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12 posts from February 2006

Publishing Challenges

Here’s a link to an article you’ve absolutely got to read: It’s by Mike Shatzkin and it’s called Publishing and Digital Change: What’s Next? It highlights many of the key questions currently facing publishers, authors, bookstores, etc. Although it’s a rather long article, I recommend you read it from start to finish. Here are some of the highlights:

It has been said that the failure of many (e-content) initiatives the first time around was that they were centered on what was good for publishers (selling books without manufacturing them, for example), not for the audience.

Because I’ve been so personally “sold” on ebooks while watching them march backwards for this entire decade, I have asked people repeatedly “why doesn’t this catch on?” I haven’t been happy with the answers. Most people offer two: “not a good enough reader yet” or “the ebook, to succeed, has to offer interactivity or something that the printed book doesn’t.”

And nobody should get carried away to think that this (a dedicated ebook device) is really like the iPod and music, which lets you carry around all the audio CDs you could listen to all the time in a device that fits in your pocket. There is no parallel paradigm for books. Even carrying every book you own wouldn’t be as much of an advantage. You’d need to be carrying all the ones you want next, which is an entirely different proposition.

Brick and mortar stores are always going to be more effective at generating many book sales than any online mechanism can be. Anything that sifts sales away from brick and mortar, in the long run, will generally reduce sales.

The good news about the long tail for publishers is that they get sales out of their deep backlist. The bad news is that all those long tail books are competing with today’s books for consumers, so today’s books get harder and harder to establish in the marketplace. And the further bad news is that the long tail weakens brick and mortar retailing relative to the net.

Barnes & Noble is a prime example of a company that is prospering through increased efficiency much more than through increased sales. Although they have managed to drive “same store” sales increases, their profit picture is mostly improved by managing to sell more books with less stock.

A new program called Amazon Connects, which invites authors to set up their permanent web residence at the online retailer, should not only alarm Barnes & Noble and Indigo, it could loosen the bonds between publishers and their authors as well. Publishers’ marketers need to figure out how to build marketing that creates a “switching cost” for an author to leave the house. The big authors will be too smart and savvy to permit that to happen but the small ones won’t.

Guy Kawasaki and The Bozo Explosion

I've read a couple of Guy Kawasaki's books and my favorite is How to Drive Your Competition Crazy -- read it if you get a chance.  Guy's latest blog posting is a (not-so-funny?) top 10 list of how to determine if your company is suffering from an excess of bozo's.  I see Robert Scoble determined that #9 hit a little too close to home.  Guy is willing to amend his list with good submissions from the community...stop by and see if you've got any great ones to add.

The bottom part of the post is probably the most valuable piece.  It lists 7 ways to address the problem.  My favorite is the first one: Insist that managers hire better than themselves.  Excellent advice.

The Next Generation of Customers

Somewhat related to a point I made last year about this aging business, here’s BusinessWeek’s Jon Fine’s observations on the challenges of creating content and products for teenagers. His main point: Established media has to grapple with the novel fact that its next generation of consumers is also competition.

I wish this guy would write a book.  I enjoy every one of his BusinessWeek columns.  Even if you don't get the magazine, be sure to check out his blog.

Interesting New Book Sales Service

I’ve provided a number of Bookscan posts over the past several months. Although I can provide some summary information I’m unable to get very deep into individual title specifics. If you’re an author looking for that sort of access, The Book Standard just announced a new service that might work for you. The service isn’t cheap ($85 for one ISBN and up to $600 for 10 ISBNs), but it still might be a good solution for anyone out there looking for weekly point-of-sale data on their book(s).

Maybe Sony Can Learn New Tricks After All…

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Sony had some of the best consumer electronics products on the planet? Their picture clarity used to make their TV’s stand out, well above the others in the store. They seem to blend in with all the rest today. Their original Walkman revolutionized the music industry. I don’t think I’ve even looked at a Sony music device in the last 10 years.

It would be far too easy to take a cheap shot at them for their highly publicized and failed attempt to use a rootkit solution for DRM. Nah, I’m not going there… But maybe that whole debacle represents their lowest point, one from which they can only go up.  After all, as I mentioned in an earlier post, they’re about to release a new eBook reader and it got a lot of attention at CES.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, I still think the price is too high and the functionality is too limited. But, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, maybe Sony has learned from some of their mistakes and won’t be so fixated on proprietary solutions this time around. The device will be able to read PDFs and Word files?!  It’s going to use SD memory cards instead of the Sony Memory Stick?!  How revolutionary!  Seriously, these should be considered major philosophical shifts for a company that has been incredibly insular for far too long.

On a related note… I just bought a new digital camera through Amazon (Canon Powershot SD550). I shopped around quite a bit and looked at many different products. Sony wasn’t even close to making the short list. It’s hard to believe they were once such a dominant player in the electronics arena.

Bookscan -- Week Ending 2/12/06

I didn't do any Bookscan posts over the holidays and I thought I'd let things settle in a bit before revisiting the topic.  Here’s a breakdown of sales of the top 750 titles in the computer/tech category for the most recent week:

1. Wiley                              31%
2. Pearson                          29%
3. O’Reilly                           15%
4. Microsoft Press               13%
5. Osborne/McGraw-Hill         5%

Out of the top 25 titles for the week, Wiley had 9, Microsoft Press had 7, Pearson had 5, O'Reilly had 3 and Osborne/McGraw-Hill had 1.

In my last Bookscan post I noted how the programming topic had the most titles in the top 20 and how Office had been dominant prior to that point.  Well, Office is back...  There were 7 Office (and Office application) titles in the top 25 last week, making it the #1 topic for the week, at least when measured by number of titles in the top 25.  It's still a Microsoft Press and Wiley world on the Office front: Microsoft Press owns 5 of those titles and Wiley has the other 2.

If you pay attention to these periodic Bookscan posts you'll see how share can be affected by in-store promotions, the placement (and removal!) of dedicated bays, etc.  One of the publishers with recent share growth is currently benefiting from a couple of promotions that I've seen in two of the larger brick and mortar accounts.  On the other hand, one of the publishers seeing share shrink a bit is the victim of a lost promotional bay at one of the key accounts.

Publishing Hacks

A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from Robbie Allen, a fellow who has a blog called Publishing Hacks. I’ve spent the last few days reading through many of his posts and I would encourage you to do the same. Several of the 11 items covered in his Internet Publishing Manifesto are topics that have also appeared on my blog. He also recently started a series of posts on problems with the print publishing industry.

Thanks for the message, Robbie. Publishing Hacks is now in my Bloglines feed and I plan to keep a close eye on it.

A Banner Week for Our Publishing Team

Earlier this week our group managed to place four titles in Amazon’s top 25 on the Computers & Internet list. This is a feat we’ve never accomplished before and is a great sign of the growing strength of our WROX imprint. The four titles that made the list are:

Professional ASP.NET 2.0

Professional Ajax

Professional SQL Server 2005 Integration Services

The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit

As I write this, the first two titles are still in the top 25 while the other two are in the top 50. Congratulations to editors Jim Minatel and Bob Elliott, the author teams and everyone else at Wiley who had a hand in these great titles.

Financial Bubbles are a Good Thing?

The current issue of Wired magazine features a fascinating one-page article by Daniel Gross titled In Praise of Bubbles.  He talks about the irrational exuberance at the dawn of the telegraph and railroad eras.  Numerous companies crashed and burned during these phases, but they contributed to the build-out of both industries, which ultimately led to fewer players and, more importantly, lower costs.  Gross then goes on to explain how we're in the midst of the same phenomenon in the high-speed wiring of America.  Interesting perspective.

Thoughts on Creativity

Marissa Ann Mayer is vice-president for search products and user experience at Google.  The 2/13 issue of BusinessWeek features a one-page article from her on how "creativity loves constraints."  As she puts it, "Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome.  Creativity thrives best when constrained."

She also talks about how "speed lets you fail faster."  She asks if you've "ever wondered how a product so lame got to market."  Her answer, which is probably 100% accurate, is that "the people working on the project invested so much time that it was too painful to walk away."  Ouch.  Been there, done that!

Lastly, she cites one of my favorite Henry Ford quotes: "If I'd listened to customers, I'd have given them a faster horse."  Think about that the next time someone interprets the results of a customer survey or focus group.