Amazon Yanks Macmillan Books

Amazon fired the opening salvo in the latest skirmish over eBooks with mega-publisher Macmillan. Macmillan, one of the largest publishers in the world is at odds with Amazon over the pricing of Kindle books, so Amazon deleted all of the “Buy Now” buttons from all Macmillan published titles! I’m sure Amazon can predict the impact this move will have on Macmillan’s sales and think it will hurt enough to bring the publisher back ‘in line’. We’ll see.

Amazon has always artificially deflated the price of Kindle books, to get people to buy Kindles and to read Kindle books on their phones. Until the iPad, publishers had few choices as to other major hubs of online distribution. But I’m sure Macmillan feels they have a place to run. And Amazon has called their bluff.

The average cost per title on the Kindle is $9.99 and the publisher has little say in this. While Apple says publishers will be able to “adjust their own pricing” on the new iPad and upcoming iBooks store. Prices there are expected to be in the $12-$15 range.

For those still reading this, I would like to restate one point that many don’t realize: Amazon is artificially deflating eBook prices. So, even though they sell the Kindle book for $9.99, they are still paying the publisher royalties on the $12-$15 price the publisher wants. So, at this point, the publisher is still able to keep the lights on and pay its people. Macmillan’s complaint is that Amazon is ‘purposefully devaluing the product’. The fear is Amazon will so ingrain the $9.99 price in consumers’ minds that they can then quit subsidizing the pricing, forcing publishers to sell their products at loss at $9.99. So this isn’t a price “set by competition and market conditions” it’s a price set by a huge retailer with huge leverage to control the market and competition. I’m not calling sides here, but this is a very important point.

All I know is that no one wins when retailers pull books off the shelves, for any reason. And should sound as a warning to ALL publishers that they need to open themselves up to sell directly to consumers, at a minimum to offset crazy deals like this one.

The Largest Book in the World

Wow. Just wow! The Guardian has a feature on the world’s largest book, which is part of a map & atlas exhibit at The British Museum. It takes 6 people to move the 350-year-old Klencke Atlas which contains maps and such dating from the time of Charles II. Pretty cool. I can’t find any measurements for the Atlas, but will share once I do. Apparently, this exhibit will be the first time the world’s largest book will be publicly displayed, with its pages open for viewing.

Alabama Book Festival – April 17th

The Alabama Book Festival launched a new website last weekend. This year will be the 5th year for the state-wide literary festival. It scheduled to run 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Saturday, April 17th, in the Old Alabama Town section of Montgomery. The full line up of speakers and authors is listed here and includes notables names Rick Bragg, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines and a gazillion more. The book festival also has a blog and Facebook page.

Are you going?

Amazon Ready to Battle for Books

It’s less than a week before Steve Jobs takes the stage atop a unicorn showing the world the fabled Apple Tablet (iSlate). And it appears that Amazon thinks there is going to be a real battle for books. In the past two years, Amazon has used its size to bulldoze its way through publishing. But all that is changing, fast.

1. New 70% royalty rate. Amazon has been artificially keeping Kindle book prices at $9.99, to entice readers. Fancy math aside, this just means that Amazon has to pay royalties based on the cover price, not the lower $9.99 price. So the profit is non-existent there. This week Amazon announced, that starting in June, they will increase their payouts to 70%. This should balance out a lot of the math so that publishers can keep the doors open and Amazon can keep the prices low.

2. Kindle to support apps. Amazon is making the Kindle SDK available for download and will open up the devices as app platforms. So, if all things stay constant, third-party folks could make software that readers could install and run, in their Kindle. This is the same model used on the iPhone and other smart phones.

3. Amazon invites other printers back to the party. It’s no secret people can print their own books these days. The secret is finding a great way to sell and distribute those books. For years Amazon let people print their own books and then sell them on Amazon as each being their own publisher. In 2009, Amazon stopped playing nice and told writers that if you want to print your own writings to sell on our site, you have to use our printers… at our prices… everyone else, hit the road. This was a BIG deal and lots of people left the Amazon ecosystem. But now they have backed down and opened the doors to everyone again.

And all of this because the latest twist on the rumor of the hearsay of the tablet is that Apple has been talking to publishers to build enhanced editions of their eBooks to run on the pixi-dust powered Apple Tablet. I just want to know how “enhanced” an eBook has to be to warrant a $1,000 device, multi-functional or not? We’ll see.

What I do know is that consumers win again as competition forces big businesses to be more open and agile.

Five Things I Want From My Local Bookstore

Not ten. Ten is too many. But five is doable. I was shopping this weekend and stopped in a few local indie stores. They had nice tables showing “NY Times Bestsellers” and the like, all of which was great, but didn’t help me at all. So here I offer you five things that I want from my local bookstore. I’m hoping that, as a bookseller, you don’t mind learning new things and I’d like to encourage you to “hire a geek’. Book nerds and geeks are becoming great friends these days.

1. Keep event calendar online. Make it mobile-friendly. Better yet, use LibraryThing. Things have changed too much in the past 10 years to keep your book-signings and book-groups calendar held captive on the wall behind the register. Have it on your site, add it to LibraryThing local and please please please KEEP IT UP TO DATE.

2. Use Twitter correctly. Don’t give it to a kid. Do it yourself. Learn. It works. There is value there. You should have a Twitter presence before a Facebook page. Seriously. Yes, the part-time college kid can tweet, blog, text and email all with one hand… simultaneously. But they don’t have your working knowledge of your customers, the authors and what books you need to move. Folks on Twitter do want to follow their local bookstore and they want to talk to you and they want you to pass along calendar events on Twitter. Please please don’t just post links to your website or Facebook page. That’s missing the point and customers will not respond.

3. Have a working knowledge of digital options. Work deals with publishers. Offer bundles. If I have a eBook version, give me a reason to come to your store. Digital books are here to stay. Don’t be afraid. Work it into your product knowledge. If you sell books by local authors partner with them to run the text through free converters and bundle it with the printed product. Find small publishers who will work with you so you can offer bundle and discount deals to add value to the book you physically have in your store. At a minimum, you’ll begin to see what all the craziness is about and begin to start figuring out solutions for the indistry.

4. Know the value of a printed book. Don’t romanticize it for me. Know why I should buy that hunk of gorgeously bound paper at your store. With every purchase I make I weigh the pros and cons of print vs. digital. There are reasons I choose some categories as digital and others I will always buy the print version. You should know these, for yourself and your customers. There are reasons I will drive across town to buy a book. You should know them. Value is more than just price.

5. Organize your community. You should be in touch with the pulse of readers in your area, both online and off. Do you help start bookgroups? Of course you do. You have good bookstore. Ever hosted an “online event”, such as a book group or author chat? You should. It would make you a great bookstore. There is no reason your shop can’t become the center of the book universe for your town, both online and off.

    Milestone Books Announces Closing

    It looks like Birmingham is loosing another indie bookstore. After almost six years in business and just weeks after setting up their Twitter feed, Linda Brown has sent out a very sincere and personal note about plans to close Milestone Books or at best, let it change hands. I have pasted her message, in its entirety below:

    Dear Milestone Friends,

    This is a difficult email to send y’all.  Around six years ago, a dream turned into  a reality, and Milestone Books opened right here in Vestavia Hills.  An independent bookstore for independent thinkers.. a community of intelligent, highly educated, upper middle class people.  This community had asked for a bookstore for years!  And we brought one here.  We have become a Partner in Education with the Vestavia Hills School System, a proud member of the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce, and a valued contributor to our local economy.  You have told us so often how happy you are that we are here, and we value your loyalty and patronage.  And we’ve been successful on many levels, even ending 2009 profitably after enduring a severe economic downturn in late 2007 and 2008.

    But now my personal circumstances have changed and I’ve been offered a position with a progressive, growing company here in Birmingham.  This job will allow me to be a little more available for my 16 year old twins, who only remember Mommy working at the bookstore.  For those of you who may own a small business, you know that doing so requires a 24/7 commitment, and all the blood, sweat, and tears you imagine.  But not many people can love what they do every day….and that’s one thing I’ll miss.

    So.  If you’re down the road of life a little further than me…here’s your chance.  The first five years of any business are the toughest.  Done.  I’m offering my loyal customers an opportunity to take this little bookstore to the next level.  If I could stay, trust me when I say I would.  But responsibilities as a parent often require a choice…and anyone with children will understand when I admit that right now, this option is the right one for us.

    This window of opportunity is small.  So if you are interested acquiring the assets of Milestone Books, or the business itself, please let me know by the 17th.  If no one steps up by then, we will begin an Inventory Clearance beginning January 18th.
    Thank you for your patronage, your encouragement, your prayers, but most of all…thank you for helping me live a dream, if only for a little while.

    Linda Brown
    Milestone Books, Inc.

    This is such a shame. The Milestone Books crew love books and the people that buy them. I do hope someone will step into that space and keep things going. We’ll see.

    Black Books on Hulu

    A lot of time, I’m a little slow and “British humor” escapes me, but one show that I enjoy is Black Books. It centers on a bookstore in England and every character is over the top manic and rude. It’s great fun. Especially, if you’ve ever worked in a bookstore, these guys say all the things you’ve ever wanted to say. I have only seen the first season, so I hope it doesn’t go downhill.

    But Hulu has all three seasons up now. So now you can watch from wherever you live, free.

    Hope all of you are having a great start to 2010! It’s going to be an interesting year for publishing.