The state of the NZ book market

Last year, New Zealanders purchased 5.3 million printed books — not bad for a country of just 4.6 million people, but a long way behind Australia. While Kiwis purchased an average of 1.3 print books per person, the Aussie average was 2.3. (24.5 million people bought 56.4 million books.)

Where the figures get really interesting is in the number of ebooks sold. Almost every Aussie also bought an ebook each last year: 22.4 million sold, or the equivalent of 28% of total book sales. Ebook sales for New Zealand are harder to measure because we have no country-specific Amazon store so most of our purchases go through either amazon.com (the US) or amazon.com.au (Australia). Still, even without figures from Amazon, Apple and Kobo sold 1.3 million ebooks here in 2016 — which makes up around 20% of total book sales. Given Amazon’s market penetration overseas, I suspect the real number of ebooks sold here is at least double that figure.

  Population Reported
Print Book Sales
(annual units)
Ebook Sales
(annual units)
Ebooks as
% of
all book sales
  U.S.A.   325,700,000  675,000,000  487,298,000  42%
  U.K.     65,400,000 187,500,000  95,623,000  34%
  Canada     36,500,000  50,500,000  26,017,000  34%
  Australia     24,500,000  56,400,000  22,463,000  28%
  New Zealand       4,600,000  5,300,000  *1,306,000  20%*
         
  5-Country Total:  456,700,000  974,700,000  632,707,000  39%

*(New Zealand ebook total only includes Apple & Kobo stores; Because Amazon has no country-specific store for New Zealand, Kindle ebooks are purchased in NZ through Amazon.com and thus included in the US total)

The figures above come from yet another brilliant Author Earnings survey, this time of the top five English-language countries the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

As usual, there’s tons of fascinating data in the report for both writers and publishers. It’s all clearly illustrated and presented from a non-partisan perspective, but one graph in particular caught my eye:

The report’s authors note:

That represents a wildly dramatic shift in fortune for non-Big Five traditional publishers; three years ago, their combined $ ebook sales were less than half of what the Big Five’s were.

A detailed breakdown of precisely who those “small or medium publishers” really are is promised in a future report.

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The collective insanity of the publishing industry

“Publishing is about she who writes and she who reads.
Everyone else can lend a hand or fuck off.”
Hugh Howey

Gene Doucette has a few things to say about the collective insanity of the publishing industry …

Gene Doucette on publishing insanity In 2014, there was a drawn-out dispute between Amazon, and Hachette. The latter is one of the largest publishers in the world, and Amazon is a company that sells things, such as books.  The essence of the dispute was that Hachette—and all the other publishers we affectionately refer to as ‘the Big 5’—wanted more control over the list price of their e-books on Amazon.

That sounds thoroughly reasonable, and it sort of is, but please let me explain because the crazy is in the details.  What was happening was that Amazon was discounting the price of the ebooks, and it may seem like this is something the Big 5 would want to stop, except the markdown was coming off of Amazon’s end.  In other words, if Hachette wanted to charge $15.99 for an ebook, and Amazon marked it down to $9.99, Hachette was still paid their cut of the full price of the book.

More people will buy a book at $9.99 than at $15.99, so essentially, the Big 5 was coming out ahead in this arrangement in every conceivable way.  They collected royalties at an unreasonably high price point while moving the number of units that corresponded to a lower price point.

So of course that had to be stopped right away.

Hachette fought for, and won from Amazon, the return to something called the Agency Model, whereby they set their price and Amazon wasn’t allowed to reduce that price.  So that $15.99 book stayed at $15.99 until Hachette decided to change it.

Soon after that contract was signed, the other Big 5 contracts came due, and they all asked for the same Agency Model arrangement.  Thus, the finest minds in publishing—or one might assume—negotiated themselves out of an arrangement whereby they sold more units at a lower cost without suffering the financial impact that comes with a lower unit cost.

On purpose.

This isn’t even the crazy part.

After securing the right to price their ebooks unreasonably high and having those prices stick, the first thing the collective brain-trust of the Big 5 did was raise their ebook prices even more.  Often, the prices were higher than the price of the print edition, which is just fundamentally insane.

It should come as very little surprise to you that after jacking up the prices of their ebooks at the start of 2015, the Big 5 sold fewer ebooks.

Now here’s the fun part, the part that just makes me shake my head and giggle and wonder how I can live in such extraordinary times.  After six months of depressed ebook sales, the Big 5 announced that the ebook market was slowing down.

Not: “we priced ourselves out of the market and stopped selling as many books”. No no no.  The ebook market!  Is slowing down!

This was celebrated!

I mean it.  One article after another, from the New York Times on down came news pieces declaring that print was making a comeback at long last, and the long national nightmare was over.

All it took was the biggest publishing companies in the world deliberately murdering their own share of the market.  And it wasn’t even true.

 

The Wall Street Journal highlighted declining sales last September with the headline “E-Book Sales Fall After New Amazon Contracts. Prices rise, but revenue takes a hit.” In January, with the annual figures in, The Bookseller positively gloated about it:

… we can without a shadow of a doubt say that e-book volume slid for the Big Five publishers for the first time since the digital age began, collectively down 2.4% to 47.9 million units last year.

 

But what they failed to mention was where those sales went. Here’s what Hugh Howey, co-author of the quarterly Author Earnings Report has to say (his bolding):

more than half the market is now in ebooks, and half of what’s left is online print sales. 75% of your market is online, and publishers are willing to nuke your career in order to protect historical relationships with the 25% that’s left. We have this in their own writing. This is not speculation. Even industry insider Mike Shatzkin has blogged about this strategy and how it has backfired.

 

So the Big 5 are celebrating lower sales and therefore reduced income for their authors. Hugh Howey again:

I’m still pro-author and pro-reader above everything. If Amazon and the Big 5 all go out of business tomorrow, all I’ll care about is whether and how writers and readers can commune. The middlemen are only useful in how they serve these two parties.

Publishing is about she who writes and she who reads. Everyone else can lend a hand or fuck off. According to our data, publishers are mostly doing the latter. I hope they turn that around.

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Two more ways publishers shaft writers

contractThe latest posting on Writer Beware
looks at the arbitration clauses buried in almost all publishing contracts. These clauses say that in the event of a dispute between author and publisher, the matter will be dealt with by an independent arbitrator — which at first sight seems reasonable enough, except that;

  • Arbitration clauses are binding, and supersede your right to go to court.
  • Going to arbitration is NOT like appearing before a judge. Arbitrators are “largely at liberty to determine how much evidence a plaintiff can present and how much the defence can withhold.”
  • Arbitrators are supposed to be impartial, but aren’t necessarily.
  • Arbitrators’ decisions are hard to challenge. Courts are reluctant to reverse them, even where they are obviously unfair.
  • Arbitration can cost you, even beyond any judgement that may go against you. In addition to travel and filing fees, you may have to pay the arbitrator.
  • Christian organizations sometimes require Christian arbitration. Prayer and scripture may be given preference over law and evidence.
  • Some arbitration clauses include bans on class actions. “By banning class actions, companies have essentially disabled consumer challenges to practices like predatory lending, wage theft and discrimination. … Once blocked from going to court as a group, most people dropped their claims entirely.”

Meanwhile, The Passive Voice, highlights deep discount clauses in many publishing contracts that let publishers offer titles to booksellers and wholesalers at big markdowns while disproportionally marking down the author’s share.

The original posting comes from the US Authors Guild which says:

We’ve seen these discount double-crosses applied for sales to book clubs and book fairs, for “special sales” in bulk outside the usual book trade, for large-print editions, for export editions. Let’s say the publisher sells our sample book in bulk for just $2.00. The discount double-crossed author would get one thin dime per copy, a royalty cut of an astounding 93%—even though the net to the publisher would decline by less than 33%.

Even crazier, some reductions can apply even to direct sales from publishers to readers, despite the fact that the publisher gets to keep the share of the transaction that would normally go to a retailer or wholesaler. If anything, an author’s royalty rate on such direct sales should be higher than normal.

Passive Guy, (a lawyer himself), notes:

Standard publishing contracts from large traditional publishers stand out in the constellation of business contracts for their one-sidedness and, in some cases, outright duplicity for anyone who fails to read them very carefully. The way that Randy Penguin and its cohorts write their standard contracts is not the way that Apple, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Disney, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, American Express, Merrill Lynch and similar entities write their contracts.
 
PG doesn’t agree with many initiatives undertaken by the Authors Guild, but he’s pleased to see their latest efforts to shine a light on some of the most abusive contract provisions routinely employed by Big Publishing.
 
However, the cynic in PG holds little hope that AG’s efforts will bring about any meaningful reform. Treating authors badly is too much a part of the corporate and cultural DNA of traditional publishing to change. These dinosaurs will die before they evolve.

And in the Comments section, author/publisher Kristine Rusch (AKA Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kristine Grayson and Kris Nelscott) adds:

It’s really ugly in trad pub contract and royalty land these days. That’s why I continually tell writers who want to be trad pubbed to hire a LAWYER to negotiate their contracts, not an agent (even if it were legal for an agent to do it, which it is not. [sigh]). But do these writers listen? Nope.

 

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Social media snake oil

Chris Syme of CKSyme Media Group has some advice for authors:

The book marketing sector, more than any I have ever worked in, is full of bad marketing advice.

In a guest post on Writer Beware, Chris takes on a few of the more popular scams.

snakeOil

Hashtags

Research shows that tweets containing one or more hashtags are 55% more likely to be retweeted than tweets that don’t. So the more hashtags, the better. Right?

Wrong!

Other research documents what you might call “hashtag fatigue”. When you use more than two hashtags, your engagement actually drops by an average of 17 percent.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see this scam retweeted by several authors, maybe because they promised to help promote the service for more free tweets that will “reach millions of people generating a truly astonishing amount of traffic.” All these hashtag-laden tweets do is annoy people. To the savvy social media user, they reek of stupidity.

 

Buy thousands of followers

marketingScam

Chris documents another well-known scam in marketing circles; fake accounts that lure thousands of u

nsuspecting followers. These followers are then on-sold as tweeting platforms with supposedly massive reach.

She tried a test. $19 for 375,000 followers. Result: zero sales and zero new Twitter followers.
<blockquote”>Scam artists know what they are doing. They are playing on peoples’ pain points and ignorance. They can build fake followings completely on accounts that follow back automatically. Keep in mind that all you need to start a Twitter account is an email address. It’s an ugly, dark business.

 

Book promotion — for a price

She also takes issue with some book promotion sites. There are good ones — she lists a few — and plenty of dodgy ones.

It is impossible to list all the suspect author marketing services out there … [but generally]these sites ask for money for their suspect services. There is no information on their “about” pages that validates their expertise or existence, just blabbing about the reach of their audience. They are not published authors or even legitimate marketing services. They are product-only.

Very much a case of author beware!

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Why Facebook will not help you sell books

An illuminating post from Michael Alvear at Digital Book World:

As an author, book marketer and social media specialist, I cannot think of a single more wasteful thing an author can do for book sales than to market on Facebook. Put simply, there is no evidence that Facebook can sell books, unless you’re a celebrity with a mass following. There is, however, plenty of evidence that Facebook is both a waste of time and money if you’re an unknown or midlist author.
To understand why Facebook is so demonstrably bad at selling books, you have to understand two key concepts that agents, publishers and marketing experts fail to mention whenever they encourage (and sometimes force) authors to build their “platforms:”

Original post …

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American reading habits (2014)

Last year, nearly a quarter of American adults didn’t read a single book–hardback, paperback or e-book–a figure that’s almost tripled since 1978.

US book reading
(The graphic comes from Seth Godin’s blog posting Telling the truth with charts–but that’s another story!)

 

These figures come from this Pew Research Center report (PDF), which also shows that e-reading is on the rise.

  • 28% of adults read an e-book in 2014 (up from 17% in 2011 and 23% in 2012)
  • 69% read a print book
  • 14% listened to an audio book
  • 4% of readers are “e-book only”

Overall, 76% of adults read a book in some format over the previous 12 months. The typical American adult read or listened to 5 books in the past year, and the average for all adults was 12
books. Neither the mean nor median number of books read has changed significantly over the past few years.

  • 50% of Americans own a dedicated handheld device–either a tablet computer or an e-reader
  • 92% of adults have a cellphone
  • 55% have a smartphone
  • 75% have a desktop or laptop computer

E-book readers who own tablets or e-readers are very likely to read e-books on those devices—but those who own computers or cellphones sometimes turn to those platforms, too.

Of e-book readers:

  • 57% use a dedicated e-reader (up from 41% in 2011)
  • 55% use a tablet (up from 23% in 2011)
  • 29% use a computer (down from 42% in 2011)
  • 32% use a cellphone (up from 28% in 2011)

(Clearly, e-book readers use multiple devices.)

Though e-books are rising in popularity, print remains the foundation of Americans’ reading habits: Among adults who read at least one book in the past year, just 5% said they read an e-book in the last year without also reading a print book.

 

 

 

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The case against Author Solutions

No_ASIAuthor Solutions Incorporated (ASI) claim to represent authors, but 170,000 (“or more”) of them are cited in a class action lawsuit against the company.

The lawsuit, filed on February 26,  claims to be  “a case about a publishing company that makes money from authors, not for them” and that ASI “operates more like a telemarketing company, not a publisher, that employs a large, commissioned sales force to sell books and services to its target audience: the Authors themselves, not the general public.” (My italics.)

Amongst other things, the suit alleges that ASI:

  • Deceptively sells publishing packages and other services by making false, untrue, or misleading statements.
  • Conceals critical information from authors — in particular that its “consultants” are actually telemarketers who don’t necessarily have any experience in publishing.
  • Lies about being “invested in Authors’ success”.
  • The company’s so-called ‘services’ “are not reasonably designed to help authors sell books or to accomplish their stated goal and are effectively worthless.”

Back in June last year, David Gaughran, writing in his Let’s Get Digital blog began his opening salvo against the company like this:

The more you study an operation like Author Solutions, the more it resembles a two-bit internet scam, except on a colossal scale.

In another posting, Gaughran described ASI as:

a company infamous for overcharging writers, doing a terrible job of publishing their books, and forcing ineffective and expensive marketing services upon those authors when their books (inevitably) fail to sell.

Needless to say, Author Solutions is no solution for an indie publisher. But perhaps the most disturbing thing about the company is their parentage. According to a banner on their website, ASI is “A Penguin Random House Company”:

 

"A Penguin Random House Company"

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