Publishers In Denial About E Book Revolution

I remember the days not long ago when one of my favorite pasttimes was browsing the racks of music stores. I not only enjoyed the music but I loved the process of the hunt for new CDs.
Then the technology came along where I could load my CDs and burn my own CD mixes for playing in my car or on my portable CD player when I was running outside or on a treadmill. Wow, burning my own CDs–how could it get better than that?
It did.
I bought my first iPod which I could fit into the pocket of my running shorts which contained hundreds of songs. I then discovered ITunes and began downloading music. Then I reached one conclusion–I needed a bigger iPod. Now I had one small one to play music while I was working out and a bigger one to play in my car or home. All of my favorite music could fit in my shirt pocket.
I found that in the process of downloading music I discovered new bands and new types of music. The shelves were never empty at ITunes and the CD or song I was looking for was never out of stock
Then I found there was really no point to browsing the music stores. My visits to places like Tower Records or the wonderful Music Millenium store in Portland, Oregon became less and less frequent.
Soon those record stores starting disappearing. So did the CDs which lined the several shelves in my home. Why do I need CDs? I NEVER just play a CD. If I wanted to hear an album by an artist I could just switch to the album mode on my iPod. I finally let go of the security blanket or having the CDs on the bookshelf at home. I had horded them like they were an endangered species that I must preserve for future generations.
Then I realized the folly of having stacks of CDs from the past that will never be played again.
About a year ago when my second novel “Expiation” was published I got a call from my daughter who told me “I’ve been listening to ‘Expiation’ as I drive to work and back each day.
“Really?” I didn’t remember anyone making an audio version of my novel. “How are you doing that I asked?”
She informed me that she has “Expiation” loaded on her Kindle and uses the voice reading feature on her Kindle and listens to my book being read to her through the car stereo system.
Oh yeah. Is it a female voice or male voice? She said she switched it to a male voice since “Expiation” is written in first person and narrated by the main male character.
No way!
I noticed Kindle sales of my books starting to show up on royalty statements from my publisher.
I attended the LA Festival of Books for a book signing and there was lots of talk about e books. Suddenly, everyone was talkikng about e books.
Things seemed to be changing.
On Christmas morning, 2010, there were two Kindles under my Christmas tree–one for me and one for my techno-phobe wife. I was dragging her into the new world whether she wanted to go or not.
Since Christmas I’ve read six novels. I got into a frenzy of downloading on Christmas day. My Visa card company called me on December 26th checking “an unusual amount” of activity with purchases from Amazon. Well, yeah, guilty as charged.
I have the New York Times Book Review, the Seattle Times and the San Francisco Chronicle delivered each morning to my Kindle for my reading pleasure. I’m also revisiting classics like Crime and Punishment, which I’m reading now. Suddenly I’m starting to wonder why I have all of these bookshelves in my house. I’ve haven’t browsed a bookstore since the first of the year.
I even noticed my wife reading her Kindle in bed with an adjustment made for a larger font so she doesn’t have to wear her glasses. On our nightstands where there used to be stacks of books are now Kindles.
Hmmm. This is a familiar pattern.
I confess sometimes I like to listen to my two novels being read on Kindle.
Follow the Amazon link on this page and you can be reading my novels “Expiation” and “Sunbreaks” in moments on your Kindle. I hope you enjoy reading them…or listening to them.

The evidence continues to mount as reported by Fortune magazine’s Daniel Roberts.
At the annual BookExpo America this week, booksellers voiced mixed feelings about the news that Amazon’s Kindle book sales have surpassed print, and some said they simply don’t believe it at all.

By Daniel Roberts, reporter

FORTUNE — New York’s Javits Center was a crowded, noisy hothouse of handshaking and book signing this week at BookExpo America. Every publisher and imprint was there with marketing reps, editors, and authors on hand. The mood was positive and, judging from the tote bags full of paper-and-ink galleys, you wouldn’t have known that e-book sales had recently overcome print book sales at Amazon.

“Well, there was a time when paperbacks surpassed hardcovers. And when television overcame radio,” reasons Catherine Tice, associate publisher of the New York Review of Books magazine. “There will also be a time when iPad sales surpass Kindle sales. Shifts will continue.”

That makes sense, but what about a time when consumers follow the lead of their e-books and go digital, leading Amazon to cause the extinction of brick-and-mortar bookstores? Will that time come, and are bookstore owners worried?

“I think some portion of the market will get lost to e-reading, yes, but literary fiction will still do well in print,” says Christine Onorati, the owner of WORD bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “People find books, especially commercial fiction like James Patterson’s, so much easier to just download. Is it disheartening? Yes, in the same way that it is when people go buy a book at Costco. But we’re not against e-books at all.”

Indeed, WORD sells e-books on its web site through Google (GOOG) Books, which you can read on your iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Nook, or Sony (SNY) reader. The drawback? “[Google e-books] just don’t play nice with a Kindle, because that’s proprietary to Amazon,” she explains, before adding of the Kindle sales news: “I don’t believe a thing Amazon says anyway.”

That opinion was echoed a few times. A rep from Princeton University Press, when asked his opinion on the news, said, “I’d like to see the numbers.”

But Faye Landes of Consumer Edge Research says Amazon’s (AMZN) news was true indeed — she tracks their sales data. “No one here wants to say this is bad for their business,” she says of the publishers seemingly in denial. “It’s good news for Amazon, but if people buy all their books on Amazon, for Kindle, they aren’t going to spend at bookstores anymore.”

Onorati says that WORD is doing quite well, and that with Borders going out of business and the possible dire future for big chain stores, small independent book shops have actually thrived. At the expo, she was hanging out with Emma Straub, herself a bookseller at BookCourt in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and also author of the well-received new story collection Other People We Married. Straub doesn’t seem thrilled with Amazon’s news but does say the move toward everything ‘e’ in the lit world is unsurprising, as more authors flock to Twitter, for example, and adjust to reader interaction on the Web.

The e-book business model

But neither woman owns a Kindle, and both say that if they were to get an e-reader (Onorati does have an iPad) it would not be a Kindle, since they want the freedom to buy e-books from places other than Amazon. That common complaint may not be slowing the Kindle down too much. In a Consumer Edge Research study that surveyed a group of 300 people who all buy and read e-books, 138 of them said they do so exclusively on a Kindle. That number for the Nook from Barnes and Noble (BKS) was 28.

The real potential problem with Kindle e-books pushing print books off the mountain is profitability, Landes says. Higher sales of e-books doesn’t have to mean books will die. People are still reading, at least. But everyone involved makes less money from the sale of an e-book, though she acknowledges that there is the potential for a happy ending: “There are indications that people will buy both e-books and print books, because the type of people who have a Kindle are readers.”

Amazon also recently announced that it will launch its own general interest trade publishing imprint, for which it has poached Larry Kirshbaum, formerly of Hachette, to run. This news had some people at Book Expo further aggrieved.

A May 9, 2011 report from Consumer Edge Research explains: “Amazon is already the second-biggest player in physical books in the U.S. and the biggest player in e-books. An aggressive move into book publishing will likely enhance and consolidate the company’s power. We expect to hear a lot of bellyaching from traditional book publishers, who already in many cases resent Amazon’s power.”

Business publishers are less concerned. “We’re seeing a migration to digital, but that’s okay,” says Mary Dolan, sales director for Harvard Business Review Press. “It makes sense that the industry is going in this direction. For us, our audience is affluent, educated, mobile, and tech-savvy; we want to be where our readers are.”

And John Helmus, of Wiley & Sons’ business imprint, approaches the news from a bottom-line point of view: “We’re all looking at this as another opportunity,” he said. “That’s the only way you can look at it.”


About gregmessel

I've written six novels and am working on a seventh. My first three novels were "Expiation," "Sunbreaks" and "The Illusion of Certainty." I'm now working on a series of mysteries set in San Francisco in the 1950s. In 2008, I retired from corporate life and so I can spend more time writing. I spent over ten years in the newspaper business. I now live on Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, just north of downtown Seattle.
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2 Responses to Publishers In Denial About E Book Revolution

  1. Derek Haines says:

    Great article. The only difference with the ebook revolution compared to what happened with digital music is that it has been quick, clean and (almost) bloodless. I think everyone concerned is resigned to the change and are now looking for new business models to adapt. I can only say as an author, that I’m selling more books now than a year ago. Albeit ebooks at a reduced price, but the increased volume makes up for the reduced royalty per copy.

    A few years ago I recall the cry that no one was reading anymore. Well, that can’t be said to be true anymore.

    • gregmessel says:

      Thanks Derek. I agree. I think it actually offers a new opportunity for author’s especially indie ones. I am getting ready to launch my new book and it will focus on ebook customers.

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