Clay Shirky predicts the use of twitter in Iran.
Archive for the ‘World of Books’ Category
Friday, June 19th, 2009
Wednesday, June 17th, 2009
Mike Shatzkin as always, asks the right questions and has some smart answers.
Saturday, June 13th, 2009
The world is getting more virtual every day. We spend increasingly less time with newspapers and books and more time with our kindles and our laptops. This means that we all need to focus on online marketing and ebooks, on social marketing and powerful virtual communities.
But at same time, this means that opportunities are opening up to market creatively in the physical realm. As the focus shifts to the virtual world, it’s a perfect time to brainstorm about creative physical initiatives.
Is everyone spending two hours a day on email? Develop a postcard campaign of great cleverness and impact.
Is everyone reading on the kindle? Publish books of outstanding beauty and elegance.
Are galleys going virtual? Develop faux-leather bound galleys.
Are press kits mostly digital? Develop an elaborate and clever press kit with surprising elements.
Are free ebooks the rage? Develop a valuable eight page booklet from your book and distribute widely to your target market…along with a coupon for a discount on the book.
Physical is harder and more expensive than virtual, so it has to be done carefully and cleverly. Tricks don’t work, but beauty and value are always appreciated. Most ideas are wrong for most books, so thoughtfulness is key. But you should give it a try. We are.
Thursday, June 11th, 2009
Thursday, June 11th, 2009
…that will actually improve the editorial quality of your book.
One, establish alliances with key influencers while developing the book. This can take many forms. It starts with identifying the influencers. Who is in a position to speak with authority about your topic and has an audience that listens to what they have to say? The influencers you are looking for are influential, but probably not celebrities who are unlikely to engage with you.
Identify the influencers, and then engage with them on the content of your book. Interview them for the book. Debate with them on their blogs on key points, and let them know how you helped them in developing their ideas (and credit them in the book). Invite them to contribute sidebars or chapters to the book (you will probably have to pay them for this of course). And so on. These folks are asked to review books all the time, but more rarely do they actually feel ownership in a book. You’ll get a lot more support and a stronger book.
Two, think carefully about the target market(s) for your book. What are they interested in, where do they hang out, and who do they respect? Are there subsets of your target market with special interests? This might lead to sidebars, extra chapters, etc. Books can be marketed to subgroups on the basis of one chapter aimed at them. Careful thought here will make marketing your book much easier.
Three, recruit a team of readers for your book. Find 25 readers, all from your target market(s). Have them read the book, and then ask them very specific questions. What was the best part of the book for them? What was missing? Can you mark every point at which you put the book down? Can you mark every point that you got excited, or sad? You don’t want folks who will tell you the book is “great.” You want real critics, but not literary critics, critics who represent the folks you are writing the book for. Show each of them how you changed the book to respond to their feedback. You will now have 25 evangelists for your book.
Monday, June 8th, 2009
I’m going to argue that success as a writer is going to get harder…unless you are very good, in which case it’s going to get easier.
Quality is going to become increasingly important.
Quality, by my definition, is the extent to which a book delights its target market.
Delighting one person is better than pleasing ten people, because the delighted can’t help but share their enthusiasm, while the merely pleased move on to something else. With social media creating increasingly more powerful megaphones for the delighted, quality is becoming increasingly more important. Word of mouth was always essential to selling books, but its power is actually growing.
But quality is in the eye of observer, hence “delights its target market.” The book that thrills you may bore me. So it’s critical to understand your target market. This goes for fiction and non-fiction. There’s an old saying from my poker-playing days: “There’s a sucker at every table and if you don’t know who it is…it’s you.” If you don’t know your target market…you get the idea.
Again, social media and on-line niche marketing makes finding and marketing to the target market easier than ever.
Here are three more trends: dramatic growth in on-line sales, dramatic growth in ebooks, and a dramatic rise in the importance of social media relative to traditional media. This, sadly, makes the bookstore relatively less important. This also means, happily, that the frontlist becomes relatively less important (the concept of frontlist is driven largely by limited bookstore space and the preference of traditional media for new books).
So if frontlist is less important, what becomes more important? Quality. The BEST Abraham Lincoln biography will increasingly trump the NEW Abraham Lincoln bio. Every book is competing against every book (soon every page in every book will compete against every other one, courtesy of Google Book Search, but that’s another post). Every book being in play is good for readers and for (very good) writers.
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
We hear a lot about returnability as the BIG PROBLEM in publishing. Everyone hates returns, including me. But a little analysis shows that returns are not publishing’s big problem.
Richard Curtis has a great post on the BEA session Stupid Things Your Publisher does, during which Bob Miller speaks about returns as one of the two things driving the death spiral of the industry (the other being unearned advances). Miller’s Harper Studio is trying to pioneer nonreturnable sales (and has cut a deal with Borders) but the bookstore members of the panel were beating him up for not offering a sufficient discount for non-returnability.
Let’s start that acknowledging that returns are wasteful, from an environmental perspective. You are printing books, shipping them back and forth and then pulping them. It’s painfully wasteful. But is it really wasteful compared to most printed media? Half the pages in magazines are ads that are barely glanced at. Is this any less wasteful? Every newspaper is thrown away every day. This is way more wasteful, by any measure.
Keep in mind that all this printing and shipping has a real business purpose – to allow bookstores to stock more books than they could otherwise afford to do, and in particular to take a risk on lesser known books and authors. This is a good thing. These books go on the shelves, which makes it a form of advertising, which is different than waste.
Now how much does returnability really cost? Let’s assume that the number of books sold by the bookstores is the same no matter what. In other words, when they buy non-returnable they will magically sell the same number as they would have if they bought returnable and returned the unsold books. I’ll come back to this assumption.
According to reports, Miller is offering an additional 8% discount for non-returnability. For a $25 hardcover that’s an extra $2 off. By my math, if a book is returned, the most it costs is about $2.75. This assumes that the book is returned unsalable and just trashed (while in fact the book is often resold). So the return rate would have to be 72% for the Harper Studio deal to break even. (Again this assumes the same level of net sales.) At a more typical 30% return rate, the additional discount for non-returnability should be at most 3-4%.
So this must mean is that the 8% discount that Harper Studio is offering is based on the assumption that the bookstores will buy more books from them than they would on a returnable model (after deducting returns). This might even be the case, if Borders orders Harper Studio titles aggressively and promotes them aggressively (which they are motivated to do as the books are nonreturnable).
Harper Studio might be right and this might be a great strategy for them. Or Borders may order only the amount they are sure to sell, meaning fewer sales than in the returnable model. In which case it’ll turn out to be a terrible strategy for them. (And note that the booksellers in the panel did not think the discount was enough for it to make sense for them.)
But here’s the key thing to realize. Harper Studio’s non-returnability approach is aimed at gaining competitive advantage relative to other publishers. The greater sales of their titles will be at the expense other publishers’ titles. This isn’t a bad thing. If it works it’s actually pretty clever (although it’ll be quickly copied). But it’s not an industry solution. All publishers’ books can’t be more promoted. Non-returnability won’t sell more books overall. In fact, bookstores will carry less stock overall (since the cost of carrying stock will be higher). So overall sales may be lower in physical stores (ceding more territory to online sellers). Bookstores will be more cautious in their buying, and the most publishers will save will be 3-4%, but probably less. If they are discounting by an additional 8% then this will be a net transfer of income from publishes to bookstores (who nevertheless don’t seem to want it, probably because they fear overbuying).
Note also that if booksellers overbuy and can’t sell the books, then the result is waste transfered from the publisher’s books to the sellers. This doesn’t solve any problem (there already is a mechanism for selling remainders). Publishers forget that there is an overstock problem in every industry, but it’s usually the retailers’ problem. But that cost has to be borne by someone.
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
Once again, Kassia Krozser provides great insight, this time with her discussion of digital piracy. She points out that publishers are being pulled down the same road, kicking and screaming, that music company execs were not so long ago.
Our advantage, for now, is that the physical book is still a superior medium, for most people, than the ebook. This gives publishers options for creativity (that most admittedly are avoiding). How long this advantage will last is anyone’s guess. A smallish paperback book that costs $1 to print can still be a beautiful object that you give to a friend or rip in half to share (I’ve done this more than once) or sell again. I’m not sure these will go away so fast.
I made the point in a BEA panel that online marketing, social marketing, online sales and ebooks all were driving towards a diminution of the frontlist/backlist barrier. That means your new biography on Alexander Hamilton will be competing less against the other frontlist history titles and more against every other Hamilton bio. Who will win? With Amazon recommendations, social media openness, etc., I tend to think the best Hamilton bio will win, even if it’s not the newest. In the best of worlds this means a drive towards quality, where bringing out me too books is the road to disaster and great books can last, well, forever.
It’s a pretty thought.
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
Perseus, our distributor, unveiled a clever stunt at BEA. They gathered submissions for Book: The Sequel, a collection of humorous first lines from imaginary sequels at BEA, and, in 48 hours, released the book in a variety of mediums, from printed to audio to kindle (and many other ebook formats), all in one weekend. It was a nice demonstration of their excellent Constellation capability, which we are using to get all of our books (rights permitting) into ebook format.
I submitted a line based on former President Bush’s announcement of his book deal:
“I’m going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there’s an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened.” — George W. Bush on plans for a memoir.
My submission, which, I’m pleased to say was accepted for the book, was:
Given the poor sales of my memoir, I’ve decidered that the American peoples, who have a great curiousness regardless my great marriage to Laura, and how I am a masterpiece of the art of marriage, and so I’ve written this authoritarian guide to my authoritarian marriage.
- From Marriage: An Authoritarian Guide
It was physically painful to write that sentence!
Monday, May 18th, 2009
I found the NYT article on e-book pricing to be somewhat disheartening, when it comes to the ability of the big publishers to adapt to even relatively minor changes in the marketplace.
Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, says ““The concept that because a book is an e-book it should automatically be priced significantly lower than a paper book is one we don’t agree with. What a consumer is buying is the content, not necessarily the format.”
This is echoed by bestselling author David Baldacci, who says that e-book prices of $9.99 are “not sustainable.” If readers insist on cut-rate electronic books, he said, “unfortunately there won’t be anyone selling it anymore because you just can’t make any money.”