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19 posts from October 2008

Looking for 10,000 Book Review Bloggers

ThomasnelsonI just came across this exciting announcement from Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson.  You might recall earlier this year Michael offered a free copy of Thomas Nelson's recent publication on Barack Obama to any blogger who agreed to write and post a review of the book.  That resulted in almost 200 blogger requests, almost 70% of which wound up posting reviews (including my review/post).

Thomas Nelson is now offering a much broader campaign and Michael Hyatt's goal is to enlist 10,000 blogger reviewers along the way.  The program is called Thomas Nelson: Book Review Bloggers and they've kicked off with their recent publication by Lynne Spears.  Hyatt's post cites three key program benefits for bloggers: free copies of Thomas Nelson books, content for your blog and a promise for Thomas Nelson to provide a link back to your review posts.  This is a great idea and something that's long overdue from a major publisher.  Kudos to Michael Hyatt and his PR team on this one!

"Creative Destruction"

Arduino What happens when the open source model is applied to hardware?  You get Arduino.  If you're not familiar with the Arduino platform you ought to read this excellent article about it in the latest issue of Wired magazine.

This model has the potential to turn the hardware industry on its ear.  The phrase "creative destruction" was used in the article and I think it's an excellent way to describe how the open source approach has affected software, now hardware and even content.  Yes, that's right...I couldn't help think about the content world while reading that Wired article last night.  Simply replace "hardware manufacturers" with "content providers" in this relevant excerpt and you'll see what I mean:

To thrive in this next wave, hardware manufacturers will have to switch their thinking.  Their job is no longer just to dream up ideas -- it's equally important, maybe even more vital, to seek out innovations from users.

P.S. -- On a related note, O'Reilly just published a 128-page book called Getting Started with Arduino.  It sounds like an excellent book for my son, the aerospace engineering student and all-around tinkerer.  I'll have to look into employee discounts since this is my first day on the job!

Six Tips for Self-Publishing Success

Six There's certainly no lack of self-publishing options these days.  But how do you know which service to pick or how to maximize the results?  This post on the MediaShift blog does an excellent job summarizing six key points to consider when self-publishing.  I particularly like the point that, "you are, effectively, becoming a publisher", which brings with it all the pros and cons of calling the shots.

Another important point is that, "If you're looking for a quick buck, writing a book is not the way to go", and that, "a book has the highest status but the lowest return."  These harsh but generally true points were made by Stephanie Gunning, creator of 7 Quick and Easy Steps to Write and Sell Your First Book Proposal.

Item #6 though, "Get your name out there", is by far the most important bit of advice, IMHO.  It's all about one of my favorite subjects, author platform.  It's well summed up by this excerpt: "Publicity still remains the biggest obstacle for self-published writers -- yet there's never been a time when self-promoting a book has been easier. While you might not be able to book any television appearances on the strength of your print-on-demand book, the Internet presents myriad opportunities for the dedicated self-promoter."

What If Amazon Bought Borders?...

Bricks Be honest.  Isn't that a question you've asked yourself a time or two over the past several months?  I read this New York magazine article again last night and when I hit this part I wondered about it all over again:

Recently William Ackerman, a major Borders shareholder, suggested they should sell to Amazon instead (of B&N).  That probably won't happen, but his reasoning is clear.  Barnes & Noble is old news.  Amazon is the future.

So humor me for a moment while I speculate about what a Bordazon world might look like...

First of all, finally, we'd see Kindles in a brick-and-mortar outlet.  Hooray!  I tend to think the lack of Kindles in physical stores has been one of the device's biggest adoption obstacles.  That and the $350 price tag.

Next, do you want to see some technology in a brick-and-mortar store?  Amazon would probably have tech kiosks on every endcap, enabling you to order all sorts of (book and non-book) products right there, on the spot.  They'd probably also figure out how to turn the store into even more of a trendy hangout joint.  Think Starbucks meets the Apple Store.

This would also be an excellent opportunity to (finally!) tear down the wall between online and physical stores.  How about offering the same discounts online and in the store?  You want three books and two are in the store but one isn't?  No problem.  We'll get the third one to you tomorrow, not when our distributor can get it to us sometime next week!  You're ordering a book online?  We'll check your zipcode to see if that title is at your local store for immediate pickup -- why wait till tomorrow when you can get it today?

OK, I know the chance of these things actually happening is pretty slim.  Sure, the brick-and-mortars have all that extra overhead to deal with but hey, I can dream, can't I?

The Kindle Will Reduce Book Sales?!

Reject I just read this post on the Publishing Frontier blog by Joe Esposito and I couldn't disagree with him more.  His premise is that e-readers offer more of a "just-in-time" content model as opposed to the "just-in-case" model that applies to print books.  He believes the latter causes us to buy a lot of books we don't need whereas the former will fix that "problem."

Joe, Joe, Joe... I'm probably not the only Kindle owner who's bought a few books and has yet to read them.  That's right.  They're just sitting there collecting digital dust on my e-reader.  Why did I buy them?  Because I know I want to read them and, in most cases, I thought I would have the time to start on them before now.  I was wrong, but that's not going to stop me from buying my next Kindle edition.

Actually, most Kindle owners report a concern about buying too many books, not too few.  The darned one-click purchase option makes buying irresistible.  I've tried backing off and only downloading free samples but that still hasn't caused me to buy less.

Then there's the pricing factor.  Most Kindle editions are $9.99 or less.  I think a lot of Kindle owners feel they need to justify the $350 device price by getting as many "deals" on the $9.99 books as possible.

I do believe the browsing and buying process will change considerably as e-readers grow in popularity though.  One obvious example is how they'll help all of us purchase fewer duds.  Thanks to Amazon's free sample option I've already avoided buying at least 4 or 5 books I thought I'd like; after reading the samples I changed my mind.  That doesn't mean I bought 4 or 5 fewer books though!  It just freed up those dollars for other titles.

So while e-readers most certainly won't cause fewer books to be sold, they'll definitely cause fewer bad books to be sold.  That's a good thing though, right?

Newspapers and the A.P.

Newspaper stack I'm certainly not a newspaper industry expert, so maybe what I'm about to suggest is ridiculously naive.  I'll go out on a limb and do it anyway so that the real experts can correct me if I'm wrong...

After reading this article in yesterday's New York Times I couldn't help but scratch my head and ask "why?".  The Columbus Dispatch spends $800K per year on A.P. stories to round out their newspaper's content.  $800K.  Even though this syndicated content is a very important ingredient to any newspaper's formula, that's a large number, particularly in these troubling times (and in this struggling industry).  So while I understand why newspapers have paid these syndication fees in the past, I don't understand why they plan to do so in the future.

Why don't all the newspapers of the world unite and simply share their content with each other?  (OK, there's the radical and possibly naive suggestion.)  There would have to be rules in place so that one paper isn't simply constantly sponging from all the others, but reasonable policies could easily be developed.

It seems like the A.P. was a solution to yesterday's problem.  Before the advent of the Internet and all the ways to move e-content from point A to point B it was a very useful model.  But haven't we gotten to the stage where all the newspapers could form their own new federation and accomplish the same objectives?  The article talks about some local initiatives where several papers in Ohio formed a co-op to address this; why not take it up several notches and build a worldwide co-op?

Newspapers are apparently contractually obligated to give the A.P. two years' notice of cancellation.  Fine.  Use the next 24 months to hammer out a global co-op plan and move on!

Scoble Is Right: Start Iterating -- Fast!

Fast company cover I've often referred to the newspaper industry as the book publishing's canary in a coal mine.  Robert Scoble's latest Fast Company column focuses on the newspaper industry and what he believes it should do to survive.

His key message is to learn from the tech industry and to "start iterating -- fast."  I'm a big believer in making a lot of small bets rather than going "all in" on one.  This approach allows you to see what works, reinvest in the winners and let the others die if necessary.  As Salon's Scott Rosenberg is quoted in the article, "the most important thing to do right now is launch as many possible experiments in as many possible directions."  I'd add to that by suggesting you also keep a close eye on the experiments your competitors are launching; there's much to be learned from their efforts as well.

The Textbook Evolution

Books2 It's going to happen.  It's just a matter of time.  Far too many parents and students are up in arms over the cost.  I'm talking, of course, about the current state of the textbook industry.  Here's a related article I read earlier today from The Christian Science Monitor.

I'm always thrilled to see textbook publishers who are looking to innovate, so I was particularly delighted to see the efforts of my former employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., were noted in that article.  The free digital textbook program Wiley and the University of Texas have created could produce a great deal of useful information to help shape future initiatives; the article didn't say what sort of monitoring and measurement tools might be used, but I'd like to think the system will provide the metrics required to enable both publisher and university to quickly see what works and what doesn't.  It would be even more exciting if the results from this program and others like it were to be shared publicly, so that every publisher and school wouldn't have to work in isolation.

That's a nice segue to the various "open source" textbook model that I keep hearing more and more about.  The Christian Science Monitor article refers to one called Connexions, but there's another one called Flat World Knowledge that's been getting a lot of PR too.  Can the open source model work here?  It won't be easy given all the current textbook ecosystem stakeholders who are so well entrenched and have so much to lose.  This is also a sector that tends to move at a glacial pace, so sudden shifts are unlikely.  No matter how it plays out I definitely think the open source publishers are worth keeping an eye on and much can probably be learned from their efforts.

P.S. -- I have two kids in college, so I feel the pain on this front as much as anyone!

Guilted Back to Twitter

Twitter I had lunch yesterday with Steve Weiss, one of my new O'Reilly colleagues, and he totally guilted me into giving Twitter another shot.  A year or so ago I complained that Twitter's signal-to-noise ratio was awful, and while I suspect that's still the case, I figure I can help myself a bit there by only following a few key people to start.

One of the next steps is to add my Twitter feed to my blogs (since Twitter widget functionality is offered for both Typepad and Blogger) and we'll see how it goes...  If you care to follow my tweets, you'll find me here.

Thanks Steve!