Really nice post this by Kassia over at Booksquare. I totally agree with her on the trajectory and have some slight quibbles (which I’ll blog about soon) on the outcome, but nothing terribly major.
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Everyone is off writing prediction posts for 2010 (follow them on George’s wonderful tracker), I thought I might take a brief minute or two to consider the heroes of 2009. At least my heroes. I tried to keep it to a small list (5) and I chose them for personal reasons, they may grate with some (and yes I kinda broke my own limit with one of them).
Dominique Raccah – The Innovator
When I saw Dominique speak at TOC Frankfurt I was blown away. She was the breath of fresh air that I had been waiting for in the industry, she is passionate, articulate and insanely clever. She grasped the challenge of publishing in the present age brilliantly and has responded in kind. Her discussion of the publishing continuum has revolutionised my thinking on digital offerings and content and her passion for her company and its future is manifest and heartening. She is at the core of the discussion about how to respond to the challenge of digital content from the publishers perspective and I think she has the answers. She is a hero for 2010, and I suspect for many years to come too.
Mike Cane – The Writer’s Advocate and Alarm Bell
Cane provides solid analysis (caked as it can sometimes be in vitriolic hyperbole). His vision is not even remotely tainted by the fact that it comes solidly from a writers perspective, in fact in many ways that is his strength. Too much for some, he is never shy with his opinion but willing to respond when challenged and corrected.
The Quartet – The Try-ers
They briefly excited the online e-vangelist echo chamber with their hopes and ambitions for a digital only press. They failed. Trying something big and scary and failing publicly can be disheartening, dispiriting and depressing. But the Quartet have dusted themselves off and moved on with a speed and alacrity that is impressive.
James Bridle – The Inventor
James continues to amaze with the work he produces and the ideas he brings to fruition. I heartily recommend following him if only for the sense of wonder you have when you read about his latest project or the awe you feel when looking at the pictures he produces of them.
Jose Afonso Furtado – The Source
A seeming unstinting dedication to reading and linking out to the best stories online in the media, publishing and book sphere, is Jose’ great strength. If you follow his twitter deed you will be connected and in the loop on just about all the trends you might need to monitor.
It’s not a long list, but I think it’s a good one!
Start your engines
If business models in publishing are to change and if people are to adopt digital over paper books as their main reading method (whether that be in ebook, online access or whatever), publishers are going to have ro embrace the online world in a real way. To date, although some publishers have started to do this, few major movers in the Trade Publishing world have shifted in any earth shattering way.
Which is why the new, digital only, house Quartet Press is an interesting launch. For one thing the three members of the quartet that we know of are not easily dismissed. They are serious people with a record of expressing informed opinion on the trade, not to mention actually engaging on one level or another with the trade and making things happen.
The stature that Quartet will have because of the prominent status of its founders suggests that the digital publishing space is about to become much more interesting. Quartet may be the trailblazer but there is a every reason to expect that most trade publishers will follow suit and launch digital only imprints (or indeed change the basis of their publishing to digital first), maybe not in a rush but eventually as they translate their publishing from a predominantly paper based business to one that revolves around the types of verticals that Mike Shatzkin discusses in this post and many others and communities like Tor.com.
In any case, we watch this space with interest!
This is what I said before
Back in 2006 I wrote a piece called The Publisher in the Value Chain. It was a response to a post by Rob Jones over at Snowbooks. The bones of the case I put forward was in the conclusion:
In publishing the price of writing a book was always low, but now the price of making a book is to all intents and purposes free too. Publishing it costs nothing now if you use a trick like lulu.com and very little if you use self-publishing services like Xlibris, Trafford.com or even Blurb.com. The Publisher will still be needed to absorb the risk because the risk has not going away, it is just changing, shifting and moving along the value chain from printing and design to marketing and distribution.
A few pieces recently have offered alternative interpretations and, times have also changed so I thought it was an apt time for thinking this through some more.
What has changed: Distribution
Well to begin on the digital and ebook side with we now have the models of distribution that we lacked in 2006. I’m not saying that this didn’t exist in 2006, because they did, rather than the last 2 and half years have seen the arrival of mass market type offerings in these areas.
Apple’s iPhone Apps (available from their App Store which is part of their iTunes service) have proved to be excellent platforms for throwing books at people and developers have mind the public domain for free (and paid for) content to supply to interested parties.
This market has only truly been made possible by the enormous success of the iPhone itself. In some senses too the ebook/iPhone Apps publishing market is an accidental creation unlike the music downloads and iTunes which was a deliberate strategy.
Amazon has launched the Kindle and just this past week bought Lexcycle makers of the Stanza App. They have previously launched their own iPhone app to try and capture some of the market that Apple sneakily and rather unexpectedly took from them (well I’m sure that is how they see it!)
There is also the very often overlooked Sony Reader that nonetheless seems to be doing alright and recently entered a partnership with Google to present 500,000 public books on the Reader.
And that brings us to Google itself whose Books Search project has reached an almost incredible position compared to its 2006 incarnation. With some 7 million books scanned and an agreement close to being locked in (though there are some problems with this deal from many viewpoints, lots of which elicit my sympathy) GBS is a beast that cannot be ignored, even if the two most successful distribution models to date are Apple’s and Amazon’s.
But leaving aside the questions it is pretty clear from this brief survey that a whole ecosystem for distribution is being created ebooks and digital content.
What has changed: Marketing
The change here is not as convincing I would suggest as it has been in distribution. Several very excellent sites have started to aggregate both information and readers. LibraryThing is my favourite bit other such as Goodreads, Shelfari and newer entrants like Book Army and FiledBy. Michael Cairns has a good post on this type of Curation as he calls it.
What hasn’t changed?
But the truth remains and is perhaps even more true that as I noted in 2006 by way of Mark Cuban:
Because in an ala carte world, the cost of reaching an audience is outrageous. And consumers arent ready to pay the freight to receive that programming.
As I have said before, the movie market is ala carte. Look at which content rises to the top in terms of revenues from consumers and visibility. The content from the biggest companies who have spent the most money to market .
In the book world, our products cost less than movies, but one movie visit (no including the extras) costs about the same as a decent book (though most paperback fiction is slightly cheaper). The revenue per title is considerably lower than most studio’s revenue per movie so our marketing budgets are commensurately lower, but our strategies are pretty much the same. Reach large audiences and spend money to get them to buy your books.
Visibility and discoverability are still the essential parts to the jigsaw. No-one, except perhaps Google who are indexing the content of all the books they scan, is in a position to change the game on this point. Certainly not the single author whose only hope is that a good blog and outreach will result in attention. For one in ten thousand of fewer it may well achieve that as Seth Godin eloquently points out, the 9,999 who miss out never even get heard of!
To market a book you still need money, you still need a distribution system that shuffles deadwood from warehouse to store (and back when necessary) yes in certain limited cases Print-on-Demand will float but for books that are selling by the thousands that is hardly a viable way forward. You need a sales force and you need know how. You need post release press attention that dedicated pr associates have drummed up and high profile editors have garnered by way of long term contacts.
In short you need someone who spreads risk across multiple authors so that taking a bath on three and losing a little on four can be offset by winning on one and breaking even on two.
Google might yet change the game, but that change will only be as random as internet popularity always is. What is more as Pete Waterman might explain in depth, Internet Stardom does not equal big paychecks!
And even if they do, authors will still need a partner to exploit the opportunities created by attention. They’ll need the ability and contacts I’ve just described or else the attention will go to waste. It may be that Amazon, Google and apple will step up to the plate but right now, that link is Traditional Trade Publishing.
Conclusions for 2009
And so, two and a half years on, where is the publisher in the publishing value chain? I think that Mark Coker has it partly right when he compares Publishers to VCs in his blog post over at Smashwords. We are the financiers of all the risk. That much has not changed.
Where he gets it wrong is in his follow up post about how the risk and the reward has shifted towards the author. The author cannot afford to absorb this risk and so he/she will fail to reap the reward.
The mantra of Cuban, remains accurate and doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
Clinging to the end of the value chain!
Mercier has spent the last few weeks in an intense period of trying to figure out our response to the Google Books Settlement. I have to hand it our our MD, Clodagh Feehan who has gone at this with gusto and pushed for answers to questions none of us even realised we had!
The result was an author meeting last Tuesday evening in the Rochestown Park Hotel which brought out about 30 authors but generated a good few more calls and letters from people who couldn’t attend. We were fortunate to have Samantha Holamn of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency on hand to give us a very thorough review of the deal and while I don’t think anyone was happy (at least not with the deal as it has been agreed that is) we all at least understood the concept much more.
Authors need to act
By far the biggest single thought that emerged for me was not that Publishers need to take action, because surely by now most of them have realised that, one way or the other, they must. Nor was it the unsettling feeling that something in a relatively minor court in a foreign jurisdiction was changing copyrights (and the not too often mention suggestion that Moral Rights might be affected by such things as advertising) for what many see as the worse.
No, the biggest thing was that authors need to take responsibility for their own works and make decisions AS WELL AS PUBLISHERS. Many authors felt that their publisher would take care of matters but the truth is that both parties need to claim their works. Especially as sometime in the future a book may go out of print with a publisher and at that stage, an author or their heirs need to have assert control over usage.
So, if you are an author and you have a reasonable belief that Google have scanned your works, which seems likely as they have scanned about 7 Million books, you should head to the Google Settlement site and claim your books.
Read some more opinions, there are many voices out there offering their thoughts. A good few of them disagree with my perspective which is that despite the fact that this is not an ideal settlement, it’s not a terrible one and that the way it operates at a practical level may well determine its level of success. In terms of thoughts Mike Shatzkin & Michael Cairns offers interesting considerations but there are many others. I’d also recommend Adam Hodgkin at Exact Editions and Martyn Daniels at Brave New World not forgetting the wonderful Booksquare which is always full of great discussion.
Authors, take action! Read, think, claim and decide your stance. In some ways your choice is limited by the very fact that you have to decided but, as I am pretty sure you are not armed with enough cash to sue Google, that is where we are!