The Polish Book Chamber has heard arguments for and against its long-running effort at legislation to established fixed book pricing.
By Jaroslaw Adamowksi | Publishers Perspective
Booksellers Lead the Opposition
The Polish Chamber of Books (Polska Izba Książki, PIK) is holding consultations through Tuesday (May 18) on a draft bill that introduces fixed book pricing to the market.
The legislation would fix a price for books for 12 months, allowing booksellers to offer a maximum discount of 5 percent in regular retail settings, and 15 percent at book fairs. A number of online booksellers are protesting the proposal, asserting that it could undermine Poland’s book sales and deprive less affluent readers of access to new releases.
In a statement from the chamber’s president, Sonia Draga, the organization says that the proposed measures are a product of years of discussions. The bill’s first draft was written in 2017.
In an interview with Publishing Perspectives, Włodzimierz Albin, a board member of the chamber, says that the draft bill on the fixed book price “is not related to fiscal issues, but it introduces some changes to the rules that apply to the publishing market. It isn’t a novelty in Europe, as the majority of major European countries have implemented such rules that apply to books, and these countries represent more than 60 percent of the European Union’s population.”
Albin says that while some industry observers use the term “minimum book price,” the term is misleading.
“We’re talking about a uniform price for new releases, determined by publishers and respected by retailers. This is quite obvious in the majority of European countries,” he says.
As previously reported, 13 European countries have fixed pricing on books, including Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain. Outside of Europe, countries in which books are sold on a fixed-price system include Argentina, Japan, and Mexico.
Online Booksellers Protest Fixed Prices
Piotr Sroka, the marketing manager of online bookseller Gandalf argues that introducing fixed book prices could trigger higher prices for new titles, and, as a result, lead to a drop in their sales.
“This will be related to a lack of discounts which means that readers will have to turn to older titles, as they won’t be able to afford new titles, which will be much more expensive,” Sroka tells Publishing Perspectives.
“And there are more consequences,” he says.
“We must be aware that the budgets for purchases by companies, state institutions, schools, and libraries will become significantly burdened. Small stores will only have access to a standard offer. Large store chains could be treated preferentially, as they’re able to influence publishers and pressure them, for instance by asking them to release limited editions of certain books at lower prices for them.
Sroka also says some Polish publishers could turn to reducing the quality of their books by switching to cheaper paper and outsourcing printing to low-quality businesses.
“The lack of new releases and quality will definitely translate into a drop in book reading,” he says. “We want to intervene in a timely way, noticing this potential problem before it’s too late so that Polish readers preserve their right to unrestricted access to legal culture.”
The draft bill has also drawn criticism from other Poland-based online booksellers. Wojciech Mazia, a management board member at the online bookstore Bonito, has released an open letter to his company’s customers in which he calls on readers “who care about buying books for the lowest possible prices” to voice objections to the draft bill.
Another online bookseller, TaniaKsiazka, has launched an online petition to combat the legislative proposal.
“We fear that along with higher book prices, the level of book reading will also fall,” reads a statement from TaniaKsiazka.
According to research from Poland’s National Library, reading rates have been rising in recent years. In 2020, Poland’s book reading levels, the report indicates, were at their highest levels in six year. The same report also indicates that close to 33 percent of respondents don’t have any books in their homes, according to TaniaKsiazka’s said in a statement accompanying the petition which, as of May 17, has amassed about 3,400 signatories.
Data released by the National Library last April suggests that, in 2020, 42 percent of respondents said they’d read at least one book in the past 12 months. This represented an increase of 3 percent compared with a year earlier, and up 5 percent compared with 2018.
Sharjah Book Authority and Ingram Content Group announced a joint venture, Lightning Source Sharjah, a print-on-demand installation at the Sharjah Publishing City free trade zone.
by Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | Publishing Perspective
Ahmed Al Ameri: ‘Outreach Into Regional Markets’
Creating one of the Middle East’s first large-scale print-on-demand installations, Ingram Lightning Source and Sharjah Book Authority have announced today (November 23) the opening of a major facility at the world’s first free trade zone for publishing, Sharjah Publishing City.
The news comes more than two years after the Book Authority’s chair Ahmed Al Ameri and Shawn Morin, president and CEO of Ingram Content Group, signed their agreement of intent at what would be the final iteration of BookExpo in New York.
The development of this printing center has been understood to be an essential component in the promise of Sharjah Publishing City to become a publishing gateway into the Arab world and African markets of world publishing.
The potential importance of the new facility lies in the region’s longstanding need for robust production and distribution. As today’s media messaging puts it, this new capacity–put together as a joint venture named Lightning Source Sharjah between Ingram Content Group and Al Ameri’s Sharjah Book Authority–”will expand access to content and enable publishers to meet consumer demand more rapidly in the area.”
In making the announcement that the new facility is now becoming a reality, Al Ameri says, “Sharjah Publishing City is pleased to partner with Lightning Source in creating this print-on-demand facility.
“It represents an important addition to the free zone’s operational capabilities and will offer publishers, retailers, and other stakeholders significant opportunities to expand their access to books and content, as well as their outreach into regional markets.
“The establishment of Lightning Source Sharjah, Ingram’s first print-on-demand facility in the region, is indicative of the strategic opportunities Sharjah provides to publishing business in the region, and also firmly reflects on the emirate’s leading status on the global cultural stage.”
John Ingram: ‘Fueling the Modern-Day Publishing Industry’
John Ingram, the chair of Ingram Content Group, says, “We have long enjoyed a strong partnership with Sharjah Book Authority and are excited about the opportunity this new venture brings for Sharjah, Ingram, and the broader Middle East and Gulf region.
“I would also like to personally thank His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi for allowing us to be part of this important initiative in Sharjah.
“Print-on-demand is fueling the modern-day publishing industry, making the digital and physical distribution of diverse content across different languages and regions seamless. “This new facility will bring these world-class innovations to scale in the Middle East in a way that will benefit the publishing world and consumers alike.”
As Publishing Perspectives readers know, Sharjah Publishing City was opened by Sheikh Sultan during Sharjah International Book Fair in 2017 and comprises a facility of more than 40,000 square meters. Its offices and operational spaces have been renting since then to various publishing-related companies and enterprises, as the concept of its free-trade hub for the region came together.
The announcement in 2019 that Ingram would indeed be coming in as the over-arching anchor tenant of this new facility was a major one: many commercial and creative parties interested in Sharjah’s development as the United Arab Emirates’ leading emirate in book publishing have watched for the fulfillment of Ingram’s plan to place its print-on-demand installation at Sharjah Publishing City.
David Taylor, the London-based senior vice-president at Ingram for content acquisition, is quoted today, saying, “The creation of this facility is a significant development for the book trade within this region.
“It will bring pioneering technology and innovation to the forefront of meeting consumer demands in a rapidly growing and important part of the world.
“Ingram works with tens of thousands of publishers from around the world and is trusted with many millions of their titles in our Lightning Source print on demand supply model.
“The Sharjah operation will be an additional distribution option for our publishers and there’s great excitement about the potential. We’re excited to work with our publishers, retailers and others to enable them to use the power of print-on-demand to facilitate global distribution in powerful new ways through this joint venture.”
And this new announcement caps a big month for Sharjah Book Authority and the emirate, which reports an attendance of 1.69 million at its 2021 Sharjah International Book Fair, the 11-day run of which was preceded by the largest-yet professional programs for this fair, a three-day trade-show event with more than 500 book-publishing professionals in place. This was the 40th iteration of the fair and it opened what will be a year of observances and celebrations of the United Arab Emirates’ 50th jubilee.
More from Publishing Perspectives on Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates’ publishing market is here, and more on Sharjah Publishing City is here. More from us on Ingram Content Group is here, more on Sharjah Book Authority is here, more on Sharjah International Book Fair is here, and more on publishing’s trade shows, book fairs, and festivals is here.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.
By Jim Milliot | Publishers Weekly Nov 26, 2021
AMI Note: While there was a lot of hope that the COVID19 sales for books were better than 2019 based on various reports, it is clear that NOT everyone enjoyed the benefits of those sales. Especially hit hard were the Indie Authors who relied on in-person one-on-one buys and other avenues that were not necessarily open to them as it was for the Big 4 publishing houses.
When the Association of American Publishers released its final industrywide sales report for 2020 last month, it showed another basically flat year, with sales of $25.71 billion, down 0.2% compared to 2019. The small decline was in keeping with the overall pattern over the past five years. Between 2016 and 2020, overall publishing sales rose only in 2019, up 1.7% over 2018, and 2020 sales were down 3.9% compared to 2016.
The trade segment, the industry’s largest, has been the steadiest performer over the past five years, with sales up 3.1% in 2020 compared to 2016. The adult category was the main driver, with sales rising 4.9%, while sales in the children’s/YA category fell 0.8%. The decline in children’s/YA is slightly deceiving, since 2016 was an exceptionally strong year for children’s/YA fiction, where sales were $3.96 billion—a total that has not been reached since. The religious presses category had the largest increase over the period, overcoming an 8.4% decline in 2020 that was largely due to the lockdown of bookstores and religious institutions.
The higher education and professional books categories had the biggest sales declines between 2016 and 2020; the professional category had a particularly difficult 2020, with sales falling 14.5% compared to 2019. Sales in the higher ed category have declined steadily since 2016, and publishers have been trying to adjust to increased student purchases of digital materials, which tend to be less expensive than print. Pre-K–12 instructional sales had hit $4.38 billion in 2019 before falling 12.3% in 2020 due to the pandemic, which shrank textbook purchases and accelerated the shift to digital materials. The growing importance of digital content has led a number of former textbook publishers to refashion themselves as learning technology companies.
In addition to greater sales of digital materials, the pandemic led to a 19.2% increase in online sales in 2020 over 2019, to $9.5 billion overall. The AAP also noted that 2020 was the first time that the online channel, dominated by Amazon, accounted for more than 50% of trade sales. In 2016, online sales accounted for 39.5% of trade sales. Within the trade segment (among which the AAP includes the religious category), the lockdowns last year resulted in a 9.9% decline in sales through physical retail compared to 2019. Physical retail accounted for 16.7% of trade sales in 2020, down from 23.4% in 2016.
The final 2020 results tracked closely to preliminary results issued earlier this year, which also found sales to be even with 2019. The preliminary results were based on revenue reports supplied by 1,354 publishers to AAP’s StatShot program. The final numbers include the StatShot revenue plus estimates for publishers that don’t report to the AAP. In addition, the AAP incorporated information from Bowker’s Books in Print database to ensure that it captured all active publishers in its report, including small publishers.
2022 is the Year of the Reader - Time to get ready to say Thank You to your readers all year long. For program ideas, supplies, and the 2022 Read-A-Thon program for all ages, check out HTTP://Readers.DEARIndie.org
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®
I've been expending a lot of words and time lately warning about the latest scam phenomenon to hit the writing world: fake publishers, marketers, and "literary agencies" that, through outrageous prices and worthless services, extract enormous amounts of money from unwary writers.
Based in the Philippines (despite their apparent US or Canadian addresses, phone numbers, and telemarketer names) and preying primarily on the elderly and on writers who've self-published (particularly with one of the Author Solutions imprints), these companies recruit authors with relentless--and highly deceptive--phone and email solicitations.
The scams' focus has shifted over the years. When I first discovered them in 2014, they were primarily selling publishing and marketing services, but currently they're more likely to approach potential victims by posing as literary agencies that can transition authors to traditional contracts, or companies that can market books to major film studios and streaming services. They may also impersonate real, reputable agents, editors. and publishers, or falsely use the logos of major publishers and publishing industry groups like the Authors Guild.
Some of the scams do provide at least some of the services authors pay for, albeit at seriously inflated prices and often of poor quality. Others just take the money and run. I've heard from writers who've paid thousands, or even tens of thousands, to one--or, in some cases, more than one--of these scams, with next to nothing to show for it.
The scams share a cluster of characteristics that make them reasonably easy to identify. If a company exhibits three or more of these characteristics--especially if it has contacted you out of the blue--be extremely skeptical.
- Cold-call solicitations by phone and email (this is the number one sign of a scam: real literary agents and publishers do not typically reach out to authors they don't represent, while for scammers it's their main mode of recruitment)
- Re-publishing offers (since most of their targets are self-published authors)
- Claims of expertise that can't be verified, since staff names and biographies are not provided, or can be easily refuted (for instance if they claim years of experience but their web domain was only registered a few months ago)
- English-language errors on websites and in emails, and telemarketers with foreign accents (since the scams are owned and staffed primarily by people for whom English is a second language)
- A catalog of junk marketing services (services of dubious value that are cheap to provide and can be sold at a huge markup, including press releases, email blasts, book trailers, social media posts, paid reviews and radio interviews, and the like).
A few of my posts about the scams--where they come from, how they work, and how to recognize them:
Below is a list of the scams themselves--at least, the more than 125 I've identified so far (the list is also posted in the sidebar of this blog). You'll note that a number of them operate under more than one name--I suspect the interconnection is much greater than this, but I've only indicated additional names where I've been able to reliably document them.
Some have perished since I began the list--I've noted this, but left their names for the sake of authors who may have been scammed while they were operational.
- Access Media Group (aka Quill Space Media) (Quill Space Media is defunct)
- Ace Media Creative Publication / Ace Media International / APM Media Production (aka Pearson Media Group) (defunct under the Ace name, still doing business as Pearson Media)
- Adaptations Tide
- ADBooks Press (aka Coffee Press / Okir Publishing) (all three names are defunct)
- Adverters, The (aka Sherlock Press)
- Alpha Books Solutions
- Alpha Books United
- Amelia Book Company (defunct) (aka Amelia Publishing / Litfire Publishing / GoToPublish)
- Amelia Publishing (aka Amelia Book Company / LitFire Publishing / GoToPublish)
- AnalytIQ (defunct)
- Ascribed LLC (defunct)
- Atheneum Literary
- Author Aide
- Author Codex (aka BookSpine Press) (BookSpine Press is defunct)
- Author Media Express (aka Book Art Press Solutions / Booktimes / Bookwhip / Carter Press / PR Media Solutions / Pearson Media Groups / Stephenson and Queen / Window Press Club) (Carter Press, PR Media Solutions, and Window Press Club are defunct)
- Author Pro Creatives and Marketing (aka Matchstick Literary) (Author Pro Creatives is defunct)
- Author Reputation Press
- Author University
- AuthorCentrix (formerly BookBlastPro) (defunct)
- Authors Avenue Media Group
- Authors Press (aka Westwood Books Publishing [formerly Greenberry] / Creative Books)
- Beacon Books Agency (aka Fact & Fiction Entertainment and Literary Agency)
- Black Lacquer Press & Marketing
- BooConn Marketing
- Book Agency Plus (aka BookTrail Agency)
- Book Art Press Solutions (aka Author Media Express / Booktimes / Bookwhip / Carter Press / PR Media Solutions / Pearson Media Groups / Stephenson and Queen / Window Press Club) (Carter Press, PR Media Solutions, and Window Press Club are defunct)
- Book Avenue Publishing (aka Nivra Press) (both are defunct)
- Book Magnets
- Book Reads Publishing (defunct)
- BookSpine Press (aka Author Codex) (defunct, but still doing business as Author Codex)
- Booktimes (aka Book Art Press Solutions / Book Art Press Solutions / Bookwhip / Carter Press / PR Media Solutions / Pearson Media Group / Stephenson and Queen / Window Press Club) (Carter Press, PR Media Solutions, and Window Press Club are defunct)
- BookTrail Agency (aka Book Agency Plus)
- Books Scribe
- BookVenture Publishing
- BookWhip (aka Author Media Express / Book Art Press Solutions / Booktimes / Carter Press / PR Media Solutions / Pearson Media Group / Stephenson and Queen / Window Press Club) (Carter Press, PR Media Solutions, and Window Press Club are defunct)
- Box Office Media Creatives (aka Buzz Media Creatives) (Buzz Media Creatives is defunct)
- Buzz Media Creatives (aka Box Office Media Creatives) (defunct under the Buzz name, still doing business as Box Office Media Creatives)
- Capstone Media Services (aka Stampa / Stampa Global) (defunct under the Capstone name, still doing business as Stampa)
- Carter Press (aka Author Media Express / Book Art Press Solutions / Booktimes / BookWhip / PR Media Solutions / Pearson Media Groups / Stephenson and Queen / Window Press Club) (defunct, but still doing business as Author Media Express, Book Art Press Solutions, Booktimes, BookWhip, and Pearson Media Group)
- Chapters Media & Advertising (aka PaperBytes Marketing Solutions / Fresh Pages Media and Advertising (defunct) / TechBooks Media (defunct)) (does business in the Philippines as BridgeBooks)
- Creative Books (aka Westwood Books Publishing / Authors Press)
- Creative Titles Media (aka TrueMedia Creatives) (both defunct)
- Crest Media Distribution (defunct)
- Diamond Media Press
- Dream Books Distribution (website is dead)
- Editor's Creative Media (website is dead) (aka Editor's Press and Media / Silver Ink Literary Agency / Global Review Press / Quantum Discovery)
- Editor's Press and Media (aka Editor's Creative Media (website is dead) / Silver Ink Literary Agency / Global Review Press /Quantum Discovery)
- Global Summit House (aka Best Books Media / The Universal Breakthrough)
- Gold Touch Press
- Golden Ink Media Services (website has a "dangerous page" warning) (aka Great Writers Media / Green Sage Agency / Pen Culture Solutions / P One Media Marketing Consultancy)
- Goldman Agency
- GoToPublish (aka LitFire Publishing / Amelia Publishing / Amelia Book Company)
- Happy Media Consulting (website is dead)
- IdeoPage Press Solutions (aka The Writer Central) (defunct under both names)
- Legaia Books (defunct) (aka Get Started Books / West Literary Agency (website is down) / Right Choice Multimedia)
- Lettra Press (aka Pen House LLC)
- LitFire Publishing (website is mostly nonfunctional, except for a Bookstore page) (aka Amelia Publishing / Amelia Book Company / GoToPublish)
- Maple Leaf Publishing
- MatchStick Literary (aka Author Pro Creatives and Marketing, which is defunct)
- McNaughton Books / McNaughton Publishing (website is currently dead)
- The Mulberry Books
- Netsfilm & Media Press (defunct)
- New Reader Media
- Nivra Press (aka Book Avenue Publishing) (both are defunct)
- Okir Publishing (aka ADbooks Press / Coffee Press) (all three names are defunct)
- Outstrip (defunct)
- Pacific Books Publishing (defunct)
- PageClapp Media (defunct)
- PageTurner, Press and Media (aka Innocentrix / Fox Media Studios Agency / Pioneer Media Productions / Silver Fox Media / Orions Media Agency / Experttell) (Orions Media Agency and Pioneer Media Productions are defunct)
- Parchment Global Publishing (aka Word Dominion International, which is defunct)
- Paradigm Print (no longer has a website)
- Paramount Books Media (website is dead)
- Quill Space Media (aka Access Media Group) (defunct, but still doing business as Access Media Group)
- Royale House (defunct)
- Rushmore Press
- Sherlock Press (aka The Adverters) (Sherlock is defunct, Adverters still in business)
- Silver Fox Media (aka Fox Media Studios Agency / Orions Media Agency / Pioneer Media Productions / Experttell / PageTurner Press and Media / Innocentrix) (Orions Media Agency and Pioneer Media Productions are defunct)
- Stampa Global (formerly Capstone Media Services)
- Techbooks Media (defunct) (see Chapters Media & Advertising)
- Toplink Publishing
- TrueMedia Creatives (aka Creative Titles Media) (both defunct)
- Universal Book Solutions (website is dead)
- Vivlio Hill Publishing (aka Vivlio Solutions / Vivlio Marketing Solutions)
- WestPoint Print and Media
- Westwood Books Publishing (formerly Greenberry) (aka Authors Press / Creative Books)
- Window Press Club (aka Author Media Express / Book Art Press Solutions, Booktimes, Bookwhip / Carter Press, PR Media Solutions / Pearson Media Group / Stephenson and Queen) (defunct, but still doing business as Author Media Express, Book Art Press Solutions, Booktimes, and BookWhip)
- The Writer Central (aka IdeoPage Press Solutions, which is defunct)
- YourOnlinePublicist (aka YOP)
- Zeta Publishing
(I'm continuously updating this list--adding new companies as I discover them, noting the ones that disappear.)
The opportunity to consider strong sales performance vs. actual reading habits is offered by recent Gallup findings in the states.
By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Not Fewer Book Readers, But Lower Consumption Levels
As we’ve reported, the American publishing industry ended 2021 on a high note, many elements of which you can review in our report on NPD BookScan‘s review from the company’s research lead in the space, Kristen McLean. What’s more, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) has issued strong StatShot reports. They run farther behind than NPD’s commentary, but they include a broader purview of the marketplace, as reported through a pool of more than 1,300 publishers.
In a January 10 report from the United States’ Gallup Poll Social Services, however, the company has found that Americans surveyed say they read an average of 12.6 books during the past year, a smaller number than Gallup has measured in any prior survey dating back to 1990.
“US adults are reading roughly two or three fewer books per year than they did between 2001 and 2016,” according to the report.
The input from Gallup’s pool was collected between December 1 and 16, in telephone interviews conducted with a random sample of 811 adults 18 and older. The margin of sampling error is rated at +4 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level. Respondents live in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The question put to respondents asked them how many books they’d “read, either all or part of the way through” in the past year, and without a print-vs.-digital bias. “Reading,” for purposes of this poll, includes all formats including ebooks and audiobooks.
It’s important to note that the poll is not revealing a smaller number of book-reading citizens, but a lower level of content consumption among those readers.
In his discussion for Gallup of the finding, Jeffrey M. Jones writes, “The decline in book reading is mostly a function of how many books readers are reading, as opposed to fewer Americans reading any books. The 17 percent of US adults who say they did not read any books in the past year is similar to the 16 percent to 18 percent measured in 2002 to 2016 surveys, although it’s higher than in the 1999 to 2001 polls.
“The drop is fueled by a decline,” Jones writes, “in the percentage of Americans reading more than 10 books in the past year. Currently, 27 percent report that they read more than 10 books, down eight percentage points since 2016 and lower than every prior measure by at least four points.”
When Jones writes that it’s unclear what’s behind a decline in content consumption levels among readers, he touches on the entertainment-overload issue that has concerned many in book publishing as the digital dynamic has placed reading into a common and turbo-charged distributional climate with film, television, music, gaming, and more.
Michael Busch, the CEO of Germany’s Thalia bookselling chain, has recently referred to digital “deepening the omnichannel integration” of the “customer journey.” (Busch will join us in a roundtable on January 28 for Italy’s 39th Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri program, details are here. And we have alerted him that we may indeed use his interesting phrase, omnichannel integration, with gratitude.)
And while many in world publishing were initially slow to concede that consumers were seeing the lines of access blurring between various entertainment media (often on a single device), one of the most cogent points that Eoin Purcell, the chief of Amazon Publishing for Germany and the United Kingdom, made to us in a late-year conversation was that the “digital acceleration” triggered by spread-mitigation efforts particularly in the first year of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be less about adding new readership and more about “intensity.”
Purcell, seated at a traditional publishing house that stands among Amazon’s sister operations in film, television, and music, said, “Customers responded by doing more of what they loved. That’s what we saw. For some that was reading. For some that was listening to audiobooks or podcasts. For some it was listening to music. For some it was watching more shows on Amazon Prime.” Intensity.
Is what Gallup is picking up on, then, a lessening of intensity? Perhaps the crassest way to put it might be to ask whether all the intensity of the harshest periods of COVID-19 restrictions actually could have led to a period, hopefully temporary, of intensity exhaustion? “Enough with the reading already,” might be the poll respondent’s comment, if that’s the case.
Jones, in his Gallup article, writes that it’s not a question of accessibility. “It’s uncertain,” he writes, “whether concerns about COVID or COVID-related restrictions are leading to a decline in visits to libraries or bookstores, similar to the documented declines in air travel and movie theater attendance Gallup found in the same poll.”
Certainly the Broadway producers’ dilemma problem aligns with what Jones is talking about, Michael Paulson having written for The New York Times on Sunday (January 16) that the shows have deeply staffed up on understudies and stand-ins so that casts can get through performances when colleagues become infected, only to find now that “audiences are vanishing.”
At Gallup, Jones writes, “However, unlike those activities, for reading, Americans can order books or download electronic books or audiobooks without leaving their homes.”
And if anything, McLean at NPD says, physical book retailers are capitalizing now on “the best of what’s working” to keep content moving off the shelves “after nearly two years of pandemic experimentation and implementation. From rebranding and re-merchandising efforts, to community-building strategies and aggressive promotional campaigns,” she predicts, “some retailers are really going to nail it, and physical bookselling will grow share overall in 2022.”
Jones’ and Gallup’s cautionary message is worth keeping in mind this year, particularly because of the demographic in which the December polling has shown a decline in reading: college graduates report reading an average of “about six fewer books in 2021 than they did between 2002 and 2016, 14.6 [books] versus 21.1.”
“Americans in most major subgroups” polled, Jones writes, say that they “are reading fewer books now than in the past. This is based on a comparison of the 2021 results to an average of those from the three polls conducted between 2002 and 2016. During those years, Americans read an average of 15.2 books a year.
“The decline is greater among subgroups that tended to be more avid readers, particularly college graduates but also women and older Americans.”
The bright spot? Men’s reading seems to have declined less, “by barely one book,” than women’s. Granted, men now report reading 9.5 books by comparison to women’s 15.7 now (down from 19.3 between 2002 and 2016). But with the US publishing industry having long placed more content and marketing emphasis on its female consumer base than on its potential male readership, it’s good to see that men’s reading habits may not be deteriorating as readily as women’s in Gallup’s polling purview.
What will be decidedly less happy to many in the business is a finding Jones reports among older respondents, those 55 and older. They’ve reported dropping to 12 books per year from a previous 16.7 books per year.
Perhaps the most important blinking yellow light here is Gallup’s finding that, “Reading appears to be in decline as a favorite way for Americans to spend their free time. In 2020, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, when many Americans were still reluctant to leave their homes, Gallup found 6 percent of US adults naming reading as their favorite way to spend an evening, down from 12 percent in 2016. Since Gallup first asked the question in 1960, at least 10 percent of Americans had identified reading as their favorite evening activity in all but one survey.”
Understandably, the relief of an industry like book publishing to find that it could adjust, weather, and even thrive in a pandemic-constrained environment in many markets has been a moment for cheering. The American market and many of its more digitally advanced sister markets of the world clearly are right to be buoyed by how they’ve fared and proud of the hard work it has taken to accomplish upbeat results.
And the Gallup write-up from Jones includes an important point that the drivers behind these recent findings remain unclear. The results described may be temporary. We just don’t know.
Indeed, in a recent discussion of these findings on a private list-serve group followed by industry professionals, a lot of skepticism was expressed, not least because the US market’s performance has shown superb sales resilience and many gains in the pandemic era.
A good point then was made, though, that what Gallup’s respondents are talking about is how much they’ve read, not how much they’ve bought.
As happy as many sales reports have been, actual reading may not have been as robust as assumed. Further, it was pointed out that in reference to the publishing industry, Gallup has a position of ideological independence: its appraisals may be, again understandably, less colored by (perfectly logical) industry interests than the metrics collected more closely to, and in concert with, industry players.
Suffice it to say that amid many positive data reports and the logical satisfaction of what has appeared to be so many fine performances under challenging conditions, it’s good simply to contemplate and remain vigilant about these data points from Gallup that suggest there could be a softening of enthusiasm among the normally more engaged classes of consumers.
A little sober watchfulness is never a bad thing.
A deep dive into the ‘future of the internet’
By Monica J. White - November 23, 2021
Long before Facebook rebranded to Meta and CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about “the metaverse” at great length, the concept of the metaverse was already thriving and rapidly expanding. There’s no escaping the truth — the metaverse is here, and it’s probably here to stay.
The question is, what is the metaverse? Is it as big a deal as some companies make it out to be, or is it just a passing trend that will be forgotten in a few months? Do you need to know all about the metaverse, and should you get involved before it blows up further? In this article, we take a deep dive into the concept of the metaverse and talk about its past, present, and most importantly, its future.
The metaverse is a virtual reality
The metaverse is indeed a virtual reality, but it’s not quite the same thing as what you’ve seen in science fiction blockbusters.
Imagine a franchise like The Matrix, where the world is a digital simulation that everyone is connected to, and is so well-made that nearly no one knows that it’s not real. The metaverse is not quite like that, but it definitely has the potential to evolve into something fantastically immersive.
The idea behind the metaverse has been around for much longer than Meta’s vision of it — in fact, it’s far older than even Facebook itself. Zuckerberg referred to it as “an embodied internet that you’re inside of instead of just looking at.”
The real meaning of the metaverse is just as broad as Zuckerberg’s vague description of it.
At its most basic, the metaverse is a virtual reality that allows people from all over the world to interact, both with each other and with the metaverse itself. Users are often allowed to obtain items that remain theirs between sessions, or even land within the metaverse. However, there are many ways to interpret that concept, and it has evolved greatly over the years.
On the internet, we’re always interacting with something — be it a website, a game, or a chat program that connects us to our friends. The metaverse takes this one step further and puts the user in the middle of the action. This opens the door to stronger, more realistic experiences that simply browsing the web or watching a video fail to evoke very often, if ever.
What’s the difference between VR and the metaverse?
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are both concepts that are closely tied to the metaverse, but they are not one and the same. Instead of viewing them as different iterations of what is essentially the same thing, it’s good to view them as separate entities that supplement each other.
VR and AR equipment allows the user to immerse themselves in a virtual world. In the case of VR, we are shown completely different surroundings. Be it a game or a movie, VR lets you interact with the changing world around you. AR, on the other hand, adds elements to your real surroundings and lets you interact with them in various ways.
The difference lies in the purpose. You can play a VR or AR game at any given time without interacting with others, but the foundation of the metaverse, as envisioned by Meta and other companies, is human contact.
In short, the metaverse is the playground for both of the above — a way for people to share a virtual universe together, be it for work, school, exercise, or simply for fun.
The use of VR and AR tools will go a long way in expanding the metaverse and making it feel like a real experience as opposed to a video game with extra steps. However, the concept of the metaverse goes far beyond just VR and AR — it’s meant to bring people closer together in previously unheard of ways. This, in turn, also opens a lot of room for expansion.
Who is building the metaverse?
Zuckerberg’s recent Meta keynote turned millions of new pairs of eyes toward the metaverse, but there are several giants in this race to the future. Each of these companies has its own vision of the metaverse, which only serves to further expand the already vast meaning of the word.
Facebook’s journey toward the metaverse is actually not that surprising. In March 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2.3 billion. The company continued releasing Oculus Quest products, making some of the best VR headsets currently out there.
Considering that Meta now plans to heavily rely on both VR and AR in order to bring realism to the metaverse, buying Oculus seven years ago doesn’t feel like a random decision at all. It’s worth noting that Oculus Quest will soon be no more. Starting in 2022, the entire product line will be rebranded to Meta Quest, thus finally completing the acquisition and erasing the previous branding.
In addition to Meta Quest, Andrew Bosworth, chief technology officer of Meta, announced that some Oculus products will be called Meta Horizon. According to Bosworth, this will be the branding that encompasses the entirety of the VR metaverse platform.
With Facebook’s huge announcement out in the open, Microsoft was not far behind to jump on the metaverse train. The tech giant is looking to build a metaverse of sorts inside Microsoft Teams starting as early as 2022.
Microsoft’s plan is to utilize Mesh in order to let every Teams user participate in video meetings, replacing webcam images with animated avatars. Artificial intelligence will be used to listen to the user’s voice and animate their avatar accordingly, complete with matching lip movements. Switching to 3D meetings will also produce additional hand movements.
While Microsoft’s announcement may seem small when compared to Meta’s, it’s definitely a step into the metaverse that clearly illustrates the company’s interest. These changes to Teams indicates that, much like Meta, Microsoft might want to integrate the metaverse into the future of remote work.
Nvidia also has a horse in the metaverse race, and it’s called the Nvidia Omniverse. The company calls it “a platform for connecting 3D worlds into a shared virtual universe”. Nvidia’s Omniverse is cloud-native, meaning that it’s a shared, persistent platform that remains the same between sessions. It runs on RTX-based systems and can be streamed remotely to any device.
The graphics card giant seems to have, so far, gone down a slightly different route with its metaverse. Meta and Microsoft place a lot of emphasis on the social aspect of the metaverse, but Nvidia’s focus is collaboration and exploring new technologies. The Omniverse is used by designers, robotics engineers, and other experts to simulate the real world in virtual reality. One example is Ericsson — its engineers use Omniverse to simulate 5G waves in urban environments.
Looking into the future, we’ve got another big-ticket player on the horizon. Apple is rumored to be working on both a full VR headset and AR glasses, and all signs point toward the brand reaching for the metaverse. Both of these devices would likely have to plug into a metaverse in order to function, so Apple may not be that far behind Meta when it comes to building the metaverse.
Is the metaverse just a video game in disguise?
Short answer: Not really.
Long answer: Maybe a little bit, depending on your point of view.
Online games such as Fortnite, World of Warcraft, or Minecraft are all metaverses — each in their own way. They create a lasting world for their players to join and leave as they please. A player’s progress is saved on an external server and shared with other users, meaning that everything you do in these games can be revisited at a later time.
Technically, every game could be considered a metaverse, and the metaverses that various tech giants are working on can all include some aspects of gaming. However, the idea of the metaverse is much broader than just that of a video game. The metaverse is meant to replace, or improve, real-life functionality in a virtual space. Things that users do in their day-to-day life, such as attending classes or going to work, can all be done in the metaverse instead.
There are some similarities between video game metaverses and the idea of a broader metaverse. You can interact with others, perform various tasks together, and to some extent, shape the world around you. However, all of this is firmly set within the limitations of the game.
A good example of this is that you can build yourself a giant castle in Minecraft, but in World of Warcraft, you don’t have that same freedom. Players are allowed to own a garrison, which is a plot of land of sorts, but they have little to no influence on what it looks like and where it’s placed. More importantly, the plot is the same for all players and they can only visit each other when invited.
Although the titles mentioned above are what’s popular right now, it’s worth noting that the concept of the metaverse exists in many video games, and it has been around for a long time. Second Life, a game from 2003 that’s still around to this day, is essentially a metaverse that doesn’t have an end goal the way many other games do: It just lets you roam the world and interact with other players. Oh, and you can also fly.
In an ideal metaverse, you forge your own destiny, and many of the common video game limitations are removed. However, the first step is the same for nearly every metaverse, game-related or not: You have to create your character.
Becoming an avatar
In the metaverse, users are given an avatar — a representation of themselves that they can tweak to look however they like. The way the avatar looks depends on the platform. It can be something very basic, but it can also be high quality, with a lot of room for customization. Users can strive to remain true to life, but they can also turn themselves into someone entirely different.
The avatar, once created, is the user’s ticket to the metaverse — a virtual universe where the sky is the limit, provided one has the imagination to suspend reality for a little while. The avatar can move, speak, explore the area, and more. The limitations of the avatar lie entirely with the platform.
Some instances of the metaverse resemble a video game and let the user walk around using a keyboard and mouse. More advanced versions involve the use of virtual reality headsets and controls that truly immerse the user in the world by replicating their real-life movements in the metaverse.
Different companies have different takes on the avatar-creating process. Microsoft Mesh is being integrated into Teams in 2022, bringing something new to the metaverse table. The program will allow the user to create a fully customized avatar of themselves. Through the use of mixed reality technology, the avatar will represent the user in a realistic way. In the future, this will involve a full range of facial expressions, body language, and backgrounds.
Meta has big plans when it comes to avatar creation in its upcoming metaverse, Horizon Worlds. The avatars will be supported by VR and will replicate the user’s actions in real time. While this all sounds peachy, these avatars do not currently have legs — possibly to make the movement and travel easier to manage. However, Meta is also working on photorealistic Codec Avatars: Impressive-looking, ultrarealistic avatars that will be rendered in rea time along with the surrounding environment.
Regardless of the platform, the ideal metaverse will let the user pick what they want to look like while retaining the realism of facial expressions and movements when supported by VR.
What does the metaverse look like?
Before answering this question, we need to distinguish “the metaverse” from “a metaverse.” There is no one singular metaverse that connects all the other universes into one cohesive whole, although they all involve the use of the internet to connect their users to one another. As such, every metaverse can look entirely different from the rest.
The way a metaverse looks depends entirely on its creator. Some metaverses are sandbox-like, giving a lot of room for creation and not limiting the user a whole lot in terms of what they end up building. Think Minecraft, but bigger: Everyone shares the same world instead of sharing a server with friends.
In such a metaverse, real-world rules still mostly apply. You’re likely to see the sky, buildings, and nature, and most significantly, other people. The art style depends on the metaverse and can be cartoony, realistic, or anything in between.
However, as Zuckerberg emphasized during his Meta keynote, the metaverse doesn’t suffer from the same limitations as the real world does. There is no reason why you couldn’t go to space with your entire family in the metaverse, provided its creators allowed for this to happen.
The bottom line is that a metaverse can look like a classroom, a street, a fantasy forest, or the bottom of the ocean. However, the most popular instances of it offer something that’s a mix of all of those things, all thanks to the freedom they provide their users.
Is a metaverse possible?
Let’s take a moment to quickly recap where we stand. We’ve got a virtual reality where the only limitations lie in the hands of its creator. We’ve got an avatar that represents us. Of course, we have an internet connection that lets us join this shared world.
Where do we go from here? It depends.
In an ideal world, the metaverse should connect each and every user to one another. Joining a public server should provide the ability to interact with everyone else who is connected at the time. The reality is often different.
As certain metaverses grow more popular, it becomes impossible for the servers that host them to handle such huge traffic loads. This means that some developers create different layers that separate the users, effectively making the world a little smaller.
There may come a time in the future when this can be avoided, but right now, the metaverse is often fragmented — not to mention the fact that people use different platforms, effectively choosing their preferred universe.
As mentioned above, every company has a different take on the metaverse. Facebook is working on Horizon Worlds, Nvidia has its Omniverse, and much smaller fish in this very big pond are also joining in. The cryptocurrency world has metaverses of its own.
The fact that these metaverses are disconnected from each other, operate on different platforms, and have no shared uses or goal, means that the idea of one large metaverse is currently impossible.
If the metaverse is meant to be one giant, shared virtual world, all the companies involved in releasing their own metaverses would have to join forces. For that to happen, not only would these brands have to cooperate, but server technology would have to rapidly advance.
In order to host all of these different iterations of the metaverse on one platform, unimaginable server loads would have to be handled not just by the host, but also the end user.
Until this is possible, the metaverse may always be somewhat fragmented, forcing the users to choose their universe of choice before they connect to the shared world.
What is the purpose of the metaverse?
The metaverse, as a concept, is not very easy to define, if only because of how limitless it seems to be. This means that its general purpose can be defined on a case-by-case basis — not just the company or group of people that create it, but also each individual user.
The general purpose of the metaverse is to connect with others through a virtual, shared universe. Be it for work, self-improvement, or simply entertainment, the metaverse exists to breach the borders of reality and distance, connecting people from all over the globe.
Allowing users, portrayed by their avatars, to interact with the world at large without giving them any clear goals allows for a lot of freedom of choice. This is also what Meta has built its big reveal on — the fact that in the metaverse, you can essentially do just about anything you want.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common things you can do in the metaverse.
A common theme in metaverses involves allowing users to buy plots of land. Such a property, upon purchase, becomes assigned to one particular user and is unavailable to other players as long as it’s owned by that specific avatar. Plots can be bought or rented, just like in the real world.
Owning property often allows the user to utilize it in whichever way they might want. Some choose to build a gallery to house the items they own, while others create shops or shared public spaces.
The concept of letting the users roam free and build whatever they want in their own space is not new, and it definitely plays into the success of games such as Minecraft or Roblox. User creativity saves a lot of time for the developers of the metaverse, who would otherwise have to spend it on designing the buildings themselves.
Of course, this is the internet, and too much freedom can lead to various forms of abuse. Most metaverses continue to supervise the content created by their users, and depending on the host, it may be taken down. Even a seemingly infinite universe has its limitations.
Once you own something in the metaverse, it can be sold or traded to one of the other users. This adds an element of wealth and prestige to an otherwise detached world. Some lots are worth more than others, some items are rare while others are common — all of this adds up to the creation of an economy that applies to a particular metaverse.
Typically, plots of land in the metaverse vary in size and location. As this is a virtual rendition of real life, it’s not a surprise that the real estate market is alive and well even in the metaverse. Contested plots, located closer to busy areas or simply made more desirable through some other luxury, can reach much higher prices than a tiny square of grass on the outskirts of town.
Some metaverses attract not just regular users, but also companies. As the universe is shared by many, this opens up the opportunity to advertise. Simply buying land and displaying the logo of the company can be an effective way to pique or refresh interest.
Companies are able to benefit from the metaverse in more ways than one. Organizing events, creating crossovers between franchises, and engaging with the user base is made easier in a seemingly limitless universe.
Live and interact
The above examples of what you can do in the metaverse are all technicalities when you compare them to the ideal metaverse — a place almost capable of replacing reality. We’re not quite there yet (and we won’t be for years), but the efforts of companies like Meta or VRChat are bringing us closer to this than we’ve ever been before.
In a perfect metaverse, you are capable of interacting with every person around you. This goes beyond the text-based chat we’ve all seen in games such as Second Life or Habbo. Incorporating voice communication, VR headsets, and AR glasses allows for interaction on a whole new level.
Whether it’s meeting your friends and going skydiving or forming a study group in a virtual library, the main concept of the metaverse will always revolve around human interaction — just not in person.
Work and study
From Meta to Microsoft, many companies place a lot of emphasis on the ability to work, cooperate, and study together in the metaverse.
Microsoft is planning to use Mesh to bring realism to otherwise dull video meetings. Meta hopes to create virtual workspaces, giving remote workers a chance to spend time together in virtual reality during their workday.
The metaverse can also be used for work in different ways, including simulating real-world tasks in virtual reality first. This can be utilized by engineers, programmers, designers, and many other professionals through metaverses such as Nvidia’s Omniverse.
The connection between the metaverse, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs
When speaking of the metaverse, it’s impossible not to mention cryptocurrencies. After all, some of the biggest instances of it are based on the blockchain — the decentralized framework that cryptocurrencies operate within.
One such example is Decentraland, a sandbox-like metaverse that lets its users buy plots of land, explore other plots, and interact with each other. The entire economy is based around MANA — a cryptocurrency used specifically in Decentraland.
What sets these metaverses apart from commercially owned universes is the fact that they rely on a decentralized network where your assets are your own and are not controlled by the owner(s) of the metaverse.
Cryptocurrencies, and therefore also the universes that are set around them, are usually decentralized. This means that the currency, virtual land, or the whole metaverse is not owned by a single entity and cannot be taken down, sold, or otherwise destroyed on a whim. Decentralization involves contracts distributed to a network of users and a majority vote. Unless the majority of the network votes to take the metaverse down, it should, in theory, remain accessible to everyone.
This is not the case in gaming metaverses, such as World of Warcraft, where your account continues to belong to the company in charge of the game. This means that all of your assets, such as your equipment or your characters, are ultimately not yours to control. This is where non-fungible tokens (NFTs) come in.
NFTs can be anything from (frankly, rather ugly) 8-pixel avatars to breathtaking works of art. At their core, NFTs are a decentralized way to assign ownership to virtual goods. Anyone can download a photo and claim it as their own, but NFTs involve cryptocurrency and contracts that pin down ownership to one particular user.
In the metaverse, this opens up a whole new level of economy that turns this fantastical concept into a way for people to make (or lose) real-world money. Users can buy virtual plots of land, avatars, or even a hat for their metaverse avatar — all through the use of cryptocurrency.
Non-fungible tokens are independent of the metaverse, but they do play a part in the economy of certain universes, such as Decentraland or The Sandbox — an upcoming metaverse that is not yet live.
The Sandbox sells plots of land in the form of NFTs, assigning full ownership to the person who buys them. The users can then visit that plot and interact with its contents. Just one glance at The Sandbox’s map shows that this form of NFTs caught the interest of not just cryptocurrency fanatics, but also dozens of companies that see it as a new advertising space to explore.
Some big-name brands and franchises already own land in The Sandbox ahead of its launch. You’ll see gigantic plots of land belonging to Atari, RollerCoaster Tycoon, The Walking Dead, Shaun the Sheep, and even South China Morning Post.
This is a mix of brands that no one would ever accuse of having much of an interest in either NFTs or the metaverse, but the concept shows promise, and some companies are looking to capitalize on that.
It’s difficult not to draw similarities between the real-world economy and the way the cryptocurrency market ties into some of the most popular metaverses. The end result can be wonderful or jarring, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.
The future of the metaverse
No one can deny that the concept of the metaverse has started to spread to previously uncharted lands. We’ve gone a long way from its humble beginnings in games such as Second Life, Habbo Hotel, or even the long-gone, long-forgotten Club Penguin.
According to Zuckerberg, Meta hopes to hit the ground running with Horizon Worlds, although even Zuckerberg admits that we’re not quite there yet. It will take years for the metaverse to permeate our reality to the point of being as widely known and accessible as what Meta is hoping to achieve.
The vision of the metaverse as a shared universe where people separated by continents can play, learn, share, and even work together is futuristic and idyllic in equal measure. Bustling streets filled with stores, parks, and people can all be recreated in the metaverse, but the technology needed to support it is still not something that every person can easily access.
Another step toward mainstream recognition lies in the realism of the metaverse experience. The introduction of VR and AR into the metaverse will certainly go a long way in making the experience feel far more realistic than it does with a keyboard and mouse.
We’ve already seen interesting crossovers that tested the limits of the metaverse. Travis Scott performed a virtual concert in Fortnite that was attended by over 12 million people. Justin Bieber has just announced that he plans to do the same. Even though The Sandbox isn’t live yet, Snoop Dogg, an avid supporter of NFTs, already owns land in it and lets people buy VIP passes to visit his mansion in the future.
Zuckerberg believes that the future of the internet lies in the metaverse — he even went as far as to call it the successor to mobile internet. Whether that is true still remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure — it’s difficult to deny that the metaverse is no longer a wild concept pulled straight out of a sci-fi film. Facebook/Meta has just added fuel to a fire that has already been burning, and in a few years, we may be seeing the metaverse utilized in ways we previously haven’t even thought possible.