A year after the British ebook retailer and high street bookseller W H Smith banned self-published titles from its cyber-shelves, we’re delighted to report indie titles are back.
It’s not clear yet what is being allowed in, as so few titles are showing, but those that are include titles uploaded direct via Kobo Writing Life and titles uploaded to Kobo through Smashwords.
As yet we are not seeing titles uploaded to Kobo via Draft 2Digital, Bookbaby and other aggregators, but that probably reflects our small sampling quota, not policy.
So far we’ve been unable to elicit a response from W H Smith or Kobo, and unless we’ve missed something there’s been no official announcement, but this is surely great news for the indie movement.
Back in late 2013, following the tabloid media drawing attention to a number of unsanitized self-published titles in the W H Smith ebook store courtesy of Kobo, both W H Smith and Kobo’s New Zealand partner store Whitcoulls closed their ebook stores, while Kobo removed all self-published titles from its catalogue.
W H Smith re-opened their ebook store with not a self-published title anywhere to be seen. Whitcoulls briefly re-opened with a small selection of self-pub titles but then closed shop completely and now do not sell ebooks at all.
Kobo allowed a curated selection of self-published ebooks back into its stores, but none were getting through to W H Smith.
It seemed for a long while like W H Smith was just going to carry on with just trad-pubbed titles. So what made them change their mind?
Neither W H Smith nor Kobo are saying.
Originally W H Smith said self-published titles would be banned until Kobo could offer assurances about the quality of titles being put through. Are we to believe it took a full year for Kobo to meet that criteria? We think not. Kobo put its own house in order very quickly.
More likely is that W H Smith was, in the fullness of time, able to see the financial impact of having no self-published titles selling, while looking on enviously as other UK ebook retailers raked in the indie cash.
While good news, this still leaves two mainstream UK ebook stores off-limits to indie authors.
Neither Sainsbury nor Blinkbox allow self-pubbed titles, but in fairness that has more to do with their structural set-up than a policy decision to bar indies per se. Both Blinkbox and Sainsbury deal direct with the big publishers rather than go through a middleman like Kobo as W H Smith does.
Will Blinkbox and Sainsbury open up to indie titles in the future. Our guess is yes.
Sainsbury area sensible lot, and while they have the convenience of their current trad-pub set up through Anobii, they will be acutely aware of the money indie titles could be bringing in on top.
Blinkbox? Blinkbox is anyway likely to be sold off next year, as the parent company Tesco has run into serious difficulties for reasons that have nothing to do with Blinkbox. In fact all reports were that Blinkbox was (is) doing well, both with ebooks and with other digital content.
Who will buy it? No indicators of serious interest as yet, but our guess is that the Chinese titan Alibaba, the world’s biggest e-commerce operator, wouldn’t turn its nose up at the prospect.
Although there’s been no official hints we strongly suspect Alibaba will be looking closely at Barnes & Noble’s Nook, also up for grabs in the new year. A double whammy of Nook and Blinkbox, both of which Alibaba could buy out of pocket change, would give Jack Ma the leverage he needs to mount a digital content challenge to Amazon simultaneously in the US and UK.
That said, as we’ve speculated in the past, Wal-Mart are also a good bet to buy out Nook, and who knows, maybe Blinkbox is on their radar too. Wal-Mart own the UK’s Asda, a large rival supermarket chain to Tesco and Sainsbury.
Grabbing Blinkbox from Tesco and mounting a digital challenge against Amazon UK while throwing money at Nook to gain digital traction in the US would make a lot of sense.
Both Alibaba and Wal-Mart are extremely profitable and both awash with cash right now, just at a time when their mutual rival Amazon is struggling to show any profitability at all.
Given the choice we would welcome Alibaba over Wal-Mart any day. The business ethos of Wal-Mart and Alibaba are light years apart. Will either, both, or neither take the plunge? We’ll find out next year.
Meantime let’s finish where we started. Self-published titles are back at W H Smith. Well, some. And probably the rest will follow, except maybe the erotica titles.
Are your titles in yet? You can check here. (LINK)
Is anyone seeing titles from Draft2Digital or Bookbaby getting through? Is anyone seeing self-published erotica titles getting through? Do let us know.