O’Reilly

TOCFrankfurt, now with controversy

UPDATE: I missed the comments by Sara Lloyd on Andrew Savikas’ post over at the TOC Community. Worth reading in context. They go a long way towards making sense of her comments. Also fits in with my experience of Sara.

Whither Trade Publishing

Whither Trade Publishing


People often disagree
Personally, I thought TOCFrankfurt delivered as much as might be expected of a one day conference. But there are those who disagree. Or at least so The Bookseller tells us:

Fionnuala Duggan, director of Random House Group Digital, told The Bookseller Daily: “Some of the speakers were computer programmers, who have peculiar and particular needs, and what is right for their type of publishing is not necessarily right for ours. There are broader questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be addressed before claiming that DRM-free is the answer. O’Reilly is just one of the many voices we need to listen to.”

And:

Sara Lloyd, digital director of Pan Macmillan, was the first keynote speaker at the conference, and has also spoken at its events in New York.

She was cautious about suggestions that O’Reilly was pushing a certain agenda, but said: “The O’Reilly perspective is quite slanted by the content and market that they serve, and that perspective shines through in their choice of speaker and subject matter.” She added: “There needs to be a greater understanding of what the differences are between a computer software manual and a fiction bestseller. I’d like to see more of a consumer publishing perspective.”

Now perhaps I’m blinded by the fact that I attended TOCFrankfurt free of charge* because I spoke at the Pech Kucha session organised by George Walkley. On the other hand I couldn’t help but feel that those pushing a negative about the conference had some other motive than the schedule.

For instance, Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks was nothing if not practical and alive to the realities faced by fiction publishers.

In fact her presentation (the best and most inspirational of the day to my mind) dealt with the thorny issue of simultaneous (or rather not simultaneous as the recent controversy over Bran Hambric indicates) releases of print and ebook versions of titles, the challenges of growing digital revenues while keeping the print company alive not to mention her valuable explanation of the publishing continuum for niches something I had a concept of but she put across very clearly.

Sourcebooks is not another O’Reilly whose success in digital and online endeavours has often been put down to its particular audience. Rather, Sourcebooks is a savvy active and realistic independent publisher. They may dwarf quite a few English and Irish independents but they are hardly in the league of Random House. It might serve Random and other to listen more closely to what Dominique had to say. It seems to me that there was far more than just O’Reilly’s viewpoint on display at TOCFrankfurt, as Kassia Krozser’s comment in the story makes plain:

I have one major question about Fionnuala Duggan’s comment about some of the speakers being computer programmers (just glancing at the bios of the speakers, I count one whose work is primarily programming, though, yes, some have that skill on their resume). The speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. While I agree that each publishing house has its own unique needs and requirements, that doesn’t mean commonality doesn’t exist. The comment about piracy suggests to me that the issue is more that the industry is not ready (or willing) to hear certain perspectives; my thinking is that you don’t have to agree with what’s being said, but it’s instructive to listen to these voices.

I still have questions
Further it is not as if what was being said was all that controversial (there is a good summary of the early keynotes here at Scholarly Kitchen). At least it should not have been.

On DRM and Piracy for instance. Cory Doctorow is a forward thinker on Copyright that much is clear, but his views are well known and hardly that crazy. Much of what he says makes sense to “the people of the book”. I certainly have problems with excessive zeal for copyright and have no love for DRM.

Brian O’Leary of Magellan Partners drew quite a storm with his piracy talk but from talking with him afterward (I missed his session) his point was not that piracy is good or bad but that :

    1) you need to measure it to see if it is costing you and how much it is costing you and
    2) if it isn’t hurting your sales, is there a chance it is helping them? If it is, how would you measure that

The fact that he is basing that assessment on evidence rather than gut reaction gives his position a great deal of credence in my view and ought not be dismissed out of hand. The Bookseller seemed to cover that well in their defence.

And then there is the fact that I know and like Sara Lloyd. Any discussions I’ve had with her leaves me thinking she is not 100 miles away from where O’Reilly are on most issues, nor for that matter would her speech have indicated that she was either. I rather liked her notes that we were IN the revolution and that publishers should focus on platforms not devices. One might be misled into thinking that O’Reilly was an exemplar of focusing on platforms (hello Safari) and the more you read about their current sales, the more they provide evidence of being IN the revolution.

I’m tempted to say that perhaps the Bookseller made lukewarm remarks into something more than they were to spice up what’s proving to be quite a dull fair, but who am I to cast such vile suggestions …

More to follow soon
Eoin

*Full disclosure, O’Reilly waived the conference fee and hosted a poorly attended speakers reception after the conference, but I paid my own travel expenses.

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

Tools of Change – times they are . . . confused??

Eoin Purcell

Update: The Digitalist has some good words on Content!

Without content there is no internet, there is no context, there is no point in contacting in the sense that I understand Rushkoff to be using it. Pretty much everything in media is changing true, but the one thing that is not changing is the position of content as the ultimate driver of why people go to where they go and do what they do. While the context of watching a TV show or reading an article may have changed (e.g. distribution channels have migrated to digital) and the ways in which I interact with others around it has evolved I still want to watch something interesting and read something informative. Other factors are always going to be secondary to that.
Content, in whatever form it takes, remains the sine qua non of media. Despite the high profile given to various forms of aggregation, search and networking it seems pointlessly iconoclastic to suggest a displacement as such. Rather I see it more as shifts around content, altering it but not ultimately detracting from its centrality.

I’m an ordinary man
And in many ways I think I represent the crux of the problem the publishing industry faces. I’m an atypical book buyer (I buy many, perhaps too many books) and I also consumer digital content voraciously.

Books, books, good for the heart
I love books. By that I mean printed, bound, paper books. I like hardbacks of old books. Ones that smell musty and have been opened rarely. I love paperbacks, light and easy to carry, almost disposable once read. I love the thoughts and ideas books contain. Every one a treasure of knowledge and information stretching back to its author or its translator. Perhaps it is a newer edition of a classic text or a transcription of a famous oral tradition, perhaps the narrative account of a historical event, the diary of a participant, the now out dated analysis of political events of previous centuries, or indeed a frivolous novel designed to subvert the social mores of the day> perhaps it is none of these things, merely the dry recording of naval stores aboard ships in the Eastern Mediterranean in the years after the Napoleonic Wars. One way of the other I love them.

The web, the web, good for the heart
I love the web, the twisty paths of knowledge you can take, the leisurely reading of varied topics, from politics to anthropology, from science to seasoning, from gossip to goose recipes. That I can jump through the library catalogs of the University of Michigan and peruse the shelves of the British Library online. I like that images enrich my idea of the world almost effortlessly and that references and recommendations offer a much deeper understanding of the world, the concept, the time, or even the place I am reading about.

Rivals for my heart
In one sense these two loves are not opposed but in another they are. I cannot both read books and surf the web. At least not simultaneously. The task of reading requires dedicated standalone time, i can read and surf but not read books and surf. Not even e-books work for me and thus the reason I believe they have little future as standalone computer based products. I think the web page and the web browser will dominate reading of all sorts in the future, not just short form articles and brief blog posts but for magazines, newspapers, journals and books.

E-books will just not work, why would I close my browser and use a different, standalone app when the experience of reading in a broswer where connectedness abounds is so much better?

Add to the mix O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference last week
And I think you’ll see an industry that is making a desperate attempt to get to grips with the future and kind of flailing around. So much so we are willing to listen to just about anyone who has an idea about where we should be going. Some of those ideas are brilliant and some are quaint, but all of them have potential.

if I was to fall down on one idea it is the one that say that content is no longer king. Somehow I struggle to buy that. I guess I’m a dinosaur then. I’ll think on it some more.

The truth of course is none of us know what is going to happen and although we will claim we saw it coming when it happens, we won’t have. Possibly we will be lucky if we can adapt in time to survive when it does, possibly not.

If I sound sanguine I am, because I remain convinced that what I love; the knowledge and information, the ideas and thoughts, the concepts and contrivances will survive, distributed digitally or in beautiful or cheap volumes of printed ink, it really won’t matter. One way or the other, I suspect I’ll be involved in the process that makes that happen too. Its want I want to do, so I’ll just have to make it happen.

Convinced I’m not obsolete, yet!
Eoin

For the record. Sara Lloyd @ The Digitalist Blog and George Walkley @ Life As Beta Geek were indespensible in following a conference I wish I could have attended.

Oh and tomorrow I have a surprise guest blogger, worth reading!

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 14/07/2007

Eoin Purcell

The unstoppable power of Richard and Judy as seen and told by the The Friday Project people.
Here & Here

Frankly one of the finest and clear sighted (not to mention fantastically brief) discussion of the current state of writing:

With the rise of the web, writing has met its photography. By that I mean, writing has encountered a situation similar to what happened to painting upon the invention of photography, a technology so much better at doing what the art form had been trying to do, that in order to survive, the field had to alter its course radically. If photography was striving for sharp focus, painting was forced to go soft, hence Impressionism. Faced with an unprecedented amount of digital available text, writing needs to redefine itself in order to adapt to the new environment of textual abundance.

[Hat Tip to if:book]
Here

Further to that piece I thought these ones from Tim O’Reilly were definitely worth reading too.
Here & Here

The End of Dewey in some libraries
Here (NYT read it before it goes behind the wall!)

Wow I was tired when I posted this
Eoin

More on O’Reilly TOC

Eoin Purcell

If you weren’t enormously envious of everyone at TOC before now . . .
(And personally I was) then you will be now. It is not just that everyone who is anyone is going, its that the discussions sound so wonderful too.

For instance the POD discussion covered on the O’Reilly XML.com pages by Simon St. Laurent:

Why? I think the basic reason is simple – I’m one of those terrible people who’s always looking for books you can’t find easily in stores. They’re out-of-print, available only from the publisher, or otherwise obscure. Ingram was my friend when I ordered through stores, and then Amazon made a lot of things easier. At O’Reilly, I want POD for all kinds of reasons, from keeping old books in print to providing a way to test out new ideas without having to print 5000 books.

I’ve been expecting POD to happen for years. I spent too much time working at Kinko’s, I guess – I’d seen books getting made, if not the fine offset books typically sold in bookstores.

So here, now, it looks like it’s finally here. Lightning Source and other printers are offering print from PDF at rates that aren’t too insanely horrible relative to offset plus the cost of warehousing.

There’s still definitely a place for offset printing – offset has great economies of scale, and if books move out quickly, then the warehousing and other distribution costs don’t matter much. Offset will probably always make sense for initial print runs of books that will sell thousands of copies in a year – but that’s actually a relatively tiny share of the total number of books out there.

You can read much much more of the detail here. At least TOC has enabled em to widen my blog count for publishing and innovation in publishing. So for that at least thank you Tim O’Reilly.

An envious book nerd.
Eoin

Chapter Chunks: O’Reilly selling chapters individually online

Eoin Purcell

One of the compelling lessons of the digital music revolution was that people wanted to acquire and share songs, not albums. The analogies to books are imperfect, because books tend to be more of an essential organic whole than albums, but even with books, especially reference or tutorial books, it’s certainly possible that someone wants only part of a book.


Tom O’Reilly pushes the boat out

I think sometimes that there are two publishing worlds. One where things like this happen and one where they don’t. The key here though is that this concept is actually only the fruit of previous thinking as another quote makes obvious:

This capability is a direct outgrowth of the Xquery infrastructure we originally built for SafariU, our remixable textbook initiative.

That in itself is impressive. It shows foresight, a willingness to plan for possibilities beyond the current need and a desire to be able to reach distant goals.

Impressed
Eoin