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News and Views for Authors. The primary voice of Booksquare is Kassia Krozser. She is a kind-hearted, gentle soul with a wealth of patience for the foibles of humani–wait, that’s not true at all. Kassia has never had an opinion she didn’t wish to express, nor has she ever been shy about telling the emperor that his clothes are, well, transparent. This is her way of expressing love, and she lavishes all of her adoration on the publishing industry because, like a child who needs firm, corrective guidance, publishers and writers need Booksquare.
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1. Tools of Change 2013: What Excites Me Right Now

In about two weeks, I, along with a couple thousand or so of my closest friends, will be attending the 2013 Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York. As you may have guessed, recently I’ve felt I haven’t had much to add to the digital publishing conversation. In many ways — while I know there has been exciting innovation — I’ve felt like we’ve been at a standstill.

(Or, to misquote my friend Eoin Purcell, publishers feel like they have this whole digital thing sorted. Done and done.)

Of course, if you’ve been paying attention (and I know you have), you know there is a lot of innovation happening outside the world of traditional publishing. And, to be honest, inside of traditional publishing, though I would characterize many of those experiments as baby steps instead of bold initiatives. Perhaps this is how it should be.

What I mean is that it is hard to run your core business while transforming part of it into an R&D operation. Particularly when “the future” is something nobody can define. Unless, ahem, you happened to spend a very long weekend with a 19-month old and her iPad. Then you have a clear picture of where the world of story is going, and the expectations that generation will have.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I am very excited to once again attend TOC (and the If Book Then conference in Milan in March). I am thrilled about participating in Kevin Smokler’s Books at the Block Party: The Economics and Outcomes of a Local Literary Economy panel, a panel that also features Dan Blank, Stephanie Anderson, and Rachel Fershleiser. We’ll be talking about the physical, face-to-face aspect of our bookish culture.

What excites me even more is the Startup Showcase on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Every year, Kat Meyer and the rest of the TOC team bring us cutting edge companies doing amazing things in the world of publishing. These companies are the future.

And I’d like to highlight one company in particular: Paperight. I’ve spoken and written about Paperight more than a few times in the past couple of years because it still blows my mind.

We talk about publishing, particularly here in the United States, as if it is something we can take for granted. As Arthur Atwell, the brains behind Paperight demonstrated, in places like sub-Saharan Africa, there is a serious challenge in getting reading material to people who desperately want it. Local bookstores, much less Amazon, aren’t even potential solutions.

Atwell and his team instead utilize existing infrastructure to deliver reading material to readers. And by “existing infrastructure”, I mean telephone lines and copy shops. Customers purchase legal, low-cost books. Publishers and authors get paid. Information is shared. Goals are accomplished.

This is genius. This is important. This is innovation in publishing. I applaud every publisher and author who participates in Paperight. Nothing excites me more than the possibility to spread the joy of reading to people!

I know the TOC schedule is jam-packed with amazing sessions, but I hope you make the time to attend the Startup Showcase. More than a few friends are presenting their innovations (The Holocene and Valobox are two other standouts) and I think you’ll be as inspired as I am by their work.

And…I think you’ll have your entire perspective changed by what Paperight is doing.

The post Tools of Change 2013: What Excites Me Right Now appeared first on Booksquare.

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2. Tools of Change 2012: Today. Tomorrow.

Time certainly does fly when you’re busy doing things, doesn’t it? One day, I was looking forward to the entirety of 2012. The next, I realize I’m leaving for New York and 2012′s Tools of Change conference in less than a week. Naturally, I reacted with typical aplomb…frantically gathering clothes to take to the dry cleaner.

I kid. Sort of. I have the conference dates circled with a big red heart on my calendar (what is better than spending Valentine’s Day with approximately 1500 of your closest friends? Nothing, I tell, you nothing.). More importantly, I’ve been preparing for the two panels I’m moderating (more at the end of this post). I am so lucky. I get to stand back while four (count ‘em, four!) of the most innovative people in publishing do their thing.

I am nothing if not an awesome moderator.

I’ve also been brushing up on the most current publishing news, a bit of struggle for me as it seems like so much of the industry is on round three or four of the same conversation while I am looking for something new. I don’t know if the conversations most of us have been having for the past, oh, six years were light years ahead, or, more likely, if there are so many basic questions the publishing (entire) industry needs to answer, we have to recycle them time and again.

For example, a recent Publisher’s Weekly article asking “Is the Time Right for Bundling?

Let me answer the question succinctly: yes. And no.

I am not convinced the book-buying public is clamoring for print/ebook bundles, just as they weren’t clamoring for “enhanced ebooks” — you know, those higher-priced books with marketing material appended to them. However, I am convinced there are instances where a print/digital combo makes perfect sense. And I think the public does want these sensible combos, even if they cannot articulate their desires.

Then again, I am convinced there are instances where the print book makes no sense at all. I recently purchased a book as part of market research for a project I’m doing. The content is only available in print, and this is something the authors are proud of. I do not have to worry about connectivity when it comes to finding the information I need.


Nope, I just need to worry about hauling one more heavy item in my purse, and hoping the information in that print book is up-to-date. And if it isn’t, well, I can wait until the 6th (print) edition is available to see the corrections. If ever a book should be available as an app, this is it. Within seconds of ordering the print book, I regretted it. Moments after cracking the spine, I knew it was the last thing I wanted or needed.

Personally, the chances of me getting excited about a print/digital bundles for fiction are pretty slim. There is the rare, rare, rare book I love so much I want to display it on my shelves. When that book enters my universe, the joy cannot be described. Usualy, by the time I discover my love for this book, the opportunity to get in on the bundling deal will be lost (hey, make this a retroactive thing…then you’ve got something).

Non-fiction, as in the case I described above, is a different story. But it has to be the right kind of content to make sense. I like that Rachel Deahl, the author of the article, noted the logistical issues involved with bundling — how will those royalties be determined? She also notes the challenges due to the Agency Model (see: Brian O’Leary’s post on Ripple Effects).

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: locking your entire business into a specific model during a time of rapid ch

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3. That Customer Service Thing

So what with this, that, and the other, Booksquare has been a bit quiet lately. The world of digital publishing has been amazingly active, and — oh! — filled with more rumors, speculation, and nonsense than even I can stomach*. Which means the important news gets buried as the digerati chase the next bright and shiny thing.

I have been very much focused on Moving Forward. Which means thinking about how publishing can position itself for the next year, the next five years, the next ten years, heck, the next century. One thing I know for sure is that nobody knows for sure how things will look at any one of those points in time. The best publishers can do is to figure out what they do (not as easy as you’d imagine!), and, more importantly, how they can best position themselves to take advantage of the inevitable shifts in the business.

So, today, a small discussion about a small aspect of this change. I say small because I am addressing an isolated incident. I think it’s worthy of attention because it covers so many of the big issues facing publishing right now.

Neal Stephenson, a favorite author of mine (gotta love a guy who can make every single page of a 900-page book compelling), recently released Reamde in hardcover and ebook. This was an anticipated book from a highly-regarded author. Which means, you know, there was a devoted audience ready to buy the book — in the appropriate format — on day one. Also, the audience has a geeky element, which may play into this story.

The husband reads a bit slower than I do, so I gave him a head start on the book. One night, he said to me (and I paraphrase), “Have you noticed anything weird about the Kindle edition?” I had not because I hadn’t started the book (I did not want to mention the head start thing to protect his ego and all that).

So I started the book. And I noticed. Oh, I noticed. Conversion errors galore! Okay, maybe five conversion errors in my first half-hour of reading. Anything that jerks me out of the flow of a story — and, boy, do conversion errors do that! — is a Bad Thing.

We weren’t alone. Lots of people noticed the problems. Amazon pulled the book from the Kindle store. HarperCollins staff did amazing work to fix the errors. The turnaround in getting a new version was a few days. Amazon politely communicated that the new version was available rather than switching it out willy nilly (I am not sure that means what I think it means, but there you have it.).

However, the reason given by Amazon for the new edition was “missing content”. Which bothered more than a few readers. What, they asked, was missing? It made readers wonder if they had to reread the book. Yeah, those who’d finished the book, errors and all, were not happy campers.

A reader had to create a Diff File — a file that details the differences between the original file and the new file. In the end, there wasn’t much missing content, and nothing major was omitted (trust me when I say omission of major content happens more often than it should).

Lesson: The publisher should have been all over this. As soon as possible. If only because it is great customer service to let readers know if that 900-page book they just read was missing major elements.

But wait, there’s more!

There is much talk in the industry about making direct connection with readers. Opening the lines of communication is, from what I understand, a major goal. Granted, HarperCollins had to communicate with readers via Amazon (since they don’t, sigh, have that direct relationship with readers; see: where I’ve talked about this before). But every opportunity to make a connection is important.

Good will is important. Critical. Essential.

HarperCollins did amazing work in fixi

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4. A Tale of Two Authors

Monday, March 21, 2011 was a big day for publishing. On one hand, we have author Barry Eisler announcing he turned down a two book, $500,000 deal. On the other hand, we learned that super-hot indie author Amanda Hocking is shopping a new series, with a price tag climbing above $1 million for worldwide English language rights.

Needless to say, the ensuing discussion has been awesomely full of punditry and speculation. Thus, me! If I do not offer my two cents, then I will surely be kicked out of future publishing cocktail parties. After all, I must have thoughts on this madness.

So where to begin? I am presuming Eisler made a calculated decision, one that factored in the very real loss of worldwide print sales (wherein I completely agree with Mike Shatzkin on this point). Oh sure, there are ways to compensate, but this is not a trivial business choice.

On the other hand, Hocking is likely looking at those same worldwide print sales and realizing there’s money in them there books. The two authors are looking at the same worldwide market and taking different approaches. One is a seasoned author, the other is just now realizing her potential.

So who is making the right decision?


Yeah, that’s a helpful answer. Bear with me.

Eisler has an established fan base, and he can tap into a growing network of indie authors who are, for lack of a better concept, forming their indie marketing circle. This is not a new concept. It’s the way indie romance authors — those digital-first (or digital-only) authors — have built careers for the past decade. History has shown this works for some authors.

I think of it as a numbers and talent game. Only a few authors truly rise above the pack. It’s like real publishing, only with more control. However. Any author who goes indie has to become an end-to-end business. Writing, editing, production, distribution, marketing. Oh sure, some of these can be outsourced, but the author must be on top of all these function. Cannot let any one of them slip.

Just as few employees in corporate jobs have the ability to be management and worker bee, few authors have the skills to be everything and more. The authors who seem to do best have what can only be called an entrepreneurial spirit. My belief is that writing is a creative process; being an author is a job.

And it’s not an easy job. This is why I believe Eisler calculated more than a few odds. One does not walk away from a purported $500,000 easily. As many smart people have noted, you don’t go into publishing to get rich.

What Barry Eisler has going for him is control (not to be underestimated), speed to market, the ability to experiment, and instantaneous worldwide digital distribution. This comes into play in our next section.

Now back to that other hand.

Hocking has, and I think you’ll know what I mean, tapped into the Twilight zeitgeist. Something I’d note no major publisher (or minor) has managed to do. I have not read her work, but know more than a few people who have. Clearly she can tell a story that engages readers (not an easy skill!), but there is a consensus that she needs more editorial oversight. I believe in editors in a big way, and know that good editors make a story so much better.

Hocking has also, conservatively and based on news reports, netted well over a million dollars (before taxes, those pesky things!). That is serious money in publishing. I know people who’d sell their souls for that kind of publishing money.

It’s also hard money for publishers to meet. This is an author who is accustome

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5. I Went to TOC, and All You Got Was This Wrap-Up

Months of anticipation. Weeks of preparing. Days of thinking. Hours of wondering. And that’s before the annual Tools of Change for Publishing Conference begins. Once the action starts, the mental rush is indescribable. It takes me days just to organize my thoughts, an entire year to wonder at how what I heard is playing out in the real world.*

The container limits our imagination.

TOC 2011, like the previous iterations of the conference (oh, can we return to San Jose, where the weather is delightfully mild?), was jam-packed with people, enthusiasm, and ideas**. You gotta love an event where the hallway and lunch table conversations are as stimulating, creative, and informative as the planned sessions and workshops.

As with many conferences — intentional or not — themes emerged. The largest, and I’d posit most important, was best articulated by Brian O’Leary in his Context First keynote (link includes text and link to video, which cannot be missed). Brian (full disclosure and all that) posits that publishing is “…unduly governed by the physical containers we have used for centuries to transmit information.”

Or, the container limits our imagination.

This two-dimensional limitation is what lead keynoter Theodore Gray to take advantage of the multi-media functionality of the iPad to produce his bestselling The Elements: A Visual Exploration. Gray had already displayed the elements in true periodic table (and by table, I mean a wooden thing with legs), and had already published a print book featuring his collection of objects demonstrating the various elements.

Had he limited his vision to a container — a table with cubbies for items, or a book — his life would be okay. But Gray’s vision exceeded the container. And, let me tell you, if this app had been around when I was a kid, my relationship with chemistry would be very different. Already, I am looking forward to Gray’s book on the solar system, not to mention his version of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, featuring a dramatic reading by Fiona Shaw (among others).

Ignoring containers and considering context was an underlying theme of the presentation given by Hugh McGuire, John Maxwell, and Kirk Biglione (double triple full disclosure). Each speaker introduced approaches that allow publishers to determine containers as context requires. It’s all about managing content in a way that allows it to be exploited (not a bad word) in the proper way.

As Kirk noted, current publisher processes resemble the duckbill platypus (duckbeaver, if you’re Canadian) — something that looks unwieldy but works. It makes sense: to accommodate digital media, publishers have grafted new tasks onto their current workflow. These workarounds allow staff to keep on keeping on while taking advantage of new markets. We’ll talk more about workflow in a moment.

At the end of the presentation, Hugh introduced PressBooks, an open source digital workflow/publishing tool (still in alpha or beta or one of those Greek situations). PressBooks allows a publisher to take a manuscript from author’s submission to file ready for output to EPUB, print-ready PDF, or InDesign. Your choice.

Awe. Some. Sauce.

This panel cemented the idea of the Sunday Afternoon Project — projects that move from “Hey, what if?” to “That’s done” (

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6. Bookstores Now, More than Ever

At next week’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference, I am moderating a panel on the future of bookstores (Tuesday, 2/15, 1:40 pm, be there!). I proposed this topic because, despite today’s challenges, booksellers are critical to the publishing food chain. The loss of booksellers — traditional and innovative — is a huge blow to book discovery.

My panel features Jenn Northrington of WORD Brooklyn, Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo of Greenlight Bookstore, Lori James of All Romance eBooks, Kevin Smokler of Booktour.com, and Malle Vallik of Harlequin. I’m excited about moderating this panel, particularly because it contains a mix of innovative and enthusiastic booksellers, forward-thinking publishers (yes, Kevin, you are a publisher), and, most importantly, readers who truly love reading.

Nothing I say here reflects their thoughts and opinions. They may, in fact, disagree with what I say. You’ll have to attend our panel to find out!

Predictions about the future are difficult, mostly because it hasn’t happened yet. Darn future! There is no doubt that the bookselling landscape will change. Some, most notably Mike Shatzkin, are wondering what the physical bookselling landscape will look like in five years. I agree with Mike that it will be vastly different.

But do I think (physical) bookstores will go the way of dinosaurs? Absolutely not. We are human. We are social animals. We need someone to wait patiently while we painstakingly describe the book we want, finding it for us despite the fact we a) got the author wrong, b) described the cover art wrong, and c) described the entire plot wrong. We want someone to talk to us about books and guide us.

My philosophy is for some books, online is awesome. For other books, I need a human, in-front-of-me professional to challenge me. I am going to be an either/and shopper for a long time. Heck, I’ve made peace with the fact that I need both Zappos and Macys in my life. Same for bookstores.

Obviously, I have a vested interest in making sure the publishing ecosystem remains vibrant. If readers are, ultimately, the most critical part of publishing, then booksellers, the people with the intimate, personal relationships with consumers, are publishers’ best friends. In preparing for this panel, I was struck, at various times, by statements from various publishers about the importance of booksellers. Most recently, Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster said:

“My No. 1 concern is the survival of the physical bookstore,” said Carolyn Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “We need that physical environment, because it’s still the place of discovery. People need to see books that they didn’t know they wanted.

Her comment gave me pause for a few reasons. First, of course, I wondered what publishers were doing to ensure the survival of the physical bookstore. Setting aside the problems faced by the Borders chain, the truth is that most independent booksellers cannot compete on price, a key component of the shopping equation. Co-op dollars can be challenging to acquire. Even processing incoming shipments can be overhead-intensive due to less-than-robust packing slip and invoicing processes.

I truly wonder what publishers are doing for the booksellers they understand are their best marketing asset. I cannot stop thinking about this, particularly in light of what is happening with Borders. I keep questio

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7. Interview with Kat Meyer, Conference Co-Chair, Tools of Change for Publishing

It’s hard to believe another year has passed, and that it’s time for the annual Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. This year’s conference will be held in New York from February 14 through February 16, 2011, and (I know I say this every year) has the best possible line-up of speakers and programming.

To give you a hint of what’s in store for you, I forced Kat Meyer, Conference Co-Chair to answer a few deeply important questions. And — if you haven’t already registered for the conference — at the end of this post, you can learn how to enter a drawing for a free conference pass.

(If you don’t win, don’t despair! You can still register using the discount code TOC11BSQ.)

  1. So, Kat, with Tools of Change 2011 is just around the corner — February 14 – 16, 2011 — I figure you have plenty of free time to answer questions about this year’s program. Let’s start with the theme: Publishing Without Boundaries. What does that mean to you?

    The phrase “Publishing without boundaries” was actually coined by my co-chair, Andrew Savikas during one of our preliminary conference meetings. He didn’t suggest it as the theme, but all of us at O’Reilly loved it and agreed it fit perfectly with where the world of publishing is right now. Boundaries are disappearing. The rules that many in the industry have relied upon to make business run smoothly (for the most part), no longer apply – which is either a terrifying wakeup call or an exhilarating opportunity depending on one’s point of view. The one thing most seem to agree upon – as the old walls/boundaries come down — there’s no going back. Boundaries of who is a publisher, and who is a reader – they’re disappearing as digital production and distribution tools are more and more accessible to pretty much everyone. Boundaries of what content is available where and to whom — those boundaries are disappearing as digital content refuses to be easily confined by territorial rights restrictions…An industry that was once a rigidly defined landscape is being transformed into unchartered territory. So, the next question to consider is: as this territory is explored and claimed, what will the new boundaries look like? How will they be defined? That’s where it gets interesting, and that’s what a lot of the discussion at TOC 2011 will revolve around.

  2. I know you’re excited about every session and speaker on the panel, but can you give us some highlights from the schedule?

    Wow. Yes, I am excited about every session and every speaker…I’ve spent the last many months talking at length with the speakers, learning about their backgrounds, and hearing what they plan to talk about. This is a stellar group of people we’ve gathered together. It’d be intimidating to have that many brilliant people in one space, if it weren’t for the fact that they’re all incredibly nice people as well. And each thoroughly entertaining in their own way. Every speaker on this program is a highlight. I can tell you that some of the speakers have really surprised me – and I’m happy to share a few of the names that may not yet be as known as others, but who are rising stars in this community:

    Gus Balbontin is one person I am pretty sure everyone will learn a lot from, and also want to get to know. He’s passionate not just about the work that Lonely Planet does, but about life, and about how the two connect. His keynote is funny, and real, and the lessons he shares apply equally to publishers in transition and anyone facing tough changes in life.

    Keynoters Britt Iversen and Anna Gerber, c

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8. The Most Wonderful Post of the Year, 2010

No matter where you stand on the various issues surrounding the future of publishing, one thing is clear: without readers, what we do doesn’t matter very much. We sometimes take the privilege of our bookish lives for granted, forgetting how many people out there would give anything to be able to pick up a book and read it.

Yet, this is the season of giving (and, yes, tax deductions). Every year, we here at Booksquare make a pitch for our favorite causes, hoping some of you, like us, will find a little something extra to give this now and in the future. If you have a favorite cause that relates to literacy, reading, or education, let us know in the comments.

  • ProLiteracy — As always, our list is topped by Proliteracy.org. You can contribute either financially or by volunteering as a literacy tutor. When you are a reader, a to-your-soul reader, it’s almost impossible to imagine a world where people can’t read. The reasons vary, and the solution is not simple. Helping others learn to read should be the primary goal of the publishing industry — any way we can.

    If you can’t donate money, can you donate time?

  • First Book — Just as teaching the world to read is important, getting books to children is essential. First Book gets books to children who need them. You remember your first book, you remember reading as a child. Help share that joy. Bonus! through December 31, your donation will be matched book-for-book by Random House.
  • Girls Write Now: Girls Write Now is a non-profit organization devoted to mentoring the next generation of women writers. Focused on New York’s underserved and at-risk high school girls, this program helps them find their voices through creative writing.
  • Donors Choose — The problem with growing up the child of a public school librarian is that you know how completely screwed up our public school financing priorities are. It is appalling that teachers and librarians are forced to finance so many projects (and supplies, essential supplies) out of their own pockets. It’s not like teachers make huge salaries. DonorsChoose.org was founded to bring educators together with people who have money to contribute to specific projects. Look at the list of projects — is there something you can help transform from wish to reality?
  • Buy Books — You want to make a serious statement about your commitment to books? Buy everyone on your shopping list a book. Or two. Or three. No need to limit yourself. This isn’t going to turn the industry around, but, c’mon people who get free books, put some money back into the industry that’s been good to you.

Here’s hoping you have a little extra to give to one or more of these causes, be it money, time, or energy. And thank you, so much, for reading BS!

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9. The Daily Square – The Kids Are Alright Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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10. Reading in the Digital Age, or, Reading How We’ve Always Read

As much as the idea of enhanced ebooks brings the sexy to publishing, it doesn’t really do much for most of the books published. Enhanced, enriched, transmedia, multimedia…these are ideas best applied to those properties that lend themselves to multimedia experience (or, ahem, the associated price tag). While many focus on the bright and shiny (and mostly unfulfilled) promised of apps and enhanced ebooks, the smart kids are looking at the power of social reading.

And with the reading comes the book discussion.

Social reading is normal reading. It’s how we already read in an offline world, and, yes, how we read in an online world. First, some historical context, all stuff that is well known. In the beginning, humans told stories around campfires*. The storytelling happened in group situations, with some stories passed from campfire to campfire, and eventually the woolly mammoth the hunter felled was a large as the Titanic. Some stories became institutionalized — myths, biblical stories, parables. Others, well, they never really gained market share.

Hmm, publishing, the early days.

Time passed. We developed alphabets, we coalesced around local language standards, we wrote stuff down, but the process was laborious (think rocks) or fragile (think parchment) or valuable (think illuminated manuscripts). These printed stories (using both words broadly), fiction and non-fiction, were not possessed in great numbers by common folk. Reading, or sharing of stories, was done in groups, except for those ancient-times-us who wrote stories in their heads (go ancient-times-us!).

Even after the invention of the Gutenberg press, the possession of books was outside the reach of most people. We moved from campfires to candlelight, while the act of reading remained a social activity. The tradition of people reading to each other remains alive and well. I cannot think of the stories of the knights of the Round Table without remembering my mother reading them aloud to four impressionable minds. Likewise, when I remember “reading” The Island of the Blue Dolphins for the first time, I remember my third grade teacher’s voice as she read it to us.

And with the reading, of course, comes the book discussion.

It wasn’t until mass market books became available that reading, as we know it, was identified as a (almost-solely) solitary activity (overall literacy rates had to catch up as well, but that’s another issue). By reading as we know it, I mean selfish reading: alone in the bathtub, alone under the covers, alone on the couch, alone in a restaurant, alone in a park, alone in the bathroom while the family argues about football. Solitary reading is my preferred style, but I also make my book club’s monthly meetings for literary discussion**.

(At this point, I really want to thank my dearest friends who, in all innocence, asked me “What? Social huh?”, thus leading to me writing them a very long email that ended up being the first draft of this crazy post.)

Transforming the Text: An Essential Part of the Reading Experience

Throughout all this, and focusing particularly on booky-books because they consist of ink and paper (which, for centuries, was a really important part of this whole phenomenon, or maybe behavior is a better word), marginalia or annotations or comments or whatever you want to call them flourished. People love making notes about what they’re reading, and, let’s be honest, they love writing in books, even though generations of librarians have discouraged this behavior.

For example, my notes, if I am reviewing a book, sometimes consistent of comments like, “You have got to be kidding me!” or “Seriously? She’s practically commuting to London from the north of England. In the winter. By carriage.” Since I mostly read digital these days, my Kindle notes are si

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11. Post-BiB10 Thoughts: Mostly About User Experience

I, along with a hundred or so of my peers, spent last Thursday and Friday at a conference called Books in Browsers. As one who sat on the sidelines when the first iteration of this conference was held last year, I wasted no time in inviting myself to the event. I am still processing everything I heard and saw.

Much of it aligned with what I think about when I look five years down the road; some it — and this is always the best part of a conference — made me sit back and say “Whoa! I really need to consider that perspective”. I’ll be working out thoughts on both here. Of course, of course.

Let’s get the most stunning thing about Books in Browsers 2010 out of the way first: the dearth of big name publishers. Seriously. Where in the hell were they? Then came the realization that Amazon was in the room, at least for the first day. Finally, and this is actually first, but it flows better this way, Brian O’Leary’s “A Unified Field Theory of Publishing” (words only via the link). It wasn’t enough that he blew open the idea of containers, oh no, he had to accompany this presentation with the type of slideshow that makes the rest of us look like rank amateurs. I may never open Keynote again.

(Aside, I don’t include Bob’s Stein’s Proposing a Taxonomy of Social Reading in the above list because, well, I’m still mulling pieces big and small. Follow the link and read his ideas. Follow the link and participate in the discussion.)

(Second aside, this is the first conference I’ve attended that had German philosophers as running theme on a particular day. You cannot buy this kind of serendipity.)

So, you ask as you sip your coffee, what does that mean, books in browsers? Depends upon who you ask and when. For years, I’ve been ranting about the fact that publishers have ignored the web as a serious publishing platform. One speaker said, based on his conversations with most of the big houses, they see the web as a marketing tool, not a publishing tool. Talked about missing opportunities. I will humbly remind every publishing professional in this universe that the web is our one constant — if you want to reach readers on an international level, you must reach readers in the medium they use.

(Third aside, and this may be a record for asides before I even get to the topic, smart use of the web for publishing content may very well be an effective tool in combatting piracy in developing digital reader territories.)

So that’s my definition, but as the conference progressed, many other viewpoints emerged. Some speakers focused on the publishing platform idea, but coming from the perspective that the content management (CMS) tools we have for web publishing are also ideally suited for publishing bookish content. Plus they’re easy to use. Pay attention to this idea because smart people are making it happen, and it’s going to make things so much easier for publishers of a certain size.

(Fourth aside — and she breaks a record! — if there is one thing I know for certain, it is that there are no off-the-shelf tools for creating a true digital workflow for publishers. Many houses will build their own, and that’s fine, but really smart houses will look at existing tools like content management systems as the starting point for building easy-to-use, standards-based workflow tools.)

Others focused on the critical importance of user experience. Designing for how people really use text, devices, information. I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but real people rarely behave in the manner designers expect. As I look back at the launch of Blio, it is clear to me that the wrong kind of user testing was done. I base this on the fact

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12. Rethinking the Publishing Company

I think we all know what the publisher of today looks like. The hierarchy and positions have become comfortable, established. Sort of like really nice flannel pajamas. That’s not to say nothing ever evolves; I mean, who wears the same pair of pajamas forever? And, if you talk to publishing people, you know those flannel pajamas are threadbare in parts, have a few holes, yet remain too familiar to abandon.

Now the analogy falls apart, mostly because while, sure, I can talk about pajamas with great authority, I’d rather talk about new jobs and new skills for 21st century (and beyond!) publishing companies. It’s a mix of stuff I’ve discussed before (as have others), stuff I’ve been mulling over, and stuff I’m test driving.

Note: there are publishers out there already implementing and hiring and rethinking. Love them. Love them. Love them.

Second note: these are not single person positions. They are skills. They are woven into the job.

Project Development
Hands down, the coolest changes will happen in the editorial department. Editors will continue to acquire, develop, copyedit, and go to bat for great projects. No question there. You’re not going to get out of acquisitions meetings that easily.

However, acquisitions editors will change how they think about — and there’s no way around this word — projects. There will be booky-books. There will be multimedia extravaganzas. The type of project will drive the final product. Just as authors and agents are starting to think big picture when it comes to works they are shopping, so, more and more, will editors. Is it text, is it a web-based community, is it an application, is it a living, interactive experience? One or more of those?

The key difference between an enhanced/transmedia/fill-in-your-buzzword books and books with some additional marketing material is how it is approached in-house from day one. Enhancements must be planned, and they must be logical. This requires vision at the acquisition phase. The editor of the future will consider what serves the work rather than what serves a format, and that editor will be required to consider enhancements for every book published, deciding if they are truly transformative or merely marketing on a case-by-case basis.

Our thoroughly modern editor will sometimes go by the the name project developer. Rightly so. Even today, books are projects. Acquisition, editing, artwork, production, marketing…all of these are part of the final product that is known as a book. This project must be shepherded through the entire process, guided by a strong vision. Fragmentation of vision is a guarantee of failure.

Someone needs to be in charge of all aspects of the book — whatever form it takes — from beginning to end. This is particularly true if the book is slotted as a transmedia project. Nobody — nobody! — is better positioned to execute the vision than the acquiring editor. It’s a different kind of job. It’s a visionary kind of job.

Note: Marketing material, those author interviews and recipes and tacked-on content, is just that. Never confuse the two, because your readers won’t.

It will take a different set of skills, and not every editor will be suited to the job. This doesn’t make them less valuable. The new publishing house leverages all types of specialized and generalized skills. The coordination of a multimedia project requires the ability to see the finished project, to find the right in-house or third party talent to fulfill the vision, to keep the entire project on track, and, yep, drive the marketing machine. Editing a booky-book (which may be digital, print, or both) requires other skills.

As a booky-book type person, I appreciate that editor beyond words.


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13. The Daily Square – My Generation Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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14. A Question of Value

I’ve been thinking about the topic of the value of books a lot. Not for days. Not for months. Years. However, recently I’ve been angered by the implication that readers are cheap, that they won’t pay a proper price for books, that they don’t get it. Whatever it is.

These assertions are not untrue.

They are also not entirely accurate. Perspective is everything, nuance matters, and I have thoughts. Of course.

What is a book worth? Well, there’s list price created by the publisher. That seems to be the value referenced by publishers. Then there’s the price consumers actually pay. That gets more complicated, of course. You have to break it down to various levels including the price for the first sale and the price for the second sale. Library patrons pay a different price; we call that “property tax”.

Oh, and then there are the books acquired for free.

This is what I think about when I hear publishers talking about this, that, or the other devaluing the price of content. And by devaluing content, they really mean consumers paying far less than publishers would like. This is absolutely a valid concern.

Once consumers get lower price points in their minds, they might expect to pay less all the time. As noted above, the way consumers acquire books means they pay varying amounts for the same product; I’d wager the number of full retail list price sales is greatly outnumbered by all other types of sales.

Resolution: the price I pay for a book has absolutely nothing to do with how I value the book. This leads me to an inescapable contention. When publishers talk about the value of books, what they really mean is the value they have assigned. Conclusion: publishers are as responsible for devaluing the content of books as anyone else in the food chain.

Recently, some friends and I discussed an author we love. Or loved. Two years ago, I realized I was wasting my money on her work (wasting: paying hardcover prices for not-so-great books). I thought it was me. A few months ago, a friend warned me against buying the author’s current release; I confessed I’d already made the decision not to do so. Very recently, the author confessed in a public forum that she’d been off her game with her recent releases. Health issues. I can sympathize, but I kinda want a refund.

The publisher sold readers a book they knew was not very good. Yes, the publisher had to know. Someone on the editorial staff (presumably) read the book. Someone with (presumably) enough discernment to realize the book was crap. Someone who should have had the guts to say to the author that the book didn’t pass muster. You know, instead of foisting bad stuff on readers.

This particular author writes hybrid genre fiction. She is contracted to produce, at minimum, a book a year (surmising here, I don’t know her particular deal). She’s reached that point in her career where her publisher has her slotted as a hardcover author. This means, quite often based on her track record alone, readers are paying big money for titles that, by her own admission, weren’t her best work.

So much for the gatekeeping function of publishers. Is it any wonder that readers are confused? How are we supposed to discern value when we cannot trust publishers to perform the most basic duty of vetting books for quality?

I was lucky. I bought my camel’s straw book by this author for my Kindle, meaning I paid a mere $9.99. I felt ripped off. Now, there are rumblings among this author’s core audience (my peer group included) that they aren’t going to buy her in hardcover, maybe even mass market paperback, anymore. Seriously, would you pay that kind of money for a book that reads like it’s been phoned in?

The publisher has entered into a contractual relationship with the author that pretty much dictates a certain price point for each book. Costs much r

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15. The Daily Square – Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere Edition

Today’s links of interest:

  • Borders Reduces E-reader to $99
    And there you have it. An ereader below $100. Oh, wow, the world is still turning.
  • Random House’s Strong Half-Year Results Driven By ‘Dragon Tattoo’ Sales
    Stieg Larsson, who will not likely be producing more books, drives huge dollars to Random House. His ebook sales are phenomenal. Which leads to the question: does the lack of an iBookstore agreement hurt RH in any way?
  • A Moment of Jen
    From Jennifer Weiner: Instead of asking which books and which authors deserve the Times’ coverage, maybe we should think about what kind of book review section readers deserve. Not a crazy idea at all.

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16. The Daily Square – I Can’t Explain Edition

Today’s links of interest:

  • Barnes Noble to Shutter Lincoln Center Store
    This is big news. Store closing due to increased rent costs. You’d think landlords would have a bit more foresight, but one supposes losing a major renter is the cost of taking a stand. In other thoughts, how long will the space remain empty?
  • Borders to Sell Build-A-Bear Items as Readers Switch to E-Books
    You know when you can’t tell if something is a genius idea or insane? This is one of those moments.
  • Why Is Amazon So Secretive About Its Best Selling Kindle Numbers?
    Why, one wonders, does this matter? Since the Kindle platform is extended across all possible devices, does the number of actual dedicated readers sold really have relevance? Better metrics are actual books sold across the platform versus one single channel that appeals only to a particular type of reader.
  • Kobo Opens New York Office
    Excellent news for Kobo, and congratulations to the company for hiring the extraordinary Ami Greko.
  • Sparks Book Gets a Novel Promotion
    So many thoughts, so little time. Very smart for Nicholas Sparks’ people to include book promotion as part of the deal when Relativity acquired the motion picture rights. Will it help? Probably. Sure doesn’t cost Relativity much to try.
  • Oxford English Dictionary ‘will not be printed again’
    Possibly the most interesting part of this story — seriously, of course the chances of a print edition were diminish, especially if the next version is 20 years away — is that the dictionary has never made a profit. Love that Oxford University (Press) is focused on the big picture.

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17. The Daily Square – Whichever Way the Wind Blows Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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18. The Daily Square – Dreaming, I Am Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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19. The Daily Square – See a Little Light Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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20. Panel Picking: SXSW 2010

It thrills me that the book community is actively participating in the South by Southwest Interactive festival. For some, it’s an opportunity to explore the latest and greatest in technologies and trends; for others, it’s a chance to discover how others fit into the publishing ecosystem; and, for all, it’s a chance to connect with a wider community, expanding points of view.

Not only is the bookish world attending SXSWi, but they are also actively participating as speakers. Which means, yes, once again I bring you a listing of book-related panels with brief descriptions. Part of the panel selection process is a bit of a popularity contest, and your vote for these panels helps get book programming on the schedule.

Check out the panels, take a moment to go through the (painless) registration process, then please vote. My panels, ahem, are listed first, and every vote is appreciated by me and each of the great people who put together great proposals! (And if I’ve missed something, shout out in the comments, please!)

Note: I’ve shortened some of the descriptions. Click through for full descriptions and comments on proposals.

  • 21st Century Publishing Models: Turning Tradition Upside-Down: This panel features me, Angela James of Carina Press, Pablo Defendini of Open Road Media, and Kirk Biglione of Oxford Media Works. It will be awesome. New publishers are building thriving businesses with digital first/print maybe and books-as-apps approaches. With industry giants crowding the bestseller lists and the number of titles published each year growing, how do these independent digital publishers compete in the book marketplace? Veterans of this constantly evolving business model explain how they are building twenty-first century publishing houses, combining the strengths of traditional publishing with cutting-edge technology.
  • Beyond the Book: New Publishing Models That Work: Simon St. Laurent, O’Reilly Media. (I’ve been invited to participate on this panel!) Instead of lamenting the loss of a golden era, though, some publishers and authors are already finding new opportunities. Despite some hopeful dreams, the iPad by itself won’t save publishing. There’s much more going on than just app stores that can run like bookstores. The Web makes possible all kinds of things, like subscription models to libraries of content, constant updates that depart from the edition model, video content that reinforces or replaces a book’s message, live online events, applications that offer readers new content navigation models, and more. Print on demand, of course, continues to transform even the traditional print book market.
  • Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted. Not!: Richard Nash, Cursor. In the Assassin’s Code, the death of God makes everything possible. Many believe that the network makes everything possible. But if everything is possible, how does anything matter? In art, what is left out is as important as what is included. Can the rules of making art help us make more useful technology? Can such concepts as the minimum viable product help us do a better job of writing, editing, designing, and disseminating novels, films, music.
  • The New Author Platform: Mary Ann Naples, OpenSky, featuring Debbie Stier of HarperCollins. Building your brand hub with internet platform tools–for authors, the desired “platform” used to mean what publicity you have gotten, who you are connected to, and what your speaking schedule was (if you didn’t have a tv or radio show). Now, it’s a whole new world. This panel addresses the new era of internet platform tools that are helping authors engage, grow, and monetize their online presence–and ga

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21. The Daily Square – Poison Years Edition

Today’s links of interest:

  • Ebook Sanity
    Interesting look at ebooks from the perspective of a librarian.

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22. The Daily Square – Sinners and Their Repentances Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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23. The Daily Square – Brasilia Crossed With Trenton Edition

Today’s links of interest:

  • E-reading: Revolution in the making or fading fad?
    This article makes no sense. The headline implies one thing, the body of the article another, the entire premise yet another. Sigh.
  • June e-Book Sales Up 119%
    For those keeping track.
  • Jonathan Franzen Stars in Special Rumpus Bookclub
    While this *seems* like an awesome idea, it’s really alienating for all those who a) don’t have time to shop their local indie (i.e., people with jobs, kids, or other commitments), b) people who don’t have local bookstores available, and c) library users. Heck, even digi-book readers are largely left out, since the ABA’s program is less-than-robust.

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24. The Daily Square – Compositions for the Young and Old Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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25. The Daily Square – Lonely Afternoon Edition

Today’s links of interest:

  • RH and Wylie Come to Terms; Random ‘Wins’
    Always worry about headlines that include wins. In this case, one wonders how much it cost Random House to win (presumably higher royalties than they’d been willing to give, possibly some sort of cash consideration). And one wonders how this impacts those who previously purchased the books. Will they be allowed to keep them? Will there be a transfer of publisher, making it invisible to the consumer. And, of course, one wonders which books were impacted by this deal.
  • Nook Drives 21% Increase in Revenue for Barnes Noble
    Barnes and Noble also claiming an overall 20% of entire ebook market. Good to see their digital numbers exceeding expectations.

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