I got a strange package in the post today (which is always fun).
I’m very excited about this, looking forward to the read!
I’ve been a bit lazy with the linking here, because I’ve become so addicted to linking through Twitter. But I shall try and change.
I’ve never met John Blake, but I hope to some day. He’s a smart-smart publisher and this column in the Times goes to the heart of why in very simple language, a pretty impressive achievement:
The way the big publishers work is like spread-betting. About 80 per cent of books break even, 10 per cent lose a lot of money and 10 per cent make a lot of money. It doesn’t matter to them that some books don’t make money, because in the short term you have to keep the wheels turning and the staff employed until the next big thing comes along.
The New York Times has a holiday guide to the ereader. Worth digging into if only for the section where they explore the REAL future of content:
While not technically an e-reader, an online e-book portal for children is offered by Disney. A subscription provides access to more than 500 titles from Disney, including classics like “Bambi.” A family membership with accounts for up to three children is $8.95 a month; an annual membership is $79.95. Gift subscriptions, by the month or year, are also available.
Disney Digital Books is compatible with both PCs and Macs. Since it’s browser-based, you can log into your account on any computer. Young readers can select books based on individual reading levels, including picture and chapter books.
Promising more blog linking!
Among other start-up muckrakers, John Oakes and Colin Robinson’s OR Books has sold paperback rights to their first title, GOING ROUGE, to Michele Matrisciani at HCI Books–which is reissuing the book today. Under OR Books direct-sale model, the book had not been available in traditional stores or online vendors, limiting sales despite the wave of Palin-related publicity. HCI president Peter Vegso says in their announcement “this title, although outside our usual publishing perimeters, presented an exciting and interesting challenge.”
Next up for OR Books is Norman Finkelstein’s book on “Israel’s Growing Isolation After the Gaza Invasion,” set for January, in which he “looks at how the reckless and disproportionate military action against the Palestinians in Gaza a year ago has led some of Israel’s closest allies to question their support for the country,” while “offering the possibility of something hopeful emerging from the tragedy of what occurred in Gaza.”
Oakes says eliciting a paperback partner will “certainly be a goal for each published work of ours.”
This is the almost perfect example of how one might expect a pure ebook play to develop over time, publishing ebooks to a time sensitive market while selling the rights to someone else for a paperback edition, enabling them to keep stock costs lows and cash flow high and letting someone else worry about the odd economics of the traditional model!
We live in the most interesting of times!
*A service of Publishers Marketplace a site that anyone interested in publisher should pay for.
You have to wonder just how many books Amazon Encore has to publish before we consider it a fully fledged book publisher? I wrote a long post about the implications of Amazon Encore here some time ago. In it I said:
Sure this can be extended and it is clearly being set up to do so. Amazon is in a great place to carry out their program to almost any conceivable scale. That in itself should indicate that they intend to extend. If you don’t believe it look at what Barnes & Noble have done in Classics and Rediscovered titles and you will get the idea.
But add to it the previously mentioned POD set up, they wouldn’t even need to expend extra capital on print runs, they’d be able to deliver books on demand so even if a huge proportion of the titles failed, their costs would be lower than the major publishers and the bookstore publishers too. That competitive advantage would be added to the fact that they wouldn’t have to pay a retailers discount unless they were selling to the retailers themselves. In effect, aside from what the author and their agents can grab from the chain, Amazon with Encore has successfully placed itself in control of the entire value chain of which I wrote some more about last week but didn’t quite count this in.
And now, quelle surprise, Amazon has expanded the encore program by 300%! I’ll admit from 1 to 3 is not a huge leap, but if every season (twice a year say) they leap 300% by the end of 2012 they would be publishing over 2000 titles. Of course that is an exaggeration I doubt that Amazon will expand the division at that speed but even at a lesser pace they could easily be publishing 100, 200, 300 titles a season.
Are we ready for that? I don’t think we are.
The Frankfurt Cleared The Air Edition
Richard Eoin Nash’s post on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog is all kinds of excellent:
Not only, it turns out, are the readers of the world looking to buy our content if we can deliver it to them digitally, but the world’s leading hardware companies are looking to help us. Along with Sony, iRex, TXTR, and other dedicated reading device manufacturers exhibiting, presenting, and working the floor, two Apple executives were traversing the halls of the Fair to let publishers know all the opportunities that await them on that platform. (Let it be said: that platform, right now, is the iPhone. Not any other rumored device. Apple has not been in private discussions about a larger device and reports that they have are a hoax. But Apple does believe in the opportunity for the publishing industry’s content, contrary to the occasional snarky comment from Jobs.) Apple is working to improve the Books section of the App store to make it more browsable, and they are trying to help publishers find the right developers to work with.
You should take the time to read all the contributions from Richard and his fellow Book Fair Bloggers, they provide a nice slice of the fair.
Brian O’Leary has put the slides for his trouble causing presentation on piracy up on Slideshare, when you read through, you’ll find it hard to find the controversy and wonder just how tightly poised those knee-jerk reactions are.
The news of Google’s Google Editions, which first came to light back in June has been formed up by more recent news. Like this AP story:
Tom Turvey, head of Google Book Search’s publisher partnership program, said the price per book would be set by their publishers and would start with between 400,000 to 600,000 books in the first half of 2010.
“It will be a browser-based access,” Turvey said Thursday at the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair. “The way the e-book market will evolve is by accessing the book from anywhere, from an access point of view and also from a geographical point of view.”
The books bought from Google, and its partners, would be accessible on any gadget that has a Web browser, including smartphones, netbooks and personal computers and laptops. A book would be accessible offline after the first time it was accessed.
Of course as you would expect it is platform neutral (if web based/cloud based is neutral), omnipresent and smart. Anyone who thinks that devices are the future is living in the past.
There is a whole load of other stuff on the margins, but in terms of signal, I think this is it!
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.
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!
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.
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!