In response to Amazon’s Remembers feature in its iPhone shopping application, Barnes & Noble has introduced its own Bookstore application that lets shoppers take a photo of a book cover with their iPhone, upload it, to see customer reviews and pricing information for the title on the phone’s screen.
The app does not provide e-reader features, but it does allow buyers to order and pay for physical books on the iPhone.
Charlotte Abbott writes about the increasingly perennial question, does blogging and Twitter marketing help drive book sales. She points to several anecdotal examples of sales increases, and raises some interesting questions.
As co-founder of, and the author of the influence algorithm used by, BuzzLogic, I do believe it is possible to measure influence within networks. However, it takes a tremendous amount of information and an expensive infrastructure to do it right. In the case of Edelweiss, one of Charlotte Abbott’s examples, they have sought to correlate blog and Twitter mentions of books to sales, which is a blunt cause-and-effect measure that can be fruitful, if you want to believe there is a linear relationship between “buzz” and sales. The problem is, a bad buzz produces the inverse result in many cases.
The case of Hugh MacLeod, whose excellent new book, Ignore Everybody, is in the Amazon Top 25 in its first weeks on the market, is, I think, a special case of a blogger and artist with a strong following who is benefitting from his intimate relationship with his audience. It would be very hard to replicate his accomplishment without having laid the foundation with a multi-year relationship, as Hugh has.
It will be a long while before anecdotal evidence leads to an inspiration that reduces answering this complex question to a science. In the meantime, we can all be certain that blogs and Twitter, as well as other social channels, are tools we must begin to use and understand as we sell books.
Reviewers are the bane of writers’ existences, even when they are good reviewers they find something not to like about one’s work. So, it’s a good idea to engage the smart ones who want to be in dialogue with writers and ignore the bad reviewers and their bad reviews. Don’t do what Alice Hoffman did, according to AlleyCat.
She went on to tweet the reviewer’s email address and phone number and commented in another tweet that The New York Times Co. is selling The Boston Globe because it read its reviews and decided they were bad. It looks petulant and is a losing proposition, because the argument moves away from the question of the book reviewed to the credentials of the reviewer.
Non-reviewers (that would be ordinary readers who have the guts to write and publish their opinion about a book) are often idiotic, but so are professional reviewers, even when they are established writers. Attacking an “amateur” reviewer is attacking the principle widely held that everyone is entitled to their opinion and now has the right to publish it. I write “widely held,” because Andrew Keen has written extensively about how amateurs ruin culture. Some people agree with Keen, though he forgets that all art begins as amateur endeavor.
No great book is universally welcomed as an accomplishment of genius. And reviewers have every right to dislike a book they took the time to read, because they are proxies for the reader, who must judge the review—and the book—for themselves.
It’s always easier to write a negative review than it is to write the book that received a poor review. Why, then, should the writer who put so much into the book rise to respond to a critic who spent a day or two with the book? Constructive engagement can add to the perceived worth of a book, but a vehement response like Hoffman’s is only going to take time away from positive promotion of her book.
Steve Weber has a good primer on why it is advisable to publish an ebook to both Mobipocket (owned by Amazon) and through Amazon’s DTP service. The Amazon registration will get your book on Amazon’s site faster than Mobipocket does. You’ll also get enhanced reporting and U.S. royalty payments from Amazon that aren’t available through Mobipocket.
Hypothetical Ethical question: You are a book reviewer for a well-known blog. Amazon offers to send you a free Kindle loaded with 300 bestsellers (by certain publishers who paid Amazon for the privilege). According to Amazon’s offer, you could keep Kindle on the condition that you publish a minimum of 1 review a month (positive or negative) on their blog for the next 12 months. Should you accept this offer?
Having recently launched a Blogger Advisory Council for Lenovo (I am the independent moderator of the community, for which I am compensated on a contract basis), I think complete transparency is essential in this day of citizen reviewing and that any pay for performance terms are unacceptable. The bloggers who receive PCs from Lenovo are not required to blog at all, though they are free to blog, whatever their opinion about the PCs, if they disclose their relationship with the company. Disclosure is mandatory.
New York Magazine’s Devouring Culture Vulture writes about the fall launch of print-on-demand book machine, Espresso Book Machine 2.0, reportedly at the McNally Jackson Books store in New York City’s SoHo district. It’s a “contraption [with] Willy Wanka-ish machinations” that enchanted writer Boris Kachka. Made by On Demand Books, the $75,000 machine, which will be leased or sold to booksellers, is similar in appearance to the tortilla machine at a Chevys Restaurant—buyers get to watch their book being made while they wait.
“Think of the store as a hub where the supply chain collapses,” On Demand Books CEO told Kachka. That’s a tantalizing vision, one that the blogger muses “means less shelf space, which means fewer New York stores go bankrupt due to astronomical rents.”
Yes, and no. Let’s think this through. The catch in On Demand Books’ plan, according to the blog, is the lack of new titles. It currently has access to “millions” out-of-copyright books (only if On Demand has access to Google’s library) and 175,000 backlist titles. I am pretty sure that, if there is a way to make money with on-demand, publishers will go along for the ride. There’s another challenge to consider.
The machine is designed with the production and binding gears exposed to entertain the buyer. That’s brilliant, if you ask me, but it is a short-lived novelty. It isn’t destined to become the 21st century shopping experience that was the Red Goose Shoes golden egg, which adults still remember going to get along with a new pair of shoes as children.
The ESB 2.0 can “print, bind and trim a 300-page book in less than four minutes.” It handles books of up to 830 pages, which presumably take longer. The ESB 2.0 cool-factor is one that will wear thin when buyers, say around the holidays, have to stand in line to wait for their books. Ten people waiting in line at a bookstore will be through the transaction and out of the store in a few minutes, while the tenth person in line waiting for an on-demand book would wait 45 minutes while the machine churned through the workload. That’s assuming each customer buys only one book. Then, we’re talking the tedium of the DMV, with tortilla machines. Lots of tortilla machines.
My kids looked at the Chevys tortilla machine a few times, but mostly they hang out at the table and eat chips when we go now. There is no free chips-and-salsa at the bookstore to help kill the time while your books print.
The obvious answer is “get more Espresso Book Machines.” That will become more economically viable over time and the machines will get faster. A $75,000 machine with a five- to seven-year life will cost a bookseller between $9,000 and $15,000 a year, before supplies like paper are factored in—the ESB’s per-page cost is described as “a penny,” which has a marketer’s ring to it.
With more than three ESB machines, we’re no longer talking “small bookstore.” A store with five to ten machines would be more likely to have increased its costs than reduce them. What about browsing copy costs for those “millions” of books? Even if you display the browsable copies on screens in the store, you’ll need lots of screens and people will still want to browse printed books.
The economics of publishing and the venues in which we consider and buy books will change dramatically, perhaps so much that the bookstore looks nothing like MacNally Jackson today. On-demand will be an important factor in the book market. Where books will be produced, whether they will be available on-demand at a local store—or even if that helps reduce the inventory a bookseller has to keep on hand to facilitate browsing—is an open question.
Thomas E. Weber, editor of SmartMoney.com, has an excellent essay at paidContent.org today about his experience of reading on an Amazon Kindle. His key argument, one that publishers need to take heed of, is that the ability to focus on a book when reading on the Kindle is the device’s greatest strength. He calls it “unitasking,” which is a consequence of the multi-tasking we are told is essential in the information age. I’d just say that with a book, concentration is rewarding. It gives wings to ideas, lets your mind escape your world into the minds of others.
As publishers seek to capitalize on these devices and the devices evolve to provide color and video features, though, Weber cautions that books could be over-designed to their detriment. Simple, straightforward presentation of text (even when it is enhanced with social features, video or graphics, and interactive annotation) is the hallmark of good book design, even with e-books.
David Hoffman, a filmmaker and friend of mine (he once followed me around with a camera for an AT&T “vision video”), has released on YouTube his new film, Sputnik Moment. Everyone should see this, but book lovers in particular, because books found a new vitality after the USSR launched the Sputnik satellite into space.
The film shows how competition from the Soviet Union, through that catalyzing moment of the Sputnik launch, stimulated the United States’ investment in itself through quality education. It’s a lesson we need to re-learn today. David has captured how the value of knowledge found new expressions and technologies evolved in response to an international challenge. The “egghead stigma” the film describes was the real challenge, an internal psychological barrier to success, that faced U.S. education in the 1950s. We’ve developed that same prejudice against education today.
When I finished my 2008 feature documentary, Sputnik Mania, critics and allies said that I needed to tell the story of how America changed. On my own, I made this movie with the help of one terrific movie collector in Chicago who had the footage I needed to prove the case. I’m trying to make it available first to the schools of America.
“There won’t be newspapers, magazines and TV programs. There won’t be personal, social communications offline and separate. In 10 years it will all be online. Static content won’t cut it in the future.”
That’s true, but what is missing from this analysis, albeit it is pruned to a sound bite of a thought, is that interaction will augment those “traditional” media rather than replace them. A book will be a discussion, but it will also be typical for a book to be sold in paper form, with new ways to enter the conversation promoted therein. E-books will be discussions and static texts, blending the authorial statement with the discourse about those ideas.
Media evolution isn’t a zero-sum game. Media flows together, with some channels rising to prominence while others take on new roles.
Ashlea Ramey writes about the risks of working with companies that promise to publish or sell your books. She suggest that some of these services can be helpful, but that many are running on empty promises.
Relates to my posting, A million little author presences, on the emerging class of services hoping to attract authors to their fee-based services that promise to promote sales of books and rights.