A new trend for publishing retail?

Most days I spend time looking around the world of publishing when I should really be in that world and writing novels. Here’s something I found today that really caught my eye.

Sometimes authors get together and talk about how major publishers are and will respond to the disruption coming from self-publishers, Amazon imprints, and other new publishers. For example, the consistent line spun over the past few years that print books are resurgent and would everyone please forget about eBooks and go to your nearest bookstore. It’s a fascinating topic, and an important one if you earn your living writing novels. But that’s about publishers; we don’t spend as much time debating changes to brick and mortar retailers.

Cue this article about a keynote speech by James Daunt, boss of Waterstones, one of the two remaining national bookstores in the UK (if you include WH Smith). Waterstones has been taking hammer blows from Amazon for many years now, but Daunt seems to have stabilized the business.

The change that caught my eye was that Waterstones has come off a reliance on co-op payments. Now, co-op for those who don’t know, is a complex and evolving class of negotiations that basically boil down to this: publishers pay bookstores to promote their titles. It’s not always as simple as the description I’m about to give, but if a bookstore has big stacks of a major new release on prominent display, then there’s a good chance that they’ve been paid to stock those books, and to place them in the prime real estate at the front of the store.

It’s not always this way. If I ran a bookstore, I would want plenty of copies stocked for a brand-new Harry Potter book, for example. But sometimes when you go to a store and it’s overflowing with a title, it isn’t because it’s the big new thing; it’s an illusion that the title is the next big thing that publishers hope will become self-fulfilling. And if it doesn’t, the bookstore will return many of those copies to the publisher for a refund.

Unfortunately, you still won’t find these sort of novels at Waterstones.

Coming off co-op (like ‘coming off heroin’, says Daunt) is a big part of the reason why Waterstones has shrunk their returns from 20% of stock to 3%. In other words, Waterstones are now carrying more of the books that their customers want, rather than stocking the books their suppliers want.

It’s a bold move, and it sounds like a transformational one (which only goes to show how distorted the industry had become). After all, the radical philosophy that has made the Amazon bookstore so successful is that they always put the needs of their customers ahead of their suppliers. OK, that’s the theory. Sometimes they stray a little from their core principle, but not too far. And as I think about it, that Amazon principle is how I make a living writing books. If people buy and enjoy my novels then Amazon will recommend them to people they think will also enjoy them. I don’t pay Amazon to do this (although I have also advertised separately in the clearly labelled ‘sponsored’ parts of their storefront).

I hope this works for Waterstones. I really do and maybe Daunt’s move will be copied by bookstores around the world. Perhaps Waterstones will be seen more like an indie bookstore, rather than how it used to be: a corporate chain where every store in the country looks the same and carries the same stock. (Although that wouldn’t be such a good outcome for indie stores, though).

I’m enthused… but enough to step inside Waterstones? There’s one in Bedford, just outside the library where I often write my novels during the week. Hmm… maybe not.

Here’s why.

My love of science fiction literature was suffering a long death during the noughties. I cancelled all my short story magazine subscriptions because I didn’t enjoy most of the stories. I had followed the book recommendations in those magazines, and in the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction and BSFA Vector, but too often they led me to novels that I could sometimes see were impressive in various technical ways but didn’t enthuse me. (With an occasional exception). The grimmest symptom was that not finishing a science fiction novel had changed from a rarity to the norm.  I thought my long love affair with science fiction literature had ended.

Then came the flood of new authors that hit the Kindle I received as a leaving present when I left my last ‘proper job’ at the start of 2011. They were sometimes rough and ready in the earliest years, but they told exciting stories that filled my imagination to bursting point. Instead of taking months to work my way through a book before giving up, I was now reading late into the early hours and finishing in a few days. I fell in love with science fiction literature again.

And once I’d started buying, Amazon started giving me recommendations of more great books. True, some ridiculous suggestions were thrown up, but what enabled my connection to this new talent was the Amazon principle of recommending what it thinks its customers want, not what its suppliers want.

That focus worked for me. I hope it works for Waterstones too. It won’t in my case, though, because only a tiny proportion of the authors I follow are stocked in the science fiction & fantasy shelves at Waterstones. It’s got to be a decade or more since I bought a novel at a physical bookstore.

But Waterstones has taken an interesting step in coming off co-op and I wonder where it will lead.

The article link, by the way, takes you to The Passive Voice, which quotes articles on publishing. Sometimes the comments are the most interesting aspect of the posts here as you can get a fascinating range of informed opinions, although there is a tendency to champion the many smaller rivals to the Big Five publishers and the incumbent publishing establishment. If you are interested in the world of English language publishing, and your main sources of information are the likes of major newspapers, Publishers Weekly, and The Bookseller, then you are in serious need of a more balanced view of publishing. The Passive Voice will help you to do that.

 

Posted in Comments | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Fake news and eBook publishing

For a bit of lunchtime fun, I tried journalism in response to today’s press release from the Publishers’ Association, which has been widely reported in the UK press, emphasizing the story that eBook sales are in a ‘slump’.

Here’s my first ever attempt at journalism:

The Publishers Association today reported a slump in eBook fiction sales across their members after a change in strategy in which they increased eBook prices in an attempt to drive consumers back to printed books.

Commenting on the 16% sales drop, Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said, “There is generally a sense that people are now getting screen tiredness from so many devices being used… [Printed] books provide an opportunity to step away from that.”

However, the change in pricing strategy, and the relentless traditional publishing press briefings over the past year on the alleged consumer shift back to print, is interpreted by others as a tacit admission that the members of the Publishers Association, who dominated UK publishing until only a few years ago, have now lost control of digital book publishing, where new entrants thrive in the form of micro-publishers, self-publishers and Amazon’s own imprints.

With the Publishers Association now representing only a tiny fraction of UK publishers (although most of the largest ones are members), and the dominant eBook retailer, Amazon, refusing to disclose sales figures, it is impossible to be sure of the true state of digital book publishing in the UK. Perhaps most telling is the line in Amazon’s recently released annual report in which the retail giant stated that Kindle eBook sales rose last year, as they have every year since the Kindle’s launch. Subscription services are also booming, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service which reports 3 ½ billion page reads per month.

I actually found this very hard because to my mind journalists need to check facts and attempt a balanced point of view. In this case, the key fact (are eBook sales up or down) is impossible to know for sure. What is certain is that the Publishers Association does not represent the publishing industry, and neither do their statistics, but that doesn’t stop them issuing self-serving spin (which is understandable, for that is their purpose).

How could I phrase my report and stay neutral? Every phrasing I considered added nuance and tacit spin. Neutrality and balance is not easy! I came away with enhanced respect for genuine journalists.

However, genuine journalists seem to be a rarity in this era of ever-faker news.

For an example of a once-great newspaper that often seems to have abandoned journalism altogether, compare my attempt with the equivalent in the Guardian. Bonus points if you spot the Guardian’s spelling mistake. A million extra points if you can spot where the Guardian writer attempts to qualify the accuracy of the data reported by the Publisher’s Association (ie it isn’t at all meaningful when used to consider the industry), or to provide a balanced point of view (by considering the vast legion of publishers who are not in this trade body).

 

Posted in Comments | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Meet the Boss Man!

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Originally posted on J.R. Handley Blog:
INTRODUCTION TO THE HUMAN LEGION CREATOR: ? Hello Space Cadets, I wanted to offer you a treat in honor of the recently passed Halloween.  I’ve managed to snag an interview with the creator…

Gallery | 3 Comments

Red Shirt Application

This is a great opportunity to be ‘onscreen’ (albeit for a short time).

J.R. Handley Blog

Image result for red shirt picture

Hello Space Cadets, today I wanted to take a second to make a call out for Red Shirt Applications!  In every military science fiction book, there are characters whose only role is to die.  Some die well, some run and are gunned down, but all must die.  I kill ‘em by the bushel!  In my childhood, I watched the original zombie show, Star Trek, where the walking dead were identified by their red shirts!  These characters, to date, are just fictional names I pulled out of a hat BUT they could be you!!  If you’re interested in becoming a red shirt in the Sleeping Legion Universe, send an email to jrhandley@jrhandleyinc.com telling me you want to be a red shirt!!  Then you can tell me as much about your character as you would like.  I will try to use them as I need…

View original post 31 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Giving book reviews – honest reviews – can be savage business for a writer

I’ve reviewed a few books over the last few months, partly because I enjoy reading, partly for the expanded view it gives me of other writing styles, and a little because I feel it’s a …

Source: Giving book reviews – honest reviews – can be savage business for a writer

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Empire at War is available to buy

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Originally posted on The Human Legion:
I’ve been published in a British-themed multi-author boxed set, which is available for Kindle pre-order now at a ridiculously low price and will be available on general release on Friday 5th Feb. We’re working…

Gallery | Leave a comment

The Martian, Rejection, and Finding Your Reader

This is a good assessment of why these days you can succeed in publishing if you can connect with readers who will love your book, even if traditional publishing tells you it won’t sell. At a smaller scale, I guess I’m proving that with my Human Legion books. A few years ago they would have been rejected by all the top publishers because ‘no one reads military sf any more’. Year-to-date I’ve sold 66,000 — hardly Andy Weir territory, but enough to live off 🙂

Annie Cardi

Recently I read The Martian. It’s been the big buzz book over the last year or two, with a new movie out. Usually I don’t dive into a lot of the best-seller adult list, but I decided to give it a try after getting recommendations from friends in the sciences who enjoyed it. Psyched by the idea of a sci-fi novel that was heavy on the sci, I requested a copy from the library and (about four months later; thanks, Matt Damon), I read it.

It was fun and exciting. Mark Watney was a clever protagonist with a good sense of humor, and the rest of the astronaut team felt real. The science was well explained to the reader and seemed feasible, like manned missions to Mars could actually happen in my lifetime. The dynamics between NASA and the media and international governments felt genuine. Reading it, I could totally imagine this as a…

View original post 608 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The latest science fiction bestseller charts

The Human Legion

Here’s my latest trawl through the science fiction top 20 bestseller and bestselling author charts on amazon.com. The point of these posts is twofold. Firstly it’s an opportunity to celebrate what’s hot right now in science fiction in books (and beyond), and secondly it also gives me a few minutes to rest my brain from my day job of writing my own science fiction books. My last trawl through the charts was here, and a long-winded mission statement here. Data was captured on 24th October 2015, but I’ve been looking in on the charts most days since my last post.

Authors who caught my eye this time include Douglas E. Richards, S. Harrison, Joshua V. Scher, Rysa Walker, Tim C. Taylor and Joshua Dalzelle. Spontaneous celebrations erupted throughout the world this week as people called Joshua welcomed the news that two authors of that name are currently in the…

View original post 1,370 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

This week’s science fiction bestseller charts

My most recent trawl through the science fiction bestseller charts.

The Human Legion

Here’s my latest trawl through the science fiction top 20 bestseller and bestselling author charts on amazon.com The point of these posts is twofold: it’s an opportunity to celebrate what’s hot right now in science fiction in books and beyond, and I write it in chunks to give me a few minutes at a time to rest my brain from my day job of writing my own science fiction books (and with a book launch later this week, I need that occasional break). My last trawl through the charts was here, and a long-winded mission statement here.

Authors who caught my eye this time include Andy Weir, Margaret Atwood, and Kameron Hurley. Chart positions were captured on 2nd October 2015.

Top of the bestselling books was The Martian and the bestselling author was Andy Weir. No surprise there. With the movie version of his book appearing in theaters…

View original post 1,700 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

What’s really hot in science fiction: part 2

Dalek sand cats. Taken from humanlegion.com last week. If I get a chance, I’ll do some more chart rundowns this afternoon. I’ve got a book to release, though!

The Human Legion

Welcome back to an occasional series of posts on what’s hot in science fiction, concentrating on Amazon’s science fiction bestseller charts. For a discussion of what I’m up to, and why I want to move away from bullying and arrogance and onto celebrating success, see part one.

Defending the beaches against the sandy alien horde. Defending the beaches against the sandy alien horde (that looking nothing at all like cats!).

Let’s start with the top-20 bestselling science fiction books on amazon.com I scraped the data last week (I had a busy weekend building sand daleks on the beach which is why I’m posting a few days later), so if you follow the link, you will get a slightly different picture. I’m escalating a request to Amazon for permission to replicate their chart data, but for now you’ll have to click the link.

The book bestseller chart shows a view of recent unit sales for paperbacks, hardbacks, eBooks…

View original post 1,183 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment