Oxford is a strange place to be in the summer. It's a pretty small city, and for much of the year a significant part of its population is made up of the students from its two universities. When the students leave, far from dropping the numbers swell even further thanks to tourists drawn by the pull of 800 years of beautiful architecture and history, not to mention many of the settings for the Harry Potter films. It can be almost impossible to navigate the main streets. Yet because tourism is so often an exercise in treading the beaten track, if you make just one turn you can find yourself on a side street that is utterly empty, and every but as beautiful. As indies we are architects building the wonderful towns that readers joyfully navigate. Let us be imaginative in our plans, making the streetlamps just alluring enough to draw readers down those less explored alleys we have filled with delights.
Ebooks: An Upturn in Canada but “a Dying Breed”?
One of the narratives we are used to hearing almost like a mantra these days is the decline of the ebook. There are problems with that story in any context that have been well documented here and elsewhere (not counting many indie sales) but it is particularly worth remembering that we hear it most in markets like the UK and US where the ebook market is the most developed. All of which makes this week's announcement that Canadian ebook sales rose by 2.7% year on year in the first half of 2017. Equally interesting is the 3% decline in print sales, again bucking the prevalent narrative. An interesting counterpoint was a somewhat misleading piece in The Bookseller asking whether the ebook is dying? Behind the clickbait title is an examination of the web-based coding behind all non-proprietary ebook reading platforms (and some interesting comments on the future of the Kindle format). This is a fascinating piece to introduce you to the topics that will be discussed at the first ever W3C (the group that looks after the World Wide Web) publishing conference later this year.
It's been a busy Amazon week. The biggest news is the announcement of the first Amazon Storyteller winner, a £20,000 award for books published on KDP Select this spring, with a judging panel including our very own Orna Ross. The first winner is David Leadbeater, for his archaeological thriller The Relic Hunters. Huge congratulations to David. Meanwhile, Amazon has moved into new headquarters in the UK‘s hipster central district of Shoreditch. And it has announced second quarter sales up 24% to $38billion.
Watermarks and the Net Book Agreement
Publishers are always looking for ways to help them navigate the stormy waters in which they often find themselves. Sometimes the solutions they find demonstrate the different problems self-publishers can face, and sometimes they illustrate what ties us together. This week two stories fascinatingly point up this relationship. This piece asks whether watermarks (less intrusive than DRM technology) are working to help publishers combat the threat of piracy, an issue that is also very much at the forefront of indie discussions. The other story is the call from superstar author Philip Pullman for the reinstatement of the Net Book Agreement, scrapped 20 years ago in the UK, which saw publishers set the price at which their books would be sold and precluded the massive discounting that Amazon and supermarkets use. Pullman relates his call to the importance of keeping indie bookstores alive, but I am intrigued what the impact on indies might be – would we respond by undercutting massively (as we did with 99 cent ebooks), or would we look to it as a way to ensure we could charge the prices our often larger overheads require without seeming overpriced?
Wattpad Expands Tap
Earlier this year Wattpad introduced its Tap app, which allowed readers to uncover new portions of a story by tapping the screen. 2 billion taps later Wattpad is rolling out Tap Originals, stories that make use of this format, commissioned from their most viewed authors. It's an exciting development for storytelling technique, whilst also being a nostalgic throwback to the very early days of telephone reading with the “cell phone novel”, written in bursts that were as long as the maximum messaging capacity of early phones and accessed by subscription.
Two pieces to end with this week. You may have seen the story going around that Facebook has just had to pull the plug on an Artificial Intelligence that developed its own language no one could understand. Whilst more delightful instances of language few can comprehend can be found in this year's Oddest Book Title Award, won by the wonderfully-monikered The Commuter Pig Keeper
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