Barnes and Noble's Struggles Continue, But Their Education Division Offers Hope

Barnes and Noble, booksellers since 1873 - peoplewhowriteYesterday, the ailing bookseller’s stock fell almost 28% as stockholders rushed to dump their shares. The selloff was in response to Barnes and Noble’s report of a projected 1.7% decline in fiscal 2016 first quarter sales, through August 1st.

The bad news notwithstanding, there are some glimmers of hope. “‘Core’ Nook-free sales inched up 1 percent, and same-store sales rose 1.1 percent” and Barnes and Noble Education, which spun off into an independent company August 2, 2014, reported a 5.9% uptick in sales. (It bears noting that Amazon, B&N’s primary competitor, has entered the education space by opening its first brick and mortar location at Purdue University.)

As writers, this news is relevant because Barnes and Noble and other bookstores offer us a physical space to connect with readers at signings. Bookstores, Barnes and Noble among the biggest of these retailers, also enable readers to discover and have a tactile experience with our work. With no or fewer bookstores, as I wrote in a 2013 post “What Will the World Look Like Without Barnes & Noble?” authors will face even more competition to get on surviving bookstore shelves and reading/signing calendars. We may also see indie bookstores “behaving as Barnes and Noble does now — prioritizing marquee and celebrity authors over new and emerging literary talent.”

While the internet offers a preponderance of venues for digitally savvy authors to market their work, from Facebook to Wattpad, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my experience promoting my first book Powder Necklace is that online interaction simply isn’t enough. While Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts definitely reach more people more easily, they work best when they are amplifying what’s happening (or has happened) face to face.

For all of Amazon’s power, bestselling authors like Tim Ferris could not match their previous success when Barnes and Noble refused to carry their books. When B&N reduced their orders of Simon and Schuster titles in response to their perception that S&S was getting too cozy with Amazon, authors’ book sales suffered. And when Walmart, Target and J.C. Penney all announced they were discontinuing their Paula Deen business after the cookbook queen was outed for using the “N” word, Random House yanked her book deal. Barnes and Noble’s refusal to carry Amazon Publishing titles may have caused the internet retailer to shift its focus from the U.S. to Europe.

The point is, as authors, whatever happens to one of the biggest physical retailers of books, happens to us. We need to figure out how to staunch Barnes and Noble’s bleeding even as we determine how to work with Amazon to our advantage, all while working to develop independent retail systems that better benefit us and our work.

Laurence Kirshbaum Returns to Agenting, Post-Amazon

Larry Kirshbaum - peoplewhowrite

Larry Kirshbaum

WSJ reports Laurence Kirshbaum, who announced his departure from Amazon in October 2013, is headed to the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. Kirshbaum’s career path has become emblematic of the twists and turns of the book industry over the last 20+ years.

In the ’80s and ’90s, it was all about mergers and acquisitions. Veteran librarian Mary Munroe identified “sixty merger and acquisition events in the years of 1998 and 1999, with more than $20 billion spent by companies to buy other companies” in a 2001 article by Carolyn E. Lipscomb. As the former CEO of Time Warner Warner Book Group, Kirshbaum presided over one of the biggest such companies, created when TIME, Inc merged with Warner Communications in 1990.

In 2005, he left, and shortly thereafter, started his own literary agency LJK Literary. At the time, the New York Times noted Kirshbaum was “part of a steady stream of editors and publishers who, over the last two decades, have jumped to the agenting side of the business.”  In the piece, Kirshbaum lamented the publishing industry’s increasing lack of ability to support authors:

“The demands of publishing and marketing a book today have grown to exceed the ability of a publisher to cope,” Mr. Kirshbaum added. “I felt very keenly that we were leaving so many good marketing ideas unexplored because there were too many authors and too little time.”

That, Mr. Kirshbaum said, has put more of the burden for selling a book onto authors. “The author has to be more involved in choosing the book jacket, in promotion, marketing, dealing with retailers,” Mr. Kirshbaum said. “A nonfiction author has to bring a platform with him – radio, a TV show or some kind of recognizable vehicle to help launch them. And the agent is really necessary to represent all of the business interests of the author.”

He added: “The name of the game is not to make a quick buck for the author and make the publisher take a write-off” on a big advance, he said. “What really matters is what happens after the deal. If the books are selling, the money will follow.”

In 2011, Kirshbaum joined Amazon, two years after the e-tailing giant launched its book publishing arm. Amazon had been — and continues to be — stiff competition for book publishers and bookstores, and Kirshbaum’s role in signing bestselling authors like Tim Ferris served as a major test of Amazon’s power in the book publishing ecosystem. Barnes and Noble refused to carry Amazon Publishing titles, effectively stymying Amazon’s influence with writers (for the meantime).

If Kirshbaum’s return to agenting can be seen as a barometer of where the power is going next, it seems agents are the ones that will come out the best. But if trends continue as they have been with publishers’ power waning as authors take advantage of self-publishing distribution channels, and trusted curators of literary talent becoming more important because so many more writers can enter the market, we might see Kirshbaum taking a role as a book reviewer. We’ll see.

Amazon is Having An Amazing Week

Amazon.com logoEarlier this week, Amazon’s patent application to enhance e-books was approved while Apple conceded that Amazon could use the term “app store” to identify the virtual location where they sell their products. And today, it was announced that Amazon has signed Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin as well as self-publishing phenom Hugh Howey as authors for a new graphic novel/comic book imprint called Jet City Comics. Also today, a judge ruled Apple conspired with publishers to try to force Amazon to price books at an advantage to publishers.

By contrast, Barnes and Noble CEO William Lynch has resigned amidst poor earnings even as rumors swirl that the company is interested in splitting its 675 stores from its Nook division and selling both off. With Amazon’s mounting wins, it seems publishers and bookstores will have to figure out how to work with the online giant once and for all.

French Culture Minister Calls Amazon "Destroyer of Bookshops"

Aurélie Filippetti - peoplewhowrite

Aurélie Filippetti

French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti says she is considering putting a stop to free shipping offers and 5% discounts on books to combat Amazon’s dominant status with respect to independent book stores. CNBC quotes the minister as saying, “Today, everyone has had enough of Amazon which, through dumping practices, smashes prices to penetrate markets to then raise prices again once they are in a situation of quasi-monopoly,” and calling the online retailer a “destroyer of bookshops.” In March, Filippetti made clear she doesn’t want French bookstores to suffer the same fate as many beleaguered US bookshops, independent and chain.

Indie booksellers in the UK have also expressed outrage at Amazon‘s squeeze on their business. In April, bookstore owners Frances and Keith Smith delivered a petition with over 160,000 signatures to Prime Minister David Cameron demanding he “make Amazon pay its fair share of UK corporation tax”. Amazon reportedly “[avoids] UK taxes by reporting its European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit” according to a piece in The Guardian.

Meanwhile, in the US, Barnes and Noble continues to battle Amazon’s encroachment by refusing to carry titles published by Amazon.

CNBC points out that Filippetti’s “attack on Amazon came despite the establishment in France by the company of several big distribution centres. …the most recent [centre] in Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France… employs 500 people.”

Amazon Launching "Kindle Worlds", Allowing Authors to Sell Fan Fiction

Amazon.com logoThis June, Amazon is expected to launch Kindle Worlds, a platform that will enable fan fiction authors to sell their work in the Kindle Store. The Bookseller reports:

Amazon has obtained licenses from Warner Bros Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment division for Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl series, Sarah Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, and L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries, and has said it has further licenses to be announced soon. Through the licenses, Kindle Worlds will allow any writer to publish authorized stories inspired by them and make them available for sale…

“[W]e see this as an evolution in publishing and a valuable way of broadening our brands and engaging fans,” Alloy Entertainment President Leslie Morganstein told The Bookseller. Indeed, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey juggernaut originated as self-published fan fiction.

Amazon’s platform will launch with commissioned works, but will accept submissions as well. According to The Bookseller, “The standard author’s royalty rate, for works of at least 10,000 words, is to be 35% of net revenue and paid monthly.”

Amazon Creates "Kindle Love Stories" to Promote its Romance Titles

Kindle Love Stories - peoplewhowriteAmazon Publishing has launched “Kindle Love Stories” via its romance imprint Montlake Romance. PaidContent.org reports the love story hub “will feature author interviews, reviews and trends in romance books, and is accompanied by a book discussion group on Goodreads.” (Amazon acquired Goodreads six weeks ago.) Paid Content adds, KLS will “primarily [focus] on titles published by Amazon, all of those titles should be available free to Kindle owners through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.”

Amazon Has Acquired Goodreads

Amazon.com logoAmazon strikes again. The e-commerce giant has purchased the online community for booklovers Goodreads, which doubled in size in 2012. With Goodreads’ 13 16 million passionate members now part of Amazon’s extended customer file, publishers and bookstores are even more compromised in the fight to mitigate the online giant’s size and sizeable budget advantage.

It remains to be seen how Goodreads will/won’t change; and more importantly, how writers will be impacted by Amazon’s virtual monopoly of online book discovery now. So far, Amazon has been stealth about trying to woo writers (and their agents) away from traditional publishers.

Amazon has selectively increased transparency of book sales via author dashboards, forcing publishers to do the same. Recently, Amazon announced they would start paying authors signed to Amazon Publishing royalties on a monthly basis, versus the bi-annual schedule traditional publishers adhere to. They also regularly share business announcements with a list of authors and agents, bypassing publishers.

We shall see how publishers respond to this bit of news — and how Barnes and Noble deals with it. B&N has been particularly salty over the last few months, dealing with bad sales, store closings, and perceived lack of support from publishers by throwing their own heft around. They have reduced orders of Simon and Schuster titles and refused to carry books released under the Amazon Publishing imprint.

Read more about Amazon’s Goodreads acquisition on PublishersLunch.com, and check out author Kate Messner’s response to the news.

Amazon Will Pay Royalties on a Monthly Basis-Publishers Pay Biannually

Amazon Publishing's Jeff Belle - peoplewhowrite

Jeff Belle

Amazon Publishing continues to do what they can to make themselves a more attractive option to writers and agents, to the chagrin of traditional publishers. First they gave authors access to sales dashboards to create an aura of transparency around book sales, now they are announcing a faster royalty payout schedule.

In a letter sent to authors and agents today, Amazon Publishing VP Jeff Belle explained “in this digital age, we don’t see why authors should have to wait six months to be paid.” Publishers Lunch reports, “The new payment procedure will begin with January 2013 royalties, to be paid through on March 31… Amazon has confirmed to us that they are measuring unit sales for this ranking (not dollar sales), and when they refer to Amazon Publishing they mean their house imprints only (and not KDP).” Interestingly, Amazon does not reveal Kindle sales on the Author dashboard.

Soon after Amazon rolled out Author dashboards, Publishers followed suit. Will they follow Amazon’s lead on royalty payments?

Tim Ferriss Says He'd Publish with Amazon Again

Tim Ferriss - peoplewhowrite

Tim Ferriss

When author Tim Ferriss decided to bypass traditional publishers and release The 4-Hour Chef with Amazon, Barnes & Noble refused to carry the title — eating into the cookbook’s sales. But Ferris told thenextweb.com he would publish with Amazon again, explaining, “I’m not anti-bookstore, I’m pro-reader.” For Ferriss, it came down to Amazon’s ability to give him the data on his customers — who they are, where they’re from, the kinds of books they buy, etc:

The reason I chose to go with Amazon was because I developed a relationship with them over time because of the volume of sales I was pushing through Amazon for the first two books. …Random House, Simon & Schuster, these traditional publishers sell to the head category buyers at a Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million. They do not know their end users, they have no data about their end users, nor do they have any way to communicate with their end users. Amazon, in many ways I would say, knows me better than I know myself just based on my Amazon Prime purchasing behavior as well as what I refer people to through my blog, which they can track of course.

For readers, Amazon‘s leg up over bookstores has come down to convenience; and for writers, Amazon has made itself attractive by offering a level of transparency publishers have only recently begun to emulate with Author Portals that reveal real-time sales. That said, as Ferriss’ example shows, there either needs to be cooperation among Amazon, B&N, and the publishers; or they need to learn from each other to better compete.

Barnes & Noble Has Reduced Orders of Simon & Schuster Books

Barnes and Noble, booksellers since 1873 - peoplewhowriteUPDATE: Barnes and Noble has reportedly reduced orders for some titles “by as much as 90%” according to an agent quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Click here to learn more about the terms of the dispute and what’s at stake for both.


Publishers Weekly
is reporting Barnes and Noble has “significantly reduced its orders from S&S, allegedly because the bookseller feels the publisher is not adequately supporting them. In a statement, a Barnes and Noble spokesperson said, “As the nation’s largest physical bookseller, Barnes [and] Noble supports publishers who support our bookstores.”

Barnes and Noble has been vigilant about protecting its place in the publishing industry food chain in the wake of challenges from Amazon. They refused to carry print books published by Amazon, forcing the nation’s largest e-tailer to focus their print business in Europe.

The reduction in orders seems to be a warning as Barnes and Noble continues to carry Simon and Schuster books. That said, with Barnes and Noble projected to close 15 stores by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, and another 450-plus over the next 10 years, it seems Simon and Schuster won’t be the only publisher dealing with reduced orders.