walkitout: (Default)
I was startled -- altho I should not have been -- to discover that one of the official JW web sites is a download portal for the New World Translation, online access to NWT, the yearbook, some magazines and other items in multiple languages and offers podcasts as well. There is no kindle-friendly format (epub and pdf, and mp4 and aac for audio editions), however someone has taken the downloadable version and made it available through the App store (I'm thinking unofficially).

Inevitably, after I woke up this morning, it occurred to me that this is an interesting question in general: what ebooks and downloadable media are religious organizations offering? I knew there was a ton of religious ebooks out there; I had not looked specifically for ones sponsored by churches.

Unfortunately, this is turning into an amazing hole that more or less endless amounts of time could be dumped into. LDS has multiple portals -- and that's not even looking at commercial operations like deseretbooks. Both LDS and JW/WTBTS have pretty long histories of supplying church literature on CD (going at least back into the mid 1990s and probably longer), so it is perhaps unsurprising that they have digital offerings for download now.

What really gets me, however, are the apps. There are Mormon apps. There are _multiple_ field service apps for JWs (mytime, iknock organizer, field service assistant and field service book -- there's also a ministry school timer app). Goddess only knows what I'll find out if I look for ten more minutes. The publishing arm of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod denomination, Concordia, has a ton of kiddie bible story apps as well (<-- I had to look up who Concordia was attached to.)

Just for yucks, I went to see if there are any mennonite ebooks, and now I'm trying to remember if I knew that Herald Press' _Through Fire and Water: An Overview of Mennonite History_ was available through the kindle store. It's not _that_ weird to have mennonite ebooks; only Old Colony communities are Amish-style tech-avoidant. Mennonites in the US are primarily identified with their pacifism, and even the (descendants of the) conservative Mennonite churches in Canada have been doing all kinds of genealogical stuff online and in e-form for a while.

JPS' Tanakh is available as an ebook. The NRSV, however, is still not out (preorder it for April), altho the KJV, NKJV, ASB, NASB, NIV, Douay and a host of others are.

Returning to the original question (what are the official publishing arms of churchs producing in downloadable e-form):

The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation has study guides, hymnal, book of common worship, etc. available in .pdf form (you'd almost think they were an academic press by making this choice): http://www.ppcbooks.com/wjk_studyguides.asp. Westminster John Knox has a lot more, for pay, some of which is available on kindle. I can't tell from WJK's website whether they sell ebooks in other formats, but I'm sure they do.

Of course all that looks like small ball compared to this:


(Gotta love that domain name, even tho it really is some guy's name and not an indication of inward-focused community.) The current Book of Common Prayer in _many_ formats plus all the previous version as well. Go up a level and then explore:


But despite that incredible trove of information, the Presbyterians might have the edge in terms of what a member of the church might want, week in and week out. Perhaps one of my Presbyterian friends might feel like chiming in: are you using your kindle/ipad/iphone at church? Do you see other people doing so?

I was amused to see this:


Surplus printing capacity is a chronic problem throughout the industry, but when your prophet said you shouldn't combine the two (<-- possibly oversimplified/misrepresented) it's hard to see a way forward. Both presses have a bunch of kindle items, including the Bucky Stone series for middle-school kids.

At least a year ago (when I first started looking for a NRSV on the kindle), it seemed to me that ebooks (whether on a dedicated device, or any of a number of LCD screened multi-purpose devices) offered text-oriented churches like Jehovah's Witnesses the same opportunity that they offer students (whether children or adults) laden down by textbooks. If you have to carry your music, Bible, church publication(s) to services or Bible study or whatever some number of times a week, you're used to buying bags to keep it all organized and undamaged (and unlost). Obviously, the churchgoer used to buying a $20 fake-leather case at Marshall's isn't going to be springing for an iPad -- but the churchgoer used to buying a $100 case at Macy's might be interested in putting some of that paper on her smartphone, or possibly on a Nook.

I don't think we're to the point of getting rid of the paper entirely, but we're definitely at a point where people are adapting technology they have for other reasons to their religious life. I'm very interested in hearing about how this actually looks (and sounds!) in services.
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Expect this entry to be repeatedly edited. I'm not even going to bother putting in ETAs; I'm just going to revise it.


A printing plant in Depew that does mass market paperbacks is closing. It has been open since the early 1960s. In the course of consolidation from the 1990s on, it has survived, but no more. Partly this is because of low utilization, partly aging equipment. It had hoped to survive another round because it is close to a Harlequin facility, but that did not pan out.

The flip side of the story, of course, is that if you're weighing two plants figuring on closing one and upgrading another, the one that gets upgraded is happy about it.


Quad/Graphics acquisition of Worldcolor


I feel like I should summarize it, but I don't know enough to understand it. Maybe in a bit.

From October 2010, Transcontinental closing a plant in Boucherville/Montreal:


FWIW, I'm sticking to _really_ big players; these are huge companies (top five in their business in North America) and big plants.

Transcontinental getting into the eBook and eSubscription management business:


Going back further in time (all the way to September 2009!), speculation had it that Transcontinental might buy Quebecor/Worldcolor (which ultimately wound up with Quad/Graphics see above).


I seem to remember seeing some 2002 stuff about Hachette unloading its in-house printing facilities onto Quebecor, but don't hold me to it.

I can't help but notice that a whole lot of printing seems to have been going on in Canada. I think this is because of AbitibiBowater (<-- Not a joke. They have a wikipedia entry.) and its predecessors. That is, all other things being equal, if you are printing, you'd like to be close to your input, which is to say, paper. In turn, AbitibiBowater was presumably there because Quebec has (had?) lots and lots and lots of trees (and a government that let you cut them down and pulp them).

All other things are no longer equal. It looks like printers are now trying to be better located from a distribution perspective, rather than a close-to-the-forests perspective. I suspect this makes sense as the sheer volume of paper involved steadily drops.

I'm trying hard not to get sucked into Paper company specific consolidation (like speculation involving NewPage, Verso, etc.).

This next / these next items are smaller players:


Again, aging technology, reduced demand and increasing competition probably resulting in a plant closure. The company as a whole is transitioning to a short-run/four-color future, but that can't save a one-color plant.
walkitout: (Default)

Gotta love a Bowker _press release_ which feels compelled to headline "Print Isn't Dead". Ouch.

First, some explanation. Bowker does "Books in Print" (and some other periodical references) which is what it sounds like it is: a list of books that are currently in print, along with enough information to identify them and order them. There's an obvious question here about a certain internet bookstore and what it uses to put its catalog together and the answer is, no, they don't use Bowker's Books In Print as a source and yes, in fact, that catalog constitutes a de facto competitor to Bowker, in that a lot of small operations that want access to information about books no longer felt compelled to pay Bowker when they could get comparable information for free instead. If you think of bibligraphic information (what it's named, who wrote it, who published it, etc.) as the "front end" and delivering the book the "back end", Bowker is purely a front end source (albeit a really comprehensive one. So comprehensive they consistently list books that do not actually exist). When they list numbers, they are talking about distinct ISBNs, not about how many books are printed much less how many make it to a retailer certainly not how many are bought by someone who might then read it or at least keep it around the house for a bit.

So when their press release says this:

"In 2008, the production of non-traditional print-on-demand books surpassed traditional book publishing for the first time and since then, its growth has been staggering. Now almost 8 times the output of traditional titles, the market is dominated by a handful of publishers. In fact, the top three publishers accounted for nearly 87% of total titles produced in 2010."

What they mean is that if you took the entire list of _distinct_ ISBNS (and yes, Virginia, that means a book with a hardcover, a trade paperback and large print edition gets counted three times), 3 publishers covered 87% and none of those three are in the Big 6 (or whatever the number is this week).

"BiblioBazaar 1,461,918
General Books LLC 744,376
Kessinger Publishing, LLC 462,480"

Kessinger isn't familiar to me; the previous two are publishers I avoid because in my head they are tightly associated with customer reviews saying their OCR scanned public domain editions are really awful. More familiar author-service houses do make an appearance further down the list.

A long tail indeed. FWIW, BiblioBazaar, General Books and, IIRC, Books LLC have a ton of overlap in their OCRd public domain titles.

Wikipedia entries:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliobazaar (says Bibliobazaar = Nabu, which explains a lot)

According to this:


Books LLC = General Books LLC, which would make #2 and #4 on the list the same operation, but would still list it at #2 in the revised list.

I can't help but feel like what these operations have done is parasitic and unhelpful, and the impact on Bowker's information feels very spam-y to me. But Bowker is so damn irrelevant, it probably doesn't matter to anyone anyway.
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I posted nothing yesterday because I was otherwise occupied. R. and I went to Bull Run in Shirley for lunch, which was truly excellent. Lots of fresh, locally sourced vegetables in the hummous wrap and spring roll appetizers and R.'s prime rib sandwich had a generous amount of meat in it. The fries were tasty, too, without any of that weird batter crap that keeps popping up at restaurants. Between that and a trip up to the midwives for a well-woman visit and to drop by the house in Mayberry, I didn't have a ton of time to blog. Not really happy about the visit to the house: lots of expected issues, but I'm feeling a little pissy about having to get the well cap fixed _again_ and I'm worried about the damage the tree took when someone clearly ran a vehicle (probably the U-Haul) into it and scraped a bunch of bark off.

On Wednesday, I asked where the AAP numbers were and on Thursday, when I wasn't blogging, they were released. Also on Thursday, Amazon put out an announcement about ebooks. Here are the press releases:





I don't think I chopped off Amazon's URL but who knows.

Anyway. AAP's release was a combination of the March 2011 numbers and an announcement:

"Next week, a new annual survey capturing the size and scope of the total U.S. publishing industry will be unveiled. The first-ever report, produced from net sales and unit data provided by more than 1100 publishers, reflects the transformational changes in the dynamic industry and has been designed to support publishers’ strategic priorities."

This is underlined in the press release and there's an advisory at the top about it as well. Next week = May 24, the same day B&N is set to announce a new e-reader, all associated with BEA. (If you're having trouble keeping up, AAP is a trade association of publishers. B&N is Barnes & Noble. BEA BookExpo America, a book publishing/selling trade show, formerly known as ABA.)

Amazon's numbers are very simple to summarize.

"Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher."

The AAP numbers emphasize seasonality of ebook sales:

"According to publishers, these figures are consistent with seasonal buying patterns; in particular, a return to print editions after the post-holiday period of buying, or “loading,” of e-Books into e-reader devices."

Extracting additional information from earlier press releases, here's what I get in round numbers (millions):

2010 2011

Jan 32 70
Feb ~30 90
Mar 28 69

I'm prepared to believe I made an error; if you find one, please tell me so I can correct it.

These numbers do depict seasonality in ebook sales over the time period in question (first quarter of the year). But if I were focused on print publishing, it is not a seasonality I would find particularly reassuring. I believe that coverage which reproduces the assertion of seasonality without pointing out the _wild_ distortion of 2011 compared to the quite mild perturbation of 2010 is crappy coverage: it's press release journalism, where you just let the interested party write your article for you and slap your name on it and move on to the next item.

Every month I look at this stuff, I'm more and more tempted to try to get the full data set for the last couple years. It _looks_ like paper books are enjoying a small portion of the slow economic recovery, however, it looks to me (based on the limited numbers the AAP chooses to release) like publishing is so sensitive to the effects of individual best sellers that it's hard to know for sure.

Comparing Amazon's April numbers to AAP's March numbers is not something I'm prepared to do. I'll be interested to see the April numbers out of AAP in 3-4 weeks to make the comparison then. I'll probably also feel compelled to say something about the May 24 release from the Book Industry Study Group, but I won't be happy about it.
walkitout: (Default)
Here are the dates on press releases for previous months:

April 14 (for February)
March 17 (for January)
February 16 (for year end)
January 14 (for November)
December 8 (for October)
November 8 (for September)


I don't see press releases for earlier months, however, it's possible I am failing to see a link somewhere. Because I don't have earlier press releases, I can't do a year-over-year comparison -- perhaps they always run late in the middle of the year?

I really don't sit around checking this every day, nor have I set up a reminder to check. It just occurred to me that the numbers were probably out since it was the middle of the month and I went to look.

The absence of the numbers, however, is fertile ground for speculation. AAP has been saying that digital numbers were strong for some reason associated with the holidays and/or the gift cards kiddies got at the holidays or whatever, however, that excuse will be kinda thin if March was strong for digital.

Perhaps they'll be posted tomorrow. Maybe I'll go look around for speculation elsewhere.
walkitout: (Default)

Lagardere owns Hachette. Hachette is one of the "Big 6" publishers. Stephanie Meyers was a big contributor to their bottom line in recent years.

Here is the bit I am drawing attention to:

"E-book sales momentum was considerable (up 88% compared to Q1 2010), accounting for approximately 22% of revenue in the United States and 5% in the United Kingdom. This development is the result of very brisk sales of e-book readers at the end of the year."

(h/t means a tip of the hat to the blogger Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader, which is where I found out about this)

This is completely irrelevant, but I get always get a chuckle out of sentences like this:

"The decline in recurring EBIT before contribution from associates at Lagardère Publishing, which was mitigated by improved e-book profitability, is being offset by the pick-up experienced by Lagardère Active and Lagardère Unlimited." Once you get past the jargon and the somewhat awkward construction, and assuming you know enough about conglomerates to understand why this is important, and enough about this conglomerate to have an reasonable opinion about what this means for Lagardere's health, it's a useful piece of information (altho honestly, I'm never sure if I trust this kind of summary; I'd rather see the numbers). But it makes me laugh anyway, possibly because it's so wildly improbable that I even know what it means.
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This is the second attempt at this post. The first attempt was ridiculously verbose.

In an earlier post regarding Amazon's participation in the auction for the Hocking contract, I quoted an anonymously sourced quote from Crain's coverage. The contents of the quote (Amazon has 65% market share in ebooks and falling) struck me as bizarre. I knew it was false; I was curious as to why a publishing executive might think it was true. I was able to find multiple possible sources of the investment advisor sort (Yankee Group, Goldman Sachs, and I think I remember Forrester weighing on this topic as well), all dating from a period of a few months last year when people were really pessimistic about Amazon (because of the iPad and iBooks announcement/release) and really optimistic about future competition for kindle (Plastic Logic's Que, Entourage's Edge, Hearst's entry, the Cool-er, etc.).

The question is, why might a publishing executive be believing these numbers in 2011, when a lot of that hypothetical competition has gone under or become irrelevant as a platform for ebook sales? After I thought about it for a while, I concluded that publishing executives exist within a culture which is completely accustomed to making decisions based on worse and more incomplete data than they could get access to if it occurred to them that they might need it -- which it would seem does not happen. It was thinking about publishers' recent interest in genre fiction which led me to this conclusion.

Genre fiction has been around in one genre or another and in one publishing format or another for a long time. Occasionally, one or a small group of authors within a genre would break out of what used to be referred to as the "ghetto" and get hardcover deals, but when they did, they had to accept an editorial process which attempted to convert their genre title into something closer to whatever passed for "mainstream" "general" or "literary" fiction was expecting at the time (cf. Heinlein's multiple versions). This happened when it became impossible to ignore the sheer volume of sales being driven by that author or that group of authors.

The formats in which genre fiction sold (pulp magazines, mass market paperbacks) made it difficult to identify which authors and which titles were selling and which ones were sitting unread (in some under-served moments, it all sold equally because the hunger for that genre was so great that the audience would read any form of it, however craptastic). Mass market paperbacks _had_ bar codes on them when they moved to the chain booksellers from supermarkets/grocers/drug stores and similar. But the bar codes did not uniquely identify a title when scanned; they identified a publisher. Over time, the chains got ISBNs into the inner cover of mmpbs and eventually the bar code on the outside became a unique identifier for the title. That happened _after_ Amazon had entered the scene. (<-- Really.)

I don't know how publishers paid direct-to-paperback authors royalties. I don't see how they could possibly identify how many of their titles were sold vs. cover removed and dumped. I harbor a suspicion that some authors got more than they should and some got shafted, but I have no proof.

In any event, Amazon _did_ know how many of any title was sold and, over time, they got better at identifying an author across the body of their work. When Amazon rolled out the first version of used books (the one you may not remember), a lot of the used catalog were out of print titles that would be fulfilled by (I could not possibly make this shit up) calling a bunch of used book stores after the order was received to see if anyone had a copy. In the meantime, Amazon had a list of an unholy number of completely unfulfillable titles that, apparently, a whole lot of people wanted really badly. (Yes, Dear Reader, Neal Stephenson's _The Big U_ was _really_ high on that list.)

The nature of internet retailing allows the seller to collect per-customer information in a way that a traditional retailer can only approximate with loyalty cards. This exposed very early at Amazon (well before the IPO) an aspect to book purchaser behavior that had been intuitively obvious to many people for a long time, but which the entire publishing industry remains blissfully unaware of _to this day_. A small number of people buy a huge number of books each (as in, hundreds every year, year in and year out. Occasionally, a thousand or more in a year, but that's unusual). A vast sea of people buy a small number of books each. The total effect of the first group -- if you can successfully deliver what they want -- is greater than the total effect of the second group. That turns out to be a _huge_ if, and in the past, there was a secondary constraint: you can't buy more books than you have space for unless you are prepared to get rid of the old ones and/or buy a new house and/or get a divorce and/or you get the idea. With ebooks, that constraint is entirely gone (at least it is as long as someone else curates and stores the ones that don't fit on your drive -- and you'll notice that Amazon switched from advertising how much storage their kindle has to providing the Media Library).

There is another characteristic of the high volume book purchaser: they read a lot of genre fiction.

Once Amazon and the chains had successfully demanded a per-title unique barcode, tracking sales on a per author and per title basis was definitely possible and should have been the norm throughout the publishing industry. This was the time frame in which genre fiction started to break out of paperback in significant numbers: you _could_ identify stars (it, in fact, became impossible to continue ignoring them when Amazon kept selling the damn things even when no one else was shelving them) and once you have stars, the temptation to ratchet the margin up via a hardcover release is actually irresistible. The case that genre fiction authors had to make to publishers in this time frame to get a hardcover was _insane_: no debut author in "literary fiction" _ever_ had to prove sales of that magnitude ahead of time. But once a few had gone through the ringer and started landing on bestseller lists (at Amazon if nowhere else) and enjoyed the ratcheting effect that has on sales, publishers were capable of doing "more of the same": they found some me-too authors and they absolutely signed deals for more entries in successful series. What is less clear is whether publishers recognized that the same idiots (<-- this group includes me) that were signing up ahead of time to preorder the hardcover edition of Sookie Stackhouse number 6 were also signing up ahead of time to preorder the hardcover edition of Jim Butcher's books and a half dozen or more authors. If they _had_, wouldn't they have put together a forum for us to hang out and chat about the books and for them to push more authors at us and accept our feedback and blah blah blah?

Why did it take them the better part of another decade to figure that out? In fact, as long as I'm on this topic, I _review_ in this blog a whole lot of these series and repeatedly say, yes I'll keep buying them or fuck no you've stepped over the line. When I blogged that I hated a certain package delivery service, they got in touch with me. I've never heard a _peep_ out of anyone trying to sell me anything related to the fact that I buy a truly silly amount of bad genre fiction (unless you count Amazon's recommendations). Self/Epubbed authors have responded to reviews as have romance authors -- but I never hear jack from the publishers. This strikes me as a little weird.

Recently, some publishers have figured out that genre fiction has some "vibrancy" and they've been "verticalizing" and creating "communities" for authors and/or readers. I found this out by visiting Publishers Weekly and looking through the daily lists-of-links. I think that says a lot about how far publishers have to go, in terms of improving the data quality on which they make decisions.
walkitout: (Default)

The claim is made that Amazon with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt put together the highest offer, but wanted exclusivity for the e-book and thus lost to SMP. The same anonymous source is quoted: "“[Amazon] has less than 65% share of the e-book market and dropping, and 20% to 30% of the print market,” the executive said. “[The author and agent] would have anticipated significant lost sales.”"

The idea of doing the print deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was they could get the books into Barnes & Noble. "But there was a question whether the bookstore chain would stock a book published by its biggest rival, even if the title carried the logo of a respected trade house."

Just in case anyone was thinking that we should feel sorry for any of these participants, this should help reduce any sense that there are any innocent bystanders in this transition.

ETA: I'm trying to figure out why the executive believes that Amazon is at 65% market share in e-books and falling. It's not true -- that's not in question. The question is _why_ would that person believe that.

Here's what I've found:


"The Kindle has a market share of 67 percent in the U.S., followed by the Nook at 22 percent, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Amazon.com also generates 58 percent of e-book sales, followed by Barnes & Noble’s 27 percent, Apple Inc. at 9 percent and Borders with 7 percent."

In the first sentence, "Kindle" refers to device sales. In the second sentence, I believe "Amazon.com" refers to content sales. The percentages supplied do not include SmashWords, Sony, etc., and add up to more than 100%.

None of these numbers are broken out in any kind of official release or accounting from the companies involved (please, please, please prove me wrong. I'm begging you to do so.).

ETAYA: I've done some more digging on who has put out ereader analysis. There appear to be a couple heavily quoted sources, Yankee Group and Goldman Sachs. I seem to recall some Forrester analysis also but I'm not seeing references right at the moment.

A bunch of the analysis was put out last year after numerous readers debuted at CES but before August, when several of them went bust -- definitely before the end of the year when the Cool-er and some other readers finally went down. Without seeing the original reports (which were for-pay and not cheap when they came out, and presumably not free and possibly not available now), it's hard to know precisely what assumptions went into their analysis. I would imagine that they assumed at least a few of those ereaders would successfully take off as a product, and that they would take away from Amazon's market share altho everyone would enjoy growth. These assumptions were prevalent last spring and early summer -- those ereaders came out at a lower price point than Amazon with fewer features. In August of last year, the wifi only cheaper kindle came out (with a better screen and at a lower price point), thus destroying any chance those ereaders may or may not have had to take root in the marketplace (and I believe with the kindle 3, the regular kindle was cheaper than the wifi or nofi new entrants). Another assumption last year was that the agency model and the entry of the iPad would render irrelevant Amazon's catalog and/or pricing lead (another assumption which turned out to be false, altho obviously some ebooks are more expensive everywhere than they were before).

I'm going to post separately about data quality, publishers and so forth.
walkitout: (Default)
I haven't been blogging the surfing as I go, because I can't get any kind of handle on what I'm reading. However, I have no hit something so bizarre and so inexplicable that I'm willing to just take a whack at it and see if someone (maybe H.?) can explain it.


This May blog post starts out by pointing out something very obvious: hey, the kiddies these days, they by the series books. In large flocks.

Then they back it up a bit to mention Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High, where the first weird bit shows up.

"The publication of the BSC prequel and the announcement of a St. Martin’s Sweet Valley book for adults created excitement among twenty-something bloggers who read the books as kids"

Er. Those two series started when I was in high school. I'm not in my 20s. I'm not even in my 30s anymore. Some of those bloggers might be older than you realize.

All right, whatever. La la la la la. Stuff about hardcover sales. Stuff about Maximum Ride. Blah blah bleeping blah. The obligatory Harry Potter changed everything. Yeah, yeah. YA paranormal and/or dystopian. Okay.

"So what about creating series for adults themselves?"

It was at this point that my world tilted and I experienced some nausea. Regular readers of my blog are aware that I followed Sherrilyn Kenyon until _Acheron_ (okay, I bailed on the dreamwtf ancillary books earlier) and I followed Jim Butcher until dad killed mom in front of daughter to effect genocide (_Changes_). I forget precisely why I gave up on Rachel Caine's weather/genii thing. I don't care what the plot rationale is. That shit isn't right. I'm still reading: Kitty the Werewolf by Carrie Vaughn (book 8 awaits on my kindle), Rachel Morgan of The Hollows (book 8 read and awaiting book 9), Honor Harrington (12 in the main line and another 8 ancillary), Kris Longknife (awaiting book 8 in October), Terry Pratchett's Discworld (I think it's over 3 dozen, but I haven't read _Unseen Academicals_ yet), the 6 books in the Lost Fleet and the 4 books in JAG in Space by Hemry/Campbell, most if not all of Harris' Shakespeare/Lily Bard series (uncertain about book 5), 10 Sookie Stackhouse books (I haven't read _Touch of Dead_ altho I own it). I haven't bought the latest from Moira Moore, because apparently book 5 ends on as much a cliffhanger as book 4 and I won't put up with that. I'll wait and see if matters improve instead. Where was I now... Oh, Jeaniene Frost's books, 1st in the new series, 4 in the series about Cat and Bones.

You know, I'm bored already. I haven't even mentioned Kresley Cole (altho I'm developing some real issues there), or Kelley Armstrong. Further, I haven't mentioned any of the old and complete science fiction series that I still periodically reread.

When a publisher says, hey, series for adults? Whadaya think? I go, what planet are you on.

Berkower of Writers' House shows some awareness that there are adult series out there, and apparently she reads Moning (which looks way too LKH for my tastes. I read a lot of LKH, too. Looks like I made it 10 books into the mess that was Anita Blake, and read one of the other series.). But the only other adults series mentioned is something (I could not possibly make this up) inspired by Thomas Kinkade paintings. They are 11 books in and spinning off an ancillary series.

Really? And I thought _I_ was reading trashy fiction. Clearly, I had no idea just how deep into the dark some people are prepared to go.

Berkower then adds: "I wonder if there’s a little bit of stigma attached to doing series which the kids’ market has overcome and the adult market might look at seriously.”

Judging from what I'm seeing elsewhere in publisher-centric blogs about books, that stigma is solely on the part of the publishers.

Do these people actually read? You know, a lot of the later series entries book make it onto the NYT bestseller lists. No one pointing at a series based on _Thomas Kinkade_ paintings has a leg to stand on in terms of taste or redeeming social value, in terms of arguments against publishing this stuff.
walkitout: (Default)

_Last Train to Hiroshima_ has been recalled.

I heard part of a radio interview with him, including the bit about the bomb being damaged. I went, no it wasn't. And there were a bunch of other really weird things that just did not sound right.

Gotta love it when an editor who gets caught letting crap like this through justifies it with this:

'Anyway, Mr. Macrae said, “the difference between fact and fiction is a very fine line.” '
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There have been a lot of ideas over the, oh, I don't know, a very long time, about how prices are, have been, should be, might be, or could be set. I'm not going to attempt a comprehensive survey. I'm going to list a few, however, because they keep coming up in this whole what-should-books-cost context.

(1) Cost plus: how much did it cost to make the thing or service available for purchase, including not just whatever ingredients it has, but labor, advertising, shipping, blah, blah, bleeping, blah. The plus is there to cover a variety of things like the risk undertaken by the person attempting to sell it, their labor, shrinkage, etc. And, you know, they have a right to a profit, being part of this theory.

(2) The current or recent prices of substitutable goods: if I can buy a hamburger in one place for $2.49, I might be more than a little surprised if asked to pay, say, $7.99 in another place that looks exactly like the first place in every way and happens only to be located two blocks over and one down. So surprised, I might pitch a fit and walk out of the place and walk the three blocks to buy the $2.49 burger. If the burger purveyors actually want to _sell_ their burgers, they'll have to come up with a price closer to the $2.49, and probably do something to deal with the pissedness of their customers. But it does have to be substitutable: if the place is a lot different -- in a fern bar, instead of a bright red and yellow themed place where the chairs and the tables are not only bolted to the floor but positioned at an uncomfortable distance from one another -- then the ambience might justify the difference in price, even if it is in every other way exactly the same burger. Anyone familiar with meals-to-takeaway pricing vs. meals-to-sit-down-and-eat pricing in Paris, for example, has run up against this price difference. Or, for that matter, a cup of coffee.

(3) "What the market will bear"

Currently, if I want to buy a book, I have a lot of choices. If I don't care what book it is, and price is the only factor, I can chat up a friend and find someone who has a bin of books they are looking to get rid of and they'll let me have some. If I care a little about what book it is, but price is a driving concern, I might go to a Goodwill or other thrift store. If I care more about what the book is, but price is still an issue, maybe a used bookstore. If I really need a particular book quickly, I would probably check online to come up with whoever had the best discount in combination with shipping. That's sort of the bottom up view of book pricing -- and the bottom is not mass market paperbacks. The bottom is a lot lower -- and that's excluding people who _borrow_ books as opposed to own them.

Publishers of books are people who make books and they have customers, but those customers are not you and me (unless you buy for a bookstore or book wholesaler like Ingram or B&T, or run a school or other bulk consumer of books). Their customers are, in very rough order of importance: Amazon, the big chain bookstore, book wholesalers, WalMart, Target, and then very, very late in the sequence, independent bookstores. It is _very_ important to publishers that they have customers. If they lose their customers, they go out of business. It is very, very simple.

Historically, publishers have fronted the money to their customers to purchase their books, with generous terms -- return the item and you get all your money back (assuming it is within a particular time frame, and not too manhandled), no interest, the time frame is weeks or months. Depending on the deal, the publisher may pay both ends on shipping. They do this for the same reason that food processors pay shocking amounts of money to grocery stores to get shelf space: to get shelf space. The reading public, generally speaking, buys what is right in front of them, or they don't buy at all. You _can_ order anything you like, and Amazon grew slickly fat by figuring out ways to put right in front of people what they might like to buy for a lot of people who had a habit of leaving bookstores empty-handed or unhappy with what they had purchased because what they had wanted to buy wasn't on the shelf. One of the effects of Amazon is to increase the likelihood that people won't even bother to _go_ to the bookstore in real life, or, if they are in a bookstore, to leave it without a book if it wasn't exactly the one they wanted. They know they can go home and order it easily and have it quickly (believe me, as a person who used to frequently order books through regular bookstores, it was an unreliable and slow process).

In some important ways, buying a particular book -- not just the same words, but the same format, on the same day, etc. -- at Amazon is _not_ the same as buying it at B&N or WalMart. You knew it was going to be at Amazon, and you could do your shopping without packing up the baby gear or finding the car keys or wondering whether you'd make it before it closed. Buying a kindle edition on Amazon has a whole host of additional benefits (permanent backups, multiple copies, can carry dozens of books with you at a time...) that make it weirder still.

It is clear what publishers were thinking with this agency model idea: that's been how they always did business, until the wholesalers came along. Unlike the rest of the retail world, wholesalers never dominated in quite the same way, so the publishers have always thought of retailers as representing them to the reading public. When the publishers loan retailers the money to buy a book, and then the book sells before the retailer pays the publisher back (or returns the unsold merch), you can sort of understand that the publisher might still think of it as their book -- despite the accounting to the contrary.

I actually know what Amazon's pricing theory was, at least a little over a decade ago. They weren't looking to be the lowest price option on everything, and they've never marketed that they were. They were presenting themselves as a value proposition: (1) we'll have the book(s) you want to buy and get them to you quickly (2) there probably won't be a problem, but if there is, we'll try to fix it quickly and (3) you won't pay appreciably more than if you'd shopped around ahead of time. The goal was to cultivate repeat custom: heavy users who trusted Amazon enough to stop comparison pricing, and start buying all their books at Amazon (and, hopefully, a whole lot of other stuff, too).

If you sell a lot of stuff, day in and day out, to a predictable set of customers, you should think about pipelining. The kindle is essentially converting Amazon's heavy book consumers (who, unsurprisingly, are not heavily consuming things with charts and graphics and pictures, but rather running through text at an appalling rate) to a pipeline model. These people were Prime customers (as in, paid for the shipping deal) and I _have_ to believe that Amazon was losing money on these people anyway, at least on shipping. They didn't have to make much on the books -- it's sort of like you don't need to get much money when you recycle, or, really, any, just cheaper than what you were paying to landfill it or whatever.

Once the heavy users were converted, Amazon had a couple possible future scenarios: raise the prices, leave the reader price high to make up for lost money on content, discourage additional adopters by keeping the reader price high -- and probably a lot more besides. Instead, the publishers showed up and insisted that Amazon raise prices and take a larger cut. Why would they do that?

Because (and I keep saying this) there are a tiny number of people who buy most of the books that are sold in this country. And Amazon was converting this group at a shocking rate, leaving the chain bookstores with a lot of expensive retail and customers who came in, bought a coffee, a muffin, leafed through some magazines, and left with a paperback, if they were lucky. There are still heavy users out there who still will not even consider buying a kindle. The publishers were god damned if they were going to let anyone talk them into switching. And, also, out of business, because once the chains were gone, there was going to be a brutal truth on the table, which is that the way the supply chain works with publishers isn't the only old school thing about that business.

So the publishers did what the publishers had to do: make the temptation to switch a lot less tempting. Gone were the days when they could price ebooks at full hardcover forever, no discounting, and count on a very high gadget price to keep participation low. Their returns rate had gotten horribly out of hand as they were shipping books to bookstores whose heavy customers had recently converted to kindle and were no longer coming in very often and leaving with heavy bags of books. Worst of all, kindle owners (and I didn't think of this consciously -- I picked it up from Megan McArdle's piece on the subject) who couldn't get what they wanted for the kindle often bought it from Amazon when previously they would have bought it in person. I mean, they were already looking at the detail page and one click was turned on and they had Prime shipping anyway. The best they could do was accept the theory that ebooks should be less than paperbooks, but then maintain the price differential they'd been chowing down on between hardcover and trade paperback.

About that price differential. Looked at from the cost plus perspective, it seems wrong -- it doesn't cost much if any more to make a hardcover as a paperback. But the publishers have disciplined themselves to wait to get the paperback sales until they're pretty damn sure that there aren't any more suckers out there prepared to pay full trade or at least discounted hardcover prices. It's a hard thing to do, because you do all this publicity for the hardcover release, and a lot of people aren't going to buy it and you risk them forgetting by the time it's out in paperback. Or them seeing it at the library or at a friend's house or whatever. (Or, worse, finding out what a dog it is based on reviews or a friend slamming it in her blog or whatever.) This is pricing under theory three: whatever the market will bear. But a lot of epricing critics are attacking ebook prices that are still at hardcover levels for books which are already out in paperback -- they're saying this is a violation of the substitutable good rule of pricing.

My biggest complaint about someone saying that an ebook should be cheaper when the paperback is out is that people say that about ebooks _before the paperback is out_. In the tech industry, we call this kind of shit vaporware, but on the off chance some of my readers speak bar but not tech, that's like expecting half price appetizers during peak dining time. Ain't gonna happen. Secondarily, there's a legitimate price theory behind paralleling the price to hardcover, dropping it for paperback, and then going to some unknown other price when the hardcover and paperback are no longer available new-in-paper -- expecting a book published in hardcover almost a decade ago, and in paper a year after that and long since gone from bookstores other than used to still be priced as a mass market paperback for the ebook version seems to me a little odd. Me, I'd baseline it off whatever the used copies were going for. If used copies were moving at $30+, I'd for damn sure want some of that juice for the ebook.

Finally, I've been a little disgusted that a lot of people have been flailing about on this topic without putting forth even tiny amounts of effort to accurately collect sample data. Not knowing that Amazon discounts paperbacks? For real? Not being able to tell that the paperback's release date is in the future (and not just on Amazon) when figuring that out requires only a click through to a detail page and a short scroll down, if that? To be fair, there may well be some intent to confuse: the online store, whether Amazon or other, would kind of like you to click a buy button, whether they have that sucker right at the moment or not. They _don't_ want you mad, however, so they put a little effort into making clear to you that this is a preorder. A shopper is going to notice. _A critic should notice too._

In our society at least, and perhaps in all human societies, critics are perceived as more intelligent just by the act of criticizing. I think critics have a responsibility to try to live up to that perception.

A few more comments about Amazon pricing: if you preorder something, you pay the price it was when you preordered it, even tho the money won't be collected until the book ships. If you put something in your shopping basket for later, however, and then return periodically, you'll get these little red letter notifications at the top of your screen saying that prices have changed. Generally speaking, I see a lot of nickel and dime gyrations that don't amount to anything I care about, altho I've seen more substantial changes on academic books on occasion that can run small dollars (still a small fraction of the price on the book). My husband tells me that he has seen prices change from before he was logged in as himself, and after he logged in as himself -- I don't flush my cookies often enough to run into that so I can't comment. Certainly, it would be absolutely the kind of thing I would expect Amazon to pull. Hey, I _know_ she'll pay a buck more for this without even thinking, or, she won't pull the trigger unless it's a better deal. Nothing wrong with that -- it's like a flea market or bazaar where the sellers size you up and your past history with them matters, or like a restaurant that you're a regular at that gives you extras for free, or a casino comping your drinks or whatever.

B&N and Borders discount best sellers and new releases, so people who are shopping the display tables and buying things written by authors currently making appearances on talk shows and public radio have an impression that everything there is discounted. It is not so. If you go buy a copy of _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_, say, after it has been out for 7 or 8 months but before the paperback is out, you won't be getting 30-40% off. You'll be paying full list, and sales like yours are how B&N and Borders stay in business. Amazon has always had a much, much wider range of discounting on hardcovers and paperbacks than B&N or Borders in person, even tho the depth of the discounting is not always as deep as it is in the physical bookstore. This is another example of trading off dollars and cents against other factors (the discount in hand may be less than but worth more than the discount that might or might not be available in the bookstore, particularly once you factor in any value associated with one's time or transport).
walkitout: (Default)
I mentioned in an earlier post that once upon a time, the MSRP wasn't suggested: it was enforced. The post WW2 rise of the discounters -- associated closely with the development of suburbia -- included some key court battles the led to the replacement of manufacturer defined pricing with a wholesale model that led directly to Pile It High, Sell it Cheap. It probably wasn't an accident that this was all happening in the same time frame that railroads (transport priced by class of goods, based on the retail value of those goods) were getting creamed by truckers (transport based on a pretty inadequate calculation of total cost to move the crap) who were taking all the high value business away from railroads, leaving them to move a bunch of stuff like coal and agricultural products at regulated rates that didn't permit them to maintain the track, much less anything else.

For reasons that are murky, and honestly, I just don't care about much right at the moment, publishing retained a lot of the old skool manufacturer defined pricing. It also retained some other characteristics of old skool retailing. A discounter, for example, buys the goods for cash, or financed by someone other than the seller. Thus they now own all the risk associated with whether those things will sell to retail customers. The manufacturer got rid of that risk and with it, lost the opportunity to enjoy the possibility of vast profit should every last one of those things sell for full price. What the manufacturers may not have anticipated was how easy it would be for those discounters to then switch to other manufacturers. In other countries. Employing child slave labor. That they didn't pay. I mean, who could have seen that coming?

Book retailing, new book retailing in any event, retained a lot of old skool characteristics: financing for product supplied by maker on generous terms (months and months before you had to repay, right to return for full refund, blah, blah, bleeping, blah). Running a bookstore was a dodgy business, and publishers shared a lot of the risk. When Amazon first entered this world, they were a great deal for the publishers, because they paid on time and didn't return hardly anything. And Amazon used those months of no-interest float to expand their business. It was a party all around, especially once people like Mary Meeker got a glimmer of an idea about how that all worked.

I don't know when the publishers figured out that this wasn't going to be a completely free ride, but it was long before Amazon released the kindle. When did publishers realize that the smaller orders, higher rate of returns and bookstores going out of business weren't purely attributable to indies getting wiped by B&N and Borders? That uncertainty went straight to the bricks and mortar crowd which wasn't benefiting from the existence of Amazon in any way at all -- very much unlike the publishers.

The kindle must have sped this process up. A lot. Altho it is not easy to tell precisely what can be attributed to the economy going bust and everyone buying used books at Friends of the Library booksales versus heavy consumers buying kindles and slurping up ebooks at a frenetic rate, trading the authors whose names they can't remember and/or can't find available on the kindle for new authors, some of whom are giving it away for free. The kindle must have brought home to the publishers that their per unit cost on paper books was going through the roof -- and not just because of a fuel price spike. I've got zero data, but I bet their return-and-pulp rate went absolutely nuts. They tried to deal with it by engaging in a price war. I suspect that did not go well.

I think behind all the per unit cost arguments and what ebooks "should" cost are a bunch of publishers literally cannot supply paper books to their bricks and mortar retailers if ebooks are being sold for 9.99 -- even if they're getting a bigger cut of the 9.99 than they will get out of the slightly higher price. Publishers _have_ to slow this transition down, or the exodus of the tiny fraction of people who buy the vast majority of books will destroy the entire sector.

I guess we'll be finding out in the next few years whether that worked or not.
walkitout: (Default)
I have a couple of examples of measurements or metrics that people think they know what they mean, and often are wrong. And no, I'm not getting into the whole bra thing, altho that would be a lovely example as well.

The first example comes from real estate: square footage. I think there's some general agreement on what a square foot is; the questions arise when describing a piece of real estate, whether a condo or a free standing house or whatever, as having a certain number of square feet. A first time home buyer might reasonably assume that you could measure all the space inside, add it up, and, subject to the width of the walls and similar, be pretty close to the square feet described on legal documents and/or the listing. Alas, it is not so. In fact, the square feet could be calculated in any number of ways, but a fairly typical one is to measure the outside of the house and then multiply that area by the apparent number of floors. Watch out if you have a foyer or great room or whatever that extends into the second floor; you're getting taxed on that. Unsurprisingly, there are other ideas about what square feet measure in a real estate listing and I'm not even going to attempt to summarize those.

The second example is one that I am hypothesizing based on hopelessly inadequate knowledge, and that is "per unit cost". There's some raging debate about how much ebooks "should" cost, and whether there is a per unit cost at all for an ebook. People claiming there is no per unit cost per ebook are saying, no paper, no ink, no glue, etc., hence, no per unit cost. People claiming there is a per unit cost are saying you should take a whole lot of other costs (possibly including paper, ink, glue, etc.) and figure those in.

Here's an unrelated expert:


"Since some of the manufacturing overhead costs are fixed in total (factory rent, factory depreciation, factory managers’ salaries), the per unit cost of a product will depend upon the number of units manufactured during a given year."

Obviously, if a book is exclusively sold without paper, there are no paper costs associated with units of the book. If a book is sold exclusively on paper, there are paper costs associated with units of the book. However, when you buy a book, you can't look at that book and figure the per unit paper costs -- you don't know from buying a book how many books were made. Books made but unsold (ever) increase the per unit costs of the books that were sold -- at least they do by some calculations.

When a book is sold with paper and without paper, there is a legitimate debate regarding whether the paper costs should be born exclusively by the units that are made of paper, or should be shared across all units. This is what I mean by slow transitions resulting in people paying a lot more, and people wanting to move straight to the cheap future of no-paper-in-books are not happy about it. But it also aggravates retailers who have been dependent on a small number of people buying a lot of books. As those people migrate to ebooks, there are some unpleasantly unpredictable steps down in the number of paper books they move and a corresponding increase in the number of pulped (or remaindered) books -- ebooks increase the per unit cost of books as long as there is paper involved anywhere along the line and there is uncertainty about how many of those books will sell.

Even if you _do_ know how many of those books will sell, you might not be certain _where_ those books will sell. As long as some of the paper is moving through physical stores (often located to increase convenience to the customer, thus a lot more of them than might be perfectly efficient according to other metrics), those physical stores will wind up needing inventory to sell (only a fraction of people place orders and wait for them to arrive in physical stores) -- and that means even more pulped books as they'll require a greater number of books spread out to get the sales.

On an unrelated note, ebooks do have a meaningful per unit cost that could be calculated based on the amount of storage and bandwidth required to have them available to customers and deliver them. That's probably dominated for the kindle by the cellular charge to get it from Amazon to the kindle -- and I think that's on the order of what the author's royalty is per book. If you think that's dismissible, then so is what the author is getting paid.
walkitout: (Default)

SB Sarah opines on the Macmillan/Amazon showdown (her term), and I got the shock of my middle-aged life. I _had_ firmly believed that people-who-read-a-lot (defined as 2+ books a week for these purposes) notice publishers and, over time, will use knowledge of publishers as a way to find more books they might like and/or to tie-break when debating between a couple of choices. I don't _think_ I'm talking out of turn to say that when I started worked at that bookstore that the single most requested search feature was a search-by-publisher. I thought the request was eminently reasonable; just about everyone else working there (a very short list at the time) was confused -- they didn't pay attention to publisher when looking for reading material. But then, they didn't read a lot.

A bunch of the usual stupidity runs through the comments, but the shocker was that romance readers as a class completely ignore publisher, with a short list of exceptions. (1) Tor Romance apparently really pissed off a bunch of readers. (2) Romance readers who are _also_ SF/F readers do pay attention to publishers (because SF/F readers live and breathe by their imprint -- one of the things I did early on in The Recent Excitement was go check out what PNH had to say on the subject, partly because he's usually pretty reasonable, and partly because he is the soul of Tor. I was not, I might add, particularly impressed by what little I found by him on the topic.). (3) People buying a lot of epublished stuff (EC and the like) are forced to pay attention.

dunnettreader (at the end when I read the comments) has some of the best commentary. I don't necessarily agree that in the long run, the agency model will reduce ebook sales -- but I'm inclined to agree it will slow adoption down slightly in the medium term thus reducing pressure on producers and sellers of physical books. Whether that's a good or bad thing is legitimately debatable. Fast transitions can do some damage -- but they can ultimately save a lot of people a lot of money. Slow transitions give people time to adjust, but they often wind up forcing everyone to pay two and three times what they might otherwise have had to pay, as they limp along with a foot in two worlds, while holding on for dear life to a third.
walkitout: (Default)
Perhaps you have read something about Macmillan's publications being delisted by Amazon (and not just the kindle versions, either).

Here is what the NYT has to say about how that turned out:


This, obviously, occurred in the wake of the iPad announcement. I'm going to attempt to sketch out my understanding of the sequence of events, to make a point that is not particularly subtle, but that is apparently being missed.

Palm's Note format is expanded from its pathetically tiny limitation; people start publishing books in this format and other people buy them. Dedicated readers and e-bookstores are spawned in the wake of this development, some of which use a variant on the Palm note format that supports DRM.

Sony offers for sale an e-ink reader that costs like $500. To buy books for it, you have to download software which only runs on PCs. The books you buy for it are full-price/undiscounted with respect to their paper equivalents. Some people buy it and love it; the screen is not exhausting and they can carry around many books at a time. The books themselves are DRMed.

A variety of publishers start selling their books from their own websites (full price, many formats, most of those formats -- but not all -- DRMed) for reading on a variety of devices.

Amazon releases an e-ink reader that costs around $300. It includes a cellular connection at no cost to the owner of the device. You can shop using the device or on any computer that will run a browser and give you access to Amazon.com. The books are advertised as usually costing $9.99, with books available in paperback for less costing less, and some books costing substantially more. The books are in yet another variation of the Palm Note format and are DRMed. Until the iPhone/iTouch apps for ereading become popular, you have to buy a kindle to read the ebooks sold on Amazon (ignoring the ebooks they sold prior to developing the kindle); once the apps take off, Amazon releases a kindle app and supports maintaining last-place-synced across multiple devices.

Sony drops the price of its reader. It becomes available in places like Target. Its software now runs on Macs as well as PCs.

A host of other e-ink readers are released at the electronics expo. At least one of them has an associated e-bookstore with discounting and multiple formats.

The iPad is announced after about a year's worth of rumors. Customers are expecting a device that will free them from the evil DRM of Amazon. Publishers are expecting to finally break Amazon's domination of ebook pricing. Details appear in the days leading up to and following the announcement, and Amazon responds to some of these by adjusting their percentage paid to self-pubs. It develops that Jobs has negotiated with most of the big publishing houses to sell ebooks for a price determined by the publishers which is greater than 9.99 but less than list price, in exchange for getting ebooks about the same time the hardcovers are released, and a 30% cut.

Someone calls that the "agency model", and Amazon resists. In negotiations with one of the big houses (Macmillan), Amazon does what commenters in an ars technica thread about ebooks back in February 2009 said bricks-and-mortar retailers would do in the event publishers started pushing ebooks: refuse the carry the publishers book(s). For the duration of a weekend, you couldn't buy anything, paper or electronic, published by Macmillan and fulfilled by Amazon (you could buy used and other third party fulfilled items).

The commenters in the ars technica thread presumed that publishers would cave if bricks-and-mortar retailers did this to publishers. In practice, Sunday night, Amazon started selling Macmillan stuff again, and to adopt (for at least that house) the agency model.

What does this mean for publishers? Well, if publishers go the route Macmillan did, they'll have established a higher-than-9.99 price point for new trade books. They'll get less per item sold from Amazon. Anyone complaining that ebooks are too expensive will be redirected by Amazon to the publisher who will not plausibly be able to point back at the retailer. Anyone complaining about price-fixing will be redirected to the publisher, rather than the retailer. In some ways, this is the model of retailing that held until shortly after WW2 -- when it was MRP, not MSRP. Amazon has laid some groundwork for this, describing Macmillan has having a monopoly on its titles.

What does this mean for people running ebookstores? Well, it means they can make money, and they won't have to meet a 9.99 price point. In practice, that means anyone selling at full hardcover list is probably going to be reducing their price. Anyone discounting to something above 9.99 will no longer look a lot more tempting to customers (especially if they are offering multiple formats). People selling paper books will have some of the pressure taken off them, at least for a while.

What does this mean for people selling readers, dedicated or otherwise? Price stability across multiple formats and multiple stores will probably shift some focus off content-pricing and onto reader-features.

What does this mean for customers? This should reduce some of the uncertainty about what future pricing will look like. With a lot of players committed to this new pricing scheme (Jobs, the big houses, and Amazon, perhaps grudgingly, altho more on that in a moment), it's easier to determine at what point it makes economic sense to switch from reading paper books to reading ebooks. It is not unreasonable to assume that all of us earlier adopters who liked the low kindle prices will be a little disappointed to be paying 30-50% more for titles than we had been.

Did we just see a little Briar Patch action? We might have. Amazon has never had the ambition of being the lowest price alternative -- they just wanted to have low enough across the board that their regular customers wouldn't even think about it any more. $9.99 for a hardcover title was pretty fucking awesome -- you could not beat that anywhere (well, until this last fall/winter price war, which was just nuts), unless you were prepared to wait and buy used hardcover, or wait longer for paper. Nobody discounted a wide range of hardcover titles more than 50%. Nobody. When they released the kindle, they forced Sony's reader to come down, but they did not successfully force Sony's ebooks pricing to come down, in part because it was a faster road to hell to meet Amazon's price, when everyone was paying the hardcover cut to the publisher -- Amazon was losing money on at least some of those titles.

The net effect of this last weekend is, thus: stability, predictability and a discount to hardcover competitive with any other hardcover discounting system over a wide range of titles. It's a Big Fat No-Op for DRM; all the indications are that what is sold through the iPad bookstore will have DRM. Going forward, any retailer, on- or off-line contemplating threatening a publisher by refusing to sell their books is going to have this precedent and its outcome to contemplate. If Amazon can't coerce Macmillan, I doubt B&N or Borders will be able to do so, and the big houses now know that for a fact. Competition between e-stores will not be based on price going forward, but on features. None of the big (or potentially big) players are offering non-DRM (sorry, fans of Baen books and/or public domain options, but you should know by now that you aren't the market for new-in-hardcover and if you don't know that yet, well, I'm sorry to break it to you) and Amazon's store is accessible to everyone, whether they own a reader or not, and Amazon has shown a willingness to put software on other platforms so their customers can read their books on them (the iPhone app). Looks suspiciously like a Briar Patch to me.

Am I saying that Apple or the big houses lost in this exchange? Not really. The iPad is more expensive, and it has an emissive screen, but it is multi-purpose. The publishers are going to be selling their eWarez to a slice of the population that isn't so crazy they feel compelled to stick with a format that will outlive them and they have total control over, but is also annoyed by having to deal with format changes that isolate content every few years -- and is really annoyed when they discover that they can no longer buy new content for their player, or the price changed dramatically or whatever. It is not unreasonable to think that the publishers are going to get hammered by that new crop of customers that Is Not Amused by the craptisticness that is the average ebook today. The authors will continue to be poor, but continue to be paid their pittance.

I think the next phase is going to be cross-compatibility and feature shakeout. Depending on how that is handled, we might stabilize on One Platform, but I doubt it. I think we'll see some long-term variability in what is out there and what it does.

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