Last month Claire Morrison, Senior Marketing Manager at DK, felt passionate enough about our feature Amazon: How to Get Your Book To Appear Alongside the Best Sellers to tweet about it. Here she explains why it evoked such a reaction.
Yes, the grocery business is huge. And while it’s one of several industries Amazon hasn’t yet dominated, there’s something way more significant about their acquisition of Whole Foods.
This month in publishing, booksellers have taken the spotlight, with Waterstones announcing their first year of profit since the 2008 financial crash. In fact, Bookstore sales rose 2.5% in 2016 and Amazon is determined to get in on the action, with plans to open 10 books and mortar stores across the US by the end of 2017, in a move to “solve digital retail’s biggest design flaw.” They are also rumoured to be scouting for shops in London. However, the footing is not even: Amazon has been given tax cuts while high street stores suffer – though, as the FT points out, UK tax law isn’t actually Amazon’s fault.
February has also marked the first full month of Trump’s presidency. Early February saw Trump pass an executive order banning entry to the US for citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations. Publishing professionals across the board have stood up against the ban, notably Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. In response, Publishers’ Weekly followed the lead of Penguin Random House US and Hachette Book Group US by offering to pay half its employees’ membership fees to PEN America.
Members of the reading public have also registered their unhappiness, voting with their reading habits by sending dystopian fiction to the top of the bestseller charts, as well as organizing to flood the White House with books for Valentine’s Day.
On a lighter note, Trump’s actions have also kicked off a feud between Harry Potter author JK Rowling and television presenter Piers Morgan. Already having had to defend Harry Potter books against threats of burning this month, Rowling scored some biblical hits against Morgan before London-based Big Green Bookshop took up the gauntlet by deciding to live-Tweet the entire first Harry Potter novel at Morgan. The process would have taken 32,567 Tweets, however at the time of writing, Morgan has blocked the Big Green Bookshop and thwarted their efforts.
This has been a month in which defense of free-speech and liberal values have been at the fore: “sensitivity readers” have been highlighted; anger has bloomed in light of 2017’s all-white Carnegie and Kate Greenaway longlists; and the Authors Guild in America has called for vigilance in these “not normal” times. Meanwhile, more complex debates have erupted over the sale of a Juno Dawson book to a 12-year-old at school, and arguments continue to rage over Milo Yiannopoulos’s upcoming book, both for and against.
“Publishing has a part to play in this fight,” said Chief Executive of Faber & Faber, Steven Page, accepting the Frankfurt book fair independent trade publisher of the year award. “We are about freedom of expression, making the public aware and [providing] education. These are things that matter very much now.”
The news came recently that ReaderLink has purchased Anderson News. Those two companies have been the leading suppliers of books to the mass merchandisers: primarily Wal-mart, Target, and Sam’s Club. There are other players selling books in the space, including Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and smaller distributors like the less-well-known American West. But most of the books going to most of the mass merchant accounts have gotten there through what will now be one company supplying them: ReaderLink.
By my count, that puts four companies in the book business who have extraordinarily powerful holds on their space. They are ReaderLink (in the supply of books to mass merchants), Amazon (as an online retailer), Barnes & Noble (as a bricks-and-mortar retailer) and Penguin Random House (as a commercial trade publisher).
ReaderLink, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble now have extraordinarily powerful positions from which to demand better terms from their publisher-suppliers. In all three cases, they have customer bases which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a competitor to take away from them.
Amazon has pretty much owned the online book customer since the year they opened for business in 1995. There is a faint hope that fragmentation of the online marketplace and the placement of commerce in the social stream, such as is enabled by Ingram’s Aer.io technology, could wrest some of their share. Perhaps, over time, that will happen. But they keep pulling further ahead of their only real competition, BN.com, and I am not aware of even one single reporting period when Amazon’s share of the online book market hasn’t grown. It is simply not an option for a publisher who wants to sell to consumers to avoid Amazon. (The only way a publisher could conceivably do that is if their customer base is reached entirely by direct sales or through intermediaries outside the book business.)
Barnes & Noble may be losing brick-and-mortar market share to independents, but they remain by far the leading bookstore chain. If a publisher wants books in the retail marketplace, Barnes & Noble has been, since the demise of Borders five years ago, the only one-stop way to get national coverage. In fact, they almost certainly control the majority of bookstore shelf space in the country, and their single biggest competitor, Books-a-Million, has fewer than half as many stores. And B-a-M’s stores are smaller.
ReaderLink is now in a similar position vis a vis the mass merchants. These stores constitute the other big component of the store retailing system and they are critical for bestsellers, mass-market paperbacks, and “merchandise” like adult coloring books and kids books. In fact, ReaderLink and Anderson lived with what was a “managed competition” controlled by their accounts; they each had stores assigned to them by their mass merchant customers. Publishers have always had to deal with both of them in order to place their books in the mass accounts. And, indeed, it could be that there will be efficiencies to this consolidation that will be beneficial for the publishers. But, if there are, it is also quite likely that ReaderLink will find ways to adjust their terms to take at least some of the benefits back and they are likely to be successful persuading publishers to allow that. (They have also manifestly strengthened their negotiating position with those accounts that are committed to stocking books.)
There is a fourth powerful player: Penguin Random House. PRH is almost (but not quite) the size of the other four members of the Big Five combined. As such, they are in a position to do things in the marketplace that no other publisher could contemplate. Since the merger of Penguin and Random House, I’ve written about what they uniquely could do with their marketplace power. The two key suggestions, neither of which has drawn any evident interest from the management at PRH, were a program to supply non-bookstores with vendor-managed inventory (creating store retail accounts nobody else would have) and to create their own ebook subscription service. (That would also create unique distribution.)
The new combination in mass-merchant supply could suggest another such opportunity. Perhaps this one will be more compelling.
The supply of books to mass merchants, as to any account that is not primarily in the book business and comfortable with both the logistical challenges and relatively low profit potential in books, is complicated, expensive, and usually inefficient. The number of titles that actually make it into these stores is a paltry percentage of the industry’s output. Only the biggest publishers have enough of the right books to really play.
And then the publisher has to cover both the retail accounts that will ultimately sell their books and the distributor-intermediary that supplies them. It will be a bit easier for the big publishers selling books to Wal-mart and Target to manage the business through one big account rather than two (one fewer account to deal with), but it is still a frustratingly inefficient segment of the business. (The one fewer account aspect of this is bound to be causing some nervousness right now in the sales departments of some publishers.) Visibility into inventory status is, relative to the store-level view available at Barnes & Noble, klunky. Returns are high. Responsiveness to breaking events is slow. And the margins are worse than for any other part of the domestic business.
But part of the reason for that is that delivering on the service requirements for these accounts is expensive. One sales executive I spoke to estimated that ReaderLink has more than 2500 detail people calling on the outlets of the mass merchants: checking stock, tidying fixtures, and replacing sold books. No wonder these distributors need hefty margins to do this work. And this also explains why Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who, of course, carry all the titles these merchants would ever need, don’t appear to move aggressively to take this business away from the incumbent(s).
To picture the Penguin Random House options, I try to view this from the perspective of one publisher with about half the books that these mass merchant accounts need. I’m giving away margin to a middle player that adds a layer of inefficiency and cost in order to be an effective aggregator. Obviously, the accounts want that aggregator. They don’t want to deal with hundreds of publishers individually, or even with just each of the Big Five. It would be a non-starter for a publisher supplying five or ten or even twenty percent of their books to say: “can we work out a way to do this directly?” So just about everybody has to accept the inefficiency.
But what about if it were a supplier that provided half the books? And what if that supplier offered, as an opening gambit, to share some of the margin that now goes to the middle player directly with the account? And what if that effectively became the account’s only way to get those books, because the powerful publisher was no longer willing to play ball with the high discounts and high returns that the current system entails?
Only Penguin Random House is in a position to take this approach. And it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do. They’d have to create a VMI system. They’d have to organize a detailing army quite different from the sales force(s) they have created and managed historically. They’d have to either gear themselves up to execute more smaller shipments or form alliances that would make that possible. But the payoffs would also be substantial. And PRH has a much bigger margin share to support their efforts than ReaderLink, or any other wholesaler or distributor, would have.
Sales would go up. Returns would go down. Margins would improve. Their competitors would be weakened. In fact, it is conceivable that, over time, a PRH direct-supply operation could morph into a ReaderLink service that was available to other publishers as well. (All big publishers, including PRH, already offer their core distribution services to competitors. This would be a variation on that theme.)
Perhaps Penguin Random House will never behave in a qualitatively different way than the other Big Five houses, exercising power that they uniquely have. They certainly haven’t so far. On the other hand, it was pointed out to me recently that the integration of what were the two biggest publishers among the Big Six when Random House and Penguin combined four years ago is, even today, not yet complete. Rationalization has occurred in the “back end”, with the consequent job losses which are part of the payoff for the owners in any big merger of this kind. But more consolidation is still in front of them, and perhaps the radical paradigm-shifting initiatives need to wait until that job is really done.
And perhaps Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and now ReaderLink are wary of poking the bear, and are less demanding that PRH honor their primacy with margin than they are of PRH’s competitors. In fact, the CEO of one of their Big Five competitors told me a year or two ago that he liked having a competitor of PRH’s size on the publisher side because this executive felt it kept the overall industry terms under control. The belief on this CEO’s part was that PRH’s size restrained the big accounts to the benefit of all the big players.
But unlike Amazon or Barnes & Noble, whose businesses can not be efficiently replaced by any direct effort, the supply of mass merchant accounts is something PRH could conceivably do better on their own. Whether the acquisition of Anderson by ReaderLink provides the catalyst to get them to try it is something it will probably take a couple of years to find out.
Although Ingram occupies a unique position in the global book supply chain and, indeed, might be the single most important player, they aren’t in the position of these other four to exercise power. In wholesaling, they have always had a powerful national competitor, Baker & Taylor, which is now even more financially stable having itself been acquired by Follett. Even in smaller-publisher distribution, where Ingram grew dramatically by acquiring Perseus, they will always have all the big publishers and a host of smaller distributors as alternatives for those considering their services. Indeed, Ingram could try to compete with ReaderLink for the mass merchant accounts, but they’d have to support the substantial systems and staff investments on a distribution margin, which is a much more challenging proposition than it would be for PRH with the publisher’s margin.
Mike Shatzkin has been in publishing since 1962. Since 1979, Mike has been an independent consultant (The Idea Logical Company) with clients that have included most major publishers in the US and UK, retailers including Barnes & Noble and Borders, wholesalers including Ingram, and a host of tech startups. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeShatzkin. This post was originally posted on The Idea Logical Company blog in May 2016.
There is no area of book publicity that has changed more over the last few years than the ‘book review’. Traditional reviews – the ones written by professional critics – used to dominate the publishing industry. In years gone by, they were so important that book publication dates were always Thursdays, so that review copies could be delivered to reviewers in time to get into in the Sunday papers.
But space and budgets for considered reviews of books in newspapers and elsewhere are dwindling. These reviews are still important – particularly because they are difficult to achieve and have the weight of authority behind them – but they are no longer the only kind of review that matters, for we are all reviewers now.
As technology has opened up publishing to almost anyone it has also done the same for reviews. Reviews are everywhere. And not just for books. If you go to a restaurant, you might review your Beef Bourguignon online when you get home. If you get a tooth capped you might critique the dentist. And if you read a book, you let everyone know what you thought about it.
Reviewing is now part of everyone’s everyday experience and, while our opinions may not be held in the same esteem (or as well considered) as those of the Literary Editors, there are a heck of a lot more of us. Star ratings on Amazon, Goodreads and other websites are an average of many reviews and you are not just getting one person’s opinion but a crowdsourced composite. Furthermore, online reviews reach consumers directly; they are on the site where you can just click a button to buy the book – to turn that review into a sale.
So how do you get more ‘real people’ reviews on Amazon and other online book sites? Setting aside the dodgy ‘pay for good reviews’ websites that have sprung up (and do set them aside, they are not worth it and can land you in hot water), my favourite options are NetGalley.com and giveaway competitions.
If you don’t know it, NetGalley.com is a website that allows subscribers to upload an ebook that can then be made available for free to reviewers through the site. Reviewers are mainly bloggers and enthusiastic readers and reviews are honest. It can be fairly expensive to subscribe to NetGalley but if you only have one, or a small number of books, it can be more affordable through a third party (such as Cameron Publicity and Marketing).
Giveaways are a great way to get printed books into the hands of people who may review your book. Goodreads has a very popular giveaway service for authors who join their author programme. Also, really good, established bloggers who specialise in a particular subject area or genre can have a huge audience that are exactly the kind of people that you want to reach. Offer them copies for a competition and even those who do not win may decide to buy your book anyway. When you send out books to giveaway winners, be sure to include a note asking them to review the book if they like it.
The role of the book review has changed and the way that authors and publishers think about reviews must change as well. For better or worse, a book is now judged by a collective star rating more than a single considered opinion.
In 2015 there was a much needed push for works in translation. In October Amazon announced it was making a $10m (£6.5m) investment in AmazonCrossing as a “commitment over the next five years to increase the number and diversity of its books in translation”.
According to an article in the Guardian late last year, ‘How Amazon came to dominate fiction in translation’, 2016 will see AmazonCrossing publishing Pierced by the Sun, the new novel from the Mexican author of Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel, as well as Jesper Bugge Kold’s Danish Book Forum Debut prize–nominated Winter Men. Plus the award-winning Polish crime writer Zygmunt Miloszewski’s Rage, the 2014 winner of the Glass Key for Scandinavian crime fiction Gard Sveen’s The Last Pilgrim, and a number of Indonesian writers, including Abidah El Khalieqy, Nukila Amal and Laksmi Pamuntjak. It has also translated fiction into German for the last three years, started translating fiction into French earlier this year, and has recently announced its first translations into Italian.
This reflects some positive strides within the translations market and, from our experience here at IPR License, we are seeing more and more international publishers both eager to sell their existing works for translation and secure the rights to relevant titles.
A question we are often asked by smaller publishing houses, enticed by the idea of this particular market, is where and how do other publishers discover such works.
Well, this can happen in a variety of ways.
It could be by word of mouth, a conversation or observation at a book fair, a tip off from a translator, a glance across an international bookshelf or from an online platform showcasing works from around the world.
Finding an interesting title is only the beginning. There are then a number of relevant conversations at be had and questions to be asked, such as:
These questions illustrate that acquiring works for translation isn’t always straightforward, and that’s even before the sales process. However, thanks to technological advances it has got easier. Challenges do remain but there is growing evidence that 2016 will be a year in which more works in translation will come to fore.
In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Christopher Norris. Chris is editor and development executive for the Insight Film Festival. He also freelances as CopyGhosting Editorial Services. You can follow Chris on Twitter (@InsightFF and @chris24n) and keep up to date with the Insight Film Festival via the website’s news and blog items that he writes, edits and/or curates.
As BookMachine celebrates 5 years of gazing into the book trade crystal ball, here is a personal collection of suggestions to generate debate that may happen if publishing ‘turkeys’ react positively to media trends and finally ‘vote for Christmas’:
As you can imagine, getting on page 1 of Amazon’s search results can be very important. Amazon is the world’s largest search engine and your ability to rank for specific keywords related to your book can attract new potential buyers and highly relevant organic traffic to your book page. But the competition can be quite intense for many of the keywords you desire, so it has become increasingly important for authors to adopt advanced sales tactics to get their books to the top pages of Amazon’s search results.
Cory Doctorow is one of my nominations for Hero of the Internet. He’s an author, activist, journalist, and blogger – he’s co-editor of Boing Boing, one of the earliest blogs – and savage opponent of DRM (Digital Rights Management). He famously formulated Doctorow’s First Law: “Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, and won’t give you a key, they’re not doing it for your benefit.”
PublishDrive is an ebook publishing service which supports the operational processes of small indie publishers and authors. Kinga Jentetics is CEO and co-founder of PublishDrive, and here she shares their information on global ebook sales.
When it is about ebooks, many folks think about Amazon ebooks only. Obviously, Amazon is a dominant player in online book and ebook retailing… However, when it is global publishing, doors are opened for many new stores, business models and channels. As an indie publisher you have to explore other opportunities as well, how to make your ebook publishing efforts more profitable on the long term. To be honest, it is always much wiser to have more partners than being dependent on one big partner. Because the future is always changing.
If you are an indie publisher, you can find even surprisingly lucrative business models in case of Scribd for instance. But of course, the end result always depend on the book category too. You can read more about the different business models here.
It may surprise you how many potential readers and earnings you may lose if you publish only on Amazon ebook market. Why would you do that, especially if you already have your own ebook converted? Look at our numbers and you will understand why it is crucial to go to other ebook stores as well.
We analyzed the sales numbers of our publishers signed up and found that in case of English titles only 45% of the sales volume came from the Amazon ebook market. It is unquestionably a huge share, but still, if you are exclusive with Amazon Kindle through KDP, you may lose 55% of your potential readers and sales. You may earn more money in those stores and markets what you have never thought about to be more suitable for your target group.
But why can our sales numbers show only 45%? Because:
The numbers do not lie, so we believe in global publishing to all possible channels in a more transparent way. Amazon ebook market is very much important for all authors and indie publishers but do not forget that you may increase your sales by more than 100%. Just open your mind to new retailers.
This post originally appeared on the PublishDrive blog.
The latest Book Marketing Survey carried out by KindleBookReview provides a number of interesting insights into the best ways self-published authors should be promoting their ebooks. With over 300 indie authors participating in the survey, questions ranged from the best places to seek book reviews to how much money authors spend on promoting their books each year. In the second release of the survey, KindleBookReview asks authors about the best places to advertise their books, with recommended best practices to get the best from these book promoters.
The results of this survey clearly indicate that book promotion services are a great way to advertise and promote your books.
The survey also looks at some of the best practices to ensure your book is accepted by these services. Many of them have waiting lists due to their popularity, and consequently have strict criteria for the books they decide to promote. So to get the best out of these services and be accepted by them, please follow the top 10 tips provided by KindleBookReview.
The full report is available here.
Ebook preview widgets have been around for quite awhile but when was the last time you saw one on a blog or website? I can’t recall the last one I saw but I’ll bet that’s about to change.
Amazon recently released their Kindle Instant Previews widget in the US, and it does what its name suggests. In short, this tool makes it incredibly easy to embed or share an ebook sample on a web page or via email. The fact that it’s offered by the biggest ebook platform on the planet means it’s well positioned for success.
Once again the practice of faking bad reviews has made the headlines, but this time Amazon is the good guy. The online book retailer has announced that it will sue 1,114 ‘fake reviewers’ in a lawsuit filed in Seattle, Washington. The reviewers, dubbed “John Does” as Amazon does not yet know their real names, have been selling their services on the internet out-sourcing site fivrr.com, promising five-star reviews for as little as $5 (about £3.24).