Table of Contents
- Reading & Devices, Forest & Trees
- Social Media: Not ‘Buy My Book’
- Craft: And What If a Man Writes Romance?
- Self-Publishing: Amazon Crossing Picks Up Emily Bold
- Amazon UK: Kindle Best-Sellers Include Self-Publishers
- Conference Season Dead Ahead
- More Conferences
- Last Gas: What Digitization Means to Books
Dublin’s Eoin Purcell has a way of telling his colleagues to “Go Read This” when he finds an article interesting. He offers a little perspective and a couple of paragraphs and a link, very effective.
Sometimes reading more than one of these in a sitting can cast angles on things that might not appear as easily independently.
Esposito is writing about how difficult it can be for established companies to deal with change with new eyes, with the adjusted perspective it takes to appreciate and/or even to understand dynamic changes and how to respond to them. He writes:
One form this organizational blindness takes is the tracking of the wrong metrics. By “wrong” I mean measurements that tend to support current activity without providing a different and perhaps unflattering perspective.
One of his quickest examples:
There is the Web site that proudly notes the number of users, but fails to measure the conversion rate, the metric for how many users actually conduct commerce on the site.
Now, if we go back to Purcell with that concept in our pockets and look at another “Go Read This,” we find this one at the Wall Street Journal: The E-Reader Revolution: Over Just as It Has Begun?
Dedicated devices for reading e-books have been a hot category for the past half-dozen years, but the shrinking sizes and falling prices of full-featured tablet computers are raising questions about the fate of reading-only gadgets like Amazon original Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s first Nooks.
For my money, Greg Bensinger’s WSJ story, while perfectly serviceable, seems a bit behind the curve. What he’s talking about is an apparent preference showing up in the market among readers of e-books for tablets over e-readers. Not quite as new a discussion as Bensinger’s good work may make it sound.
With tablet prices falling to more affordable levels — Amazon sells a Kindle Fire for $159 and a Kindle Paperwhite for $119 — of course today’s readers are going to choose the thing that helps them go beyond boring old reading.
She’s making the case that the rapid uptake of tablets-post-e-readers is akin to the transition of the Bravo television network from arts programming to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Real Housewives hokum. To culture-heads for whom the stupid-making of Bravo has not been a positive experience, Greenfield’s link of tablets’ popularity to anti-intellectualism is hardly funny but all too plausible. As she puts it most succinctly:
So there’s a reading gadget and a reading gadget with Angry Birds Star Wars. Which do you pick?
That question returns the debate to Esposito’s piece on looking at the right issues.
Are we too focused on devices and not looking at what the tablet-ward migration means for books?
Granted, the disappointing holiday sales announced by Barnes and Noble have plenty to do with this trend. As Laura Hazard Owen wrote it up at paidContent in Barnes & Noble’s bad holiday: Nook, store and BN.com sales down:
The Nook segment — which includes devices, digital content and accessories — had revenues of $311 million, down 12.6 percent from last year* and a far cry from the $1.5 billion in comparable sales that CEO William Lynch had expected last year.
But if we can stand back from the Amazon-vs.B&N comparisons and consider things beyond Kindle vs. Nook vs. Kobo-vs. whatever that Txtr thing is — if we can even get it past e-readers vs. tablets, just for a minute — then what are we looking at?
Maybe we’re seeing exactly what we’ve all been bleating about in the industry! the industry! so long that we don’t even notice we’re now sitting on it: the digital dynamic is far kinder to entertainment than it is to art.
— Laura Hazard Owen (@laurahazardowen) January 4, 2013
Not to give any journalists a swell head, we’ll let journalism be part of “art” long enough to remember what happens to serious reporting when heat-mapping in online newsrooms prompts editors to put the word “sex” into more headlines. We might want to recall that the animating force of digital is always in distribution.
And that the more widely digital distribution makes Angry Birds available, the more we hear about tablets offering too many temptations and distractions for those books on them to be read. What can we expect to happen to what’s published when tablets place books into direct competition with the trailer park that is today’s entertainment world? Greenfield:
The iPad has Here Comes Honey Boo Boo written all over it. Not that there’s anything wrong with what Amazon and Barnes & Noble were trying to do — a small audience might enjoy a device that has novels and long biographies and maybe some newspapers and little more. But the majority of people these days want to spend their downtime with HBO Go and Netflix apps, with games and email and other ways to relax their entire brains… not just the fancy parts of it.
So focus if you must on the device debates. But taking a cue from Esposito (though I imagine I’m in another part of the forest from his intended clearing), I’m more worried:
- that live theater is left tech-ing-up Broadway to try to hold its own against film and television;
- that despite such brilliant demonstrations of online intimacy as the Google Art Project, museums have yet to find meaningful impact that can draw people out of the Angry Aviary;
- and that the most talked about holiday bonus in publishing came about as a result of soft-pornography sales.
It’s not e-reader-to-tablet we need to worry about. It’s what we are when we get there. We’ll have more on this question in our final segment of this edition, our Last Gas.
Random House show that engaging their Facebook community is about giving fans the desire to read, rather than using it to advertise new book releases.
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Was that a kind word for a Big Six, errr, Five house?
Random House uses a very different approach to other publishers on its Facebook page by posting quotes from books or authors, reflections on the value of books and reading, as well as funny cartoons.
So kind are those words that when I found them among WaveMetrix’sreports on what the company, based in London and San Diego, calls “buzz research,” I assumed that RH is a client. But no.
I reached Leonie Bulman, author of the report, Random House inspires Facebook fans to read more books, and found out that, in fact, this is simply part of an ongoing exercise the WaveMetrix staff does in looking for effective online marketing approaches. She tells me:
We are a social media analytics company but most of the brands we write blog posts on are not our clients. We want it to show social media expertise, and give brands examples of strategies that work and don’t work. It’s all supported by our social media data, so we’re not just saying something works because we think it does but because the data shows that it does.
In fact, with the Penguin Random House merger in the works, it’s amusing to see that Penguin rated far below RH in what WaveMetrix rates as the companies’ user-engagement success. Penguin, Hachette, and HarperCollins, says Bulman’s report, “tend to post about newly released titles” more than about the culture of reading.
Analysing the level of People Taking About This on each publisher’s page reveals that Random House has consistently over 12% of fans actively engaging. In comparison, none of the other publishers exceed 5% engagement.
Easily translated to the terminology of author platforming, of course, this is a corporate version of the concept of the vertical, of reader-interest cultivation, of interaction and community building over hard-selling. in a comparative example, WaveMetrix puts Random House and its proposed merger co-fowl Penguin side by side to say:
Random House’s post above about “reading a book by the fire” generates more activity than Penguin’s podcast post, with fans saying they “like that idea.” Random House succeeds in getting fans excited about the prospect of reading, which suggests their strategy may help drive higher book sales in the long-term as fans are persuaded to read more.
Bulman and I talked a bit about how it would be helpful of WaveMetrix to state its independence from companies on which it does this kind of analysis, when appropriate. As she points out, not only is Random House not on the client list but WaveMetrix hasn’t devised its approach to the various social media, either, this is a completely “clean” set of observations by WaveMetrix. And certainly, anything that might enhance the existing work— methodology, further examples and development of the overall commentary — would be welcome.
But the basic message here is clear, and it confirms the idea that the sell on a contemporary social medium needs to be noveau-soft — and I made up that term, don’t blame it on Bulman.
And the RH approach is worth a look. As I write this, for example, there’s a post on the company’s Facebook page with a quote from Colin Firth — always good for a soundbite — on how he experiences reading fiction:
When I’m really into a novel, I’m seeing the world differently during that time — not just for the hour or so in the day when I get to read. I’m actually walking around in a bit of a haze, spellbound by the book and looking at everything through a different prism.
I know what Firth means.
My own first encounter with Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, for example, many years ago, hovered over me like the nuclear cloud headed for Australia in the book — the work got into me with a palpable sense of doom.
And so, while it seems almost unnecessary to have to see this laid out so clearly at this point, I do know what Buman and WaveMextrix’s look at Random’s Facebook page recommends, and it rings truer than the “buy my book!” people want to admit.
This widely topical, contextual approach to building an audience is, to use that word… engaging.
I would say that 20% of people on Facebook, conservatively, have no frickin’ sense of humor. — Eric Whitacre (@EricWhitacre) January 6, 2013
I burn a nun to death on the funeral pyres of Varanasi and disembowel a psychiatric patient in the first few chapters.
And Joanna Penn is flatly unashamed. In fact, that’s from a piece of about a year ago from the London-based writer, Gender Issues in Publishing – Using Initials as a Female Thriller Writer. Penn wrote in that blog entry:
Joanna Penn is now J.F.Penn for thrillers/action-adventure/ anything I write that is in a genre that is dominated by men.
Just Thursday in Writing on the Ether, we took up some recent articles on the issue of Women Authors & Those Scarlet Initials, colleagues among us who feel they must use their initials rather than their names. We’re looking forward to the results of an informal test writer Teresa Frohock has been doing to see if her readers could tell “male writing” from “female writing” in science fiction and fantasy.
People assume a woman can’t write a good thriller…I believe I face similar obstacles as the assumption that only a woman can document a romantic journey.
At the risk of waving a red flag in front of the your-writing-shouldn’t-be-therapy people, Turner explains that his book “was started in 2006 after a rough breakup.”
This was a book I NEEDED to write and I didn’t want to conform and try and turn it into a story more appropriate for a man to write. It’s my story and I’m down proud of it. If that makes me sappy and sensitive, so be it.
Turner lists several elements of his approach to “a great deal of time spent in the head of a lady,” a lead female character in his book.
- I worked with a female editor. (“She’s by no means a girlie girl, but she is a lady who knows what ladies think about.”)
- I spoke to female friends. (“What I found was this: men and women are rather different beings.”)
- I used past experiences. (“My family has a lot of women in it.”)
- I people-watched. (“I would often sit in a coffee shop and observe a pretty girl.” Turner, you see, has discovered the “I’m doing research” excuse.)
In this post, the whole issue begins to take on that gloss of a topic being broken down into such prosaic parts that it’s like saying a word over and over until it becomes a meaningless sound. I’m happier recalling a time in 1987 when I heard South African playwright Athol Fugard take on a question along the lines of “How dare you, as a white man, try to write black characters?”
The National Theatre’s production of Fugard’s The Road to Mecca had just moved to Spoleto Festival USA. Fugard, who played Marius Byleveld onstage, himself, at Charleston’s Dock Street Theatre, challenged his questioner who’d asked about writing characters of another race by asking, “And should I not write characters of the other sex, either?” This, after Yvonne Bryceland’s riveting performance of the outsider-artist Helen Martins, was all that was needed. Fugard had crossed both gender and racial divides in his prolific output simply because his characters are unnervingly human.
Clearly, then, the debate over women writing in “male genres” —and sometimes using initials or pen names to do it — and men like Turner “speaking to female friends” (imagine that) to research female characters is far less a literary issue than it is a commercial problem of perceived readership bias. I’m more worried about authors feeding that perceived reader bias — and more heartened by a comment from Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel to the effect that society may be a bit ahead of us on this one. Mandel notes JK Rowling’s use of initials, apparently at the publisher Bloombury’s request, and writes:
I’ve been wondering lately if the world’s perhaps changed somewhat for the better in this regard over the past decade or so…Suzanne Collins put her full name on the cover of The Hunger Games with no noticeably detrimental effect.
So while the question is a good one, the answer may — may be, I’m being cautious here — that audiences are better on this one than many authors are, and that the rest of us need to get a grip. At least Turner hasn’t changed his name to Mathilde.
Do I expect an easy ride? Nope, not at all. I understand that some people will be put off by the idea of a man bringing romance to the table. I appreciate how some of my words and style will send people running. I also believe it will connect with others.
Got email from Scamp’s school re workshop: “Understanding Ur HS Child.” Must be very short workshop. (“U can’t, don’t bother, go home.”) — ljndawson (@ljndawson) January 6, 2013
From Wolfgang Tischer at LiteraturCafe.de via Sebastian Posth we have late word that the Amazon Crossing imprint is signing German self-publishing author Emily Bold to produce English translations of two books.
Amazon Crossing is designed to do just this, translating promising material into English. Its material describes its mission as making “award-winning and best-selling books accessible to many readers for the first time.”
In Interview: Self Publisher Emily Bold assigns English print rights to Amazon, Tischer has an impromptu 16-minute staircase video interview from this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair with Bold.
This is, in fact, the second time a German self-publishing author has had this type of interest from Amazon, Tischer reports, the first being Jonas Winner.
Tischer’s writeup makes the point that Bold is a romance writer whose books fall into the “neck biter” category, their covers picturing “shirtless men passionately kissing women.”
Bold began writing in 2007 after having her first child. And one of her books, The Curse: Touch of Eternity, has had a British-English translation, which Amazon is evaluating for its potential in the U.S. market.
Yay. Snow! — DonLinn (@DonLinn) January 5, 2013
Amazon has revealed that 15% of its bestselling Kindle books in the UK last year were written by self-published authors, with Hodder & Stoughton’s Nick Spalding landing the bestselling self-published author gang.
Spalding, as Campbell writes, was given a six-figure contract in October when Coronet, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, picked him up. Campbell writes, again using figures for the UK:
Amazon said overall 15 of the top 100 Kindle books sold in the UK were by authors using its self-publishing tool, with 75 by traditional publishers. Amazon added that since KDP launched, 61 KDP authors have sold over 50,000 copies of their books. It also revealed that 12 KDP authors have sold in excess of 100,000 copies, with 50 authors earning in excess of £50,000, and 11 of these earning more than £100,000.
Amazon UK is also saying that its Kindle Owner Lending Library is going great guns there, with “tens of thousands” of users borrowing one or more KDP-produced books. Campbell’s write includes a list of the KDP books that Amazon UK is reporting as top sellers in 2012.
The guy who said “do a job you love and you never work a day in your life” wasn’t talking about the first Monday in January. — jonny geller (@jonnygeller) January 6, 2013
The first major conference of 2013, of course, is a week away. Digital Book World (#DBW13) (January 15-17) is at the Hilton New York at Sixth Avenue and West 53rd Street.
The associated Children’s Publishing Goes Digital day of events is on January 15.
I’m going to spend more space in this edition of the Ether on this conference than on others simply because it’s just a week away.
In the interest of economy, you’re welcome to use my affiliate link to trigger the best available discounts as you register.
If not already showing on your registration form, just put in code PORTER.
I’ll have live-tweet coverage from DBW at hashtag #DBW13.
Cool sidebar: The word of the year (as if we needed such a thing) from the American Dialect Society is hashtag. Ben Zimmer’s comments as chair of the society’s new words committee include the appalling note that “this was also the year that a baby was named Hashtag.” It’s amazing there are still parents like that, isn’t it?
Zimmer’s writeup is Tag, You’re It! “Hashtag” Wins as 2012 Word of the Year.
Meanwhile, back at the DBW Ranch, one of the key sessions to watch for at Digital Book World is on the 17th of the month at the early hour in New York of 8:40aET (1340GMT) when Writer’s Digest’s Phil Sexton is to present the results of what DBW says is a large survey of writers.
“The Authors’ View of the Industry,” as the session is called, is to include input from traditionally published authors as well as from self-published writers and folks who have yet to publish.
Notably absent from speakers’ lists at DBW, unless i’m missing it on the schedule, is anyone from Amazon.
As mentioned before, however, Hugh Howey is scheduled for an onstage chat with conference chair Mike Shatzkin and his agent, Kristin Nelson, about Howey’s remarkable success with the self-published Wool books and the unusual deal he and Nelson were able to make with Simon & Schuster for the print rights only — Howey retains electronic rights, and a Big Six publisher has blinked.
That session is titled “Straddling the Models.” and more successfully subtitled: “Authors Choosing to Both Self- and Traditionally Publish.”
There’s a session optimistically titled “The Evolving Author-Publisher Relationship: How Publishers Are Powering — and Empowering — Authors Today.” That one features HarperCollins’ Carolyn Pittis; Peter McCarthy; Random House’s Nina von Moltke; and Naggar Literary’s Jennifer Weltz.
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After a 3 month F.U. to fans, sponsors and actual workers, the NHL is back on and I couldn’t care less… greed is such a turn off. — Kevin Franco (@FRANCOMEDIA) January 6, 2013
Upcoming conferences on the other side of Digital Book World include the following.
The 14th Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is set for February 1-3 in New York. “This year’s conference features two jam-packed days of inspiration and the latest on what’s happening in the field of children’s literature from top editors, agents, art directors, authors, and illustrators. Make sure you look at the detailed description of each workshop on the Schedule before you select your breakouts.”
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You’re welcome to use my code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $350 on your registration, which reduces the cost to $295.
This will be one of the first times, to my knowledge, that authors have been offered their own high-level session on metadata.
In “Embracing Data,” Bowker’s Laura Dawson — whom you may know from mentions on the Ether — will remedy the fact that, as conference co-chair Kristen McLean puts it, “every little has been done to coherently explain why every street-level author should be a data geek.”
McLean has her own insights into this problem, thanks to some of the focus of her company, Bookigee, on creating the WriterCube program. It’s an Author (R)evolution Day sponsor and is currently in testing phases, the intent being to help writers aggregate and interpret actual data to their advantage.
Dawson’s presentation, conference materials say, will be on the “key things authors should be monitoring in their own data stream, and how new innovations in ‘open data’ will transform the publishing future.”
More speakers in the Author (R)evolution lineup are Cory Doctorow, Eve Bridburg, Allen Lau, Jesse Potash, Dana Newman, Jacob Lewis, Peter Armstrong, Tim Sanders, Michael Tamblyn, Rob Eagar, Kate Pullinger, Kat Meyer, and Joe Wikert.
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O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) Conference (February 12-14) in New York City (the Marriott at Times Square).
Use my code AFFILIATEPA for an immediate discount of $350 on any registration package (the price drops to $295).
At #TOCcon 2013, there’s an interesting session planned with Jens Hofman Hansen of Denmark’s State and University Library, which is based in Arhus, the country’s second city to Copenhagen.
Hansen is to talk about an online content-search system that delivers its results in print. He writes:
Our service may seem a bit old fashioned at first glance (because) we let our users search digital material but we end up delivering it in print to the user’s local library. But it turns out that the service is highly sought after and we have managed to do it legally in regards to copyright laws, basing it on Interlibrary loan rules (ILL). The orders for articles are ticking in as I write here and the printers are being busy.
The program is free to citizens and works as a direct-to-consumer delivery of retrieved content which, Hansen speculates, may be adaptable to a pay-per-use format for digital delivery.
The session,” Setting Scientific Articles Free to the Public, is scheduled for the morning of February 13.
And TOC is, this year as last, at the Marriott on Times Square.
Remember that code AFFILIATEPA will save you $350 on any TOC registration, no matter what package of events you choose, from Author (R)evolution Day only to the entire several days of events.
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AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs is in Boston this year, March 6-9, Hynes Convention Center & Sheraton Boston.
With more than 10,000 attendees last year, it’s not unusual for the main conference hotels to sell out of rooms quickly. “Overflow hotels” are listed for attendees’ use in making reservations, as the Sheraton Boston is booked up. If you’re going and haven’t yet booked your room, I recommend you get cracking.
Among featured speakers this year is New Yorker staff writer and book critic James Wood.
The Harvard professor of the practice of literary criticism is the author of several books including the excellent How Fiction Works.
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For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at porteranderson.com. If you have a publishing conference event coming, please notify me through my contact page and I’ll be happy to consider listing it.
Literally getting text messages from my mother about making parsley root purée. DO YOU ALL SEE WHY I AM HOW I AM?! — Brett Sandusky (@bsandusky) January 7, 2013
The consensus has been that digitization, having had its way with music and newspapers and magazines and photographs and etc., would in due course have its way with books as well…(But) a lot of data came out during the course of 2012 that also suggests that (a) the growth in e-book sales has slowed substantially and (b) print sales are holding up pretty well.
Author Nicholas Carr’s New Year’s Day column, Will Gutenberg Laugh Last? went to some lengths to pull together various reports indicating, as he quotes Bowker’s folks putting it, “‘some level of saturation’ in the e-book market” and a slower flight from print than many have expected.
And so we might hardly expect him to toss his print books into the dumpster without a fight.
Nevertheless, his points are compelling and made without undue tearing of hair. He concludes:
None of this means that, in the end, e-books won’t come to dominate book sales. My own sense is that they probably will. But, as we enter 2013, I’m considerably less confident in that prediction than I was a few years back, when, in the wake of the initial Kindle surge, e-book sales were growing at 200 or 300 percent annually. At the very least, it seems like the transition from print to electronic will take a lot longer than people expected. Don’t close that Gutenberg parenthesis just yet.
El cierre “irrevocable, muy difícil, triste y doloroso” de la librería Catalonia de Barcelona: tinyurl.com/ash2bhu
— Julieta Lionetti (@JulietaLionetti) January 7, 2013
The book, which half a millennium of rehearsed reverence have taught us to regard as a semantic unit, may in fact be a production unit: the book is what you get when writers have access to printing presses…Take away the press, and what looked like an internal logic of thought may turn out to be a constraint of the medium. If this is right, then the twilight of the printed book will proceed on a schedule disconnected to the growth or stagnation of e-books — what the internet portends is not the end of the paper container of the book, but rather the way paper organized our assumptions about writing altogether.
Carr is ready for him, writing back to Shirky:
Your desire to see cultural artifacts as mere technological artifacts, as “production units,” leads you to jump to the conclusion that because the narrative art of the book is resistant to digital re-formation, the narrative art is doomed to obsolescence. I think human beings are stranger and more interesting than you seem to believe. They enjoy, even love, the aesthetic experience of reading a well-crafted book. I don’t see any reason to assume they’ll abandon the object of that love just because it’s better suited to the form of a book than the form of a website/app/wiki.
Shirky doesn’t flinch:
I’ll make a case here for the displacement of the artistic forms of the book (principally the novel, of course) as the shift to online reading continues, working by analogy first with the album and then the relationship between photography and painting.
His retort is too lengthy to try to represent with a snippet here, but his core point is contained in these lines:
Forms of aesthetic expression co-evolve with their modes of production, and often don’t survive large-scale reconfiguration of those modes…I have several reasons for thinking that the current round of destruction is clearing the decks for something better, but the main one is that historically, media that increase the amount of arguing people do has been a long-term positive for society, even at the cost of short-term destruction of familiar patterns, and the disorientation of the people comfortable with those patterns. I think we’ll get extended narrative online — I just doubt the format of most of those narratives will look enough like a book to merit the name.
And there’s more. Enjoy the ride and, if you must, place your bets.
It’s a worthy, gracious exchange made all the more valuable because these two thinkers clearly respect each other.
How to stop piracy: 1 Create great stuff 2 Make it easy to buy 3 Same day worldwide release 4 Fair price 5 Works on any device
— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) January 7, 2013
Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. His Writing on the Ether is read Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com
Main image / iStockphoto: Zennie