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25 posts from February 2008

Wiki Contributor Compensation Challenges

MoneyAs the Wikipedia and other great wiki-based resources continue to evolve, the question of contributor compensation always seems to come up eventually.  Should contributors be paid?  If so, how much?  How would you effectively track the system?  Why would someone want to contribute for free?

The open source software development world has dealt with these questions for many years now and it continues to thrive.  Even commercially successful companies like Red Hat have figured out how to build an effective business model around the work of contributors, so there's no reason to expect the content world would be much different.

I recently came across this excellent summary by Evan Prodromou, co-founder of the popular Wikitravel site.  Evan does a fantastic job of explaining his point of view and why he believes that paying contributors is a bad idea.  I think the two most important aspects of this are openness and reinvestment in the community, both of which Evan summarizes quite effectively.

HSE's School Board Debacle

Dunce_corner_2Here's an excellent lesson in transparency and one that bloggers in particular should appreciate.  Earlier this week the HSE School Board decided to fire Superintendent Concetta Raimondi.  This event occurred approximately six months after the same board voted unanimously to not only extend Raimondi's contract but give her a raise as well.  The cost to taxpayers: $266K.  So while valuable school programs are being trimmed across the state, these knuckleheads decide to waste more than a quarter million dollars of taxpayer money.  Nice.

But the real lesson in all of this isn't so much the waste and indecisiveness as how the message was delivered and continues to be delivered.  I think the Indy Star's recent editorial summed it up quite well.  When Raimondi's contract was extended back in August, Board President Jeff Sturgis was quoted as saying, "We're very pleased with her performance in maintaining the standard of excellence that we have come to expect at Hamilton Southeastern."  The day Raimondi was fired however, Sturgis noted how the board has become more "seasoned and decisive" since last August.  Gee, I wonder what new direction we can expect this board to take six months from now after they're even more "seasoned."

There's all sorts of speculation about the real reason Raimondi was terminated but the board isn't saying much.  The decision to fire her was made by the board in a secret closed-door session that morning.  Now that the board is feeling the pressure from the community's reaction ("puzzled and infuriated") they're following up that first closed-door session with another one today "to clarify their reasoning."

Are you kidding me?!  They need to meet behind closed doors to clarify their reasoning?  Is there some reason why they didn't do that earlier in the week, before they fired this Superintendent?!  This situation just keeps going from bad to worse.

Even if the board could suddenly stop their waffling and avoid any additional embarrassing decisions, they now have the task of filling an open Superintendent's position.  This begs the question: What qualified candidate would ever want to work for such an awful board, one that could reward you one day and then fire you for no viable reason six months later?  I'd have to question that candidate's judgment skills.  Seriously, it reminds me of that old Groucho Marx line, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member."

What an unfortunate situation for this community to find itself in.  I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't voted in a board election for several years, so I have myself to blame.  That will change though as I am committed to voting out all the incumbents in the next election.

Author Interview with Julie Young

Books2_2I recently had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Julie Young, a local author and blogger with one book under her belt (A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guerin) and another coming out shortly (Images of America: Historic Irvington).  Julie is a PR machine and I thought it would be fun to do a blog interview with her so she could share some of her experience and techniques.  Here's what she had to say:

JW: How did you wind up getting involved in your first book project, A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guerin?

JY: As cheesy as it sounds, I didn't choose the subject, I honestly believe that the subject chose me. I was a beginning student at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College planning on a career in professional writing when I went to visit the place where Saint Theodora (Mother Theodore) was buried. I was so worried that my college education would take at least "100 years" to complete, so I asked her if she would help me get through it, I would somehow give it all back to her. Silly me, I thought I would just write a check, but I guess she had other plans for my talent. After I graduated, I knew I wanted to make the jump and write a book, but I knew I needed a good idea to attract a publisher's interest. I thought back to Mother Theodore and it was like a lightning bolt. I researched to see how many books had been written on her and found that there weren't too many and certainly not from a lot of people outside of the convent community or someone that they had commissioned, so I knew I stood a chance. I submitted the proposal to two publishers before it was accepted and thanks to Mother Theodore's canonization, I was really in the right place at the right time to write the first all new biography on Indiana's first Catholic Saint!

JW: When we spoke earlier you mentioned all the various marketing and PR efforts you've been involved with for that book.  A lot of authors unfortunately feel their job is done when they submit the last batch of manuscript.  What are some of the things you've done to help raise awareness and spark interest in your book?

JY: As I mentioned when we met, I have a music background so I know all too well that it is simply not enough to produce something, but you have to promote it in order to get people behind it! My children will tell you that I bring up my career to anyone who will stand still long enough because I am a shameless self-promoter...but really, you have to be. You are not a publisher's only author, the world doesn't revolve around you so you have to be willing to write the press releases and appear at signings, and let people know what you are up to. It is vital to your success...also, as a reporter, I am predisposed to know all of my "angles." I knew that this was a book that would appeal to a variety of people whether they were Catholic, history buffs, teachers or kids studying Indiana history. Mother Theodore was also someone who had an impact all over the state, not just in one location making her matter to a lot more people. I want the events to be successful, and I never forget for two seconds that they are doing me a huge favor by having me out to their shop. I will create posters that they can pass out, I contact media myself (because often times people forget) I always have a postcard on hand or a copy of the book so that I can tell people about it. Heck, I even gave a speech at a local high school for career day and met a woman whose father was well-positioned in the Catholic school system in Lafayette. That connection led to an all-day signing. You never know what opportunity might turn up so you have to be ready and not rely on someone else!

JW: Your next book, Images of America: Historic Irvington, is scheduled to publish this summer.  How did this book project compare to your first one?  Did you learn any tidbits along the way that you'd like to share with other authors out there?

JY: My goodness...this book was definitely different in a lot of ways. This book relied heavily on historic photographs and I discovered that there weren't a lot of those even though I was initially told there were "thousands." Those images were already published and unfortunately, not everyone understood that you just can't "borrow" from other sources arbitrarily. I even had one guy who gave me several really nice photos that belonged to the Indiana Historical Society, but he "Walgreened" them and cut off the Collection numbers. Thank goodness I recognized a few of them, but it is a good lesson. To be thought of as a professional, do your homework because saying "I didn't know" after the fact will not stop any entity from suing you when their material is used without permission.

JW: You're also involved in the IUPUI Continuing Studies Program as an instructor for creative and freelance writing.  What are some of the lessons you've learned from your first two book projects that you've been able to pass along to your students?  How have those book projects helped you as an instructor?

JY: As a relatively new author, I have fallen into the same trap that a lot of people fall into when they are starting out...they want someone to show them the Secret to Publishing or to tell them some tip that is going to change everything. I was the same way and I make no bones about that to my students. I also quickly let them know that there are no shortcuts. Even though I would love to say that my books have garnered me all kinds of accolades and people are tripping all over themselves to represent me...I am constantly telling my students that it is no different for me than it is anyone is like that old song "Even when you get some recognition, everything you do, you still audition."

I often tell students that it is important to understand all that is expected of you...take the time to read things carefully because even though we are so excited about a book or an article or just seeing our name in print, now is not a time to be sloppy about our work and what we are giving up. That is probably the single biggest tidbit. Some other things to think about are: neatness counts, be flexible, take criticism, rejection is not always a bad thing (you can get some really great advice in the process) and above all, do not expect to become J.K. Rowling overnight.

JW: Your background includes an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, a stop every author would love to make.  What's the story behind that unique experience?

JY: The Oprah Experience was the moment that I used as a stepping stone to launch what would become my career. I was selected (along with nine others) to be guests on the Book Club show to discuss Elizabeth Berg's Open House. I thought to myself "If I wrote a letter good enough to get on Oprah, what else could I do?" Elizabeth has become someone I am friendly with and she has been instrumental in helping me get started and encouraging me. At her last signing, I was thrilled when she looked out into the audience and said "Oh look, Julie's here!" Being on Oprah was the chance of a lifetime, but who knows, maybe one day I will give a repeat performance, only this time as the author!

Paying More for Less

100_calorieYou're undoubtedly familiar with the 100 calorie pack snack boxes popping up all over the local grocery store.  They're aimed at people who are either unwilling or unable to measure out the right amount of cookies, crackers, etc., for a small snack.  I'm not critical of these people.  After all, I'm one of them.  I've bought several of these darned things over the past couple of months and I keep asking myself the same question: Why?

The answer is convenience and conscience, at least for me.  It's easy to quickly grab one of these while sitting down to read or watch TV, but these packages also make me feel less guilty.  For some stupid reason I feel more healthy when I'm snarfing down one of these, even if it's my second one in a row!  It's totally a mind game but I'm obviously not alone as these things can now be found up and down the snack aisles.  No matter how "healthy" I feel when buying and eating these, I feel like a real chump when I realize that I'm paying more per bite or calorie than I'd pay if I just bought the regular package of Goldfish or Chips Ahoy.  I'm paying the manufacturer a premium to put less of their product into each package I buy.

What in the world does this have to do with books, content or publishing?  I think there's a lesson in this and it has to do with value proposition and convenience.  You could argue it all started many years ago with CliffsNotes; they delivered the core theme and other summary characteristics of a great book in fewer pages and therefore at a per-page price that's higher than the original work.  We all bought them for the convenience though.  Yes, they provided expert insight into the literary classics, but they also served as a great enabler for procrastinators around the world (myself included).  The CliffsNotes brand is about to turn 50 years old(!) and while those yellow and black products are still as useful as ever, you'll also find summary products from companies like getAbstract and Soundview Executive Book Summaries.  Even though both of these services deliver less content, you're paying for the convenience of getting the gist of the book without having to invest all the hours reading it.  It's an excellent value proposition and it works well for plenty of customers (again, myself included, at least for certain titles).

After listening to Brian Clark's free summary report for Teaching Sells the other night, I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say.  Rather than chasing the tiny slivers of income represented by free, ad-supported content, why not take a closer look at premium paid content aimed at a smaller number of customers?  I'm not suggesting anyone abandon free, ad-supported content, but I tend to believe many of us have become far too infatuated with it; it's easy to get distracted by that model and lose sight of the potential for premium content that a much smaller target audience is willing to pay for.

Part of that solution probably includes some form of summary content.  After all, time is indeed money and I think customers are willing to pay a premium for convenience and time-savers, perhaps now more than ever.  So the next time you see one of those 100 calorie snack packs in your local grocery store, think about how this might apply to your business.

The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform, by Stephanie Chandler

Authors_guide_to_online_platformI've dedicated a number of posts and comments to the subject of author platform.  See for yourself in the results of this Google search.  Rather than sifting through all those posts though, I recently discovered a book that does a far better job of explaining the ins and outs of this important topic.

Stephanie Chandler wrote an excellent book called The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform.  The good news is that she covers every aspect of building your platform and, as the subtitle states, "Leveraging the Internet to Sell More Books."  The bad news is that the book isn't available till 5/31.  I got my hands on a pre-release review copy and found it to be extremely thorough and helpful.  (Even though the book isn't available today you could certainly pre-order it now so that it will arrive as soon as it's published.)

The author has fantastic credentials: She opened her own bookstore in Sacramento back in 2003, is the founder of BusinessInfoGuide, an online resource center for entrepreneurs and she authored two books prior to this one.  In short, she's seen the business from just about every angle.  In addition to telling you what's likely to work best for you, she also shares some of the things that haven't worked for her (e.g., in-store book signings).  The book includes insight from other authors as well.  Stephanie did a nice job sprinkling in interviews with several authors to get their tips and techniques.  Thanks to this book I discovered a few websites and resources I hadn't heard of before and I plan to research them in the coming days; I'll be sure to report back on the ones that stand out the most.

If you're looking for a one-stop resource for author platform and maximizing online sales, be sure to check this one out.

Teaching Sells: What Can You Get for $1 These Days?

Teaching_sells_2Brian Clark is the brains behind Copyblogger, one of the most insightful marketing-related blogs on the planet.  Given Brian's marketing background, it's no surprise that he's pretty good when it comes to clever promotional ideas.

Brian has a multi-course training program on how to create membership websites that sell.  It's called Teaching Sells and it usually costs $97 per month to access the entire program, but Brian is currently offering a 7-day sneak peak to the entire series for one dollar.  This reminds me of the Suze Orman free e-book experiment on Oprah last week; it's a model that can work, assuming you're able to generate the buzz required to spark sufficient interest in long-term paying customers.

Still not convinced and unwilling to part with your precious dollar?  Why not sign up for Brian's free 22-page summary report and see if that changes your mind.  It's available as both a PDF and an MP3 file, so you can listen to it on your iPod if you prefer.  The free report talks about whether blogging is dead or not, why you should forget the "long tail" and how the true power of the Internet is being missed.  I'm going to grab a copy right now...

Wikitravel Press

Wikitravel_pressWikitravel is just what you'd expect: a wiki that's loaded with travel information provided by contributors from around the world.  What's somewhat new and interesting though is the Wikitravel Press, a print-on-demand (POD) alternative for Wikitravel content.  Launched earlier this month, the Press currently only offers a couple of destination titles (Chicago and Singapore) but I'm sure plenty more will be available shortly.  Lulu is the POD provider for this service and this is the second time I've stumbled across a Lulu project in the past couple of days.

One of the key benefits Wikitravel Press touts is the fact that all of their guides will be updated every month.  That's one of the true benefits of POD, right?  You get to refresh the material on an as-needed basis and I could see where travel content would benefit greatly from this flexibility.

It's interesting to see the various ways wiki content can be further distributed and monetized.  As I mentioned in this earlier post, I think there's a huge opportunity for someone to add a new distribution model to the wikipedia itself.

Borders Personal Publishing

Borders_personal_publishingThe first Borders concept store has been open about a week now and I wanted to take a look at one service that's part of their new "digital center" feature.  Borders is partnering with Lulu on an initiative they're calling "Personal Publishing."  If you consider visibility and distribution two of the key challenges in the self-publishing world, the Borders Personal Publishing program addresses both of these issues...sort of...

I like the fact that Borders is lending their brand name to a self-publishing platform like Lulu.  It helps build credibility and avoid the obvious question I've heard a few times: "what the heck is a lulu?!".  This is also a first step in converting a destination buying service into one with more impulse buying potential.  Up to now it's been pretty difficult to find a self-published title in a brick-and-mortar store.  Even though the Borders program isn't set up to provide immediate access to physical inventory just yet, I'd like to think that one day they'll have a high-speed POD machine in the store for those of us who always look for instant gratification.

Personal Publishing would be a nice addition to any bookstore and a good way for Borders to help distinguish themselves from all the other brick-and-mortar outlets.  Be sure to visit the Borders Personal Publishing FAQ (accessible from this page) for more details.

Does Free Sell?

Women_and_moneyIf your name is Suze Orman and Oprah Winfrey helps you promote, the answer is "yes", free does indeed sell.  As David Rothman points out in this PW article, Orman's Women & Money title is doing phenomenally well since the limited-time free e-version was announced last week (it's currently #4 for all books on Amazon).

Skeptics will point out that the reason this one-year old title is enjoying a resurgence has to do with Winfrey and not the free e-book.  While it's hard to separate the two factors (Winfrey/free e-book) I strongly believe one without the other wouldn't have produced the same results.  But since most of us will never benefit from an Oprah Winfrey PR blitz we should probably figure out how to leverage free content instead.

My gut tells me most books would benefit from content giveaways like this and that the paying customer upside would far outweigh all the freeloader cannibalization downside.  That's why I'm so intrigued with the model Smashwords is proposing for their e-content business; free sampling of up to 99% of the book's contents means the financial risk for the reader is almost zero (unless that last 1% is really disappointing!).

Who are Your Competitors?

Question_markAfter reading this excellent post by Kassia Krozser on Booksquare I kept thinking about this question: Who are my competitors?  My day gig involves publishing books for IT professionals, so the logical competitors include Pearson, Microsoft Press and O'Reilly, for example.  But who do I really compete with?

I have no stats to prove this but I've said before that I've lost more sales to Google than I have to all my traditional book publishing competitors combined.  These days it's so easy to get the answer to a question via Google that many, many people (myself included) find what they need in the search results and frequently skip the book option.  Fair enough.  As I've also said before, Google, or any search engine, provides free solutions that are "good enough" and force us book publishers to justify the value proposition of our (non-free) products.

So who are my competitors?  Besides those book publishers noted above, I have to consider these as well:

  • Google and every other search engine that serves up pointers to answers
  • Message boards and other forums that provide experts and community assistance
  • How-to sites that are starting to offer more and more video

The other interesting note Kassia made in her post had to do with how "publishers don't sell books to readers."  She went on to say that "publishers sell books to distributors who sell books to bookstores who sell books to readers."  Many of us also sell directly to the stores, not just distributors, but her point is still valid.  Most publishers haven't established direct lines to customers for one of two reasons, sometimes both: Either they don't want to risk channel conflict with their retailer/distributor partners or they just don't have the resources to invest in direct-to-customer relationships.

This dynamic started to evolve several years ago and continues to evolve today.  I tend to think the publishers who will come out on top in the future will be the ones who figure out how to establish more ties to their customers, without upsetting the apple cart of retailers/distributors, of course.  It can be done and tools like social networks, blogs, online video and other e-content offerings will help pave the way.