Many of publishing’s big developments from 2011 will continue to shape the industry in 2012. So with that in mind, here’s a look at five of the most important lessons from last 12 months.
Amazon is, indeed, a disruptive publishing competitor
If it wasn’t apparent before, Amazon’s publishing intentions became plainly obvious this year. The wave started out small, with a host of expanding self-publishing tools for authors, but it grew to tsunami proportions as Amazon launched imprint after imprint, from romance to science fiction. Amazon also hired industry heavy-hitter Larry Kirshbaum, who “is charged with building something that will look like a general trade publisher.‘”
Some of Amazon’s publishing projects.
Amazon further extended its reach into publishing when it launched the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. The ebook lending waters already were murky and contentious for publishers — HarperCollins instigated a memorable dustup, as did Penguin — but Amazon’s move into the space caused a full-fledged uproar among publishers as well as authors, and may have damaged the publisher-library relationship further.
As Amazon stated in its press release, “For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee.” So no matter how popular (or unpopular) the publisher’s titles are, they get one flat fee for participation in the library. I strongly believe this type of program needs to compensate publishers and authors on a usage level, not a flat fee. The more a title is borrowed, the higher the fee to the publisher and author. Period.
And Amazon may be encroaching on feature magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker as well. In a sign of possible things to come, freelance journalist Marc Herman took his long-form story, “The Shores of Tripoli,” and expanded it into a $1.99 Kindle Single. According to his blog, he has plans to expand on the model, which would further sideline traditional publishing avenues.
Publishers aren’t necessary to publishing
Authors have figured out they don’t need publishers to publish books. The self-publishing book market saw quite a boom this year as the publishing format started becoming more mainstream and the services offered by self-publishing companies became more comprehensive — providing authors with platforms, sales, marketing, editing, etc.
Amazon has a role in this boom as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Amazon.com Inc. fueled the growth [in self-publishing] by offering self-published writers as much as 70% of revenue on digital books, depending on the retail price. By comparison, traditional publishers typically pay their authors 25% of net digital sales and even less on print books.”
Another trend emerged this year to further sideline the publisher’s role: the rise of the agent-publisher. This controversial and contentious business model allows agents to step in to provide expanded publishing services to authors. In an interview, Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser explained that the new agent-publisher role emerged because of failings on the part of traditional publishers: “Traditional publishers need to not only rethink how they sell their value to authors and agents, but they also need to rethink the economic structure of their deals.” Krozser also expressed concerns that the agent-publisher role carries a conflict of interest — see her interview here.
Readers sure do like ebooks
There good news is that people are still reading and they’re embracing the digital transformation. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released a report in November that showed that readers are solidly committing to digital books. A couple highlights from the report:
- Power buyers are spending more. More than 46% of those who say they acquire e-books at least weekly … report that they have increased their dollars spent for books in all formats, compared with 30.4% of all survey respondents.
- “… nearly 50% of print book consumers who have also acquired an e-book in the past 18 months would wait up to three months for the e-version of a book from a favorite author, rather than immediately read it in print.”
Though the new Kindle Fire is selling at a loss, Amazon reported that it is selling Kindles at a clip of “well over one million Kindle devices per week” — at least for the three weeks following Black Friday. Amazon hasn’t disclosed the total number of devices it has sold, but one analyst estimates the sales to be 8% of total revenues in 2011 and predicts that amount will rise to 9.9% in 2012. So … a lot of Kindles. Combine those numbers (vague as they might be) with the 40 million iPads sold, and the conclusion is clear: ereading is now mainstream.
HTML5 is an important publishing technology
HTML5 entered the publishing space in a big way this year — some calling it the “future of digital publishing.” From storage to multimedia to content behavior (think shaking the iPhone or automatically sizing for different screen sizes) to geolocation to a host of other interactive features, HTML5 has squared itself up to become an important player in the industry. Amazon (mostly) embraced it in its Kindle Format 8, and HTML5 is supported in EPUB3.
HTML5 is platform agnostic and may even be able to save — or make — publishers money. In an interview early in the year, Google’s Marcin Wichary explained:
It’s very important to recognize that HTML5 fits all the devices you can think of, from the iPhone in your pocket to Google TV to the tablets to small screens and big screens. It’s very easy to take the content you already have and through the “magic” of HTML5, refine it so it works very well within a given context. You don’t have to do your work over and over again. Of course, all of these different means come with different monetization opportunities, like ads on the web or on mobile devices.
You can view Wichary’s full interview below.
DRM is full of unintended consequences
It turns out DRM does more than provide publishers with a false sense of security — locking the content of books also locks those books into a platform (ahem, Kindle). This point was highlighted by author Charlie Stross in a November blog post in which he argued that DRM had become a strategic tool for Amazon:
… the big six’s pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder. DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you’re naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can’t read those locked Kindle ebooks — and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM … If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon’s monopoly position.
So, to recap, we’ve learned that DRM doesn’t stop anyone from pirating, nor does it come with the necessary data to support its impact. But it does give publishers one thing: a longer length of rope with which to hang themselves.