The Ebook Price War: Where the book do we go from here?

The ‘print versus ebooks’ debate is irrelevant. The real war is between traditional publishers and self-publishers.

Standing on the sidelines, it seems like Amazon, Apple – on behalf of self-publishers – and the Big Five publishing houses are too busy nuking it out with each other to become the top dogs to realise the damage that is being done to the literary landscape. The only path to victory appears to be the complete annihilation of the opposition. If Amazon and Apple win, are we destined to see ebook stores full of novels, described by Andrew Franklin, founder of Profile Books, as being ‘unutterable rubbish?’ If the traditional publishing houses win, are these same ebook stores going to be stocked with good quality books which fail to find their audiences because their price points are too high? Are these two extremes the only paths available?

The Problematic Price War

In the late nineties Esther Dyson, a technology investor, predicted that as Internet access increased, traditional content creators would struggle to get paid in an ‘increasingly competitive marketplace where much of the intellectual property is distributed free and suppliers explode in number.’ Advances in computer and software development over the past decade have largely proved Dyson to be correct. Technological advances halve the costs of digital based businesses every twelve months. As Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, puts it: ‘whatever it costs YouTube to stream a video today will cost half as much in a year.’ This means that companies such as Amazon and Apple can provide cheap hosting so anybody can self-publish a manuscript, and because these author-publishers don’t have the same overheads as large publishing houses. They can therefore afford to sell their books at a lower price point in an attempt to generate interest and compete with other self-published works.

Historically, publishers sold books to distributors and retailers who would then sell to the consumer. However, the rise of self-publishing and ebook sales in this digital age has forced publishers to sell directly to individuals. Gone are the days when carefully curated book shops and libraries are our only source of reading material – now publishers are forced to sell side-by-side with unknown ebook novelists. Author Chuck Wendig irreverently refers to this as a ‘self-publishing volcano’.

The problem facing publishers such as Penguin Random House is that the cost of producing the content has remained the same. Money must still be invested into sourcing content, editing manuscripts and producing digital copies. In 2012, Penguin’s Global Digital Director Molly Barton said ebook production was only 10% cheaper than physical book production. Publishing houses can’t afford to sell these ebooks at significantly cheaper price than print editions, which, when then sold alongside self-published novels, appear over-priced.

Where next?

So, if traditional business models aren’t working for major publishing houses, could the adaptations of one or more of the following prove a better choice?



Credit: Total Boox


Yoav Lorch founded Total Boox, an e-reader application, to challenge what he described as the ‘buy first, read later’ business model, describing it as ‘a burdensome remnant from the world of printed books.’ This platform – and others such as Valobox – allow users to create bookshelves and populate them with as many ebooks from the catalogue as they want, for free. Users are only charged for what they actually read. Books have a set price, but if a reader only reads 10% of the content, they only get charged 10% of the price. According to Lorch, publishers can use analytical tools to ‘understand what’s engaging for readers, and how the books are consumed’ rather than merely monitoring book sales.

Valobox could have been particularly attractive to publishers as it incentivised readers to share books that they’d enjoyed. Readers used widgets to share their favourite books on social media, blogs or websites and received a twenty-five percent discount. Co-founder Ann Lewis pointed out that ‘if users take over marketing, publishers are happy for them to get a reward,’ particularly as this discount didn’t affect the royalties paid to the author and publisher.



Credit: 24symbols


Spanish company 24symbols have build their e-reader application around this model more famously used by Spotify. By providing a quality free service with limited access to the platform’s catalogue – with embedded advertisements – readers will find the premium content attractive enough to pay for access the entire catalogue ad-free. Founder Justo Hidalgo argues that publishers need to start thinking of books as a service and find ways to meet readers needs in how they access, read and share content. The challenge for this business model is that studies suggest that only between 5-15% of users are willing to pay for content on these platforms.

Dynamic Pricing

In 2012 Karol Gajda founded OnlyIndie, an independent online book store which used a dynamic pricing structure to generate interest and create demand for the platforms catalogue of books. Having successfully tested this model on his own self-published travel book, he concluded that it could work for other authors too. The price for every ebook on the site started at $0 for the first fifteen downloads. After that the price rose by a cent with each download up to a maximum price of $7.98. Feedback from buyers suggested they ‘loved the idea’ because it was a ‘fun way to buy from indie authors and support indie work.’

Whilst the venture failed, Gajda highlights that ‘something is only worth what someone will pay for it’ and that rather than focusing on finding the perfect ebook price, more concern needs to be given to building and engaging audiences.



Credit: Unbound


Launched in 2011, Unbound has brought readers into the conversation about what books should be published. Authors pitch ideas on the website and readers are encouraged to support the ideas they like by pledging money. If a book reaches its funding goal, the company uses the money to edit, print and market it. Profits are split equally between the author and site. Co-founder John Mitchinson believes that the Internet is a wonderful piece of technology but ‘until now, the publishing industry has treated it like a threat – when actually the web can facilitate incredible communication with the most important person in the whole process – the reader.’

As bizarre as this method sounds several of these crowdfunded novels have achieved critical acclaim, with Paul Kingsworth’s debut novel The Wake long-listed for The Man Booker Prize.



Credit: Safari Books Online


Safari Books Online is one of the first companies to adapt this approach for books. By focusing on niche markets such as design, IT and technology, users pay a set amount each month to access an unlimited catalogue of ebooks, conferences, videos, and unfinished manuscripts. Andrew Savikas, the company’s former CEO, commented that this model creates an ongoing relationship with readers rather than securing a one-off sale. A wide selection of content, he argues, ‘encourages consumers to sample content they may not know about, much like Netflix’ without cannibalising the sales of print books.

With the success of subscription services like Netflix and Apple Music, it seems unsurprising that experts predict that this business model is likely to dominate digital publishing in the future. The 2014 Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy report by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) found that 80% of publishers believe that the ebook market will ‘inevitably’ shift toward subscription models. As for the report’s publication, only 7% of publishers surveyed had found that this model contributed significantly to their overall revenues but over half expected that this would increase over the following five years.

Unlike with television subscriptions, publishers will face some challenges in adopting this method. Last year, subscription service Scribd withdrew access to a selection of romance novels after discovering that certain genre audiences read more ‘voraciously’ than others, causing the company to make a loss. Tailoring subscription or top-up packages for specific genres may help services combat this.

The Future

At present few of the Big Five appear to be supporting this model, partially because the industry has such a diverse range of content. Not all areas would be profitable in an ‘all-you-can-eat’ subscription model. HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster made parts of their back catalogue available on the subscription platform Oyster in 2014, whilst Macmillan placed 1,500 ebooks with the German subscription service, Skoobe. Oyster has since closed due to a limited catalogue and insufficient subscriber numbers to remain profitable, and with print books appearing to hold their own against ebooks in recent years, there is limited stimulus as yet for publishers to seriously engage with this business model.

However, change must come to the industry. Engaging in a price race to the bottom will only hurt the literary landscape by removing quality in the face of quantity. As Fergus McNeill, author and app developer points out, this means finding a way for the the industry to be sustainable for readers, authors, and publishers which doesn’t include selling content for free or at the lowest possible price. ‘Because,’ as he puts it, ‘in the long-term, free is just too high a price to pay.’



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


Are Publishers Missing a Trick with Consumer-Centric Marketing?

Online Marketing

We’re aware of very few marketing campaigns in the publishing industry, but we’re all too familiar with big brands like Apple and Coca Cola dominating our media platforms and capturing or imaginations. So maybe it’s time for publishers to take a leaf out of the big brands’ books, so they can sell more copies of their own.

What are publishers doing wrong? Ask the pros

Source: Wikimedia

Many industry professionals would agree when I say publishers’ marketing skills need a little work. In his article for The Idea Logical Company, Mike Shatzkin discusses the idea that ‘publishing entrepreneurs were [when publishing houses started] motivated by the ideas for books, not by a better idea for production efficiency or marketing or sales innovation.’ Unfortunately, this attitude appears to have stuck with many publishers. According to The Bookseller, publishers had almost no relationship whatsoever with their readers when it all started. It claims ‘the entire supply chain of the publishing industry was set up around a premise that essentially ignored the end user’. After the rise of the digital era and, subsequently the birth of online bookselling, we changed the way we shopped, and the way we read. This article claims that ‘for the first time in almost 200 years, publishers had the opportunity to deal directly with their customers. Sadly, it was an opportunity that few grasped until very recently’. This failure to keep up with the times could partially explain why printed book sales have fallen over £150m in five years  and eBook sales have dropped 2.4% in 2015 for the first time since the digital age began.

What does the future look like?

Digital marketing firm Chadwick Canon shared its predictions about the direction of the book industry at the start of 2016. It claimed there would be a small rise in the sale of print, but a decline in the sale of eBooks, which is exactly what happened. It also predicted an increase in book marketing. A spokesperson for the firm wrote:

Publishing has tended to lag in marketing innovation, but more and more, we’re seeing it catch up as publishers and authors use strategic content creation and distribution to grow their fan bases and win buyers. In 2016, we’ll see this trend hit publishing hard, with the majority of successful authors, agents, and publishers tapping into the power of content.’

To ensure the survival of the book, we can only hope the firm’s predictions come true. Another change Chadwick Canon is foreseeing is that publishers will invest more in digital marketing. While publishers have always forked out thousands to external PR teams, word has it that may change. Canon says this needs to happen, as ‘the trends of our information culture necessitate the change. People consume media differently, with social platforms and short-form, app-based media (think blogs, BuzzFeed lists, etc.) trumping once big-time TV and traditional radio and news sites.’

When talking about the changes in the publishing industry now compared to 50 years ago, Mike Shatzkin wrote:

‘Those that didn’t make that transition [from editorially driven publishing houses to sales driven ones], expanding their sales forces and learning to reach more accounts with their books than their competitors, fell by the wayside. The new transition is to being marketing-driven. Those that develop marketing excellence will be the survivors as book publishing transitions more fully into the digital age.’

What’s going wrong?

Source: Wikimedia

Most publishers are given little to no advertising budget for each book, which puts them at a disadvantage in a world where consumers are overwhelmed by ads. But there are plenty of marketing strategies publishers can adopt which are completely free, the most obvious one being social media marketing.

Another difficulty the industry faces is how tough it is to measure book sales. Author of How to Market Books says it’s difficult enough to measure the number of books published, ‘…trying to establish how many books are published in other specific territories is a logistical (and political) nightmare…In short, there are no available numbers.’ If the number of books published is hard to access, it must be doubly hard to measure sales.

‘The Big 5’ vs independent publishers

In terms of marketing, the larger publishers often need to work less to gain more profit. Simply having their logo stamped on a book means a reader may consider it to be more worth their time and money than a book with an unfamiliar logo. This isn’t the case with small publishing houses, who are sometimes more likely to take risks on books they feel hold artistic merit. An article in the Writer’s Digest quotes Press 53 publisher, Kevin Morgan: ‘With a small press, there is no 90-day window to make your book a bestseller. We continue to market and support our books and authors years after the book is released. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’

Book agent Chip MacGregor claims ‘a small publisher may not have any sort of marketing budget for most books’ and that utilising social media and other free forms of publicity is often the best route to take.

Who gets it right?


Source: Public Domain Pictures

Author of The Global Brand Nigel Hollis speculates Apple’s success:

‘Apple advertising stands in direct contrast to many of its competitors…Instead of focusing on how people interact with technology, those companies [Blackberry, Samsung and Nokia] focus on features and specifications. The first ads for the iPad did not focus on the product features, like memory, or speed, or slimness. Instead they portrayed someone relaxing on their sofa using the product. The ads didn’t tell us what the product was. They told us how we would use it, accessing news and entertainment whenever and wherever we want.’

Its ads highlight just how intuitive the products are. Hollis also claims that ‘the superlative product experience comes from an unusual combination of human and technical understanding…’, a claim anyone who has used an Apple product will know to be true.

The food industry

Source: Wikimedia

Brands like Coca-Cola are experts in marketing, which is part of what makes the company so successful. According to The Wall Street Journal, the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, which involved replacing the classic logo with ‘popular names among teens and Millennials’, created a huge buzz on social media. So much so, the campaign generated over 125,000 posts (particularly on Instagram) over the course of a month. Not only this, but 96% of consumer responses were either ‘positive or neutral’.

Author as a brand

So campaigns are one option, but what else could publishers be doing? Another feature of Coca-Cola is that it emphasises brand over product. In her article for Smartling, Warkentin explains that ‘Coke doesn’t sell a drink in a bottle, it sells “happiness” in a bottle.’ In a similar way that Apple does, Coke sells the lifestyle the product promotes – a lifestyle of ‘happiness’, ‘sharing’ and ‘friendship’ that is universally desired.

Forbes contributor, David Vinjamuri reiterates the importance of branding in publishing, and claims that ‘the popular perception of a book itself is colored by the strength of the author’s brand. When we view [the] bestseller list, part of what we’re seeing is a brand ranking.’

Fauzia Burke works to promote authors online, and she’s come up with a strategy that helps them build a strong online brand: ‘Design + Engagement + Visibility = Success’. She claims authors need strong visual branding in the form of a good website and an active social media presence – something her clients claim publishers don’t always help with. In terms of engagement, Burke suggests creating a relationship with readers through appropriate forms of social media. Her clients have said this relationship building pays off further down the line. Visibility is publicity, which is something publishers often spend a lot of time and money on. Burke suggests visibility plans should be in place six months before the book is published in order to create buzz and excitement leading up to its release.

Consumer-centric marketing – a potential solution

Different books have different target readers, so being aware of the audience is vital when choosing a marketing strategy. For example, a huge social media campaign is unlikely to succeed for books like Erik H. Erikson’s Vital Involvement in Old Age or Alan Titchmarsh’s How to Garden: Greenhouse Gardening.

So, demographics need to be considered before publicising a book, but that doesn’t mean certain books are unmarketable – quite the opposite.

In his article for The Bookseller, Chris McVeigh talks about his time working with large data sets and the patterns that emerge from analysing them. Many companies are hiring experts to look into their consumers’ browsing habits, which not only makes their next moves easier to predict, it allows companies to market their products more effectively.

Source: Static Pixels

“The most important lesson publishers are learning is that they can’t bring the mountain to Muhammad. Publishers need to be where their consumers are.”

In Adobe’s marketing website CMO, an expert mentions three key data sets marketers can’t afford to ignore. The first is ‘location data’ which allows marketers to target the right consumers based on proximity to their target locations. The second is ‘purchase data’. This data set is easily accessible to marketers through the brand or retailer. The third, and arguably most effective data set is ‘census block data’. With this, marketers use age, gender, race and net worth to determine who they market the product to and where they are.

The most important lesson publishers are learning is that they can’t bring the mountain to Muhammad. Publishers need to be where their consumers are. They need to get to know each one of them, find out what they’re interested in and figure out a way to make them buy their books. This can all be done using today’s advanced technology, which the book industry could be utilising, not loathing.

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.

book infringement.png
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.

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

Marketing in the Digital Age: Are you doing it right?

Digital marketing is a very broad generalisation of the marketing of various products or publications in a digital format. The publishing industry has been around for centuries and so has their marketing techniques. However, the way in which digital marketing has developed since the 1990s and 2000s has changed the way brands and businesses utilize technology and digital marketing for their marketing. Digital marketing campaigns are also becoming much more powerful as well as efficient. As digital platforms are increasingly incorporated into marketing plans and everyday life, as people use digital devices instead of going to physical shops. Or access various services online rather than purchasing in person.

However, generally speaking there are nine types of marketing. Search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising (PPC), public relations (PR), social media marketing, content marketing, affiliate marketing, viral marketing, influencer marketing, and digital/online/web marketing.


Search engine optimization (SEO) is a type of marketing of which its goal is to help you rank higher up in Google searches. Most businesses require this to run successfully, some more than others. It is one of the strongest types of digital marketing you will come across. Of all the clicks in search results, 94% of them go to organic listings – not PPC. The methods have altered and changed over the years; but the target is still the same. To put your business higher up the list for potential or recurring customers when they search the Internet.

As mentioned above, pay per click (PPC) is also a form of marketing. Unlike SEO which is about ranking highly long term in the organic listings, PPC is usually about paying a specific search engine directly to be up there. When people refer to PPC they are most likely referring to the ‘sponsored’ links you find in Google searches; however they may be talking about ads in any search engine such as Yahoo or Bing. These links can normally be spotted easily and usually have a note to inform you it is sponsored. These can also be picture ads found on other websites. It is one of the forms of digital marketing that is completely short term and will only work so long as you are paying for the service. Once you stop paying, the ad will no longer exist. Anyone can use this method and profit from it but prices can vary and it is extremely high risk if the business doesn’t know what its doing.

Public relations (PR) cannot be overlooked, and although it’s not technically just a form of digital marketing it can have a large impact on digital marketing outcome and results. Out of all of the types of digital marketing, PR is one the most likely of techniques to gain the most exposure fastest. Public relations is based on business or service exposure, whether that’s in a news article or holding an event, its aim is to get your business well known out there and in the right places to thrive. New businesses benefit hugely from this technique but even huge well known companies continue to use it on a regular basis.The ultimate type of digital marketing for the publishing industry is content marketing. It involves combining several methods together to build a business into a serious success. These methods being SEO, PR and Social Media Marketing. Content marketing is a method that uses great content that your customers will want to read to encourage new sales and leads online. It can be content found anywhere – from YouTube to podcasts, tweets to infographs. However most often it’s blog content on your website, driving new traffic through search engines like SEO. The downside is that it requires a lot of time and dedication, and can be the most expensive form of digital marketing; but you get out of it what you put into it.

Unlike other types of digital publishing, there is no upfront cost for affiliate marketing. You can sit back and relax and let someone else do the marketing for you. However like most things, there is a catch. If they bring in a sale, you have to share the profits. By recruiting ‘affiliates’ for your business or service they draw in leads. In a basic sense they are sales people who are paid on commission when you make a profit. The ‘commission’ is determined entirely by you (the business). There are variations however; some organisations will offer a percentage of the sale made while others may offer a flat rate per product. Affiliate marketing is where you recruit ‘affiliates’ for your business, and they draw in leads. Affiliates are like sales people that you pay on commission. The ‘commission’ is determined entirely by you; some organisations offer a percentage of the sale made, others offer a flat rate per product. This marketing technique is mainly used for B2C, e-commerce businesses, simply because you have to be able to track the direct sales and where profits come from for it to work effectively. The best part of this method is obviously the cost or lack of cost. However it does of course mean giving control of your brand to strangers. It’s usually only a good thing, but might depend on what service you wish to provide. Therefore you have to be smart and set out clear terms and conditions before you dive in.


Viral marketing is very similar to PR in terms of speed of exposure, however viral is much more effective in a different way. Viral marketing involves getting a piece of your content to simply go viral; it could turn your business into an overnight success. To make your next marketing campaign can take a combination of a number of the other types of digital marketing – such as content marketing, PR and social media marketing – but it can also lead to some amazing results for your business. Viral marketing is when you release content that is strange, hilarious or ‘current’ in a popular topic at that time, which gets you noticed and shared – a lot (mainly via social media). It usually causes a big spike in traffic to your service over a short period of time. Viral marketing can help any business, however the biggest successes have come from large B2C businesses. This is mainly because the consumer goods are going to reach a much bigger audience than a smaller business, which is less well known. This method can however be achieved by any company that produces the right thing at the right time.

A much newer and exciting type of digital marketing is influencer marketing. It is equally effective as the other methods, however in contrast it is vastly different. Influencer marketing is relatively new – but it’s a very exciting form of digital marketing. It’s vastly different from the other types of digital marketing, but can be equally as effective. Influencer marketing is where sales are driven solely by striking a deal with someone who already has a following and ‘influences’ the same target market as you. For example, it’s like how Pepsi might sponsor Britney Spears as it’s spokes person. If your target market was other entrepreneurs for example, you might try to get Richard Branson on board to help market your business.

However in this day and age, with digital marketing as such a key element to drive any form of sales, and the prominence of social media sites; influencer marketing is extremely popular. For example, striking a deal with a popular instagrammer and getting the person to wear your brand of clothes or promote a certain product or service with a few photos – and this can influence huge sales for your business or service. But these days, with social media, it goes much further than that. If you can strike a good deal with a popular and relevant instagrammer and get them to wear your brand of clothes in a couple of photos this can massively increase the likelihood of your target market. This method is again mainly used by B2C eCommerce business owners, but not solely. For example, you could attempt to get an influencer in your industry to tweet about your business and this would also count as influencer marketing and be great exposure.

Digital, online, website marketing. These are all the same things. And they cover all of the digital marketing techniques above. It’s also referred to as an umbrella term. This means it covers all aspects, therefore when marketing for your company you should ensure you figure out which of the services you really want to use to reach your target audience before going to an agency that does this, so you know exactly which types of digital marketing you should ask for. Knowing your target audiences demographic is also a requirement for a successful marketing campaign in the publishing industry. Digital marketing doesn’t usually include PR but often includes a collaboration of any of the above.

How authors should use Snapchat to stay relevant with a younger audience


In a world of social media and technology, efforts need to be made to reach a generation who live their life through a small screen. Snapchat, originally introduced to the world as Picaboo, was created in 2011 and since then has become the fastest growing form of social media. The app, only available on smartphones, is designed to allow users to send photos and videos which can be viewed for a maximum of 10 seconds before they disappear forever. The vanishing content varies between a direct message to a certain person or being added to the Story – where they can be viewed as many times as needed in the space of 24 hours.

What started as a simple messaging app has grown into a strong platform for interacting with an audience, especially millennials, on a more personal level. With the Telegraph reporting up to 100 million users a day, Snapchat is a new and viable platform that authors are beginning to manipulating more and more.

Media and publishers were quick to jump on the bandwagon, especially with the introduction of Snapchat Discover. Whereas people can only reach the content on offer if they add the username to their friends list, Discover offers limited number of spaces which allows paying media outlets and publishers to reach all users with their own original content.

With the limitation of spaces, the competition for a spot is rife and earlier this year Yahoo! was dropped for Buzzfeed. The independent digital media company, who aims to deliver news and entertainment, report 21% of their total content views come from the discover section of Snapchat – just 6% behind their views from Facebook videos. Tastemade – the 4-year-old media start-up that specialises in food and travel videos – joined Discover in August and reoriented themselves around Snapchat due to the success they gained from it. These success stories suggest the fight for a spot is worth it, however, when faced with the statistics, 54% of daily users never view the discover stories making it an expensive risk to take.


Sign up and Snap

This is where creating an organic account comes in. Yes, it lessens the reach to an audience as people can only view content if they know where to find it, but it still creates a unique bond between author and reader, one that was previously lacking. In the past, these relationships have been strictly business but in such a digital age, readers crave more of a social connection.

A lot of authors have cottoned on to using Twitter to build on this, using question and answer sessions to engage with their audience, keeping them up to date and offering exclusive content. They create a place for themselves in the social media stratosphere. J.K Rowling is someone who has mastered the art of using Twitter to build up and interact with her audience.

With Snapchat being a newer, more alien concept, especially to those of an older age, it’s understandable why authors are sticking to what they know in this scary new digital world. Having just got to grips with using social media in the first place, authors are cautious about delving even further into the unknown world of social media. But with the app being so popular with the younger generation, are authors – especially those concerning Young Adult fiction – missing out by not joining in on the craze?

‘Only Ever Snapchat’

Business Insider disclosed that the majority of users of the photo sharing app are females between the ages of 13 and 25, and this demographic also happens to be of those most likely to pick up a YA novel. This makes Snapchat a great platform to target and interact with the intended audience. Louise O’Neill, author of ‘Only Ever Yours’ and ‘Asking for It’, started using Snapchat in February earlier this year and is a great example of an author capitalising on the success of the app. Taking to twitter to share the news, she tweeted:

“I’ve been messing around on Snapchat for about five minutes now and I hate it already”

She followed this tweet up with “It’s what all the kidz are doing! *clings to youth*”.  As a YA author, O’Neill evidently followed along with the hype to keep herself in touch with her younger audience, recognising the golden opportunity to better sell herself and her work. Three days later, she tweeted her praise and love for Snapchat and has become somewhat of an addict.

O’Neill offers readers a behind-the-scenes insight into her life, allowing them to connect with her on a more personal level. Through the use of her Snapchat Story, she targets the readers as if they were friends of hers, keeping them up to date with not only news surrounding her books, but also normal activities throughout her day. This gives them a chance to get a better sense of her as a person and negates that previous divide of seller and consumer – the reader feels more valued and connected to her as a person as opposed to just another costumer.

She uses her Story to announces events, for example, a live podcast she’s partaking in, inviting those in the Dublin area to come down and join the fun. As well as adding videos of her mum or her dog, creating a wholesome image of her as more than just a woman behind the words of a book. She recently took to the app to announce that she’d been longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award for her latest book, giving her audience the chance to celebrate her success as she promotes herself simultaneously.

A ‘Story’ away from success

Any young person with a smartphone is more than likely to have Snapchat downloaded onto their device, giving an author the chance to have their work deposited directly into a reader’s pocket. Granted, the content will only be viewed if the reader seeks it out so the use of other forms of social media come into play here as a means of directing readers to the exclusive, vanishing content. But once the initial connection is made, an author will have a first-hand line of communication. Many big companies are already using Snapchat to stay relevant in a digital age, but how is this applicable to authors?

Joe Warnimott suggests the way big name brands use the social media app can easily be applicable to coincide with the writing and publishing of a book. As the content only lasts for 24 hours when added to a Snapchat Story, sending out a picture of the first page of a novel, encouraging people to share it on other social media platforms, is a great way to create a buzz around an author’s up and coming works. Getting people excited before the book is released is a great way to increase the sales as people will already know they want more.

Another effective method is using Snapchat to reveal the cover of a new book. This will make readers feeling like they’re getting an inside scoop of exclusive content, encouraging them to follow along on Snapchat. When the book is finally released, exclusive discount codes can be sent out via the app will make readers feel valued and rewarded. By making the reader feel like they’re getting a lot out of following the Snapchat Story, both personally and as a customer, they’re more likely to invest in an author’s work.

Snapchat popularity continues to grow

Though many people argue it isn’t as polished as other forms of social media, Snapchat is quickly growing in popularity and in doing so, platforms like Instagram are conforming to the individual selling point on Snapchat by introducing ‘Instagram Stories’ and reports reveal Facebook is in talks to follow along in the trend. This emphasises just how popular Snapchat has become in these past few years. Even though the key demographic is mainly younger people, Marketing Dive reported that in 2015, the number of 25-34 year olds using Snapchat grew by 103% and the number of over 35’s grew by 84%. With the amount of users growing every day, Snapchat appears to be the perfect platform to build up a personal reputation on, allowing an author to appear more realistic in the eyes of an audience and furthering book sales at the same time.




Are Publishers Capitalising On Web Series?

Web series are episodic shows that are available on the Internet. Typically each episode is less than ten minutes in length and most shows are posted on YouTube.

A significant number of web series are categorised as literary web series, meaning that they are based on books. A large number of the current literary web series original source material comes from books that are out of copyright. This connection to the book industry from an increasingly popular media is something exciting for publishers to explore.

Book Trailers

Publishers are already involved in YouTube as well as other visual media outlets when it comes to book trailers. The term book trailer was trademarked in 2002 by Circle Of Seven and Sheila Clover English, when they made their first trailer for the Dark Symphony by Christine Feehan. At the time Clover English believed it was the first trailer of its type because of limited distribution methods for digital media. YouTube was not invented until 2005, so it was definitely among the first book trailers.

Many book trailers today are a far cry from Dark Symphony’s four minute, narrated trailer on Circle Of Seven’s own YouTube channel. They are fast paced, one to three minutes and often either on the author’s own channel or the publishing companies. There is still huge variety within trailers. 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody and Crossed by Ally Condie are both live action however Condie’s uses narration and Brody’s is more film trailer-esque. To add to that feel 52 Reasons to Hate My Father uses multiple shots and locations whereas Crossed only has two locations. Then there’s Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil, which has an entirely animated trailer.

Whatever style the producers of the book trailer opt for if a publishing house or author is hiring a company to make it for them it will cost somewhere in the region of £300 to £1700. This comes with no guarantees that audiences will engage with it. The only real benefit, according to Rock Your Writing website, is that they can help your search engine optimization occasionally.

Even then because of Amazon, Goodreads, book blogs or even pirate sites, book trailers will not be the first thing to show up on Google. This is because the other sites have a higher number of tags and content. In addition to this “most of the trailers I’ve seen are lucky to make 2,000 views” which is a tiny amount compared to other forms of marketing. Book trailers just haven’t seem to have taken off. This might be due to lack of interest in being sold something on a primarily entertainment site. Alternatively it could be down to budgets or other reasons. One thing is obvious though, book trailers are beginning to fade from usage.

Web Series

So what does this mean in terms of web series? The obvious drawbacks to web series again include the cost and the potential lack of engagement. However web series and book trailers differ in purpose. Book trailers are designed purely to make the audience do something, to buy the book, web series are for entertainment. YouTube’s primary function for many is entertainment and so web series will be a more attractive option for many site users. They also have the promise of more to come, which eventually leads to emotional investment.

In terms of money there are huge variety of web series out there. At the top end of the budget is something akin to brand sponsored Carmilla by KindaTV where each full season “costs $500,000 to $1 million”.

At the bottom of the scale is My Dead Friends by Perspective Productions. Perspective Productions is a student run group who had “no budget for the season 3 filming” and ran a Kickstarter to get new equipment costing £350 to £470. They also couldn’t afford to pay cast or crew. My Dead Friends stands out from many as it is an original idea and not based off a literary text.

Another student production that is literary based is Nothing Much To Do. Despite being lower quality than KindaTV it has amounted a solid repute and fanbase. The penultimate episode, which many took to be the finale, gathered over 43,000 views. Nothing Much To Do led on to another web series using the same characters but with an original storyline, Lovely Little Losers.

There is a difference in quality depending on budget, but when it comes to YouTube these differences are less noticeable. This means that creators with little funding can still be successful.

Success On Screen And Beyond

A successful web series producer is Pemberley Digital, having made the likes of

©Pemberly Digital, 2016

Frankenstein MD, Emma Approved and most notably The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. They have 120,000 subscribers and have won multiple awards for their work, including a Primetime Emmy award for Original Interactive Program in 2013. Like many literary web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern adaptation of the original text and so elements of the story have been changed. This keeps the experience

©Pemberly Digital, 2015

fresh and exciting for audiences. It also allows writers to fix any problems contemporary viewers have with the original text, such as marrying your cousin. Following Lizzie Bennet’s success The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet was released. This was a novelized version of the web series with added scenes that couldn’t make it onto screen. Later the company also released The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. Pemberley Digital have mastered the web series format and by bringing in the novelization aspect they provide a key example to publishers of how to deal with going from text to web series to beyond.

Another example of text to web series to beyond is the Carmilla web series. Carmilla was commissioned by feminine care company U by Kotex. The company “didn’t even tell people there was a brand behind it until Ep17 in Season 1”. When this was revealed separate branded videos on a different channel came out to sell the product while the show continued like normal. After three seasons KindaTV, Carmilla’s host channel, gained over 193,000 subscribers.

Due to its huge popularity, it was announced in 2016 as the third and final season aired that a movie is going to be made. Its success is also reflected in U by Kotex’s sales. The brand has seen 20,000 new sales and while this may not be solely due to the show, a survey of 10,500 viewers in early 2015 found “that 31% claimed they brought U By Kotex because of the show and 93% knew that the brand was backing the series”.

Although no data has been collected on how many people have read the source material after watching web series, by looking at TV we can guess correlation. As an example the Game of Thrones series has seen a massive increase in sales due to the HBO program. In 2008 it is estimated A Song of Ice and Fire had accumulated 7 million sales. During 2011, when the first season of the TV series was released, 9 million copies were purchased. By 2015 G.R.R. Martin enjoyed a total of over 58 million sales between all of his published works.

Of course web series don’t get 8.9 million people watching their season six finale. Carmilla’s final episode only has 275,000 views, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries 816,000 views. However with book trailers failing to make the cut when it comes to media marketing and with an increasingly media soaked society, surely publishers can find a way to engage with YouTube, or similar platform audience’s, over an extended period of time in order to market their products or even create new ones.

Whilst directly getting money for the content created is attractive, giving consumers free content promotes brand likeability and trust.

This is particularly relevant for publishers whose target market is millennials. A 2015 survey suggested that 63% use Adblock, preventing many standard internet adverts reaching them. During the same survey it was shown that “free content was the most effective way” for companies to look attractive to that audience. As much of YouTube is free, web series as a form of marketing is something that could potentially be most useful for YA publishers targeting millennials.

There is the option of paying through YouTube Red or other sites like Vimeo, but any publisher going into an endeavour like this would have to consider the benefits of both. Whilst directly getting money for the content created is attractive, giving consumers free content promotes brand likeability and trust. This, as shown by Carmilla, can lead to an increase in sales by the larger brand. Additionally any product resulting from the series, like a book or movie, is more likely to be purchased if consumers haven’t already been paying for content.

Publishers may not currently be capitalizing on the web series format, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. There are many unchartered territories in this new and growing medium. It would be exciting to see what a dedicated publishing company could do with this media.


Should Digital News Be Free?

The rise in social media during the past five years has equated to 2.3 billion active users. Due to this escalation the way we view our news and digital content has shifted, this is because people are now able to view the news for free. The expectations for free news has resulted in the decline in print readership and print newspapers. As a result, many newspapers have been forced to think about a full conversion into the digital world, and with some newspapers already taking the step.

A study conducted by Srivastava has stated the different ‘availability on multi-mediums had more people to reading newspapers than ever before.’ However, the pressing question is: how much are consumers willing to pay for accessible content online?

Newspapers Conversion to Digital

According to Tess Saperstein of Harvard Politics ‘Print readership is steadily declining, newspapers are closing, and journalists with decades of experience are being laid off.’ Suggesting print readership has steadily started to decline and instead the digital news platforms are becoming much more popular. One newspaper that has converted to digital is The Independent. Evgeny Lebedev of The Independent stated:

‘The newspaper industry is changing, and that change is being driven by readers. They’re showing us that the future is digital’.

© Shannon Barrett, 2016
© Shannon Barrett, 2016

Like The Independent, newspapers should look to their current readership to determine the future of their businesses. From The Independent’s conversion to digital, their readers were given a wider range of free news to choose from. In the last 12 months ‘it’s monthly audience has grown 33.3%, to nearly 70 million global unique users,’ highlighting the conversion has been worthwhile, it’s given users different platforms in which to view the news including video, typed text and a monthly app subscription.

Are Monthly Subscription Apps Worthwhile?

Rupert Murdock’s paywall was introduced to prevent companies such as google and Microsoft stealing hard-earned journalism, reproducing articles and then claiming them as their own. In 2009 Murdock stated ‘We intend to charge for all our news websites. I believe that if we are successful, we will be followed by other media.’ The paid subscription limited the content viewers could see, however, moving on 7 years we have seen a dramatic rise in internet users and as a result the amount of ‘free news’ has risen.

It is increasingly hard to measure what content viewers would be willing to pay for. Most newspapers allow customers to see certain news articles online for free. However, the added benefit of the subscription introduces new custom content which can only be viewed when paying the monthly fee. These subscriptions now come in app form, which can be downloaded straight to your mobile phone or tablet.

The Independent is an example of a monthly paid app where the buyer’s given two choices: the first being £2.99 a week or alternatively a fee of £12.99 a month. It’s aimed at those who prefer ‘a well-curated and paced news experience,’ and consists of content from their weekend supplements as well as articles unavailable to users of their website. Much like The Independent, The Telegraph’s app starts with a free subscription service, this then changes to £2.00 a week or £6.00 a week, depending on the type of content the reader would like. These subscriptions are tailor-made, with limited options in the free service and noticeable content for those who are paying for it.

© The Guardian on Twitter
© The Guardian on Twitter

The paywall, however, seems slightly lost when looking at online news websites. A number of these sites have news readily available for consumers to view in their own time, without the added downfall of a subscription plan. The Guardian is a newspaper with a highly-established online platform, and recognisable social media accounts that are constantly active. Whilst The Guardian has a monthly paid for app, their online free content trumps a lot of the paid for sites. Standing at 38 million users around the world, The Guardian reaches a large audience with its content. Their 5.9 million Twitter followers are treated to daily tweets, guiding them to The Guardian’s website.

© The Guardian on Pinterest
© The Guardian on Pinterest

Their alternative social media accounts, Pinterest, has over 600 thousand followers. The Guardian stated they ‘are always keen to trial new things, especially if they allow new users to discover The Guardian’s great journalism and online content.’ This free content stretches to boards including ‘Feasting,’ ‘Wines of the Week’ and also coverage on different news genres, such as ‘From the Olympics.’ Their content goes above and beyond just the news, proving not all digital content must be paid for. Pinterest links back to it’s original source suggesting this form of free content can be worthwhile for both publisher and user.

The BBC Licence Payer’s ‘Free’ News

A different argument for free news comes with the BBC and its content. Both the news online and, via mobile, are free for the public to view and do not require a monthly, or weekly, subscription fee to use them. However, the argument for ‘free news’ is already controversial as it is the BBC Licence payers who pay for the news uploaded each day. This £145.60 each year is a small cost to pay for all the BBC’s channels, radio stations, iPlayer and, of course, their online website and app. Therefore, the BBC’s licence ensures there are no hidden costs the public must pay to obtain their news.

But is the yearly fee worth it?

The Guardian have researched life without the BBC and found those who were reluctant to pay the cost, missed the BBC after agreeing to block it. One user also stated ‘being without the BBC was absolutely dreadful, just awful. I didn’t realise how much we watched it.’ With another user stating ‘The advertisement [on other channels] drove me nuts.’ But with the rise in social media and the way we collect the news, it poses the argument for both the paywall and the BBC licence, questioning if, perhaps, their fees are too high when people can access free news elsewhere. In contrast, the fee for other elements of the BBC platforms, such as radio & TV, are well worth this payment.

Is Snapchat Transforming our Free News?

© CNN on Snapchat
© CNN on Snapchat

Technology over the years has changed the way we view the news and how the news is reported. The controversial apps and paid subscriptions are being challenged by social media and its development. Snapchat in particular is challenging the traditional news and in 2015 launched its new Discover platform, allowing publishers to use Snapchat to generate short snippets of the news. The CNN commented that Snapchat has ‘a massive audience that’s passionate and engaged, but it’s not one that CNN is reaching on a day-to-day basis,’ proving the social media app accesses audiences that would not necessary approach news on a regular basis. Through Snapchat publishers are able to reach a younger audience, one that is dramatically changing the face of digital content. Therefore, it would benefit from other news reporters using the service.


The New York Times has a very large following and recently used Snapchat as a way to get original content to their users. They used several reporters to ‘narrate key moments and unusual aspects of the Democratic National Convention via Snapchat. Through a mix of video, photos and text overlays, reporters quizzed passers-by on their political preferences.’ This allowed The New York Times to reach the ‘150 million daily active users’ that Snapchat have. This type of news is free for consumers to access and thus people are much more likely to continue to welcome and support this type of platform.

Discover Channel © Shannon Barrett, 2016
Discover Channel © Shannon Barrett, 2016

Speaking for The New York Times Cynthia Collins said,

‘We’re using [Snapchat] as a means to connect with new audiences, a younger audience.’

Snapchat is a social media platform that can then relate to those who may not willingly search for the news themselves. It allows publishers to update their account regularly encouraging behind the scenes content from interviews, videos, to so much more and any audience is pleased to believe they are getting exclusive content for free. The Discover centre is especially important and Snapchat have stated, ‘You’ll see a more filtered selection of content for our Discover page, limited to technology, social media and a few lifestyle stories,’ allowing users to see first-hand the news quickly and effectively.

Snapchat also allows publishers and brands to create their own content on the app through their own free, personal accounts. In 2016 Sloanne stated ‘They use these organic accounts as an extension of their newsrooms or marketing departments,’ these quick snippets can entice and encourage their users to source the content online, acting as the ‘cliff-hanger’ that encourages a younger generation to view their website. The news can be immediate and is an excellent way for publishers to not only promote the news but also their own brand as well.

The Future for Free News

Overall, the news is becoming increasingly difficult to pay for, due to the free content easily accessed online. With the likes of social media, in particular Twitter and Snapchat, the news younger people are accessing does not include a subscription plan or a one-off payment. Whilst these may have adverts, they are generally small and easy to skip – taking away the factor which causes a lot of people to pay for the news. Whilst the BBC is a factor that must be considered due to its yearly fee of £145.60, the fee is something that is understandable due to the extra content such as TV channels, Radio channels and of course their online content. However, when the news is easy to access for free online and through the social media apps the question of ‘Should Digital News be Free,’ can only be answered with yes, it should be.