Dear Author

Monday Midday Links: Disintermediation and the valued supply links

Several people noticed that the comments to the controversial post of Christopher Navratil, the publisher of Running Press, over at Publishers’ Weekly had disappeared. I emailed and received a prompt response from PW. According to PW, this is a technical glitch site wide due to a change over in commenting systems:

I’m writing in response to your note to Jim Milliot about the comments on the Running Press Soapbox. We have not deleted the comments. We switched comments systems to a third-party solution last week. Doing so caused the old comments to stop displaying. We are now working to get them back up. We have not deleted them, we just need to figure out how to display them. Please be patient.

Thank you,
Craig Teicher
Senior Web Editor

Having run into my own problems, I can appreciate the challenge this will be.

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Joseph Esposito writes that disintermediation is occurring everywhere in publishing, not just between author – publisher – reader but also between publisher – retailer/library – reader. Disintermediation is the phrase used to describe what happens when an intermediary gets booted from the supply chain between the producer of a product and the end consumer. Libraries are a form of intermediary and publishers are always looking for a way to reduce the number of barriers to the consumer. Esposito writes that disintermediation has taken a long time to occur because each link in the supply stream has added value up today. Esposito’s article is fascinating and well worth the read, even if you don’t agree with everything he says. His long history in publishing provides valuable insight, particularly to a neophyte like me.

If there is an entity experiencing disintermediation, then that entity has to recreate its value. Publishers, for example, have to sell themselves to authors as providing a value that the authors could not ordinarily (or easily) obtain. Random House was successful in its courting of HP Mallory and Macmillan in its acquisition of Amanda Hocking. However, putting out a sub par product may lead to questions of value by all parties.

Barnes & Noble is transforming itself into a digital company through the production and sale of the nook. Libraries are just another part of the supply chain that need to reinvent themselves. Take a look at this blog post by Jenica P. Rogers is Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam at how ill equipped she believes libraries are in reinjecting their value into publishing / reader ecosystem.

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Nathan Bransford writes about the “tragedy” of the 99c book and how the future of publishing will be to determine what is the optimal price point for each book. Bransford uses the term “price discovery” as it relates to Groupon and how it is using its service to discover what price individuals are willing to pay for differing products. Ideally, price discovery is used in conjunction with price discrimination. It is said that Amazon and other retailers engage in A/B testing of price. The idea is that you price two separate but similar products at differing prices and see whether the increase or decrease in price makes a difference in sales. Self published authors do that as well, moving their book prices from $.99 to $2.99 to see what, if any, increased revenue comes from the higher price, knowing that there may be a reduction of sales but also an increase in margin.

Bransford points out that self published authors are able to undercut traditional publishing prices to their benefit. But what if traditionally published books also are priced low. Is a reader going to spend their money on the lower priced traditionally published books or the self published books? Obviously it behooves self published authors to have a product that is indistinguishable in terms of cover, blurb, and presentation as the traditionally published author.

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Jeannie Lin posted a detailed summary of the session she led at RT Bookcamp. It’s worth a read. I think I’ve mentioned before that I enjoyed these group discussions so much because the opinions were so diverse but despite the differences, the conversations were respectful and robust. A couple of interesting points:

4. There are programs such as Worldreader.org which distribute books to developing nations through e-readers. So whereas in the U.S. print books are used for charity because distribution and printing is cheap, globally the use of e-readers can actually be a more economical solution because it negates printing, shipping & distribution costs.

5. Many teens are still reading print, but then going online to participate in fan forums where they can interact with other readers and do activities such as share fan fiction.

Each one of the points brought up could have been its own session and we really only skimmed the surface.

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A reader previously pointed out the documentary, Guilty Pleasures, that was originally released in the UK. The US release has occurred and Smart Bitches has an entire blog post on the documentary. I’d like to see the documentary myself, but I appreciate the in depth coverage provided by librarian Jennifer Lohmann.

Overall, I was left with the impression that Moggan had no desire to actually understand her subjects. She was an outsider looking inside a culture and she made a shallow effort to learn why Roger wrote a novel and Hiroko, Shumita, and Shirley read the novels but ultimately it was a superficial effort. She read hundreds of Mills & Boon, but I get the impression that she allowed them to confirm her stereotypes of the genre rather than opening herself up to a new understanding. Perhaps she is confusing understanding with endorsement and, in her effort to make sure she didn’t endorse the genre, she forgot to try and understand it.

You’ll have to read the rest of the post to find out what else Jennifer found to be of interest in the documentary. The part regarding the cover model was pretty fascinating. Our own Sarah F has a write up of it that we will post later in the week.

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According to the AAP numbers, ebooks have outsold paperbacks for the first time in February 2011. While this makes a great headline, the true meaning is greatly obscured. The AAP reports that ebook sales were $90.3 Million. The press release does not break out the numbers for Adult hardcover, trade, or mass market but merely lists the total as $156.8M. The print book sales data comes from 84 U.S. publishing houses where as the ebook data comes from 16 houses. The ebook sales are not broken down by category and presumably all the trade sales, both adult and ya, are included in the $90.3 million figure. The one metric that is reliable is that digital book buying is increasing but not at the same rate print book buying is decreasing.

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Some other numbers to ponder include Brian Murray’s statements at the London Book Fair as reported by the Bookseller:

Brian Murray said the number of US e-readers—grown from 15m a year ago to 40m today—was having a disproportionately large effect on the market because they had reached “core” readers, those buying over 12 books a year. He said: “Some of the heaviest book buyers no longer visit bookstores.” He said some e-books had a 50% share of total sales during the first few months, a “watershed” for the trade.