Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Random Thoughts for 2009

Living at the intersection of Book Publishing and Technology, I live in an interesting place. In some ways, it feels as though I live right on a giant fault line. Two tectonic plates are colliding creating a seismic disturbance the likes of which have not been seen before (at least not in my career).

With all that’s going on, I have been giving a lot of thought to what might shake out of all of the tremors. In general, I think this is going to be a great year for small and nimble companies. Here are some random thoughts:

1. People will either be very busy or looking for work. Many people are already out of work, and I don’t think that trend is over. The people that remain employed will be asked to do even more than they did before, and the people out of work are going to have challenging times finding a new place of employment. I think this is going to affect many things, including what people read, and how they get their information.

2. Given the above, I think the price of general fiction will decrease, while there may be some room for modest increases in prices for non-fiction. There is just a glut of fiction work available in the market now, and no shortage of writers (and self-publishers) adding to the supply. Fiction is generally read when people have time and want to escape. The ‘employed’ won’t have the time, and the unemployed will be looking to re-tool for other opportunities, so the demand will be lower. On the non-fiction side, with all of the information sources available on the internet, the need for authoritative, reviewed, edited works of non-fiction will be in greater demand. Publishers that can make their non-fiction products available in the ways these consumers want will see better price elasticity.

3. There will be a rise in the mini-celebrity. Technology is making it simpler to define a market space, find a leader, and build communities around those leaders. Creating author websites and marketing their expertise has never been easier. Creating electronic communities is also becoming easier and easier.

4. Smaller, independent publishers have a great opportunity, and larger, multi-imprint publishers are going to be more greatly challenged. Publishers that focus on a community, and whose brand represents a mission to serve that community will develop reputations that may rival their key authors. Their inherent ability to focus on doing a few things very well as opposed to doing many things only partially well will also help them outperform the larger houses. Unless the larger publishers really reorganize themselves as a group of small businesses with a bootstrapping attitude, I fear they are in for major destruction.

5. Independent retailers will finally embrace the internet (instead of fighting it), and use it to their advantage. Independent retailers have built in communities, and embracing electronic technology can help them keep their local clientele local. All the major retailers sell to their customers in whatever way the customer wants to buy, either in store, or online. The technology is available now and affordable even for small independents.

6. People will continue to read more and more books, magazines, and research material online, or on e-reading devices. Sometimes they will want the e-product for quick answers and then keep the printed text for future reference. The proliferation of product forms and management of the same will be a major challenge for publishers. This points to another solid year for supporting technology companies (such as content management, and yes, workflow companies), and print-on-demand companies.

7. Design of information delivery will become almost as important as the information itself. Finding what is needed as quickly and intuitively as possible as well as being pleasing to the eye will make the difference between customers choosing one data published work over another.

All-in-all, I think it’s going to be an interesting year coming up. What are your thoughts?

Friday, December 12, 2008

The New Leadership Paradigm

Please read this blog post by Kat Meyer. It really got me thinking not only about the ‘leadership vacuum’ in publishing today, but more importantly how the internet is changing our notions of leadership. Specifically, it got me pondering the notion of how internet communication mechanisms – whether they be social networks, chat rooms, blogs, Twitter, or whatever – are changing the entire paradigm of leadership.

If you think about it, we in society take leadership from fairly rigid hierarchical structures. The structure may be your family or your church or your place of employment, or your city, state, or federal government. In some of those structures we may be leaders and in others we may be followers.

Leaders tend to be ‘in charge’ of leading very specific groups of people, and they tend to become leaders because they either started the structure (like a family or small business) or they were elected or promoted into it by people further up the hierarchical ladder.

On the internet, leaders are no longer bound by these traditional structures. What emerges on the internet are ‘thought leaders’ – people we want to listen to and follow by virtue of the fact that we are in alignment with their ideas. Leaders in this paradigm are made in the most egalitarian way – they are made because we choose to follow them, not because we exist in a structure where the leadership is defined for us.

Thought leaders don’t require a pedigree, or any special training. They only need ideas that other people think are interesting and insightful. Anyone who has the courage to speak up on the internet can be a leader. It doesn’t matter whether a person is scrubbing bathrooms at the local McDonalds or the CEO of a major corporation. The only thing that gives a leader power is the people that choose to follow them.

Another thing about leadership on the internet is that leadership is no longer hierarchical - its relational. There is no one single individual who sets the direction of the masses following them. People follow many people all at the same time often on the same topics. They then choose the best ideas from all of them and come to their own conclusions.

I believe that this truly free society is why we are seeing the crash in mainstream media, like television, radio and print news organizations, as well as magazines and other structured information services. There is a quiet revolution going on. People are rebelling against the notion that others are making decisions about what they read and listen to, and what stories are important to them. Instead they are looking for the new voices of reason; the new leaders to point them in a direction and help them find the things that are of the most interest.

The new leaders act as information filters, helping the people that follow them sift through the myriad of information floating around and pointing them toward new ideas – and possibly even new leaders.

So, as I see it, the traits of the ‘new’ leader are:
1. The courage to stand up and take a leadership role
2. A Platform from which to lead (a blog, website, or social network page)
3. A message that consistently resonates with other people
4. The understanding that they exist in the service of and at the pleasure of the people that follow them
5. They are comfortable not being the only leader, and actively promote the ideas of other leaders
6. They are comfortable with the idea of power without authority
7. They are comfortable with the idea that there are no boundaries to their leadership

Anyone care to stand up?

Monday, December 08, 2008

NetGalley LLC

Today is huge day in the history of Firebrand Technologies! Today, in cooperation with Rosetta Solutions, we are formally announcing the formation of joint venture company called NetGalley LLC. For more information about this joint venture, please see our press release.

NetGalley is a product that was created by Rosetta Solutions to help publishers manage the 'galley' process in an electronic way. Galleys are books that are printed in advance of the formally published book. Generally, they are sent out to reviewers and key customers prior to their formal publication so they can be reviewed. NetGalley is a tool that manages this process electronically, by creating a secure environment where reviewers can either read or download electronic versions, or request a hardcopy of the 'netgalley' and then post their reviews online.

The product was formally launched last Spring during BEA. Since then it has garnered much attention, but has not made a significant impact in the market. At least not yet... We are definitely hoping to change that!

The concept of NetGalley is a very exciting one for everyone in the industry who recognizes how much wasted money there is in the current 'galley process'. Publishers waste significant money sending galleys out via the mail to people who either never get them or never read them. Reviewers are often inundated by publishers to review their books, and need to create makeshift tools to manage their workload.

To, me, there is a tremendous opportunity to help publishers save money in this process. The amount of money wasted on sending galleys to bad addresses is enough to make any publishing CEO wince! By providing reviewers with rich bibliograpic data (which of course is Firebrand's forte), they can choose to opt-in to either read a galley electronically, or have one sent to them. Savvy publishers will connect this system directly to their print on demand printer of choice and have a galley custom created for the review.

In later entries, I'll be talking more about this, and how we intend on:

  • Making NetGalley completely integrated with Firebrand's Title Management and eloquence databases.
  • Improving the workflow for both publishers and reviewers
  • Changing the business model from a price per title to a subscription model

Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Give Books This Holiday

This post has been simmering for a long time. But the events of the past week have finally stirred me to write this. The book retail market has been in trouble for a long time, and the publishing industry is really challenged, especially at the moment. But, I'm not going to spend alot of time on that topic here. There was a good summation of publishing's ills done by Lynn Neary of NPR yesterday.

We, in the publishing industry, don't have the luxury of just sitting idly by and waiting for the axe to fall. We each can find a way to support the industry that supports us - by giving books this holiday season!

Many of us already do this, but I don't think many of us are promoting that we do it.

I could swear that a month or two ago, there were many blog entries (or maybe they were twitter feeds) about people trying to start a movement for buying books this holiday season. However, a casual search of both the web and twitter came up almost empty. It's time to re-energize the movement!

Here are two ideas:

1. Add something to your email signature. This idea comes from some friends at Ingram Publisher Services. Recently, in their email signatures, they had a simple and tasteful logo:

When I first saw it, I loved it, but never said anything about it. I hope they don't mind that this will now become part of my email signature as well. Maybe we can get everyone in publishing to add it to their emails also. Please feel free to copy it.

2. Subscribe to and become a follower of Buy Books for the Holidays 2008 blog, and add your logo to your own blog. Maybe if we all band together, we can make a difference.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Me Too Strategy?

It has been a horrible week in the book world.  And, I apologize in advance if this post sounds just a bit cynical.  

There is no question that the book business is in a world of flux.  Between yesterday and today, I've read no less than 30 different accounts of layoffs, salary freezes, hiring freezes, and warnings about all of the above, in the book business.

Some, there can be no doubt, are legitimate business moves made in light of the current economic climate.  But I wonder if some publishers didn't just see the opportunity to make cuts because they heard others were about to.

I raised this question with a colleague on the phone today, and he said that he was thinking the same thing.  Isn't it a little suspicious that all of this took place in a two day period?  How could it be that Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Putnam, Thomas Nelson, Bowker, and of course, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt all chose this week to cut staff.  Even HarperCollins got into the act by announcing a salary freeze.  At least Macmillan made their announcement about a hiring freeze a few weeks ago.

Now, I don't think that there was any collusion going on, but I do think that there was a lot of communications between these houses and that rumors abounded long before we were made aware of the situation.

One bright spot - Hachette announced that they were giving out bonuses this year!  

Can't wait to hear tomorrow's news... it's got to be better than the last two days.

Monday, December 01, 2008

One of our Own

I hope you all had a great holiday weekend!

For those of you that read this blog and are in the 'metadata business' like we are at Firebrand, I wanted to let you know that Stanley Greenfield is in the hospital. They are not really sure what's wrong with him other than he has some type of infection.

His wife, Betty, called last week to let us know. I spoke to Stanley very briefly on Saturday, and of course, if you know Stanley, he was upbeat and asking for excerpts. But, uncharacteristically, you could tell he was very tired (or sedated), and the call was no more than 2 minutes long. He said that he may be in the hospital for 2 - 4 more weeks.

Stanley, who runs the company, Dial-A-Book, is one of the most spry octogenarians I know. He is very proud of his 3rd place finish in the U.S. National Squash Championships in his age category, and quick to acknowledge that only three contestants over 80 showed up!

Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. Stanley is at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for those of you who want to call or write to him. I'll update this blog as I know more.