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6 posts from June 2011

Archive of TOC Self-Publishing Webcast

Self Pub Webcast

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of moderating a TOC webcast entitled, "What Traditional Publishers Can Learn from Self-Publishers."  The webcast featured the following four representatives from the self-publishing industry:

Mark Coker, Smashwords

Chad Jennings, Blurb

Pete Nikolai, WestBow Press

Bob Young, Lulu

The speakers did a terrific job sharing many of the lessons they've learned over the years in self-publishing.  And thanks to several insightful questions from the audience the discussion went into some areas the speakers didn't originally anticipate.

If you missed the live version of this webcast you can catch the archived version here.  And don't forget to register for this Thursday's TOC webcast, "Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup", with Peter Meyers.

P.S. -- I'm also still interviewing candidates for our next TOC SneakPeek webcast in August.  If you're part of a publishing startup that will still be in pre-release mode as of 8/25 email me and let's talk!


Harry Potter and the Direct, DRM-Free Sale

It took her awhile, but J.K. Rowling now apparently believes in the future of ebooks.  Last week's Pottermore announcement was huge and featured two important publishing elements: a direct sales model and a lack of DRM.

Harry Potter is one of those unique brands that dwarfs everything associated with it.  Most Potter fans can name the author but few could tell you the publisher without looking at the book's spine.  Although that's often true with other novels, Harry Potter is much more than a series of books or movies.  It's an experience, or so I'm told.  (I'm not a fan, have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies but my house is filled with plenty of diehards who have told me everything I need to know.)

Rowling realizes the strength of her brand and knows she can use it to establish direct relationships with her fans.  And so via Pottermore, the author doesn't need any of the big names in ebook retailing.  Why settle for a 20% royalty or a 70% cut of the top-line sale when you can keep 100% of it?  And why only offer one format when some portion of your audience wants MOBI for the Kindle, others want EPUB for their Apple/Sony devices and maybe a few more would prefer a simple PDF?

It's not surprising that J.K. Rowing is forging ahead with a well thought-out direct sales plan.  What blows my mind is that more publishers aren't doing the same.  Sure, you'll find publisher websites selling PDFs.  Some even offer other formats, but rarely do you find a publisher's website with all the popular ebook formats.  Regardless of what type of device you have, it sounds like you'll be able to purchase a Harry Potter ebook for it on Pottermore.  I hope they take the extra step and include all the formats in one transaction like we do on oreilly.com.  Rather than only getting a MOBI file from Amazon or an EPUB file from Apple, one simple transaction on oreilly.com gives you access to both (and more!).  Every publisher's ecommerce site should be structured like this.

The other smart move by Rowling is the exclusion of DRM from Pottermore ebooks.  Here's an important question for authors and publishers everywhere: If Harry Potter doesn't need DRM, why does your book?!  If you'll ditch DRM you'll be able to offer all those formats like we do on oreilly.com.  You'll show your customers you trust them and you'll also make it far easier for them to actually use your content.  What a concept!


Kindle Spam: Two Possible Solutions

Spammers go where they find the most eyeballs.  As several recent articles have noted, spammers are flocking to the Kindle platform as it gains popularity.  On the one hand, Amazon should consider this spam problem a sign of their success.  In reality though they need to address the issue immediately.

I think it's terrific that Amazon has embraced self-publishing.  We absolutely need to allow (and encourage!) self-publishing on all the popular e-content platforms.  Product discovery was a significant problem even before self-publishing arrived.  Now that anyone with an internet connection can upload a title the discovery issue is spiraling out of control, particularly since Amazon isn't managing the spam situation.

One solution is for Amazon to add a review stage for all content before it's offered for sale.  Yes, that slows things down and requires additional time from Amazon personnel to manage.  The model seems to work well for Apple though.  Every app goes through an internal review process before it ever appears in Apple's App Store.  Say what you want about Apple's review process but at least their App Store isn't flooded with spam.

A second option is for Amazon to leverage the power of the community and enable customers to police the situation.  That's more or less what's happening now though as customers make a purchase, realize they were duped and then post a poor review.  The problem here is that some number of people get ripped off before the spam is flagged.

I think Amazon should use both methods.  They need an internal first line of defense like Apple's but they also need to realize mistakes will happen and spam will slip through.  That's where the community comes in.  Amazon should set up a rewards program where customers receive points every time they find and report a spam product.  Those points could add up to a free ebook, Prime service, etc.  If they make the points meaningful enough they'll quickly solve the problem.

Speaking of self-publishing, we have a terrific FREE webcast scheduled this week called, "What Traditional Publishers Can Learn from Self-Publishers."  The webcast features Mark Coker (Smashwords), Chad Jennings (Blurb), Pete Nikolai (WestBow Press, the self-publishing arm of Thomas Nelson) and Bob Young (Lulu).

The webcast takes place at 1ET/10PT on Thursday, June 23rd.  There's still time to register if you'd like to take part in this event.  I'll be serving as moderator and I plan to ask each of the participants their thoughts on self-publishing spam and what their organizations are doing to address it.


Michael Tamblyn's eReader TOC Webcast

Screen shot 2011-06-16 at 9.44.10 AM Michael Tamblyn of Kobo recently presented a TOC webcast entitled What Do eReader Customers Really, Really Want?  Similar to other ebook retailers, Kobo spends a good deal of time studying customer purchasing and reading habits.

What makes Kobo different from the others is that they're willing to share much of that information with the rest of the world and that's precisely what Michael did at this event.

I was the moderator for Michael's webcast and I found myself quickly scribbling down one statistic after another.  He covers a lot of ground in a short period of time and every bit of information is relevant to anyone in the publishing industry.

As I mentioned at the end of the webcast, I need to watch it again to catch the important points I may have missed during the live event.  If you missed this webcast, or if you're like me and you need to watch it again, you can do so via this link.


Recapping the TOC SneakPeek Webcast

Screen shot 2011-06-07 at 9.28.52 AM Earlier this week we held the first of a series of TOC SneakPeek webcasts.  As mentioned earlier, SneakPeeks are an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at publishing startups that are still in pre-release mode.  I'd like to thank the following speakers for their terrific presentations:

Justo Hidalgo, 24symbols

Anna Lewis, ValoBox

Vj Anma, Appitude

Dan Brazelton & Scott Stevens, Tall Chair (Active Reader)

Jason Baptiste, OnSwipe 

If you missed this first SneakPeek you can watch the archived version here.

Also, if you're part of or know of an interesting pre-release publishing tool startup that we might want to consider for a future SneakPeek event, send me an email with the details.


Why I'm Keeping Some of My Print Subscriptions

My iPad is more than a year old and several magazines are available on it, including quite a few I've had print subscriptions to in the past.  So why am I renewing print subscriptions like Businessweek, ESPN The Mag and Wired?

First of all, more and more magazine publishers are starting to realize it makes sense to include free app content access with print subscriptions.  ESPN The Mag was one of the first to do this, although you still won't find all the print content in the app version.  More recently, both Businessweek and Wired jumped on the bandwagon.  The latter is particularly noteworthy since, for the longest time, Wired took a premium pricing approach to their app's content; at first they charged $4.99 per app issue but now I see you can get one month for $1.99 and a full year for $19.99.

That's much more reasonable, but I get the print edition for $10/year, so if they're going to throw in free iPad app content access my best option is to just keep subscribing to print.  I can get a full-year print subscription to Businessweek for $20, including app content access, so it would be foolish to pay $3 per month for the iPad-only subscription.

The Week is another magazine I subscribe to in print.  There's no app option here though.  The Week offers some free content via an iPhone app but you won't find all the print content there.  That's too bad.  I pay $50/year for my print subscription and would pay even more if they'd offer an iPad alternative.

Then there are those magazines that are available in digital format but I've decided to stick with the print subscription instead.  This is mostly because the e-reading experience for those magazines doesn't leverage the digital platform, in some cases offering no more functionality than print.  That's OK if they want to toss that in as a freebie with my print subscription, but don't expect me to pay more for something that's simply a digital rendering of the print product.

I also wish the magazine publishers would start thinking beyond the quick-and-dirty conversion of print to digital and take advantage of the e-reader capabilities.  Rather than just letting me archive issues, which I don't want to because of memory limitations, why not archive just those articles I've read and/or other stories on those topics or companies?  How about gathering information about what I'm reading, creating a profile of me, and offering me more content on those topics, companies or industries?  Or how about partnering with other magazine publishers to open my eyes up to their content, possibly driving a new subscription and creating a finder's fee for the original magazine (e.g., while reading something in Businessweek, include a link to a related article in Time...maybe I'll discover what I'm missing and start a new subscription)?

The bottom line is that I had higher hopes for the shorter-form content model by now.  I'm hard-pressed to point to any one magazine app and say, "yeah, they've really created something special here."  Instead, the Wired's of the world came in and offered the print content in e-format and thought they could charge a lot for it.  I'm glad they've learned that won't work but now I'm hoping they'll start experimenting more, either on their own or jointly with some of their competitors.