Sometimes You Just Get A Feeling

Colm & The Lazarus Key
Some time ago, while I was still working at Mercier Press, probably back in early 2008 in fact, I read a submission. It was for a book by a young man called Kieran Mark Crowley. The pitch was great, the text was zingy and the whole thing just read exceptionally well.

I met Mark, liked, him, pitched the book at the new title meeting and before we knew what was happening, Colm & The Lazarus Key was published and on bookshelves (complete with a rocking cover by the wonderful Snowbooks folks).

Last week the shortlist for the 20th Bisto Children’s Book of the Year Awards was announced and Kieran’s wonderful book was one of the ten books chosen for that shortlist. I’m delighted because I honestly believe that Kieran has many more fine books in him and that Colm & The Lazarus Key is one of the finest Irish children’s debut novels for some time.

Check out Kieran’s website or read an interview with him over at Mercier’s site. And buy and read the book!

Having a decent evening, but thinking about Great Aunts and Apple Tarts.
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 12/12/2009

Colm & The LaZarus Key

I like the structure of that date, it has a good look to it.

Here is a link to JA Konrath’s rather interesting list of ebook predicitions from the start of the month. I missed it then and only read it today.

A brace of great posts from Booksquare; here & here.

Great post about what gamers can teach publishers, really fascinating:

the tabletop role-playing gaming industry started out by trying to model the methods of traditional publishing, found out the hard way that that really didn’t work for them (in the long run, it’s not working for big publishers either, but they’re BIG, so they didn’t notice as soon), and had to find new solutions. They were the first to adopt electronic publishing, shame-free POD printing, electronic-only publishing, podcasting-modules, mixed media releases, and every other experimental method anyone could think of, good or bad. That’s fine: they’re small, and experimenting is something small groups of people can DO that big groups can’t.

By the way is anyone getting the feeling that Seth Godin was SO far ahead of the curve with Small is the New Big? Coz I am!

Last but by far not least, the Irish Times has a list of fabulous books for kids this Christmas, including one of an un-mentioned (on this list) favourites (I thought another self commissioned title was pushing it!): Colm & The Lazarus Key by Kieran Mark Crowley who will be one of Ireland’s best known writers for children soon, of that I am certain. The smartly excellent cover is the work of the wonderful Emma over @ Snowbooks, if you need cover work, she’s your girl.

Reading like a demon, but only just keeping up!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 11/12/2009

Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews to close. Frankly I find this a little strange. Even spinning them off might have been better, though survival on their own would have been pretty unlikely without serious reorganization and a fundamental rethinking of the business models.
Here

Canongate is profiled in the Wall Street Journal, that Jamie Byng has an eye for a book that can be packaged. It’d almost make ya jealous.
Here

Frankly, I don’t buy this Apple Tablet nonsense much. Apple cannot single-handedly change the industry, though they may try. In any case when Steve Jobs announces this on a stage somewhere, I’m sure I’ll want it, but until then, I shall waste no energy waiting or wanting.
Here

On the other hand, both Mike Shatzkin and Michael Hyatt have articles about new display systems for content that they claim will change the book world as we know it. I think both are right that change is coming but I have more sympathy with the Sports Illustrated demo video on Michael Hyatt’s post. After all that looks like a faster webpage with some extra features rather than something new. Webpages are the answer and so putting the web in every hand you can is the way forward for publishers and makes more sense than creating new, confusing and unnecessary formats. The trick is to make the customer pay for access to your content, not find a fancy way to display it.

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 03/12/2009

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.

A very nice exploration of what Google brings to the party for newspaper publisher (1 & 2). Extra credit, the Guardian’s interview/article with Google’s Josh Cohen.

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!
Eoin

Six Implications of Digital Vertical Niches

Promises made, must be kept!
I promised I would post notes to go with my Pecha Kucha speech from TOC FrankFurt at the start of the week but it has been quite the week, so here, a little later than promised, they are!

For those who attended TOC Frankfurt the notes give some more detail on what I said (or would have liked to say) at the event and fill in what I couldn’t fit in.

Pecha Kucha
I want first, to say a few things about the format:

    1) It is great fun
    2) It is very hard
    3) I tried to do too much
    4) I learned an awful lot
    5) I’d do it again

So to my actual thoughts
I think that digital change is fundamentally altering the world of publishing. Like a glacier it reshapes the geography that it passes over. But in many ways that’s not very useful to a publisher, what is useful is to think about how you might react to this change and what specifically you need to be thinking about.

One of the ways to react is to develop vertical niches in product categories where you are, as Dominique Raccah put it at TOC, “Essential to the conversation!”. A vertical niche is a community organized around a particular type or genre of content, for instance, Irish History, Military History, Science Fiction or Cookery. I’ll leave it up to you to find the niches and communities that suit your market, you might even decide that you can do better than the existing ones (if there are existing ones), or indeed you may need to create some because they do not exist yet.

But what do you need to be thinking about in order to achieve a digital vertical niche or a community? I highlighted 6 things, there are more implications and perhaps these 6 are not even the most important but they are the 6 I wanted people to think about.

    1) Sales Channels
    2) Brand
    3) Content
    4) People
    5) Education
    6) Time

Sales Channels
Creating a community changes drastically the ways and opportunities for selling. For one thing it changes publishers, traditional Business to Business companies into direct to consumer companies. So your sales channels will change. That is okay though because the types of products you’ll be selling will change too. Publishers need to think about how community will change their niches/market segments/genres. If you are a publisher of computer books for instance, it seems to me that some kind of partnership with O’Reilly’s Safari is inescapable in the medium to long term (40 or so publishers agree). I strongly suspect that Tor.com have created a beast of a similar nature. Competing against it may well be folly, so how do you engage and use it as a sales channel? If your segment does not yet have its Safari or Tor.com, how can YOU create it?

Brand
I used to think that we could as easily dump the plethora of imprints that major publishers control and develop a more streamlined brand much as Thomas Nelson did recently. But recently it has occurred to me that many of these imprints can be rejuvenated as niche brands, focused exclusively on single vertical of content, filled with meaning and relevant to consumers. Of course this would require a new way of thinking as well as new honesty with readers too and a willingness to allow imprint to develop an identity of their own.

Content
If your thinking about how sales channels, products and brand are going to change then the way you look at, commissioning and using content will alter completely. In my speech I gave this quote from Mike Statzkin and I think it brings into focus the kind of thinking publishers need to do about their content offering:

The bottom line is that we can expect to see reshuffling as publishers trade off areas they can’t afford to market to for others where they’re going to expend the marketing effort and want to have the most possible content to dominate the niche and from which to extract a payoff for their efforts.

You need to double down in the niches where you can add value and create a community. Otherwise you will spread yourself too thin. That may mean allowing imprints to develop as stand alone companies, trading lists, shuttering imprints or simply commissioning tonnes of new content in a niche you already dominate.

People
If your are going to develop a community around your content then you need to consider people. Not just editors, authors and readers, but community members and the crucial voluntary leaders of those communities. How do you intend to grow an authentic community without recruiting readers and community leaders? Does an audience exist online to do that yet? How can you grow this organically? In a digital community, your content will be worthless without people and engagement. Without people your brand will not grow and your newly thought out sales channels will yield no revenue.

Education
So assume you have the right content mix, your brand has succeeded in attracting attention and you have successfully engaged volunteer community leaders how will you keep other readers interested? The key readers are new arrivals to the community. Do you have the content to hand to lure them in, is there a receptive atmosphere that encourages participation and education of people new to your topic area or genre? Or does your community intimidate newcomers and leave them cold? You need to think about how you will draw those newcomers in and educate them. This will be hard.

Time
All of this is going to take time. And a lot of that time is going to look very unproductive. You need to be ready for that. If you work in a publisher with a decent editorial staff, you’ll be used to that in any case. Of course, once you have a functioning community and so long as you don’t undermine your community and lose it, the community will be easier to maintain than to build. It will be as they say defendable and will create something of a barrier to entry* in your genre.

And that, was pretty much what I wanted to say. I know it didn’t quite come out that way, but you live and you learn Pecha Kucha!
Eoin

* Though my thinking on this is that if you have a truly open community, new publishers will be part of it either as partners or as members. Either way they will add value and ensure that your members see more reason to stay in your community or vertical.