Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Konrath & AmazonEncore strike a deal

by Michelle Gagnon

I'm a huge fan of Joe Konrath's 'Jack' Daniels series (written under "J. A Konrath"). So it was with tremendous excitement that I read this news:

Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that AmazonEncore, Amazon’s publishing imprint, will release the newest book in bestselling author J.A. Konrath’s Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels series, “Shaken.”

This is a huge step forward, both for Joe and for Amazon's imprint, which traditionally has only published reprints of self-published books by new authors, not original titles from known authors.
Clearly Amazon is now throwing the gauntlet to the traditional publishing houses, starting with a writer who has already carved out a name for himself by publishing over a dozen books using Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (in addition to his success in the traditional publishing milieu).

Joe played coy regarding the actual details of his advance with AmazonEncore, saying only that he received a very favorable contract. The digital version of the book will be available on Kindle four months before the print version.

So what does it all mean? It brought to mind an interview a few weeks ago with a Newsweek editor. Responding to the news that Newsweek had been offered for sale, he said that he felt they'd been doing things backward in recent years, compiling a weekly magazine while simultaneously offering daily articles on Newsweek.com. In the future, he thinks the most viable model will be to start with the daily articles, compiling the most popular into a print edition at the end of every week for readers (such as myself) who prefer reading in print form.
In other words, the online content will drive the print content, not vice versa.

Coming on the heels of my post last week about the recent uptick in digital vs. print sales, this was big news. I've felt for a long time that if Amazon got their act together by offering Kindles at a lower price point (which hasn't happened yet, but must be on the horizon), they could easily position themselves to dominate the industry, effectively cutting out traditional publishing houses. They already have massive marketing and distribution resources at their disposal. All they'd have to do was hire a team of editors, and offer the mainstays of the industry (Patterson, King, Child, Steel, etc) a larger percentage of the royalties. As Konrath says in his press release, "[This] company can email every single person who has every bought one of my books through their website, plus millions of potential new customers. I've never had that kind of marketing power behind one of my novels. I'd be an idiot not to do this."

As with the music industry, what I suspect will end up happening is a consolidation of the various houses into a few major players (with, most likely, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple among them). A few months ago the industry seemed to wake up to this threat, leading to the "agency model" battles between MacMillan and Amazon. (The “agency” model is based on the idea that the publisher, not the vendor, is selling to the consumer and, therefore, setting the price.)

I think that in the end what the publishers need to fear is not that Amazon will set the prices for their new releases, but that they'll take them over entirely.

I'm not saying this is good news for writers-it remains to be seen if this will lead to a larger publishing base, or a more narrow one. But it does appear to be the first volley over the decks in the coming battle.

14 comments:

  1. That's really interesting, what you're saying about Newsweek. We get Time and I'm so overwhelmed with reading that I'm always a couple weeks late in reading the magazine (my wife keeps up on it fairly well). So, as a result, I tend to catch stories online as they're happening, but when I get to the print edition I either read evergreen type stories or look for something that's more in-depth in terms of analysis and coverage than I'm inclined to get or read online.

    As for Joe, it's an interesting development and we'll see how it shakes out. It feels like yet another big chunk of publishing's foundation is collapsing, but that's what a lot of people said with iUniverse et al., came out, too, and it didn't work that way.

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  2. I dunno, Michelle. It's certainly interesting news, but I'm not so convinced that it's the harbinger of much more than a great deal for Joe Konrath, who has already been wildly successful with eBooks--at a level that far outstrips anyone I've ever heard of. The wild card, I think, is whether B&N and other booksellers will agree to stock books pubbed by AmazonEncore.

    For me, a four-month Kindle exclusive would be devastating. PBO sales are driven by impulse, cover design and in-store placement. I don't think that Kindle/eBook sales are even 1% of my overall sales.

    There are many new innovations that seem revolutionary on paper, but that just don't resonate with the populace at large. Remember the Susan B. Anthony dollar? The two-dollar bill? Readers can buy 43 paperbacks for the price of a Kindle. Sure, the price will come down over time, and eBooks will gain market share over time, but I'm skeptical that the overall impact on the traditional book will be all that devastating.

    As for the agency model, I think that's one of the greatest mistakes in retail history. The MSRP--manufacturer's suggested retail price--is a long-standing tradition in this country. Industries thrive when they have the freedom to price to thier market, and price controls have never worked.

    John
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  3. I agree. Magazines have started advertising, saying that in the last decade readership has grown 11%. This is in spite of what is available on the internet.
    They made a point I think is extremely valid - that new media doesn't necessarily replace the old format.
    Ebooks might become popular, but my two year old won't want a bedtime story on a black and white Nook. And even if I read something on my Nook, If it's good I'll want to get it for my bookshelf.
    I think it's a different format for a different purpose. I'm not sure it's going to replace paper books.

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  4. Interesting development Michelle and I will be eager to see how it pans out for other authors. At the moment I suspect it's a great deal for Joe (based on his amazing ability to market his e-books on Amazon) but I'm not sure what it will mean for other authors.

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  5. Will eBooks replace paper books completely? I doubt it, but I do think you will eventually see a shift. Ebook sales will surpass paper book sales. I can see the current ratio being reversed. Ninety percent of books purchased will be electronic. The other 10 percent will be traditional books. And chances are it will happen faster than any of us expect.

    When it comes to electronic media there are two kinds of people, at least to my thinking. There is one group, usually older, who want the tangible item. They want to hold the book, the CD, the DVD, the magazine, etc... Even if, like you, Natalia, they have something in an electronic form they still would like it in a tangible form also. I am mostly in this group, more out of comfort and familiarity than anything else. I like holding a book. I like having to put the DVD in the player. I never have been able to enjoy reading on the computer. When I edit I print it out and edit on paper. I miss too much trying to do it on the screen.

    The other group is the exact opposite. They don't care if they own the tangible item, they just want the content. I work with a guy who bought a huge external hard drive and converted all of his CDs and DVDs to electronic files then got rid of the real deals. He's more worried about having his content and having access to it whenever he wants. This group, at least in my observations, is usually younger, but not exclusively so.

    More kids these days, with mp3 players and being raised on the internet, are in this second group. As this group gets older they will replace the first group and that's when we will see the shift I mentioned earlier start to happen.

    My day job is in newspapers and I have watched my industry try to adjust to the changing way people consume media and it's taken us a long time to accept that not as many people in the future are going to want our product in its traditional form. We are just now starting to get a grip on things, I think.

    And, Natalia, don't put too much stock in those readership numbers. A lot of places lump their print readership and internet readership so they can say readership is up. Which, it is. But it doesn't mean hard-copy readership is up.

    Thanks for letting me ramble on far longer than I'd planned to. This is a topic that has been front of mind for me lately. Obviously.

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  6. I agree, those readership numbers are definitely padded. What really struck me in the Newsweek interview was when he said that Newsweek (and that typoe of journalism) stands as a bastion against ignorance, and that losing it, along with other major newspapers, could deal a huge blow to informed reporting. I know that in my personal experience, online journalism and reviews are rarely up to the same standards.

    As far as Joe's deal, like I said, all it takes is a few of the heavy hitters signing on, and the whole game changes. Think about when Howard Stern went to Sirius radio, and what that did for satellite radio subscriptions. Add that to the fact that there has been a quantum leap forward in digital book sales (as I discussed last week with regard to Andrew Gross' and Joe Moore's latest numbers) and I think the shift is already in motion. Jarrett, you make some great points with regard to the next generation, and how they consume media. A friend of mine who writes for television said recently that they've started dumbing down scripts to account for the fact that while people watch TV these days, they're frequently mutli-tasking, checking email and surfing online, so they write shows that people only need to pay partial attention to.
    I'm not saying that any of this is a good thing, mind you- just that it's changing.

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  7. Michelle - they're going to dumb down TV scripts even more??!!...the end of the world is nigh:)!

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  8. Good on you J.K.

    Whatever may happen to the book industry in the future I just want to make sure I get mine sold, so my wife doesn't think I've been goofing off in the office all night long for the past three years. Whether the format is paperback, hardback, digital, or inscribed on clay tablets I'll do what it takes...as long as there is a paycheck at the end of the tunnel.

    I guess you could say, I'm a literary mercenary...storyteller for hire.

    Have fiction, will travel.

    Who Dares, Wins.

    www.basilsands.com

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  9. Sadly yes, Clare.

    And Basil- I vote for the clay tablets.

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  10. What everyone said. It's a great deal for Joe, especially in light of the fact that traditional publishers declined Shaken. Joe's a really nice guy and I hope he does well. That being said, I think we're heading into the supersaturation point for ebooks. The novelty (excuse the pun) is already starting to wear off. Don't bet me wrong, I think ebooks will be around in some form for a long time to come, but for now I think it's going to settle down into a niche. Print isn't going anywhere. The business model for print definitely needs to evolve, but the problem with that is, while everyone who's anyone in the industry agrees with this, no one has a frickin' clue as to exactly WHAT it needs to evolve into.

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  11. I actually have a novel coming out June 29 from Amazon Encore. Mine was published by a small press who decided to use Amazon's POD service after the initial print run sold out. As a small press author, I feel as if I'm moving up to the big leagues with this new deal. Amazon Encore seems determined not just be a major player in the digital arena, but to compete with traditional publishers as well. I wasn't offered an advance, but there will be a sizable print run, a generous commission, and full distribution. Both Borders and B&N will carry Amazon Encore titles. So from my perspective, which is admittedly far from objective, I'm very excited about the propects.

    Tyler Dilts

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  12. That's interesting, Tyler, thanks for sharing.
    I don't know, Martin, at least based on what's happening with my sales, I think the ebook thing is just starting to take off. I'm willing to bet that within a few years, a significant chunk of the population will at least own an ereader, even if they go and forth between using it and reading in print form.

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  13. Hey, I hope everyone's right and we all make more money than Lost has plot twists! But I just don't know. I think people are going to start to realize to have a book on their shelf, read it on their ereader and maybe listen to it while commuting, they're going to have to buy the same book three times. What would probably be smart is to start distributing multibooks...the same book in multiple formats. Sort of like how DVDs now come with an electronic copy of the movie you can legally put on your computer.

    Just an idea.

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  14. You're right, Martin, that's exactly what they're discussing doing. I remember reading an article about that a few months ago- kind of surprising it hasn't happened yet, actually.
    I started listening to an audiobook on a long drive last week, and ended up buying the ebook to finish it. Pricey (although if I'd had to purchase the hardcover, it really would have hurt).

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