Branding & Publishing

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.

Why?

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.

Profit is good!
Profit is good!

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!
Eoin

Publishing success in Ireland, Part Two

Eoin Purcell

This is Part Two in a series (currently of indeterminate length but I suspect five) of posts. Read the first, Here.

The Categories
I promised at the end of my last post to offer up some analysis of the ICM in terms of categories and trends. The first thing to say about this is that I don’t think people will be surprised by the list in the image below. It reflects the top ten best-selling categories in the 2008 ICM. The image is small but clicking on it will take you to a google document that will have quite a lot of other data as this series moves ahead.

The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000
The Top Ten Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

What strikes me as the most interesting part of this top ten categories is that the overwhelming winner is General & Literary Fiction. At 30.9% of the Top 1000 it is 3 times larger than the next biggest, Crime & Thriller, which is also fiction. If you add in Young Adult Fiction and Childrens Fiction to the mix, fiction makes up a solid 47.29% of the Top 1000. Impressive no?

Interestingly, Autobiography of all varieties makes a solid appearance in the top ten, which is not all that surprising when you consider that it includes titles like:

    Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything
    Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes
    The Diving-bell and the Butterfly
    Parky: My Autobiography
    Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up
    My Booky Wook
    Ronan O’Gara: My Autobiography
    Carra: My Autobiography
    Sonia: My Story

Yes readers, the celebrity publishing is alive and well in Ireland, just in case you thought we had a more literary bent here in Ireland.

What does the top ten not show us?
Well for one thing we miss the fact that the 11th most popular category was True Crime. I’m not surprised by this and I suspect most people would not be either. The rest of the top 20 is a bit more diverse. But the number of units and the percentage of the market these categories represent slide rapidly towards less than 1% of the whole ICM Top 100.

The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000
The Top 11-20 Best-selling Categories in the ICM Top 1000

Which neatly brings me to the core message this category analysis exercise MIGHT suggest, that publishing fiction is a good route to success. After all fiction seems to account for the bulk of the Top 1000 sales. On the face of it that makes sense, but I’m not so sure about it. However I think I will leave the next post to explain why that is the case.

Two very interesting meetings today,
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!

To all the ‘modest successes’ wondering where to go with their next book

Eoin Purcell

The doom first
Who wouldn’t be depress by reading this (Reg Required) article in The Bookseller (but actually a cull from The Herald which is free online and here):

The result? Publishers can no longer afford to take chances and authors who have enjoyed modest successes over many years are suddenly being dropped in favour of potential big hitters.
“They could be on their way to writing an opus, but will not be given that chance,” says Kean. “Ian Rankin, for instance, wasn’t an immediate success but his publishers stuck with him because they saw his potential. That wouldn’t necessarily happen now.”

The article’s main focus is Book Clubs but is concerned too with the side effects:

“The downside is that if someone goes into a book shop and buys the books that Richard and Judy have recommended, perhaps they won’t buy other titles,” he says. “There is no doubt that there are winners and losers in this. That’s something I feel slightly disturbed by. There is a sense that it is very much about corporate dealing.”

So where is the light?
Well here it is: if you happen to be one of those modest success squeezed out by the bigger publishers, I am happy to say there are tonnes of smaller, pluckier and braver publishers just waiting to do the job. Perhaps large advances won’t be forthcoming, maybe the massive campaigns the big ones can pull off will be a memory, but we can publish and publish well. We can drive sales and sell rights just as much as the conglomerates and we are always eager to try things.

What is more you will find modest success to a large publisher is a very nice little success to a smaller publisher. So maybe you have one or two or three books under your belt and your publisher is no longer on board. Maybe you have modest sales and a small but loyal fan base. I say you have a good platform and room for growth.

Get in touch, if not with Mercier (where I work) than someone else. The world of publishing doesn’t begin and end at the top five or even the top ten. Don’t be the victim of a dreaded publishing trend, buck it and move onto new and hopefully happier one.

Waiting for e-mails, letters and calls
Eoin

Blurb to jump into Europe

Eoin Purcell

Where only Lulu.com has gone before
Blurb.com is to expend some effort in building market share in Europe according to The Book Standard:

Starting next month, the company will launch specific website improvements geared toward European users, including the option to view Blurb books in metric dimensions and see prices and buy books with local currencies. The improvements will allow international Blurb users to create, publish and ship books for less.

Important or not?
Blurb has always worried me from the perspective of a publisher. The software it provides they increasingly powerful while remaining easy to use. Whereas lulu.com provides excellent printing for your average paperback, I see blurb attacking niches.

If you read the links Thursday to this report on Trade Publishing and the importance of niches, then you will begin to understand that worry.

After all as the power to design and print books shifts from the hands of publishers and becomes decentralised why should we be able to retain the market share we currently have? Given that books published by blurb.com and lulu.com can be sold online (even at places like amazon.com & .co.uk) and distribution is being outsourced to postal and delivery services, there is no limit to what these outfits can achive if they get into the minds of niche writers.

Takeover targets I wonder?
To a degree I wonder how likely Blurb or Lulu are to survive outside of one of the larger publishers. After all their technology would be beneficial. It would enable the big houses to attach themselves to the long tail. It would also enable them to offer their own POD service and not be totally reliant on Amazon’s or other players POD arms.

Alternatively they could always replicate the infrastructure themselves. But that would cost time, money and commitment not to mention an understanding fo the market. Much better to offer employment to the founders by buy out as Google and other tech focussed companies have been for some time.

Waiting for the first for sale sign
Eoin