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May 10 2012

The reinvention of the bookseller

This post originally appeared on Publishers Weekly.

Books Etc Victoria by markhillary, on FlickrIf you're a brick-and-mortar bookseller, does your blood pressure rise when you think about e-retailers and their deep discounts? Do you look at ebooks as a threat or an opportunity? Depending on how you answered those questions, you might need to ask yourself another one: What business are you really in?

If you're simply in the business of "selling books," I believe you're thinking too narrowly. Think of the story of the successful tools salesman who explained why he was able to sell so many drills: "My competitors sell the drill while I focus on selling the hole." In other words, he emphasizes the benefits while others are busy trying to sell a bunch of meaningless features.

What are the benefits you've successfully provided in the past? When I think of my local bookstore, some of the key benefits I see are personalized service and community. If I want to know more about a book I'm considering, I'd rather talk with a real person than simply trust a bunch of reviews on a website, especially if some of those reviews might be planted by the author or publisher. The main advantage a physical bookstore has over an online one is the in-person advice and support the former can offer.

A lesson from Apple

Despite the sluggish economy of the last few years, some brick-and-mortar retailers have found ways to grow their businesses. Apple is a terrific example. Regardless of whether you're an Apple fan, there's always something new and interesting to discover in an Apple store. I can't tell you the last time I felt that way about a bookstore. I'm not talking about eye candy or glitzy merchandising; when you enter an Apple store you know you're in for a treat.

Wouldn't it be awesome if customers entering your bookstore had that same feeling? I realize Apple can invest a lot in its store experience because it's selling higher-priced items, but maybe that means you need to look beyond simply selling $20 or $30 books. I'm not talking about adding stationery and toys, like some bookstores have done over the years. It's time to think much bigger.

These days most bookstores have some sort of coffee shop or snack bar. Years ago it was a brilliant move to add that dimension, as it helped turn bookstores into a hangout rather than just an in-and-out retail destination. If in-store coffee shops were the game-changing idea of the '90s, what's the new one for the current decade? Here's one possibility: an in-store self-publishing resource. Self-publishing is red-hot and still gaining momentum. But what's sorely lacking in the self-publishing world is a reliable place to go to ask all the questions. How do I get started? What's the best platform? How do I create a marketing campaign? Self-publishing enthusiasts are left with a slew of questionable online options and a few in-person events. Why not create an in-person self-publishing resource within your store?

Take a page out of Apple's playbook and create a Genius Bar service for customers interested in self-publishing. Establish your location as the place to go for help in navigating the self-publishing waters. Remember, too, that most of the income earned in self-publishing is tied to services, e.g., editing, cover design, proofreading, and not necessarily sales of the finished product. Consider partnering with an established expert in these areas or build your own network of providers. The critical point is to evolve your business into something more than just selling books.

This doesn't mean you need to invest in self-publishing equipment to enter the field, but it's interesting to hear from someone who has. I spoke about this with Chris Morrow, co-owner of Northshire Bookstore in Vermont, which has had an Espresso Book Machine for a number of years. According to Morrow:

"The Espresso machine has allowed us to create a self-publishing business and more. It has changed how customers view the bookstore. The self-publishing business is a complementary business that takes advantage of technological developments while being true to our mission."

If my self-publishing suggestion isn't the best option for your store, don't simply give up and assume you'll always have a future selling print books. It's clear to me that the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue to decline; more specifically, the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores that mostly rely on selling print books will continue to decline. Bookstores have always been a source of inspiration and an important community resource for their customers. Think about your own store's unique attributes and how they could be extended as print sales decline. If you go about it the right way, the digital reading revolution won't be a threat but rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconceive your business.

Photo: "Books Etc Victoria" by markhillary, on Flickr

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May 08 2012

Think of it like a political campaign: Baratunde Thurston's book marketing

Since its release in late January, Baratunde Thurston's book, "How To Be Black," has sold more than 15,000 copies, hitting the New York Time bestseller list out of the gate. Thurston, The Onion's former director of digital, and Craig Cannon, his campaign manager, have employed a slew of creative tactics for selling the book. In a recent interview, Thurston talked with me about what's worked, what hasn't, and the secret sauce for their campaign.

Before you dive in, I'll note that Thurston — in addition to having written a terrific book — has a gift for making people feel like they want to be part of his world. Although I'd read excerpts of the book early on, as he included them in his email newsletter, and although I was given both an electronic and a print copy of the book, I still bought it, just to support him. How can you make that magic happen for your book? Read on.

Any sales numbers we can share for context?

Baratunde ThurstonBaratunde Thurston: We went into this with a goal of significant pre-sales to hit the New York Times bestseller list. How many does it take to do that? Anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 in sales, and it depends on what else has come out that week. The pre-sales all accrue to one week, so you can stack the deck. We had 20,000 pre-sales as a goal. That was insane. We wound up with several hundred pre-sales, which was helpful, but not a juggernaut. We hit the list at No. 21. Mostly, that was useful because The Times had me do a joint interview with Charles Murray that ran in print and online during Black History Month. And that drew some attention.

What we learned from this is that people do not buy books. They like to talk about books. They like to talk about buying them. But they do not buy them.

Also for context, how important are book sales for you?

Baratunde Thurston: Sales are important. I want people to read the book. I want them to spend money. This wasn't a vanity publishing project, but it wasn't a get-rich scheme, either. It was a way for me as a creative person to point to something solid. I speak, I tweet; it's gone. I publish in very forgettable platforms. A book has some staying power. It's a cultural object, a physical object on which you can focus some attention.

What elements of the campaign worked?

Baratunde Thurston: We decided to treat this like a political campaign — more about the issues than the politician. We asked ourselves: Can we create a sense of movement that has other people seeing themselves in a book about me?

There was a process to arrive at the plan, and it equaled me coming up with the marketing. I knew I had to get on it when I was on a trip somewhere, and I got an email from Harper [Collins Publishers]: "Do you think you'll tweet about the book?"

There was a big research phase, talking to people I know or was introduced to, like Gary Vaynerchuk, Deanna Zandt, Eric Ries, Amber Rae at the Domino Project, and Tim Ferris. There were a lot of conversations had and articles read. There's no excuse to make things up completely or rely on hope.

We went with a content-oriented promotion strategy — check out this video or tweet or interview. So, for example, we wound up with 50 short videos that we could build into the book and the campaign.

The book's website was the heart. We posted a daily question every day in February, seeding it with the video I had already shot.

For speaking gigs I'd already booked, we asked if we could add book sales.

We had field ops — the Street Team. They were the ideal beta group: 115 people, half active and half of those really dedicated. We thought each street team member would equate to sales, but it's turned out to be more important as a group that lets us test ideas.

We also identified the high-value donors — people who are going to deliver a bunch of votes or cash. I went through all my contacts manually, about 4,500 people, and scrubbed that down to about 1,800 real people. I tagged them lightly, looking at them in terms of relevance. And then I started reaching out to them one by one.

"Fresh Air" with Terry Gross worked. MSNBC appearances worked.

How did the Street Team work out?

Baratunde Thurston: We tried to build a very loyal, very intense community. People had to apply. We asked them to participate in web video chats. It was like they made it through basic training. And that was kind of the goal: to have a group of advocates you can deploy in different ways. At launch parties across the country, they help out. Craig crashes on their sofas. They provide a support network; they're the volunteer fire department.

They also became an early-warning system for how the public would interpret the book. They weren't biased the way the other people close to me were. For instance, during Street Team video chats, they asked questions the public would ask. So I'd go to launch parties and interviews really prepared with answers.

Michael Phelps parody photoThis notion of showing the book cover in the hands of people as an image of value — they helped create that. Somebody Photoshopped Michael Phelps holding it, and that was one of first we saw. We seeded that idea with the Street Team, and they ran with it. The Photoshopping became redundant because actual people were holding the book and people were taking their pictures. It turned into a photomeme as people began to post them [to Twitter and the "How To Be Black" website].

We had a roadmap of things we had to do, and one thing we didn't miss was the Amazon reviews. We wanted to get them up within hours of the book's availability to set the trend for five-star reviews. We had a video chat with the Street Team right before the Amazon release. Within hours, we had 10 five-star reviews. That signaled to the Amazon buying market that it was a worthwhile book, and the Street Team provided the initial traction. And it's not just the number of five-star reviews, it's also how many reviews were helpful or not. We basically created our own Amazon Vine program.

What didn't work the way you expected?

Baratunde Thurston: The goal of 20,000 pre-sales didn't work. Every weekday in February, I should have been doing something for Black History Month. That didn't quite work, because the lead time for booking events is six months to a year, and we weren't on top of it early enough. As I mentioned, having the Street Team directly account for a certain number of units distributed didn't quite work.

What role did Craig Cannon play?

Baratunde Thurston: I knew Craig loosely at the Onion [where he was graphics editor]. He invited me to lunch to talk about something he was working on, a project with Skillshare. About five or six months before the book launched, we did a class on how to be black. That was a good test for our relationship.

We had a huge Google doc with everything laid out. Craig set up the Tumblr, the Facebook page, a private group for the Street Team, the tour support, the admin support. He's running the merchandise business. The black card — he just went off and built it.

I would have been able to do a lot of that worse. Even the two of us are only hitting 60% capacity. We should have had merch ready at launch. At some of our book events, we didn't have books.

For people who don't have a Craig, the most important thing is the personal one-on-one outreach. Look at the market of people interested in your topic, interested in you. Start with your inner circle. I had an epiphany with Gary Vaynerchuk. I asked: "Did I ever ask you to buy my book?" He said, "Yeah, I bought it yesterday." I talked about his book, but cash on the table — it didn't happen. He wished he had identified everyone he knows, sending a personal note explaining: "A) buy the book; B) this means a lot to me. You owe me or I will owe you. Here's some things you can do to help: If you have speaking opportunities, let me know. For instance, I would love to speak at schools." Make it easy for people who want to help you. Everything else is bonus. If you haven't already converted the inner circle, you've skipped a critical step.

What specific marketing technique would you recommend to other authors?

Baratunde Thurston: You can make everything easier by figuring out what value to attach your book to. We've been working under the over-arching theme of identity. If you blog every week about why your book is so awesome, nobody cares. If you're producing relevant, interesting content, they get attached to you in context. That leads to sales. It's a good model.

Once you've actually articulated what that value is, make everything else consistent with that. For us, it was comfort with yourself and your identity — everybody has an outsider identity. That provides a roadmap for interviews and events. It establishes the brand and reinforces it. This approach requires time and consideration, but not cash. It's not just reactive. For instance, this book is about DIY culture that makes the world a better place. With that approach, somebody like my friend Nora Abousteit can get involved, even though race, per se, isn't her issue.

Anything else you want to add?

Baratunde Thurston: There was a very important tactical layer, the secret sauce: Knod.es [Note: this is launching to the public soon]. Ron Williams, Knod.es founder, has been an essential shadow. The types of services Knod.es provides — pre-qualified leads — are going to be important for everything. We were sending targeted blasts around and used Knod.es to augment that. The results have been incredible.

For example, we wanted people to submit more content to the How To Be Black Tumblr. After launch, it had faded. We recruited 18 people [some from the Street Team] to push a message through Facebook and email. We had a 50% conversion rate on those messages, and got in nine stories without trying that hard. In the same way you approach your network of friends, you can do the same with social networks where you don't know them as well but they still want to help. You still have to make it easy for people to help you, but finding the value in your existing relationships — that's incredibly valuable. "The Today Show" isn't available to everyone.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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April 27 2012

What if ebook DRM goes away tomorrow?

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020 Blog ("What if DRM Goes Away?"). This version has been lightly edited.

TOC Latin America was held last Friday in the beautiful city of Buenos Aires. Kat Meyer, my O'Reilly colleague, and Holger Volland did a terrific job producing the event. As is so often the case with great conferences, part of the value is spending time with speakers and other attendees in between sessions and at dinner gatherings.

Last Thursday night, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Kat, Holger and a number of other TOC Latin America speakers. We discussed a number of interesting topics, but my favorite one was asking each person this question: What happens if DRM goes away tomorrow?

The DOJ suit against Apple and five of the Big Six has led to a lot of speculation. One of the most interesting scenarios raised is that if the government is intent on limiting the capabilities of the agency model, publishers need to figure out what other tools they can use to combat the growing dominance of Amazon.

Charlie Stross is right: DRM is a club publishers gave to Amazon and then insisted that Amazon beat them over their heads with it. So, what if we woke up tomorrow and DRM for books disappeared, just like it has (for the most part) with music?

I was unable to reach a consensus at that dinner, but here's what I think would happen: Initially, not much. After all, Amazon has a lot of momentum. If current U.S. estimates are accurate, Amazon controls about 60-65% of the ebook market and B&N is second with about 25-28%. That only leaves 7-13% for everyone else. And if you've been buying ebooks from Amazon up to now, you're not likely to immediately switch to buying from B&N just because they both offer books without DRM. On the surface, Amazon's and B&N's ebooks use incompatible formats — mobi for the former and EPUB for the latter. But that's where it gets interesting.

Converting from mobi to EPUB (or vice versa) is pretty simple with a free tool like Calibre. I've played around with it a bit, converting some of the DRM-free ebooks we sell on oreilly.com. I didn't do those conversions to get our books in other formats. After all, when you buy a book from oreilly.com you're buying access to all the popular formats (mobi, EPUB and PDF, as well as others), not just the one format a device-maker wants to lock you into. I did the conversions because I wanted to see what's involved in the process.

If you've ever used Microsoft Word to save or convert a DOC file to PDF you'll find it's just as easy to go from mobi to EPUB in Calibre, for example. But just because the tool is available, does that mean if DRM goes away we'd suddenly see a lot of Kindle owners buying EPUBs from B&N and converting them to mobi with Calibre? I doubt it. Those Kindle owners are used to a seamless buying experience from Amazon, so unless there's a compelling reason to do so, they're not likely to switch ebook retailers. And that leads me to the most important point ...

Creating the best buying and reading experience is one way any ebook retailer can steal market share from the competition. Amazon has a pretty darned good one, that's for sure, but there's plenty of room for improvement. I'm not convinced any ebook retailer has pushed the envelope on innovation and exciting new features in their devices or reader apps. In fact, these enhancements seem to move at a glacial pace. So, what if B&N (or anyone else, for that matter) suddenly invested heavily in reader app functionality that puts them well ahead of the competition? And what if some of those features were so unique and innovative that they couldn't be copied by others? I'd much rather see a competitive marketplace based on this approach than the one we currently have, where the retailer with the deepest pockets wins.

Innovation is better than predatory pricing. What a concept. The iPod revolutionized music, an industry that was highly fragmented and looking for a way forward in the pre-iPod days. The iPhone turned the cellular market on its head. Think about how significantly different the original iPod and iPhone were when compared to the clumsy MP3 players and flip phones that preceded them. I believe today's crop of ebook readers and apps are, in many ways, as clumsy and simplistic as those MP3 players and flip phones. In other words, we haven't experienced a radical transformative moment in the ebook devices and app world yet.

Of course, all of this innovation I'm dreaming of could happen today. We don't need to wait for a DRM-free world. Or do we? Amazon has no incentive to innovate like this. They already have a majority market share, and it's only going to get larger when the DOJ dust settles.

This is more of a rallying cry for B&N, Kobo and every other device and ebook retailer. If DRM goes away tomorrow, nothing much changes unless these other players force it to. But why wait till DRM disappears? It might not happen for a long time. Meanwhile, the opportunity to innovate and create a path to market share gain exists today. I hope one or more of the minority market share players wakes up and takes action.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

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February 09 2012

It's time for a unified ebook format and the end of DRM

This post originally appeared on Publishers Weekly.

EreadersImagine buying a car that locks you into one brand of fuel. A new BMW, for example, that only runs on BMW gas. There are plenty of BMW gas stations around, even a few in your neighborhood, so convenience isn't an issue. But if one of those other gas stations offers a discount, a membership program, or some other attractive marketing campaign, you can't participate. You're locked in with the BMW gas stations.

This could never happen, right? Consumers are too smart to buy into something like this. Or are they? After all, isn't that exactly what's happening in the ebook world? You buy a dedicated ebook reader like a Kindle or a NOOK and you're locked in to that company's content. Part of this problem has to do with ebook formats (e.g., EPUB or Mobipocket) while another part of it stems from publisher insistence on the use of digital rights management (DRM). Let's look at these issues individually.

Platform lock-in

I've often referred to it as Amazon's not-so-secret formula: Every time I buy another ebook for my Kindle, I'm building a library that makes me that much more loyal to Amazon's platform. If I've invested thousands or even hundreds of dollars in Kindle-formatted content, how could I possibly afford to switch to another reading platform?

It would be too inconvenient to have part of my library in Amazon's Mobipocket format and the rest in EPUB. Even though I could read both on a tablet (e.g., the iPad), I'd be forced to switch between two different apps. The user interface between any two reading apps is similar but not identical, and searching across your entire library becomes a two-step process since there's no way to access all of your content within one app.

This situation isn't unique to Amazon. The same issue exists for all the other dedicated ereader hardware platforms (e.g., Kobo, NOOK, etc.). Google Books initially seemed like a solution to this problem, but it still doesn't offer mobi formats for the Kindle, so it's selling content for every format under the sun — except the one with the largest market share.

EPUB would seem to be the answer. It's a popular format based on web standards, and it's developed and maintained by an organization that's focused on openness and broad industry adoption. It also happens to be the format used by seemingly every ebook vendor except the largest one: Amazon.

Even if we could get Amazon to adopt EPUB, though, we'd still have that other pesky issue to deal with: DRM.

The myth of DRM

I often blame Napster for the typical book publisher's fear of piracy. Publishers saw what happened in the music industry and figured the only way they'd make their book content available digitally was to tightly wrap it with DRM. The irony of this is that some of the most highly pirated books were never released as ebooks. Thanks to the magic of high-speed scanner technology, any print book can easily be converted to an ebook and distributed illegally.

Some publishers don't want to hear this, but the truth is that DRM can be hacked. It does not eliminate piracy. It not only fails as a piracy deterrent, but it also introduces restrictions that make ebooks less attractive than print books. We've all read a print book and passed it along to a friend. Good luck doing that with a DRM'd ebook! What publishers don't seem to understand is that DRM implies a lack of trust. All customers are considered thieves and must be treated accordingly.

The evil of DRM doesn't end there, though. Author Charlie Stross recently wrote a terrific blog post entitled "Cutting Their Own Throats." It's all about how publisher fear has enabled a big ebook player like Amazon to further reinforce its market position, often at the expense of publishers and authors. It's an unintended consequence of DRM that's impacting our entire industry.

Given all these issues, why not eliminate DRM and trust your customers? Even the music industry, the original casualty of the Napster phenomenon, has seen the light and moved on from DRM.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Lessons from the music industry

Several years ago, Steve Jobs posted a letter to the music industry pleading for them to abandon DRM. The letter no longer appears on Apple's website, but community commentary about it lives on. My favorite part of that letter is where Jobs asks why the music industry would allow DRM to go away. The answer is that, "DRMs haven't worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy." In fact, a study last year by Rice University and Duke University contends that removing DRM can actually decrease piracy. Yes, you read that right.

I recently had an experience with my digital music collection that drove this point home for me. I had just switched from an iPhone to an Android phone and wanted to get my music from the old device onto the new one. All I had to do was drag and drop the folder containing my music in iTunes to the SD card in my new phone. It worked perfectly because the music file formats are universal and there was no DRM involved.

Imagine trying to do that with your ebook collection. Try dragging your Kindle ebooks onto your new NOOK, for example. Incompatible file formats and DRM prevent that from happening ... today. At some point in the not-too-distant future, though, I'm optimistic the book publishing industry will get to the same stage as the music industry and offer a universal, DRM-free format for all ebooks. Then customers will be free to use whatever e-reader they prefer without fear of lock-in and incompatibilities.

The music industry made the transition, why can't we?


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January 24 2012

The five things you need to pay attention to at TOC 2012

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


The 2012 edition of the Tools of Change for Publishing conference will open its doors on February 13 in New York City.

Since we're in the home stretch, I rounded up TOC chairs Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert to discuss the major publishing trends and developments that are shaping the conference. Below, you'll find the five biggest takeaways from our chat. The associated audio podcast contains the full conversation.

1. Publishing is rife with startups

The publishing world is no longer solely the domain of big old organizations. There's a whole bunch of startups engaged in a variety of publishing experiments. TOC 2012 will feature notable upstarts in the Startup Showcase and throughout the conference program.

2. You've got the data, now what do you do with it?

Digital and data go hand-in-hand, and that means publishers — whether they know it or not — are running data-driven businesses. They need to learn how to gather, mine and use all those datasets to their advantage. The practical application of data will be an important theme at the conference.

3. No more ugly ebooks

Those quick and dirty digital conversions won't cut it anymore. Readers are committing to digital, and now they're rightfully demanding top-notch ebook / app experiences. It's time for publishers to meet that demand.

4. Publishing is bigger than books

Book people have something to learn from media people, and media people can learn from book people. Toss in film and music folks, and you've got a huge digital knowledge base that can be drawn from and adapted. This year at TOC, there's a concerted effort to expand "publishing" beyond its narrow and traditional definition.

5. "Change/Forward/Fast" isn't just a catchy tagline

Agile development began in the software world, but its core attributes of iteration and feedback also apply to publishing. Agile methodologies and applications will be discussed in a variety of TOC sessions.

Again, those are just the takeaways from the interview. The podcast has much more on TOC's major themes and what you can expect to see. It also includes a "bold prediction" from Joe that, if realized, could completely change the way publishers handle mobile apps and ebooks.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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January 10 2012

Three reasons why we're in a golden age of publishing entrepreneurship

We are entering a golden age for entrepreneurship in the publishing industry. The Books in Browsers conference last October and the London-based Futurebook conference in December showed a rich array of startups from all around the world. Profile Books' Michael Bhaskar has compiled a list of publishing-related startups that he intends to add to as it grows.

There are three reasons why this growth is happening.

Books are digital

Or, I should say, books can be digitally managed. Standards such as EPUB or ONIX enable both the content and the metadata of the books to be digitally available. And this means that new capabilities and services can be built around the content. You can think of e-bookstores, of course, but startups try to look beyond the obvious: What about recommendations based on the book's DNA á la Pandora, like BookLamp? Or relating places, songs, or others books, as does SmallDemons? And what about some remixing, like BookRiff?

Processes are digital

Internet technologies have simplified some of publishing's processes. For a few years now, digital publishers and self-publishing platforms have experimented with new ways of approaching the market, the authors, and, most importantly, the readers. Self-publishing initiatives like Smashwords or Lulu are pretty well known, but new ventures are also popping up, like the commoditization of EPUB processing proposed by Pressbooks or BiblioCrunch. Startups that focus on offering new back-end tools and services to boost efficiency in the publishing lifecycle will be, as Don Linn hailed them, 'heroes, even if largely unrecognized, this year."

Readers are digital

Most importantly, readers are becoming more digital. I have been reading almost exclusively in digital format for more than a year. When, a week ago, I started "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" in print format, I fully understood how significant the digital leap is. I found myself thinking: "I don't understand this word — where is the dictionary?" "I loved this passage, how do I share it?" I truly felt that I was going backwards. And this is where all the startups focused on social reading like GoodReads, Anobii, or Flatleaf will be competing.

Entrepreneurs from the IT and publishing industries will find many opportunities now. And they must, because startups play at least one critical role in any industry: they challenge assumptions. One of the innovation myths is that people like change, but that's not really true. So, when an industry reaches some type of stability, and when competition starts to look like an oligopoly, then someone else needs to think differently. And startups typically do a great job there. Many of them will be wrong or will execute poorly, of course, but even if they fail, these challenges will be good for the industry. As Steve Blank states, a startup is an organization where the main goal is to find a repeatable and scalable business model. And if a specific startup is unable to achieve it, others should try.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012


Related:


November 08 2011

September 02 2011

June 10 2011

June 03 2011

Radar's top stories: May 30-June 3, 2011

Here's a look at the top stories published on Radar this week.


How the Library of Congress is building the Twitter archive
One year after Twitter donated its archives, the Library of Congress is still building the infrastructure to make the data accessible to researchers.
10 ways to botch a mobile app
With the aim of injecting reason and business know-how into the app development process, "App Savvy" author Ken Yarmosh outlines the top 10 reasons why apps often falter or fail.
The story behind Velocity 2011
As we approach the fourth Velocity conference, here's a look at how the web performance and operations communities came together, what they've done to improve the web experience, and the work that lies ahead.
The state of speed and the quirks of mobile optimization
Google performance evangelist and Velocity co-chair Steve Souders discusses browser competition, the differences between mobile and desktop optimization, and his hopes for the HTTP Archive.
Open Question: Would you fund your favorite author?
With the launch of the Unbound.co.uk publishing platform, readers can fund the books they want to read. If given the chance, would you fund the next book from your favorite author?





OSCON Java 2011, being held July 25-27 in Portland, Ore., is focused on open source technologies that make up the Java ecosystem. Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD


Publishing News: Rebooting online news presentation

Here are some of this week's highlights from the publishing world. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

I can has better news presentation?

MobyDick.pngBen Huh (@benhuh), CEO of the Cheezburger, Inc., loves his Cheezburger project, but he's also ready to have a fling with news. In a recent blog post, Huh addressed the stagnant state of news presentation and consumption, which he's hoping to address with his new project Moby Dick.

In the post he described how news sites are not embracing new technology or exploring new ways to report and present the news:

The limited amount of space on news homepages and their outmoded method of presentation poses big problems for the distribution of news as well as consumption by the public. Even though it's been more than 15 years since the Internet became a news destination, journalists and editors are still trapped in the print and TV world of message delivery.

The traditional methods of news-writing, such as the reverse pyramid, and the various "editions" of news, pose big limitations on how news is reported and consumed. Unfortunately, Internet-based changes such as reverse-chronological blogging of news, inability to archive yesterday's news, poor commenting quality, live-blogging, and others have made news consumption an even more frustrating experience.

Because it's easy to find news outlets that are doing it wrong, I reached out to Huh via email for his thoughts on news organizations that are headed in the right direction. Our short interview follows.

If one of journalism's problems is digital presentation, who is doing it right?

Ben Huh: I love that MSNBC is trying out new ideas and new formats. Not everything works, but it's the trial and error that will help come up with answers. The Huffington Post's Big News pages are interesting, but are still limited to the old blog format. I do love Techmeme, and they do a wonderful job of curation.

  • This story continues here

Inside the Library of Congress' Twitter archive

Library of Congress Reading Room 1 by maveric2003, on FlickrIn April 2010, Twitter announced it was donating its entire archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress. Every tweet since Twitter's inception in 2006 would be preserved. The donation of the archive to the Library of Congress may have been in part a symbolic act, a recognition of the cultural significance of Twitter. Although several important historical moments had already been captured on Twitter when the announcement was made last year (the first tweet from space, for example, Barack Obama's first tweet as President, or news of Michael Jackson's death), since then our awareness of the significance of the communication channel has certainly grown.

That's led to a flood of inquiries to the Library of Congress about how and when researchers will be able to gain access to the Twitter archive. These research requests were perhaps heightened by some of the changes that Twitter has made to its API and firehose access.

But creating a Twitter archive is a major undertaking for the Library of Congress, and the process isn't as simple as merely cracking open a file for researchers to peruse. I spoke with Martha Anderson, the head of the library's National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIP), and Leslie Johnston, the manager of the NDIIP's Technical Architecture Initiatives, about the challenges and opportunities of archiving digital data of this kind.

  • This story continues here

Would you fund your favorite author's next book?

questionmarkPublishers can start preparing for some new competition — from readers. A new crowdfunded service called Unbound launched at this year's Hay Festival. The platform, which sounds similar to Kickstarter, allows readers to fund the books they want to read. A post at the Guardian describes how it works:

The Unbound.co.uk publishing platform ... allows writers to pitch ideas online directly to readers who, if they are interested, pledge financial support. Once enough money has been raised, the author will write the book, with supporters receiving anything from an ebook to a limited first edition and lunch with the author, depending on their level of investment.

And Unbound didn't launch with unknown self-publishing authors — Terry Jones is on board, as are Tibor Fischer and Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

This raises the question: Would you fund your favorite author?

  • Share your thoughts and check out the conversation in this story's comments

Got news?

Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

Photo: Library of Congress Reading Room 1 by maveric2003, on Flickr

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April 18 2011

March 10 2011

Flipboard and the end of "sourciness"

Today's Flipboard update sports increased speed, an improved design layout, a partnership with Instagram, and the ability for users to search across several social platforms, including Flickr, Twitter and Facebook.

The shiny new features are drawing plenty of attention, but the really cool thing here — and what likely will fuel Flipboard's success — is the platform's ability to seamlessly present the newly integrated social content without overly focusing on the original source or platform.

In a recent interview, Craig Mod, designer and publisher at Flipboard, stressed the importance of putting the content first. By making content the focus of the presentation, users can experience a seamless stream of information rather than jumping from platform to platform:

I think the thing that Flipboard is doing particularly well is that the integrations become seamless. One of the main goals at Flipboard that we really try to drive home is that [users] plug in these [integration] sources and we remove the "sourciness" from it.

When I'm reading stuff in Flipboard, it's not like I'm engaging Twitter or engaging Facebook. I'm just aware of the great content that's being micro-curated by my social groups. There's an obfuscation of that social network layer — what we're building is a comfortable consumption layer, as fed by human curation.

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In the interview, Mod also discusses the most important elements of app design and how Flipboard is, at this point, a great big experiment. The full interview is available in the following video:



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February 16 2011

Book^2 Camp opens the lines of communication

About 150 people attended the Book^2 Camp event Sunday in New York. The un-conference broke out into several sessions throughout the afternoon, and included discussions about creating blogger buzz, the state of academic publishing, how authors can make use of websites for their books, enhanced ebook workflows, and understanding piracy. There also were tech sessions that discussed book design, APIs and programming.

During the afternoon, camp goers documented the sessions on Twitter. Some highlights include:

Picture 2.png

Bookcamp tweet

The entire Book^2 Camp tweet stream can be viewed here or by searching Twitter for #book2.

BloggerBuzz.jpgThe book blogger buzz session had a large audience (pictured right). Author and poet Margaret Atwood had this to say after the session:

The biggest thing I took away from this session is that people [book bloggers] still do not quite know the effect of what they're doing — they don't have a way of really tracking the effect. In a way, I think they kind of don't care because they're not publishers. The bloggers do it out of love, one can only suppose, because they're not making any money out of it. That was one thing that interested me; the other thing was the sheer variety of all of these different kinds of blogs.

You can see more of Atwood's insights on Book^2 Camp here.

Attendees tended to agree that the cross pollination of the event — to use Ann Kingman's description — was particularly important. Here's how Brett Sandusky, director of product innovation at Kaplan Publishing, summed it up:

Overall, I think Book Camp is incredibly useful and important for us because in the publishing world we are often challenged with talking amongst each other and sharing experiences, data and lessons learned. Most companies tend to prefer to be proprietary about the things they are learning, and on an ideological level I think it's really important that we share those things so that as a collective we understand really what's going in the transition we're in and also what the future holds for us. These open forums allow us to talk about these larger issues in a way that we don't on a day-to-day basis.

For more on Book^2Camp, see Kevin Shockey's post here.

February 10 2011

What investors are looking for in publishing companies

As the publishing industry undergoes fundamental changes, new processes and ways of doing business emerge. Companies are now "mobilizing" content, building multimedia, and incorporating social media — concepts that would have seemed utterly foreign just 10 years ago.

In the following interview, Catalyst Investors co-founder Ryan McNally reveals the publishing trends that are catching investors' attention and he explains how a full embrace of new technology will help the industry evolve.


What are the biggest growth areas related to publishing?

Ryan McNally: Publishing is playing catch-up to the capabilities of new technology, and that makes this an exciting time. Digital publishing and new platforms for consumer engagement — tablets — will be the biggest drivers of growth for the foreseeable future. Ebooks and e-magazines will be the immediate product opportunities.

More broadly, the evolution of what we think of as "publishing" will continue. Incorporation of video, multimedia, and social interaction will foster innovation. In the short term, I think this will mean that publishers will look to the past for their future — using archived content in new ways.

Publishers will attempt to innovate by bringing social media into the mix to utilize the capabilities of tablets and other digital devices — look at Vook, for example. There will be opportunities to meld video, text, images, and social media into ebooks and e-magazines. As this kind of content becomes widespread, consumers will expect more than just a digital presentation of their analog content. Some of the more interesting start-up opportunities will involve services or technologies that help publishers create this kind of material.

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When reviewing a company, what are the most important aspects an investor should consider?

Ryan McNally: We are growth investors rather than start-up investors, which means we provide capital for companies that have already proven their technology and business model but need capital to expand. Nonetheless, the things that we look for are very similar to classic venture investors.

Broadly speaking, we look at such things as potential market size and how it is growing. A growing market can forgive a lot of mistakes that earlier-stage companies are likely to make along the way and reassure investors that there will be multiple options to exit. We also look at novelty or uniqueness of the idea or technology or content. Scalability of the business model and its level of profitability at scale are other important considerations. People are important, too. For instance, we look at the ability of the team to execute against the challenges the company will face in its growth. We also look at who is the most likely buyer of the business.

On the other side, what should an entrepreneur consider when starting a new company in the publishing industry?

Ryan McNally: All of the issues I just mentioned are important in deciding whether to start a business. They're not just applicable to investors. After all, the entrepreneur is the first investor and has the most at stake.

There are other issues that apply just to entrepreneurs, though. You have to ask yourself, can you lead an organization? Do you have the vision, motivation, discipline and creativity to deal with the ups and downs that come with starting a company? You also have to ask: Do you have the skills to run the business or will you be learning on the job? And can you devote the time and make the family sacrifices required to put in the sometimes grueling hours to build a business?

Money is a big question, too. If you're going to start a business, you should anticipate that you'll need 6 or more months of working capital without revenue.

The unasked question that runs through all of these other questions is, do you have the passion? If you can satisfy yourself on that one — and assuming your idea is good — you can sort out the others.


This interview was edited and condensed.



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