Table of Contents
- Amazon-Goodreads: Badreactions
- Amazon-Goodreads: Hazard-ous Duty
- Amazon-Goodreads: Cooling Heads
- Amazon-Goodreads: Ways Forward
- And Who’s Going to Pay for It?
- Last Gas: Authors in the B&N-S&S Crossfire
(This is an April Fool’s Day-free Ether: There are no practical jokes of the day in this column. You’re welcome.)
To many, Amazon is an evil corporation hellbent on destroying the world. They have made these intentions clear by paying authors a shitload and fighting to lower the price of books for readers. I think we can all agree that authors and readers are scum, and this preferential treatment on the part of Amazon should be looked at with complete distrust.
And by Thursday afternoon, around 4:45 p.m. Eastern, he had a lot to write about. The Amazonian Apocalypse indeed was upon us. We were up to our digital derrieres in that greatest of all booky community blessings: reach out and share the hysteria.
In four sections of this edition of the Ether, I’m going to focus on this new development at length, here at Palpitating Perspectives.
The event, in and of itself, is of genuine interest, certainly. But also worthy of our attention is the fact that it’s not cause for the self-defenestration you’d think was contemplated by some of our colleagues on hearing the word.
We didn’t just get news Thursday. We also got a fever dream’s descent into alarmist indulgence.
@jenphalian Well fuck everything. Not that I use Goodreads, but I hate the idea of Amazon getting ahold of them.
— 2ShedsJackson (@erikthedane) March 28, 2013
I was reminded of a typo in the Sunday bulletin at one of my father’s churches many years ago. We were posted at the time to the Methodist church in Denny Terrace, a suburb of Columbia, South Carolina. The listing was for a parish picnic that afternoon: 4 p.m. today: Church-Wide Panic. Please be prompt.
And now was the fimbulwinter of our discontent made glorious slapstick by these social-media pratfalls.
seriously, goodreads? screw you for being a sellout. — rebeccaherman (@rebeccamherman) March 29, 2013
Never mind Goodreads founder Otis Chandler’s statement on his site’s blog, Exciting News About Goodreads: We’re Joining the Amazon Family!
It’s important to be clear that Goodreads and the awesome team behind it are not going away. Goodreads will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish. We plan to continue offering you everything that you love about the site.
The angry faithful blew off those niceties with the ease of Amazon Certified Frustration-Free Packaging. It didn’t seem to matter what Chandler said. This man who 30 minutes earlier was thought a hero by his lit-legions now was pictured with his wife, both of them holding Kindles with Goodreads stickers on them.
On Thursday, Otis Chandler, the CEO of Goodreads, cheerily posted, “Today I’m really happy to announce a new milestone for Goodreads. We are joining the Amazon family.”…Many of the 16 million Goodreads users probably thought of different analogies than “joining the family.” How about “being swallowed by an anaconda after being squeezed to death?” Or my initial response on Twitter:
Go ahead, catch your breath.
As you do that, let me remind you that Goodreads is what the New York Times’ Leslie Kaufman in Amazon to Buy Social Site Dedicated to Sharing Books describes, with characteristic precision, “the most visited social media site built around sharing books.” A social media site built around sharing books. A big one, yes. Important and much-loved by many of its 16 million users. But it is a book site. Not cancer research. A book site.
So continue working your way down off the ceiling as I gently whisper into your ear that the other side of this story is not, in truth, the End of Days. It is, actually, a retailer. Granted, Amazon is likely to annex all of Idaho by the end of the week — as its parking lot — but it is still a retailer. It sells things, and it sells them better than most others do.
Howey, who writes with the perfectly understandable bias of a man who has done extremely well with Amazon, of course, is nonetheless worth hearing out because of that very close look he’s had at the company:
Everyone I know at Amazon, from top to bottom, loves books. They love readers. They love authors. I think this permeates the company because of the passion Jeff Bezos holds for all things book. He has made it a goal to get more people reading and more people writing than at any time in human history. Because of Amazon (largely Amazon), more people are making a living at writing than ever before. Because of Amazon (largely Amazon), books are more affordable than ever before.
I offer you that perspective because, seized by the surprise of the Goodreads move, many people in publishing seem happier with crisis mode than with understanding the news at hand. A lot of folks in the industry! the industry! might even have hung around the office a bit late on Thursday to enjoy the frisson of the fray.
Ladies and Gentleman. There is a Brooklyn-bound F train leaving the station at rush hour. Almost empty.
Our colleague, the consultant and commentator Thad McIlroy, posted Maundy Thursday Special: Goodreads Betrays Both Writers and Readers. It might have warmed the hearts of my dad’s panicky parishioners:
What impeccable timing from Goodreads, on a day observed by many because of a far more potent betrayal…I would imagine that Goodreads’ 30 pieces of silver are many, many millions.
Didn’t Canadians used to be reserved? We’ve got to stop beaming American TV at them.
Those “pieces of silver” are rumored, say such folks as Enders’ Benedict Evans, to be in the neighborhood of $150 million. I’d smile if I were a Chandler, too.
And yes, some of Thursday’s fast-flying exchanges were clever.
@laurahazardowen That would be Otis.
— ljndawson (@ljndawson) March 28, 2013
Many more, however, were coarse, seemingly unthinking, knee-jerk negative responses. Folks hurled tweets back and forth, one-upping the silliness of a bad comment with the embarrassment of an overreaching retort.
And one of the reasons this reaction was so disturbing is that we were offered something better by paidContent, and swiftly, too: detailed, first-hand coverage. But that’s not what everyone wanted. Some just wanted to emote…
Just caught the Goodreads/Amazon News. FUCK. Anyone have suggestions for alternatives and extracting data? Am 2 years into Amazon boycott.
— Karyn Silverman (@InfoWitch) March 29, 2013
Journalist Laura Hazard Owen first put out a stopgap story at paidContent on Thursday with the basic information, Amazon acquires book-based social network Goodreads.
She then asked readers what questions they might have for the conjoined leadership of the book-sharing site once the arrangement is completed in the second quarter.
Some responded with prudent, sensible questions.
Owen then ducked out of the food fight and disappeared for a bit. When she resurfaced, she posted “First do no harm”: My interview with Amazon and Goodreads on the future of Goodreads.
Owen had interviewed not only Goodreads’ co-founder Chandler but also Russ Grandinetti, the Amazon executive to whom Chandler will report. She had asked the questions that readers wanted answered. She came back quickly with the goods. Actual responses to actual questions from the horses’ mouths, not more opinions from pundits, some of whom were at pains to say they’d seen this all coming.
As I tweeted various parts of Owen’s interview with Grandinetti and Chandler, I found that many people didn’t seem to want the companies’ responses. They preferred to rage on. It was more fun to assume that Chandler and Grandinetti are conniving scoundrels than to pay attention to just how they handled Owen’s questions. For example, in the interview, Chandler tells Owen:
You can expect to see customizations and better integrations for people who do use Kindle. For everyone else, Goodreads will remain largely as it is.
“Remain largely as it is?” Well, wait a minute, that’s no fun. Hell on Earth is more fun. Armageddon is more fun. Hating Amazon is more fun. And so, a part of the rabble returned to slinging rancorous, impossible-to-know “predictions” of what will befall us all after this unholy union.
If it’s really that bad, then everyone pull their profiles and pubs stop buying ads/giveaways.No?Ok then. — Kate Rados (@KateRados) March 28, 2013
If the tweeting furies had taken a breath, they might have realized that a driving interest in this acquisition may not wreck the schmooze-and-reviews character of Goodreads at all: After all, Amazon gets its ace vehicle of book sales, the Kindle, inserted right into the Goodreaders’ midst. That’s something to be accomplished carefully, not callously.
Amazon’s Grandinetti did not try to obscure this with Owen, either. The edit in her fast-turn story is a little rough on this point, but he’s saying that they want to see “the Kindle experience” — regardless of device — put onto “Goodreads as close to their (the readers’) fingertips as possible.”
This sounds neither unreasonable nor like something that’s going to prevent your Aunt Clara from recommending a new needlepoint book to her 18 hobbyist-cronies, does it?
Chandler to Owen:
I think, short-term, the thing we’re most excited about is actually bringing the book into Goodreads and enabling people to just start reading right there from the Kindle Cloud Reader. We’ve never had a good book preview feature.
Did he say “preview?” Well, Suw Charman-Anderson just got onto Forbes.com with a desire for reading a bit of a book as the best way to discover what one wants. In Book Discovery: Give Me Blind Dates With Books, she writes:
My feeling is that we need to go back to the tried and true method for understanding whether you’re interested in giving a book a chance: Start reading it. If you like the tone of it, if it draws you in and you can’t put it down, then that’s the book for you.
For most of us, this might be handled well by downloading a book’s sample. Upping the ante, however, Charman-Anderson is wanting a “blind date,” as she calls it, in which a book is stripped of its cover, author’s name, the works, so she’s not influenced by factors other than the text.
I’m not sure we all need that stringent an approach. I recommend to Charman-Anderson that she just close her eyes while she reads her samples.
Blind dates with books. Be careful, some books can stab you in your back. #badbooks
— Julieta Lionetti (@JulietaLionetti) March 30, 2013
But note how seamlessly Charman-Anderson’s basic construct might be embraced by the Amazon-Goodreads combine. In a case of this kind, these two men’s comments to Owen are more than mere press-release palaver. These guys are committing themselves. Our heaving community would do well to stop rioting in the reading room and pay attention to which fires they now can hold the Chandlerian and Grandinettian feet. Here’s a big one: Chandler talks of not limiting Goodreads to the Kindle:
It’s incredibly important to us that Goodreads remain a platform for all kinds of readers to use, whether they’re reading paper or on their Nook or Kindle or whatever..If users really want those links [to other retailers], then those links will probably still be there.
Is this Goodreads/Amazon merger that terrible? Except that in five years Amazon will own our souls at 59% off! 1 left! More on the way! — Zoraida Cordova (@zlikeinzorro) March 28, 2013
Had the gabbling masses pulled themselves together and read Owens’ interview, would they not have noticed the frequently mentioned comparisons to Zappos and IMDB? If you haven’t been to these sites, it’s worth a quick click. Both are properties that Amazon has bought and maintained without, it would seem, damaging them or their users’ experiences. It’s hard to find much Amazon branding on these sites. Not even the cheesy “powered by” possessiveness flaunted by some corporations.
But, no, it’s more fun to ignore examples of that kind and just rail at Seattle and San Francisco. If you want to haul yourself out of Goodreads — even though there’s no really comparable alternative — nobody is stopping you, as Owen writes:
Users already have the ability to export their data from Goodreads, and they’ll continue to be able to do so.
There are a few calmer heads around.
And as an aside on Owen’s fine work on this Thursday, this is one of the best ways for journalism to be crowd-sourced. Owen, a professional journalist specializing in the publishing business for Om Malik’s operation, asked the crowd what it wanted to know. She then carried in those questions and came out with an expertly rendered account of the responses. And finally, two main elements of the story start to stand apart so we can see them more clearly.
- One is that “hissy fit,” as my mother would have called it, thrown by so many in the business whose egos seem to drive them to opt for tweet-now-truth-later bombast.
- The other factor here is the actuality of what the sale of Goodreads can suggest about the shape of the business and the force of its digital direction. We’re getting into that context next.
Meanwhile, is anyone really prepared to say that Russ Gandinetti is lying when he tells Owen this?
Our mentality here is to first do no harm, and make sure that if we’re going to do integrations, users genuinely find it to be a big benefit.
Think about it. Whether you see Amazonian motivations as including what Howey describes as a “passion for all things book” or as a pure, “ruthless” drive for profit, you could not hear a more authentically Amazonian utterance than what Grandinetti is saying there to Owen. He’s talking about users and their satisfaction. No matter how you feel about Amazon, customer experience, as we know, remains central to the engine of its success. So why would Amazon, masters of the consumer experience, wantonly jerk around this golden goose they’ve bought?
Chandler to Owen:
We’ll have access to Amazon’s metadata and certainly will probably be using it.
I do like “certainly/probably.” But look, haven’t we spent the last 38 years — or was it only the last three? — learning the profound and essential place of metadata in the digitized environment of modern publishing?
Look, everybody knew Goodreads was ripe for acquisition, and everyone knew Amazon was the only player with cash to pre-empt everyone else. — Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) March 28, 2013
And when she went to the page with her write Amazon Acquires Goodreads, paralleling Owen’s interview, she nailed the evident news at hand.
In what appears to be a definitive strike in consolidating online book discovery under one virtual roof, Amazon announced Thursday afternoon that it acquired Goodreads for an undisclosed sum. The company’s headquarters are expected to remain in San Francisco with the deal set to close in the second quarter of 2013 subject to various closing conditions.
By Friday morning — see? the sun did come up again — Weinman was aptly pointing to Tomio Geron’s write at Forbes, Goodreads Investor Jon Callaghan on Amazon Acquisition of “Scrappy” Startup. Callaghan is the founder of True Ventures, a Silicon Valley VC firm that also has a piece of Malik’s paidContent for which Owen writes. He told Geron:
The Goodreads team was “incredibly scrappy” and kept very focused on building the company, Callaghan said. “They just quietly set about building one of the largest engaged communities on the Web,” he said. Callaghan called the acquisition a “phenomenal outcome for True,” the largest investor, as well as a “wonderful outcome for all parties.”
“Amazon and Goodreads share a passion for reinventing reading,” Russ Grandinetti, Mmmm passion for £££’s and $$$’s more like — Paul Cain (@Paul_Fledge) March 29, 2013
I had a quiet chat with Otis Chandler at O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (TOC) last month, where he was reporting to the conference on some survey work with the Goodreads universe. I didn’t know it then, of course, but it’s safe to assume he would have been heavily involved in the development of this deal at that point. I saw nothing in him that didn’t look like real and personal investment in the long-term prospects of his company.
Here’s Jenn Webb’s coverage, video and all from TOC, Goodreads’ evolution from discovery platform to reader community.
And here’s Chandler’s presentation of new survey data from Goodreads members:
As we leave this section and get into new commentary on the sale, I suggest that you look once more at what Owen’s interview brings us:
She has both Chandler and Grandinetti on the record saying that no harm will come to Goodreads; that members won’t be left in the dark; that Goodreads will not be limited only to Kindle; that better range and features are ahead; that the Kobo feed will continue; and that, yes, Goodreads will still bring reader-behavior data to conferences.
Amazon bought GoodReads: expect much gnashing of teeth. Followed closely by “why did we give a shit exactly?” — Doug M. (@BushyCritic) March 29, 2013
Thanks to Owen, declarations and pledges are in place. So if it all goes to hell in an Amazon box, then you pronounce Chandler and Grandinetti liars; then you declare the whole deal a swindle of all you hold sacred; then you put fresh canned goods into the bomb shelter.
For now, you have to wonder if Howey isn’t right when he writes (just coming off a 12-city book tour):
Most of the people in the cities I visited strolled by bookstores without glancing inside. Most of the people in the airports weren’t reading. We are fighting amongst ourselves while the real battle is ignored.
Thursday, we got a snootful of that “fighting amongst ourselves” he’s talking about, and a close look at how ragged the collective nerves of publishing have become. The spectacle of people, many of whom know better, succumbing to such hyperbole in a new “crisis!” is far removed from what’s at the heart of this whole endeavor: literature.
The weekend couldn’t have come quickly enough. And during it, we got some higher thinking on the matter.
Read on …
Back to Table of Contents
That’s what all you morons get for sharing your books online. — Paul Bogaards (@paulbogaards) March 28, 2013
Only with a direct digital customer relationship can you learn from the customer in real-time, rapidly expand your total product experience, and easily offer new benefits to your customer…The solution to keeping up with digital disruption is to have a customer relationship, one that digital tools and platforms make incredibly cheap and increasingly powerful. Goodreads is one such tool. It still is, by the way, even now that publishers will be wary of it.
This is Forrester’s James McQuivey, in Why Didn’t Someone Else Buy Goodreads Before Amazon? Like all but 16 people in the developing world, McQuivey — an author published by Amazon — claims to have predicted a sale of Goodreads. He goes further, too, writing that he advised one of the Big Five to buy the site in 2010. He was unsuccessful in leading that publisher, of course, to see the value of Goodreads:
Publishers haven’t had direct relationships of any kind historically — in fact, they are the first to admit that their customer was the book buyer at Barnes & Noble. This used to be a good thing until digital disruption came in and made it not so much a bad thing as an old thing.
What underlies these reflections is an assertion that the last thing Amazon should want to do with its new acquisition is damage it.
Like any Web giant, Amazon does maintain a walled garden, but unlike others its walled garden is built for its loyal customers. It doesn’t aim to trap people inside its ecosystem who don’t want to be there. That doesn’t mean the company won’t step on a lot of toes, as it did with demands that content partners link exclusively to its store. It means it would rather have a loyal customer base than a captive audience.
Amazon/Goodreads news is great for authors, who can now find all their nasty anonymous reviews in one convenient place. — Kurtis Scaletta (@kurtisscaletta) March 28, 2013
Amazon could draw upon your relationships on Goodreads to surface your friend’s notes, reviews and progress within an e-book. You could update Goodreads and leave reviews from directly within the Kindle and Kindle apps…Amazon could also surface Goodreads reviews on Amazon and add to one of their key value points, and fulfill e-books directly from Goodreads.
My cab driver on Amazon’s Goodreads acquisition: “Who cares? Who cares! You find a book, you buy it and you read it. How hard is that?!” — Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) March 30, 2013
Jonathan Gunson seems to like the potential he understands in the marriage of Goodreads and Amazon. His piece is called Amazon Buys Goodreads: The Hidden Impact On An Author’s Book Sales. He writes:
Think about this: Every book you sell on Amazon is now likely to show up in the buyer’s Goodreads account, within easy view of 16 million readers, on an ever increasing scale, automatically. This will substantially increase the visibility of your books…This also means that both Amazon and Goodreads deserve increasingly focused attention in your own book marketing efforts.
Not everyone in the authors corps is happy with the idea of an Amazonian Goodreads, however.
Scott Turow, who heads the Authors Guild, has posted Turow on Amazon/Goodreads: This is how modern monopolies can be built.
In it, he writes:
In a truly devastating act of vertical integration, Amazon is buying Goodreads, its only sizable competitor for reader reviews and a site known for the depth and breadth of its users’ book recommendations. Recommendations from like-minded readers appear to be the Holy Grail of online book marketing. By combining Goodreads’ recommendation database with Amazon’s own vast databases of readers’ purchase histories, Amazon’s control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable.
Turow gives no quarter in his commentary. This is one of the most relentlessly negative reactions you’ll find:
Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads is a textbook example of how modern Internet monopolies can be built. The key is to eliminate or absorb competitors before they pose a serious threat.
But once he’s had his say, Turow is all but run off his own page in the more than 90 comments that follow the piece.
They include one of the most volatile, protracted arguments you’ll see on the matter, incidentally making me think there’s something to Disqus CEO Daniel Ha’s assertion in Four ways web comments will change that “readers are spending most of their time on the south side of web pages. Sixty-six percent, in fact.”
Ha and Chartbeat may be underestimating the comparative time users spend in commentary if the Authors Guild’s Turow post is any example. Among the high, or low, points here you’ll find:
- Author Ellen Hopkins telling author-publisher Bob Mayer: “Until you actually parallel Scott’s stature, you might want to shut your mouth and listen.”
- Attorney David Vandagriff, also known as Passive Guy, writing to Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken: “Scott (Turow) must have been asleep in class the day the professor talked about monopolies. The publishing business throws that word around as a default epithet in lieu of admitting they’ve made one losing decision after another, including illegal price-fixing, and Amazon hasn’t.”
- Author Dan DeWitt writing: “This is just more of the Turow-led AG stance of being anti-everything Amazon does and blindly supporting anything that goes against Amazon (including price-fixing cabals and acquisitions of scam publishers). No amount of “Amazon is evil!” rhetoric will change the fact that this guild’s integrity has been rendered non-existent by its leadership.”
What was Howey saying about “fighting amongst ourselves while the real battle is ignored?”
And, look, here comes Craig Mod to tell us in a paidContent guest post about The deal Goodreads should’ve struck (hint: it wasn’t with Amazon). Mod manages to bring the grace of his just-to-the-side thinking to the matter:
So why did Amazon buy Goodreads? Well, the promise of a collaboration between Goodreads and a great reading platform (like Readmill) loomed large. A combination like that had the chance of being the Last Great Stand against Amazon. Goodreads is many things but most defensibly it is a community. A strong community. An engaged community. (And now, a slightly enraged community.) Sixteen million users is nothing to dismiss. It’s not Facebook or Instagram levels, but 16 million excited people is a firehose to be reckoned with. What Goodreads didn’t have was a reading application.
Me again, ready at last to walk you down the road a ways, I hope, from this revealing pub brawl, one that so aptly has dumped us all out onto the cold pavement on a day named for fools. Don’t worry about the fulminating membership of Goodreads, okay? I’ve checked, and the stream there has quickly reverted to its usual, numbing hum of progress reports. Shhh. They’re busy reading. Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women.
And should writers want to read one of their own doing a point-by-point refutation of the horrors, our dependable colleague and author David Gaughran’s Why Amazon’s Purchase of Goodreads Is A Good Thing offers a lot of sensible solace, ticking off the points, as I’ve done, that are being flatly refuted — fully on the record, remember — by the players involved. How well I get the note with which Gaughran leads his weary, reassuring laundry list:
I’m not going to deal with the Chicken Little stuff. I have less and less patience with people who claim that Amazon has or is striving for some kind of evil monopoly that will subjugate authors and readers when all the evidence to date is that they will treat authors better than any publisher and provide readers with cheaper books, a bigger selection, and a better customer experience than any other retailer.
Instead, the larger questions here involve two things: (1) access and (2) publishing’s trading routes.
Brian O’Leary comes in with the access point and he makes it with characteristic understatement (in this industry, imagine) in Exit Strategies: Why Amazon buying Goodreads matters so much. O’Leary writes, in part, and so carefully:
Digital choke points. There are five companies currently fighting to own our digital lives. They are well-known: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Increasingly, access to content, reviews and distribution is in the hands of this small number of firms. They don’t play nice with one another, and they are prone to be lobbied…I’m not immediately leaping from “could happen” to “will happen“, but there are enough examples…to make you think twice before deciding all is well in online bookselling.
In these cautionary, sober lines, we find the appropriate, watchful stance, both in concept and in concern. And how much more nourishing and helpful it is to get these ideas this way than in spasms of tweeted sass.
As for publishers, Mod turns his full face to a point potentially now endangered:
It should be noted that publishers love Goodreads. No surprise there; it’s just as one would imagine. Goodreads is an amazing platform for promoting books to an avid, core readership.
And taking that message for Moderns in one hand, with O’Leary’s concern about “digital choke points” in the other, I want to return you briefly to McQuivey, who makes the cleanest, most pertinent appeal—perhaps on behalf of the whole, staggered industry:
I’ll offer this one piece of advice to publishers who may now feel like they should back away from Goodreads for fear that they are sleeping with the enemy: Don’t do it. Don’t succumb to the kind of thinking that made the last century what it was. Instead, open up to the idea that under digital disruption promiscuous partnership is not only possible, it’s preferable. Look around other media industries and you’ll see the same: The music industry’s partnership with YouTube that led to the wildly successful Vevo, the TV business putting its apps on the Xbox, and even Details magazine releasing a version of itself on the previously feared Flipboard. All of those could be construed as sleeping with the enemy but they’re really about sleeping with the customer. Okay, maybe I just took the metaphor too far, but you get what I mean.
His metaphor-taken-too-far is probably the most innocuous of shadings in a weekend of vociferous, overwrought noise. “Promiscuous partnership.” Are we loving this phrase? Give it some thought, and do it when nobody’s looking so you can open your mind and calm down. Quit tweeting the first thing that feels like wit to you (we can wait for it, believe me), and muse instead on this artfully enticing iteration of the issue: promiscuous partnership. It might keep you from upchucking in public whenever the next shoe falls in publishing’s digital dance. Promiscuous partnership: Here’s looking at you, cutie. Back to Table of Contents
We’ve grown up with a wealth of news and video available for free on the internet, and for many of us, we also have access to high-quality content through parents or friends with subscriptions to services like Netflix or the New York Times. We built media habits around this content from an early age, but we were never forced to actually pay for content.
In her paidContent essay Generation Mooch? Why 20-somethings have a hard time paying for content, Eliza Kern brings us back to the terra-too-firma of a truly difficult issue. We talk in publishing—not enough, if you ask me—about the degradation of book prices brought about by the digital dynamic. Only a desperate writer can take comfort in shouts of supposed progress along the lines of “99 cents is the new ‘free’!” And I don’t think I’m alone in cringing when authors tell me excitedly about how “well” they’re selling at the $2.99-and-below level on Amazon. Here, then, is Kern, 22, speaking from the heart of a power-base of potential reader-consumers who probably think 99 cents is a problem and $2.99 is outrageous.
Out of curiosity, I asked about 15 of my friends (most of whom are recent college graduates in varying levels of employment) what content they personally pay to consume. The answer from most of them — minus a few New Yorker-subscriber outliers — was not much. But when I asked everyone what they read or watch using a parent’s (or a friend’s parent’s) subscriptions, the answers went way up. Almost everyone had access to Netflix, and a good number read the news on paywalled websites like the New York Times, and soon, The Washington Post.
I AM BACK. WOW IT’S COLD HERE TOO. WHERE ARE THE WOMBATS oh wait, again, wrong country…. — Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) March 28, 2013
Earlier in this edition of the Ether, we encountered Hugh Howey writing about how the bigger fight we should be worried about is less among ourselves and more about the lack of reading going on outside the business.
I’d add to his good insight this one from Kern. Another battle far larger than the intra-publishing panty raids that bring out our wags and fops is this problem of a major population sector that not only doesn’t like paying for content but is also very good at avoiding it.
It makes subscriptions suddenly suspect, paywalls porous, and not by design. Find a moment to read Kern, whose write is generously free of the hubris some such greetings from the future carry with them:
We have grown up with the world at our fingertips on the web, mainly for free. And we’re taking those habits and assumptions with us into adulthood.
There will always be people above and below you. Help the ones below, learn from those above, then take YOUR next step.
— James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) March 30, 2013
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 Camp: Join 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 East: Led 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 Industry: Brisk 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)
May 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. Back to Table of Contents
Is it weird to say that I don’t like it when college basketball players wear t-shirts under their jerseys?
— Jeff Wilser (@jeffwilser) March 31, 2013
Barnes & Noble may be attempting to charge publishers not only for traditional co-op (which usually means display on the New Releases table, Mother’s Day table, etc.), but also for giving books any shelf space at all, including spine out. Simply put, Barnes & Noble can’t sustain a model whereby consumers use their stores as showrooms, then order books from a competitor such as Amazon.
Barnes & Noble (B&N) has significantly reduced the number of Simon & Schuster titles it carries in its stores due to a financial dispute between the two companies. While the disagreement covers a bevy of issues, the one that is getting the most attention involves co-op.
This is Kathleen Schmidt, guesting at VQR, in The Barnes & Noble Showroom: How Much Is It Worth?
Executives familiar with BN’s proposals say the company has proposed “showroom” fees that would replace conventional coop — and cost publishers exponentially more than they now pay the chain in promotional fees and discounts. The new fees, as it has been explained to us, would charge for the overall promotional value of having titles stocked and displayed in the physical bookstores, regardless of whether those books actually sell through, trying to place a monetary value on the benefits of displaying books in the BN “showrooms.”
Schmidt, echoing Cader’s note that B&N’s embargo of some S&S titles means “reduced sales have hit authors large and small,” points to author M.J. Rose’s listing of some of the titles you won’t be finding on those showroom shelves.
Have You Seen These Books? is Rose’s compilation of 18 titles “missing (at B&N) due to an ongoing negotiation between the publisher and the book store chain.”
I feel for Rose when she starts working to placate the two sides of the struggle that has made her and these other writers what amount to disappeared authors at B&N:
Not pointing fingers here…we all love our publisher and we love all bookstores including B&N!
Actually, I think these authors have a right to point fingers. They did their jobs. When do the publisher and retailer come to terms and do theirs?
And how do these Old Publishing operations expect to keep salable authors in their stables when they’re unable to conduct even their own bookstore negotiations successfully?
For her part, Schmidt looks at both sides of the showroom contretemps and gets at it this way:
Assuming Barnes & Noble would like to stay in business, it is somewhat baffling that they would deny their customers certain books that they would buy. Yet it does make sense for publishers to offer stronger support to this big retailer, considering the continuing value of having a physical book in a place where readers can discover it.
She then goes on to recommend responses authors can make. They’re well worth checking out. (She is a book publicist and makes the point that she doesn’t represent any S&S authors currently.)
What B&N might learn here is that it’s not the only showroom. As many problems as the company has, it doesn’t seem that anybody should become too dependent on those shrinking shelves, anyway.
Schmidt at VQR:
For Barnes & Noble, the issue of how they merchandise is a key factor if they want more money from publishers. Walk into any of their stores, and you must get through a fortress of non-book items before you can (ideally) browse in peace. There is not a simple solution, but neither business can be sustained if nothing changes.
Re Amazon and Goodreads, remember that when you predict the end of the world, even if you’re right, you don’t get to enjoy the satisfaction.
— Robert Weisberg (@beyondDTP) March 28, 2013
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: Udra