The Ebook Market + Big Five Survival [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I curate new smart reads about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams


“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams

Has Everyone Conceded the U.S. E-Book Market to Amazon? by Jane Litte at Dear Author

Amazon Kindle, which already comprises 50-70% of the U.S. ebook by most estimates, may soon increase that share dramatically, due to lack of competition. Both Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Kobo have reduced their marketing resources and/or commitment to the U.S. market. As Litte explains, that leaves Google and Apple iBooks, the latter of which is only available to Mac/iOS users.

Questions raised:

  • If Amazon increases its dominance in the ebook market, as expected, will they ultimately reduce royalties to Amazon KDP authors, as they’ve done through their audiobook division? How much will profitability of authors be affected?
  • If Amazon gains more market share than they already have, how will this affect book discoverability and sales for the overall book industry , especially if they prioritize their own publishing imprints?
  • Can and will another worthy competitor arise in the next few years?

Everybody Wants a Netflix for Books by Joseph Esposito

E-book subscription services have been getting a lot of attention in recent months. You may have heard about some of the start-ups: Oyster is among the most high-profile and recent launches, while Scribd has been around a lot longer.

Publishing industry vet and consultant Joseph Esposito writes an insightful post that reminds us that the Netflix streaming service is not a true all-you-can-eat or comprehensive model. It does not offer some of the most popular shows (Game of Thrones, for instance), and there are huge gaps in its offerings, unlike its DVD service. Esposito has very firm conclusions, which I’ll let you read yourself.

Questions raised:

  • Most publishers/authors/agents do not see the benefit to having their books included in subscription services, thus the services aren’t truly comprehensive, which would help them attract subscribers. Under what conditions could these subscription services become attractive enough that successful authors/publishers/agents want to play?
  • How can these services survive in the long term, considering they currently have to bet on the “gym membership” model to remain profitable? (Users have to read fewer books if their monthly fee is to cover the royalties paid to publishers/authors.)

You can read more from the agent perspective on these services at the AAR blog, by Brian DeFiore.

What Penguin Random House Isn’t Doing by Philip Jones

The FutureBook blog (run by The Bookseller magazine, based in the UK) reports that Penguin-Random House UK is not doing many of the things advocated for publishers nowadays, such as selling direct to readers or rebranding itself. (PRH has more than 50 imprints in the UK.) But, he says, they also seem to be doing just fine without transforming their business. “This is a collection of businesses that was never broke, and not in need of a fix,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Mike Shatzkin, a U.S.-based publishing expert, emphasizes (and points to articles that show) that Penguin-Random House has made moves to become a consumer-focused publisher, trying to build a direct relationship with readers. He then discusses, big picture, the challenge of every publisher with dozens of imprints that hold little to no weight with the consumer:

Each major house should pick one name that is an umbrella. It goes on every book to establish the company as a major source of quality literature, enjoyable reading, and book-packaged information. Trying to target more precisely than that should be the job of the “imprint” brand under the umbrella brand. And that brand should be vertical, identifying subject or audience.

Basically, we’re talking about an enormous rebranding effort, with the potential dissolution of many imprint names, and a tighter, more explicit connection between imprint and target market. Think of Harlequin; you probably just pictured a romance novel. That’s the goal. Now, think Tarcher. Did an image come to mind? Probably not. (It’s one of the many imprints of Penguin in the U.S.)

Questions raised:

  • How much will the Big Five restructure to make their imprints more consumer-driven? And how quickly?
  • If the Big Five don’t get more “vertical” (focused and targeted) with their imprints, how big is the risk?
  • How essential is it for the Big Five (and all publishers) to sell direct to readers for long-term survival?

What questions would you add?

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