This Week in Books 2/10/12

by | Feb 10, 2012 | Uncategorized | 20 comments

This week! Books! It’s been a while!

The elephant in the Amazon has been the subject of many an anguished quote from many an anonymous publishing executive, who are extremely nervous about What Amazon Is Up To With The Kindle And The New Amazon Publishing Imprint Thing. The latest notable entries in the field: Confessions of a Publisher: “We’re in Amazon’s Sights and They’re Going to Kill Us”, a profile of Larry Kirshbaum aka Amazon’s Hit Man, and Worried Publishers Pin Their Hopes on Barnes & Noble.

I urge you not to read those articles all three in a row unless you want to get the sense that the traditional publishing industry is, um, a little nervous about how relevant it is in the future and mildly uncertain about what it should be doing.


All of this has Mathew Ingram from GigaOm asking: Hey publishers, remind us why you exist again?

I’ve been out of the publishing game a while, but it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering some things: a) This is still a print world (yes, still), and publishers are still best at getting paper to customers (yes, still). b) Some authors will still benefit from the collection of services publishers offer into the new era.

But also: Publishers must think about how their brands matter in the new era, especially to consumers, and how they can make themselves indispensable to an author’s sales figures and bottom line. Right now they ain’t getting it done by relying on authors for their own promotion and offering very little added value except for a few titles a season (who are often the titles that need the least boost).

But the sky isn’t falling yet.

Whew! Meanwhile, Kassia Krozser at Booksquare previews the Tools of Change conference and tackles the perennial topic of print/e-book bundling.

Author Tahereh Mafi is giving away some rather stellar books on her blog! Click over and check it out! And speaking of Tahereh, she had a pretty awesome interview at Swoontini.

And in agenting news, BookEnds updated their publishing dictionary.

This week in the Forums: When to query an agent, the Do You Have a New Blog Post thread now has over 2,250 stellar entries, how do authors decide which part of a book to read at readings, the best dystopian novels, and what is your writing weakness?

And finally, there’s cute, and then there’s a baby bear playing with a baby wolf (via io9)

Have a great weekend!


  1. writersink

    I missed your "This Week in Books!"

    I actually live in the UK, and I've heard a couple people say that we're about three years behind you Americans in terms of technology in publishing. Here, publishers are a big deal and the whole e-book fad is not really a fad.

    If ever you get bored of e-books, Nathan, just pop over to London. (But you'd better do it within the next three years.)

  2. Ted Fox

    I'm kinda scared that my puppy's movements so closely mimic that of the baby bear.

  3. Nick

    Still a print world? Hard to argue if you include coffee table books, text books, and non-fiction. But I'd like to see how much of a print world it is if you are only talking about fiction. The fiction section at B&N is maybe 1/6th of the store.

    I guess it doesn't matter. It's only a matter of time before B&N is out of business, and with the uproar going on right now regarding Amazon, I'm guessing time is shorter than any of us realize.

  4. Joseph Ramirez

    Good articles. I read all three of them in a row. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yep. You were right. I now have the impression you said I would have.

    I feel sad that B&N might go under. I love bookstores. This makes me want to go there right now and buy a book.

  5. Anne R. Allen

    This week in books is back! So the sky can't be falling, in spite of all the Amazon-phobia. I think B & N will survive. And grow. People love their Nooks.

  6. Nicole

    Great summary, as usual! The publishing industry articles are eye-opening.

    I had my own somewhat frightening light-bulb moment in B&N a few weeks ago. For the first time, the book that interested me most on the shelves was one that I had already seen as a self-pub'd e-book online months before. I thought 'Well, duh B&N, the whole world new it could be a great read before you did! And the author probably gets a bigger chunk online anyway. Why should I buy it from you?'

    It made me a little sad, because I've been so disappointed by the overall selection at B&N lately. This was just one more step to convincing me I'm better off searching for new reads elsewhere.

  7. Rashad Pharaon

    Are we feeling sorry for the chains that put mom and pop bookstores out of business over a decade ago?

    Or is it that, because B&N might go out of business, we feel sorry for publisher's margins being squeezed, and the possible atrophy this may cause to their workforce?

    Their workforce will be fine. They will reinvent themselves. They will set up editorial firms, marketing firms, etc, geared to the iAuthors of the new publishing world (if Amazon succeeds).

    But, more importantly, I ask myself, is Amazon helping or hurting authors by paying ridiculous advances and enabling them to easily publish their novels?

    Granted, e-authors need to do their homework. They need to seek quality editors, publicists, and so on, as J.A. Konrath says, but I ask you: is this whole debacle helping or hurting authors?

    Let's not forget, it all starts with the author. Not the publisher.



  8. Stacy Beauregard

    Seems to me like a publisher problem, not an author problem.

  9. Celtic Forest Dweller

    Wow, Nathan lives. Welcome back! We missed ya! ๐Ÿ™‚ Finally I can see what's happening in the world again . . .

  10. Steven J. Wangsness

    I hate to think of Amazon taking over the publishing world, even though they've enabled the publishing of my novel as an ebook.

  11. Anonymous

    I agree about reading those links three in a row.

    You know, everyone makes digital publishing sound so wonderful and traditional publishing so awful on the interwebs. I'm in digital and it's not all that wonderful. There are a lot of people who pretend to know what they are doing and don't. And people who shouldn't have voices now do have voices, which confuses new authors. After learning what I now know, from how bestseller lists are fixed to how digital publishers push and shove to make very little money, I'd still advise new authors to go the traditional route for now.

    I believe that when everything settles down, which it will, there's going to be a lull that will make the real estate bust look like nothing. And that's because so much of what we read is mostly hype. Just based on digital prices alone (.99), authors can't make a viable living. And no one wants to work for next to nothing.

  12. Mira

    (Sorry to repost, Nathan, just thought I was too blunt)

    So, glad this week in books is back! I really missed it!

    That video is the cutest thing ever! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Fun interview with Taherah.

    In terms of Publisher anxiety, thanks for sharing the links. And I love your "elephant in the Amazon" phrase!

    In terms of the anxiety, I think it's really good that publishers are acknowledging that they are facing a daunting competitor. Acknowledging that is good, it may pave the way for them to take some action.

    There are things they could be doing – like you said, Nathan – courting authors, developing loyalty, strengthening their imprint, offering stronger service packages. I hope they start soon, because I believe the train is moving really fast.

    And they need to plan for a complete technology shift. It may take a few more years, but I believe e-book technology is the future. And I hope publishers look that in the eye and plan ahead. How they be relevant in a digital world. You can't deal with something unless you let yourself see it clearly.

    As much as I love Amazon, and what it has done for the author, I want it to have competition. I'm a self-publisher advocate, but I'd love to feel tempted by the publishing world because talented people offered competitive and alluring services and royalty rates.

  13. Hank C.

    The Big 6 need Amazon. 50% of all books in the country are sold through Amazon, and 70% of all ebooks. What they're doing now with this boycott is a game. They don't have teeth.

    The B&N and Friends boycott is really no big deal to Amazon Published authors. Hundreds of indies still carry the books, and the print versions are available on Amazon. The boycott might account for a couple thousand sales at the most. That might sound like a lot, but when you compare it to the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of copies some Amazon Authors sell digitally, it's barely a drop.

    This boycott has shown the book stores true colors. They have finally come out and proven what I've expected for a while, and that's the fact they don't care about writers. Amazon has shown that both publishers and bookstores are meaningless, and the only people that matter in the entire chain are the author and the reader. Hard to swallow for bookstores, but it is a fact.

    I will miss the bookstores when they're gone.

  14. Doug

    Nathan, I think that in your comment, "But the sky isn't falling yet," the operative word is yet. At least when it comes to the big publishing houses.

    This week, Kodak completed its almost seven-year-old plan to get out of the digital camera business. It's not a business that can sustain a big company; digital photography has become the province of small companies that can live on paper-thin margins.

    Recorded music used to be an entire industry with a few well-known labels. But with digital, it's not a business that can sustain a big company. You think iTunes is big business? What percent of Apple's sales come from the iTunes store, including iBooks and the App Store? In the past calendar quarter (Oct-Dec 2011), it was less than five percent of Apple's total sales.

    We still have vinyl records and we still have CDs, we still have film, and we'll still have paper books. But they'll be niche markets for small companies to fill. And big companies can't live on the trifle that consumers will pay for digital goods; it's not a game that big companies can afford to play.

  15. Other Lisa

    Well, interestingly, Amazon is said to be contemplating opening retail stores, in part I'm guessing because other bookstores aren't willing to carry their publishing imprints, and also, because "studies have shown" brick and mortar still drives the majority of book sales.

    So, put me in the "sky is not falling" camp. I totally agree that many publishers have some work to do, and that branding is something more of them should be doing, as is doing a better job of promoting what they publish. But while there are a lot of things I'd change if I were Queen of the Publishing Universe, I actually don't think Amazon is going to end up owning it.

  16. Barbara Kloss

    I also read all three in a row.

    Yeah, understatement.

  17. Marie Gilbert

    Always a pleasure reading your posts

  18. Susie

    Elephant in the room…please meet Ostritch in the sand ๐Ÿ™

    (I was feeling a bit depressed about your insightful post, until I saw my word verification was Gaudi. If that doesn't convey an image of optimism, I don't know what does. They've been working on Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona for 100 years, and never gave up!) (Although maybe comparing the publishing industry to a decaying unfinished building is not the best thing to do) ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Anonymous

    I read those articles, and I pretty much agree with them. Print is dying.

    But a short time ago, the record store pretty much died.

    With a Kindle, I rarely go into a book store anymore. And with the amazon app on my phone, I can scan the bar codes in B&Ns stores and see what price I can buy the same book for from amazon.

    Is anyone really shocked?

  20. Dustin

    Nathan, do you remember Kelly Going? She asked her publisher to help promote the World Premiere of her movie next month at SXSW.

    Tell local bookstores she'll be in town to sign stock…

    They said no.


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