Thursday, December 27, 2007

Someone's gonna have to explain this to me

I just spent an hour on the treadmill at the local gym watching the story of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan.

Ok, sorry, this is not an issue in publishing - at least until next week. This is an issue in life.

Whether or not you agree with her politics, policies, or even personal habits is irrelevant, the cowardice and stupidity displayed today against a person who was a world leader, is beyond my comprehension.

My most sincere condolences go to those who loved her.

It feels a little like 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was shot. No one will ever know the real reasons, and its possible, that in death, she will achieve more power than she ever could have in a race for the premiership.

Kids reactions to OLPC/XO

Christmas morning in our home was extraordinary. It seems as though everyone was thrilled with their gifts and general mood was absolutely wonderful.

Brian and Nick, our 8 year old twin boys, were the recipients of the XO machines (with one left over for Dad to play with). My reasons for this approach were detailed in my last post.

I was fully prepared to be absolutely wrong about my assumptions, but it looks like I was right about most of them. And there were a few surprises as well. You should read the last post about the details of my family, but to say that we had mayhem on Christmas morning is a bit understated. So, I couldn't really keep track of what everyone was doing, and I did lose track of what Brian and Nick did initially with their laptops.

I do know that Nick opened the box and promptly 'poured' the XO out of the open end onto the floor! Well, the first test passed... whew... it had no impact on the operation. When Brian saw that Nick got a 'laptop', he promptly dived under the tree to find his - nearly knocking over the entire tree.

About an hour later, I found both boys up in their room, 'playing' with their XO's. With absolutely no help from Dad, they were chatting with each other, and had already made a little video of themselves! I was more than a little impressed, in fact I was blown away! I guess this is pretty intuitive.

Being 8 year old boys, they were pretty easily distracted, but have spent a fair amount of time with the XO. They showed me some things I failed to find, on my first pass of the machine (and I've owned a software company for 20 years and have a computer science degree!). Now, it seems to have fallen into that lull place, but I think that has more to do with some other gifts they received, than to do with a lack of excitement about their 'laptops'.

My impressions as to why the older kids wouldn't want these machines were also born out. In fact, when I tried to explain the 'philanthropic' nature of the OLPC project, the older guys seemed somewhat unimpressed. I did think that they would 'get' that, and it might make them more interested in owning one, but alas, they didn't 'get it' at all. They thought it was cool that Brian & Nick got their laptops, and figured that without AIM, iTunes, and Word, they wouldn't use them anyway.

When I get a little more time, I'll post my own impressions. But, the take away for me is that kids can really use this machine with little or now help from adults. I read in a CNN story yesterday that there were concerns that the kids would overwhelm the teachers in developing countries. I can really see how that could happen. These are impressive little machines whose technology will provide some wonderful opportunities to the worlds children. I think that Nicholas Negraponte should be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. I wouldn't be surprised to see that come up in more blog entries in the next year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

First Reactions to the OLPC

Last Friday, a big box was waiting on my doorstep when I got home. The 3 XO's that I had ordered on November 12th, finally arrived.

We have 6 kids, 5 of whom are still living at home. My original intentions were that the three laptops I ordered were going to be for the three older ones (18, 16, 14). But after opening one up, and playing with it for a while, those thoughts have been thrown out the window.

It now looks like our twin 8 year old sons are going to be the recipients, and we'll figure out what to do with the third one later. The little guys will be out of their minds excited, about everything related to this machine. And, I can't wait to learn more myself in order to help them learn and take advantage of all this has to offer. There are lots of great comments to make about this machine for younger kids. However, I'm a little disappointed that the older guys won't be getting these as gifts.

So, here is what brought me to decision not to give them to the older kids:

1. I knew they were very cute - from all the pictures - but I thought that this would be 'mitigated' for teenagers by the 'coolness' of being part of the solution. My impression now... No way... it is too cute. And the keyboard is so small and toy like that it is not something a teenager would be caught with.

2. the keyboard - as mentioned above - is very small, built for kids hands, not adult hands. I tried to write this blog entry on the XO, but eventually had to give up, as it was just to hard to type.

3. The 'Sugar' interface. Sugar is the operating system on the XO, and it, too, is very cool, but it is slow, and not intuitive for the hardcore windows and mac users. It is just not as advanced an operating system, and it is clear that it was built by developers for developers. Teenagers are into usage. They only care that they can do what they want, and fast.

4. While the internet is available, and the browser is not bad, some pages come up as inaccessible - and I have yet to figure out why.... It's almost as though it sees them as a popup, but there are not tools on the browser to help configure those types of things.

5. The screen is so small as to prevent larger web pages to be displayed without scrolling up and down, left and right. Definitely a problem in a 'myspace world'.

6. These machines won't support the major apps that the teenage kids use. In our house, the major apps are, AIM, AIM, AIM, iTunes, iTunes, Microsoft word, and powerpoint... in addition to the internet. The chat feature on the XO is cool, but won't allow 'cross chatting' with other systems. I just don't think the teenagers will be able to get past this one, no matter how cool, or cute the machine is.

7. There are some really basic things that 'normal' pc users can do, that I haven't been able to figure out on the XO, yet. For example, I can't figure out whether there is a file system, or if there is how to use it, and manage it. I have no idea how to tell what kind of disk space is available or how to save things. This is probably just my own learning curve, and something I'll eventually get by, but I fear the kids won't give it that type of perseverance.

Having said all this, there are some really great things that the 'unburdened' eight year olds will really enjoy:

1. If you are not a hardcore windows or mac user, then the Sugar interface is clearly designed for a kid. I can't wait to prove this when the boys start using them, but my impression is that this is just their speed.

2. the application loading speed won't be an issue for the little guys, since they have no expectations.

3. the fact that the mesh network can let them chat with each other (and hopefully friends) will be a source of endless delight.

4. some of the included apps will be alot of fun for little guys, and help them with math!

5. If I ever figure out the file system, it looks like tools are available for me to teach them how to program!

I guess that's it for now.... I'll post more after the kids start to play! Merry Christmas!

A Zany Amazon Prediction for 2008

It's just too much fun trying to predict the moves of one of the most important players in the book industry.... I guess I'm officially one of those 'pundits'. there is no price to pay for a wrong prediction, so why not throw a few out there, right?

Yesterday, I went to the local Apple Store to purchase a gift for a family member (who must remain nameless for a couple of days). Their primary 'Christmas product', the iPod Nano was set up in stacks, with an express checkout assembly all setup to maximize the sales of these little wonders.

This morning, I was reading Joe Wikert's Kindleville, about the fact that Kindles haven't been shipping... and bam... these two disparate ideas clanged, and I couldn't help but think that maybe Kindle will take Amazon into the Bricks and Mortar world. Is it really too hard to imagine, an Amazon store tucked in with all the other upscale stores in every mall and in every major city? The picture of Kindles stacked up like nano's seems very plausible to me.

After all, I may be wrong, but isn't this the first Amazon Branded product? Could the Kindle simply be a test to see whether the Amazon brand is ubiquitous enough to be placed on different types of products? Can the virtual brand float into the tangible world? The voices highlighting this aspect of the Kindle have been pretty weak... I'm sure someone has made this connection, but I haven't read about it.

But a leap from branding to bricks and mortar? I know it may seem a bit far fetched, but then I'm reminded of all those huge distribution centers Amazon built a few years back. Were they really designed to be just to facilitate mail orders to online customers? Their geography seems to be designed more like supporting retail distribution.

Anyway, enough punditry for now.... We'll see what 2008 brings. Whatever it is, I'm sure we're in for a few surprises. You can almost feel them in the air.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2007: The year we embraced Technology

When book publishing historians look back at 2007, there will be much for them to remark on. But, in my view, the overwhelming theme of this year in the book industry is that 2007 is the year that technology (in general) went from being feared to being embraced.

And, as I think through this, it didn't just happen in one place. It happened at all levels of the 'value chain'. It happened at the publisher level, at the author level, at the retail level, and at the consumer level.

Let's consider some of the following:
  1. At the beginning of 2007, how many of you knew what a social network was? (I didn't really)
  2. At the beginning of 2007, how many of you either wrote or read (or even considered) blogs as a main source of information? (not me)
  3. I'd love to know how many self publishing service companies there were at the beginning of 2007 compared to what seem like 'hundreds' now.
  4. How many of you had your entire concept of personal technology design turned on it's ear by the iPhone, even though you knew it was coming?
  5. How many publishers are actively converting titles, and changing their workflows for digital distribution now, as compared to last year?
  6. How many would anticipate at the beginning of 2007, that an e-reading device would DOMINATE the industry dialogue? (I would have laughed if someone suggested this)
  7. How many of us thought that the One Laptop Per Child or $100 Laptop (OLPC) was just wishful thinking, and couldn't possibly expect that hundreds of thousands of them would be shipped into EMERGING MARKETS?
  8. How many thought that there would be realistic - as opposed to theoretical - conversations about new publishing business models?

I have to admit that I didn't see most of this coming, but now that it has, it's not too hard to see where it might lead us.

So, what caused all this? Well, I would argue that it was just a handful of vanguard companies that started down their individual roads with their ideas a couple of years ago. And this year, they came together to show (the rest of us) that this is no longer science fiction - it is real stuff.

Some of the credit needs to go to all those publishing conferences this year. In an earlier post, I complained about there being too many of them, but looking back, it was really what we all needed. Starting with the Google Unbound conference at the NY Public Library, and progressing on through the O'Reilly, 'Tools of Change' conference, and even to the ECPA's Publishing University in November, the dialogue dramatically changed from denial, to grudging acceptance, to foregone conclusion. Book Publishing is at a cross roads, and, our very survival as a relevant industry is hanging in the balance.

All in all, it was really a year that book publishing historians will look back on as one of the more important in the industry's evolution.

2007 in Review: Let's Discuss!

This is the time of year when all the book industry trade publications start naming their top picks for the best books of the year. There are so many different top ten lists that I can't keep up with them all.

For me, though, it's the time of year when I look back at the major trends in the business, and try to look forward to what might happen next year. So, for the next couple of blog posts, I'll explore these topics. I hope that whoever reads this will chime in with some ideas of their own, and that perhaps instead of a monologue, this blog can start to become a dialog.

Please post some comments, even if they are anonymous. Thanks. fpt

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Can the e-Galley idea make a comeback?

Joe Wikert’s post the other day about Simon & Schuster's internal use of e-reading devices got me thinking about the possible resurgence of the idea of electronic galleys.

Two years ago, I personally phone surveyed about 30 book buyers from stores all over the United States. To a person, they all told stories about their love-hate relationship with galleys. They loved them because it gave them advanced understanding about the books that they were buying, so that they could decide whether or not to recommend them to their customers. They hated them because a. they couldn’t sell them, and b. because they were hard to store and eventually recycle. They seem like such a waste of paper.

One of the huge take-aways from that informal survey for me was that independent bookstores that survived the age of the internet, and survived big-box retailers, and chain superstores, did so by embracing the new realities, and directing their attention to things they could do that the competition couldn’t. It was interesting that many actually made their businesses far more successful than they had ever been before the large threats came along, simply by better engaging their communities.

Now booksellers (of all types) are facing another huge challenge, the possibility that e-book reading devices will gain real traction in the marketplace, and that sales of e-books may cut into sales of print books. As I have mentioned in another post, I believe strongly that the 'indies' need to have a role in the e-book world. The way it looks from my perch, it’s time again for booksellers to make a survival decision: be stalwarts against the new invader, or embrace the new reality and use it to their advantage.

My money is on those that will embrace the new technologies, and figure out how to leverage them into revenue. I’m not sure what those business models will look like yet, but I suspect my friends at Ingram Digital have some notions about that topic. But, one thing I do know from my years in ‘change management’, there are two necessary ingredients to developing a new business model: 1. completely understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) of the new product or service, and 2. Use the product or service yourself before offering it out to others.

And so, one way for booksellers to embrace and understand the new technologies are to to use them themselves. Using them for reading electronic galleys would be a great start to this process. There would be many advantages, not the least of which is the ‘green’ angle. Think of all the paper that could be saved, and the recycling that wouldn’t have to be done. It seems like a such a logical win-win situation for the publisher and the retailer.

I also think this is an opportunity for the American Booksellers Association to take a real leadership stand. Perhaps they could start to work with Sony, iRex, and other purveyors of e-reading devices, and get a few samples to pass around to their constituents to ‘test’. It would be a great first step in having a centralized approach to having bookstores (who want to survive) start selling the e-reader devices in their stores.

Food for thought.

I’m getting a Kindle, I’m getting a Kindle!

Last Friday night at our company Christmas Party, my team presented me with a ‘notice’ that they had purchased a Kindle for me. Shocked and excited, I must admit to a kid-like anticipation of its arrival. Of course, no one knows when that will be.

Now I’m hoping that Amazon’s ‘under promise, over deliver’ style is going to kick in, and the new Kindle will be arriving very soon.

Having seen one first hand, I’m very curious about using it for real reading. As stated in a previous post, I’m reading more now than ever, and I look forward to organizing my time around it’s use.

Thanks to all my friends at Quality Solutions for their generous hearts. This is a gift that I would not have bought for myself. It’s a little pricey for my blood, but getting it as a gift is a great thing!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

e-Books are a Whole New Canvas for Authors

It seems to me that in all the hand-wringing about the end of printed books, there is an important opportunity not being discussed at all.

The printed book is a closed system. It stands completely alone, and interacts with only one reader at a time. It is, as an old mentor of mine would say, "perfect".

By contrast e-books are open, and can possibly interact with many people at one time. So, I guess they are "imperfect".

But authors haven't had this much creative opportunity since the book of Kells. Perhaps that is what all the hand-wringing is about? Are the authors afraid of the challenge of dealing with such a vast canvas?

They shouldn't be. And, neither should editors, or agents, or publishers. No one has to use the entirety of the canvas yet. Just push out the borders a little... create some alternative endings... link to a few websites that have additional information about the topic you are writing about... set up some links to wikipedia.

As the borders get pushed a little here and a little there, I am sure that reading experience will become enhanced, and the reading public will reward the creativity by buying more works (notice I didn't say books).

In some ways it feels like book publishing is where television was when color TV sets were first introduced. At first they were just for the 'early adopters', and the programming wasn't any different, it just used color film. I still remember our first color TV. (We were not early adopters). As consumers of the media, we were amazed and enthralled with the new paradigm. That interest eventually fed into the creativity of the television studios, who invested more and more in the technology, and the 'creative pallet'.

I think the next 10 years will bode the same thing for 'books'. We'll always call them that... at least for a few more generations.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Random Thought about Reading & Writing

I've had a weird little bout of writers block for a few days.

What is weird about it is that I have had plenty of ideas to write about, but one idea that doesn't seem nearly worthy enough to post keeps getting in the way. It's as though I can't write anything else until I get this out...

Since I heard Joe Wickert of Wiley speak at Publishing University last month about blogging, I've been inspired to keep it up. And to do so, I've found that I am doing an amazing amount of reading. And it's not just in the blogosphere, but that has been significant, it is everywhere in my life. Since committing to writing, I've become an almost insatiable consumer of the written word.

Some I skim, and some I savor, but I think that I've read more in the past month than I have in the past two years!

I'm not quite sure where to go with this notion. It's probably something that writers - of all kinds - have experienced forever. But, it is a new concept to me. I have to believe that there is some lesson for our education system here.

When I was coming out of college, everyone 'said' you had to have good written communication skills, but, if you had a major like mine (Computer Science/Math), no one really worried much about your writing skills. Since the advent of email, however, we've all had to sure them up. And, with the rise of social networking, it seems that this requirement has taken another quantum leap.

Extrapolating out my reading and writing experience, it seems that the more we as people in a society want to be part of the blogospheric dialog, the greater demand we are going to place on written content. This has to bode well for publishers...

Well, now that this is out of my system, maybe I can get back to writing about other things. Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Reading Amazon's Tea-leaves: a fool's errand

Michael Cairns posted an insightful piece this morning that really humbled me. In his opening paragraph he talks about an audience he had with Jeff Bezos in 1998, and how wrong he was at the time about trying to project where Amazon was going.

This reminded me of a similar experience I had with Mr. Bezos. It must also have been in early 1998. Jeff Bezos was the keynote speaker at a publishing conference hosted by the University of Virginia, held at the Library of Congress. At a cocktail reception after his keynote, I actually had a one-on-one conversation with him for about 10 minutes, until the host ushered me away. At that meeting I gave him my original business plan for eloquence.

About 2 months later at BEA, several people from Amazon descended on our small booth, and demanded a meeting. Now remember, this is pre-ONIX, pre-everything related to bibliographic metadata. When I arrived at their booth for the meeting, they produced the business plan that I had given to Jeff a couple of months earlier. It was highlighted and underlined, and obviously well read - by somebody.

In the meeting, however, they only wanted to talk about one thing. About 10 pages into the document I wrote about the collection and dissemination of rights information. That paragraph was circled, highlighted, and starred. They wanted to know how I could do it. Whatever my answer was, I don't remember, but it was obviously not compelling enough for them to continue the meeting. They ushered me out, and that was the last I heard from them.

What I was left with was a strong sense that Amazon was not going to be what it appeared to be. They were looking way beyond where they were. In 1998, they were a small, US only, website for books. They knew then that they had to try and tackle the issue of rights one way or another to be the international power that they are today.

Michael's story was further corroborated today by a couple of other interesting items that came to my attention today. Unfortunately, due to confidentiality, I can't share them here. Suffice it to say one had to do with asking publishers for a specific type of content, and the other had to do with Amazon's use of the EVDO platform for purposes other than downloading content.

I guess the bottom line for me is that we are all wasting our time trying to figure out what Amazon's next move is. There are many very smart people there, and they are thinking two or three moves ahead all the time. In this age of 'now', it seems difficult to get our heads around the notion that a company is thinking and acting in a long term way. Clearly, if the past is any teacher, Amazon's Kindle launch is just a baby step in a much larger plan, that will be revealed when they want us to know it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On Kindle and e-books and much more...

On Monday, my friend, David Berlind, who is an executive editor for ZD-Net interviewed me about a pretty sweeping array of topics related to Kindle and the book publishing industry. He wrote in his blog today, and even published a podcast of our conversation.

For anyone who has been following this blog, it should be interesting. Thanks, David for saving me a ton of writing.....

Amazon’s Kindle: Much needed revolution or book industry power play? by ZDNet's David Berlind -- Like Apple’s iPods and the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) from which they can so effortlessly acquire content, the transparency of the automation and infrastructure that makes Amazon’s Kindle work so effortlessly with the Web site is a marvel in terms of the user experience. But the same technology under the hood that makes [...]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Will Kindle help Amazon Command the Self Publishing Marketplace?

Yesterday a friend asked me about the proprietary nature of the Kindle. "Why would Amazon want to only have content in its own format?" I didn't have a good answer. My first inclination was that the use of only proprietary formats of ebooks might be simply a functionality prioritization, and that in a later release, Kindle will be able to handle other forms of e-content.

This afternoon I was cleaning up my desk and ran across the business card of someone from BookSurge - and that got my gears grinding.

BookSurge is an Amazon company that helps people self-publish their books. They offer editorial, marketing, and print-on-demand services for people who (for whatever reason) won't get published by an established publishing house. This is a burgeoning market and one where BookSurge has many competitors.

In fact, according the the Under the Radar Study by BISG back in 2005, aggregated sales of books from publishers who (individually) have less that $1 Million in annual revenue, is estimated to be nearly $3 Billion per year. That's a pretty big market to service, especially if you have way of taking a significant chunk of that $3 Billion for yourself.

From BookSurge's website, they even say the following:

Not only can BookSurge help you create a high-quality, highly marketable book, we can also provide you with exclusive tools and resources to help you gain exposure, develop an audience, and build readership for your work.

Exclusive tools? Like maybe we can distribute your titles through Kindle, and we won't take any from other self-publishers? That's a pretty big exclusivity factor for an author thinking of self-publishing.

food for thought.

How many Kindles were actually sold?

Does anyone really know? I've been scouring the web everywhere, and can't come up with a number.

There are tons and tons of articles talking about how the first 'lot' sold out in 5.5 hours. Truly amazing, huh? I guess we're all assuming that the there were 'a lot' of units in the first 'lot'. But, how many is 'a lot'?

Is it just a marketing ploy? To some extent it must be, otherwise, Amazon would have shouted the numbers from every rooftop in Seattle. Creating artificial demand by manipulating the supply is a good way to justify the big price tag.

I am personally very excited by the Kindle, and the effect it will have on book publishers. I think this is the type of shot in the arm the book publishing industry really needs. I will even go on to say that I want one, and I think Amazon did a masterful job of PR. I'm just a bit bothered by the lack of, even ball park, figures.

When I look and see stories like yesterday's about the XO, and the news that Peru has signed up for 260,000 units( and another 50,000 to Mexico!!!), it seems a stark contrast to the lack of any numbers from Amazon.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Discussion of Book Publishings Future

There is an interesting blog post this week, that I had a chance to participate in. Both the content and context of this post are interesting to me.

The post written by Ajay Jain, in a blog called Techgazing, asks the Question, "Will Kindle send book publishing the music industry way?" Please take the time to read it.

What I find interesting here (besides the obvious that he included my opinion in the post) were several things:

1. The post was 'built' by using a feature of the LinkedIn social network, called Q&A. I'm not even sure I understand all the magic here. One day, I logged into LinkedIn, and there was a 'question' about the book industry that was just too tantalizing to pass up. So I answered it. It was clear that mine was one of maybe 50 answers. I thought to myself at the time, that this was an interesting method to write a piece, and after I answered, I didn't think anything more of it. All of the people who answered were in the LinkedIn network.

2. The post was more of a survey aggregation than something written by the author. If you notice, aside from the opening 3 paragraphs, the author lets other people do all the talking. This is both interesting, and powerful. We don't need to 'trust' exclusively in the opinion of the author, and the fact that there are so many voices in the piece, I think, helped turn this piece more into a discussion forum than an editorial like piece.

3. The post generated (as you can see), many many comments - and obviously touched a nerve. The content, obviously found a place where people have strong emotions, as have all the pieces in the past few weeks about ebooks. I find this very encouraging for our society. If we can take this type of discussion into the world political arena, perhaps we could all become a little more tolerant of each other.

4. While definitely a 'geek' perspective on the world of books and publishing, it is a 'world geek' view, not just an American view. It seems that one very interesting thing is that social networks eliminate territorial borders. The author was from India, but many of his participants were from places all around the world. Again, sociologically speaking, I find this to be very encouraging.

My kudos to Ajay for pulling this piece together, not only on the topic, but for how he did it. This type of 'facilitation' is very interesting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sometimes the best thing about Social Networking is the People

I made a post last week talking about my adventures in social networking. In that post, I bemoaned the number of social networks and how I was having trouble keeping up with all of them.

One of the networks I mentioned was Zude. In my last post, I had pretty much mentioned that it was not going to make the cut. Well, it's time for an 'about-face' on that issue. The reason is very simple: they saw my post, and reached out to me.

After a couple of emails to setup the time, we actually spoke on the, er, um.. telephone.

Steve Poppe, marketing director, and Matt Wulkan, self-designated, Zude-Denali, spent the better part of an hour on the phone with me, walking me through some of the simpler things that I never took the time to read. (Who reads directions anyway?) And, I'm in. Now I'm able to keep all my social network connections in one place, and get to them very easily!

It's sort of like creating my own 'favorites' pages.... and I can have as many as I want.

I know that I have only barely scratched the surface of what this software can do, but I'm excited to try - whenever I have a few spare minutes.

I want to thank Steve and Matt for taking this beginner through his paces. Having been in the computer science field for as long as I have, I should probably know this stuff, but have to confess, I'm probably my own worst enemy. Sometimes, some old fashioned hand-holding is really necessary.

So, check out this cool video, get your own Zude account, and look me up. Happy zuding!

Monday, November 26, 2007

OLPC News!!!

In his blog today, Larry Dignan extrapolates that perhaps 490,000 XO laptops will be ordered by the end of the year. His post also goes on to ask the question, "can this be considered a success?"

Well, I believe it is! I am thrilled with that number, and as Larry points out, all the 'ripple effects' that go with it.

Since my post, and David Berlind's post that challenged other employers to put matching policies in place regarding the One laptop per child project (OLPC), I've sort of felt like John Belushi's character in Animal House. You know the one, where he is dressed in a toga and he tries to lead the fraternity on a charge after they have been given double-secret probation.... Well, if you don't, no one follows him....

Oh, and by the way, this should be a big boost for book publishers and e-books, too! Imagine the e-books that could be downloaded to 490,000 reading units?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why Kindle is a Watershed event for e-Books

I don't know where the term 'watershed' came from, but to me a 'watershed event' is one that we can look back on historically and identify a real turning point in the evolution of a certain cause.

I think that the launch of Amazon's Kindle reader is a watershed event in the cause of e-book adoption.

What I think is very interesting about e-books is that they are probably more reviled by real bibliophiles than they are by those of us for whom books are just another part of our lives. It's not that we don't love them - far from it - it's just that we are more interested in the content than the form. Thus, it seems the battle for e-book adoption seems to be us against ourselves - a civil war of sorts.

So, when I think about e-book adoption, a military metaphor comes to mind. It seems that for generations those that have revered the hard bound, printed tome have held the high ground. Over the centuries they have repelled many intruders. Paperbacks, both 'trade' and 'mass market', have tried to win the top of the mountain, but have had to settle for 2nd tier status. While those formats didn't win, they did inflict casualties and win some converts, reducing the numbers in the high ground, but not reducing their power or position.

Then along came audio books. Although strong for a brief period, they never were able to pose any serious threat to anyone above them, nor form alliances with other forms that could pose any threat to the high ground. Eventually, audio books found their own small place on the mountain side away from everyone else.

For the past 10 years, e-books have been trying to work their way up the mountain. Because there numbers were small, and relatively weak, they were easily repelled by both tiers of books at the higher ground. In fact, it seemed that all books were in union to repel this latest invader.

The e-book generals continued to throw weapons and soldiers against the ramparts, but have failed to make any real break through. There were times when the e-book army thought that they had the weapon to break past the fortifications of the higher ground (like the Sony reader), but alone, it was simply not enough.

But, the tide seems to be turning for the upstart e-books. e-Book forces have been consolidating (aligning on standards). And, a new 'armies' have come to join the battle - handheld devices, like iPhones and other PDA's can now display e-books. Search programs, like Google Print and Microsoft Live Book are developing new online reading followers. And with it's introduction, probably the most powerful new army is joining the fray - the Kindle army.

Kindle has the power to convert a whole new population of book readers into foot soldiers. The marketing power of Amazon almost guarantees that many, many of these devices will sell.

What appears to me to be happening is that many of the second tier landholders are re-evaluating their loyalties to the high grounders and starting to side with the e-book armies and Kindle. The high grounders are starting to feel the threat as is evidenced by their vociferous pronouncements about why the e-book revolution will fail, and the hardcover will never go away. This is a major shift in the battle, and why I think the Kindle launch is a watershed event.

While it will be a while before the results of this latest onslaught are in, one thing is for certain, defenders of the print book world are taking casualties, and the e-bookers are gaining ground. Additionally, the paperback book forces are seeing a weakness at the top, and attacking the hardcover as well.

However this battle ends up, there is good news all around: the number of readers will grow, and the opportunities to have a work published will grow as well. Instead of fighting among ourselves, we should welcome each other and try to figure out the best ways to work together to take advantage of these new market opportunities.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank You, Thank You

I started writing this post after an incredible evening back in late September, but never finished it. For this Thanksgiving day, it seems appropriate to share, now...


Last night, I had one of those magical moments...

On a whim, and at the encouragement of my wife, I went for a sail by myself after work. I own a 1976 Catalina '27, and I don't get out on it often enough.The weather has been spectacular lately, and I got to the boat at about 5:30pm. It takes me about 45 minutes to get out of the river to the ocean.

So, about 6:30pm, I was exiting the mouth of the Merrimack, and I put up my sails.There was a gentle, 7-8 knot breeze and the swells were only about a foot. As I cut the engine and let the wind take the boat (which in itself is one of my favorite moments in life), I couldn't help but be choked up by the beauty of it all. The sun was a big orange ball setting off my stern, and to starboard a half moon was rising. All around me, the skies were multi-hued orange and purple.

About 3 minutes later, Natalie Merchant's, "Kind and Generous" played on the radio, and I felt completely overwhelmed by how lucky I was. And, as Ms. Merchant sang, "Thank you, thank you - thank you, thank you", it was hard not to think about how incredibly fortunate I have been in my life. I have a great family and wonderful friends and coworkers. Compared to most, I really want for very little.


My wish for you all on this Thanksgiving day is that you put aside the battles and recall one of your magical moments. Maybe you will even have one today! Then take the time to thank God for all your good fortune.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Read Michael Hyatt's blog!

I spent a lot of time thinking about Michael Hyatt's blog entry yesterday. There are so many different things to say about it, that it is probably fodder for about 10 different blog posts.

At the end of those thoughts, the most succinct comment I can make is read it!

It is so refreshing to see a publisher of Michael's stature say the things that need to be said about our beloved industry. We are so wrought with inefficiency, and it goes right down to individual people in individual departments inside the publishing houses. (Don't let me get started on book production...) Some of it may be inescapable, but the fact that Michael admits it means -to me - that he is ready to transform his company to mitigate risks associated with that inefficiency.


ps. I just went out there again to grab the link, and the number of comments to Mike's blog are astounding.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Adventures in Social Networking

For the past few months, I've been attempting to get a handle on social networking. My reasons were both personal and professional. On the personal side, I got myself a MySpace account just so I can log in and see my daughter's page. I don't go there very often anymore, but occasionally if I want to see if anyone has put anything 'untoward' on her page. So far, no one has.

On the professional side, my predominant reason was to try and understand how social networks work, and what value they have for publishers. So much was being written about travelling widgets and other marketing tools, and, while I could understand it theoretically, I wanted to understand it through experience. So, I opened a Facebook account.

That's what I thought the extent of social networks were, Myspace and Facebook. I thought this was all about the young and hip - of which I'm neither. Then for fun (and personal pleasure) David Berlind turned me on to a site called Zude. Another social networking site with some intriguing technical capabilities - most of which I haven't quite figured out how to work yet.

Then I started notice things, and light eventually dawned... All these sites include 'friends', and they all want my personal address book. Hmmm interesting. I hadn't put it together before, but then I started to realize that Plaxo and LinkedIn were also social networking sites. I'd been involved in those for quite a while - invited by 'friends' that I wouldn't consider young and hip. I thought Plaxo was just a way to keep contact information up to date.... little did I know...

What I've come to find is that there are social networks where you can pretend to be anyone you want (MySpace and SecondLife come to mind) and others where you can really develop a list of contacts by seeing what contacts your friends have (Facebook and LinkedIn come to mind). It's been intriguing and somewhat exhilerating to have people accept my invitations to be connected online. I have hooked up with some people that I haven't seen in 20 years. Pretty cool. Most of that has happened on LinkedIn.

On Facebook, I find the usability a little more challenging, but the power far greater. The concept of groups is really powerful. By joining groups that I am interested in, I find that I am making a much richer definition of who I am than anything I could or would write about myself in a profile. I am also finding out a lot of interesting information about my 'friends' that I never knew.

But all of this comes at what I think is a pretty steep price. Being online, and checking all this stuff out takes a ton of time, and it's pretty addicting. So, if you have a procrastinating nature, like I do, you can really procrastinate to your hearts content. The other price is just keeping them all synchronized. Now that I have Plaxo, LinkedIn, and Facebook, I have different friends in each, mostly because I am too embarrassed to ask people to join me on three (or four or five) different platforms. I might be willing to waste my own time, but I don't want to waste anyone elses.

Each of these platforms has their own value equation - and cater to a different market. And, as you might expect, the more powerful the features, the greater the learning curve. I'm personally at the point where I need to consolidate. For me, it's going to be LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn is a very powerful tool for connecting with people you already know. Facebook offers more opportunities for connecting with people I've never met, but who share similar interests. Now, that's just me. You can't blast my daughter - or any of her friends - off of MySpace with a cannon.

For my book publishing friends the conundrum is larger. They have to be everywhere there customers are, and if I was in charge of marketing, I'd be looking hard at MySpace, Facebook, and SecondLife to put my marketing dollars.

Oh, and just how does blogging fit into this whole social network thing?

good luck out there.

Is Kindle the Bowmar Brain of this generation?

Well, it is certainly not the only wish I had for Christmas that won't get delivered....

It's official. Kindle is here. Here is a link to the Amazon Press Release.

Now that it is here, I do hope it turns into a watershed event for our beloved publishers. Other devices have not done so well because they haven't had the marketing power and enthusiasm that Amazon can bring.

I expect it to sell moderately well for Christmas - there are lots of early adopter people out there. Then I think it will go into a bit of a lull while the first users really bang on it. By this time next year, I expect Kindle 2.0 to come out, and then it will be on a lot of Christmas lists for 2008.

Parallel to the 'device' development, publishers (of all media - not just books) will respond. Amazingly, backlist books - the same ones it was too hard to convert - will get converted to Mobi format. More and more newspapers, magazines, and journals will find ways of being presented on the device.

Let's fast forward a couple of years, and let's look at the next generation of readers. If Kindle can really take off, it will be like the calculator was to me in High School. I remember when my parents spent an incredible amount of money on my first calculator from Rockwell International. Other kids that year got Bowmar Brains. The concept was so new, that we weren't allowed to use them in school. (In fact, I still couldn't use them in some college engineering classes.) Calculators now, are given away ... and are so ubiquitous as to be required in school, by little kids.

I imagine the same will hold true for Reading devices. At first, just a few 'wealthy' kids will have them. Then some college somewhere will require them of all incoming freshmen. Then someone will donate a bunch to a high school somewhere.... and so on.

They will get better and better, cheaper and cheaper - as seen with the OLPC (sorry, I had to slip that in). They will become so ubiquitous as to be required in school, by little kids.

I was thinking this morning about when my daughter has her own kids and what will be in their backpacks - if that innovation still exists. Instead of telling stories of how many miles we had to walk to school, she will be telling her kids about how heavy her backpack was because of all the books she had to carry. The kids just won't get it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Can Jeff Bezos be Santa Claus?

subtitle: My Christmas Wish

All the news about Kindle, and my own very high hopes for the XO Pc got me thinking... wouldn't it be nice if.....

Picture the setting, the W Hotel in Union Square in NYC. One of the hippest locations in town. It's 9:30am on Monday, November 19th. Some nameless PR person from Amazon is providing a colorful introduction for the main speaker, Jeff Bezos, President, and resident big kid at Amazon.

With his trademark guffaw and his huge smile he approaches the podium with a big cardboard Amazon box. He puts the box down on a small table beside the podium. He looks at the crowd, and gives them another of his 'billion dollar grins'.

He reaches into the box and pulls out the Kindle, and triumphantly holds it up over his head, and says nothing. The crowd starts to clap, there are obligatory smiles all around the room which is crowded not only with members of the press, but with big dignitaries from all manner of companies, not the least of which are book publishers.

This goes on for a full minute, and Mr. Bezo's guffaws start to drown out the room. The first words he says are, "You all thought I was going to announce this today, didn't you?". The room goes silent, then the murmurs of people whispering among themselves grows to the sound of a loud air conditioner. More guffaws.

Mr. Bezos goes on, "No, everything you read is true. It still looks like a B2 Stealth bomber and still has a few software glitches."

He puts the Kindle down, and reaches back in the box. He pulls out an odd looking green and white laptop. He opens it, flips up the little bunny ear-like antennae and laughs again.

He says, "Now this, is ready, and it is sooooo cool!"

"What I am here to announce this morning is that Amazon is going to put its full marketing and distribution muscle behind the One Laptop per Child Program!". The crowd is stunned - most don't even know what the program is.

"In fact, we are putting on a promotion, for every $100 book order, we will send you one of these XO pc's, and the OLPC people will send another to a needy child in a third world country. We at Amazon believe so much in this program, and have a goal of providing 20,000 of these to the world by January 30th."

Another big grin, and he continues, "Just think how many of the kids that will use these machines will make their first online transaction from These machines are so cool, that I haven't been able to stop playing with it since I got it."

Its fun to dream...........

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kindle Rumors Abound

It seemed like yesterday, everywhere I turned, I was hearing another rumor about Kindle.

Kindle, Amazon's promised ebook reader, has gone through the rumor mill many times before, but never with the ferocity of the past couple of days.

Larry Dignan at ZDNet wrote a piece furthering the rumor yesterday afternoon. A press conference has been scheduled for 9:30 am on Monday from Amazon, to be given by Jeff Bezos, but the contents of the announcement remain mysterious.

From independent sources, I know that several heads of book publishing houses have been invited to attend. That fact alone, points to something related to books.

Having the press conference the Monday before Thanksgiving is a sure fire indication that whatever is being announced is timed to attempt to maximize sales for Christmas.

So, my money is on a Kindle announcement.

What I'm more skeptical about is how it will sell.

Amazon almost single handedly squashed ebook sales when they bought Mobipocket and decided that other formats would no longer be welcome on their retail site. So, not only do they have to sell a device, they need to draw back the ebook reader market. My guess is that we will hear about that plan on Monday also.

Amazon certainly has the content, and a selection of ebooks to sell and/or package with their new device. I know several publishers that have given Amazon the go ahead to create Mobipocket ebooks from the .PDF files used for the 'Search inside the book program'.

The question remains, can they ramp this up quickly enough to have an impact for Christmas. If they can, then it will be the galvanizing event that will force publishers to start getting their digital strategies together. If Amazon can't make a good Christmas out of Kindle and ebooks, then I fear that most -not the enlightened ones - will simply defer their digital plans until next year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

One Laptop per child and the Tipping Point

Where is Malcolm Gladwell when you need him?

My wife and I were chatting (what I really mean is that we were exchanging words as we moved in multiple directions - herding kids out the door and getting ready for work) this morning about the One Laptop Per Child, and David Berlind's blog post (Thanks, David!) on the subject last night.

"I think that the tech community will probably be the only one to get behind this. What we really need is some big celebrity endorsement to force a tipping point", I said. She was skeptical.

For some reason the story of the Toyota Prius came to mind. As a society, we had been clamouring for a realistic alternative to the standard gas guzzler, and Toyota provided it. But, even though many of us looked upon the car with wide eyes, we all sat on the fence and didn't do anything. Then some Hollywood types started driving them around, and then not only did they represent the right thing to do, they were instantly "cool" too. Sales skyrocketed.

I think that the One Laptop per Child program has similar characteristics. It is the right thing to do but it is not yet "cool". Maybe someone out there in the blogosphere knows some big named person or company who can make this "cool".

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Major Milestone

We, at Quality Solutions, hit what is for us, a major milestone this week - one that I couldn't even have envisioned just a few years ago. And, one, that would be simply wrong not to acknowledge in public.

This week, with the receipt of a signed agreement from Standard Publishing, we now have 50 direct, active, clients. The words 'direct' and 'active' are critical in that sentence. In 'active', I mean that these are clients with whom we have had payment for our services in 2007. 'Direct' is a little more complicated. As many of our clients distribute books for other publishers, the actual number of publishers we serve is well in excess of 2,000.

For those of you reading this, 50 may not sound like much. But, it is huge for us. Only seven or eight years ago, we had 5 direct, active clients. All of those were very large companies, and we were a bit of a puppet on a string. Our fortunes either soared or (more often) plummeted based on the whims of just a few people.

At 50, we are in a much more stable situation. This year we weathered a 'perfect storm' in that we had four of our clients got acquired by other publishers (and one more is in progress now). Fortunately, in all four cases we were able to either keep or expand our presence in the new parent organization, but for a while there, in each, it was touch and go.

I cannot begin to say how proud I am to be part of this team at Quality Solutions. It's just an incredible group of people who are completely dedicated to making our publishing clients more successful. Their hard work and dedication are certainly an inspiration to me.

Given our current momentum, the next milestone, 75, looks quite attainable. It's just a matter of time.

One idea of Independent Retailers and ebooks

Almost an immediate answer to my post yesterday about bringing Independent book stores into the ebook supply chain, check out this post this morning about an Austrailian bookseller who installed an eBook kiosk.

I can't wait to hear how they do.

More on One Laptop per Child

In a post today on Teleread, they outlined the extra incentives for purchasing 'many' laptops:

Trying to be helpful, take a look at the new and improved Give Many XO plan. Gone is the tiered pricing of $299, $249, and $200 depending on order size. Now anyone, who can get through to One Laptop Per Child, can order 100+ XO laptops at $200 per computer and direct their donation:
  • Give 100+ @ $200 per laptop
    Donor designates where 60% of laptops are sent;
    OLPC sends 40% of the laptops to children in a country of our designation.
  • Give 1000+ @ $200 per laptop
    Donor designates where 80% of laptops are sent;
    OLPC uses 20% of the laptops to children in a country of our designation.
  • Give 10,000+ @ $200 per laptop
    Donor designates where 100% of laptops are sent.

With the low $20,000 donation threshold and $200 per laptop price point, there should be a few more people excited and able to Give Many this Christmas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bricks and Mortar Retailers need to be part of ebook sales

The overwhelming lack of reaction to my post yesterday got me thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, ebooks pose a threat to one of the crucial players in our industry.

It occurred to me that if I was a bookseller, I might not be too thrilled about the prospect of large quantities of ebooks being downloaded from the Internet, and bypassing my shop - and cutting into my sales. I certainly wouldn't want to hear about new devices that would enhance those opportunities.

Bricks and Mortar retailers play a hugely important role in the book publishing ecosystem. Aside from the obvious, that they sell books, retailers are responsible for starting much of the viral marketing that occurs around new titles and new authors. They take the time to read many of the new works in print, and tell other retailers about them. They create "buzz" where none existed and where publishers did not have the resources to make it happen.

Booksellers know their customers better than the publishers do, and are a critical link in the author-to-reader chain. They are also actively involved in the marketing of authors, providing venues for authors to meet their readers via book signings and lectures.

Ebooks offer great promise to everyone in the book ecosystem, except physical retailers. Even libraries have figured out how to use ebooks to their advantage.

If ebooks are ever going to be a truly viable economic opportunity, book publishers should really think hard about how to help booksellers be a part of the equation. I think that the publishers themselves should take some responsibility here.

Retailers have had to struggle with many threats in the past, most notably chain superstores, and online only retailers. Those that have survived those threats have learned to adapt the the changed playing field. And, this will continue... but, I'm sure that they could use a little help!

And, how can we attack a problem like literacy, if we are not all working together?

Monday, November 12, 2007

One Laptop per child

Here is a case for blogging!

This morning I read a blog about the One-Laptop-per-Child program that blew me away. I cannot imagine a more pragmatic way to enhance literacy on a global scale than this.

I was so stirred to action that not only did I buy 3, I gave an incentive all the people in my company to do the same. We are just a small company, but imagine if some big ones followed this lead... wow. I CHALLENGE EVERY BOOK PUBLISHER TO OFFER A SIMILAR INCENTIVE TO THEIR EMPLOYEES.

Here is the email that I sent to my team -

I don't know how many of you are aware of the One Laptop per child initiative. It is an initiative that was started a couple of years ago by Nicholas Negraponte, the founder of Wired Magazine and one of the first true Internet gurus.

His scheme was to endeavor to build a $100 laptop, and to outfit children all over the world, especially in impoverished countries with the tools to get to the internet and work.

As I said this has taken years, and the laptop now costs $200.

I had been watching this, and knew that the time was imminent for production to start. However, what I read this morning, sort of blew me away.

They are offering to sell these for a price of 2 for $400. One will go for free to an impoverished child and the other one is yours. This is a brilliant scheme, and one that is time sensitive. This offer is only until the end of November. Additionally, people buying these get a $200 tax write off.

I encourage you all to look at this very closely. In fact that I want to incent you all to look closely at this....

QS will pay any of you that get involved with this program $200 per laptop you buy. That means that you will only be out of pocket $200, and you will get the Tax incentive as well.

I'm putting in an order for 3.

for more information, please look here:

Fran Toolan
Quality Solutions, Inc.

Do you want to help me fight cancer?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Book Publishing is like Major League Baseball

Joe Wickert's blog entry about my friend and neighbor, David Berlind, sparked this blog entry. But this entry is nothing about DRM.

Living in Massachusetts - at least in suburban Boston - if you like baseball, it's almost impossible to not be a Red Sox Fan. I, myself, was converted during the 2004 season, when this woolly, rag-tag, bunch of baseball misfits, started mounting a serious challenge. For my whole life, I had been a rabid Yankee fan. I grew up in New Jersey, and idolized Micky Mantle, and all of his team mates from the great teams of the 60's. (On a side note, if you are a baseball fan from that era, you have to, have to, read October 1964 by David Halberstam!) My conversion has now put baseball on the same plane as religion and politics as far as discussion items go with family members and extended family members of my paternal household. You don't talk about them unless, you are looking to create dissonance.

Anyway, the Boston Red Sox are, since John Henry bought the team in 2003, arguably the most successful franchise in all of US sports. I don't think that they are quite on par with Manchester United (in the UK), but they are getting there. This being with their small, anachronistic, 100 year old stadium, and a media market that is no where near the size of New York, LA, or Chicago. It is not unusual now for the Red Sox to play an 'away' game, and find that the number of Red Sox fans in the stands are equivalent to the number of fans their to root for the home team.

How did this happen?

In my opinion, they focused on, and do two things extremely well: 1. They put a great team on the field, and 2. They make it easy, and fun, to be a fan.

Look at this team. With the exception of Manny Ramirez - whose huge contract was in place before 2003 - the Red Sox have a team of players that have either come up through their farm system, or were considered expendable by their former teams. Did anyone even know who David Ortiz was when he was with the Minnesota Twins? Arguably, the most exciting players on the team are Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathon Papelbon, and Jacoby Ellsbury - all players who came up through the Red Sox Farm system. The key thing is that all these players came into a system where they were helped to thrive, and, become part of the team with a tenacious winning attitude fostered by their organization.

And who among you, if you are a fan of baseball, has not heard of Red Sox Nation? Red Sox Nation has taken the whole concept of 'Fan Club' and turned it on it's ear. Red Sox Nation is everywhere, it's incredible. Near the end of this season, they even had a televised presidential debate - for those campaigning to be the president of Red Sox Nation - that was moderated by Tim Russert.

Ticket prices in Boston are probably the highest in Major League Baseball (yet they sell out every game), and so we don't go to too many games, maybe one or two a year. But, I still get an email almost every day from the Red Sox, keeping me up to date with the latest news of the team, pointing me to players blogs, and generally, pumping me up as a fan. These emails obviously allow me to buy tickets, but you really have to search for that button. The point is, they come after me, and keep me engaged with the team, long after my personal interaction has faded into memory.

Ok, so how does this relate to publishers, and publishing?

1. Think of the analogy of authors as 'players'. This fits on many levels. Authors have agents, players have agents. Authors either 'fit' with a house, or not, the same as players. Authors have coaches - both personal and professional (editors), the same as players. Interestingly, though, there is no organized 'farm team' for authors? Wouldn't that be an interesting concept for a publisher to take on - developing talent? Most publishers would argue that they do this, but none that I know of have any formal program for building talent.

Furthering this, publishers should give the authors the platform and tools to become superstars in their own right. The individual players on the Red Sox all have their own fan bases in addition to that of the team.

Lastly, why can't authors be made into a 'team', especially for promotional efforts and philanthropic causes. Why does every author event have to be about a single individual. Wouldn't it be less grueling (for the authors and publishers), more productive, and less costly to create an author tour with 4 or 5 of your leading authors for the upcoming season?

(Isn't it interesting how that word 'season' pops up in both baseball and publishing.)

Now, about us fans. I'm sure that you have figured this one out - we are readers. I also get emails almost everyday from Barnes & Noble, and Borders, but they are all about price and discount, so I hardly ever read them. If I have an interest in baseball, and have proven that through my purchases, then why don't I receive emails that specifically target that interest, and tell me what's going on in that area, and point me to blogs that cover it, - and oh, by the way, we have a great new baseball book coming out. Why aren't publishers and retailers, trying to help me find what I want to learn, instead of trying to push their products down my throat?

This is what I referred to in my last post as 'Reader Services'.

I also think the time is right for publishers to try to 'brand' themselves again. Many have dabbled in this before, but few have made it work. There are a million bloggers out their that will disagree with me on this, saying that no one buys a book because it was published by an individual publisher.

Well, I think that publishers have the opportunity again, if they develop a farm system of authors, have specified mission, work their authors as a team, and are the conduit for engaging the fans. Maybe, if we take this analogy one step further, you can think of ticket prices the same as book prices. The Red Sox sell out every game at a premium price with nary a discount in sight. Wouldn't publishers love to replicate that model??

good luck out there.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

In his book, Print is Dead, Jeff Gomez, an industry insider, argues that technology is transforming the publishing process in ways that we haven't seen since the printing press was invented. (Ironically, the e-book version of this book does not exist yet.) I can buy that argument to some extent, but there was also this thing called a 'paperless office' that was promised at the advent of business systems - starting back in the 70's - that hasn't yet occurred. The use of the paper and printing has been transformed, but I still carry a lot with me, and HP still sells a ton of printers.

In talks given at both BEA, and at Tim O'Reilly's Tools of Change Conference, Brian Napack, President of Macmillan, presented very insightful comments - that I have been repeating to whoever will listen - that publishers need to transform themselves from 'Title Development' companies into 'Author Services companies'. This argument was borne out from the fact that they have understood that the vast majority of their sales come from a very low percentage of their authors. So, investing in those 'superstars' and developing a stable of up and coming 'players' is what a publisher needs to do. I get it. I agree, but.... I don't think its far enough. Brian also said that publishers need to look at how people are reading - and he quoted studies that showed how the 'book buying public' was just a small percentage of the 'reading public'. So, he says, they want to leverage technology to be where the readers are.

I would argue that publishers need to become - or re-emerge as - 'Reader Services companies'. They need to facilitate the styles and habits of the reader in whatever form or fashion that reader is, and to lower the barriers that exist between the brain of the recipient and the ideas of the author.

Why do I think the role of the traditional Publisher is dead? Well I think they are because the very premise of their existence is what is really being transformed by all the new technology - the markets they serve. this whole transformation in publishing today is about markets transforming not the products .

In the 70's, 80's, and 90's as book publishing companies converged and became behemoths, they did so mostly under the premise that their markets - Education, Trade, Mass Market, Religious, STM, Professional, etc. - were stable and definable. Their products all followed similar distribution mechanisms, and publishers could grow by gaining economies of scale in back office functions such as accounting and fulfillment. And the largest publishers had a finger in all those markets - and they still do.

But since the late 90's we have seen how those markets have caused major schisms in publishing houses as the needs of those different 'divisions' become more and more obvious. From my personal experience, I see this all the time, where the 'front office systems' needs of different divisions are so different, yet they all need to get on the same tool. Look at the major houses, Random House, S&S, and HarperCollins - all got out of the education business in the 90's - as it was so different. Pearson erected a Chinese wall between their education group and their consumer group. At Harcourt and Houghton, the Trade division is considered a 'necessary evil' - there it seems to bring some brand identity to the larger parent. Elsevier and Kluwer focus on the similarities between education and STM markets. Even University Presses are developing more and more 'trade-like' books.

Then there is the role of the publisher in the overall media conglomerate... but that could be a whole post unto itself.

Now these markets are no longer stable. Today's technology is definitely blurring the lines between them and transforming them. We don't even really know what the markets are anymore in some cases. That is considering only today's technological innovations. What will tomorrow's technology do? I dare say it won't bring them back to where they were in the 70's.

Publishers have always followed the needs of their markets, and they will continue do so. It's just that now those needs are really going to go off in different ways, and the schisms in the large companies between the divisions is only going to grow larger and more acrimonious.

In my view, we are going to see more divestiture, as these schisms become irreconcilable. At the same time, the smaller, nimbler, companies will be the leaders in identifying and monetizing the markets developing new products and business models as they go. I expect that to last for maybe another 3 - 5 years. Then the tide will change, and the need for economy of scale will cause another period of consolidation, with many of these smaller companies getting sucked up into larger parents.

The question that remains is who will do the consolidation? Will it be the 'Media' companies, the 'Content Hungry, Technology' companies, the 'Financial community', or some other player that is just starting to emerge....

My money is NOT on the Media business.

The King is dead! Long live the King!

Friday, November 09, 2007

ebook readers

I don't understand hardware. I admit it - I'm a software guy.

Can someone answer for me this simple question: If the one-laptop-per-child laptop computer can be sold for $200 each, then why do ebook reader devices have to cost more than $300?

Build your Foundation before you build your digital house

The "digitalization" of the book industry is happening so fast and on so many fronts that many publishers are throwing a ton of resources at trying to figure out where to go, and who to follow. My guess is that today's announcement about HarperCollins and the iPhone will only stir this pot more.

But, from my perspective, many publishers aren't (yet) in a position to seriously approach the issues of the digital world. They haven't yet even gotten their product publication workflows straight yet, and still look at very basic things like getting their product information out into the supply chain as unimportant.

The larger publishers, and some other more 'enlightened' publishers have been honing these basic foundational requirements for years. So, they are in a position to move forward to test and experiment with new technologies and delivery methods.

But, many, many publishers are not there, and, unfortunately, they don't even know they are not there yet. We have one customer (who shall remain nameless) who was using more than 75 different spreadsheets and 3 different databases to manage their upcoming titles. They were pushing their bibliographic data out to the trade once a season - and letting it go at that. And, they are not a small press!

Happily, this publisher is now jumping in with both feet to rectify this problem, but it will still take more than a year before they can even think about getting into the digital mix.

Publishers need a foundation before they get caught up in all the hoopla about digital publishing. There are two areas that they really need to have down pat with their print books before they try to go wild on the digital ones:

1. Existing titles, already published - become intimate with the requirements of the supply chain. If a retailer can't get your book it won't sell. period. Larger retailers and wholesalers have fairly hefty requirements and are extremely important conduits, so if you are not aware of what to do, or think its too much of a bother, then find yourself a distributor who can handle this for you.

2. Not Yet Published titles - get your act together and have one source of truth for all your title information. Having 3 or 4 or 6 versions of your pub date flying around is a sure fire way to kill sales. Here too, you need to feed the supply chain as well with advanced title information, and most want it six months ahead of publication.

Thinking that the content of the book is what will sell it is down right wrong in a market with more than 3,000,000 active titles to compete against.

good luck out there.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ok, Ok, I'll try again

I have to say that I find trying to keep this blog up to be a challenging effort. I know that - at least a few - people read it, as they tell me about it. One would think that to be motivation enough, but it hasn't been in my case, and the blog has "sagged".

This past weekend, I was privileged to speak at the ECPA Publishing University. While there, I was also privileged to hear Joe Wikert from John Wiley speak about blogging. And, to me what was the most motivating about Joe's talk was to hear about how he kept his blog going. I have definitely fallen prey to many of the common blogger afflictions - according to Joe. "It takes too much time". "I can't think of anything to write today". "Is this worth it?". But hearing Joe's how-to's have inspired me again. Thanks, Joe.

To summarize what I heard him say:

1. set yourself up with RSS feeds from other blogs and online news feeds that get your brain going on a number of new ideas.

2. if it takes you more than 15 minutes to come up with an idea to write about, don't write anything that day.

3. don't spend more than 15 minutes writing.. keep the posts short - no one wants to read that much.

This makes it seem like a very 'do-able' task. Hopefully I'll keep it up, but if it slips will someone please nudge me along?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Holtzbrinck Name Change

I had done a tongue in cheek post on the topic of Holtzbrinck's name change to Macmillan but took it down when someone asked me (nicely) to do so.

But it still gives me a chuckle to think about how long this name will last, and more so to ask the question, how long will many of us simply call them "the publisher formerly known as Holtzbrinck"?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Summer is over - What's Next?

Today is the first day of school in Newburyport, and, after a great summer, the kids are all excited and anxious about starting up again. Lot's of big smiles - and some bouncing off the walls - this morning. My guess is this will last through next week as the new schedules become more routine.

This whole transition at home has me thinking a bit about the transition in book publishing systems. Last Spring, and right up through July, many of us were skipping from conference to conference trying to understand the term, 'digital strategy'. We were pondering widgets, and Internet marketing techniques, and 're purposing our content'. And, then it seemed as though we all decided that we needed a break and took the month of August off.

So, now it's September - time to get back to work. And for me, the open question seems to be, as an industry, what are we going to do with all of this collective knowledge that we gained earlier in the year?

My guess is that we are going into a quiet period. The industry leaders all had strategies before the Spring, and they are (now) working on executing those strategies. The next tier of publisher is taking all the collected knowledge from the Spring and putting together strategies. And the last group is simply waiting to see what shakes out from all of this.

I think it will be very interesting to see what gets rolled out in January and February next year by the leading publishers. Oh, we might get a few minor announcements before then, but my money is on the big roll outs happening in the beginning of the new year - after the Christmas season is over, and before the 'Trade Show/Publishing Conference' season starts up again.

What I do expect to hear about is Fall is more consolidation. These new technology innovations are expensive, and generally out of reach for small to midsized publishers. Much like the expensive technology barrier for physical distribution, the high cost of developing electronic marketing and distribution systems is going to encourage the small and midsized publishers to 'partner' with the bigger guys.

I expect that we will see alot of fluctuation in business models as the larger 'entities' figure out how best to 'partner'. Competition to gain economies of scale (to make all this investment worthwhile) is going to be fierce among the top organizations, and the race will really be on to woo publishers into their respective folds.

I use the term 'entities' loosely as I think that there will be some shakeup in who we have all traditionally thought of as leaders. Some will rise and grow, and I believe that others will self destruct. It wouldn't surprise me if there was another 'PGW-like' collapse already in the making.

So, like my kids, I'm excited and anxious about the year ahead. I suspect that this time next year, I'll have a completely new perspective!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What do you call "Digital Strategy"?

So, what's your answer?

Having spent a significant amount of time talking to publishers about this recently, I'm really surprised at how diverse the answers to this question are. Maybe its the word "strategy" that throws people... But, many of the answers I've gotten to this question, seem alot more tactical than strategic.

I was discussing this topic with a colleague over lunch the other day, and he likened this situation to when 'Content Management' was all the rage, but everyone had a different definition of that as well. But, as the technology started to mature, the definitions for Content Management and Digital Asset Management seem to iron themselves out.

So, I guess we're just not their yet on this question. As with Content Management, it will probably take a few years before everyone is on the same page with 'Digital Strategy'. One thing is for sure though, Digital Strategy is a hot topic these days, and an elite group of individuals in the industry is working very hard to come up to speed and establish standards for the rest of us to follow.

Most of the "tacticians" I've spoken with, seem to focus on creating XML, as if that is the entirety of a digital strategy. Others focus on simply getting their print products into digital form. Some really don't have any idea what their strategy is, but they think that they need to archive their backlists and store them in some type of repository, so that when the market reveals itself, they will be prepared to spring. Others simply think that producing ebook versions of all of their printed product is a viable strategy that someday will pay back something.

But the true strategists, like my friend, Fritz Foy, from Holtzbrinck, think of the technology in a much broader context.

In a meeting with Fritz today, he reiterated Holtzbrinck's strategy to use digital forms of their content as a way to attract the online reading public - which, he points out, is much larger than the 'book reading public'. Fritz was elaborating on a theme that his boss, Brian Napack, has discussed during two recent presentations, one at BEA, and the other at the Tools of Change conference.

Speaking of Tools of Change, the folks at O'Reilly seem to have several strategies related to 'digital products'. Having heard their presentations a couple of times now, my best description of their strategy is to use their content to create and empower technology communities who will spend big money on other services (like conferences).

It seems amazing to me just how different 'strategy' feels compared to 'tactics'. The tactical companies seem to be taking approaches that inspire very little creativity or excitement. The strategic companies seem to open up all manner of ideas and opportunities, and they are very exciting. So exciting - to me - that I think they may even transform our industry in such a positive way as to save it from the slow but relentless decline that it has been facing.

So, one last time, what's your digital strategy?

Friday, July 13, 2007

When distant colleagues pass

I was hit hard today by the obituary I read in Publishers Weekly today for Perry Knowlton.

It's impossible to say that I knew him well, or that we were ever close. In fact, I don't think I've seen or heard of him in more than 15 years. Yet, today's news inspired feelings similar to what I felt when a close uncle recently passed away.

When I first started Quality Solutions in 1988, about the only mechanism I had for marketing our services was to attend BISAC meetings. After being involved with BISAC for about a year, Carol Mann approached the BISAC committee seeking a solution to the nagging problem that author royalty statements were all so dissimilar, and usually impossible to believe.

Having just spent the better part of the preceding four years building royalty systems for the likes of Random House, William Morrow, and Prentice Hall, this was an area where I thought I could help. So, the BISAC Royalty Statement Subcommittee was formed, and I was it's first chair.

It was through this work that I met Perry. Perry, and Curtis Brown were kind enough to host our meetings. While I was 'technically' the chair of the committee, there was no doubt who was in charge of the meetings. For a young man (at the time), Perry was larger than life. He inspired an incredible level of respect from everyone around him. I remember distinctly how it seemed like everyone who worked at Curtis Brown would stop what they were doing when he passed through a room. It was like something in a movie from the 1950's.

In the PW obituary, Perry's son, Timothy, was quoted, "To his family, friends and colleagues, he was always a dedicated mentor, advocate, enthusiast and enabler. He was one of the few true ‘renaissance men’ I've ever known." I've never met Timothy, but what he said here is more eloquent than anything I could ever come up with. Perry was all of these things - to me, personally - during that brief period of 2 or 3 years when the committee hammered out the first version of the standard royalty statement.

After that first version of the royalty statement standard was completed, I left the committee in the capable hands of Judy Appelbaum, and I had no further reason to be in contact with Perry or anyone else on that committee.

My sincerest condolences go out to all of Perry's family. I am sure that everyone who ever had the pleasure of working with him would agree that Perry was one of those individuals who make society stronger, just for being part of it. The world is a bit weaker today for his passing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Amazon going underground?

This blog was never intended to be a report on Amazon, but there have been some disturbing trends coming from Seattle in recent months. In my last entry, I wrote about the issues related to descriptive copy issues that arise when a publisher changes distributors. In this entry, I'd like to talk about two other Amazon related things that have come up recently.

The first issue is related to Amazon's EDI initiatives. To their credit, Amazon wants to automate every aspect of communication with the entire supply chain - from product information to payments. But, a couple of weeks ago, several of our customers received emails from Amazon asking if they could provide the EDI 832 transaction. (I know I just lost every non-technical reader, but I'll explain). The '832' is an industry standard for product information that pre-dates ONIX. Given the rise in adoption of ONIX as a standard for product information, the '832' has almost become extinct as an electronic communication tool.

So, why bring it back? And why go to IT departments behind the backs of the account managers? For years, in account review meetings, Amazon has been telling their publisher vendors to use ONIX, ONIX, ONIX. Now, someone on the operations side of Amazon is asking for the '832'? The reason the industry went to ONIX in the first place was because of the inadequacy of the '832' to convey proper product information. The other issue here is that EDI transactions usually emanate from legacy order processing systems that have shortened titles and relatively little product information compared to Title Management tools (like the kind we supply). Product data in order processing systems is generally not regarded as good for anything but internal documents and EDI transactions, where abbreviated titles and author names are fine for labeling purposes.

So, we posed these questions to Amazon, and predictably, there was no response. To, me, this means that we hit a nerve. Amazon never even acknowledges emails when we discover an issue in their processes.

The second issue that has come up recently happened just last week. We received an email stating that Amazon was once again re-organizing it's catalog department. However in this email (which looked like a form email sent to all publishers who supply ONIX), we were told that our personal contact in the catalog department would no longer respond to our emails. We were told that if there were any data issues that we should fill out the online form, or if it was a process issue we should send an email to a generic email address.

For background, 15% of Amazon's book product information comes from our office in the form of weekly ONIX feeds. On average, we send about 5 - 10 emails per week to the catalog department to help investigate issues. These emails relate to a very small percentage of the titles we send them. Almost all are due to an unforeseen publicity event, or other extraordinary happening that requires some immediate assistance. To date, our contact in the catalog department has been incredibly helpful, and has kept the gears of the 'ONIX machine' well tended. Without a real person tending the machine, I'm am sure that it will bog down and collapse much more often than it does now.

Most of you have heard me rail against the online form. Changes made there become 'sticky' - to use Amazon's terminology. This means that once the online form is used to fix a title, then that title can NOT be updated via electronic feeds in the future. And, if publishers start using the online form instead of funneling the changes through us as they have in the past, the quality of the product information in use at Amazon will deteriorate rapidly.

I guess Amazon just doesn't care. They have 'gone underground' (credit goes to my wife for that metaphor). They are saving a head in the catalog department and that is more important than vendor relations.

I certainly hope that as publishers go through their account reviews, that they complain about this. After all, for years, Amazon has used that forum to complain to publishers about using ONIX.

Or, maybe we should just go back to the '832' and watch everyone's sales go down the toilet.