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Three Significant Announcements Regarding E-books and Audiobooks

Last week there were three significant announcements from Apple, Google, and Walmart of interest to all authors. First the three bits of news and then a few observations.

Apple announced that their iBooks app is being renamed to simply Books. Accompanying it will be a complete redesign of the reading app, their store, and the addition of an audiobook tab to make it easier for users to access their audiobook library. You will see the new design roll out over the next few months.

The audio tab is significant because last year Audible (owned by Amazon) and Apple ended their exclusive global digital audiobook agreement. There were competition complaints from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, plus an investigation was started by the European Commission. The result is that Apple will now compete with Amazon for audiobook sales. A category that is growing very fast.

Last month, to head this new initiative, Apple hired Kashif Zafar, who was the senior VP at Audible (Amazon) and before that was the content VP at Barnes & Noble for their Nook division.

Google announced they too will be selling audiobooks via their Google Play Store. As of today they are offering 50% off your first audiobook purchase. They are launching with a long list of best-selling audiobooks priced at under $10. In addition they will allow buyers to share their purchases with up to five family members at no extra cost. Google Play focuses on individual audio book sales in contrast to the subscription model of Audible.

Walmart announced their new partnership with Kobo, the ebook retailer that is a major player in Canada (with about 60% of digital book sales). (Kobo is actually  one of the e-book and audiobook divisions of Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce company, which also owns OverDrive.) Kobo’s e-reading devices have been available in the U.S. for a long time, but have struggled competing with Amazon’s Kindle, the smartphone, and the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

Kobo offers over six million e-books and audiobooks in their catalog which means those will become part of the online store of Walmart.

It is also assumed that Walmart will begin selling the Kobo e-reader device in their 4,600 locations. Walmart sold the Sony Reader a long time ago and also has previously sold both the Kindle and the Kobo. It will be interesting to watch those displays to see what devices they will be offering this Summer.

What Does This Mean?

The first thing that comes to mind? Books are selling and are a profitable source of revenue! Otherwise none of these e-commerce giants would invest in them. That is great news.

Second, these major companies are unwilling to cede market dominance to Amazon. Competition is a good thing for consumers.

Third, this means more opportunities for ebooks and audiobooks to be sold.

Fourth, audio is a common thread in all these moves. The category is no longer an afterthought. In case you had not heard, the latest premium Kindle dedicated e-reader device (the Oasis) is designed to also play audio books. Using Bluetooth technology the user can switch between audio and text with both remaining synced.

Fifth, seemingly left out is Barnes & Noble. But they already have their Nook e-reader and sell e-books online. However, they did have an announcement of their own. They changed the name of their self-publishing platform from Nook Press to Barnes & Noble Press. They redesigned their entire publishing web site and increased royalties to the authors.

Technical Matters as a Reminder

A reminder to everyone. There are two types of ebook formats.
1) the Kindle format used exclusively by Amazon. It is technically a .mobi file. Mobi and Kindle are nearly synonymous. One is the file (mobi), the other is the device or app that reads the file (Kindle). The file is proprietary to Amazon and can only be read using the Kindle reader, app, or online software. It provides the exclusive ecosystem controlled by Amazon.
2) the ePub format used by everyone else (Apple, Kobo, Nook, etc.)

Please be sure to understand the difference. You cannot easily read an ePub file on  Kindle without some conversion. You cannot read a mobi (Kindle) file on an epub reader. But you can read an ePub file on any non-Kindle device (Kobo, Nook, Apple, etc).

Note however, that although the ePub file is universal, each ebook retailer can require some massaging of the file to fit their specific requirements.

Indie Authors Must Decide

If you self-publish as an Indie author you have a decision to make. According to AuthorEarnings, Amazon controls over 80% of the e-book market in the U.S. For Indie authors Amazon offers many incentives to publish their ebooks exclusively with them. And if the author also has an audio version Amazon’s Audible division is even more dominant in the marketplace.

Thus the decision. Do you go exclusive with Amazon? Or do you expand your offerings? Up until now the Indie author didn’t risk losing too many U.S. sales by staying within Amazon’s system. But with Walmart making the entire Kobo catalog a part of their site and Apple renewing their interest, the Indie author could be leaving sales on the table if they remain exclusive.

I’d be curious to know what our readers plan to do.

Over at The Christian Writers Institute we publish The Christian Writers Market Guide and a few other books on writing. From the beginning I wanted our print books and ebooks available everywhere, which is the same philosophy the major traditional publishers follow.

To help with this, we use Draft2Digital.com to handle all our non-Amazon e-book sales. It is a one-stop shop and has a user-friendly interface and reporting system. Our non-Kindle user customers are grateful we make the books widely available. Recently Draft2Digital added support for Amazon Kindle files as well.



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