Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

02/28/2013

Turning the Publishing Industry on its Head


I’m Publishing and I’m upside down !

Today, a good book publishing/marketing/funding model is to make books for your readers versus trying to find readers for your books.

Now, think about this for a moment — Where have you heard this, or something similar, before?

Hmmm — For those who are really thinking about this concept, it implies that you must first have readers before you write your book, right? This is great for known authors with an established fanbase.

So, how does the newbie or wannabe author get their readers lined up before publishing a book first? (Hint: You must publish something.)

Let me know how you think this can be accomplished.

But, for now, I have found a great, short video (and text) interview with Seth Godin, entrepreneur, author, speaker and book guru of sorts, on the Motley Fool by Brendan Byrnes that delves into this book strategy model a little deeper:

How to Turn the Publishing Industry Upside Down 

The video below is taken from an interview that Motley Fool analyst Brendan Byrnes recently had with Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception. Godin is also a talented public speaker, marketing guru, blogger, entrepreneur, and respected thought leader.

Seth’s forward-thinking and contrarian views are critical considerations for finding success in life, business, and investing.

It’s the same approach our own chief investment officer, Andy Cross, took when selecting The Motley Fool’s Top Stock for 2013. I invite you to uncover his market-beating thinking in this new free report. Just click here now for instant access.

Brendan Byrnes: Hey folks, I’m Brendan Byrnes and I’m joined today by Seth Godin, the author of The Icarus Deception. First of all, thank you so much for your time.

Seth Godin: Pleasure.

Brendan: Before we get to the book, I wanted to ask you about an interesting way that you raised money for this book, or what you called “organizing your readers” for the book. How did you do that?

Godin: A lot of people have heard about this new service called Kickstarter. The idea, apparently, is that you can go to folks and say, “I’m an artist. I want to make something. Put up some money so I can get it made.”

What really happens is, most of the public is willing to do it if they get a prize in exchange, so you can say, “You’ll get a copy of my vinyl LP,” “I’ll come to your house and put on a concert.” Different amounts of money get you different prizes.

I saw it growing and resonating with people, but what I realized was it’s very difficult to get a stranger to show up and say, “Yeah, I’m going to fund your work.” I also knew that the hardest part of book publishing is the first 10,000 copies. Getting the first 10,000 people to touch the book is really hard, but then if the book is good, it will spread.

I went to my readers and I said, “I’m doing this Kickstarter. There’s all these different prizes. The cheapest price is $4. You can get a preview of the book when it’s done, digitally, and the most expensive prize is hundreds of dollars and you’ll get eight copies of this and a big copy of that, and this…”

In four hours, I hit my goal and in three days we sold out of everything. People say, “Wow, that’s an overnight success.” Well, no. It took seven years of building an audience that wanted to participate.

(John’s Note: And herein lies the secret key)

I then spent every penny I got, plus a little extra, to make the stuff. I came out with four books at the same time, which was thrilling to do, but from a business point of view what’s interesting is I was making books for my readers, as opposed to trying to find readers for my books. That turns the entire industry upside down.

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10/05/2012

The Intra-Publishing Civil War


Print and Digital Media “Going At It”

What is the intra-publishing civil war, you ask?

It is the stress, fighting and positioning going on between the newer digital publishing aficionados and their legacy print publishing brethren. 

E-book authors still often hear “So, you don’t write real books?”  And money? The majority is still being brought in through print medium.

But, the e-books are pulling in more and more money and increasing their percentages in all areas — resulting in the newcomers brashly asserting that old publishing is dead. More importantly, digital publishing has opened the door to new very successful genres thought unprofitable before by traditional publishers.

This publishing intrigue has been in play in varying degrees for a while, lets watch some of the latest progress as reported by Aleksandr Voinov  in USA TODAY:

Publishing is dead — long live publishing

No day passes without yet another skirmish in what could be seen as a kind of intra-publishing civil war, where the newcomers brashly assert that old publishing is dead and traditional publishing refuses to die. Meanwhile, old publishing continues to account for the majority of all books sold in brick-and-mortar stores, and e-book authors still face the “So you don’t write real books?” questions when they go to conventions and interact with friends and family, most of whom were exposed to e-books only when they received an e-reader last Christmas.

We are in flux. I’m saying “civil war” because here, too, the lines are messy, sides change all the time, and so do positions. Thankfully, there’s less bloodshed, but the implications for the publishing industry and how we write, read, market and interact with each other are enormous. It’s not tidy, it is at times exasperating, and nobody can predict where it’s going — only that e-books are growing, authors are making a good living off e-books, the books on offer are often more colorful and sometimes weirder and “uncommercial” when compared with legacy publishing, and e-books are heralding the creation of whole new genres that legacy publishing, in its necessities of scale, had never truly been able to support.

For example, 10 years ago, I was told that gay romance was unsellable, and was strongly advised by several agents and print acquiring editors to not waste my talent in a niche without a future or financial viability.

Ten years later, I’m not only a writer of gay/bi/trans fiction, but I also part-own Riptide Publishing, a hot young start-up selling GBLTQ stories with a focus on romance. A gay historical romance, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, recently won the 2012 Orange Prize for fiction (and, predictably, faced the critical derision our genre seems doomed to). One of Riptide’s own titles, Stars & Stripes, recently made it into the Barnes & Noble sitewide Top 100. Riptide Publishing is celebrating its first anniversary this month, and already, half a dozen or more of our authors are earning a living off their royalties. So much for gay romance being “unsellable.”

Where many see dangers and change, and some large players are frankly still in denial or trying to turn back the wheel by deliberately making e-books unattractive or too expensive or too hard to find in worldwide markets, other authors and start-ups are creating facts. Being more nimble and more in tune with our readership, small e-book-first presses such as Riptide back genres and books that others find unviable. Overhead is lower, processes are less entrenched, and staff are often younger and steeped more thoroughly in the digital culture. They follow their passions, even when those passions are unlikely to appeal to a mass market. They take risks.

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03/11/2012

Is the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division Allowing the Buying of Publishing Monopolies ?


Buying Publishing Monopolies?

It’s publishing intrigue time again 🙂 This time in the form of the wholesale model versus the agency model in digital publishing — OR, in other words,  Amazon versus Apple. 

Both models are monopolistic. The wholesale model allows the e-book retailer to fix a below cost (to them) flat price of $9.99 (very suspicious for future price gouging). The agency model allows the publishers to price-fix a higher, colluded price range. So, pick your poison or your monopoly. 

Which is better for the industry as a whole ? For the consumer ? For the financial sustainability of good writers and attracting future talent ? Etc., Etc., Etc. 

There are points on both sides of this issue, but one thing should remain clear while the Justice Department is trying to sort it all out:

Open and aggressive competition always promotes ingenuity, improved products, promotes quality industry growth AND  is the only safe and fair way to set prices. Something we have forgotten in a greedy rush to set or protect an unfair advantage or status quo.

 Washington Post columnist   gives an in-depth explanation of the publishing wholesale and agency models along with an insight into the industry politics and nuances involved in this flushing out of the new publishing landscape: 

Pick your monopoly: Apple or Amazon

As a general rule, we don’t prefer monopolies. We know that, over the long run, monopolists tend to raise prices, reduce choice and stifle innovation.

But are monopolies so bad that we might want to tolerate a little price-fixing by customers or suppliers in order to break them?

Could a little anti-competitive behavior actually be pro-competitive?

That is what five leading book publishers are arguing in explaining why they simultaneously accepted an offer from Apple, just before the release of the iPad, to change the way e-books are priced and distributed. Their actions moved the industry from a “wholesale” model, in which they sold e-books to retailers and let them set the retail price, to an “agency model,” in which the publishers set the retail price and pay the retailers a fixed commission on every sale. In the process, they managed to break up Amazon’s e-book monopoly and raise the price of online books by 30 to 40 percent.

Now you might ask at this point why breaking up a monopoly would raise prices rather than lower them.

The answer has to do with how Amazon went about building its e-book monopoly in the first place — namely, by setting a price that was lower than what Amazon was paying publishers for the book. What looked to consumers like a great bargain at $9.99 a book looked to others in the industry suspiciously like predatory pricing, or selling below cost today in order to gain a monopoly and raise prices in the future.

So which is better: a market in which Amazon uses low prices to maintain its e-book monopoly and drive brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business, or one in which the major book publishers, in tacit collusion with Apple, break Amazon’s monopoly and raise prices?

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11/14/2011

Publishers Are Going To Loose Not Only Their Retailers But Their Authors In The Future


"Where have all the authors gone???

How you ask? Let’s get to it.

It’s no secret Amazon has been selling digital books at a loss to gain more sales for its Kindle family. The strategy is simple enough … they need product (books or written content) to sell on their hardware e-readers which is where they make their profit. And they will give the product away, if necessary, to provide the widest selection available on its Kindle r-readers. 

Amazon wants the biggest catalog available to choose from.  And for those who are premium members (own Kindles and not some other product with a Kindle app … plus belong to the $79/yr Amazon Prime service ) they are indeed offering books for free from their library. You can borrow one book free a month and keep it as long as you want. 

Virginia Postrel tells all about it in Bloomberg Businessweek:

Amazon E-Library Is Publishing’s Profit Model

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) — Amazon.com Inc. is at it again. To the consternation of much of the book industry, the online giant is again offering digital titles for less than major publishers think books are worth. And this time, the price is zero.

If you own an Amazon Kindle, as opposed to just using the Kindle app on another device, and you also belong to the company’s $79-a-year Amazon Prime service, you can now “borrow” one digital book a month from the new Amazon Lending Library for free. You can keep the book as long as you want, but you can have only one at a time.

The new service worries Wall Street, too, because it increases Amazon’s out-of-pocket costs. The company is paying wholesale prices for some of the books in the lending library. For others, such as the titles from Lonely Planet travel guides, it is paying a flat fee for a group of books over a period of time. (It will report sales figures on individual titles back to those publishers.)

Beyond short-term earnings, however, the lending library is just the latest innovation to raise big questions about the whole publishing ecosystem. In an environment where books are increasingly digital, what’s the most effective way to create value for readers, for authors and for intermediaries? And — the biggest question — which intermediaries will survive the transition?

Big Six Balk

The lending library doesn’t include any books from the Big Six U.S. publishers — Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., Penguin Books Ltd. and Hachette — because Amazon can’t control what it charges for their digital books. They are undoubtedly relieved to be excluded. But the pricing control they value so highly reflects rigid arrangements they may come to regret.

Amazon used to pay publishers a wholesale price for e- books, just as it does for physical copies. It set whatever price it thought best for its overall business, even if that meant losing money on an individual title in order to boost traffic or sell more Kindles. It could adjust prices up or down to reflect new information or offer special promotions. Its standard price was $9.99, which was often less than it paid for each copy. Major publishers thought that was too low, but most couldn’t do anything about it.

Then came the iPad and the accompanying iBooks store. Apple Inc. struck a different deal with publishers, known in the business as the “agency model.” Publishers set the retail prices, with Apple taking a percentage for its services. The Big Six liked that deal and wanted it to be the industry standard.

Amazon resisted, going so far as to remove all the physical books from Macmillan off its site in hopes of forcing the company to continue the wholesale arrangement. But that sales strike alienated Amazon customers, who were angry when they went to the site and couldn’t buy the books they wanted. Amazon blinked.

As a result, most of the big-publisher titles in the Kindle store now sell for $12.99 to $14.99 each — a range Amazon called “needlessly high” when it capitulated.

I should say at this point that I am not an entirely disinterested observer. I’m an author, with two books available in digital form. And I agree with Amazon that, at $14.99, my 1998 book “The Future and Its Enemies” was priced needlessly high when its Kindle edition was released last spring. You have to either love me or your Kindle a lot to pay that much for a 13-year-old book you can get in paperback for $6. But, like Amazon, I have no say over how my e-book is priced.

Publishers, for the most part, don’t believe customers care much about the difference between Amazon’s old price and their new, higher ones. They’re skeptical that consumers respond to small price differences. A former publishing executive recently told me he simply didn’t believe that “if I really want a book for $9.95 I don’t also want it for $10.95 or $12.95.”

Look at Research

People in publishing say things like that all the time. While they admit that charging $100 for the typical hardback would be foolish, they don’t believe that changing the price of a book by a dollar or two will significantly change the number of copies sold.

The economic research suggests the opposite. In a 2009 paper that looked at consumers using computer price-comparison systems, or shopbots, to buy physical books online, economists Erik Brynjolfsson, Astrid Andrea Dick and Michael D. Smith found that a 1 percent drop in price — a mere 25 cents on a $25 book — increased the number of units sold by 7 percent to 10 percent. Shopbot users tend to be more price-sensitive than most consumers, but that’s a huge difference.

Publishers resist such evidence. The standard response is that it’s hard to know anything about pricing because “every book is different.” Every title is a unique good, and every customer values each book a little differently. So you might as well trust your gut.

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10/28/2011

Hyperink – A New E-Book Publishing Model


Topsy-Turvy Publishing Model

Instead of selecting books to publish from author-submitted manuscripts … how about selecting them from hot, trending topics on the internet and then contract authors to write them?

Introducing Hyperink … they do just that in their new kind of topsy-turvy publishing model. An interesting concept indeed; and one that will also redefine a shorter book as acceptable. Hyperink also distributes the books to Amazon, Nook, iBooks and other sites as well as through its own website.

Here’s more details from Tomio Geron in Forbes.com :

Hyperink’s E-Book Model Turns Publishing On Its Head

The book publishing industry has been going through a transformation as physical books move to digital.

Building on that growth, a new start-up Hyperink is a publisher of  digital books that are targeted to specific niche audiences. “We’re directly taking on Amazon and trying to disrupt how the entire book publishing industry works,” says Hyperink cofounder and CEO Kevin Gao.

In a change for the book industry Hyperink generally does not select from books that are submitted by authors. Instead, the company finds topics that are in demand through analysis of things like Google search trends. Then it seeks out authors for those topics. “It’s the reverse of the traditional book publishing industry, which is supply-driven, where you get manuscripts and pick from them,” Gao says. Does that sound like blog writing, where a bunch of similar stories all target certain hot keywords? In some ways, Gao says, but Hyperink’s books are structured, organized and written by experts in their fields. Instead of spending one or two years to publish a physical book and trying for big mega-hits, Hyperink is going the opposite direction. It focuses on fast publishing–it can churn out a book in a month at one-tenth the cost of physical books, Gao says. It’s also going after the “long tail” with topics such as “Getting Corporate Law Jobs,” “Dating For Singles Over 40,” and “Marketing Your Android App.”

Because of its model Hyperink can get much more specific with titles than typical publishers. For example, instead of a book on “How to get into College,” Hyperink has a book, “Harvard Law School Admissions.” Hyperink’s books are typically 30 to 75 pages. “Book publishers generally have generic topics that are 200 pages because it looks good on a bookshelf and because of all the overhead costs,” Gao says. “We want to get really specific and really long-tail to give consumers the books they really want to read.” While the books are largely non-fiction now, Gao says the company could do fiction as well.

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