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March 19, 2010


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Here are several publishing-related items that caught my eye over the past week.

Paying for Shelf Space

The Boulder Bookstore, in Boulder, CO, is selling shelf space to self-published authors, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.
The store charges its consignment authors according to a tiered fee structure: $25 simply to stock a book (five copies at a time, replenished as needed by the author for no additional fee); $75 to feature a book for at least two weeks in the “Recommended” section; and $125 to, in addition to everything else, mention the book in the store’s email newsletter, feature it on the Local Favorites page of the store’s website for at least 60 days, and enable people to buy it online for the time it’s stocked in the store.

And for $255 — essentially, the platinum package — the store will throw in an in-store reading and book-signing event.
In addition, the store takes a 40% cut of sales.

The Nieman article puts a positive spin on this, dubbing it "microdistribution," pointing out the benefits for the store's financial bottom line and for raising the store's profile in the community. (Though I do wonder about paying for recommendations--does the store vet the books it recommends, and if not, what kind of fallout might there be if a really bad book is featured?)

But what about the authors--most of whom, apparently, pony up for the highest-price packages? Do they get their money's worth? Apparently, the readings/signings have proven popular, and in the fist week of March, 75 consignment books were sold. However, without knowing how many authors are involved in the program, and which of the books were tied to readings/signings, it's hard to assess that figure.

Given how difficult it is for self-published authors to get their books into physical bookstores, I'm prepared to keep an open mind on this. But it also seems to me to skirt the borders of exploitation. (Apparently the store hit upon the fee structure as a defensive measure, after it was "inundated" with requests from self-pubbed authors.) Do self-pubbed authors need more ways to spend money on their books? Plus, many stores are willing to shelve local self-pubbed authors, and even to host events for them, on a straightforward consignment basis.

I'm also reminded of IndieReader, which offers a somewhat similar Internet-based service, and which was strongly criticized by some self-published authors for its fees. I blogged about IndieReader last year.

Amazon Using Buy Button Shutoff as Negotiating Tool

We can now better understand Amazon's actions in last month's face-off with Macmillan over ebook pricing.

Having proved to the world the power of the buy button shutoff, Amazon is reportedly using it as a negotiating tool in its talks with major publishers about sales terms for ebooks. The New York Times reports that, among other concessions, Amazon is demanding a three-year contract, and a guarantee that no competitor (think Apple) will get lower prices or better terms.

Amazon is apparently also reaching out to smaller publishers, with which it hopes to retain its wholesale model. But some small publishers are already in talks with Apple, which requires that any publisher that wants to sell via the iPad "must offer the same terms to all booksellers. In other words, to do business with Apple, publishers must export Apple’s business model to all retailers."

Many industry observers feel that Amazon will damage its reputation, not to say its business (since people will simply go elsewhere to buy), if it pulls another buy button shutoff move. Stay tuned.

What Publishers Do/Don't Know

With all the enthusiasm/uncertainty/outright terror surrounding ebooks and epublishing, there's a huge amount (actually, as far as I'm concerned, way too much) prognosticating about the digital future. For the most part, I avoid posting or tweeting any of this--the bottom line is that no one really knows what's going to happen, and what will be will be, regardless of what we say about it now.

However, two articles by Michael Bhaskar for the UK industry newsletter BookBrunch recently caught my eye. Bhaskar avoids the kind of crystal ball blather that is so common right now, driving down instead to deeper issues.

Three things publishers don't know about the digital future (which platform will win? How many people will actually read ebooks? What impact will piracy have?)

Four things publishers do know about the digital future (yes, people will read from screens. Yes, change will happen; the race is on, even if we can't know how it will turn out. Yes, other content industries have been "knocked sideways" by the Internet, so there's no reason to assume publishing will manage better. Yes, digital is the future of book marketing.)

The End of Publishing--or Maybe Not

If you haven't already seen this clever and inspiring "End of Publishing" video from UK publisher Dorling Kindersley, go watch it right now.

Originally produced for DK's marketing staff, the video--which literally reverses itself halfway through, turning the conventional doom and gloom about the future of books on its head in the most ingenious way--has since gone viral.

The Penguin blog has a rundown on how (and why) the video was created. Very interesting.


Fred Bubbers said...

It looks as if Amazon is finally meeting its match with Apple.

As an alternative to IndieReader, there's AuthorsBookshop whose terms for self publishers much more reasonable.

Dana King said...

I can't speak for everyone, but my recent online purchases have been from B & N and Borders. Amazon can play politics with the Buy button if it wants, but I'm not going to subsidize them.

Anne R. Allen said...

Jason LaMotte is a genius! The forward/backward script for that video is a work of art. I hope he's getting some good money for it.

Clara said...

The video is just lovely. I have faith on books and traditional publishing. I too hate to read a book on a screen...
And regarding the first paragraphs, yes, that is most certaintly, exploitation.

Castiron said...

I've seen the forward/backward script done in another poem on Youtube recently, so I don't know that the idea originates with DK, but it's still interesting

Fiona Glass said...

You can't blame that local bookshop for trying *grin* but that's a lot of money to pay for shelf space. I currently have a few books for sale in a local bookstore in Birmingham (UK) and I'm not being charged a penny - in fact they were glad of the stock. And they only take 25% commission...

Frances Grimble said...

As for paying to be in bookstores, publishers, vendors, and entities such as Google increasingly seem to assume that if someone is foolish enough to self-publish, or even write, a book, he or she can be exploited in numerous other ways. The book has to sell for the writer to make any money from it, so bookstores could do very well just taking money to put a book on a shelf, put the others in the back room, make no effort to sell, then return them all after a few months.

As for the iPad, Hewlett-Packard has recently introduced a rival called the Slate.

Moses Siregar III said...

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