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 Amazon.com? 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: http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php

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?