The Art and Science of Pricing Content in a Digital Universe
I recently read an excellent piece by Michael Cairns in his Personanondata blog called "Your Price May Vary" - that in turn references an article in The Economist entitled "E Pluribus Tunum" about online pricing of music. I’ve been reading and thinking about pricing models for a long time, and I am still not certain what is the best path for pricing strategies. But I have determined that there are some essential principles I think the book industry needs to pay attention to. As Michael points out: "Pricing is complicated: publishers can approach this in an unsophisticated manner but in doing so they are unlikely to maximize their revenue. More analysis is likely to show that a variable approach to pricing and packaging will generate more revenue." My principles thus far include:
1. Pay attention to what customers want and are willing to pay. Prices cannot be set by publishers based on existing models, cost structures, margin requirements, etc.
2. It’s a buyer’s market with a huge amount of competition for what the consumer values most (her time!)
3. In times of change, it pays to be flexible. Experimentation is called for. A rigorous and scientific approach to data is critical.
4. The content marketplace is highly segmented; what works for one type of content and publishing will not necessarily work for any other.
5. New rules apply. Therefore our business models need to be open to change, as do our minds.
Earlier this week, Susan Danziger’s excellent DailyLit announced it is changing to an all free model, with sponsorships covering costs. Today (December 5, 2009), Atlantic Magazine announced it would be the first magazine to sell short stories on Amazon’s Kindle: http://bit.ly/4KFjJ4. If you look around the web - the biggest publishing ecosystem the world has ever seen - you will find many variants on pricing models for content. Book publishers have the benefit of learning from all who have preceded them. Study wisely.
(my next blog will provide a specific business case for a new model of pricing; I am looking for publishers who have experimented with pricing models for online content and welcome communications on this topic).
December 5, 2009
Posted by David Wilk on 12/05 at 08:46 PM
Reading books. Really reading. Really.
OK readers, it’s time to look at yourself in the mirror and tell the truth.
How many print books did you read in the last week? In the last month? How about the last year? Are you reading more or less? Tell the truth. Write down your answers.
Here are mine:
Last week: 2 books
Last month: 6 books
Last twelve months: 60 books
Last week: 1 book
Last month: 2 books
Last twelve months: 8 books
My totals of books read are higher now than they have been in the past few years because I realized recently that I was reading fewer and fewer books; like so many people I meet, my work and much of my play seems to have migrated to the web.
To help me read more and concentrate more on what I am reading, earlier this year I decided to start a website (www.writerscast.com) where I conduct long form interviews with writers. This has meant committing myself to reading books and thinking about them before talking to the authors. And that has certainly enabled me to read more books – I have thus rediscovered the joys of deep engagement that long form writing and committed reading enables.
This blog post is aimed at a higher than average book reading, book culture demographic. It’s a pretty safe guess that readers of Huffington Post read more in general and especially read more books than most Americans. It’s also a pretty safe guess that if you are being honest, the number of books you read today is much lower than it was five, ten, fifteen years ago whatever your background or book reading history.
In fact, you may have purchased just as many books as you did in the past, maybe more. You have more money than in your youth, and books are still relatively inexpensive cultural investments. If you’re like most heavy readers, you buy books based on the notion that you will read these books, or that you should read these books, a sort of self-imposed cultural belief system. Books are indicators of our intellectual life, after all. After all, having books in your house defines you as a certain kind of person.
But as long as we are being truthful, let’s admit that we have bought (and own) more books, by far, than we will ever read in our lifetimes. And we are likely reading fewer books than in the past.
Are we reading less? Probably not. In fact, the evidence is that we are reading more than ever.
Americans are consuming vast amounts of written information online. Actual reading is at very high levels. But if the most highly educated among us are reading fewer books, as they most assuredly are, what does that mean for the future of publishing and more importantly for the future of our culture?
That’s a loaded question of course – even how I phrased it implies that I believe it’s a bad thing that fewer books are being read. I don’t. In fact my interest in raising this question here is to celebrate change. Many of us who are in the book business got into it for the obvious reason that we loved books and writing. It’s obviously going to be difficult for a group of people who love books, hang out with other book lovers, and talk about books all the time to accept the notion that the definition of what a book is can and will change. But change is the defining characteristic of our time.
It’s not the book publishers but the behavior of readers that will define the future of reading and of culture. What will it look like? E-reading and new digital communication forms and formats will take over, and faster than anyone imagines. Books are artifacts of modern technology no more or less than digital creations. People adapt to new technologies in ways that suit their needs and interests, and equally new technologies are created around the perceived needs of people.
The electronic reading future is already our present.
Posted by David Wilk on 11/16 at 04:42 AM
E-reading - it’s just the beginning
The past is always instructive to understanding the present. Human beings adapt to new technologies more slowly than new technologies themselves. Inventors come up with all sorts of ideas, some work, some don’t. Sometimes brilliant ideas fall by the wayside for reasons of cost or inconvenience, or simply timing issues.
E-reading is essentially a new technology in a period of tremendous and exciting change. Thousands of people and hundreds of companies are engaged in trying to figure out how people will be engaged and therefore how they can make businesses out of the broad e-reading experience in meaningful ways.
I think it’s useful to look at the historical beginnings of what are now ubiquitous technologies, to help us understand what the future of e-reading may look like.
In the early 20th century, when the automobile was the exciting new technological opportunity for hundreds of inventors worldwide, there were some incredibly interesting and diverse ideas for motorized transport being explored. It took several generations of usage, feedback, invention and broad experience before a more or less standardized form we recognize as “the automobile” emerged from this hothouse of invention and human adaptation (and even then there were some amazing outliers, some successful, some not).
In the very beginning stages, automobiles were imagined as motorized versions of horse drawn carriages - the “horseless carriage.“ At the outset most were steered by tillers. Steering wheels came later, some on the left, some on the right, some in the middle of the dashboard.
Some cars were electric powered, some were steam driven. Early gas engines were one cylinder, some were two, some were air-cooled, some were water cooled, most were inline, some were opposed cylinders, there were even a couple of rudimentary vee designs.
Early cars had all sorts of configurations that now seem crazy to us – six wheels, eight wheels, various seating and door arrangements, almost every design element was up for grabs, anything you could imagine could be tried by someone with a workshop, some interesting ideas and access to capital.
It took some years for the “automobile” as we know it today in its accepted variations to emerge, based on changes in technology in part, but mainly based on usage – how people responded to and utilized the new machine, how they adapted to it and adapted it for their own purposes.
E-reading today is in a very early stage of development. Maybe we are in the equivalent of 1910 in the passage of automotive history. We can expect all sorts of oddball inventions and we will not be able to predict exactly or even well the ebb and flow of technology and how it evolves in actual usage by readers.
Human beings are great inventors. It is certain that we will see many innovations in reading and the technology that supports it. We know that we are entering a period of vast change based on energy, climate and pollution limitations of our planet and that these changes must affect how we communicate and read, how our communities will be formed. We do not know how people will adapt to a carbon neutral low energy world in which the reduced use of physical goods will become a powerful driver of human culture.
What we can be sure of is that it is readers who will determine the future of reading technology, cast against whatever technology, new or old, that may emerge, Today’s book publishers may well be the builders of covered wagons, only some of them will learn how to build the e-reading equivalent of the horseless carriage, Others will not. But readers, like drivers of a century ago, are ready to speed ahead into the future, and they do not care who ends up building it for them.
October 18, 2009
Posted by David Wilk on 10/20 at 02:01 AM
A Rising Tide of Books - or of Readers?
It’s hard to dispute that book reading is not the most popular entertainment activity for the majority of Americans. When has it ever been? How many serious readers remember being laughed at by their friends? Bookworm. Nerd. Egghead.
On the other side of that coin: well read, intellectual, knowledgeable.
Still it’s also pretty commonly accepted wisdom that the minority of the population that does buy the majority of books we publish is reading less and headed toward buying fewer books as well.
Of course books compete with movies, television, radio, video games and now more than ever the internet, for the attention of all readers. The internet is especially seductive to a large group of the most dedicated readers – literate book buyers who consume information in printed forms.
Most of us have no more than 40 hours a week available for leisure activities. If the average book takes 10 hours to read, and we did nothing else with our available leisure time than read, for a total of four books a week (the more quickly read romance and science fiction books aside).
How many people in America read four books a week? Four a month even seems like a huge amount of reading nowadays. When I tell people how many books I read every week, they mostly look at me like I’m crazy, or at least trying to show off.
So how many serious readers are there? How many unread books do they already own? How long will it be before readers decide there is enough free reading material stored in their houses, in libraries, and especially, online, so they only buy books when they feel they must, as opposed to being stimulated to buy a book by marketing events?
The greatest fear for publishers and writers is that people realize that we have enough books-as-commodities to last multiple lifetimes, and we all just stop buying printed books altogether.
Aside from the world of academic, scientific, technical and professional publishing, which works on a different model than “trade” books (“trade” being defined as books meant for general readers), we can readily assume that there are only a few million serious readers available to buy the 200,000 or more new trade titles published every year now.
In a world where reading time is precious, where more books are published every week than it is possible for most people to read in a year, publishers and authors should be thinking about one thing and one thing only: how can we increase the number of readers who will buy our content? How can we engage readers in ways that provide real value to them?
If potential book readers are mostly on the web every day and night, then that’s where book publishers ought to be. If people are consuming their information and ideas through electronic reading, then that’s where book publishers need to be. If people are rewarding authors who give their work away for free, then that’s where authors and publishers will need to be, and if they have to re-create their business models in order to accomplish that, then so be it.
Every decision publishers (and writers too) make about their businesses should be made within the context of change. Most publishers know full well their world has changed. Rising tides raise all boats. What we need now is a tide of readers. They are out there. Which publishers and writers are ready to take this on?
Posted by David Wilk on 10/06 at 04:58 AM
Writerscast: The Voice of Writing
Writerscast features interviews, readings and discussions with writers on a wide variety of topics. I am particularly interested in the writing process, the struggles that writers and publishers undergo in bringing their work to audiences, and in giving authors the opportunity to talk about their work. I tend to focus on new and recently published books in all forms, print, audio and e-books alike, but anytime I find a book that interests me, old or new, I will try to talk with the author about the book to try to get further into the concepts and ideas within it. And as with all my work, I am very interested in exploring new ways to for writers and readers to meet - those intersections that will help redefine the publishing process in the 21st century.
I started Writerscast in 2009, working on the website and learning how to podcast with the invaluable aid of Rob Simon and his terrific folks at Burst Marketing. As of late 2009, I’ve managed to interview some really terrific writers, including most recently Jayne Anne Phillips, Ivy Pochoda, Caroline Leavitt, William Gladstone, Alice Eve Cohen, Geraldine Brooks, Gus Speth, Martin Melaver, and many others. Later this year I will be introducing author readings to the Writerscast site to further extend the writerly conversation here.
And shortly, there will be a new channel on the site called Publishing Talks to cover new developments in the book business with leading thinkers in every part of the publishing process. We are coming into a time where changes in books, reading and the intersection of readers and writers will be profound. Talking about it publicly will add to the many interesting threads of conversations that are ongoing within the book community. At times like this, we need to share ideas as widely as possibly and learn everything we can from each other.
I’ve been working with a really interesting company called Evoca, whose technology makes recording and creating web based audio conversations really simple. if you’re interested in learning how to integrate audio into your own website, Bootrix will be happy to help you learn how to take advantage of the power of voice to enhance your work.
Please visit Writerscast, sample some of the interviews, subscribe to the feed there (or go to iTunes or any other major podcast syndicator of your choice). Feedback and advice is as always, most welcome.
Posted by David Wilk on 09/28 at 03:05 AM
Readiac: A New Website for Book Reviews
So called "amateur" book reviewers have emerged over the past few years as powerful voices in the online book community. This is a great thing for readers, as we are faced with so many choices of what to read - more books are published annually than ever before - we need someone to tell us something meaningful to help us decide how to use our precious reading time for the greatest reward.
I love to read books that other people think are truly great. And what better way to choose what to read than to follow the deeply felt enthusiasm of other readers? Anyone who loves to read remembers that incredible feeling that comes from reading a book that truly resonates and makes us feel that we don’t want it to end - or that stimulates our intellectual or creative abilities so deeply we literally feel the need to rush out and tell someone how great this book is. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this phenomenon in his wildly popular "The Tipping Point" - it’s how influence happens in culture.
I read lot of books. But I don’t have lots of time to read, and these days I only want to read really good books. Selfishly, I want to read these kinds of enthusiastic book reviews myself so I have a better chance of finding out about more wonderful books to read. So I created a new website called Readiac, which features only deeply felt positive reviews of books the reviewer truly loved reading.
With literally hundreds of book review blogs going strong, there are tons of book reviews out there. Readiac is the one place you can go to follow the enthusiasms of dedicated readers. In this case, more is better - if you read books, you certainly have your favorites, and most of those who are reading this can write (probably better than I can). So send me reviews of the books you love!
Visit Readiac today.
Posted by David Wilk on 06/21 at 04:26 PM
Ebook pricing models and theories of value
I saw a news item today that reported the fastest growing app category for the iPhone is e-book readers, and now another that the e-book is the "killer app" (read this article). The iPhone is a tremendously exciting development for authors and publishers because it gives us a chance to find new readers and experiment with new reading experiences. I’ve been thinking alot about digital reading versus print reading in terms of the value proposition. Had a great conversation with Mark Coker, founder of e-publishing platform Smashwords about the essential differences between e- and p- value propositions. I know some publishers disagree, but I think the perception of readers will determine values in e-books and digital reading environments, and publishers ignore this reality at their own peril.
Evan Schnittman, who works for Oxford University Press and writes the excellent new blog Black Plastic Glasses is one of those who feels differently and writes compellingly on publisher economics. Meanwhile, Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly Media recently suggested that readers who buy a print books should be given a free e-version of the book. Why not recognize the reader’s desire to read in multiple formats, and why make them pay extra for that privilege?
Somehow this discussion of values in the digital environment has got me re-reading the great essay The Economy of Ideas by John Perry Barlow, former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation (more to come about this important essay in subsequent posts).
Searching around the web for further discussion about values and writing, I found this wonderful quote by French poet Paul Valery:
“Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”
Paul Valéry, Pièces sur L’Art, 1931 Le Conquete de l’ubiquite
I think we are ready for his "amazing change." I’m going to start publishing inexpensive e-books on Smashwords soon. And a cool app for the iPhone will certainly follow that. If there are any writers reading this post who want to talk to me about working together, contact me.
Posted by David Wilk on 05/02 at 04:45 AM
On Amazon, The Web and Freedom to Read
Richard Nash blogs brilliantly on Amazon’s recent “ham fisted” issues with Gay, Lesbian, Sexual and other “Adult” Content books here.
Richard is of course, pretty much right on target.
As I write this piece, a few days after the Easter weekend, I note that now it appears that most of the gay and lesbian books have had their rankings restored on Amazon, but a number of erotica and overtly sexual titles, straight or otherwise remain "de-ranked."
Isn’t the issue here not literally the choices that Amazon is making about what books to promote or not promote in this way, to “hide” from audiences somehow, but rather, it is the fact that they are making choices based on content that is the problem?
When there were hundreds of independent booksellers, many of whom were in the book business for literary, cultural and political reasons, their individual decisions about what to buy created a more or less healthy ecosystem that included opportunities for many books reflecting minority lifestyles, sometimes unpopular or challenging in their content, to be available to a reading broad and various reading public.
In that environment, whether any given store chose to carry or promote erotica, adult literature, gay romance, or radical political books, though important to their own communities, it was not critical to the health of culture, or of intellectual discourse, or to the working lives of writers and to their readers’ freedom not of access.
But in our current environment, where ironically, all books are theoretically available more readily through Amazon, bn.com and other online retailers where shelf space is virtual and inventory has no cost (other than bandwidth), we now begin to realize that cultural power is concentrated as never before and in ways that are complicated and potentially damaging now than ever.
For example, is it plausible to imagine an online advertising environment that did not utilize Google? Can there be bookselling online without reference to Amazon? If music does not appear on iTunes, by the choice of the creator or the record label, is it truly available to be heard?
These and many other online "businesses" are defacto monopolies that thrive because of the Internet. Are they really private companies or are they more like public utilities?
Why don’t we start looking at them as "chartered" for the benefit of the public they serve? This would enable us to introduce the notion of "public good" in the way we think about their provision of goods and services to the general public. Especially when we think about access to information and ideas, and freedom of speech, this seems increasingly appropriate when a company like Amazon fails in its commitment to supporting those ideals.
Posted by David Wilk on 04/15 at 10:06 PM
Not the Book Business but the Reader Business
Sara Lloyd, as always on point in her writing on The Digitalist.net, posted a piece yesterday about a new service called Spotify (“A World of Music - Instant, legal and free” – but not yet available in the United States). Spotify makes music available legally on any device at any time to its subscribers, essentially redefining the notion of ownership.
This concept, if applied to written content (we don’t need to call our content “books” anymore do we?) might have profound ramifications for publishers, as readers realize that it is both unnecessary and impractical to own books as commodities if they can have instant access to any book or other written material at any time in electronic form. This makes us all dizzy because we don’t know what it means for the “business model” but culture is all about exchange, which means it will get worked out eventually.
I think this is these are the key points for what we know now as “the book business” as it will continue to evolutionize over the next few years, while the web (and mobile web) become the predominant distribution systems for information and entertainment in our culture:
1) that we (ie publishers and writers) are really in the reader business
2) that readers or those who serve them the way they want to be served will lead in publishing
3) that publishing has always been about connecting readers to writing
4) that the web enables that connection to upset the authority model with the most profound ramifications for both sides of the reader writer equation
Posted by David Wilk on 02/24 at 06:51 AM
Freedom of the Press
Freedom of the press belongs to whomever owns the press. Or so it has been said. But isn’t it more true than ever that freedom of the press belongs to whomever owns the customer relationship?
If being a “publisher” is defined by the act of making written work public, then is it possible to be a publisher without distribution? Obviously not, otherwise the publisher is no better off than the creator.
So in an electronic distribution environment where distribution is determined by the entities that own the customer relationship, doesn’t that make publishers dependent on Amazon, Apple and to a lesser extent Barnes & Noble and the other myriad of smaller sites where readers are willing to give up their credit card and some other private information in order to be able to safely download content?
Freedom of the press belongs to any publisher whose technology enables readers to access that publisher’s work.
What’s a better play for the publisher then? Kindle or iPhone?
Posted by David Wilk on 02/19 at 04:19 AM
Are you Tuned In?
I’ve had the great pleasure to be working with a great team of marketers, the authors of “Tuned In:Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs" (Craig Stull, Phil Myers, David Meerman Scott), published by Wiley in June. It’s an incisive and clear book about how companies and organizations need to think and work in order to be successful in creating and then marketing their products and services.
At the most basic level, I think we all recognize “Tuned In” as a concept – when someone has a product or service that seems to work perfectly, or when the company truly understands what I want, I feel they are “tuned in” to my needs and wants, and are serving me in just the way I want to be served. And conversely, it seems so obvious (and frustrating) when a business fails to meet my obvious needs or requirements in some basic or critical way.
Since I find myself thinking about Tuned In/Tuned Our behaviors frequently now, I know that the ideas this book sets forth have had a big impact on me. Here are two recent personal examples that I think deserve recognition.
Tuned Out (in a really big way)
During the last heat wave, like a lot of Americans, I decided my old inefficient window air conditioner needed to be replaced. I did extensive research using my usual online tools (Consumer Reports, Amazon customer comments, shoppers’ blogs, etc.) and determined that the best machine at a fair price was a Sears Kenmore low profile, high efficiency machine. I went to the Sears site, where I discovered that I could order the AC unit and pick it up at the nearest Sears that had it on hand (which happens to be about 16 miles away). I placed my order on a Friday night, received immediate confirmation, and further was reminded the next day by Sears that my AC unit was waiting for me to come and get it. I printed my online receipt with scannable bar code and planned to pick up the machine the next day, when it might be relatively quiet in the store.
On Sunday afternoon, I took my daughter with me and drove to the Milford, Connecticut Sears store, parked in the convenient store pick up parking area, and entered the inside pick up zone. Here is a checklist of my experience:
1. The kiosk was right in front of the door, but did not work.
2. While I was pondering what to do next, a Sears “associate” came over and scanned my receipt, and got me into the queue to receive my unit.
3. About 15 minutes later he returned empty handed and told me they did not have any more air conditioners to sell. I pointed out that I not only had bought and paid for it but had confirmation that they did in fact have it waiting for me. Without apology or concern, he pointed to the store and told me to go see the air conditioning department manager.
4. Suffice to say, after yet more waiting time, the department manager confirmed they did not have the AC unit I had purchased.
5. As a modern consumer, I was ready for Sears to offer me some sort of compensation for their mistake and my trouble. Was I in for a surprise. Not only is Sears “tuned out” to have created a system that does not function properly (you do not sell a product without being able to deliver it) but the store personnel’s only response was to offer a refund, or “allow” me to wait until the following Wednesday and come back to pick up a replacement unit they promised to have by then. No recognition that I had wasted two hours of my time, 32 miles of driving (not insignificant these days of $4.50 a gallon gas), and was not going to be able to cool my home office for another three days. No offer even of a credit off the cost of another machine. Nothing but lame apologies and a confirmation by the manager that their systems were less than ideal (actually he blamed the people in the store back room).
6. After I returned home, I wrote what I thought was a brilliant letter to Sears customer service, asking to be put in touch with a manager. What I got back was a form letter apologizing for my experience and offering me a shipping credit for my order of another air conditioning unit. I replied to that message again asking to be contacted by a high level customer service representative. No surprise, I never heard another word from Sears.
In return for their miserable string of behaviors and missed opportunities to do the right thing, Sears has now lost a customer who really liked their products and their service, who owns and uses many of their tools and products, and who shopped with them for over 30 years. In my view, it will neither surprise nor sadden me if the entire business were to disappear tomorrow. Companies that cannot get it done will not earn a place at the table anymore.
Tuned In (in a really big way)
What I find quite humorous is that telling the story of a “tuned in” business is a much shorter story than the tuned out example I just gave. My middle daughter is a rising high school senior; her summer activity this year is a stint at NYC’s School of Visual Arts in an intensive college credit film program. She will spend three weeks living in a dorm, taking classes and hanging out with other kids her age. It will be a great experience, and nice preparation for college a year from now.
Reasonably enough, as a teenager, she wants to look good when she arrives at SVA, and asked me to buy her a new pair of shoes. She went to a local store, found her size for a pair of Asics, but not the exact shoe she wanted, and knowing I am an online shopper, she found the shoe she wanted in the right color and size at Zappos, and then asked me to place the order for her. Since she was to be leaving in a few days, we decided to upgrade shipping to two business days to be sure they arrived before the 4th of July on Friday.
1. Zappos provides the standard e-commerce tools, and sent me a standard email notice that the order would be filled the next day.
2. Later that evening, I received a surprise message that my order was being upgraded one entire shipping class at no expense to me, simply because I am a valued customer and Zappos wants to exceed my expectations. Who could complain about this?
3. Not only did the order ship within 24 hours, but it was then delivered on the second day after the order was placed.
Faster service than expected or paid for – big smiles all around and not only will I feel very good about ordering from Zappos again, but I will tell anyone who asks me, and now even write about how great Zappos is, how smart, how “tuned in” to the customer, etc. All true – when we order online, time from order to delivery is critical. Amazon knows this, which is why they implemented their two day prime shipping program. If you want to get people to buy online when they could get the same thing at a nearby mall store by just going to get it, you have to give shoppers compelling reasons to shop virtually. Exceeding my expectations will give you a pretty strong edge the next time I think about shopping for your product.
The other interesting news here – the shoes my daughter ordered did not fit! But because Zappos got them here early, she had time to replace them with another pair from a local store, and Zappos will get this pair back from us using their exceptionally easy returns process. Yes, this shopping experience really did not get me what I wanted and actually cost me money, but unlike my experience with Sears, I actually feel positive about it.
Tuned In/Tuned Out Scorecard
Zappos – 100%
Sears – 40%
Posted by David Wilk on 07/08 at 03:08 AM
The most exciting writing about the future of the book business I have read in a long time
Every once in a while you find that someone has said better many things you have been thinking and writing about. Sara Lloyd at thedigitalist.net (Pan Macmillan (UK)’s excellent blog) has been posting a series of six pieces comprising a long essay called A Book Publisher’s Manifesto. Section V went up today. I recommend going back to the beginning of the series and reading it all. What struck me most is her focus on the idea of the book itself being in the process of change. I think most of us in the book business, even those of us who have embraced Web 2.0 concepts, are still not recognizing the huge potential for transformation that is upon us. Marketing physical, digital audio or e-books using modern web based marketing tools is almost peripheral to the real changes we are experiencing. Which are that publishing is changing fast now, both in terms of defining what the "product" is, and redefining the relationships between creators, consumers and intermediaries.
Here is a quote from Part I of Sara’s manifesto:
In an ‘always on’ world in which everything is increasingly digital, where content is increasingly fragmented and ‘bite-sized’, where ‘prosumers’ merge the traditionally disparate roles of producer and consumer, where search replaces the library and where multimedia mash-ups – not text - holds the attraction for the digital natives who are growing up fast into the mass market of tomorrow, what role do publishers still have to play and how will they have to evolve to hold on to a continuing role in the writing and reading culture of the future? Will there even be a writing and reading culture as we know it, tomorrow? Is the publishing industry acting fast enough and working creatively enough to adapt to the new information and leisure economies?
Another bite that resonated for me:
And whilst the edges of the book become more porous, the concept of a ‘book as unit’ slowly disappears further into history, new business models are already emerging. The value in the chain moves from a model which intertwines content with distribution to a model which simply values the content.
And as a new generation of readers interacts with texts online publishers will be wise to place themselves in a position to harness the network data and collective intelligence produced by social annotation and media creation, the sum of the “Wisdom of Crowds,” and to apply this to its future content development and to its marketing.
Publishers need to work quickly to define what the quintessence of publishing is, what the core value provided by the publisher is beyond the technicalities of matching content with readers. When pressed to think about this, much of what publishers have to offer beyond the technicalities is qualitative rather than quantitative: stewardship, consultancy, an imprimatur. Will authors continue to value these things enough to believe that publishers are critical to the publication of their works?
I will look forward to the final post in the series. And invite my friends and colleagues to comment - let me know what you think of all this.
Posted by David Wilk on 05/19 at 04:03 PM
Bubblegeneration and new media thinking
Thanks to my good friend Bill Gordon, who introduced me to Bubblegeneration and the thinking of Umair Haque. This is a blog site I can recommend to all my friends and associates, as the ideas are profound and thought provoking. Here are a couple of quotes from a piece Umair posted in November 2005 that resonates, particularly interesting in 2008:
The media industry is changing. Radical technological, management, and business model innovation is reshaping all segments of the value chain. This is the result of nothing less than a fundamental inversion of mass media economics, as well as the strategies that dominated those economics.
This inversion offers huge benefits for incumbents and new entrants alike to derive superior returns through new and strategically powerful sources of value creation. These new sources of value are laying the groundwork for an entirely new media value chain; one which leverages micromedia to deliver personalized, post-branded attentionstreams of chunked and microchunked disposable and essential media to communities of connected yet ever more hyperpolarized consumers.
and this as well:
To get started thinking about Media 2.0, ask yourself:
To what extent are microplatforms, micromedia, and aggregators and reconstructors a substitute or a complement for production, publishing/marketing, and distribution in my value chain?
How can I use micromedia platforms strategically, to build resources and capabilities which drive a sustained competitive advantage across my products, services, or businesses?
To what extent is increased micromedia penetration likely to erode the power of publishers, distributors, and marketers in my value chain, and shift value to the edges?
This is just a sample of what Umair has to say - you can easily spend alot of time on his site and more worthwhile hours pondering some of his ideas. It’s always enjoyable to find someone really smart talking about really interesting ideas.
About Bubblegeneration Strategy Lab: Bubblegeneration’s Principal is Umair Haque. Umair studied neuroscience at McGill, did an MBA and econ/strategy research with Gary Hamel at London Business School in 2003, and began working towards a PhD in strategy and innovation at Oxford in 2004. Umair has spent time working in finance/economics, at a KP startup, and as a strategy consultant. Recently, he put his postgraduate work on hold to pursue Bubblegen full time.
Posted by David Wilk on 02/08 at 06:26 AM
Booktrix produces video for a new book
We’ve added video book trailer production to our suite of services. We’re mostly interested in the creative use of media, and it is definitely fun to translate print into other forms. While we still think our friends at Vidlit have produced some of the best flash book trailers ever, we’re very proud of ours. View it for yourself here. It’s short and to the point - and we’ve noticed that on the 40+ sites where we’ve posted, it is getting alot of attention and praise from viewers. We’re promoting Secrets of 24, a terrific book edited by Dan Burstein and Arne deKeijzer. For all you 24 show junkies denied a new season to watch, this book will help you get through your period of withdrawal. As always Dan and Arne have cast a broad net and given intellectual credibility to a pop culture phenomenon. And if you like this intersection between different art forms, spend some time at our "other" site, Livewriters, and join that conversation by posting some videos of your own.
Posted by David Wilk on 01/16 at 09:08 PM
David Byrne writes in Wired Magazine about the end of the Music Business
Writers and publishers - are you listening?
David Byrne’s Wired article about the music business is important and well worth reading for anyone, but in particular, for those of us in the book business attempting to read tea leaves for what the future will bring. After the holidays are over, I plan to write a longer piece comparing the book business to the music business in more detail. In the meantime, I hope you will read Byrne’s piece, either in print form or online (see below for direct link). Here is an indicative quote:
What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that’s not bad news for music, and it’s certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.
David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists - and Megastars
Posted by David Wilk on 12/27 at 10:13 PM
Buzz, Balls & Hype
MJ Rose’s excellent blog
Where I podcast interviews with writers and thinkers about books, publishing and the future of culture.
Ron Silliman’s Blog
one of my favorite and most regular visits
Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers
Incisive, intelligent blog well worth bookmarking!
The renowned Carl Lennertz covers the book business and more
Fresh Eyes Now
Robert Gray’s consistently interesting bookseller’s journal
The Long Tail
Chris Anderson’s ongoing exploration of how the web and human behavior creat new opportunities for information to be distributed (my words)
Blog about the bookbusiness
Conversations in the Book Trade
Chelsea Green Press’ ongoing blog
Publishing 2.0: the (r)Evolution of Media
A blog about the (r)evolution of media, driven by the migration of media to the Web and new digital technologies by Scott Karp. Highly recommended.
An e-book business site, but their blog covers book business stories as well.
"The Digitalist was originally conceived as an internal sounding board, discussion forum and blog for the publisher Pan Macmillan to start thinking about a range of digital issues it faced. It still is. Only now it’s open for everyone to join the debate about books, publishing, the web, and the future." Highly Recommended reading for anyone interested in the future of publishing.
Teleread "Bring the E-books Home"
David Rothman’s outstanding blog covering all things related to e-books, now with the assistance of Paul Biba.
Really smart people thinking hard about books, publishing and the emerging social conversation. Creators of Aerbook: an author platform service for the social web. Highly recommended.