Noted Opinion, June 21, 2009

A couple of articles crossed my radar today. Some thoughts….

Zombie Publishers, a nice philippic by Morris Rosenthal with a video interview with Harlan Ellison that’s worth the link alone. I’ve been approached about writing the kind of slap-dash book by “contributors” that he describes by a surprisingly wide range of well-known publishers, it’s not a feature of “bad” publishers, it’s becoming the norm. Like Rosenthal, I don’t like the trend. Ultimately, he’s making the argument that paying a writer to write well is a worthwhile investment or, if you are contemplating self-publishing, writing well is worth the effort. Yes!

Democracy’s tough, but Amazon’s role isn’t pure as switch11 argues over at iReader Review. First off, I agree with the initial points made in the article, that Google v. Amazon, Kindle v. Sony Reader, Plastic Logic v. Kindle DX are all distractions from the real transformation of the publishing market. They are sideshows, as I wrote yesterday. However, the article then veers into the ideologically charged topic of “democratizing publishing” an identifies enemies of progress. The author throws unfocused charges about misinformation from publishers and “other sites, and bizarrely characterizes Scribd as an enemy of democratization, apparently because it will “let Publishers determine pricing.” “People who are stuck in the past” are also enemies of progress; I’d argue they are barriers to, but more likely poised to become victims of, progress. There is also discussion about misinformation, which is rampant in this market, though it seems to me to be coming from many different sources, not just the enemies identified in the posting.

Stay grounded during an industrys evolution

Stay grounded during an industry's evolution

Switch11 goes on to say that Amazon’s position in the market is essentially “democratic,” even though it acts as a pricing arbitrator. Governments that set pricing ruin economies. Amazon is making useful early suggestions about pricing but is smart enough to know it must let prices find their own level. Building on the Amazon qua democratizing hero, Switch11’s argument goes: “Publishers are used to the status quo i.e. they control what gets published, they make the lion’s share of the profits, we read what they decide we should read, and so forth.” There is also the standard “we are at the beginning of a revolution” rhetoric, but really, it’s an evolution. Revolution is what is happening in Iran. In publishing the krill shrimp that were authors and small publishers suddenly are equals in the food chain with industrial publishing whales. The big question now is what to do with all the blubber in the old system, and that’s Switch11’s point, though it is buried in a lot of finger-pointing.

Kindle didn’t start this change, desktop publishing and cheap printing exploded the economics of the publishing industry in the 80s, as did the Web in the 90s. Self-publishing innovation has dramatically expanded the number of titles published in paper each year, with more than 10 times as many titles published in 2008 than in 1990 (a link to this coming, in the growing BooksAhead statistics pages). That’s an order-of-magnitude change in paper titles published. You won’t see one often. We’re early in a long change, but not a competition between aristocratic publishers and the reading public, rather it’s a rising tide of competition within publishing, from all corners of the map, that cannot be accommodated by existing distribution and marketing infrastructures.

Putatively, anyone can reach an audience with a book, in either paper or electronic form. The reality is that it is hard to reach a large market, but the economics continue to change. For this market to develop most efficiently, a distributor like Amazon cannot be setting prices. Instead, all publishers should be free to set prices and let the market work out what the right price is for each intellectual product out there. My guess is that Simon and Schuster’s price experimentation with Scribd will be useful as an exercise in facing reality, as Amazon has set the market’s expectations at $9.99 for a recent bestseller. But even Amazon doesn’t enforce a single price point. One price doesn’t fit all, and it’s good that we’re seeing price-based competition in the market. What we really need, in addition to that, is more innovation in the idea of what a book is. We haven’t even scratched the surface of how texts and culture will change as a result of innovation.

Switch11 writes that “by 2012 we’ll be living in a world where the majority of the power and benefits lie with readers and authors.” With publishing margins in low single digits, it’s clear we live in that world now. What will continue to change is the number of people and companies that will be publishing for a profit, as well we’ll see a flood of quality free publishing efforts that seek other compensation, such as social influence, political power and commercial relationships with an audience. If we’re going to measure the success of this “revolution” by the shuttering of publishing house offices, that is the mistake.

There is no enemy, and no need for enemies, just for more participation.

Simon & Schuster has a Pulse

Simon & Schuster Digital Group has launched a social site, Pulse It, that offers a free e-book each month to members, who musts be between 14 and 18 years of age. Kids are presented a choice of two e-books a month and are allowed to pick one to read, which is available online for 60 days. The idea is to get kids sharing thoughts about the books and to get them talking amongst themselves. Members earn points for participating in the community. Monthly sweepstakes offer physical prizes, such as books and “other cool stuff.”

The site’s got all the signatures of a contemporary social site: Member profiles (no email addresses displayed, forcing the discussion to stay in the community for privacy’s sake), message boards and video. On the front page today, author Scott Westerfield (Uglies, Pretties, Specials) is featured in video. Interesting to note that there are no young people on the front page. Privacy certainly has something to do with this, but young faces are a key to engaging first-time visitors with community. Message board postings are not viewable without joining the site—it would be better if some sampling of the discussion were available.

I’d also suggest more images of kids reading and talking on the home page. Holding the current featured titles, preferably.

Noted News & Opinion, June 16, 2009

Global entertainment and media spending will reach $1.6 trillion in 2013, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers annual industry projections, AdWeek reports. The U.S. media industry will not match growth in the rest of the world, increasing only 1.2 percent annually, compared to the global rate of 2.7 percent, reaching $495 billion in 2013. Digital revenues are predicted to grow from 17 percent of the market today to 25 percent, for a total of $124 billion annually, four years from now. Bad news for magazines and newspapers, where revenues are expected to continue to head south.

Surprise, Jeff Bezos doesn’t like the Google-Author’s Guild settlement. But he won’t say why, according to CNET: “We have strong opinions about that issue which I’m not going to share,” Bezos is quoted as saying during the Wired Business Conference. “There are many forces of work looking at that and saying it doesn’t seem right that you should do something, kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights.” The article also suggests that Bezos said Kindle sales now account for 35 percent of paper book sales, which I believe is a misinterpretation of what he said, as I discussed yesterday. What he appeared to say was that when a book is available in paper and on Kindle, 35 percent of the sales are in Kindle format.

Author Jeff Matthews suspects Google’s good for writers. He’s fond of Google Books as a research tool, as I am, then relates an interesting story about discovering why his grandfather won a medal in World War I through a book scanned by Google. It’s a touching story and is completely valid with regard to out-of-copyright books, but that kind of title isn’t what the Google-Author’s Guild covers. I have a different opinion, but I found Matthews’ story compelling.

S&S e-books venture is doomed. Author Anthony Policastro (Absence of Faith and Dark End of the Spectrum on Kindle), writing on his blog, argues that Simon & Schuster’s announced distribution deal with Scribd will fail because the pricing strategy is wrong. “Most people won’t even pay even $10 for an eBook,” Policastro writes. “The reason is that they do no perceive the value the same as the printed version.” I disagree, not because of the price point, but because the e-book as it is today is no improvement over reading a book and, in many ways, diminishes the reading experience. Someday, readers will pay more than the Jeff Bezos price ($9.99) for a book, because it will be a portal to new experiences through reading. But Policastro is right about S&S’s pricing strategy: If they want to succeed on Scribd they must compete on price, going below Amazon’s pricing.

Mitch’s Perspective: Today’s e-books have been positioned as less valuable than a mass market paperback. That needs to change, which means the features and services associated with the e-book have to change, for the better.

Amazon would be boycotted, if Science Fantasy publisher has a say. Antellus, a publishing company operated by its only author, Theresa M. Moore, has complained that Amazon is slow to respond to publishers experiencing problems with its DTP publishing platforms’ management of ASINs and and associated accounting systems. She also says Amazon should be faster in its deployment of a color Kindle. While the former may be a real problem, condemning Amazon for a “seller agreement, which allows Amazon to modify and/or sell books from its suppliers in whatever format it chooses at its own discretion,” which is key to providing book buyers archival access to titles without having to renegotiate rights each time it updates file formats, and failure to be the first to deliver a color reader diminishes the force of her arguments.

Noted News & Opinion, June 14, 2004

Here’s take-one of a daily reading notebook….

The Hulu of publishing has arrived, J.W. Coffey writes for the Examiner.com. Any time someone refers to Simon & Schuster as a “legendary publisher,” I have to wonder if they’ve been keeping up with the times. S&S is a very different beast under Rupert Murdoch and any superlative is a way to make a story sound more important than it is. However, the news that S&S is going to distribute e-books through Scribd.com is big. “Publishing has finally caught up with the digital age and the possibilities are endless,” Coffey writes. Not quite, but it is progress.

It turns out editors still flock to New York, writes The New York Times‘ Leslie Berlin: “Advances in technology “were supposed to make place unimportant, but in fact, the opposite has happened,” said Richard Florida, author of ‘Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life (Hardcover and Kindle editions available).’” The premise is that places contribute to innovation, of course, because they provide large concentrations of people with similar interests. Guess what? That’s true. It doesn’t mean that the places matter more than the people. Just because editors still flock to New York at this early stage of the digital era doesn’t mean it will remain the center of the publishing industry as virtuality erodes the importance of the workplace. This looks like an article with absolute conclusions that will be regretted someday.

Dark Summer, a new e-book from Joanne Olivieri is out. A Lulu.com published effort in paper, the e-book is also available for $2.50 here.

The Crow and the Unicorn, a new short story by Trish Lamoree, is available in Kindle format from Amazon. The author published directly through Amazon Digital Services.

Killer Machine, an e-book by Todd Ewing, is available for Kindle (for $6.36), Fictionwise and eReader readers for $7.95. Nice to see that e-versions precede a planned paperback rather than the other way round. Nazis manipulate time and destiny, a review says. From TheEbookSale Publishing.