Of digital publishing and goldfish

A Guest Post by Sara lloyd

Sara is the Digital Publisher at Pan Macmillan and you can read her thoughts and those of her team at The Digitalist.

I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but being a ‘digital person’ in a trade publishing house is rather akin to being a goldfish. I mean, not as in I’m orange and scaley and can only hold things in my mind for a millisecond. Well, maybe the last thing actually. But as in, it often feels like you’re swimming around in this clear bowl; that you’re kind of exposed to all these eyes examining you from the outside world, judging your every move from a vantage point of actually being at least as clueless as you are as to where things will All End Up for publishing in a digital age.

This is great when you boldly come up with controversial visions of the future as in my Publisher’s Manifesto [Part 1, 2, 3] – whether or not any of it will turn out to be correct is irrelevant; it was all stirring stuff and critical of publishers in many ways and so it was roundly applauded. But sometimes it can also become very tiresome.

Thing is, there’s this expectation that all us Digital Publishers should be investing our generous R+D budgets, huge staff resources and inordinate amounts of spare time (spot the ironic tone) into developing lots of ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ digital stuff. It won’t be entirely clear what the commercial model is for any of it or even whether it makes strategic sense but we must EXPERIMENT! We must stop being so lethargic and plain old-fashioned and stupid. Thus the hoo-ha when publishers were roundly ticked off for not spending any time or effort building a reading app for the iPhone.

Well, you know what I thought about that. And what’s happened since then? As I predicted a couple of reading apps have risen to the surface as particularly popular. My favourite, Stanza, supports the emerging ebook standard format .epub as well as plain old PDF, HTML and various other formats. It’s been downloaded over 200,000 times. It’s free. Anything we’ve converted into any of the supported formats, as long as it’s DRM-free, you can download it and read it on your iPhone. Using Stanza. So, go figure.

The fact is, the reality of being a Digital publisher in a trade publishing house is that you spend a disproportionate amount of your time trying to keep abreast of what the Next Big Thing is going to be and the rest of your time negotiating contracts to even get the rights to begin to do the most basic things. Like, digitising our content in a way which keeps it flexible and as open to future possibilities as we can. It’s not sexy, it’s not cool, but it has to be done. We have a hill to climb and many obstacles on the way. Give us a break!

Sara Lloyd
Head of Digital Publishing
Pan Macmillan

Charkin blog book

Eoin Purcell

On a whim
I flew over to London yesterday afternoon for the launch of Richard Charkin’s book. Macmillan, where Richard was CEO prior to joining Bloomsbury, decided to publish the Charkinblog as a print on demand book (and what a book).

The trip was well worth it. I enjoyed the trip, the event itself and meeting people I normally only converse with digitally. I also bumped into Sara Lloyd, Head of Digital @ Pan Macmillan who promised to, and duly did, send on a long mooted guest post (it will go live tomorrow).

I forgot to take a digital camera otherwise I’d have a few pics. All in all a fine evening and a great book. It’s steep in Euro terms at over €50.00 but worth it.

Winding down for the day,

The Friday Project for sale?

Yup this The Friday Project
If this is true I will not be enormously surprised though a little part of me will certainly feel dissappointed that a really exciting and fresh independent has joined the ranks of so many that slipped in to the thick ranks of imprints within the majors.

That said, Pan Mac have been innovating a far bit themselves recently so the fit between the two would on a surface level with no deep knowledge seem pretty good.

I was amazed by the title counts in the article:

The feisty indie published 44 titles in 2007. Bestsellers include Blood, Sweat and Tea, a diary of a London ambulance driver, and the Popjustice series of mini-biographies. It had a gross turnover of £2.2m last year and hopes to hit £3.5m in 2008 with 60 new titles.

It never seemed that many! That’s probably a good thing.


Hardbacks, Paperbacks & customer choice

Eoin Purcell

Sometimes I wonder about publishing
We seem happy to give the reader what they want in content terms and we seem happy to let them dictate the direction of our publishing. Witness the endless lists of celebrity biography, sports biography, misery memoirs and true crime. But, when it comes to format we have been forcing Hardbacks on them and pretending that they have some innate value.

Like most publishers, Mercier has encountered one of the main reasons why hardbacks happen, Authors. Mostly it happens like this:

    1) Author is happy to be signed and get a deal but expresses a desire to see book in hardback
    2) We explain that that decision will rest on out judgment of the market and a dozen or so factors around pricing, market segment, competition etc.
    3) Author agrees but is still reluctant to have paperback (hardback being perceived as more prestigious)
    4) Book is released in paperback and sells well
    5) author sees book of another author in hardback and feels that they have been short changed by publisher
    6) Publisher goes through the numbers, your book sold 3 time the number of that authors title. The markets in question were completely different and we priced and produced both books in market appropriate ways
    7) Author reluctantly accepts logic but expresses desire for hardback edition of next book. Process continues

I’m not dissing authors here. In their defense, often national papers make much more noise over hardback releases than paperback ones for reasons unknown to me (do journalists suffer from a belief in the super-prestigiousness of hardbacks?). But the evidence I have gained is that except for specific titles, when hardback release is a must, the bulk of non-fiction and fiction sells best in a paperback format and that is that. Even authors who can see past the lur eof hardbacks will agree, like Harry Bingham.

The reason I broach the topic is because Pan are moving to paperback and hardback releases simultaneously in the spring of 2008 and the comment this has generated has been impressive:
Scott Pack
The Bookseller News A
The Bookseller News B
Philip Jones

All formats at the same time seems to me the best option, be that hardback, paperback, e-book, audiobook of whatever. That we might force a reader to buy in a certain format seems bizarre to me. If hardbacks were cheaper I’d say split the run and do a few hundred hardbacks with every paperback and sell them as special edition like The Friday Project is proposing.

Perhaps I am best leaving the last word to Andrew Kidd writing on Pan’s very fine blog:

In the end, there is no one solution. However the work is delivered, our aim is for our writers to find as many readers as possible. The first two titles in the initiative will be Andrew Crumey’s Sputnik Caledonia and Joanne Proulx’s Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet. We look forward to seeing what happens.

Pleased by the news