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21 posts from August 2008

How Can Book Publishers Remain Relevant?

Businessweek Sarah Lacy feels she has the answers in this BusinessWeek article and I think she makes some good points.  She presents five important lessons book publishers need to learn from "the new web", as she puts it.  Here are my thoughts on each of her five points:

Make it social.  Amen!  In fact, social network capabilities are something I've been pleading for Amazon to consider when developing Kindle version 2.0, 3.0 and beyond.  I especially love her point that "social networking could do for book clubs what Scrabulous did for fans of Scrabble."

Take book tours out of the stores.  A couple of points here.  First, Sarah is wrong to abandon the bookstores.  I believe a better approach is one that leverages all potential platforms and locations, including bookstores. Secondly, if you're not familiar with BookTour you should check it out as soon as possible.  BookTour is an excellent example of a service you can use to coordinate all types of tours, including ones involving bookstores.  After all, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water!

Create stars -- don't just exploit existing ones.  Excellent, excellent point here about how we often focus too much on proven winners and not enough on the up-and-comers.  I'm particularly intrigued by this suggestion from Sarah and I wonder how other authors would respond to it: Require as part of the contract that the author blog, speak on panels, attend events. Give them incentives for delivering—say, through Web traffic or the number of followers they amass on Twitter.  I'm not so sure her multi-book agreement approach will take off though.  After all, few books are a guaranteed hit, even ones from an unproven author with what appears to be a promising platform.  So how many publishers are prepared to commit to more than one title from the start?  Sure, it happens, but if the first book is a flop the next one (to fulfill the agreement) is likely to be painful for everyone.  On the other hand, if the first one's a hit I'll bet the author would prefer to renegotiate a better deal on the next one.

Go electronic from the get-go.  I'm sure there are still plenty of old school publishers that work exclusively with hard copy as Sarah describes, but that's not how things operate in my world.  In fact, the Professional/Trade division of Wiley that I'm part of has developed a state-of-the-art production process that depends on electronic files from authors.  That's one of the reasons my colleagues were able to produce the first book available on Apple's 3G iPhone, for example.

Make e-commerce even easier.  Another excellent point.  I can't wait for us to get to the vision Sarah describes here: Take the titles far beyond—through one-click widgets appended to blogs, Facebook pages, and other sites across the Web. Link these tools directly to PayPal and Google Checkout. Think: one-click purchase, not one click takes you to Amazon.  It will probably take longer than we'd like to get there, but I'm convinced we will.

Internet Advice for Authors, Courtesy of The Penguin Group

Penguin Thanks to Wiley colleague Alan Rinzler for passing along the info for this post...  Penguin Group USA offers a free 64-page document called Internet Advice for Authors: Getting Started, Getting Online, and Getting Noticed.  This is an excellent resource for any author who doesn't know the first thing about websites, blogs as well as building a solid author platform and online presence.  It's great to see a major publisher sharing this sort of information with the world, not just their own authors.

The Faith of Barack Obama, by Stephen Mansfield

Faith of barack obama Over the past 9 months I've gone from being somewhat of a McCain fan to more of an Obama supporter.  I'm convinced a McCain administration will be nothing more than a third term of George W. Bush and, yes, I'm looking for change.  I'd like to see more substance behind the "change" Obama always refers to, but I'm also curious about his religious beliefs and the journey that led him to Christianity.

With that in mind, The Faith of Barack Obama, Stephen Mansfield's latest book is right up my alley and it didn't disappoint.  As you might imagine, Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a person who pops up frequently throughout this book.  Prior to reading Mansfield's work I considered Wright nothing more than an unfortunate footnote from Obama's past who managed to surface at the wrong time.  This book caused me to look at Wright and Obama's relationship with him in a completely different light.

I still feel Rev. Wright was an overzealous minister who didn't do the best job of emphasizing the right aspects of the key points he's tried to make over the years.  Exhibit A is all across YouTube, for example.  And as a white person who's never attended Trinity United my comments are easily dismissed by Wright supporters.  Nevertheless, I feel he crossed the line too many times, so shame on Obama for not parting ways with Wright many years ago.  I don't plan to run for public office but I'd quickly move on from a church/pastor who regularly expressed such a twisted view of the world.  The fact that Obama stuck with Wright for so long really does say a lot about the senator, I'm afraid.  But what benefit was Wright expecting when he's spewed that sort of venom anyway?  He's so full of anger and lacking in forgiveness....gee, maybe he ought to read The Shack!

The bottom line is Rev. Wright probably pictures himself as a modern day Martin Luther King, Jr.  He isn't though, and time will easily prove this point.  If Rev. King were in Wright's shoes today I'm quite convinced he'd take a much more diplomatic approach and would be more embracing and far less antagonistic.

The Faith of Barack Obama isn't just about Rev. Wright though, of course.  The book does a great job taking the reader through Obama's youth, exposure to multiple religions and how he eventually become a Christian.  It also exposes some of the warts in Obama's beliefs, including coverage of how he voted against a bill to protect the lives of babies who managed to survive late-term abortions.  Wow, how heartless must you be to vote against something like this?!

One of my favorite parts of the book was chapter 5, Four Faces of Faith.  The author uses this chapter to contrast and compare the religious beliefs and paths of Obama, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.  At first I felt this was nothing more than filler but I have to admit it's fascinating to look at all four of these political heavyweights through this sort of lens.

Finally, I think Mansfield very effectively captured Obama's critique of George W. Bush with the following excerpt: You rose on the strength of a vicious use of faith.  You then baptized a greedy conservative agenda and called it God's will.  Along the way, you labeled us Democrats as somehow antifaith.  Now, your political faith failing you, your religious base abandoning you, it is time for you to go away.  A new faith, based in the genuine compassion of the Religious Left, is waiting in the wings.  Step aside, and let us heal what you have broken.

We'll never know if that's really what Obama thinks but it sure sounds right to me, a guy who twice made the mistake of voting for George W. Bush.  I'm still leaning towards Obama but I'm not 100% committed as I'm waiting to see who he picks for a VP (please, not Evan Bayh!) and what specific plans he has to fix the limping economy.  This book has also helped open my eyes a bit wider as I realize the faith part of the equation isn't as clean and simple as I previously thought.

P.S. -- If you'd like to read an extended sample of The Faith of Barack Obama, click here to download the PDF version the book's publisher (Thomas Nelson) graciously allowed bloggers to post. The Magazine Industry's "Napster Moment"?

MygazinesLet me start off by saying that I firmly believe is a blatant copyright infringer and deserves whatever penalties it might eventually receive.  I say "might" because it's an offshore operation which means it will be tough to hunt down and hold anyone accountable for the website's activities.

My concern isn't about whether mygazines is legal or not (it's not), but rather about how the magazine industry should respond to it.  The music industry crushed Napster because the major labels couldn't come up with any other solutions.  I tend to agree with most of the points made by both Ian Da Silva in this Wikinomics blog post as well as what The Motley Fool has to say in this article (although I certainly don't agree with the Fool's suggestion that this is "the end of publishing as we know it"!)

This is a golden opportunity for the magazine industry to see how a Napster-like platform for periodicals could and should work effectively.  Mygazines is essentially doing e-content R&D for the entire magazine industry; I just hope the industry takes the time to study and understand the results before they look to kill the service.

I took a quick look at mygazines and immediately felt like it would be worth paying a subscription for, provided all the content was legal.  I've been letting most of my magazine subscriptions lapse because I find more up-to-date info online and I can't justify the price.  That's one more set of eyeballs each of those magazines just lost for their advertising income.  So in addition to possibly getting mygazines shut down, why not figure out how this model could actually help rebuild readership and advertising income?

If a coalition of magazine publishers managed to intervene and kill mygazines, but take it over in the process, would that be a good thing?  Possibly.  Would I pay $5/month to have access like this to several magazines I'm not currently subscribing to?  Absolutely.  In fact, if they build in the right social networking capabilities it could easily become an extremely popular alternative for a lot of customers.  I just hope the magazine industry takes the time to learn what it can from this before they focus on crushing it.

P.S. -- Speaking of magazines, I have a short update to the BusinessWeek subscription I let lapse earlier this summer.  They stopped sending issues shortly after I posted that note back in June and I have to admit that I miss the service.  I'm greatly disappointed that it's not offered on the Kindle but a renewal offer I received over the weekend has tempted me to return.  The deal is $20 for a full year's worth of issues.  I'm pretty sure I can't say no...

P.P.S -- Well, it turns out the slick folks at BusinessWeek were simply trying to pull a fast one on me.  Upon closer inspection this new $20 deal is only for six months, not a full year.  When I balked at $40 for a year some wisenheimer there apparently decided to toss a "$20 for six months" offer at me instead.  Silly me...I almost fell for it!

WildFire Marketing

Wildfire marketing Rob Eagar, founder of WildFire Marketing, recently sent me a message asking if I'd check out an audio file he created to help authors with media interviews.  I finally managed to carve out some time to listen to Rob's file and I highly recommend it to any author who looking to leverage media interviews to promote their book.  Rob also offers a written transcript of the file if you'd prefer to read it rather than listen.

The WildFire Marketing website offers a lot more than just this helpful information about interviews.  Check out this extensive list of excellent resources Rob offers for free.  He also writes a blog where he provides additional thoughts on how authors and publishers can sell more books.  Great stuff.