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.


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!

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!

LibraryThing’s evolving Social Network

Eoin Purcell

Call me stupid
But when I signed up for LibraryThing I never really considered the positive effects of the social aspect. Silly me. I guess because I am not a huge convert to social networks (Facebook being the only one to hold my attention for long but still never sucking up the hours social networking does for many). In any case I have watched with a certain detached interest as LibraryThing has rolled more features that lead it into the social network area and I have to say I have been impressed.

Even the latest round of additions seem to flow from a very natural sense of expansion and to grow almost organically around what the user wants and need. The one I like the most is the interesting library feature:

1. Friends and Interesting Libraries. (On your profile.) LibraryThing now offers a number of different “connections” between members. Shared books are still primary, but we’ve added “Interesting Libraries,” “Friends” and “Private Watchlist.”*** Interesting libraries are a one-way thing, although the person you mark as interesting gets a heads-up notice. “Friends” is a mutual connection. “Private Watch Lists” are still private. You can edit your connections, and see who has you on their lists.

Where to though
Where my trouble begins however is in seeing the value of these services. I know that the meta-data coming of the social connections might be useful. I can see how one might enjoy looking over the libraries of a friend or an interesting non-friend mining it for books you feel you would like, but overall I just wonder if they won’t reach the point of banality pretty quickly.

Will the meta-data help sell more book? How many new book ideas can one person actually need? Do I need to reinforce the strong gut feeling I have that I belong to a seriously nerdy subset of the population? Will I actually want to chat about books with someone in Europe who also happens to have a US Civil War fascination (and why so few do escapes me)?

If I was interested in that surely there are many existing forums and newsgroups for that type of discussion, I never joined them because the level of debate was so poor, the absence of evidence other than assertion predominated and the arguments could shift into vitriolic personal abuse with ease. the Talk forum on LibraryThing doesn’t seem to be headed that way but it also just doesn’t appeal to me.

Maybe it is me, in fact I am pretty sure it is me. I like the features, but I just do not see me using them to a huge extent. I much prefer the Early Reader system (is that the publisher or the reader in me).

Wondering if I was wrong

LibraryThing Data Dealing & Cool Collections

Eoin Purcell

Don’t you love it when something makes suddenly makes sense?
When I first heard about LibraryThing, I loved it but I just didn’t understand it. I paid my $25.00 for lifetime membership and I started adding my books and building up my still incomplete library. I understand it now and there is a little bit of me that feels ever so slightly cheated.

I use the service to record not just the books I have bought and read, but also the books I have bought and still need to read, the books I bought, read and sold and the books that I loaned out to others in the vain hope of return. The biggest problem I have had to date with it is that I have sold so many books and used the cash to buy new ones that I often forget which versions of books I have read. Not really a big issue I hear you say. And it is not especially when LibrayThing has such an active community of users keen to upload covers and bibliographic data for their versions so I am almost guaranteed to find the correct version with a bit of digging and memory sifting. But it seems that the very feature I value as a community member has a value in the commercial world that I had not seen, hence my slight disappointment.

Positive press
My disillusionment came with the New York Times the other day, which carried a really nice piece on LibraryThing the other day. The important element is here:

TAGGING is also becoming important to the ways that Internet services raise money, said David L. Sifry, founder and chief executive of Technorati, a company in San Francisco that tracks the tags people use to mark items on the Internet — including those at photo- and video-sharing sites.

Mr. Sifry said advertisers of a product like automobiles will pay a premium of $50 to $150 above the base rate to have their names on a page that many readers have tagged with words related to “car.”

Mr. Spalding, too, plans to take advantage of the targeted-audience information created by tagging to generate revenue.

For example, he is in the process of selling some of his recommendations data, which is based in part on tagging statistics, to other sites that sell books and book information.

Interesting I think you will agree!

There is more & its explicit!
Personanondata also pointed to the value inherent in such a system and I find myself loathe to disagree. Indeed I don’t. I can see no reason why these social networks cannot provide usable and useful data for commercial companies to take advantage of. It os certainly more efficient and effective to use such a system rather than to continue to pay out for workers as they currently do. Pesonanondata has a nice graph on this:

At Bowker one of our most important and costly editorial tasks was to assign subject classification to titles so that they could be found either in our own products or in the products of our customers. With well over 200,000 titles per year this is an expensive excercise and while it can be automated (and was) the process suffers from obvious limitations. Firstly, the subject classification methodology is quite rigid and is not always intuitive. Secondly, subjects change over time and books previously categorized could benefit from additional or changed subjects. Thirdly, the application of subjects is subjective and can pose a limitation on the subjects applied to the title. A subject expert wants to be as accurate as possible in applying the subject classification for relevancy and integrity. In BooksinPrint, we had an average of slightly more than two subjects per title over approximately five million records. Many had more and a few had more than 15 but the average was two. Many users of Librarything, myself included, have placed more than two tags against most titles.

But as I commented on Personanondata today:

It is a very strange thing to only realise the significance of something you have been involved with for a little while. The combination of your post and the NYT piece have really shaken my perception of what LibraryThing is or, at least, what it could be. Between the two pieces I see a thorny question:

If my tagging provides value collectively then do I not have a right to share, collectively as it may be, in that value?

As it stands if LibraryThing is in fact selling their tagging data they are selling data provided by paying customers. In an exact reversal of the previous set up the enthusiasm of thousands of book owners/readers is being used for commercial gain AT THEIR EXPENSE IN MONEY & TIME.

Such a situation is unlikely to continue unchallenged. At the very least the community providing the data will look for some return, even if that is only in features or services rather than cash incentives.

I can foresee a community as active as LibraryThing’s having trouble settling down to be the community providers unpaid labour.

In fairness to LibraryThing it is not as if they did not warn me when I signed up:

No sale of personal information

LibraryThing will not sell any personally-identifiable information to any third party. This would be evil, and we are not evil. We reserve the right to sell or give away anonymous or aggregate information. We are particularly interested in what the Library Science people discover when comparing the formal cataloging and the user-tagging data. If you are an enterprising grad student, give us a ring!

*[My Emphasis]

Don’t get me wrong
I still love the service. I will continue to use it and happily so. I will recommend any and all book lovers to use it too and I will slowly but surely continue to tag my books with tags that mean a lot to me and enable me to find and classify my titles. But my goodwill towards LibraryThing is dented.

On the other hand their new feature linking recommendation to AbeBooks is actually slick as hell and a feature I am sure to make use of so maybe I should just stop complaining!

Who will be first to say I told you so?