Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Farewell to PGW - Hello Transition Vendor

I am probably the least qualified to say this, but Goodbye, Publishers Group West! Today, 2/28/2007, is the last day in the life of this venerable company. After 30+ years of excellence in the book industry, it seems to be slipping from sight with nary a whimper.

Tomorrow, approximately 2/3 of PGW's (former) clients will start their new relationships, with Perseus, er, eh 'Transition Vendor'. For the moment most (former) PGW employees will work for 'Transition Vendor', so for many tomorrow will be business as usual, just that the load will be a little lighter.

So, what about the other 1/3 of PGW's (former) clients? Well, that is a very good question. Most are scrambling to find new distribution arrangements, having eschewed those offered by Perseus. Most are also scrambling to figure out how they are going to get their books out of PGW's (former) Indy warehouse in the next 15 days. None will know the exact status of backorders, returns, or inventory until they clear out the warehouse. And even then, questions will remain.

We here at QSI are trying to help them by hosting their bibliographic data for the next couple of months, to help ease the transition to whoever the new distributor will be.

Maybe, everyone is so busy that they don't even notice. But I noticed, and I think you should too.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And Here comes Random House!

Harper gets off to an early lead, bringing their 'widget' out first. But here comes Random House!

Their slicker, more functional 'widget' is now out of the shoot. So the race is on!

We've been working on a test with the Random House widget on our eloquence site. If you want to take a look at it in real life, click on the "Look Inside" link on this eloquence page.

Take a look at the way Random House has documented their widget to aid people in using it for the first time. It also has multiple features not found in Harper's. Some of the features include, displaying multiple sizes, searching for text strings inside the widget (using a Google text search), and offering ways to buy the book, and/or place the widget on your own social networking site.

Now that the widgets are out, we have a new race in the content distribution world. Whether to deliver .PDF's to search engines, or to have the search engines come to you!

It's a wild west like atmosphere out there when it comes to content distribution. I think that my friends at BISG better get their lasso out and try to corral all the players out there to get some standards in place, or no one will know what to do.

I know that Random, Harper, Ingram and others are all trying to create networks that communicate with the Google's, Amazon's, Yahoo!'s and Microsoft's of the world, and there is no clear standard emerging - yet. And there are a lot of details to work out... how much to show, where can the book be purchased from, etc.

No one has really figured out a universal monetization scheme for electronic content, but everyone knows that there is demand for a look inside like program. I am sure that several small schemes will emerge, hopefully enough to justify the expenditures in all this technology.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Digital Content Distribution - The Race is On

Somewhere a gun must have gone off. Harper's announcement this morning of their 'widget' marks the start of new race in publisher services. At least one other large publisher I know has their own plans for a widget, and my guess is that others may join the race as well. There are two big advantages to these widgets that may not be obvious from the press release.

The first is that widgets can be dropped into any blogsite or "social network". A social network is any site (blog, traditional website) where there is a community of people with common interests. It's easy to do, and it almost acts like a free 'banner ad'. Therefore, smart internet marketing types will start mailing the 'links' to their widgets to the social networks they know about who may have interest in there books. Harper has yet to show how their widget can be 'dropped on to a social network', but I expect that in the near future, they will.

The second is that if the repository that stores the content is large enough, then the larger internet providers may not need copies of every .PDF that you create in order to display your titles. All they need is the address of the widget. This helps publishers protect their copyrights, and still makes (as much of the work as the publisher wants) available to the public for viewing. So, when Google and Microsoft, and Yahoo! and Amazon come asking for your .PDF files, all you will have to do is point them to the links for your widgets.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Independent Bookseller

Last year, I worked on behalf of the BISG office on a survey of bookstores. The survey was ostensibly about the kinds of data that bookstore buyers needed in order to make their purchases. The main hypothesis behind the survey was that publishers should focus their efforts on giving buyers the specific data elements that they need in order to make informed decisions. Part of the survey was done via an online form, and part was phone interviews with buyers. In this process, I personally spoke to buyers from 30 independent stores to get their views.

Buyers don't look at title information, the way that techies (aka product information evangelists) like me, think that they do. And, because the online form was geared around the original hypothesis, the results that came back were, unsurprisingly, useless. So, the formal survey failed, and the results were never published. However, what I learned in my phone interviews - while anecdotal from a statistical point of view - was profound to me in its simplicity.

I found two significant things during my conversations:

  1. Independent bookstores that had not been put out of business by the rise of the chain stores, online retailers, big box retailers, and price clubs, were in fact, thriving.
  2. The buying process is incredibly personal. Bookstore buyers, for the most part, rely heavily on the recommendations of their sales reps, the recommendations of other independent bookstores, and the feedback from their customers.

And, to a great extent, these two elements are tightly intertwined. The reasons behind these findings were equally interesting and insightful. They also gave me great confidence in the role of the independent store in the ecosystem of bookselling, and in fact, book publishing in general.

I also think that publishers can learn alot from some of these simple lessons. So, let's dive in and look at them.

Why are many independents thriving? Generally speaking it is because they have questioned the assumption that their mere presence in the community was important to the community. They have turned themselves from a business that simply received customers to a business that went out and got customers - or better said, they have gone from businesses that are generally reactive, to businesses that are generally proactive. The successful stores are the ones who are understanding and leveraging their own unique strengths in their communities.

Many of the independents I spoke to talked about their roles in the creation (and supplier) of local book clubs. Many work with and through the internet, using mass email mailings, RSS feeds, and targeted recommendations to keep themselves relevant in their customers minds. Others talked about the events they put on - especially related to authors. One very successful independent store owner, told me how she combs industry publications every week, looking for new deals that have been signed, and then proactively contacts the publisher to set up an event - even before a book has a publication schedule. Many also move these author events to venues outside the four walls of their store, so that they can bring more people into listen to what the author has to say.

Most of this transformation is eloquently described in one of the final chapters of (my favorite business book of all time), The Art of Profitability by Adrian Slywotzky. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

But, probably the most profound thing I got from my interviews was related to how personal this whole business is. Buyers at stores look through all the sales catalogs for the titles that catch their eye, but almost all (who have reps they trust) trust the recommendations of their reps. They will buy books recommended by their reps, even if they didn't see the fit of an individual title when they browsed the catalog. Equally true, they might bypass a title, that they thought might work, but the rep was lukewarm on.

And, what catches their eye? Many different things, but some are pretty obvious. Is there any connection to the geographic region of the store? Is the author from a nearby town? Does the author have some other connection (a brother, cousin, parent, or life history) to this particular community? Is the publisher putting any marketing muscle behind the title? Generally, buyers are looking for books that they can get behind personally, that their patrons will love.

It was incredibly powerful to hear time after time how important the rep was in this process. "They know our store, and they know the books". "If they say that I have to have a particular title - even if I disagree - I always buy one or two." Generally the feeling was that the rep helped the buyer cull the catalog down to those titles that the store needed, and equally important, help the buyer decide which titles they didn't need.

The importance of a title to the publisher was also a recurring theme. One buyer told me how they would heed the advice of an email that came from the VP of Sales at Random House, where he picked his favorite titles for the season. Other publishers signal their own picks by highlighting a national advertising campaign, or by publicizing the initial print run. Others, signal it through the position in the seasonal catalog. It seems clear that any help, buyers can get culling through the masses of titles being published (6,000 +/- per week) is greatly appreciated.

So what are the lessons for publishers?

  1. Sell your books to the reps, and treat your reps like gold. They are the ones initiating grassroots demand for the title. In the age of the internet, the grassroots is where the power is.
  2. Present as much information about the author as possible. Authors are the stars, and if the author has any type of connection to an individual community, their books will sell.
  3. Layout your seasonal catalogs to make it easy for a buyer to get an understanding about whether the title will work for them. Most buyers I spoke to said that they spend less than 10 seconds on any given catalog page, so the title really needs to grab them. Leave alot of white space in a consistent place on the page so the buyer can markup the catalog.
  4. Publishers need to identify and reach out to communities other than the bookselling community. When the list comes together, each title should be analyzed for the communities that may want it, and those communities should be marketed to directly.
  5. As evil as it sounds, rank your titles, and make sure that the entire bookselling ecosystem knows which ones you are really behind.

comments? email me at ftoolan at qsolution dot com.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Volitle State of the Book Industry

As I sit here and watch our beloved industry struggle to remain relevant in this digital age, a few different things come to mind:
  • In the digital age, easy access to information, has created an unprecedented demand for information - especially from authoritative sources. ie. demand is increasing
  • Many of the needs for information that were formerly supplied by books are now satisfied via electronic content. ie. we probably need less 'hard copy' products.
  • Our affluent society has given an increasing number of us the ability to have outside interests and hobbies. ie. the demand for specialty books is increasing, and the creation of communities (of potential readers) is growing.
  • Changes in technology have allowed virtually anyone to be an author of a book, and the number of new books being pushed onto the market is skyrocketing. ie. Supply is increasing.
  • The demand for new fiction titles has been flat for a long time.
  • Most people have limited time for pleasure reading, and are less willing to risk that time on unknown commodities - hence they choose books by authors they already enjoy, or by those recommended by someone who's taste they trust. In fiction, it is about the author, not the book.
  • Independent bookstores have become closer to their customers and play a key role as a trusted recommender of new authors. Essentially, they have become the new sales rep.
  • For all the technology out there, fiction still sells by word of mouth, and sales reps have a key role in passing the word from the publisher to the bookstore.
  • Publishing Operations companies (otherwise known as distributors) have lowered the barrier to entry for new publishers, and have leveled the playing field in terms of opening up the major sales channels for all sized publishers.
  • Most Publishing Operations companies are publishers themselves.
  • Most publishers I know have margins in the single digits - many times negative.
  • Most publishers I know have a ton of dead inventory in their warehouses that they refuse to writeoff. ie. Supply is outstripping demand.
  • Some anecdotal evidence has shown that making books freely available on the Internet has improved the sales of those titles. This is especially true for STM titles.
  • Price sensitivity for non-fiction is declining.
  • Price sensitivity for mass-market fiction is declining.
  • Price sensitivity for fiction remains high and is constant.
  • The role of technology in the college market is changing the role of the publisher.
  • Most large 'Trade' publishers that produce mostly fiction are part of larger media conglomerates.
  • Most scholarly publishers (except for the very largest) are associated with a foundation, university or research institute.
  • Many of the largest publishers in the STM and College markets are owned by investment bankers.
  • Printing technology has evolved dramatically, but the cost to print shorter runs of books is still high.
  • Libraries, once the gatekeepers of information access, are being bypassed by many individuals.
  • Most publishers either have or are trying to create some form of a digital archive.
  • More and more of us are referring to blogs for news and information, bypassing or supplementing other traditional media forms.
  • Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon are demanding content, and are trying to set themselves up as the new gatekeepers.
  • Newsletters, except those that are delivered electronically, seem to be all but dead.

So, what does all this mean for the future? Has technology allowed the masses to obsolete the traditional roles of the media and information gatekeepers? Will there just be media companies and information companies who happen to produce books? Will they become the new gatekeepers - like they have in the movie industry?

It seems like we go through the cycle of market consolidation and expansion at an ever increasing rate. When the big guys get too big, a bunch of little guys pop up. When there are too many little guys for the market to handle, the big guys start acquiring the little guys. When there aren't that many little guys left, the big guys eat each other.

In Trade publishing we now have the 'Big 6', in STM, Nielsen, Elsevier, Wiley, Pearson and a very few others own the majority of the market. And, due to technology, there are literally thousands of 'little guys'.

I don't think the market can handle this situation much longer, and I expect that we are on the verge of tremendous consolidation. The resulting 'big guys' will try to assert new controls of the sales channels and their economies of scale in operations will be the only thing that allows them to be profitable.

When that feeding frenzy is over (doesn't this sound like what's going on in the PGW situation), the financial companies will figure some way to merge the big guys and suck all the cash out of them. Then... the little guys will start popping up again.

comments? email me at ftoolan at qsolution dot com

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Little Airtime

In my last post, I mentioned that we have over 900 titles in our eloquence database that are publishing in the week between 2/27 and 3/5. Of those 900, we have only 175 that contain a brief description and a price. I started to list them below, but it 'clogged the blog'. Publishers - here is yet another reason to take the time to make a complete record of your title available to the trade. Without the right information, there is very little airtime.

As you look through this, ask yourself (even at this very small sampling) how can we make any of these these titles stand out?


"Top 10 Of Everything" Handbook by Tracey West (Scholastic, $6.99, Paperback, 9780439890470/0439890470). The hottest Fire-types. The most sizzling Electric-types. The smartest Pokemon experts. The baddest battles. And that's just the beginning.

¡Mamá Clo-cló! by Keith Baker (Libros Viajeros, $6.95, Board Books, 9780152058907/0152058907). A familiar nursery rhyme and picture book favorite, now available in Spanish

21 Proms by Scholastic (Scholastic Paperbacks, $8.99, Paperback, 9780439890292/0439890292). Authors include: Libba Bray, Jacqueline Woodson, Ned Vizzini, John Green, Sarah Mylnowski, Melissa de la Cruz, Holly Black, Brent Hartinger, Lisa Sandell, Will Leitch, Leslie Margolis, Cecily von Ziegessar, E. Lockhart, Jodi Anderson, David Levithan, Dan Ehrenhaft, Liz Craft, Aimee Friedman, and Adrienne Vrettos

Balloon Dinosaurs & Other Prehistoric Animals by (Scholastic, $9.99, Boxed Set/Slip Cased/Casebound, 9780439853443/0439853443). Bring back the dinosaurs! This kit has all you need to get started on your own prehistoric zoo. Learn how to twist, tie and transform basic balloons into wild beasts. Create a saber-toothed tiger, an ankle-biting Anklosaurus, a mighty T-rex, and much more! Includes a 64-page book with full-color photos and easy-to-follow instructions to guide you through each project. Includes a balloon pump, googly eyes, and 34 multi-colored modeling balloons. Packaged in a plastic case.

Beware Of The Haunted Eye by Dawn Barnes (The Blue Sky Press, $4.99, Paperback, 9780439856574/0439856574). In the third book in the series, we follow Max and the three other members of the top-secret Black Belt Club on another action-packed, exciting adventure in the fight against evil. In this book, they go to a Celtic-based world where the "Haunted Eye" has overtaken all who make the seasons change and life thrive. Learning about balance, nutrition, aikido, and judo, they defeat the "Haunted Eye" and learn the importance of having balance in their lives.

Big Brown Bear/El gran oso pardo by David McPhail (Green Light Readers, $12.95, Hardcover, 9780152059652/0152059652). What goes up must come down--even a big brown bear!

Big Brown Bear/El gran oso pardo by David McPhail (Green Light Readers, $3.95, Paperback, 9780152059709/0152059709). What goes up must come down--even a big brown bear!

Book 3 by Eleanor Updale (Scholastic Paperbacks, $6.99, Paperback, 9780439683440/0439683440). As the nineteenth century draws to a close, war is in the air, and influenza is sweeping the globe. After twenty years as a gentleman, Montmorency is glad to be free of Scarper, his wretched alter ego. However, when Montmorency's young friend Frank finds himself caught in the middle of a murderous political plot, Montmorency may have no choice but to call upon none other than Scarper for help. Follow Montmorency, Fox-Selwyn, Dr. Farcett, and a whole new generation of characters on their travels from London to Scotland, Italy, and America.

Book Four In The Golden Hamster Saga by Dietlof Reiche (Scholastic Paperbacks, $5.99, Paperback, 9780439531608/0439531608). Freddy Auratus--hamster extraordinaire--is absorbed in writing his latest novel (a horror story), THE LORD OF THE FERRETS, when his characters unexpectedly come to life! Not only do they haunt Freddy, but they threaten the lives of his new friends, and a colony of rabbits. Now it's up to Freddy and his old friends--Enrico and Caruso, the guinea pig poets, and Sir William, the civilized tomcat--to save the day and one another.

Catch Me If You Can!/¡A que no me alcanzas! by Bernard Most (Green Light Readers, $3.95, Paperback, 9780152059679/0152059679). Almost everyone is afraid of the biggest dinosaur of them all.

Catch Me If You Can!/¡A que no me alcanzas! by Bernard Most (Green Light Readers, $12.95, Hardcover, 9780152059644/0152059644). Almost everyone is afraid of the biggest dinosaur of them all.

Cenicienta / Cinderella by Luz Orihuela (Scholastic en Espanol, $3.99, Paperback, 9780439871956/0439871956). A beautiful bilingual tale of poor Cinderella, her evil stepsisters, and the fairy godmother who helps her get to the ball.

Chanters Of Tremaris, Book Three by Kate Constable (Scholastic Paperbacks, $5.99, Paperback, 9780439554837/0439554837). At the beginning of THE SINGER OF ALL SONGS, Calwyn fled Antaris with Darrow to defeat the ambitious chanter Samis. In THE TENTH POWER, she comes back to the mountains in hopes of rejuvenating her lost powers of chantment. But Samis's magic left terrible scars on Antaris, so Calwyn finds only conflict rather than the peace she craved. Meanwhile, Darrow suffers from a sickness that has sapped his magic as well as his strength--and Samis has returned to continue his quest for the Singer of All Songs. All of Tremaris seems to be dying. How can Calwyn save the land, and finally save them all?

Chapter Book: The Circus Comes To Town by Howie Dewin (Scholastic Paperbacks, $4.99, Paperback, 9780439897262/0439897262). Luffy and Zolo are one step closer to One Piece when they track down a map of the Grand Line. Too bad it's under lock and key in the ship of the most feared pirate on the sea-Captain Buggy! And as if that weren't bad enough, a mysterious, pirate-hating navigator named Nami is after the very same map and always seems to be one step ahead of them. Can Luffy and Zolo face down the entire crew of fearsome clowns and outwit Nami on their way?

Charlie Chick by Nick Denchfield (Red Wagon Books, $10.95, Paper Over Board, 9780152060138/0152060138). How can one little chick be so BIG?

Chestnut Soldier by Jenny Nimmo (Scholastic Audio Books, $29.95, Trade Paper and CD, 9780439925002/0439925002). Gwyn can feel danger coming in the wind. Somehow he knows the warnings have to do with the broken toy horse that holds the evil spirit of a prince who lived long ago. When Gwyn discovers that the prince's dark soul has escaped from the horse and is seeking revenge Gwyn, Emlyn, and Nia have to figure out how to save the mysterious soldier who claims to be Nia's distant cousin. With the help of the Snow Spider, can they recapture the prince's soul without hurting the Chestnut soldier?

Chestnut Soldier - Library Edition by Jenny Nimmo (Scholastic Audio Books, $54.95, Compact Disk, 9780439023394/0439023394). Gwyn can feel danger coming in the wind. Somehow he knows the warnings have to do with the broken toy horse that holds the evil spirit of a prince who lived long ago. When Gwyn discovers that the prince's dark soul has escaped from the horse and is seeking revenge Gwyn, Emlyn, and Nia have to figure our how to save the mysterious soldier who claims to be Nia's distant cousin. With the help of the Snow Spider, can they recapture the prince's soul without hurting the chestnut soldier?

Daniel's Mystery Egg/El misterioso huevo de Daniel by Alma Flor Ada (Green Light Readers, $12.95, Hardcover, 9780152059660/0152059660). Daniel finds an egg. What kind of animal will it hatch?

Daniel's Mystery Egg/El misterioso huevo de Daniel by Alma Flor Ada (Green Light Readers, $3.95, Paperback, 9780152059717/0152059717). Daniel finds an egg. What kind of animal will it hatch?

Do You Know Your Dog? by Howie Dewin (Scholastic Inc., $3.99, Paperback, 9780439843677/0439843677). Taking care of a dog means a lot more than just a good scratch behind the ears. If you want your dog to stay happy and healthy, then you have to start thinking like a dog. So scratch your ear with your foot and curl up on the couch with this book. Before you know it, you'll be thinking like a dog!

Down And Out Down Under by Geronimo Stilton (Scholastic Paperbacks, $5.99, Paperback, 9780439841208/0439841208). G'day, mate! I was searching for ideas for my new book, and my friend Petunia Pretty Paws knew just where to find them -- in Australia. Holey cheese, it sounded like a fabumouse adventure! But between surfing with sharks, being chased by poisonous snakes, and getting lost in the outback, I was beginning to wonder if this trip down under was really a good idea. Kangaroos and koalas and crocs -- oh, my! Would I ever see New Mouse City again?

Exo-force: Search For The Golden City by Greg Farshtey (Scholastic Inc., $3.99, Paperback, 9780439892031/0439892031). The EXO-FORCE team has met its match--the Striking Venom. After the last fight between the robots and the humans, the Striking Venom left the EXO-FORCE fortress in ruins. But Sensei Keiken has heard rumors of the Golden City--a legendary place of power. Even if it does exist, can the EXO-FORCE team find it in time to save the humans?

Exo-force Collector's Guide by Allison Lassieur (Scholastic Inc., $5.99, Paperback, 9780439828112/0439828112). Enter the world of the EXO-FORCE team, where every day brings another battle between the humans and the robots for control over Sentai Mountain. This full color guide will feature images of all your favorite battle machines, pilots . . .and of course, the ruthless robots. In this Official Guide you'll find out about: -- The expertly trained EXO-FORCE team pilots and battle machines. -- The robots and their merciless battle machines. -- The history of Sentai Mountain and Sentai Fortress.

Fairy Colors by Caroline Repchuk (Cartwell Books, $5.99, Board Books, 9780439887046/0439887046). "Fairy orange, fairy blue, fastening up their fairy shoes." "Rainbow fairies one and all, ready for the fairy ball!" You are invited to the fairy ball! This sturdy casebound board book teaches colors and features rhyming text and holographic foil on every spread! Glittering fairies in all the colors of the rainbow prepare to greet the fairy queen. Join the fun!

Fairy Numbers by Caroline Repchuk (Cartwell Books, $5.99, Board Books, 9780439887054/0439887054). "TEN fairies fly. NINE wave good-bye. EIGHT fairies hide, then SEVEN peep outside." Learn to count along with 10 fun-loving and mischievous fairies. This sturdy casebound board book follows a group of fairy friends as they frolic through fields and spend their days at fun and games--flying, singing, racing, hiding, and more!

Ferno The Fire Dragon by Adam Blade (Scholastic Paperbacks, $4.99, Paperback, 9780439906512/0439906512). Strange things are happening in Tom's village. First, the horses were attacked. Then, the river dried up. Now, the last of the crops has mysteriously burnt to the ground. Everyone is terrified. But Tom isn't afraid. He's always dreamed of a quest-a real quest!-and vows to go to the king and bring help for them all. But Tom soon learns that his village is not the only one in trouble. People are in trouble all over the kingdom. Hope is nearly lost. That is, until Tom is sent on the greatest quest of all--the Beast Quest.

Fire Star by Chris D'lacey (Orchard Books, $15.99, Hardcover, 9780439845823/0439845823). In this thrilling final installment of Chris d'Lacey's popular trilogy, David Rain is faced with a perilous task. ICEFIRE's evil sibyl Gwilanna is back, this time determined to resurrect the dragon Gawain on the ice cap of the Tooth of Ragnar. Can David and his friends stop her before it's too late?

Fire Within by Chris D'lacey (Scholastic Paperbacks, $6.99, Paperback, 9780439672449/0439672449). When David moves in with Liz and Lucy, he discovers a collection of hand crafted, clay dragons that comes to life and has magical powers. David's personalized dragon, Gadzooks, can forecast the future, and inspires him to write a story which reveals the truth behind an unsolved mystery close to home. The story has an unhappy ending, and when David realizes the consequences of it he is angry. Then David finds Gadzooks crying and near death, and he discovers that these special dragons die when they are not loved. Soon David is forced to save his friend and unlock the powers of the fire within.

You Know what? There are way too many to list.... if you want this list... email me at
ftoolan at qsolution dot com.

The Obscurity Problem

I just started my subscription to Shelf-Awareness, a very nice daily newsletter put out Jenn Risko, and PW veteran, John Mutter. One of the sections in Wednesday's edition was a listing of new titles that were coming out this week. This section, on the surface, seemed innocuous enough, but as I thought about it, I became more and more disturbed.

At first I noticed that none of my customer's books were there. Then I noticed that almost all of the 20 or so books listed were from the big houses - predominantly, Random House, Harper, and S&S. It made me wonder, did they pay for those listings?

So, I dug a little further, and checked our database to see what was publishing next week. I came up with a listing of over 900 titles! Well, that made me think, 'no wonder the list was so short, there is no way they could show all the titles out there'. As we have roughly 15% of the total active titles in the market in our database, if we have 900 publishing, then there must be on the order of 6,000 titles - throughout the industry - publishing this week!

In my role as the leader of Quality Solutions, I attend many different conferences. In many of them over the past couple of years, we have been hearing many people say that too many books are being published. We hear annual statistics so often that - and maybe this is just me - their impact is minor. But, when I found 900+ titles in our database publishing this week, I was truly amazed at the scale of that number.

How can so many titles be flooded into the market and hope to sell? This reminds me of when I was a little kid, learning about what happens when a dandelion sends out it's seeds. Some fall to the ground and get trampled, some get eaten by birds, and some actually find a conducive spot and grow. Is that what we - as an industry - are trying to do with our books? Throw out a flood of titles and let natural selection take over?

I know that every individual publisher we work with would disavow that assertion, but it is hard when you aggregate the numbers to ignore the issue. At the Google conference in NYC a few weeks ago, several of the speakers put a different spin on the issue. Their thesis was that it is not that too many books are being published, but that the volume is causing a problem of 'obscurity'. Each individual title is obscured because what might have been in the past, "15 minutes of fame" is now generally less than 15 seconds.

And, we are a people of many interests and many tastes. So there are markets for these titles, it is just that finding that 'fertile soil' is a rather large challenge - and maybe they are smaller markets than publishers would like.

I think that it is interesting how 'mass market paperback' retailers address this. They have limited shelf space, and every week or so they completely restock the shelves keeping only the hottest books and authors. Talk about natural selection!

In upcoming posts, I'll be visiting this topic repeatedly. If you have any comments, please email me ftoolan at qsolution dot com.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cleaning up the Backlist - Finding Gold

When I was at the Southern Presses Conference last week, Don Collins, President of the University of Chicago Distribution Center (CDC) shared an anecdote with me that was pretty profound. CDC offers our Title Management software to its distribution clients as a tool to manage upcoming titles, and distributes that information to the trade via our eloquence service.

Don told me that one of his presses made a considerable effort at cleaning up the information in Title Management for their backlist titles. They went in and added BISAC Categories and Descriptions to as many as they could. They did this, essentially, to improve the listings on the major retail sites, in hopes of inspiring new sales. But what they got back from this effort exceeded their wildest expectations.

What they saw was a 300% increase in backlist sales through Baker & Taylor and Yankee Book Peddler. Incredulous, they called the rep from Yankee to find out why. They were told that they had some category orders from several libraries with open slots. When the rep did a search on their database by category, these titles came up, they looked like a fit, and they slotted them into the order.

The moral of this story is that your books need to be able to be found by customers in order to be sold. It's a pretty simple message, but so often overlooked by publishers that feel that it is simply an administrative pain-in-the-butt to go back and clean up all those old titles. But when you think about it, since the tools were there to take this data (input in only one place) and update databases throughout the trade, this is a pretty compelling argument to manage the backlist a little more closely.

This is the first step in helping 'Fight Obscurity' for your titles. Make your titles easily found. In the future, I'll expound on other ways to fight obscurity.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Data Certification and the End of EDRP

Last week I attended (by phone) a meeting of the BISAC Metadata committee on the subject of Data Certification.

As background, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), parent organization to BISAC, has the strategic objective to put in place a centralized title metadata certification program, much like the ones in place in the UK and in Canada. Michael Healy, Executive Director of BISG was in attendance at this meeting, and it was chaired by Richard Stark of Barnes & Noble who is the chair of the Metadata committee.

Michael has laid out his notions about the program in a draft document, and the committee discussed this document at length as well as several other related issues.

Some of you may recall that when the idea of certification came up in the past, I was vehemently against it. This was because it looked like a private company was going to be doing the certification, which to me represented a strong conflict of interest. Now that it has come up again, this issue has been resolved, and all certification - in whatever form it turns out to be - will be the responsibility of the BISG office. Given that stipulation, I am in favor of such a process.

At present, we have a 'de facto' certification process in place and it is known as Barnes & Noble's Efficient Data Receipt Program (EDRP). EDRP has been a tremendous boon to our industry as it forced B&N's top 100+ customers to take a hard look at the quality of information that was being presented on upcoming titles. 'Forced' is not too strong a word, as the threat of financial penalties for sending poor title information hung over publishers heads like the sword of Damocles.

In the two or three years following the introduction of EDRP, the entire publishing industry saw the benefits. Not only were buyers at B&N better prepared, the information on,, and every other retail site visibly improved. Publishers found that fixing their process around presenting data to B&N, fixed it for the entire trade. B&N deserves a tremendous amount of credit for this.

In more recent times, however, B&N has looked to expand the program, and from all indications - they may have hit a point of diminishing returns. The newer EDRP system made publishers take 'educated guesses' at some data points like carton quantities, which seemed to undermine the process. Additionally, few if any publishers where actually ever charged back real $ for their misdeeds. Now there are indications that the EDRP system may be discontinued for an indefinite period of time.

So, back to certification. As I said before, I am in favor of this, as it keeps some kind of bar in place for publishers to reach in order to communicate good information about their titles to the trade. And, with the waning EDRP, we need this program in place sooner rather than later. Otherwise, data quality will start to slip again, and all of us who evangelize on the subject will soon lose our credibility. Many of us that evangelize on this issue know that improving data quality happens one publishing entity (Publisher, Division, Imprint, Distributed Press) at a time, and often one person (inside each entity) at a time.

I feel that a program like this may hold very little weight with publishers unless there are some strong motivations for publishers to pay attention. Michael feels strongly that we cannot discuss 'carrots' or 'sticks' in our meeting, because legally it could put BISG in a conflicted position. However, without that discussion - even if it is constrained to be outside the committee, I don't feel this program will last very long.

In the Canada and in the UK, successful certification programs are in place due to the fact that one company (in each market) with enough clout to get publishers attention, said that publishers must comply. In the UK, it is Neilson BookData who controls much of the distribution of bibliographic metadata in the UK and Europe. In Canada, it is Indigo, who refuses to work with publisher data that is not certified by BookNet Canada.

So, hopefully, a major entity with enough clout will emerge in our market and get behind the program and keep our hard-won improvements in data quality on a positive trajectory.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Slumbering Giants and Publishing Services

Maybe I feel some of the tectonic shifts in our industry more acutely than others, because our very existence as a company is so threatened by them.

Nothing illustrates this point more than the consolidation of the distribution market. From my point of view, this consolidation has been largely driven by the need to have a more efficient supply chain. This essentially means that retailers - large and small - have the tools they need to help their customers find what they are looking for and deliver it to them as quickly as possible. This is true whether it is the local corner bookstore or a behemoth online retailer.

To have a more efficient supply chain means to have the technology and industry standards in place for companies to have their computer systems talking to each other, and to automate as much of the process as possible.

This technology 'barrier to entry' in publishing is now at such a daunting level, that most publishers have realized its better to 'partner' with another company who knows how to manage the technology than to make the money and people investments necessary to do it themselves.

Fortunately, there are companies that have made all the proper investments along the way, and have built a formidable array of systems and technology services that make it easy for publishers to take advantage. Most of these companies are in the distribution business (as well).

For several years, distribution companies have thought of themselves in those terms alone - that they handled distribution. Now, most are awakening to the fact that they are really publishing services companies, and it just so happens that they are also distribution companies. Once awakened to this FACT, they start to realize that they are no longer bound only to those customers they do distribution for. Now they can start offering other services, like content management, content distribution, production management, or royalty accounting to companies they don't have any distribution arrangement with at all.

So why is this such a threat? Well, its two-fold for us. One is direct, and one is indirect. The direct threat is that there are now simply less customers for us, and for all other publishing systems providers. We, at Quality Solutions, are slightly immune to this as our systems help publishers with their core competencies - editorial, and marketing. However, the clock is clearly ticking, and it won't be long before the slumbering giants will be offering those services as well. And, while we're fortunate to have many of the large service providers as customers, our room for growth is very small.

The indirect threat is from other publishing software companies. Especially those who offer order processing and other back office systems. In a market where there were maybe 20 companies to begin with, we've seen several 'consolidations' just in the past six months. The last two being just recently - Vista and Ingenta, and the Cat's Pajama's and Media Services. These companies are swallowing each other to stay alive as their customers bolt to the larger 'publishing services' companies.

This is an indirect threat to us, because now those software companies are thinking that their future lies in what we do. This will only create more competition in an ever shrinking market, and will kill us all more quickly, as our services get commoditized. It sort of feels like the rats on a sinking ship seeking higher ground.

The only answer to this threat is to create new services! We've got several in mind, and in the coming months, we'll be announcing several in rapid fire succession. The creation of new services is often a risky business, and building things that publishers didn't even think they needed has been the hallmark of what Quality Solutions has done for the last 20 years. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Blinding Flash of the Obvious

I criss-crossed the country last week talking to publishers about digital strategy. (Truth be told, I probably spent more time waiting for delayed flights in airports than talking to publishers).

During one of those conversations, the publisher was talking about his strategy for getting titles into the top 8 search results on Google when an individual typed in various search terms. We moaned about how books rarely, show up in the top 8.

This conversation dove-tailed with another about content distribution, and Google indexing PDF files. Suddenly, there was a very simple solution to get the book to come up more readily - put keywords right in the text! Two seconds later, it was obvious where to put them: the copyright page. What reader would ever feel the slightest bother of having Internet search words listed on the copyright page? None. After all, Library of Congress Catalog in Publication (CIP) terms are already there.

Here was an almost cost free way to help improve the ability for consumers to find these titles on the Internet.

We may all love our physical books, but here is an opportunity to link old school and new school thinking, and to help battle obscurity.

The only issue with this plan is that marketing needs to get involved with the book earlier in the publication life cycle than they normally do. But, that sounds like a good topic for another blog entry.

As PGW Turns

After reading that the battle over PGW between Perseus and NBN is over, I'm not sure whether to be pleased or not at the outcome. Then again, I'm not sure if I'd be pleased or not at either outcome.

As background, PGW is a client of ours. We have been working with them for at least 6 or 7 years - going back to well before their acquisition by AMS. During that time it was impossible not to respect how they respected their clients. Even after the acquisition, their inherent culture of caring for clients did not change.

Given that customer service is something that I value very highly, even when we didn't necessarily see eye to eye on an issue, that level of respect never wavered. So, I'm clearly a fan.

In some ways, I'm very happy for them. There appears to be a future. When the bankruptcy was announced, shortly thereafter followed by Perseus' acquisition of Avalon, I feared the worst. I thought that they would completely cease to exist within a very short period of time.

Now, the rhetoric that is published in our industry 'rags' would have us believe that PGW will remain in tact - at least for the moment. I truly hope this is the case. I also hope that Perseus will take the time to reflect on why PGW's clients (and suppliers) think so highly of them. PGW's intangible qualities are its greatest value. PGW is more than a distributor, they are a 'brand'.

PGW pretty much invented the distribution model for book publishers, and given how it was hamstrung by AMS, there is little wonder that it is an early casualty in the war to create 'distribution state' borders. There are very few publishers left who distribute only for themselves, so growth of distribution companies is now limited to growth by acquisition, or by offering more (paid services) to their existing clients, or by helping their clients grow their existing businesses. The bedrock of the future distribution model will be the last, and the way that will happen is through PGW-like customer service.

Publishers can now change distributors easier than they used to be able to switch to a new computer system. So, they will flock to the companies that they feel will do the best job for them, and partner with them to grow both of their businesses. PGW has always worked this way, it is part of their 'brand' identity. Perseus would do well to recognize and capitalize on this 'brand'. Perhaps even use it to redefine themselves.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

AAUP Southern Presses Conference

I just spent a day and one-half at the AAUP Southern Presses Confernence, in Jacksonville, Florida. The conference was hosted by the University Press of Florida.

What struck me hardest at this show is how these presses are still struggling to find markets for their books, and how to profitably publish 'works that matter' but will only sell a few hundred (or less) copies per year. These university press publishers (and all others, I suspect) are trying to figure out how to make their titles work, in a marketplace that is shifting.

Their seemed to be few if any new ideas presented at the conference. Many of the ideas are good, but pretty worn out: Print on Demand, the Google Print program, finding new markets – have been a staple of conferences for the last few years.

What also struck me was the 'older' nature of the sponsors. Most of us were printers, and other production related companies. Quality Solutions was one of the only technology companies there. This is NOT to say that this is wrong. I am sure that the conference organizers were very happy to have every sponsor there. It just helped reinforce the feeling that collectively, we were not thinking outside the box. It also made me wonder why the rest of the 'vendor' community did not see the value of being there.

On the positive side, I have to say that I really liked being part of the conference. The intimacy of this small conference was really nice, and it reinforces the personal side of this business which is why I got into it in the first place.