Writing on the Ether: A Digital Dogfight

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iStockphoto / luderPt

A digital dogfight
FutureBook 2011 in London: Publishing in the pink
Like a sieve: The Hachette Memorandum
Tour d’Amazonia, Part 1: “Lock up your children!”
Tour d’Amazonia, Part 2: Price-checking and knee-jerking?
Tour d’Amazonia, Part 3: Dr. Shatzkin, I presume?
Tour d’Amazonia, Part 4: ‘Vaporise’ this
Tour d’Amazonia, Part 5: And it shall be agency-priced
eBooks, Part 1: A ‘digital backdraft’
eBooks, Part 2: Guy asks a couple of pricey questions
eBooks, Part 3: Marketing vs. discovery vs. what is it?
eBooks, Part 4: “Dan Brown books with recipes
eBooks, Part 5: A startup of startups
Publishers and libraries, Part 1: OverDrive under the bus?
Publishers and libraries, Part 2: An alternate view
Publishers and libraries, Part 3: ALA in the bleak midwinter
Book Country: Some still call it a rogue state
Blog Sommelier: Twitter vs. the Begats
His holiday: Shopping the Man-Cave
In the tweet seats: How about some power outlets?

A digital dogfight

Propellers spinning, exhaust plumes curling, wings tipped at disastrous angles. Rat-a-tat-a-tat. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. Shut up, Bieber. I mean Bieba. (Did he just sing, “I am a poor boy, too?” Very little drumma in him, if you ask me.) Fa-la-la-la-flame-outs on all sides! Get your goggles on and don’t let that scarf get caught in any spokes, Isadora.

We are surely dive-bombing into the gutbucket of publishing’s agonies now, Santa. I mean Santer. Get some guns mounted on that sleigh, ol’ bro.

Faber & Faber’s Stephen Page addresses FutureBook 2011 / Photo by Charles Catton

Yo, Britannia rules wavy-grainy glimpses of ambered FutureBookings. No rose-colored glasses needed, the whole room is Piaf-pink and I regret nothing, damn it, Edith, except not being able to be there in person this year. We all look better under pink light.

Et sacre bleu, who let Hachette’s chat out of the tote bag? Wouldn’t you love to know how many of them it’s taking to write that leaky memo-in-progress? Mon Dieu somebody introduce them to an author.

Not you, Konrath, sit back down.

And could the drumma-beats out of Amazonia get any louda? Well, good tidings, this just in: Reuters says “Publishers have reached a kind of peace for now in their often stormy relationships with Internet giants like Amazon and Google.” Who knew? End of major combat operations. And here we were all dressed up like fighter pilots. Especially George. Kick back, let somebody else eat your lunch, for a change.

If you need me, I’ll be out Price-Check-apping a few items for Jeff Bezos. He asked me to get on that pronto, because, cara, we’re now in Italy, check it out: Amazon.itKindle: dispositivo di lettura wireless, schermo da 6″ a inchiostro elettronico, Wi-Fi

(Shh. We haven’t told Jeff yet that the Internet doesn’t work in Italy. Neither does the electricity, gas, water, Metro, or government.)

Allora, Mr. Bezos already bought himself the Black and Decker Trapano Avvitatore Asl148Kb to put his Christmas presents together quickly. Casa e cucina. Leaves more time to read those 450 books he just picked up. Libri per bambini

See? Now we know what that new bit of branding on the Amazon site means: Holiday Flurry Deals Week. I could have sworn on Monday during Missingham’s literary sortie in London that the same spot on the page said Battle of Britain.

It’s OK, flyboys and girls, you’ve come to the right place.  I’ll just need access to your 1-Click settings. Perfect. Thank you. Ether is so calming, isn’t it? Inhale and count backward from ten. You’re getting sleepy, aren’t you? Good. Jeff and I have our eyes on a nice little publishing house for your present this year, you’ll love it.

Oh, yeah, the Cavendish buy included “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” you know. Merry bundling to all. And to all a good Scrivere sullo Ether.


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FutureBook 2011 in London: Publishing in the pink

One by one, at FutureBook 2011, publishers declared what their true focus was going to be from now on, what their strengths would have to be for them to flourish after the digital transition.

That’s Baldur Bjarnason writing up his FutureBook 2011 Impressions: New publisher business models from Monday’s Brit-side confab.

And here I’d imagined that Sam Missingham‘s one-day FutureBook / BookSeller conference in London would have to be held by lantern light underground as the Evil Redmond Luftwaffe (“Our Friends in Seattle” in bunker-speak) strafed the abandoned high street faux-Tudor bookstores above.

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Blitzed by change as the industry is, all our brave boys and girls returning from the one-day fray say the event glowed with an upbeat, gutsy tone and a great deal of pink on the backdrop behind the speakers. As Philip Jones writes in Live at FutureBook 2011:

Stephen Page (Faber and Faber) rocked the keynotes with his honest and open-minded approach to discussing what publishing is now all about: connecting the author to the reader. Evan Schnittman (Bloomsbury) was knowingly controversial, advocating that the industry needed print books in order to survive, and that it should go about enhancing p, rather than e. Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks) was typically honest in her assessment of how publishers needed to evolve in order to retain their authors and grow their customers: be parents of the future.

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My own favorite envoy to the gathering, in fact, tells me that things “over there” on the other side of the pond from our North American bower are “more interesting than in the US right now,” not least because our UK colleagues are “skipping lots of errors we made” here in the States.

So wise.

At Ed Nawotka’s Publishing Perspectives, Sophie Rochester positions the question of FutureBook’s day as What is the ‘New’ Publisher? in part by telling us of canny comments from John Mitchinson, of the crowd-funding publishing house we’re all watching, Unbound. (The emphasis is mine.)

Mitchinson said that Unbound has the ability to move much more quickly than traditional publishers and claimed that a book can feasibly be funded and published within two weeks. He also noted that publishers were making publishing decisions based on “what the retailer wants to sell” rather than what the reader wants to buy. The new world order, according to Mitchinson, is catering directly to readers. “It’s an incredibly powerful feeling when you start to connect directly with readers,” he said. He added that Unbound’s 50/50 profit share was fairer to the author than deals offered by conglomerate publishers.

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Laurence Kaye quickly produced a crisp set of Reflections on yesterday’s ‘FutureBook’ conference that includes:

Publishers need to focus on building brands, with multiple products across every platform. (Charlie Redmayne, CEO., Pottermore). (Sounds more like the entertainment business than publishing? You bet it does!).

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From Roger Tagholm, also for Publishing Perspectives, several quick bits in UK Publishers Seek ‘Most Thrilling Outcome for Readers and Writers’:

  • “At Faber we have banned the phrase ‘I bought a book.’ What we like to say now is that we have licensed a copyright.” – Stephen Page
  • There was much interest in hearing from UK newcomer Kobo, whose Vendor Manager Lindsey Mooney revealed the kind of stats that its main competitor would never reveal. “Our price sweet spot for content is between £4 and £4.99, and this drops off above £9.99… and although the device has only been on sale for two weeks, it has already outstripped sales for our wireless reader for the whole year. The strongest sales time is between 8 and 12 p.m. and 30% of users read on more than one device.”
  • Most telling of all was a pie-chart from BML which showed that 59% of consumers (4,000 book buyers were polled) bought their e-books from Amazon during August this year, with just 14% choosing the nearest rival, the iBookstore.

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And while the #futurebook event kept the tweeterie hashtagging all day Monday with heave-ho optimism—we’ll gather lilacs in the spring again—I want us to be prudent enough to return to Bjarnason’s level head for a careful word of caution about the transition at hand before we sound the all-clear:

Many publishers will collapse because their current revenue isn’t enough to fund their transformation (or falls too fast) and they fail to develop new revenue streams in time.

Be sure to see Jones’ write-up here on FutureBook’s Innovation Award winners, named late in the day as the sunset vied with the backdrop. FutureBook was attended by more than 550 people and is the UK’s largest digital publishing conference.

From Sam Missingham, a Twitter list of speakers at FutureBook 2011.

From Joanna Penn, this roundup blog post, FutureBook Conference Report: Takeaways for Writers, in which she writes:

Discoverability was the buzzword of the conference and clearly an obsession for publishers. How can people discover more books?…From an author perspective, I believe this is what we are also concerned about. How will people find my book on Amazon and not someone elses? Discoverability starts with awareness and moves through attention and desire before action is taken to buying a book… Personally, if I see a tweet recommending a book or from an author I network with, I immediately download the sample to my Kindle. If there’s no ebook, it’s a lost sale and I think I’m typical of the digital ‘heavy‘ reader market.

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Like a sieve: The Hachette Memorandum

Self-publishing is a misnomer. Publishing requires a complex series of engagements, both behind the scenes and public facing. Digital distribution (which is what most people mean when they say self-publishing) is just one of the components of bringing a book to market and helping the public take notice of it. As a full service publisher, Hachette Book Group offers a wide array of services to authors.

Regular Ethernauts will recall—how could you forget?—that I frequently lament how loathe the Big Six publishers are to speak officially, publicly, substantively to various fits and starts in our upended industry. This week’s utterance was hardly a hi-how-are-you? from Big Sixer Hachette, but was presented as a leaked document-in-progress by Digital Book World’s Jeremy Greenfield in Leaked: Hachette Document Explains Why Publishers Are Relevant

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And as that document goes on to list ways in which traditional publishing can support authors, an interesting read for its apparent look at the offices working on their rationale, the other side is heard from in J.A. Konrath Responds to Hachette Document: Advice to Publishers – comments that self-publishing cheerleader Joe Konrath has supplied DBW in response to Hachette (with whom Konrath has published at times). In part, Konrath writes:

Publishers should stop trying to convince themselves and others that they’re relevant, and start actually being relevant. Here’s how: 1. Offer much better royalties to authors. 2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week. 3. Use up-to-date accounting methods that are trackable by the author, and pay royalties monthly.

More is at Digital Book World.

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Tour d’Amazonia, Part 1: “Lock up your children!”

With the release of its color-screened, picture-book-friendly Kindle Fire, Amazon is expanding into publishing books for a new audience: Kids. To start, the company’s publishing division is acquiring over 450 children’s books published by the U.S. division of Marshall Cavendish—but it won’t end there… Amazon’s still-unnamed children’s imprint will be based in New York City under Larry Kirshbaum, the publishing industry vet who joined Amazon this spring to launch an East Coast division…“We will continue to publish these books in their handsome print editions,” he said in a statement, “and we think customers will love reading these books—most of them never available before digitally—with their families, using the brilliant color touchscreen on the Kindle Fire.”

That’s Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent in Kids on Kindle: Amazon Starts Publishing Children’s Books with the kind of news that brings Americans and Europeans closer together, as Owen’s colleague Ingrid Lunden reports Amazon’s Kindle Fire Could Be Going International Sooner Rather Than Later  ” Amazon’s Kindle Fire today is only on sale in the U.S., but according to one report that Fire could be spreading to the UK as soon as January of next year.”

In his delightfully titled Lock up your children: Amazon has bought a publisher, Philip Jones picks up on the news and logs in several good questions.

I dislike the term but Amazon’s acquisition of 450 children’s titles from Marshall Cavendish is a game-changer. It suggests that Amazon will stop at nothing in order to have good exclusive content for its new tablet Kindle Fire, and that its publishing ambitions are very very big… First, has anyone asked the authors if they want to be published by Amazon?… Second, this is of course all about digital and Kindle Fire… Third…will the digital deal be exclusive to the Kindle?… Fourth, there are serious rumours that the Kindle Fire will launch in the UK just after Christmas … every UK children’s publisher is also now an acquisition target …(and) so is every other publisher.

We heard a lot at the FutureBook Conference 2011 of how publishers needed to prove their worth, and there was a general sense of optimism that they were up for that challenge. The Amazon Marshall Cavendish deal makes it even more urgent.

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Tour d’Amazonia, Part 2: Price-checking and knee-jerking?

Judging by the reaction to this, you would think that Amazon representatives are walking into independent bookstores and ripping books out of shoppers’ hands.

Owen at paidContent comes by to hose everybody down in Stop Freaking Out About Amazon’s Price Check App.

She’s not supported by everyone in her assessment. I’ll give you a snootful of another view a bit lower, stay with me.

What one publishing observer has called “a dick move” is Amazon’s plan to use its Price Check mobile app on Saturday to have shoppers do price-comparisons in brick-and-mortar stores with those on Amazon. There’s up to $5 off on up to three items for participants “in eligible categories, including electronics, toys, music, sporting goods and DVDs.”

While our publishing pals dragged out their store-bought sabers to rattle, Owen produced some prudent points to remember, including:

  • “Amazon’s Price Check App Isn’t New, And Neither Are Price-Check Apps In General.
  • “Books Aren’t Included In This Promotion, But Even If They Were, It Wouldn’t Change Anything. (A good point from Guy Gonzalez: Books are certainly scanable during Saturday’s promotion, there’s simply no discount offered on them.)
  • “Only Big-Box Shoppers Or Jerks Are Going To Take Advantage Of This Promotion.
  • “Amazon Is Already Collecting A Ton Of Competitors’ Pricing Data.
  • “The Publishing Community Must Pick Its Battles Against Amazon.”

Each of these points is fleshed out in Owen’s piece. Have a look and see if it calms you or sends you back out to a terrestrial war paint shop.

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For more views, as promised, on the Saturday price scanning and on the Cavendish purchase, there’s Judith Rosen ‘s write at Publisher’s Weekly, Booksellers Unhappy With Amazon’s Latest Moves .

Other (booksellers) like Kenny Brechner of Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, ME, are angry. He calls Amazon’s new price check app “the virtual equivalent of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil gas station strategy” and regards its acquisition of Marshall Cavendish as “a naked move toward vertical monopoly.”

For Christine Onorati, owner of WORD Books in Brooklyn, “It’s very hard not to constantly rail against Amazon as the enemy. I believe they are killing small business by undercutting everyone and constantly drilling home the point that price is all that matters. I have never ordered much from Marshall Cavendish in the past, but I will definitely not order anything from them in the future. We have to take a stand however we can. I will also not order any books published by Amazon right now.”

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Tour d’Amazonia, Part 3: Dr. Shatzkin, I presume?

Number one: Amazon is, by far, the most book-industry-focused company that is actually active in endeavors much larger than the book business.

Number two: Amazon executes. Their hardware and software and platforms and content delivery all work just about perfectly.

Number three: Amazon is the runaway market leader in the only two segments of the book business that are growing — ebooks and the online purchasing of print — and they are cleverly leveraging the leadership position they have to make challenging them even more difficult in the future.

Now we’re hearing from my favorite “baseball uber alles” obsessive. (Mike, I have a book for your Christmas list, The Art of Fielding.) Mike Shatzkin steps up with an extensively developed picture of why Competing with Amazon is not an easy thing to do.

Needless to say, those who already are on hair-trigger alert to lash out at the online giant’s every swing won’t enjoy one of Shatzkin’s finer points: Amazon’s “brilliance at acquiring companies that might have provided platforms to cause them trouble.”

He concludes with a clarifying summation of the daunting task ahead:

There is really only one way for publishers to compete with Amazon for authors in the future and that’s to find book customers Amazon doesn’t have, either by working through other retailers or by creating direct publisher-to-customer contact. The percentage of sales which go to Amazon is the single most important barometer of a book publishing company’s future. Of course, every publisher wants to make their Amazon sales grow. Their challenge is to make other sales grow faster.

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Tour d’Amazonia, Part 4: ‘Vaporise’ this

When an analyst uses the word “vaporise” to describe what a tablet is going to do, it gets our attention. That’s what Evercore Partners’ Robert Cihra did in describing the effect of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which hit stores in November. Cihra believes the Kindle Fire “may just vaporise other ‘for profit’ Android tablet(s),” to say nothing of the non-Android tablets.

Lucas Shaw, in Kindle Fire will ‘vaporise’ Android , writes that analyst Cihra predicts the Kindle Fire “will make up 50 percent of Android tablet sales in 2012.”

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Tour d’Amazonia, Part 5: And it shall be agency-priced

(The book) is not authorized by Amazon, but Little, Brown executive editor John Parsley said in a statement that Stone would draw upon his “unprecedented access and 14 years covering tech companies.” Parsley says Stone, who’s a former technology reporter for The New York Times, will provide a “fly-on-the-wall narrative.”

An un-bylined Associated Press story picked up by the Washington Post tells us Amazon.com, the country’s largest online bookseller, will itself be subject of book in 2013. Author Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek is doing the honors. No word on whether that “fly in the wall” is a Prime member.

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eBooks, Part 1: A ‘digital backdraft’

In traditional book distribution, retailer/storefront are not one and the same as book distribution. In digital publishing, Byzantine distribution chains simply collapse.  While publishers still exert enough market influence through control of the lion’s share of digital publishing rights (for now) of many popular authors to force Amazon and others to accept agency pricing, over time, this influence will wane, particularly as authors themselves increasingly choose to publish through those places that own the customer, which will be, in the end, the big storefronts.

Michael Wolf, in his article touting a full report, E-book market forecast to hit $5.2B as the book industry burns, describes what he sees as the singular speed with which sales in the publishing context are changing.

Of all the markets I’ve followed in my decade-plus as a consumer analyst, I’ve never seen a market changing faster than the digital publishing market of today, where the sudden love of e-books has created a “digital backdraft” that has set the entire publishing industry value chain aflame.

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eBooks, Part 2: Guy asks a couple of pricey questions

I’ve been a bit uncomfortable with the ebook pricing strategy where complete novels are selling for less than $2.99. Lately, though, my opinion on that is softening as even at $.99, an author is getting paid something while potentially getting the kind of exposure blogs used to promise with little chance of any profit at all. While I still think selling an entire novel at $.99 is crazy and devalues the creative effort involved, there’s something to be said for selling short stories and serialized novels at that price.

In a casual post on Google+, Random Thought: Inexpensive, self-published ebooks are the new blogs?, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez gets beyond his initial query to ask a couple of questions to which many of us may have answers we could contribute. Drop a note in the comments if you do.

Have you ever picked up an inexpensive ebook that turned you onto a new author and made you a fan, willing to pay premium prices for more of their work?

Once someone ropes you in at $.99, is that their ceiling forever after?

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eBooks, Part 3: Marketing vs. discovery vs. what is it?

I’ll often hear from authors and publishers concerned that free books devalue books.  They fear readers will be conditioned to demand free and won’t pay.  This isn’t the case.  Authors who don’t utilize low price points for some of their catalog are missing out on the biggest, most underutilized marketing secret.

I’m not sure I agree with Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, on that assertion, part of his Pricing Strategies for Ebooks at the Savvy Book Marketer. I worry, as Gonzalez’s questions above make me think he worries, that there is a devaluation happening here. Maybe not for an individual author, in Coker’s view (understandably Smashwords-biased, let’s remember), but for the wider market.

Smashwords survey graphic
Smashwords Survey on MobileReads / September 2011

If anything, an interesting part of an unscientific survey Coker did and covered in Rethinking Book Marketing: Why Discovery Matters More shows up on this wheel of results: only 5 percent of those asked seem to have said “I read free ebooks, and if I like the author(s), I buy their other titles.” Confirmed by Coker’s commentary: “A small portion of readers read free books first, and if your book makes them happy, they will seek out your other titles to purchase.”

Coker is good about explaining flaws in his little survey, run online (only) at MobileReads. But if there’s any reflection of wider sentiment here, it’s interesting that all this noisy “give it away!” or “sell it for a song!” dumping of authors’ lives works for a pittance may not be returning as much readership/patronage as one might think.

Coker draws conclusions including these:

  • Readers trust their online communities more than immediate friends and family.
  • The author is the brand, and brand matters – The #2 method of discovery, cited by 18 percent of respondents, was readers searching for books from their favorite authors
  • Random browsing is big…27 percent of reader answers relate to random discovery.

All in all, I’m happier with his comment on serializing, in the Pricing Strategies piece:

Some authors try to game pricing by breaking a full length novel into multiple shorter serialized chunks or series novellas, but this strategy usually fails.  Such tricks jeopardize reader trust.

I don’t even have an informal survey to fall back on. But my impression from authors I know who have tried a serial effort is that there’s a danger of tiring readers with sequential releases of portions of books. In Dickens’ day, the reading English public wasn’t bombarded by anything like as many seductive entertainment options as our readers are today. “Dickens did it!” then. I wonder if he could do it now.

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eBooks, Part 4: “Dan Brown books with recipes

“The consumer sort of slightly shrugs his shoulders and says: ‘Well, that’s marvelous but that’s not something I’m going to pay for very much,'” Penguin Chief Executive John Makinson told the Reuters Global Media Summit. As an example, he said Penguin had created an e-book of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice enhanced with clips from the Hollywood movie with Keira Knightley, as well as recipes and dance moves from the period, to no avail…Hachette CEO Arnaud Nourry agreed that readers of e-books had proven conservative so far. “Customers do not want these enriched things that we are talking about all day,” he said. “I don’t think we would have sold more Dan Brown books with recipes.”

Perhaps with some confusion of the terms “ebook” and “enhanced ebook,” Reuters’ Georgina Prodhan and Leila Abboud report Publishers warm to e-books on their own terms. There is, at times, something instructive in seeing mainstream media, rather than trade outlets, report on issues. While the outlines of various issues are simplified here, the report yields some nuggets:

Publishers have reached a kind of peace for now in their often stormy relationships with Internet giants like Amazon and Google, who were largely responsible for bringing the digital revolution to the world of books… Penguin and Hachette seemed to have mellowed in their attitude to their one-time foes.

However quaint that pacific characterization of things may seem, note that here we have two Big Six chiefs talking on the record, and making some interesting noises, although Reuters isn’t very sharp on the differences of Amazon lending, to libraries and to Prime members.

Here’s Hachette’s Nourry on Amazon’s Prime Lending plan: “It’s not that I am against libraries, or a book being sold and then read by 10 different people, but it’s clearly a way invented by retailers to change the balance of power.”

And here’s Penguin’s Makinson, saying that his company will keep talking to Amazon about the lending concept, but “Amazon is embarking on new initiatives that could put file security at risk and that would be not good for anyone.”

And do watch for Nourry saying “I would love to see Google be a stronger animal.” Is this an anything-but-Amazon comment? And should we be careful what we ask for, sir?

Enjoy that “kind of peace.”

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eBooks, Part 5: A startup of startups

Roy Leban, whose startup Puzzazz makes puzzle books for Amazon’s Kindle…said he was surprised — and pleased — to learn that many of the startups in the sector face similar challenges, particularly in dealing with large partners, and in ensuring that they can provide top-quality content to their customers.

Todd Bishop writes  up Can ebooks fuel innovation? Startups explore the potential from Redmond. He quotes Katherine Sears: “If partners such as Amazon and Apple truly want to encourage entrepreneurs, establishing a group focused on emerging business overall would be a great idea.”

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Publishers and libraries, Part 1: OverDrive under the bus?

By attempting to play tactical games with Amazon, publishing is undermining one of their own retail partners; indeed, one that has strived to foster a competitive retail marketplace through the active support of open ebook standards. OverDrive is not explicitly a sales agent for Amazon; they are explicitly a distributor of ebooks for publishers, driving a controlled expansion of the ebook market in a manner that has aided all retailers, and all readers. Whatever the outcome of this struggle, libraries are truly collateral damage. Although I recognize that there is a valid question of whether and how libraries can provide free access to ebooks without deleteriously impacting sales against already thin margins, they not only serve a high social purpose but also could provide a unique storefront for both traditional and self-published literature.

Peter Brantley‘s new take on the square-off between publishers, OverDrive (which distributes books to libraries) and Amazon (which enables library-lent ebooks to patrons) is a rational, and thought-provoking walk-through of the various players’ positions. Living in the Jungle: Amazon and Penguin just doesn’t, as he makes clear, add up.

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Publishers and libraries, Part 2: An alternate view

“If market competition dwindles — for example, if a large bookselling chain is forced to ultimately close its doors — publishing is not left with one or two firms operating out of a commercial technology space for whom content is ancillary. Instead, they also have the ability to conduct business through a very different kind of not-for-profit collective that reaches into nearly every single community in the country — constituting a marketing and distribution model that could be replicated to a great extent internationally.”

Peter Brantley this time, in At the close of the day: The library alternative, envisions libraries in collectives as new stabilizers for publishers in troubled markets.

A collective would explicitly encourage book purchasing. Although “buy links” have been endorsed by some library organizations (including Open Library and OverDrive), this can be integrated at a deeper level. However many copies of a digital book are acquired by the collective and administered for use by the central agency, there will be a deficit of the most attractive titles (which)… will clearly motivate sales of books from publishers or their designated retailers.”

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Publishers and libraries, Part 3: ALA in the bleak midwinter

For libraries, 2011 had its share of lowlights. HarperCollins announced that it was restricting its e-book lending to 26 lends per year. In Kansas, the state library found itself fighting with a vendor to move its e-book collections to a new platform. Three academic publishers went to trial over e-reserve practices at Georgia State University, asking the court for an injunction that observers say could dramatically affect the use of library materials in the educational realm. The Authors Guild is suing HathiTrust, a partnership of some 40 university libraries, over its efforts to scan and preserve millions of out-of-print and orphan works. And along the way, the Google settlement was nixed by a federal court…The coup de grace, however, came just weeks ago, when Penguin, without warning, pulled its new e-books from OverDrive, citing unsubstantiated “security concerns.”

Publishers Weekly’s Andrew Richard Albanese in Off the Shelf sets the icy scene for the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Dallas in late January (about the time the Writers Digest and Digital Book World confabs will be forming their conga lines in Manhattan).

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Book Country: Some still call it a rogue state

It’s the simple fact that the company offering this, Penguin Publishing, has a vested interest in this sort of activity. Consider this: self-publication started up as a way for the author to cut out the middleman of agent and publishing house and do the legwork on their own. This is a publishing house basically inserting itself into the process to make the money off the author as opposed to the reader, and the tradeoff is not worthwhile… You’re still doing the legwork on your own for the other options, for the most part. That‘s the problem here, and that’s what makes it clearly a vanity press as opposed to a legitimate self-pub.

The pixels were barely dry on last week’s Ether section on Book Country when Katherine Gilraine posted her own heated condemnation of the Penguin-owned program, in Book Country by Penguin. Gilraine then seems to offer her own services as an alternative.

I offer document formatting and cover design services as part of KG Creative Enterprises. For $550, I’d not only do both of those but do a read-through of the book and toss up a formal review on the blog and give a signed one for the author to use as part of their press release. Heck, I’d help with the press release. And as part of my business, I make sure, egregiously, that it’s done the way my client likes it.

Gilraine also points to more damning commentary in Gayle Francis Moffet‘s Let’s call this Penguin Publishing thing exactly what it is. This is yet another write in the peculiarly shrill, biting vernacular so many bring to this debate, Moffet writing:

It’s vanity publishing, and it’s disgusting. Not because it’s preying on we poor writers with our hopes and dreams…but because Penguin thinks this will actually work. Penguin thinks that people who self-publish will actually fall for this crap.

Of course, Moffet then goes on to note that people who self-publish have fallen for this “crap.”

If we leave the temperament behind, what’s more important to note in these and other mostly heated reactions to Book Country lies in terminology: many self-publishers may not be out of the woods yet on the “vanity press” term which, technically, probably does apply to an author’s payments for production. Putting out a quality book without professional assistance isn’t viable for many, as Jane Friedman has stated better than most at Writer Unboxed. Even that self-publishing poster guy Joe Konrath lists and recommends his cover artist, ebook designer, print designer, and ebook store builder. If an author’s payment for publishing services constitutes “vanity,” then a great many self-publishers may need to think about coming to terms with the phrase.

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Blog Sommelier: Twitter vs. the Begats

Would you like it if someone you knew walked up to you and your friends, interrupted and said, “Hi, I would like you to meet Sally, Jim, Dave, Martha, Sheila, Jane, Henry, Fabio, Xena, Jack, Naomi, and George”?

“Um nice to meet yo–”

“Oh, and then I also think you should talk to Ursula, Victoria, Derrick, Nancy, Shawn, Kirsten, Beatrice, Larry, and Paula.”

“Well, we were just talking abou–”

“Oooh, and I almost forgot Mary and Thomas and Vernon and Yvette, Ralph, Sarah, Misty, Jojo, Steve, Barry, Patrick, Wayne and Quinton.”‘

Oh, and then Mary says, “Thanks for introducing me to Thomas, Vernon, Yvette, Ralph, Sarah, Misty, Mojo. Steve, Barry, Patrick. Wayne and Quinton.”

“But I–”

“And you simply must meet Ingrid, Shawn, Flip, Skippy, and Lunesta.”

“Yes, but when you interrupted I was actually talking to–”

“Oh, and make sure you become BFFs with Alice, Harry, Inglebert, Ernie, Chad, Frank, and Lulu.”

“I give up. I hate you all.”

That’s Kristen Lamb‘s apt little dramatization this week of the #MM / #WW / #FF  shuffle in Tweetsville each week, in Be a Tweep, Not a Tool Part 2–Beware the #FF Fire Hose. Being a better Texan than I am, she doesn’t go so far (as I will) as to say that if you have to use @ffhelper to find the many strangers whose Twitter handles you shove back and forth on the Ether, then it’s a bit like having to ask the price: you probably can’t afford the illusion of engaged, active followers.

I’m not talking about folks who group together a few genuinely appreciated colleagues, by the way, for a kind mention. That’s appreciated. I’m referring to the many people who seem to think that their purpose on Twitter is to heave armfuls of strangers’ handles at each other to build (meaningless) numbers. The medium really isn’t a name exchange. We want your creativity, contribution, craft. Not your high-school class roster.

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So let me offer you this pairing with one of our community’s fine Californians, the former agent (do not query him) and current CNET czar of social-media rectitude, Nathan Bransford. In How to Network Without Networking, Bransford offers two goodly pieces of advice for lonely Twitter hearts.

Find the people who you like and whose work you genuinely admire, and invest in those people. Become friends with those people. Don’t force it, don’t do it because they’re successful, do it because you like them and actually want to help them out….(And) build something. Building things opens doors. For me it was the blog and the Jacob Wonderbar novels, but other people have built groups or organizations or journals or a Twitter following or any number of things.

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His holiday: Shopping the Man-Cave

Who says men don’t read? Not F+W Media, which is launching the Man-Cave, a virtual “pop-up” holiday bookstore on its online retail site featuring a selection of titles aimed at dudes. All titles are discounted and shoppers can get an additional 15% off with a promotional code. The holiday promotion ends December 14. “Men tend to be the most challenging people to shop for,” according to Bethany Carland-Adams, digital marketer for Adams Media, a division of F+W Media. So F+W has put together a selection of its titles on the Man-Cave focused on subjects men generally like: humor, sports, comics, movies and hobbies. In other words, Carland-Adams said, “manly” stuff like “how to build things, get smarter, woo women, be a father; deal with idiots.”

Publishers Weekly gives us F+W Debuts the Man-Cave, Holiday Bookstore for Guys . Here’s the Man-Cave page at the Adams Media Bookstore.  Imagine if it included, um, literary fiction. Not the same vertical, of course. And it might tip off women  to the fact that men actually read literature. But you didn’t get that from me. This Kindle? PDFs from the office, that’s all.

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In the tweet seats: How about some power outlets?

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) began using tweet seats in September. Chris Pinelo, CSO vice president for communication, said it was successful based on heavy hashtag traffic…”Tweeting the CSO’s performance was like attending a members-only social event in the midst of a traditionally formal setting,” said tweeter Jennifer Nissenbaum, 35, of Dayton. “I could communicate openly about my reactions to the music, musicians and conductor — without speaking a word. Plus, I had the opportunity to engage others, and get their reactions to the performance.”

Kara Rose’s report at USA Today, More theaters reserve seats for tweeters, doesn’t mention that power outlets and strong wi-fi are the next amenities the arts should be offering tweeters for giving them the kind of publicity they can’t afford. In New York at Merkin Concert Hall in the Kaufman Center? Try the balcony. Much better for tweeting than the orchestra seats. Symphony Space downstairs, good all over. At the English National Opera, don’t try it except during intervals; nobody wields the Empire’s Glare like a British opera-goer.

I’ll quote a naysayer for you here from Rose’s story, too.

“Their texting thumbs were moving faster than the violinist’s fingers,” she said. “They would occasionally nudge each other and read what the other person had up on his or her screen. They didn’t even look up to applaud at the end of each selection. The fact that they were watching their handheld devices, they missed out on what was happening on the stage.”

That’s  Irene Friedman, 60, of Oxford , a 30-year subscriber at the CSO, an, I trust, no relation to our own Cincinnati-based #JaneFriedman, hashtag unto herself. And as I told Dan Blank recently, I find that at publishing conferences, I actually get more from what’s going on, not less, when I textually interpret it. So I’d like to tweet to Irene this message:

There’s such a thing as listening, madam, with your fingers. Just as you’re “hearing” me now with your eyes.

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Porter AndersonPorter 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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