Dog-Eared and Dispatched: June 29, 2014
Welcome to this week’s retrospective of the book world’s shenanigans. The big news this week was the purchase of Perseus books by Hachette and Ingram; we’ve also got the results of 2013 book sales, and of course a bit of an update on Amazon. Someday soon we hope to cover the week in book news without mentioning Amazon. Really. Until then: readysetread!
Hachette and Ingram are buying Perseus Books. Publisher’s Marketplace broke the news, which came as a surprise to many. Hachette will keep the publishing side of Perseus, as well its imprints, while Ingram will take over Perseus’s book distribution business, making Ingram the largest book distributor in the US. Ingram CEO John Ingram said of the deal: “We’re betting on the future of the book business, and this deal is proof of Ingram’s commitment to the book industry. We are expanding our growing sales and services platform with this acquisition. We admire and respect what PGW, Consortium, Perseus Distribution, Legato and Constellation have accomplished in the industry and look forward to collaborating to bring even greater solutions for content distribution to all of our clients.” Betting for future of the book business or no, the announcement came as a bit of a shock to the indie publishers Perseus currently distributes, including Hawthorne Books, Bellevue Literary Press, Copper Canyon, McSweeney’s, The New Press, Grove/Atlantic, to name just a few. As noted in Publishing Perspectives, initial reactions from these independent publishers were a bit shellshocked, as they “expressed their concerns about their list and whether or not they would get the attention they deserve within a bigger organization. Some lamented the loss of yet another independent publishing institution to the deep pockets of a conglomerate. Most grieved the likely layoffs.” Time will tell if their concerns were justified; we’ll keep you posted. [Shelfawareness, Publisher’s Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, Publishing Perspectives, MobyLives!]
Bookstats released book sales figures for 2013, and sales were relatively stable, which is a nice way of saying that they didn’t grow. The biggest news was the decline in young adult fiction sales, which suggests that The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent lack some of the sales punch of The Hunger Games – though we’ll have to keep an eye out for the 2014 sales figures before knowing for sure. The absence of a new Fifty Shades of Gray also meant that adult fiction saw a bit of a downturn in 2013, though non-fiction sales increased slightly. Ebook sales were also flat in 2013, which might explain why Barnes and Noble is separating its retail business from the nook (though it could just be because their revenue was down more than the industry average). If you recall from last week, we mentioned that Amazon had updated the Kindle iOS app to include support for Audible audiobooks; one of the reasons for that might be that audiobooks were the one major growth area of 2013, up 19.3% from 2012. Audiobooks appear to be the new black, so get out your headphones while publishers try to catch up. [Publishers Weekly, Digital Book World, Galleycat]
Publishers have a better sense of what Amazon wants from Hachette (and presumably other publishers as well): everything. Amazon wants a greater share of ebook profits, which means it wants to increase agency commission from 30% to 50%; it also wants the option to sell print on demand versions of paper books if the publishers’ versions are out of stock. In short, Amazon is gunning hard to take over the book market, and is doing so by trying to weaken publishers. As Philip Jones notes: “When Amazon told agents earlier this year it was going after publishers’ profit margins, what did it think it hoped to achieve? Publishers make commendable but not huge margins on sales, but their ability to do so in the future will entirely dictate how many authors they can afford to invest in. Weaken publishers, and it is authors who suffer. Weaken publishers enough, and authors will jump ship to Amazon’s KDP platform, created entirely by Amazon to satisfy its own content needs.” [The Guardian, MobyLives!, Future Book]
Although US courts seem not to notice these power plays, Amazon recently suffered some setbacks in Europe. This week saw two cases in Europe of publishers and booksellers fighting back. German book publishers requested an investigation into Amazon’s potential violations of anti-trust laws; the association claims Amazon is “abusing its ‘market dominant’ position and argues that because many people use Amazon as a modern card catalog to explore what books are available, if an author is not listed, a reader would assume that the writer has not published any books.” Meanwhile in France, the French Parliament specifically targeted Amazon with a new law to protect French booksellers and literary culture; the law prohibits discounts greater than 5% and, more importantly, prevents the combination of steep discounts with free shipping, a tactic used by Amazon to undercut local bookstores. [MobyLives!, The New York Times, MobyLives!]
- “The Gazelle Project” and other notes on Amazon.
- Ereaders encourage “more deep reading and less active learning“—probably because taking notes on an ereader (one of the criteria for “active learning”) is less fun than doodling in the margins.
- The Supreme Court has reaffirmed “pre-enforcement” – “a critical tool for protecting free speech because the passage of an unconstitutional law can have a substantial chilling effect, making people afraid to exercise their rights.”
- How relevant is a novelist’s biography to their work?
- If you just can’t get enough about how Amazon impacts book publishing, Digital Book World will have a free webcast on July 9 called Amazon, Hachette, and the future of book publishing, which will focus on “what could await publishers, authors and consumers in digital publishing’s near future.”