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Here’s what book publishers can learn from the podcast model

Did you make the same mistake I did and assume podcasts are yesterday’s platform, that interest in them has plateaued (at best) and they’re not worth thinking about today? If so, here’s a short article that might help you re-think your stance. If you’re still not convinced have a look at the infographic in this article, paying close attention to the chart showing how podcast listening is on the rise.

What seemed like a fad that’s dying off is actually showing nice growth. I’m contributing to that growth as I now listen to a variety of podcasts during my daily work commute. As I leverage this medium I’m realising it offers some very important lessons for book publishers:

1) Simple, easy subscriptions

When I discover a new podcast I’m interested in I literally click once to subscribe and the content stream comes to me. What could be easier? More importantly, what’s the analogy in the book publishing world? How do I “subscribe” to an author, series or topic? We all have our favorite authors. Wouldn’t it be terrific if a single click could initiate a subscription to everything they write in the future? That includes having samples of their new books delivered automatically to your preferred reading app/device.

2) Steady rhythm

Your favorite podcasts are usually delivered on a predictable schedule. Some are daily while others are weekly. This rhythm leads to anticipation, knowing that today’s edition will be loaded on your device at the usual time. This is another concept that’s totally foreign to book publishers. Books are released according to seemingly random schedules and some publishers are still even locked into the old “season” model. If you’re going to enable readers to subscribe to an author or topic as described above, be sure to produce a steady, engaging stream of valuable content for your audience.

3) Discovery

This remains one of the hot topics, always on the minds of book publishers. If you’re focused on discovery think about this question: How well do each of your products enable discovery of your other, related products? Some publishers still rely on back-of-book ads, even in ebooks. How about automatically delivering other, related content to your audience? A good example is how NPR promotes new podcasts. Yes, they advertise by plugging new ones in old, established podcasts. But recently I noticed they took the bold step of automatically downloading the first segment of a new podcast onto my device. I don’t recall opting in to that and it might irritate anyone keeping a close eye on their data plans but it’s a novel concept. I wasn’t going to seek that new podcast out and now all I have to do is click “play” to try it out, yet another example of one-click access and engagement.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the podcast marketplace it’s time to take a closer look. Subscribe to two or three that look interesting and see what other lessons can be learned.

Joe WikertJoe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

 

Translated literature: Is the buzz to be believed?

Jonathan Ruppin is Literary Director at digital start-up Orson & Co and the founder of the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club. He was a bookseller for 18 years, including 13 at Foyles’ flagship branch on Charing Cross Road.

Translated literature is having a moment, the press has being claiming of late. It’s being said by the sort of journalists who have previously claimed that short stories or novellas or enormous doorstop novels are having a moment.

The press, of course, is always keen to portray itself as a keen trendspotter and constantly makes assertions based on having received three vaguely similar books in the post lately or perhaps just one particularly cut-n’-pastable press release.

The facts are these

According to Literature Across Frontiers, translated fiction currently makes up 4.5% of UK sales, up from 3% at the turn of the century. This compares with almost a third in Germany and around half in Italy. Discount unrepeatable phenomena such as Elena Ferrante and Stieg Larsson and the increase is negligible.

If translated literature was really what everyone is buying, it would be reflected in what chain bookshops were putting in front and centre, in bestseller lists, in the pages of magazines as well as literary journals. And it’s not.

Translated literature, as the Twitterati smugly proclaim, is not a genre

To yoke books together on the grounds of their not being originally written in English is arbitrary and senseless.

Except… consider, for example, a novel set in ancient Rome and another in revolutionary France sitting side-by-side on a table of historical fiction: many readers adore exploring the past by reading fiction and plenty of them are interested in more than one era.

Similarly, readers travel the world vicariously through novels. An interest in Italy is unlikely to correlate with a passion for China but, in both cases, the reader is exhibiting curiosity about other cultures. A table of translated literature, therefore, makes perfect sense. Mostly importantly, it works: when I was at Foyles, we had one almost permanently, with an ever-changing selection, and it consistently outsold almost every other themed display.

It’s all very well dreaming of a world where readers are language-blind, but hoping that we’ll get there by leaving translated books to fend for themselves in the run from A to Z is wishful thinking. Positive discrimination is needed, just as we need to highlight female, working class and BAME writers, to avoid the cultural default of just waiting for the new one from Ian McEwan.

There are some major issues with exactly what does get translated into English

Safer choices by publishers lead to a preponderance of male writers. The lack of languages among British publishers means that Western Europe dominates. A lack of familiar cultural references in commercial fiction or British perspectives in non-fiction apparently makes anything other than English-language titles in these areas too problematic to consider. Credit for the translator is often buried somewhere discreet, as well as remaining largely absent from reviews. Random House even removed the diacritic from the name of Jo Nesbø lest such exoticism startle fragile crime fans (although Simon & Schuster have more faith in the child readers of his Doctor Proctor books and kept it).

We chose Senegal as the first destination in Africa for the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club, but were soon stymied: even names of global import such as Mariama Bâ, Ousmane Sembène and Fatou Diome are out of print in the UK. (Literature from any African nation can, incidentally, most often be identified by the hackneyed image of a sunset behind an acacia tree on the cover.)

The indies

We can only be grateful to the independent publishing sector, who have stepped in to cater for this vastly untapped market. Istros Books, for example, specialise in books from the Balkans. The main focus of Tilted Axis is books from Asia and Africa. And Other Stories and Peirene Press have achieved the sort of brand recognition that the big houses have long craved, signing up subscribers with a guarantee of literary intrepidity.

This is being mirrored by independent bookshops, who have capitalised on the millions of readers in search of something other than the cosily familiar. Globalisation of every aspect of life on Earth is happening now, whatever the Brexiteers may think of that, and Anglophone literature can only be enriched by embracing the remarkable variety the rest of the world has to offer.

Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 

Smart phones: Changing the rules of the game

Jacob CockcroftJacob Cockcroft is Co-Founder and CEO of The Pigeonhole, a made-for-mobile digital book club, serialising their books in installments delivered straight to a reader’s virtual bookshelf on the iOS app or website. Here he writes on mobile reading and making digital work for your company.

E-books are on the decline. Digital reading is only for romance novels. Waterstone’s no longer sells Kindle eReaders. Excellent, publishers can go back to business as usual. The physical book has prevailed.

Well, OK, if you want to misread the tea leaves. The inescapable truth is that there will be 2.5 billion smart phone users by 2019, all potential readers. The largest industry oversight is a distinct separation between physical and digital reading, with digital being the cheaper, dirty cousin. There is a tally for physical sales and a tally for digital sales, count up the points and see who wins.

This simplicity fails to understand how mobile phones are hard coded into people’s daily routine, behavior and psychology. They are the single most important discovery tool for anything: holidays, clothes, kettles, and of course books, but this discovery tool could be so much more efficient, if used properly. The art is to exploit the opportunities smart phones provide and, most importantly, to use data driven analytics to hone the message. This is something physical books simply can’t offer (in much the same way that digital books can’t bring the touch, feel and smell of a physical book).

Interaction, sociability, discoverability, immediacy, pinpoint targeting, measurable ROI. View digital reading through a marketing lens and it can bring you all these things. But it has to be fun; it has to compete with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat on the home screen of every IOS or Android device. This is the business of habit-forming products, of providing that 10-15 minute hit of endorphins as someone breastfeeds, or waits for the tube, or a friend to turn up in a bar.

This is the battle that we wage at the Pigeonhole. We are building dynamic reading experiences, something to take part in, to feel as though you are on a collective journey with others, discovering the most exciting books of the moment. It’s not enough to just pipe content onto a phone and expect people to churn through hours of turgid reading, the temptations of the other apps are just too great, even for those with the best intentions. There is no great mystery as to why digital completion rates for traditional reading apps are so low.

You have to make it FUN. Satisfying. Exciting. Challenging. This is all possible, more than possible, it’s real. All of our publishing partners have given their experience the thumbs up, and over half who respond to our surveys would actively recommend the Pigeon to fellow readers. It is still early days (we have a community of over 12,000 users and our Android app is coming in September) but we are getting closer and closer to perfecting the experience.

And it is the author who benefits from us more then anyone. Many publishers are acutely aware that they aren’t delivering for their authors on the marketing front; they just don’t have the bandwidth. Our partnerships solve this, giving the author a direct line to their readers, creating genuine buzz around the book across social media, and facilitating those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to boost the all-important algorithms. In turn, this drives the sales of physical books through direct click-throughs from our site to Amazon and both online and offline word of mouth.

We are the ultimate content marketing platform, using the most powerful thing you can – the book itself. Our serialisations allow any book to fit into any life, whilst offering a structured framework for conversations to play out through between the author and their readers

In this way, digital becomes part of an integrated strategy for the promotion of a book, driving discoverability, author profiles, digital sales and physical sales. Posters on the tube are great, but pound for pound, displays in the Facebook newsfeed of keen readers can be much more powerful. With a holistic strategy like this you really can fulfill the potential digital reading provides.

So my message: Don’t be scared of digital and don’t turn your back on it. You just need to be smarter, more creative and ambitious with it.

curation

Curation: Interview with Michael Bhaskar

Michael BhaskarMichael Bhaskar is a writer, researcher, digital publisher and Co-Founder of Canelo. Here we interviewed him on his new book, Curation: The Power of Selection in a World of Too Much.

1) Tell us a bit about your new book. What’s it all about, and what are some of the key points?

The new book is called Curation and it’s about, yes, the idea of curation. A few years ago I was going to lots of conferences and it was this word that kept on appearing. Everything was curated. I kept seeing it in the newspaper, on the Internet… At first it seemed like a bit of posturing, a word for art school grads. But the more I started thinking the more it seemed there was the germ of a very powerful idea.

The reason I think we have come to use the word curation, why it’s broken out of museums and galleries, is that we have too much stuff in almost every context. We have saturated markets. The problem changes – from just producing more to choosing better. Hence the need for curation. From there the book goes to all kinds of places. It defines curation as selecting to arranging to add value.

It looks at everything from the business of models of Amazon, Netflix and Spotify to the world’s first data visualization and the collapse of the Mayans. It’s goes from the shopping malls of Hong Kong to the art of Marcel Duchamp to the relationship between algorithmic and human curation. It looks at the history and principles behind the term but also goes to the places today where it’s really being felt – on Facebook or at shops like Eataly or Opening Ceremony.

2) How do you find being on the writing side of a project compared to the publishing side?

Strange, nerve-wracking but enjoyable! As publishers it’s easy to get used to books coming out and to forget just what a huge thing it is for the author. Writers have to live and breathe the work over the space of years. It’s so personal. It’s a timely reminder of that! What I do like is the space to think. Publishing requires you to be very focused on outcomes, whereas writing lets you wander.

3) What have you learned from writing the book?

I’ve learned that the nature of the economy is changing in a very fundamental way. The model of producing more is now only producing overload and won’t work. Almost whatever we are doing our roles will, over the next years, feature more and more of what we might call curation. Just think about the book industry: there are 1 million new English language books published every year, not including self-published and other works. That’s books with ISBNs. What is the value of publishing another versus finding the right book for the right reader?

More broadly I just learnt a huge amount. Everything from the history of retail to the birth of museums to the inner workings of major tech companies and the Himalayan silk road where in there and needed research!

4) How does Curation relate to your first book, The Content Machine, and how does it differ?

The Content Machine was quite academic and very much focused on publishing. Curation is a much broader and more accessible book. It’s targeted at a general readership and it really looks at a much wider range of examples. What I hope both share is a passion for ideas and interesting stories to illustrate them!

5) Given your various roles, what are your top tips for managing time and relationships within your team?

In terms of time, one word: discipline! If you are writing as well as working you never have the luxury of vast tracts of time. So you have to be tough with yourself, get up early on a Saturday morning and get writing. There is no short cut alas!

nielsen

Free Nielsen key findings report: The UK Children’s & YA Book Consumer

Since 2012, Nielsen Book UK has undertaken a Children’s Deep-Dive Study each summer to investigate children’s book reading and buying habits in the context of other leisure and entertainment pursuits.

For the first time in 2015, in addition to the nationally representative sample of 1,500 parents of 0-13 year olds and 500 young adults aged 14-17, the survey included 1,000 book buyers aged 18-25 to help investigate the phenomenon of adults buying ‘YA’ books for themselves. The research was undertaken in July 2015.

The 2015 research measured a drop in book reading on a weekly basis both among those aged 3-7 and 14-17 – though since 2012, the biggest decrease overall has been among 3-10 year olds. Books, however, still rank as the most popular activity for 0-10 year olds – but are in fifth position for 11-13s and drop out of the top 8 activities for those aged 14+.

For the first time Nielsen segmented the 0-25 book market into groups. ‘Superfans’ – the very heaviest readers – tend to be female, with an average age of 12. ‘Distractable’ and the ‘Anti’ groups are more likely to be males, with the ‘Anti’ group being older (14 on average) and the ‘Distractables’ younger (11 on average), whilst the ‘Potential’ group is as likely to be boys as girls.

This latter group are the ones reading e-books and magazines, and they too like adaptations; with the right content, format and messaging, this is a market that publishers can grow.

Download a free extract of the report here. Or you can purchase the full report via Nielsen here.

skills for publishing

Why publishers must love and understand their customer

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He has been shortlisted and longlisted for various awards, is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, and regularly speaks on publishing and business.

The first question to any business, business idea or concept is who is the customer? No customer, no business appears is a true and you would think obvious statement. But ask a publisher who their customer is and in most cases you will not receive a clear and focused answer.

One of the issues is the make-up of the supply chain. Publishers spend a large amount of time selling to buyers at retail outlets, or wholesalers, who may or may not be well-aligned with the decision making process of the actual book buyer. You could argue the retailer is the customer, but for businesses the customer should be the end point and, in particular with the shadow of sale-or-return terms, if the book buyer doesn’t buy your products, you don’t have a book publishing business.

So, the person on the street (or in today’s market as likely to be at their computer) is the most important person for a publisher to understand. But all too often those in publishing aren’t even at the understanding stage because before that must be respect and appreciation.

I’ve heard many conversations and read many articles from publishers slamming customers today – want everything for free, just interesting in celebrities/trash, no taste etc. To a publisher the book buyer must be the single most important person to their business and if you aren’t able to respect and make the customer central to everything you do, then frankly you’re taking up a job that could go to someone better.

So having made them central to a publisher’s business, how well are they understood? Some publishers who have successfully found a niche area understand their customer very well and benefit greatly from this. But in the general trade, there is huge and important ground to cover.

Hopefully we are already moving away from ‘will appeal to everyone from 8 to 80’, ‘will appeal to both men and women’ (who else is there…) but most publishers are at the starting point of understanding their customers. Publishers aren’t now competing against other books but just for the customer’s brief attention and therefore against many different forms of entertainment, social media, dating sites and the list goes on and on.

So how to better understand your customer from a standing start? Too much to fit into one blog, but data is vital, with detailed categorisation, data capture, pre and post sales information, focus groups, tailored information being sent, events, partnerships and advanced and trackable discoverability.

All this would be a start, but the message I want to get across is that if a publisher doesn’t currently have a strategy to better understand their customer they are going to be left behind. Publishers cannot now just get books into bookshops and hope for the best; they need multi-layered selling routes knowing exactly whom they are aiming at.

Again, the battle today for any book publisher is to get the customer’s attention. And that can only work if they know exactly whose attention they are trying to capture.

Startup Snapshot: Book Sprints

book sprintsAdam Hyde is the founder of the Book Sprints methodology, Co-Founder of the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation, and a current Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow. He also founded FLOSS Manuals, Booktype, Objavi, Lexicon, BookJS and PubSweet.

1. What exactly is Book Sprints?

Book Sprints, Ltd, is a team of facilitators, book-production professionals, and illustrators specialized in Book Sprint facilitation and rapid book production. Our organization developed the original methodology and has refined it since 2008 through the facilitation of more than 100 Book Sprints, in which a book is planned, written, and produced in five days or less. Topics have ranged from corporate documentation to industry guides, government policies, technical documentation, white papers, academic research papers, and activist manuals.

2. What problem does it solve?

A Book Sprint is a collaborative process where a book is produced from the ground up in just five days. But even more important, this collaborative process captures the knowledge of a group of subject-matter experts in a manner that would be nearly impossible using traditional processes. The result at the end of the Book Sprint is a high-quality finished book in digital and print-ready formats, ready for distribution.

3. Who is your target market?

Anyone that needs a book, fast! Having said that we seem to catch on very well with the Corporate Documentation sector and large NGOs who need to produce field guides and white papers. We have also produced a wide variety of books from OER textbooks, to fiction, to research outputs, as well as primary materials for PHD dissertations.

4. What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

We would hope more people would come to understand that Book Sprints is not just about producing books quickly; it’s about immersive collaboration, learning from your peers, creating fast bonds with them, and building consensus and a common vision.

5. What will be next for Book Sprints?

We have Book Sprints coming up soon with organizations like the World Bank, the U.S. Energy Association, Cisco, and F5. And we are in discussions about several education-related projects–a sector we are anxious to do more work in.

Adam Hyde has also worked with and advised Safari Books Online, PLoS, the World Bank, Google Summer of Code, University of California Press, Liturgical Press, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Cisco, F5, Cryptoparty, OpenStack, Open Oil, Sourcefabric, GIZ, USAID, Mozilla and the EC amongst others. For more information please see: http://www.adamhyde.net/projects/

book sprints

Authors marketing

Four players in the book business with the power to rewrite some of the rules

The news came recently that ReaderLink has purchased Anderson News. Those two companies have been the leading suppliers of books to the mass merchandisers: primarily Wal-mart, Target, and Sam’s Club. There are other players selling books in the space, including Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and smaller distributors like the less-well-known American West. But most of the books going to most of the mass merchant accounts have gotten there through what will now be one company supplying them: ReaderLink.

By my count, that puts four companies in the book business who have extraordinarily powerful holds on their space. They are ReaderLink (in the supply of books to mass merchants), Amazon (as an online retailer), Barnes & Noble (as a bricks-and-mortar retailer) and Penguin Random House (as a commercial trade publisher).

ReaderLink, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble now have extraordinarily powerful positions from which to demand better terms from their publisher-suppliers. In all three cases, they have customer bases which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a competitor to take away from them.

Amazon

Amazon has pretty much owned the online book customer since the year they opened for business in 1995. There is a faint hope that fragmentation of the online marketplace and the placement of commerce in the social stream, such as is enabled by Ingram’s Aer.io technology, could wrest some of their share. Perhaps, over time, that will happen. But they keep pulling further ahead of their only real competition, BN.com, and I am not aware of even one single reporting period when Amazon’s share of the online book market hasn’t grown. It is simply not an option for a publisher who wants to sell to consumers to avoid Amazon. (The only way a publisher could conceivably do that is if their customer base is reached entirely by direct sales or through intermediaries outside the book business.)

Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble may be losing brick-and-mortar market share to independents, but they remain by far the leading bookstore chain. If a publisher wants books in the retail marketplace, Barnes & Noble has been, since the demise of Borders five years ago, the only one-stop way to get national coverage. In fact, they almost certainly control the majority of bookstore shelf space in the country, and their single biggest competitor, Books-a-Million, has fewer than half as many stores. And B-a-M’s stores are smaller.

ReaderLink

ReaderLink is now in a similar position vis a vis the mass merchants. These stores constitute the other big component of the store retailing system and they are critical for bestsellers, mass-market paperbacks, and “merchandise” like adult coloring books and kids books. In fact, ReaderLink and Anderson lived with what was a “managed competition” controlled by their accounts; they each had stores assigned to them by their mass merchant customers. Publishers have always had to deal with both of them in order to place their books in the mass accounts. And, indeed, it could be that there will be efficiencies to this consolidation that will be beneficial for the publishers. But, if there are, it is also quite likely that ReaderLink will find ways to adjust their terms to take at least some of the benefits back and they are likely to be successful persuading publishers to allow that. (They have also manifestly strengthened their negotiating position with those accounts that are committed to stocking books.)

Penguin Random House

There is a fourth powerful player: Penguin Random House. PRH is almost (but not quite) the size of the other four members of the Big Five combined. As such, they are in a position to do things in the marketplace that no other publisher could contemplate. Since the merger of Penguin and Random House, I’ve written about what they uniquely could do with their marketplace power. The two key suggestions, neither of which has drawn any evident interest from the management at PRH, were a program to supply non-bookstores with vendor-managed inventory (creating store retail accounts nobody else would have) and to create their own ebook subscription service. (That would also create unique distribution.)

Mass-merchant supply

The new combination in mass-merchant supply could suggest another such opportunity. Perhaps this one will be more compelling.

The supply of books to mass merchants, as to any account that is not primarily in the book business and comfortable with both the logistical challenges and relatively low profit potential in books, is complicated, expensive, and usually inefficient. The number of titles that actually make it into these stores is a paltry percentage of the industry’s output. Only the biggest publishers have enough of the right books to really play.

And then the publisher has to cover both the retail accounts that will ultimately sell their books and the distributor-intermediary that supplies them. It will be a bit easier for the big publishers selling books to Wal-mart and Target to manage the business through one big account rather than two (one fewer account to deal with), but it is still a frustratingly inefficient segment of the business. (The one fewer account aspect of this is bound to be causing some nervousness right now in the sales departments of some publishers.) Visibility into inventory status is, relative to the store-level view available at Barnes & Noble, klunky. Returns are high. Responsiveness to breaking events is slow. And the margins are worse than for any other part of the domestic business.

But part of the reason for that is that delivering on the service requirements for these accounts is expensive. One sales executive I spoke to estimated that ReaderLink has more than 2500 detail people calling on the outlets of the mass merchants: checking stock, tidying fixtures, and replacing sold books. No wonder these distributors need hefty margins to do this work. And this also explains why Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who, of course, carry all the titles these merchants would ever need, don’t appear to move aggressively to take this business away from the incumbent(s).

To picture the Penguin Random House options, I try to view this from the perspective of one publisher with about half the books that these mass merchant accounts need. I’m giving away margin to a middle player that adds a layer of inefficiency and cost in order to be an effective aggregator. Obviously, the accounts want that aggregator. They don’t want to deal with hundreds of publishers individually, or even with just each of the Big Five. It would be a non-starter for a publisher supplying five or ten or even twenty percent of their books to say: “can we work out a way to do this directly?” So just about everybody has to accept the inefficiency.

An alternative model

But what about if it were a supplier that provided half the books? And what if that supplier offered, as an opening gambit, to share some of the margin that now goes to the middle player directly with the account? And what if that effectively became the account’s only way to get those books, because the powerful publisher was no longer willing to play ball with the high discounts and high returns that the current system entails?

Only Penguin Random House is in a position to take this approach. And it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do. They’d have to create a VMI system. They’d have to organize a detailing army quite different from the sales force(s) they have created and managed historically. They’d have to either gear themselves up to execute more smaller shipments or form alliances that would make that possible. But the payoffs would also be substantial. And PRH has a much bigger margin share to support their efforts than ReaderLink, or any other wholesaler or distributor, would have.

Sales would go up. Returns would go down. Margins would improve. Their competitors would be weakened. In fact, it is conceivable that, over time, a PRH direct-supply operation could morph into a ReaderLink service that was available to other publishers as well. (All big publishers, including PRH, already offer their core distribution services to competitors. This would be a variation on that theme.)

Perhaps Penguin Random House will never behave in a qualitatively different way than the other Big Five houses, exercising power that they uniquely have. They certainly haven’t so far. On the other hand, it was pointed out to me recently that the integration of what were the two biggest publishers among the Big Six when Random House and Penguin combined four years ago is, even today, not yet complete. Rationalization has occurred in the “back end”, with the consequent job losses which are part of the payoff for the owners in any big merger of this kind. But more consolidation is still in front of them, and perhaps the radical paradigm-shifting initiatives need to wait until that job is really done.

And perhaps Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and now ReaderLink are wary of poking the bear, and are less demanding that PRH honor their primacy with margin than they are of PRH’s competitors. In fact, the CEO of one of their Big Five competitors told me a year or two ago that he liked having a competitor of PRH’s size on the publisher side because this executive felt it kept the overall industry terms under control. The belief on this CEO’s part was that PRH’s size restrained the big accounts to the benefit of all the big players.

But unlike Amazon or Barnes & Noble, whose businesses can not be efficiently replaced by any direct effort, the supply of mass merchant accounts is something PRH could conceivably do better on their own. Whether the acquisition of Anderson by ReaderLink provides the catalyst to get them to try it is something it will probably take a couple of years to find out.

Although Ingram occupies a unique position in the global book supply chain and, indeed, might be the single most important player, they aren’t in the position of these other four to exercise power. In wholesaling, they have always had a powerful national competitor, Baker & Taylor, which is now even more financially stable having itself been acquired by Follett. Even in smaller-publisher distribution, where Ingram grew dramatically by acquiring Perseus, they will always have all the big publishers and a host of smaller distributors as alternatives for those considering their services. Indeed, Ingram could try to compete with ReaderLink for the mass merchant accounts, but they’d have to support the substantial systems and staff investments on a distribution margin, which is a much more challenging proposition than it would be for PRH with the publisher’s margin.

Mike Shatzkin has been in publishing since 1962. Since 1979, Mike has been an independent consultant (The Idea Logical Company) with clients that have included most major publishers in the US and UK, retailers including Barnes & Noble and Borders, wholesalers including Ingram, and a host of tech startups. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeShatzkin. This post was originally posted on The Idea Logical Company blog in May 2016.

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. 

Self-employed in publishing

Are yEUr rights protected? Workers’ rights and the EU

Following the EU referendum and ahead of our July event with Unite the Union, ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘, Jasmin Kirkbride summarises current workers’ rights and how they may be affected if the UK votes Leave. 

It has become fashionable to grumble about ‘EU Red Tape’. However, on closer inspection, these laws that we so easily complain about offer huge protection for workers across the UK.

Rights the EU enforces and protects

Amongst other things, EU law ensures that our government must give workers paid holidays, rights for new mothers, 18 weeks of parental leave, limits on how long we can be forced to work, protection from discrimination against religion, belief, gender assignment, sexuality, age and race.

Certain rights that seem like no-brainers now were only put in place because of the EU: for example, the law saying that if your company is sold, you are entitled to the same pay and conditions as before. The EU also ensures that if any major changes are coming up in a company, union representatives and employee forums must be informed.

Some of these laws look after us day-to-day, others you might not necessarily notice until the going gets tough. But they are there to protect us hail, rain or shine.

How leaving affects the law

The Leave camp has argued many times that these laws will continue to exist if Britain leaves the EU. While this may be true in the short term, and our rights would not disappear overnight, the future is less certain.

The UK government has not always welcomed EU directives protecting the worker. There were bitter complaints against the law stating that part-time workers should have the same rights as full-time workers, for instance. If we left the EU, the government could very easily chip away at or scrap laws like these that are currently crucial to the worker. You may think this seems unlikely but, outside the EU, governments regularly curtail workers’ rights: in America for example, workers are legally entitled to no annual leave at all.

Already, the UK government is not exceptionally benevolent to workers, particularly not under Conservative leadership. Conservative minister Michael Gove has said, “membership of the EU prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law” as a reason to leave. The idea that these changes would not include workers’ rights is naïve at best. Worse, current government estimates say that around 820,000 jobs are likely to be lost in the UK if we leave the EU: not a good start to renegotiations.

Other Leave camp arguments have included the idea that the EU no longer has anything to offer the worker in terms of employment rights. However this seems to be untrue as, amongst other items on the agenda, campaigners from the EU are currently trying to tackle the dreaded zero-hours contract.

Who do you trust?

Ultimately, the decision is based on who you trust to look after your rights as a worker.

With controversial issues like TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) coming to the fore, we cannot pretend that the EU is not in need of reform. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that remaining in the EU will automatically protect our rights and our future.

But over the years, the EU has proven to offer a strong, consistent layer of protection from the whims of UK governments on a four-year turnover. That protection is something we should not overlook.

Join us for United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘ on the 14th July. Early bird ticket sales end 30th June (£8, instead of £15).

Sara Donaldson - Freelancers

How to work with publishers: 8 tips for freelancers

Following on from our tips for publishers working with freelancers, freelancers need to be able to see things from the publisher’s point of view too. Yes, freelancers struggle sometimes, but there are ways to counteract lack of communication. Help publishers to help you where they can.

1) Remember to communicate effectively with your publisher and in a timely manner

Just as we may be working on more than one project at a time, so will your project editor. Don’t expect them to have the time or the inclination to ‘chat’ and don’t automatically expect them to know which project you are talking about. Be concise, professional and give them all the facts, ask your questions, then let them get back to work.

2) Be approachable

Just as you want to be kept in the loop your publisher may want to be kept informed too. Ask them at the beginning of the project how they would like to be kept updated – they may prefer you just to get on with the job, or they may like periodic updates on where you are with the job.

If something is wrong tell them! If you suddenly have a crisis that looks as though it may affect your work don’t leave them in the dark. How many times have you fallen ill, then put in an abnormal amount of hours afterwards to catch up, only to find that the work could have been submitted a week later? If your client doesn’t know that something is wrong they can’t help you. And, of course, if something really major happens it is only right that you give them the chance to outsource to a new freelancer.

Treat your publisher client the way you would like to be treated, this paves the way to a productive, professional relationship.

3) When quoting make sure you ask your publisher for all the relevant information

You know what you need to know, but it may be that the project editor doesn’t realise you need to know certain things. Remember, not every project editor has been trained in copy-editing or proofreading. You are a specialist in your field, help your fellow publishing professional out, especially if they are inexperienced. If it isn’t immediately evident, ask them what they think needs to be done with the text (and if it’s not at the stage the publisher thinks it is tell them, and tell them why).

4) Help your publisher understand the differences between copy-editing and proofreading

There will be instances when you receive a text for a proofread and immediately see that it needs a copy-edit or a lighter proof-edit – don’t sit in silence and stew over a heavier workload than was expected, let them know. And, if you are not able to take on the extra workload, tell them why! Explain that a proofread really is supposed to be the last pair of eyes on a document, and if all is well very little should be changed. You could always point your publisher towards the SfEP FAQ pages, but if that seems a little too cold, just explain the differences gently and professionally. Hell, if editors sometimes find it difficult to understand levels of editing, project editors might find it a nightmare.

5) If a publisher offers work with an impossibly tight deadline or budget, give them options

Explain to them how long it takes to edit proficiently and remind them about budget guidelines (and, on occasion, remind them of the minimum wage and professional wage guidelines!). The only way freelancers are going to educate publishers is by explaining why their deadlines, or budgets, are unacceptable. We are trained professionals, and while we should act in a professional manner this does not include accepting work that means long days, working at weekends or working for a pitiful income. If the work offered is on the tight side, rather than dismissing it, offer a solution. Perhaps offer a lower specification edit that will fit in with their offer.

6) Many freelancers choose the freelance life to get away from an office environment, but remote working does not mean being totally isolated

Treat your line manager the way you would if you worked in a physical office building. Get the work back on time, let them know if you are ill and it will disrupt your workflow, and keep in contact if they prefer it that way. Talk to your client about how they prefer to work. If you want to be treated as part of the team, act like one of the team for the duration of your contract.

7) Don’t be afraid to talk money once the negotiation is over

Keep track of new clients and at the outset ask about invoice procedures. If there is a monthly invoice cycle that will cause problems, for instance, if the project is due to end a few days after invoices are due in, ask if it is possible to submit the invoice before the work is completed.

If working with academic institutions, find out who will be footing the bill – sometimes it’s the author, sometimes it’s the author’s school department. Inter-departmental academic payment can take longer to come through than many traditional publishing jobs, be aware of their policies. Asking that one question could mean the difference between being paid in a month or in three months, or even longer!

We all have bills to pay, so it’s time to stop being embarrassed about money.

8) Finally, ask for feedback and testimonials

While we would all like automatic feedback, it rarely happens. The request could be ignored, but if you ask at least you’ve done what you can. Even adding a generic request onto your invoice or invoice email signature might give the project editor the push they need to come back with something. Freelancing can be a lonely business with no peer reviews, but there’s always the old adage – ‘don’t ask, don’t get’.

Sara Donaldson is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter.

Here’s where innovative publishers need to focus

There are a number of key attributes successful publishers will be known for in the future. These core capabilities will be very different from the ones that have led to the modern empires of the Big Five.

Some attributes will remain the same, of course. For example, it will always be crucial for publishers to acquire, develop and produce excellent content. But the services and capabilities that surround and complement the acquire/develop/produce core are what will matter most.

With that in mind, here’s my short list of what will separate tomorrow’s publishing leaders from all the rest:

1) Being data-driven

Remember the old days when Ingram data was the only source of industry-wide sell-through information? Then Bookscan hit the scene and it felt like we moved from the Stone Age to the Information Age. I’m not talking about this kind of data. Bookscan and other retailer sell-through numbers are lagging indicators. They represent what happened yesterday, last week or last month. The successful publisher of tomorrow wants to know what’s happening right now and where the trends are leading. Real-time website analytics, heat maps, email open/click-thru rates…that’s where the actionable data can be found today but most book publishers treat them as secondary information sources at best. A publisher who thinks they’re data-driven today might adjust plans for a book scheduled to publish six months from now based on sell-through data they studied from last month. Tomorrow’s data-driven publisher will alter the free content on their website this afternoon based on information they gathered this morning.

2) Breaking free of containers

Why are publishers focused on lagging indicators? Because they’re stuck in the era of containers. They’re producing books, magazines or newspapers and they measure everything based on those containers. It may not be obvious but the container model is slowly fading away. Please don’t misinterpret this. I’m not saying books are going away. Print books will still be produced for a long, long time. But the way content is being consumed is shifting to a more digital, container-less model. Think about that last bit of content you read on your phone. Did you care whether it was originally produced for a newspaper, a magazine, a blog, a website or a newsletter? Probably not. What mattered most is that the content covered a topic that matters to you. Innovative publishers need to think more about highly relevant content streams rather than content containers.

3) Direct-to-consumer (D2C)

I vividly recall talking five years ago with a Big Six executive about the importance of creating a vibrant direct-to-consumer channel. She rolled her eyes and said they’d never do that because they prefer to let their retail partners handle the consumer connection. I feel somewhat validated now as I see that same publisher experimenting more and more with D2C. It’s not just about capturing all the revenue. The data and resulting opportunities to do some very powerful things with that data are what make D2C such an important model. That, and the fact that you become less reliant on middlemen who control your destiny, ought to be reason enough to focus on D2C.

4) Owning and leveraging the list

The most important piece of data every publisher should own is the customer name and email address. This is what makes D2C so special. Securing names and emails isn’t as easy as simply making a sale. You’ve got to earn the consumer’s trust by having them opt in to your future marketing campaigns. Too many publishers who have built a D2C channel simply become data hoarders, gathering names and emails but never doing much with them.

5) Building the funnel

One of the biggest reasons publishers don’t go direct is that they feel they’re unable to attract enough traffic to make it worthwhile. That’s because they’re not applying the funnel model. You start by offering plenty of outstanding free content on your site. Once visitors arrive and they like what they read you have the opportunity to connect with them via free newsletters, for example; rather than waiting and hoping they come back, offer to continue sending outstanding content right to their email inbox. Part of this step includes asking them to opt in for other offers and information from you. As the funnel narrows from top to bottom, you’re leading these consumers along a path loaded with all your terrific content, some of it free and some of it paid.

This isn’t for everyone. For example, the Big Five are simply too reliant on the existing ecosystem, unwilling to risk alienating certain channel partners and built upon a very rigid container-based creation and distribution model. The Big Five will remain large, just like B&N and Borders did for many years after Amazon arrived. But then Borders went away and in order to survive B&N evolved from a bookstore to a gift shop.

The smaller players though, the ones who focus on a particular topic, vertical or audience are the publishers who are best positioned to embrace the attributes described above. And as they do they’ll find themselves in a far better world with a direct connection to customers and the ability to serve those customers with more than just one or two types of container-driven content.

Joe WikertJoe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

Sara Donaldson - Freelancers

How to work with freelancers: 8 tips for publishers

Whether you are working as a freelance or in-house, the publishing world relies on great communication, specialist skills and not a small amount of stress. If you are already in the industry, you know just how hectic life can become as publication day rolls near. Having great connections is part of the game, and failure or success can hinge on getting the right person for the job.

With that in mind you have to see the process from both sides. Publishers need freelances who can step up to the mark, and freelances need publishers who understand their needs – despite what the popular press think, freelancing isn’t an easy option for everyone.

The following tips are for publishers working with freelancers. My tips for freelancers working with publishers will follow soon.

1) Keep your freelance in the loop, communicate with us!

If there is something that needs to be done in a certain way, tell us. If the project has suddenly had a set-back or been brought forward, let us know in plenty of time. As freelancers, we rely on a steady stream of work … if a project has had a setback, telling us sooner rather than later can help us try to fill the gap. Better still, if you can, offer us a small project to tide us over. That’s one way to really cement a happy working relationship.

2) Be approachable

There is nothing worse than receiving a piece of work and then being subjected to a huge silence. Okay, usually your editor won’t need to communicate much, but it’s good to know there is someone there willing to answer queries. Even just a friendly ‘I’m here if you need me’ can mean the difference between a good working relationship and a bad one. If your editor feels uncomfortable asking questions, if there are any that need answered, it could mean that they perhaps don’t ask and end up wondering if they are doing the right thing.

3) Remember to give your freelancer all the information they need to quote and carry out the work

Supply us with a style sheet, let us know how you would like queries dealt with (do they go to the project editor or directly to the author?), let us know exactly what you want doing with the text. The more information you can give us, the easier it will be for everyone involved.

4) Get to know the differences between copy-editing and proofreading

Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know the difference, pop along to the SfEP FAQ pages where you’ll find an explanation. Both areas take skill and training – your proofreader may not be trained in copy-editing and may have to decline a project if the manuscript isn’t ready. Likewise, your copy-editor may not take on proofreading work.

5) Understand that copy-editing and proofreading takes time

Be clear about your budget and the timescale from the outset. If your budget, or time, is limited you may have to accept a less comprehensive edit. Remember, your freelancer isn’t just sitting down in their conservatory reading your book, they are in their office dissecting it, making sure it is ready for publication and the intended audience. This all takes time. As an example you can look at an editing time of perhaps 2,000–3,000 words per hour (this is just a very loose example based on an average text in good condition).

6) We may not be in the office, but while we are working with you we really are part of the team, try to remember that and treat us accordingly

Be honest about when work needs to be returned. Don’t give us unreasonable deadlines … we like a weekend break too! Understand that your freelancer is an expert in their field. Trust us to do our job, but don’t be afraid to ask us questions. Just treat us like one of you!

7) Pay us on time

Yes, we all hate talking about money, but freelancers depend on being paid promptly. Make sure we know who to send the invoice to and if there is a pay cycle please let us know. There is nothing more frustrating than sending in an invoice to find we missed the monthly cycle by a day – this can mean the invoice being delayed by a month, and paid even later. An employee would not take kindly to waiting three months for their wages, freelancers feel the same.

8) Finally, give us feedback and testimonials

There is nothing worse than working on a project, handing it back, then hearing nothing. It really is disheartening. Did we do well or were there areas that could have been improved? Honest feedback is valuable to a freelancer, no feedback can eventually erode a freelancer’s confidence. We’re not being needy, just practical. It doesn’t have to take much time either, a simple ‘Thanks, you did a great job’ or ‘That was fine, but next time we need to talk about the way we handle author queries’ added onto the end of an email is all that is needed. Let us know how we did, it really is appreciated and useful.

Sara Donaldson is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter.

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. 

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