Reboot Books > „How To Fix What Is Broken“. On increasing efficiency, ‚going direct‘ and better rights trading

In case you have missed the recent online debate at ReBoot Books on April 21st, find here below some key talking points from the discussions – and a 16 minute video excerpt from the panel „In search of the final consumer„.

As a registered member of ReBoot, you can even view the full three sessions in the ReBoot Box!

The day-to-day challenges under pandemic market conditions for a publishing company are adding up to a long list, said Planeta’s CEO Jesús Badenes in his opening statement at the ReBoot online debate on April 21, 2021.

The business has become more complex, with smaller average print runs and other titles gaining in popularity as book buyers‘ references changed. For the head of the largest publishing group in the Spanish language, the key to an efficient management response can be boiled down to a four-letter word: Data.

Having the right data at your finger tips allows to better manage the inventory, finding the right balance between increasing digital products, and using flexible print-on-demand solutions for physical books, which helps to lower returns and make ecommerce more customer friendly.

This allowed Gerd Robertz, CEO of German BOD – a provider of both PoD and of author & self-publishing solutions, and a sponsor of ReBoot – to follow up seemlessly. These same solutions are available not just to big corporations – Planeta’s turnover tops that of New York based Simon & Schuster, or French Editis group. Even small independent publishers or a self-published author can provide the same convenience in fast delivery, and harvest resulting data insights, to develop a strong and targetd marketing.

Publishers and retailers must „build a customer journey„, added Jason Spanos, Chief Revenue Officer at KNK, an internationally leading software provider to the book business, and a sponsor of ReBoot. During the pandemic, KNK particularly focused, with a newly established, dedicated team, on monitoring how quickly customer engagement and habits were changing. „We simulated meetings at libraries, or in coffeeshops, or now in their online social exchanges“ for learning to quickly adapt to new patterns of engagement.

Gaining data, organizing them within one company, or even sharing data more openly that what is common today triggered the subsequent lively debate between both speakers and experienced book professionals in the audience.

Today, said technologist Matt Turner, people interact digitally in order to then buy physical books – or opt for entertainment media instead of a book, like series or games in streaming TV.

Thus publishers must learn to better understand their own products and, as Anne Bergmann of the Federation of European Publishers added, explore the co-existence between sales and streaming services for e-books and digital audiobooks, in order to avoid mistakes that had done great harm to the music and the audiovisual services a decade ago.

Companies need to integrate workflows and data flows within their organization, and not just look at data gained through distributors and retailers, argued Brian O’Leary of the New York based industry think tank BISG.

How all this can be brought to fruition in the day-to-day company life was richly illustrated by Julie MacKay from the American subscription platform Scribd, Peta Nightingale from the British author services platform Bookouture, which had been acquired by Hachette, as well as Rafaela Pechansky of the Brazilian reading community TAG.

How well established in innovative forms to connect and network are seen in the trade of rights and licenses will be summarized in a separate blog post in a few days.

You can’t wait to access the full debates in video recordings – and join us also at the next live event on June 15, 2021, then you should become a full member of ReBoot. Registration is simple at

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Jeff Almighty: Kindle Unlimited is about leveraging access to Amazon’s mega catalogue, and control of the entire value chain.

Kindle Unlimited is not just another subscription offer, but yet another key component in Amazons 2 central strategic lines of action: First of all, to organize access to the world’s largest catalogue for reading (and making $$$ as a collateral benefit – which will never bring significant income for anyone else but the by far strongest player(s) around). And second, this helps very much in the ambition of controling the entire value chain (or more radically: to replace all the other competitors, by one walled empire, defined by Amazon).

In this context, Kindle Unlimited can be huge, because it confronts traditional publishers with nothing less than an altogether new, and radically different, business modell then what used to be the bread and butter for 2 centuries: To sell and buy books one copy at a time. Including all those existing author contracts that, again, compensate the creators with a cut on that old model.

For Amazon, as the aggregator and community hub, it is relatively easy to make that radical switch. For the publishers, and everybody else, this will cause a huge headache. It will ever more benefit only the very few peak bestselling authors (and perhaps the largest publishing giants), and further dilute income, and sustainability for all of the rest.

The momentum of Amazon’s catalogue building, and now the launch for Kindle Unimited reminds me of its behind the scene frenzy before the introduction of the Kindle, back in 2007. Yes, back then, the Bg Six were largely on board, which is not the case now. But re-consider the hardball game with Hachette, or the gossip about talks with Simon & Schuster, in the light of Kindle Unlimted. These confrontations come in handy now, before the backdrop of yet another Amazon controled sales channel, and a huge handle in tightening up the Amazon consumer community – and to show everybody the sign on the wall, which reads: Be careful, and think what it would mean to NOT have your titles prominently featured by us.

Jeff Almighty has a strong run these times. It will require a lot of ingenuity, and cold blood, for everybode else to come up with a good answer to him.

This is what I argue in an essay (in German) about the possibile impact of Kindle Unlimited’s launch, published by Die Welt today. Podcast (in deutsch, von Deutschlandradio) hier.

Understanding the reader requires not just a direct marketing plan, but listening to the consumers. Thoughts from the buchreport360 seminar.

The website of HarperCollins, one of the Big Five English language publishers, welcomes visitors – with a shop. A feature that could be just normal is currently big news among observers of international book markets. Why so?

While the call that publishers need to communicate directly with consumers has been repeated time and again, little has been done to make such a direct exchange a practical reality, in fact.

Of course, most publishers, big and small, have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and a growing number of authors want to have their dedicated web presence supported by their publishers. But, many book professionals concede, not very many books find their way into the hands of readers in ways that can really be linked to such (expensive) digital initiatives.

One of the reasons for this shortcoming is that many such efforts are built like a preacher’s pulpit, focusing only on how to get the word out about an author, or a book. The other half of the exercise is missing though: A built in listening post, that allows the publisher, the marketing and communication team, and the author to listen to what the readers have to say.

At a one day seminar last week, branded buchreport360, this was all differnt. Most of the conversation had focused on how to make that return channel a key to the entire exercise. And clearly, selling books direct to consumers – and thereby learning what works, what doesn’t, and how so, exactly – engages the publisher in a much stronger way, and triggers a learning curve that no feedback from booksellers can replace. (And of course, this back link is not created as a re-placement for the booksellers and their wisdom, not at all).

The trick of listening – and not just preaching, or promoting – may be seen as banal. But it entirely re-frames the issue of  both direct-to consumer marketing, and of understanding consumer data by the same move.

This simple, yet powerful insight is what I brought home from  buchreport360 last week, where I had the pleasure to help preparing and moderating some of the sessions,  with, among others, Charlie Redmaine, CEO UK of HarperCollins (and formerly CEO of Pottermore) , Laura Bijelic, head of the reader platform Bookmarks at Random House UK and Dutch book and culture nerd Eppo van Nispen.

One could also add: Opening your shop is not just about selling books. It is as much about inviting your readers to talk to you, and to have someone in your publishing house who is prepared to lend an ear. Simple. But effective indeed.

The Weltbild insolvency – Germany is living through its Borders incident

Serious shock waves have been triggered by the announcement of Weltbild filing for insolveny a week ago. The company is one of the largest retailers of books and other media in Europe. Together with Munich based Hugendubel, Weltbild controls Germany’s second largest book chain (behind Thalia), and operates the second largest online platform for books, behind Amazon, and it is a key partner, together with its rival Thalia, of the anti-Amazon ebook Alliance Tolino.

While details of the insolvency and rescue plan may not be clear before March of this year, many observers bet on the heterogenous group’s assets being striped, with the online business forming the core of the valuable pieces to be offered for sale to an investor, while many of the 300 brick and mortar outlets may be doomed.

While initial comments had a tendency to downplay the overall impact on Germany’s book and publishing market, I would disagree, and rather expect this to be the „Borders incident“ for what used to be Europe’s most stable book market. It will shake the Tolino alliance, and thus other initiatives aiming at building local alternatives to the expansion of global players, while Amazon is the likely winner, grabbing much of the market share that Weltbild has grown over the past years, much of it coming from new customer groups rather than from the traditionally conservative book buyers. Also the Weltbild crash must be viewed in line with similar havoc among big book (and media) chains in France (Chapitre, Virgin) or the Netherlands (Selexyz,  Polare).

Find my analysis with more detail at Publishers Weekly here.

Was the Frankfurt Book Fair only about „Waffeleisen“ – odd stories about e-Book neverland

So what was the news at Frankfurt?

Funny question. No clear answer.

Someone at the show told me that there were „no  great books“. But this is the refrain almost every year – and has little to say about the after effects of the show. Someone entirely unconnected to the trade mentioned this „scandal about a Czech or Slovakian writer“ – the revelation that Czech émigré Milan Kundera had betrayed someone to the secret police at his early career. Which says a lot about how every book related story still gravitates around Frankfurt – including many more other stories that one could mention, including a lot of alleged „Frankfurt related“ subsidiary rights deals which, in reality, have already happened, independently of the show, weeks and even months earlier.

Personally, I was a bit disappointed about the reporting on e-Books. The usually well informed „Die Zeit“ of Hamburg ran a simply dull and lukewarm story about the subject, and the most notable thing about it (not according to me, but to a school friend who is not in publishing, but in banking!) is the use of the word „Waffeleisen“ in the article.

I have to get technical here: „Waffeleisen“ is the term for the iron mould to properly bake a Belgium „gaufre“(or waffle, for real cooking afficionados). In the Die Zeit piece, that related to the not really sexy Kindle design of Amazon’s e-reader.

Well, granted. But if all that was exploding left and right of our ears and noses over the past 8 months or so is about some awkward design, sorry, some of the media just did not get it.

  • Here are the good questions:

When will the Kindle be available in Germany, and other European countries, and how will they solve the deadlock about those possible downloads of books by one or the other phone networks? Amazon already postponed the UK release. I did not have time to google for the rest of Europe. But hey, what is e-Books, if you just can’t buy and use them? Would have been a good question for European reporters, right?

Entering „kindle“ as a query at Amazon’s German site produces only a list topped by a Kindle charger (at 22.95 Euros, or 30$), while on Amazon’s US site, of course, we get an offer for the reading device at $ 359)

  • Question 01: Why wouldn’t European journalists ask the simple question: If the e-Book is imminent, when can we buy it?

I happened to moderate a panel with a few eminent European experts on the matter, Piero Atanasio of the Italian Publishers Association, Mark Bide of Rightscom, and Simon Juden of the British Publishers Association, and we were all clear about a few issues: E-Books are really taking off with considerable power (not due to some gadgets, but the concept of reading on screens, and hence distributing onto screens),  this will be a changing moment for the (publishing and bookselling) industry, yet we modestly acknowledged that predictions are pretty hard to make on how this will occur, and at what intervals (the audience was pretty packed and even stayed for one hour);

  • Question 02:  Why did hardly any professional journalist bother to research any of this?

The „financial crisis“ – or „fc“ as one may be induced to call it by now – was of course a side topic in all conversations at Frankfurt. But not one soul addressed the issue of how much cost can be saved by eliminating (a) printing and (b) distribution from a book’s cost sheet or a publishing company’s business model. Calibrate this with the inconveniences of reading on a screen and you know why at least some people are really curious about e-things.

But this also reveals what is short: This new e-something is NOT driven by the wish to innovate!

  • Question 03: Why did that not be prevalent in, at least, the conversations at the floor (not at the parties) – or have I talked  to the wrong people in Frankfurt?

Here is some hidden intelligence: The financial officers tend not to be at book fairs. But they usually compare their notes from reading the clippings of the press with their spreadsheets.

Conclusion: Frankfurt as always was superb. But keep reading between the lines, and be careful of who you are listening.

e-Books – beyond the hype of the e-reader

I have argued already on various occasions that I don’t believe that e-readers (like the Kindle or the Sony eReader) are the critical driving force for digital books (even as the current hype, notably around the Frankfurt Book Fair, produces an amazing number for media coverage on this topic).

It will be much more about

  • Reader’s already changing habits, as they move online without often really noticing it;
  • The book that merges (or, more drastically: dillutes) in the world wide web of information and linked knowledge; and
  • Changing business models as, I think, we will more and more move from paying (or selling) by the book , that is per item, to charging for access, so that subscription models, and flat fees for accessing platforms of content (and, of course, also piracy), will generate a shift that will require to re-define the publishing industry, and retail as well.

I tried to bring those thoughts together in an essay (in German, though), in time for Frankfurt, at Perlentaucher, the Berlin based notorious digital evangelizing hub for the German culture audience – here.

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