Author: Alison Jones

10 things that used to be part of a publisher’s day that millennials will find hard to imagine…

Yesterday I discovered I’d been shortlisted for the Women in Publishing Pandora prize for ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’. By the time you may read this either Kate Wilson (MD of Nosy Crow) or Justine Solomons (founder of Byte the Book), my fellow shortlistees and true titans of the industry, will have scooped the award, but they can’t take this away from me.

It did get me thinking, though, that use of the word ‘sustained’. It’s code I suppose for ‘been around a while’ (and of course I have: 25 years in the industry, no less, as author, bookseller and publisher). Which prompted me to remember how much has changed in that time. Here are 10 things that used to be part of a publisher’s day that millennials will find hard to imagine…

1) Ozalids

These were the very last set of proofs, created from the negatives used to make the plates for printing the book. They were absolutely toxic – light-sensitive paper coated in chemicals that reeked of burning ammonia. I remember feeling sick the first time I had to check them, but the smell grew on you, which in retrospect was probably quite a dangerous sign.

2) The NBA

Once upon a time, way back, before 1995, there was a thing called the Net Book Agreement, which meant that the publisher would set the price for a book and that WAS the price, no matter where that book was sold. Small independent bookstores could thrive alongside supermarkets and chains with bulk buying power, and authors received a decent royalty on every sale. It was of course hopelessly anti-competitive and doomed. Still, it was nice while it lasted.

3) Creating p&ls by hand

When I arrived at Oxford University Press in 1997, my predecessor Alysoun Owen had left a detailed set of handover notes including a printed ‘Pub 1’ template – a basic p&l for a book showing gross margin/profit over initial printing and one reprint – and instructions on how to complete it. ‘You can do this in Excel,’ she had noted, ‘but I strongly recommend doing a few by hand so you understand how it all works.’ It was superb advice. As with all technology, spreadsheets are great servants but terrible masters if you don’t know what’s going on under the hood.

4) Clipping newspapers

My very first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant with W & R Chambers in Edinburgh, publishers of the Chambers Biographical Dictionary. And my early contribution to that august reference work was to spend day after day in a basement room, cutting out, photocopying and filing obituaries from The Times. I still have an encyclopedic knowledge of public figures who died in 1992. Morbid, but character-building.

5) In-house checking

OUP used to have a whole corridor of desk editors. During my time at Reader’s Digest our team was assigned a dedicated fact-checker, who would crawl over and verify every statistic and statement for accuracy. This was the pre-post-truth era, of course, when we thought facts and accuracy mattered. Seems quaint now, don’t it?

6) Multiple bookshop chains

It didn’t used to be just Waterstones (or Waterstone’s, as it was then), WHSmith and The Works on the high street. In the pre-Amazon days there were Hammicks, Sherratt & Hughes, Dillons, James Thin, John Menzies, Ottakars, Books Etc and probably others that I’ve forgotten. Plus at least one good indie bookshop in each town. It was fab.

7) Manuscript delivery by cardboard box

Twenty years ago when a manuscript arrived in house, you knew about it. Authors had to submit two double-spaced typed copies, with lots of space for that in-house copy-editor to make their corrections and query those facts, along with a floppy disk containing the manuscript in a form you might or might not be able to access: Microsoft Works, anyone? I remember the glorious moment at OUP when Alan Davidson delivered the manuscript of the monumental Oxford Companion to Food unannounced and nearly 20 years late: he, his wife and his son each carrying an enormous cardboard box proudly in procession. An email attachment or WeTransfer link just doesn’t have the same sense of occasion.

8) Visiting art galleries

There was a time when if you wanted to find just the right picture for your book cover, picture research involved actually getting up and going to a likely gallery or archive and browsing the collection. This of course took a terrible amount of time – but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

9) Losing your entire manuscript in a power cut

When I wrote my first book, using the Apple Macs in Edinburgh University library because I didn’t own a computer of my own, there was no such thing as ‘autosave’. So when my (then) boyfriend stretched out his legs at the next workstation and accidentally kicked the plug out of the power socket and the whole spine of computers switched off, I lost around 4 hours’ work. The person next to me hadn’t saved their thesis at all and lost the lot. Oops.

10) The single-track career

I joined as an editorial assistant, and dutifully worked my way up through the roles of assistant editor and editor to publisher. And then, suddenly, all bets were off. I skilled up in computing and became head of digital development, got an MBA and became director of innovation strategy. If I had my time again I’d seek out roles in marketing and sales (although I’m making up for that now as an independent publisher). There is no one route through the ranks these days, and no expectation or even preference that high performers will focus exclusively in one functional area (editorial, sales and marketing are particularly fluid).

As the world and our industry become more complex, our greatest capabilities are not our functional skills and experience – valuable though these are – but our ability to learn, unlearn, relearn, adapt and flex. In 5 years’ time you’ll be able to write your own list of 10 things that used to feature in your day-to-day publishing work but don’t any more. Stay curious and enjoy the ride.

membership economyAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

membership economy

The membership economy

Millennia

Meet Millennia. Millennia doesn’t take a taxi to the airport, she books an Uber ride. She doesn’t buy a novel at WHSmith while she waits for the plane, she loads up the latest instalment of her favourite Wattpad serial on her mobile. When she arrives, she doesn’t head for a hotel: she’s going Airbnb and staying with locals, and she eats at the restaurants recommended by TripAdvisor, not a guidebook, wearing the new maxi-dress she bought off eBay, not the high street. While she’s away, she remembered to find someone on TaskRabbit to look after the garden.

Millennia doesn’t know it, but she’s a poster girl for the sharing economy, enabled and driven by the internet (which is itself of course fundamentally a peer-to-peer network) and disrupting pretty much every industry in the process.

But there’s a new business model on the block, which holds significantly more promise for businesses: the membership economy.

Strategy expert Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of The Membership Economy and my guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club this week, explains:

‘The membership economy is a massive transformational trend that is really transforming virtually every industry, moving from an emphasis on ownership versus access, moving from the transactional to the relationship, moving from anonymous to known relationships, moving from one-way communication to community. All of those things together are creating all kinds of new ways to build business models and, most importantly, to build long-term relationships with your customers.’

In the membership model the assets belong to the company: sharing economy businesses provide the marketplace for discovery and transactions but don’t own the assets themselves. In contrast, Netflix – an exemplar of the membership economy – allows its members to access its own content, rather than giving them a way to share their own films.

A related trend is the subscription model, which has been the cornerstone of library journal and ebook acquisition for years, but membership need not involve a subscription, and a subscription alone is just a way to pay; it doesn’t necessarily imply membership. As Robbie puts it, ‘Membership is a mindset… there’s an emotional component there. A sense of belonging. A sense of building a tribe or people with a connection.’

Given how good books are at stirring emotions and building connections, it’s not surprising that smart publishers are tapping into the power of the membership economy. Small scholarly societies have been doing this for years of course, but more recently initiatives such as Pottermore and Osprey Members have shown what’s possible for trade publishers too.

In an adjacent space, The Guardian has successfully established its membership model as an alternative to the other two dominant models in journalism: paywall and advertising. Guardian membership appeals to the readers’ values (‘fearless and independent’) and sense of identity, and the various levels of membership (supporter, partner, patron) allow a range of price points – how often do publishers allow those who really love what they do to spend serious money with them?

So many of the most interesting initiatives in the world of books use the sharing model, driven by the passionate desire of readers to dive deeper into their experience with books, to connect with each other (and ideally their favourite authors), create their own stories based on the characters and worlds they love. Just take a look at some of the start-ups featured in the Bookseller’s Futurebook recently – Litsy, The Pigeonhole, Oolipo to name but a few – plus of course well-established players such as GoodReads and Wattpad. It’s been hard for publishers to gain traction with these models, with distrust flying in both directions.

The membership mindset, on the other hand, gives publishers the opportunity to host the conversation, rather than sitting outside it, and to create new revenue streams at high margin. It’s a model worth taking seriously.

 

Business books

The truth about business books

I recently collaborated with an MBA student writing her dissertation. It was a fascinating experience, and a great opportunity for me to commission some top-class primary research into the way that the business of business books is changing.

One of the key findings of her research was that for business authors, the value of the book is its symbolic and cultural capital, and specifically the effect of that on the author’s brand, rather than any direct revenues. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that, but I WAS surprised at the unanimity of this view, across all stakeholders: existing authors, aspiring authors, publishers and agents alike consistently expressed the view that:

‘book-related earnings, or economic capital directly derived from publishing a book, are not the main source of books’ continued value to the business publishing network. Rather, intangible benefits, such as brand building and enhancement through added prestige and a bolstered position of authority, contribute the most to books’ value. Tangible benefits were ascribed to publishing a business book, including more clients and more (paid) speaking opportunities; however, it is important to note that this economic capital was indirectly derived from the book… All stakeholders in the business publishing network generally hold this view, irrespective of their diverse experience and expertise.’

So how do we square this circle? On the one hand, business authors want to publish with a big name publisher, to maximize their symbolic capital, which will bring them significant economic benefits (‘more clients, more speaking engagements, more consultancy work’). But traditional publishers don’t get a sniff of the real value they help create – they can only monetize sales of the book itself, and quite frankly that’s not going so well these days.

There are fewer and fewer traditional publishers as the market consolidates, chasing fewer and fewer customer dollars. They’ve already cut costs to the bone – cut any further and they risk losing the reputation for quality that brings authors to them in the first place. Most are focusing their efforts on selling more books through the regular supply chain, but that’s a marginal game. They could raise prices, but that would mean fewer customers, and less visibility for their authors, which (it turns out) is what they’re mainly interested in, rather than revenue.

Tricky.

So where are we heading?

One potential solution is that the credibility of self-publishing or partner publishing simply stops being an issue. This has happened already for some authors: ‘As long as it looks professional,’ one of my authors told me when she signed up, ‘and works for my business, I’d rather have the control than a big name on the spine. Nobody really recognizes publishers’ names anyway.’

Another potential solution is that traditional publishers move to capture more of the value beyond traditional book sales through traditional channels. There are several possibilities here:

  • Servitisation – selling services to authors and/or readers that complement the publishing itself, such as coaching support, social media training, workshops, etc.
  • Non-traditional channels – thinking beyond both online and offline bookstores and supporting authors to sell direct, working with non-book retailers, negotiating B2B branded or promotional deals, partnering with service providers or network owners… the options are pretty much limitless, once you start looking.
  • Recalibrating the contract (which Richard Nash semi-joked about in Frankfurt – see my blog on his talk about 360-degree value) – changing the way we remunerate business authors to make it more of a profit-share, with incentives for the publisher to make the book work for the business.

Books are cheap, yet for business authors in particular they create enormous value. Imagine if more publishers saw their role with their authors as a partnership, maximizing the total value of the author’s brand, rather than simply trying to sell more copies.

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

 

Business books

The new hustle

This week in The Extraordinary Business Book Club I interviewed Patrick Vlaskovits, co-author of Hustle (with Jonas Koffler and Neil Patel) and The Lean Entrepreneur (with Brant Cooper).

The name of the book itself raised a question about the meaning and value of words: when Patrick told his father, an old-school, first-generation Hungarian immigrant to America who’d thrown out the TV as a Bad Influence when Patrick was a child, that he was writing a book entitle Hustle, his father was baffled and dismayed. ‘Why would you write a book about stealing?’

But as Patrick points out, for millennials, the word has lost its negative connotation: today, it’s not about a con, it’s about moving fast, making money, finding a way. It’s about discovering your talent, working it, making a difference, not waiting for permission from anyone, not waiting to be asked. It’s about agency in the philosophical rather than the literary sense, ie the capacity to act.

That’s an interesting semantic shift.

And it underlines something that’s happening in publishing right now, and which Vlaskovits himself illustrates beautifully.

The Lean Entrepreneur was born in a chance conversation in a coffee shop. In Pete’s Coffee Shop in Emeryville, California, to be specific, while they were discussing Steve Blank’s brilliant but dense book on lean entrepreneurship. They were passionate about the ideas in the book and recommending it to everyone they met, but it was so hard to read that very few people ‘got it’.

‘[Heaton Shaw] said, “Someone should write the Cliff Notes,” and then Brant and I just looked at each other, like, “Why don’t we do this?” To be honest, there’s actually quite a few reasons why we wouldn’t have been good people to write the book. I don’t think we had necessarily the credibility or the experience, but what I’ve learned is, it doesn’t matter. It’s not necessarily the winners who write history. It’s the people who write history are the people who write history.’

Hustle, see?

And they didn’t just write the book, they did interesting stuff with it too: they formatted it landscape for easier reading on a screen, they made it freely available as a PDF download, they commissioned the mysterious Fake Grimlock to create cult cartoon illustrations. It sold pretty well, and still does, six years on, but as Vlaskovits acknowledges, the book sales weren’t really the point.

‘If you trace back the revenue that we generated from that book, not only from book sales, but from speaking and workshops, it’s probably in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.’

Patrick Vlaskovits is a great example of the new breed of authors, who will work with traditional publishes when it suits them but are happy to publish for themselves if it doesn’t. The book is part of something bigger for them. They’re not waiting for permission, or acceptance. They’re just doing it. And they’re writing history in the process.

BookGig: The ‘publisher agnostic’ initiative launched by HarperCollins

A new initiative hit the book world this week: BookGig, ‘all the events from the authors you love’.

What’s interesting about that?

Well, it’s one of the few initiatives launched by a publisher (HarperCollins) that isn’t narrowly focused on that publisher’s own lists. ‘Publisher agnostic’, they’re calling it. Which is exactly what readers are, of course. HarperCollins have recognised that to do anything worthwhile they need scale, and to get scale they need comprehensive coverage. (Their reward, apart from the kudos and the opportunity to promote their own events and authors, is of course the contact details of hundreds or thousands of book lovers aka potential future customers.)

It’s also interesting because of the way it zooms in on a key point of differentiation – in a book ecosystem dominated by Amazon’s sheer scale, author events are a blue ocean of opportunity. (BookMachine fans know the value of a good event better than most, of course.) They’re also a win-win-win scenario: for the author, the opportunity to convert readers into raving fans; for publishers and booksellers, the opportunity to sell significant quantities of books; for readers, an experience that gives depth and texture to the book itself.

I’m fascinated by the range of events already featured – not just your traditional author readings and book launches, but book clubs, business breakfasts, workshops, even a walk. The possibilities are infinite: masterclasses, demonstrations, debates, all-night readings, fan fiction competitions, maybe a sneak preview of a new book with the opportunity to contribute or collaborate?

This for me is the most exciting space for publishing in the digital age – brokering not just a transaction but a relationship between author and reader.

future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

The role of the print book in an increasingly online world

Back in 2010, working at a scholarly publisher, I had a bet with our Production Director that half our revenue would be digital by the end of 2013. I lost. (We weren’t too far off, in my defence – scholarly publishers generally migrated their library revenues to digital faster and more fully than trade publishers have managed, but still.)

What he realised six years ago and I didn’t was the way that print as a technology suits us as humans so beautifully. For most of us, reading a book is more than simply translating the author’s brain output into our brain input. And reading on a flat screen, with the whole distracting noisy internet just one click away, is a very different technological and sensual experience. Not worse, necessarily, but different.

This week in The Extraordinary Business Book Club I spoke to Dr Tom Chatfield, author of the gorgeously tactile Live This Book. It’s a highly designed series of provocations: invitations to explore our own minds rather than bringing our questions to the internet to find out what everybody else thinks.

We talked about the role of the print book in an increasingly online world, and how it can work for both writer and reader.

‘This is a book that you write in, that you carry around with you, and I guess the genesis of it was the fact that I’ve done five books exploring technology in society. I love this idea of trying to use technology well. More and more as I spoke and wrote and consulted in this that I found people saying that their time, their attention, their focus was this incredibly scarce resource that they were really having enormous trouble keeping under control, and I became very interested in the kind of art and science of concentration, attention, and focus, and how actually a physical book and the physical act of writing on paper is an astonishingly good tool for kind of carving out a small amount of time each day for introspection, for planning a different type and texture of quality of time that you might not otherwise get in terms of working out what really matters, what’s really on your mind, what you’re really planning and hoping and dreaming of, and so on…

‘I’m very interested in getting away from tech bashing and a vague nostalgia for “Weren’t things better in the old days?” Some things are much, much better now. We have astonishing resources at our fingertips, so I’m interested in trying to be precise about this, and what you find if you look at the cognitive science is that resisting temptation, resisting the temptation to click elsewhere, to look elsewhere, to check your email, that burns through a certain amount of mental resource. I think attention management is one of the great skills for the next generation of workers and thinkers, because human attention is spent on our behalf and maybe mispriced by all of the services we use, and the physical tactile object of the act of writing, it lights up your brain in a very different way to stuff on a screen.

‘I’m very conscious of the fact that when I take my wonderful phone or my wonderful Kindle out, everything is in competition with everything else, and I’m dealing with suffusion, and so I think in a way to try to build different kinds of time into your day, and people, I think, are doing this more and more anyway in that nobody wants all their time to be the same kind of time. As human beings, we need difference and variety if we’re going to make the most of our mental resources. We need to sort of put things in boxes, have differentiation. Otherwise, in a way, we risk doing everything as if we were machines, as if we had a limitless data capacity and a limitless memory, and we’re not… We need interpersonal contact. We need things to have friction and texture. Really, memory and understanding are information plus emotion, if you like, and I think to make things stick in our minds, to make things really belong to us, to work out what we mean rather than just what is out there in the Web of information, this is becoming more and more valuable as we’re lucky enough to have more and more information at our fingertips.’

That phrase, ‘friction and texture’ summed it up for me: this is what print provides and a white screen does not. There’s a permanence and a fitness to the words on a printed page that is simply not there with a screen that will show something entirely different the next second.

I’m no less in love with digital books and their possibilities. I love having instant access to my entire library, being able to access a new book immediately, searching for and rediscovering half-remembered phrases. But I better understand now why print is so resilient. I’ll continue to be ambidextrous, reading in print or online as the inclination takes me, knowing that both serve me in different ways. It’s all good.

future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

Seth Godin’s three charges against publishers

“As repressed sadists are supposed to become policemen or butchers, so those with an irrational fear of life become publishers.” – Cyril Connolly

Publisher-bashing is a popular sport, particularly for authors. Always has been. We shouldn’t feel too special: we’re in good company along with lawyers, journalists, traffic wardens, estate agents and used-car salesmen as the punch-bag of the dispossessed and disenchanted.

Much of the bile against publishers comes from authors who feel themselves poorly served – either because they didn’t get a deal in the first place or because they found the terms or the treatment less than they’d hoped for.

But just occasionally you get a really interesting, constructive anti-publisher rant that serves the book industry and society well by asking good questions and offering good ideas.

George Monbiot attacked big scholarly publishers – aka ‘parasitic overlords’ – in an influential Guardian article in 2011.

Hugh Howey put the boot into big trade publishers with his Don’t Anyone Put Me In Charge post in 2014.

And Seth Godin did it this week on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast. He’s an author, of course, but he spent his early career as a book packager, so he has more industry insight than most.

Here are three of the charges he levels at publishers:

1) They don’t have the imagination to take risks

‘In [Unleashing the Ideavirus], I gave the advice that ideas that spread, win, and that an idea that’s not bounded by paper, is going to spread faster. How could I publish this as a traditional book?

I went to my book publisher, I said, “Here’s the deal. I’d like to publish this book, but a) I need you to bring it out in 90 days, and b) I want to give it away for free, online.”

They said, “We’d love to publish your next book, but we’re not going to do it in 90 days, and you can’t give it away for free, online.”

I made the bold decision to take my own advice, and I refused to take this book and do anything commercial with it. Instead, I just put the entire book for free, online. 3,000 people downloaded it the first day, 4,000 people the second day. By the end of a couple months, it was in the millions.

Then I started getting email from people that said, “We hate reading this in a PDF. Where’s the book?”

Because I had a background as a book packager, I know how to make a book. In three weeks, we turned it into a hard-cover, sold it only on Amazon, and it went to number 5 on the Amazon bestseller list, a book that we gave away, and that cost $40 in the year 2000.’

2) They’re locked in an outdated model

‘You would think that [publishers] are in the tree business or the paper business, the way they behave. They value paper books more than they value the spread of ideas… they think of the world in the scarcity model of paper. Once you get rid of that model, the opportunity for a book publisher is huge, because now, it’s true, anyone can publish their ideas, but very few people can curate them, and very few people have the wherewithal to promote them. The idea that an institution of people with good taste and resources, could find ideas on Monday, edit them on Wednesday, and promote them on Friday, is astonishing, but they’re just walking away from that and leaving it on the table.’

3) They serve the bookseller, not the reader

‘The giant cultural problem of western book publishers is, they think their customer is the bookstore… Since that’s your customer, that’s who you wake up in the morning, seeking to serve… I have discovered over time that the single best way for a book to spread, is for one reader to hand it to another reader.’

You might feel some of this is unfair, but you have to admit much of it hits home.

Publishers themselves would probably be the first to admit that as an industry, we’re not known for our responsive, risk-taking, entrepreneurial hustle. And to be fair, I see more and more publishers engaging directly with their readers – I’d like to think we’re making progress in this area at least.

But there’s much thoughtful criticism here that should challenge us. Do a quick audit: what risk-taking are you currently engaged in, and how are you learning from it? What opportunities are others seizing in your field from under your nose? What are you doing to connect directly with your readers and inspire them to share their love of your authors’ books?

And if you’re lucky enough to have one of those imaginative, challenging, high-maintenance authors on your list, make the most of them. Listen to what they’ve got to say and think about how you can support their ideas.

You might hit a home run, it might not work. But if you never try you’ll never know, until your author gets tired of not being heard and goes and gets the home run off their own bat, proving one again that if you want to innovate, you have to part company with your publisher.

future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

Why publishers should be like Bond (James Bond)

Last week I gave a talk at the CoreSource user group on success and agility. Ingram Content Group itself exemplifies both: over the last 20 years it’s reinvented itself by a steady process of acquisition, reorganization and diversification, from its early days distributing microfiche readers in Nashville to an international group offering solutions to publishers and authors at every stage of the print and digital workflow. (So, no pressure, then.)

The theme of the day was ‘Secrets and Spies’. I began by asking: What is James Bond’s most effective weapon?

Could it be the Beretta 418, the gun featured in the original Casino Royale? Or the Walther PPK that replaced it? The improved flamethrower from Live and Let Die? Or maybe the remote controlled BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies, with its sunroof missiles and the wire cutter hidden in the logo?

It’s none of these, of course. Bond’s most effective weapon is his ability to adapt. He is the ultimate survivor – not just because he’s handy with a semi-automatic, but because he constantly changes, evolves, reinvents himself. Bond is agile, in every sense of the word.

I’ve been in publishing for 25 years now, and in digital publishing for most of those years, and for pretty much all that time publishing has been ‘in crisis’ somehow or other, there’s been one villain after another threatening to take over our world.

First there was ‘the threat of digital’, ‘the death of print’, closely linked to the hysteria over piracy. We’re navigating the transition and actually it’s been kind of fun – but costs generally went up and revenues generally went down.

Then there was Amazon, disrupting the established bookselling industry, driving down prices, keeping its data on ebook sales to itself and leaving us guessing at the true size of the market.

More recently there’s been ‘the threat of self-publishing’, and the rush of publishers to justify their existence, the fear of being disintermediated. Turns out there’s still room for traditional publishers, but because authors now have options, the terms for authors had to become more favourable, which erodes publishers’ profits, and the overall market share of the traditional publishing sector went down.

Now it’s ‘the sharing economy’, fuelled by cocreation and collaboration, its core values open access and connection and access rather than ownership and loads of stuff that runs directly counter to the traditional publishing model of selling discrete units of content to people for money.

So where does all this leave us? Each wave of disruption has tended to chip away at profits and add to costs. It feels uncomfortably like the laser is getting every closer to our critical bits.

But of course disruption is just another word for opportunity. The reality is that for those with the imagination and the will to make the leap, there are more opportunities out there than ever before for publishers to make money. Content is the currency of our age, and we are experts on content. Everyone now needs the skills we have.

But publishers who are still exclusively focused on picking one course through this explosion of possibilities, still wedded to the traditional model of selling content in books to consumers through shops to make a profit, are missing out on potential revenue today and I suggest may also  be writing their death warrant for tomorrow.

Like Bond, and indeed like Ingram, successful and agile companies select and seize opportunities – and the best opportunities will be different for each – build on what’s there already to add new revenue streams in growth markets to supplement declining revenues in old markets.

So what are YOUR weapons? What do you do best? How can you exploit that in new ways?

Don’t forget that Bond didn’t operate alone. You can innovate faster and smarter if you collaborate with the right partners. Take a long hard look at your existing partners – are you making the most of the opportunities that they’re creating? And if they’re not creating opportunities for you, consider making some new partners with the right tools and skills to help your achieve your mission. After all, where would Bond be without Q?

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

Business books

It’s summer – quick, grab a book

You are what you read. Barack Obama is a voracious reader, who releases his own summer reading list every year (you can see last year’s here). Donald Trump ‘doesn’t have time’ to read. Draw your own conclusions.

But what’s beside your sunlounger/in your backpack/on your Kindle right now? Some frivolous chicklit or gritty noir thriller?

Well, yes, me too. But here’s some REAL brainfood, as recommended by some of the greatest business brains going…

The 12 books Bill Gates reckons everyone should read: less dominated by white US men in suits than I’d expected.
My score: 1/12. Could do better.

EOFire’s compilation of the top 15 books as recommended by 350 leading entrepreneurs. Utterly dominated by white US males, but to be fair they’re all cracking books.
My score: 10/15. Not bad.

The 9 business books you MUST read this year (according to Startups). I bet you won’t believe it, but it’s all male too.
My score: 2/9. Pitiful.

Ryan Holiday’s Books to Base Your Life On. I’ll be interviewing Ryan shortly for the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast so I’d better get myself clued up on these. The antithesis of chicklit.
My score: 4/8. (But that’s only because I did Classics A-level.)

And finally, in an attempt to redress the gender balance, here are Inc.com’s 9 books every female entrepreneur should read.
My score: 3/9.

So that’s a total of 20/53. I think it’s safe to say there’s room for improvement. How did you do?

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

membership economy

The business of books: The lean author

Recently in The Extraordinary Business Book Club I interviewed Brant Cooper, author of The Lean Entrepreneur (Wiley, 2013). I’m a big fan of lean methodology, for digital products and service development but also as a mindset in general, and Brant is a great demonstration of how lean principles lend themselves to books at every stage:

‘I think that for authors it’s important to view their book endeavour as a startup… even back then [for his first book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development with Patrick Vlaskovits in 2010] we were doing interviews based upon contacting early adapters and we knew our market segment really well. They were tech startups. We already had access to them and we called them on the phone, we met them in person and talked pricing. The lean entrepreneur was the same thing. By that time, I was travelling the world and doing workshops and speaking engagements and so I would test out content. I would test out frameworks and my methodology inside the workshops to try to figure out what resonated and how could I get entrepreneurs thinking along a particular way that I thought would expose their assumptions and allow them to develop experiments to test those assumptions. It really was being down there in my market segment, testing, running experiments, trying to figure out what was the right way to construct the next book.’

Although the book was published by Wiley, Brant and Patrick ran a crowdfunding campaign ahead of publication partly to provide a ‘war fund’ for marketing, but also to ‘test out the messaging’ and to create a body of engaged fans, ‘early evangelists’, to spread the word about the book because they had a stake in it.

The messaging, like the movement, goes beyond the book. Brant cited Brian Clark’s concept of the ‘entreproducer… producing in a variety of media in order to increase the market size’. This I believe is core to how business books work today, as part of a bigger platform that encompasses video, blogs, elearning, podcasts, a whole range of content types.

And when publishers understand this and support it – by allowing authors to use their content in other media, providing visuals, offering advice and resources for digital content creation and so on – they not only sell more books, they give authors a reason to continue working with them rather than defecting to the growing self-publishing service sector (where people like me are providing exactly those services). It means looking at the bigger picture, investing in the author not just the book and accepting that the brand benefits will be the author’s rather than the publisher’s. But the cost of NOT collaborating effectively in the digital marketing game could be unacceptably high.

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

business

The business of books: Only connect

At the launch of BookMachine’s Snapshots III I kicked off the talks by raining hard on the book industry parade. (Sorry.)

While I was on holiday in Dorset last week I wandered into a charity shop in a pretty market town and remarked on the number of books they had crammed onto their shelves. The woman behind the counter said wearily: ‘We’re not taking any more books. Everybody’s getting rid of them and nobody wants them.’

She didn’t know I was a book person. She had no idea she’d just delivered a punch to my gut. It’s not the sort of thing people in my world, and my social media bubble, tend to say. But it is of course true, or at least there’s truth in it.

As publishers, we spend our time with people who love and appreciate books. This is NOT THE REAL WORLD. For many people in this country books are an outdated technology. An irrelevance.

The Reading Agency reported last year that:

  • 44% of of young people aged 16-24 don’t read at all for pleasure (for older adults, that figure is 36%)
  • Only 26% of 10-year-olds say they like reading

And for an industry that makes its money from the sale of books it’s a perfect storm because, as fewer people want to buy books, more books are being published than ever before at lower prices than ever before.

So what’s the answer? Well, there’s no one answer. There never is. But we can find AN answer, I believe, in the creating of connection.

We already know that for many readers a book is interesting only when it’s connected to something else, something beyond the book, that has meaning for them. If they love Bake-Off, they’ll buy the book. If they’re a devoted fan of the YouTuber of the moment they’ll queue up for a signed copy, if they’re at an event with a great speaker, they’ll buy the book at the back of the room, if they’re in a book club they’ll buy the book they’re discussing: they need a reason, they need a connection.

When we write and publish today, we’re engaging in a battle for attention that’s more sophisticated and segmented than ever before. The people who really get this are the platform builders like Pat Flynn, Seth Godin, Jeff Goins, Joanna Penn, Hugh Howey, Denise Duffield-Thomas – and many of these are indie authors because they want control and they can reach their people directly. They have podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, businesses: they have fans and/or customers instead of a sales force, and their book reaches new readers who become new fans and/or customers. It’s the attention they’re monetising – for many of them the revenues from the book itself are just a side benefit.

When rapper Akala spoke at Futurebook last year, revealing that his self-published books outsell CDs at his gigs, he asked ‘Why would I need a publisher? I have my own customer base.’

The good news is that books have an irreplaceable role in this new online/offline economy of connection and attention, but we have reached a tipping point: readers need a reason to read them. They need meaningful context. And the most powerful reason is always human connection – directly with the author, or with other people who’ve read and loved the book. Which means that publishers need to find ways to support authors to find their tribe and build their platform.

If we don’t respond to that challenge, if we don’t recognise that we’re in the business of making people care and connecting them, we’re simply adding to an undifferentiated pile of books that nobody has a reason to read. We also risk being left with a world in which only celebrities or business-savvy authorpreneurs can succeed in the book market.

Publishers have traditionally thought of themselves as gatekeepers, but once the walls have come down it’s a bit pointless continuing to stand beside the gate. And, even worse, if you insist on standing there you’re going to miss the party that’s going on inside.

Maybe a better metaphor for our future is as table hosts. Publishers don’t own the venue any more, it’s not even our party, but we CAN host part of it: we can lead the conversation in our area, give a voice and a platform to people with something interesting to say, we can make ours the table everyone wants to come to, where the best conversations happen and the most interesting connections are made. We can be where the party is.

And that’s much more fun than guarding the gate, right?

future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

classification

The business of books: Defying classification

Patrick-headshot-jumper_2This week’s guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club house was Patrick McGinnis, author of The 10% Entrepreneur: Live Your Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job (Penguin, 2016). His premise is beautifully simple: add a little entrepreneurship to your work/life balance to enjoy the buzz, meet the interesting people and get the upside when things go well while still keeping the security of the steady job  (although as Patrick discovered in 2008, and as anyone in publishing could have told him, ‘security’ and ‘steady jobs’ are not what they used to be).

From a publishing perspective, there was one thing that really struck me about Patrick’s book: it hits something of a schism in the genre or, as Patrick put it, it’s ‘intra-category’. When someone says ‘business book’, it’s worth finding out whether they’re a manager in a big corporate or an entrepreneur before you assume what they mean by that. When I worked in a big company I read ‘business books’ on leadership, management, building teams and so on. Now I turn to books on mindset, productivity, and how-to guides to the more arcane digital marketing techniques.

(It’s not just in subject matter that books for the two audiences differ: there’s a fundamentally different set of values and assumptions behind them too, which makes straddling them tricky. Patrick noted: ‘In start-up world, failure is considered to be very wonderful and we should talk about it, it’s part of the process. In corporate world… you never lead with failure. That was something that was a learned skill for me.’)

Foyles put the book in the start-up section, guided perhaps by the use of ‘Entrepreneur’ in the title, but the whole point is it’s blending these two business paradigms – corporate and start-up – with no consideration whatsoever for the poor bookseller who has to decide which shelf to put it on.

I’ve noticed more and more handwritten labels in stores and libraries over the last couple of years in an attempt to keep up with the category implosion but they’re fighting a losing battle: 512 new categories will be introduced into the BISAC list this year.

Is it metadata meltdown? Maybe. But it’s also the natural result of an industry in vigorous and disruptive growth: more books, more nuanced categories, more online-centric discovery, more headaches for the poor guy in the bookstore.

future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

business

The business of books: 3 publishing trends

rachel bridge businessThis week’s guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast was Rachel Bridge, journalist, speaker and author of Ambition: Why It’s Good to Want More and How to Get It (Capstone, 2016).

From our discussion I drew out three interesting observations about business book publishing in the 21st century.

1) It’s social

Rachel and I hooked up in the first place simply because I bought her book on one of our ritual family trips to Waterstones in Basingstoke: once a month or so I take the kids in, we all choose a book, and then we head upstairs to Café Nero and ignore each other happily for an hour or so, each immersed in our chosen world.* Rachel’s was the book I bought – I loved the stark challenge of the title, that ambivalent word, which feels simultaneously stirring and disturbing, and particularly intriguing because written by a woman. (We talk more about this in the podcast.) I took a picture of the book beside my skinny cappuccino and was about to tweet it when, on a whim, I searched for Rachel on Twitter. I found her, tagged her in the tweet, and settled down to read. Within a few minutes the response came back, and within an hour we had an interview set up. Boom.

2) It’s secondary

Rachel articulated perfectly the attitude that most business writers have towards books: ‘There isn’t any money in books unless you happen to be Malcolm Gladwell… it’s not about making lots of money.’ Not every author can afford to be so phlegmatic, of course, but when you’re writing a book to support your main revenue-generating business (speaking, in Rachel’s case) your concerns go beyond a simple focus on the royalty rate to questions of control and collaboration. Business authors need to be sure that the publisher will be a good partner as they build their wider brand, that they’ll have their say on questions of design, timing, publicity and so on. Book people love books and we can tend to have an over-inflated view of them as ends in their own right: it’s salutary for us to realise that for many authors they’re simply (beautiful) means to other ends.  Which leads me neatly to…

3) It’s multiplatform

I believe passionately that books are the jewels in the crown of your content strategy, but they’re not the whole crown. I help my authors identify the best mix of content and channels for their market and their message – podcasts, vlogs, blogs, online courses, guest articles, infographics, webinars, talks, workshops… you get the idea. But Rachel has taken this to a whole new level: prepare for Ambition: The One-Woman Show at the Gilded Balloon this Edinburgh Fringe. Because why not? When you have a powerful idea a book is a great tool for communicating it, but it’s certainly not the only one. The beautiful thing about a book, though, is the way it complements other platforms: I’ve no doubt Rachel will sell copies of the book at the show, just as my authors sell copies from the back of the room when they speak at a conference. Publishers like Canongate and Faber do this blending of online and off, book and other platform particularly well, but it’s one reason authors choose to self-publish, to retain unfettered rights and create campaigns that include the book but aren’t necessarily focused on it.

Three trends that open up incredible opportunities for publishers with ambition enough to follow Rachel’s advice to us all: ‘do and be more’.

*One of my favourite book-y quotes, by Neil Gaiman: “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”

future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

social

The business of books: social selling

At the London Book Fair’s Quantum conference last month I listened to Aissetou Ngom talk about Penguin Platform, the young adult brand which she manages. She revealed that market research on the design of the new website had produced something of a surprise: there shouldn’t be a ‘website’ in the traditional sense at all. ‘That feels kind of old-fashioned,’ was the general response from the teens they talked to. So Penguin Platform inhabits the social web: Tumblr is its main home, with offshoots on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. (And if you’re a publisher and you’ve been congratulating yourself on finally getting your website sorted, I’m sorry.)

Might online bookstores one day become equally passé? The social web is where we share ideas and consume content, and increasingly it’s where we purchase, too.

In the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast this week I talk to Marcus Woodburn, Vice President Digital Products at Ingram Content Group, about Aer.io, their new social selling tool (Ingram was an early investor in Aerbook, which became Aer.io, and acquired the start-up at the end of 2015). I am hugely excited about this, and I don’t think most publishers have quite realized how it could revolutionize the book supply chain.

Aer.io makes any touchpoint on the web a sales opportunity. An author can embed a buy button in a tweet, for example. Yes, we’ve had Amazon ‘buy now’ widgets for years, but an Amazon widget sends your customer straight to Amazon. Aer.io’s button keeps the ownership of the transaction with you, which means you get your customer’s data. Which means if you’re smart you can sell more stuff to them in future. This is game-changing.

Publishers large and small are queuing up for this (it’s live in the US but delayed in the UK and Europe owing to our Byzantine tax and data protection laws – Marcus promises it should be live here by the middle of the year), as are independent authors and retailers. Authors I understand, I say, but retailers? Sure they must hate this? No, says Marcus: they see an opportunity to carry vastly more inventory than they can stack on their shelves, and to sell ebooks, which has always been problematic.

That makes sense: when I was building a direct-to-consumer model in traditional publishing years ago, ebook fulfilment was a huge problem: for most publishers it was easier simply to point customers in the direction of Amazon or other ebook retailers to deal with the nitty gritty of different formats, different devices, DRM and technical support. But with Ingram’s massive ebook and print infrastructure behind it, Aer.io can deliver print and any ebook format in the same basket. Nice. Basically if a book is in the Lightning Source print-on-demand catalogue (which includes IngramSpark for indies), it’s deliverable via Aer.io.

The possibilities are infinite – you can create a custom button for a channel (a promotional link from a speaker biography page, or an email to course participants) to deliver a bespoke version of a book. You can also customize how much of the book is included in the preview, so if your aim is visibility rather than revenue, you can be generous in what’s discoverable and viewable before purchase.

I should make it clear I have no financial interest here, and I’m not acting as an affiliate. I’m just genuinely excited about a technology that can help readers discover and buy books more easily, and which creates a more interesting and diverse book retail ecosystem.

As Marcus says: ‘Every time we sit down with a publisher they have a different way they’re thinking of using it.’

I’ve got some ideas of my own, and I can’t wait to try them out.

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

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