Posts Tagged ‘ kobo ebooks ’

The State of Play in the UK: An Update – and Merry Christmas!

Okay, so I’ve been forced out of the cave by events. Which is ironic given it’s been other events that have kept me in seclusion. Namely local conditions here in sunny West Africa, which have conspired against my best laid plans.

But not for long. If all goes to plan I will be solar powered by the end of the month.!

Meanwhile, life has been chugging along between power-cuts. Next month sees MWiDP launch a new How To guide for writers. One with a difference, of course, as the title might suggest.

Co-written by award-winning blogging guru Anne R. Allen and NYT best-selling author Catherine Ryan Hyde, this is a How To with a difference, and will be updated every six months to ensure it’s always up to date. More details on this in coming weeks. Here just to say that every six months might not be enough.

For instance, take this line from the Introduction to the new book, written by our very own Saffi:

The only certainty is that there is no certainty. The publishing world is changing daily. What was established fact yesterday can be questionable today and history tomorrow. 

This past month has proven that to be very timely.

A short while ago I wrote a post on The State of Play in the UK – an overview of the British ebook market and what the near-future holds for those writers targeting the home of the English language. Given recent totally unpredictable developments in the UK I’ve been inundated with emails asking how I see the Brit’ ebook scene now.

At the time I was optimistic (aren’t I always?) that while the future of ebook Britain was bright, Amazon was facing the prospect of being eclipsed by the burgeoning Kobo which had teamed up with UK retailer W.H. Smith, and there was the much rumored partnership between Barnes & Noble and Waterstone’s, which would have brought the nook to Britain.

A formal announcement was expected at the London Book Fair in April, but the Book Fair came and went with no news.

In fact, unbeknownst to all but the privileged few, Barnes & Noble was simultaneously in negotiations with Microsoft, and shortly after the LBF an official partnership was announced between Barnes & Noble and Microsoft.

A deal that left Waterstone’s out in the cold, the nook plans for international expansion on hold, and my predictions for the UK ebook market seriously holed.

Suddenly it seemed like Kobo had an open goal for the British ebook market.

W.H. Smith is the second-largest bookseller in the UK, with stores in pretty much every major town, and countless stores in the big cities. A chain that, because it also sells stationary, DVDs, music, games and newspapers, gets far more footfall than Waterstone’s.

And Kobo was busy installing wi-fi kiosks and staff to promote the Kobo e-readers and tablet, while selling ebooks through the W.H. Smith ebook store it operates. With Kobo’s black and white e-readers significantly cheaper than the Kindles, and with Kobo’s tablet  (which is actually cheaper than Amazon’s best b&w device) facing no competition from the KindleFire, which remains unavailable outside the USA, it looked like Kobo was a sure-fire winner in the race for ebook supremacy.

Then came another bolt from the blue, just weeks after the B&N-Microsoft deal, as Amazon and Waterstone’s announced a partnership, in a move that left observers stunned. Me included.

On the list of the top one million least likely things ever to happen this was number one million and one. I honestly checked the date of the report when I first read this, thinking it must have been an April 1st post turned up late.

Waterstone’s boss James Daunt had previously been widely reported as comparing Amazon to Satan, and while that was probably wildly exaggerated by the media there’s no question Amazon and Waterstone’s were business rivals, not allies.  Observers compared the move to letting the fox into the hen-house. Of mortgaging Waterstone’s future for short-term gain. Some suggested it was the beginning of the end for Waterstone’s.

Amazon and Waterstone’s in partnership? You couldn’t make it up.

Not here to analyze the numerous unverified guesses as to what’s in it for Waterstone’s. The simple fact is we don’t know (and may never know) the detail of the deal. But what is clear is that Waterstone’s will now be selling the Kindle in its 300 stores across the UK.

True, the Kindle is already available in supermarkets and electronic goods stores in the UK, but there it’s just another gadget. One among many, easily passed by.

But for the Kindle to be sold in Britain’s leading bookstore gives Amazon unprecedented access to its prime target audience – book buyers. Would the nook ever have taken off were it not for the Barnes & Noble bricks and mortar stores?

Waterstone’s chief James Daunt is neither stupid nor suicidal (I’ve been following his moves closely since he took over running the company last year and have been impressed with his objectives, if not yet his achievements), and we have to assume there are major benefits to be accrued by Waterstone’s from selling the Kindle and directing customers to the Kindle UK ebook store.

Obviously Waterstone’s will make money on the sale of the device. But how will Waterstone’s make money once the customer leaves the store and buys ebooks from their own home? Possibly the Kindles sold will be linked to Waterstone’s in some way (perhaps getting the buyer to sign up a Kindle account whilst in store) and the company will receive a commission on future sales through that account.

What will happen to Waterstone’s own ebook store is equally unclear. At the moment Waterstone’s ebook store is a not insignificant player in the UK market (it still brings the Saffina Desforges brand significant revenue each quarter, although very few indies are there) and presumably will continue to operate. No doubt the Waterstone’s store will be able to pick up trade from customers who prefer not to use Amazon, and those who have  a device other than the Kindle.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Amazon will take over running the Waterstone’s store in the same way as Kobo now run the W.H. Smith ebook store.  That would be an impressive move by Daunt. But that’s pure speculation.

Reports suggest Waterstone’s will be investing serious money (“tens of millions”) into upgrading all the UK stores with wi-fi kiosks and trained staff. Rather like rival Kobo is doing with W.H. Smith, in fact, and as Barnes & Noble has been doing very successfully with the nook. I suspect this will be financed by Amazon. The Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, who owns Waterstone’s, may well have that kind of money to splash around, but impossible to see how it could be recouped, unless there is a commission on future ebook sales as per the possible scenario above.

But whoever is footing the bill, it looks like full steam ahead to upgrade the Waterstone’s bricks and mortar stores this autumn / fall and be in a position to market the Kindle in-store before Christmas.

For Waterstone’s, I suspect this deal was its last hope of competing in the digital future.  An offer it couldn’t afford to refuse. Waterstone’s was way behind with its digital strategy, despite running the second largest ebook store in the country. To understand just how far behind, consider this:

Last year, as the UK’s biggest-selling indie author and at number two in the Kindle store and just launching on Waterstone’s ebooks, we approached Saffi’s local Waterstone’s branch to do some promo.

The manager looked blank. “We have an ebook store?”

By late summer we were riding high in the Waterstone’s ebook charts, with two books simultaneously in the top ten, and kept off the number one spot only by the Steve Jobs biography soaring when Jobs died. We were the top most searched-for name in Waterstone’s ebooks. We approached a bigger Waterstone’s store in the hope of getting some media interest.

“We have an ebook store?”

By spring 2012 we were officially the biggest-selling indie author of the previous year, and Sugar & Spice was officially the eleventh biggest-selling ebook in the country for 2011.

Ever the optimist we approached a major Waterstone’s city bookshop.

“We have an ebooks store?”

Yet James Daunt clearly sees and understands that digital is the future. It’s just that, for whatever reason, he’s been slow to get the company’s ethos changed.

Still the optimist, I believe Daunt has joined with Amazon for the right reasons, and that Amazon will play this fairly.

Yes, it would be very easy for Amazon to use its presence in the heart of its biggest print-books rival to undermine Waterstone’s. Yes, it could easily take Waterstone’s down the Borders route, and then buy up the stores and all that prime real estate for a pittance, from its petty cash.

But as things stand Amazon has the perfect deal. It will have bricks and mortar ebook presence across the UK in the best possible way – in the country’s leading book-store. It will be able to go head to head with Kobo, its only serious rival on the international scene.

And while buyers will have to pay full VAT at UK rates on the Kindle devices sold through Waterstone’s, Amazon will continue to supply ebooks via Luxembourg at a fraction of that rate (just 3%), giving it a continuing price advantage over Kobo and all other rival sellers. If Amazon were indeed to run the Waterstone’s store that would give Waterstone’s a huge advantage over Kobo-W.H. Smith.

Whatever the detail, Amazon gets the best of both worlds, just as it always has. Bricks and mortar presence and off-shore tax advantages. But at a price – the survival of Waterstone’s as an independent nationwide book-store chain. If Waterstone’s fails Amazon would lose its bricks and mortar presence or have to take over the stores and lose the tax advantage. A symbiotic relationship unprecedented in publishing history.

What does this mean for the future of publishing in Britain?

Long term, that’s anyone’s guess. I just hope I’m right and Waterstone’s will survive.

Short term it means that the Christmas/New Year season 2012/13 is going to be UK publishing’s answer to the Rumble in the Jungle. The biggest booksellers and ebook players in  the country will be going head to head this winter for the hearts and minds of the British book-lover, both intent on converting the UK to e-reading.

It’s going to be an ebook bonanza for those of us lucky enough to have our ebooks in the right place at the right time. The clock is ticking. Select fans may want to reconsider their options.

Who will win? .

At the moment my money is on Kobo. Kobo is already way ahead with its plans for in-store facilities, potentially reaches a much wider audience (i.e. not just book-store shoppers), and has cheaper e-readers than Amazon. Most importantly it has a cheap tablet available. And it’s being sold in the store that sells magazines. Wonderful to read on a tablet. A total disaster on the Kindle.

If Amazon can get its act together and launch the KindleFire in the UK (promised since January but still no sign) then Amazon’s market supremacy will probably continue. Without a tablet to compete then Amazon faces losing its dominant position in the UK despite the Waterstone’s deal, just as it has now taken second place to Kobo in Canada.

Whoever the winner is in the retail stakes, it’s a win-win for us all as writers and self-publishers, with huge new market-share being opened up.

Make the most of it. It’s going to be a great Christmas.

Play It Forward – Where Next For MWiDP?

Pay It Forward.

How often do we hear that in the world of indie publishing? It has become the mantra of the indie movement, to the point where recently some bloggers were actually arguing over who thought of it first! The mind boggles.

Menander

In fact the concept has been about since forever. It was in use by the Greek dramatist Menander in 317BC, and the first recorded example in the US was Benjamin Franklin, who lent money to someone and asked them not to repay Franklin but to instead lend that money to another person in need. Similar sentiments were later echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The actual term was in use from the early part of the twentieth century, and became popularised by Robert A. Heinlein’s sci-fi classic Between Planets.

But of course the phrase took on a life of its own after Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel Pay It Forward was published in 1999. The film quickly followed. A movement was born. A decade on and the Pay It Forward movement is still going strong, guided by the Pay It Forward Foundation Catherine founded.

What does this have to do with MWiDP? Bear with me. There are two big announcements from MWiDP today.

~

First, some background for the many newer visitors here.

When we slipped our debut novel Sugar & Spice into the murky waters of the Amazon ocean fifteen months ago it was, more than anything else, an act of defiance against the gatekeepers. Not so much desperation as sheer frustration.

There was no carefully thought out marketing plan. No launch party. No blogs. No tweets. It was whole new world, and one we knew next to nothing about.

Ebooks were still in their infancy, Kindle UK was about to experience its very first Christmas, and we just sat back and hoped someone might buy our unknown and unloved book.

Of course, no-one did.

This time last year we had sold nothing. And we were still querying. It seemed our best bet at the time. And maybe, at the time, it was.

And then around February / March we got the serious interest of an agent. A real-life literary agent wanted our book! By then it was just starting to sell a few copies on Amazon, but the agent wasn’t interested in that. She liked the book, but ebooks were just a fad. So the agent took our book under exclusive review, and we sat and hoped.

Three months passed. When she finally got back to us with her decision she wanted us to take down the ebook so she could approach publishers.

That was a close call. If she’d got back to us sooner we might well have fallen for it.

Trouble was, in that three months she had sat on our novel we had somehow sold thirty thousand books. Ebooks a fad? Clearly this was an agent who had no future. And, we realised, querying had no future either.

A month on and we had sold fifty thousand and were the second biggest-selling ebook in the country. The agents started to query us!

Again it was a close call. Big promises, tempting “unofficial” offers, but accompanied by draconian contract conditions. We stayed indie.

Regrets?

You’ve got to be kidding! That same book went on to sell another fifty thousand before it began to wind down on Amazon (not helped by the infamous three week disappearance!). And by then we were riding high in Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N.

Meanwhile we had brought out another book, got on with some other writing projects, and began to look at the bigger picture.

MWiDP was born.

Little could we have imagined that, just months later, we’d have one of the biggest names in modern English literature sign with us.

~

The big news this week, of course, is the announcement, first made on Anne R. Allen’s blog on Sunday, that Anne and NYT best-selling author of Pay It Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde turned their back on the trad publishers in favour of joining forces with MWiDP.

In Anne’s own words:

The book I’ve been writing with Catherine Ryan Hyde, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE—and keep your E-sanity! will be published by Mark Williams international in June of 2012. The book will be available as an ebook that will include free six-month updates. AND it will also be available in paper in both a US and UK edition.

We’ve had some interest from more traditional publishers, but decided to go with the innovative people at MWiDP because we need a nimble publisher who can keep up with industry changes and offer timely updates. Also, Catherine has a large international fan base, which made “Mr. International’s” offer especially attractive.

The fab cover is the working design, courtesy of our designer in residence Athanasios.

How To Write in the E-Age and Keep Your E-Sanity will be the first of many books under our non-fiction / education imprint Writers Without Frontiers, aimed at fellow authors, at whatever stage of their career they are at.

As well as more books for this imprint we’ll also be teaming up with other industry professionals to bring online writing courses and other resources to help the growing number of people worldwide who want to realize their dreams of being a writer.

And just to add there will be a prize draw in June to mark the launch of How to be a Writer in the E-Age. And not just any old prize.

We’re talking a first edition of the zillion-selling Pay It Forward, signed by Catherine Ryan Hide herself!

~

Yep, I had to read it twice too. Catherine Ryan Hyde is now an MWiDP author!

~

Writers Without Frontiers is just one of several imprints that will see MWiDP expand rapidly in 2012.

Our YA imprint will launch this spring, commencing with the long-awaited St. Mallory’s series, and though it’s not official yet we may well have another fantastic YA title going live with it. More on that in the near future.

We have some great titles pending for our Exotica imprint, all about travel and stories set in distant lands.

And for those so inclined we have also launched our mature-audience imprint, Aphrodysia, with the first book due out for St. Valentine’s Day.

Those not so inclined will be pleased to know covers and content will not be appearing alongside the other books, unlike on Amazon where some seriously disturbing covers are prone to pop up alongside MG titles.

Several other imprint ideas are being developed, which we’ll bring news of all as and when.

~

Enhanced ebooks are of course high on our agenda to progress, and we’ll be making some announcements on this in the next few months. We have some trial projects under way, but won’t give details until we have a clearer picture.

We also have plans for audio books, and are currently examining ways in which this can work in the new indie publishing world. More on this in coming weeks.

In the very near future we’ll be moving into print-on-demand publishing for some of our titles. While there can be no doubt the days of bricks and mortar stores are numbered, there will be a small but significant market for print for the foreseeable future, and as POD technology improves and prices drop, POD will become the only real alternative to ebooks.

Meanwhile our tech team Elizabeth (she may only be one person, but she does the work of many!) has been hard at it behind the scenes with the new websites and the ebook store. All now very close to completion.

Take a sneak peak at www.mwidp.com.

~

The ebook store, indiebooksunited, is hardly going to challenge Amazon’s supremacy, of course, so important to remind ourselves why we felt it necessary at all.

I asked an author recently if they would be interested in the ebook store and they answered, “Why? I’m selling through Amazon.” I put it to him he might sell even more if he was in other stores. He answered, “But I don’t need to be. I’ve ticked world rights. I’m available everywhere.” I tried not to laugh.

For anyone who missed it, do check out the MWi post Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Aakash  which explains how Amazon either blocks downloads or surcharges buyers across much of the world.

Above is a screen shot of what I see when I try to buy one of your books. Check out the green box at top right. (You may need to click on the image to enlarge.)

Check out the MWi post referred to above for real numbers about just how many potential buyers cannot buy your ebook from Amazon.

There’s also this strange idea that someone who has bought a Kobo ereader, or a Sony or an iRiver, or myriad other alternatives to the Kindle, is somehow going to make Amazon their first stop for ebooks. Yeah, right. Just like us Kindle users always go shopping in B&N and Diesel…

~

The recent introduction of KDP Select has raised the issue of exclusivity once again. Leaving aside the good or bad aspects of KDP Select itself, let us briefly ponder exclusivity.

If we had chosen only to list with Amazon last year would we have sold as many books? Unequivocally no.

Of course we are on Apple, Kobo and B&N too. Kobo is a rising star, as I’ve said many times here on MWi. Just this week Kobo announced plans for expansion to ten new countries, including Japan and Brazil, just as the Amazon’s Japan plans have stalled.

Kobo has also partnered with WH Smiths, one of the leading UK retail stores. Kobo is the place to be in 2012-15.

If you’re not on Kobo, or are on Kobo through Smashwords and seeing no results, then be sure to check out the announcement at the end of this post.

But Amazon, B&N, Apple and Kobo are not the be all and end all of ebook vendors, and only form part of our income.

In the latter part of 2011, long after the Amazon star had waned, we had two top ten hits simultaneously in Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N. We held the number two spot, kept off #1 only by the Steve Jobs biography, and for a long while the Saffina Desforges brand was the most searched for name in the store.

But we weren’t just selling there. Britain’s biggest retailer by far is the supermarket giant Tesco. It has its own e-book store.

Guess what? We’re in it.

Foyles? Yep, you’ll find us there.

Books, etc? Yeah, we’re there too.

Pickabook? Of course.

ACCO in Belgium? We used our “leetle grey cells”!

Selexyz in the Netherlands? We love the Dutch!

Fishpond down in New Zealand? Say hi down under!

Kalahari in South Africa? Of course!

I could go on. Our books will soon be appearing in Textr in Germany, Asia Books in Thailand, Eason’s in Ireland, Buscalibros in Chile, etc, etc. I’m not called Mr International for nothing!

There’s a whole world out there that could be reading your ebooks, if only they had the chance. True, the sales aren’t earth-shattering. But a sale is a sale, and that reader may tell a friend who tells a friend…

And sometimes it can be good to be a big fish in a small pond, as we found with Waterstone’s. Next time it could be you. But not if you’re not listed there.

Of course the problem is these stores aren’t indie friendly. Just the opposite. They make it almost impossible to get in. ISBNs are required pretty much everywhere except Amazon and B&N. That includes Apple and Kobo, which is why most people go through Smashwords.

But Smashwords won’t get you into Waterstone’s or Foyles, Fishpond or Kalahari. And apart from ISBNs there are a ton of other conditions to meet and hoops to jump through too, before these companies will even think of listing your title. For example Waterstone’s insist you are a VAT-registered company to set up an account.  For the US readers that means having an annual turnover of about $100k. Then you face the nightmare of keeping track, receiving payments, etc. It’s not easy.

Which brings us to the second big announcement of the day:

MWiDP can now offer your titles direct listings to these stores, and also Apple and Kobo.

We’ll be contacting you all shortly with further details. For anyone not currently with us who wants to know more, just drop me an email.

We hope to start uploading to Waterstone’s by the end of this month, and just in case you’re wondering how anyone will find you there, we’re delighted to tell you we have advanced promotion in hand. We own the domain name http://www.welovewaterstones.com and will be launching a big awareness campaign within the UK this spring aimed at bringing attention to your titles.

Oh, and did I mention we accidentally bought the domain names welovekoboebooks, welovetescoebooks, welovefishpondebooks and welovekalahariebooks too? 🙂

So, even though it may have seemed nothing much was happening, we have been busy behind the scenes. I’ll be elaborating on the various projects in more detail over the coming weeks here on MWi.

I’ll also be introducing the Book Theatre project to find narrators for audio books for your novels, and the Translator’s Co-op project to bring together a pool of novel translators worldwide to help get your books selling not just in the international stores, but in the local languages.

The trad publishers will tell you writers still need them because they can get you places you can’t get on your own. They have a point. Once you step outside the Amazon bubble being indie isn’t easy.

But with MWiDP you’re not on your own.  Many of our authors are already busy exchanging ideas and services. It’s all part of the cloud.

With MWiDP you get all the benefits of being indie but a lot less DIY.

Mark & Saffi

%d bloggers like this: