Here are a few stories to read this Monday morning.
AP tried to do an end of year overview of the book publishing industry, but neglected to venture outside of Manhattan.
Alan Dean Foster isn’t the only author who is being cheated by Disney. The juicy details are paywalled, but the authors who wrote the novelizations for the original Star Wars trilogy have come forward with similar stories.
The Chinese gadget company Xiaomi has just launched a crowdfunding campaign for their next ereader.
The crowdfunding site is in Chinese, with all the text embedded in images, so it is kinda ahrd to discern many details. But I do know the Mi Reader Pro features a 7.8″ Carta E-ink dispaly with color-changing frontlight. It’s powered by a quadcore CPU with 2GB RAM and 32GB internal storage.
Th graphics also suggest that the Mi Reader Pro can pair with a smartphone, and that it supports standard office formats. GSMArena reports that it runs Android Oreo 8.1 and comes with both Wifi and Bluetooth. You can even use voice search to find and open ebooks, although that is probably only available in Chinese.
The price is listed at 1099 CNY, or about $168 USD.
I’m sure many people know that OverDrive developed a reading app called Libby about four years ago. What you might not know is that in addition to the Android and iOS apps, there was also an app for Windows.
Apparently the app has been retired. A reader sent me the following screenshot (Thanks, Cheri!)
TBH folks, I didn’t even know this app existed. A quick Google search uncovered it in the Microsoft Store, which may explain why i haven’t heard of it (I’m still running Windows 7).
A friend just sent me a product listing for a really cool gadget. (Thanks, Steve!)
Banggood is now selling an epaper development kit called the M5Paper. It costs $73 and features a 4.7″ E-ink screen powered by a 240MHz CPU with Wifi and Bluetooth. That is a little under-powered for an ereader, but this would still make a great platform for a project to develop your own E-ink controller for whatever project you are working on.
It has expansion ports, a microSD card slot, a 1.15Ah battery, a capacitive touchscreen, and internal connections for things like temperature and moisture sensors.
If you get one, I would love to see what you do with it.
Amazon is sending mixed messages about their cheapest Kindle. On the one hand, they have dropped a hint that it could be replaced soon. On the other hand, they upgraded the storage (not something you do right before retiring/updating a model.
About two weeks ago Amazon quietly upgraded the storage in the basic Kindle. Previously that model had shipped with 4GB of internal storage, but according to the listing page on Amazon.com, it now ships with 8GB of storage.
This change was initially made earlier in the year, and at the time it looked like Amazon was simply replacing the basic Kindle with the matching Kids Kindle, which aside from the extra storage had essentially identical hardware. Now Amazon has made the change official.
This is great news for anyone who wants to buy a basic Kindle, but it also means that Amazon probably doesn’t want to replace it any time soon. Which is why it was so weird to read earlier this week that Amazon is no longer calling their entry-level Kindle simply the "Kindle". Instead, they are calling it the 2019 model:
Amazon usually only does this right after they launch a replacement model. The usual unreliable source is now claiming that is exactly going to happen, but I don’t see it happening.
Not only it is too late in the year, but also I would not expect Amazon to officially upgrade the storage before retiring a model. No, you save the upgrade for the next model.
Reed Expo, the parent company of BookExpoAmerica, NY ComicCon, and other trade shows, has announced that they are killing BookExpo, BookCon, and UnBound.
Dear BookExpo attendees,
We hope when you read this email that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.
During the past eight months, the impact of COVID-19 has been felt in both our personal lives and the way we do business. It has forced all of us to navigate a new landscape, and sadly forced all of us to say goodbye to many beloved businesses. At the same time, we have seen glimmers of hope and ingenuity, as Bookstores, Retailers, Librarians, and Educators find new and creative ways to serve their communities.
COVID-19 forced us to cancel our in-person BookExpo, BookCon, and UnBound 2020 events. While we missed not seeing old friends and colleagues in person, there was no doubt that this was the correct choice. BookExpo Online brought us together virtually to celebrate our love of books and remind us that there are other, new ways to gather to support the stories and community we hold dear.
As we look toward 2021, we are all wondering what the world will look like. As Event Director, I am tasked with the challenge of how and when to gather the industry together in a manner that is productive, cost effective, and safe. Together with the management team, we have reached the conclusion that planning an in-person event for 2021 is unfortunately not possible based on the current environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo where we were already examining restructuring our events to best meet our community’s needs. The Trade industry has evolved so much in the past decade, and it has long been apparent that BookExpo needs to reflect those changes.
What does that mean for the future? It means we need to pause, review, and rebuild. The BookExpo, BookCon, and UnBound events in their prior iterations will retire and will not take place in 2021. It is our intention that the shows will re-emerge in the future in a format that delivers better value to our customers with a blend of in-person and virtual offerings. These new events will be built upon the tremendous successes and learnings of the past year’s virtual initiatives. We will no longer be limited by geolocation and we will be able to connect this industry through multiple touch points throughout the year.
The thing about BEA is that it was half-dead already. As Reed said in their statement, the trade show had long since stopped being relevant. I had not attended since the year before the show was held in Chicago, and I was only planning to go this year so I could spend a week in NYC as a vacation. (I did have a plan for networking with publishers, but the vacation was the deciding factor.)
If you live within driving distance of a major metro area, the odds are very good that there already was a event you could go to which filled the same needs as BEA. (Between DC, Richmond, and Maryland, I am blessed with around 50 such events.)
Really, the only reason BEA was big was that book publishing industry was concentrated in NYC.
But given how the industry has been decentralizing over the past 15 years (thanks to the internet, there’s no reason to pay for expensive real estate or operating costs any more) it was only a matter of time before BEA lost all relevance.
The death of this trade show was really only a matter of time.
P.S. If it does come back, I would bet that we will see it revived as smaller local trade shows and conferences – you know, events you could go to in the middle of your work day, and not as a business trip.
The hot news in the publishing world today is that one of the world’s largest media conglomerates just got a little bigger.
Bertelsmann, the parent company of Penguin Random House, is buying Simon & Schuster for just over $2 billion USD.
Bertelsmann, the international media, services, and education company, is further expanding its global content businesses with the acquisition of the publishing house Simon & Schuster. Bertelsmann’s global trade book publishing group, Penguin Random House, is purchasing the book publishing business from the media company ViacomCBS for $2.175 billion. Simon & Schuster strengthens Bertelsmann’s footprint globally, and particular in the U.S., its second-largest market. Simon & Schuster employs around 1,500 people worldwide and generated revenues of $814 million in 2019. It publishes works from well-known authors and public figures including Hillary Clinton, John Irving, Stephen King, and Bob Woodward. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close during 2021. Bertelsmann will pay the purchase price in cash from existing liquid funds. Simon & Schuster will continue to be managed as a separate publishing unit under the Penguin Random House umbrella. Jonathan Karp, President & CEO of Simon & Schuster, and Dennis Eulau, COO and CFO, will continue at the helm of the publishing house.
I know that most will frame this story in terms of the Big 5 becoming the Big 4, but I don’t think that is really an accurate description.
The thing about the Big 5 is that they aren’t really that big. There are many larger or comparable-sized publishing companies, including US publishers such as Scholastic and HMH. Also, all of the remaining "Big 5" are actually part of larger international publishing conglomerates. Hachette belongs to Legardere, PRH and S&S are part of Bertelmann, Macmillan belongs to Holtzbrink, and HarperCollins belongs to Newscorp.
The Big 5 (now the Big 4) are run as parts of a larger whole, and referring to them in terms of their relative size in the US market is misleading at best.
Or at least, it is misleading to those outside the industry. If you are in the book publishing industry you’re going to notice a change in everything from reduced competition for new books to lower fees paid to service providers to the size of booth at book fairs (publisher booths have been getting smaller for years now, and this will probably accelerate the trend).
This deal is bad news for everyone except Bertelsmann’s stockholders.
It seems that if multiple author groups line up against it, Amazon can be forced to make a change to it policies – just not a major change.
Audible sent out an email Tuesday morning to authors and publishers who are signed up with ACX. The email informed us that starting 1 January, Audible would pay a royalty on any audiobook which is returned more than seven days after it is purchased.
The email does not acknowledge the other issues raised recently, including the lack of clarity in sales reports (we’re not told how many audiobooks are returned) and Audible’s decision to actively promote returns as a feature of an Audible subscription.
While this is a small improvement, we still need to keep fighting Amazon on the other two points.
Here’s the text of the email. The relevant paragraph is at the end.
Launched in 2011, the Audiobook Creation Exchange has paved the way for exponential growth in audiobook production and consumption, today supplying over 200 audiobooks in store per day to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. The ACX online rights marketplace and production engine is available to all authors, publishers, literary agents, narrators and studio pros in the US, UK, Canada, and Ireland. ACX.com connects and educates independent authors and rising actors—many of whom are among 20,000 professional actors who have worked with Audible in the past 5 years—in the art of audiobook performance and creation, and provides title-promotion tools and methods to drive sales and audiobook awareness, allowing our creative stakeholders to reach new audiences on Audible and beyond. Free programs, including ACX University and the Promo Code Tool, seek to level the playing field and further expand opportunity for authors, narrators, rights holders and producers alike.
As you know, we’ve been working to address some ACX authors’ concerns about Audible’s overall exchange policy, and we appreciate your feedback. The intent of this program is to allow listeners to discover their favorite voice, author, or story in audio. In instances where we determine the benefit is being overused, Audible can and does limit the number of exchanges and refunds allowed by a member. But as designed, this customer benefit allows active Audible members in good standing to take a chance on new content, and suspicious activity is extremely rare.
We hope this helps convey perspective to our valued writers and ACX partners as to the impact of our current returns policies. However, in recognition of these concerns, moving forward and effective as of January 1, 2021, Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than 7 days following purchase. This adjustment does not impact our customers' current benefits of membership, and we look forward to continuing to welcome millions of first-time listeners, enabling our members to discover new content they enjoy and growing the audience for our valued creative partners.
Amazon announced a confusing number of sales today for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Some items are on sale today, while others won’t be going on sale until the 28th.
For starters the basic Kindle is on sale today, and so is the Fire HD 10. You can get the basic Kindle for $60, or the Fire HD 10 for $80. You can also find Fire HD 10 accessories and cases up to 20% off.
If you can wait until Saturday, you can also find the Fire HD 8 on sale, as well as the Oasis and the Paperwhite. (Do not ask me when they are on sale; Amazon was trying to be clever but only succeeded in confusing the hell out of me.)
If you click the links, you might see a note on one or more of the pages noting a time window. I think that is when each item will be on sale. For example, I think the Oasis is going to be on sale today (maybe?).
It’s not just that Audible is actively promoting returns, but also that, unlike in the KDP dashboard, Audible is not making it clear to rightsholders just how many audiobooks are being returned.
This ongoing issue, combined with Audible’s continued refusal to correct the problem or even to address it, has forced ALLi to recommend that authors should avoid Audible:
The Alliance of Independent Authors has today downgraded Amazon ACX’s rating as a self-publishing service from “Approved“ (via “Pending” during investigation) to “Caution”. The change arises from concerns about income loss from Amazon Audible’s refund and exchange policies, and deteriorating customer service to authors and narrators.
ALLi now has reason to believe that Amazon Audible’s refund and return policies are resulting in unknown numbers of audiobook authors and narrators around the world being deprived of income.
Audible’s payment process, which encourages subscribers to “return” or “exchange” audiobooks for up to a year without compunction, has long been of concern to ALLi and independent authors who self-publish audiobooks. Free return and exchange is being used as a highly effective promotional tool for Audible, as it provides a nice perk to listeners, but evidence is emerging that whenever an audiobook is returned or exchanged, Audible claws back payment from the audiobook’s creators, without their consent, or even their knowledge.
On a related note, The Authors Guild, RWA, ALLi, SFWA, Novelists Inc., and Dramatists Guild have jointly published an open letter to Audible’s CEO Bob Carrigan and General Counsel Stas Zakharenko, demanding that Audible end its practice of encouraging easy returns and exchanges. "This is not an exchange policy, but an unauthorized audiobook rental arrangement supported by authors’ reversed royalties, and it must stop." You can add your name to the letter here.
And they are right. The thing about this "return" policy is that it costs Amazon nothing while costing creators everything.
The thing is, Amazon doesn’t sell audiobooks as a subscription. They sell credits, so when an audiobook is "returned", they give a credit back to the subscriber. Amazon then claws a royalty back from rightsholders while at the same time keeping the money they were paid for the credit.
This is different from when a Kindle ebook is returned, obviously, and that difference is why the burden for an audiobook return is born entirely by rightsholders.
That burden is a fundamental imbalance in Amazon’s relationship with rightsholders, and the organizations I named above are absolutely right to insist that Amazon correct this situation.