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31 posts from January 2008

Help Wanted: Sybex Acquisitions Editor

SybexOur group currently has an opening for an acquisitions editor on the Sybex team.  Led by publisher Neil Edde, Sybex has been on the forefront of exciting new publishing ventures including the TestSuccess site we launched last year.  This is also the group that produced the first book on Second Life and is one of the market leaders in the IT certification book market.

If you're interested in hearing more about this position send me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with Neil and our HR department.


"People Don't Read Anymore"

Books2So said Apple's Steve Jobs earlier this week.  I don't doubt the various surveys and reports that show adults are reading fewer books these days, but I would contend that overall, most are reading more content; much of that is online, of course, in the form of articles, blogs, etc.  Using myself as an example, I read about the same number of books per year that I have for the past few years, but I find myself inundated with RSS feeds and other sources that I struggle to keep up with.

Jobs was making the point that it would be silly for Apple to produce an e-book device.  As he put it, "the whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore."  Didn't he also downplay the attractiveness of the cellphone market not too long ago, and then the iPhone appeared?  I'm not suggesting Apple has some e-book device in the works, but it's interesting to look back at these kind of statements.

More importantly, I think any e-book device that is strictly built for books is flawed.  This model needs to focus on content, not books.  While the Kindle is mainly an e-book device, Amazon was smart enough to enable it in other ways so that it can do more than just serve up a digital book.  And that's just Kindle Version 1.0.

Regardless of whether the ultimate market share winner is Amazon, Apple or someone else, this sort of device needs to serve the needs of all content acquisition and consumption, not just books.  Beyond books and magazines, the vision should be that this device is your go-to, read/write tool for blogs and all social networks, for example.  That sounds like a laptop, doesn't it?  Well, if someone can create an ultra-thin laptop with e-ink technology and a great e-content fulfillment service behind it, they might just have something there...


getAbstract Audio

GetabstractThe getAbstract book summary service has saved me a lot of reading time over the past couple of years (see my initial review here).  They also offer audio summaries on a limited number of titles.  I recently decided to download a few and test drive this content delivery option.

The audio summaries are delivered as unprotected MP3 files and I was quickly able to move them to an SD card for my no-frills player.  Each summary is about 5 to 10 minutes long and read by a man and woman combo with pleasant voices.  It's a great way to sit back, close your eyes and focus on what's being said.

The audio option isn't currently offered for the entire getAbstract library, unfortunately.  It looks like they're in the process of creating new recordings though, which will help reinforce their position as the best book summary service available, at least IMHO.


RankTracer Interview with David Mercer

Ranktracer_2I admit it.  I'm addicted to data and I find myself checking Amazon rankings of my group's titles throughout the day...every day.  So when David Mercer offered me the opportunity to test drive his RankTracer service I jumped at the opportunity.  David is the founder of RankTracer and he also agreed to an interview for my blog.  Here's what he had to say about RankTracer:

JW: What is RankTracer all about and who should take a look at it?

DM: RankTracer harvests sales rank information from Amazon (all locales) on a subscription basis. Using the data it collects hourly, it provides a number of services (in the form of graphs, alerts, RSS feeds, sales estimates, statistics, reports and more) aimed at helping people to understand the performance of their products and indeed anyone else's. It is designed to cater for a variety of different audiences, ranging from, but not limited to:

Authors – By and large the bulk of our customers are authors who want to keep a close eye on the day to day happenings of their books.

Editors – Often Editors would like an informed and up-to-date, easily accessible resource to dip into whenever they want to see how their departments titles are performing

Marketers – RankTracer provides fairly fined grained information about how books are selling. Marketers can use this to pick up on subtle effects in order to better place products and pick up on new ideas

Researchers – By tracking a cross section of titles within a given niche, researchers can draw strong conclusions about how to increase product performance

Advertisers – RankTracer is a great tool for measuring the impact of reviews, ads and other campaigns because it helps pinpoint precisely what effects these initiatives have on sales through Amazon

Publishers – For many publishers, Amazon represents a large percentage of their overall sales. RankTracer provides them with a powerful analysis tool for gaining insight into their market on a daily basis.

Manufacturers – We can track virtually any type of product on Amazon – not necessarily books. Anyone who sells anything on Amazon anywhere in the world will find RankTracer useful.

JW: How does your service differ from some of the others out there?

DM: There are a few attributes, outside of what one would normally expect, of RankTracer that we believe set it apart:

Powerful Graphing – RankTracer allows clients to group any combination of products together and compare their sales performance for any time period with a range of different types of graphs.

Sales Estimates – Instead of simply tracking sales ranks and presenting this data, RankTracer uses powerful algorithms to spit out actual Sales figures. This turns the service from an indicator of trends into a solid analysis tool that greatly helps clients' interpretation of their sales ranks.

Support – RankTracer prides itself on diligently answering and helping its clients understand the service and its implications

Trace Credit – RankTracer allows clients to purchase trace credit that saves them time by allowing them to purchase once and then avoid any credit card payments from there on out. This trace credit can be emailed to anyone who can then redeem it against their own purchases. In this way, publishers can provide authors with credit to track their latest books and so on.

Reports – Our most popular feature is the weekly and monthly email reports. Clients can instruct RankTracer to send them a PDF breakdown including statistics, sales figures and graphs along with any review information. This is really useful for people who are tired of having to check our their products' performance manually and repeatedly.

JW: Amazon sales rankings can fluctuate wildly from day to day and even over the course of one day.  I see you have an alert feature -- what alert options are available?

DM: We have two types of alert available:

Review alert – this service seeks to keep clients in the know when it comes to customer feedback. Any time someone writes a review of a product, the review is emailed directly to your inbox along with the product's overall rating and number of reviews

Rank alert – clients may set upper and lower bounds for their sales ranks and RankTracer will email them whenever a bound is broken. This is useful for alerting you if titles have suddenly started selling well – important if you want to find out why this is the case (perhaps a review on Slashdot etc)

JW: What sort of feedback have you received from your existing customers?  Do you have any interesting stories to pass along such as a discovery a customer made and how they wound up acting on that information?

DM: I think one of our great successes that really highlights why having such fine grained information can help went as follows:

A RankTracer client (a small publisher), upon receiving a weekly report noticed a sustained sales increase of about 30% over the course of one week and then the next. After doing some research into this localized increase they discovered that a college in the US had set the title as a recommended reader for a course they were running. The publisher was then able to contact the lecturer and from there set up a completely new relationship going forward. This opportunity would likely have been missed entirely were it not for RankTracer and a bit of research.

The point about this is that without RankTracer to give actual sales estimates, a 30% increase can be very hard to isolate by simply inspecting Amazon. With a bit of effort they managed to set up an entirely new business relationship that is hopefully paying dividends.


JW: How does Amazon feel about RankTracer's use of their data?  Are they supportive?

DM: To be honest, I'm not too sure – I know that they have supported other initiatives that track their data. We did get in touch with them when RankTracer first started out but didn't get a response either way. We ensure that the demands of our service respect the limitations they put on their Webservice and everyone is happy.

JW: Are there any new and interesting features you're currently working on that readers might be interested in?

DM: RankTracer operates an organic development policy. This means that we are open to suggestions for new services from our clients and if we believe that they will be useful to the wider public we go ahead and start setting them up. For example, we have a beta service that allows people to isolate the top 100 best sellers in a given category – this was requested a publisher using our normal service. We are always working to improve things but we never really know whats coming next…


Dog Ear Publishing Interview with Ray Robinson

Dog_ear_publishingThere are quite a few print on demand options out there to choose from, so how can you go about narrowing things down to the best one?  My advice is pretty simple: Do your homework.  Ask questions.  Research the heck out of it and check references.  Actually, that's the same advice I'd suggest for an author who's making a choice between two or more traditional publishers.

I'd like to think I've done some of the homework for you on one option, Dog Ear Publishing.  Ray Robinson is one of the founding partners of Dog Ear.  I've known Ray for many years, going way back to when he was the computer book buyer at Waldenbooks.  When I heard that he is running an on-demand publishing organization I asked him if he'd be willing to do an interview for my blog.  He graciously agreed and offered the following insight:

JW: What are the key services Dog Ear Publishing offers?

RR: Back in another lifetime (2005 to be exact - a lifetime in technology) Tim O'Reilly wrote in his blog about self-publishers changing the world of publishing. Dog Ear wants to do that - and we offer service designed to allow authors to take advantage of truly targeted, cost effective, professional publishing of their works. We bring authors the opportunity to deliver their product to their customers one book at a time. We perform all aspects of the publishing process from copyediting to book design and production, through printing, fulfillment and marketing. We bring authors the opportunity to monetize their knowledge and provide a delivery vehicle to the end user for their content.

JW: There are a variety of on-demand and self-publishing operations out there.  What is that you feel distinguishes Dog Ear from the others?

RR: Dog Ear is the only self publisher rooted in the professional / traditional publishing market - we've built hundreds of books for traditional publishers - Wiley, Pearson, Harper Collins, Thomson, and many more. We bring expertise learned over years in the publishing industry to each of our authors' books. Dog Ear is also the only self publisher offering a financially viable model for self published authors - our costs are designed to allow our authors to sell books - slightly higher up-front costs are more than offset by our significantly lower printing costs and higher profit margins. Dog Ear was the original self publishing company (and only one other exists today) to pay authors 100% of the profit from book sales  - virtually all self publishing companies pay royalties, but all we really do, after the initial services are performed, is print books. Why should they reap a greater reward based on retail price point? We all have a fixed cost of printing (in almost all cases, we all pay the exact same price for printing!)  - it's only fair that we charge a reasonable print cost - not take a royalty from the sale.


JW: Based on the contents of this page on your website, you're pretty up-front about the lower prices and better package features you're able to offer your customers.  How are you able to do so much at such a low price?

RR: First is efficiency - we've spent years creating processes and proprietary systems to build books. Each of our production team members can produce far more than any other production team in our industry. See my answer to the second question above - we've done this for a long time. Second - if you look at many articles (even back to Tim O'Reilly's from '05) most of our competitors average 'per book' units sales is somewhere south of 50 units. Ours is over 10 times as many. Dog Ear Publishing authors sell books - and while we take a much smaller per unit profit than any of our competitors, there is still profit in each sale. Many of our authors come back for 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th books. So far our record is 7 books from one author. There are competitors that offer much cheaper pricing for their services - you'll see that I always tie book sales / purchases into my comparisons. If an author doesn't want to or believe they can sell more than 150 copies of their book - then we aren't even close to the least expensive option. Dog Ear is focused on authors with a longer term focus on selling books at a larger profit.

JW: What advice would you offer the prospective author who is currently trying to make the choice between a traditional publisher and an on-demand one like Dog Ear?

RR: If an author has an initial desire to see a traditional publishers logo on their book - then we always recommend they try the agent / traditional publisher route first. Self publishing caters very very nicely to authors who are focused on total control, have a targeted product with a defined market, who desire a greater profit - AND are willing to assume the risk of publishing themselves. Self published authors must be capable of handling a large portion of their own marketing - Dog Ear offers a number of targeted, technical, marketing programs - all designed to supplement the author's efforts. Here's an article on why to self publish on the Dog Ear site.

If you've decided to go the self publishing route - whether as your first choice or after exploring the traditional route - there are some things you should do, and they are fully explained in an article I wrote for Writing-World.com.

We have a number of authors who have been offered the chance to go 'traditional' after successfully self publishing their books. All but one chose to continue self publishing - the profit picture was so much stronger. To be sure, all of these books would be considered 'second' or even 'third' tier titles at a traditional house (they all sell less than 2,500 units a year), but with self publishing these authors are taking home $15-$20K per year, vs what would probably be only hundreds of dollars if they were in the traditional model.

JW: Where do you see the book publishing market heading in the next several years?  Are on-demand publishers likely to carve out a larger share and will it be at the expense of traditional publishers?

RR: Self publishers will never replace traditional houses - we can't compete with the money and power brought by large profitable product lines and best-sellers. It's evident now that POD has a place even in traditional publishing models. Dog Ear's goal is to attack niche, targeted markets - markets that may be too disparate for a large organization to reach effectively as well as provide an alternative resource for authors unable to find (or unwilling to search for) representation in the traditional market. Our goal will never be to deliver large quantities of printed products to bookstores and have them pushed on to bookshelves - it isn't effective or efficient, really, even for the best-selling titles. Our approach is to create truly professional product, with a realistic cost structure, that is promoted and delivered directly to the consumers most likely to need and purchase the product.

I see the industry moving in two simultaneous directions - best-selling books will become even more 'mega-bestsellers', but fewer and fewer of them will exist. The secondary and tertiary titles will continue to drop in unit sales via traditional brick-and-mortar outlets. Self publishing companies and independent publishers will fill this niche more frequently as more authors realize that the profit is greater - delivering product either direct to the end consumer or via the online retailers. All done one book at a time in many cases - printed as needed.

As an example - an author can profitably publish a book through Dog Ear in most cases by selling around 500 units - even counting those sold through distribution like Amazon.