The dispute over terms between the Hachette Book Group and Amazon, the viability of the subscription model, and the arrival of BookCon were three of the most discussed topics during BookExpo America which had its 2014 run from May 29 to 31 at New York City’s Javits Center. While few publishers would go on the record about Hachette and Amazon, the showdown popped up in many panels and meetings, and in private conservations on the convention floor.
During the ABA Celebration of Bookselling & Author Awards Lunch on Thursday, Hachette author James Patterson, who received the Indie Champion Award for his million-dollar bookseller grant program, said that “if Amazon’s not a monopoly, it’s the beginning of one.” He added, “If this is to be the new American way, it has to be changed—by law if necessary.” Patterson has previously criticized Amazon’s negotiating tactics on his Facebook page. Later on Thursday, at the American Booksellers Association annual meeting, ABA CEO Oren Teicher said that Amazon’s “bullying assault of a major publisher” was a threat to the entire book industry. “To put it plainly, the book industry is being held hostage by a company far more interested in selling flat screen TV’s, diapers, and groceries [than books]. It is clear they are prepared to sacrifice a diverse publishing ecosystem to achieve retail dominance.”
As part of a Friday morning keynote, author Walter Isaacson said he “loves Amazon,” noting that he buys a lot of clothing and books on the website and lauding its customer service. “But when you screw with authors and publishers the way Amazon is doing now, you have a problem,” he added. Amazon did have some staunch defenders. Patrick Hughes, Fulcrum’s marketing and sales director, said he appreciated what Amazon means to independent presses. “Amazon is our largest customer,” he noted. “One international corporate behemoth complaining about another international corporate behemoth... I have absolutely no sympathy.”
Of course, not everyone at the show was discussing the Amazon-Hachette feud. Subscription services, the most talked-about new business model of the year, were the subject of Thursday’s half-day panel at the combined IDPF/Making Information Pay session. In his opening talk, consultant Ted Hill shared some insights from a project that he recently undertook for BISG on e-books and subscription services. The report, titled, “Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy: A BISG Research Study,” will be released on June 16. Among the high points: 80% of industry stakeholders agree that e-book subscription businesses are inevitable in the digital book environment, and 84% see the model as having a positive impact on their business in the next five years; 86% of scholarly publishers are now working to get their e-books into aggregated collections; 65% of professional publishers are currently seeing subscription revenue; and 33% of textbook publishers say they see significant revenue from subscriptions, compared to only 7% of trade publishers.
Subscription services are catching on for trade publishers, however. The tricky part for them, of course, is figuring out the financial impact of offering subscription access, Hill acknowledged. “All publishers today know that their readers are getting some of their digital media through subscription platforms, and it is a channel they like,” he said, adding, “If publishers want to reach those people, they are going to have to provide a similar experience.” E-book subscription services like Oyster and Scribd have steadily added publishers, but there is one notable holdout: Penguin Random House. The publisher has yet to commit any titles to a subscription service.
Questions over how BookCon would be received by both publishers and the public appeared to be answered even before the doors opened to consumers on Saturday morning. Executives at Reed Exhibitions, which owns BEA and BookCon, sent letters to exhibitors notifying them that the company will very likely add a second day to the consumer portion of the expo in 2015, extending it into Sunday. Publishers will have the option of operating booths in the trade area of the event, which will be open from May 28 to 30, or of being located in the BookCon space, which will also be open to consumers on May 30 and May 31. Reed executives were encouraged to expand BookCon, in part, by strong registration numbers for the event, with nearly 10,000 consumers signed up to attend. Lines were long Saturday, when BookCon officially made its debut.
For our complete coverage of BEA, including the big books on display, click here.