Digital Records

My 2009 Publishing Heroes

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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!
Eoin

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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

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 03/10/2009

In retrospect, this revised talk by Michael Tamblyn from Shortcovers at TOC Frankfurt was one of the most positive and enjoyable! Thankfully following some pressure on Twitter and such like, he put it up on Blip.tv! You should watch it!
[blip.tv ?posts_id=2818703&dest=-1]

This is a very clever post on building a channel (read niche if you will):
Here

Mike Cane on Apple’s long term strategy for ebooks! You’ll like it:
Here

There is literally too much digital news to know where to start

Eoin Purcell

But start we must
So how about with this piece from Crain’s New York about a new ebook publishing house (strangely sans website yet) OR Books. The house is run by, John Oakes and Colin Robinson, two veterans of New York’s independent literary scene. To my mind the most interesting tidbit in the article was in terms of their business plan:

Publishing only e-book and print-on-demand editions, OR won’t have to deal with any returns. The company also won’t share revenue with distributors, wholesalers and bookstores, which together can collect as much as 60% of sales. The savings will go into online marketing campaigns that will run about $50,000 to $75,000 per title—huge sums for so-called mid-list books.

Print-on-demand trade paperbacks will sell for $15 apiece, but the partners have yet to decide what to charge for e-books. Typically, prices for new titles range from around $26, or the same as a hardcover, to the discounted $9.99 that Amazon charges for most of its Kindle titles.

OR will also make a small number of books available to cooperating bookstores on a nonreturnable basis. And it will consider a title a success if it sells just 5,000 electronic copies.

I’ve added the emphasis there. That, frankly seems a pretty significant sum to be even contemplating in ad spend online (or will that mean print ads for ebooks? And the ebook price is not yet set? Stranger and stranger I say.

Wherever Spanish is read
Everywhere online and digital if the latest reports are to be believed. The top three Spanish publishers have joined forces to create a digital distributor. Seems eminently sensible. A much fuller article can be read on Publishing Perspectives a relative but very interesting newcomer to the publishing news scene, focused on international views and opinions. from the text it seems like these major players have developed a pretty sensible model too:

In negotiations with the Association of Spanish Literary Agencies (ADAL), the publishers have agreed to price ebooks at 80% of a printed books cover price, with a standard 25% royalty rate. Booksellers will be offered a maximum discount of 50%.

The truth, plain and unvarnished
I’ll only cover three items today and perhaps do a follow up post tomorrow, but that third item must be Andrew Savikas’ really gauntlet throwing down piece over at o”Reilly Radar in which he basically calls B*llsh*t in people who think the value is in theur conent. twitter has been abuzz with publisher types praising it all day and with real reason. it is clear, concise and devastating for those who disagree with his perspective:

“But people are still buying content when they buy a book or an album,” the argument goes. Yes, they are. The same way that you’re buying food when you go to a restaurant. You are purchasing calories that your body will convert to energy. But few restaurants (especially those you visit frequently) have ingredients any different from those you can get yourself at the corner store, for much less money. So it can’t be true that your primary goal is to purchase food; you’re purchasing a meal, prepared so you don’t have to, cleaned up so you don’t have to, and done so in a pleasing and convenient atmosphere. You are paying for the preparation of the food and the experience of eating it in the restaurant, not the food itself [2] (beyond the raw cost of the physical ingredients, which in the case of digital content is effectively zero).

And to finish the sad news, for the staff of Borders in Blanchardstown, the book buyers and the publishers of Ireland is that the only Irish store in the UK arm is closing along with four UK based branches. It is a real shame, I liked the store though I will freely admit I got there irregularly. I wish there was some way to avoid this outcome.

Not happy this evening,
Eoin

Springer Images: A simple but important idea

Eoin Purcell

A screen capture from the SpringerImages site

A screen capture from the SpringerImages site


I like SpringImages.com and not just because I am the kind of nerd who will use it. Even without paying a subscription you get pretty broad usage terms:

If you are a Registered and a Subscribed User, you may

* Access, browse, copy, collate, display, search, bookmark, retrieve, display and use the Content for educational, personal, scientific, or research purposes, including illustration, explanation, example, comment, criticism, teaching, research or analysis in accordance with these Terms of Use.
* Add keywords to Content and save prior searches of the Content on your Account, and you may use the Content to tailor your Account in accordance with these Terms of Use.
* Download or create printouts of certain Content under certain restrictions and conditions. All reproduction and distribution of such printouts, and all downloading and electronic storage of materials retrieved through the Content shall be for your own internal, personal or scholarly use.

There is much more detail about the site here! In terms of what most casual users would need, this certainly hits the spot. Opening up these images is a very smart move and one that should be pretty widely welcomed. This is exactly the kind of material it is hard to find in the real world of web search which is the real value of opening up the database for searches even if the results of those searches might yield unusable images (for subscription reasons). I wonder how well the site plays with Google?

Go have a look!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least To Me) 21/05/2009

Eoin Purcell

Eucalyptus is a NICE looking forthcoming iphone book reading app. At least it was forthcoming until it was banned by Apple’s approval system for indecent content. It’s a frustrating and odd story but well worth reading.

Ivan O’Brien offers a glimpse of the hectic season that is presentation time. I find this just about the worst time of the year for a commissioning editor, you need to know everything about your forthcoming Christmas books, worry about sales for your currently released books and plan for the first and second half of next years books, damn awkward really. Still, Ivan gives a nice sense of what it is like in this post.

Wouldn’t it be funny if in creating a proprietary platform that locked content into their blocks of ugliness (ie the kindle) Amazon also smashed the one almost universally useful tool for making objective decisions in book publishing, Nielsen Bookscan. It wouldn’t and I’m also not entirely certain that the side effect was accidental if it came to pass. Amazon’s advantage in data on consumer behavior and actions would become even more pronounced if Nielsen perish. Still, read this post by Steve Weber for some more thoughts on this.

Michael Cairns offered some very useful and thought provoking notes on the future role for publishers in the tweeting age: The Digital Concierge. Mike Shatzkin expanded on them some more and Adam Hodgkin has some thoughts on the subject too. All told Twitter is high in my mind the last few days!

In case you feel there is not enough publishing information out there for you, there is a new newsletter, Publishing Perspectives, offering a clear view on international publisher. I think it’s worth giveing it some time to find its feet! No?

Finishing The Last Argument of Kings this evening!
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!