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More Publishing Model Tinkering

As you’ve seen in some of my earlier posts, I’m a big advocate of trying new publishing models. (For example, see the lively discussion we had about an alternate publishing model.) That’s why I was so excited to see Naba Barkakati’s latest post on The Future of Computer Books.

Naba’s description reminds me of an experiment I tried a few years ago called “The Unlimited Edition”. Books in this program had a website where the authors posted additional chapters as the topic evolved. It enabled us to extend the book long after copies rolled off the presses. The experiment unfortunately didn’t generate much enthusiasm, despite there being no cost to the customer.

The Unlimited Edition was tested prior to the popularity of blogs and RSS feeds. Were we ahead of our time? Should we take another crack at this, as Naba suggests on his blog? Are there any other features that could be added to this to turn it into a killer idea?

Take a peek at Naba’s idea and contribute to the thinking…

Comments

Alex Givant

Take a look on http://longtail.typepad.com/the_long_tail and http://www.smartmobs.com

Both are book/article extention.

James

SourceBeat has something like this, check it out: http://www.sourcebeat.com

Brad Hill

I was not aware of "The Unlimited Edition," which sounds interesting, and I'm sorry it didn't work out. I wonder what you mean by "didn't generate much enthusiasm," and what that assessment might reveal about how we instinctively approach intellectual property. Were you hoping to sell more books, and didn't? Were you disappointed with site traffic as an independent metric? Was the underlying intent to enhance brand? Move product? Create a different sort of product with different criteria of success?

My experience has been that publishers really don't understand the online space, and rely on authors to manage brand extension for them. At least, that's the tack I have taken after multiple frustrations.

When I wrote the first edition of "Internet Directory For Dummies," which was the flagship of a new format style, I pleaded with IDG to recognize the true nature and potential of the project: an online product first, with the book as added value. At the very least, I strenuously argued, we should mount a corresponding online directory so that book owners wouldn't have to type its 1,000 URLs into their browsers manually. At best, *over the years*, the continually updated online directory could become an important destination by itself: a portal to a Dummies-branded Internet experience. Astoundingly, at the time Dummies had scant online presence. I was well positioned in CompuServe and MSN to get a Dummies-branded portal sponsored by either service, and was also in favor of doing it independently. I offered to build and host the thing myself. But in this case and others during the pre-Wiley years, I encountered a level of timidity one might normally associate with leaping off a cliff into boulder-strewn shallow waters.

Look at Dummies.com. Why is this site--the primary online branding effort of the book series--not a bustling community of authors and readers keeping information current? I suggested this to the right people before anyone (including me) knew about blogs, proposing standard message boards to build author-reader relationships and keep information current. Not every author would cooperate, but man, many of us answer so much reader mail from people who expect us to provide ongoing assistance, why not make the process public? Years later, it remains grievous to me that Dummies.com is so static, unhelpful, contrary to the personal tone of the books, and inferior to dozens of resources that don't remotely have the level of contracted expertise that Wiley does. I've written a pile of Dummies books, and enjoy friendly relationships right up the ladder. During my 10 years of authorship in this series, no effort has ever been made to recruit me in a branded online relationship with readers.

Here is what every publisher must realize: the Internet is about relationships. It is not about selling content. Putting sales before relationships might seem safe, but it is dangerously putting the cart before the horse. It's very hard for a large, incremental-product merchant to grok this, and realize its value. But look! We're discussing this on a blog. You, I, and other busy individuals are investing time here because of its pleasures, and because we suppose, though we can't say exactly how, it will foster success.

On Naba's blog I made the point that authors should take the initiative online, and stop waiting for their publishers. I won't repeat my argument here, but I stand by it. I think the author-publisher partnership is best served by authors assuming responsibility for extending their personal brand into this realm. Everyone benefits.

Naba Barkakati

Brad makes a good point about authors taking the initiative. I could offer online updates to my books at a Web site (without requiring registration) and that may help improve the sales. Now that I finally got to writing a blog, I can see myself offering and maintaining some online information, but, as I was saying to Brad, the site would have to have an RSS feed :-)

Joe Wikert

Hi Brad. Selling more books wasn’t my #1 goal with the Unlimited Edition, although it certainly was in the back of my mind. What I really wanted to do was to see if we could generate a good deal of traffic, then see where things lead. After all, I figured this content was free, so why wouldn’t readers visit the site? Unfortunately, traffic levels were very small. I don’t recall the numbers offhand, but I would estimate that less than 2 or 3% of all the book buyers wound up visiting the site. Again, this is for free add-on material to the printed book. As Naba points out, maybe we need to revisit the idea with more of a push approach via RSS.

You also make some interesting observations about the dummies.com site. I’m going to see if I can have one of my colleagues from that group chime in on this discussion.

Finally, you raise a good point about pushing for authors to take the lead online. I say that not because I’m trying to pass the buck, but because often the author can be more nimble and pro-active on some of these items. I’d be the first to admit that an author on their own can turn on a dime a lot faster than a publishing company can. That said, I still plan to do as many experiments like this as possible in my own group.

Evan Erwin

I think a lot of this discussion has to do with what book types we're talking about and how best (and how much) to put that information online.

For example, The Red Couch is essentially going to be the barometer for online collaborative writing and subsequent publishing. I guarantee that's being watched like a hawk, particularly when they finish it and move on to publicity. That site alone should generate the amount of buzz and content exposure that causes the consumer to wonder why every tech book isn't doing the same.

Nowadays anyone can get a blog for free and in 15 minutes or less. So with that said an official blog outlet for a book seems like the right choice to me, or else have a clear and concise point for the consumer to reach the author's site/blog so they can interact and respond to their work.

I agree Dummies.com is a disappointment and a clear case of Missing The Boat.

Steve Hayes

Hi Brad & Evan (and Joe and everyone else!):

Thanks for the comments on Dummies.com. It's a site like about every other site online -- it's an ongoing work in progress. I think if there's one thing we've not done a great job of in yellow & black land is pushing the expertise of our authors and using that expertise to promote the brand. We've tended to put brand first and authors second. In this market, that strategy is not always the best way to build an audience for your books.

Your recommendations on using Dummies.com to fill that gap are worth passing on and I'll make sure they, once again, get to the "right people." Personally I'm a message board junkie and obviously am diving into the blog fad(?) with some fervor. Seeing Dummies.com catch up with the times would be an exciting thing to me and my world. I think we'd be far from 100% participation, but I know we'd have a lot of authors (Brad, Marsha Collier, etc.) who'd love to have a place to communicate to and with readers.

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