Like many, I have spent the past 10 days transfixed by the World Athletics Championships. They were dominated by the departure from the field of competition of one of the world's few truly iconic figures, Usain Bolt. I remember first watching him run in 2008 with my jaw on the floor, knowing I'd witnessed something incredible, and the start of something new that would, er, run and run. And here we were, 9 years later, watching the story draw to its close (the only thing I can compare it to is the last series of The Sopranos), the curtain coming down on a rather lonely, injured figure broken by years of pushing beyond normal limits in pursuit not just of greatness, but of bringing magic to billions.
These life cycles are something that in publishing, and in the tech world we get used to, but my real thought about the obvious parallels with our world was not about the end of eras, or the way the new quickly becomes old, so much as wondering what we, as writers, are prepared to do to break ourselves, to push beyond what the world thought possible, in order to bring magic to millions. It's a question we should ask ourselves more.
DRM and the Future of Ebooks
It feels as though this is becoming as much a theme here as copyright and tax, with the recent discussion of watermarking, and the announcement that W3C, the caretaker organization for the World Wide Web, is to hold its first publishing conference where the coding that makes ebooks work across platforms dependent on the web will be centre stage. This week we report on a panel at Worldcon that may provide a taste of that discussion to come. The discussion, at one of the leading events in the SFF world, is of particular interest as it featured both a self-publisher and a representative of Tor Books, long champions of DRM free ebooks. The top snippet for me is “For piracy and DRM, Nielsen Hayden said that Tor has seen no loss of sales or business since it went fully DRM-free.” There is also fascinating discussion of geoblocking, which again we looked at recently here.
Talking of possible futures, next month sees the launch of Inara, a new ebook platform whose business model is driven by in-book adverts. It will be of mild interest to follow, but as the Worldcon panellists observed, we seem to be increasingly accepting that the basic immersive “book reading” experience is something we need to preserve as fully as possible – expect successful innovation to happen around and not within that experience.
And the Present of Publishers
We've had a lot of figures about the downturn in ebook sales, the resilience in print sales, the boom in audiobooks but this week we got some interesting figures on what that actually means for publishers. It seems that (some, big) publishers are actually doing rather nicely. This week both Simon and Schuster ($28m for the quarter) and Harper Collins ($199m for the year) announced comfortable profits. Which supports the idea that instead of seeing one monolithic culture replaced by another, we are increasingly entering a landscape of fruitful diversity.
(More On) Indies and Libraries
Last week was all about indies in libraries, and there is more interesting library news this week, beginning with Overdrive's introduction of an online sign-up for Libby cards, meaning American library users can now register for libraries and borrow ebooks all from their own home. This can only increase the potential market for ebook borrowing, so No Shelf Required's nicely titled piece “Welcome, Local Author, Your Library Wants You” aimed at helping libraries serve indie authors makes particularly encouraging reading.
Amazon: Kindles in Poland, Express Delivery and Exclusivity Enforcement
It's been one of those weeks for Amazon. It began with what sounded like good news – 40% better delivery times for its customers who buy through Amazon Marketplace suppliers. What's not to like about that? Quite a lot if you're one of those Marketplace suppliers and you're now expected to meet the time frames of Amazon central.
Nate Hoffelder has also used this week’s news to question Amazon’s judgment – in this case the news is that Polish readers read 2/3 of their ebooks on Kindle, and yet there remains no Polish Amazon store. The biggest criticism of Amazon, though, comes from the never-knowingly-punch-pulling David Gaughran, who outlines his experience with somewhat intractable enforcers of Amazon's KDP select exclusivity policy. Having arranged a bunch of promotions, Gaughran found he was in breach of terms when a platform reoffered an old version of his book without authorisation and then proved unresponsive to a takedown notice, leaving Gaughran a hard task proving he had taken all precautions.
The End of American Star Books
America Star Books, the updated guise of disgraced vanity sharks Publish America, has disappeared, but watch out because Paperback Services and Paperback Radio, under the same ownership, are still out there. Expect news from our Watchdog.
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