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33 posts from August 2007

Five Units a Month?!

Sony_readerThis BusinessWeek article about Sony's ebook reader and the market in general pretty much sums up what everyone has assumed up to now: Sony's device isn't exactly flying off the shelves.  What really got my attention though is the tidbit about a Borders store in midtown Manhattan only selling about five units a month.  In midtown Manhattan?!  I'm guessing that means all the stores in the entire state of Indiana are probably selling anywhere from zero to two units in a good month.

I'm still not sure what I found more troubling: (a) the fact that such a popular store would have such a low sales rate or (b) that the store manager was "very happy" with those results.

It's hard to say what's more to blame for the dismal performance of this device.  You could start with the ridiculously high price.  I tend to believe Sony managed to price themselves out of the early adopter market.  It's one thing to charge an arm and a leg for an iPhone, especially with Apple's insanely loyal fan base, but Sony is no Apple.  Not by a long shot.  And let's face it.  An ebook reader isn't anywhere near as sexy as an MP3 player, regardless of who produces it.  Even if they would have launched with a lower price, the closed system, something Sony is so famous for, has also undoubtedly hurt sales.

Maybe Amazon will get the formula right and prove to the world that ebooks can be a high-volume market.  Longer term, regardless of device price point, closed/open model or overall form factor, there's one critical element that will make or break this segment: the price of the ebook itself.

Generally speaking, there are two schools of thought on this subject.  You either feel the ebook must be priced at a similar level as the print book or that it needs to be significantly less than the print book.  The first group talks about "the value of the intellectual property" and how the latter group is too enamored with fire-sale pricing.

The BusinessWeek article gets it right by suggesting that some significant percentage of book lovers "are just not ready to curl up with a hard plastic screen."  Nobody brings visitors into a special room to show off their CD collection but just about every serious book fan proudly showcases their library.  The pass-along factor is huge as well; I've handed off at least 3 or 4 books I recently read to friends and family who I thought would enjoy reading them as well.  Good luck doing that in the DRM world of ebooks!

Even if a killer device existed today there are far too many cons working against the ebook platform for it to succeed at print book pricing levels.  In fact, if something doesn't change soon, the entire concept of a meaningful ebook sector (as opposed to the rounding error it is in the publishing world today) will be laughed at the same way we all chuckle when we think about the "paperless office."

Does that mean that publishers and authors will have to accept life with significantly lower income levels?  Not necessarily.  The initial transaction price might just be one component.  Advertising, subscriptions and any other reasonable model will have to be considered.  Yes, I know most (all?) of these suggestions run counter to the traditional model of book publishing but the future does indeed belong to those who aren't afraid to tinker with the playing field.  If that sounds like the essence of The Innovator's Dilemma it's only because that book is so appropriate for this topic.

Lori's Executive Recruiter Interview

Crowd_2Former colleague Lori Cates Hand continues doing a great job with her Publishing Careers blog.  In a recent post she interviews Steve Ganz, an executive recruiter who specializes in educational publishing.  In addition to shedding light on the recruiting process Ganz also provides a great list of websites for entry-level candidates.

Btw, although I don't work in the higher-ed side, I agree with Ganz's point about sales reps becoming acq editors.  It's a natural next step, especially in the higher-ed publishing sector.  We don't see it so much in the computer book space, although I've hired a number of new acq editors in the past who had a strong sales background; they typically sold technology products though, not books.

How to Build a Great Companion Website, by John Moore

Tribal_knowledgeI recently started reading Tribal Knowledge by John Moore.  Although I'll follow-up with a more detailed review when I finish the book, I wanted to take a moment now to point out the great companion website John has created for this one.

What's so special about this site?  First of all, I absolutely love the fact that he's got a blog set up to encourage community discussion of each of the 47 "tribal truths" he presents in the book.  Several books have been built around or based off a blog.  Most seem to be an initial framework for the book while this one really lends itself to an ongoing dialog with other readers and the author.  It's a simple idea but well executed in this case.

Next, the author has created what he calls a "tribal knowledge manifesto".  It's a summary of 10 of the 47 truths he covers in the book, a sampler of sorts.  Just about every book has an outline or a sample chapter or two online, but how many authors/publishers take the time to create something with more meat like this?  TOCs and sample chapters are a dime a dozen, but it's a free summary like John's manifesto that can convert a browser into a paying customer.  Well done.

If that's not enough for you, how about a list of the most common books read by Starbucks executives?  There are a few books in there that I hadn't heard of previously but they look pretty interesting.  My need-to-read list is about to get even longer...

P.S. -- Be sure to check out John Moore's blog if you haven't already.

P.P.S. -- Although I used to be a big fan of Starbucks I never liked paying the high prices.  If you're an iced coffee fan and haven't tried the offerings from McDonalds, yes, I said McDonalds, you're missing out.  Two dollars for a bucket of iced coffee that tastes every bit as good as can you go wrong?!  I may have made my last visit to Starbucks.

Scott Karp Gives Up on Bookstores

Books2He says bookstores are becoming obsolete and doesn't see himself visiting another one anytime soon, at least not for his own needs.  It's tempting to do all your book shopping online but I worry about the serendipity factor and the loss of product discoverability.

When I go to an online bookstore it's generally with a purpose in mind. My typical Amazon visit is for a destination purchase, not browsing.  That, or I'm doing some research on the site.  Impulse buys rarely happen for me online.  Comparing the online experience to the brick-and-mortar one, I find the latter to be a mix of destination purchases and impulse buys.

It's so much easier to get lost in the shelves at your local brick-and-mortar.  When was the last time that happened to you on Amazon, for example?  Has it ever happened to you on Amazon?!

Publisher Brands

GenericDo you ever think about particular publishers when you're looking for a book?  If you're like the vast majority of the book buying public this rarely if ever crosses your mind.  You don't care who the publisher is.  You might be interested in the author or maybe the series but publisher names are a lot like record labels; they aren't the primary (or even secondary!) brand on the product.

There's a great summary of this over on The Huffington Post.  One might argue that some of those publisher names/logos on the spine help lend credibility to the book.  I'm not sure I'd even go that far.  Is a book really more valuable, enjoyable or useful just because it comes from one of the big-name publishers?  I can't say there's a direct correlation, or certainly not all of the time.

In reality, the author, series or other element of the book is the brand that's being built and sold.  That makes it harder for some publishers to create a meaningful online presence, but then again, even those publishers can be successful by leveraging their author/series/other brands online.  Wiley is a great example.  Although the name is well-known in the industry, and even by a large number of current/former students, the real brands (and online draws) are For Dummies, Frommer's, etc.

So which model is better: A publisher that is itself a household brand name or a publisher that manages a number of author/series/other brands?  It depends.  It depends on the reach of each of those brands, whether the publisher really owns those brands and whether that ownership is outright or through a licensing deal.  Another factor is the extensibility and expected life of each brand.  Is the brand already maxed out and there are no additional ways to leverage and monetize it?  Is the brand at the end of its expected lifecycle?

So although most publishers themselves aren't brand names in the marketplace, they're still very much involved in brand management with their authors, series and publishing partners.