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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:


    Top Stories: January 9-14, 2012

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

    What is big data?
    It's the hot trend in software right now, but what does big data mean, and how can you exploit it? Strata chair Edd Dumbill presents an introduction and orientation to the big data landscape.

    Can Maryland's other "CIO" cultivate innovation in government?
    Maryland's first chief innovation officer, Bryan Sivak, is looking for the levers that will help state government to be smarter, not bigger. From embracing collective intelligence to data-driven policy, Sivak is defining what it means to be innovative in government.

    Three reasons why we're in a golden age of publishing entrepreneurship
    Books, publishing processes and readers have all made the jump to digital, and that's creating considerable opportunities for publishing startups.

    The rise of programmable self
    Taking a cue from the Quantified Self movement, the programmable self is the combination of a digital motivation hack with a digital system that tracks behavior. Fred Trotter looks at companies and projects relevant to the programmable-self space.

    A venture into self-publishing
    Scott Berkun turned to self-publishing with his latest book, "Mindfire." In this TOC podcast, Berkun discusses the experience and says the biggest surprise was the required PR effort.

    Tools of Change for Publishing, being held February 13-15 in New York, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Register to attend TOC 2012.

    Sponsored post

    January 09 2012

    A venture into self-publishing

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

    MindfireCover.jpgScott Berkun is a long-time O'Reilly author, but he decided to self-publish his latest book, "Mindfire." Similar to my earlier podcast interview with Dan Gillmor, I wanted to get Berkun's thoughts on his experience of having published both ways. Why did he venture into the world of self-publishing? Is he happy with the results, and will he ever work with a traditional publisher again? Those are a few of the questions he answers in this TOC interview.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Self-publishing was a learning opportunity — Some authors are curious to learn the finer aspects of what goes into making a book, and Scott quickly learned a lot with the "Mindfire" experience. [Discussed at the 1:05 mark.]
    • Blogging and book writing have always gone hand-in-hand for Scott — His blog is a wonderful sounding board and helps him shape whatever book he's currently working on, including the title, cover and more. [Discussed at 2:10.]
    • Self-publishing is both easy and hard — Technology makes it easy to publish almost anything these days; it's all the work that goes not only into the writing, but also into the editing, cover design, proofreading, indexing, marketing, etc., that makes it so challenging. [Discussed at 4:35.]
    • Self-publishing also requires self-promotion — Author platforms are more important today than ever before; it's true for traditional publishing, too, but even more so for self-published products. [Discussed at 8:25.]
    • The PR effort required was the biggest surprise — Berkun used a giveaway campaign to build momentum and extend his future reach. [Discussed at 9:54.]

    • How can traditional publishers avoid losing authors to self-publishing? — Berkun turns the question around and asks why this decision is an either/or. [Discussed at 17:14.]
    • The opportunity to learn from self-published authors — Editors often abandon their authors who test the self-publishing waters when what they should really be doing is talking more with them to learn what's working and what's not. [Discussed at 20:43.]

    Additionally, the 10 most common questions Berkun is asked about self-publishing can be found here, and our entire interview can be viewed in the following video.

    src="" frameborder="0"<br /> allowfullscreen></p> <div><a href=""><img src="" /></a><a href=""><strong>TOC NY 2012</strong></a> &mdash; 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.<br /> <br /> <a href=""><strong>Register to attend TOC 2012</strong></a></div> <p><strong>Related:</strong></p> <ul> <li> <a href="">Be innovative, but don't use that word</a></li> <p><li> <a href="">Publishers: What are they good for?</a></li></p> <p><li> <a href="">Do agent-publishers carry a conflict of interest?</a></li></p> <p><li> <a href="">Five things we learned about publishing in 2011</a></li></p> <p><li> <a href="">More TOC Podcasts</a></li><br /> </p></ul> <div class="feedflare"> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> </div><img src="" height="1" width="1" />

    January 05 2012

    Traditional vs self-publishing: Neither is the perfect solution

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

    Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) is one of a growing number of authors who have published with both a traditional house as well as self-published. Like many others, he's decided neither is the perfect solution. In this video podcast, Dan talks about the pros and cons of both options. He offers valuable insight not only for authors trying to decide between traditional and self-publishing, but his thoughts are extremely important for everyone in publishing to hear as they think about their roles going forward.

    Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Creative Commons licensing still trips up publishers — It's disappointing, but true, that some publishers simply refuse to deal with an author who wants to use the Creative Commons license. [Discussed at the 1:08 mark.]
    • Fear of Creative Commons is similar to a fear of being DRM free — Both of these tie back to "control," and far too many publishers feel they lose control when using Creative Commons or abandoning DRM. [Discussed at 4:10.]
    • There's a reason authors like to have publishers — Sometimes the lesson isn't learned until an author self-publishes, but there are tasks and services publishers perform that authors tend to take for granted. [Discussed at 5:58.]
    • Should traditional publishers venture into self-publishing? — Be careful to not open the floodgates completely. There's still a need to have certain guard rails in place. [Discussed at 11:30.]
    • Now is the time for experimentation — And yet, as Dan notes, "the traditional publishing industry is even more risk averse than it used to be." [Discussed at 13:58.]

    • Even a self-published project can be a hybrid — Dan's latest book, Mediactive, was self-published but involved at least one rights deal with a traditional publisher. [Discussed at 15:26.]
    • Errata and other minor updates should be easy to address — But they're not! Despite all our advancements in technology and product distribution, most retailers are still unable to deal with changes to an edition. [Discussed at 23:20.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.


    December 28 2011

    Five things we learned about publishing in 2011

    Many of publishing's big developments from 2011 will continue to shape the industry in 2012. So with that in mind, here's a look at five of the most important lessons from last 12 months.

    Amazon is, indeed, a disruptive publishing competitor

    If it wasn't apparent before, Amazon's publishing intentions became plainly obvious this year. The wave started out small, with a host of expanding self-publishing tools for authors, but it grew to tsunami proportions as Amazon launched imprint after imprint, from romance to science fiction. Amazon also hired industry heavy-hitter Larry Kirshbaum, who "is charged with building something that will look like a general trade publisher.'"

    Amazon imprints
    Some of Amazon's publishing projects.

    Amazon further extended its reach into publishing when it launched the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. The ebook lending waters already were murky and contentious for publishers — HarperCollins instigated a memorable dustup, as did Penguin — but Amazon's move into the space caused a full-fledged uproar among publishers as well as authors, and may have damaged the publisher-library relationship further.

    O'Reilly's Joe Wikert highlighted one of the main problems from the publisher perspective:

    As Amazon stated in its press release, "For the vast majority of titles, Amazon has reached agreement with publishers to include titles for a fixed fee." So no matter how popular (or unpopular) the publisher's titles are, they get one flat fee for participation in the library. I strongly believe this type of program needs to compensate publishers and authors on a usage level, not a flat fee. The more a title is borrowed, the higher the fee to the publisher and author. Period.

    And Amazon may be encroaching on feature magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker as well. In a sign of possible things to come, freelance journalist Marc Herman took his long-form story, "The Shores of Tripoli," and expanded it into a $1.99 Kindle Single. According to his blog, he has plans to expand on the model, which would further sideline traditional publishing avenues.

    Publishers aren't necessary to publishing

    Authors have figured out they don't need publishers to publish books. The self-publishing book market saw quite a boom this year as the publishing format started becoming more mainstream and the services offered by self-publishing companies became more comprehensive — providing authors with platforms, sales, marketing, editing, etc.

    Amazon has a role in this boom as well. The Wall Street Journal reported that " Inc. fueled the growth [in self-publishing] by offering self-published writers as much as 70% of revenue on digital books, depending on the retail price. By comparison, traditional publishers typically pay their authors 25% of net digital sales and even less on print books."

    Another trend emerged this year to further sideline the publisher's role: the rise of the agent-publisher. This controversial and contentious business model allows agents to step in to provide expanded publishing services to authors. In an interview, Booksquare's Kassia Krozser explained that the new agent-publisher role emerged because of failings on the part of traditional publishers: "Traditional publishers need to not only rethink how they sell their value to authors and agents, but they also need to rethink the economic structure of their deals." Krozser also expressed concerns that the agent-publisher role carries a conflict of interest — see her interview here.

    Readers sure do like ebooks

    There good news is that people are still reading and they're embracing the digital transformation. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released a report in November that showed that readers are solidly committing to digital books. A couple highlights from the report:

    • Power buyers are spending more. More than 46% of those who say they acquire e-books at least weekly ... report that they have increased their dollars spent for books in all formats, compared with 30.4% of all survey respondents.
    • "... nearly 50% of print book consumers who have also acquired an e-book in the past 18 months would wait up to three months for the e-version of a book from a favorite author, rather than immediately read it in print."

    The number of devices sold is telling as well. A Pew report found that "ereader ownership growth in the U.S. doubled in six months, from 6% to 12% of adults owning an ebook reader."


    Though the new Kindle Fire is selling at a loss, Amazon reported that it is selling Kindles at a clip of "well over one million Kindle devices per week" — at least for the three weeks following Black Friday. Amazon hasn't disclosed the total number of devices it has sold, but one analyst estimates the sales to be 8% of total revenues in 2011 and predicts that amount will rise to 9.9% in 2012. So ... a lot of Kindles. Combine those numbers (vague as they might be) with the 40 million iPads sold, and the conclusion is clear: ereading is now mainstream.

    HTML5 is an important publishing technology

    HTML5 entered the publishing space in a big way this year — some calling it the "future of digital publishing." From storage to multimedia to content behavior (think shaking the iPhone or automatically sizing for different screen sizes) to geolocation to a host of other interactive features, HTML5 has squared itself up to become an important player in the industry. Amazon (mostly) embraced it in its Kindle Format 8, and HTML5 is supported in EPUB3.

    HTML5 is platform agnostic and may even be able to save — or make — publishers money. In an interview early in the year, Google's Marcin Wichary explained:

    It's very important to recognize that HTML5 fits all the devices you can think of, from the iPhone in your pocket to Google TV to the tablets to small screens and big screens. It's very easy to take the content you already have and through the "magic" of HTML5, refine it so it works very well within a given context. You don't have to do your work over and over again. Of course, all of these different means come with different monetization opportunities, like ads on the web or on mobile devices.

    You can view Wichary's full interview below.

    DRM is full of unintended consequences

    It turns out DRM does more than provide publishers with a false sense of security — locking the content of books also locks those books into a platform (ahem, Kindle). This point was highlighted by author Charlie Stross in a November blog post in which he argued that DRM had become a strategic tool for Amazon:

    ... the big six's pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder. DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you're naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can't read those locked Kindle ebooks — and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM ... If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon's monopoly position.

    So, to recap, we've learned that DRM doesn't stop anyone from pirating, nor does it come with the necessary data to support its impact. But it does give publishers one thing: a longer length of rope with which to hang themselves.

    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


  • Do agent-publishers carry a conflict of interest?
  • Publishers: What are they good for?
  • Book piracy: Less DRM, more data
  • What if a book is just a URL?
  • November 14 2011

    Not a self-publisher, far from a traditional publisher

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

    Pubslush Press has been described as "a Kickstarter for books." That's a fair comparison to some extent, but as the company's founder Jesse Potash (@PUBSLUSH) points out, there already is a Kickstarter out there, and they already offer some book projects. Pubslush isn't simply some new self-publishing option — they're approaching the model differently and are taking some bold steps to help eradicate global illiteracy. Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

    • Crowd-funding versus non-profit publishing: In the Kickstarter model, the funding can be used at the author's discretion, but with Pubslush, the funding is primarily used in "the first stage" of the publishing process. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
    • Traditional editors are welcome: Pubslush not only allows editors to come in and extend offers to Pubslush authors, they actually encourage it. [Discussed at 2:19.]
    • Authors are never charged a dime ... ever: They're not really a self-publisher, and they're far from a traditional publisher — Pubslush simply falls somewhere in between the two. [Discussed at 3:10.]
    • Pubslush is all about discovery: Despite the large number of titles published every year, Pubslush can help solve the discoverability problem. [Discussed at 3:47.]
    • Community reviews are one of the features that make Pubslush special: The role is to "review, share and fund." [Discussed at 6:10.]
    • Linking publishing with literacy: For every book they sell, they donate another one to a child in need. How awesome is that? [Discussed at 11:30.]

    You can view the entire interview in the following video.

    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


    September 09 2011

    Publishing News: Google gets local with Zagat

    Here are some highlights from this week's publishing news.

    Google looks to corner local content market with Zagat acquisition

    GoogleLogoGoogle officially entered the business of distributing content written by real, live human beings this week with its acquisition of Zagat. This opens up a whole new world of competition for Google — some think to the extent of possibly raising conflict-of-interest questions. Regardless of the possible dangers of the acquisition and arguments that it should be "blocked, reversed, annulled, undone, or whatever the right word is, to protect consumers, to protect restaurant owners, and to protect competitors," this is big news on the local content and mobile search fronts.

    Tim Carmody points out at Wired that "much like Yahoo or Microsoft, Google increasingly owns outright some of the media content it serves up for searches, rather than simply indexing and influencing it" (this is probably among the "dangers" of the acquisition, but a very smart move on Google's part). The best part for me was highlighted in a Business Insider look at the ins and outs of the deal: "Imagine pulling out your Android phone, looking up local restaurants on Google Maps, seeing Zagat reviews for restaurants around you, and perhaps a coupon for some of them." Now, that is a service I would use.

    TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

    Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR

    Publish an ebook without writing a word

    InstebooksIcon.pngIt seems content publishing platforms are popping up everywhere, allowing anyone with Internet access to publish, well, whatever they want. Just in the past two weeks, Dymocks announced a new "end-to-end" self-publishing service for authors, and Uncram launched a publishing platform that allows people to publish status updates, tweets and other social media fodder to a "diary" page. But the one that really caught my eye was Instebooks, which launched 50 mobile phone apps that will allow users to publish ebooks from their phones.

    The mobile part isn't the most interesting bit, however. As explained on Good E-Reader:

    The basic format of creating a mobile phone ebook is to allow users [to]click on an image in Instebooks' gallery then simply speak their stories. The file is then automatically converted to a text file from the speech and uploaded as an ebook ...

    OK. Wait. Anyone can speak his or her story into a smartphone, then publish for the world to read? (We'll leave whole the speech-to-text accuracy problem alone for now.) Yes, I can see the actual value in this — writers brainstorming, lecturers planning class sessions, etc. — but seriously, this will add a ton of potential to the 2 a.m. post-bar philosopher discussions, and it could well put the whole drunk-dialing of the '80s and '90s to shame. The press release notes that upon publication, if the user opts to make the ebook public (yes, there thankfully is a choice), Instebooks not only will publish it to a web page , but will also "update a user's Facebook wall with a summary and a link to keep a user's fan base informed."

    Reuters percolates new aggregation site

    CounterpartiesLogo.PNGSome might argue that we need another content aggregation site like we need a hole in the head, but Reuters might actually be onto something with its launch of this week. Reuters teamed up with Percolate to launch a site that focuses on usability and content value. Felix Salmon, a major force behind the site's creation, explained how Percolate works on his Reuters blog:

    Percolate is a fantastic engine for this kind of thing — a pared-down, ultra-simple website which just tries to link to the best and most relevant information we can find. You show it your RSS feeds and the people you follow on Twitter; it will generate a dynamic list of stories generated by your own personal tastes.

    Using the Percolate engine, Reuters pulls the top 30 or so financial stories each day and links to them directly, only rewriting the headlines — as Jason Del Rey pointed out on AdAge, it's a bit like Drudge Report. In that same post, Del Rey also noted that monetization wasn't the first and foremost concern, quoting Chrystia Freeland, digital editor at Reuters: "We want to see who's using it, and how they're using it, before figuring that out." This is an interesting take on aggregation — instead of aggregating content based on my preferences — thus ultimately limiting discovery and my exposure to interesting content I might not otherwise find — it's aggregated based on a news service's tastes.


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