Book publishing. And everything else.

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Live from 1935

We’ve inherited a sewing machine from 1935.

It’s one of those that was built into a table. It’s kind of Rube-Goldbergy, but I oiled it (a bit too much, actually) and got it running. Now I just have to work out the bobbin problem (doesn’t seem to fit on the bobbin spindle) and then I can use it. I have my mom’s Singer from 1978, which is really good, but this one is incredibly sturdy. And FAST.



Um. Whoa. Damn.

Farhad Manjoo reports that Amazon is preparing to offer same-day delivery. Manjoo’s great about the implications of this service. I’m just thinking about how I shop now as opposed to how my parents used to.

I subscribe to Amazon Prime. So of course all the delights of free shipping, and almost-always next-day delivery have been mine for quite some time. For certain things, I’d much rather click, buy, and go about my day than make the time (which is all too precious) to stop at a store, poke around the aisles, take the risk that my thing might not be in stock…it’s kind of demoralizing.

Other companies have learned from Amazon. I have a subscription to Aveda. There are certain products I use regularly (lots of them, actually – yes, I will pay good money to smell good) so I have them regularly shipped to me from their replenishment service. I don’t have to have the OMG I AM OUT OF CONFIXOR moments anymore.

Instead of care packages for my Diva daughter at college, I select what I want her to have and Amazon does the pick-and-pack and gets the stuff to her in record time. If it weren’t for Amazon, my kid would starve.

Bernardo and I are installing a swimming pool in the next few weeks. It occurred to me to check on Amazon – yes, I can order an above-ground pool for a moderate price AND FREE SHIPPING. What if I didn’t have to wait a day? What if I could get it…now?

When the fulfillment of physical goods approaches the speed of digital fulfillment, do we need replicators?

Service or tool?

In talking about the Penguin acquisition of Author Solutions, some questions came up on Twitter that were very thought-provoking. Essentially, @eoinpurcell stated:

The problem isn’t selling authors services, the problem is not providing good enough services for the price charged.

And I wrote him back:

The best sales/mkting services are fairly bespoke & expensive. Are ASI’s actual services or more like tools?

Like do they facilitate DIY and the authors just don’t have the expertise to use them well?

In that same conversation, @glecharles brought up some of the issues around ASI’s upselling methods, which are different issue from what I’m thinking about here.

The fact that the bulk of ASI’s revenues come from selling services, rather than books, is not surprising to me. Putting something in an epub file or between two covers doesn’t mean anybody’s actually going to purchase it. (Ask Bibliobazaar.) So of course the purchasing that happens is the purchasing between the author and ASI. ASI exists not necessarily to put great books into the world, but to provide authors with tools. Traditional publishers exist to put great (or useful, or entertaining) books into the world. And they go to some length to do so. And that’s a service – a service which requires a lot of infrastructure, investment, development.

Which is the point. Self-publishers take that infrastructure, investment, development on themselves. Competing with traditional publishers means more than just using some templates. It means a lot of work – much of which extends beyond the use of tools. It’s hard. And expensive. And generally prohibitive for one person to handle (unless that person is very wealthy with a lot of time on his/her hands).

I’m not saying it can’t be done. There are certainly plenty of instances where self-published authors have gone big – and promptly signed distribution agreements with major publishers because of the infrastructure, investment and development they can now take advantage of. These services must all be paid for. Whether you’re paying for them out of pocket, or paying for them by accepting a royalty in exchange for the right to sell and distribute – different authors will have different models depending on what’s effective for them.

But self-published authors should not confuse services with tools. A tool is a hammer. A service is the contractor laying down your new flooring. A tool is GarageBand. A service is Sony Distribution. Access to tools is easy. Using them with proficiency, as well as having a ready network of colleagues and organizations, is skilled service that requires compensation.





Sweaters Get Emmy Nomination

Well, the man inside them helped. Congrats to Martin Freeman!

Penguin and Author Solutions

This morning we woke up to the news that Penguin had bought Author Solutions for $116 million. So of course Twitter and various listervs promptly erupted: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Some things appear fairly evident, others not so much.

  • Penguin has Book Country. Led by Molly Barton, a rapidly-rising executive whose current title is “Global Digital Director” (and a fellow Staten Islander!), Book Country’s day-to-day is expertly run by Colleen Lindsay, a former literary agent and genre lit publicist with deep background in audience development and social media. Book Country’s focus is on building a community of writers.
  • Penguin emphasizes infrastructure. This is something I know from previous experience with them – as an institution, as part of its corporate culture, Penguin is actively investing in workflow and interoperability between divisions. To a company who values infrastructure, $116 million for services and tools that are proven in the marketplace is a solid investment.
  • Author Solutions makes the bulk of its revenue from services to authors, not book sales. This makes sense for two reasons: (1) these are self-published books, and sales are not going to go through the roof except in very specific instances (2) the tools are good. Which brings us back to the infrastructure.
  • Book Country has been in need of tools/platform on the back end for quite some time. The question in situations like that is whether a company should build those tools itself or buy them.
  • Author Solutions certainly has its own brand(s), but one of its core strengths is providing white-label solutions.

This is what I know so far. I’ll update this post as things develop. Meanwhile, other links:

Digital Book World

Paid Content

Publishers Lunch (requires subscription)

The Bookseller

Eoin Purcell’s Blog

Hitting Bottom

Last night I got home from work and Bernardo very enthusiastically took me to the basement stairs so I could see…this:

Upon closer examination, I also found this:

We are getting French drains. And a checkvalve, and a sump pump.

I ran back upstairs and poured a lovely glass of very cold pinot grigio.

What Goes Around Comes Around

I mentioned a while ago that in 1998, there were roughly 900,000 active titles listed in Books in Print. And today there are 32 million.

I keep coming back to this massive explosion of books because it’s a great benchmark for the information industry at large. If we’re talking about merely books, that exponential growth in the space of 14 years is amazing enough – but now apply that to other industries. Medicine. Technology (bio- and other). Entertainment. Government (large and small). The information that’s available on the open web in 2012 (as opposed to 1998) is far more detailed, plentiful, and even redundant. And that’s just the open web. Information behind firewalls, paywalls, and other walls is even more detailed and plentiful (and redundant).

So whatever problems we were having in organizing that information in 1998 – we’re still having them.

It’s not just books, is the thing. The lessons we’ve learned in the last 14 years of book publishing/selling can be applied readily to the web as a whole. And here’s what we can teach newcomers to this world of exploding information:

  • The “browse vs search” debate will never die. Do users prefer uniform, controlled vocabulary vs keyword searching that may or may not be a crapshoot? I go back and forth on this issue – with controlled vocabularies, you always have to ask “controlled by whom?”, but on the other hand a keyword search often turns up a mishmash of results that you really have to sift through.
  • The “fix your metadata” issue has also not died. In fact, it’s more important than it was in 1998, because there’s just so much more data to wade through and having clean metadata – pointers and categories and consistent fields – is pretty much the only way anybody’s going to find anything.
  • It’s a lot of work to get the metadata right. A lot of boring work, and that’s the only way it’s going to get done. Hours upon repetitive hours of mapping, linking, joining – with frequent palliative applications of chocolate, cheese and strong tea.
  • Most people take search for granted, and take search results on a faith that they don’t question very hard. They will never know how much work is involved in making sure that they get what they are looking for. Convincing them of the importance of the painstaking and boring work is Quixotic at best. Don’t convince. Just do. Map, rank, link, query, clean. And then do it again.
  • The persistence (and continued refinement) of ONIX and MARC indicate that if the Semantic Web/Linked Data didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. It’s common sense – the constant exchange of large amounts of data begs for structure. Without structure, things get lost.
  • When there is structure, there is deliberate corruption. Because people always try to game the system. Just because there’s corruption doesn’t mean the structure shouldn’t get built. Understand that everybody has an agenda and move on.
  • Standards take time. We don’t have time. This is an eternal tension. Just keep swimming.



No, in all our excitement over Molly, we have not forgotten Lucy-bun.

Shortly after this photo was taken, however, Molly lunged at Lucy, sending Lucy off her leash, frantically skittering around the yard. I finally cornered her by the woodpile – she was grateful to be picked up by that point. She burrowed her head hard into my chin, which is her way of saying, “Mommy, I was so scared!”

So we are keeping them at some distance from one another. We had Lucy in the yard last night during dinner, but she was in her cage while Molly was on her leash. Molly seems to think that Lucy is fine so long as she’s in her cage, but if she’s on her leash and out in the open, it appears she requires bossing around. At least from Molly’s point of view.

And Lucy just thinks Molly is a horrible big dark drooling snarling loud toothy monster.

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