My Favourite and the most popular posts for the week 24th July -30th July 2006
On holiday now until the 14th August! I’ll still be posting as I have some work stuff to do too but they sure will be lower in frequency!
Enjoying sunny Chicago
And you say “Doh!”
It may seem obvious that search will drive change because Search seems to be changing everything. Well firstly that is not true, Search is changing quite a lot of things but not everything. After all, as the first part of this series argued, a book is a book etc. Search will not make a novel a non-fiction book nor will it make a non-fiction book a children’s’ picture book. The books themselves will remain essentially the same though their occurrence in different media, be that paper, audio CD, MP3 file, e-book or serialised on a webpage, will surely become more frequent.
What will change is that these books will need to be open to Search and that means that the digitised versions will become valuable marketing tools. Publishers know this. That is probably why they are resisting Google Book Search so strenuously. Marketing will become more and more about how well your book places in terms of native (non-paid for) search results (Sponsored links and contextual ads will be important here too). And that placement will influence sales.
It’s about marketing
I have discussed before, one of the key issues self-publishers face, marketing. Well in the digital, Author driven, Search driven future world of publishing, there will be no difference. Great opportunities to go it alone will offer themselves and authors will think that simply putting a book online will result in huge sales and no problems.
But many books will die on the web, a lonely, unread, unnoticed death.
Why? Because in the same way that real world selling and marketing takes more than just producing a good product, online marketing takes hard work, graft, contacts, networking and a degree of luck.
Having pleased every author yesterday with my post on their ability to drive change I have to now throw them back down to earth. Unless you learn to harness the web you will be faced with two options, obscurity and disappointment or falling into the arms of the revived publishing firms, or the new ones who emerge from the wreckage of the current industry. You may laugh at that but read on.
Amusingly Search may well rescue publishers
Search and books are made to go together. They are friends, publishers just have not admitted it yet or rather they have admitted it they just wish they owned the game when in fact it is quite clear that right now Google, Yahoo and MSN own the search game and everyone else has to just accept a minor role for the time being. That could change with new innovation but for now it’s a solid rule.
Consider the discussion yesterday on the role of publishers. They act as aggregators of authorial content, risking capital on many projects to gain traction with the rare few. Well they have advanced marketing skills and they also have great tools at their disposal, brand names.
The traditional strengths of the publisher are eroding. Editing can be purchased in online auctions for a few hundred dollars, design and typesetting for only a little more, manufacture for next to nothing if you sacrifice some quality and for the not too comfortable a full print run of a tiles is not an unimaginable cost. There will be little profit in offering these services to authors in twenty years time.
Publishers can survive the onslaught of digitisation not by screwing the author, not by owning the whole process but by moving up field and becoming even more intimately involved in the one field of their business that is not rapidly commoditising, marketing. Slicing off their non-productive cores and outsourcing is the way forward. It is harsh but otherwise publishing will not have the capital to invest in new tools to build book profile online, to promote author blogs and seed the web with viral videos promoting their newest title. They need to shrink.
And when they do, armed with new skills and new weapons, they will once again insert themselves on the value chain and place themselves between the pot of gold (Small as it is) and the author. And what is more authors who fall into their hands will, like authors now faced with little option see it as just the way it is.
And that’s the fault of Search?
Well not quite, it’s more that Search will be the catalyst and driver than the actual cause. Technology in general is the cause. Change can be a terrible thing. How is it that Chinese quote is supposed to go: “May you live in interesting times?” it is safe to say that we do!
Packed and ready,
The big idea (or at least my idea)
The current publishing industry is stacked against authors. Not in any sense deliberately, all sides have had a role in reaching the current point, but equally not all sides have benefited as equally as the others. Indeed publishers who were once the primary winners are now behind retailers in the results.
Think of it this way
They are many, publishing slots are (despite the numbers of publications) relatively few in number and what is more really good slots are exceptionally rare. What I mean when I say really good slots are books that publishers take and go with in a big way, books that publishers push with large marketing campaigns and big ad spends. These kinds of slots are so fantastically rare as to be the dream of every author who ever took pen to paper, pencil to copybook or fingers to keyboard.
Publishers are pressed financially and so authors get pressed too, squeezed by the power of retailers, the challenge of competition and the sheer abundance of titles on the market. An author however does not have the fortunate position of a publisher who is a crude aggregator (of a pre-digital variety)*. That is to say that a publisher spreads their capital thin and soaks up large amounts of books from various types of authors.
From every one hundred, seventy may do poorly to okay and break even to show some small profit. Twenty-five may do okay to well and display a better return than average opening up the possibility of future blockbusters and the offer of second books. Three may do very well and become stable authors blessed with publishers vying for their books. Another may do exceptionally well and show the hallmarks of genius that suggest lifelong talent and commercial success but after a disappointing second and third book prove to be an overall fair bet and last may prove the hit that produces an absolute mountain of the revenue for the company in a given year/period (think JK Rowling and Bloomsbury).
It looks like the long tail and maybe it is but I think that term is so annoyingly applicable to everything as to be in many way meaningless. Of course these figures are wildly inaccurate and unscientific but they demonstrate the way publishing works. It’s the way it currently goes and that is what authors know or at least learn as they write and publish.
But technology is suggesting changes
Welcome to the web. Not so long ago you would have been hard pressed to read an article like this by a commenter as obscure as me. Indeed you would have had to hope some editor of a trade magazine liked my random thoughts and chose to publish them on their valuable print pages. They would have weighed thoughts like advertisement revenue, market, audience, readership and competition. Well today I think about nothing except what I write (on the odd occasion I think a little too little about that too). All it costs me is my free time and the odd lunch break without a sandwich. I can post my thoughts for free on a hosted, free website.
Some people take it further and host their own blogs and run adverts turning themselves into one man magazines. Jason Calacanis posted a really good exploration of this point here.
Oh there is a hierarchy here too just as Jason says:
You have three stages of media companies, and these two guys are now in the third phase, and that is where it gets very interesting. Phases one anyone can do. Phase two is also pretty easy–half the people can do it. Only 1% of people make it to phase three and only 10% of those scale to a $10M a year business. Rafat and Om are the one out of a hundred, and it’s gonna be amazing to see if they can be the 1 out of 1,000.
But the reason it is such an amazing change is because now most authors do not need the aggregator to publish. Even small time authors who might have made up the end of that seventy out of one hundred we discussed earlier can take some of the value that publishers traditional sucked up by aggregating.
Where is the value?
Well it’s in sales. As I said before, the aggregators of sales by hundreds of authors benefited where the single author did not. But we now operate in a world where sales do not have to be of the traditional type (bricks and mortar stores). Authors can sell books themselves on Amazon or EBay or Lulu.com or in fact their own website if they like. They can use POD and self publishing just like Skint Writer is and capture the best part of the value that traditionally went to a publisher. Or you can post it to a blog and build audience like Lee on Mortal Ghost is here.
What’s more you can package your content in any variety of ways. Make a podcast or your poetry and push it on iTunes. Act out your play and upload it to YouTube or your preferred location. It is easy to do it all now and to do it well. Maybe the cost of a decent designer or video editor will take a summer to save for or a winter of being cold avoiding buying new jumpers but the costs are so achievable it is exceptional.
The point is that publishing is no longer just about books and even more it is no longer about waiting for a publisher to decide your work is good enough for print. Options abound and as more and more writers realise that they will take advantage of it.
E-books will push this change even more. There is no reason why authors’ royalties should be the same on e-books as they are for paper books and in many ways there is no reason why the authors cannot sell e-books themselves rather than through a publisher. Why should you sell a paper publisher your digital rights when there is no need?
So where are we now?
Well for a start we are at the end of the second part in this impromptu series. I say impromptu because it largely came about by accident. A process of some loose thoughts banging into each other sometime over Monday. But more accurately we have looked at why authors have a key role in driving the changes that publishing is facing.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no digital evangelist or mindless zombie of the new web but the advantages that the internet offers are simply hard to resist for many and that is a good thing. There are downsides however and tomorrow I will look at how search and marketing will play a role too.
Contemplating the gym
The end of printed newspapers
Scott Karp [linking to Scott Donaton in AdAge whose column is excellent] posts about the point of no return for print publishers. His point is important, critical even, for newspaper and magazine publishers. You might wonder then why I am making a deal of it here on a blog about book publishing.
Books are printed too
Well if you read my post yesterday on Richard Charkin and his questions over book prices and if you follow this link and consider some of the horrific stats on book sales you might begin to understand why it is important for books.
Books cost an awful lot to print and the price publishers can get for those books is falling as discounting and fierce competition makes the game a little tougher and makes book buyers believe that prices not at rock bottom discounts are “rip offs”. I do it myself. Three for two book deals, half price hard backs, buying books in blocks from Amazon.co.uk to avoid the crazy shelf prices in Dublin, (I ordered three recently and even with currency changes, postage and packing saved €35.00. Insane).
Still you wonder? The second half of the equation is not there; digital revenues are not doubling or trebling. And you would be correct. Although according to the International Digital Publishing Forum eBook sales in 2005 were some $11,000,000. A not inconsiderable sum when one considers the lack of a single simple standard, the failure of the major publishers to promote digital versions and with no dedicated mass market eBook readers in existence.
And the future?
Some time ago now I read this post by Michael Hyatt in his blog Working Smart. He basically offers the route to the end of print books in it: here is a flavour:
While most publishers will admit that reference content is better accessed on the computer, almost all believe that the traditional non-fiction book or novel will never be replaced with a digital equivalent. I say, “baloney.” It’s coming. The sooner publishing executives get their collective heads out of the sand and face the future, the better prepared they will be to meet it.
I am convinced that we are only one device away from a digital publishing tsunami. Consider what happened when Apple launched the iPod in October of 2001. They provided an end-to-end solution that made downloading music easy, portable, and fun. Now, 30-plus million iPods later, iPods are everywhere.
So we do have a problem
You can see then book publishers face a problem like print publishers. EBooks do not attract high prices. That is to say that I think most people feel that an eBook is less valuable than a real live (dead in Jeff Jarvis’ world) paper book. If an e-reader appears that quickly changes the market and shifts content online and into digital form as rapidly as music sales have shifted, traditional publishers will be faced with enormous difficulties. Their print runs will need to slide, their high costs need to be removed and eventually some books will simply no longer be printed in books and will remain exclusively as eBooks.
Which of course is no major deal. Why on earth should publishers worry? Does it really matter if a book is sold as a paper product, as an audio CD, as a downloadable eBook or as part of a subscription based updatable online book, or indeed some combination of these?
NO. IT ONLY MATTERS THAT IT SELLS.
If anything they should be jumping in this direction as quickly and rapidly as possible. They should agree a format that is cross industry and cross device. They should look for attractive price points and better reading devices. Publishers in short should be looking for ways to grab the market and sell more books.
So what of paper?
Scott says in his AdAge column:
I strongly believe that print has a future; it’s hard to imagine a world without glossy lifestyle monthlies because there’s no better delivery system (yet) for their photos and stories.
Well I believe that there will always be a place for paper books. They may be print runs like current mass market titles, they may number in the few dozens or they be anywhere in between but all of them will cost more per book than they do today. Printed books will be a premium product even as hardback books are today. But the truth is that at some stage the attractiveness of printing books in physical paper form will wear off as the economics, the readership or the authors [more on this later in the week] make continuing to print books in paper will make digital files the more important market for publishers.
Thinking too much,
Richard Charkin is full of gloom these days, his two most recent posts have seemed to foretell the inevitable decline of publishing especially the last which features a comment from Niko Jaakkola of the St James Partnership who wonders there:
But, 20 years into the future, will we still see the media mogul of old? Or will it just be Google and their ilk – not to forget the good old state-funded Aunty! – with all of us posting our tuppence worth up on to the net, just as I am doing now!
In counterpoint several folks have seen the swinging of the long tail seriously help them and the master of the long tail, Chris Anderson, has been supping cream over on his own blog with a self contented air. I tend to view the concept as a little fake in that unless you have a highly efficient system to milk that tail then most companies will happily stick with wadding in the deeper end of the pool and avoid the minnows in the shallows. Indeed Anderson’s book is an unsurprising hit given exactly how much attention it has been receiving in the blogosphere and the press. A classic case of marketing making the book (not to diss his work I have ordered but yet to read it).
Speaking of marketing, the costs of pushing a bestseller are high but not as high as pushing a movie and Mark Cuban it seems has had enough, in an open job offer to anyone who can save him millions of dollars, he asks for ideas that will change the way movies are marketed. Seems like publishing is not the only content industry with its woes.
Heading to sleep