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Posts Tagged ‘New technologies’

Book Trade: Amazon – ‘Industrial scale tax avoidance’

May 9, 2014 1 comment

Unbelievable: Amazon UK have paid just £4.2m tax on £4.3bn of sales, described in the Guardian as ‘Industrial scale tax avoidance’.

Surely the time has come for publishers to stop supplying Amazon? If I owned or managed a publishing house, I would be reviewing any policy that involved selling to them. Some will say that this is totally impractical and unrealistic. I’m not so sure. Many publishers privately say that they hate doing so, but love the sales that come from them and that it is commercial suicide not to supply them.

I am increasingly of the view that publishers are utterly complicit in this unfolding outrage. They have always treated Amazon to far better terms and now, like a drug they cannot stop using, they are hooked on the need for bigger and bigger sales, albeit at higher and higher discounts. These are terms that stock-holding bookshops can only dream about. Only this week, Amazon in the USA are said to be punishing Hachette by slowing down despatches from their warehouse until better terms are extracted.

This situation is intolerable, unethical, unfair and unjust. It is killing the UK High street and wrecking many a local economy. Society overall is worse off as the country receives less and less in taxes. Utter, utter madness and all in the name of speed, price and convenience. It seems perfectly summed up in the phrase; ‘Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing‘. Consumers and, I might add, publishers too are sleep-walking into a dependency on this monolithic and monopolistic giant. I hope that they feel it will have been worth it once there is nothing and no-one else left.

The daft thing is that there are some very good alternatives out there, Waterstones, W H Smith, Foyles and the Book People for general books, and for Christian titles; Eden.co.uk and other smaller Christian websites as well as the dwindling band of local Christian bookshops. The current call for a consumer boycott of Amazon is timely. We need to encourage as many of our own customers and friends as possible to join in.

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Book Trade: Pressing Issues facing the Trade: The PA Year Book 2011

May 8, 2012 1 comment

Last week the deputy editor of The Bookseller described the Book Trade asBystanders watching a race that began before we were ready’. Is this apt or just plain wrong? He was writing about the global growth of the e-reading market where the statistics continue to astonish and possibly frighten us in equal measure.

The Bookseller postulated in its leader that same week; 50/50 digital-print parity could be with us by 2020. It also posed the chilling question, ‘How many Indie and chain bookshops will remain’

Why such gloom? Well, the Publishers Association had released its 2011 Yearbook, containing all the sales value and unit numbers for last year. You’ll need a strong stomach to read this as for most printers, publishers and terrestrial booksellers it makes for grim consumption. On the other side of that particular coin; for self-published authors and for publishers in the eBook market, particularly in Romance or Horror, the future looks very bright indeed. In 2011, digital accounted for a sharply growing 8% of the book market.

Physical book sales declined 4.8% to £2.9bn but when you factor in the growth of the e-Market (up 55%) at £243m, the overall decline falls to 1.9% (at £3.2bn). This represents the first drop in total book sales in more than three years – not the best place for the industry to find itself. When you take inflation into account, this fall is actually much more serious. We are going backwards, not forwards. Even export sales fell, declining by 3% (£1.2bn). It’s worth noting that exports remain almost a third of all UK invoiced sales.

Sales of print fiction – the largest category of print falling victim to the e-Reader – dropped over 10% in the year, a loss of £57m. e-Fiction popularity grew strongly to £70m but by not quite enough to cover the losses in print. Non-Fiction and Reference also fell (down 4%) but these categories were not compensated at all by additional digital sales. In fact, all print categories declined apart from some growth in School and ELT sales. The value of Children’s book sales fell by 8% on the previous year (post-Twilight).

According to the commentators these are now the pressing issues facing our trade:

(1) The speed of digital migration, (2) the vexed question of ‘discoverability’ (and the related importance of browsing in a physical shop), (3) whether DRM should or should not be embraced by the industry (with strong views either way), (4) the growing dominance of Amazon and (5) the steeply falling price of eBooks online, thus devaluing books in general.

Oh, and it’s raining as well!

Note – the PA figures as published here often differ from the Nielsen BookScan figures for the UK book market. Both are correct but each takes slightly differing approaches when compiling the data – apples and pears spring to mind.

Book Trade – Christian Resources Together 2011; Full Workshop Text

June 15, 2011 4 comments

ALBATROSS, DODO OR JEWEL

‘Is there still a place for Christian bookshops to sparkle on the High Street’?

Introduction

Last year I was asked to give a lecture on Christian Retailing to the Librarians’ Christian Fellowship and Steve Briars invited me to deliver similar material at this year’s CRT.  I am delighted to do so – although the two audiences are quite different!  Since that lecture in April 2010, things have moved on a pace and we are learning to live with constant challenges and change. However, there is no lack of evidence that we are involved in changing people’s lives on a daily basis.

I aim to address four incontrovertible facts facing all Christian retailers;

  • The UK is increasingly secularised and less open to Christian forms of spirituality
  • Formats, methods and channels – but not the content – are changing almost on a daily basis
  • Consumers, and particularly younger people, are not buying as many physical books as before
  • The Christian industry – Booksellers and Publishers – is undergoing a serious and prolonged period of retrenchment and rationalisation

I have invited three practising retailers –

  • Andrew Lacey, Manager of GLO Bookshop, Motherwell, Scotland
  • Melanie Carroll, Owner of Unicorn Tree Books and Crafts, Lincoln
  • Steve Mitchell, Retail Director of Wesley Owen

each representing different facets of our trade – to address this question;

  • How can our trade best communicate the Good News in an increasingly post ‘bricks and mortar’ era and to a progressively digital generation?

Which of these three images describe and/or sum up today’s Christian book trade;

  • Albatross; large seabird, majestic in flight or as in Coleridge, a ‘burden or encumbrance’
  • Dodo; flightless bird known only in history; extinct, long gone, utterly dead and finished
  • Jewel; beautiful to look at, highly valued. precious to its owner, ‘the jewel in the crown’

A brief trade overview

  • The very first UK Christian Bookshop opened in Derby in 1810 – Just over 200 years ago!
  • The Derby and Derbyshire Auxiliary of the Religious Tract Society opened this shop in the Cock Pit area of Derby. It then moved to The Strand around 1900 (where it was renamed The Bible and Book Shop) and on to Irongate before finishing up in its present location in Queens Street. Subsequent owners have included; Scripture Union, STL/Wesley Owen and now it is owned and operated by Koorong of Australia.
  • Just to add ecumenical balance, the next Christian bookshop was opened in Bristol in 1813 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. SPCK as a society had been established much earlier in 1698 by Dr Thomas Bray, a clergyman. SPCK went on to open their second shop in London in 1836.
  • Many commentators would argue that to be a truly national retail chain, you need around 300 to 600 outlets to be represented in the main towns and cities. No Christian operator has ever come close although at one point in the 1990’s there were probably over 600 Christian Bookshops of some shape or size across the UK, but most operated independently.
  • Those numbers have dwindled and are dwindling still. There is some evidence of new players entering the market year-on-year but, in my view, numbers of Christian bookshops are consistently down.  I would estimate there are around 220 bookshops in the Christian niche capable of carrying out a viable trade.
  • Due to its unique history, Northern Ireland remains the strongest market for Christian product when compared to its population size; this region continues to sell more Christian books per head than anywhere else in the UK. Scottish shops are mostly sited in the major central belt conurbations and there are virtually no Christian bookshops in Wales outside of the Cardiff area.

 The ‘Missional’ nature of Christian bookselling

  • For the past 30 years I’ve had the privilege of being engaged in the vocation of Christian literature distribution in its various forms. I have been involved as a bookseller, an author, a distributor and a publisher. I retain a fundamental belief in the importance of maintaining a Christian witness on the High Streets of our country. I therefore cannot but help feel that the loss of any Christian shops on the High Street is detrimental and I, for one, mourn the demise of those that have closed.
  • Controversially, I have long pondered whether the historical separation of Christian bookshops into a specific subset of the wider book trade will turn out in the longer term to have been a mistake? Would it have been better for our specialist outlets simply to have remained part of the wider general bookselling community as it is elsewhere in the world? To outsiders, our bookshop names must inevitably seem a little twee and out-of-touch. Does such a separation help or hinder our aspirations for engaging in Christian witness?

A quick look at the wider social environment

  • The UK is a largely secularised, post-Christian society with a significant multi-cultural population. There is clear anti-Christian bias throughout the media and in politics and militant atheism is on the increase. Christian TV & Radio has very low penetration, making product mass marketing difficult.
  • Regular church attendance is in decline in most of the traditional denominations. However, there are bright spots; the Black majority and Hillsong churches are growing. Cathedral attendance is increasing and the Emerging Church movement gaining ground. 
  • There is a general decline in book readership in society; not just amongst Christians.  Competing media and digital attractions vie for our time and the lack of time affects all of us however much we enjoy buying and reading books.

Some thoughts about channels and digitalisation

  • The way books are being bought is changing rapidly. An experienced international bookseller said to me only last week that, in over 30 years, he had not known a time of such momentous change as there has been in the past two years. Someone else has described the current upheaval as ‘a perfect storm’.
  • There are enormous structural and societal changes taking place. These have been described as being as immense as the transition from parchment to the printing press. Most are outside of our control and are being imposed on us from outside of the trade. It therefore should go without saying that it is foolish to fall out amongst ourselves over changes which are so outside of our control and which are affecting the whole of retail.
  • Woolworths, the 45 Borders UK stores and the Irish Bookseller, Hughes & Hughes have all left the UK High Street in the past couple of years. Since Christmas this year, WH Smith bought 22 British Bookshops and Stationers stores, Borders USA entered Chapter 11 – and is effectively bankrupt – and the REDgroup in Australia went bust leaving big UK publisher debts. HMV put their Waterstones chain up for sale selling it for a knock-down £53m in the last few weeks to a Russian tycoon.
  • Supermarkets now sell one in every five books purchased and UK Libraries are under massive pressure due to imminent Government spending cuts.
  • The issue here is primarily about the explosion of differing routes to market. Print no longer dominates in terms of the delivery of ideas. Content will continue to remain key.
  • There are parallels with the development of digital television. More channels = fewer viewers.   In our field, more ‘books’ (however those are defined; print or digital) equals a dispersed customer base which is no longer dependent on the traditional bookseller.
  • Due to digital delivery channels, it is easier to self-publish now than at any other time. Blogs and social networks proliferate but some would argue that this only leads to the problem of quantity at the expense of quality.
  • Territorial Rights are clearly a problem in the context of a global marketplace. Old-style publishing rights are not always recognised in the internet environment as single copy orders are taken and shipped – often across national boundaries – on a daily basis.
  • Paradoxically, more printed books are being published year-on-year in the UK. Book production figures in the USA rose 5% last year despite a huge increase in eBook sales.

Impact of the Internet esp. Amazon, downloads and ePublishing

  • Online sales make up 17% of all UK retail spending – and growing.
  • Digital downloading is beginning to affect the sale of print items, especially newspapers.
  • Book purchasing via the internet is no longer an exception, it is the norm. Amazon recorded their first £10bn sales quarter in early 2011.
  • Several eBook Readers are competing for attention and rapidly gaining traction in the market; Sony’s eReader (Waterstones), the iPad (Apple Stores) and Kindle (Amazon).
  • There has been an inexorable rise in the sale of eBooks with PA figures showing that eBooks grew to 6% (£180m) of £3.1bn UK book market. This may grow to 10% in 2011.
  • Amazon are selling more eBooks than paperbacks; 105 on Kindle to every 100 in print. Four authors have already sold over 1 million eBooks each. Amazon lists 945,000 Kindle generated eBooks. Analysts expect 2011 sales to be $5.4bn in Kindle generated eBooks.
  • However, despite these figures, over 90% of sales continue to take place via print. Black and white text books are struggling but print Bibles and Children’s books remain strong sales lines.

Where might all this change be heading? What is the future for our trade?

  • Retailing is hard graft for many categories. Shopping habits are changing fast and there is much less time available for those trips to the High Street. When time is found, then competition for time and money is increasingly fierce.  Supermarkets dominate.
  • BBPA figures earlier this year show that the quintessential English Public House is closing down at the rate of 30 per week.
  • One in seven retail outlets in the UK were surveyed as being empty in September 2010. UK shop leases are the Achilles heel for all retailers. Most are expensive, with ‘upward only’ increases and, if not carefully drawn up, extremely inflexible. Many businesses struggle with high establishment costs and Business Rates for non-charity shops are high.
  • Christian bookshops are obviously not immune – and many are having a torrid time. There have been some major shake-ups in the past couple of years, with a lot of shops going and, thankfully, a few coming.  The SPCK meltdown in 2008 and the IBS-STL debacle at the end of 2009 has badly destabilised Christian retail in this country.
  • Demographics also conspire against these specialist shops. Church attendance in the traditional denominations is largely declining and newer Churches with their younger audiences, such as Hillsong, are self-contained in terms of their resource requirements.

Final thoughts

  • The challenge we face today is to ask, what should the Christian bookshop of the 21st century look like?  Will it, as an entity, soon cease to exist, lost as an irrelevance in our increasingly secular world or can it be reinvented in an increasingly post ‘bricks and mortar’ era and for a progressively digital society?
  • Although I sincerely wish CLC, Faith Mission and Koorong well in their endeavours, I am no longer convinced of the chain model when it comes to running Christian bookshops. For a variety of reasons, so many major book chains have simply failed over the years. It would appear that, in many cases, their high central costs have acted as the drag on the business and this, in a crisis, hinders rather than helps. Once I would have argued strongly for the efficiencies of scale and the need for central buying that the chain model provides. Now I am no longer so sure. 
  • In my view, there is still a lot to be said for a very good independent shop operating solely at the local level. Perhaps we’ve just gone full circle?
  • In my view, internet retailers can win every time on the basis of price, range and convenience.  If ‘Bricks and Mortar’ booksellers are to succeed in the future, they have to provide that illusive and intangible ‘sense of experience’ to their customers.
  • Nick Page has written elsewhere that ‘average’ is no longer good enough.  For a future, these bookshops have to be ‘really good’ and run by people who love books and love selling books. They have to be ‘exciting, memorable, fascinating’, places where events are held and reading encouraged. In short, such a bookshop must have ‘personality’! 

A final meditation from 2 Corinthians (NIV);

2:17 ‘Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God’.

4:1 ‘Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God’.

Book Trade – a further 12 weeks in the life of the wider trade

This list documents some recent ‘happenings’ in the wider book trade;

  • Online sales now make up 17% of all UK retail spending
  • Living Oasis – experiencing ongoing shop closures
  • STL Distribution – a further round of redundancies
  • Celebrated the 400 year anniversary of the King James Bible (AV)
  • Inexorable rise in the sale of eBooks
  • PA figures show eBooks grew last year to 6% (£180m) of £3.1bn UK book market
  • Scott Macdonald replaces Moe Girkins as Zondervan’s CEO
  • Amazon eBookstore lists 945,000 Kindle generated eBooks
  • Four authors have already sold over 1 million eBooks via Amazon
  • USA book production figures rose 5% despite huge increase in eBook sales
  • The end of an era; RIP STL Distribution – say hello to Trust Media Distribution
  • Amazon predicted to sell $5.4bn Kindle generated eBooks in 2011
  • Amazon is selling more eBooks than paperbacks; 105 on Kindle to every 100 in print
  • HMV sells its Waterstones business to A&NN Capital Fund Management for £53m

 Click here for an earlier digest of the first 8 weeks of this year.

Book Trade; eBook debate – a view from Singapore

April 6, 2011 2 comments

Next week the global book trade will gather in London for the annual London Book Fair. Once again, the ongoing eBook debate will dominate both the trade agenda and the fair programme.

The burning question continues to be, amongst all the hype and speculation, what will happen to physical book sales in the light of the widely predicted digital onslaught? Opinions range wildly from ‘Do nothing; we’ve seen this kind of thing before’ to ‘Get out quickly whilst you are still able to salvage something of value’. Is this truly a ‘Caxton’ moment or will life carry on much as it has before?

 As I write this, I’m in Singapore, probably one of the most wired societies on the planet. The answer to the question here seems to be that there is no discernable impact yet on sales, which to my mind is mildly surprising. Even the mighty Amazon has only a limited Asian presence (although there is an Amazon Japanese site). Singaporeans, if they use Amazon, log on via the UK or American sites.

I met with a significant general market distributor and they reported seeing no real impact on their business. Even Borders troubles here are put down to poor chain management rather than sales being siphoned away through digital stealth. I therefore conclude that, as in the rest of the world, no-one really knows quite what is going on although it seems clear to most in the wider trade that something pretty significant is beginning to stir in the undergrowth!

What is abundantly clear, however, is that all sections of the trade have their own particular fears and are watching the developing situation incredibly closely, leading to some sharply divergent views; 

  • Retailers – seeing their business disappearing online and wonder where it’s all going to end
  • Publishers – scrambling to find a viable rights and pricing model as authors potentially disappear from view hand-in-hand with online retailers
  • Distributors – wondering if they will be cut out of the action all together
  • Authors – either upset by inferior internet royalties or sensing new opportunities to cut out the publisher and self-publish via the big internet players such as Amazon

Back in February, the International Publishers Association (IPA) asked its various members for their views on their own embryonic eBook markets. These findings, widely reported at the time in the trade press, are worth summarising;

  •  The proliferation of smart phones and tablet computers (such as the iPad) is radically fuelling the eBook market as millions of these devices cry out for content
  • Amazon.com’s eBook sales were recently reported as surpassing their print unit sales
  • Most reference and academic journal publishing has already largely migrated online
  • USA newspapers have started to incorporate eBook sales into their regular bestseller lists
  • The UK e-market is around 18 months behind the USA – but the gap is fast shrinking
  • Amazon, Apple and Google exhibit every sign of becoming ePublishing competitors!
  • The existing copyright and territorial rights are not always relevant to the digital environment
  • The new model significantly challenges territorial marketing as eBooks are effectively global in reach
  • The proliferation and ease of digital piracy and file sharing is a major worry particularly in certain emerging markets
  • Price remains contentious as consumers expect digital texts to cost less than the printed work
  • Savings in print and distribution are largely offset by technology costs, new services and VAT
  • Surprise, surprise! French publishers are lobbying to extend fixed retail print prices to all eBooks sold in France!

The overall conclusion to all this seems to be that, yes, this market is changing faster than we realise but, in the words of IPA, ‘the day eBooks will outsell print is not imminent’.

No doubt the debate – and the opinions – will continue for a while yet.

Book Trade; Phew – 8 weeks that started the year

February 27, 2011 2 comments

This list documents extraordinary activity in the wider Book Trade in a few short weeks;

  • UK book sales fell 3% in 2010, selling £56m less than in 2009
  • NIV Bible eBook tops the USA bestseller list over the New Year
  • 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible
  • Barnes & Noble USA do well over Christmas – thanks to their Nook eReader
  • Physical book sales continue to decline around the world
  • British Bookshops and Stationers go into administration
  • eBook debate intensifies – but with little clarity emerging
  • Digital Book World Conference is held in New York
  • Kindle; the most popular eBook reader – with sales overtaking paperbacks
  • Amazon record their first £10bn sales quarter
  • Waterstones owner HMV; shuts 11 UK stores, cuts HO jobs
  • WH Smith buy 22 British Bookshops and Stationers stores
  • UK Libraries under massive pressure due to imminent spending cuts
  • Borders USA enters Chapter 11 – and is effectively bankrupt
  • REDgroup Australia goes bust – leaving big UK debts
  • Borders Singapore shuts its doors
  • Zondervan loses its President and CEO, Moe Girkins
  • Gardners launches the HIVE website in the UK
  • STL Distribution UK rebrands as Trust Media Distribution
  • Living Oasis has its ups and downs, causing uncertainty

Only another 10 months left for this year – don’t hold your breath!

Book Trade; eBook Sales and Digital Reader update

January 23, 2011 3 comments

From January 24 – 26, the Publishing Industry will gather in New York for the Digital Book World Conference to debate the new technologies. I really wish I was going but, like me, you can follow it on Twitter during the coming week. As Christians in this industry, we simply cannot ignore such immense changes to our market. If you are part of Linked In, you could also join the group, Digital Book World.

Like it or not, the eBook revolution is here. There’s also a lot of puff around with some drawing parallels such as the shift from the horse to the automobile! Somehow I doubt it. Print is still pretty massive! However, a number of commentators, admittedly mostly American, are stating that this Christmas was absolutely a ‘change point’ in terms of the sale of eBooks. Barnes & Noble, the largest USA bookshop chain, announced it sold one million e-books on Christmas Day. The fact that they developed their own ‘Nook’ eReader has been credited with keeping them ahead of faltering rivals, Borders USA.  

USA Today’s ‘Best-Selling Books’ list demonstrated digital’s new popularity; their top six books outsold the print versions in the week following the Christmas holiday. Of the top 50, 19 had higher e-book than print sales. Perhaps not a great surprise when around 3 to 5 million eReaders were activated in that same week resulting in this surge of sales. The big question; is will it continue? It’s obviously still early days but insiders are predicting that by 2012 three in every 10 books could be delivered digitally. Publishers are aiding this trend by very quickly adding more and more back-list titles.

According to AAP sales figures in the USA, eBook sales were significantly up in November. At the same time, adult paperback sales were down 19% compared to the same period the previous year. Their release states, ‘eBook sales continue to grow, with a 130% increase over November 2009 ($46.6 million); year-to-date eBook sales are up 166%’. It will be interesting to see the December eBook figures when they are released as what starts in the USA tends to end up here.

Gartner predicted that more than 15.8 million e-readers will be in use by 2013.  Some in the industry have expressed surprise at the speed of this transition, which has quickly gained ground particularly in the area of mass market fiction. eBooks sales account for about 9% of the USA market. Bowker, the research company says sales may flatten this year but could still be twice as high as they were in 2010.

Within Publishing, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what to do about piracy and DRM (digital rights management). Should DRM be employed at all as it can so easily by cracked? Is piracy really such a threat to book publishers in the same way as it was for the music industry? The answers may be different depending on whether you are a small niche publisher or one producing high volume, high worth, popular titles. These days it’s just so easy to scan and digitise a printed book and put them up on a web site. For a really informative thread; discussion here.

Google’s announcement earlier this week of its acquisition of eBook Technologies, a company that sells the technology used to operate digital reading devices is fascinating. Google by dint of its size, power, wealth and global reach has the ability to utterly transform the eBook landscape. Already consumers can browse and search through more than 3 million free books on its site.

Publishers are on the defensive. As eBook sales rise, the unspoken question is; will authors still need a publisher? It’s just possible than in the fast-approaching digital future that it will be the (online) retailers who will come to dominate the customer relationship. Why? Because it is the retailer who has the knowledge of their consumer base. They have the ability to market a book far more effectively. Why has Tesco been such a successful retailer? In one word; Clubcard! Consumer data and customer knowledge are all.

The future of eBook selling may therefore lie with the likes of Amazon, Apple and Eden. However, as of today, there are no Christian eBooks for sale on Eden.co.uk. As I write, one site launching to sell Christian eBooks is www.10ofthese.com – so I guess we shall see!

But a way does need to be found quickly for small retailers to gain access to this market. Andrew Lacey from GLO has suggested something along the lines of the now defunct Crown customisable website?

What all this tells us is that retail as we know it will need to be reinvented if it is to survive. My view is that we have a few short months to act and make changes before the impact fully begins to bite.

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