As if publishers don’t have enough on their minds with the ongoing upheavals in the book trade, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, two of the world’s biggest book retailers, have given them fresh cause for concern with their bold forays into publishing.
Barnes & Noble has launched a new system called PubIt! that allows self-published authors to sell their works as digital content, including e-books, via Barnes & Noble’s online digital platform.
The new service allows you to upload a document and convert it to the standard EPUB format for electronic titles and sell them through BN.com and Barnes & Noble’s eBookstore, which currently offer more than one million digital titles to millions of customers in-store and online.
Readers can sample, buy and download the books on a wide variety of reading devices, including Barnes & Noble’s NOOK e-reader, Mac and PC, the iPad and iPhone, the BlackBerry® and others, using free BN reader software.
The PubIt! system is available to both authors and indie publishers and, according to B&N it offers them “expanded distribution and visibility,” and promises the writers’ “intellectual property will be well-protected with Barnes & Noble’s best-in-class digital rights management technology.”
B&N is also teaming up with Pandigital, a San Francisco-based company specializing in digital photo frames, and makers of the Novel e-reader, in a deal that will allow the B&N eBookstore to be seamlessly integrated into the Pandigital Novel interface, thus giving users of the device the ability to sample, buy and download digital content from the B&N eBookstore, including over one million e-books, newspapers and magazines, a wide variety of free e-books and more than half a million free classics, plus they’ll be able to access books from their personal Barnes & Noble digital library. Pandigital Novel users will also be able to utilise advanced features, including Barnes & Noble’s breakthrough LendMe™ technology which allows you to share e-books with friends and family for 14 days. The BN eBookstore is also accessible on the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, BlackBerry, Mac and PC. Novel users will not be able to access the Amazon Kindle Store.
The Pandigital Novel e-reader has a 7-inch, full-color LCD display that allows you read books and periodicals displayed in personalized bookshelves with full-colour book covers and original colour photos. It has WiFi connectivity, multimedia capabilities and up to six hours of battery life, along with a touch-screen paired with an intuitive user interface making it easy to navigate and move through applications. You can also use it to watch videos. It has 1GB of built-in storage and an SD/MMC slot that accepts cards of up to 32GB. It weighs about one pound (0.45kg). It costs $199.99, cheaper than the $499 iPad and even the Barnes & Noble NOOK at $259, as well as the grayscale six-inch Kindle at $259.
The Barnes & Noble-Pandigital alliance comes at a time when B&N is under pressure to transform its business strategies in order to cope with the rapid and seismic changes in the market being wrought by advances in technology.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, “The digital revolution sweeping the media world is rewriting the rules of the book industry, upending the established players which have dominated for decades. Electronic books are still in their infancy, comprising an estimated 3% to 5% of the market today. But they are fast accelerating the decline of physical books, forcing retailers, publishers, authors and agents to reinvent their business models or be painfully crippled.”
This prognosis seems to be borne out by figures released this week by the Association of American Publishers. The AAP announced that e-book sales from the 13 publishers that report results to the AAP’s monthly sales program rose nearly 252% in the first quarter of 2010, to $91 million – the biggest quarter-year gains for e-books in the industry.
As for Amazon who is well ahead in the game of e-publishing it has raised the bar even higher, putting publishers and booksellers on notice that there’s going to be no letup in its ambition to be a game changer.
Building upon the phenomenal success of the Kindle, the online giant recently launched CreateSpace, an imprint which allows self-published writers and publishers anywhere in the world to use its Amazon’ Digital Text Platform (DTP) to upload and format their books for sale in the Kindle Store.
Amazon quickly followed this up with the launch of AmazonEncore, a publishing venture through which they use information such as customer reviews on Amazon websites to identify “exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales.” Amazon then offers to partner with the authors and help them re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution through multiple channels and formats. They can be sold as AmazonEncore print editions on Amazon websites around the world and downloaded from the Kindle Store. They can also be distributed via spoken-word audio downloads on Audible.com and in national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.
Last week Amazon announced the formation of a new imprint, AmazonCrossing, devoted to the publication of English translations of foreign-language books in paperback and e-book formats, at $15.95 and $9.99 respectively. AmazonCrossing will acquire the books and foot the bill for translating them into English. They’ll be introduced to English-speaking markets through multiple channels and formats, including the Kindle Store, the Amazon.com Book Store and independent bookstores. AmazonCrossing will be launched November 2 with the publication of Tierno Monénembo’s The King of Kahel, which won France’s Prix Renaudot in 2008.
Managing editor of The Complete Review, M.A. Orthofer told dailyfinance.com, “If Amazon can actually shift some copies of The King of Kahel it would suggest the difficulty books-in-translation have finding buyers/readers has more to do with marketing and public awareness than the fact that they are translations.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, “E-books have turned the economics of book retailing upside down.” Such is the nature of the global book trade and the vicissitudes of an industry that has undergone twists and turns rivaling some of the most creative story plots.
In the midst of all the glorious uncertainties, the only thing that is guaranteed is more change and more upheavals. For the most part, the future seems to favour writers, especially when viewed in the context of the barriers and restrictions that have long limited their access to publishing opportunities.
In contrast, every new venture and innovation in the industry seems geared towards increasing rather than limiting their access to the market. Like the retributive staff of Moses, technology and new media are parting the Red Sea of obstructionists and setting the captives free. At the same time, they are leaving numerous publishing houses plagued with anxieties about the future.