U.S. book publishing industry stats from Nielsen

Business-925900_1920Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 is in the rearview mirror but there were a few noteworthy tidbits gleaned from the event. Some of the more important facts and figures were shared by Nielsen’s Jonathan Stolper his state-of-the-U.S.-market presentation.

Although you can argue Nielsen’s data isn’t complete and it’s therefore far from perfect, it’s one of the few resources available for market trends and analysis. With that in mind, here are the most interesting points I saw in Jonathan’s presentation:

Self-publishing and the Big Five are crowding out everyone else – According to Nielsen’s data, from Q1 2014 to Q1 2015, self-published books have grown from 14% to 18% of the overall market. In that same period the Big Five’s share has grown from 28% to 37%. Meanwhile, the rest of the market, all the large, medium and tiny publishers, have seen their share decrease from 58% to 45%.

The print/e split is now roughly 74%/26% – Plenty of articles have been written about the plateauing ebook market. Most publishers report ebooks represent anywhere from 15% to 30% or so of total revenue. According to Nielsen, the current state of equilibrium is closer to a 74%/26% split. That ratio varies widely by genre, btw, but it’s worth looking at your own rate to see how it compares to the overall industry average.

Price drives ebook interest – According to Nielsen’s consumer survey, almost 60% of respondents said they’d choose e over p if the savings is at least $4 for the former. Additionally, approximately 50% said they’d do the same even if the ebook is only $2-3 cheaper than the print version. So as publishers wrestle back consumer pricing via the new agency model, driving ebook prices up, it’s clear they’re inadvertently (and sometimes deliberately) nudging consumers back to print.

Consumer prefer print and e, not or – 49% of consumers surveyed said they bought print and ebooks in the past 6 months vs. 42% who only bought print and a paltry 9% who only bought e. Just because a consumer buys ebooks doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned print. This is a huge opportunity most publishers are overlooking. Why aren’t there more digital products that complement print rather than assume the ebook is replacing the print one?

Amazon dominates subscriptions too – It’s been hard to find data on the all-you-can-read ebook subscription market but Nielsen is finally shining some light on the model. And just as they do pretty much everywhere else, Amazon is crushing it. First of all, according to Nielsen only 5% of consumers have signed up for any ebook subscription solution, so the market remains small. Kindle Unlimited led the way with the largest chunk of market share, jumping from approximately 40% in January 2015 to almost 60% in April. Scribd and Oyster were tiny players by comparison in that period, and they’re only getting smaller. Given their teensy share of a small segment, it’s no wonder Oyster is going away soon.

Btw, this was the first year for the Fair’s Business Club option and I hope it’s not the last. The Business Club was a terrific location for quiet meetings, away from the traffic and noise of the hall floors. It ranked high in serendipity value as well: I bumped into and met with at least a handful of other attendees I might not have crossed paths with otherwise. Highly recommended.

The best time NOT to self-publish is…..(never)

Marcy GThere are so many op-eds these days on when or if to self-publish but more so, features on the inferiority of self-published works just by virtue of fact they are self-published. This premise is applied even if the self-publishing author has the budget, foresight and professionalism to engage all manner of expert editors, proof readers, formatters, designers and thoroughly research the distributing and promotion of his/her work, the resultant book will be very bad. Worse, it will be amateur in content and looks.

 There’s also an assumption (somewhat fear, vs. empirically based) that without sufficient social media or platform, books (even great ones) won’t get noticed. I’ve seen a zillion writerly blogs with this headline: If you publish it who will find it/you? This suggests that Shakespeare (et al, Dan Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, JD Salinger, James Patterson, Ayn Rand) without benefit of Twitter, Facebook and Instragram or a YouTube book trailer of Othello, would never have been discovered. This is to further suggest that we as authors, creators, publishers and readers actually believe form trumps content. That means greatness, is a deux et machninas/medium-is-the-message is a fail from the get-go and a Pulitzer would never percolate to a deserved level of consciousness and find a collective of readers who know a good thing (or alternatively, what they want) when they find it  - however they find it. But trust me (and the author of 50 Shades of Grey), they do and will find it.

What astounds me in the vast acreage of articulated opinions on these issues is a few-fold.
For one thing, there’s a passion, even a nervous derision or tempered contempt or dismissiveness offered to self-published authors in most of the opinion pieces I’ve read. Although I am Canadian, it is a divide akin to Tea Party-ers and Democrats, i.e. it’s a visceral thing.

There’s the assumption that a self-published author is a never-published author or can’t-find-a-book-deal author or more to the point: self-published = poor quality. How long has that been patently untrue? It’s such an old trope that to suggest self-published means inferior only marks you as out of the loop. Moreover, the articles I’ve read also seem only to refer to fiction writers when there are many other types of authors.  I am, in fact, a cookbook author, another genre of author now in the fray. Let me explain a bit about cookbook authors.

Cookbook authors are writers (we are not verbose home economic teachers – we are specialty writers with a second specialty in food. Some, as I am, are trained chefs in addition to being wordsmiths). Consequently our challenges are even more than regular writers. We battle the plethora of amateur recipe blogs and infinite numbers of free recipes (sometimes even our own when we encounter our own recipes on repository sites), the charisma of celebrity chefs on TV, blogs or YouTube phenoms. In addition, our books require expensive food photography and complicated book design, our recipes need extraordinary copy editing and we also need legions of volunteer recipe testers to make sure our recipes work. When it comes to food photography in our cookbooks, many a time my advance (in traditional publishing) was a quarter that of the food photography/photographer budget.

In short, if you think self-publishing the average black-and-white 300 page paranormal novel is difficult, try self-publishing a 300 full colour cookbook. No one (sane or otherwise) would chose to do this alone – not even Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld, Rachel Ray or the ex-Mrs. Billy Joel. Jamie Oliver and Ina Gartner (Stephen King or Joanna Rowlings) could well buy Random House ten times over (I imagine) and even they don’t self-publish. Why? Because even the well-heeled and well-connected use publishers for their cookbooks (or novels) because it’s hugely difficult – even with a team assisting you. Writing is lonely enough – who wants to be a self-publishing author? Unless of course, you had to…(Did I also mention that recipes are not copyrightable, stolen constantly and generally free online?).

So it’s not about money – because given self-publishing garners you 65% royalties or so versus 15% royalties in traditional publishing, if it was, wealthy authors would indeed, do it themselves. On the flip side, what is more prestigious (or used to be) is saying you’re a Random author or Scribner author – at least, when that meant something and had a fiscal bottom line.

But here’s my pain: overall there is a premise that if you self-publish you are either an inferior or unaware author or (and this one blows me away) having had a reasonable advance, you somehow chose to ‘go rogue’ and venture into self-publishing due to a misplaced vanity press adventure spirit or thought you could out earn on your own what a traditional publisher was offering you.

As a traditional and well-established cookbook author (nay, a Julia Child 1st Book Nominee) with track record and solid book sales, I don’t see myself represented in these discussions and yet I am part of a silent majority – the mid-list cookbook author. Furthermore, let it be said that I find it hard to believe that any traditional author, with great book numbers, a brand, a platform and a plan would consider self-publishing if in fact, the advances hadn’t shrunk dramatically. It’s not a whim choice; it’s a have-to choice. We love what we do and we’re not ready to call it quits. We have reason to believe we have something to offer a large amount of readers.

After 25 years of great publishers, great cookbooks and what I thought was an upward spiralling career, I self-published my first cookbook, When Bakers Cook, two months ago. I did this not because I wanted to but because I had to. I love words, books and in my case, creating ambrosial baking I want to share with my readers. As publishing up-ended itself (blame transitions of the times, publishers being old school and late in their response to the new world of everything, the economy and….life itself) I realized (with skepticism, then denial, anger, sadness and then finally, pro-activeness), I had three choices (and early retirement or marrying rich weren't in the trio). I could quit and be a Wal-Mart greeter, I could take tiny (untenable) advances and supplement with freelance writing or I could dive into the Bermuda Triangle of self-publishing.

I’m a Taurus and we don’t quit so I chose Door #3 - self publish.

It took me three years (when I was otherwise wallowing in self-doubt and existential, mid-life angst about my value as a baking author) to simply research the self-publishing partners and players. I had no idea what formatting really meant and I had to cobble the budget to pay my editor, copy editor, indexer, proof-reader, photographer and publishing costs with Create Space and Kindle. Let it also be said that some of the talented staff I hired were recently let go from the prestigious traditional publishers.  And let it also be said that we can no longer assume that having a traditional book deal insures a ‘team’ of editorial and sales help – things are lean everywhere. Speaking more directly to that, I recently was in Barnes and Noble and stumbled on a cookbook by a great colleague by a huge publisher renowned for their wonderful cookbooks and in this book was a 3-page addendum of text and recipe errors (my own self-published cookbook has but one error – and it’s a homonym). My point is: we can no longer assume ‘perfect’ and ‘quality’ is only the domain of traditional publishing.

Despite having a complete manuscript, self-publishing took me another 13 months to get my book out. When Bakers Cook launched on December 20th  2013; thanks to a galley physical copy I had to send to one editor, it was later named one of the Best Cookbooks of 2013 by the Washington Post. It continues to sell quite nicely, day in, day out. I am now working on my second self-published cookbook, due for this summer, as well as a book on tango and one on scent and probably I will indeed, publish my book of poetry. Why? Because ….I now can. And I am quietly and proudly building my own backlist. While I respect and miss my publishers (who I also feel bailed on their mid-list authors), I am no longer waiting for a publisher (or worse, the sales force or book buyer at Barnes and Noble) to determine I am the next hot trend or its derivative, or have enough platform to merit a book deal which is about the same as four freelance features for the Huffington Post or such. This is a new publishing world and what looks like something (like the best of illusions) often isn’t. Twitter followers don’t necessarily distill down into book sales and a good Google ranking doesn’t make me the next Julia Child. But how we hate to release an old romance – however bogus it really is.

In those 13 months (and horrific learning curve) of self-publishing, as my spirits and confidence rose, I noticed the put-down features on self-publishing. I couldn’t fathom it. I also tried many times to share my great adventure which it has been and continues to be. Few, if any colleagues, struggling themselves, wanted to hear. Overall, I’ve had a sense I’ve betrayed something or someone and crossed a line into a land I never wanted to visit, albeit as its sole resident and ironically, one who is beginning to thrive. That’s the part I still don’t get. I’m not unique as a mid-list author having to face things I hadn’t anticipated. I am not unique in forging a new path but why would authors, both those traditionally published and those eking by, be so disparaging to their fellow authors on the subject of self-publishing?

I never wanted to self-publish. I imagined a continuance of Random House, Harper Collins book deals for my growing baking author platform and more features in the leading newspapers and online venues. I envisioned more Christmas baskets from my publishers, publisher web staff to help me with my blog and website, publicists to set up my interviews and promotional spots. Instead, I am now River Heart Press (my own imprint) and I am boldly going where I went when I was 12 years old and was editor-publisher of my own street newspaper The Goldman Times. That little girl knew then what this grown woman/adult author is just learning all over again. Better to publish than to perish.

Here’s my take-away. If you want to publish – whether you’re rife with talent or no one has dared tell you you’re not – do it. If you are traditionally publishing and even established but have another genre of book your current publisher won’t consider – do it. If you are incredibly talented, passionate and have wonderful book numbers and fate or the times have left you without a chair in the musical chairs of book deals – do it. If you’re a reader who’s hungry for new, for good or great, don’t overlook the unknown, ‘selfie’ scribes out there. They are writing for you. There are no ‘sides’ in all this – there is no either/or approach. There are pros and cons to it all but overall, between no book or an ‘ok’ self-published book (in content and production) and a potential Pulitzer prize winner (or thwarted or unattempted dream) languishing in your drawer or a Word file – I will take the mediocre (or not) self-published book. I suggest you do too.

Oh and by the way, addressing the EIR (Elephant in the Room, aka Jeff Bezos, Amazon and company), when editors, agents and publishers I’ve worked with for years forgot to call or email me back on so many occasions, one email, eight hours later, garnered a call from the Jeff Bezos executive team to see how they might expedite my self-published cookbook when I encountered a snag. So the Big 6 (now, Big 5) might walk and talk like the sauve and handsome gentlemen publishers they are, the EIR is the one who was most attentive and offered the most respectful TLC. I got Cadillac service on the self-publishing journey for my $248 publishing ‘package’.

And to my colleagues who try so hard to dismantle my efforts to stay afloat and bring my words and recipes to my readers, I say – jump into the pool. The water’s warm, there’s plenty of room.

This article was written by Marcy Goldman. Marcy is the host of www.betterbaking.com, now celebrating it’s 17th year online, an independent baking site that also has been successful monetized since 2004.  A cookbook author of several titles, she recently published When Bakers Cook, rescued her bestselling, but briefly-out-of-print A Passion for Baking. This spring, look for her first book of poetry, Love and Ordinary Things and this fall she will launch The Baker’s Four Seasons. All her books are doing very well, in print and as ebooks. She avoids most social media, focuses on creating content and is the most happy she’s ever been.

Oyster Books: Disrupting the disruptor

Remember how disruptive the $9.99 ebook pricing model was when the Kindle launched in 2007? It set the standard for how much consumers expected to pay for an ebook. It was also a price far less than consumers were accustomed to paying for the same book in print format.

Amazon has evolved a bit since then and now also offers the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) program, where Amazon Prime members can borrow one book a month from a catalog of more than 500,000 titles. Since KOLL is free with your Prime membership the perceived value of KOLL-eligible ebooks drops even further.

I recently signed up for a similar model from Oyster: $9.95 per month provides unlimited access to Oyster’s 100,000+ ebook catalog. I’m sure some of these books are part of KOLL, so why would I pay an additional $9.95/month for Oyster?

One (hyphenated) word: All-you-can-read. 

Oyster definitely has a no-frills feel to it. It’s currently only available on iOS and you won’t find a lot of bells and whistles with their reader app.

But Oyster also has a lot of great books I’m interested in, including several I hadn’t discovered before. In fact, I’m finding there are so many to read that I can’t possibly get to all of them anytime soon. 

Here’s the problem traditional ebook retailers should worry about: A model like Oyster’s starts to squeeze out the other books I thought about reading. Ebooks you absolutely want to read will still be bought if they’re not part of an all-you-can-read subscription, but all others become irrelevant.

Why would I spend $10 for an ebook that’s not a “must read” for me when I can find plenty of others I want to read that are part of my $10/month, unlimited subscription? I had more than a dozen samples queued up in my Kindle account to read and now I don’t care about any of them.

How can Amazon compete with this? Their KOLL program is hamstrung by their existing deals with publishers. Publisher resistance is undoubtedly the reason KOLL only lets you read one book per month. Oyster, on the other hand, had no existing model or agreement with publishers and can therefore build their model and publisher relationship from scratch.

That sounds like a chapter from The Innovator’s Dilemma, doesn’t it? And how ironic that this disruption is happening to arguably the biggest disruptor of the Internet era?

Oyster’s catalog only has 100,000 titles so it’s clear many publishers aren’t participating. That’s OK though. I checked out a couple of my favorite genres and quickly found more than 10 titles I can’t wait to read.

The Oyster model further tilts the market towards the risk-takers as well as the self-publishing houses. The naysayers and other publishers who sit on the sidelines will need a compelling reason for consumers to pay full price for their ebooks and they’ll risk giving further ground to other, lesser-known titles and authors.

What a great time to be a reader…but what a challenging time to be a publisher or author. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how an all-you-can-read model chokes the revenue stream for publishers and authors. This model may be new to written content but it’s been around awhile in the music sector thanks to Pandora and Spotify.

What sort of pain can book publishers and authors expect if Oyster and other all-you-can-read models take off? Check out this musician’s story. Her music was streamed 2.8 million times but generated only $5,022, or less than two-tenths of a penny per stream. What we don’t know is how many of those streams led to someone buying one of her tracks or albums. That type of upside potential is more likely in the music market than it is in the ebook market though.

Will Oyster cause the existing ebook model to implode? No, of course not. Amazon will probably use Oyster as leverage with publishers to create something even more compelling than KOLL. That, or they’ll just buy Oyster with Jeff Bezos pocket change. I hope the latter doesn’t happen though since it will be interesting to see how much of an impact Oyster can have on the current market.

Publishing isn't dying...it's just changing

KenDIt’s been several years now since the numbers of online book sales in a month out-did the traditional bookstores. I’ve read more than one hundred articles since then that have reported that the publishing industry is dying. Then, of course, Borders went out of business and all the naysayers started saying, “I told you so”. Frankly, I can’t agree that Borders closed because the book selling space is dying but rather the management of that company just did not take the time to predict and plan for the inevitable evolution of our industry. If we take a look at any industry in history there are examples of the “Borders Phenomenon”. In every industry there are examples of companies who once sat at the top of the hill, only to meet their demise in an evolving environment that they were not ready for. Today, Amazon is the innovator, but Bezos himself, in a recent television interview said he expected some innovator to take over in the future. As the old saying goes, “you are either growing through innovation or dying through complacency”.

I wanted to write this article to share some thoughts about 2014 in publishing and book selling, which I believe will be The Year Of The Innovator. In 2014, several new companies will appear in this space that are taking radical different approaches to an age-old industry. One of the companies that is already doing this is 99designs.com.

Over the past 7 years I have authored 3 books on sales and prospecting. I am in the final stages of writing my first fiction book on this subject, called The Greatest Prospector In The World. It is a fun story of a teenage girl who grows up in Alaska. After her father, a gold prospector, dies in an accident she is forced to move to Chicago into the care of an Uncle. Armed with only the advice for successful gold prospecting passed down generations in her family, she uses these tips to become a millionaire salesperson and (you guessed it) ‘The Greatest Prospector In The World’.

I’d been watching 99designs for the past year and thought this would be a good time to give them a shot.  Why not try to have a cover designed by 99designs?

OneThe process was incredibly simple and well thought out. The entire design process has been turned into a contest. Registered designers from all over the world can review the details and concepts of the design you are looking for and, once the contest starts, are free to submit as many designs as they like. The contest is broken into phases: Phase 1 is general submissions where anyone can submit a design. I was excited to see that I could review the portfolios of thousands of cover designers and invite those designers whom had previous works that I like.

This first phase lasted four days. In that time I had over 80 designs submitted for my cover. This is when I realized that they were onto something massive. Obviously I know that they are not the first online contest for service based web property, but they are definitely one of the biggest today. In the traditional cover design space, as a publisher, I would have 3-4 designers that I use. When I needed a cover for an author, I would choose one of the designers to give me three different design styles. I would then present these options to the author and let them choose the style they liked and then we would tweak it. Staring with these 80 initial designs made me realize that the traditional route that I described above is about to die and I needed to change my publishing company model now! You can either be ahead of the curve or lose money on the other side.

2Phase 2 of the contest was even more fun. Now I was allowed to pick up to eight of the better covers and give those designers three more days to tweak their work and submit more designs.

Additionally, I was also free to choose a winner at any time in the contest if I was inspired to do so. If that isn’t enough, 99designs even allowed me to give advice and private feedback to all the designers throughout the seven days.

At the end of the seven days, I chose a cover that I believe told the story but would also look good on a hardcover or paperback. I also wanted a cover that was unique, of course, and I made sure the designers knew this up front. Here is the best part: Receiving covers from more then 60 designers and being able to give advice along the way only cost me $290.

3Thank you 99designs for my personal a-ha moment! In 2014, watch for more contests and auctions like this to appear on the scene. If I were in management at 99designs, I would be in talks with the big boys in publishing to white-label my service for them. It is clear that in five years the entire publishing process is going to change and more outsourced service auctions like this will become the norm.

The new online publishers are already stealing market share from the incumbents; now we will see auctions and contests all the way through the production process. In the last decade a massive number of editors, proof-readers, layout people and other folks that used to be employed in the production process have been laid off and are now independent. It is almost like the big boys have shot themselves in the head. Instead of laying off any more employees in the production process, meet with them, explain the challenge and engage these folks in finding the right solution to innovate and save their jobs!

Or keep doing what you’re doing and let someone else innovate.

This article was written by contributor Ken Dunn, CEO and Founder of Readers Legacy LLC & Next Century Publishing. Readers Legacy LLC is a new generation publisher, bookseller & incubator whose mission statement is to change the way people write, read & experience books. Readers Legacy will be launching several innovations in the next 24 months that will disrupt conventional practices in this space.

Screwpulp: An exciting new startup (that I'm part of!)

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 11.16.22 PMOne of the benefits of my previous job is that it brought me much closer to the content startup community. I've met a lot of outstanding organizations but one that really grabbed my attention is a self-publishing startup called Screwpulp. I mentioned them briefly in an earlier article after I introduced them at an investor event in Memphis.

What's so special about Screwpulp? First of all, it's the people. I've spent time with each of the founding members of the company and I'd stack them up against any other startup team I've met. Every single one of them is extremely passionate about what they're doing and how Screwpulp is positioned to help reinvent publishing. Their passion is highly contagious. Also, none of them come from the publishing industry, so they're not caught up in "the way things work" and they feel no obligation to stick with the status quo. In short, they're the classic startup set out to break all the existing rules.

That leads me to the second point about what makes Screwpulp so special: the concept. Yes, there are plenty of startups out there catering to the self-publishing market, but Screwpulp recognizes that most authors don't have a platform. So rather than make the mistake of pricing the author's book too high and then wondering why it doesn't sell, Screwpulp initially sets the price at zero, uses scarcity to create a sense of urgency and takes the price up as demand increases. Very cool.

I love what Screwpulp is doing and I look forward to helping them become wildly successful. That's why I've agreed to join the team as an advisor. To learn more about the Screwpulp platform be sure to watch the investor pitch CEO Richard Billings made last week in Memphis.