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41 posts from June 2007

Even on "iPod Day", Microsoft Muscles In...

MuscleThere I was, just sitting there minding my own business, watching the Today Show, wondering how much coverage the iPhone was going to get...  All of a sudden, bam!, there's a piece about Microsoft and how we can't forget about how innovative and creative they are.  Huh?!  (Btw, I tried but I couldn't find a direct link to this video segment.  The Today Show's video archive system is awful!  The best I can tell you is to go to their site and look for the link entitled "Microsoft's answer to the iPhone?".  It will probably scroll off their home page soon, so check quick!)

Kudos to Microsoft's PR team.  I never would have thought they could break through the iPhone clutter with a message of their own today!

Am I the only one who was underwhelmed with this inside look at what's new and exciting at Microsoft though?...


Why Google Remains on Top...For Now

GoogleHere's a great article summarizing Marissa Mayer's recent keynote at the Searchonomics 2007 conference.  Marissa is a VP at Google and has been featured in cover stories in a variety of magazines.

Two things came to mind as I read this summary.  First, this is why Google remains the leader in search and threatens so many other industries.  They're always out there thinking about new products and services, aggressively building upon the empire that currently exists.  Sure, lots of other companies say they're doing all this, but can they prove it with a list that's impressive as the 8 items she presented in her keynote?  Btw, keep in mind that this is just a small portion of the innovations that are undoubtedly happening behind the scenes at Google; this is just the stuff they were willing to share with the public at this time!

The other thing that came to mind while reading this is, "gee, I wonder how long Google can continue to pull this off?"  I don't own any Google stock and have no plans to buy it.  (I figure I've already missed out on the huge run-up it's had from below 200 in 2005 to north of 500 today and it would be just my luck to buy it at the top!)  But it's not the irrational stock market that has me concerned; it's really the ease of customers switching from Google to just about anything else that makes me wonder.

I use Google as my primary search tool and have no plans to change...until something better comes along, which is how I wound up using Google in the first place.  That's why it's so important for Google to get their tentacles into so many other business.

Online advertising?  You can see I use their AdSense service right here on my blog.  It was easy to implement and it's paid for my Typepad hosting fees as well as a new lawn mower, but I'd switch to something else in a heartbeat if I thought it was a better solution.

As you look at all of Google's various sites and services, doesn't it seem ridiculously easy to abandon them for the proverbial "better mousetrap"?  Google is building up a nice brand name, although it probably still means nothing more than "search" in the minds of most people.  Nevertheless, this whole operation seems like a giant house of cards that could easily collapse because it's so easy to switch from Google to another vendor.


Harry Potter: Winning the Battle But Losing the War?

Wizard_hat_2This BusinessWeek article does a fine job revealing the uglier side of a big product release like the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  You'd think a mega-hit like this would cast off profits for everyone involved, but that's simply not the case. 

Why?  Perhaps the best way to state it is that it's an insane feeding frenzy where everyone's focused on out-discounting everyone else.  Even Jeff Bezos notes that Amazon will not make a profit from the new Potter book.  Wow.

But look at what the article says about the publishers involved in the project.  One is reported to do better in off-Potter years because "they extend so much energy on one title and not enough on fixing things like the company's flailing direct-to-home book business" while Bloomsbury, the original publisher, has seen its stock price drop 40% in the last year!  Geez, with results like that they might look forward to just getting through this summer and putting this blockbuster behind them...

I also thought one of the readers who posted a comment to the article made an interesting point about the book world vs. the movie one and how the latter would never consider slashing prices.  When that next major movie comes out you don't find yourself looking for the best admission price.  Right.  Different model entirely, I know, but it's still a great observation about how the whole book/bookstore model really shoots itself in the foot at times.


Book Groups Ruining Reading?...

BooksThat's what this article in The Herald claims.  I disagree.

First of all, anything that gets people to read more is a good thing, IMHO.  As much as I roll my eyes at the latest Oprah recommendation, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that some segment of her audience is actually taking the time to walk away from the television and (possibly) crack open a book.  And before any Oprah fans complain about that comment, please see Exhibit A in the what-a-pile-of-crap-book-recommendation trial.

The real gist of the article is whether the big-time, mass appeal book groups are causing publishers to make stupid decisions for very limited PR opportunities.  I think the answer is "possibly", but not if publishers consider the long tail effects of this area as well.  For example, while getting Oprah or some other celebrity to hype your book will always drive more sales, how many thousands (millions?) of much smaller book groups have an overall impact on the business as well?

For example, I'm participating in my first book group.  (It sounds funny just saying that...)  It's a small group of people at Wiley, primarily in our San Francisco office, and we're reading Everything Is Miscellaneous, by David Weinberger.  We communicate via a private blog and although it's still early in the process, I think it's going to be a fun experience.

My point?  I think most publishers (and bookstores, for that matter) are better served by helping enable and facilitate book groups than they are trying to win the Oprah lottery.  Rather than forcing these groups to set up their own Blogger site (or whatever tool they prefer), why not offer a book group hosting service for free as a way of building more community and drawing traffic to an uber book group portal, something that's very much affiliated with your existing site?  Again, it doesn't just have to be limited to the publishers...I think a similar program by any of the bookstores would be viable as well.

Think of the benefits.  First of all, your site offers to sell the entire group copies of the book, maybe at a "special" discount rate for group members.  Second, because you're hosting the discussion, there are aspects that you could monetize further.  Think Google AdSense, for example.  You're also creating a wealth of great customer insight to the book.  What you do with that would only be limited by the terms of your membership agreement.

I'd love to do something like this with my own business, but I'm not sure very many programmers would want to curl up with the latest WROX offering and read it together as a group!


Dan Blank Sums Up the iPhone Experience

IphoneThinking about buying one of those pricey iPhones when they arrive later this week?  I won't try to stop you, of course, but I do encourage you to stop by Dan Blank's blog to see this funny post he wrote about the iPhone ownership lifecycle.

P.S. -- Still committed to the purchase?  Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers blogs about why he's going to sit on the iPhone sidelines, despite being a huge Apple fan.


Will Espresso Kill the Bookstore?

Wired_blog_logoThe Espresso print-on-demand system (POD) continues to get plenty of buzz, including this recent post from the Wired Blog Network.  I don't agree with blogger Rob Beschizza's notion that your local big box bookstore will be reduced to nothing more than "a coffee house and a vending machine" though.

While success of the Espresso (or any other mainstream POD solution) would likely have a significant effect on the brick-and-mortar world, as I said in this post last December, I think they should welcome it with open arms.  Why?  Because a system like this would take away one of the key benefits enjoyed by Amazon and every other e-tailer: a seemingly infinite list of "available titles".  The brick-and-mortars have lost plenty of market share due to only offering a fraction of the number of titles available at Amazon, BN.com, etc.  What's the last thing you want the brick-and-mortar clerk to say when you ask them about a particular book?  I've always cringed when I hear "we don't have that book in stock, but I can order it for you...we'll have it in about a week." How many sales have the brick-and-mortar stores lost because of that situation?

Let's also not forget the characteristics of the in-person book-buying experience.  Look around the next time you're in a big box bookstore.  Besides the usual browsing there are loads of people sitting around flipping through what they've found on the shelf while sipping on a cup of overpriced coffee.  This isn't going to change!  Sure, the boxes themselves might get a bit smaller (and I emphasize "might"), but it's not the possible square footage reduction and cost savings this will drive as much as it is the increased sales of titles previously not available.  Plus, think of the extra browsing time you'll have while you wait for your POD title to print...the bookstores will absolutely love this aspect of POD since more browsing time often leads to more products being purchased.

No, POD won't be the brick-and-mortar killer it's often assumed to be.  Instead of having to wait till tomorrow for the book to arrive from Amazon you'll be able to get it the same day at your local store.  The instant gratification it enables should only help your local bookstore in the long run.


Planned Serendipity

LightbulbOne of the books I'm currently reading is David Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous (stay tuned for a full review later).  I was only 30 or 40 pages into it when I became concerned that it was going to be one of those books where you figure out the core premise right away and the remaining 200 pages are just reinforcing that same point.  That might still be the case, but a chapter I read tonight got me thinking about the blogosphere...

Weinberger uses the phrase "planned serendipity" when talking about how Amazon uses its various filters and services to recommend new products for returning customers.  I'd say that phrase pretty much nails it, at least for how Amazon operates.

But where's the "planned serendipity" for the blogosphere?  If I enjoy blogs on sports, for example, where's the service that helps me discover new and interesting sports blogs, ones that I've probably never seen before?  We're left to find these blogs mostly by chance.  If I'm reading one of my favorite blogs, they might link to a new one I haven't heard of and so I click over to check it out.  How inefficient!

Remember that BlogRovr service I talked about earlier this week?  Wouldn't it be cool if they would add a feature listing a handful of blogs that are highly relevant to the one you're currently reading?  Again, I'd like to see all this via my feedreader, which is another feature they need to implement.  That, and they'd need to filter out blogs that I already subscribe to.  For example, if I'm reading a publishing-related blog, don't include one that I get the RSS feed to in the list of relevant ones I should check out.

P.S. -- This last feature, filtering out redundant entries, is something Amazon hasn't quite perfected yet.  I got an e-mail from Amazon last week suggesting that I consider buying The Black Swan, despite the fact that I already read and posted a review of it on Amazon!


Al Ries Says the iPhone Will Fail

Iphone2Al Ries is one of my favorite authors and, IMHO, a marketing/branding genius.  While I'm not so sure I agree with his latest article, Why the iPhone Will Fail, he does make some interesting points.

Regardless of whether it succeeds or fails, I still think Apple is leaving money on the table, at least initially...  The early adopters of Apple products have proven that money is no object, especially when it comes down to being the first on your block with the new iDevice.


The Myths of Contract Negotiations

Books2_2I enjoy reading JA Konrath's blog and I think I've even contributed a comment or two on it over the past year or so.  When I read today's post about negotiating contracts I felt a simple comment wouldn't suffice.  He does a nice job giving newbie authors a frame of reference, but a number of his items require further clarification.  I've italicized a few excerpts from his post below and added my own thoughts below each point:

We're afraid that if we don't take the offer, we won't get published. Publishers know this. And they use this to their advantage.

Not really.  In fact, if you (as an author) start to feel you're getting treated this way by a publisher/editor I recommend you run for the nearest exit!  There are far too many other publishers (and self-publishing options) out there to let yourself get bullied around like this.

It is in their best interest to offer low advances and try to acquire as many sub rights as possible.

Also not true, at least the advances part...  Publishers realize that author advances are just like any other part of a transaction: You get what you pay for.  No publisher wants an author to walk away from the negotiating table feeling like they're not getting what they deserve on an advance.  Why?  The publisher wants, no, needs the author to be properly motivated throughout the project.  Anything short of that will compromise the results.

A healthy advance also shows that your publisher is confident in your books, and will spend a sizable amount on marketing them.

This is one of the biggest myths in author contract negotiations.  Honestly, there's zero correlation between the level of the author advance and the amount of money spent on marketing.  In fact, some publishing houses will tell you that the bigger the author advance, the less they have left to spend on marketing.  So many other factors come into play on this as well, not the least of which is author platform; we publishers are looking for authors with great platforms, mostly because we find those are a much better promotional vehicle for the book than advertising or premium placement in a store.


Greetings from Seoul, South Korea!

Pict4 Pict3 Pict1_2 Pict2_3

Nah, I'm not really over in Seoul...but my oldest daughter is!  Despite the State Department's best efforts to delay delivery of her passport, she managed to make it to Seoul earlier this week to visit her best friend, Min.  She's only two days into the trip but all reports indicate she's having a blast.  She e-mailed a batch of pictures from their whirlwind tour of the countryside yesterday and I thought I'd share a few of them via my blog.