Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 02/05/2009

Eoin Purcell

Some fascinating data about iPhone app downloads and how they flow.
Story on Techcrunch & Original Source

The Digital Market is worth £80million in the UK according to this piece in the Bookseller.

A pretty interesting build-your-own-textbook offering from Norton is the US. The story is here and the actual etextbook website here.

A really interesting piece by Tim O’Reilly on books and reinventing them for the web.

A great post by Michael Hyatt on building a platform for authors!

Enjoy the bank holiday if you have one!
Eoin

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!

Self publishing as a threat to niche

And not so niche
I wrote a post some time ago now on how Blurb was a real threat to publishers of small to medium size. I wrote then:

Using the template it is a very simple task to construct and edit a book. The ease with which this can be done is unsettling for me. I work with a publisher of limited run titles. Few rate over 2000 on an initial print run. To date, the key benefits we could offer to authors of books published through our company were quality of design, access to distribution, access to retail and other sales channels and of course we take on the risk of publishing costs and pay royalties to the author removing the dangers that self published authors have of not receiving payment for the books other sell on their behalf.

Lulu.com took away the fear authors might have that they would be left holding the baby as it were with lots of stock and no buyers, it also resolved the payment problem (As have many other online selling and payments solutions). That left the problem of design, many self published titles suffer from poor design and lack of quality. Blurb resolves that quite easily.

I’ve since moved to Mercier where although we operate mostly in a solid niche (Irish history & Biography being our core market), I’ve not forgotten Blurb.com or Lulu.com> Blurb has expanded its offering and is even hosting a directory of professional designers to help authors layout and design their books; Blurbnation and is running a photography book competition. Lulu.com is offering publishing packages and community functions on its site.

I mention this today because I was guided to a CNN story about Lisa Genova who self published [with iUniverse] her way to a deal with Simon & Schuster and whose now traditionally published novel Still Alice is in The New York Times Bestsellers list for the twelfth week. A rather nice BookVideos clip beneath this graph, it’s worth watching.

Genova is hardly a trend on her own I hear yo say and you are correct, she is not. But she does show that the fracturing of the market is such that even self-publishers have huge potential wins coming their way By dint of the large numbers now engaged in self-publishing books, some of the books will be decent at least. Some will be far, far better than decent and those books may well evade the traditional publishing route, just as the hard-working software coders of 37Signals, yet another of my favourite, self publishing, examples have with their smash hit Getting Real.

Is this really a route to market?
For non-fiction I think there will be an increasing tendency for the market to fracture by niche enabling authors at the micro and more modest level to prosper. I don’t think this will necessarily mean that no project will warrant a publisher’s investment rather that the viable ground for traditional publishing will move increasingly up the chain towards a realm where print runs are of a minimum of 4000-5000 units. Small beer for some of the larger houses but a big deal for most publishers in Ireland and I suspect worldwide.

Perhaps like Mike Shatzkin preaches we can prevent this by aggregating a niche and serving its needs (that would in essence provide other services to compensate the author for the lost revenue from self publishing. Publishers would be spending time and money on audience creation and cultivation alongside their current role of content gathering and curation. In many respects that is what Osprey are doing with Military History.

The top down problem
Of course if bottom is moving upwards, I believe very soon the top rank will move down. Traditional publishers will lose authors to outfits that are prepared to service their careers in every fashion, from events to books, to online exploitation. Andrew Keen made a point at a conference in London that I attended last year. He said that the bulk of his money came from speaking, not writing. When that is the case, why does it make sense for a top-level author to stay with a house that is primarily focused on creating and selling books?

Surely it will be in a top ranked author, the kind who can pull a crowd in any city in the world to move to a talent agency that manages everything like Livenation have started to do with musicians.

Leaving publishers either dead, the middle or adapted
I’m not a big fan of dead, so I think for now we can swim towards the middle and try and move a little bit more into the 4-10,000 unit range of publishing*. There are problems in this area and the main problem is that retailers are pushing the front list much more aggressively and the midlist is suffering. The bulk of those 4-10,000 unit books are smack bang in the midlist as far as retailers are concerned.

Adapted like Osprey then seems an attractive option but presents challenges for a diverse list without a single focus. Even if one can identify a niche where a publisher has a competitive advantage, is that niche a sustainable market likely to support the company for the future, or like newspapers will there be a period of re-adjustment which see staff loses, restructuring and deep unease within the industry?

I’m not sure anyone has the answers to this questions, and it may well be that the premise they are based on is a flawed one. Perhaps self-publishing will not successfully undermine the smaller publishers. One way or the other, any independent publisher needs to, at the very least, be thinking about what that would mean for them if it did happen! I shudder to think of what will happen to the larger trade publishers when top ranking authors start to move away from publishers in large numbers.

Let’s hope it never gets as bad as we fear it might, let’s hope the centre can hold because by my estimation that us where the market for publishers exists.
Eoin

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
William Butler Yates

*I remind you that all opinions expressed on this site are my own, see my disclaimers. Also bear in mind that in discussing numbers and trends I am focused on the Irish Market which is not, by any stretch if the imagination, a large one!

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 06/04/2009

Eoin Purcell

There is a boycott going on of Amazon Kindle books that are priced over $9.99. Kassia has a good analysis.
Here

if:book and the Arts Council of England have an interesting but ultimately (in my mind) useless project to publish an illuminated book for the digital age. I wish I could like this but I can’t, I see no value added by making this type of website pretend to be a book. Who benefits, why go to the extra effort, are we using the new medium to its best, I suspect not. All told I think this is like putting book readings on TV, pointless and not very exciting.
Here

Consolidation in the universe of self publishing (a weak gag I’ll admit).
Here

Official notice that Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical Company has a blog, I’ve yet to not like a post! While you are reading his blog you should also check out his fascinating and I think useful enterprise, FiledbyAuthor.
Here

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 05/03/2009

You have to wonder what goes on in the heads of publishing firms sometimes. A week after closing teh Collins division in the US, HarperCollins announces a new one (It Books) focused:

on pop culture, sports, style and content derived from the Internet, like a planned collection of Twitter posts called “Twitter Wit.”

Here

The wonderful Bookbrunch which has caused the equally wonderful Bookseller to raise its game has decided to start charging for its service, an inevitable move and one I welcome. There is nothing wrong with asking people to pay for your hard work. The rates seem pretty reasonable too:

Individual subscription prices are as follows:

3 months subscription – £30
6 months subscription – £55
12 months subscription – £99

Here

Delia and Gordon go head to head for the top spot. I think you should just buy both as this amazon offer suggests and in these recessionary times, £24 is a damn good price.
Here

deliagordon