Archive for the ‘kobo’ Category

Ebooks and the pricing surrender monkeys

November 9, 2011 11 comments

Google launched its ebookstore in Canada last week and, as a self-interested author, the first thing I did was head over to see how much my book, Sex, Bombs and Burgers, was selling for.

Surprise, surprise, it’s going for the princely sum of $21.99, which is not only more than the hardcover on Amazon or Chapters, it’s also quite possibly the most expensive ebook in history. This isn’t surprising because it’s exactly the same price that Chapters/Indigo has been charging through Kobo.

Who would pay that much for an ebook? Aren’t digital goods supposed to be cheaper because they have significantly lower manufacturing and distribution costs?

Exactly. Which is why I sold all of 16 of them in the second half of 2010, according to my sales reports.

Google has evidently joined Kobo in catering to publishers’ out-of-date pricing schemes. So, while Canadians seem to have growing choice between e-tailers, most of those sellers aren’t actually going to bat for consumers by trying to lower prices. It’s a little surprising in Google’s case, given that the company has in the past been willing to go to war on things such as wireless prices and net neutrality.

The exception in ebooks is Amazon, which has been notable in its battle against publishers on several fronts. The most recent is the skirmish over its new book lending program, which has prompted some libraries to stop buying from the likes of HarperCollins.

My favourite situation is the fight between Penguin, my publisher in Canada, and the online bookseller over pricing. A quick recap: Amazon last year wanted all ebooks to be priced at $9.99 (a price I agree with, by the way) but Penguin would have none of it. The publisher said it would no longer let Amazon sell its ebooks once their contract expired so, in retaliation, Amazon decided to sell all of Penguin’s physical books at $9.99. The company might take a loss on those books or not make as big a profit, but it was evidently set on making its point. Gotta love those kinds of balls.

The two companies ended up settling the dispute, but something is still going on since I can’t find my ebook on Kindle. I wish I could say why that is, but as is usually the case with us authors, nobody tells us nothing, even when we ask.

That’s why Google’s ebookstore launch is a ho-hum for me and it’s why, as a consumer, I buy all my books - physical or digital - from Amazon.

Categories: amazon, ebooks, Google, kobo

Book business is indeed facing its digital reckoning

April 13, 2011 5 comments

The Globe and Mail ran a fascinating story on Heather Reisman’s “digital reckoning” over the weekend. Reisman is the CEO of Indigo, Canada’s book chain monolith, and the story is about what she is trying to do in the face of the shift to digital books. Like I pointed out last month in my predictions for the next decade, book stores are on the endangered species list because of the rapid growth of e-books.

Indigo’s strategy, which has been apparent for some time now to anyone who has ventured into one of its stores, is to shift away from books and toward knick-knacks like candles and picture frames. According to the story, Reisman is looking to ramp up those non-book sales over the next couple of years to 40 per cent of the business from the current 15 per cent.

That’s a pretty dumb strategy since it effectively means Indigo is going into competition with Walmart. There seems to be little one can’t get at its “book” stores that can’t be had at the superstore chain, where such goods likely sell for half the price. A better plan would be to fully concentrate on Kobo, the e-reader and e-book store combination Indigo launched last year. The venture has lost money so far, according to the story, but building it into a legitimate competitor for Amazon’s Kindle and shutting down huge and expensive stores seems like the logical way to go.

Indeed, the whole book business is changing. Indigo and other book store chains would also be wise to start building ties to writers directly by cutting out the middle men, which is what publishers are rapidly becoming. Check out the graphic that accompanies the Globe story, which attempts to detail one of the publishing industry’s closely-guarded secrets: the breakdown of who earns what on the sale of a book. A $25 hardcover earns an author only $2.50 while a $10 e-book gets them $1. Many, many authors - myself included - have harped before on why this is far from equitable distribution on a product that is entirely dependent on the writer’s intellectual property.

The graphic, along with this article about an author finding success through self-publishing, pretty much tells the story of how the business is changing. There have been numerous anecdotal stories about self-published writers hitting it big, but this particular article is notable in that the author supplied sales reports backing up her claims of making millions of dollars. Physical book store chains such as Indigo therefore need to adjust to this changing reality before pure-digital plays make them completely irrelevant, much like iTunes did to HMV.

What was most surprising about the Globe and Mail story, however, were the reader comments. It’s true that such forums are often a repository of negativity, but I’ve always found the Globe’s comments to be a little bit better than most, either because the readers are more intelligent or the sign-up process is more rigorous. Nevertheless, the sentiment toward Reisman and Indigo was one of universal condemnation. If the comments are anything to go by, Canadians are wringing their hands at the prospect of the book chain’s inevitably collapse. From its inexplicable U.S.-to-Canadian currency price discrepancies to its protectionist attempts to keep Amazon out of Canada, the book-buying public is clearly ready for Indigo’s inevitable demise and the larger changes to the business as a whole.

Categories: books, chapters, ebooks, kobo

On the eve of a book revolution

December 29, 2010 2 comments

I was recently invited to give a talk at the Toronto Reference Libary to staffers from around the city, with a fairly wide mandate of what topics I could cover. In an effort to discuss something that would be relevant to them, I thought I’d share my experience of going through the book-publishing process and where I thought the industry is headed. I was pretty nervous in talking about the subject because, while I do have some experience in the field, I certainly don’t deal with books on an every-day basis like many in the audience did. I felt sort of like a Johnny-come-lately trying to tell them about stuff they knew intimately, and better than I did.

After giving the talk, I wondered if attendees thought I was crazy because I spoke of revolution and how everything about how books are made is going to change dramatically in the next few years. I’m fairly sure some people in the audience agreed with me, and I’m equally sure that some thought I was full of it.

My thoughts on the subject are probably familiar to anyone who reads this blog regularly. In a nutshell, the book industry hasn’t seen as much impact from the digital revolution as the music and video businesses have as of yet, largely because reading electronic books hasn’t really been that easy. E-books have been around for ages, but reading them on a computer screen has just been too painful to even consider.

With the advent of e-ink and the Amazon Kindle three years ago, the game changed. Indeed, the Kindle is revolutionizing the book business in the same way the iPhone did the phone business (ironically, they were released in the same year). Just as 2010 saw real competition finally arise for the iPhone in the form of Android, so too did the Kindle finally get good rivals with the likes of Kobo and others. But the devices are only half the story - they’re also attached to new distribution systems. Amazon’s is easily the best as the Kindle’s “WhisperNet” feature lets you buy books via cellular connection wherever you may be, but there are also a handful of other good, big competitors with their own e-book stores, including Kobo, Sony, Apple and Google.

So, the revolution in how books are read and sold is already well underway, and e-book sales are skyrocketing as a result. The other revolution - the more interesting one that I talked about at the library - is in how books are written and created, and this part is only just now beginning. All of the online bookstores also offer authors - established and budding - the opportunity to self-publish their work. I’ve gone into the merits of this before, where self-publishing is potentially more lucrative for an author than having their book sold by a big-name publisher, so I won’t rehash it here.

The Los Angeles Times, however, has an excellent story that covers off almost everything I talked about at the library, which makes me feel considerably less crazy. The reporter talked to a number of authors who said they plan to self-publish all of their work going forward because it’s simply a better deal. The traditional publishing system holds very little appeal for them. “If an author has the choice of two distribution models, one that costs nothing and has no gatekeeper and the other has lots of gatekeepers and costs a lot of money, a lot of people will go with the free one,” said Seth Godin, a best-selling author who has become something of a self-publishing guru.

I’ve talked about gatekeepers before - to get a book published and ultimately sold, a writer has to go through a network of agents, editors, bookstore buyers and finally the media. Self-publishing largely removes all of those, which is why the Times story concludes with the thought that the only gatekeepers left will be the readers. I couldn’t agree more.

Crime novelist Joe Conrath takes it further in the story: “If a traditional publisher offered me a quarter of a million dollars for a novel, I’d consider it. But anything less than that, I’m sure I can do better on my own.”

That’s exactly my plan for my second book. Not that I’m going to hold out for a cool quarter-million, but if I don’t get offers that I like - or any offers at all, for that matter - I’ll be perfectly happy to give it a go myself on Amazon and the others. There are many downsides to self-publishing - you have to get your own editors, designers and publicists - but ultimately it comes down to only one thing: brand versus brand. If an author has a strong enough name recognition, as many established writers do, there’s actually very little they need a traditional publisher for. The rest can be done for a fraction of the price that publishers currently charge.

The challenge is for those of us who are not household names, and who are not yet trusted “brands” comparable to Random House or HarperCollins. But just as today’s bands and film makers also have to be entrepreneurial to get their work noticed, so too will writers have to become more enterprising. There are plenty who will be happy to stick with the old system of gatekeepers, but there are also many of us - as evidenced by the Times story - that are just dying to do it for ourselves. Sooner or later, the traditional book industry is going to have to take notice of that fact and implement dramatic changes to how it does business with its important customers: authors.

Categories: amazon, books, ebooks, kobo

Paper books going the way of the dodo?

September 21, 2010 Comments off

I had a great chat last week with Michael Serbinis, the CEO of Kobo, or the ebook store and device maker. Kobo, which is owned by a consortium of companies around the world including U.S. book chain Borders and led by Canada’s Indigo Books, is aiming to compete with Amazon and its Kindle, as well as Apple and its fledgling ebook operation.

Earlier this year, when the Kobo e-reader launched, I wasn’t sure how it would fare against such behemoths as Amazon and Apple, but at this point, the company seems to be doing okay simply because it appears to be doing everything right.

Amazon has been criticized for the copy protection it puts on its ebooks and for not allowing customers to move them between devices. The company has mitigated this somewhat by making Kindle apps that work on a variety of smartphones and devices, including Apple’s iPad. I’ve blogged before about how this largely gets around the problem of copy protection. But still, Amazon’s biggest fault is that its ebooks won’t really work on other e-ink readers, such as Kobo, the Sony Reader or the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Apple, so far, is even more limited. Although you can move the books you buy from Apple’s iBooks store around on your devices, the company doesn’t look to be too well positioned as of yet to do much beyond its own little ecosystem. You can’t get the iBooks app on anything but an Apple device, and the iPad - as a recent Kindle commercial pointed out - is not exactly the ideal choice for reading ebooks (especially in direct sunlight). Apple’s reach is also limited; you can’t buy its ebooks here in Canada, for example.

Kobo, on the other hand, is doing it all. Not only do its readers support the common ePub format, which means you can move ebooks around and read them on other e-ink readers, the Kobo app is also available on just about every device. Kobo is thus on its way to becoming ubiquitous, a claim that none of its other competitors can make.

The last time I spoke with Kobo’s CEO was early this year, and I’ve grown increasingly impressed with him as many of his predictions have come true. One of those, which I’ve mentioned quite a few times, is how he believed that e-book readers would get down to $100 by the end of this year. Kobo’s own reader is down to $129 in the U.S., so we’re almost there.

At this rate, some of the A-list devices may actually go for less than $100 by Christmas. And at those kinds of prices, I share Serbinis’s belief that the single-use e-ink reader will remain relevant in the face of multi-use tablet devices such as the iPad.

The whole interview is up on CBC, but the part that interested me the most was where we talked about the future of publishing. Serbinis suggested that publishers may soon opt to publish books in digital format first, then only print them if they sell well:

Will we see more people self-publish? Absolutely. Will we see publishers go to digital first instead of print first? Absolutely. There’s nothing more disappointing than spending a million bucks on an author, then having 50 per cent of the books returned from retailers because they didn’t sell. Is it better to put out a digital run first to test it and see if it gets any pickup, then do a print run? Yeah, for some authors it does.

That seems like a really good idea to me, for many reasons. As he said, it cuts the cost of producing the book dramatically. Certain books - like those about technology, for example - also probably lend themselves well to the format; in other words, the people who would be inclined to read them are probably the ones who would rather do so digitally.

I imagine this will start to happen a lot once ebooks start nearing the threshold where they make up the majority of total book sales. As mentioned in that previous post linked to above, it took digital music about 10 years to cross that 50-per-cent threshold, but it’s happening much faster in ebooks. While ebooks have been around for about as long as digital music, it’s probably more realistic to call the 2007 launch of the Kindle as their real coming-out party. So we’ve gone from zero to 10 per cent in about two and a half years.

As Serbinis said in our interview, ebooks could account for up to 15 per cent of total book sales by the end of the year so the 50-per-cent mark is going to come very quickly, which means this idea of publishing a good portion of books digitally first could also happen sooner rather than later.

Categories: ebooks, kobo

Sex, Bombs and Burgers: now an ebook!

August 5, 2010 1 comment

Okay, first, the good news: a colleague of mine pointed out to me yesterday that Sex, Bombs and Burgers is officially available as an ebook in Canada. Kobo Books, the ebook division of Canadian chain Indigo/Chapters, has it available for download. It’s in ePub format, which means you can download it onto your computer, mobile phone or e-reader.

Kobo, like Amazon, is smartly not tying itself to just its own branded e-reader device. If you’ve got a smartphone or just about any e-reader that’s not the Amazon Kindle, you should be able to install the Kobo app and download books from its store (Amazon’s Kindle, so far, doesn’t read the ePub format).

I’m not actually sure how long Sex, Bombs and Burgers has been available over Kobo, but I’m pleased it’s there and available for people who want the e-book version. I’ve certainly heard numerous requests for it from people who prefer to get their goods digitally. I’ve also heard people say that they’d like to read Sex, Bombs and Burgers, but they’d be somewhat ashamed to whip out any book with the word “porn” on its cover on the subway. The discrete nature of ebooks and e-readers obviously negates that concern.

So what’s the Sex, Bombs and Burgers ebook look like? Well, after paying for it and browsing it on an iPad and iPhone - yup, I had to pay for my own book… how crazy is that? - I can say it’s not bad. Kobo doesn’t yet have all the fancy functionality that Amazon and Apple have, like cross-transferring your bookmarked spots from one device to the next (say, from your iPad to your iPhone), but its ebooks are functional and do the job. The formatting of my ebook could use some improvement and I’m hopeful that’ll be fixed soon. But if it’s simply an electronic version of the book you’re looking for, the Kobo ebook does the trick.

I’ve been told that an Amazon ebook for Canadians is also on the way, but sadly, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll have to wait till the fall of next year to (legally) get the ebook. Kobo is available to Americans, but as far as I can tell, the sale of my ebook is geoblocked. I’m looking into what the situation is in Australia, New Zealand the United Kingdom and will hopefully have something to report soon.

Now for the bad news: Kobo’s ebook is $22.09 (Canadian). That’s $9.91 cheaper than the hardcover, but I’ll be damned if I could find a more expensive ebook on Kobo. Seriously - I spent five minutes browsing and couldn’t find anything steeper (I’m sure there’s something, but nothing turned up in a peremptory look).

I obviously have no control over pricing on either printed or ebook editions, and truth be told, I have little knowledge of how publishers price their goods. Naturally, I think $22 is way too high a price for my ebook - my rule of thumb is the ebook should be at least half the cost of the printed version to encourage volume sales. The price should be even lower on new, largely unknown authors because buyers simply won’t take a chance on them otherwise.

Interestingly, the top-selling book on Kobo yesterday was Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger (from Random House’s Crown Publishing). Its price? 89 cents.

Hmmm. Hypothetical situation. I’ve just received a new e-reader for my birthday (which is coming up later this month, by the way, wink wink). Do I take a chance and spend 89 cents on a book by an author I’ve never heard of, or do I spend $22? Or do I split the difference and spend $7.99 on Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?

Yup, it’s a no brainer. Like I said - I’m happy there’s an ebook available, but I’ll be asking my publisher about the pricing.

Categories: amazon, apple, ebooks, iphone, kobo

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