29 July 2010

The Andrew Wylie Debate

I've been reading all the news articles about the Andrew Wylie deal with Amazon and thought I'd throw my two cents into the ring. Firstly, for those of you who aren't up to speed, agent Andrew Wylie has bypassed the traditional supply chain (in this case publishers) and signed over digital rights for some 20 books to a two year EXCLUSIVE deal with Amazon. Authors wrapped up in the arrangement include Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and John Updike. I understand they are backlist titles but would be happy to be corrected on this.

Random House is furious and other publishers have released statements. According to The Guardian, Random declared Wylie a "direct competitor" and ruled out "entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved". The Guardian article is pretty good so here's the link.

Am I surprised? As an observer of the publishing industry: Not at all. Ebook royalty rates have been debated left right and centre. The agency model attributed to Apple is also a hot topic. Everyone's looking at the ebook pie and trying to carve it up. In the digital world, publishers don't have the control they used to. The barriers to entry have come down. With "e" and Print on Demand, the landscape has changed, and publishers have been examining their role and what they bring to the table so closely they must be getting eyestrain.

Of course his Wylie arrangement is all about the dollars. By going with the industry leader (Amazon's Kindle) as the ebook device and vendor of choice (not mine I might add) they believe a direct arrangement with Amazon - bypassing the publisher of the printed work (who has assumed ebook rights)- is going to yield a much better return for the authors.

Am I surprised? As a consumer: bloody oath! Why should I be locked out of purchasing the titles concerned because I don't own a friggin' Kindle!?

When publishers speak about ebooks they speak about non-exclusive arrangements and getting the content into all devices, platforms and work into the ebook supply chain. You give the consumer the choice and the power to choose what works for them. That's the handshake arrangement. The honour system. Who is Andrew Wylie to say I can't have access to these ebooks unless I purchase a Kindle? And Amazon is probably grinning from ear to ear, but I'm not impressed at all. Shame Amazon. You think it's a leadership position but you've just lost my vote. You have championed the consumer in the e and p world. And I don't mind if you get them earlier and have some competitive edge, but I'm disgusted you've done the deal.

I guess it's lucky for all I don't like these authors. Then again, the beauty of ebooks is that I pick books I haven't read previously, give the author or the genre a go. A quick, cost effective read that may turn into a life-long love. Who knows? I guess with Rushdie, Upton et al, it's not going to happen now for their backlist titles. I'm not going to buy a Kindle just to read them electronically. And I can't see me looking out for the print now. Your names will trigger a reaction in future. And it's not a nice one.

The Andrew Wylie/Amazon deal is just another example to highlight everything we thought about the publishing and bookselling supply chain is wrong. This digital world is not straightforward. It's turning everything on it's head. How it will all end up? Who knows. Am I surprised? No. We've seen it coming. Normally I'd say pick yourself up and dust yourself off, get back on that horse. But in this digital, greedy world. I'm not sure what direction we are heading.

13 July 2010

A learning curve for many publishers

How times have changed. I've been having ebook discussions with publishers now for well over seven years. Granted, they are discussions based around the library platform and working with our library customers. Not always a publisher’s favourite type of customer particularly with their requirements. There’s always access issues, pricing models, and various sticking points in any ebook agreement with libraries. What a library wants and what a publisher is willing to offer nearly always varies - and varies dramatically in some instances. As a leading trade publisher said to me, I'm currently selling 30 copies of this book to this library consortium. You think I'm prepared to sell one for the same price but have 30 people access it all at the same time? I don't think so.

But taking libraries out of the equation, ebook discussions with publishers are now very very different to seven years ago. They are listening more. They are engaging more. However if you listen really closely, the verbs they use often sound the same. You get used to listening for the "doing words". When discussing ebooks – whether for direct to consumer, retail or library models – I am still hearing the words like "daunting", "challenging" and phrases like "experimenting with ebooks" or "experimenting with a variety of business models". There’s nothing definite about ebooks. Everyone is looking at this in a slightly different way. The one thing they have in common – is that they are now looking at them. And taking them seriously.

In many ways, Amazon paved the way. Took over the US ebook market and then released The Kindle to the rest of world. There was a surge of interest when the Kindle came to Australia. But I’m putting it down to Apple and the consumer response to the iPad that pushed publishers further. After years and years, ebooks were at the top of their “to do” list. Finally! Everyone’s thinking of them, everyone’s talking about them. The world has gone “e” mad. We’ve got Kindles, Apples, Sonys, Kobo, Blio, Google Books. And no doubt more on the horizon.

We finally have Digital Directors on board with many trade and academic publishers locally. If not, there’s an ebook project manager. When you talk about ebook production, you have people on board who know what you are talking about. If you start talking about DADs, publishers here are aware of their options. There’s only a few names that crop up but I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am that when you mention DADs to a publisher, they now know what the hell you are talking about (Digital Asset Distributor).

The publishing environment is learning. We're moving on – still slowly when you’ve been talking “e” as long as I have. But it’s moving, and I’m grateful. And while content has been predominantly backlist, many publishers are working on simultaneous release. Ebooks are becoming part of the production process. Publishers have concentrated on digitising their core content. It's been a learning curve for many publishers. File format has been a subject of interest and everyone is learning as they go along. Publishers are thinking about hardcover, trade paperback, paper and e. They are getting content management systems in place, contract negotiations are moving along, ebook vendors are part of the supply chain, and publishers are looking at the digital world in a different light.

But there are still concerns. Imported titles are top of the list. Where do they stand in the “e” world and how are local publishers being compensated for sales generated in the ANZ market. There are more discussions to be had and much to learn along the way.