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41 posts from June 2007

I See Dead People('s Agents)...

HeadstoneI always wondered what went on in the building across the street.  I heard it was a celebrity agency but I never bothered confirming the rumor.  People come and people go, most in nice, expensive sports cars.

Maybe I'm the last one to figure it out, but it turns out Wiley's neighbor across the street isn't just a celebrity agency...they are "the premier company...representing families and estates of deceased celebrities."  The names include many of the bobbleheads I have in my office: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Vince Lombardi and many more.

The agency's name is CMG Worldwide and their main office is right across the street from Wiley's office here in Indianapolis.  Who'd a thunk it?  Some days I'm probably stuck in traffic behind Lou Gehrig's agent!

HarperCollins Article


Here's an interesting article about HarperCollins president & CEO, Jane Friedman, and her thoughts on the future of the business.  Here's what I thought was the most interesting excerpt:

Today she says, "We are back where we belong.  Publishing is not only best sellers -- in fact, best sellers may be the least fiscally responsible way to go.  So we...[spend] a great deal of our time on the backlist.  Obviously we have lots of best sellers...but the mix is what is very important, and the backlist is a significant part of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Book Business magazine site didn't include the sidebar piece that appeared in the print version.  It's about Brian Murray, group president for HarperCollins Publishers and it featured brief summaries of many of the initiatives currently underway at HarperCollins.  For example, here's what he had to say about widgets:

The widgets are kind of a relatively new term, and you see lots of widgets cropping up on the Internet for different uses. ...  We wanted a widget so that it would be so easy for people to cut, copy and paste their favorite HarperCollins book onto their computer desktops or their MySpace pages.  If you click on the widget, it launches the Browse Inside reader and you can sample the book.

Despite the fact that HarperCollins doesn't have a technology publishing arm they've been one of the pioneers in the use of widgets for their products.  I admire what they've done so far and hope they'll continue to experiment even more in the future.

O'Reilly TOC Conference, Day Two, by Neil Edde

Toc_3If you thought he did a great job summarizing the first day of O'Reilly's TOC conference, wait till you read Sybex publisher Neil Edde's summary of day number two:

Forgot to mention Jimmy Wales' keynote from yesterday, titled "Free Culture". Was little more than a presentation about his latest venture, Wikia. Basically, if Wikipedia is a stripmine--wide but shallow--then Wikia is an oilwell--narrow but deep. At least in theory. Worth checking out the website if you haven't already. Apparently, it's on a similar 2-year growth trajectory as Wikipedia was four years ago, so he's predicting similar success. The vision is to make all human knowledge available for free. Right now, however, it's a site where you can find 14,000+ articles on the Muppets and 35,000 articles on World of Warcraft. Very heavily weighted toward geek culture. Was interesting how he kept coming back to the possibility of wiki-generated content evolving to the point where you could gather it into a traditional book format and sell it.

As for today's keynotes and sessions...

The first keynote was by Dale Dougherty, Editor of Make magazine, in praise of traditional print formats. An interesting insight into the creator of Make, but little more. He did make one point about the advantage to customers that books & magazines offer over digital media, and that's the fact that customers get a greater sense of possession from holding them in their hands. Basically, the "I own it" case for print. Interesting point. Even with e-readers, I think there's always going to be an ephemeral feeling about digital content, like you're only one click away from a corrupted or deleted file that you'll never be able to access again (unless you buy it again).

The second speaker was Manolis Kelaidis (not "Manolo" as a number of attendees called him during Q&A). You can find his bio on the web site, but the key point was that he's been doing graduate work on building a best-of-both-worlds book, one that has pages and reads and feels like a book, but also has underlying hyperlinks that can call up images, songs, or other digital content on your computer through. He used conductive ink and underlying circuitry that connected to a processor at the back of the book. You can see pictures on Tim O's posting on O'Reilly Radar. All interesting from a scientific perspective (like something out of Popular Science), but I was skeptical about the practical applications. Apparently, however, I was the only skeptic in the room, as he received a standing ovation and everyone was gushing about his "magical" creation. Whatever. His discussion about conductive inks and flexible circuit boards, however, was pretty cool.

Final keynote was by John Ingram. This was nothing more than a sales pitch for Ingram Digital and I said as much in my conference survey. ;-)

First full session was on Next Generation Web Publishing. Speaker was Jason Hunter, Chief Technologist at Mark Logic, developers of an XML server. He gave an interesting review of the 10 key trends he feels are underlying much of the interest in Web 2.0 technologies:

1)  Customers want answers, not links
2)  Publishers need to make their content "sweat"
3)  Content needs to be contextual
4)  Google, Google, Google
5)  User participation in content creation and delivery
6)  Promise/potential for personalized access to content
7)  Promise/potential for leveraging structured content
8)  Need to enrich existing content (add structure)
9)  Content analytics
10) Need for agility

More on these after I get the session slides...

(Fellow Wiley attendee) Debra Hunter asked a great question at the end of this session; essentially, what kind of content developers stand to make the most money by embracing XML? The short answer--those with the most specialized content serving specialized customers who have complex content access requirements. The speaker was put on the spot by this because O'Reilly has clearly embraced it and is rolling out a ton of unique content delivery options, but the speaker seemed to feel that the real winners would be publishers who had truly unique, authoritative content serving an audience who couldn't or wouldn't rely on simple Google searches for information, but who needed quick access to critical information--pathologists, for example, who would be willing to pay good money for a digitized diagnostic tool. The unspoken contrast to this would be O'Reilly, who certainly possesses authoritative content, but has to compete with all the information readily available on the web that might be deemed "good enough" by an individual, one who would take "good enough" for free before paying for authoritative.

Last session was by Derek Powazek about community-oriented web sites--Flickr, etc. Interesting but not particularly noteworthy. The session I was planning on attending--How is Reading Evolving?--was canceled, so I went to this one instead.

So there you have it...a peek inside the TOC conference from a publishing executive.  How about a big hand for our guest blogger, Neil Edde!  If you know Neil, help me nudge him into starting his own publishing blog.  He's a natural!

O'Reilly TOC Conference, Day One, by Neil Edde

Toc_2Sybex publisher Neil Edde is our "man on the scene" for O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing conference.  He filed this report for the first day of keynotes/sessions:

Keynote #1: Retooling HarperCollins for the 21st Century. Brian Murray--Group President, HarperCollins.

I'm assuming the point of this one was "here's what a big dinosaur publishing company is doing in response to Web 2.0". Synopsis: HC was woefully behind the curve five years ago, then conducted some customer research that led them to conclude that they'd better get with the whole digital content program. But their goal was, and still is, to control the entirety of their "digital warehouse." The logic was, if publishers control their own physical inventory, why shouldn't they control their digital inventory. So they set out to create a digital parallel to their physical warehouse/archive. Seemed logical at first, but he failed to acknowledge that once a publisher ships books out of their warehouse, the retailers and other distributors assume "control" of the inventory. And he never really addressed the whole "multiple platform" issue that's posing many challenges in the digital realm. I can only assume that they're converting their content to XML or some other industry standard, but he never stated this explicitly. Struck me as more of a "rights" control than a "content" control approach. The speaker's tone was genial enough, but there was a clear anti-Google / anti-piracy undercurrent to the talk.

Keynote #2. FREE. The Economics of Abundance and the Price of Zero--Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief, Wired Magazine.

A preview of his forthcoming book titled (surprise!) "FREE". Says it won't be out until late 2008, however, which made me wonder if anything he discussed would still be relevant then. Anyway... His argument was based on the premise that as the costs for underlying resources (in the case of publishing, production costs) trend toward zero, customers perceptions of value change, and thus publishers have to rethink pricing, etc. Chris is obviously a smart guy, but I didn't find his ideas for "giving his book away" to be particularly revolutionary. Examples: free audio book for purchasers of physical book; free e-books with embedded advertising; page-view e-books on web site with in-frame advertising; sponsored books (e.g., custom branded books for corporate buy-backs). He did acknowledge that his goals (self-promotion) often diverged from those of his publisher and retailers (profit), predicting (accurately, I believe) that communication between authors and publishers about how to reconcile these divergent goals will be more critical as this becomes more apparent to more people in publishing. (Again, nothing too new there, but valid nonetheless.) Chris is a firm believer in the long-term viability of good, old-fashioned book publishing, as he sees the book as ""he last physical media product that makes sense" (in its current form, as opposed to a digital equivalent). I sensed some resentment toward publishers for not providing enough promotional and marketing support (never hear that before,eh?), but he did acknowledge that new tools available to authors (blogs mostly) helped mitigate some of this problem. His session on "Getting More (A Lot More) Out of Marketing with Authors" was mostly an elaboration on the power of blogging.

Session #1: Beyond the Book: Online Content Distribution for BookPublishers--Allen Noren, Online Marketing, O'Reilly.

This was mostly a review of O'Reilly's e-publishing initiatives, including Safari, Short Cuts, chapter sales, e-books, etc. Nothing you can't find by reviewing their web site. One interesting thing he pointed out was their partnership with the Copyright Clearance Center, which I understood to be a way of expediting content licensing for custom publications. Sounded like a new venture for them, so he didn't have much to say about the success of the program to date. The whole "modularization" and "chunking" theme came up in this session (and in a few other sessions as well), the point being that publishers can no longer rely on a one-size fits all content delivery model. "Searchability" and "discoverability" were also big buzz words.

Session #2: Getting More (A Lot More) Out of Marketing with Authors. Chris Anderson & Marci Alboher.

See note above. In part a call-to-arms for authors to blog more; in part a bitch session about how poorly some publishers serve the promotional needs/desires of their authors.

Session #3: Gadgetopia: What New Hardware Offers Publishers--Paul Michelman and Bill Damon,  Harvard Business School Press; Paul Calento, InfoWorld Media.

A disappointing session. Most of the focus was on small mobile devices (iPhone in particular) and what type of content is suitable for this format. Sounded promising, but it was mostly a gadget lovefest. Only interesting takeaway was the claim that people in Europe and Asia are already buying a lot of content (print, video, audio) for mobile devices. Question is, will that trend make its way across the Atlantic and Pacific respectively.

Session #4. Social Software. Gavin Bell, Nature Publishing.

An interesting review of site such as MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, etc., and what possibilities there are for publishers and authors to tap into this trend. Wasn't about doing anything specific with any of these sites, but more about using their business models as ways of building communities. One interesting idea put forth was allowing customers to create personal profile pages on your web site and thereby elicit direct customer input while also gathering customer data for later analysis.

Neil was just summarizing his thoughts from today's sessions, so I'll do my best to pull them together in a post tonight or tomorrow morning...

Fake Blogs

Shadow_3As a general rule I absolutely hate anonymous blogging.  If you've got something to say, say it and don't hide behind some veil of secrecy.

So although I don't like them, I have to admit that sometimes they can be pretty darned funny.  In this particular case, we're talking about comedy talents that are far superior to what you'd typically see on TV, although I admit that's setting the bar rather low.

What am I talking about?  Mary Jo Foley recently did a funny short post called So many Fake Steves so little time.  It's about the fake Steve Jobs blog, which I've been reading for a couple of weeks now as well as the recently-launched fake Steve Ballmer one which I discovered through Mary Jo's post.  (Btw, can't you just picture someone at Microsoft saying, "hey, that fake Steve Jobs blog is getting way too much publicity...we need to start a fake Ballmer one!")

If the authors of these blogs aren't already in the comedy writing industry they need to consider a career change!