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April 13 2012

Top Stories: April 9-13, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

Carsharing saves U.S. city governments millions in operating costs
Carsharing initiatives in a number of U.S. cities are part of a broader trend that suggests the ways we work, play and learn are changing.

Complexity fails: A lesson from storage simplification
Simple systems scale effectively, while complex systems struggle to overcome the multiplicative effect of potential failure points. This shows us why the most reliable and scalable clouds are those made up of fewer, simpler parts.

Operations, machine learning and premature babies
Machine learning and access to huge amounts of data allowed IBM to make an important discovery about premature infants. If web operations teams could capture everything — network data, environmental data, I/O subsystem data, etc. — what would they find out?

State of the Computer Book Market 2011
In his annual report, Mike Hendrickson analyzes tech book sales and industry data: Part 1, Overall Market; Part 2, The Categories; Part 3, The Publishers; Part 4, The Languages; Part 5, Wrap-Up and Digital.

Never, ever "out of print"
In a recent interview, attorney Dana Newman tackled issues surrounding publishing rights in the digital landscape. She said changes in the current model are needed to keep things equitable for both publishers and authors.

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Photo of servers: Google Production Server, v1 by Pargon, on Flickr

April 11 2012

Never, ever "out of print"

I recently sat down with transactional and intellectual property attorney Dana Newman (@DanaNewman) to talk about today's rights concerns for authors and how publishing models need to change to accommodate digital. We also discussed how books can no longer go out of "print" and how that could — and should — affect rights and contracts:

"Under older, more traditional contracts, the rights would revert when [a book] went out of print, meaning it was no longer being distributed in print form. Now, with print on demand and ebooks, it's becoming irrelevant. I think what we need to do is create a new structure for those rights to revert back to the author — that could be based on some sort of minimum sales threshold and that the book is no longer available through the major online retail channels. That would make more sense. On the other side for the publisher, they could think about setting a term where once the advance is earned out, then perhaps at that point they would revert the rights back to the author." (Discussed at 4:33.)

Newman also talked about the need for flexibility, shorter license terms and rights of first refusal in creating a new publishing model that is more equitable for both authors and publishers. (Discussed at 2:13.)

You can view the entire interview in the following video:

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January 13 2012

Publishing News: Stats from Amazon's KDP Select program might require a decoder ring

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week in the publishing space.

Amazon's KDP Select stats raise more questions than they answer

AmazonLogo.pngAmazon released statistics from its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program this week, but deciphering what the numbers mean is tricky — the program may or may not be lucrative for authors. Reuters explained the program:

KDP Select is an off-shoot of Kindle Direct Publishing, a system developed by Amazon that lets authors publish their books themselves online. If authors make a title exclusive to Amazon's Kindle e-book store for at least 90 days, the book is eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and authors can earn a share of a $6 million annual pot of money based on how frequently the book is borrowed.

The Amazon press release said author Carolyn McCray "earned $8,250 from the KDP Select fund in December," and quoted her as saying that "[p]articipating in KDP Select has quadrupled [her] royalties." The release cites increases for Rachel Yu and Amber Scott as well, and says that "[t]he top ten KDP Select authors earned over $70,000 in the month of December from their participation in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, a 30% increase on top of the royalties they earned from their paid sales on the same titles in the same period. In total (paid sales plus their share of the loan fund), these authors saw their royalties grow an astonishing 449% month-over-month from November to December."

But don't drop your publisher and jump on board the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select train just yet. As with most statistics Amazon releases, there are nearly as many questions raised as stats provided. Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent laid it all out on the table, presenting Amazon's press release statement with stats and then listing a variety of questions those stats sparked. A couple important questions she raised include:

  • "How much money did the average participating author make? The top ten are doing well, but what about the rest? How many authors made $0 from their participation (or actually lost money because, in order to participate, they had to remove their e-books from all other etailers?)"

  • "Also, how does the top ten break down? What did the #1 KDP Select author make from his or her participation, and what did the #10 author make?"

  • Owen's breakdown of the situation is thorough and well worth the read.

    And in a nice rounding out to the issue, Forbes called out Amazon on the data — or lack thereof — it provides to self-publishers:

    "If we are to approach self-publishing as a business proposition, we need to understand not just the market for ebooks but also the performance of our own works within that market. Just as a web publisher needs to understand traffic stats, so ebook publishers need to understand ebook stats. Except Amazon's Kindle store gives ebook publishers only the barest minimum of information."

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    Books in the digital age are an entrepreneurial exercise

    Regardless of where and how you self-publish, the process isn't as easy as it might seem on first blush. Author Daniel Markham put together a nice list of lessons learned and details to keep track of after publishing his first ebook, "ScrumMaster." He said: "The content is the least of it ... If my marketing and sales pipeline don't work? Hang it up. It was a waste of time."

    Along that same vein, a post at The Atlantic took a look at publishing in the digital age. Referring to the most recent issue of Nieman Reports, The Atlantic piece says:

    "... books are an entrepreneurial exercise, combining the selection of a subject, the self-confidence to stay with it through the reporting and writing ordeal, and a commitment to marketing the results, which for many authors is an especially unfamiliar process."

    The Guardian also put together a panel of self-publishing experts who came up with 20 tips for self-publishing. Those particular tips mainly are directed at academic publishing, but many could apply to any genre, and some of the linked resources were genre neutral as well.

    The digital rights quagmire continues

    The topic of rights reared its murky ahead again this week. Jane Friedman tackled the topic in a post inspired by a question posed to her by author Dr. Liz Alexander: (in short) in a traditional publishing situation, who holds the ebook rights, author or publisher? Friedman says it's "a very slippery issue" and lists several reasons why:

    • "Contract language may be ambiguous as to who holds rights, and the language may be interpreted differently (there is little legal precedent to refer to in these situations)."

  • "Who retains ebook rights — author or publisher — is a controversial issue."
  • "Who holds rights to the text versus images may be different."
  • "Who holds e-book rights based on territory can be even more confusing."

  • Friedman's post addresses each issue in-depth and provides a nice summary of the rights controversy thus far.

    Digital rights issues, however, aren't purely theoretical for Friedman — the Wall Street Journal took a look this week at the lawsuit HarperCollins recently filed against Open Road Integrated Media, which is run by Friedman, in regard to Open Road's plan to release the ebook edition of "Julie of the Wolves." Open Road's COO Chris Davis responded to the suit:

    "It appears to us that HarperCollins is trying to intimidate authors, overturn established law and grab rights that were not in existence when the contracts were signed many years ago. We are confident that we will successfully defend authors' rights and we look forward to filing our response in court."

    Here's transactional and intellectual property attorney Dana Newman talking about digital rights issues at last year's Tools of Change for Publishers conference:


    August 26 2011

    March 03 2011

    Digital authors need a whole new set of skills

    Trademark-symbol.pngAs the publishing industry wrestles its way into the digital age, a lot of conversation has centered around digital platforms, distribution woes, technological enhancement possibilities and how publishers and readers are adapting and adjusting to the new landscape. But where do authors fit into this mix?

    In a recent interview, Dana Newman, a transactional and intellectual property attorney, talked about what authors need to do to protect themselves and their brands, in addition to their books:

    Rather than think in terms of "I want to sell my book," think about "I want to license all of my intellectual property rights." Realize that it's not just your book, per say. It may be electronic rights, it may be multimedia rights — it may be all these other areas that your book may be exploited.

    Before you enter into an agreement, make sure you understand it. Make sure you understand how you're granting those rights, and if you're granting all of your rights to one particular publisher, [ask yourself] do they have the ability and the plan to role out those other platforms for you?

    Also, don't forget about trademarks. Authors are being told now they have to get out there, they have to market themselves. They are their brand. Don't forget to register your trademark — your name ...

    During the interview, Newman also discussed the future of territory rights, embracing the "e-pocalypse," and why the film industry's experience with the digital transition contains lessons for the book world. The full interview is available in the following video:


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