Tag Archives: Mofibo

Alas, Poor Waterstone's, I Knew Thee Well. The UK’s Biggest Bookstore Shuts The Door On Ebooks.

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The UK’s prestigious Waterstone’s bookstore chain (the British equivalent of B&N for those unfamiliar) has finally called it a day with its token ebook store, and customers have until mid-June to transition to Kobo.

I’ve been with the Waterstone’s ebook store since the beginning. It helped make one of my titles the eleventh bestselling ebook in the UK back in 2011, and while sales hardly compared to Kindle UK, they were well worth having.

That was then. In recent years Waterstone’s sales have dwindled dreadfully (to be fair possibly a reflection of my shift to children’s titles the last two years, which are generally less rewarding as ebooks) and it’s long since become clear the Waterstone’e book store had lost the will to live. Waterstone’s chief James Daunt knows a futile battle when he sees one. I’m just surprised it took this long.

It’s another notch on Amazon’s bedpost. Waterstone’s joins Sony UK, Nook UK, Txtr UK, Tesco Blinkbox and the subscription service Blloon in the Uk ebook graveyard, leaving token players like Hive, Blackwell’s and Lovereading to compete with the bigger stores.

The bigger stores being Amazon Kindle, of course, along with Apple and Google Play. In addition Kobo has both a localized UK store and a partnership with WH Smith.

The other small but significant player is Sainsbury, but no indie access to that store.

Playster is also in the UK with its subscription service. Indies can get into Playster through StreetLib and I’m expecting an announcement from Draft2Digital soon.

Future competition in this sector may come from subscription service Storytel-Mofibo (or whatever it will rename itself in the wake of the merger), and a subscription service with trad pub titles in number may well find a niche to compete with KU.

But safe to say that now, as opposed to if it had happened back in 2011, the closure of Waterstone’s ebooks will make a difference to no-one but the Waterstone’s clients who will be transferred to Kobo.

Alas, poor Waterstone’s ebooks, I knew thee well.

How well?

Back in 2011 my titles were topping the Waterstone’s e-charts and while Kindle was bringing in far more, of course, the Waterstone’s money was not to be sneezed at.

Bear in mind Kindle UK only kicked off in summer 2010 and ebooks were still a novelty and possibly a fad. In early 2011 you could top the Kindle UK charts with just 20,000 sales a month.

James Daunt only took over at Waterstone’s in May 2011, at which time the Waterstone’s ebook store (it still had a sensible apostrophe back then) was ticking over nicely. There was almost zero indies to compete with (I think Waterstone’s was Gardner’s supplied then – OverDrive came later) which meant the handful of indies that were in could do well.

Daunt took over an effectively bankrupt bookstore chain (backed by Russian money) with a token ebook store and rumour kicked off about a B&N Nook partnership. Clearly at that time Daunt was hedging his bets. He even dropped the apostrophe in the name of the store to make it more on-line-friendly.

No-one was sure what way the ebook wind would blow in the UK, but B&N’s straddling physical and digital with the Nook project seemed (back then – hindsight is a wonderful thing) as good a bet as any.

At that time the Waterstone’s store sold iRiver and Sony ebook readers and displayed them quite prominently.

Then came the surprise Kindle partnership – presumably an offer Daunt couldn’t refuse – to pre-empt the Nook partnership. Why Daunt took it is anyone’s guess, but I suspect Daunt understood the long-term conflict that B&N was later to face – that you can’t cannibalize your physical stores by promoting ebooks.

Under the original B&N model that wouldn’t have been an issue, because the ebooks and print books were all from the same supply base. No problem. Ebooks and print books sold in tandem and complemented one another.

The phenomenal rise of self-publishing tipped over that apple-cart, and instead of ebooks complementing the print titles, ebooks began to cannibalize print.

B&N exacerbated the problem with the self-pub portal, making it easier for indies to sell on the Nook platform (back then Smashwords was the only realistic alternative route into Nook).

Daunt possibly had the foresight to see that coming. After all, at least one indie in the Waterstone’s ebook store – no names mentioned – was outselling the biggest names in publishing and was the most searched for brand in store for three months solid.

I was disappointed to see the Waterstone’s ebook project effectively shelved. The store remained open, but hidden, and the Kindle partnership was never taken seriously. Kindle devices were never displayed to their best advantage and staff studiously avoided being helpful when customers asked about them.

From public statements by Daunt in the last year or so it’s clear the ebook store had dwindled to irrelevancy. He was going out of his way to belittle its impact, suggesting the revenue from ebooks wouldn’t buy a coffee at the Waterstone’s Costa coffee bar. Back in 2011 the Waterstone’s royalties I was collecting would have kept me in coffee for a year, and I drink a lot of coffee!

Even allowing for some exaggeration (de-aggeration?) by Daunt, it was clear the Waterstone’s ebook store was not pulling its weight.

How much that was market economics and the obviously powerful impact of the Kindle store, and how much deliberate policy by Daunt, is unclear.

By 2013 it was obvious Daunt had no intention of developing the Waterstone’s ebook store, and by 2015 obvious it was on borrowed time. The only surprise since is that he’s kept the Waterstone’s ebook store open this long.

I suspect Daunt has ideological as well as commercial antipathy towards ebooks, but all credit to him for turning around an all-but bankrupt bookstore chain to the pont where it’s now expanding, showing that print bookstores can thrive in the face of ebook and on-line print sales from a far bigger competitor.

Without the burden of the Nook – a valiant attempt by B&N, but one destined to fail because the two arms cannibalized instead of complementing one another – B&N might be in a far stronger position, as Waterstone’s is in the UK today.

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Despite The Demise of Oyster, Ebook Subscription Services Are Mostly Doing Rather Well.

Mofibo may not be the first name to spring to mind when we indies think of ebook subscription services, but despite the constant flow of assurances that Oyster’s demise marks the end of the ebook subscription model, the model is actually doing just fine, thank you very much.

The demise of Blloon added fuel to the fire of speculation that ebook subscription services are dead in the water (KU excepted, of course), but that’s to ignore the inconvenient reality that even in the US many ebook subscription services are doing rather well – Epic! and Hoopla spring to mind – and more are coming online almost by the day. Even Disney is in on the act.

And in that big bad world beyond the US…

Yes, Blloon has fallen by the wayside. But Bookmate, Skoobe and 24 Symbols and a host of others are still going strong after several years, many are expanding, and new operators are appearing all the time, eager to jump on this lucrative bandwagon.

Nubico in Spain, Storytel in Sweden and Elisa in Estonia, for example.
And of course Mofibo.

Over at Publishing Perspectives this past week Nathan Hull of Denmark-based ebook subscription service Mofibo has some interesting observations to make on this subject. (LINK)

As Hull notes, while Oyster is closing down, its team were picked up by Google, so clearly they were doing something right, even if they didn’t quite manage to balance the books.

And Hull reminds us of MySpace, which the elders amongst us will remember was the social media titan as ebooks began to take off back in 2009-10. Despite having 75 million monthly active users MySpace fell by the wayside.

Was this the end of the social media experiment? Clearly not.

In similar vein, while many rejoiced at the demise of Borders and claimed it heralded the demise of print books and b&m bookstores, print is actually still holding its own years later despite the rise of ebooks, and even the mighty Amazon is now opening b&m stores to sell print titles.

The point being, if one or even several players in a business sector fail, this does not automatically mean the model is broken.

And often the next generation of players emerge all the stronger for it.

Hull says, “It would be a grave oversight by agents and publishers to not pursue dialogue, gather research and then experiment in field. Stagnation should not be an option.”

I can only add indie authors to the “agents and publishers”list.

But Hull has far more interesting revelations on offer.

As Business Development Officer for Mofibo Hull has the inside gen on how Mofibo is doing, and it turns out Mofibo is doing rather well.

In Hull’s words, “Much of the digital money for authors in Denmark is from Mofibo, the ebook subscription company where I work. No, it’s not a global brand. It’s not Amazon. It’s not Google. It’s not Apple.”

Which is worth dwelling on.

Many of us indies look at the size of an operator and conclude that if it’s not some mega-corporation it isn’t worth a second look.

But as Hull reports, “…the revenues generated (by Mofibo) are new money and do not affect print income. With print remaining unaffected, Mofibo has transformed the share of digital book sales in Denmark from 3% to 18% in just two years.”

Yeah, that’s the problem with these small-time start-ups without the brand recognition and deep pockets of an Amazon or Apple or Google. They have absolutely no chance of making an impact.

From 3% to 18% in two years?! Somehow I can’t imagine the authors and publishers who are in the Mofibo catalogue are complaining too much about that!

But as Hull says, “….It gets better. Unlike other retailers, Mofibo also gives all the data back to the publishers, allowing them to learn about their readers, the readers’ habits, their environments and much more, effectively providing the publisher with a wealth of business intelligence they have never previously received from a traditional retailer.”

Hull finishes, “Mofibo is a sustainable and profitable company seeing double-digit growth this year.”

That is, a sustainable and profitable ebook subscription service seeing double-digit growth.

Of course one big advantage Mofibo has is that it is not competing with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited in Denmark, and very unlikely it ever will, as Amazon’s international Kindle expansion does not appear to have the smaller European nations on its schedule.

Which means two things for indie authors.

First, that if you are exclusive with Amazon for whatever reason you will not be seeing any benefits from the rapidly expanding global ebook markets outside the Kindle countries.

Secondly that, whatever you may read on the indie blogs circuit about how ebook subscription services are doomed, the reality is many ebook subscription services are doing rather well and delivering many benefits to authors and publishers.

Not just in terms of immediate rewards in the form of royalties, but in the form of data that can help authors and publishers refine their own business models to perform even better in the future.

The downside for indie authors is that, as best I can tell, there is no easy route into Mofibo right now.

Understandably Mofibo are not geared to handling micro-accounts from individual authors. Less understandably they do not seem to be on the distribution list of any of the major aggregators.

I’m really hoping someone will pipe up here and prove me wrong. It would be wonderful to know there is an indie-friendly aggregator supplying Mofibo.

Until such time, be sure to keep Mofibo on your radar and be ready to jump in just as soon as the opportunity does arise.

Ebook subscription services are going nowhere but up.

Like digital libraries, ebook subscription services are going to be a major part of the digital publishing scene over the next five years.

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This post first appeared on The International Indie Author Facebook Group on Thursday 12 November, (LINK)