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All stories relating to book sales

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Did Oprah’s endorsement hurt book sales?

For 15 years, Oprah’s Book Club was considered one of publishers’ favourite things, but a U.S. economist believes O’s endorsement had negative impact on overall book sales.

In his study on celebrity products, Craig Garthwaite reports that in the week following an Oprah endorsement, a selected title could experience a sales increase of up to 400 per cent. But in the 12 weeks following that, overall sales of adult fiction titles actually decreased by 2.5 per cent.

Sales of non-endorsed titles by book club authors also increased during that 12-week period, but romance, mystery, and adventure categories experienced significant decreases. Garthwaite speculates the decrease is “likely as a result of the endorsed books being more difficult than those that otherwise would have been purchased,” or as Mother Jones writer Kevin Jones joked: “While millions of Oprah fans were pretending to slog their way through Faulkner and Tolstoy, they were too drained to read their usual light fare. So the beach reading genres suffered.”

While Garthwaite’s theory is impossible to prove, he makes his case in a 49-page paper, available here as a PDF.


Penguin pulls out of OverDrive, stops ebook sales to libraries

Penguin Group has announced it will no longer provide ebooks to OverDrive, effective immediately. With the termination of the relationship between the publisher and the U.S. digital content distributor, public libraries are effectively cut off from acquiring and lending out Penguin ebooks and e-audiobooks.

The Digital Shift reports:

Penguin is negotiating a “continuance agreement” with OverDrive, which will allow libraries that have Penguin ebooks in their catalog to continue to have access to those titles.

But since the company does not have a contract with 3M, the still fledgling but growing competitor to OverDrive, the practical effect of the decision will be to shut down public library access to additional Penguin ebook titles (not physical titles) for the immediate future.

The news is not entirely unexpected. In November of last year, Penguin Group stopped selling frontlist ebook titles to OverDrive and other digital distribution platforms, and stopped offering new e-audiobooks to library distributors last month.

Penguin is not the only major publisher to demonstrate an unwillingness to provide digital content to libraries. Even as circulation numbers for ebooks grow at libraries, multinational publishers have tightened the reins on providing ebooks and e-audiobooks to these institutions. In March, HarperCollins capped library lending of its e-titles at 26 loans. Random House held off providing digital content to libraries until spring of last year (the availability of Canadian backlisted titles has been notoriously limited). Simon & Schuster and MacMillan have so far refused to provide e-titles to libraries. Now, HarperCollins remains the only large multinational publisher to provide digital titles to OverDrive.

In each of these cases, publishers have cited concerns over piracy and the potential for a loss of consumer sales. Canadian publishers such as House of Anansi Press, Douglas & McIntyre, and Orca Books do presently deal with the distributor.

This latest development with Penguin strengthens the argument for a Canadian-made solution to e-content distribution, championed by groups such as the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, the Association of Canadian Publishers, and the Canadian Publishers Council (of which Penguin Canada, Simon & Schuster Canada, HarperCollins Canada, and Random House of Canada are members).

[This post was updated Feb. 10.]

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Why ebooks in Quebec are a taxing issue

While NPR urges the world to stop the ebook versus print debate, in Quebec, the debate has shifted to how digital titles are taxed, and what constitutes a “real book.”

According to Montreal’s The Gazette, the Quebec government has treated print books as zero-rated for tax purposes since 1996, but ebook sales can still include the 9.5 per cent provincial sales tax.

Robert Hayashi, CEO of the digital publishing advocacy organization eBound Canada, disagrees with the discrepancy. “Just like there is a hardcover (print book) format and a softcover format, ebooks are just another format,” he told the The Gazette. “So if government is not taxing the hardcover book, we believe that government should also not tax the ebook.”

In another Gazette article, Kobo’s vice-president of finance, Daniel Budlovsky, lamented that Quebec consumers who purchase ebooks through Kobo are charged both provincial and federal sales taxes, while those who buy their ebooks through U.S. competitor Amazon pay no sales taxes.

Although Budlovsky said the discrepancy “should be atrociously viewed by the Canadian public,” Kobo isn’t ready to battle the Canadian government to change the tax laws.

“We accept the law for what it is and feel that it should be changed but that is a long and bureaucratic process,” Budlovsky said. “We work in a … fast-moving industry where we need to stay ahead of the competition by working on things that are under our control.”

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Book sales down “dramatically” in Q1 of 2011

The bad news for booksellers just seems to keep coming. Today, Publishers Weekly reports that Canadian book sales “dropped dramatically” in the first quarter of 2011 according to figures released by BookNet Canada. The market was depressed in both units sold (down 10.9 per cent) and dollar sales (10.8 per cent), and numbers were down across all categories of physical books, with fiction taking the biggest hit (16.9 per cent in units and 15.4 per cent in dollars).

From PW:

BookNet CEO Noah Genner attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the sale of digital books, tough economic conditions and the lack of the type of blockbuster hits that have buoyed sales in recent years. “There are some books doing well, but there hasn’t been anything of the volume that we’ve seen in the last few years like with Twilight, Stieg Larsson and [Harry] Potter before that. And there is definitely some portion of that going to e-books.”

A BookNet Canada press release explains how they arrived at what can only be considered dismal figures for booksellers:

All figures for this report have been drawn from BookNet Canada’s national book sales tracking system, BNC SalesData, using the year-over-year sales from a fixed panel of 665 retail locations from across the country.

We maintain this 665-store subset of our 1,600 reporting stores, also known as a ring fence, which includes only stores that have been contributing data since [2006-07]. These are the only stores we look at for year-over-year comparisons. Any stores that have been added since 2007 are excluded from year-over-year calculations. This means that the addition of new stores in the past two years is not a factor in any reported change in market performance.

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Daily links round-up: Free Kindles, James Frey, and more

Sundry links from around the Web:

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Daily book biz round-up: one million iPads sold; Amazon Associates payola; and more

A quiet day in the land of book news:

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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