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July 2008
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September 2008

21 posts from August 2008

Dear XM: No Means No!

Xm Boy, this guy was right.  I finally decided to cancel my XM radio subscription and I had to jump through countless hoops over the past couple of hours. As the other blogger notes, there's no way to terminate the service via the XM website.  You have to do it on the phone.  And if you want to see just how screwed up XM is right now, call their 1-800 number and see how long it takes to talk to an actual human being.

I figured out a trick to help speed things up though.  I called earlier tonight and went through the phone menu options to cancel and gave up after spending almost 30 minutes on hold.  I grabbed dinner and came back for round two.  This time I chose the option to activate a phone, not cancel an account.  It was still a 10-15 minute wait but it did the trick...or so I reality, the fun was just beginning.

My first conversation was with a woman who spoke broken English and asked me to verify my name, phone number, address and account. She also wanted to know why I'm canceling and I told her it's because (a) there are too many commercials on the talk radio stations, (b) the music channels seem to be recycling the same stuff even more frequently than they did originally and (c) several channels are now deactivated over the weekend, including a few I used to listen to late at night on Fridays and Saturdays. 

She was courteous enough and said she needed to transfer me to a different department.  I asked her if I was going to be put on hold for awhile and she said "no" and that she'd be on the line with me.  In fact I wound up on hold again for another 7-8 minutes and she periodically checked in to see how I'm doing.

Next up, broken English-speaking woman #2.  She asked what she could do for me.  I asked her if she happened to speak at all to the first woman about my account.  She humbly acknowledged that yes, the first one told her I wanted to close the account.  She then asked me to verify all the things the first woman had me verify.  Frustrating, but at least it seemed like I was getting closer...

Representative #2 also kept telling me about all the great new services I can expect when the Sirius merger is complete.  I told her there's nothing she could say that would cause me to change my mind.  She decided she was up for the challenge and offered me 3 more months at $4.99/month.  I said no.  She chuckled and then changed the offer to 3 more months totally free.  Again I declined.  I think she finally realized she had met her match; after all, just how bad does a customer want to leave you when they turn down 3 free months?!

She said I'm paid up through September 18th.  It doesn't matter though as I've already packed up the receiver as well as all the cords and antennas and put it all in a drawer.  I seriously doubt I'll go back.  I finally realized I'm better served by the thousands of songs on my 80-Gig Zune.  Farewell, XM...

LibraryThing, Shelfari...Whatever

Confused First Amazon bought Abebooks, which already owned a portion of LibraryThingNow Amazon buys LibraryThing competitor Shelfari.  Of course neither of these social networks for books talk to one another, nor do they interoperate with any of the other ones out there.  That's why I have a LibraryThing widget on my Publishing 2020 blog but the iRead app is on my Facebook page.  This means that as I read and review a book I have to update both services.  I started using LibraryThing first so it's always my top priority and helps explain why my iRead list is often out of sync.

In the immortal words of Rodney King, why can't we all just get along?  Seriously, there's no good reason why I should have to manage multiple services that are so darned similar.  If I read a book I should be able to enter the info about it in one place and have it picked up everywhere.  Tim O'Reilly makes a wonderful plea for interoperability in this post but I'm not holding my breath waiting for it to happen.

So here's my question: Since it's highly unlikely we'll get all these services connected, why doesn't some enterprising developer take this opportunity to create an uber-service that does it for us?  Wouldn't it be great if this uber-service provided access to all the data from the book-related social networks and allowed you to create a variety of customized widgets that could be easily dropped in to any/all websites, including Facebook?

Feedbooks is an excellent analogy. Their "newspaper" service lets me combine multiple RSS feeds into one Kindle e-book that I can easily (and wirelessly) update with one click.  It's completely changing how I utilize RSS feeds and a model that lends itself to all sorts of interesting solutions.

eBook Pricing

Money29/09 Update: If you're interested in the ebook pricing debate you'll want to register for the online TOC conference we're hosting here at O'Reilly on October 8, 2009.

Does anyone know how to price an ebook?  That's a great question Tom Masters asked yesterday on his Future Perfect Publishing blog.

I gave my opinion during a Kindle webinar last week and then was asked a follow-up question about it at the end of the session.  I stated that I think Amazon is onto something with the $9.99 price point they charge for most Kindle editions and that I've clicked away from two potential purchases when I saw their prices were more than $9.99.  (Clayton Christensen's latest book is the one I'm particularly disappointed in since I'd love to read it but it's currently a $19.58 Kindle edition.)

The webinar attendee's follow-up question was, "do you feel that $9.99 price ceiling applies to all types of books?"  To be honest, I was only thinking about the kind of books I tend to read, which are mostly trade titles with print prices in the $15-$30 range.  The attendee was particularly curious about more specialized books, for example, highly targeted titles aimed at engineers, lawyers and other professionals, not the ones with more broad appeal like I tend to read.  Great point...I hadn't considered these other areas and it's clear that highly specialized content like this currently comes with a premium price tag.  So yes, I can see the logic for Kindle editions priced at more than $9.99, but I probably won't be buying any of them.

As I thought more about this and read through Tom's post I realized there's a problem with the logic we're all currently using for this debate: We're just talking about quickie ports of print books to e-formats.  If nothing else is added to the equation it's hard enough to justify the same price as the print book, let alone something higher.  But that's the key.  I'm still a big believer that as the e-content world continues to evolve we'll find ways to add more value to our products, so that an e-book offers a much richer user experience than the equivalent print book (if we can even say there's an "equivalent" print book at that point!).  When we reach that stage there should be no problem charging more than $9.99 for these products, but we're nowhere near that point yet.  (See my note about social networking capabilities in Tom's post for an idea of what I'm looking forward to.)

The Booksquare on ePublishing

Booksquare Kassia Krozser is at it again on her Booksquare blog.  I have to admit that Booksquare is one of my favorites, mostly because it makes me think.  Her latest post about e-publishing, e-rights, e-sales, etc., hit some very important points.

Her article talks mostly about Terry Goodkind's decision to place his book's e-rights with someone other than the publisher who he signed his print rights to.  At first glance most authors might think, "hey, I should stop signing my e-rights over to my (predominantly print) publisher and get a deal like Goodkind did."  My advice: If you can, go for it...but be sure to think about the entire deal, not just the e-book royalty rate.

What am I alluding to? First of all, any book's rights are less valuable to a publisher if they don't include the e-component.  For example, let's say I'm willing to pay an author royalty rate of x% for print copy sales and the deal also includes all e-rights to the book.  If the author/agent comes back to me and says they want to keep the e-rights to potentially shop around elsewhere, I have to admit I'm inclined to counter with a lower print royalty rate, something less than the original x%.  After all, I based my original x% on the assumption that I'm the only publisher promoting, selling and building this brand, where "brand" could be title, author, etc.; the more diluted the brand promotional effort becomes, the less value I see in the deal, hence the lowered royalty rate for print copy sales.

Secondly, I always feel it's important to restate the obvious in these situations.  Here's the basic royalty calculation formula:

Author royalties earned = Royalty rate X Net revenue/unit X Units sold

So if I have a 10% royalty rate and the book nets the publisher $10 for each copy sold and we sell 3,000 copies in the period, the author just earned $3,000 in royalties (10% X $10/unit X 3,000 units).  Perhaps that other e-publisher will give you a 20% royalty.  The question you have to ask yourself is: Will this other publisher move the same volume?

One of the myths of the e-publishing world is that all books are on a level playing field, so you'll sell just as many with publisher X as you will with publisher Y.  This simply isn't true, at least not in most cases.  This is very similar to the complicated world of Google search results.  Just because you love chocolate and you launched a website all about chocolate doesn't mean you'll immediately climb to the top of the Google results for a search on "chocolate."

We're still in the infancy phase of e-publishing, but as this area continues evolving many of the same rules will apply.  Marketing and promotion are two keys.  When you walk through a physical bookstore all the titles on promotion are the ones that jump out at you.  I'm talking about books on endcaps, tables and other displays that really catch your eye.  Placement in these slots comes at a price and titles promoted like this generally produce much stronger sell-through results (vs. when they're not on promotion).

You don't have endcaps and tables in the virtual world, but you still have important promotional tools that help boost sales.  Just look at any e-retailer's site and you'll see them: Links to related titles, buy X get Y, other customers also like this book, e-mail blasts, etc.  The print world has a lot of titles in it but the e-world will ultimately have many more, so without the use of promotional tools how will individual titles rise above the noise?

These things all have a way of achieving equilibrium over time.  And since the e-publishing world is in such a state of flux it will be fun watching this equilibrium take place in the years ahead.  That said, rather than blindly signing over e-rights to a publisher, it's always a good idea to ask them how they plan to exercise and maximize ownership of those rights for you.  It's fair (and wise) to ask your editor/publisher what e-formats will your book be available in, for example.  The answer to that question might be even more important than the royalty rate offered...after all, even the highest royalty rate imaginable still produces zero income if the books aren't offered in e-format.

P.S. -- Speaking of publishing blogs...  I recently came across two great ones that I wanted to share.  The first is by Jeff Rutherford, a publishing PR expert I've bumped into several times over the past year.  The second is called View From the Publishing Trenches and is written by publisher/author Walt Shiel.  I highly recommend keeping up on both of these wonderfully insightful industry blogs.

Self Publishing Today Blog

Books4 I've covered numerous aspects of the self-publishing world here on the 2020 blog and I try to point out new and interesting resources for authors interested in self-publishing.  So when I got a note from Ray Robinson of Dog Ear Publishing I was thrilled to hear that he recently launched a blog of his own.  His blog is called Self Publishing Today and he's already written quite a few insightful posts.  I also like that he's taking broader posts about the publishing world in general and applying a self-publishing lens to them to present his point of view.

For example, check out this one where he takes one of my earlier posts about the 10 things editors/agents hate and puts it under the self-publishing light.  He also attended my recent Kindle webinar and applied a self-publishing perspective with this post.  (Btw, if you missed the Kindle webinar you can still listen to the archived audio and download my slides here.)  If you're interested in keeping an eye on the self-publishing sector be sure to grab Ray's RSS feed.