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February 2009

12 posts from January 2009

Jon Fine on Web Video

BusinessweekI remembered just how much I missed BusinessWeek when the first issue of my new subscription arrived last weekend.  I let my print subscription lapse several months ago, but after giving up on the hope that Amazon would offer it for the Kindle, I recently gave in to an offer (one year for $30) and I read this first issue cover to cover on a recent flight.

I'm mentioning it here because I also missed Jon Fine's excellent Media Centric columns.  The one in the current issue is well worth reading as it talks about making money on web video.  He raises one particularly important point:

If video on the Internet merely meant "television," as CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith puts it, then that network's top show, "CSI," would be its most popular online.  (It isn't.  Reality series "Survivor" is.)

and asks an equally intriguing question:

"What is the fantasy football for entertainment?"

The two are deeply intertwined.  It's easy for us book publishers to think that our greatest hits in print should become our greatest hits online, but that logic misses the point.  You've got to rank each title's ability to drive an community online.  Some books have loads of potential while others have almost none.

Fantasy football is the perfect analogy.  Twenty years ago, who would have thought there would be an entirely new industry like this built around the NFL?  Heck, my own son is now a fantasy addict and he never cared about the NFL till a couple of years ago!

The question we have to ask ourselves is, "What sorts of titles, authors and other publishing properties most lend themselves to a fantasy football-like enthusiasm?"  The answer may have no correlation to your best-selling print products.


iPhone eBooks via Stanza

ScreenHunter_03 Jan. 25 15.37I don't know how I missed this one earlier.  I'm talking about my colleague Andrew Savikas and a TOC blog post he made last November about downloading books into the Stanza iPhone reader.

Stanza and their ebook offerings aren't exactly big news.  It's a fine app and all, but what's really cool is how Andrew and his team have shown how the service can be extended.  The blog post gives step-by-step instructions on how anyone can load an O'Reilly EPUB ebook into Stanza.  So if you've taken advantage of an O'Reilly ebook bundle you can quickly and easily load that into Stanza on your iPhone for no additional charge.

That's exactly how the system should work!  You're free to buy from Stanza but you can also buy direct from the publisher and put that content into Stanza.  Simple, yet brilliant!

If you're a publisher reading this post, is your organization taking advantage of this solution as well?  If not, you should be.


One Click Away from Abandoning My Kindle

Iphone 3G I'm not reading books on it, at least not regularly.  The two things I do most frequently with my Kindle are read The New York Times and catch up on RSS feeds via KindleFeeder.  And while those two services hardly justify the $360 price tag (let alone the $13.99/month Times subscription), it's my iPhone (once again) that's bringing me closer to the end of my Kindle infatuation.

The only thing preventing me from abandoning the Kindle entirely (and passing it down to my wife) is one very simple feature that's missing from The New York Times iPhone app: All I need it to do is pull down the entire paper so that I can read it offline, on a plane or anywhere else that I don't have a live connection.  The Kindle does that nicely but the iPhone app forces you to click and access one article at a time.

The Times iPhone app would be complete if they'd just add a simple button to let me quickly pull down today's entire edition.  I'm not even looking to store multiple editions...today's and today's alone would be just fine!  In fact, I'd gladly pay $5, $10, $20 or more for that capability (as a one-time fee, not a monthly fee).  Why?  It would enable me to dump the $13.99/month Kindle subscription.

Why isn't there a Premium version of the app that offers this functionality?  Surely they're not afraid of cannibalizing sales of the Kindle edition.  Did I recently read that more than 30 million iPhones have been sold?  Even the most ambitious sales projections for the Kindle put it well below 1 million.  Why not get a fraction of that 30 million base even if you completely lose the less than 1 million Kindle owners?  And they could include plenty of advertising (like the USA Today app does so nicely, I might add).


Would You Like Some Books with that Broadband Deal?

Books4After years of fighting the pirates it appears the music industry has decided to emulate them for a change.  This article in The New York Times talks about how you'll be able to participate in an all-you-can-eat music model with certain cell phone and broadband deals.

Can similar book content deals be far behind?  Wouldn't it be great to get access to a Safari or Books24x7 program with a new phone or DSL/cable deal, even if it's just for a limited time?  Sure, it would be a series of tiny revenue streams and although the content providers probably wouldn't "make it up in volume" the service would be discovered by countless new prospective customers, many of which are likely to sign up for a regular subscription after the introductory period expires.


Why Amazon Should Try a "Radiohead Experiment" on the Kindle

Radiohead Remember that Radiohead experiment back in 2007, the one where they allowed free downloads of their latest album and asked listeners to pay what they felt was fair?  Some say it was successful and others beg to disagree.  Assuming Amazon ever gets back to an in-stock inventory situation with the Kindle I think they should try a similar experiment with a big-name author's next book.

Why?  First of all, it would be interesting to know how much value readers place on content, particularly e-content.  Secondly, although some customers won't pay a penny for it, others will and it's that data that would be so fascinating to study.

Then there's the PR opportunity for Amazon, publisher and author.  Imagine how much free publicity this would generate.  It would probably open that author up to new customers who've never read his/her previous work.  But for Amazon it's an opportunity to generate a lot of buzz about a product they do almost zero advertising for; sure, they're out of stock, but again, I'm talking about the value of this when (if?) they ever get inventory again.  As I've also said before, I'm amazed at the number of people (including regular Amazon customers!) who've never even heard of the Kindle.

Btw, just like the Radiohead deal, this would be a limited-time offer.  Unlike the Radiohead deal though, I could also see an opportunity for Amazon (and the publisher/author) to sell sponsorship of the event.  An ad (or series of ads) would appear in (or periodically throughout) the free Kindle edition of the book.  This would help offset the lost revenue from downloaders who turn out to be freeloaders.  Then again, is that really "lost" revenue?  Those people probably wouldn't have bought the paid edition anyway.

Only a very forward thinking publisher and author would participate in something like this.  It's not without risk, of course, but it's also an experiment in a very limited space; the number of Kindles out there is tiny compared to the number of book-buyers who don't own a Kindle.  So even if it's wildly popular but nobody pays a penny for the content the other 99.999% of the book-buying public won't have been affected.

Speaking of that other 99.999%, Amazon, publisher and author could use this as a way to promote the book to that majority as well.  Think word-of-mouth and add in an affiliate discount code Kindle downloaders can pass along to their friends, creating even more buzz and giving everyone an additional incentive to buy the book.

One final thought: If a publisher really wants to do this they wouldn't even have to work with Amazon to make it happen.  They could simply offer the unprotected mobi file on their own site for a free, limited-time download.  Think about that for a moment...  That publisher would be able to establish a direct relationship with all those Kindle owners, capturing e-mail addresses and the opportunity to market directly to them in the future.  Take that a step further and if the publisher makes it clear to the customer, they could conceivably sell that list to other publishers to market to them as well.

See all the interesting directions this can go in?...


Text vs. Video

TV Remember that post I wrote a few days ago about how video killed the radio star and publishing is next?  Steve Rubel uncovers some valid reasons why text still rules in this Micro Persuasion blog post.

I can totally relate to Steve's first point about how text is scannable and video is not.  I can't tell you how many short videos I didn't watch, simply because that initial frame that's frozen in the YouTube box didn't grab me.  That's worse than judging a book by its cover, right?!

As much as I believe in the future Steve's post highlights some challenges that exist today.  Some of these issues might get resolved down the road (e.g., SEO) while others could be trickier to address (e.g., the slacker perception at work).


What I'm Looking Forward to at TOC (Day One)

TOC O'Reilly's TOC conference is rapidly approaching and I'm excited to finally make it to the event.  As I scanned the agenda I couldn't help marking down several sessions I'm very much looking forward to attending:

Bob Stein's Keynote -- Bob is from The Institute for the Future of the Book.  I follow the if:book blog and highly recommend it.

Google Book Search: Past, Present, and Future -- This should be an interesting session, especially if the "future" portion unveils some upcoming functionality and services.  It's also nice to see a session called The Google Settlement: Opportunities for Publishers through New Online Business Models, which follows immediately after the Book Search session.

Striking the Right Balance -- Print, POD, and Digital -- I'm kind of bummed that this session is at the same time as the Google one above.  Anyone care to attend one while I'm at the other and we'll compare notes afterwards?...

Building a Better Web-based Book -- This one is being presented by CJ Rayhill of Safari, a wonderful person I had the pleasure of meeting during an earlier trip to Sebastopol.

What's Your Mobile Strategy? -- An important question that too many publishers are still ignoring.

Smart Women Read eBooks -- OK, maybe they won't let me into this session.  The time slot conflicts with the mobile one above so I'll have to pick one anyway.  This one is presented by Kassia Krozser, author of the Booksquare blog.  If you don't already subscribe to Kassia's RSS feed you need to do so right now.  Go ahead, I'll wait...and you'll thank me for it later because Kassia is one of the most insightful publishing industry bloggers out there.

Jeff Jarvis Keynote -- Jeff is, of course, the brains behind the BuzzMachine blog, another must read for anyone in this industry.  He's also the author of the soon-to-be-released book entitled, What Would Google Do?  I received a galley copy recently and am enjoying it immensely.

Btw, all these sessions are just part of the conference's agenda on day one...that's right, there's a whole batch of great presentations the following day as well.

If you haven't registered it's still not too late.  Be sure to use the code toc09jwb for a 15% discount on your registration fee.


Video Killed the Radio Star...Is Publishing Next?

Wired_logo The latest (very small) issue of Wired magazine features an article from Clive Thompson called This is Your Brain on Video.  It's a good read for anyone but particularly important for those of us in the publishing world.  Here's my favorite excerpt:

In a sense, you could argue that even after 100 years of moving pictures, we still don't know what video is for.  The sheer cost of creating it meant we used it for a stiflingly narrow set of purposes: news, documentaries, instructional presentations.

Those limits are rapidly changing, of course, thanks to sites like YouTube.  They're having dramatic effects on publishers as more and more Googlers are finding excellent short how-to videos to solve their problems.

I was a perfect example of this a few months ago as I embarked on a project to replace some carpeting in our house with hardwood flooring.  I had zero flooring experience prior to this project but a quick Google search turned up several short (5-7 minute) how-to videos.  I watched a couple of them, tore up the carpets and never looked back.  A few years ago I would have bought a flooring guide at Lowe's or Home Depot.  There's no need for that now with all the great free videos right at your fingertips.

Looking back, I wonder if the publishers of all those home improvement how-to guides are even aware of the free videos that are chipping away at their revenue base.  If you're in the publishing industry have you done much research to see how video is affecting your business?  If it isn't already it will be soon.


Are You an Author Looking for Tax Advice?

TAAIt's only mid-January but tax time will be here before you know it.  I got a message today from Kim Pawlak at TAA saying that they're offering a free teleconference called "Taxes and Authors -- What You Should Know."  Kim mentioned these sessions are usually available to paying TAA members only but they decided to open this one up to everyone.

The teleconference is scheduled for February 10th from 12-1 (central time) and will cover the following topics:

  • What type of entity should you be?
  • Are you keeping good records on your business deductions?
  • Income from royalties and other sources
  • Tax deductions
  • Home Office Deduction
  • Self Employment Tax ("SE Tax")
  • Pension Plans, SEPs, IRAs
  • Foreign Tax Credit. Foreign Tax Certification Form 6166

If you're interested in attending send a message including your name and the title of the teleconference to Kim at the following e-mail address: kim.pawlak[at]taaonline.net


Interview with Author Christina Katz

GetKnownCMKWebsite-1 In an earlier post I mentioned that I recently received a copy of a book called Get Known Before the Book Deal, by Christina Katz.  This is one of those rare books about a very important aspect of the publishing world that really caught my eye.  I plan to post excerpts as I read the book but I thought it would be nice to start with a short Q&A session with Christina.  Here's what she had to say:

JW: What does the phrase "author platform" mean to you?

CK: A platform communicates your expertise to others. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you've established, the articles you've published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership.

A platform isn't what you once did. It's what you currently do. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform. A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Once you establish a platform, it can work for you 24/7, reaching readers even as you sleep. But, of course, this kind of reach takes time.

I work mostly with writers looking to develop a platform from scratch, as opposed to established experts looking to expand or modify a platform, so I find it helpful to define a platform as a promise writers make to not only create something to sell (a book), but also promote it to the specific readers who will want to purchase it. This takes both time and effort, not to mention considerable focus.


JW: What do you feel are the most important aspects of author platform?

CK: Platform development goes a lot more smoothly and quickly when these three aspects are taken into thoughtful consideration from the get-go:

A clearly defined body of expertise
When you think about the fact that about 500 books are published each day in this country, you realize that writing a book isn't going to set you apart. So, the first thing you need to know is what makes you and your expertise unique and communicate that. If you don’t know who you are and what you uniquely offer, how is anyone else going to know? I call this cultivating your identity, not branding, because that word is so grossly overused these days. Identity also nods to the importance of keeping things real and staying true to yourself, while also making self-promotion a priority.

A distinct niche so you can stand out from others in the same field
How are you different? You’ll have to communicate who you are and what you do quickly. Attention spans are getting shorter, so writing down what you do concisely is critical. Platform isn't the credentials or your resume; it's what you currently do. It’s current, constantly evolving, and updated on an ongoing basis, like what you do in this blog, Joe. A blog is a good example of a way a writer can authentically share what he is noticing to assist others. And then realize that a hundred people might already be blogging on the same topic and give yours even more thought.

An ongoing relationship with a clearly defined audience
If you are vague about your audience, the whole writing process takes longer and typically requires more rewriting. Typically, clarifying an audience will bring the whole platform into clearer perspective. This applies to books, blogs and everything else. Once you identify your specific audience and start speaking to them directly, the conversation will spark all kinds of ideas, connections, and opportunities. Small concrete platform-building efforts catalyze relationships over time and create community.


JW: Quite a few authors I've spoken to over the years feel it's hopeless to create a platform from scratch these days. They often believe it's next to impossible to rise above the noise. What advice do you have to offer these authors?

CK: I can certainly understand this frustration because platform development is a whole additional job. But this doesn’t mean it can't be integrated into your daily work rhythms with practice. Writers have to wear more hats today than in the past, so focusing on the noise would only take a writer further away from what's truly important—choosing the platform that comes naturally and building the most authentic platform possible.

Platform is not an act or a show you put on for the benefit of others. It's a natural extension of your own curiosity, exploration and discoveries that you share with the world. It's taking things writers traditionally love—stories, process and creativity—and making them public. Platform is aligning your niche topic and unique expertise with the appropriate audience to create a unique context and forge relationships and community.

Nor is platform an overnight occurrence. Trying to rush platform development is a surefire path to frustration, not to mention publishing failure. When you allow yourself the time you need to build momentum, things tend to go faster than you expected. And then your platform momentum is positive and contagious.


JW: How important is content development for writers who want to build a platform?

CK: Everyone keeps saying that the future of publishing is all about content. But without context, content is just a bunch of words. And an excess of words just creates static. After clarifying a platform, creating a context becomes the next step.

Creating context is key to platform development because writers need to attract a base of readers…and naturally this takes time and patience…and eventually content. But without a context for your content that resonates with readers, a writer is really missing a wonderful opportunity to create community. Content and context really go hand in hand and feed each other.

And speaking of content, what forms will your content take to address readers' wants and needs? Once you are creating appropriate content for your specific audience, you’ve created a context where something exciting can happen.


JW: Another common concern I've heard from authors is the time commitment required to build a strong platform. They see bloggers and others investing hours upon hours each week engaging with the community.  How much time is "enough" and how can authors gauge this for their own unique situations?

CK: The sheer daily-ness of consistent platform development is the key to success. The other key is focus. Just because someone is blogging or social networking, doesn't mean that they are focused or creating community. They might just be killing time. I think anyone who has ever participated in athletics understands the concept of getting into "game shape." Do the guys playing in the Superbowl start working out a week before the playoffs? And yet, writers sometimes make the mistake of thinking that they are going to get discovered eventually rather than simply working slowly and steadily over time. I think a writer's expectations, attitude, and willingness have everything to do with his or her success.

Fantasies are nice, but they are not business strategies. Unfortunately the media (and now the Internet) perpetuate myths about overnight success that cloud the truth, which is basically the old adage: no pain, no gain. Once writers recover from hoping to be discovered, there is really only one thing to do: get to work on a viable platform that you can commit to for a period of years. That's the kind of platform that's going to support a book. That's why I wrote Get Known as a progression of steps that any writer at any level can use as a guidebook. Show me a writer who is willing to do a little bit of work steadily over time and I'll show you a writer who is going to eventually get a book deal.


JW: Should publishers play a role in helping authors create platforms?  If so, how?

CK: Absolutely. There are many ways publishers can work with their authors for mutual success. I always encourage first-time authors to partner with their publishers as much as possible. But really the advice works both ways. I see the role of publishers shifting from publicist for a select few high-profile authors to platform educators for first time authors, context builders among the authors on their current and back lists, and content facilitators for readers. Publishers can do more to help empower their authors using methods that have become quite inexpensive thanks to improved technology and the ease of networking online. If authors and publishers aren’t viewing each other as partners, it's just not good for the business of selling books in an increasingly transparent marketplace.

JW: What are some of the most valuable lessons you've learned as you've built up your own platform?

This was helpful to reflect on, thanks for asking. Here's a short list:

Find the very best role models and mentors you can and learn from/study with them.

Choose your publishing and promotion allies the way you choose your friends…very consciously.

Produce yourself, even while partnering with others.

Pay it forward. Everybody who is successful started somewhere. Ultimately, you determine your future based on the choices you make today.

Trust your gut in all matters of business. You don't have to say, "Yes" to every opportunity.

Maintain boundaries between personal life and work life to suit your needs. Guard yourself against burnout.

Even a shy person can succeed in the literary marketplace today thanks to technological advancements.

Work on your platform daily. If you don’t have one, start today.

Slow and steady builds the platform.