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Around the Kindlesphere, May 3, 2010: The Decline & Fall of the Agency 5, eReader Blogs & Podcasts New and Old, Kobo Hardware and Compatibility

At Kindle Nation Daily, we do a lot of tasting so that you won’t ruin your appetite on morsels unworthy of your palate. Here are a few tasty tidbits to provide the flavor of what’s going on in the Kindlesphere today:

  • Rich Adin is an editor and owner of Freelance Editorial Services, a provider of editorial and production services to publishers and authors, and, like me, a frequent contributor to the Teleread blog. For those of us who follow the peregrinations of Steve Jobs’ cat-herding efforts to wring collusive price-fixing and a market advantage out of the Agency 5 megapublishers, Adin’s Teleread piece today, “The Decline & Fall of the Agency 5,” is a must read.
  • Publishing exec Joe Wikert’s Kindleville blog has gone the way of so many 2007-2008 Kindle blogs, but he’s opened up a new once-a-week iPadHound blog, and he continues to provide consistently interesting if occasionally snarky perspectives in his 2020 Publishing blog, including one this morning on eReaders and Digital Bookstores. (I’m no shrink, and I love and have blogged about Joe’s ideas, but I have to admit that I wonder if his perspective might be tinged with some sort of personal embitterment toward Amazon when I read a discussion of the Kindle and iBooks Stores that makes no mention of relative catalog count, which as of this morning appears to stand at 509,985 for the Kindle Store and somewhere between “over 46,000” and “about 60,000” for theiBooks Store.)
  • Speaking of new general ereader initiatives by long-time Kindle observers, you’ll want to check out Len Edgerly’s Reading Edge podcast, Andrys Basten’s E-Reader World Blog, and, of course, the granddaddy of ’em all, Paul K. Biba’s TeleRead. The first two are new because they are relatively new, and Teleread is new because, despite having been around since the 90s, it’s full of new content each and every day. (By the way, it was Len to the best of my knowledge who coined the excellent word “Kindlesphere” that I throw around so liberally, and if you see him around Harvard Square this week be sure to join me in congratulating him on his daughter’s wedding Saturday.) 
  • Speaking again of Teleread, contributor and offsite blogger Joanna has the scoop this morning on the new Kobo reader becoming available in stores, in Canada.
  • Speaking of Kobo, thanks to Kindle Nation citizen Nina S., who wrote in with this Kobo Kwery: “Hello, Stephen… As a Gmail user, you may have seen the ads along the right side of the screen. Today, as I was reading the Tuesday Kindle Nation, I saw Kobo, a provider of ebooks. I clicked on the ad (curious person that I am), and read as much as I could on the website about what Kobo is and what it provides. But I am a bit puzzled, and perhaps you have the answer. I couldn’t discern if the books are in mobi format. Are you acquainted with this site? If so, what’s your “take” on it?   Glad to know you came through the surgery so well.   Nina” Thanks, Nina. I’ll admit that although I have downloaded the free Kobo app on my iPad, I have yet to spend tons of time with it, so I will shy away from sharing a “take” too hastily, with apologies, but I can tell you that Kobo books, which are in one of the many occasionally overlapping ePub formats, are not intended, as yet, to be read on your Kindle. (Which is not to say that there are not ways….).

Around the Kindlesphere, April 29, 2010: Non-Freebie Bestsellers, Faith-Based Freebies, Prices at the Time of Paperback Release, Brisk Online Sales, Kindle Rising in the Land of the Rising Sun?

By Stephen Windwalker, Editor of Kindle Nation Daily

© Kindle Nation Daily 2010
Not for nothing, but from Publisher’s Marketplace via The Independent, here are the top ten bestselling non-freebie books in the Kindle Store for the week ended April 27, 2010:

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson (2=position last week)
2. Caught – Harlan Coben (1)
3. The Girl Who Played With Fire – Stieg Larsson (3)
4. House Rules – Jodi Picoult (4)
5. Deception – Jonathan Kellerman (9)
6. The Help – Kathryn Stockett (6)
7. Every Last One – Anna Quindlen (new)
8. Deliver Us From Evil(re-entry) David Baldacci
9. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson (8)
10. The Shadow of Your Smile – Mary Higgins Clark (7)

Meanwhile, it’s time to  clean out the top drawer of my desk here in the corner office at Kindle Nation headquarters….

  • Speaking of freebies and non-freebies, I’ve noted here a few times my anecdotal sense that religious publishers seem to have a passkey to the portals through which ebooks are offered free in the Kindle Store, but I have resisted drawing any harsh conclusions since I had not taken the time to assemble any real evidence. So I appreciate the rigor that Bufo Calvin has brought to a post at his I Love My Kindle blog, “Onward Christian Freebies.” Calvin drilled down on the breakdown of the 59 free promotional books in the Kindle Store a few days ago. “When I analyzed the books I came up with 41 from known faith-based publishers, 18 from other publishers,” he wrote. So, not to draw conclusions, but what’s up with that, Amazon? I mean, I’ve downloaded and occasionally even reviewed (positively) books from faith-based publishers before, and I have nothing in the world against them. I am fully prepared to grant the possibility that there may not be a level playing field when it comes to salvation, but I — and many other citizens of Kindle Nation — have called in the past for parity in the feature and pricing offerings available to publishers large and small, and it’s about time Amazon put this in place. Any publisher that agrees to play generally within Amazon’s preferred Kindle Store pricing framework of $2.99 to $9.99 ought to have equal access to a “dashboard” option of offering certain titles, up to a set percentage of that publisher’s titles, at a zero-price promotion for a limited and specified period of time. Treat us all the same, Amazon, and perhaps we’ll all get to the Promised Land together!  
  • And speaking of Kindle Store bestsellers, I noticed today that Pat Conroy’s novel South of Broad, one of the top non-freebies in the Kindle Store during the late Summer and Fall of 2009, is climbing the Kindle sales-rank ladder again as public awareness is stimulated due to the marketing of its paperback edition, which will be released next Tuesday, May 4. Years ago Herman Raucher’s film adaptation of The Great Santini (with Duvall and Danner) drove me to buy and read the book. I’ve been a multimedia Conroy consumer ever since, and in August I purchased both the Kindle and Audible.com versions of South of Broad. I won’t be buying the paperback next week, even at Amazon’s discounted price, but I do find it interesting to note that, by abstaining from other publishers’ collusive agency price-fixing model and allowing Amazon to put its unparalleled multi-format pricing experience to work on behalf of all, Conroy’s publisher (the Nan A. Talese imprint falls under Doubleday’s umbrella, and thus under Random House) is maximizing brisk online sales in four important formats. The hardcover is currently ranked #1,896 in Amazon’s main bookstore with its price discounted from $29.95 to $19.77, pre-orders of the paperback are at #760 with a price discounted from $16 to $10.88, the $9.99 Kindle Edition moved from about #500 to about #400 in the past 24 hours, and the unabridged Kindle-compatible Audible.com version is, I’m sure, still selling a few copies with a price discounted from $31.50 to $23.63. For Mr. Conroy, life is pretty good, and all the better because he’s not published by MacMillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, or Penguin/Pearson, the five agency model price fixers.
  • Speaking of brisk online sales, someone bought a Kindle yesterday after visiting Kindle Nation Daily and clicking on a link to Amazon. This has happened five times this month, and since Amazon sends $25.90 to Kindle Nation Daily two or three months after each such occurrence (yep, that was a disclosure), it looks like I will be in good shape to pay the various monthly fees associated with Kindle Nation Daily in July. So, thank you! And it appears that my sales are just the tip of the iceberg for Amazon, since I see that as of this morning the Kindle is still Amazon’s #1 selling electronics item, and Amazon said in a release earlier this week that in fact the Kindle remains the #1 selling item, period, for Amazon. Other products worth noting among Amazon’s top 25 in Electronics as of this morning are the Kindle DX at #7, iPod Touch models at #2, #3, and #19, other iPods at #14 and #15, and an Apple mouse at #24. Among Amazon’s top 25 in laptops are iPad models (offered by third-party sellers at premium prices) at #1, #2, and #4, and these models also rank #12, #23, and #74 among Amazon’s top 100 in computers, where Apple is additionally represented by 8 Mac models in the top 40.
  • Finally, I’m sure that folks who understand the 21st century innovation of “cloud computing” far better than I would be quick to tell me that it would be a huge stretch to link this news release from Amazon yesterday to global Kindle expansion, but I’m not so sure. Amazon’s headline reads: Amazon Web Services Launches Asia Pacific Region for Its Cloud Computing Platform; Cloud pioneer now offers its suite of web services from new Singapore datacenters to serve customers desiring an Asia Pacific presence, and you can click on the title to read the entire release. After all, don’t clouds often bring rain? Perhaps I am out of my depth here, but Bloomberg Business Week did have an intriguing story last week about talks between Amazon and Kodansha ahead of a possible in-country Japanese language Kindle launch, and I’m paying close attention to all the tidbits I can find about Amazon actually allowing the Kindle to establish country-by-country international roots for three reasons: (1) the number of Kindle Nation readers beyond U.S. borders continues to grow dramatically; (2) it’s potential news; and ( 3) I have a small vested interest, in that my Asian publisher (Nikkei BP) is releasing its Japanese translation of my book The Complete User’s Guide To the Amazing Amazon Kindle in paperback in May and wants to follow up with a Kindle edition as soon as Amazon offers a Japanese-language Kindle platform.

A boy can dream, whether he’s Ash on a Pokemon quest in Japan or an author in Arlington on a quest for first-mover status in the Japanese Kindlesphere.

Around the Kindlesphere, April 19, 2010: Participate in The New Yorker’s Live "Ask the Author" Session with Ken Auletta on Jeff Bezos, the Kindle, and Amazon

This week’s New Yorker magazine has a fascinating piece by author Ken Auletta on the Kindle and the iPad, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, and Amazon and Apple.

The magazine is also holding what’s sure to be an interesting “Ask the Author” session to follow up the piece this Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 3 p.m. EDT. You can participate by navigating to http://bit.ly/AulettaQAKindle. Kind of makes me wonder which Thursday afternoon session will be more interesting, the New Yorker’s or Amazon’s live quarterly earnings conference call that’s scheduled to be webcast the same afternoon at 5 p.m.

Around the Kindlesphere: Scanning in Kindle Purchases from Bookstores, and Giving the Bookstores a Cut

“When does Amazon create the iPhone/Android app and the programme that will allow bookstores to receive a cut of every Kindle edition they sell?” asks an interesting post entitled The Future of Book Publishing Business Models at the Once More unto the Breach blog. “I scan the book’s in-store barcode with my smartphone, and I get the Kindle edition delivered, and the store gets its cut. Why is this different in concept than Borders on-line store being run on Amazon, or any of the independent book sellers that front through Amazon? It’s not the normal book mark-up, but people already browse bookstores and buy on Amazon. This is better than no revenue.”

Reminds me a bit of the idea I’ve promoted in the past for co-operative in-store bundling of Kindle and hardcopy editions. But it strikes me that this one would not have to wait for Amazon. I have no doubt that O’Reilly Digital Distribution could accomodate authors, publishers and bookstores by creating an app that would circumvent Amazon but still send a Kindle-formatted edition (or, for that matter, an iPad-formatted edition) directly to your ereading device of choice. So Amazon should jump on it! Jump or be jumped!

These ideas generally do not take shape because the various players see each other as enemies and have a dug-in ideological horror at the notion of working together. That, of course, is a big mistake.

Read the whole post here:

The Future of Book Publishing Business Models 

And here are a few other recent tidbits from around the Kindlesphere:

NPR: No Ink, No Paper: What’s The Value Of An E-Book?  by Lynn Neary

MacMillan CEO John Sargent Tackles Some of the Questions Raised in Response to His Earlier Comments on the “Agency Model”

O’Reilly Digital Distribution Offers Multi-Venue eBook Publishing Service

“Crisis in Publishing” Series at Publetariat: People Who Publish Blog

This should last forever, no matter how many Kindles, iPads, etc: Books You Don’t Need in a Place U Can’t Find 

Readers Are Devouring Apple Book Apps

Around the Kindlesphere: A Magnificent Article by Jason Epstein on "Publishing: The Revolutionary Future"

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred. 
By Stephen Windwalker
Originally posted February 26, 2010 – © Kindle Nation Daily 2010

It would be possible, from reading the mainstream business and tech media and even at times from reading posts on this blog, to get the idea that everyone associated with the traditional book publishing industry is marching in lockstep with the kind of dinosaur views expressed so cavalierly of late by some publishers, pundits, authors, and $1,959 tablet manufacturers.

Fortunately, this is not the case. While much of the industry continues to speak in unison about its master plan to survive in an ever-more-competitive marketplace by mandating that ebook prices be raised by 30 to 50 percent while demanding smaller wholesale payments from Amazon, there have strong indications from some, including even Big Six publishing executives like Random House’s Madeline McIntosh that there will be significant abstention, perhaps with enough power to reverse the order of march, from the Apple Five’s lemming-like march “into the valley of Death.”

If there is any single individual to whom McIntosh and her colleagues should be paying close attention these days, it’s Jason Epstein. Epstein knows more about the traditional book publishing business than anyone else in the world, having created the Vintage and Anchor paperback imprints for Random House and Doubleday, co-founded the New York Review of Books, and written the best book that I have read on the glory years and the subsequent decline of the best American book publishers of the 20th century. He has demonstrated his openness to new digital publishing directions by co-founding On Demand Books, which manufactures and sells the Espresso Book Machine. His thinking deserves their attention both because he is very much of their industry and also because he understands why it is doomed in its current incarnation and how it can make the most of its own greatest strengths in the changing landscape of 21st century book publishing.

You can get a good sense of what Epstein sees in the first half of this January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, but for a more comprehensive understanding of where book publishing is and where it is going, I strongly encourage you to read his piece, “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future,” in the March 11 issue of the New York Review of Books.

I use the word “magnificent” to describe Epstein’s piece because he delivers so comprehensively on his stature as perhaps the single individual best positioned to understand its sweep, evident in these first three sentences:

The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, the cultures it affects and on which it depends. Meanwhile, for quite different reasons, the genteel book business that I joined more than a half-century ago is already on edge, suffering from a gambler’s unbreakable addiction to risky, seasonal best sellers, many of which don’t recoup their costs, and the simultaneous deterioration of backlist, the vital annuity on which book publishers had in better days relied for year-to-year stability through bad times and good.

Epstein is no partisan of the Kindle or of Amazon: “My rooms are piled from floor to ceiling with books so that I have to think twice about where to put another one,” he says. “If by some unimaginable accident all these books were to melt into air leaving my shelves bare with only a memorial list of digital files left behind I would want to melt as well for books are my life.”

But unlike many ideology-bound pundits he is able to see today’s realities clearly without allow affinity or self-interest to taint views such as these:

  • With the earth trembling beneath them, it is no wonder that publishers with one foot in the crumbling past and the other seeking solid ground in an uncertain future hesitate to seize the opportunity that digitization offers them to restore, expand, and promote their backlists to a decentralized, worldwide marketplace. New technologies, however, do not await permission.
  • The resistance today by publishers to the onrushing digital future does not arise from fear of disruptive literacy, but from the understandable fear of their own obsolescence and the complexity of the digital transformation that awaits them, one in which much of their traditional infrastructure and perhaps they too will be redundant. 
  • [A]ll the world’s books will eventually reside as digital files to be downloaded instantly title by title wherever on earth connectivity exists, and printed and bound on demand at point of sale one copy at a time by the Espresso Book Machine as library-quality paperbacks, or transmitted to electronic reading devices including Kindles, Sony Readers, and their multiuse successors, among them most recently Apple’s iPad. The unprecedented ability of this technology to offer a vast new multilingual marketplace a practically limitless choice of titles will displace the Gutenberg system with or without the cooperation of its current executives.
  • Digitization makes possible a world in which anyone can claim to be a publisher and anyone can call him- or herself an author. In this world the traditional filters will have melted into air and only the ultimate filter—the human inability to read what is unreadable—will remain to winnow what is worth keeping in a virtual marketplace where Keats’s nightingale shares electronic space with Aunt Mary’s haikus. 
  • With inventory expense, shipping, and returns eliminated, readers will pay less, authors will earn more, and book publishers, rid of their otiose infrastructure, will survive and may prosper.
  • Digitization will encourage an unprecedented diversity of new specialized content in many languages. The more adaptable of today’s general publishers will survive the redundancy of their traditional infrastructure but digitization has already begun to spawn specialized publishers occupying a variety of niches staffed by small groups of like-minded editors, perhaps not in the same office or even the same country, much as software firms themselves are decentralized with staff in California collaborating online with colleagues in Bangalore and Barcelona.
  • The cost of entry for future publishers will be minimal, requiring only the upkeep of the editorial group and its immediate support services but without the expense of traditional distribution facilities and multilayered management. 
  • As conglomerates resist the exorbitant demands of best-selling authors whose books predictably dominate best-seller lists, these authors, with the help of agents and business managers, will become their own publishers, retaining all net proceeds from digital as well as traditional sales. 
  • Traditional territorial rights will become superfluous and a worldwide, uniform copyright convention will be essential. 
  • Without the contents of our libraries—our collective backlist, our cultural memory—our civilization would collapse. By the mid-Eighties I had become aware of the serious erosion of publishers’ backlists as shoals of slow-moving but still viable titles were dropped every month. There were two reasons for this: a change in the tax law that no longer permitted existing unsold inventory to be written off as an expense; but more important, the disappearance as Americans left the cities for the suburbs of hundreds of well-stocked, independent, city-based bookstores, and their replacement by chain outlets in suburban malls that were paying the same rent as the shoe store next door for the same minimal space and requiring the same rapid turnover.
  • This demographic shift turned the book business upside down as retailers, unable to stock deep backlist, now demanded high turnover, often of ephemeral titles. Best-selling authors whose loyalty to their publishers had previously been the norm were now chips in a high-stakes casino: a boon for authors and agents with their nonrecoverable overguarantees and a nightmare for publishers who bear all the risk and are lucky if they break even. Meanwhile, backlist continued to decline. The smaller houses, unable to take these risks, merged with the larger ones, and the larger ones eventually fell into the arms of today’s conglomerates.
  • [D]igitization and its buzzword, disintermediation … meant that publishers could now look forward to marketing a practically limitless backlist without physical inventory, shipping expense, or unsold copies returned for credit. Customers would pay in advance for their purchases. This meant that even Amazon’s automated shipping facilities would eventually be bypassed by electronic inventory. This was twenty-five years ago. Today digitization is replacing physical publishing much as I had imagined it would.
  • Relatively inexpensive multipurpose devices fitted with reading applications will widen the market for e-books and may encourage new literary forms, such as Japan’s cell-phone novels. Newborn revolutions often encourage utopian fantasies until the exigencies of human nature reassert themselves. Though bloggers anticipate a diversity of communal projects and new kinds of expression, literary form has been remarkably conservative throughout its long history while the act of reading abhors distraction, such as the Web-based enhancements—musical accompaniment, animation, critical commentary, and other metadata—that some prophets of the digital age foresee as profitable sidelines for content providers.
  • The huge, worldwide market for digital content … is not a fantasy. It will be very large, very diverse, and very surprising: its cultural impact cannot be imagined. E-books will be a significant factor in this uncertain future, but actual books printed and bound will continue to be the irreplaceable repository of our collective wisdom.

At the risk of possibly pushing the limits of fair use, I’ve tried to tempt you with a taste here, but if you care about where reading and the book business are going I anticipate that you will take time to sit down for the entire meal.

Around the Kindlesphere, February 25, 2010: iPad Killers and Kindle Apps

  • It’s 9 a.m. in Arlington, 6 a.m. in Cupertino, and still no Apple Store pre-order page for the Apple iPad despite rumors that the new tablet would be available for pre-order today. While we keep watch for you there, you can go to Amazon for a Protective Carrying Case, or to M-Edge to scope out a colorful choice of protective covers soon to be released for the iPad.
  • If you’re among those who are questioning whether you want to lay out the $1,500-$2,500 that it will cost to keep a 3G iPad up and running over three or four years, the time may be coming when the iPad’s availability drives down prices for Apple’s iPod Touch. My partner in a Committed relationship loves the Kindle for iPod Touch app: she just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest on her Touch (we bought the bestseller in the Kindle Store for $9.99), and brought the iPod to her book group last night so she could check her bookmarks during the conversation. Best place to keep track of the best prices for the various iPod Touch models?  Amazon’s iPod Store.

Speaking of Apple, two little snippets that caught my eye from the 24/7WallStreet blog:

Around the Kindlesphere, February 24, 2010

I’ve shared a lot of my own posts with you in the past few days, but I’m not the only one in the Kindlesphere with important things to say. Here are a few links to other posts, articles, and reports by my colleagues that are well worth reading:

  • Mike Serbinis, CEO of global ebook retailer Kobo (formerly Shortcovers) shares some predictions about changes we could see in the ebook work this year and beyond, and they include the $99 ereader, the $4.99 bestseller, 15 million ebook readers sold in 2010, and, “by 2015, at least 50% of eBook sales will come from entrants that don’t even sell hardcopy books today.”
  • O’Reilly Publishing’s annual Tools of Change Conference just ended, with white hot focus on issues of importance to publishers, authors, and readers of ebooks and print books alike, and TeleRead editor Paul Biba did a magnificent job of reporting on the news and the discourse generated at the conference. His tweets here will lead you to the key stories.
  • IndieAuthor April L. Hamilton has posted an interesting interview over at Publetariat with Leigh Cunningham, founder of the fledgling Association of Independent Authors. I’m a member myself, and it is an organization that I believe could become very important in the next few years. If you are a current or prospective independent author, I encourage you to join, and I’m happy to share the news that first-year membership fees are being waived through the end of February for new members who use the promotional code “COMP” while registering.
  • As we’ve reported before, the number of free books in the Kindle Store is about to expand by more than 300 percent with the addition of some 65,000 books that have been digitized by the British Library, including thousands of 19th-century guilty pleasures that were known then as “penny dreadfuls.” We’ll let you know when the books are available for free download to your Kindle, and meanwhile, here’s the news release issued yesterday by the British Library.
  • Len Edgerly just posted a terrific 25-minute interview with author and change guru Seth Godin at Len’s The Reading Edge podcast.
  • At TheConsumerist, Chris Walters has an incisive analysis, entitled “Publisher: ‘If You Can Afford An Ebook Device, You Can Pay More For Ebooks,’ on some of the dreck issuing forth from self-appointed spokespeople for traditional publishers, like Michael Cader of Publisher’s Marketplace.

Enjoy. I’ll recharge my batteries, read some fiction, and be back tomorrow with a fresh post on what’s really going on as well as some Kindle tips and links to Kindle bargains.