Around the publishing industry
Here’s another collection of articles that caught my eye over the past couple of weeks. They include some useful information for independent authors. Click on the title of each section to be taken to the article concerned.
The Wall Street Journal provided this very interesting and comprehensive overview of how Amazon has come to dominate US publishing. The facts and figures are impressive.
Amazon commands some 72% of adult new book sales online, and 49% of all new book sales by units, according to book-industry research firm Codex Group LLC.
. . .
Amazon has more than 100 million Amazon Prime members world-wide, and its U.S. subscribers can pick one title from Amazon First Reads free each month. Non-Prime members pay $1.99.
On Jan. 2, Amazon First Reads sent an email to members about six new titles from Amazon Publishing. By early evening, those books were the top six on Amazon’s Kindle store e-book best-seller list.
The power extends to Amazon’s $9.99-a-month Kindle Unlimited e-book subscription service … It had an estimated 4.6 million paid subscribers in June 2018, according to Codex. Amazon Publishing titles and Amazon’s self-published books get prominent display, industry executives said.
There’s much more at the link. Highly recommended reading.
Looking at those numbers – particularly the claimed 4,600,000-odd Kindle Unlimited (KU) readers, a higher figure than I’ve seen reported elsewhere – immediately reveals the conundrum faced by many authors and small presses. I know of at least three small(ish) presses that are in the process of removing all their books from KU, because they’ve seen their income drop by about 50% over the past year. They’ve decided that the game isn’t worth the candle. I’ve found a similar issue with my books, although I’ve also seen the advantages of KU in building reader interest and sustaining a fan base, as I discussed last year.
I’ve decided that since I can’t beat KU, and at present I can’t afford the time, effort and money needed to “go wide” in a meaningful way, including the cost of advertising and promotion across several channels, I’m going to stay exclusive with Amazon. That may well change at some future date, but probably only when I can afford to hire the assistance I’ll need to stay on top of things. Instead of going wide, I’ll try to write in such a way that I maximize my books’ appeal to KU readers, and attract their attention. I’ll make less money per sale/borrow, to be sure, but I hope the increased volume will go some way towards offsetting that.
This article focuses more on online publishers, particularly newspapers, than the traditional variety, and on Web sites rather than books; but since articles are also part of our output, here, on our own blogs or social media pages, and elsewhere, it contains a lot of food for thought. It also applies to many of the channels through which we promote our books.
If the market is this unstable during economic boom times, what happens when we enter a recession, an eventuality that some think will occur as early as this year?
. . .
I think there’s strong evidence that the hemorrhaging of jobs and revenue we saw in the late aughts was largely driven by structural changes within the publishing industry, changes that were accelerated by the recession. In other words, the problems were already there; the collapse of global markets merely threw gasoline on the fire.
The recession just happened to coincide with the explosion of social media networks and the erosion of the economic moats that had made newspapers so profitable in the first place … We know this because the industry started seeing signs of distress well before the recession began.
This interview with Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) “oracle” Kai-Fu Lee doesn’t address writing and publishing as such; but you can bet your last dollar that AI is going to have a profound impact on those fields. There are already automated “scripts” for books that are derived by AI programs, analyzing the bestsellers in fields such as romance, and churning out a page-by-page outline that an author must adhere to when writing his or her book. I know of at least one writer who’s providing such scripts to a number of “collaborative authors” in his stable, paying them a relatively small amount per manuscript, then publishing them and reaping the majority of the income they generate.
Of course, AI is also going to affect the way we write. In some areas, it may take over completely from human authors.
Scott Pelley: I wonder, do you think people around the world have any idea what’s coming in artificial intelligence?
Kai-Fu Lee: I think most people have no idea, and many people have the wrong idea.
Scott Pelley: But you do believe it’s going to change the world?
Kai-Fu Lee: I believe it’s going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity.
. . .
Kai-Fu Lee: AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs. Not just for blue-collar work but a lot of white-collar work.
Scott Pelley: What sort of jobs would be lost to AI?
Kai-Fu Lee: Basically chauffeurs, truck drivers anyone who does driving for a living their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15 to 20 year time frame and many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated we’ll have automated stores, automated restaurants, and all together in 15 years, that’s going to displace about 40 percent of the jobs in the world.
Scott Pelley: Forty percent of the jobs in the world will be displaced by technology?
Kai-Fu Lee: I would say displaceable.
I used to work in the information technology industry, among many occupations I’ve held down over the decades. I saw the beginnings of AI in computer programming back in the 1980’s. It’s already progressed to the point that one can tell an AI program what one wants new computer software to do, and the AI will design, code, test and complete that software without further human intervention. I believe we’ll see AI systems doing the same thing in many white-collar jobs; preparing technical and user manuals, doing research, responding to customer queries, running a “help desk” environment, and so on. It’s already very hard to distinguish between a human respondent and a computer program when calling a help line (see the Turing Test), and I suspect that’s going to get a lot more so in the near future. Our jobs as writers are not exempt from that. If a publisher can work out how to use AI to write books, thereby keeping all the income for itself, is there any reason why it won’t do so? I can’t think of a single one.
(If the article disappears behind the Wall Street Journal’s paywall, try this link instead.)
It seems that email is making a comeback as a method of targeted advertising and promotion, particularly because social media is now so overcrowded that the signal-to-noise ratio is overwhelmingly swamped by the latter.
Email’s success is due to a handful of factors. The first is that, like the web, it’s one of the few open standards we have left. No one controls it, and no company can get between a sender and its recipient.
Another factor is a dawning awareness that social media may not be particularly good for our mental health or our democracy, leading to a wave of users scaling back and even opting out entirely. The things that drive people to subscribe to and actually open emails are very different from the things that motivate them on social media. Email, by contrast, can feel healthy, says Robin Sloan, a writer who started an email newsletter—like a blog delivered to the inbox—almost 10 years ago.
Other creators, particularly journalists, are also turning to email as a creative outlet. “What other technology do we use everyday that doesn’t require a terms-of-service?” says Craig Mod, a writer and essayist who recently argued that one future of the book could be serialization as an email newsletter.
A businessman, David Hieatt, is mentioned in the article. He’s used an e-mail newsletter to galvanize and transform a clothing company through improving customer relations. He’s written a book about the subject that I’m finding very interesting reading.
I’m going to try his approach myself. My author newsletter has been woefully moribund since I started it – a sort of fits-and-starts, hit-and-miss affair. I’m going to try to expand it, add links to things I find interesting, do a book review or two, and generally “add value” for those who sign up for my mailing list. I hope this will help my books’ market penetration, and keep my readers coming back for more.
That’s all for this week. I hope you’ve found some food for thought in these articles. I think that the more widely we read in and around our chosen field of endeavor, the better informed we’ll be, and the more likely to achieve success. Remember:
If you can keep your head when all around you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
You don’t understand the situation.
(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling.)