Change: What’s been taking up my time

Eoin Purcell

Reading Fiction
Is a surprisingly large part of my job. Although Mercier only publishes a very few fiction titles and those are of a very good standard (For Example), many of the submissions we get are fiction so for the first time I am reading fiction with a critical eye (i.e. Is it good? Can we sell it? Will it make money? Is there a good hook for the retailer?). I read one over the weekend that I loved but the questions still pile up.

Anyway this is a post more to talk about change more than anything. Change in strategy at Snowbooks. Where Emma Barnes has posted a very detailed analysis of how tricks are going for them:

Our top ten (out of 50 live) titles account for 65% of our total margin.
Our second best selling line in terms of volume, value and margin is Boxing Fitness.
We made exactly the same cash gross margin on Living the Good Life as The Crafter’s Companion, yet Living has sold only 38% of the volume of Crafters.
10 books have made more than £10,000 gross profit.
Our average gross profit per unit is £1.31.
Our average cost per unit is £1.20.
Our average sales value per unit is £2.50.

Change at if:book where Sophie has finally launched:

Sophie’s raison d’être is to enable people to create robust, elegant rich-media, networked documents without recourse to programming. We have word processors, video, audio and photo editors but no viable options for assembling the parts into a complex whole except tools like Flash which are expensive, hard to use, and often create documents with closed proprietary file formats. Sophie promises to open up the world of multimedia authoring to a wide range of creative people.

James has a good initial review.

Change too at LibraryThing which has launched LibraryThing for libraries:

What is LibraryThing for Libraries?

* Give your patrons exciting new content, including recommendations and tag clouds.
* Let your patrons take part, with reviews, ratings and tags. Keep the control you want.
* Enhance your catalog with just a few lines of HTML. Works with any OPAC and requires no back-end integration. Really.
* Draw on the collective intelligence of your patrons and LibraryThing members.

And if the words of those from mercier are true a sense of change in publishing too. There seems to have been a great amount of positivity and energy at LBF this year. Sounds good to me.

Enjoying a nice weekend

Starbucks Selling books in Europe too!!

Eoin Purcell

Good News? For Who?
The Bookseller (login required) reported today that the program I mentioned previously is coming to the UK (& Ireland??):

The programme will begin in the UK on 21st May with Fourth Estate’s title A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. The harrowing book has sold over 93,000 copies through Starbucks US and has been a New York Times bestseller for the past four weeks.

Liking it

Every self-published authors dream

Eoin Purcell

Preempting self published books
This kind of event is rare so i do not think Publishers Weekly will mind me block quoting the article:

Sourcebooks Preempts Self-Pubbed Kids Book
by Lynn Andriani
Sourcebooks has just acquired a children’s hardcover title that has sold 179,000 copies since the authors self-published it in 2001. I Love You More, a rhyming picture book by Laura Duksta and Karen Keesler, will be on the fall 2007 list of Sourcebooks’ new children’s imprint, Jabberwocky, priced at $16.99.

Now when you look that over, it translates into 30,000 units a year. Why on earth was it not picked up before this? Still well done to the authors. A fine show!

April is a sunny month sometimes

The future of online text

Eoin Purcell

A million undirected penguins
What do Wikipedia and A Million Penguins have in common? At first glance little. But on thinking it through there is one feature that makes them almost identical. They are created by a distributed authorship model. One is one of the most useful sites on the internet (its scale is huge admittedly but a million penguin’s is not tiny either), the other to all intents and purposes was much more interesting for the journey it involved then the destination. From the blog:

But clearly opening this experiment up to ‘the whole world’ caused problems – we had vandals, pornographers, spammers and any number of people who had such differing ideas about what would make a good novel that a real sense of cohesiveness was always going to be hard to achieve.

Don’t get me wrong this is by no means an attack on that project, on the contrary I think it was inspired, exciting and necessary, not to mention a very brave act by a mainstream publisher. But what is behind the different outcomes in these projects. After all Wikipedia opens itself to the world to write and edit much like the Wikinovel experiment. From About Wikipedia:

Wikipedia (IPA: /ˌwikiˈpiːdi.ə/ or /ˌwɪkiˈpiːdi.ə/) is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopaedia project. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. With rare exceptions, its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet, simply by clicking the edit this page link.

Could it be that limitation works?
Perhaps the reason why Wikepedia is useful and relevant is because it recognises the limitations necessary to make collaboration useful. It may sound stupid and very basic but there is a reason why we have rules and limitations. For instance in a group discussion it is vital to ensure that only one person speaks at a time even though everyone is capable of speaking at the same time. If everyone speaks no-one is heard and discussion descends to mere shouting. You might say that another reason why Wikipedia works is that it is Non-Fiction, or more accurately FACT (though this is something constantly monitored and policed and with just cause).

The people behind 37signals have an interesting perspective on the value of limits. In their book Getting Real* they say:

Let limitations guide you to creative solutions

There’s never enough to go around. Not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough people.

That’s a good thing.

Instead of freaking out about these constraints, embrace them. Let them guide you. Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.

Another example of using limits to enhance usefulness and effect is Ficlets which has really caught my attention recently. It is structured and rule based but the creativity displayed there is superior to the mish mash of A Million Penguins. Some of the stories demonstrate exciting imagination, skilful use of the 1024 characters that the format limits authors to and the sequels and prequels allow others to add ideas or themes that the original author had not intended. All in all it works much more effectively than an undirected effort.

Where are we then?
Online text authoring and editing has enormous advantages and offers incredible possibilities. Not least of these is collaboration amongst co-workers but most interesting for our purposes is artistic and creative uses. One just has watch the video below to be converted. It is important to test and experiment the limits of text in a digital age when nearly anything you can think of can be done to text. Sometimes the edge will be interesting but sometimes too it will show us the importance of self-limitation. I think that is why A Million Penguins is important, perhaps more so than Wikipedia in some ways. The bravery to risk and fail is so rare and yet the lesson learned so rich that we need people to make those crazy attempts.

Suitably impressed

* I have highlighted this book before encourage everyone to read it (even non software/web/geek types).