Sunday, December 20, 2009

Year in Review

The holiday season is upon us and 2009 is almost over. And, for better or for worse, it has been a year of ups and downs for the publishing industry. The most volatile issue the industry has faced is that of e-books and what to do about them. Last weekend, I blogged about Simon & Schuster as well as Hatchette Books deciding to delay certain e-books for 4 to 6 months after the publication of the hard cover edition. Harper Collins quickly joined in, announcing they, too, would delay certain e-books. All of which seems to fly in the face of the fact the one segment of the industry that is growing leaps and bounds is the sale of e-books. Where the debate will end, no one knows for certain. However, I think we are going to see more and more authors taking matters into their own hands. 7 Habits author Stephen R. Covey has moved the e-rights from a couple of his books from S&S to Amazon. Paul Carr is, in his own words, is producing " my own pirated version" of his book Bringing Nothing to the Party and giving it away free on his website to coincide with the release of the paperback version of the book. And, to add another spin to the mix, Carr's agent told him to do it. Will we see more and more of this happening? I think so. Authors, on the whole, seem to know that they have to get their work into as many readers' hands as possible and e-books don't necessarily cut sales, even when given free. They tend to increase interest in a writer's work, especially his back-list of books no longer in print, or that are hard to find. A word to publishers, isn't this what you should be worried about as well instead of the declining sales of over-priced hard cover editions?

Then there was the whole Harlequin foray into the vanity press business. Again, I had to scratch my head and wonder what in the world corporate was thinking. They obviously hadn't anticipated the quick and decisive moves by RWA, SFWA or MWA in denouncing the move and removing Harlequin and its authors from future pro status in their organizations. Again, the full depth and breadth of the fall-out from this move have yet to be seen.

We've seen Borders disappear from the UK and Barnes & Noble bring out the Nook, its answer to the Kindle. B. Dalton is closing in Laredo, TX, leaving Laredo 150 miles from the nearest bookstore.

Yet, for all the negatives in the industry, there have been positives as well. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have been on the rise. For October 2009, sales were at $18.5 million, up 254.3% over Oct. 2008. Year to date revenue is up 180.7%. Kindle sales have sent Amazon stock on the rise. The Nook premiered to mixed reviews but sold out quickly. Even Harper-Collins, one of the publishers that announced delays in certain e-versions of best sellers, is polling readers on their reading habits, etc. What's interesting is their poll, meant to determine the viability of e-books, when to release them and what their retail cost should be, is skewed because it is an on-line poll and let's face it. Those surfing the internet and taking such a poll are more likely to read and e-book than those who don't.

For another take on what happened in the publishing world this past year, check out Nathan Bransford's blog.

So, what do you see as having been the most important development in the industry this year? The most controversial? Do you agree with Jessica over at the Dystel & Goderich Literary Management blog that this has been the decade of Middle East in publishing or has it been the decade of Twilight? Finally, what do you see happening in the publishing world over the next year or two?


Kate said...

My guess is that "interesting times" will continue until at least one of the following emerges:
- a standard format used by all ebook sellers (the way mp3 has become the format of choice for music)
- readers that don't lock the user in to a specific store (this is on the way - there are at least 2 devices in late beta that theoretically could purchase direct from anything that sells epub format)
- general acceptance by the sellers that DRM is bad (again, similar to the way music has settled out)

Some things I would like to see (but I ain't holding my breath - 'smurf' is so not my color):
- The emergence of a peer-to-peer subscription service, similar to Napster incarnation 1 as it would have been if the RIAA had possessed brains and taken the proposal to charge a licensing fee and allow users to share a certain number of songs per month (sort of like the eMusic model on a peer to peer basis).
- No geographically limited ebook sales (and while we're at it, let's get rid of the stupid region encoding for DVDs, too). Let's face it, fans of Russian literature can be all over the world, and it's a bit difficult if they can only buy their particular obsession when they're physically in a certain country
- EBook publishers gaining acceptance as viable and even (shock!) prestigious publishing choices. If romance ebooks can earn their authors amounts we in the SFF community can only boggle at, I'd say the romance ebook publishers are doing something right.

I shall now turn my brain off, such as it is, and try to secure the buttons on my winter coat properly, because no-one does buttons right and they always start coming off within days of purchase.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Lots of interesting links, Amanda.

What do you do all week, surf the web???

Amanda Green said...

Kate, I think the term "when Hell freezes over" unfortunately applies to a couple of your scenarios. Namely, the general acceptance by sellers that DRM is bad -- that is going to take a swift hit up the side of more than a few heads -- and the adoption of peer-to-peer subscriptions ala Napster 1 and the doing away with geographic sales restrictions. But you are right, interesting times will continue for the foreseeable future.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, actually there are about 6 blogs I follow pretty regularly. They are my morning reading as I'm pumping coffee into my system so I can function. From these blogs, and from the Kindle fora, I find a lot of the links I post in the blog. Also, I'm a news junkie and some of my links come from stories I've read or seen. I guess a lot of it is that, as I try to break into this business, I want to know what I'm up against and the best way to do that is to know what's going on not only out in front but behind the scenes as well.

Brendan said...

I am not altogether adverse to region specific sales, mainly for translation or regional spelling purposes. Of course if a publisher is willing to run the copy through a AUS/UK dictionary before putting it up for sale I would be just as happy(or vice-versa).

Kate said...


As an Australian (currently living in the US) I have never had any issues with US spelling in US books. Why should that be any different for eBooks bought from US sites?

Of course, I was generally regarded as the walking talking dictionary, so maybe my perspective is a wee bit skewed there.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, I think we might, in the future, see things like that happening. However, as long as contracts include things like "foreign rights", I don't expect we'll see world-wide distro of e-books.

This is an issue that gets a lot of face time on the Kindle Boards over at Amazon. I haven't checked the boards at the other e-sellers yet, but suspect they face the same problems the overseas Kindle owners do. Not all books offered in the US are offered there. If they are, there is a higher price often for the e-book as well as VAT to be applied. What these who complain about it don't seem to understand is that it isn't Amazon saying which e-books can and can't be sold overseas. It's the publishing contract. Nor do they understand we in the States face the same issue. There are books available in OZ or Europe or Asia that aren't available here or are cost-prohibitive.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, I thought we'd agreed, your perspective is a lot skewed. That's what makes you a writer ;-p

Actually, I don't have a problem with different spellings of words or different words for items. I know what a boot is when it comes to a car as well as lift and lorry. I think a lot of it comes from reading authors and periodicals from around the world.

But then, maybe that's what makes me weird -- and a writer ;-)

Dave Freer said...

and here to add to your collection of interesting times I here Random House is now trying to assert that it already owns electronic rights for all older works that do not mention them in their contracts. Their basis for this claim rests on phrases in those contracts like "in book form" or "in all editions.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, I read that the other day and had to wonder what world they live on. Author's Guild has already come out against it and there's talk of litigation from both sides. The main gist of what I've seen is that RH is going to be up the creek without a proverbial paddle unless they sweeten the pot for those authors/estates whose e-rights they are trying to claim.

Brendan said...


I have a lot of US pulp in my shelves and I understand it is from the US and things aren't always going to be "the Australian way" but I also don't think it hurts to encourage publications being sold to the Australian market to meet Australian standards and conventions. Now I am not saying here that we should be changing brownies(the sweet) to lamingtons or changing things that affects the integrity of the writing in any respect, but running a spell checker and changing the 'or's to 'our's etc should be fairly uncontroversial.

It may of course be too late, seeing as the last David Brin book "Kiln People" I got says it is a UK edition but the US spelling was kept through-out.

Sometimes the author has reasons for doing what they do and Tad Williams in his Otherland books used the regional spelling of his various characters at least in their speech, including soliloquies. I was frankly stunned when one of the Australian characters mentioned "Mum", seeing as all the US characters had been using "Mom" and "Mommy" etc up to that point.

Another author I know takes the time herself to correct her copy for the US and UK markets before sending them off so I know respect for regional differences isn't dead. I am chuffed when an author or publisher does this as they in fact saying, "I respect you and your conventions and I will go to the effort to see that my work conforms to those conventions as much as I can."

Dave Freer said...

I have a feeling they may be up a certain creek and that's why. Look for the better part of a century -from what I can gather, and maybe longer, the publishing industry's response to tough times (by their measure of tough, which is a long way from author tough - where actual starvation is recorded) has bee to screw the copyright holders - the easiest and most isolated part of the sytem for further 'savings'. I hope it backfires on them.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, I understand what you're saying but I think there's a financial impact that the publishers have to look at as well. To change the spellings on a few words will require an additional layer of copy edits and then resetting the text. Also, I find myself wondering if the publishers are also looking at which region is the biggest seller for them and, unless the contracts say otherwise, often opt to use the spelling,usage of where they anticipate their most sales will occur.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, you and me both. Nothing -- much -- against most publishers, but with the way technology has changed, they have to realize publishers are going to be forced to recognize they are no longer the only way for an author to get his work out to the public. This latest grab for rights is just another indication of how scared the publishers are. Instead of trying to screw the writers and their estates, they ought to be scrambling to find a workable business plan for the current age.

Brendan said...

Amanda, some extra copy editing I understand, but how much of an issue is text re-setting in the electronic era? Especially with e-books where formatting is fluid in any case since users can resize or even change fonts to suit their needs.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, I didn't say it made sense. Any more than it makes sense for the publishers to say it is no less expensive to put out an e-book than it is a hard copy. However, as for the copy edit issue, it can be a big deal since publishers don't spend the time or money on copy editing they once did (at least it seems that way to me considering the dreadful quality of proofing I see in more and more books these days). Basically, they aren't going to do anything that costs them one penny more right now, imho.