Industry & Advocacy News
December 18, 2014
A page one headline in the New York Times’ business section caught our eye this morning: “Amazon Not as Unstoppable as It Might Appear.” The article describes Amazon’s susceptibility to competition from start-ups in the retail sector. We’ve noticed a similar trend in the publishing industry. Now there are more—and more inventive—ways than ever to buy books without logging in to Amazon. We’d like to highlight a few of them. In our view, the more ways there are to get our books to readers, the better things are for us all.
One of the major developments has been publishers’ experimentation with selling directly. Last week Hachette rolled out a new sales program, letting readers purchase select titles from the publisher by clicking a “buy” button embedded in an author’s Twitter message. The program pairs books with limited edition collectibles: it began last Thursday when Amanda Palmer announced in a tweet that the first 100 people to buy her new release, The Art of Asking, would get a signed manuscript draft page. The program also includes astronaut Chad Hadfield’s book You Are Here—accompanied by an outer-space photograph of the Greek island of Corfu—and an offering from the satirical paper The Onion. So far, these are the only books slated for inclusion in the program.
While most major publishers sell directly nowadays, HarperCollins has distinguished itself by sweetening the deal for authors. In October, HarperCollins launched an e-commerce platform that lets readers buy books straight from its web page—sans bookstore, sans Internet retail giant. Kudos to Harper for passing on some profit to authors when it cut out the middleman: writers who offer their books through the program receive an additional 10% net royalty on e-book, print and audio sales. This applies even when authors sell the books through their own web page.
Penguin is offering something new in its book recommendation resource, The Penguin Hotline, which gives holiday shoppers a personally-selected choice of books for anyone on their list. Readers can answer a few question and the Penguin staff gets back to them with selections in a day or two—no algorithm in sight.
These efforts are promising. We like to see publishers and authors working together to give readers something they can’t get from Amazon. To ensure we have robust book markets in the future, we need a diversity of distribution channels and booksellers, for both e-books and print. No element can be left out of the equation—not publishers, online bookstores or independent bookstores. The latter have seen a bump in traffic over the holidays due in part to Indies First, the innovative author participation campaign run by the American Booksellers Association.
Some 500 independent bookstores are also benefitting from a partnership with the e-reader maker Kobo, which offers its devices for sale in those stores, and also provides a way for readers give their favorite small bookshop a cut of the proceeds from the e-books they buy on their devices.
It’s good to see things being shaken up in the bookselling world. A market with one dominant seller is a fuse waiting for a match. Meanwhile, we’re doing our part and buying plenty of books this holiday season, and we’re buying them in such an impressive variety of ways.