Planning

Go Read This | Dancing with Myself — The Principal Impediment to Change and Innovation « The Scholarly Kitchen

All good this, and by my lights the first must read of 2013 for the publishing community:

One form this organizational blindness takes is the tracking of the wrong metrics. By “wrong” I mean measurements that tend to support current activity without providing a different and perhaps unflattering perspective. A university press director proudly told me about his system of peer review, the number of outside reviewers, how carefully these reviews were themselves assessed, and how the reviews were used by authors to improve their books. Nice job. But the same director failed to note that sales of the press’s books had declined by more than a third in the past decade, and that financial support from the parent institution was wavering. “Have you considered the possibility that you are publishing the wrong books, that you are working in fields that are not growing and may even be declining,” I asked. He was taken aback by my question. After all, the peer review results said the press was doing a great job.

Examples of tracking the wrong things, or at least of failing to track some important things, can be found everywhere. I encountered one management team that boasted of their profit margins. But the same team had failed to adjust their sales reports for inflation. Thus, over a period of about 15 years, this team had in fact been putting the company through a long-term liquidation.

via Dancing with Myself — The Principal Impediment to Change and Innovation « The Scholarly Kitchen.

Go Read This | Why Amazon Is The Best Strategic Player In Tech – Forbes

Great piece this and one worth reading and pondering for some time. Think how you might respond too:

When unexpected things happen, Amazon, unlike most companies, does not immediately respond with knee-jerk PR damage control. As Bezos said during an interview a while back, the company is willing to be misunderstood and endure temporary PR blowback. The larger gameplan is too important.

Which is why the current furor over the price comparison app, and the related #OccupyAmazon reaction, is unlikely to elicit any dramatic responses from Amazon. Where other companies might respond with overwrought displays of contrition and dramatic conciliatory gestures, Amazon will likely do the minimum necessary, wait out the storm, and move on.  Amazon dealing with its market is the corporate equivalent of a patient, low-reactor parent dealing with a child throwing a tantrum.

More than any other corporation of the Internet age, Amazon embodies the emerging culture of business strategy. It is the General Electric of our times, and Bezos is the Jack Welch. When the definitive book on corporate strategy for the early Internet era is written, Amazon will be the main example, not Google, Apple, Microsoft or Facebook. Those are great companies too, but their greatness lies in other departments. As far as corporate strategy goes, they are mediocre players, not grandmasters.

via Why Amazon Is The Best Strategic Player In Tech – Forbes.

Six Implications of Digital Vertical Niches

Promises made, must be kept!
I promised I would post notes to go with my Pecha Kucha speech from TOC FrankFurt at the start of the week but it has been quite the week, so here, a little later than promised, they are!

For those who attended TOC Frankfurt the notes give some more detail on what I said (or would have liked to say) at the event and fill in what I couldn’t fit in.

Pecha Kucha
I want first, to say a few things about the format:

    1) It is great fun
    2) It is very hard
    3) I tried to do too much
    4) I learned an awful lot
    5) I’d do it again

So to my actual thoughts
I think that digital change is fundamentally altering the world of publishing. Like a glacier it reshapes the geography that it passes over. But in many ways that’s not very useful to a publisher, what is useful is to think about how you might react to this change and what specifically you need to be thinking about.

One of the ways to react is to develop vertical niches in product categories where you are, as Dominique Raccah put it at TOC, “Essential to the conversation!”. A vertical niche is a community organized around a particular type or genre of content, for instance, Irish History, Military History, Science Fiction or Cookery. I’ll leave it up to you to find the niches and communities that suit your market, you might even decide that you can do better than the existing ones (if there are existing ones), or indeed you may need to create some because they do not exist yet.

But what do you need to be thinking about in order to achieve a digital vertical niche or a community? I highlighted 6 things, there are more implications and perhaps these 6 are not even the most important but they are the 6 I wanted people to think about.

    1) Sales Channels
    2) Brand
    3) Content
    4) People
    5) Education
    6) Time

Sales Channels
Creating a community changes drastically the ways and opportunities for selling. For one thing it changes publishers, traditional Business to Business companies into direct to consumer companies. So your sales channels will change. That is okay though because the types of products you’ll be selling will change too. Publishers need to think about how community will change their niches/market segments/genres. If you are a publisher of computer books for instance, it seems to me that some kind of partnership with O’Reilly’s Safari is inescapable in the medium to long term (40 or so publishers agree). I strongly suspect that Tor.com have created a beast of a similar nature. Competing against it may well be folly, so how do you engage and use it as a sales channel? If your segment does not yet have its Safari or Tor.com, how can YOU create it?

Brand
I used to think that we could as easily dump the plethora of imprints that major publishers control and develop a more streamlined brand much as Thomas Nelson did recently. But recently it has occurred to me that many of these imprints can be rejuvenated as niche brands, focused exclusively on single vertical of content, filled with meaning and relevant to consumers. Of course this would require a new way of thinking as well as new honesty with readers too and a willingness to allow imprint to develop an identity of their own.

Content
If your thinking about how sales channels, products and brand are going to change then the way you look at, commissioning and using content will alter completely. In my speech I gave this quote from Mike Statzkin and I think it brings into focus the kind of thinking publishers need to do about their content offering:

The bottom line is that we can expect to see reshuffling as publishers trade off areas they can’t afford to market to for others where they’re going to expend the marketing effort and want to have the most possible content to dominate the niche and from which to extract a payoff for their efforts.

You need to double down in the niches where you can add value and create a community. Otherwise you will spread yourself too thin. That may mean allowing imprints to develop as stand alone companies, trading lists, shuttering imprints or simply commissioning tonnes of new content in a niche you already dominate.

People
If your are going to develop a community around your content then you need to consider people. Not just editors, authors and readers, but community members and the crucial voluntary leaders of those communities. How do you intend to grow an authentic community without recruiting readers and community leaders? Does an audience exist online to do that yet? How can you grow this organically? In a digital community, your content will be worthless without people and engagement. Without people your brand will not grow and your newly thought out sales channels will yield no revenue.

Education
So assume you have the right content mix, your brand has succeeded in attracting attention and you have successfully engaged volunteer community leaders how will you keep other readers interested? The key readers are new arrivals to the community. Do you have the content to hand to lure them in, is there a receptive atmosphere that encourages participation and education of people new to your topic area or genre? Or does your community intimidate newcomers and leave them cold? You need to think about how you will draw those newcomers in and educate them. This will be hard.

Time
All of this is going to take time. And a lot of that time is going to look very unproductive. You need to be ready for that. If you work in a publisher with a decent editorial staff, you’ll be used to that in any case. Of course, once you have a functioning community and so long as you don’t undermine your community and lose it, the community will be easier to maintain than to build. It will be as they say defendable and will create something of a barrier to entry* in your genre.

And that, was pretty much what I wanted to say. I know it didn’t quite come out that way, but you live and you learn Pecha Kucha!
Eoin

* Though my thinking on this is that if you have a truly open community, new publishers will be part of it either as partners or as members. Either way they will add value and ensure that your members see more reason to stay in your community or vertical.

SXSW – Far From The Madding Crowd

Eoin Purcell

Twitter it up
There has been extensive coverage of the New Think For Old Publishers panel at SXSW on 14 March. By most accounts it was a complete and utter disaster for publishers. Here’s a sample of opinion more here, here and here

As per usual Kassia krozer @ Booksquare summed both sides up pretty well in my view:

Let me be clear. Absolutely clear. Not one word spoken in that session, either from the panelists or from the audience, was new or innovative. The panel, well, we’ve all heard job descriptions before. The audience? That was one very long line of people saying the same things we’ve been saying to the publishing industry for ten years. And yet the publishing people treated our comments as if they were items to be added to a list.

It got me thinking?
What do we as publishers actually want to change? Are we, like the frustrated audience members angry at things in the industry that we would see change? In an ideal world where we got to direct digital change what would we like that change to be? Would authors join us in this campaign?

What would publishers do?
I think most publishers would like a simple platform that allowed them to offer their content online and be paid up-front for it. That seems easy doesn’t it. Except our cousins in newspaper land have lost their lunch trying to monetize their content online and almost all of them have surrendered to free service with ads and most of them are failing even with that.

What’s more the book is pretty much the most simple platform there is right now and lots of people like it. So moving away from it seems a little wild for most publishers. On top of that authors don’t seem keen to hang round waiting for the digital world to start rewarding them either. Whenever a book deal presents itself, bloggers and journalists all take them.

Where does that leave us for digital distribution and selling? Well e-commerce is nice, except you get Amazon and its crazy glitches and its harsh terms. On the other hand, ebooks seem to be starting to break through but you still have to deal with Amazon for those too!

Of course you might take the perspective that if we were to drive digital change, we would drive it along a path that gave our books (content) more attention (such tools even exist). If we were to drive change we would use it to sell more books directly to our customers in order to learn about them at the customer level and so tailor our products to their taste and their pocket. If we could drive digital we would build communities about our content and aggregate content from other publishers to help support our own. But then I’m just talking crazy!

Maybe I am talking crazy but
The problem I have with the current penchant for beating publishers up is threefold:

1) Many publishers (not to mention authors) are doing some pretty amazing things. Tor is building a wonderful, engaged and exciting community of readers around SF&F, Osprey have already done so around Military History. Penguin have spent a small fortune on trying new tools for reading and writing fiction. Macmillan and Random and Harper have all embraced blogs and Facebook and twitter and the web in general seeking new audiences, fresh feedback and platforms for their authors.

2) Despite the urge for the new, it doesn’t yet pay for itself and it may never do so. Andrew Keen is right about that if nothing else. Without money, artists will not create and currently the system that rewards both the artistic and the serious (or not serious) non-fiction author is breaking (if not entirely broken) and the chances of fixing it anytime soon are slim. Unless we revert to older methods of financing art and journalism, campaign funding, endowments, patronage and subscription (all being tried in modest enough [and a few large scale] ways) we may lose something pretty valuable.

3) Radicals are not always right. Even if we might accept that in this case it seems like digital is the way forward, that doesn’t mean publishers will survive the shift. Its not unreasonable of them to be reluctant to leap when right now there is a damaged but viable system in place that delivers unspectacular but solid enough revenues and profit figures.

To wrap it up!
Which leads me to my final thought, despite my own leaning towards a digital future, it is still entirely possible that the paper book remains the preeminent (I note not only) form of publication well into the next century and beyond. It currently seems likely to remain the most profitable (not the only profitable form) form of publication too. If you are an exec at a leading paper book publisher, then it’s a big bet right now to put the house on digital. If you get it wrong you’ve cut open the golden egg laying goose to show her insides to the public and have only the guts to show for it, the public were not that impressed and have watched the show for free on youtube. If you get it right you might still loose the golden goose and the people who benefit are your authors.

So to the radicals I say, lay off the publishers, some of them don’t care, but others are actually succeeding in changing the system and many many more are trying to figure out a way to make it happen without going out of business or destroying their companies, a not inconsiderable consideration in the current environment!

Eoin
PS: None of which changes the fact that I want to be able to buy an ebook version of a novel even if it is only just released in the US and I live in Ireland!

Book Covers: Some thoughts for Self-Publishers

Eoin Purcell

A lot of traffic
Comes to this site looking for answers about book covers. Generally, I’m guessing, this is more from self-publishing authors than traditional route publishers. I say this because it is rare for traditional publishers* to leave cover choice to the authors.

I thought I would add some thoughts for those visitors. Feel free to ignore it or to get in touch with questions.

Essentially there are five steps

1) Decide what genre your book fits into
I don’t want to hear that your book is unique. To some degree all books are. Responding that your book is unique indicates either laziness or lack of knowledge of the market you are writing for. Should you be going ahead with this project if that is the case?

Take some time to investigate the market, search for books that have similar themes or writing styles and try and think how you can fit into those genres. The questions you need to ask yourself are, is this a definable genre? That could be as broad as General Fiction if you like, or as narrow as 19th Century British Merchant Shipping if you prefer. But make sure you know what it is.

2) Figure out how you are publishing the book
This may seem trivial, but it will have a direct impact on your work-flow. Some publishing routes are easier than others, some may require you to have cover files ready earlier than internals, some may not offer you customized covers.

Whatever way you choose find our how they want cover files submitted. This will be be as .jpg, .tiff, .psd or perhaps even .pdf. Be sure that they also tell you what DPI and size the image/file should be. All of this information will be vital to making the cover look perfect at the final stages.

I’d use this opportunity to ask them about paper weights and make decisions about gloss, matt or demi-gloss stock. No option is necessarily the right one, but each has its uses. As with 1) take some time to search out the types and styles of covers that your competition favours.

3) Write a designer brief
I’d counsel drawing up a draft designer brief to give to whoever is designing your cover, even if that person is yourself. Why?

Just putting together the details about the book will help focus on the task at hand. I have drawn up a very loose sample you can use if you like. It’s here.

4) Hire a designer
You probably say this one coming but here goes. Many people who are pursuing self-publishing feel that they should be free to design their own cover, and indeed they are. However, the cover is THE key selling tool your book will have. Online and in-store, the cover is what the buyer sees first.

With that in mind, a professional, pitch perfect cover will sell more copies of your book than any other factor. Search for a good designer and pay them for their work. Don’t even dream of paying more than you need to though. A good design should cost you between €600 and €900 and not more.

There are cheaper options available and places like elance.com are great sources of freelance ability.

5) Allow time for a proof or even a rethinking of your cover
Whatever your timetable is, make sure that you plan all of these steps to ensure you have sufficient time to rethink a cover. Perhaps when your designer is finished you will not be happy with their work, or it will need serious tweaking.

Don’t be too worried. Even trade publishers rethink and comprehensively rework jackets at the last minute.

Wrap up

I am speaking from a trade perspective. I have heard that some academic houses do allow for authors to decide on covers if they don’t want a plain or series cover. I think the money is better unspent on the authors part in such cases.

A lot of this advice is only worthwhile if an author is intent on selling copies to a wide audience. If the market is limited to a few friends, then feel free to designer your own cover in whatever way suits!

Tired but happy to be finished driving for the weekend,
Eoin

Planning for 2008

Eoin Purcell

Overambitious

So I foolishly announced that I would lay out a plan for blogging in 2008 in response to Bloglily’s tag. Thinking it over it sure offers a challenge. Such a big challenge and the world being so terribly random and unpredictable* that I think I made a foolish promise. So I need to do something else. If I cannot predict the blogging year, I can at least offer some thoughts on what I see playing a role in my year ahead and about which I will probably be writing a great deal.

1) Digital projects & technology

- In the next few weeks Mercier Press will be launching one of its first major digital efforts. I’m not going to talk too much about it right now but the basic idea will be to capture digital content online and take that into print. It is an experiment for us and I can see the short term element proving to be a successful precursor to a much longer term goal for us.

- What is more, 2008 sees the start of something very exciting for Mercier. We will be launching our first blog to book product. The wonderful Murphy’s brothers from Murphy’s Ice Cream will launch a book that build on their blog Ice Cream Ireland and offers all Irish ice cream lovers what is going to be a very beautiful book. There will be more of these types of books in the future (not just from Mercier) as blogging makes real talent more visible and findable on the web.**

- These are not the only reasons I think this area will be a huge part of my year in 2008. If you have been following the links both on the blog and on my linkblog at Google Reader ***, you will have seen that these issues are looming large in my thoughts. If you fail to be inspired by these I suggest you check out a few of Snowbooks videos on using Onix data to make life easy. that ought to bring the point home forcefully.

- Mercier have just started the process of moving to an integrated system (Using Anko’s Publishing Manager). it will be tricky as so much of our legacy information is in people’s head and not digital systems, but once we have finished the process we will be in a great place to make much better use of all our content.

- And then there is this, e4Books, which will probably be honoured more in the missing of the target than in the achieving it.

2) Books: reading & commissioning

- Ha, I’ll bet you saw that one coming! The To Be read pile is now insane. Though again I’m feeling a little better about that (thanks NTT). I do try. I read a good few books this year but not nearly as many as I had hoped (closer to 60 than the 100 I had planned). Spending too much time online and reading for work perhaps.

- Of course the other aspect of books will be the process of publishing and building the list here at Mercier. 2008 is now more or less to bed and it is time to get cracking on commissioning 2009. It is nice to be in a more relaxed place with this commissioning but I am conscious still that the competition is hotting up in Ireland with the arrival of an Irish based Transworld office. This side will definitely make for an exciting year.

- And while we are on the subject of books, I need to mention that Litlove has just published one, The Best of Tales From The Reading Room (you can buy it here). A collection of her very, very fine essays from her excellent blog: Tales From The Reading Room.

3) Events & Trends: the unpredictable

- Who knows what will happen to prompt a blog post. Sometimes I have been inconsistent in covering topics here and I have no doubt that will continue. One area I know I have yet to really write much on is the effect that the iPhone is having on the world of mobile devices and online reading. Apple’s OS X has taken a lump of market share in this space very rapidly implying firstly that iPhone users browse the web more than the users of other smart phone/mobile computers and also that consumers are not put off by mobile internet they just want it to be user friendly.

- Here is a list of words that I suspect (but with no real level of confidence) that we will see much more about this year: Onix, Community, Digital Publishing, Online Reading, Ebooks, widgets, content, micro-chunking, CS 3, XML. Of them, for publishers I think XML is going to be the big one! But Community will be too. Just check out Authonomy and see what I mean.

So there you go BL. I hope that my lack of planning is up to scratch.
Pleased with the outcome
Eoin

* And my reading of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan is sure not helping me remain confident of my ability to predicate anything reliably, though it is making me much more comfortable with that. More of that soon when I finish the book and process my thoughts.

** Hint! Hint! Authors, start blogging if you don’t already!

*** Who also have a shared items page which I find a it confusing.

Are you Pushing the boat out?

Eoin Purcell

That’s what friends are for
One of my good friends is a person I have huge admiration for. I doubt he realises how much, as he spends a good deal of time looking outward and comparing himself to others, rather than taking stock of how much he has actually done in his life.

One of the reasons I admire him is that he has overcome adversities the like of which I cannot even begin to understand. Another is that he regularly refreshes my viewpoint by throwing a curve-ball into a conversation.

Just such an occasion occurred this weekend and jolted me out of a certain reverie. He asked me if I was pushing the boat out. He didn’t mean was I ‘having a cracking party’ or ‘celebrating’, he meant was I working as hard as I could.

He reminded me of the harshest lesson I have ever learned (the details are best left unexplored for now), that complacency destroys achievement. And by reminding me of that he made me ask the questions that help me avoid that lesson being repeated.

The complacent among us
Complacency is one of my major weaknesses (development areas in PC Speak). It is a truly funny weakness. I strive for a goal so hard and so long that when I achieve it I think I am sorted. I take a break and then get back to work thinking that I am working at the same level that got me to where I am but in fact I am taking my foot off the gas a little and becoming lazy. I am not pushing the boat out.

Its remedy
This has bitten me in the ass a few times in the past but now I have a few tester questions that try and jolt my sense of complacency:

⁃ Are you working as hard as you can?
⁃ Are your rivals working harder than you?
⁃ Is someone beating you at something you consider a strength?
⁃ Are you achieving you goals? (Key question)
⁃ Are you heading the right direction?

You want the answers to be Yes, No, No, Yes, Yes. To my mind anything else is trouble.

Why you might ask is this relevant to publishing?
Because it is an industry where smart, energetic and driven people work. There will always be hard workers, smart workers and often brilliant workers at companies that publish into your and other markets.

If you don’t match or exceed their efforts then you will fail. Maybe it won’t be spectacular, maybe it won’t be a hugely noticeable thing at first but five years down the line when your list is anemic and their list is kicking yours, you’ll know all about it.

This is especially true for the Irish market for reasons I’ll talk about tomorrow. So if I am ever fearful that complacency is creeping up on me, I asked myself those tough questions, act on the answers and redouble my efforts.

Enjoying this new found blog enthusiasm
Eoin

PS Check this site out.