Are e-book publishers repeating the mistakes of the music industry?

One of the biggest threats to the music industry has been pirating songs and cheating artists out of royalties. When publishers began digitalising novels, e-book piracy was a concern all parties involved had to consider. Although, piracy is not a novel concept; centuries ago, publishers used to spread censored texts on paper and ink, cameras were brought into cinemas and people used to record songs that played on the radio on tapes. Our parents might have fallen into that latter category.

While the music industry focused on attempting to install DRM (Digital Rights Management) software to prevent people from accessing content they didn’t purchase, pirates found their way around it. As sharing media digitally is the easiest solution, I’m asking the question of pricing, the impact of self-publishing on the industry and what actions the book publishers could take to solve the situation.

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What’s the impact on the music industry over illegal downloads?

As music started being shared digitally, companies implemented DRM into the code ‘that prevents copying’ as ‘a systematic approach to copyright protection for digital media’. Doctorow describes the problem in DRM is that all ‘systems share a common vulnerability: they provide their attackers with ciphertext, the cipher, and the key. At this point the secret isn’t a secret anymore.’ Because of this, users did not have to be that technically sophisticated to obtain illegal copies of the music or movies you were looking for. People just wanted the music they liked quickly and easily, the fact that they didn’t have to pay for it was an added bonus.

Napster was developed as a way for a group of friends to share music like people used to exchange records and CDs. The difference is that Napster exploded to encompass people from all over the world and that meant the creators of any content that could be shared online suffered by losing out on the royalties. Although, when Apple came out with iTunes music store with millions of DRM-free songs for under £1 each, it did not address the issue. Apple added a code to prevent users from accessing the songs from more than 5 different computers. So, it was easier to buy high-quality tracks for low prices, but if you changed devices often, you couldn’t access your media. That meant that people still preferred to pirate the music instead of risking paying for something they might lose.

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Many producers in the industry tried to crack down on music piracy, but with it being an ever-evolving hydra, it’s been impossible to stop completely. Despite having a huge negative impact on the industry, music makes up only 2.9% of everything pirated on the internet. It gives off the impression that no matter how hard the industry works to make sure the content people create is compensated; someone will always find a way to get it for free.

Is pricing the problem?

Some of the blame for causing the problem can be put on the pricing of e-books, as the price tag can be just as much as a physical copy of the book. Studies have shown that 70% of 18-29 year olds pirate media and a factor in so many students pirating is the cost. If their income is lower, they are more likely to look for free, illegal alternatives to accesing the content they want or need.

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Google put out a report in 2013 called “How Google Fights Piracy” and it spoke out against using DMRs. ‘The right combination of price, convenience and inventory will do far more to reduce piracy than enforcement can.’ This should encourage publishers to design more innovative and accessible services that are better value for the customer. There are services out there like Netflix and Spotify for books, such as Scribd and Oyster. However, because of different copyrights across the globe, they face the same issue as Netflix: it can’t offer the same content everywhere. Another issue McElhearn described with Scribd was that most of the library of books offered was self-published content from ‘authors looking for readers’, as ‘a lot of Scribd content is “documents,” such as catalogs (seriously), court filings, instruction manuals, and more.

The content unavailable is an issue with Scribd as readers might not be getting what they paid for could be off-putting for avid readers with tighter purse-strings looking for an alternative to pirating. But the subscription model for books could be useful in the future, but it would prove as advantage to readers who read quickly, as opposed to readers who take longer to finish each book. It would depend on whether a user would be willing to pay $8.99 a month to read 2 books or 6 books.

Is free the answer?

Coelho said that readers of his novels are ‘welcome to download my books for free and, if you enjoy them, buy a hard copy – the way we have to tell to the industry that greed leads to nowhere.’ His readers agreed; one reader said ‘You sir are right, by downloading your books I was determined to buy the hard copy! If I wasn’t a pirate I never would read your books! I consider it a preview, if you like it, buy it!’ If this was a model the whole industry could get behind, and use one platform to do so, it might be effective.

Of course, there will always be those against giving out creative content for free, even writers using sites like Wattpad, Kindle World, and Figment. Not to mention social media sites like Tumblr and Fanfiction, where writers can’t sell their content for fear of infringing copyright. These authors are most likely looking for a platform to share something they’re passionate about. However, writers have also bagged publishing contracts based on the popularity of a book they self-published, E.L. James with 50 Shades of Grey being the most well-known example.

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The rise of self-publishing (and how it’s affecting the market).

Many people have taken advantage of the new technologies to tell their stories and earn money by selling them online. Amazon Marketplace has self-publishing options in both e-book format and hard copy. However these self-published books haven’t been professionally edited or formatted and they are priced at less than £2 each. In the US, 235,625 print and electronic titles are released each year . The self-published books have a lower production cost, as the author is doing all the editing, cover design, marketing etc. as opposed to professional publishing houses that have a team of people dedicated to each novel they produce. This means that the independent authors can publish several books quicker, rather than publishers only being able to put out one or a maximum of two a year.

Over 25% of writers self-publish and they typically get their investment back, plus 40%. 86% of those who self-published said they would do it again. Flood  wrote that ‘Traditional publishing is no longer fair or sustainable’. Being published by a traditional in-house publishing company is no longer the only way to be successful in publishing.  The low cost, quick turnover and satisfactory content doesn’t devalue the professionally edited and formatted editions that come out of publishing houses. It does mean that self-publishers often have the same skills as a team in a publishing house and publishers must work that much hard to prove that traditional publishing is still the ‘better’ option.

However, Solomon argues that ‘publishers are doing less for what they get’ and ‘with ebooks, though, publishers’ costs are less, so authors should get a better share… Even on traditional books, publishers’ production costs have gone down but authors have not benefited from these costs savings.’ This could also be interpreted as an advantage to self-publishing: the author would simply get more of the profit for the work they actually do. This can also be linked back to being noticed as a writer. If you are a big-name author, your work will be pirated. But if you are less well-known, choose to self-publish and put a low price on it, people are more likely to buy your product than pirate it.

What is the book industry doing about it?

While E-book piracy is only 0.2% of everything that is being pirated online, it is still significant in the book publishing market. 4 out of 5 publishers are now producing e-books. Publishers don’t concern themselves with the circulation of one copy between ‘a small circle of friends or acquaintances’ rather than ‘collecting orders’ that could later ‘amount to issue to the public’. It is not a big enough threat to the industry if you share it around with a small circle of friends for publishers to take serious action. Whereas sharing a download link on forums that anyone can access freely are cutting publishers’ profits.

What’s likely to happen next?

It doesn’t look likely that books will drop down to being free downloads, however, they might drop in price to one set price. Many publishers are looking adding more value to the products they sell. For example, 31% of e-book publishers are producing enhanced e-books. Others are looking into bundling, selling several books at once, such as a box set of a series or the same book but in different formats (hard copy, e-book, audiobook). It’s like the middle ground in the print vs. online debate: how about all three? The industry could go in many different directions with their approach to e-book piracy, but I think they have taken note from the music industry.


What does the Digital Age mean for Print?

“I still think the best way to really learn something is to read a book about it” Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

The current landscape

You and I are living at the dawn of the digital age. In the last ten years digital technology has made information accessible on a scale never seen before. The implications of this have not yet all been realised, and in the coming years we will need to continually address and explore the varying opportunities and problems this presents. With such an unrestricted platform for both receiving and creating information in the form of articles, blogs or books, comes the inevitable surplus of opinions taken as facts, and facts disregarded as opinion. The age of free information can be used to provide us with live streams of revolutions and civil unrest on the other side of the world before the official press has been given a chance to cover and manipulate the story. It can also be used to spread misinformation. Robert Darnton, writing in The Case for Books describes this sensation as ‘The sense of being overwhelmed by information and of helplessness before the need to find relevant material amidst a mountain of ephemera.’ This new era brings opportunities and problems for us all, and the publishing industry is not exempt.

Image by: The Threenity


EBooks, smart phones and tablets have all but eliminated any practical use for print. Yet it seems the end of print, particularly in the form of books is not yet on the horizon. Michael Cader, founder of ‘Book Industry’ news letter and the website ‘Publishers Lunch’ defends the intergity of books, saying ‘Physical books are closer to perfect and affordable technology. The printed book is much, much older than other types of media, and it revolutionised modern society. There was very little about it that needed to be reinvented.’ Technology aside, there is a strong bond of nostalgia that keeps many of us resisting the pull of the functional eBook. A company in France has attempted to counter this, by developing a sticker that can be attached to the front of eBooks that ‘will give off a fusty bookish smell.’ Yet that hardly seems to be a realistic compromise for the sensory satisfaction of reading a print book. Bill Gates, one of the fathers of the digital age has readily admitted in a controversial speech that ‘It’s quite a hurdle for technology to achieve to match that level of usability.’

‘Electronic enterprises come and go. Research libraries last for centuries. Better to fortify them than to declare them obsolete, because obsolescence is built into the electronic median.’


Trials and tribulations of publishing

The late Carole Blake, MD of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, was quoted by Alastair Horne in a speech entitled ‘Publishing: the last and next five years’, and after a long and illustrious career she considered the greatest challenge to the Publishing Industry as being ‘getting the public to accept sensible pricing.’  With the rise of giants like Amazon who pump out high volumes of  heavily discounted both print and ebooks,according to John Thompson, author of Merchants of Culture  we now ‘face a real threat that a growing proportion of book sales will be realised as eBooks that bypass the physical bookstores altogether.’ So we stand at the edge of a paradoxical market, nostalgia vs. practical, prestige vs. cheap. The next few years will define how Publishing will fare. As a market that has been widely unchallenged for most of its existence we now face a schism – can and will the publishing industry make the most of the digital age, will it survive and in what form?

The digital age has meant a great deal more exposure and highly competitive prices for us as consumers. Thompson explores the implications of this within Aggregation Theory, noting that ‘The internet has made distribution free, neutralizing the advantage that pre-internet distributors leveraged to integrate with suppliers.’  The internet has taken away much of the leverage of large publishing houses; Amazon have served as an equaliser in terms of what the large publishers can reasonably expect to sell their books for, both to the retailer and to the customer. As a consumer this can surely only be seen as a good thing. Suddenly a sector that has been largely unchallenged has a reason to lower prices and produce wider ranges with faster accessibility; the competition now offers next day delivery and online bargain bins of books that cost little more than pennies.

A more positive impact that the digital age is having on the business of print is that although the larger conglomerates of publishing houses may be suffering, Ingram reports that ‘sales of independently published eBooks has been growing’  This means that, with such a huge amount of choice when it comes to downloading onto your Kindle, we are no longer necessarily allowing ourselves to be herded into purchasing highly marketed releases of big commercial titles from Random House, but also newer titles, and authors who may have been otherwise overlooked. eBooks have given these authors a more accessible platform, and encourage diversity for lower prices. When the concerns of production value and distribution are removed, as they are with an eBook, there can be allowed an element of risk with what small and large publishers alike choose to produce, which only means more variety and experimentation for us, the audience.

Fig. 1 E-Book and Print sales forecast: 2014-2018: Deloitte 2015

Prosperity and pitfalls of the digital age

The digital age is not a cause for celebration for everyone, however. Writing for Fortune, Ingram says  ‘the share of established publishers has been declining.’ A great deal of pressure has been applied to these often long standing institutions as eBook sales rise steadily specifically in the US and UK(see fig.1). Ingram concludes ‘Print is likely to become a niche market over time, just as it is becoming in the newspaper and magazine industries.’ It is important to realise that it is not just the rise of eBooks that has affected print; this problem reaches every corner of the publishing market. Magazines and newspapers face the same problem, perhaps even more so. Darnton tells us that ‘Google is creating a database composed of millions of books, so many millions that soon it will have constructed a digital mega-library greater than anything ever imagined.’ To some this sounds like beginning of the end: for books used by students, encyclopaedias used by children, perhaps the end of research libraries altogether. As the funding dries up for services no longer crucial to the public, it is a very real possibility that books could become a niche purchase, something not deemed so critically important to have access to as a society that heavily relies on the references of Google.

How we buy and what we believe is available to us has changed radically. Thompson of says that ‘Previously, book publishers integrated editing, marketing and distribution. Amazon modularized distribution first via e-commerce and then via eBooks.’ By taking away the middle man, producing and delivering their own goods Amazon have and will continue to dominate areas of marketing, pricing and accessibility in ways that the publishing idustry has yet to compete with, but as Darnton reminds us: ‘Electronic enterprises come and go. Research libraries last for centuries. Better to fortify them than to declare them obsolete, because obsolescence is built into the electronic median.’

‘There are few other things more soothing to people of a certain type than leisurely browsing their favourite neighbourhood bookstore’  and while it’s true that eBooks are often cheaper and more practical there is much to be said for the buying experience. It’s been some time since department stores and independent book shops alike recognised the need to make book shopping a leisurely, tactile experience. We don’t just want to buy a book, we want people to see what books we read, we want a signifier of  our identity. We want our books to be, as phrased in Merchants of Culture, ‘regarded as prestigious, aspirational goods.’ So far the digital market is unable to compete with this, and so all hope is not lost for the traditional book shop market quite yet. We can see this reflected in sales figures such as those quoted by Thompson, J. in Merchants of Culture:  ‘Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, first published in 2003, has sold more than 18 million copies in hardcover in the US alone by 2006.’

We must deal with multiple, mutable texts. By studying them sceptically on our computer screens, we can learn how to read our daily newspaper more effectively – and even how to appreciate old books.

Our multi-platform future

The solution going forward has to be one that utilises the best aspects of both digital and print. Thompson, J. considers that ‘Instead of having firmly fixed documents, we must deal with multiple, mutable texts. By studying them sceptically on our computer screens, we can learn how to read our daily newspaper more effectively – and even how to appreciate old books.’ We now have luxury multi-platforms of choice, and it’s our job as the consumer to scrutinise and use the best of each.  Alba states that ‘Independent bookstores have kept surviving or thriving in spite of all the economic rationality of Amazon’s lower prices.’ This means we won’t be swayed purely by online bargain bins and lightweight technology; we are open to progress, but not so much we are willing to ignore better, older methods, and we don’t mind paying a little extra for the experience too. As Thompson, J.  articulates, when faced with a new piece of technology we experience ‘3 stages: an initial phase of utopian enthusiasm, a period of disillusionment, and a new tendency toward pragmatism.’ For newspapers, books and magazines, the markets of print and digital won’t need to wonder who will survive if they adopt the same logical thinking as their consumers, and evolve pragmatically into a market that utilises the best of both.


Image by: Michael Kozlowski


The Restricted Section: Is Amazon Corrupting Our Children?

The Amazon Logo

As one of the largest online retailers within today’s market, you would expect that Amazon has a rigorous screening system to protect vulnerable users from acquiring prohibited materials. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Amazon suggest that in fact, the parent or guardian of the account holder (in instances where the account owner is under the age of eighteen) is responsible for all purchases made from the account. As such, not only can minors use Amazon’s services with little in the means of age-authentication, they are not deemed responsible for their purchases: meaning that Amazon manages to dodge legal responsibility. This poses difficult questions in terms of Amazons obligation to their users, and their responsibility to ensure safe and legal working practices. Furthermore, in today’s age of technology, questions surrounding the accessibility of so called ‘erotic literature’ and its arguably pornographic content – and whether it should legally be classified as a restricted product are ongoing.

Age restricted products such as DVD’s, CD’s, Console and Computer Games are covered under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, Section 21. Erotica and Romance titles containing sexually explicit material are not covered. With ongoing controversy surrounding the types of content that children and young adults are exposed to within advertisements and as they browse the web, when analysing Amazon’s age restriction policy, the notion of ‘age restricted’ literature in the digital age presents some interesting challenges. Where do the boundaries between appropriate for consumption by those who are under-age and unnecessary censorship lie? In this context, Amazon’s policy is ethically questionable at best. Furthermore, the notion of minors having the ability to place orders under the presumed authorisation of their parents, indicates that there is an issue emerging: posing the question of where in fact does ultimate responsibility lie?

Figure 1: A Visual Representation of US Market Share classified by volume of eBook Sales for 2015. Showing Amazon as the market leader. Credit to 2016

With the rise of digital media, the challenges presented to online retailers such as Amazon have grown.  With the market for digital publishing blooming (over 47,879,382 eBooks were purchased in 2015), amounting to in excess of £381.5m worth of sales from ‘The Big Five’ publishers alone. In the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, the market for erotic fiction has expanded significantly, with erotic fiction now selling well alongside more mainstream fiction. In November 2015, an estimated 6245 novels, novellas and other works listed under the category of Romance were sold daily. As such, is it time we considered the impact of literature classified by authors and publishers as erotica or adult literature, and the way in which age restriction is enforced?

With all types of restricted product, the duty remains with the retailer to ensure that these products do not fall into the hands of those who are underage. The appropriate age restrictions for traditional published works has been argued for some time now: with the majority of retailers stocking potentially sensitive material at height, and policing its sale. Whilst erotic novels themselves are not age restricted, other types of pornographic material (such as magazines frequently found on news agents top-shelves) are covered by the terms specified within the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 or the Obscene Publications Acts (OPA) 1959; however, general good practice determines that these erotic titles are not sold to minors. It is not in the best interests of retailers to enable young readers to purchase or interact with pornographic material. The damage to their reputations and professional standings this could have, is significant. Amazon’s policy is significantly less responsive than that of other providers: your local supermarket certainly has a more active age-restriction policy! Leaving questions as to Amazon’s ethical sense of responsibility.

With many children, teens, or young adult readers now in possession of an eReader, or with access to eReading applications (such as the Kindle App.) and Amazon now selling Kindles aimed specifically at children, that have features aimed at preventing access to ‘inappropriate content’. It is clear that Amazon are attempting to mitigate the risks posed by such a loose age restriction policy. However, whilst these advances have made significant progress towards the safeguarding of young children from the recognised dangers of the net, the limited functionality that these devices present for older children mean that the likelihood of an upgrade to a standard eReading device increases. Without the protection provided by a specially designed tablet, the likelihood of them encountering inappropriate content increases. Amazon states that:

‘Certain items available on are age restricted. By placing an order for one of these items you are declaring that you are 18 years of age or over. These items must be used responsibly and appropriately.

Delivery of age restricted items will require the signature of the recipient at the delivery address. Identification may be required in order to verify the age of the recipient. Delivery to a nominated neighbour or safe location isn’t available for these items.’

It is clear that there is a lack of clarity in terms of the practical application of the law in terms of the restriction of pornographic content in erotic fiction and other titles classified as romance. The confusion only grows, when eReaders are communal and orders are placed from a parent or guardian’s account. When creating an Amazon account, the terms and conditions also state that:

‘We do not sell products for purchase by children. We sell children’s products for purchase by adults. If you are under 18 you may use the Amazon Services only with the involvement of a parent or guardian’.

As such, in the case of erotica and romance fiction, alongside other legally age restricted products, Amazon passes responsibility for purchases made using the account onto the legal guardian of the account user.

Morally, the refusal of Amazon to even attempt to mitigate the consequences of a minor obtaining explicit content that is inappropriate is a tricky consideration. On one hand, just as high street retailers have a social responsibility not to enable the sale of sexually explicit material to a minor, Amazon should have a responsibility to its customers in the same way. However, the lack of face-to-face contact between Amazon and its customers presents a unique challenge. By directly, and explicitly passing the legal responsibility onto users, Amazon successfully avoids the potential minefield that issues such as erotic fiction present to them as a business. But at what cost? By ensuring that those who are under the age of eighteen are not deemed to be the responsible owner of the account, Amazon effectively ensures that not only are they not legally responsible for breaches in age-restriction law, even if they were to instigate a protection policy for the sale of erotic literature, it would be impossible to police.

The fundamentally flawed nature of Amazon’s age restriction policy, whilst at times proving to be convenient for the end-user, presents the question of whether there is a more effective way to manage the sale of restricted, or potentially sensitive material. In the case of Apple’s iBooks store, content is policed before being listed within the store. In this way, sensitive material is either prevented from reaching the consumer for purchase, or is flagged appropriately in the event explicit material is present. By maintaining control over the content of the store in this way, Apple themselves act as gatekeepers. This mechanism enables users to be more aware of the legalities surrounding the content they purchase. Whilst Apple admittedly do not face the issue of age-restriction on the same scale that Amazon do (as Amazon have a much broader stock) Apple at least demonstrate significant efforts to monitor their content. Amazon operates in a significantly different way, enabling the free publication and only subjecting content to retrospective approvals in extreme cases. Whilst it is possible for Amazon to retrospectively remove content from their listings, this remains rare – and they have come under fire over the decision to remove several of their listed eBook titles citing that Amazon may ‘at any time, refuse to list or distribute any content that it deems inappropriate’.This retrospective approval process makes it all the more alarming that the enforcement of under-age purchasing policy is virtually non-existent. Without an awareness of the content they advertise, how can Amazon be sure that they are not in fact corrupting vulnerable users?

Overall, there is a strong argument that Amazon’s flawed age restriction policy is enabling young users to come into contact with items and other content that may be inappropriate. Furthermore, the availability of erotic titles, and the fact that they are not classified as restricted items within the law supports the argument that Amazon, as the faceless supplier of these goods – who pass responsibility at the earliest opportunity – are not doing enough to protect our children. Parents face the challenge of policing what their children encounter, and it is time that Amazon started supporting them. There must be a reasonable level of protection that can be implemented once Amazon is made aware that their client is underage.

Can We Stop Book Piracy?

A pirate in 2016 is far removed from the image of Jack Sparrow behind the wheel of a ship; it can be anyone with a computer and a desire to obtain a digital product without spending any money.

It’s surprisingly simple to find illegal copies of any kind of media. Even to an amateur, pirating software, music or even books takes only a google search and a careful eye on what is being downloaded. There are often whole websites dedicated to helping people find what they’re looking for, some utilising forums that allow people to make a request and have someone else fulfil it. A google search for top pirating websites brings up results for Reddit forums listing good websites, fully vetted and tested by others for quality content. On the part of the pirate, there’s very little effort involved to deter them from the activity. What is there to stop people from illegal downloads?

Rates of media consumption across 2015-2016. Source: Intellectual Property Office.

Overview of Piracy

Consumption of media online has slowly risen over the past year, and with it the number of 12-24 year olds who are the primary offenders for online illegal infringement. 20% of those over 12 who consumed TV shows and movies online did so illegally, with 39% of all media consumption being downloaded and 52% streamed. When asked for the main motivations for choosing their method of consuming media – legal or illegal – people responded that convenience and the speed of which they could access what they wanted were the top influences on their media habits. This goes someway in explaining some of the basic reasoning for why people choose to go through illegal means to obtain pirated copies of software, music or books. If it’s easier than the legal method, people will inevitably use it.

It sets up a seemingly simple solution to the problem of piracy: make it difficult for people to do so, and they will have no choice but to go through legal means to buy eBooks or other media forms. This was the thinking behind DRM (Digital Rights Management). Unfortunately, DRM has become a controversial topic, with people doubting its effectiveness in combatting piracy, and blaming it as part of the reason why people would pirate eBooks and software in the first place.

The Issue With DRM

Put simply, DRM is meant to prevent content from being shared between devices and users without the consent of the publisher. In theory, it’s a good thing. Just like alarms in shops, DRM functions by preventing people from attaining something that they haven’t paid for. It’s hard to argue against it without seeming to be arguing for the right to steal content with ease. The issue many people have is that DRM goes beyond stopping you at the doors with a bag full of unpaid goods. DRM locks your copy of Microsoft Word, your Amazon movie or your eBook, and dictates what you can do with it even if you have paid for it legally.

This is the point where people turn against DRM. Consumers can pay for a product and not have complete control over what they do with it, or even in some cases, no say on if they get to keep it once they’ve purchased it. In terms of eBooks, DRM prevents readers from sharing the files or reading the book across platforms by locking it into one format. For example, reading your Amazon-purchased eBook on Apple’s iBooks application is rendered impossible. The lure of pirating eBooks is the ability to eliminate these issues entirely. Pirated eBooks come in every format, from PDF to EPUB to .Mobi, making it a choice of selecting your preferred format and adding it to your virtual library. Without DRM, it’s also possible to share your eBook with friends, much like with a physical book, only without the risk of not having it returned to you.

Bridging the Gap Between Digital and Physical

Source: Amazon

In an attempt to try to make the legal consumption of eBooks more closely match the experience of owning a physical book – and in turn match the benefits that DRM-free eBooks offer – Amazon have created two schemes that change how Kindle books work.


The Lending Library allows Amazon Prime Kindle users to access Amazon’s system of pre-approved eBooks and borrow them for free. The catch is that it only allows one book to be borrowed per month, something that a dedicated book lover won’t find much use for, especially as a £79 per year membership is required in order to use the Lending Library. A further downside is the restricted selection of eBooks on offer, which dampens the benefit of being able to borrow them for free.

Amazon’s Loan or Borrow feature focuses on the issue of not being able to lend a purchased eBook to another person. It works by the lender sending the eBook to the borrower via email, and for the duration of the borrower having it, the lender is unable to view the eBook. This approach cuts out the problem of needing to create a duplicate copy of the book in order to give it to someone else and allows people to engage in the normal behaviour of sharing books with other people. Despite initially being launched in 2010 the scheme remains US-only, and has the drawback of only allowing a book to be given to a friend for 14 days before it is returned to the person that has paid for it. Along with that, it won’t work for eBooks purchased outside of Amazon, leaving the only way of sharing non-Amazon eBooks as sending a pirated copy or physically giving your eReader to someone else.

In theory, Loan and Borrow brings the experience of owning an eBook closer to that of a physical book, but Amazon’s failure to expand the feature globally suggests that it’s just not caught on or popular among readers.

How Much of an Issue is Piracy?

The failure of programs like Loan or Borrow by Amazon, or even attempts to create a Netflix for books, implies that the problem of piracy in the book industry isn’t dire enough to justify an overhaul of how eBooks are sold and consumed.

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Rates of illegal activity for Books in the UK between 2015-2016. Source: Intellectual Property Office.

The UK book market is worth £0.6 billion, £46 million (8%) of that is attributed to eBooks. During March-May of 2016, only 7% of people in the UK who consumed eBooks were found to have done so illegally. It’s a 1% increase from 2015.  Not only is the pirating of books only affecting 8% of the UK book industry, its growth isn’t particularly alarming.

It’s a small percentage of people to have used illegal methods of reading eBooks when compared to the 15% of people who illegally consume movies, or 13% for music. The piracy of eBooks just isn’t as lucrative as other forms of media.

They coverage that book piracy gets is telling towards the attitude the industry has for it. When eBook piracy is discussed online, often it will be the authors who are at the frontlines, pushing for change and scouring the internet for the websites that host the pirated books in order to take them down. They are the ones starting a dialogue with their readers about why they pirate their books, as well as promoting alternative solutions, such as libraries, that avoid methods that take money away from the publishing industry. Authors such as Joanne Harris take it a step further and talk to those outside their readership with the help of platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr, addressing the impact book piracy has on authors, as well as calling out the faulty logic of those that try to defend digital piracy.

Publishers’ input on the problem is more muted. They use DRM to try to make it more difficult for pirates to share the books, and they often place a page in the eBooks warning against illegal copies and have an email address to report illegal activity, but beyond that the discussion isn’t as intense. It suggests that eBook piracy is at the stage where, for the most part, DRM does enough to hinder it. Some publishers, such as Tor, have ditched it entirely, but the majority seem content to continue using it as its main method of prevention.

Where Does that Leave Us?

There are many different paths that can be taken in the search for how to expand and enhance the security for eBooks, whether it’s finding a model similar to Netflix and Spotify that brings a wider array of availability to consumers at affordable prices, or following Tor books in removing DRM to allow access across all platforms. Whatever the solution may be, the timing clearly hasn’t been right yet for people to make the move to back it.


Abandonment of the print dictionary?

How do print dictionaries cease to exist now that all information is a click away? Publishers are constantly being tried and tested to come up with innovative ways to stay in the public eye, for example, coming up with a word of the year. They are being embroiled in the drama of e-books, pricing and digitisation to name but a few.

According to the bookseller who interviewed the, CEO of Oxford University Press, Nigel Portwood, 2014 saw profits plummet by 8% from £111m to £102m. Portwood noted that the drop in profits was a “complicated story”, with a loss of £5m in foreign markets.

The end of print?

Let’s cast our minds all the way back to 2010. The sales of print in the US have dropped to 700 million units. (Neilsen bookscan) Amazon reports that the sale of the e-book has surpassed that of hardbacks, and google has launched google e-books.

This was around the time that the founder and chairman of MIT media, Nicholas Negroponte claimed that the physical book is dead. He believed that the physical book was being replaced by digital. “It’s happening,it’s not happening in 10 years, it’s happening in 5. years”.And who can blame him? It’s a sensible assumption to make. And he was not alone.

“As a result of a dynamic internal in the field of scholarly publishing, the sales of scholarly monographs- the staple output of the University presses have declined dramatically” (Thompson 2010)

 Transition to digital

For a while digital learning has been on the rise; after all it has become a key element of the world in which we inhibit. Why would a student shell out for a premium dictionary, a product that is constantly being updated, rather than typing something into a search engine for free?

Resources such as google offer significant new research and a much broader access to new ideas and new contextual materials. Researchers and students need to consult with a much wider array of academic sources, so consequently digitisation may benefit them as the bar needs to be raised.

As insightful as the Oxford English dictionary is, it’s never going to be able to keep up with the ever demanding growth of slang or specialised terms as swiftly as online search engines. Plus online sites such as Wikipedia can offer a wealth of knowledge that surround a particular word that a print version cannot,with links and cross references. In 2014, there was even a video claiming that the latest edition was too large to print.


We are compromising quality for convenience. OED cannot afford to cut corners when it comes to production.

“I know these upstart electronic dictionaries aren’t up to the standard of some of the old twenty pound monstrosities, but the convenience factor is unbeatable.” This is a statement found in the comments section of the article, adequately titled should we still buy dictionaries?’  It has come from a father whose ten-year-old son uses an iPad to operate an app called ‘ Here I pose the theory that the younger generation are growing up with various digital platforms embedded into their everyday learning, therefore they do not know any different and perhaps will not when they possibly become students. Another part of electronic learning is that people want to hear what a word sounds like; a characteristic which unfortunately the printed version does not posses.

Although dictionaries offer a sense nostalgia they do don’t offer practicality, with so many of us living in the digital age, where it easier to exploit apps and the medium of the internet.

“As to the great , multi- volume Oxford English dictionary itself, here is a top tip. I cannot imagine that many of you have the space to house it (or the money to buy it) But it is available online”. (Stevenson 2010)

Decline of library budgets

Copyright. One great George street library

Libraries play a key role in dictionaries, as they stand now and the future. As stated in a paper dedicated to the resource allocation for libraries on a higher budget, by the head of library services, libraries are receiving a minuscule portion of University spending. Only 8% of the collections budget is used on libraries where data bases and reference materials are being made priority.

Unfortunately, this does not look to be improving any time soon. In turn, with budgets being ruthlessly snipped, fewer people are utilising the space of the library.

Oxford vs Collins

The dictionary market is one of an oligopoly nature, with Oxford’s main competitors being Collins. Having reviewed a poll on the student room, I found that over 50% of students preferred the Oxford dictionary, with 38.5% leaning towards Collins, and 11.5% choosing from another press.

We still need a print dictionary though, surely?

The dictionary will forever be a respected and historical artefact, a part of Oxford’s background and culture. You cannot riffle the pages of an online source, nor can you put a bookmark on a page that you so frequently use. OED offers a higher calibre of references, which are perhaps more respected than a website?

In an article in the guardian, Christina Zabba says of the press , a “unique brand unmatched anywhere else on earth”.

“When we watch students with books, there’s a very different experience – there’s that power of having something physical that they own, particularly when they write and see their name in print: it’s always there. With computers, it’s gone at the touch of a button.” (Gerald Richards)

A published report in The Huffington Post, states that 92% of students say that they prefer print books. This was after Naomi Baron, author of “words onscreen: the fate of reading in the digital world”, conducted a survey that asked 300 students to see whether they preferred print over digital. One student of Arizona state university, Steven Hernandez had this to say; “I believe that the possibility and the likelihood of distraction is too high when it comes to online learning tools like textbooks”.

The bookseller also carried out its own primary research for its children’s conference in 2015.The results were similar to that of Baron’s; young people prefer print. This survey was carried out by a market research company, Youthsight., who asked. 1,000 young people aged between 16-24 if they prefer print or digital, 64% of which stated print as their chosen method when it came to reading

However it is worth noting that preferences do not equate to sales. Even though 16-24 year old’s prefer print, it does not mean that they intent to buy them. In fact, these subjects may not even have the means to purchase these books, so essentially this factor of whether the books are preferred does not come into the equation.

How are the press surviving currently?

Oxford University Press relies heavily on licensing, and according to its research data page, OUP licences “ linguistic assets which include a selection of bilingual and technical dictionaries.

Copyright. Chinese book USA

More than 80% of OUP’s business is done outside of the UK, and overall the press prints over 4,600 new books a year worldwide.

The route to the online has also been made with Oxford English dictionary online, Oxford scholarship online and the digital reference shelf, to name but a few.

It has been created in a way that is “designed to take full advantage of this powerful and accessible medium”. The hope is, that by getting institutions to subscribe with a lower price, more will continue to do so, rather than less subscribing at a higher rate.

Managing director of OUP’s journals division claims “our prices are much lower than those of our competitors, so we think they provide good value for money”.

£34m is being invested into the current revision programme for new words. This is a way for the press to stay in the in news with the word of the year Oxford was among the first to come up with word of the year, this year the word being ‘post-truth’ This is vital to them, as it keeps the current and talked about.

The future

“The role of the scholarly publisher is changing fundamentally. It will no longer be enough to offer content you can read to aid your research. Publishers will need to offer content you have to read.” Dominic Byatt

Byatt, publisher and senior commissioning editor suggests that this is where scholarly presses are failing, as “the quantity of essential content is limited”.

There is nothing that Publishers can do to stop the progress that is being made by online websites and digital platforms.

“if you aim to create a shared culture using shared symbols, those symbols, no matter how detailed, must be consistent. It applies not just to the alphabet, but also to how books are built, and the way they work. It’s a very subtle art”

“Scholarly publishers have always served academic constituencies by publishers in what might be called an ‘inner trial’ manner works by scholar in a discipline directed at the same discipline. but increasingly there will be arise a need both to publish intertribal (to scholars in other disciplines) and also to serve as a bullhorn for thoughtful empirical work in debate that has become muddled by a rising drone of white noise” Niko Pfund- OUP USA

The fact is that there is nothing OED or any University press for that matter can do to slow down the process of digitisation.

What they can do however is embrace it, embrace the fact that there will always be a revolution of new technology.

The so-called apocalypse of print has been blow slightly out of proportion. During a talk on the state of publishing within the last and within the next five years, Alistair Horne stated that the people who once stated that the death of print was about to occur, are now “eating their words”.Digitisation has not been as successful as people once thought. As Michael Bhaskar states, “publishing, famously, is always in crisis”, therefore, why is this crisis any different?

Never Judge a Penguin by it’s Cover?

Book covers have been almost as important as what’s inside them for as long as they have existed.

A cover encompasses so much more than a shell to protect the pages inside; they hold all of the information which anyone would need to know about the book at a glance. Beyond this didactic role the jacket or cover of a book fulfils an abstract, yet important need. It is through book covers that publishing businesses build a recognisable brand. It’s about perception; the way in which a reader makes subconscious connections to the world of the book, and so they reflect upon the author as well. In this piece I will be examining the role of cover design in the success of publishing giant Penguin.

Penguin as Innovator

In many ways no other publisher has been so vital within the book industry as Penguin has. Their book covers have had a leading role shaping the brand, and have ensured Penguin’s heritage of good design.

Penguin was formed by Sir Allen Lane and his brothers in July 1935, although the family had already been experienced in running a publishing business. Penguin’s direct ancestor was a firm called The Bodley Head, run by Allen’s uncle John Lane. In its time The Bodley Head was at the forefront of design, employing renowned illustrator Aubrey Beardsley as their art editor.

What set Penguin apart was their vision for inexpensive, mass market publishing. It was necessary that the books should look good; “I have never been able to understand why cheap books should not also be well designed, for good design is no more expensive than bad” said Sir Lane.


The original Penguin book covers featured the most pared back, simple designs imaginable. With a horizontal grid partitioning sections of text; the masthead, the book title and author, printed in the Eric Gill sans serif font and featuring the Penguin icon. They made use of colour coding, for instance using dark blue to denote biographies and orange for fiction.This classic design language would set out the blueprint of the company’s future self.

In the beginning, the roles of production manager and designer were both performed by Edward Young, who hand sketched all of the cover concepts himself along with the original Penguin, Puffin and Pelican logos. The renowned typographer Jan Tschichold took over as designer and gradually refined and built upon Young’s ideas. Tschichold’s main contribution was the so called Penguin Composition Rules, which were “a standardised practice for creating the covers for all of the books produced” distributed as a flyer. This brought an end to the inconsistencies which had occurred in the covers Young had published. Under Tschichold’s design “the standard format was and still is 180 x 111 mm, a golden rectangle” which allowed for greater clarity in dealing with printers.

Originally sold for sixpence each, the books were so affordable that for the first time almost anyone had access to them, a revolutionary idea at the time. A famous dilemma, as referenced in George Orwell’s book title Books v. Cigarettes, was between purchasing a Penguin, or a pack of 10 cigarettes for the same price.

Using Images and Paintings from the Wider World

Penguin grew to a point where it had market dominance, however the brand was not without competition. “Publishers such as Pan and Corgi had a more targeted readership and quite different approaches to marketing their titles” says designer Phil Baines. Therefore Baines argues “Penguin began to realise that the vertical grid, with its.. often old fashioned illustrations, was perhaps too reticent in the face of a competition using full-colour imagery and dynamic lettering” and needed to change something.     

It was under the art direction of Germano Facetti that Penguin developed a strong, modern visual brand. During the 1960’s Facetti updated the graphic themes of each of the Penguin, Puffin and Pelican series. When he brought his visual ideas to the renowned Penguin Classics series, “his crime, in [E.V] Rieu’s eyes, was to replace the spartan jackets with a reproduction of a painting, chosen to reflect the theme of each book”, which caused some internal disagreement. Facetti said that, “in designing for the Classics, it was assumed that the majority of the great works of literature have inspired works of art” and argued, “the provision of a visual frame of reference to the work of literature can be considered an additional service to the reader who is without immediate access to art galleries or museums”, an idea which remains relevant to this day.

This burgeoning connection to the arts was not without precedent. In 1944 the Penguin Modern Painters series was created by Sir Kenneth Clark to give “the wide public outside the art galleries” access to modern art. Penguin’s attempts to bring artistic works to a mass audience with their dedicated artist series and the use of images on their book covers, parallels their founding philosophy of inexpensive books that most people could afford to buy.

The mechanism by which they were able to do all of this, was mastering the craft of creating compelling book series.

“Series design provides a unique opportunity to utilise cumulative effect. For example, key content can be removed from one cover since it can be found on others in the series, which then promotes inquiry from book-to-book” – former Penguin designer Dave Pearson.

Facetti’s action to go pictorial on covers, although controversial at the time, was in keeping with the Penguin brand. It showed that Penguin understood their cultural context and were making efforts to claim a greater stake in it.

In House Design

From the early, production minded minimalists like Edward Young and Jan Tschichold, to the men trained in the visual languages of the modern age, like Phil Baines and Dave Pearson, cover design at Penguin has almost always remained in house.

One rare instance which contradicts this is the Designer Classics books, which marked the 60th anniversary of Penguin. Famous designers from the wider world were invited to create interpretations of classic Penguin titles.

“One might say that this was an attempt to engage with the complex fragmentation of modern visual culture, in which art and design intermix” – author on typography Robin Kinross.

Spanish shoe designer Manola Blahnik styled a cover for Madame Bovary, in a less than understated fashion. Sam Taylor-Johnson posed an image of a male model on the cover of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night. Costing £100 per book, and only being produced in limited edition, it seemed that this was a very odd way to celebrate the founding philosophy of Penguin Classics.

Yet, it seems stranger still that “in reality, knowledge of, and pride in the company’s design heritage was not widespread; at least not in-house” according to Dave Pearson, designer of Penguin’s popular Great Ideas series. Perhaps this is because ever since Jan Tschichold created the Penguin Composition Rules, the designers at Penguin have lived in the background.


Penguin has had a number of imprints which operate to differentiate its publication series’. Two of the earliest and most influential of these were Puffin and Pelican.

Puffin was established as a picturebook brand, aimed solely at a young reader. Announced at the outbreak of the second world war, “The worst has happened… but evacuated children are going to need books more than ever… Let us get half a dozen out as soon as we can” said Sir Lane. This illustrates Lanes determination to publish, even if it meant trying new things. A plate based printing process called autolithography played an indispensable role in creating the Puffin series. “If the number of colours was carefully considered, autolithography offered reduced costs and more faithful rendition of an artist’s intent” said printer Geoffrey Smith. The use of these images and the Puffin logo created a distinctive brand, nonetheless recognisable as a Penguin subsidiary. Having cover images also set the Puffin range apart from all other Penguin books, which at the time had horizontal tripartite covers.   

© Purple Camel/Flickr, 2012

Pelican was another brand in the Penguin family, although “from the start there was no rigorous dividing line between Pelican and Penguin subject areas” says Baines. The Pelicans tended to veer towards more serious subject matter in terms of content, and featured a cover design similar to the standard Penguins, except that they made use of a light blue colour for some of the ruled sections, and the Pelican logo. In spite of the seemingly meaningless separation from the rest of Penguin, the brand was very popular; “Who would have imagined… there was a thirsty public anxious to buy thousands of copies of books on science, sociology, economics, archaeology, astrology and other equally serious subjects” said Sir Allen Lane.

In addition to Pelican and Puffin, Penguin tried to establish an academic imprint which they called Peregrine. This was later to become Penguin Education, headed up by Charles Clarke, with Derek Birdsall as consultant art director. The academic series used minimal design, but “the titles were the thing, I decided to exploit the varying widths of the spines typographically” says Birdsall.

Penguin revolutionised the publishing world by implementing its philosophy of book culture, even when to do so meant breaking with tradition. Robin Kinross talks of the way “In the great years of Penguin… the firm had become a British institution that one could seriously compare to the BBC” and it would seem self evident that the design language which they developed on their book covers is central in the company’s success.

By Jonathon Stephenson: Linkedin

The Future of eBooks


When eBooks first started to appear in the mid 90s, they were ‘hailed by many as the next great technological step for books.’ Has this remained true after these many years? It’s been said that print is still the preferred way people like to read and that eBook sales are not as big as people predicted, however there are multiple reasons for why this is and what can be done about it.


While many of us have seen the growth in eBooks, sales have recently been slowing down. In 2011, Alastair Horne said only 6% of the market consisted of eBooks in the UK and 6.4% in America. Most have said this is to do with pricing because it’s hard ‘getting the public to

Amazon Kindle Logo. Credited to Amazon.

accept sensible pricing.’ It certainly doesn’t help that online retailers such as Amazon discount the prices on books, to the point that buyers might get used to that price and think all eBooks should cost that much. Amazon also creates deals, such as the first book of the series being free to increase sales at the expense of the pricing. Recently, Amazon was doing a deal for Laini Taylor’s trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which for a limited time only all of the eBooks would be on sale for £0.99. Many people, including myself, logged in to Amazon and got it.

In 2010, Amazon was in a war with Apple and five other publishers to dominate the eBook market. Before Apple launched its iBooks store for eBooks, Amazon Kindle was the main platform and so they had the freedom to set the prices themselves (a maximum of $9.99), however, when Apple finally opened its online store it caused a few problems. Five big publishers, such as Penguin and HarperCollins, created a contract with Apple that would only allow the publishers to set the price of the eBook and Apple would get a certain percentage of each sale. Every time another retailer would drop down their prices, i.e. Amazon, the publishers would drop Apple’s eBook prices too so as to compete with Amazon. These five publishers then got Amazon to agree to a similar deal, consequently

iBooks Store Logo. Credited to Apple

raising eBook prices to ‘needlessly high,’ (levels) as said by Amazon. But the five publishers and Apple both lost when the US Department of Justice charged them all with collusion and so eBooks prices are now back at what they started.


For many years, after self-publishing was first introduced, it developed a stigma and it effected self-published authors greatly. This was because without the help of publishers most of the books were badly edited, badly written and had bad cover design, and readers didn’t like this. For example, Adrienne Woods’ book series, Dragonian, is full of foreshadowing, which an editor would have noticed and advised to change, and which many people have complained about, but it seems this stigma has, for the most part, disappeared.

Though this stigma seems to have vanished, not many self-published authors actually do well. It’s been said that only about 40 indie authors are successful, though impressively some of them, like Amanda Hocking, have been in the top 10 in the Kindle Million Club and some have even been picked up for real publishing contracts.

Some self-published books are very good, but it still seems that it’s the bad ones people keep buying. For example, the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James started simply from a fanfiction about Twilight but then the author self-published it where it got massively popular, until finally a publisher picked it up. I believe this might have been because James already had a dedicated fandom who would continue to buy the book(s). Bad books becoming really popular might be the reason behind the stigma of self-publishing and it could be helped by the good self-published eBooks out there.

Self-published eBooks have gone up in price, whereas before they were £0.99 some have

February 2014 – January 2016 Ebook Unit Sales. Credited to AuthorEarnings, 2016.

gone up to £2.99 and Adrienne Woods’ books are nearly £4.This is most likely because of the increase of self-publishing over the years. Between February 2014 and February 2016, self-published eBooks have increased approximately by 16% and the sales for the big five

publishers have decreased by 12%. On Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling eBooks more than half, 56 to be exact, were self-published. This data clearly suggests that more and more people are buying self-published books, perhaps because they are cheaper.

E-book Piracy

Although eBooks prices are becoming cheaper, many people still believe eBooks should be free and some believe it so much that they turn to piracy. In every eBook, there is a copyright page, most of them at the back, that clearly states one cannot copy and/or distribute the eBook though many people claim to not know this law. But is it harming the industry? It’s been reported that only 1% of 12-year-olds and older were reading e-books illegally in the UK in March to May 2015. Therefore, many people believe that piracy of eBooks won’t ever become a big thing because readers will always prefer ‘legal services over illegal ones.’

Subscriptions Programmes

So, what can we do to prevent eBook piracy and increase eBook sales? There are ways of still reading very cheap eBooks without it being illegal. Project Gutenberg is a free online library with more than 53,000 books to choose from and download, with the option for a not needed, but appreciated, small donation to keep them going. It is a great example of a project which is free and is still going, though some have not been so lucky. Oyster books was an online streaming service for eBooks and was named the ‘netflix for eBooks.’ Its users would pay roughly £10 a month to read as many books as they’d like. Sadly, only two years after it started it shut down. Many have said this is because it was ‘deeply flawed’ because of its lack of bestsellers in the library and because it only managed to grab 5 big publishers, which caused problems when people wanted to get a book from another publisher. Others which seem to have worked are Kindle Unlimited and Bookmate, all very similar but none have done particularly well. So, does ‘netflix for eBooks’ really work? For now, it seems not, however publishers should learn from the ones who haven’t worked and try and make it better.

What can publishers do?

There are many ways of increasing eBook sales and there are already some projects for this that are sort of working. For example, Amazon has two different options to buy their kindles, the ‘with special offers’ which is cheaper and the ‘without special offers,’ which is about £10 more expensive. What many people don’t realise is the only reason the ‘with

Screenshot from Kindle’s Buying Options in the Amazon Website.

special offers’ option is cheaper is because the buyer is agreeing to be bombarded with adverts during their reading. Despite this, the satisfaction rate of these kindles is still great with four stars.

Another thing publishers could do is to create bundles and deals that have both print and eBooks and charge it a little bit more. I believe this would work because many people like to have both versions, myself included, and because like Katherine Hayles said,

‘digital and physical copies rely on one another.’

Amazon already does this by what they call Kindle Matchbook in which if someone has bought a physical book then the consumer can buy the e-book version for $2.99 or less, though sadly it has not been applied to the Amazon UK yet.

What is the Future of eBooks?

The future of eBooks seems to clearly point that they won’t ever be free because there are still people willing to pay for them, and there are many different, creative ways to increase the sales, like kindle unlimited and such. I predict that though the way we consume eBooks won’t change, I believe publishers will join together and come up with a platform that works well for them all and that maybe this will be a really good version of ‘netflix for eBooks.’


Digital Publishing: Authors utopia or nightmare?

 Today, an average of 41.8 million people use the internet on a daily basis creating a new world of publishing. Digital publishing has undeniably, democratised the industry, creating opportunity for new, previously rejected, authors. However, is it truly a utopia for authors? Or has it, in fact, made the industry more challenging than ever?

Total Control

Digital publishing has opened up the ability for authors to self-publish. Technological advances have ‘levelled the playing field to an unprecedented degree’ for authors. Self-publishing has allowed authors to take total control over their work, something that was simply not possible with traditional publishing.

Editing platforms such as CreateSpace and Ingram Spark have enabled authors complete authority, allowing them to freely edit without restriction. For example, CreateSpace has effectively eliminated the need for publishing houses as ‘CreateSpace authors and publishers will earn industry-leading royalties on each sale while continuing to own the rights and have creative control over their work.’ Authors can now have control over what happens to their work, how it is published, and where.

These self-publishing platforms, coupled with print-on-demand technology, allow authors to upload their work and then publish it straight to online storefronts like Amazon. It has enabled ‘indie authors–as well as the smallest boutique publishers and micropresses–[to] sell their books through the same online retail storefronts that today account for roughly 50% of total US print sales.’ Works from Faber&Faber are sold alongside self-published works giving authors an equal opportunity and access to a larger audience. This technology has opened the door to independent authors who traditionally would not have been able to afford upfront printing costs.

At what cost?

However, although this technology has allowed more authors the opportunity to have their work seen, it is difficult for self-published authors to make a significant amount of money. Amazon offer 70% royalties to their authors, which appears a good rate but getting your eBook to sell in large quantities is very difficult. EBooks are sold for a fraction of the cost of print books and so need a higher turnover to break even. A survey of 1,007 authors found that ‘less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.’


The few authors that do make a reasonable outcome tend to have large outgoings, many of the books that have succeeded in the market have been edited and designed by professionals. Book cover designs can cost anywhere between £100-£1000 and copy editors usual charge around £26.50 per hour. Even the platforms designed for self-publishing can be costly with ‘Lulu [charging] about $500, Createspace about $700.’ Self-publishing is usually marketed as free but many authors end up paying out to ensure their work is of good quality, so either way self-publishing can be costly for many authors.


Although it can be costlier, digital publishing has allowed opportunity for content that may have previously been refused. Self-publishing has allowed experimental genres, such as Fan Fiction, to be explored and it is these genres that are proving the most popular ‘56 of Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling ebooks… were self-published indie titles.’ According to AuthorEarning ‘self-published indie Science Fiction books, indie Thrillers, indie Suspense novels, indie Urban Fiction, and even Cozy Mysteries by indies’ are amongst the top selling eBooks, showing the ever growing market and scope for new authors to be successful in.

AuthorEarnings February 2016 report showing the popularity of indie published books.

Amanda Hocking is a great example of seizing this new market, at the beginning of 2010 she was an unknown, paranormal fiction writer with seventeen unpublished novels. Yet, by the end of 2010 she would have four recognisable novels and have sold 1.5m books, making $2.5m. Uploading her novels onto Amazon and Smashwords has made her a household name and even secured her a press deal with St Martin’s for over $2.1 million. This is a clear indication that self-publishing has allowed authors the freedom to publish work that publishers would not accept and authors are making millions from this previously restricted content.

New Kids on the Block

Alongside new content the digital world has also created a new type of author. Commissioning editors are starting to steer away from traditional authors and are now offering book deals to young, social media stars thanks to their extreme popularity and a celebrity-like status.

Surely this is good for authors? Young stars are being given writing opportunities they may never have been offered, creating new content, and a new type of author. Books by Youtubers have flooded the market, 5 out of the 10 books in BookScan’s Autobiography: The Arts category are by YouTubers and GoodReads even has a top 100 Books by Youtubers section.

However, this is creating a new problem for authors hoping to become noticed. Financial pressure from the market is causing publishers to pick content guaranteed to sell and ‘if the publishers’ budgets are being sunk into luring already-prominent names, there will inevitably be a horde of brilliant unknowns, tapping away at their keyboards, forever unheard.’

Youtubers are being picked by commissioning editors thanks to their huge online presence which transcends across social media and the internet giving the most popular, like Zoella, an avid following of about 5.8 million. Controversies such as Zoe Sugg’s ghost writer scandal, demonstrates the pressure publishers are feeling. As Sugg’s ghost-writer points out ‘whether you like it or not, this is the financial reality of today’s publishing industry.’

Publishers are picking content based on popularity, and it is selling well, which leaves authors with a market that’s even more difficult to be noticed in.


The good news for these “horde of brilliant unknowns” is that there is no reason why new authors cannot create their own audience just as Youtubers have. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all free marketing tools that can generate great interest and hype for authors and their work. Hashtagging and interacting with fans builds a following behind these authors and creates an often small but loyal market for their novels.

Mark Dawson is a prime example of using marketing to its full potential as he admitted ‘in order to be successful at this, you need to take off your artist hat and put on your marketing hat.’ Dawson has used social media to its full advantage, using it to build a rapport with his audience. He has created, much like the Youtubers, a loyal and secure audience and it has worked with Amazon paying him in excess of $450,000 a year. If authors can embrace the digital world and take full advantage of it, as a marketing platform, they can become successful and most importantly noticed.


Lost at Sea

Unfortunately, success stories such as Dawson’s are not in the majority. Amazon’s Kindle claims to have 105,688 new releases in the last 30 days and 1,412,329 books now available Kindle unlimited. This huge volume of work means it can be all too easy for authors work to be lost in the market. In 2016, only ‘40 independent authors have sold more than a million copies of their e-books on Amazon,’ a worryingly low number for a market so large. Even if authors are using social media to create a brand there is still a high chance they will become lost in the market and make little income.

Likewise, authors who choose to self-publish often find themselves isolated from the industry and there is often elitism among publishers against self-publishing. Andrew Franklin, the managing director of Profile Books famously said at the Writing in the Digital Age conference that ‘the overwhelming majority [of self-published books] are terrible – unutterable rubbish.’

 Bestselling authors who are talented and hard working – like Thor and Grafton – are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold.  But this is demonstrably untrue. –David Vinjamuri 

Many publishers in the industry share this view, making it difficult for authors to have their work recognised. Online success is often ignored in reality as ‘self-published books are not eligible for major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker,’ which excludes a huge number of authors and their work from getting the recognition they deserve. Author Talli Rolland explains ‘I found it difficult to get my printed novel into bookstores, despite solid e-book sales figures.’ This highlights the difficulty many authors face when trying to get noticed in the industry and it’s a constant struggle to get self-publishing acknowledge as a viable medium.

So which is it? Utopia or dystopia? 

It is undeniable that the world of digital publishing has created new opportunities for authors. The internet has allowed authors control over every process of their work from the editing all the way up to marketing and there are success stories. It has created a more democratic system, one which has room for all authors and every type of content.

However, success in digital publishing comes at a price, the industry is more competitive than ever and equal opportunity for all means the market is continuously growing, making it increasingly difficult to become noticed. Is it a utopia? Certainly not. But, if authors are willing to work hard and embrace the new, interactive, fast paced world of digital publishing there is, at least, the chance for them to become the next Fifty Shades of Grey.


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BookTubers: The Phenomenon that Changed Book Marketing

As society continues to become increasingly digitalised, the book industry has had to move away from traditional publishing methods and practices in order to remain of interest to the public. From publication formats to content, book publishing has changed significantly within the last decade and, although sometimes reluctantly undertaken, these changes have enabled the industry to reach a wider and more global audience. According to Ofcom;

‘The average weekly hours spent online has increased in total since 2013 to more than 20 hours’ Ofcom, 2015

Social media, in particular, has facilitated a new dynamic between the producer and consumer. By enabling a new form of interaction with their audience, producers, such as book publishers, are able to reach out to their readers successfully. According to Katie Leimkuehler from Social Media Today, the internet has also enabled publishers to gain an effective form of marketing momentum before their books are released and creating buzz that they would never have had before.

Author-Generated Marketing

John Green is a successful author, writer and producer who has flourished within the genre of young adult fiction. So much so that there are over twenty-four million print copies available in more than fifty-five languages.  With multiple titles taking pride of place in the New York Times’ ‘Bestsellers’ list, John Green has been graced with countless awards for his writing.

The Fault in Our Stars
© Flickr, 2012

Two of which include Paper Towns (2008), winner of the 2009 Edgar Award for ‘Best Young Adult Mystery’ (John Green Books, 2016), and The Fault of Our Stars (2012) which was chosen as ‘TIME Magazine’s #1 Fiction Book of 1012’. John Green is also one half of the “vlogbrothers” on YouTube and is a regular user of a various social media platforms including Twitter and Tumblr. It is through his use of social media that The Fault in Our Stars was titled as a ‘bestseller’ before it even went to print. He achieved this through Twitter and used the platform to heavily promote his work as well as tweeting promises to sign all copies that were pre-ordered. As well as Twitter, another social network being increasingly used within the industry as a marketing medium is YouTube and it is through this medium that a new form of user-generated marketing came to the attention of publishers.

The Phenomenon of YouTube

YouTube has more than one billion users worldwide and is used by almost a third of internet users who spend millions of hours watching videos and generating billions of views. The use of YouTube as a popular social network, particularly within the eighteen to thirty-four demographic, soon came to the attention of publishers as knkPublishing found that ‘YouTube is 60% more popular than television’. It then comes to no surprise that, when watching YouTube content, the preferred platform is their smartphone with ‘more than half of YouTube views come from mobile devices’. It is also through this medium that the standard viewing session is gradually increasing and now averages at roughly forty minutes.

© Flickr, 2008

This social media platform has also risen significantly in popularity over the past decade and continues to grow in both the number of users and subscribers on a daily basis. From gaming to beauty videos, this platform has become a popular medium for uploading and viewing online videos created by anyone who is keen to share their interests to the world through a mobile screen. This has caught the attention of multiple industries, including book publishing, as a means to interact and engage their audience and, more importantly, market their products. It is now commonly known that a ‘video of someone talking about your business or succeeding with your product can be much more powerful than a written testimonial.’ This can only suggest that companies who do not take advantage of this marketing strategy are making a crucial mistake.

Book publishers in particular have, in recent years, developed current marketing strategies by using YouTube as a means of reaching out to their younger and more technology-driven audiences. Over the past few years the migration from print to digital book formats has taken a significant toll on print sales with revenues in adult fiction in particular declining by over one-hundred and fifty million pounds since 2009.  The Bookseller’s editor Phillip Jones shared his opinion on the matter by saying:

‘[t]he ebook has quite demonstrably hit the commercial end of the fiction market’ Guardian, 2015

Due to digital platforms becoming increasingly preferred by readers, the industry had to find new innovative ways to engage with their audience. Marketing Director Kristin Fassler, from Penguin Random House, agreed with the significance of the platform as she was quoted saying ‘YouTube is the second-largest search engine, so video is very important’. Book publishers now use YouTube to disseminate marketing content such as interviews with authors and book trailers. However a new phenomenon has developed through the platform which has resulted in an extremely effective marketing technique for publishers but with one twist; it is user-generated.

The New Reading Community of BookTubers

The ‘BookTuber’ is an online digital community of avid readers who want to share their passion for books with a global audience by regularly uploading book orientated videos. The BookTubing community creates user-generated content which has contributed significantly to the success rate for the publishing industry in regards to online marketing. These engaging ‘vlogs’ are often either book hauls showcasing their recent book purchases, reviews, recommendations, reading challenges as a form of promotion, or even bookshelf tours.

The content produced gains a considerable amount of views and can result in the owner of the channel becoming a well-know face within the community. BookTubers such as ‘polandbananasBOOKS, ‘abooktopia’, ‘Katytastic’, ‘jessethereader’ and ‘PeruseProject’ dominate this increasingly popular community with each of them having over one-hundred-thousand subscribers, gaining more than ten-million views. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the industry has started to get involved with this phenomenon as a marketing strategy. By doing so it guarantees a high volume of publicity surrounding the product which will then, in turn,  encourage book sales.

The secret behind the success of BookTube stems from the fact that these vloggers fall into the same, if not similar, demographic to those they aim their videos at. This then means that they are creating visually appealing content that their audience are guaranteed to enjoy and engage with. The younger generation’s media consumption and online behaviour has enabled this community to grow into a significant resource for the publishing industry. knkPublishing found that 70% of peers within the eighteen to thirty-eight demographic said they preferred using BookTube as a means of finding new content to read. The peers within the study claimed this was due to the ‘perceived authenticity of the respective BookTubers and authentic exchanges within the community’. Therefore, suggesting that due to their honest and ‘authentic’ book reviews, they are successfully selling publications to the global online audience. According to Knut Nicholas Krause from knkPublishing, there has been evidence of this as three book recommendations from respected BookTubers have resulted in the publications hitting the top one hundred and sold more than six million copies.

However, recently there has been a change in dynamic within the BookTube community as it continues to become increasingly popular with individual channels gaining more views and subscribers every day. This shift has resulted in the user-generated network becoming more commercialised and professionalised as publishers begin to work alongside well-known BookTubers. Unfortunately, as these channels are entering the realm of professionalisation, ‘[t]he question of authenticity has arisen’. If BookTubers are becoming successful enough to sign deals with publishing companies, are they still conveying their own thoughts and opinions when producing sponsored content?

Having said that, the beauty and gaming communities that are fully established on YouTube are still maintaining their popularity amongst viewers as they continue to collaborate with brands and organisations and producing sponsored videos. According to Amanda Kirkham from Business 2 Community, is it the deals and sponsorships that are necessary for YouTubers to become full-time contributors to the platform as well as providing inspiration for future and aspiring channels. (2014) The commercial shift within the BookTubing community was perhaps inevitable and it is most likely that is will follow in the footsteps of existing channels which gain income from producing sponsored videos.

The BookTubing community is growing in terms of channels, views and subscribers and publishers are now aware of this trending social network as an efficient marketing strategy. Unfortunately, this user-generated community may become increasingly commercialised, and could affect the level of authenticity and trust perceived by the subscribers of existing BookTube channels. However, this network of passionate and enthusiastic readers will most likely maintain this phenomenon, as it has transformed the private pleasure of reading into a social hub of interaction. YouTube continues to attract millions of subscribers with nearly five billion videos being watched every day. Therefore the publishing industry will be able maintain the online interaction needed to remain existent within a digital-orientated society.



Feature image source: © About To Read, 2015