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October 2009

6 posts from September 2009

"The New How": My Letter to Reviewers

New how rcWe recently sent the following letter to reviewers of a remarkable book that's due to be published later this year.  The book is called The New How and the author is Nilofer Merchant.  If you're curious and would like to start reading the book now, visit this link to the Rough Cuts version of it at Safari Books Online.  You can also follow Nilofer on Twitter; she's @nilofer there, or just follow this link.

Here's what I said to reviewers -- I hope you'll consider how this applies to your own organization:

Dear Reader,

As a publisher I’m almost ashamed to admit that I was a voracious business and strategy book reader but I abandoned the category a year ago.  Why?  I felt most of the products I came across were either restating the obvious or 10 pages of content puffed up to a 300-page book.

You can probably imagine the mixed emotions I had when I sat down to read the manuscript for Nilofer Merchant’s "The New How."  I’m glad I did though.  Reading this book gave me a renewed hope that authors who are passionate and thoroughly know their topic still have plenty of valuable wisdom to share.

I found myself immediately relating to the notion of an “air sandwich” and how strategy is often pushed from the top, with no consideration given to organization-wide buy-in.  No wonder so many strategies fail.

I also love how Nilofer provides excellent, prescriptive advice on sitting at the collaboration table including the fact that ideas don’t have to be fully baked at the earliest stages.  And as Nilofer puts it, “organizations collaborate best when rewards are based on organizational success and less on individual accomplishments.” Amen!

Here’s another one of my favorite quotes from the book: Regarding whether to speak up or not, or to ask a “dumb” question, “It’s better to look dumb and learn than to keep quiet and stay uninformed.”

The chapter on Murderboarding outlines how organizations can, and must, kill off some ideas so that others can thrive. This helps organizations focus on the big, important initiatives.

I know you’re extremely busy and your reading stack is already pretty high.  Mine is too, but I’m glad I took the time to read this terrific book.  I was hooked after the first chapter.  I encourage you to start reading it now and see if you agree.

Thanks in advance,

Joe Wikert
General Manager & Publisher,
O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Publishing Business Virtual Conference & Expo

Picture 9Book Business magazine is hosting a terrific-looking FREE online conference next month.  The event is called Publishing Business Virtual Conference & Expo and it takes place on October 29th from 10 AM to 5:30 PM (ET).  The agenda (PDF) features a number of noteworty speakers including O'Reilly's very own e-content guru, Andrew Savikas.

Given the current state of the economy and the challenge in adding to existing travel plans, I love the idea of a virtual conference like this.  My only concern is being able to spend 7-1/2 hours online and dedicate my undivided attention to it.

Being there is one thing.  Being virtual means I'll be distracted by lots of other things.  With that in mind I hope the conference organizers record the event so that I can go back later and catch the pieces I'm highly likely to miss.

Either way, you owe it to yourself to register now.  After all, the price is unbeatable! :-)

More Ebook Survey Results


My apologies for not following-up on the promise I made in this earlier post to provide more information in a subsequent post.  I got distracted on a few other things but I finally managed to spend some time with the detailed results spreadsheet.  Here's what I found...

Which ebook format do you prefer?
PDF rules the day.  It wins out for a variety of reasons including portability, how it renders and even the fact that it's so mature.  Epub was probably second on this list, but it was a distant second at best.  And out of the 2K+ responses I only noticed a few references to "Kindle" or "mobi".

What other publishers are doing innovative things with ebooks?
Both Pragmatic and Manning were cited frequently in response to this question.  A number of responses also noted O'Reilly's "liberal and useful ebook policy" though, so our DRM-free approach definitely resonates with this crowd.  I say that mostly because other publishers were criticized in responses here for their use of DRM.  Btw, Pragmatic and Manning mostly got kudos here for their respective "beta book" programs where you get access to the content before the book goes to press.  We offer the same feature through our Rough Cuts program but we apparently haven't communicated it as effectively as we could, at least according to these survey results!

What can we do to improve your experience with O'Reilly's ebooks?
Price was a common theme here.  Customers definitely want to see the prices remain low, but I think that's largely because the products are mostly quick conversions from print format.  I still believe there's an opportunity to increase prices, but only if there's added value to what exists today.  Another popular answer here was the ability to share notes with others.  I'm still blown away by the fact that Amazon built wireless functionality into the Kindle but didn't offer this sort of collaboration option.

What features should the next generation of ebooks include?
Just to show how simplistic today's ebook offerings are, some of the most common responses here were simple things like including links and adding video.  Not exactly rocket science but these are also things that are currently missing in ebooks.  I also liked the suggestion of improving the errata process in books, mostly through automatic updates and/or overlays that show what's changed from one version to the next.  Think of it as version control brought to books.  Again, not revolutionary but it's not something you typically find in most ebooks right now.

One Author's Pre-Publication "Lending Library" Experience

Network I just read this terrific post by Stephen Elliott, author of The Adderall Diaries.  His summary should be required reading for every author and publisher who wants to learn more about building buzz.

Elliott's story hits on a number of important points.  First, author platform isn't just about who the author knows, it's who those people know, and in turn who the next level of people know, etc.

Second, I love it that the only requirement to participate in his pre-pub lending library was that you had to agree to read the book and pass it along to someone else.  That's it.  I would suggest taking it one step further and asking everyone who reads it to also post a review of it.  That's not asking much given that they just got to read a book for free.

Third, how about the total cost of the promotion?  It was $800 plus the cost of the free copies.  Talk about ROI! How many PR campaigns cost 10 times that or more and don't produce anywhere near the same results?!

Finally, I love it that the author took such an active role in this.  He tracked the books and did the in-home tours.  (Speaking of which, this Tupperware Party-like approach is still as effective today as it was 40 years ago.)

Kudos, Mr. Elliott.  I hope your book becomes a bestseller!

Smashwords Expands Distribution, by Anthony Policastro

By Anthony S. Policastro If you thought the eBook market was hot before, it just went super nova with Smashwords newest distribution to "major online retailers, the first of which is Barnes & Noble and their various properties including, Fictionwise, and their eReader app." Like the other 2,600 authors on Smashwords, I received an email recently from Smashwords owner and creator, Mark Coker announcing the new distribution arrangement:
To put everything in perspective, we're developing a process that will enable your books to receive widespread retail distribution within days or weeks of publishing on Smashwords. Some of what we're doing here has never been done before, so like I said above, please be patient as we work together to pioneer the brave new world of ebook distribution.

In addition, Barnes & Noble just ramped up its eBook efforts and currently has more than 700,000 eBook titles listed on its site and it hopes to surpass one million books within the next year. The book retailer will also be the exclusive eBook provider to Plastic Logic's upcoming eReader device - an eight and a half by eleven inch device with a touch screen and wireless capabilities for downloading content. AT&T will be the wireless carrier for the reader and this means users in Europe and parts of Asia will be able to download content. The Kindle's wireless feature works only the United States. All of these developments could be a paradigm shift in the eBook market because Barnes and Noble is opening its arms and accepting the work posted on other commercial eBook sites. They are clearly scooping up as much market share as possible to compete against the Amazon Kindle. (See the related article below in The New York Times.) Even their pricing model is similar to Amazon's with major titles selling for $9.99 - the same price as the Kindle. Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is featured on Barnes and Noble eBook site as a preorder for $9.99. What's more significant is that you can download a book from Barnes and Noble and read it on your iPhone, iTouch, Blackberry or PC or Macintosh by simply downloading the B&N eReader software for the particular device. And they announced they will be adding additional devices. Kindle books cannot be read on the Blackberry or on a PC or Macintosh. This move could pull market share from the Kindle. It will be interesting to see how the eBook market evolves in the next few months or years with these two titans battling for the same market share on an equal playing field. If Barnes and Noble keeps its pricing in line or lower than Amazon and stays a step ahead of the technology, they could be the winner.

Smashwords photo is the official logo of The photo of Plastic Logic's new eReader is from Plastic Logic's website.