More competition, more opportunity
Two articles caught my eye in recent days. One slots into what I spoke about last month; the other opens up new possibilities for those willing and able to entertain them.
Last month I pointed out that a sea change was underway in the market for independent authors. I noted that Amazon.com had just changed the payment structure for its Associates program, and speculated that similar changes to its independent publication terms and conditions could not be far away. It looks like the publishing industry is taking exception to another new Amazon policy.
Amazon finds itself in the crosshairs of authors and publishers once again — this time for a new “buy” button on its site that allows book re-sellers offering cheap books in new condition to get top billing — ahead of original publishers.
Until last week, the primary “add to cart” buy button has always belonged to the original publisher, the Authors Guild points out, with Amazon paying the publisher 45 percent of the list price.
. . .
Re-sellers, who are offering books that claim to be in “new condition,” often at steep discounts, don’t kick back anything to the publisher or authors after a sale.
. . .
Amazon counters it has embraced competitive pricing in most categories for years.
“We have listed and sold books, both new and used, from third-party sellers for many years,” a spokesperson for the e-commerce giant said. “The recent changes allow sellers of new books to be the “featured offer” on a book’s detail page, which means that our bookstore now works like the rest of Amazon, where third-party sellers compete with Amazon for the sale of new items. Only offers for new books are eligible to be featured.”
There’s more at the link.
This makes perfect sense to me as a consumer. In many cases, where a book’s not available from the original publisher, or the publisher’s price is too expensive, I’ve gone ahead and bought a used copy from a third party on Amazon.com. Just last week, I bought a like-new copy of a much-sought-after book that’s long out of print, “Two Wheels to Adventure: The First Overland Journey from Alaska to Argentina“.
It was very expensive, too; but it was in mint condition, and signed by the author. Given the book’s scarcity, I wasn’t about to complain! However, that was for a book no longer available from its publisher. It looks as if Amazon’s new policy will apply to all books, whether currently in print or not – and some publishers appear to be crying foul about it.
I’m not sure they have a case. There will always be those who buy on price as a primary criterion – I’m one of them, most times. I buy a lot of books, particularly as research materials for my own books. If their new price (even in e-book format) is significantly higher than the price of a used print edition (many being available on Amazon.com for as little as $0.01 plus $3.99 shipping), I routinely buy the used copy. If a third-party seller comes into possession of a book at a low price, and passes that saving on to the consumer, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s a win for the reader. Only if the copy(ies) is/are stolen will there be anything to worry about.
Nevertheless, the new policy proves yet again that Amazon will put the interests of its customers ahead of all others, including those of the author and/or publisher. We aren’t the company’s primary focus, and we shouldn’t expect to be.
The second article reports on the success of an Australian illustrator in China.
When it was suggested to Indigenous Australian author Bronwyn Bancroft that her picture books for children be translated into Chinese, her first thought was the size of the population.
“Being able to take a story, especially the images, to another country that large,” she recalls.
The Mandarin translation of Big Rain Coming, one of 30 children’s books Bancroft has created, was launched on Thursday as part of Australian Writers’ Week in China.
On her first morning in Beijing, she said the reception had been “just crazy”. She was moved to tears at the response to her bright images of bush and home at a Beijing primary school.
Seven and eight year-olds gasped at photographs of giant eucalypt, and family anecdotes of swimming in creeks, watching out for the platypus.
But it was when her paintings of life as a Bundjalong woman were projected onto the big screen that spontaneous clapping thundered in the Fangcaodi school hall.
She told the children she created them with a tomato sauce bottle. “What!” they shrieked.
. . .
A look at China’s book sales figures explains why Australian publishers are beating on Beijing’s door. Book sales in China rose 12 per cent in 2016, to reach 70 billion yuan ($13 billion), according to the Publisher’s Association of China. Children’s books surged 29 per cent.
Xiao Liyuan, the deputy editor-in-chief of the People’s Literature Publishing House, said online shopping was the main driver of the surge, making up 70 per cent of book sales.
. . .
To compete with online sellers, and boosted by government tax breaks, book stores are transforming into cultural hubs and designing new spaces that appeal to the cashed-up middle class.
Bookseller Zhongshuge attracted a queue of 20,000 people when the independent chain opened a new store in Hangzhou inspired by an amusement park.
The grande dame of state publishing, Xinhua, will launch a 4000-square-metre store in Shanghai in September designed by Japan’s most famous architect, Tadao Ando.
The CITIC book chain says it will open 60 new stores this year.
Again, more at the link.
It’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of penetrating so large a market… but how many of us are considering it? I suspect that most indie authors are daunted at the prospect of translating our work into a language we don’t understand. There are also cultural implications, as well as possible plot and setting changes to accommodate local sensitivities. (For example, if your villains are exclusively Chinese, who always lose, and your heroes exclusively Americans, who always win… you might not do very well in the Chinese market!) For that matter, what are the odds of being ripped off by local imitators? To mention just one example, there are – or were – upwards of a dozen fake Harry Potter novels circulating in China! You can find details of some of them here.
Nevertheless, we should be thinking about such opportunities. If we’ve achieved local success, why not consider expanding our horizons, and our marketing? There are already deals available to produce audio versions of our books, with no payment up front and a 50% sharing of revenue with the narrator. Are there similar deals out there for translations? If not, are we prepared to take the initiative and try to set up something on our own? Could we form alliances for mutual support with Chinese indie authors who’d like to break into the US market, so that we help each other translate and market our works? Are we prepared to look for IP lawyers who understand the market(s) in question, and can guide us with respect to local laws, particularly concerning copyright? The potential rewards might make such steps worthwhile, particularly if a group of indie authors were to get together to share the costs, as well as what they learn, jointly and severally.
We need to invest time and careful attention into studying the state of the market. It’s always changing, and for those who keep abreast of the changes and look for opportunities in them, there’s money to be made – even as a small-time indie author. On the other hand, if we ignore the changes, we’re likely to be left behind, stranded like a beached whale, when the tide that’s currently floating us moves on to new shores.