Previous month:
March 2008
Next month:
May 2008

30 posts from April 2008

Daemon: A Lesson on Leveraging the Community

Daemon_2I don't tend to read novels but the story of this one caught my eye.  It's called Daemon and it's an interesting study in what an author can do to build momentum for their book.  Wired recently ran a short article about it here.

The author, Daniel Suarezes (who reversed most of those characters to "Leinad Zeraus" for credit on the book) tried the same old agent-to-publisher route but couldn't generate interest.  He wound up taking matters into his own hands and got some key bloggers and other influential names interested in it.  Next, he and his wife created their own publishing house, Verdugo Press, and are selling it as a print-on-demand title.

Although Bookscan numbers are still pretty modest the book currently has a very nice Amazon ranking (in the 1,500's), so the grassroots efforts are obviously paying off...and the Wired article doesn't hurt either!

So if you're an author, what steps have you taken to drive excitement for your book from influential people with huge platforms?  Even if you have a small platform you can always work to leverage other people's platforms.


"The Secret"...Again

Question_markI'm pretty sure I made my thoughts on The Secret pretty clear with this earlier post.  The bottom line: It's a scam.  A joke.  A cheesy ripoff of The Power of Positive Thinking.  I don't see how anyone could have misinterpreted my opinion.

Earlier today, however, I got an e-mail from a fellow representing Evan Carmichael, whose website headline reads "Motivation and Strategies for Entrepreneurs."  It seems Evan is publicizing a page of "The Top 50 Blogs Posts on The Law of Attraction In 2008" and my review of the book is...wait for it...wait for it...#1 on the list.  Huh?  Did he not read my review before including it in this list?!

That's right.  If you click on that link you'll find 49 posts that hype this "Law of Attraction"...plus one more link to my scathing review.  Gee, you'd think the "Law of Attraction" would somehow take control and knock my negative review out of the list.  Actually, I figure by the time you click over there Mr. Carmichael will have already taken care of that.  If it's no longer #1 on the list you'll have to take my word for it...


SharedBook Interview with CEO Caroline Vanderlip

Sharedbook2SharedBook is the underlying technology provider for a number of great new content offerings.  I've stumbled across them several times in the past year when I've researched services like Blog2Print and eGuidebook.  With all the exciting new initiatives they've been involved with I figured I could learn even more by interviewing one of their executives.  Caroline Vanderlip, CEO, graciously agreed to answer my questions -- here's what she had to say:

JW: SharedBook seems to be the engine behind many of the newer e-content services I've come across recently.  What's the overall vision for SharedBook and the products you've already released?

CV: We believe SharedBook offers a disruptive enabling technology that has the potential to expand the way people think about publishing in the 21st century. Using our platform, any business or consumer can publish personalized print media on demand.

SharedBook works with traditional publishers, web sites and other types of companies to maximize the long tail potential of existing materials. For example, traditional publishers can use the platform to allow readers to add personalized elements (Random House) and to publish customized anthologies. Web sites (Allrecipes.com, ProfessionalTravelGuide.com) and other types of companies (Regent Seven Seas Cruises) can re-purpose their existing content to suit the individual interests of their customers.


JW: Your website refers to your "reverse publishing platform."  What exactly does that phrase mean for SharedBook and your product line?

CV: I’m glad you asked. We spent a lot of time in the last year working to raise awareness for the concept of "reverse publishing," which simply means publishing online content in print format, or Web to print publishing.

There is a tremendous amount of content available online today, much of which now appears on the Web first. In fact, I recently read that IDC estimated that in 2006 alone, the amount of digital information created, captured and replicated was approximately 3 million times the information in all books ever written.

Since launching our first data integration project with Legacy.com, the Legacy Commemorative Guest Book, in November 2006, we have seen a growing interest, from businesses and consumers, in publishing personally-relevant Web content across a variety of categories. SharedBook currently offers reverse publishing solutions in the book publishing, food, memorial, sports and travel industries, among others.   

SharedBook’s Reverse Publishing Platform automates the book making process, enabling consumers to produce a book dynamically with just a few clicks. Users can choose to preview and purchase a book immediately, or personalize it further by adding their own text and photographs.

SharedBook’s application is also fully collaborative, enabling users to invite family and friends into their private and secure book making space to contribute their own content. Anyone invited into the space can also publish a book if they like. 

SharedBook also provides an extensive range of personalization options. For example, users control which content flows into their books, the placement of text and photos, and the inclusion of comments, notes and annotations.


JW: What are one or two of the most important lessons you've learned from your customer base after releasing some of these products?

CV: We really have two customer bases: the partners that integrate with us and offer the product under their brands and the buyers of the product. From our partners, we've learned to keep the product offering and the solution simple. Make the product offering as easy to understand as possible and then market its uniqueness frequently enough so people begin to understand that they can create something here never before imagined. From our buyers, we learn which content and features are most appealing, some of the product features that they would like to have added in the future, and how satisfied they are with the final product.

SharedBook conducts customer satisfaction surveys every month and while we have an increasingly high level of satisfaction, we know that we need to evolve as the market for our product and capabilities becomes more mainstream.


JW: What's the goal of the SharedBook Open API and can you tell us about any interesting third-party applications that have been developed using it?

CV: SharedBook’s API is available to enable any third party, business or consumer, to integrate data into SharedBook’s platform for on-demand output.

Most recently, Steve Murch of BigOven.com, a social network about food, used SharedBook’s API to develop the BigOven Cookbook. Using one of the wrappers that are available to developers, Steve was able to produce working results within a few hours and had a market-ready solution in less than eight weeks. BigOven.com is the first company to offer multiple ways to connect to SharedBook. Users of the social network about food can create cookbooks from the Web site or from BigOven’s award-winning desktop recipe software.

SharedBook’s API also formed the basis for Create-A-Cookbook from Allrecipes.com, which launched in November. The application enables cooks to automatically publish collections of their favorite online and personal recipes in professionally-printed book format. Users can choose to purchase the cookbook once a preview of the finished book product is created, or to personalize it further by adding notes to the recipes, and the stories and photographs that make the foods special.

I am not sure if you are aware of this, but the Blog2Print blog printing widget was also built using SharedBook’s API.  Some of our own developers created the widget shortly after we introduced the API to demonstrate how easily an application could be created.

There are several additional third party examples in development now that we expect to announce by the end of Q2.


JW: How do you see your business and the products you're developing evolving in the coming years?  Are there any noteworthy projects you're working on that we should keep an eye out for down the road?

CV: This is an exciting time for SharedBook. Our business has grown significantly in the last 18 months. We added partners in eight different content categories in 2007, and expect to announce as many partnerships in 2008 if not more.

We're currently working on projects that will introduce reverse publishing to several new categories including gardening and magazine publishing.

We envision a time in the not so distant future when consumers will be able to publish any of the online content they need, regardless of the topic, in the format they choose.

The custom cookbook publishing solutions for Allrecipes.com and BigOven.com and the Pocket Guidebook for ProfessionalTravelGuide.com illustrate how it's already possible to create your own book for a particular topic today.

We believe this is only the beginning of a new era in publishing.


Getting Nudged By the Heath Brothers

Heaths_2The Heath brothers are at it again.  I'm talking about Chip and Dan Heath, Fast Company columnists and authors of the excellent book, Made to Stick (see my review here).  Every time I read one of their articles I spend the rest of the day thinking about how their observations affect my world.

The latest issue of Fast Company features a Heath article called Get Laziness on Your Side: How to sway people's decisions with the gentlest of nudges.  At first it reminded me of the bookclub model where a member's non-response led to another book in their mailbox.  That's yesterday's approach though, so what's tomorrow's model?

Google and Amazon come to mind.  Both are rapidly building up an enormous inventory of e-content, Google with its Book Search and Amazon with their Search Inside program.  Currently both programs are free to everyone, but both have limits on how much content any one person can see from any one book.  Advertising and book sales are generally cited as the way these services can be monetized, but what about a paid subscription option as well?

I could see a premium version of either of these services where customers pay a flat fee for unlimited online reading access.  Instead of hitting the 5%, 7% or whatever content ceiling each publisher has put in place on these services, the paid model would be uncapped.  Reading an entire book on your computer screen isn't the most pleasant experience, so I'm not sure many people would use this to keep up on all the latest novels.  But reference information, quick how-to's, etc., lend themselves quite nicely to this approach.

The price has to be right, of course, and publisher buy-in is critical.  This model already exists with services like Books24x7 and Safari, btw, but I'm talking about leveraging the power and major brand names of Google and Amazon.

An enormous number of information seekers are already using Google and Amazon for free, so can they use the Heath logic and nudge enough of these seekers to a paid model?  I think so, assuming the right pricing and content options are available.


Heather Johnson Guest-Blogging About Baseball Books

Ball_fourIf variety is the spice of life, other voices are probably the most important spice of the blogosphere.  With that in mind, look for the occasional "Publishing 2020 open mike night" as I encourage others in the community to post their opinions as guest bloggers.  First up, Heather Johnson, and she's here to talk about one of her passions: baseball books.

Top 5 Baseball Books to Read this Summer, by Heather Johnson

What is better than curling up with a great book on your favorite beach in the summer? Well, maybe only one thing: reading a great baseball book. It seems the number of books about baseball has gone through the roof in recent years as every two-bit player that toiled in the minors is writing a tell-all about his time riding the buses from one town not listed on a map to another. If you're tired of sifting through the titles that will never make it to the big leagues, consider these great reads:

  1. Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. There have been many tell-alls to hit the bookstores over the years but Ball Four is the gold standard. Its greatness is not even just due to its recounting of Mickey Mantle's drinking day, rather, its true greatness emerges when we see how much the game meant to Bouton and how he'd do nearly anything to stay in the game for just one more turn on the mound. This is a must-read for any true fan of the game.
  2. Bill James' Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. This is the Bible of books dedicated to the numbers of baseball. No other sport has a rich appreciation for statistics as baseball and Bill James is the authoritative figure in this realm. James ranks players at every position throughout the history of the major leagues and this is sure to spark a heated debate around your beach blanket.
  3. Jerrold Casway's Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball . This fascinating work chronicles the best hitter many people have never heard of and his contributions to the game. In the latter part of the 19th century, first generation Irish-Americans ruled the sport and brought a new, aggressive style of play to the game. Ed Delahanty was a tragic hero as his lifestyle contributed to a shorter career – a career that would have rivaled that of Babe Ruth.
  4. Bill Littlefield's Prospect. This popular NPR host shows his flair for the game in this wonderful, little novel that follows a prospect through the eyes of an incredulous scout. The scout feels as much pride as the prospect when he finally makes it to the big leagues.
  5. Jim Collins' The Last Best League. This production is a magnificent insight into the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts. The amateur summer league is considered the premiere league of its kind and Collins does a masterful job of portraying the game and the community in this effort.

Heather Johnson is a freelance business, finance and credit writer, as well as a regular contributor for Business Credit Cards, a site for comparing business credit cards. She welcomes questions, comments, and freelancing job inquiries at her email address heatherjohnson2323@gmail.com.