Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

07/17/2015

Is It Possible That Amazon Is Not ‘All’ Bad News For Publishers?


Might Amazon’s debilitating effect on local shops be about to change?

For the past 20 years Amazon has disrupted the publishing industry from stem to stern. Could it be that much of the resulting adaptation and metamorphosis has actually been good news for publishers?

Depends on what you consider. What kind of publisher? What kind of book? Book audience location. Book platform. Book distribution system access. Digital technology, etc., etc.

Hell, many of these considerations weren’t even in existence 20 years ago! And while Amazon didn’t create or discover all of the above mentioned ingredients, they were the first to mix them in a masterful menu – creating a smorgasbord of possibilities – the understanding of which is still being deciphered today.

Tonight’s topic will discuss the how’s and where’s of some of the possible positive changes that Amazon has wrought within the publishing industry and the reaction/attitude of the big five publishing houses as well as others (Bowker’s, etc.) in the overall industry.

Key excerpts from tonight’s research/resource article:

“It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdog status of the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.”

“Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.”

Presenting:

Amazon is 20 years old – and far from bad news for publishers

By , as published in The Conversation (UK). Academic rigor, journalistic flair  

It has now been 20 years since Amazon sold its first book: the titillating-sounding Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, by Douglas Hofstadter. Since then publishers have often expressed concern over Amazon. Recent public spates with Hachette and Penguin Random House have heightened the public’s awareness of this fraught relationship.

It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdog status as the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.

Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.

Democratising data

In Amazon’s early years, Jeff Bezos, the company’s CEO, was keen to avoid stocking books. Instead, he wanted to work as a go-between for customers and wholesalers. Instead of building costly warehouses, Amazon would instead buy books as customers ordered them. This would pass the savings on to the customers. (It wasn’t long, however, until Amazon started building large warehouses to ensure faster delivery times.)

This promise of a large selection of books required a large database of available books for customers to search. Prior to Amazon’s launch, this data was available to those who needed it from Bowker’s Books in Print, an expensive data source run by the people who controlled the International Standardised Book Number (ISBN) standard in the USA.

ISBN was the principle way in which people discovered books, and Bowker controlled this by documenting the availability of published and forthcoming titles. This made them one of the most powerful companies in the publishing industry and also created a division between traditional and self-published books.

Bowker allowed third parties to re-use their information, so Amazon linked this data to their website. Users could now see any book Bowker reported as available. This led to Amazon’s boasts that they had the largest bookstore in the world, despite their lack of inventory in their early years. But many other book retailers had exactly the same potential inventory through access to the same suppliers and Bowker’s Books in Print.

Amazon’s decision to open up the data in Bowker’s Books in Print to customers democratised the ability to discover of books that had previously been locked in to the sales system of physical book stores. And as Amazon’s reputation improved, they soon collected more data than Bowker.

For the first time, users could access data about what publishers had recently released and basic information about forthcoming titles. Even if customers did not buy books from Amazon, they could still access the information. This change benefited publishers as readers who can quickly find information about new books are more likely to buy new books.

World domination?

As Amazon expanded beyond books, ISBN was no longer the most useful form for recalling information about items they sold. So the company came up with a new version: Amazon Standardized Identifier Numbers (ASINs), Amazon’s equivalent of ISBNs. This allowed customers to shop for books, toys and electronics in one place.

The ASIN is central to any Amazon catalogue record and with Amazon’s expansion into selling eBooks and second hand books, it connects various editions of books. ASINs are the glue that connect eBooks on the Kindle to shared highlights, associated reviews, and second hand print copies on sale. Publishers, and their supporters, can use ASINs as a way of directing customers to relevant titles in new ways.

Will Cookson’s Bookindy is an example of this. The mobile app allows readers to find out if a particular book is available for sale cheaper than Amazon in an independent bookstore nearby. So Amazon’s advantage of being the largest source of book-related information is transformed into a way to build the local economy.

ASINs are primarily useful for finding and purchasing books from within the Amazon bookstore, but this is changing. For example, many self-published eBooks don’t have ISBNs, so Amazon’s data structure can be used to discover current trends in the publishing industry. Amazon’s data allows publishers to track the popularity of books in all forms and shape their future catalogues based on their findings.

While ISBNs will remain the standard for print books, ASIN and Amazon’s large amount of data clearly benefits publishers through increasing their visibility. Amazon have forever altered bookselling and the publishing industry, but this does not mean that its large database cannot be an invaluable resource for publishers who wish to direct customers to new books outside of Amazon.

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07/11/2013

The World’s First Truly Global Trade Book Publishing Company?


The Penguin Random House merger comes with costs you won’t find on a price sticker

‘A wave of consolidation has snapped what made imprints distinctive.’ – Boris Kachka

Does everyone really know just what the hell an ‘imprint’ is?

Is it a ‘bought’ company that now comes under the management and rules of the ‘buyer’ company but can still fly its own flag over its published works (sort of like a consolation prize for selling out)?

Or, as WikiAnswers defines it: it is the ‘ “brand name” under which a book is published. Most major publishers have at least a few imprints. Some of these imprints are organized as subsidiaries, or “companies within a company,” with their own editorial staffs, release lists, etc. Others are strictly brand names slapped on a book purchased and edited somewhere in the corporation. (According to Wikipedia, Random House, the world’s largest English-language trade book publisher, has more than 50 imprints.)

While the above definitions may be partially accurate (?) Wikipedia probably has the ‘most’ accurate idea of a publishing house imprint simply because it is the most complicated (like all things Re legacy publishing) 🙂 :

‘In the publishing industry, an imprint can mean several different things:

  • A piece of bibliographic information about a book, it refers to the name and address of the book’s publisher and its date of publication as given at the foot or on the verso of its title page.[1]
  • It can mean a trade name under which a work is published.[citation needed] One single publishing company may have multiple imprints; the different imprints are used by the publisher to market works to different demographic consumer segments. In some cases, the diversity results from the takeover of smaller publishers (or parts of their business) by a larger company. This usage of the word has evolved from the first meaning given above.
  • It can also refer to a finer distinction of a book’s version than “edition“.[citation needed] This is used to distinguish, for example different printings, or printing runs of the same edition, or to distinguish the same edition produced by a different publisher or printer. With the creation of the “ISBN” identification system, which is assigned to a text prior to its printing, a different imprint has effectively come to mean a text with a different ISBN—if one had been assigned to it.
  • Under the UK Printer’s Imprint Act 1961,[2] which amended the earlier Newspapers, Printers, and Reading Rooms Repeal Act 1869, any printer must put their name and address on the first or last leaf of every paper or book they print or face a penalty of up to £50 per copy. In addition, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, any election material – including websites – must show the name of the promoter of the material and the name and address of the person on whose behalf it is being published.’

Actually though, imprints (and how they are or are not allowed to operate) have a greater affect on readers and writers when publishers consolidate as just happened with Random House and Penguin.

After consolidation, some companies prevent their imprints from bidding against one another for manuscripts. This results in not only lower advances for writers — ‘but also fewer options for writers to get the kind of painstaking attention — from editors, marketers and publicists — that it takes to turn their manuscripts into something valuable.’

Boris Kachka writes these details in The New York Times:

Book Publishing’s Big Gamble 

“IT’S official,” Alfred A. Knopf Sr. tweeted last week. “We’re now #PenguinRandomHouse.”

Mr. Knopf — or rather his ghostly avatar, the actual publisher havingsold his namesake firm to Random House in 1960, died in 1984 and rolled over many times since — was celebrating the largest book-publishing merger in history.

The mergerannounced last October and completed on July 1 after regulatory approval, shrinks the Big Six, which publish about two-thirds of books in the United States, down to the Big Five. HarperCollins has reportedly been flirting with Simon & Schuster, which would take it down to four. (The others are Hachette and Macmillan.)

The creation of Penguin Random House (“the world’s first truly global trade book publishing company”) is partly a response to unprecedented pressures on these “legacy” publishers — especially from Amazon, which came out on the winning end of an antitrust lawsuit over the setting of e-book prices. It is also a way to gain leverage and capital in an industry that has been turned upside down. This endgame may be inevitable, but its consequences can’t be ignored.

Consolidation carries costs you won’t find on a price sticker. Dozens of formerly independent firms have been folded into this conglomerate: not just Anchor, Doubleday, Dutton, Knopf, Pantheon, G. P. Putnam’s Sons and Viking, which still wield significant resources, but also storied names like Jonathan Cape, Fawcett, Grosset & Dunlap, and Jeremy P. Tarcher. Many of these have been reduced to mere imprints, brands stamped on a book’s title page, though every good imprint bears the faint mark of a bygone firm with its own mission and sensibility.

Read and learn more

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