WRITING ON THE ETHER: Casting Stones at BEA

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013, Writer Unboxed


Friend Grief and AIDSFriend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends by Victoria Noe

It’s been likened to a plague, but AIDS was never just a health crisis.

The second of a series on grieving the death of a friend, Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends, revisits a time when people with AIDS were also targets of bigotry and discrimination. In stories about Ryan White, ACT UP, the Names Project, red ribbons and more, you’ll learn why friends made all the difference: not just caregiving or memorializing, but changing the way society confronts the medical establishment and government to demand action.

Click here to visit Amazon and download a sample.


Table of Contents

  1. Mission Obvious: Casting Stones at BEA
  2. Equal Opportunity Ego
  3. Too Many Conferences at Once
  4. Highlights of the Day

Mission Obvious: Casting Stones at BEA

I don’t draw a sharp distinction between the kinds of things people inside business think about and the things people outside business think about…I think we’re all coping with the same kinds of issues. My writing deals with challenges that I think are fairly universal…Certainly, the notion, which is explored in this book—that sometimes the most productive learning and achieving environments are those in which significant obstacles are present—is something that’s very, very relevant.

30 May 2013 Stone and Gladwell at IDPF confab

Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek, left, and Malcolm Gladwell at IDPF’s Digital Book 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

Malcolm Gladwell, in those trademark sneakers, was speaking to Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone onstage at IDPF’s Digital Book 2013.

#DigitalBook13, as it’s hashed on Twiiter, is one of the conferences positioned around BookExpo America.

BEA opens its trade-show floor today (Thursday) at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

And at BEA, where there’s an author, there’s a new book.

Gladwell is no exception.

His releases at the top of October, from Hachette.

Best-selling entrepreneurial authors Sylvia Day and Hugh Howey take questions at IDPF's Digital Book 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

Best-selling entrepreneurial authors Sylvia Day and Hugh Howey take questions at IDPF’s Digital Book 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

At IDPF’s (International Digital Publishing Forum) well-attended event on Wednesday, the title of that new book from Gladwell—David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants—couldn’t have fanned the fears of both upstarts and big players in the room if it had been trailing a small drone circling overhead in the Javits’ Special Events Hall.

We’d just heard from Hugh Howey and Sylvia Day, two of the sudden class of entrepreneurial authors who seem to know their way around slingshots and pebbles when it comes to Big Publishing.

The IDPF mission, as described by its able executive director Bill McCoy, is “to advance the global adoption of digital publishing.”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013But, as covered in last week’s Writing on the Ether, Howey and five other self-described Indie Bestsellers taking Booth 966 together at BEA—with more than 8 million copies sold between them to prove their point.

There’s a joint signing today (Thursday) at 1 p.m. ET in the booth (#966) with the whole group: Howey, Bella Andre,Stephanie BondTina Folsom,Barbara Freethy, and CJ Lyons.

Surely, the IDPF mission statement seems something no one still should have to voice.

31 May 2013 Noe book EXCERPT 1Now deep into its digital disruption, US publishing hunkers again this year in its stressed-concrete springtime shrine at 11th Avenue and W. 34th Street.

It is baking in near 90-degree temperatures and basking in its oldest-school sales and distribution patterns.

Once more, bookstore and distribution buyers are supposed to replicate the decades-old rituals, take meetings with publishers’ reps about the new catalogs, sitting at little café tables among gleaming book-cover posters to place orders to fill bookstore shelves…that are waiting…where?

Shoppers long ago learned that Prime means a virtual Amazonian rainforest of titles online.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013, Writer UnboxedAnd nowhere was the new order more evident than in sessions at McCoy’s and Wendy Erman Wels’ conference like the eye-opening interview Digital Book World’s Jeremy Greenfield conducted with these two authors able to sell tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars of books monthly—without a publisher.

Here’s Hugh Howey, whose final installment in his runaway dire-dystopian Wool trilogy, Dust, comes out August 17:

Waiting for an agent to come to me was the best thing … rather than begging and taking whichever one said “yes.” 

 


31 May 2013 Noe book EXCERPT 2While his book doesn’t deal per se with publishing’s ongoing struggles with transition, Gladwell put his finger on one of the most intriguing elements of how publishing continues to hold out.

Using the concept of “affective forecasting” from psychology and economics, Gladwell talked Wednesday of common (but usually incorrect) predictions of happiness.

For example, there’s winning the lottery and other such popularly vaunted accomplishments.

People who go to Harvard always overestimate the importance of going to Harvard.

31 May 2013 Noe book EXCERPT 3Stone picked up on this, phrasing what the industry! the industry! is facing:

A beleaguered paranoia that they (books and their ecosystem) might go away. This is a world where ebooks are 30 percent, and might someday be 70 percent.

Gladwell took this onboard, but said the irony is that publishing doesn’t face an industry crisis, but “a crisis over particular skills”—namely editing and marketing, “which are hard to master and in demand.”

In 10 years, best-selling authors will [still] need marketers and editors…Good marketers and editors will find a way to be relevant…[And in reference to Amazon], there’s always a pendulum that swings between disintermediation and massive intermediation.

Someone always says “Why do we need the middle man?” The pendulum always swings in that direction.

Then after a while, the buyer says, “It’s so complicated, I’m overwhelmed. Can’t I just have my middleman back?”

And each time the pendulum swings, people assume it will never swing back.

Back to Table of Contents

Equal Opportunity Ego

Using the example from his book of Manhattan parents’ obsession with getting kids into private schools (the value of which “exists only in the minds of the parents”), Gladwell stepped us right past mere affective prediction to actual, present-day hubris.

31 May 2013 Noe book EXCERPT 4Best of all, he got us there not just in regards to publishing’s cold-dead-hands grip on an outmoded business model, but on the part of our brightest-young-things’ so-social self-congratulatory skills:

People involved in the digital world always like to pretend that what they have invented is more than a process. Right?…They want to pretend it’s a way of life. They use the word “philosophy.”

Warming to his moment, Gladwell went straight for the jugular of the avatar-ed digital leadership, getting a huge laugh and round of applause from IDPF’s hundreds of attendees. With elegantly mounting exasperation, he recalled an award ceremony speech he heard given by Jack Dorsey, one of Twitter’s fab four and CEO of the mobile-payments company Square:

[Dorsey’s] speech was all about how…he wanted to change the world…[With] Square?…it’s simply another credit card. The guy who founded Diner’s Club or MasterCard 30 years ago did not stand up and give a speech like they were Mahatma Gandhi.

 

 

 

Where Gladwell might have struck some real, if gentle, digital-age terror into publishers’ hearts was in his comments about post-digital music. And he did it by drawing a deep line between the needs of the industry and the needs of the reader. He said the labels lost, the artists lost, as digitally disrupted music-industry structures and strictures fell:

But all I see is people listening to music. So in the strict sense, music won…[And] I don’t think you can look at that and say it’s evidence of the system failing. All these questions are ultimately about one person: the consumer, right?

The reason we write books is not for our own personal satisfaction. It’s because we want to reach people with them. Music has massively succeeded at that task…

If I saw as many people reading as currently are listening to music, I’d be the happiest man in the world…The appetite for good books is not diminished. It’s expanding.

31 May 2013 Noe book EXCERPT 5Gladwell also handily yanked down the publishers’ favorite whipping post.

Amazon is just another way in which people get books. It’s neutral.

Stone trotted out the usual combo of “innovative but ruthless” arguments for and against Amazon’s profound presence on the publishing stage.

Gladwell, for his part, said that he’s used Amazon to reach the holdings of used book stores, a special interest of his.

The presence of Amazon has expanded my options…[and] made me realize just how much I cherish the experience of being in a bookstore.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013, Writer UnboxedGladwell also noted, as Stone prodded him about Amazon, that he, Stone, has a book coming out on the great retail phenomenon, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, due on October 15 from Little, Brown.  (Did I mention that everybody at BEA has a book coming out?)

When there is a great, engaging book, people will read it. Everything else is irrelevant.

And, if anything, he said, “the last thing we want is everything we want.”

Where are all the best experiences I’ve had in any retail context? …some place intimate, manageable, and that gives me the sense that someone with taste has given some consideration to what they want to say…If there’s a flaw in the Amazon model, it’s a belief that by offering everything in the world, they have vanquished all their competitors.

Back to Table of Contents

Too Many Conferences at Once

In a peculiar proof of that point—the concept of a plethora as marketing savvy—the organizers of BEA conferences had scheduled a ridiculous collision of material on Wednesday.

31 May 2013 Noe book EXCERPT 6IDFP’s Digital Book 2013 was hardly the only thing in sway. (You can review all the tweets from that one at my Epilogger, if you’d like—we went from around 200 to 2,016 tweets in a single day, with more than 600 unique tweeters contributing)

Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader had mounted their annual Publishers Launch BEA conference on the same day. A combo ticket was available, but anyone who has tried floating back and forth between conferences can tell you that you end up getting little from either.

What’s more, BEA’s own administration felt compelled—I cannot figure out why—to stage a “keynote panel” with several important publishing and distribution leaders in direct opposition to both the IDPF and Publishers Launch events. In fact, fewer of the IDPF crowd got to see the Howey-Day panel than I’d have liked because some felt they had to be at the BEA “keynote” event.

The Twitter Command Center for live-tweet coverage of IDPF's Digital Book 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

The Twitter Command Center for live-tweet coverage of IDPF’s Digital Book 2013 | Photo: Porter Anderson

Why don’t you good folks sit down with each other and spread things out? This kind of calendar collusion the Department of Justice will forgive; you just send them to me if they yell at you.

Give us Publishers Launch on one day. Give us IDPF’s Digital Book 2013 on another day. Give us Publishing Perspectives’ Reaching Readers event on another day. Give us—if you must—BEA’s own “conference” events, for God’s sake, either in an early morning or evening position, without treading on the major confabs that are trying to create and deliver coherent, sensible programs, and to swell BEA’s program by association.

These conferences, stacked as they are like the cities of Troy, simply confound your would-be conferees and exhaust everyone before the BEA floor even opens.

Back to Table of Contents

 

Highlights of the Day

And it’s to a far better idea of “expansion” and range that McCoy and Wels and their program appealed all day, albeit at times with a maddening return to themes we’ve heard for so many years. Entwined With You by @SylDay Sylvia Day

The program started with a set of short talks, four “visionary perspectives,” the most intriguing of which was Craig Mod’s look at what he terms “disruptive publishing” in formats such as LINE and Wattpad.

For background, here is LINE enters ebook biz with manga app from ZDNet’s Ryan Huang. And the teeming Wattpad platform—with 15 million members and as yet not monetized, its founder Allen Lau told us–is more familiar to American digital publishing community.

While I haven’t always been a fan of some of Mod’s approaches to what he last fall was terming “subcompact publishing,” this associated inquiry into these mass-writing-and-reading exchanges, the great floating storytelling platforms like LINE and Wattpad, are genuinely something we need to consider more. Mod’s appeal to the IDPF was simply that publishing not turn a blind eye to these outwardly chaotic constructs.

While we may not yet know what they mean, entirely (beyond an Internet-fueled love of textual creativity), they surely merit attention and respect for their size and prodigious output. During the day, some other contributing thinkers we heard from included: Hugh McGuire, eloquent as always on the “books in browsers” concept of a book as an API, aggregating all references and responses to it as a URL online.
 


 
Richard Nash, this time talking of the novel “as algorithm,” reminding us, “There was no ‘liking’ before 2005…but there have been a million ‘likes’ [on Facebook] since I started speaking.”
 


 
Laura Hazard Owen of GigaOM interviewing HarperCollins’ Chantal Restivo-Alessi on the company’s efforts in innovation.
 


 
Phil Sexton of F+W Media’s Writers Digest and Digital Book World 5,000-headcount study of “What Authors Want” with some new data on hybrids like Howey and Day.  

Otis Chandler, co-founder and CEO of the recent Amazon-acquired Goodreads, with some of those stupendous figures that his excellent survey work always produces. For example, last month, the membership of Goodreads produced more than 857,000 reviews of books. The reading and recommendation site has 18 million members. And Chandler took special care to assure the audience that while some fine special functionality might be available to Kindle users, Goodreads will remain under Amazon’s ownership device-agnostic: you do not need to be a Kindle user to enjoy and engage in the Goodreads community.

Bookigee’s Kristen McLean on reader engagement (“It still feels to me that we’re throwing spaghetti against the wall” in customer engagement tactics and research.)


Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah on enhanced ebook approaches that are workable.


And author Liz Castro, who turned a boring topic on its head in her explication of the opportunities in EPUB  3.

And finally, it’s the lighten-up lilt in Malcolm Gladwell’s voice that is likeliest to have stuck with the Digital Book 2013 audience. More than a chuck on publishing’s chin, the man was there to give the crowd a few reminders about what they bring to the table.

I don’t mean to underestimate the challenges that face booksellers…We are in a moment of transition….[But] as long as you are selling something that someone wants and needs, you can survive. And there is no industry that is more obviously selling something that people want and need than the book industry….

You’re selling books, not styrofoam, something people have gravitated to on an emotional level for as long as they [books] have been around.

 


What do you think of Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of the resilience of the book industry?


For some background on Sylvia Day and her outspoken positions on how publishers must prove to her and to any author why their services are preferable to what they can do as self-publishers, see this interview with Greenfield at DBW: Hybrid Author Sylvia Day: ‘The World Cannot survive Without the Publishing Industry’

Back to Table of Contents


Friend Grief and AIDSFriend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends by Victoria Noe

It’s been likened to a plague, but AIDS was never just a health crisis.

The second of a series on grieving the death of a friend, Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends, revisits a time when people with AIDS were also targets of bigotry and discrimination. In stories about Ryan White, ACT UP, the Names Project, red ribbons and more, you’ll learn why friends made all the difference: not just caregiving or memorializing, but changing the way society confronts the medical establishment and government to demand action.

Click here to visit Amazon and download a sample.


Main image: iStockphoto – Slobo

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He’s The Bookseller’s (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He’s a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he’s a regular contributor of “Provocations in Publishing” with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal’s SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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16 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: Casting Stones at BEA"

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JosephRatliff

For Malcolm to reduce Amazon down to “a reason to shop a bookstore” (not an exact quote)… is wrong.

It’s much more complex than that, because Malcolm is making a dangerous assumption, that EVERYBODY wants the “bookstore” experience. I challenge that more and more people are content with the digital shopping experience because of price and convenience, for one BIG reason…

… Bookstores aren’t marketing the “experience” they offer very well. In the absence of that marketing, people will settle for price and convenience. 😉

Great post again Porter.

Porter Anderson
@JosephRatliff:disqus Hey, Joseph, Thanks for the input, and for reading, as ever. I think that Gladwell was saying that he misses that bookstore experience he loves, but I’m not sure he said he felt he is getting it or can get it. And I felt that he was pretty fair in noting that Amazon gives him the used-book access that’s so important to him, I would imagine in far more comprehensive and helpful ways than he might be able to get in the physical world. However, I’m extrapolating from what I heard and, of course, may not be faithfully interpreting… Read more »
Doug Moore

Excellent summary, I thank you!

Porter Anderson

@doug_moore:disqus

Hey, Doug,

Thanks very much for reading and for the kind words, much appreciated!

-p.

@Porter_Anderson

Debra Eve
As Sylvia Day said in her piece, “Living off my royalty statements every six months was impossible. It’s ridiculous to be getting paid twice a year.” Archaic practices like this need to change, as does freezing out mid-list authors. But I agree with Gladwell. The publishing industry isn’t going anywhere. There will be casualties, of course. I think they realize it’s evolve or die time. I predict some far-sighted exec will step forward and do something radical. It will be interesting to see who and where. The Bezos and Hsiehs of the world don’t exist in online marketing alone. Really… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@DebraEve:disqus Hey there! These are great thoughts and sorry not to get back to you faster, Debra — BEA week has a way of stopping all normal communications and then stopping everything else in an otherwise workable life, as well. I’ve been writing back to you between things for two days, lol. As for the idea of an executive stepping forward to be quite innovative, I’d argue that Jeff Bezos is exactly that and, as yet not recognized for the sheer reach of what he’s done. (Not recognized primarily because of the hostility of the traditional publishing establishment, I’m sorry… Read more »
Jennifer Goslee

I found the fifty million inserts of pictures advertising Victoria Noe’s book a distracting (somewhat confusing) annoyance from an otherwise interesting article. I’ve been looking for places to pare down my RSS feeds so I’m going afraid to drop JF at this time.

Best, JG

Porter Anderson

@jennifergoslee:disqus

Hey, Jennifer,

Sorry to see you go, but of course nothing works for everybody. The six (not fifty million, six) excerpts from Viki’s book are part of her fine sponsorship with us at Writing on the Ether, and we’re very pleased to have her support. Needless to say, though, the format of the Ether is quite specific and it’s perfectly understandable that some won’t feel it’s what they want.

Again, sorry to see you go, but thanks for dropping a note, and all the best in your work.

Cheers,

-p.

@Porter_Anderson

MichaelPeck

This column has become a must-read for me, and once again, you don’t disappoint. What I find interesting is that so many people conflate the crisis in traditional publishing with an imaginary crisis in reading. I’ve been plowing my way through more books than ever since buying a Kindle, and I resent being charged the kinds of prices the big publishers want me to pay so that I can underwrite their outdated infrastructure. I have about as much love for them as I do for my cable company or the power grid.

Porter Anderson
@MichaelPeck:disqus Hey, Michael, Many thanks for the kind words about the Ether — here in the sunset of our sanity following BEA, lol, the welcoming thoughts are much appreciated, thanks for being a reader and for commenting. And really, you couldn’t be more right in your comments. As Malcolm Gladwell emphasized, the idea of there being a crisis in reading is wrong-headed stuff. Oddly, I’m not even sure, however, that that particular fabrication is intentional on the parts of publishers. I do think it lives as a result of their putting it about, but I think it’s part of an… Read more »
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