Where's Soft Skull headed now that Denise Oswald has taken over for Richard Nash? Over at The Quarterly Conversation I talk to her about the press's future, which, Oswald says, will definitely include translations.
Congratulations to the citizens of Utah and Louisiana. You are one step closer to having the power to decide which books are appropriate for minors and which books are not:
There is a disturbing new trend in censorship legislation. Bills have been introduced in Utah and Louisiana this year that give private citizens the right to sue booksellers and other retailers for committing an “unfair” trade practice by selling “offensive” material to a minor. The defendants in these lawsuits would have to hire a lawyer to defend them and could be forced to pay thousands of dollars if they lost.
Over the weekend I noted the immeasurably sad news that Black Oak Books has become the latest Berkeley institution to be killed by Bush's economy.
To be fair, in this case our ongoing economic nightmare was given a big assist by Amazon. As I've discussed ad nauseum on this blog, Amazon's incredibly efficient business model makes it hard for other bookstores to compete on things like price and availability.
To the extent that Amazon competes fair and square, however, this is a sad but ultimately completely appropriate part of our economic system. That said, there is at least one huge way in which Amazon is being given an unfair advantage over its bricks-and-mortar rivals: taxation.
In fact, as Black Oak owner Gary Cornell notes:
Cornell said the final blow came when California decided not to tax Amazon sales. New York recently passed a law that taxes book sales on Amazon.com, and a similar bill was introduced in the California Legislature, but it failed.
“That was the final kiss of death,” he said. “People would come in and browse. A lot of them were buying or not buying from us, but on Amazon books were heavily discounted, and it saved them another 10 percent in sales tax.”
It's of course entirely ridiculous that Amazon would be taxed in a state like New York and not in California. It makes even less sense when you consider that California is in a sea of debt right now, yet it chooses not to tax online businesses like Amazon, which in large part are killing the bricks-and-mortar, tax-paying businesses still operating in California.
Barnes and Noble CEO Steve Riggio claims that B&N Recommends is a major factor in sale of books selected for the program:
He also had some interesting comments about the Barnes & Noble Recommends program saying that selected titles "often garner 30, 40% as much as 50% market share in initial weeks on sale," meaning that B&N is responsible for a large chunk of the overall sales of those titles, and furthermore B&N finds "that those books go onto the bestseller lists of other national, local and regional booksellers."
In a move that could blunt some of the criticism of Google for its settlement of a lawsuit over its book-scanning project, the company signed an agreement with the University of Michigan that would give some libraries a degree of oversight over the prices Google could charge for its vast digital library. . . .
Under Google’s plan for the collection, public libraries will get free access to the full texts for their patrons at one computer, and universities will be able to buy subscriptions to make the service generally available, with rates based on their student enrollment.
The new agreement, which Google hopes other libraries will endorse, lets the University of Michigan object if it thinks the prices Google charges libraries for access to its digital collection are too high, a major concern of some librarians. Any pricing dispute would be resolved through arbitration.
My Kindle edition went live last Monday at $7.99, so I announced it on a couple of Kindle message boards online. By Wednesday, I'd sold one copy. One! Message board replies said, "If you want us to try a new author, give us a really low price. It'll generate sales and reviews." So I marked it down to $1.99 Thursday morning and posted the price change on the same boards. What happened next was remarkable:
As of 5 p.m. Friday – about 36 hours later – Felonious Jazz was the No. 1 selling hard-boiled mystery on the Amazon Kindle Store and the 17th best-selling title in Mysteries & Thrillers . . .
If you look at the book now, you'll see that the price is back up to $4.99.
It's interesting to see what some guy could do more or less by accident . . . there's clearly some potential here for a savvy publisher to figure out a way to exploit the Kindle version, at least until we're deluged by a tidal wave of $1.99 ebooks.
Publishers Weekly confirms something I've long suspected:
Amazon, which sets the price for everything it sells, is, as many people interviewed point out, losing money on a majority of Kindle editions. Although the price point for Kindle editions varies, the dominant one for hardcover bestsellers is $9.99, a price one publisher called “a killer.” (The e-tailer is pricing some of its Kindle bestsellers even more aggressively, with titles like Stephenie Meyer's New Moon, currently #4 on the Kindle bestseller list, at $6.04.) At $9.99 Amazon is selling its Kindle editions at, generally, a 60% discount; Amazon sells its print bestsellers at, on average, a 45% discount. The reigning price point in the Sony e-book store, with variations, is $11.99.
This is obviously a move to build up market share for the Kindle, something I suppose Amazon is in a position to do since it is one of the few book retailers to actually be in the black at this time. This also means that $9.99 ebooks are untenable over the long run, unless publishers choose to give Amazon a steeper discount in the future.
As Publishers Weekly notes, if this tactic works then eventually Amazon won't have to rely on publishers to give the discounts it wants–it will be in a dominant enough position to demand whatever pricing it prefers. So, in other words: hope that competitors manage to capture a sizable portion of the market.
For more info, readers should see my interview with Ted Striphas, where we touch on Amazon's already dominant market position and what that might mean.
Incidentally, I finally saw my first real-life Kindle on public transit earlier this week. I also saw five people with non-electronic books, myself included.
The Mail & Guardian reports that U.S. and U.K. publishers bowing beneath recession at home are using the great popularity of English-language books worldwide to sell in other markets:
In contrast, overseas English language markets are booming. India is the world's third largest English language book market and has been growing at about 10% a year for several years. Research by UK Trade & Investment (UKT&I), which is using the Book Fair to encourage British publishers to export more, and the Publishers Association estimates that the market was worth about £1.25-billion in 2007, with publishers estimating that about half that amount was English language.
Although it doesn't sound like the overseas markets are getting the best that Anglo-American publishing has to offer. Random House is, of course, preparing to plaster Dan Brown everywhere, and beyond Brown things look bleak:
The publisher has also done well with Elizabeth Gilbert's account of the spiritual gap year she took to recover from her divorce, entitled Eat, Pray, Love.
In South Africa the market has experienced something of a publishing sensation in recent years with the boarding school antics of Spud and his gang — the Crazy Eight — helping to expand the book reading populace. The first tome has already sold well more than 125 000 copies since its publication four years ago and while that may not sound like much there are only about 800 000 general book buyers in the country's population of just less than 50-million people.
Its just the popularity of this kind of stuff in overseas markets that contributes to the lopsided translation rates of the rest of the world versus the U.S./U.K.
PW reports on BISG’s Making Information Pay conference. Interesting stuff:
And later on:
Of course, with the increasing proliferation of online book reviews, not all is in decline.
It's no secret that newspapes have hastened their own downfall with poor decisions and some ridiculous, even illegal ideas (like massive price collusion).
Hearst Corp., which publishes the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle as well as magazines including Cosmopolitan, is backing a venture with FirstPaper LLC to create a software platform that will support digital downloads of newspapers and magazines. The startup venture is expected to result in devices that will have a bigger screen and have the ability to show ads.
Gannett Co.'s USA Today and Pearson PLC's Financial Times are among newspapers that have signed up with Plastic Logic Ltd., a startup that is readying a reading tablet, the size of a letter-sized sheet of paper, that can displays books, periodicals and work documents. The device, which uses digital ink technology from E Ink Corp., the same firm behind the Kindle, is slated to be rolled out by early next year, and will offer publishers the chance to include ads.
The Wall Street Journal — the second-most-popular newspaper for the Kindle after the New York Times — has more than 15,000 subscribers, according to a spokeswoman for the paper, compared to its paid circulation of more than two million daily. Fortune magazine has roughly 5,000 subscribers, according a person familiar with the matter, while the magazine has an average print circulation of nearly 866,000.