing from an unknown author, find out what the book is, listen to the proposal and think of ways of working with the publisher to make that event a success.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

National Book Awards…Entries from the Big Boys Only Please

I was excited to receive news of the National Book Awards and looking forward to entering a few of our titles in different categories until I read the entry details and realised that this is yet again another 'awards' competition that is not open to small publishers and will invariably be dominated by the big six. How disappointing to find that they are only looking for books that have made an “outstanding or massive impact in terms of acclaim and sales”. Seriously, what is the point in this competition if it cannot be judged on quality of writing. You may as well hand them out to Jordan and any other 'celebrity' hogging the limelight who can shift a few thousand copies by not actually writing a word. I could argue that all of our books have exceeded sales expectations as this is obviously very open terminology but feel it is not really what the National Book Awards are looking for. Again, how do you define a best-seller in the digital age?
Just for once, why can they not make a competition a real competition and judge books solely on their content and ability to engage and entertain the reader.
After reading the entry pack, we can only enter 1 category instead of a possible 4.
Let's look forward to another stitch-up for the big boys in the industry in this years National Book Awards.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Master of the Sock Puppets – True Crime Writing

But who’s strings are these guys pulling. Recent confessions by crime authors RJ Ellroy and Stephen Leather of ‘sock puppetry’ or to be less misleading, writing their own fake reviews. Leather openly and brazenly (with a dash of hubris) told an audience at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival that he writes many of his own reviews to get the ball rolling. Mr. Leather, an ardent Mail on Sunday reader - if his facebook posts are to be believed, is never short of an opinion, or a review…so it seems. I wondered what sort of respect he actually gives his ‘fans’. I say fans because it is clear from many of the reviews that he is clearly his own biggest fan. Ellroy’s own reviews were as prosaic as his award winning novel ‘A Simple Act of Violence’ though maybe it should be retitled ‘A Simple Act of Stupidity’. Ellroy’s own crime was compounded by the fact that he not only accidentally signed off as Roger on one occasion but also chose to give low ratings to other ‘rival’ authors…ah, if it was only Mr. Leather, but it was not. There is no excuse for this sort of behavior especially from authors with reputations we were supposed to trust. And this is about trust and a flagrant disrespect of that trust with their readers, let alone fellow authors. It was clear from his response at Harrogate that Stephen Leather feels that he has done nothing wrong and he almost applauded himself for his sharp thinking and the way he fools his readers. Mr Ellroy at least has the decency to accept what he has done is wrong – even though he had to be ‘outed’ to actually get to that point. These are not the only authors to do this and get found out and will probably not be the last to knowingly and intentionally deceive their readers. The question is can you ever trust any future reviews this particular pair may receive. The last few weeks has given crime fiction a bad name with more puppetry on display than a Gerry Anderson festival. This practice must cease otherwise the reputation of crime fiction in this county could be severely damaged losing the industry even more readers, who no longer trust what they are reading.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Daunting Time for Waterstones

What the heck is going on at Waterstones. This month we have had wholesale management clearouts and rumours abound about Waterstones ending book signing events for small publishers with the focus concentrating on…you’ve guessed it, the big six. One has to wonder what is coming next in what seems like a meltdown at Waterstones.

One thing is for sure is that these changes do nothing more than consolidate the position of the big six and handicap even further the small guys who are struggling to make a living. By the way Mr Daunt, these are the guys who have week in and week out brought custom and sales to Waterstones on a regular basis with non-discounted books. I should know because we are one of those little guys who have worked tirelessly up until now with the help of some very supportive staff at Waterstones branches the length and breadth of the country. We enjoy in-store book signings. They are a great way for authors to meet new readers and fans. We always support these signings with good local and regional PR to ensure that readers in the area are aware of the event. Sure, not every event is a success but many are. We make new friends, we broaden the reach of our books and we build demand for them. Now if the message from Waterstones is true this may all be coming to an end.

A spokesperson for Waterstones head office said: “We are reviewing the experience that we offer our customers and are moving away from open-ended, handselling events and asking shops to focus on well rounded event programmes that are more engaging in the long term.” The spokesperson added: “The intention is not to immediately cancel events, or to shut anyone out but over time shops might want to adjust the format of certain events and rebalance the activity that they have planned."

And I know what will happen; confusion in its messaging will filter down to branch level ending in many signings being cancelled or simply not arranged. Managers are already confused over ordering titles, now it seems this directive will add further to the murk descending on the once great book chain.

What needs to happen is clear and unequivocal directives from Daunt & Co, not this mish-mash of whispers filtered out from head office. With so many changes, instant resignations of the ‘was he pushed or did he fall’ variety at director and manager level, and bizarre decisions (Amazon springs to mind) at operational level you have to wonder if Daunt is executing a clear master plan or playing euphemistic piƱata, aiming wildly at everything but with a blindfold on.

I for one am beginning to become worried by what is happening at Waterstones.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sony take eBooks back to the dark ages. Cut price or cut throat?

Sony have re-launched its eBook platform last April but this week hit the headlines with its latest gambit to grab attention away from Amazon’s dominance in the market. The gambit being to sell selected eBooks at 20p. It sounds great for the consumer but is it good for the publisher and author? The answer is a clear and unequivocal no. This is a highly damaging and cynical move by Sony  and does nothing except cement in the mind of consumers that all digital content should be free or almost free. As a publisher Caffeine Nights is actually contemplating putting the price of our eBooks up to the £2.50 to £3 mark and moving away from low price promotions and not engaging in Amazon’s free promotions. We are a niche publisher and consumers who want our books are prepared to pay a little extra for them.

The eBook market is maturing and readers are always in the search for new content. As a publisher we cannot keep reinforcing the idea that this content has to be cheap. There will always be cheap and free content out there, plus pirated content for those who really don’t like paying. But the majority of people consuming excellent eBooks are honest and want to pay a fair amount for the content. I agree that because of the differing overheads with the production of eBooks this should not be the same price as physical content but it should be a fair recompense for the author and publisher. I would like to reach the stage where £3.99 is a standard entry point for eBooks. This is not a lot of money for hours of entertainment.

Sony’s move with its strong focus on 20p eBooks moves the market back three years. Publishers need to convince consumers that they have to pay for decent content. There is nothing wrong with that. It now seems that we have to convince the platform owners who have dictated the rules for far too long already. eBooks give the same value and enjoyment as paperback or hardback novels, so why the compulsion to give them away for next to nothing. When the market was new there was a strategic necessity to get readers to move from looking for pirated content to cheaper content to ensure they associated paying for digital content. As that market matures and is prepared to pay for what it wants it makes sense to gently lead it toward understanding that they have to pay a little more for that content. This is how the Internet evolved from its pioneering days where things were regularly given away and there was a bargain at the end of every URL to the behemoth shoppers paradise that we know today.

Sites like Sony and Amazon will play an important part in our future ePurchasing for eBooks but there will be other changes coming which at present we can’t foresee as the market not only matures but looks to break the stranglehold of the likes of Amazon.  New platforms are being developed that will work closer with publishers and traditional book stores moving control over pricing away from Amazon, Sony and the lowest common denominator. I am not arguing for a blanket price rise by publishers that hurts readers, far from it. We must recognise though that we cannot continue giving away content and then expect the readers to understand when publishers either go broke or in a last minute state of desperation suddenly hike prices up in a bid to survive.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Game changers or game players

Over the past few weeks there have been some developments in the world of tablet computers with Microsoft and Google both entering the foray. Microsoft’s Surface is a really interesting addition on a number of levels, not only will it operate on Windows new 8 platform but it benefits from the recent link with Barnes and Noble bringing the Nook and B&N’s ingress into an established eBook platform to potential buyers. MS Surface

Then this week Google announce the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 is operating on an improved Android platform ‘Jellybean’ promising a faster, smoother experience and fully integrating with Google ‘Play’, Google’s rebranded ‘Marketplace’ and a much needed absorption of Google Books or Editions or whatever Google fancied callings its digital book platform this week. What is amazing about Google and eBooks is the enthusiasm it approached the market and the total lack of impact it has had with sales. Hands up those who have purchased an eBook from Google? Not many.

 

Nexus 7 Google are pricing Nexus 7 at an astonishing £159, a price that would make other Nexus 7 models, Roy Batty included blink bug eyed. Clearly this is an aggressive stance to try to steal thunder from Amazon’s Kindle Fire and not Apple or even Microsoft’s coming Surface.

Microsoft are being cagey about their pricing of the Surface but this will be a machine aimed squarely as a serious contender for the iPad. None of these machines are true dedicated eReaders they are entertainment consoles which offer the ability to read eBooks, so are they game changers or just game players. The truth is this is an evolving market and there is room for each and each will find an audience. Sales wise Google are staring from ground zero and will make the initial gain on sales growth (probably at the expense of Amazon) with the Nexus 7 being priced so favourably. There will be much hyperbole from all camps and from each camp’s dedicated followers but when the dust finally settles all that we will see is a more mature market. The surprising thing is that despite all of the colour and functionality many will prefer reading eBooks from boring old slate grey dedicated eReaders such as Kobo’s eReader Touch or the Kindle. The good news for publishers and readers though is the expanded choice offered to them.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Waterstones under the bridge?

It is rather depressing that Waterstones appear to have thrown in the towel on having their own market share on eBooks. Only last year James Daunt compared working with Amazon as trading with the devil and now this...

I wondered why Waterstones eBook manager (Alex Ingram) left the company suddenly in March. I thought it was because he objected to a proposed deal with Barnes & Nobel. Waterstones were meant to be announcing a deal which would see them introduce their own eBook reader called the Wook (A version of Barnes & Nobel’s Nook) but it appears to be because Mr Daunt is happy to sleep with the devil he despised so much this time last year.

Waterstones dilly dallied too long on the Wook deal and B&N went cap in hand to Microsoft for $600M of investment. Expect to see developments coming from Microsoft and B&N in the next 12 months.

I am struggling to see what exactly Waterstones are going to gain from partnering with Amazon. It never worked when Amazon ran Waterstones old website. People will browse in Waterstones stores for books and buy the kindle versions while in store but what % is Waterstones going to make out of that? Whereas Amazon get a foothold in the only decent book chain in the UK and will undoubtedly leverage themselves into a position to buy the chain out within five years. Strategically it all appears wrong from Waterstones point of view. I can only hope Mr Daunt knows what he is doing.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The London Book Fair 2012

IMAG0042

This year’s LBF was a vast improvement on previous years. An expanded digital zone sees the industry acknowledging the importance of digital publishing in all its forms. One particular growth area was an increased number of eBook aggregators, eBook conversion companies and the apps area. It was good to see Amazon showing their faces (literally) as this is usually such an anonymous company. So the opportunity to make contact and speak with representatives of the behemoth was refreshing. It was good to talk about what Amazon has been doing with its Select programme and how it really does not work in the favour of any publisher, small medium or large. Why Amazon insists on exclusivity to join a promotion to give away your publications is beyond me, especially when its platform only publishes the Mobi format. I can’t see the logic in denying publishers the chance to have their books simultaneously published on other platforms that use ePub. Its a spoiling tactic too far and one which if abandoned would not affect the Kindle sales one iota. Either Amazon must open up their platform to allow ePub or give up on this programme of exclusivity that does nothing except harm the cash flow by stopping eBooks appearing on other platforms. It will be interesting to see what Amazon’s response is.

Barnes & Noble had a presence in that they were sponsoring various areas in the digital zone and had a small stand to help with Nook conversions. It was interesting how tight lipped everyone was about the industries worst kept secret the Nook coming to Waterstones (Wook). Even Waterstones representatives were not confirming nor denying anything about the forthcoming collaboration.

One thing the LBF lacks is any form is a connection with the end user…the reader. The fair seems quite happy to continue blithely ignoring the most important factor in the reading equation and I do wonder if there is a way to include readers in the fair to help the industry prepare for the next few years in the exciting developments in publishing. If they are cut out of the equation don’t be surprised to find the continuing growth of self-publishing at all levels grow out of hand. The industry needs to work at all levels to ensure the value of books is not lost on the tidal wave of un-edited but enthusiastically self-published books being given away at Amazon and other sites. I am entirely for the democracy of this new era of publishing but there are unscrupulous fakes out there who are just churning out rubbish (some of it badly plagiarised) and cashing in very nicely while robbing many of only a few pence but selling thousands of copies. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is the biggest challenge facing both the reader and the publisher. 

Talking of democracy, China were the focus country. It seemed half of Beijing was encamped in Earls Court. I do wonder who LBF will invite next…Zimbabwe, Rwanda, or Iran or another country will an equally exemplary record on free speech. While commerce with China is an increasingly important factor as we move forward in the 21st century; lets face it the traffic has been pretty much one way, with countries falling over themselves to get in to bed with China and precious little in return. Certainly not the individual rights of people in China. But don’t worry, as long as we are trading with them and they are out-pricing our workforce or making remarkably cheap (and similar looking) TV’s, computers or eReaders then all is rosy. Who cares about human rights or jobs in the UK. Oh and don’t worry about China’s mounting inflation problems (these will make Europe’s problems look like an end of day cash float miscalculation) worrying housing problems within its own property sector and massive environmental and waste impact. Because by the time we do it will be too late.

Overall though LBF 2012 was a success and a step in the right direction for publishing…albeit a small one.

Monday, 9 April 2012

How The ‘Meddle’ Man Nearly Ruined Our Business

There are elements of publishing which are needed and play a great art in the fulfilment and logistical chain. These elements such as Gardners or Bertrams can add benefit to large publishers who have a massive churn of books costing them little more than pennies per copy. You know these books they line the shelves of bookshelves of stores and supermarkets and often are sold for anything from a £1 to £5. However smaller publishers are often operating at much higher costs per unit on books and cannot afford to sell titles at prices which are not realistic or at a loss. Third party distributors or middlemen who add nothing to the equation except cost, carbon footprint, excessive handling and most importantly delay add very little in terms of quality to small publishers or even to the retailer who experiences a severe cut in their margins.

I am not for a moment saying that Gardners or Bertrams do not carry out an important role in publishing, they do, but not for every publisher. Many retailers are tied into contracts with these third party distributors and they have not seriously looked at options for cutting out unnecessary waste in the supply chain. There are instances where Gardners and Bertrams can be easily cut out of the supply chain to increase efficiency and profit.

In the past week I have received emails from more than one Waterstones store telling me that book events were in jeopardy because of delays incurred through ordering direct through Gardners. I know for a fact that I can order books from our printers (Lightning Source/Ingram) and have them delivered anywhere in the UK, US, Australia, Canada and Europe within a week. Waterstones orders through Gardners and suddenly it takes 3 to 4 weeks at the earliest.  What is happening to the books in the intervening weeks? They are sitting in a warehouse being ignored.

The answer that will stop my business from going out of business through delays in the supply chain from meddle men is for Waterstones to deal direct with Lightning Source/Ingram. Waterstones get the full wholesale discount, they receive the books direct from the printer and on time and everybody is happy.

Retail is in crisis, publishing is in crisis, yet here we are locked into antiquated systems which add NOTHING to the equation. This is the fourth instance in as many weeks where I have been contacted to let me know that a book signing will have to be cancelled because Gardners cannot get their act together. I guess Gardners are too busy counting the 21% rake off for destroying my business to care. Fortunately Waterstones do appear to care and hopefully taking steps to redress this situation.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Our Most Important Week

On Monday 19th March Caffeine Nights release four titles:

Abide With Me – Ian Ayris

Consequences – RC Bridgestock

Frank’s Wild Years – Nick Triplow

The Late Greats – Nick Quantrill

Each book will also be given away free for a very short period on Amazon Kindle as part of a promotion to get the books a wider and richly deserved audience. We have sent out copies of each book to numerous book reviewers at all of the national daily newspapers and other important media. We done this even though we knew these reviewers are tied up with books from major publishes in the hope that they will be prepared to look at something new. Each book will be supported with a book tour at regional level thanks mostly to the support of Waterstones, and often put a jeopardy by Gardners squeezing the life out of our wholesale discount and adding delay to the fulfilment process. Each book will be supported with a public relations campaign targeting the media at national, trade, regional and local levels.

Unlike the major publishers, we cannot flood the stores with thousands of copies of each title. We have to work very much at a one to one level because of an arcane ordering and distribution system monopolised by Gardners and Bertrams who are happy to take over 21% of our wholesale discount for doing nothing except delaying the ordering process. Despite trying for over two years to persuade Waterstones to deal direct with Ingram (a company with excellent distribution links to the book industry) and keep the entire wholesale discount they drag their heels and offer lame excuses. The sad thing is this denies small publishers anything close to parity with the larger publishers whose cost per unit is pennies not pounds.

So we fight the best way we can and that means we have to be aggressive and take extraordinary risks with our new titles by giving them away free on Amazon Kindle in the hope of gaining a ground swell of downloads and taking on larger publishers in a fight for the readers attention.   We have to be more aggressive with our approach with book signings and fighting for space in regional and local media and occasionally grabbing the attention of national media. Nothing is taken for granted and nothing is expected. Every fight, every battle won no matter how small is a victory of hard work and the extraordinary talent of the writers and their books which truly deserve as large an audience as possible.

AWM coverConsequences frontFrontTLG Front

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The End of Publishing as We Know it and Amazon’s Part in it

Well, the end of publishing dates anyway. Amazon have chosen not to respect the launch dates set by publishers. They seem to operate alone in the world of retail at ignoring the launch dates set by publishers. Why does this matter? Often small publishers pin a lot of credence on organising publicity and book tours and this is timed to the actual launch date which the publisher issues with its metadata to all retailers (including Amazon).

Almost in isolation Amazon chose to ignore this and send books out to any customer who orders the book the moment it is available to order. There is a difference between a book being available to order and it being available for release. Book lovers may argue that it doesn’t matter as long as they get their books. But what does matter is the respect other stores show in respecting the launch dates if they can do it, why can’t Amazon. 

Amazon have fundamentally changed publishing and many aspects of what it has done has been a much needed kick up the arse for an industry which was pretty much set in its ways. It would be easy to argue that I am asking for things to remain in stasis and that would be true if over 95% of retailers did not respect publishing dates. Amazon are just trying to steal the market share from underneath other retailers and their lack of respect for publishers and other retailers is worrying.

We have four titles due for publication on March 19th. Many of these have been eagerly awaited by readers through a campaign of online social media  activities by the authors. Every single one of these books is being sold and dispatched by Amazon over a month before the titles are actually due for release. A month before other retailers will dispatch the books.

They are one of the most difficult, frustrating and non-responsive company’s to communicate with at any level. You almost get a sense of hubris from their actions.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

There is no such thing as an even playing field

and don’t be fooled into believing that because you can publish your own eBooks and paper books that the publishing world is a fully open utopia for all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The large publishers in the UK – the Random Houses and Harper Collins of this world – still have the whole world neatly sewn up. From monopolising reviews in our national papers to having the financial clout to swamp our stores with their content. Its a capitalist democracy and that is their right. 

The real issue though is the roadblocks put in place to stop smaller publishers making ingress into that territory. What few bookstores remain in the UK seem less and less interested in supporting new publishers. In fact in my experience there is only one major book chain prepared to work with new publishers and new authors and that is Waterstones.

As a publisher we know our duty to fully support any activity we have with the stores we work with. After all, the investment we as a publisher put into a single book signing is often well into hundreds of pounds of hard earned money in a shrinking market.

This is why we are happy and proud of the support of stores like Waterstones and more than a little disappointed by the reaction of chains such as WHS and Foyles.

Caffeine Nights is never going to have books in ASDA for a £1, nor are we going to have books in the £3.99 range, this is not our business model nor is it the market we feel is supportable. However there is a space for our books in all decent book stores which attract readers who know the value of great entertaining books at a fair price.

I have spent hours being bounced around various buyers in WHS trying to organise a simple local book signing and I understand their position of having to make decisions about titles. But the reality is that events such as local book signings bring fresh blood into stores and if handled correctly by the publisher, the store and importantly, the author, then they can and should be the beginning of a great working relationship. 

Waterstones absolutely get this. WHS and Foyles do not. With such limited outlets for small publishers it is a shame that these vital avenues are being closed. As a publisher we have a duty to our authors to support their hard work and get their work noticed, be that through reviews, book signings or any other activity we can manage.

As a publisher our investment and risk is actually higher than that of the store…much higher. The store will fight for a large wholesale % a good proportion of which is well deserved for their work and support, the rest, well, you can’t blame them for trying to get to boost their profits. They however have the benefit of ‘sale or return’ thus reducing their exposure, another financial burden publishers have to bear.

It seems odd to me that there is not a model in place for small publishers to work more efficiently and profitably with retail outlets. Though the answer is clearly that in the scheme of things we don’t really matter that much when compared to the big boys. The fight goes on…

Monday, 16 January 2012

Why Foyles will Not ‘Abide with Me’

AWM COVEROccasionally life throws up disappointments. Some huge, some small. Sometimes the smallest of disappointments can be the most frustrating, especially if decisions are made “on instinct” with no real basis or foundation. Today Foyles “England's legendary bookseller” in Stratford decided “on instinct” not to have a book signing with Ian Ayris. It’s doubtful that they will stock the book. True, this is entirely their decision and their right. What disappoints is this decision was made from the store in Charing Cross, a million miles from Ian’s heartland and the hub of Ian’s excellent debut novel, Abide with Me, which is set in London’s East End. Stratford is the perfect place for a book signing where the demography is right, the support is right and the media would be a friendly ally. The decision today shows that Foyles are not interested in the real people of Stratford and the surrounding area. If they really want to know about the area I urge them to read Abide with Me. It may do more for their sales than they know.

Maybe Foyles are only interested in the new money in the area. Maybe they are only interested in the Olympics and what it can do for the area. Much like all successive governments.

I dare say even the present incumbents in power would be happy to sweep away the past, the history. Hence the Marathon route will avoid exposing how the shameful neglect of the area is still written large in towns like Aldgate, Bow, Stratford, Forest Gate, East Ham, Manor Park, Poplar, Limehouse, Hackney, Stoke Newington.

My ‘gut instinct’ is that the real people in these areas will continue to be the forgotten people. People who rarely are given the break they need. Foyles will need to be in the East End a few more decades to gain a real understanding of the area, so today’s decision from Charing Cross can maybe be understood.

It would have been great to have a signing in Stratford. For Ian, yes and for me as the publisher of Ian’s book. I was born in Forest Gate, schooled and lived in Stratford. Ian and I understand what it takes to make people notice you.

So thank you Foyles for your understanding and your instinct.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Dropped Apostrophe But What Does It Really Mean

Waterstones logo

waterstones logon

Waterstone’s has become Waterstones, the change is hardly perceptible but behind it there is a canny move by James Daunt to erase the past and Tim Waterstone to boot.

The bookseller rather confusingly is reverting to the original Baskerville typeface dispensing with the last rebrand which saw it adopt a lower case ‘w’ within the logo.  “Waterstones is an iconic brand deserving of a capital W,” said Mr Daunt, but obviously not an apostrophe.

The irony of course is for a major book chain to adopt a grammatically incorrect form of spelling of it’s (note the apostrophe) name. There is a real brouhaha stirring up in the world of apostrophe pedants but as rather correctly pointed out if MacDonald’s and Sainsbury’s can get it right why can’t Waterstone’s.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph there is more to this than English grammar. Mr Daunt clearly want to stamp his own mark on the book chain. I can’t help but think though in this case he may have been misadvised. An apostrophe so it seems, is a simple thing in a complex world.