Walmart to sell Kobo titles

Brian G Turner

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Possibly good news, considering Walmart's consumer footprint in the US: Walmart joins, well, most of its competitors in selling e-books

However, Sainsburys used to sell Kobo here in the UK, but stopped doing so a couple of years ago: Sainsburys to stop supporting ebooks

So while Walmart selling Kobo titles has the potential to help writers reach more readers, it remains to be seen whether the retailer can make an actual success of it - especially when others have failed at the same thing.
 
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Amelia Faulkner

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I'm curious as to whether it's a too little too late situation with competitors to Amazon. B&N dragged their heels so badly that their nook game is weak-to-dead, Kobo allowed themselves to get lynched by the press for selling filthy smut, so all their UK stockists just panicked at the Daily Mail backlash and shut down selling Kobo devices and books. Google Play cannot get their heads out of their butts enough to bother making it work.

That leaves iBooks as the only viable competitor, and you have to be tied into their hardware for that to work, so it's a huge barrier to entry for most casual customers.

Spreading Kobo to US customers could be good, or they might just go "But my entire library's on Amazon now" and ignore it.
 

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Honestly the only way I can see a competing bookstore is;

1) If you can load it so that it can install and run on Kindle e-readers. This likely won't happen until Kindles can surf and interact with the internet by default (not via the experimental system they have now). And that feature likely isn't a priority for Amazon to develop.

2) If you can link your new store to your own e-reader which can not only read your books, but also interact with an Amazon account.

3) If you can secure contracts for exclusive books with BIG named authors over and over again. This sort of works for thing like computer game consoles; but books are marketed very differently and I suspect that it just wouldn't get the marketing power behind it to really work.

4) You sell DRM free books that people can self-load onto their Kindles - and market yourself heavily on the DRM free aspect of things. This CAN work as whilst Amazons own whispernet and storage is great; people still like to "own" something and to "have it" without any DRM.
The problem here is the ease of users sharing data; and considering that books are tiny in file-size - it could well simply get pirated into nothing (whilst there's huge debate on piracy for major titles - many smaller games/musicians suffer greatly from the effects of pirate copies).

In general its hard to dislodge a major market controller when the system is account based and when people continually invest into that account with long lasting data content. People get very resistant to moving because they've already got all their eggs in a basket. So unless you can produce hardware that runs the two without any issue, its very hard to get people to buy into a new system.


One of the only ways I could see it working would be if one developed a system to "Read" an amazon accounts content and then gave you, for free, every single book you already owned on Amazon on the new system. That would at least facilitate people moving over; but at the same time its a huge loss of potential sales to the sales people. Plus it means that any competition has to sign every book that Amazon has signed up (or, in truth, at least all the major titles).
 

Amelia Faulkner

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3) If you can secure contracts for exclusive books with BIG named authors over and over again. This sort of works for thing like computer game consoles; but books are marketed very differently and I suspect that it just wouldn't get the marketing power behind it to really work.

This would be the most likely scenario, but then Amazon could turn around and start another war against the Big 5. It'd come down to how tired Hachette are of rolling out their celebrity authors to try and incite their fans into paying more for books than they want to.

Any forward-thinking Big 5 publisher would think back to that mess and wonder if it's risk triggering it all over again just to resurrect a failing storefront, and any smart publisher would just open their own electronic storefront. It's so smart that I'm dumbfounded none of them have done it yet, when scores of indie presses have done it for years and have accumulated such loyal followings that most of their customers don't buy from Amazon any more and therefore don't even discover authors their publisher does not publish.
 

thaddeus6th

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Amelia, indeed. Sometimes there are mutterings about subscription models for either retailers or publishers (personally I'm very opposed to that), but direct sales for a comparable price, or even lower, would seem obvious. With no retailer middleman, the publisher could even charge a lower amount and get more profit themselves.

Just had a quick check. Thames & Hudson do actually (same price, I think) sell direct on their website, Windmill (a Penguin imprint) do not. Penguin itself has a book page, with links to retailers...
 

Amelia Faulkner

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Yeah they couldn't offer a better price, because Amazon would instantly price-match it, but they could offer loyalty schemes whereby you gain X points per $/£ spent and then each point is worth Y amount of discount. That's how ARe (before they were financially mismanaged into bankruptcy) did it, and i believe Dreamspinner do this, too.

Thus the price advertised on your site doesn't get price-matched to hell and your loyal customers pay less anyway.
 

Abernovo

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Yeah they couldn't offer a better price, because Amazon would instantly price-match it, but they could offer loyalty schemes whereby you gain X points per $/£ spent and then each point is worth Y amount of discount. That's how ARe (before they were financially mismanaged into bankruptcy) did it, and i believe Dreamspinner do this, too.

Thus the price advertised on your site doesn't get price-matched to hell and your loyal customers pay less anyway.
Bella Books has a similar model, too. It works really well.

Much as I love my Kobo reader, and their website is a useful shop front, I don't like the attempts to constrict the buyer to an outlet. And, I hate their clunky website and search engines. I'd prefer to be able to buy epub books direct from publishers.
 

Edward M. Grant

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Any forward-thinking Big 5 publisher would think back to that mess and wonder if it's risk triggering it all over again just to resurrect a failing storefront, and any smart publisher would just open their own electronic storefront. It's so smart that I'm dumbfounded none of them have done it yet, when scores of indie presses have done it for years and have accumulated such loyal followings that most of their customers don't buy from Amazon any more and therefore don't even discover authors their publisher does not publish.

Small publishers generally release DRM-free books. That means I can download the books to my PC, load them into Calibre to convert to any format I fancy, and will always be able to read them on any future device.

Hell will freeze over before big publishers release DRM-free books. That means that, when the publisher shuts down the store because some MBA decides their business needs to change so they can get a big bonus this year, I'll never be able to read those books again (at least, not after I upgrade my phone and lose the ebooks I previously downloaded).

Besides which, the big publishers have been pricing many of their ebooks higher than their paperbacks in order to protect their print market. So they're not serious about the ebook market, anyway. They'd rather make $1 on a paperback sale than $5 on an ebook sale.

In the long term, this will obviously kill them (or, more precisely, leave them with nothing of real value except their backlist rights). But it keeps them in business for now.
 

Brian G Turner

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Besides which, the big publishers have been pricing many of their ebooks higher than their paperbacks in order to protect their print market. So they're not serious about the ebook market, anyway. They'd rather make $1 on a paperback sale than $5 on an ebook sale.

This was pretty much confirmed by Hatchette recently:
‘The ebook is a stupid product: no creativity, no enhancement,’ says the Hachette Group CEO

It’s been a little over ten years since ebooks came to the market in the form of Kindle. You mentioned a small decline – do you think the market has plateaued? Are there formats other than ebooks that publishers should be looking at?
There are two different geographies to look at for this. In the US and UK, the ebook market is about 20% of the total book market, everywhere else it is 5%-7% because in these places the prices never went down to such a level that the ebook market would get significant traction. I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience. We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital.

Elsewhere in the article he talks about how they've priced ebooks above print margins in order to preserve their print distribution structure.
 

Edward M. Grant

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The odd part is that publishers have been doing creative things with some of their ebooks. For example, the animated images in the Harry Potter ebooks, and the 'director's cut' (forget exactly what they call it) of Game of Thrones, which is the only ebook I own that's nearly a gigabyte in size, because of all the extras.

But they can only afford to do that with big books that are going to sell a ton of copies.
 

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DRM is a minefield of controversy.

One one side you've got companies who claim that to release products DRM free (ergo no copy control protection) means that their customers can easily share the product with multiple other users. Even if the user doesn't put it up on a huge file-sharing site there's still a strong chance that a single purchase could be shared between multiple users. Done en-mass this could reflect a huge drop in sales.

On the other side you've got people (most often those who do use DRM free products without paying) who argue that when people get pirated copies of products they are more likely to then purchase the product. The pirate copy essentially being like a "demo".
There is also apparently a study done by the EU on one market (I think music) that suggested this pattern might be true; ergo that pirate copy distribution could increase sales. However it appears to be a single study and might be questionable. There's also considerations as to scale of the company - from what I've heard a lot of smaller companies (eg indie game developers) can seriously suffer from pirate distribution.

Then alongside this we've also got other things such as Patron which is starting to promote free distribution, but the pay instead being in the form of monthly contributions. It's mostly been taken up by a lot of smaller art and music producers - ergo small teams or lone people. The idea being that the fans essentially pay a salary wage through donations in exchange for the production of the product. Supporters often getting advanced release of items or being able to influence what is to be made (eg a poll).
I suspect this might work best for products that are produced within fairly modest time frames (eg music or artwork or comics); or where tid-bit production is possible alongside larger works. Films might also work, though I think books might find it hard since they can often take years and their production isn't always best done with slow release of chapters (since latter parts often require rewriting or adjusting of earlier ones).


For books we've also got Amazon pushing ebooks and the fact that, honestly, its becoming more and more viable for self publishing to be the route to the initial market. Against all this I think big publishers will survive ,but I think that they've got to seriously look at the market. Personally I'm surprised they are floundering and not trying to lead the market. Sure they've missed the boat on the tablet/ereader machines (Amazon already dominates that market*); but they could still secure a market for themselves with direct sale store fronts of their own that tie into e-readers; with higher quality product of ebooks etc... I'm honestly surprised they don't push e-books (dirt cheap distribution) to then help drive specialist edition sales of hard copy books. Then again I suspect that their whole business is built around world supply of paperbacks; rather like Kodak they just can't change focus away from that even as the world changes.


* They could be dislodged on the machines only if a developer could improve and cheapen e-ink tech significantly; plus also tie into Amazon accounts effortlessly.
 

Edward M. Grant

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I don't know of any small publisher who puts DRM on their ebooks. All it does is annoy the readers who want to buy the ebooks, because the DRM will be cracked and ebooks uploaded to pirate sites within hours of release.

The amusing part is that by pushing Amazon to put DRM on their ebooks, the big publishers give me another good reason not to buy direct from them. If I can't transfer my Amazon ebooks into whatever other ebook-reading program supports the downloaded publishers' ebooks because DRM, I'm far less likely to buy from their site.

They've just shot themselves in the ass on ebook sales. It's no wonder Amazon has had an easy time taking over the market when the competition is doing its best not to compete.
 
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Amelia Faulkner

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Against all this I think big publishers will survive ,but I think that they've got to seriously look at the market.

Which is exactly the thing Hachette have proven in the interview @Brian G Turner linked to that they don't even know how to do. They are so used to being the only way you can buy books that they don't even know what readers want.

Hachette think we want bells and whistles.

Amazon know we buy ebooks to read them.
 

Ursa major

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Hell will freeze over before big publishers release DRM-free books.

It must be getting a bit cold down there. From a Charles Stross blogpost:

I want to buy Empire Games/Dark State without DRM: All my publishes except Tor require DRM (the decision is not up to Amazon, it's made by the publisher). Happily, this means that the Merchant Princes and Empire Games books, which are published by Tor in North America and the UK, are free of DRM. In the USA, Tor also publish the short fiction in the Laundry Files and new Laundry Files novels, starting with "The Delirium Brief"; however, the Laundry files is published by Orbit in the UK, who require DRM. If/when Orbit's group-wide policy on DRM changes, I'll nag them to remove it from my books. (Don't hold your breath.)​
 

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