Kindle and Waterstones have consciously uncoupled. Yesterday it was announced that Britain’s largest bricks and mortar book retailer is to end its era of stocking and selling e-readers. Cue a book commentariat awash with cries that this proves we are entering the swan song of the dedicated e-reader.
Category Archives: Digital
Rufus is Editor, New Writing at Curtis Brown Creative. A former travel, food and lifestyle journalist, Rufus’s work has been published in The Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The Financial Times, Condé Nast Traveller and The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, among others.
When you stop working for a large corporate and start rubbing shoulders with entrepreneurs and VCs, and talk about launching your own venture, part of you thinks how institutionalised your business brain must appear, how risk averse your attitude compared to the serial gamblers, because you have to be something of a driven maverick to make and lose millions. But you forget at your peril that in any sector, some experience and knowledge of what might stand a chance of working is at least useful. Which is why we cheered when Dan Kieran from Unbound said last year in an interview “ Publishing is really hard…there isn’t a technical thing we’ve all forgotten.”
The Amulet of Sleep is the opening book in the Iskìda of the Land of Nurak trilogy, a series of epic fantasy novels for YA readers. Already award-winning in Italy, Andrea Atzori’s home country, the books look set to join the booming market for genre fiction. Having found success after publishing traditionally in Italian, Atzori turned his sights internationally. He saw the UK’s ever-increasing appetite for magical fiction as the perfect fit for his venture into independent, foreign self-publishing. Available this month from Kobo, The Amulet of Sleep will not disappoint fantasy fans of all ages.
So we are looking at tweaking our website as quite a lot has happened in the year or so since it went live, and one of our Californian contacts has said (and I quote),
The word content makes me want to shudder”.
Dear God, it has taken publishers years to become comfortable with the c word. What are we supposed to call it now?
Book Army was based on sound strategic logic. At a time when publishers would think nothing of spending multiple six figure sums on new company websites, but few consumers could identify the logo on the spine of the book they were currently reading, a UK-based social networking site for book lovers felt a more relevant way to drive consumer purchasing and ad revenue. And Book Army was publisher agnostic. If you wanted to recommend a book not published by HarperCollins, so be it. It was a soft rather than a hard sell.
Authonomy, on the other hand, was born to solve an editorial conundrum. Surely it was counterintuitive to declare on a publisher’s website that it did not accept unsolicited manuscripts? It effectively sent out the signal that a publisher did not believe it had the innate ability to discern what should be commissioned, and that somehow it needed agents to filter the slush pile for them. So one editor came up with the idea of crowdsourcing submissions through a site, which allowed writers to upload a manuscript and submit it for peer review.
But five years is a long time in publishing. After half a decade, which one worked and which one fell flat on its face?
Book Army closed after two years. Just because it was a good, strategically sound idea (as Goodreads would show) didn’t mean you could force it to work. In retrospect, a publisher was in some ways in the worst place to start up an initiative like that. There were too many other strategic objectives in play. Authonomy, however, is still going strong. It was, at the time, a unique solution to a problem that helped define the organisation. It grew organically into something that created top-ten bestsellers and an ad revenue stream.
At the time, the publisher’s digital team was more centralised than it is today. Authonomy was probably seen as too niche to make money. Book Army was a much bigger potential play. But maybe that’s the point. Trade publishers take for granted the things they have always been able to do: to help find entertaining content that lots and lots of people will enjoy. You can’t force a publisher to be a social network recommendation engine. But you can enhance the ability to publish what people want to read.
[intro]Jeff Belle joined Amazon in 2002, subsequently becoming Vice-President of the company’s publishing unit, Amazon Publishing. The unit now incorporates 12 imprints, the latest addition of which, Jet City Comics, was announced in July.[/intro]
Amazon was already a very well established book retailer when Amazon publishing took off. What are the most significant ways that this has influenced how the publishing wing has developed?
Our first imprint, AmazonEncore, was launched with the purpose of bringing more attention to extraordinary, previously published, overlooked books from emerging authors. This was a direct result of the high-quality books we were seeing from authors in our Kindle Direct Publishing program (KDP). Our second imprint, AmazonCrossing, was launched so that more readers would have access to books from around the world that had never been available to an English language audience. We are fortunate to have a wealth of data from our bookstores around the world that helps us identify overlooked, but deserving candidates for translation. From there we looked to the categories most popular with our Kindle customers like romance, thrillers and mysteries, and science fiction/fantasy to see how we might better serve them, which resulted in the creation of our own group of commercial fiction imprints: first Montlake Romance, then Thomas & Mercer and 47North. Most recently we’ve launched Jet City Comics and look forward to delighting comic fans and working with our authors to create adaptation of their books for this medium.
How would you differentiate what Amazon Publishing offers authors compared to traditional publishers?
We are committed to an author-centric publishing model that also serves as a kind of in-house laboratory dedicated to innovating and experimenting with new publishing models. We’re looking for authors who want to experiment with us. Authors are our customers and we are constantly working on their behalf to make their experience with us the best it can be. Examples of this include things like paying higher royalties, paying royalties monthly instead of twice-a-year, launching the Kindle Singles and Kindle Serials formats, creating Kindle Worlds, inclusion in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and more to come…
How does Amazon publishing view working with external freelance specialists? Should freelancers see it as an opportunity?
We work with a variety of very talented freelancers in areas including production, design, promotion and translation – we want to build as flexible as organisation as we can, so we are scaling these functions in-house as well as build a broad network of great freelance talent as well. In the four years since launch, we have added nearly 5,000 titles to our list, and we couldn’t have done this without a strong network of freelancers.
Do the fact that physical book sales are declining everywhere mean that cover design is less important?
Actually, I think it’s more important now. All online and digital shelves are face-out. In any format, the cover of a book should capture a reader’s attention and make it stand out as something they want to know more about. Our hope is that our covers will draw readers in wherever they first discover it— be it on our retail site, on a Kindle device, or in a bookstore. In digital, it’s more important than ever to design covers that will render across multiple device displays – in eInk and on color tablets and phones – as well as on the printed book.
There is currently much debate over the perceived over-reliance on free e-books for marketing purposes, with some suggesting that this is devaluing long form content. Where do you stand on this issue?
We know that Kindle owners buy more books now than they did before they owned a Kindle, so on the whole I don’t see this as an actual problem. Distributing galleys and Advance Reader Copies free of charge for promotional purposes is something that publishers have always done to help bring attention to the books they publish. It’s much easier, of course, to distribute free copies digitally, but it’s still difficult to connect and engage with the reader. Readers want to discover great stories, and our job is to help with the discoverability piece. Authors want to expand their audience and earn royalties. To best serve our authors and readers, we’ll continue to strike the right balance and also find more ways to help readers discover new work.
So, more hustling and pitching and waving our little whitefox tushes out there this week. Stressful, soul-sapping, exhilarating; a proverbial roller coaster. Great to remember it took four months and 60 meetings for Jeff Bezos to drum up the initial investment for Amazon. And even then, most of it came from his parents. Who asked him one question: “what’s the internet?”.