The Unofficial AAR Blog

The AAR Blog is an open online forum created by the AAR Digital Rights Committee to educate the membership on all aspects of and issues surrounding the emerging digital publishing marketplace.

This blog does not accept comments, but we encourage you to discuss issues raised here to @Digitar on Twitter

All blog posts appearing in the AAR Blog, as well as the contents within the links provided, reflect the views of their individual authors and do not reflect the views or position of the Association of Author's Representatives

  • 05 Dec 2012 1:29 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    So today Amazon announced Kindle Free Time Unlimited. From their web announcement: “Kindle FreeTime Unlimited is the first-ever all-in-one subscription that brings together all the types of content that kids and parents love – books, games, educational apps, movies and TV shows. With unlimited access to thousands of hand-picked titles for kids ages 3-8, parents don’t have to spend time (and money) guessing what their kids will enjoy.”

    So one price gives kids unlimited access to books, movies, apps, games, etc. Agents: any clue whatsoever how your clients will get paid for this? Assuming the publishers made some kind of arrangement with Amazon for such a use (which of course is not necessarily the case. Remember Kindle Lending Library?)– how does Amazon apportion the amount reading a book is worth in this ecosystem versus what watching a movie is worth?

    Seems to me a continued frightening devaluation of the value of books. In the words of my spiritual guru Obi-Wan Kenobi: “We must be cautious.”

  • 11 Oct 2012 1:29 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)
    A NYC-based startup called Oyster announced today that it has received $3M in financing. Oyster aimes to adopt the Spotify model, in which members can read an unlimited number of books for a single monthly fee.   Many questions arise: What terms will Oyster be asking of publishers?   Will Oyster report the number of copies read on a title-by-title basis?   And how will publishers — who will presumably be licensing their entire lists, not per-title deals —  allocate revenues to a given title?    You can read more about the venture here.
  • 24 Sep 2012 1:27 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)
    Now the biggest retailer in the world is joining the “contain Amazon” camp.

    Walmart’s decision last week to stop carrying Kindles is likely a sign of a narrowing retail landscape for Kindles, but how much will it hurt Amazon and help Walmart? One might guess that Walmart’s earnings on Kindle sales aren’t that impressive, if they are willing to give up the immediate cash in order to make a statement and preclude potential long term erosion of Walmart business (though this is hard to imagine!). Whether this is a serious hit to Amazon’s bottom line is not something we’re ever going to know—as Walmart won’t say how many Kindle’s they’ve sold, and certainly Amazon won’t break a pattern of not sharing information. But for sure it is a major blow to Amazon, and other retailers like Staples and Best Buy (who currently carry Kindles) may well follow suit. The all-encompassing nature of the their business model–create a product (the Kindle) that is the gateway to your retail site and rely on other retailers to sell it; create a product (books), competing with your suppliers (publishers), that you sell on your retail site along side theirs, and expect other competing book retailers to sell your product/books– may in the end in fact come back to bite them where it counts. If the new Kindle is to have a shot at competing with the iPod and other tablets at some future time, being kept out of the biggest retailers around isn’t going to help the cause. This is only a problem, of course, if broadening the market for Kindle sales beyond the Amazon site is a major strategic goal, necessary for the growth of the Kindle. It’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be.
  • 01 Aug 2012 1:26 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)
    As agents, so much of our time these days is spent helping our authors navigate the constantly expanding world of Social Networking. No sooner are we all sure we know what we are supposed to do on Facebook & Twitter, than Pinterest comes on the scene and Fan pages arrive. The rules keep changing.

    So we meet with professionals who offer advice on how to make sure that our authors’ names and titles show up front and center on Google searches, and who share their tricks to achieve the best placed facebook and blog ads etc…

    We encourage our authors to blog, to put themselves out there whenever they can, and to be genuine.

    But there is a downside to all of this. There are the authors who, in their efforts to connect with readers, reveal too much about their publishing process and end up unintentionally offending editors, publishers and publicists. Some leap into cyberspace and disclose information better left confidential, and we spend more and more of our time putting out cyber-fires. The positive in all this is that a well educated author can quickly learn the do’s and don’ts of web-communication. In offering cyber advice, I always strongly emphasize that they are as exposed as if they were shouting their words from the rooftops and then passing out flyers afterwards, regardless of the fact that they may be typing away alone on a computer in the bowels of their basements. Actually,hard as it is to imagine, they are even more exposed than that. No private chat rooms or other cyber enclaves are immune to exposure and all words typed should be written with awareness that they could end up in anyone’s hands eventually.

    And now come the bullies. In much the same style as the reported school cyber-bullies, there are blog and author bullies out there as well (known as trolls, a very apt name). I have seen authors post sweet blogs about their families (with photos) only to get horrific comments from readers whose only goal was to be as offensive as possible. Bloggers who support writers by reviewing their books are being attacked by nasty out of control writers.

    I have also seen groups of jealous or spiteful authors target other authors by posting one-star reviews on important sites, and spreading specious rumors.

    How do we help our authors combat these kinds of problems? Sometimes the best advice is to ignore, and wait until the storm blows over, but I worry. I worry, because I have had authors tell me that they would not engage on the web anymore, because of being targeted. I worry, because I have seen the same groups attack one author and then another, with impunity, because it is so difficult to prove who is behind harassment when screen names are used.

    Sadly I do not have a solution to these problems we are facing and one vindictive person can do massive amounts of damage. I do feel that this new area of concern would benefit from brainstorming. Sharing solutions would be an excellent way to collectively help our authors.

    If you have methods that have worked for you and/or your authors please let me know via @digitaar and/or @jvnla on Twitter.
  • 27 Jun 2012 1:23 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Last week when I recommended a terrific novel to a friend she said “Does B&N have it? I’ll get it right away.” Her knowing me — and trusting that I know her after so many years — clearly made a difference and it’s a great joy to be a book lover who can recommend a book someone else will love.

    Amazon clearly wanted to add a touch of handselling to its storefront when it brought Sara Nelson onboard. For people in the publishing industry, here’s a book lover with a good sense of what a broad range of other readers will love.

    Today’s announcement of the new Google Tablet, the Nexus 7, puts a new spin on handselling. From what I read in PC Magazine, the tablet comes with a built-in app that will recommend books, and improve its recommendations based on what the owner/reader likes to read.

    IWhile I haven’t heard a name for this App yet, it won’t be Siri. But it will be eerie if, a year from now, I’m able to say I’d trust its recommendations the way I trust those of a good friend or a Sarah Nelson.

  • 24 Apr 2012 1:22 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    There’s undoubtedly much more to be said about the DoJ’s lawsuit against the five original agency publishers and Apple, as well as the settlement that Hachette, Harper and S&S have agreed to.

    That said, it behooves everyone who is impacted by these events (i.e. everyone involved in the publishing or selling of books) to know what assertions the lawsuit actually makes and, perhaps more importantly, what terms the settling publishers have agreed to abide by — before you have any further conversation or read any more media reports.  I’ve seen a staggering amount of ill-informed coverage about what the settlement does and doesn’t do, and I think that every one of us should know exactly what it is that we’ll be seeing as a consequence of the settlement, rather than trusting the press reports, which absurdly seem to pay no attention to what’s in the actual documents but just repeat the little bits that have already been reported.  (I know, you’re shocked!)

    So, as a public service, here’s a link to the lawsuit’s page on the  DoJ’s website that contains all the relevant documents.  I particularly recommend reading the proposed Final Judgment.  It’s fascinating — and essential — reading for anyone in this business.

  • 06 Apr 2012 1:20 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    The cover story of Forbes April 23 issue, “Inside Amazon’s Idea Machine,” is well worth reading along with the inside story, “Jeff Bezos’ 10 Top Leadership Tips.” Tip Number 9 goes like this:

    9. “Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”
    Complaints can be devastating in the age of viral tweets and blogs. Bezos asks thousands of Amazon managers, including ­himself, to ­attend two days of call-center training each year. The payoff: humility and empathy for the customer.

  • 26 Mar 2012 1:17 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    An interesting discussion on DRM (digital rights management) here:

    While DRM is not a “hot” topic, it is nevertheless important in the bigger conversation of the Future of Digital.  For those who need a quick brush up on what DRM is in the first place, it refers to any technology which limits the use of digital content (ie, an eBook) after sale.  For example, libraries use DRM to limit patrons from sending their borrowed eBook to anyone else, printing a copy, or having it “checked” out for longer than a certain period of time.  Retailers such as Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble apply their own DRM to eBooks they sell that again limit the buyer from printing or sending the eBook, and generally limit the number and/or type of devices on which the eBook can be read.

    People who support DRM claim that this decreases the chance of the book being pirated by creating a stumbling block in the way of putting a book up on a free downloads site.  Anti-DRM advocates claim that DRM can be stripped in a matter of minutes and so that stumbling block is practically nonexistent, and that DRM limits the functionality and useability of an eBook–that an eBook should be able to be taken anywhere and used in any way that the readers wants it to be, and that DRM only prevents new entries to the digital retail space and makes a reader less likely to buy an eBook due to the restrictions he or she will face.

    As agents, it seems a no-brainer that eBooks must be sold with protection to prevent piracy, especially when an author’s ability to defend against the illegal use of their material is virtually non-existent.  The article points out that while there’s no evidence that DRM-free eBooks lead to increased piracy, or that people who read/download pirated eBooks would otherwise have actually bought that eBook (ie, that any revenue was actually lost), neither is there any evidence that DRM-free eBooks actually sell less than eBooks to which DRM has been applied.

    Given that, if your author has decided to self-publish, or you are looking at ePublishers, do you advise the author for or against a solution which allows the eBook to be sold on one or more platforms DRM-free?  Without more evidence, the question must remain open.

  • 03 Feb 2012 1:16 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Many people discuss formulas for books to be saved in this changing publishing world. Social Media, the most labor intensive to the author and least costly to the publisher, is pushed as the solution to many incoming writers. “How many followers do you have?” is a common question to a new writer who has spent blood, sweat and tears crafting a story they hope they can share with many readers. We, as agents, both understand the economic realities that drive these new ways of promotion and are frustrated by the added burdens on our already beleaguered authors. But what more can be done besides begging for higher marketing budgets and praying for review coverage?

    Imprint Branding.

    How do readers find our new fiction writers who do not yet have a name brand nor do they have a non-fiction hook or clout? How do we introduce them to readers who would love their work without constantly re-inventing the wheel and persuade them to slap down a hefty sum in these cash strapped times for an unknown writer?

    I remember Jane Friedman, when she was head of HarperCollins, speaking about how branding was the key to the future survival of publishing and, while this did not ultimately work at HC, I do feel she was right. Up to now, few in publishing have succeeded in this endeavor. Penguin Classics, Harlequin, the Dummy Books and Tor are examples of imprints who have succeeded to brand themselves straight to the consumer. Readers know what to expect when they pick up one of these books. Their trust in the imprint to deliver a type of read has been tested and found to be reliable. The reader does not have to worry about a wasted investment even if they don’t yet know the name of the writer.

    Before now, while people in the industry knew the distinct identities of imprints and publishers, the readers were not as familiar.

    Now readers are on their own.  They are in a sea of titles, mostly on-line, whether they are looking for print or e-books.  How do they find a new voice without that friendly bookstore owner recommending it to them?  We know how they can discover other books by particular authors.  They can easily click on the author’s name and see all of that author’s books.  Why? Because on-line stores are sophisticated search engines.

    What if readers could also search by imprint?  All of a sudden they could see that Unbridled Books are quirky literary reads or that Riverhead delivers great writing consistently.  Through imprint branding we are able to take away some of the monetary risk for our readers and build trust and loyalty that could then make it easier for a new voice to be discovered.  This would not only benefit the imprint/publisher but the brick and mortar as well as the on-line stores, the authors and the consumers.

    By asking on-line bookstores to add this one crucial search at the top of the book pages, we have given the consumer a whole new wealth of knowledge to facilitate their discovery of their next purchase.

    This would be one more way for the consumer to be able to find the perfect read.

    And that is what we all want…Right?

  • 26 Jan 2012 1:14 PM | Digital Rights Committee (Administrator)

    Booklr has published a survey of the top 100 Kindle books v top 100 Nook titles.   35% of the top Kindle titles were free or under two dollars – vs. 0% for the Nook.  40% of Nook’s top 100 were $10 and up, vs. only 27% of Kindles.

    Booklr bills itself as “a data and analytic platform that delivers actionable insights to book publishers about their market, customers and retail partners.”    (Their charts are more concise.)

    My conclusion: Kindle buyers buy what’s cheap.   Nook customers buy what they want.

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