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30 posts from April 2008

"The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia"??

Wikipedia2_2I don't think I've ever come up empty after a Wikipedia search.  That's one of the most attractive features of the Wikipedia, right?  You rarely leave without finding something of value.  The search options seem endless and it's got way more content than you could possibly squeeze into one volume or even a shelf full of volumes.

So what's up with this announcement that Bertelsmann is going to "publish what could be the first in a series of annual yearbooks whose content is derived from the many hundreds of thousands of user-created entries on Wikipedia."?  The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia is going to feature the content covering 50,000 of the most-searched terms (from the German language edition).

OK, the One-Volume product will feature information on some pretty popular topics, but am I the only one who feels this whole idea turns the core strengths of the Wikipedia into a weak print product?  Again, I love the sheer breadth of the Wikipedia; every time I visit the site I'm confident I'll learn something.  The One-Volume product will be hit and miss, even though it will cover the most frequently searched topics.  Then there's the living, breathing nature of the Wikipedia.  Whatever I'm reading right now is more up-to-date than the print version.  That might not matter for subjects like World War II but it could mean a significant difference for major political elections or candidates, for example.

Don't get me wrong.  I think there's a great opportunity for Wikipedia content in print.  Flexibility is the key though.  Let customers print the pieces they want, not simply a collection of the most frequently searched topics.  That means print-on-demand is the only viable manufacturing option.

Have you heard of PediaPress yet?  It's still a work in progress but it sure sounds like they're building the model described above.

I'm also still intrigued by the DailyLit model and how it could be leveraged for the Wikipedia (see this earlier post).  There seem to be a number of new, viable Wikipedia content delivery models to experiment with; I'm just not convinced the One-Volume project is one of the best.

Dilbert 2.0

Dilbert I love Dilbert.  Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that some days I feel like I live Dilbert.  I have several Dilbert strips taped to my monitor.  Call me a simpleton but every so often one will catch my eye and I'll laugh all over again.

I read the strip every day and was delighted to see that Scott Adams is taking it, as well as, to another level.  Dilbert has grown up and gone Web 2.0 on us, as noted in this Webware post.  The site currently lets you write your own punch line to a strip and then share it with others.  Next month you'll be able to write the copy for all the panels in a strip.  The Webware post also talks about other community features due in May where you and your friends will be able to collaborate on all the panels.

Dilbert is the perfect platform for this sort of thing.  It's almost on par with water cooler chatter or episodes of The Office; everyone can relate to Dilbert at one time or another and it's fun to share the humor.  This observation (excerpted from Webware) shows that Scott Adams "gets it" when it comes to community and intellectual property as well as how to leverage the former to bolster the latter:

"We're accepting the realities of IP on the Internet, and trying to get ahead of the curve. People already alter Dilbert strips and distribute them. If we make it easy and legal to do so, and drive more traffic to in the process, everyone wins. Plus it's a lot of fun to see what people come up with in the mashups."

14 Points about Author Websites

Books2The author website debate will probably never end.  Do you need one?  What's the purpose?  What elements should it include?  The questions go on and on.

I recently came across this excellent blog post entitled The 14 Things I Have Learned about Author Websites.  Be sure to check out the whole list.  Here are a few things that went through my mind as I read through it:

#2. Author websites are different than book websites. Blogs, twitter, myspace and facebook are different tools, use them in different ways.

Excellent point!  How many times have you come across an author's website that has no personality and lacks the critical attributes of a social network-like page?

#4. Frequency is important...

#5: Frequency isn’t as important as you may think...

Ah, the thorny subject of frequency.  This has been one of the most criticized and probably misunderstood issues on this subject.  How frequently do you need to update your site?  That depends.  It depends on what kind of product you've published and what sort of expectations your readers have.  Two-way communication is the key here.  Don't say you'll be updating every day and then fall back to once every week or so.  Also, check in with your readers and see what they want from your site and how often they'd like to see new content from you.

#6: Free is your friend. Make your work available in its entirety. If someone is willing to read your 400 page novel on screen, you have found a fan for life.

I don't think I could have said it any better myself.  This is an important concept that we publishers seem to be sloooowly embracing.  Just don't forget that if you signed a traditional publishing agreement you probably need your publisher's permission to post all that great, free content...

Author Solutions Interview with Kevin Weiss

Author_solutions_2Author Solutions is the parent company of several brands including AuthorHouse and iUniverse; recently I was fortunate enough to sit down with several key members of their organization.  The Author Solutions team showed me some of their existing tools and talked a bit about their vision for the future of the industry.  It was a great session and I plan to cover some of these items in future posts.

In the mean time, Kevin Weiss, President and CEO of Author Solutions, agreed to do a blog interview as well.  Here's what Kevin had to say about Author Solutions, the iUniverse acquisition and the marketing and PR process:

JW: What are the key attributes that you feel help distinguish Author Solutions from the other self-publishing options out there today?

KW: Leadership and innovation. At AuthorHouse and iUniverse we have continually introduced new services and systems to make publishing more professional, affordable and accessible to authors. That commitment has enabled us to become the worldwide market share leader. But we’ve only just begun.

We are currently making significant investments in both our internal production and customer-facing systems. By Q3, we will introduce the most advanced systems in the industry, which will give authors --and publishers-- unrivaled flexibility, efficiency and opportunity to make the best choices throughout the publishing process. 

We are also working diligently to make publishing a more "open" environment. Historically, the industry has been "closed" in the sense that a select group of people decided what should be made available to the market. We don’t think that system will work with the next generation of authors.

They have been raised with file sharing, online collaboration and self-directing content creation. They also expect nearly simultaneous feedback. Waiting months for a rejection letter won’t work with this crowd. That's why we have made our Wordclay platform available to individual authors and communities who have members who want to publish books quickly, affordably and professionally.

We take all we’ve learned from publishing nearly 80,000 titles and make that available to any one who has a book in them. We believe the end result will be more authors publishing more titles for more readers, which is good for readers, good for us and good for the industry.

We expect to have more to say about both of these areas around BEA, so stay tuned.

JW: Last year you completed the acquisition of another self-publishing operation, iUniverse.  How do you see these two teams fitting together and what does this mean to authors from both organizations?

KW: Author Solutions acquired iUniverse because we see the brands as distinct and the teams as complimentary. AuthorHouse, which was Author Solutions first acquisition, has a broader product offering both in publishing and promotional services. iUniverse has distinguished itself by its editorial services and traditional-publishing experience.

With this acquisition, we are able to take the best practices of both organizations and offer authors of both brands the most valued services in the industry and more expertise than any other self-publishing company in the world. Because we are publishing nearly 20,000 titles, we are also able to create production efficiencies that we can pass on to authors in the form of higher value and more affordable services. We are excited about the future of both brands and the strength of the leadership teams.

JW: How about on the marketing side...what programs do you offer your authors to help them get the visibility they need to succeed?

KW: Ask successful authors today and they will tell you they work on their marketing plan as much as their manuscript. So while we provide a range of services to help authors gain visibility, they still need to make a commitment to promote their books.

Depending on the brand, we can offer authors a public relations program, bookstore marketing packages, including returnability and even a personal publicist if they have the budget and the title warrants it.

Perhaps the most important marketing tool we provide though is a free author Web site. We've been offering this service through our AuthorHouse brand since December and authors love it. Four weeks ago, we just announced a beta version of AuthorTree. AuthorTree is a site that offers all published authors a free, easy-to-use tool to set up an author Web site.

These Web sites give authors 24/7 visibility for potential readers and provide a powerful way for them to build an audience.

JW: How much do you rely on authors to help with the PR and marketing effort?  Do you have any success stories you could share?

KW: As I stated previously, the author is the key to marketing and PR. Even JK Rowling has to get out and talk about her books, and it is no different for our authors. We have  many great examples of authors successfully marketing their works, but two recent ones stand out.

The first is a book AuthorHouse published titled The Gift that Heals by Reg Green. Reg's seven-year old son was murdered in Italy 12 years ago on a family vacation. They made the decision then to donate his organs and the story received worldwide acclaim. Since then Reg has become a leading advocate for organ donation and wanted to write a book about how organ donation affects the people involved in the process. He is very passionate and has a great sense of urgency, so he didn't want to wait for months or years to have traditional publishers decide to publish his book. He self-published with us and the book is selling well. A few weeks ago, he was featured in People magazine and last week he was on the morning talk shows in New York

Another example is Martha Barnette. Martha had previously published with a traditional house, but they allowed her books to go out of print. In the past few years she has become the host of a radio nationally-syndicated Public Radio show called A Way with Words, which focuses on the beauty and intricacy of words. She has published two books with iUniverse that were previously out of print and brought them back for her listeners. Self-publishing has allowed her to develop a whole new following of readers and create an even greater platform.

Travel Guides 2.0

ProtravelguideWhat's the worst part of most printed travel guides?  Lugging them around.  Plus, although they're written by travel experts, I generally find that I really only need portions of the book, not the whole thing.  After all, how many hotels can one person stay at during a one-week trip?!

What's really needed here is more flexibility and customization.  I'd like to pick the contents from a list of options and create my own custom guide.  That's possible now thanks to Professional TravelGuide's new service, eGuidebook.  You'll find information on more than 7,000 destinations and it's easy to pick and choose the content you want in your custom eGuidebook.  Build it by yourself or in collaboration with other friends or family members.  Once you're happy with the contents, turn your eGuidebook into a print product with the Pocket Guidebook service (click here for a demo).  Pocket Guidebooks are produced via print-on-demand with prices starting at $18.95 (including shipping in the U.S.)

I tend to think cellphones and other portable devices will eventually become the key travel content delivery platform, but between now and then, we can use services like eGuidebook and Pocket Guidebook to add more of a personal, fun touch to a family vacation or other getaway.