Book sales increasing through pandemic, March showing huge surge

Dublin, March 03, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — ResearchAndMarkets.com published a new article on the book store industry “Book Stores – Unit sales of print books increased nearly 25% year over year during the week ended January 2”

Unit sales of print books increased nearly 25% year over year during the week ended January 2

As a result of the pandemic more customers turned to online platforms like Amazon to buy books in 2020. The demand for print books increased as a result of lockdowns and the move to learning from home. Print book sales rose in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to the NPD Bookscan. Unit Sales volume for print books rose 8.2% year over year in 2020 to reach 751 million units.

Every category posted gains, led by juvenile fiction print books, which saw sales rise 11%. Adult non-fiction print books, the largest category of books in the US by both volume and sales revenue, increased 4.8%, or 14 million units. Unit sales of print books increased nearly 25% year over year during the week ended January 2 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.

Direct access to bookstores was one of the last big advantages for traditional publishers but brick and mortar stores have suffered during lockdowns. Many brick and mortar retailers layered more expensive e-commerce offerings and new customer service options, from curbside pickup to home delivery, on top of normal business operations, putting pressure on their already stressed profit margins. In 2021 retailers may face the challenge of creating sustainable business and operational models that can hold or increase margins if COVID driven demand vanishes.

The article on ResearchAndMarkets.com contains a selection of reports on the book stores market such as:

  • Global Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument, and Book Stores Market Report 2021: COVID-19 Impact and Recovery to 2030
  • World Book Stores & News Dealers (B2B Procurement) Purchasing Report & Database
  • World Book Stores, General (B2B Procurement) Purchasing Report & Database

The Cornwall a-book: An Augmented Travel Guide Using Next Generation Paper

David M. Frohlich, Emily Corrigan-Kavanagh

Mirek Bober, Haiyue Yuancentre

Radu Sporea, Brice Le Borgne

Caroline Scarles

George Revill, Jan van Duppen

Alan W. Brown, Megan Beynonsurrey

ABSTRACT

Electronic publishing usually presents readers with book or e-book options for reading on paper or screen. In this paper, we introduce a third method of reading on paper-and-screen through the use of an augmented book (‘a-book’) with printed hotlinks than can be viewed on a nearby smartphone or other device. Two experimental versions of an augmented guide to Cornwall are shown using either optically recognised pages or embedded electronics making the book sensitive to light and touch. We refer to these as second generation (2G) and third generation (3G) paper respectively. A common architectural framework, authoring workflow and interaction model is used for both technologies, enabling the creation of two future generations of augmented books with interactive features and content. In the travel domain we use these features creatively to illustrate the printed book with local multimedia and updatable web media, to point to the printed pages from the digital content, and to record personal and web media into the book.

1  INTRODUCTION

Experiments in augmented paper date back about 28 years to Newman & Wellner’s (1992) digital desk and its variants. These use a variety of image recognition and tagging technologies to bring paper to life with sound, video and other digital associations that can be updated in a way that the printed word cannot (c.f. Signer & Norrie 2010). Despite demonstrable benefits in lab evaluations, only a few of these prototypes have made it into commercial products, and sometimes only temporarily. QR codes are probably the most commercially successful augmented paper technology, followed by full page recognition using a smartphone held over the printed page. An emerging set of augmented reality (AR) apps can be customised to particular paper documents, but this does not allow mainstream publishers to augment their publications in a generic way which is compatible with their publishing workflow. 

On the Next Generation Paper project we are tackling this problem in partnership with several book publishers in the travel and tourism domain, where paper and web information are already used together: www.NextGenerationPaper.info  This commercial orientation may seem like an unusual one for a research project, but we have argued in a previous paper that user-centred design should pay greater attention to commercial factors and technology uptake in the process of innovation itself (Frohlich & Sarvas 2011). For this reason, on our project, we combine a number of classic design methodologies such as design ethnography, prototyping, interaction design, lab experiments and field trials with agile innovation. Hence, Bradt Travel Guides have published a commercial version of our demonstration in March 2019 for market feedback: https://www.bradtguides.com/cornwall-the-a-book We call this the Cornwall a-book, after Mackay et al (2002) who first used the term to refer to an augmented laboratory notebook. Here we showcase the prototyping and interaction design elements of the work, ahead of lab, field and market evaluation. 

2  PROTOTYPING

The augmented book is created using standard publishing software, InDesign (see Figures 1 and 2). InDesign is usually used to create a printed book in a specialist print format. However, it also allows for the simultaneous creation of an e-book in different file formats (for different e-book readers), including interactive e-books with digital hotlinks. We use this latter feature to author an augmented book initially as an interactive e-book for Android smartphones and tablets in fixed format EPUB3.0. Different hotlink icons can be embedded in the text and linked to integral multimedia content or external websites. The book component of this can be printed as usual, but the links are played on a companion smartphone or monitor. In fact, the smartphone runs a ‘Next Generation Paper’ app which reads the interactive e-book file and supports control actions to play links corresponding to particular pages of the printed book. At present, viewing links on a large monitor is achieve with the smartphone in the loop through screen-casting. Future versions of the app might also run on smart TVs or other devices.

Two alternative control technologies can be used to link the physical book to the digital content through the app, as shown in Figures 1 and 2. In the first case, the identity of the currently open page can be entered manually by typing or speaking the page number, or by image recognition of the page itself from the smartphone camera. Speech recognition is provided by Google’s speech-to-text service. Image recognition is provided by Visual Atoms. We refer to this as second generation or 2G paper.Figure 1. Publishing workflowFigure 2. System architecture

Alternatively, light and touch sensors wired to a low power Bluetooth chip can be printed or embedded in the pages and cover of the book (see red book icon in Figure 2). We refer to this as third generation or 3G paper. Light sensors were printed on one side of plastic sheets for each page. These were laminated with paper having ‘windows’ cut out above the sensors as shown in the top right margin of the book in Figure 3. Touch sensor buttons for a variety of link types were embedded in the left and right margins of the book cover shown in Figure 3. Turning to any page and pressing the button for any available link type sends both page and link identity to the smartphone app. The book hardware was created in collaboration with VTT using specialist organic photovoltaic printing equipment. 

Our Next Generation Paper app currently runs in 2G or 3G mode, depending on whether page and link identity is given by optical or embedded sensing. 3G mode establishes a Bluetooth connection between the smartphone and the book. The tile-based app interface is illustrated in Figure 4. The four tiles in the middle panel (i.e. visual recognition, manual page entry, speech-to-text, and bookmarking) allow the user to identify page number and subsequently go to the link screen shown in Figure 5. This screen shows the seven link types used to augment the paper content, and which are available for the current page (highlighted in green). The live location service on the top right tile and twitter feeds and image slide show at the bottom of the screen provide additional interactions.Figure 3. 3G book hardware.Figure 4. Home screen of the Next Generation Paper prototype app

3 INTERACTION DESIGN

Despite the complexity of the system implementation above, we aimed to achieve a simple interaction in which a printed travel guide can be read in conjunction with a smartphone containing additional information. Working with travel writer Kirsty Fergusson and Bradt Travel Guides, we chose to augment a new edition of their Slow Travel Cornwallguide with a range of multimedia and web content (Fergusson 2019). This illustrates the text, keeps it updated, or connects the reader with some of the organizations mentioned. Figure 5. Link screen of Next Generation Paper app.

By default, the user reads the paper guide book and requests information manually on selected hotlinks (icons) displayed in the book. This is done by speaking, typing or photographing the page before selecting the link type on-screen as in Figures 4 and 5 (2G mode), or by pressing the selected link type on the cover of the book as in Figure 3 (3G mode). Users then select the actual link instance from a list to ‘play’ the content at full screen size on the smartphone. This leads to the paper-and-screen reading experience shown in Figure 6. This example shows the smartphone playing a video interview with a member of staff at the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow. The interviewee is holding up a ‘berried’ lobster to explain how they are farmed. Figure 6. Multimedia illustration within the paper-and-screen reading paradigm

In addition to this default style of following hotlinks from paper to screen, we have been experimenting with reverse links and notifications pointing from screen to paper. For example, users can watch a slideshow cycling through all the additional digital images for the book at the bottom right of the app home screen shown in Figure 4. Touching any of these images, points the user to the printed page to which the image relates by bringing up its highlighted links as in Figure 5. A similar behavior results from touching flags on the map in the top right of Figure 4. Flags appear on the dynamic home screen map when users move into the Cornwall locations covered in the book, and notifications can be sent to the user even when the app is closed. This gives the travel book a kind of agency to call out to its reader through the app, at moments when the book might be useful to them. 

A final feature of the app allows the user to personalize the guide book by adding their own links to it. The plus symbol at the top of the link screen shown in Figure 5 can be used to cue Image, Audio, Video or Weblinks for association with that page. For example, users could record their own verbal comments on their visit to the lobster hatchery described on page 15.

A short video illustrating the operation of the 2G and 3G technology is shown in Figure 7. This was based on our first demonstration of an augmented Chapter 2 from the second edition of the Cornwall guide.

4  CONCLUSIONS

Although augmented paper and books have been demonstrated and sold before, their behavior has usually been simple and the process of making them has been highly customized to the technology and content used. In this demonstration we have shown how a more generic approach can be taken to what might be called a-books, in which a variety of link types and two-way connections can be established between paper and screen, through a more standardized creation process for both publishers and readers. We distinguish between optical 2G and embedded 3G paper for a-books because we believe optical page recognition is already robust enough to use in commercial applications today. 3G paper has some way to go before it can be made cheaply and reliably enough to manufacture at scale, yet ultimately offers a more seemless and magical interaction with digital content from the paper surfaces alone. By architecting a solution which is compatible with both technologies, we hope to have future-proofed this approach for some years to come, and laid the foundations for publishers to add value to their paper products and services with digital information. 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This work was funded by grant number EP/P02579X/1 from the Digital Economy programme in the UK. We would like to thank Adrian Phillips, Rachel Fielding and Anna Moores at Bradt Travel Guides and Kirsty Fergusson for collaboration on the augmented Cornwall guide.

REFERENCES

  • Fergusson, K. 2019. Slow travel Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly, 3rd Edition. Bradt Travel Guides. https://www.bradtguides.com/cornwall.html
  • Frohlich, D.M. and Sarvas, R., 2011. HCI and innovation. In CHI’11 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 713-728). ACM. 
  • Mackay, W.E., Pothier, G., Letondal, C., Bøegh, K. and Sørensen, H.E., 2002. The missing link: augmenting biology laboratory notebooks. In Proceedings of the 15th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology (pp. 41-50). ACM.
  • Newman, W. and Wellner, P., 1992. A desk supporting computer-based interaction with paper documents. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 587-592). ACM.
  • Signer, B. and Norrie, M.C. 2010. Interactive paper: past, present and future. In proc ofUbicomp ’10. Sept 26-29th 2010. 

Publishers Are Taking the Internet to Court

In a lawsuit against the Internet Archive, the largest corporations in publishing want to change what it means to own a book.

By Maria Bustillos

SEPTEMBER 10, 2020

When Covid-19 struck, hundreds of millions of students were suddenly stranded at home without access to teachers or libraries. UNESCO reported that in April, 90 percent of the world’s enrolled students had been adversely affected by the pandemic. In response, the Internet Archive’s Open Library announced the National Emergency Library, a temporary program suspending limits on the number of patrons who could borrow its digital books simultaneously. The Open Library lends at no charge about 4 million digital books, 2.5 million of which are in the public domain, and 1.4 million of which may be under copyright and subject to lending restrictions. (This is roughly equivalent to a medium-sized city library; the New York Public Library, by comparison, holds 21.9 million books and printed materials and 1.78 million e-books, according to 2016 figures from the American Library Association.) But the National Emergency Library wound up creating an emergency of its own—for the future of libraries.

Brewster Kahle, the Internet Archive’s founder and digital librarian, wrote in March that the National Emergency Library would ensure “that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials…for the remainder of the US academic calendar.” He acknowledged that authors and publishers would also be harmed by the pandemic, urged those in a position to buy books to do so, and offered authors a form for removing their own books from the program, if they chose.

More than 100 libraries, archives, and other institutions signed on to a statement of support for the program, including MIT, Penn State, Emory University, the Boston Public Library, Middlebury College, Amherst College, George Washington University, the Claremont Colleges Library, and the Greater Western Library Alliance. Writing in The New Yorker, Harvard history professor and author Jill Lepore joined many media observers in praising the National Emergency Library as “a gift to readers everywhere.”

A number of other authors, however, took to Twitter to complain.

“Guys. Not helpful,” tweeted novelist Neil Gaiman.

“They scan books illegally and put them online. It’s not a library,” novelist Colson Whitehead tweeted in March. (I wrote last week to ask Whitehead what laws he thought were being broken, or whether he’d since altered his views on this matter, and he declined to comment.)

On June 1, Whitehead’s publisher, Penguin Random House, together with fellow megapublishers Hachette, HarperCollins, and Wiley, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive alleging “mass copyright infringement.” The Internet Archive closed the National Emergency Library on June 16, citing the lawsuit and calling for the publishers to stand down. But the plaintiffs are continuing to press their claims, and are now seeking to close the whole Open Library permanently.

The trial is set for next year in federal court, with initial disclosures for discovery scheduled to take place next week. The publishers’ “prayer for relief” seeks to destroy the Open Library’s existing books, and to soak the Internet Archive for a lot of money; in their response, the Archive is looking to have its opponents’ claims denied in full, its legal costs paid, and “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.” But what’s really at stake in this lawsuit is the idea of ownership itself—what it means not only for a library but for anyone to own a book.

The Internet Archive is far more than the Open Library; it’s a nonprofit institution that has become a cornerstone of archival activity throughout the world. Brewster Kahle is an Internet pioneer who was writing about the importance of preserving the digital commons in 1996. He built the Wayback Machine, without which an incalculable amount of the early Web would have been lost for good. The Internet Archive has performed pioneering work in developing public search tools for its own vast collections, such as the television news archive, which researchers and journalists like me use on an almost daily basis in order to contextualize and interpret political reporting. These resources are unique and irreplaceable.

The Internet Archive is a tech partner to hundreds of libraries, including the Library of Congress, for whom it develops techniques for the stewardship of digital content. It helps them build their own Web-based collections with tools such as Archive-It, which is currently used by more than 600 organizations including universities, museums, and government agencies, as well as libraries, to create their own searchable public archives. The Internet Archive repairs broken links on Wikipedia—by the million. It has collected thousands of early computer games, and developed online emulators so they can be played on modern computers. It hosts collections of live music performances, 78s and cylinder recordings, radio shows, films and video. I am leaving a lot out about its groundbreaking work in making scholarly materials more accessible, its projects to expand books to the print-disabled—too many undertakings and achievements to count.

For-profit publishers like HarperCollins or Hachette don’t perform the kind of work required to preserve a cultural posterity. Publishers are not archivists. They obey the dictates of the market. They keep books in print based on market considerations, not cultural ones. Archiving is not in the purview or even the interests of big publishers, who indeed have an incentive to encourage the continuing need to buy.

But in a healthy society, the need for authors and artists to be compensated fairly is balanced against the need to preserve a rich and robust public commons for the benefit of the culture as a whole. Publishers are stewards of the right of authors to make a fair living; librarians are stewards of cultural posterity. Brewster Kahle, and the Internet Archive, are librarians, and the Internet Archive is a new kind of library.

I first spoke with Kahle in 2013, when he became one of just a handful of people in the United States permitted to discuss his receipt of a National Security Letter from the NSA. Hundreds of thousands of these letters were sent out, but only the three that had been successfully challenged in court, and thus rescinded, could be discussed in public without risking imprisonment. The NSA had demanded that the Internet Archive divulge personal information about a library patron, and the only way to refuse to comply (without being jailed) was to sue the government, so that’s what Kahle decided to do. The Internet Archive won that lawsuit, with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU.

“I’m a librarian!” he told me, back then. “Libraries have had a long history of dealing with authoritarian organizations demanding reader records—just, who’s read what—and this has led to people being rounded up and killed.”

Now Kahle finds himself on the other side of a lawsuit. The key issue in this one is the as-yet-untested legal theory of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), which the Internet Archive and partner libraries have been working out over the last few years, in order to deal fairly with the new question of lending digitized books within the parameters of existing copyright law. CDL was designed to mirror the age-old library practice of (1) buying or otherwise acquiring a physical book, and (2) loaning it out to one patron at a time.

Like a traditional library, the Internet Archive buys or accepts donations of physical books. The archive scans its physical books, making one digital copy available for each physical book it owns. The digitized copies are then loaned out for a limited period, like a traditional library loan. The physical books from which the scans were made are stored and do not circulate, a practice known as “own-to-loan.”

Harvard copyright scholar and lawyer Kyle Courtney has explained this reasoning very clearly. “Libraries do not need permission or a license to loan those books that they have purchased or acquired,” he said at a recent conference. “Copyright law covers those exact issues.… Congress actually placed all of these specialized copyright exemptions for libraries in the Copyright Act itself.”

The for-profit publishers in the lawsuit, however, do not care for this idea. What they allege in the complaint is this: “Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, IA [the Internet Archive] scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.”

What this ominous description fails to acknowledge is that all libraries that lend e-books “distribute verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.” Yet the publishers claim later in the same document that they have no beef with regular libraries. They love libraries, they say (“Publishers have long supported public libraries, recognizing the significant benefits to the public of ready access to books and other publications”), and are “in partnership” with them: “This partnership turns upon a well-developed and longstanding library market, through which public libraries buy print books and license ebooks (or agree to terms of sale for ebooks) from publishers.”

The real issue emerges here: The words “license ebooks” are the most important ones in the whole lawsuit.

Publishers approve of libraries paying for e-book licenses because they’re temporary, just like your right to watch a movie on Netflix is temporary and can evaporate at any moment. In the same way, publishers would like to see libraries obliged to license, not to own, books—that is, continue to pay for the same book again and again. That’s what this lawsuit is really about. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that publishers took advantage of the pandemic to achieve what they had not been able to achieve previously: to turn the library system into a “reading as a service” operation from which they can squeeze profits forever.

Their argument also hinges on the notion that it’s illegal to scan a book that you own. Note that this is what’s being claimed in the complaint: that the books are “illegally scanned,” as Whitehead tweeted back in March. It’s not just the distribution of “pirated” copies they’re trying to prevent. It’s doing as you wish with your own property.

This runs deeper than the question of digital format. NYU law professor Jason Schultz, co-author of The End of Ownership, explained it in an e-mail: “The key here is that our law and cultures have always distinguished between owning something and temporarily purchasing access to something. Most people know the difference between owning a home and renting one, or owning a tuxedo or renting one. We also know this with most media, for example the difference between buying a copy of a film on DVD and going to see it in the theater.”

The Internet is 31 years old, and in those three short decades the virtual world we’ve come to depend on has slowly eroded the idea of private ownership—literally, your right to call your belongings your own. Things you used to buy just once, such as your own private copies of software like Photoshop or Word, your privately owned vinyl discs and CDs, or movies on VHS—have increasingly begun to come through dispensing services you pay for every month, from vendors like Adobe, Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. And you’ll never stop paying.

That rentier mentality is now reaching into the world of books. As Schultz elaborated: “For each physical book that a library owns, it can lend it out to whomever it chooses for as long as it wants and the copyright owner has no say in how such lending happens. But here, because digital technology is involved, the publishers are asserting that they can control how/when/where/why libraries lend out digital copies.… In other words, they want to change the rules in their favor and take away one of the most cherished and valuable contributions that libraries make to society—allowing members of the public to read for free from the library’s collection.”

The oldest surviving library in England was founded in 1653 through the bequest of Humphrey Chetham, a Manchester textile merchant and banker, “for the use of schollars and others well affected to learning, the books to remain as a public library for ever.” Chetham’s Library has been in continuous operation as a free public library for more than 350 years. The first keeper was charged with opening “from 8 till 11 in the morning, and from one till four in the afternoon,” and “to require nothing of any man that cometh into the library.”

We’ve come a long way since then—for good or ill—but the Internet isn’t as inherently democratic as Silicon Valley would like us to believe. Technology at the end of the 20th century advanced too quickly to prevent all kinds of unwanted consequences and threats to laws and long-held principles, like a boom town built with no zoning, ramshackle and rowdy, by people more intent on finding gold than on creating a worthwhile community in which to live.

It’s not easy getting anyone at the Internet Archive to discuss these matters in the middle of litigation, but I did manage to speak with Brewster Kahle for a few moments.

“Libraries buy, preserve, and lend,” he said. “That’s been the model forever. [Libraries] actually supply about 20 percent of the revenue to the publishing industry. But if they cannot buy, preserve, and lend—if all they become is a redistributor, a Netflix for books—my God, we have a society that can get really out of control. Because if a publisher maintains control over every reading event, who’s allowed to read it, when are they allowed to read it, if they’re allowed to read it, and be able to prevent anybody, or particular regions, from being able to see something, we are in George Orwell world.

“What libraries do, is they buy, preserve, and lend. What this lawsuit is about—they’re saying the libraries cannot buy, they cannot preserve, and they cannot lend.”

Libraries have operated on those principles for thousands of years, collecting, preserving, and sharing knowledge not for profit but as a public good—requiring nothing. For many centuries, young people of limited means have been the explicitly intended beneficiaries and users of libraries. Some of those young people grew up to write books themselves. It would be a tragedy if the profit motive were to succeed at last in putting an end to that.

Book Publishers Warn Congress Amazon Is Too Powerful


By Matthew Gault

Three of the publishing industry’s largest groups have sent a letter to Congress warning of Amazon’s power in the industry. Representatives from the publishers told Congress that Amazon has too much power and is engaging in anti-competitive market behavior that has made it a de facto monopoly in the publishing world.

“Amazon’s scale of operation and share of the market for book distribution has reached the point that no publisher can afford to be absent from its online store,” members of the Association of American Authors, the Author’s Guild, and The American Booksellers Association said in a letter to Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the Chairman of Congress’ Antitrust Subcommittee.

The letter was signed by Maria Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Author’s Guild; and Alison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association.

“A year ago, the New York Times reported that Amazon controlled 50% of all book distribution, but for some industry suppliers, the actual figure may be much higher, with Amazon accounting for more than 70 or 80 percent of sales,” it said. “Even booksellers that avoid selling on Amazon cannot avoid suffering the consequences of Amazon’s market dominance.”

Last month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testified before the House’s Antitrust Committee and had trouble answering basic questions about some of its predatory practices. “This market power stems not only from Amazon’s share of the market for book distribution, but also from the astonishing level of data that it collects across its entire platform,” the letter said, echoing concerns voiced by Congress.

The letter directly referenced the recent antitrust hearing and urged Congress to continue investigating Amazon and recommended several specific courses of action.

“Prohibit Amazon from leveraging data from the operation of its online platform to compete with and disadvantage the suppliers doing business there,” it said. “The data that Amazon collects from across its platform not only gives Amazon leverage over its book suppliers, it also gives Amazon an insurmountable lead over any would-be distribution rivals—a lead so daunting that, at this point, absent government intervention, there is no possibility of meaningful competition from anyone, whether they be publishers, booksellers, or emerging platforms.”

Amazon also ties its distribution services to its advertising services and the publishers said that has to stop. “In instances where Amazon manipulates discovery tools to make a supplier’s books difficult to find without the purchase of advertising or refuses distribution unless the supplier also purchases advertising, Amazon can extract both unwanted purchases and supra-competitive prices from suppliers,” the letter said.

The publishers also suggested that Amazon’s use of merchant fulfillment networks to ship products creates an anticompetitive atmosphere and that its use of books as a loss leader has radically altered the publishing business in ways we still don’t understand. “Amazon’s use of pricing tactics in the book industry reveals that one of its core business strategies is one used by monopolies for over a century–underselling the competition to monopolize markets,” the letter said.

The bottom line is that the publishing industry is tired of racing to the bottom with Amazon and feels it’s emerging as a monopoly. “The Subcommittee’s work has shown that Amazon holds an outsized position of power and control in our country, giving it the ability to interfere with the free flow of information, ideas and literature on a large scale,” the letter said. “With great appreciation for your leadership, we note that the American book publishing industry is and always has been uniquely intertwined with our democracy.”

Publishing Leaders Issuing Warning over Amazon’s Market Power

By Jim Milliot | Aug 18, 2020

Courtesy Amazon

Amazon Books in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Three of publishing’s most important organizations have teamed up to write a letter to the chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee investigating the market power of Big Tech to press their case that, over the last several years, Amazon’s growing dominance over book publishing and bookselling has fundamentally altered the competitive framework of the industry. If Amazon’s power is left unchecked, the letter continues, competition within publishing could diminish even more.

In a joint letter to Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Maria Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, and Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, wrote that their members have long relied on a level playing field to publish and sell their works. But today, the letter continued, “Amazon no longer competes on a level playing field when it comes to book distribution, but, rather, owns and manipulates the playing field, leveraging practices from across its platform that appear to be well outside of fair and transparent competition.”

Amazon’s power is far reaching, the letter states, including using predatory pricing and its market dominance “to engage in systematic below-cost pricing of books to squash competition in the book selling industry as a whole.” As for the entire publishing industry, the letter states, “we believe that Amazon acts anti-competitively in multiple ways, dictating the economic terms of its relationships with suppliers so that publishers, their authors, and the booksellers who sell on Amazon pay more each year for Amazon’s distribution and advertising services but receive less each year in return.”

The authors asked Cicilline to consider four recommendations:

Prohibit Amazon from Leveraging Data from the Operation of its Online Platform to Compete with and Disadvantage the Suppliers Doing Business There: The organizations contend that “the data that Amazon collects from across its platform not only gives Amazon leverage over its book suppliers, it also gives Amazon an insurmountable lead over any would-be distribution rivals—a lead so daunting that, at this point, absent government intervention, there is no possibility of meaningful competition from anyone, whether they be publishers, booksellers, or emerging platforms.“

Prohibit Amazon from Tying Distribution Services to the Purchase of Advertising Services: “Amazon offers two distinct services to the authors, publishers and booksellers that supply and sell books through its online bookstore, but brazenly ties them together so that suppliers must spend advertising dollars in order to make distribution services viable,” the letter argues.

Prohibit Amazon from Imposing MFNs and Other Parity Provisions: While acknowledging that Most Favored Nations (MFNs) and parity provisions are not inherently anti-competitive, the letter notes that “lawmakers should be concerned that Amazon imposes MFNs and other parity provisions to eliminate the ability of rivals or new entrants to gain any meaningful competitive advantage relative to Amazon.” Amazon, the letter continues, require “publishers to a) offer Amazon similar or better economic terms and conditions as those offered to any competing distributors; b) inform Amazon about more favorable or alternative terms given to competitors; and c) restrict pricing discounts to consumers.”

Prohibit Amazon from Using Loss-Leader Pricing to Harm Competition: “For over two decades, Amazon has used books as loss leaders in the book industry to lure consumers to its website, gather data, make profits on bigger ticket items, and capture an increasing market share,” the letter states. “Despite innovation in the independent bookselling world, independent bookstores find themselves struggling to compete with a company that historically sells books at a loss to that end. Amazon has garnered the bulk of the online book market through loss leader pricing, including by offering books below cost in order to promote and sell its proprietary Kindle device.”

The letter concludes by pointing to the subcommittee’s own work, which the authors say shows that Amazon holds an outsized position of power in the U.S., “giving it the ability to interfere with the free flow of information, ideas and literature on a large scale,” adding: “The American book publishing industry is and always has been uniquely intertwined with our democracy. Many authors, publishers, and booksellers along the way have contributed to the marketplace of ideas, and we hope that many more will emerge and thrive to the benefit of the public. This will not happen, however, unless government officials step in decisively to exercise appropriate governance of Amazon.”

My name is Marina, and I’m addicted to books. They’re everywhere. I stack them anywhere there is an open space. My closet holds more books than clothes. Books serve as stands for mirrors, lamps, and jewelry stands. A bench I expected to refurbish years ago has become a makeshift bookcase, with books of all kinds […]

via Surrounded: How Books Are Keeping Me Going in Quarantine — Causeway Lit

PW’s Top News Stories of 2019

 

Big changes in the bookselling landscape were the subject of several of the industry’s top stories in 2019, along with publishers’ relationships with different partners.

1. Elliott Advisors Buys Barnes & Noble; Daunt Named CEO

After struggling for several years to find ways to boost the bookstore chain’s sales and to improve its bottom line, B&N’s board of directors approved the sale of the company to private equity firm Elliott Advisors in a deal worth $683 million. The transaction didn’t come without some drama, as another company—widely believed to be ReaderLink—was working to make a counteroffer. In the end, the B&N committee charged with evaluating all offers voted in favor of the Elliott cash deal, believing it had the necessary financing to get the purchase done quickly.

Following the completion of the deal on August 6, Elliott officially named James Daunt B&N CEO. Daunt already served as CEO of the U.K.’s Waterstones bookselling chain, which is also owned by Elliott. Among the changes Daunt has discussed implementing in 2020 at B&N are an overhaul of its merchandising approach and returning the responsibility of each store’s performance to local managers.

2. B&T Exits the Retail Wholesale Market

In early May, Baker & Taylor announced that it was closing its retail wholesaling business, which supplied books to bookstores and other physical retailers. The decision came following months of rumors that some deal between B&T and competitor Ingram was in the works. When no deal surfaced, B&T began phasing out its retail operations, a process that lasted into the early fall. The move was made, B&T explained, to better align itself with its parent company, Follett Corp., whose strengths include working with schools and school libraries. B&T’s library wholesaling operations were not affected. Publishers and booksellers were both concerned that B&T’s exit from the retail business would slow shipments to stores, especially to the West Coast, where B&T fulfilled orders through its Reno warehouse, which was set to close. Publishers, as well as Ingram and Bookazine, came up with plans to alleviate any potential problems, with Penguin Random House perhaps coming up with the most aggressive plan of all: in November, it announced it was taking over the operation of the Reno warehouse, which it will use to service West Coast stores.

3. Macmillan Implements E-book Windowing for Libraries

In late July, Macmillan announced that, beginning November 1, it would implement a two-month embargo on library e-books across all of the company’s imprints. Under the publisher’s new digital terms of sale, library systems are allowed to purchase a single perpetual access e-book during the first eight weeks of publication for each new Macmillan release, at half price ($30). Additional copies will then be available at full price after the eight-week window has passed. All other terms remain the same: e-book licenses will continue to be metered for two years or 52 lends, whichever comes first, on a one copy/one user model.

The decision outraged librarians across the country, who see the move as a direct attack on their ability to offer timely services to their patrons. Scores of library systems are boycotting buying Macmillan e-books in protest of the move. For his part, Macmillan CEO John Sargent says “frictionless” e-book loans by libraries reduce the value of the books and hurt overall sales. Sargent is set to appear in a session discussing the matter at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, which runs January 24–28 in Philadelphia.

4. Audible Caption Proposal Called Copyright Infringement

When word began circulating in July that Audible was developing a new program called Captions to run text alongside its audiobooks, publishers, agents, and authors all called the proposal copyright infringement. Before the program could be launched, the AAP filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Big Five trade houses, as well as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Scholastic, asking for a preliminary injunction; the lawsuit was subsequently backed by representatives for the Authors Guild and the Association of Authors Representatives. At year end, Captions had still not been implemented, and the judge overseeing the case has urged the publishers and Audible to settle the matter out of court.

5. Tariffs Imposed on Books Manufactured in China

As part of its trade war with China, on September 1 the Trump administration slapped 15% tariffs on most books manufactured in China. Excluded from the tariffs were children’s picture books, coloring books, and drawing books, as well as Bibles and religious books. Children’s books were subject to possible tariffs on December 15, but the administration suspended imposing those tariffs after reaching a “phase one” agreement with China over trade. The other book tariffs, for now, remain in effect.

6. Citing Problems, Publishers Cut Ties with Authors

Given the charged nature of the times, publishers have been keenly aware of the reputations of their authors. In 2019, that led to a number of publishers dropping authors following various allegations or charges. Three instances of this in particular were among the most read stories on PW. After allegations of inappropriate behavior made against Tim Tingle by two booksellers, Scholastic dropped plans to publish his middle grade book Doc and the Detective; Tingle, who had his rights to the book returned, denied the allegations. Author Kosoko Jackson requested that Sourcebooks withdraw publication of his debut YA novel, A Place for Wolves, following concerns raised on social media. And in June, after a Netflix drama reopened interest in the Central Park jogger case, in which five black and Latino teenagers were falsely accused of assault and rape, Dutton and author Linda Fairstein terminated their publishing relationship; Fairstein was formerly chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s sex crimes unit and oversaw prosecution of the case.

7. Indie Booksellers Incensed over Breaking of ‘Testaments’ Embargo

Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments was expected to be one of the big books of 2019, especially for independent booksellers. So when it was discovered that Amazon had broken the September 10 embargo date, booksellers were furious. Publisher Penguin Random House acknowledged that a retailer had inadvertently released copies before the official on-sale date and said the situation had been corrected. The incident highlighted the frustration many booksellers feel about the enforcement of embargoes, which are frequently broken by one retailer or another.

8. The Netflix-Literary Connection

Streaming services have increasingly been looking to book publishers for source material, none more so than Netflix, which was on a book acquisition spree over much of 2019, developing screen adaptations of dozens of novels, series, short story collections, and graphic novels, with a particular interest in those aimed at children and teens.

9. AWP Fires Executive Director

Less than six months after being named the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ permanent executive director, Chloe Schwenke was fired in September. She had succeeded longtime executive director David Fenza, who was dismissed in April 2018. Schwenke, a transgender woman, alleges that her firing was primarily based on discrimination.

10. Allison Hill Named ABA CEO

Allison Hill, president and CEO of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., was named the next CEO of the American Booksellers Association. Hill succeeds Oren Teicher, who has served as ABA CEO for the past 10 years. Hill begins her new job March 1.

A version of this article appeared in the 01/06/2020 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: PW’s Top News Stories of 2019
%d bloggers like this: