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24 posts from June 2008

Bestseller Wisdom

Books It's hard to beat insight from someone who's been there in the trenches, dealing with the same issues you face.  That's why this short article in The Chicago Tribune caught my eye today.  And as reporter Ann Meyer rightfully states, "creating a bestseller involves more than crafting good content."

She also notes that "attracting an agent or publisher's attention can be trying."  But here's the kicker...  The #1 reason why authors often get frustrated trying to connect with a publisher?  I believe it's because they (the author) don't bother researching publishers to learn about their focus, series, etc.  I've been pitched all sorts of ideas by authors for books that not only wouldn't fit my program, but wouldn't make sense anywhere else at Wiley either.  It's clear these authors were just taking a shotgun approach and sending their idea to as many publishers as they can.  I can't think of a better reason to quickly lose interest in a project.

Meyer nails it when she says "Entrepreneurs can increase their odds by researching which publishers are most likely to be interested in their book idea."  Absolutely, and the same goes for agents.  I'll bet agents get quite a few inquiries about projects that are way outside their areas of expertise; the author could have figured this out by simply visiting the agent's website in advance.

Finally, here are a couple of interesting stats that show the ratio of author proposals to actual publications:
"Agate receives about 800 proposals a year, yet publishes just 20 books annually, Seibold said. Sourcebooks receives more than 1,000 proposals each year, with more than half coming from agent-represented authors, and publishes several hundred."

If you're an author with a proposal in hand, what are you doing to stand out from all this noise generated by the rest of the crowd?

In Search of The Quillr App

Quillr What does the future of content look like?  The folks behind a new platform called Quillr think they have the answer.  Their first product is a title called Here Ends the Beginning and it's a mix of words and video, resulting in an entertainment experience that's a book-movie hybrid.  They refer to Quillr as "a multimedia storytelling experience. Part screenplay, part graphic novel, part audio book and part movie, it is the newest chapter in publishing."

I'm not a fan of novels so it was important for me to look beyond the words, images and the story itself while I focused on what the platform has to offer.  I think it shows promise, particularly if they consider two enhancements: community and advertising.  Sure, most books are best written by one and only one author, but a tool like Quillr would make for an interesting community content development platform.  Secondly, with the images and video capabilities, think of the sponsorship and other non-traditional revenue streams Quillr could support.

Like most other new technology developments, we'll probably look back at Here Ends the Beginning in a couple of years and chuckle at how simplistic it was.  It's an interesting start in a richer content direction though, so I'm anxious to see how Quillr evolves over the next couple of years.  Thanks again to reader Alastair Sweeny for pointing me to this ReadWriteWeb post about Quillr.

Inc.'s Failed "Pay-Whatever" Experiment


They only offered it to 5,000 prospective customers, but Inc. magazine reported their recent attempt to mimic Radiohead's pay-whatever model produced dismal results.  In fact, "the mailing produced a third fewer new subscribers than the magazine's standard direct-mail piece," according to Patrick Hainault, Inc.'s director of consumer marketing.

Hainault noted that Inc. did a poor job of hyping the offer in the mailing.  He made another statement that's perhaps the most important point: "Unlimited choice is not, in the end, a good inducement.  Consumers want a buying decision to be made simpler, not more complex."  He went on to say that, "when you give people multiple choices, they freeze."

I hope other content providers will continue to experiment with this model.  While I think Hainault's points are valid I still think someone will eventually find a way to make this a viable option.

Lee Gomes Is Right: Blackberry Reading Rocks!

8700g I couldn't have said it better myself.  The WSJ's Lee Gomes recently wrote an excellent article on the virtues of reading books on your Blackberry.  Hey, I was once a skeptic too...then I downloaded the Mobipocket reader and bought a copy of The Last Lecture.  I've been limited to reading it in checkout lines and long meetings, so I'm still not quite halfway through it.

If you've got a Blackberry give it a shot and try it for yourself.  I'm not suggesting you do all your reading on a Blackberry, but it's a much more enjoyable and effective experience than you probably think.

Thanks to reader Alastair Sweeny for passing this article along to me.  I guess I need to pay more attention to the WSJ's website now that I'm no longer a paying subscriber...

eBook Piracy: Pogue vs. Engst

Pirate flag It all started with this blog post from David Pogue regarding his concerns about e-content copyright protection.  David very effectively communicated his stance against e-content distribution, primarily because of piracy issues.  I can't say I really agreed with him, but I admire the way he framed his argument and supported it with a couple of examples from his own books.

Then I read Adam Engst's point of view in this article.  Now that's an argument I can really get behind.  I think Adam nailed it and I found myself nodding in agreement as I read what he had to say.  Adam also brings a lot of credibility to the table as the Publisher of TidBITS and their ebooks arm, Take Control Ebooks.  I'm grateful that Adam was willing to share so much in that article, particularly when it comes to his experience at Take Control.  Here are a few points in Adam's article that really made an impression on me:

First, Take Control takes a few extra steps to discourage unauthorized copying of their DRM-free ebooks.  For example, they display the price prominently on the first page of every ebook.  That sounds subtle, but I can see where that would serve as a deterrent and help remind readers that there's a stated value associated with the product.  They also offer a lot of free updates and discount offers readers can share with their friends; nice touches.

He also noted that, "by publishing DRM-free ebooks, acknowledging that it's OK to lend one of our ebooks to a friend or colleague, and providing free and discounted updates, I believe we come down squarely on the side of the reader."  What a novel concept...treating your customers like they're something other than convicted criminals.  Another winning idea.

Next up, Adam believes that "voluntary payments don't constitute a viable business model."  I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel on this one.  I figure it's just that nobody has found the right formula here.  Give it time, add a new element or two and we might have something...but don't give up already!

Finally, he makes this statement: "Core to that idea [enhanced iPod/iPhone] was the suggestion that the iTunes Store sell ebooks; I'd bet that Apple would become the largest ebook retailer in the world nearly instantly."  That's probably the one scary thought that leaves the Kindle team sleepless in Seattle...

Anthony Policastro on the Future of Publishing

Books2 Anthony Policastro is a frequent visitor to my blog and he also works for Lulu, so he's got a lot of experience with the self-publishing and POD businesses.  I mentioned earlier that I'm interested in expanding Publishing 2020 with more guest posts and Anthony was kind enough to write the following one up for me regarding his opinions on the state of the industry.  Following his article are a few of my own observations on what he has to say:

I recently caught a broadcast on my local NPR station from American Public Media about the troubled book publishing industry.

The most recent trend is that bookstores are ordering more books than they could ever sell because they are trying to compete with online book stores. They fear, according to the report, that if customers cannot find what they are looking for, they will go home and order the book online. Their fear is justified – after all, the average big box bookstore like Borders can stock approximately 100,000 titles while Amazon can list millions.

While book publishers may be rejoicing over increased orders, the orders are really a double-edged sword because the bookstores can return any books they don’t sell after 90 days.

To add to the problem, some bookstores are returning books before the 90-day window, waiting a week and then ordering more books. Now they have another 90 days to pay for the books and whatever they don’t sell they can return without losing a dime, according to the broadcast. More evidence that the publishing industry’s consignment model no longer works. Add to that decreasing book sales and you have a formula for disaster.

An article in Yahoo News on the Book Expo of America held May 29 - June 1 in Los Angeles reported that more than 276,000 new titles will be published this year, according to researchers R.R. Bowker, but the Book Industry Study Group expects the number of books purchased to decrease.

So what is the future of publishing? Whether publishers like it or not, the future lies in digital content and print on demand (POD).  Publishers will be forced to print fewer copies of new titles just from the economics of their business model. They will have to turn to POD printers for the shorter print runs. While most traditional publishers do not embrace POD because of the higher cost per book and quality issues, the reverse is happening.  The cost per book is going down and the quality is going up.

Printing fewer books is in sync with the explosion of digital content on devices like the Kindle, Sony’s Reader Digital Book and the iPhone. With the Internet generation getting older, they may want to read more than an email or a text message and will prefer digital content over printed matter having grown up with computers and the Internet.

Just as the music industry went kicking and screaming into the digital age with the 99 cent per song business model (They are still kicking and screaming over it), the publishing industry appears to be on the same path, inundating bookstores with more books than the market can bear until they realize they need to change.

Anthony S. Policastro is the Senior Business Analyst for, one of the largest POD publishers in the US and one of the few offering free content production.  A former magazine editor and published writer, he currently writes a blog with Michael Neff, creator and editor of the Webdelsol and Algonkian Writers Conference websites, about writers’ issues called The Writer’s Edge. Policastro and Neff have been referred to as the Ebert and Roeper of the literary scene with their point/counterpoint posts.

Although some large brick-and-mortar stores are bursting at the seams with inventory, Borders has made it clear that they want fewer titles, and more copies of them, to focus on merchandising and bestsellers.  That emphasis is clear when you walk through one of their new concept stores, btw.

Also, most publishers, particularly the larger ones, are extremely flexible with retailers on returns.  Whatever terms, limits, etc., that exist on paper are often interpreted with a great deal of leniency for the bookstore; after all, most publishers don't want to allow nitpicking on returns provisions to interfere with their relationship with an important retailer.  It's just common business sense.

I definitely agree with Anthony that POD is going to serve an increasingly larger role at most publishing houses in the future.  Everybody uses it today, mostly to extend the long tail of the older titles, but I can see a world where POD comes into play even earlier.  It all comes depends on how soon a viable POD system can further close the unit cost gap with the traditional printing model.

BusinessWeek Just Won't Stop Coming...

La la la can't hear you I purposely let my BusinessWeek print subscription lapse last month.  Or at least I thought I did.  I talked to a representative on the phone and told them I didn't want to renew.  I'm starting to think the rep I spoke with was playing the "la la la, I can't hear you" game.

I figured all BW's content is freely accessible on their website, so why pay for the subscription?  I'd have to change my habits, grab all their RSS feeds and read through them at least once a week, but still, it's better than paying for the subscription.

I was supposed to be cut off after the 5/26 issue.  I've received 3 more since, including the 6/16 one that just showed up on Saturday.  My 5/26/08 subscription termination date is still printed on every cover.  I wonder when it will end.

Better yet, I, along with probably every other BW subscriber, recently received an e-mail invitation to sit on "an exclusive BusinessWeek Market Advisory Board."  The e-mail was from "Keith Fox, President, BusinessWeek."  I couldn't resist sending a reply noting that I recently canceled my subscription and asking him if they don't check subscriber status before sending invitations like this.  I haven't heard back, nor do I expect to.

Even Amazon Has Down Days

Out of service I'm sure it's happened before but I've never encountered it.  I did yesterday though.  I'm talking about the Amazon outage.  I was on a conference call, tried to look up a title but got a cryptic error message instead.  I thought maybe our Internet connection was down so I asked a colleague in the Hoboken office to check -- sure enough, he got the same message.

The AP story above notes the outage lasted a couple of hours.  Yikes.  Imagine what it would be like for every outlet of a brick-and-mortar chain to be out of commission for two hours during a peak business period.  By my unscientific estimates, that's between $2 and $3 million of revenue per hour that may have been lost.  Yes, some customers would have come back 3 hours later to make their purchase, but others probably gave up and went elsewhere.

More importantly, does this outage in any way compromise Amazon's ability to sell their EC2 web services?  I realize nothing is 100% bulletproof and outages do occur, but I guess I just figured there had to be so much redundancy and back-up at Amazon that we'd never see something like this in the middle of a business day.  Go figure.

HSE School Board -- Part 2

Dunce corner My personal frustration with our local school board hasn't improved since I made this earlier post.  In short, it's a group of people who somehow feel they're accountable to no one.  They need to be voted out.  I did what I could to vote out the one incumbent who was up for re-election last month but it's clear there are too many cronies who will continue as board members because their terms aren't up...yet.

There's a new development in the district that will give this board a chance to redeem itself.  It seems a group of teachers at one of the junior high schools is unhappy with the management and leadership style of their principal, Shari Switzer.  Just by coincidence, my youngest daughter currently attends that school and I've heard Ms. Switzer speak.  I've also exchanged a bit of e-mail with her over the past year.  Why?  The first time I heard her speak (at an orientation session) I was so impressed that I wanted to thank her for being such a passionate, caring school administrator.  I've never reached out to any other teacher/principal like this in the past, so that should give you an idea of how much she wowed me (and much of the rest of that crowd) at that session.

It amazes me that teachers can gang up like this and put pressure on a superior.  Wouldn't it be interesting if it worked that way in the business world?!  It would be one thing if there was truly a problem buried in all this, but based on my personal experience and what I've heard from other parents, this is an unfair criticism of one of the best administrators in this school district!

HSE School Board Members: Please show some spine on this one and support this outstanding principal.  Anything short of that would be yet another failure by the entire board, and the third in the last six months.

Why TOC is a "Must-Read" Blog

Toc blog Just yesterday I was whining about how I'm spending less time reading blogs today than a year ago and here I am today touting one blog in particular that always offers outstanding insight.  Go figure.

My point is, if you've only got time to read one blog about the publishing industry, your best bet is the TOC blog.  I just finished reading Mac Slocum's interview with Peter Kent called Treating Ebooks Like Software and it was one of the most interesting articles I've read in quite awhile.  You should definitely read the whole post, but here are a couple of excerpts that really jumped out at me:

It's no longer a gentleman's game in which everyone hands over their books to a bookstore, and then they all compete on the same level. In the future the more aggressive publishers are going to go out and find book buyers even before the buyers have thought about buying!

[Regarding new methods of distribution...] What may save the publishers is that new distributors will come on the scene: distributors who understand the new landscape and go out and push the books.

Very thought provoking, and a great example of the quality material you'll find on the TOC blog -- highly recommended.