Ether for Authors: Data Deluge

In What's the Buzz by Porter Anderson


Table of Contents

  1. Data Deluge – Books & Consumers
  2. Data tutti – IfBookThen
  3. New Data From Bologna – TOCBologna
  4. Data Detan­gled – Berlin’s Monitor
  5. Aim at Foot, Pull Trigger, Google
  6. Peer­ing at Piracy – Simon & Schuster
  7. Stan­dards. What, in Publishing?
  8. Con­fer­ences in the Offing
  9. Last Gas: Le papier ne sera jamais mort

Data Deluge – Books & Consumers

The emergence of the e-book has had a predictable impact on channels to market; with physical bookshops slow to find a viable way to be involved in the supply chain, e-tailers have had it all their own way and now account for nearly 100% of all e-book purchasing. But there has been another, less well-publicised impact too; if you buy your digital books from Amazon, you are increasingly likely to purchase your print books there as well.

Yes, it’s springtime for Bowker.

The research arm of the company is reporting facts and figures on publishing at everything that even remotely looks like a conference. A winter spent crunching survey results has produced a torrent of new numbers. Living room Tupperware parties could probably book a Bowker expert with PowerPoint slides these days.

Pay enough attention to the flying facts and figures and you need nothing so much as an authoritative voice cutting through the charts and graphs with the compassion of a statistician who cares about books.

Jo Henry

That would be Jo Henry, Director of Bowker Market Research.

In the kind of cleanly written, smart synthesis of survey results I wish we had more frequently, her commentary Discovery channel hits The Bookseller’s blogs page with an artfully informed case for the UK’s beleaguered bookshops:

High street booksellers punch above their weight in the value of each book that they sell, with adult non-fiction being bought for around 20% more in bookshops, children’s books at around 25% more, and adult fiction at a whopping 50% more than books bought through online channels. They also account for nearly half of all books sold at full price and are of particular importance to the children’s market, with 41% of all purchases in this category going through high street booksellers, worth some £183m.

Henry’s comments follow Bowker’s presentation at its half-day Books & Consumers Conference in London.

Roger Tagholm

As Publishing Perspectives’ Roger Tagholm writes in UK Book Buyers Spend Less, But Still Loyal to Print, survey results saw UK book sales go up from 288 million books in 2011 to 296 million books in 2012. Tagholm:

Of these, some 11% — around 32.5 million — were ebooks, with consumers spending £125 million ($188.7 million) on this format, more than double the figure for the previous year.

  And from Enders Analysis comes Why bookshops matter, a logically stepped argument posted at The Bookseller by COO Douglas McCabe. Here’s an excerpt, as chilly as the northern spring:

We estimate that when a bookshop closes about a third of its sales transfer to another bookshop. This means as much as two thirds of sales disappear. Some of this spend doubtless migrates online; but much of it vanishes from the book sector entirely.

McCabe puts it more plainly:

We strongly argue that the single most effective technique for dismantling the physical book sector would be to accelerate the closure of bookshops.

Douglas McCabe

And then he puts it even more plainly:

There is almost nothing that can be done to sustain the health of the network of bookshops that should be collectively considered too extravagant. Without bookshops, publishing would have to rethink its model at every level; and the role of general books and reading would be rewritten forever.

 

From the States, here’s a particularly troubling sideline to that last comment. Making us remember Foyles chief Sam Husain’s call earlier this year for more publisher support for bookstores, we now read Leslie Kaufman at the New York Times, in Orders Cut, as Publisher and Retailer Quarrel. She writes:

A standoff over financial terms has prompted the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble to cut back substantially on the number of titles it orders from the publishing house Simon & Schuster, raising fears among other publishers, agents and authors that the conflict may harm the publishing industry as a whole.

Leslie Kaufman

Kaufman cites unnamed sources apprised of the issue telling her:

Barnes & Noble believes that because its physical display space is so important to publishers, and because it is the last major retail chain remaining, publishers should be doing more to support it.

While Barnes & Noble won’t comment on widespread allegations of “reduced Simon & Schuster books as leverage,” Kaufman writes:

Simon & Schuster editors, as well as agents and writers who work with them, are apoplectic on the subject, since Barnes & Noble accounts for about 20 percent of consumer book spending and is a main conduit for publicizing new releases.

“Apoplectic,” she writes. Found in a straight news report at the Times, this is a strong word, one of those terms fondly misused by one’s mother when the cat goes missing for an hour. It means “extremely enraged,” Merriam-Webster tells us.  And Kaufman comes the closest to making good on the phrase when she quotes agent Simon Lipskar, never one to run from apoplexy, saying:

“Without pointing fingers, authors are being hurt by this, and I think it is despicable.”

And yet, we’ve barely started our pilgrimage to data-stations of the springtime cross, Ethernaut. We’ll be back with more from Bowker shortly. Stagger on…     Back to Table of Contents

 

Data tutti – IfBookThen

Edward Nawotka

Bowker isn’t alone, of course, in defrosting the discoveries of the pollsters.

According to data presented yesterday at the IfBookThen conference in Milan by David Walter, Research and Development Analyst for Nielsen BookScan, book sales around the world are in general decline.

This is Publishing Perspectives Editor-in-Chief Edward Nawotka, revisiting a spate of figures that gave him the single most-retweeted message out of Milan:

And in There’s a General Global Decline in Book Sales, Why?, Nawotka notes that Nielsen’s data in the UK (book sales down 3.4%) correspond to what Bowker is seeing. This isn’t just an interpretive concept, in other words. Multiple top-grade studies are showing a broad-scale downturn in book buying. A part of Tagholm’s report from the London conference, which Nawotka references, makes it all too clear how steep a decline we’re seeing in the UK. Writes Tagholm:

This is the fifth year in a row that the amount spent on books has declined, with the 2012 figure being some £245 million ($370 million) less than in 2008. Have publishers’ and booksellers’ costs declined by an equivalent amount in these five years to compensate?

And Nawotka asks:

Certainly in Spain and Italy, you can blame the recession. But the US claims its economy is in recovery. So what’s going on?

Well, never fear. While we’re not yet getting good answers to the question of worldwide slowing sales—I’ll just yell out my own drive-by guess: competition for reading from Angry Birds and other entertainments of their highly mobile feather — the good Bowkerites have been laboring in yet another conference setting with much more detail on buying patterns. Trundle on…

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New Data From Bologna – TOCBologna

Kristen McLean

Back to Bowker, this time in Italy where O’Reilly Media Tools of Change has just staged its annual TOC Bologna Conference, focusing on the children’s market.

Here’s your big chance to fully immerse yourself in all the data you can handle, courtesy of Bowker’s James Howitt and Bookigee’s Kristen McLean.

They’ve made available their entire 52 slide presentation, which McLean delivered at Sunday’s event.

I warn you, this excellent presentation, titled Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, may keep you awake in speculation if you start looking at it too late at night.

For example, one slide on YA literature shows 80 percent of YA buyers aged 30 to 44 buying those books for themselves. In the 45-to-54-years age group, 78 percent say they’re buying YA books for themselves. In the 55-to-64-years age group, 67 percent of YA buyers surveyed say they’re buying those YA books for themselves.

I’m thinking about 64-year-old YA readers. They’re not buying those things for the grands, remember. They’re buying them for themselves. Not that we’re not grateful for each and every sale.

I’m sure many YA specialists have good theories about what’s behind a trend like this of substantially older readers buying young people’s books for themselves.

But think about the Bologna Children’s Book Fair itself, celebrating its 50th anniversary decked out, as these things always are, with graphics made to look like finger painting and lots of nursery-nifty colors. (Does no one ever get tired of such gratuitous commercial evocations of the young person’s world?) And now we know that the majority of 30- to 64-year-olds buying YA are buying it for themselves?

Sorry, but if I run into a 60-something-year-old friend with a YA novel under her or his arm, I’m wondering what’s up with that.

Another very revealing section of the report, and less creepy, has to do with this seemingly stubborn resistance to ebooks among younger readers. McLean’s most memorable phrase from this year’s TOC Bologna may be “snapping back to print”—as in that may be just what teens are doing. But don’t try playing the DRM card on this one. In the three-year survey of reasons respondents cite for ebook resistance, “too many restrictions on re-using or swapping the content” holds steady and low in priority, the last two years at only 17%.

Of much more importance to the respondents? — the cost of buying an e-reading device, a preference for the experience of reading a physical book, and a 31% chunk of the surveyed sample saying they “don’t see a need” to read ebooks. One of the things I like about McLean’s work is that she’s good at including summation slides from time to time during a presentation.

She tells us at the end of the section on acquisition in this case, for instance, that she sees a drop in the influence of bookstores and libraries on buying decisions. What seems to be on the increase is the influence of friends and family, instead.

Likewise, in a section on teens, McLean summarizes a perception of books as having their own value, as opposed to other media. And girls, she says, “are outpacing boys in almost every area of media behavior.”

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Data Detan­gled – Berlin’s Monitor

Perhaps publishers will eventually become professionals in data analysis, if they aren’t already. Don’t underestimate publishers! The industry! the industry! has recognized and acknowledged the crucial role of data analysis — and my new venture will offer the necessary tools.

Sebastian Posth

Well, we can never accuse our good colleague Sebastian Posth of not knowing how to refer to the industry! the industry! In What Is A Trade Impact Factor? he follows his presentation at IfBookThen in Milan with an explication of his new Berlin-based startup Monitor, “a tool for sales and marketing data analysis designed for publishers and authors.” The Trade Impact Factor is the result of a kind of data centrifuge Posth wants to perform to spin out intelligence from data provided, and then received, both by retailers and publishers.

The Trade Impact Factor will be able to reflect all the mentions, reviews, posts, citations, likes, shares, lendings, streams, subscriptions, downloads and sales. And certainly, the Trade Impact Factor must be considered a proposal for a debate on data analysis, which hopefully will create some feedback…Be assured that it will be a quite interesting proposal.

And yes, he’s certainly right that if a central data-processing program of this kind can be stood on its feet, it’s automatically a “quite interesting proposal.” Here are slides from his Milan presentation:

The good Posth is inviting debate about the idea. And a trigger for that might lie in his write-up. Early on, he points out the derring-data of Amazon’s success:

Amazon, for example, can be considered the prototype of a successful, data-driven retailer in publishing exactly because of their radical focus on data analysis — and the actions that consequently follow it. Publishers can learn a lot from Amazon, although it might require a change in attitude, mentality and self-understanding, which is not always easy to achieve.

He’s certainly right on those points. But he may also be naming the vast data dimension least likely to belly-up to the bar of cooperative analysis. Amazon famously holds its data close to the corporate chest. This is its proprietary right and, seen happening in another industry, could even be deemed by publishers to be prudent. Whether Seattle can sit down with Berlin and trade sales records, surely, could prove one of the biggest questions for Posth’s Monitor.

In this network of publishing data, shops will provide sales trends and other data back to publishers, publishers will provide data on the “trade impact” of their titles to shops, so that retailers will be able to compare title sales on their own platform with the attention for certain titles in the market.

Sounds idyllic, this peaceable kingdom of shared intelligence. Operated within the bounds of regulatory concerns — no appearance of collusion, please — it could be yet another answer to that call for more support for bookstores, of course. As Posth knows, the “Trade Impact Factor” might look as suspect to some as it looks promising to others. Nothing is easy, especially trust on the digitally strafed landscape of publishing. The idea of this neutral Monitor, a data-interpretive hub throwing off insights for everyone might sound pretty good to market-weary pros in the trenches.

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Aim at Foot, Pull Trigger, Google

If we can’t trust Google to keep successful applications around, why should we bother trying to use their new applications, such as Google Keep?

Om Malik

I like Mike Loukides’ write-up at O’Reilly Media on Google’s latest face-slap to its users because it’s not the snot-nerd’s sneering lament. In fact, it’s as studiedly free of cheap shots and nastiness as a piece it references from Om Malik.

In More on why I won’t use Google Keep: it’s not personal, it’s business, Malik makes the clarification:

It is hard to trust Google anymore to make rational and consumer centric decisions…I don’t trust Google to introduce new apps and keep them around, because despite what the company says, these apps are not their main business. Their main business is advertising and search — regardless of whatever nonsense you might read.

Mike Loukides

And in The demise of Google Reader: Stability as a service, Loukides is on the same page, noting that Google’s killed Reader isn’t even cold yet and the company foolishly has decided to ask us all to try its new Keep note-saving service.

How can I contemplate moving everything to the cloud, especially Google’s cloud, if services are going to flicker in and out of existence at the whim of Google’s management? That’s a non-starter. Google has scrapped services in the past, and though I’ve been sympathetic with the people who complained about the cancellation, they’ve been services that haven’t reached critical mass. You can’t say that about Google Reader. And if they’re willing to scrap Google Reader, why not Google Docs?

And in a peculiar way, there’s almost something reassuring about how deaf Mountain View seems to be to the furor it has set off by pulling the plug on the Google Reader. As bad and reader-dumb as big publishing can look at times, here’s the behemoth of the tech world lurching along with a comparable level of cluelessness. Loukides puts it well:

So far, the tools are great, but Google gets a #fail for stability. Google understands the Internet far better than its competitors, but they’re demonstrating that they don’t understand their users.

Take a number, Google.

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Peer­ing at Piracy – Simon & Schuster

Simon & Schuster, like many other publishers, works with a company called Attributor “to track and remove infringing copies of digital, audio and print titles published by Simon & Schuster from online sites.” Authors will now have access to Attributor’s data through the Simon & Schuster Author Portal, which also lets them track their book sales. Literary agents will have access to the data as well.

Laura Hazard Owen

Laura Hazard Owen, in Simon & Schuster will give authors direct access to piracy data for their books at paidContent, offers a look at one of the latest moves of a major publisher toward apparent efforts at author-support.

While it’s a bit hard to gauge at this point — both for effectiveness and for an idea of what authors and agents can do with such data — it’s a welcome blip on the scope of the industry’s slow turn toward authors.

Owen’s last line captures the correct reaction here: hope.

Simon & Schuster’s move could lead the other publishers that work with Attributor to make piracy data available to publishers as well.

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Stan­dards. What, in Publishing?

We must stop treating every work as a bona fide book. Works can be published or self-published as articles or whitepapers, on weblogs and websites. Ideas can be expounded on forums and mailing lists. These are valid, public platforms that fit into our cultural landscape. They are ideally suited to works of a certain length, tone and structure, works that cannot — and should not — be packaged as books.

François Joseph de Ker­madec

I know what François Joseph de Kermadec is saying here with new clarity, having recently watched a colleague publish something he calls a “book”—and it’s actually no more than an extended brochure for the course work he offers to students. In The book as a standard of quality, de Kermadec writes about what many of us tend to bemoan in publishing. We frequently discuss this as if it’s an unavoidable calamity:

Standards for the book have begun dropping. Reputable digital booksellers often peddle second-rate editions of nonsense, scraped wikis and public domain texts. Even well-known houses tend to recycle material on the cheap, transforming a great print edition into a mis-hyphenated, poorly typeset mess they would never dare ship to booksellers.

Maybe we allow the digital dynamic’s roller coaster to keep us so dizzy that we conveniently forget that publishing, itself, should be the source of the standards we see overthrown by amateurism and opportunism.

It is time for the industry to agree on maintaining certain standards.

Alas, there’s no mechanism offered here. De Kermadec apparently isn’t able to see a ready handle on the issue any more than anyone else is. But the boldness of his saying what some would consider quite politically incorrect is bracing:

Being published in book form should remain a privilege — a privilege earned on merit, not money or connections. The transition to digital empowers us to implement and self-regulate such a vision of giving everybody a voice while helping the best stand out. We should grasp this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Con­fer­ences in the Offing

If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term.

April 5 New York City Writer’s Digest Conference East Boot CampJoin me in a participatory special-focus workshop, Public Speaking for Writers: How To Turn Your Readings Into Book Sales. Learn what a public reading is really about; what an audience wants from an author at a reading and how to give it to them; how to choose what to read, rehearse it, prep your listeners (it’s not about “setting the scene”), and how to present yourself to your audience. Bring a couple of pages of a manuscript, we’re going to get you up on your feet for this one. (Note: The Writer’s Digest Conference Boot Camp sessions have an additional charge, check for details.)

April 5-7 New York City Writer’s Digest Conference East: Author James Scott Bell, who knows the value of coffee, gives the opening keynote address this year at “one of the most popular writing and publishing conference in the U.S. Writer’s Digest Conference 2013 is coming back to New York at the Sheraton New York Hotel. Whether you are developing an interest in the craft of writing, seeking an agent or editor and publisher for your work, or a veteran hoping to keep current on the latest and best insights into reaching a broader readership, Writer’s Digest Conference is the the best event of its kind on the East Coast.” (This conference’s hashtag is #WDCE. I have an Epilogger on it, which you might find useful in keeping up with materials in one spot.) Discount: Writer’s Digest is offering a reduced rate to registrants using the code PORTER.

April 5-7 New York City Screenwriters World Conference EastLed by Jeanne Bowerman, this is the East Coast iteration of the Los Angeles conference held last fall. Complete with a “pitch slam” like that of the Writer’s Digest conference, Screenwriters World is, the material tells us, “your chance to meet and learn from professionals in every aspect of the entertainment industry. Our panels, sessions, and workshops are hosted by leading experts that can help you improve your craft, find and agent, and sell it to the people who make movies and television shows. You’ll receive real feedback from successful screenwriters, agents, execs, actors, filmmakers and more.” (This conference’s hashtag is #SWCE. I have an Epilogger account on it,  which you might find useful in keeping up with materials in one spot.)

April 17 New York City paidContent Live: Riding the Transformation of the Media IndustryBrisk and bracing, last year’s paidContent Live conference was efficient, engaging, and enlightening, not least for the chance to see many of the talented journalists of Om Malik’s GigaOM/paidContent team work onstage — Laura Hazard Owen, Mathew Ingram, Jeff John Roberts, Robert Andrews, Ernie Sander, et al. Among speakers listed for this year’s busy day: Jonah Peretti, Jason Pontin, Chris Mohney, Erik Martin, David Karp, Mark Johnson, Aria Haghighi, Matt Galligan, Rachel Chou, Lewis D’Vorkin, John Borthwick, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Steinberg, Alan Rusbridger, Evan Ratliff, and, of course, Dominique Raccah and Michael Tamblyn. (Hashtag: #pclive)

May 2-5 Oxford, Mississippi Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshops: Susan Cushman follows her Memphis Creative Nonfiction confab with this year’s gathering at the shrine. Among faculty members: Neil White, Leigh Feldman, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Beth Ann Fennelly, Bob Guccione Jr. and Lee Martin. Pre-conference workshops or just the creature itself, your choice.

May 3-5 Boston The Muse & the Marketplace 2013 is a production of Eve Bridburg’s fast-rising non-profit Grub Street program. Its material tells us that organizers plan more than “110 craft and publishing sessions led by top-notch authors, editors, agents and publicists from around the country. The Manuscript Mart, the very popular and effective one-on-one manuscript reviews with agents and editors, will also span three days. We expect nearly 800 writers and publishing professionals to attend, while maintaining the conference’s wonderfully intimate, ‘grubby’ energy that we love.” (Hashtag: #Muse2013)

reaching readers 2013 WEB headerMay 28 New York City: Reaching Readers: Book Marketing Conference 2013 is a production of our Ether-eal host here, Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurt Academy. An early-bird rate of $365 runs to April 15. After that, regular price is $415 for the day that features expert commentary from folks including Ketchum’s Nancy Martira, Scholastic’s Morgan Baden, Wiley’s Jeanenne Ray, Edelman’s Steve Rubel, and many more.

May 29 New York City: Publishers Launch BEA is May’s installment of the series of daylong conferences programmed by Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical and Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch. Speakers on tap so far include agent Brian DeFiore, Enders Analysis’ Benedict Evans, Trident Media’s Robert Gottlieb, Aerbook’s Ron Martinez, consultant Peter McCarthy, Hachette’s Ken Michaels, and more.

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Last Gas: Le papier ne sera jamais mort

Marcello Vena

Are you suffering the concerns shared by many in publishing that the digital dynamic is going to take away your beloved paper?

Our good colleague in Italy Marcello Vena of RCS Libri offers the wry reassurance of this video from INfluencia. (Grazie, Marcello.)

I believe you’ll find it needs no translation.

 


Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Mondays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com.

Main image / iStockphoto: Tomas Skopal

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.