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24 posts from June 2008

My craigslist Experience

Craigslist I'm not a horse person but my wife and youngest daughter are.  So once you get a horse it's not too long before you need a truck to move it from point A to point B.  After many visits to local dealers I pretty much gave up on buying a used truck the traditional way; I'm pretty sure none of them are willing to acknowledge gas is already north of $4 a gallon and quickly heading to $5 or more.  Who's looking to buy a truck in these conditions?!  Me, unfortunately.

The newspaper ads and classifieds were pretty much worthless.  Those just featured more dealers hyping their overpriced "bargains" and loads of junk from individuals, most of which were in far away locations and not worth the drive.

Craigslist still hasn't become a phenomenon in central Indiana.  You'll find several new vehicles added each day but nowhere near the volume found in the local paper.  I find that odd since it's free to place a vehicle ad on craigslist, so why wouldn't you?  The biggest problem seems to be awareness.  Most people around here still don't know what craigslist is.  In fact, when I told my wife I think I may have found a great truck deal on craiglist, her response was, "why is our son Craig maintaining a list of trucks?".  I love her dearly but she's not the most tech savvy member of the Wikert clan.

Speaking of that great deal...  It turns out there's a guy on the south side of Indianapolis who specializes in repo vehicles.  He got one recently where the owner missed a few payments, got tired of being nagged and voluntarily took the truck and the keys back to the bank.  Mr. Repo keeps a fairly low profile and only advertises on craigslist.  Smart guy.  He works with virtually no overhead and generally flip his vehicles within 60 days of acquiring them.

This guy is reselling used trucks for about half the price you'd pay at a dealership.  Think of the middlemen he's cutting out: The vehicles don't go to auction, they're not advertised in the paper and they don't ever enter the dealership pipeline.

I used to think craigslist's impact was limited to the newspaper industry, but when you stop and think about it, craigslist's ecomonic effect extends well beyond the classifieds.


Heaven and Hell, by Don Felder

Heaven and hell I always figured Don Henley and Glenn Frey were egomaniacs...Don Felder's tell-all book called Heaven and Hell not only confirmed my assumption but provided loads of details to back it up.  Wow.  I know the money was great and all but I still can't understand how Felder survived all those years with these guys.

When I first opened this book I assumed I would skip whatever pre-Eagles coverage Felder offered and jump right in to the Hotel California era.  I also thought I'd cut it short and not bother reading much beyond the band's first breakup.  Much to my surprise, I started reading about Felder's childhood on page one and was immediately hooked.  The guy has led a fascinating life and it's remarkable how many other well-known musicians he's stumbled across over the years.  Growing up in Gainesville gave him access to bands like The Allman Brothers and he was even Tom Petty's first guitar teacher.

While the early years of Felder's life were more interesting than I originally figured, the book really shines when he hooks up with The Eagles after they've had a taste of success in 1974.  Hotel California is one of my favorite albums and probably the only one I care much about from The Eagles.  The story of how that album was made, and how that song was written, is riveting.  Felder takes you behind the scenes of tours, studio sessions and traveling with the band.  You get the impression you're right there in the same room with these guys.  The book is exceptionally well-written.

I finished reading it last night and I'm still marvelling at how Henley, Frey and the band's manager (Irving Azoff) railroaded Felder into a much smaller cut of the proceeds towards the end.  And yes, I realize Henley and Frey were the two "faces" of the band and they had much more successful solo careers than Felder, but still...I'll bet Paul and John never hosed George and Ringo like that.  When you see these mega-bands from the '70's reuniting for "one final farewell tour" and ticket prices are well north of $100 it's hard to look at it as anything other than greed.  Heaven and Hell will reinforce that notion, particularly when it comes to Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Irving Azoff.  No matter how much you liked (or even disliked) The Eagles, Heaven and Hell is a very worthwhile read and sheds much light on the '70's music scene.


Book Business Magazine

Book Biz Mag--6-08 I always look forward to receiving the next issue of Book Business magazine and the June issue didn't disappoint. In it you'll find this insightful interview with Wiley's very own Christine Dunn.  Christine is a marketing director based out of our Chichester office in the U.K.  She's also been involved in some very cool community initiatives including Wiley Nautical.  (And I hear she was quite the college basketball player back in her Vanderbilt days...)

The best part of a Book Business magazine?  The subscription is free.  If you haven't already signed up, just go here for your own free subscription.


Booksquare Strikes a Nerve...In a Good Way

Booksquare

Kassia Krozser does an excellent job with the Booksquare blog.  It's one of my favorites.  So when I saw the title of one of her recent posts, Why Publishers Should Blog, my antenna went up.  Now that I've finished reading it, I'm both disappointed and inspired.  No, I'm not disappointed by what Kassia has to say -- I think she's absolutely right.  I'm just concerned that my blogging efforts for the past 3+ years have been misguided.  But there's hope.

Kassia's post talks about the similarities between publisher catalogs and publisher websites.  Unfortunately, most publisher websites aren't much more than the catalog in HTML format.  Where's the personality?  Who are the people behind the scenes making these books?  Where's their passion and vision?  And yes, while most readers probably care more about the author's passion, vision, etc., what's wrong with the publishers, editors, marketers, etc., participating as well?

My blog isn't connected in any way with a Wiley website/catalog.  That's true for most publishers and publisher blogs out there.  Even the ones with links to their blogs from their publisher websites are nothing more than that...simple links.

I don't want to read too much into what Kassia is saying, but I got inspired by interpreting her message as, "hey, you've got the catalog site, and maybe you've got a blog or two; why not integrate them better so that visitors get a real feel for who you are and how that ties into these books?"

Btw, if my blog magically wound up getting integrated with the imprint websites my group publishes into (highly unlikely), that's not going to change a thing.  One blog and one point of view won't make a difference.  What we really need are for representatives from all the various departments of a publishing house (e.g., publisher, acq editor, dev editor, marketer, etc.) to come together on this, and that's like moving heaven and earth.

Nevertheless, when I think about a publisher's website that not only features the usual catalog content but also a high likelihood that I'll bump into the publisher, editor or other people associated with the book I'm interested in, well, that would be be highly appealing to me.  I could see a site like that evolving into more of a social network for the publisher, their authors and customers.  One central location where all the players could have meaningful discussion and debate about a book.  How fun would that be?

Any publisher thinking about overhauling their website ought to give serious consideration to the social networking aspects of what Kassia is suggesting.  Nobody's there yet, but the first publisher or two to create a model like this will be the envy of the industry.

P.S. -- Speaking of publisher blogs...  I recently stumbled across a fine one called Books on the Nightstand.  It's written by a couple of Random House employees and should be on any booklover's RSS feed list.


The Power (and Future) of Free

Free I've been meaning to write a follow-up post to John Caddell's well thought-out article called Must We Give away Digital Creative Works? but I wanted to let it sink in a bit longer.  I think I'm ready now, and I think the best approach is to take excerpts (italicized) and insert my thoughts:

...creative artists will have to make their money from "ancillary" projects, such as touring, personal appearances, licensing, etc.

I think this has been happening for a long time in the book publishing world.  How many full-time authors do you know?  Does writing provide 100% of their income, or even the majority of it?  If so, you know someone in the minority.  Most of the authors I know use writing as a way to get consulting gigs, speaking engagements and other jobs that generally produce more income than their books.

...if creating a work of art cannot in itself make money, it will then be difficult to invest much in that creation.

True, to some extent, but I'm not convinced it's this black and white.  There are quite a few bloggers out there, for example, who earn nothing for their efforts.  And yes, for many of them, that's precisely the value of the content they produce.  But, how about the truly good ones?  The ones where the passion is oozing out of every post?  Will they continue indefinitely even if they don't make a nickel from their work?  Probably not.  But what if that blog helps them get discovered and results in the consulting, speaking and other money-earning endeavors noted above?

If the world immediately and exclusively switched to this model it would be insanely disruptive, no doubt.  But what if we evolved to it over the course of a few years?  Most people spewing worthless content in search of a quick buck would abandon the blogosphere pretty quickly, leaving only those with passion and appreciation for the new model.  Would that be such a bad thing?

...it doesn't bode well for musicians or moviemakers, and, soon, book authors.

If this were true I think it would bring an end to garage bands and self-published authors.  I would argue that new technologies and operations like AuthorHouse and Lulu are only helping to expand the base of musians, moviemakers and book authors.  Do these new writers and creators need to look at the opportunity differently than musicians/moviemakers/book authors of 10 years ago?  You bet.  Although they'd all love to be the next Stephen King, my guess is most self-published authors these days are pretty happy just getting their work into print, especially if they were previously rejected by one or more "big publishers".  Those expectations might change over time, but I think the future for content creators is incredibly bright and the barriers to entry have never been lower.

If a band can make money touring but not through selling CDs, they will be unlikely to spend much time in the recording studio, or to spend money on studio effects or gear.

But what's going to drive excitement for next year's tour?  I don't think very many bands would be successful traveling the country and playing the same songs every year, with nothing new to add to the mix.  New songs are a key ingredient in this formula, so I have a hard time believing bands could continue milking the old stuff forever; this would exclude the top 3 or 4 groups like The Who and The Rolling Stones who apparently have at least another 30 or 40 years left in their '70's hits.

I think we're in the midst of a transformation.  Five or ten years from now, creative types will be quite comfortable giving away even more of their content than ever before.  New models will emerge that make today's sponsorships and ancillary opportunities look tiny by comparison.  There will still be the Stephen King's of the world, but more of them will have their roots in self-publishing, which means they may never have broken through in the old system.  Shouldn't we consider all that a good thing?


Amazon's Rising Tide

Ocean What's that old phrase?...  A rising tide lifts all boats?  That's one of the points made in this Motley Fool article about a recent Amazon promotion.  It's long been suspected that some customers find what they like in a brick-and-mortar store and then go home to order online, from Amazon, for a better discount.  But does the opposite ever happen?  Do very many people see what the like on Amazon and decide instant gratification is more important than 34% off, so they instead buy the book at their local brick-and-mortar store and miss out on the savings?

I'm sure it happens every day, but the Motley Fool example suggests Amazon's promotion of one title in particular is having halo effects elsewhere, specifically at B&N.  It's impossible to examine true cause-and-effect on this sort of thing.  After all, who's to say the book wouldn't have had just as much success at B&N without the Amazon promotion?  Nevertheless, it's an interesting point to consider.  I'll bet it's a model Amazon studies closely as they try to figure out what discount they must offer their customers to prevent a promotion from driving too much traffic/sales to the competition.


Amazon's Newest Kindle Customer

Kindle3 I was holding out for the next generation Kindle.  I didn't want to spend the money on a "version 1.0" product.  My wife had other plans.  She decided to give me one of the best birthday gifts I've ever received: a shiny new Kindle.  The gift arrived Friday afternoon and boy, do I love it!

I've had less than 48 hours to explore the device and content options, including both Amazon and non-Amazon, but here are a few initial observations:

The form factor is just right...sort of.  The overall size is perfect.  Small enough to fit comfortably in a bag, feels right when you're holding and reading from it, etc., but the display is too small.  IOW, Amazon's designers used up too much precious surface area for the Chiclets keyboard at the expense of the reading area.  Here's to hoping that a future version does away with the physical keyboard and offers a virtual keyboard on a larger, touchscreen, display.

The reading experience is as good as advertised.  eInk rocks.  Need I say more?

Every Kindle owner should know about Feedbooks.  I talked about it earlier on Kindleville but finally got a chance to try it out for myself.  Loads of free e-books are available for seamless download.  My first test was Animal Farm but I'm sure I'll be back for more later.

130,000 is a smaller number than you think.  I'm referring to the number of Kindle edition books available on Amazon.  As of right this minute there are 131,637 books available, and while many bestsellers are there, it's amazing how many I want that aren't.  I'm looking for a great World War II book to read now that I've finished Citizen Soldier and World War II For Dummies.  The selection is fairly limited and I can see where this will be a roll of the dice every time I go searching...at least until the number of available titles grows by a factor of 10.

Ditto for newspapers and magazines.  I was thinking about returning to BusinessWeek via the Kindle but it's not an option...yet.  There are only 16 magazines and 19 newspapers available.  Talk about tiny numbers...  At about $1.50 per month for several magazines the price feels right, although I've seen plenty of customer complaints on Amazon regarding content that's in the print magazine but not the Kindle edition.  Amazon and their publishing partners need to fix this ASAP.

Why would I pay for newspapers/magazines?  I'm wondering whether I can rig up an RSS feed option where the key newspapers and magazines are accessible via the Kindle's browser instead...all for free.  I'll dig into it and see if I can come up with a viable solution.

The browser is as slow as advertised.  I've heard complaints before and they're legit.  In Amazon's defense, Kindle is an e-book reader first and the browser is just an experimental feature.  As slow as it is I hope it doesn't go away.  It will do in a pinch but you wouldn't want to depend on it for very long.

Thank goodness for the reset button.  Like most electronic devices the Kindle has its own hard reset button.  I skimmed over the info about it in the user's guide and didn't give it another thought...till my Kindle locked up.  Actually, I've had to pop the back cover off and stick a paperclip in it twice now.  Two resets in less than 48 hours.  Quite annoying.  I hope this trend doesn't continue, but I'm thinking about adding a paperclip holder to the wrap-around book cover the Kindle ships with, just in case.

Should I just start sending my paycheck directly to Jeff Bezos?  I've only bought one book and signed up for one trial magazine subscription so far but I can see where it would be easy to go nuts buying content.  It's ridiculously easy and the download speed is fast...faster than loading a simple web page in the browser, or so it seems.

Despite the warts I'm quite happy with my Kindle.  Now I need to look into all those hacks and other tricks I've heard so much about...


Random Thoughts

Bubble thought

Lots of little things bouncing around in my head today...

First up, my employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., just reported outstanding results for the fiscal year we completed on 4/30.  Congrats to the entire Wiley team!

Next up, Don Felder's Heaven and Hell.  Who's he?  The guy from The Eagles who wasn't Don Henley, Glen Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner or Timothy B. Schmit.  Seriously, every time I watched their Hell Freezes Over DVD I kept asking myself...who is that guy?!  Well, it turns out he's an incredible author with a fascinating story to tell.  Wiley recently published Felder's Heaven and Hell and a copy hit my desk last week.  Bear in mind I was a bit of an Eagles fan, but not a huge one.  I totally love the Hotel California album but that's about it for me.  When I started reading this I thought I'd be bored by the story of Felder's youth and all the pre-Eagles coverage.  Wow, was I wrong.  His story is fascinating from page one and the writing is exceptional.  I'm not quite halfway through it and can't wait to read more.  I'll have a full review shortly but if the rest is half as good as what I've already read this one will quickly become one of my all-time favorites.

Another interesting new book showed up on my front porch yesterday as well.  It's called The PITA Principle: How to Work with and Avoid Becoming a Pain in the Ass and I first heard of it via Lori Cates and her Publishing Careers blog.  She sent me a galley of the book and I can't wait to dig into it.  (Current Wiley colleagues and former colleagues from elsewhere...please hold all your jokes about how much of a PITA I can be from time to time...remember, I'm moderating all comments here.)

Speaking of PITA's, how about that wacky HSE School Board?  They're at it again.  First they blow money right and left on severance packages and now the local paper had to save them from making the incredibly embarassing mistake of offering the superintendent job to a candidate whose previous employer paid a settlement on a sexual harassment lawsuit that he was facing.  Given all the recent gaffes I figured this would be a tough slot to fill.  The new superintendent will either have baggage, like this one did, or they haven't studied the history close enough to know they should run from the opportunity.  And who's the recruiter the Board has working on this?!  Jeez, are they unable to do simple background checks?  Oh, HSE School Board, is their any type of embarssment you're unwilling to bring upon yourselves?


Nicholas Carr Says Google is Making Us Stupid

Google

Nicholas Carr is one of the most outspoken and opinionated authors you'll ever come across.  Several years ago he was the enemy of IT-types everywhere when he asked the question Does IT Matter?  More recently he wrote an excellent book I reviewed here called The Big Switch.  I enjoy his work and was delighted when a Wiley colleague left a Carr article on my desk entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?  How could I resist reading it last night?!

Carr's premise is that Google is making us lazy by encouraging more online surfing at the shallowest of levels.  Read a headline and move on.  Scan an article but don't read it thoroughly.  It's the sort of thing I'm guilty of 99% of the time I'm online.  Actually, what Carr talks about as a problem is exactly what Jeff Bezos refers to as "information  snacking" and an issue he hopes will be counterbalanced by the Kindle.

I love some of the metaphors Carr uses in this article:

Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.  Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a JetSki.

...we risk turning into 'pancake people'--spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast netork of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.

Maybe that's why I've had such a strong desire to curl up with a good book lately!  On a related note, this all raises a couple of billion dollar questions: Can we construct a new "book model" to address this?  How do we evolve with these changing reading habits?


A Print-on-Demand Opportunity

Print I've said it before and I'll say it again: Print-on-demand (POD) is only going to become more important in the future.  Given the current state of the technology, it's almost impossible for a consumer to distinguish between a POD book and one printed the old-fashioned way.

Yesterday I received a copy of Get Content. Get Customers.  (It's a great looking book, btw, and I'll be back with a full review shortly.)  I mention it because it's a POD product and it got me thinking...

We love POD for a number of reasons.  First, it provides a cost-effective option for the smallest of print runs (1 copy).  Second, those printings can be turned around quickly, often the same day as the order.  But what other features could POD vendors implement to help distinguish them from the offset printing world?  How about personalization?

My copy of Get Content. Get Customers. came to me through Newt Barrett, one of the book's co-authors.  When I flipped through it last night I found myself looking for a note from Newt, but I quickly remembered this copy came through Amazon, not directly from the author.  Wouldn't it be cool if all the POD vendors would let authors add a small note to the inside cover (or other blank area) to personalize it for the recipient?  Just a couple of sentences and a digitized version of their signature is all I'm talking about.

OK, maybe each author would only send out a dozen or so copies for review so it's crazy to implement something like this for such a small audience.  But what about people buying the book as a gift for one of their friends?  Wouldn't it be a nice touch if you could add a short note, photo and/or signature in that case as well?  Then there's the person who just wants to have their name printed inside in case the book gets lost.  Again, not a lot of info but something that could fit in a 3 x 3" box somewhere up front.

This would obviously require POD vendors to make some changes to their systems.  I tend to think it would be a pretty simple modification to implement though and well worth the effort.  Just think how much more personal that Father's Day gift from Amazon would be next year if they add this feature between now and then...

P.S. -- If you're looking to launch your own blog, please, oh please, don't choose Typepad as your platform.  I had nothing but problems (yet again) with Typepad's editor while writing this post.  Even though I'm a save-aholic I wound up losing my work twice because Typepad's system choked multiple times in the 30 minutes I spent on this.  Blogger is a far more reliable option and it's free.  Choose it instead, unless you'd rather pay $50/year for endless frustrations.