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!

Guardian innovates

Eoin Purcell

Open Platform
In what seems like a smart play to me the Guardian has created an API and a data tool. The API puts articles and news features (and crucuially advertising from The Guardian) onto partner websites and the data tools allows access to a number of curated datasets. All very smart and digitally I think you’ll agree. From the piece:

Open Platform

The Cass Sculpture Foundation is using the service to add Guardian articles about British artists to its site.

Other partners for the launch of the service include web design firm Stamen and OpenStreetMap, a free, open alternative to commercial map data services. Stamen and OpenStreetMap developed a service that they hope will encourage Guardian readers to “geo-tag” the newspaper’s content, positioning every article, video and picture on a map so users can find news, commentary, video and other content related to their area.

Data Store

The Data Store launched with 80 data sets from trusted sources, including figures on child poverty in England and world carbon emissions by country. Simon Rogers, news editor, graphics, at the Guardian, will highlight some of the data sets in a Datablog, suggesting ways that the sets could be combined, or mashed up. It will also be a place where the Guardian highlights some of the best projects from its partners.

This seems like an intelligent play and I’d expect to see it copied by other major newspapers and media players. I can see the first mover being able to lock in considerable space from a program like this!

I’m sure there will be much more discussion on this!
Eoin

Authonomy Contracts Three Books From Members

Eoin Purcell

Strike me down
I have to say I saw this coming. After some recent bad press on POD issues, Authonomy issued an e-mail informing the community that they have contracted three books from amongst the huge slush pile of authors.

Coffee At Kowalski’s by Miranda Dickinson

Rosie is happy at Kowalski’s florists in New York – until her past catches up with her. Romantic comedy with a cast of memorable characters.

Reaper: Coming soon to a family near you by Steven Dunne

A combination of Silence of the Lambs and The Poet set in Derby. A long dormant serial killer strikes again and the hunt is on.

Never Say Die by Melanie Davies and Lynne Barrett-Lee

The incredible story of an exceptional life…

The subtle genius of Authonomy
Is that the author already has a profile page and an image, a book and probably some fans built up through the site community. Yes I think perhaps some people underestimated the potential of this digital slush-pile!

Intrigued!
Eoin

Book Depository & Google Preview – I like it

Eoin Purcell

Happy Accident
I stumbled across the fact that Book Depository is using google’s preview function (I assume as part of Google Book’s recent API release: read the blog post and visit the API homepage).

It sits just under the front cover picture and jumps the reader down to the lower portion of the page when clicked. It is a nifty UI though I was a bit puzzled about how I could return to the top at first, and given that you would be hoping to make a sale and the buy button is at the top, this might be an issue!

Wider thoughts?
All told it is a very nice feature. As if I needed a new reason to add books to either my to be read or to be bought piles. The best example I’ve stumbed on so far is this one for Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization.

On a reader/buyer level this is a sweet use of Google’s systems and data. Looking at it from a broader perspective I’d also find little to worry me. On the one hand no one else is really in a position to supply this kind of feature, expect maybe Amazon (who seem unlikely to do so lest they damage the competitive advantage that their Search inside feature offers them).

On the other hand, it seems like a cop out as a publisher to say that it’s okay for Google to be the only one in a position to do this! We must be letting ourselves down somewhere when we admit that!

Still, nice feature and executed well too.