Dog-Eared and Dispatched: February 15, 2015
In this week’s survey of book culture, we look at the book industry’s financial picture in 2014 and going forward, as well as changes in the major ebook subscription services. Rounding things off are a collection of footnotes on author activities, fictional authenticity, and notable losses for the week. Are you ready? Get reading!
The financial picture for book sales in 2014 is, shall we say, mixed. Although bookstore sales were up in December 2014, they were down for the year as a whole. This was also the case for two of the big five publishers; both Hachette and Simon & Schuster saw profit decreases in the neighborhood of 4% in 2014 from 2013 – although both companies say that 2013 had been an unusually successful year due to movie tie-ins for The Hunger Games and The Great Gatsby, respectively. Hachette also acknowledged that its feud with Amazon had probably also contributed to the fall in sales. For both firms, ebooks saw the greatest decline in sales, and the companies are hoping that their new contracts with Amazon will help digital sales in 2015, although as Publishers Weekly notes, “it is too early too tell what the impact in this area [sc. ebook sales] will be.” Meanwhile, Penguin Random House’s parent company, media giant Bertelsmann, has just announced that it will be expanding its digital and education publishing ventures in India, Brazil, and China – which suggests that its current markets might not be sufficient to sustain it going forward. [Shelf Awareness, Galleycat, Publishers Weekly, MobyLives!]
Subscription ebook service Oyster may have scored a point by getting the Harry Potter books, but this week Scribd has announced that they are adding 10,000 comics to their subscription service. The firm has partnered with Marvel, IDW/Top Shelf, and Top Cow (among others) to create “the Netflix of Comics” – and their mobile app has been updated to include a “binge” button to link readers to the next issue of Spider-Man or My Little Pony (!). Kindle Unlimited, meanwhile, has just expanded its services to Canada and Mexico (it already serves the US, the UK, France, Brazil, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands). It will be interesting to see where these firms (and their Russian competitor, Bookmate) will go next, whether they choose to focus on social sharing (like the now defunct Readmill) or try to expand their content selection. It will be interesting to watch because, like the paid lending libraries of the nineteenth century, these services will probably have some impact on publishing decisions, as they require publishers to prioritize books that people read, not just buy. [Wired, Scribd, Digital Book World, Victorian Web]
- Book publicists have lost an important ally with the retirement of Jon Stewart.
- What has been filling the gap left by the closing of Borders in 2011?
- Former US poet laureate Philip Levine died on Saturday; he was 87.
- New York Times media critic David Carr died this week, age 58.
- Digital humanist Matthew Kirschenbaum considers the busyness of the @uthor.
- Will the great American (or international) novel be authentic?
- A Dutch artist has developed a book cover that reads the reader.