The Right To Fail – The Friday Project

Eoin Purcell

The Noise
The Friday Project’s collapse and the subsequent acquisition of some of its assets by HarperCollins has generated a lot of heat, much noise and precious little decent analysis over the last few weeks. I’m not sure I have much to add one way or the other.

It is a complicated subject because a good number of people are angry, and justly, because their work will go unpaid. Some authors have lost their publishing contracts and one creditor is owed the massive sum of £150,000.

I know some of those involved, not on the inside but on the outside, and I feel sorry for them. I also feel sorry for the folks that have been stung by the business failure too, it would be very hard not to be.

The Heat
Some are concerned at the reported expenditure and at the suggestion that they might have saved some of their creditors pain by wrapping the business up earlier. You only need to read the discussions on Clare Christian’s now defunct blog to understand this argument. (The blog is now deleted)

Frankly, the truth of that suggestion is not clear cut. Who is to say what is the best way to act when faced with business troubles. It is possible sometimes to trade out of a rocky patch, get new funding and move to healthy sales, pay back creditors and generally rescue a business, sometimes it is not.

I’m glad I didn’t have to make that call in this occasion. I don’t begrudge TFP’s efforts to find new funding and to try and trade through difficulties, though the suggested expenditure is alarming.

The Analysis
What The Friday Project represented to me was a willingness to take risk, in this case, perhaps too many and too expensively taken. They were one of the few companies that was happy to say that online content was good enough to make it mainstream and in doing so they uncovered some great writing and some quality authors.

They failed to be different enough though, not having a Unique Selling Point, something that marked them out as clearly better or different from major publishers or indeed other independents, not that that is ever a barrier to success in most industries, including our own.

You can diss the effort, decry the fact that people will go unpaid and call the principles any name in the book, but at least they tried to shake up the medium, gave their efforts to the goal.

The wrap up
I say well done and hard luck to them and to their creditors. I wish, for all of them, that it could have ended better than the way it did and I hope never to have to face the extreme difficulties that a trade partners failure can impose, but I look forward to seeing where the TFP people go from here and how their efforts progress in their new surroundings which will, no doubt, present their own challenges.

Increasingly risk averse (at least this week)
Eoin

Guest Blogger: Richard Charkin

Eoin Purcell

They Can’t Eat You*
One thing I have learned since I started blogging is that asking can result in only two answers; Yes or No. The rest is variation on a theme.

I first learned this when I cheekily asked to meet Richard Charkin, then CEO at Macmillan, for a meeting at a point when I needed advice and direction. He was very active in the blog world, being at the time the only CEO of a major publisher blogging on a daily basis. He agreed and met me for lunch in London and we had a great chat about publishing, blogging and the future.

So, determined not to let his move to Bloomsbury be the end of his blogging as it seems to have been, I e-mailed and asked again. The result is below:

Charkinblog Banner**

Eoin wrote to me a week or so ago asking if I‘d write a guest blog for him. I had a bit of travelling ahead of me (London-Delhi-London-Berlin-London-New York-London) and so agreed to try. Of course I failed to write a word on the planes as I suffered a mixture of lack of inspiration, fatigue and laziness. But now guilt has reasserted itself and blogging is on my mind.

From December 2005 until September 2007, while I was working at http://www.macmillan.com I compiled a blog. I’ve spent this morning editing out possible copyright infringements and writing a preface because, amazingly, Macmillan want to publish a print version (on demand of course) for students of publishing etc. It made me realize how much I owed to guest bloggers and commentators and friends and how I owed Eoin a short piece for his blog.

Yesterday’s London Times had an interesting piece in the Business News section A novel Idea May Not Be Lucrative. The author’s conclusions are hardly earth-shattering. Most novels don’t earn very much money for their authors (or their publishers) but people enjoy writing books for reasons other than money. What is extraordinary is that the piece is the lead article in the business section of a major newspaper. The fiction publishing industry is tiny and hardly any of it is available to investors (in the UK only Penguin, part of http://www.pearson.com , and http://www.bloomsbury.com , my employers are fiction publishers and quoted companies). Sales of some novels are spectacular but even the most spectacular compare in revenue and terms very unfavourably with, for example, a drug, a car, an airline, or an oilfield.

As an industry we should be very grateful for all the attention (and I am) but why this journalistic obsession with the economics of books and fiction in particular?

Thanks Richard. I know that there are a good dozen readers who will be buying that book and they are not students either! A great way to turn on its head our obsession with media coverage. I’ll need to think a little more about this.
Eoin

* Bob Parson’s 16 Rules (corny and wise, a good combination)
** The Charkinblog banner was sourced from http://charkinblog.macmillan.com/

Tools of Change – times they are . . . confused??

Eoin Purcell

Update: The Digitalist has some good words on Content!

Without content there is no internet, there is no context, there is no point in contacting in the sense that I understand Rushkoff to be using it. Pretty much everything in media is changing true, but the one thing that is not changing is the position of content as the ultimate driver of why people go to where they go and do what they do. While the context of watching a TV show or reading an article may have changed (e.g. distribution channels have migrated to digital) and the ways in which I interact with others around it has evolved I still want to watch something interesting and read something informative. Other factors are always going to be secondary to that.
Content, in whatever form it takes, remains the sine qua non of media. Despite the high profile given to various forms of aggregation, search and networking it seems pointlessly iconoclastic to suggest a displacement as such. Rather I see it more as shifts around content, altering it but not ultimately detracting from its centrality.

I’m an ordinary man
And in many ways I think I represent the crux of the problem the publishing industry faces. I’m an atypical book buyer (I buy many, perhaps too many books) and I also consumer digital content voraciously.

Books, books, good for the heart
I love books. By that I mean printed, bound, paper books. I like hardbacks of old books. Ones that smell musty and have been opened rarely. I love paperbacks, light and easy to carry, almost disposable once read. I love the thoughts and ideas books contain. Every one a treasure of knowledge and information stretching back to its author or its translator. Perhaps it is a newer edition of a classic text or a transcription of a famous oral tradition, perhaps the narrative account of a historical event, the diary of a participant, the now out dated analysis of political events of previous centuries, or indeed a frivolous novel designed to subvert the social mores of the day> perhaps it is none of these things, merely the dry recording of naval stores aboard ships in the Eastern Mediterranean in the years after the Napoleonic Wars. One way of the other I love them.

The web, the web, good for the heart
I love the web, the twisty paths of knowledge you can take, the leisurely reading of varied topics, from politics to anthropology, from science to seasoning, from gossip to goose recipes. That I can jump through the library catalogs of the University of Michigan and peruse the shelves of the British Library online. I like that images enrich my idea of the world almost effortlessly and that references and recommendations offer a much deeper understanding of the world, the concept, the time, or even the place I am reading about.

Rivals for my heart
In one sense these two loves are not opposed but in another they are. I cannot both read books and surf the web. At least not simultaneously. The task of reading requires dedicated standalone time, i can read and surf but not read books and surf. Not even e-books work for me and thus the reason I believe they have little future as standalone computer based products. I think the web page and the web browser will dominate reading of all sorts in the future, not just short form articles and brief blog posts but for magazines, newspapers, journals and books.

E-books will just not work, why would I close my browser and use a different, standalone app when the experience of reading in a broswer where connectedness abounds is so much better?

Add to the mix O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference last week
And I think you’ll see an industry that is making a desperate attempt to get to grips with the future and kind of flailing around. So much so we are willing to listen to just about anyone who has an idea about where we should be going. Some of those ideas are brilliant and some are quaint, but all of them have potential.

if I was to fall down on one idea it is the one that say that content is no longer king. Somehow I struggle to buy that. I guess I’m a dinosaur then. I’ll think on it some more.

The truth of course is none of us know what is going to happen and although we will claim we saw it coming when it happens, we won’t have. Possibly we will be lucky if we can adapt in time to survive when it does, possibly not.

If I sound sanguine I am, because I remain convinced that what I love; the knowledge and information, the ideas and thoughts, the concepts and contrivances will survive, distributed digitally or in beautiful or cheap volumes of printed ink, it really won’t matter. One way or the other, I suspect I’ll be involved in the process that makes that happen too. Its want I want to do, so I’ll just have to make it happen.

Convinced I’m not obsolete, yet!
Eoin

For the record. Sara Lloyd @ The Digitalist Blog and George Walkley @ Life As Beta Geek were indespensible in following a conference I wish I could have attended.

Oh and tomorrow I have a surprise guest blogger, worth reading!

Bookseller Column: The Irish Blook

Eoin Purcell

I’m quite pleased with how this came out in the end.

The Irish blook

29.01.08

Blogging has been brewing up a media storm in the Irish media. Two weeks ago, well known commentator, John Waters, attacked the entire blogosphere on Newstalk, one of Ireland’s talk radio stations.

Following the lead of Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of the Amateur, John Waters said that blogs were “stupid”, “entirely cynical”, “entirely negative” and equivalent to the “wall of a toilet”. He also attacked the lack of authority and suggested that much of the internet was given over to pornography and self-gratification (of which he believes blogging to be an extension).

Unsurprisingly he was rebutted and lampooned by the blogging fraternity. Eventually he came head to head with one of Ireland’s more erudite bloggers Feargal Crehan (a barrister) and the results can be heard here.

Whatever about the merits of Waters’ arguments, they do raise the question of blogging’s role in Irish publishing. There are more than a few success stories in the field.

For more go Here

(Links are a bit tricksy for some reason though!

Enjoying P&Ls (is that odd?)
Eoin