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!”

DisneyDigitalBooks.com, 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!
Eoin

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.

Why?

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!
Eoin

Publishing success in Ireland, Part One

Eoin Purcell

The bestsellers at London City Airport - DSCN3939 From Flick User Larsz
The bestsellers at London City Airport - DSCN3939 From Flick User Larsz

The votes are in and the numbers have been crunched
You have to love Polldaddy for that. It might have been nice to poll a few more votes given the rather huge traffic the post got but then, you never expect everyone who actually arrives to take action. Based on a sample of 91 in an incredibly unscientific study here is what I know readers of this blog think about success in the Irish book market:

1) A remarkable 82% believe that sales have to be 4,000 or above before they would be considered a success
2) A paltry 12% think 1,000 is a good marker
3) Most amazingly a full 21% voted for over 10,000 units as a measure of success.

The results from the Polldaddy poll
The results from the Polldaddy poll

And where do I stand?
Well the Irish Consumer Market (ICM) has some great data sources, the most important being Nielsen Bookscan. I base my thoughts on success around the yearly Top 1000 titles. Did a book in year of release make it into that select group. And in case you think that it is not a select group consider these stats from 2008:

1) Value of the entire ICM in 2008 €165,357,704.81, value of the Top 1000 in 2008 €53,351,537.91 or 32.26% of the market

2) Volume sold in the entire ICM in 2008 13,952,693, volume of the Top 1000 wold in 2008 4,691,181 or 33.6%

3) Top 1000 ISBNS as a percentage of the recognised ISBNS in the ICM in 2008: 0.36% (ie there were 278,782 recognised ISBNS in the ICM in 2008)

So even though they accounted for only .36% of the books available to buy, the Top 1000 represented 33.6% of the Volume and 32.2% of the value. That is pretty select.

Some more context
Before I go into details, I’ll unpack that a bit. The Irish consumer market panel includes the large chains (easons, Hughes etc), most of the medium and small chains (Waterstones, Book Centres, Dubray) a flurry of independents and some of the Supermarkets. That has some peculiar effects. For one thing depending on the type of book you selling it can either grossly understate your sales (this is especially true for a very local title or for a title with an extremely heavy independent and local bookshop bias to its sales pattern. Equally, if a title is VERY commercial and likely to suffer heavy price promotion and discounts, the results tend to look better versus the rest of the market because unlike the majority of books, these titles tend to be bought almost exclusively from outlets that report to the Nielsen panel.

So with that in mind a general rule of thumb is to add another 30% to the sales of titles that fall into the local/independent bias to think in terms of REAL sales for those titles. I’m not going to do that here, but it is a useful piece of information (at least until more indies join the panel and begin to send data to Nielsen).

And the numbers per book?
Based on 2008 a book made it into the Top 1000 with 1,879 units of sales. The 1000 book in 2008 was Poetry Now: Ordinary Level. The top title sold 51,777 units and somewhat unsurprisingly was This Charming Man by Marian Keyes.

Admittedly that is quiet a range: 1,879-51,777. Anywhere within that is a very creditable performance. For instance:

The 900th Best-selling book, The Last Lecture By Randy Pausch sold 2,005
The 800th Best-selling book, New Europe By Michael Palin sold 2,194
The 700th Best-selling book, World War II: Behind Closed Doors By Laurence Ress sold 2,434
The 600th Best-selling book, The Irish Discovery Map of Wicklow, Dublin, Kildare sold 2,662
The 500th Best-selling book, Filthy Rich by Wendy Holden, sold 2,994
The 400th Best-selling book, The New Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford, sold 3,430
The 300th Best-selling book, Better Than Sex: My Autobiography by Mick Fitzgerald, sold 4,321
The 200th Best-selling book, A Place Called Here by Cecelia Ahern, sold 5,612
The 100th Best-selling book, The Diving-bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, sold 8,287

What can we take from this?
In short, the quantities, even in the top 1000 remain fairly small. In fact, you only get into double figures at the 75th best-selling book. You don’t see anything over 15,000 until the 43rd best-selling book. There are no titles selling over 20,000 until the 27th best-selling book and over 30,000 doesn’t happen until the 9th best-selling book.

Is there more?
But just looking at the raw numbers means very little. What genres lead the way in the Top 1000? Are their secrets hidden in the numbers? Which publisher has the best strategy? Is there an Irish publisher who dominates the list? What publisher operates outside the list? Well the next post in this series will look at some of those patterns and try and drill down into the best strategies ti adopt to achieve healthy sales and how to break through the noise and into the Top 1000.

This is fun is it not?
Eoin

Guest Post: Kate Dempsey of Emerging Writer

I asked Kate Dempsey of Emerging Writer to pen me a guest post, and here it is!

Why I blog
So why do you blog as an emerging writer? There’s a question I’ve been asked from time to time. After two years of blogging, the answers have probably changed a bit.

I have kept a diary of my writing projects, upcoming competitions and results and places open for submissions for a good few years. The competitions and submissions information came from a large number of sources: newsletters, emails, various writing websites, other blogs, radio, TV, word of mouth, and I collated it in one place for my own use. I thought this information would be useful to other writers and a blog seemed the easiest way to share it online.

Why did I choose the name Emerging Writer? I’ve been lucky enough to be accepted on some workshops and win awards in this nebulous category, it was easy to remember and I didn’t want my name directly associated. I was job hunting at the time and I didn’t want prospective employers reading about how many times I’ve had work rejected this month. Also I wanted to have a bit of freedom to be critical of establishments, books, poems and even people without them turning up at my front door wielding a hurley.

Then I did a few posts about my own writing successes and failures and, result, I got some comments. Ah heaven. People cared. I posted about writing and reading events in Ireland and started meeting people who read my blog. People who didn’t know me already. Is this fame? I posted writing tips and common errors.

I post pretty well every day now. I’ve posted on council grants and Haiku courses, Canadian magazines and photos for inspiration, literary agents and writing retreats. I always include a picture illustrating part of all of the post. Sometimes the link is tenuous and more for my own amusement than for my readers. I’m easily amused. And I’ve discovered the joys (and unexplained sudden failures) of submitting for a future dates. I use my blog myself for checking on upcoming deadlines and links to submission details.

But always in the back of my head was the idea that when my book gets finished and my agent gets it published, a blog is a great publicity vehicle for my faithful and mildly interested readers. I’m ever optimistic.

What have I learned?
People read blogs. Blogging is a form of networking, as useful in writing as in any other professions. Comments are good, positive or negative, discussions are healthy. Blogging and reading other blogs can easily eat into my precious writing time. All it takes though is discipline to stop that happening. Turn off the internet and get stuck in.

But first, I’ll just check the blogs I’m following for updates on Google Reader…

Publishing, but not as we know it

Eoin Purcell

A screenshot of SCD Library Website
A screenshot of SCD Library Website

Hopes & Dreams
I went to Children’s Books Ireland’s talk on Thursday 11th June on the future: Publishing but not as we know it | ebooks, digital publishing and children’. Aside from the very minor quibble, that the panel had no publisher (odd given the topic) it was nonetheless by far the most interesting group assembled to talk about the topic that I have seen for some time in Ireland.

I arrived late and so missed Samatha Holman of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency who I have seen talk recently about Google and possess probably the best understanding of Copyright law (both national and international) in Ireland. This added greatly to the discussion because it enabled her to cut through the hopes, dreams and wishes right down to the what was allowed and what had yet to be agreed, always useful when discussing the future!

I also missed Peadar Ó Guilín which annoyed me, as I found his contributions to the discussion after the main talks, fascinating, even if he seemed an evangelist for no longer needing publishers*. If I have him wrong, I’ll apologize.

Two other panelists really fascinated me too. The first was speaking as I arrived, John McNamee, President European Booksellers Federation spoke about the challenges of bookselling in the future and spoke of a vision where he sold the customer the intellectual property for a fee and then asked what format he would prefer it in. Seems a nice idea, though my gut told me that it wouldn’t work at a decentralized level and would work at a much more central level. But then, being proved wrong on that one, would be a bonus.

By far the most revelatory though was the South County Dublin Librarian, Georgina Byrne. She revealed the extent of their download services something its seems that has floated beneath the radar of nearly everybody in Irish publishing (certainly non-one has ever mentioned it to me).

They have partnered with Overdrive and now deliver up to 3000 titles in ebook and audio book form to members via their download zone.

If you like paper and love paper books then the message Georgina had to share was a depressing one. Children love the libraries Tumblebooks service which offers children’s books online. And, if you listen, read an watch one, you can see why. I tried Dinotrain and it is fun!

As Samantha Holamn said during the discussion, the panel and teh subsequent discussion was by far the best she had attended because it looked forward and I think that was due in large part to Oisín McGann who chaired the event quick wonderfully offering his well considered contributions and links out to funny and informative videos throughout.

I’ve left numerous side issues out but needless to say there was much discussion on Agents, Publishers, Contracts, Google, a little about Amazon, Scribd and a little about revenue models and changing cultural norms. It was a shame I had to leave so quickly when it ended I’d have liked to discuss some of the issues more with the panelists. Still, a thoroughly thought provoking evening.
Eoin

* It always amazes me that people would relish the disappearance of publishers wholesale. Yes some publishers might not be excellent and sometimes working relationship have become strained or just plain broken, but surely as an industry over the lifetime of their existence, publishers have been more than simply blood suckers?