Getting to Digital

Beastly goings on
There have been a few pretty big moves in the last few days towards what seem (At least to me) sensible models for getting digital and quickly. The first is Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast‘s deal with Perseus Press that the NYT featured yesterday:

Ms. Brown said that Beast Books would select authors from The Daily Beast’s cadre of writers, most of whom are paid freelancers, to write books with quick turnarounds. She said she planned to publish three to five books in the first year.

The beauty of the deal though is that they making digital first publications:

Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.

I rather hope this works, it certainly sounds like a good news story if it does. The model seems sensible, it capitalises on the eyeballs the Daily Beast is dragging and as The Big Money puts it in a sensible and thoughtful paragraph:

The good news is that this is exactly what digital publishing needs to fuel its growth: a product ideally suited to a new technology. Brown’s entry into the field validates the idea of writing specifically for the Kindle and its competitors, a huge vote of confidence in the tools. The less-great news is that for all of Brown’s talent for attention-getting, the Daily Beast may not have the right content to drive sales. Which just might be the point of the whole deal—with Brown using the book deal as a back door to better content.

Disney Digital
Disney Digital

Disney’s gamble
There have been some negative comments about Disney’s newly launched program that provides online access to 500. As the NYT (again) puts it:

In what it bills as an industry-defining moment — though rivals are sure to be skeptical about that — Disney Publishing plans to introduce a new subscription-based Web site. For $79.95 a year, families can access electronic replicas of hundreds of Disney books, from “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” to “Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!”, which is aimed at children ages 3 to 12, is organized by reading level. In the “look and listen” section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud. Chapter books for teenagers and trivia features round out the service.

I like this idea because it is heading more towards the type of product that can win the battle for attention and hold its own against numerous distractions. What is more, a site like this (and being a site is crucial) has a certain seamless quality, it fits into the web rather than standing aside from it in a “connected” device. It will simply be a rich content website that you happen to pay for! That is important! that, I believe, is the future.

Both these moves are taking big publishing digital very rapidly. This is a space to watch!

Branding & Publishing

The things that get you thinking
I’ll be speaking during the Pech Chang session at TOC Frankfurt in October. I’m going first and frankly, I’m terrified. Even so I’m looking forward to it. It feels like an opportunity to talk about some of the forces shaping the future of publishing and books.

I mention it because one of the things I will be talking about is Branding and why, in a nichified world, it will become increasingly important. This has been an absolutely huge meme online in the last few days and it’s worth sharing some of those thoughts here.

Mike Shatzkin, as ever, was there ahead of me and many others, with an interesting piece on his blog. He focused on the reason why publishers need to understand brand:

In the next 20 years or so, the brands that will dominate for a very long time will be created.


Because the organization and delivery of stuff — including information — is being realigned into verticals; that is: subjects. The requirements of physical delivery required aggregation across interests that the Internet does not. So enduring horizontal brands of content like newspapers or book publishers but also outside content, among retailers, for example, that thrived across interest groups will find themselves challenged by new brands that are narrower and deeper. Being narrower and deeper permits a much more involved engagement with the audience. It strengthens the brand.

Read the rest of the article, it makes complete sense, echoes much of what I think and places the conversation in context from a publishers perspective.

Then Seth Godin spoke at a small event organised by the DPG in New York and touched off a firestorm! And for reasons I cannot quite get a handle on. The video’s don’t seem too radical to me, but you be the judge:

And Eugene G. Schwartz’s blog about the talk over at Personanondata make me think that the ony issue is that some people haven’t seen the truth, that the digitisation of reading, makes publishers largely irrelevant unless they react adapt and change.

Patrick over at the Vroman’s blog has a wonderful post that nicely sums up some of the arguments of Stein, alludes to some of and suggests some positive views too. The subsequent discussion is worth reading as well.

What this all comes down to of course is that as Don Linn noted in the tweet below, business models are all very well, but profitable business models are hard to find.

Profit is good!
Profit is good!

Bob Miller, in this video from Ron Hogan, says pretty much what Don and Seth are saying but from the finance side of the fence.

Changing a brand and making it matter will not be THE panacea, publishers will still shrink and they may well not survive as large companies. If they do, they will publish books (as Richard Eoin Nash has said and wouldn’t you know it, I cannot find the link, but here is a general one for Richard) like movies are currently produced.

That is because the internet and digital media enables the removal of every single point in the value chain except author and consumer. In this model the only scale that needs large capital (and furthermore justifies the application of capital with large rewards) is when you need to market to everyone, brand will enable you to connect with niche reader and writers at as granular a level as you can building something that is worthwhile to readers, so worthwhile that they give you money. Of course, who YOU are may not be a publisher.

Working on letters and notes, thoughts and ideas, trying to avoid too many down thoughts!

Irish book links to kick the week off!

O’Brien‘s upcoming Blood upon the Rose by Gerry Hunt is featured in the Irish Times. if the title of the article is a little dismissive (The Rising: now with speech bubbles) the toe of the piece makes up for it. Nice review for a great project.

Merlin’s tell all on Kathy French is previewed in the Independent. The book is by Jason O’Toole who has been releasing quite a few books lately!

Tom Galvin in the Herald has a side swipe at the Ryan Tubridy and Gerry Ryan while talking up Terry Wogan’s new memoir.

For the first time in a good while, the Irish Times makes a feature of quite a few serious Irish non-fiction titles including New Island’s new Mary Kenny release, Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate Between Ireland and the British Monarchy, Matt Cooper’s Who Really Runs Ireland? The story of the elite who led Ireland from bust to boom … and back again and Diarmaid Ferriter’s Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland. Not to mention that they also reviewed Joe Joyce’s, The Guinnesses: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Most Successful Family, but then given the week that was in it not doing something in that vein would have been hard.

It was refreshing to see a good crop of Irish authored (if not all Irish published) books reviewed! Given the way things are going, I think I’ll just have to be happy with authored!

The most important IRISH book of the decade

Ireland in 2050: How We Will Be Living
Ireland in 2050: How We Will Be Living

Change happens
In Ireland in 2050: How We Will Be Living, Stephen Kinsella (Lecturer in Economics at the Kemmy Business School of the University of Limerick) has written what may be the most important Irish book of the decade.

Ireland in 2050 touches on a very broad set of subjects, from health, education, energy, employment, global competition, environmental change, technology and wealth and yet it manages to tie all of these to the real lives of people. Kinsella does that by imagining not just a future, but also a future family, the Murphy’s. They experience the best and the worst of the imagined Ireland of 2050 and through them we can see how well or how badly we have adapted to changing circumstances, our successes and our failures. it is a nice device and one, that although I was initially sceptical about, I rather liked.

The book is so important not because it is correct in every detail or because the ideas he explores are revolutionary but because by bringing together these thoughts, by projecting them forward and by imagining an approximate Ireland in 2050, Kinsella has set the stage for an almighty row about, who we WANT to be in 40 years time, how we GET there and WHAT values, hopes and dreams are our priority.

It is a row Kinsella invites us to take part in in his postscript Invitation To A Row and one I think he seems passionate about:

I wrote it [the book] to start a row. I want to invite you to that row, right now. Do you agree with me that Ireland will be a more unequal place in 2050? Do you see privacy going up in smoke? Do you think that half of the couples in Ireland will be divorced by the middle of the century? Do you see the continual erosion of the Catholic Church as a good or bad thing? What do you think we should be doing to get ourselves ready for the future?

But we get to decide
The general tone of the book seems to decry the way we have almost sleepwalked into many of the realities of Ireland in 2009. The marginalised young people of outer suburbia, the old-fashioned, poorly equipped health and education services, the lack of local government of any real capacity to effect change and the startling lack of debate about how and in what direction Ireland will develop.

It is this core message, the need to make key decisions, to look rationally at the alternatives before us and to choose the “best” option that comes through most forcefully in Kinsella’s writing. When he expresses an opinion ,like arguing Ireland should look West to the USA for its future, while at the same time, not letting go of our relationship with Europe, he is reasonable and sensible.

He takes a lomg term view and challenges the blithe assumptions of those who argue the balance of power is shifting east, towards China and India or that Nuclear power is dangerous and unsafe. I sense that he will encounter a fair amount of resistance from the left of Irish politics but at the same time, while he clearly expresses his view, he is often merely describing how changes will impact not how he would like them to impact. His thoughts on the impact of climate change on water supply, agriculture and consumption are scary and yet not alarmist either.

Two areas I think he touches on have been so badly covered in the past at least at a mainstream discussion level that he may as well be the first one to mention it, are the changes wrought by divorce and longevity. In many ways these factors are strangely entwined, as humans live longer, they have more relationships, more chances to live parts of their lives as almost completely different people. They may choose to send half their loves with one partner, a quarter with another and still another quarter with a third, our society will be changed beyond all recognition when that is a frequent occurrence.

Kind of
In short with Ireland in 2050: How We Will Be Living, Kinsella has moved the strategic decisions we have avoided taking for the best part of a decade (resulting on the mess we are in now) right into the centre of political and intellectual discussion and is demanding that we figure them out, make a decision and act accordingly. We should all step up to the plate, pay attention, join the row and make sure our voices are heard and that we make the RIGHT decisions.

This is a fascinating, accessible and readable book that will hopefully kick off a debate that Ireland really needs to be having and make the decisions we need to make to shape our future at best easier or at worst, better understood.

Well worth reading. Ireland in 2050: How We We Will Live is published by Liberties Press is 224 pages and is price €14.99, ISBN: 9781905483693.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Eoin Purcell

A re-enactment of The Battle of Stamford Bridge
A re-enactment of The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Complex stories
One of the battles that has most fascinated me over the years has been King Harold Godwinson of England’s victory over the forces Norwegian force of King Harald Hardrada and Earl Tostig Godwinson (that’s right, Harold’s brother) at Stamford Bridge (that link will take you to Wikipedia, but this one for the UK Battlefield Resource Centre is excellent as well). The battle did not go well for the Norwegians. Google Books has a great account of the battle here in The history of England from the earliest times to the Norman conquest by Thomas Hodgkin.

What has always amazed me about that battle and the characters involved is that in Harold Godwinson we have on the one hand the known villain of subsequent (and of the contemporary) propaganda especially the amazingly effective Bayeux Tapestry (a quite incredible piece of public propaganda which is well worth visiting). Harold has come down by the victor of the Battle of Hastings word as an oath breaker.

Because of that twist of faith, we don’t remember Harold’s own victory at Stamford or the fact that he was seen by many Saxons as England’s bulwark against Norman influence. What’s more because of Hastings, we don’t hear the story of the brother’s Godwinson or indeed of Harald Hardrada who as the link above makes clear had a fascinating life himself.

All told, Stamford Bridge and the ignored heroism or at the very least success if you will of Harold reinforces for me the sense that very often history recalls not the reality of a persons life but only the most resonate aspect of it, that events which have relevance are often overshadowed by subsequent less important but better recorded happenings.

Enjoy the weekend!