e-data

One Thing EVERY Publisher Should Do (and doesn’t cost a penny)

Lots of publishers have been rolling out new media and social media strategies and yet they are failing to do really basic things. There are some VERY simple things that can improve your site immeasurably and help you promote your company and your website. The crazy thing about these are that Big and Small publishers all fail to do them. And they are effectively free!

This one though has been annoying the hell out if me recently. And it’s so easy!

Have A News Page, Make Sure That Page Has An RSS Feed, USE THE NEWS PAGE*
You could set your news page up as a blog and allow commnets, but even if that isn’t for you, it is non-sensical to have a news page without an RSS feed. News that you post to a static news page just sits there waiting for people to come to it. An RSS feed sends it OUT to people in the place they have decided to READ It. That’s a wonderful permission tool. They are LOOKING for your news when they subscribe to your news RSS.

The Mercier Press News Page is a good example of using an RSS feed to a) let people know what’s coming up and b) getting pictures and news out about book launches and pretty much anything else. If they do anything wrong it’s that they don’t TELL people you can subscribe, I’d change that.

My idea of perfection for this is Little Brown’s UK website where they have an RSS Feed for their News & Events page AND they promote it!

That is all!
Eoin

* For New Pages, read Press Release or Update or whatever you prefer to call it!

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 11/12/2009

Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews to close. Frankly I find this a little strange. Even spinning them off might have been better, though survival on their own would have been pretty unlikely without serious reorganization and a fundamental rethinking of the business models.
Here

Canongate is profiled in the Wall Street Journal, that Jamie Byng has an eye for a book that can be packaged. It’d almost make ya jealous.
Here

Frankly, I don’t buy this Apple Tablet nonsense much. Apple cannot single-handedly change the industry, though they may try. In any case when Steve Jobs announces this on a stage somewhere, I’m sure I’ll want it, but until then, I shall waste no energy waiting or wanting.
Here

On the other hand, both Mike Shatzkin and Michael Hyatt have articles about new display systems for content that they claim will change the book world as we know it. I think both are right that change is coming but I have more sympathy with the Sports Illustrated demo video on Michael Hyatt’s post. After all that looks like a faster webpage with some extra features rather than something new. Webpages are the answer and so putting the web in every hand you can is the way forward for publishers and makes more sense than creating new, confusing and unnecessary formats. The trick is to make the customer pay for access to your content, not find a fancy way to display it.

Start With XML update

Eoin Purcell

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending the StartWithXML seminar that O’Reilly, Idea Logical & The Publishers Licensing Society ran in the British Library. The event itself was fantastically interesting as were the attendees.

Will Hawkins, who I met for the first time at the seminar, has a nice overview of the event on his blog here and I totally echo the wonder and awe that this section inspires:

Each book has all of the information about the title held in XML as well as the book in digital format so that, literally, at the click of a button, they can produce 48-page catalogues about their lists, feed their web site and make versions of each book in different formats. Anyone who has ever tried to put together a catalogue in a conventional way will know that it can take weeks and weeks to do this.

Want to know of whom he speaks? It should be obvious, but just in case, it’s Snowbooks.

Aside from that, I was struck very heavily by just how much further down the path of digitisation, chunking and generally the new reality STM and Academic publishers are. One eye opener was the wonderfully succinct and yet powerful presentation (all of the presentations are on slideshare here) by Mark Majurey from Taylor & Francis. Have a read below, but the effort is somewhat lost, because you don’t get to hear Mark saying that T&F were selling chunked content online as early as 2001!!! It just didn’t take off hugely.

When you hear that news, you realise how far trade publishers have to come before they are even at the races with some of these things.

An eye-opening day,
Eoin

Ebooks, heating up? People disagree!

Eoin Purcell

Seriously mixed up day for me on the ebook front, reading wise that is! I still find it hard to deal with the fact that there can be such differing opinions on ebooks as you’ll read here. On the one hand I read this considered post by Trevor Dolby on the Bookbrunch blog:

The simple truth is that at present these devices are not changing the way we read. No matter how much vested interests bellow at me in an attempt to change my mind, they are not going to persuade me that my cat is a dog.

No one can dispute that mp3 players revolutionized the way we listen to music. They did so because the technology was a clear advance. But books are uniquely suited to paper. All these devices do is mimic electronically what the humble ink on paper does. The only USPs are rather minor. You can have 100 books with you at any one time – how many books can you read over a week? And you can get new ones quicker. (I’ll save the price issue for another time.) I don’t think I’m unique in the use of my e-reader. It’s continually running out of battery power, it’s slow, and, crucially, I cannot advertise how clever and interesting I am to young ladies on the Tube, since there’s no cover.

I will go along with him on the basics there, perhaps the devices are not that nice looking or that clever and maybe, as he says in the final notes of the piece:

It is the convergent devices that will take over the market. The unannounced but pretty much certain iTablet and its equivalents will be the devices that we all read books on. OK, you say, so what about e-Ink – isn’t that supposed to be the major distinguishing feature? Well you are not going to tell me that Steve Jobs hasn’t made a call to a small team of boffins in Cupertino and said, Right fellas, I want a program that mimics e-Ink: stable and energy-efficient and looks like “the real thing”.

In five years the Kindle and Sony e-book will no longer exist. On our wafer-thin computers, like large iPods, we will be reading a book while listening to music. The phone will ring or mail will ping, the machine will ask if you want to answer, you will chat, then the machine will ask if you want to continue reading. As for battery life, these devices will recharge continually via wi-fi.

Then I read this piece in Publishers Weekly:

Of e-book downloads through July, 40% were made to computers, down from 48% at the end of the first quarter. Quickly gaining in market share over the summer were downloads to the Kindle. This was especially true in July, when downloads to computers plunged, while downloads to the Kindle soared. As a result, in July, for the first time in PubTrack’s monthly survey of consumers, Kindle downloads topped computers, accounting for 45% of all e-book downloads in the month. Also enjoying a spike in July were downloads to the iPhone, likely due to the release of the new 3G iPhone and accompanying e-book apps. That July spurt in iPhone downloads came after a lull in the spring and brought the iPhone’s market share at the end of July close to where it was in the first quarter. And while Sony created a lot of buzz last week with the announcement of its new wireless device (see p. 6), it has lots of ground to cover before it catches the Kindle, holding only a 6% market share at the end of July.

And as you can see that certainly suggests that we need to keep an eye on the Kindle and Sony and the convergent devices may not be as great as Trevor might wish. Finally I read this piece on the Thomas RIggs % Co. blog, An eBook Reality Check:

According to Bowker, in 2008 ebooks represented only 0.6 percent of all books sold in the United States. The majority of buyers were men, and more than half were between the ages of 18 and 34. This year ebook sales will still be less than 2 percent of the U.S. book market.

Here’s something else to ponder.

Most people prefer paper. According to a recent survey, only 37 percent of Americans are interested in buying an ereader. Here in France I’m often at the beach and see one person after another stetched out in the sun reading a paperback. Not an ereader in sight.

Now to me that Thomas Riggs post is the outlier of the pack. You only need to look at the industry stats on the IDPF website to see that although those 2008 stats are interesting, the Q2 2009 figures are almost 3 Times the Q2 figures. So where do these divergent views come from? How can people in the same industry on the one hand think a) ebooks are that big and b) ebooks are big, c) that the Kindle and Sony Reader are growing and d) that the Kindle and Sony Reader are dead.

Still thinking about digital.
Eoin

Some Thoughts On: Why Publishing Cannot Be Saved (As It Is) An Editorial by Richard Eoin Nash

Eoin Purcell

Johan Gutenberg (Thanks to Flikr user robert Scarth: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_scarth/)

Johan Gutenberg (Thanks to Flikr user Robert Scarth: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robert_scarth/)

Things will get worse for publishers as they currently exist!
The increasingly wonderful Publishing Perspectives caries and editorial by Richard Eoin Nash*. It is a nice tight piece that makes a number of clear points:

1) This is an industry based on a hobby:

The book business is a tiny industry perched atop a massive hobby. But rather than celebrate and serve the hobbyists, we expect them to shell out ever more money for the books we keep throwing at them (a half million English-language books in 2008 in the U.S.).

2) Our distribution system suits publishers, not readers or writers:

Instead of using the ever-increasing array of cheap and free tools now available to offer new ways to structure the writer-reader relationship, we’re using the technology to either thwart the readers (see: DRM) or to hustle them, using social media to move product, not have a conversation.

3) Publishing needs to change to a service type model:

For-profit publishing should not be saved — it should figure out new business models, ones that offer services that both readers and writers want and are happy to pay for.

4) And in the words of The Economist’s Intelligent Life Magazine, we are all writers now:

We’re also going to have to recognize that reading increasingly is writing — readers are writing back in all sorts of ways, commenting on books, re-mixing books as in fan fiction, or creating from scratch, and publishers, rather than barring this activity, or hiding from it, need to embrace it and find ways to serve it.

Stake-claiming
One area I disagree strongly with him on though is the idea of service. I feel like there have been a glut of ground claiming posts recently mapping out a future for publishing, Nash like Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly seems to be pointing firmly in the direction of Publishing as a Service (PaS) (although to be fair to Savikas, he does say Content rather than publishing), the idea that if publishers want to survive they should adapt to become facilitators of the people who are creating and consuming content (I know people hate that word). Mike Shatzkin on the other hand seems to think the focus should be on curating those niches and in re-engineering a publishing portfolio around a vertical segment.

Now that might sound like splitting hairs, but in fact if a publisher only chooses one of these options (or over emphasises services to the detriment of the content) they lead to different scenarios, one which sees publishers create a set of tools to facilitate conversation and engagement and the other whereby the publisher focuses on changing their list and reinventing their content into a package suited to a niche in which they have credibility. in space one they have become software engineers, in space two they remain publishers.

Reinventing the wheel
When I read that first concept I cannot help but think that those tools exist. There is WordPress, Blogger and Typepad and even Ning. There is LibraryThing, Shelfari and even to a certain extent Amazon. Why recreate the wheel?

Publishers are not coders and we probably never should be. Personally, I don’t think that most publishers should spend their time creating design software or better printing presses, leave that to the odd genius who happens to also be a publisher or the software programmer? It would be a stupid investment. It isn’t our specialization, far better for us to spend time curating and filtering content, because filtering is what the web needs.

That doesn’t necessarily mean gate-keeping, we may be facilitating the filtering by readers within a community, rather than choosing what floats. The point is that spending money creating tools seems a waste when they exist already and are owned by people with much deeper pockets in many cases. Spending money curating the content, packaging it however seems like a good investment, using the existing tools and new tools as they emerge to distribute content , engage with an audience and promote good material sounds like a publisher’s job and is certainly something we can do.

Ditch the tool creation idea, lets look at tool usage and author/community development
I think that Nash actually sums it up better than in this editorial on his About Page on his website when he writes:

Basically, the best-selling five hundred books each year will likely be published like Little Brown publishes James Patterson, on a TV production model, or like Scholastic did Harry Potter and Doubleday Dan Brown, on a big Hollywood blockbuster model.

The rest will be published by niche social publishing communities.

That short phrase encapsulates the changes I see coming to the world of books and reading. Communities of Interest (with readers at various degrees of engagement from Obsessed to Mildly Taken with a genre/niche) that are deep and to which publishers add value and thus gain respect, credibility and leadership of a sort that allows them to curate and (hopefully profit). There is a danger though, as discussed on Twitter with Peter Brantleythat this role would be limited to publishers and in many niches, single individuals might wield enough power to curate a niche. It sounds plausible but I DOUBT they would remain independent forever as some publisher hoovers the niche operations in a particular segment up to re-balance their portfolio.

Nash goes on in his about page to suggest that those communities (niches) need an infrastructural base:

Now is time to build their infrastructure. Let me know if you’ve the time or money to help.

But as I say above the idea of publishers as a provider of tools I think is flawed, sure we can advise on what tools to use for certain platforms, which blogging engine we prefer or social networks we find work for what genre, but actually making those tools is too far beyond our reach and represent foolish dreams rather than real ambitions.

There is a lure to thinking of publishers as some kind of technological innovators, but it is a call of the sirens, it will end in tears. I’m with Shatzkin in encouraging a concentration on the best quality niche content mediated through the existing and developing tools in a credible way to create and curate a community of interest around a niche.

Yes that means slicing, dicing, repackaging, up-selling, giving away and generally bashing content from place to place in the most platform neutral way, that still requires good enough content for them to think it worthwhile.

All of this is a long way to say that Richard is right in the overview but I’d be concerned on some of his details!
Eoin