Writing on the Ether: Publishers and Value-Added Marketing

Prometheus, 1839, Grigory Karpovich Mikhailov, Hellenica online
Grigory Karpovich Mikhailov’s “Prometheus,” 1839 / Hellenica


Prometheus unboxed
Extra Ether: Publishers and value-added marketing
Vegetables and the National Book Awards
Klout doubts
A burnt bridge is hard to cross (thus spake Fortune, Cookie)
Brian and Don started it
New independence in Book Country
But if you publish it yourself, will they come?
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in contracts
How social are these media?
If music be the food of literature
Gaffe of the week
Even in a buffa, there will be blood

Prometheus unboxed

Actually, he had pants on when he brought Fire to my door. Those brown shorts the UPS guys wear. And while Amazon started shipping the new Kindle tablet a day earlier than planned, critics flew in to start pecking out the Bezosian liver.

“CNET complained that it was too slow,” Diana Dilworth told us in eBookNewser’s review roundup. “It isn’t a perfect experience,” Dilworth quoted Endgadget’s review, “but if nothing else, it’s a promising look into the future of retail commerce.” (Tim Stevens, smart guy.)

PC World, Dilworth wrote, said “the Fire may not meet your expectations if you’re looking for an Apple iPad-like tablet.” Uh-huh. USA Today, she reported, “gave the Fire the advantage only by a nose” over the Nook.

Me, I like it. Why? Two words: back light. I appreciate E Ink, but I like mine glowing in the dark. I’ve been yelling at Seattle’s Mt. Olympus about back light ever since I got my Kindle Alpha. Boy, did I learn to love those clip-on Mighty Brights. But now I have glowy, brightness-adjustable luminosity. I could roast a chestnut on this open Fire. Also, films to distract me from reading what I’m supposed to read. And cloudly music. I mean really.

I’m giving the Kindle Fire the #PorterEndorsed seal of approval. I’ve unchained the UPS man and I’m feeding my lunch leftovers to the buzzards so he can get away in that big brown truck.


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As a device not much larger than my original Kindle (though almost 5 ounces heavier), reading on the device is a joy. The pages look great, and accessing any of Kindle reader’s smarter features such as highlighting and definitions is easy. While I love my Kindle ereader, it’s definitely much easier to simply touch what I want to access — I do not miss the physical joystick from my e-ink reader.

Lance Ulanoff‘s extensive and balanced story for Mashable wisely doesn’t forget to mention  reading specifically. Can you say “content delivery system?” Amazon Kindle Fire, iPad’s First True Competitor

Ulanoff manages to avoid flipping into Apple hysteria (because a $200 device isn’t, after all, meant to rival a $500 device). And Steven Levy of WIRED gives us a chance to learn why Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than You Think. At times in this interview, it’s almost natural to expect another Jobs. But when you put aside i-things and let Bezos talk his own talk, you hear a distinctive managerial style at work, shepherding expectations, shininess, sustainability. You hear the Fire of focus:

As a company, one of our greatest cultural strengths is accepting the fact that if you’re going to invent, you’re going to disrupt. A lot of entrenched interests are not going to like it…they’re going to create a lot of noise, and it’s very easy for employees to be distracted by that. It could be criticism of something that we actually believe in. It could also be too much praise about something that we’re not doing as well as the outside world says we’re doing it. We’re going to stay heads-down and work on the business.


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When the e-reader tablet wars heat up this holiday season, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other companies will be selling their wares to a consumer market that is growing increasingly comfortable with digital reading. According to BISG’s final report in volume two of its “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading” survey, consumer satisfaction with e-reading devices is generally high, with 75% of device owners pleased with their e-readers.

That’s Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly summarizing info from a pre-holiday-season survey of a key industry organization, the Book Industry Study Group, in Digital Devices Riding High.

And if your neighbors still don’t understand that the Fire isn’t meant to be an iPad, refer to them to NPR’s Morning Edition report, Why Amazon Loses Money on Every Fire.  In her mic-biting delivery, Zoe Chace tells you that your printer cartridges could make a gallon of ink cost as much as $4,731. And the “no free lunch” strategy of the Fire burns mighty-brightly close to the printer-cartridge scheme.

Once you’re inside their ecosystem, there are a whole bunch of ways they can make money off you…Amazon’s basically spending $10 (estimated loss per Kindle Fire) to buy your loyalty. The loyalty will turn a profit.

Here’s the handy chart paidContent put together, Comparing E-Readers—And Tablets | November 2011, for its story from Laura Hazard Owen, Staci D. Kramer, and Amanda Natividad.

We have come a long way in a very short time. For perspective, consider that the Kindle launched four years ago at $399—one-and a-half times more expensive than the Kindle Fire and five times the cost of the cheapest Kindle now being sold. The Nook is two years younger as a brand. E-reading is no longer a niche for early adopters. It is mainstream with hardware options to match.

And here’s a valid concern from O’Reilly’s Joe Wikert, who asks in his Kindleville Blog How Frequently Will Amazon Release Kindle Fire Software Updates? Wikert notes that early comments on the Kindle Fire have referred to minor bugs that should be fixable through software updates. But…

I worry that Amazon doesn’t have a history of frequent updates and improvements….It doesn’t appear that Amazon dedicates enough developer resources to their Kindle platform. That may have been acceptable in the eInk, dedicated-reader days. After all, most customers only expected their eInk Kindle to do one thing and do it well. With the Fire though, Amazon has now entered the tablet arena and the expectations are different, particularly since they’re pushing so many cloud-based content consumption options (e.g., music, video, etc.)


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Extra Ether: Publishers and value-added marketing

Both Macmillan and Open Road are doing things that no big trade house could have imagined five years ago. Macmillan is applying scale; Open Road is applying the speed and flexibility enabled by a smaller organization. But both of them are employing what I’d call “investment marketing”: doing things on behalf of their books that build their capabilities to do more on behalf of subsequent books. I think that’s the key for publishers who want to give authors and agents convincing reasons to publish with them in the future.

In light of the traditional publishing vs. self-publishing debates we’re covering here on the Ether, I want to bring to your attention Mike Shatzkin‘s new column, Publishers adding value on the marketing side. Remember, of course, that in his role as a consultant, a part of Mike’s job can be, as he says here, telling the world of publishing things his clients would like known. In this case, I believe the information he’s ferrying across to us is important in two ways.

  1. While we hear a lot about services for self-publishing authors these days, we don’t always hear specific details of how a Big Six house (Macmillan) or a highly regarded new-media publisher (Open Road) means to add value for authors.
  2. It’s worth noting that these two companies want to get this info out at all. The standard image of the larger players is built on stony silence. Not so, when they actively signal to the community that they get what Mike says well: “marketing…is the prime responsibility of the book publisher in the digital era.”
Jane Friedman, left and right.

And a clarification. You’ll note Shatzkin writes about Open Road’s founder and former Harper CEO Jane Friedman. She’s not the host of this weekly column, who is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest and now a University of Cincinnati media professor and publishing analyst. Yes, it’s a tale of two people named Jane Friedman, and each wields substantial influence in her part of the industry.

So, author-Ethernaut, today we are all Jane Friedman.


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Vegetables and the National Book Awards 


Congratulations to winners of the NBA, as reported by the Times’ Julie Bosman  from last evening at Cipriani Wall Street.

And bravo to everyone there for getting through another ceremony with dinner in the middle. It was great to have a live stream this year. They kept it up the whole time so we could watch you all eating. Just kidding.

If you have some time to consider the place and purpose of these events, Sonya Chung has a long but healthy response to Laura Miller‘s How the National Book Awards made themselves irrelevant in her write for The Millions, On Spinach and the National Book Awards:

I want to live in a world…where “the reading public” (regardless of the inside-baseball interferences of literary professionals) consumes, likes, and engages with many different kinds of literary nourishment; and where writers, teachers, and critics trust and even expect readers to do so.


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Klout doubts

Who made Klout the arbiter of online influence, aside from Klout itself? I could rank your influence online, if you like: I’ll add your number of Twitter followers to your number of Facebook friends, subtract the number of MySpace friends, laugh and point if you’re still on Friendster, take the square root, round up to the nearest integer and add six. That’s your Scalzi Number (mine is 172). You’re welcome.

When John Scalzi‘s DeKloutifying tirade at his blog site was picked up by CNNMoneyTech as Why Klout scores are possibly evil, Klout CEO Joe Fernandez got back to Scalzi to say, “will admit that it is kind of awesome to be called a dick on CNN.” And:

I think you have some good points in your article how the score can cause unnecessary stress and I am reflecting a lot on the product in terms of how we present that. Goal with Klout has never been to turn the Internet into high school or ruin social media. My vision has always been to help individuals understand the impact they were having on their friends and the web.

Aside from awfully frequent mentions of having started Klout “in my bedroom” (would things be better in his living room?), Fernandez follows such howls as Scalzi’s and Somini Sengupta‘s Times piece, When Sites Drag the Unwitting Across the Web, with a characterization of his service as an attempt to leverage the little guy.

In a fresh post, The Vision Behind Klout (there’s that bedroom again), he writes, “I get why Klout can rub people the wrong way. We are putting scores next to people and that can be initially off-putting.”

Granted, I’d feel better if he’d agree to shoot the designer of Klout’s unfortunate website.

But Fernandez sings such a good aria when cornered, that I believe I detect a faint kloud of regret hovering over the busily irascible Scalzi. There is, it turns out, a human being on the receiving end of those complaints, one who now has the ball squarely in his court. Or bedroom. How Fernandez has Klout reflect these ongoing complaints will be worth watching. After all, he says:

We are not elitist jerks but just a bunch of data nerds passionate about understanding the impact of every person online.


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A burnt bridge is hard to cross (thus spake Fortune, Cookie)

As of late, we’ve seen a lot of hoo-ha and fol-de-rol about “legacy” publishing and self-publishing. We’ve seen words like “house slave” and, I dunno, something about frogs and monkeys sexually assaulting one another?…Some of the voices think that all this is a-okay and that tone doesn’t matter (a curious exhortation when made by a writer, a person for whom words and tone should matter)…You know what? Hell with ‘em. Stop listening. Stop paying attention. Stop shining lights in dark corners. Let the cults tend to their leaders…The loudest of those voices are swiftly becoming irrelevant — they keep saying the same things ad nauseum. They have one trick up a well-worn sleeve.

Signing off as Little Chuckie Wendig, Age 8-and-a-half, one of the most colorfully expressive of our upheaving community, manages to defuse some of the vanities we saw bonfire-ing on last week’s Ether in his write, Toxic Tempers and Fevered Egos in Publishing.

Will Entrekin gets a hand on the baton, too, in There’s No Such Thing As The Publishing Debate, writing “Many people seem to think that people’s preferences are an affront to their own.”

And then here’s David P. Vandagriff in Meet the New Publishing. Same as the Old Publishing? with an interesting observation from Julia Barrett:

Authors who already have familiar names, big followings and big back lists are crowding out the little guy. And they are signing contracts with Amazon, which may become the next Big Six all on its own. To be honest, it almost seems like business as usual. The difference is that the people who were making money with New York are now making money from self-pubbed books, while telling the rest of us we can do the same thing. No, we can’t, not on that scale.

Dean Wesley Smith refers to Michael Stackpole‘s piece, Degrees of Slavery (from November 1) about his use of “house slave” as a term for a traditionally published author. Smith goes on to write The New World of Publishing: 95% of All Authors Will Never Indie Publish, keyed on a conversation in which a publisher told him, “I’m still in business because ninety-seven percent of authors are not as aggressive about digital as you are.”

I find Laura Anne Gilman‘s Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 45 typical of many bloggers’ posts, their patience with the battle running out fast.

Many people have been choosing up sides between “self-published” or “traditional” publishing.  And the language thrown between the two is getting fierce, with both sides attacked for their perceived failures…May I be a voice of disgustingly calm (meerkattish) practicality? Sit down, shut up, and cool off. If you’re so busy yelling that Your Way is the One True Way, you’re missing the really amazing thing that’s happening.

It’s that evangelical urge that’s the problem. I like the cautionary tone in author Catherine Ryan Howard ‘s post at Steven Lewis’ Taleist: Self-publishers need to start minding their manners.

If self-publishers don’t buck up and start acting professionally, if we waste these opportunities that have been handed to us on a plate, if we insist on taking advantage of the situation without keeping up our end of the bargain–producing quality content–then we’re going to get sent back to the kid’s table. And I can assure you, there are no opportunities there.


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Brian and Don started it

I’ve been very excited to see some attention being paid to publishing industry associations, due to a series of posts by industry consultants Brian O’Leary and Don Linn (here, here, and here)… En route they serve up some plain words in three areas regarding shortcomings of existing industry associations. A number of these points I don’t buy, certainly not with respect to the group I’m leading, the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). But they are valuable feedback and I hope lead to some further discussion.

In try it harder, Bill McCoy, for IDPF’s part, responds to several points in Brian O’Leary and Don Linn‘s timely, progressive comments, referred to in last week’s Ether. And he goes on to create a separate EPUB 3: preliminary report card as a sidebar. Meanwhile, Firebrand’s Fran Toolan also contributes a thoughful, insightful commentary, Our Challenge is Disruption Itself. Taking the longer view on how the industry has reached its current crisis, he hears his dad saying to him as a kid, “Play the ball, don’t let the ball play you!”

The problems we are facing today are but the latest in a constant surge of disruption that has been going on for at least 30 years. Since the early-to-mid 1980’s improvements in computer hardware and software have radically changed the throughput of published materials from author to reader… It’s ludicrous that to be involved in the technology end of the book industry, you need to be a member of five or six trade organizations. I say it’s time we get all of these groups to huddle together, pool their resources, and get back to work on fielding the grounder that we all face: disruption itself.


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New independence in Book Country

What is really exciting about digital books and digital publishing is that you can have an ongoing relationship with the reader. Serialized content is possible, short content  between books is possible. It creates a longer-form engagement with your audience. We’re at a really exciting moment and we have been for a while. There’s an opportunity to find writers – whether they’ve self published or workshopped their books on Book Country – and open up the possibility for publishing more books.

That’s Molly Barton, talking with Digital Book World’s Jeremy Greenfield about her promotion to Penguin’s Global Digital Director and the rollout of the self-publishing component of Penguin’s online genre fiction community, Book Country.

Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent, noting HarperCollins’ launch last month of Authonomy, its own digital imprint, sums up the rationale behind major publishers’ digital moves this way:

While Penguin is unlikely to pick up almost any of the authors publishing on Book Country and offer them traditional contracts (Authonomy has done so a few times), it is keeping these authors close and engaged with its brand and is turning them into an additional revenue stream. And if it is in search of new genre fiction authors, it knows where to look first.

For Book Country writer-members, reported by DBW to number nearly 4,000, Barton says, “We’re at a point in the industry where there’s an understanding that there are multiple paths forward for author…You don’t have to drive around with books in the back of your Subaru.”

I went to university in Bath, England. It’s now home for  TheFutureBook’s Sam Missingham, who took this grand Somerset shot.

And as Penguin invites authors to drive themselves digital, Faber and Faber and Faber CEO Stephen Page Answers crowdsourced questions for Sam Missingham‘s The Future Book. Here he is on the ever delicate subject of old skill sets and new digital demands inside a traditional publishing house:

Do all editors have to develop digital imaginations and skills? …Many editors are strong on taste, fewer these days on the vital skill of improving the text. I believe that these are the central roles of editors. So I celebrate the limits of traditional editing culture. However, if some editors can adapt to bring their flair into a digital world so much the better. If they struggle with it, they are not suddenly of less worth, but you will have to have structures and expertise around the taste/text hub to support the more diverse needs of the publishing if you are going to tolerate (as you must I believe) editors of great skill who don’t happen to excel at digital imaginings.


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But if you publish it yourself, will they come? 

I talk to writers every day who are thinking about publishing their own books..Whatever the reason, there’s one objection I hear more than any other from these writers: “I just want to write, I’m not a salesman.” And that’s too bad. I think this attitude represents a real misunderstanding on the part of authors.

Joel Friedlander, whose BookDesigner.com is a dependable hub of information for self-publishers, gets at the question Should Authors be Salespeople? in this guest post at Lillie Allman’s site.

In case you missed it, our own #JaneFriedman, surely a hashtag unto herself, offers a solid round of options in terms of putting bucks behind your book, in How Should You Spend Your Book Marketing Budget?, emphasis mine.

Don’t spend a dime until you know who you’re trying to sell to…If you have your own website or e-mail newsletter list (or other channel), then you “own” some part of your audience. You have the attention of a specific group of people who are already interested in your work. It might be desirable to invest in growing that “owned” audience, or you could improve the materials you use to market to them.


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Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in contracts

I was recently asked if it’s commonplace for trade book publishers to have confidentiality language in their contract boilerplate. The short answer is no, but as this answer is appended by many qualifications, I hope you’ll stick around to hear them… By the nature of the relationship between authors and publishers, it’s clear that confidentiality doesn’t sit comfortably. For one thing, a publisher’s contract boilerplate is general if not public knowledge. And as for specific terms, though there is seldom any legal obligation to hold them confidential, it often serves publisher, author, or both not to disclose them. An author who reveals that his publisher granted him an exception to an ironclad policy, or paid him an unprecedented advance, will embarrass his publisher.

Agent Richard Curtis packs a lot of perspective into a small space in Publishing Confidential. And Rachelle Gardner, a frequent flyer on the Ether because she’s a dependably author-helpful blogging agent, picks up on how to handle confidentiality clauses in (good headline) What NOT to Blog About.

This one seems obvious, but many authors don’t realize how many things are covered in their contract and hence are subject to the contract’s confidentiality clause. Any of the following are typically off-limits for discussion (public or otherwise) unless you have your publisher’s permission to disclose.

  • Amount of your advance
  • Advance payout schedule
  • Royalty rates
  • Author buyback discount
  • Number of free author copies you receive
  • Anything else specifically covered in your contract!


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How social are these media?

In Guy LeCharles Gonzalez‘ latest recitative, he tells Marian Schembari that her Digital Marketer Interviews are not about digital marketing.

As a pragmatic skeptic from Day One, I’ve been heartened to see the hype around social media giving way to more practical discussions about where it fits into the overall mix, and the acknowledgement that it’s neither a magic bullet nor one-size-fits-all. I love that Google seems like it finally understands social – as a complement to search rather than a competitor, and I’m anxious to see how Google+ evolves over the next 6-12 months.

Plus a palate cleanser. Among many good presentations at the O’Reilly Media / Federated Media Publishing Web 2.0 conference, Christopher Poole outlined a serious social issue in, to paraphrase Irving Goffman, “the presentation of self in everyday online life.”  Here’s the video in which Poole tells us:

It’s not who you share with, it’s who you share as.


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If music be the food of literature

You may have noticed I’m usually tweeting one killer bit or another of contemporary classical music as it streams across the effluvia from NPR affiliate Q2 Music in New York. A writer who shares my passion for serious music in writing is Roz Morris, author of the musically toned “My Memories of a Future Life.” Morris has started The Undercover Soundtrack, a series of guest posts from writers for whom music is important. And this time it’s author Nick Green on Jon Anderson and Vangelis.

I wonder if, with the rise of ebooks, we’ll soon be enjoying novels with their own soundtracks. In the case of my first children’s novel, The Cat Kin, the soundtrack actually preceded it. In terms of the story, I was going for something like the TV dramas I used to love as a child, where each episode would push you nearer the edge of your seat, and your heart further into your mouth, before hitting you with the end titles and theme music.

Per your first comment, Nick: Booktracks.

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Gaffe of the week

Amazing. 2 days ago FB deactivated my page saying they didn’t believe I was me. I had to send a photo of my passport page. THEN… they said yes, I was me, but insisted I use the name Ahmed which appears before Salman on my passport and which I have never used…NOW… They have reactivated my FB page as ‘Ahmed Rushdie,’ in spite of the world knowing me as Salman. Morons.

“Our collective exasperation worked!” writes Alexis Madrigal in an update to Facebook Tells Salman Rushdie He Has to Go By His Given Name, Ahmed Rushdie. The aforementioned “morons” relented and have allowed Salman Rushdie to assume his public identity once more.


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Even in a buffa, there will be blood 

Another month of beating my head against sales and promotion when I’d rather be beating my head against words on the page. Another month of wrangling with production tools that, to say the least, don’t play to my strength. Another month of refining my new entrepreneurial model of selling my words directly to the world at large…I can’t stress enough how much I’ve had to drag myself kicking and screaming to this. For me, spending a working day on production or promotion is like spending a day in the dentist’s chair.

In a series of painfully honest monthly posts for Writer Unboxed, author John Vorhaus is embodying a character we don’t see much these days on the publishing pageant wagon. In Good Ol’ Dead Tree, Vorhaus—formerly “a budding novelist with a big-time publisher”—plays out this grimmer subplot for us with a sad, cobblestone candor.Not much validation, he says, in a $26.75 monthly check from Amazon.

No, he’s not a wily author-Scapino gaily outwitting the gouty Big Six buffoons. He’s anything but. And this is why I believe it behooves all of us to watch carefully as he delivers this darker, difficult scene. John Vorhaus is not the entr’acte. He’s a valid part of the show, too.


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Porter Anderson

Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, and a producer and consultant formerly with the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome and INDEX: Design to Improve Life in Copenhagen. As a journalist, he has worked with media including CNN, the Village Voice, and the Dallas Times Herald. He reviews literary fiction at Reader Unboxed, and is based in Tampa.

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