Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Author Solutions buys Trafford Publishing

I read yesterday in the regular Book2 Book newsletter that I receive that Author Solutions, the US based print on demand publisher had acquired Trafford Publishing for an undisclosed sum.

Trafford was a relatively small but well known operation, set up in 1995, with offices in both Canada and the UK, and accordingly to The Bookseller, the world's first print on demand provider. My own publisher, Authors OnLine Ltd was established not long after, since this is their 12th year of business. Trafford may have been the first POD provider in the world, but AOL were the first in the UK - the original, and in my opinion, still the best.

Author Solutions, who own several POD imprints including AuthorHouse and iUniverse, are rapidly becoming the MacDonalds of the print on demand world. This comes on the back of their acquisition, just a few months ago, of Xlibris.

During 2008, they claim to have published over 21,000 titles from over 90,000 authors. Look closely however and you will see that the average sales for one of their titles was hardly more than 200 copies. Although it is true that this is largely due to the efforts (or lack of) on the part of their authors, to me it is not exactly a glowing advertisement. I suppose it depends on what your motivations for publishing are in the first place.

The news of this acquisition is to me a very sad day for the POD world. When you look at the history of the traditional non POD sector, and see how the smaller independent presses have been gradually swallowed up by the big boys, you will see that the power is concentrated in the hands of four or five large companies, who effectively have control of close to 75 percent of the market. This means less choice all round, and provides no incentive for the companies to compete with each other by offering better or different products, leading to less choice and less innovation. This is where the smaller companies, like the aforementioned Authors OnLine come in, who offer a real alternative with different options to suit different budgets without the 'pile em high and sell em cheap mentality that seems to emanate from these larger, less personal companies.

US book sales down 2.8 percent

Spending on books in the UK may be down by an average of 6 percent in real terms, but the figure in the US seems even worse, for according to a report by the Association of American Publishers, some stateside are reporting a slump of up to 21 percent.

Publishers Weekly reports that total books sales in the US fell by 2.8 percent in 2008, with sales down in nine out of the 14 categories surveyed.

These totals are based on monthly reports supplied by 81 publishers, supplemented by Census Bureau data. The AAP applies the percentage change reported in each category by the reporting companies to the previous year's totals.

The largest increase for 2008 was perhaps not surprisingly, in the e-book sector, where sales rose a staggering 68.4 percent to $113.2 million. In comparison, the printed sector, particualarly hardbacks, had a very difficult year, with sales siginficantly down in for both children and adults.

Despite these apparently dismal findings, the AAP estimates that industry sales grew at a 1.6 percent compound annual growth rate during the period 2002–2008 period. During this time span, when averaged overall, the mass market paperback and the book club/mail order segments were the only ones to have a drop in sales. Excluding e-books, the religious book segment (good news for me, as my own work falls into this category) showed the strongest growth, at 4.5 percent.

The full report can be read here

Monday, April 06, 2009

Google's plan for "orphan" books is challenged

The Book 2 Book newsletter that I subscribe to today had an interesting link to an article regarding Google Books taken from the New York Times. It seems that Google are not content with scanning books that are still in print, but have now turned their attention to those out of print, whose copyright owners are either unknown, or for for various reasons, cannot be traced. Such books are known as "orphans" within the trade, and there are literally (no pun) thousands languishing in archives throughout the country - mostly in university and library archives.

These books may from the sound of it, have found a new guardian, since it seems that Google have begun scanning these books to form part of a huge and free digital library available to all. There is however a growing chorus of complaint within the industry at Google's plans and in my opinion, quite rightly so. This move to me seems foolish in the extreme, coming as it does, on the back of the settlement which was recently announced (subject to court approval) with regard to books whose copyright owners can be traced.

Critics say that while such "orphan" books are a valuable part of 20th century literature that should be preserved, no competitor will be able compile anywhere near as comprehensive a library as Google, giving the company a virtual monopoly on the realm of digital information. With no competition, Google will be able to charge universities and those requiring access to these works, whatever they like.

I cannot help but feel that these critics are missing the entire point. These books are still in copyright, and whether or not the copyright owners can be traced, makes not one iota of difference. The fact that the copyright owner cannot be traced cannot and should not be used as carte blance to make money from what is essentially someone else's work. Copyright doesn't end when the author dies; the right to publish remains with the author's estate (e.g., his/her family.) The time frame for this varies from country to country, but in most cases is at least 70 years after the authors death.

Copyright laws exist in order to protect the rights of the copyright holder - whether that be author or publisher. The fact that that person cannot be traced should not be used as a license to infringe those rights -which if Google goes ahead with this plan, and according to the New York Times, they have already begun work on this project, they will be guilty of. They appear to have learnt nothing from the proposed settlement and I cannot help but feel they are leaving themselves wide open to further court cases if and when some of these copyright owners (as they surely will be) are found.

The project will undoubtedly bring great benefits to the reading public, but what about the rights of the copyright holders, surely they should take precedence? Who was it after all that wrote these things and who was it that bore the cost of publication. Not Google, but the authors and publishers of these works. They should be the ones to benefit financially from these work while they remain in copyright and no one else.

The full article can be read here.