Table of Contents
- Before Swine
- Craft: Elucidation and Frustration
- Print and Digital: Is it Either-Or?
- “The Hegemony of Print Culture Has Been Challenged”
- Last Gas: NPR “Turns Off” the Credits
This is not your Oyster card for getting around London. Nope, here’s a bivalve of a different stripe.
And barely had the ebook-subscription service Oyster launched its invitational life at its good-looking, sunset-y, sail-boat-y site when Mark Coker of the major self-publishing platform Smashwords jumped onto his company’s blog to tell us: Smashwords Signs Distribution Agreement with Oyster.
Smashwords today announced a distribution agreement with Oyster, a new and innovative ebook subscription service. Oyster offers consumers unlimited access to more than 100,000 ebooks for $9.95 per month.
I’ve been following the ebook subscription space for some time. As an ebook distributor, our job is to search out the most compelling opportunities to help our authors connect with reader eyeballs. Oyster is one such opportunity.
The closest analog to Oyster in the music business is Spotify, and in the video rental business it’s our Los Gatos neighbor Netflix.
Smashwords authors, Coker writes, will be notified before the partnership goes active. Authors with the platform then will make their decisions on whether to participate, based on the info Smashwords will provide. Coker:
Unlike [Amazon] KDP Select, Oyster does not require exclusivity. It’s open to all Smashwords authors. A single Oyster user could conceivably read multiple books by the same Smashwords author in a single month, and the author will be paid for each book. Smashwords authors will earn their royalty whenever an Oyster subscriber reads more than a sample of their book.
Oyster’s subscription service will help our authors connect with a segment of the reading audience they’re not reaching anywhere else. Oyster will also give authors yet another reason to steer clear of exclusivity and embrace full distribution with Smashwords.
On its own blog space, Oyster’s staff writes of “a vast library at your fingertips” and “people-powered discovery,” as well as an intent to showcase “the beauty of our books” in the mobile environment. You’re invited to request an invitation. Android users, apparently, are not wanted. iPhone and iPod Touch people are the targets.
It sounds like a major boon for heavy readers, yes. And the first reactions are an interesting mix of pleasant surprise and skepticism.
At GigaOm, Laura Hazard Owen’s No, seriously: Oyster comes pretty close to being a Netflix for ebooks leads the upbeat first-look team:
When I first heard about the New York-based startup Oyster last year, I was extremely skeptical…I was wrong, though: On Thursday, Oyster launched on iPhone with over 100,000 in-copyright ebooks (i.e., not free public domain stuff) that users can access for $9.95 a month. It’s currently invite-only, and I’ve been testing the app for about a week now…The app’s design is fabulous: It looks and feels like a real app designed by a real tech company. Oyster isn’t perfect, but it actually delivers what it promises, and I recommend giving it a try.
One thing Owen writes puts the Smashwords announcement into interesting perspective. Owen:
A warning: You will not find hot new bestsellers here. But you will find real books that you have heard of, published within the last decade, from publishers that you have heard of (if you follow that sort of thing).
Those “real books that you have heard of” are mainstream trade releases on the order of Water for Elephants, Life of Pi, and The Prince of Tides. That, of course, is not the material that comes from Smashwords, a self-publishing platform. This means that a very wide array of books will coexist at Oyster and, once major infusions from other platforms like Smashwords begin, it will be interesting to see if questions arise about curation, quality control, and so on.
It’s worth noting that films of many levels of quality and producer have long existed at services like Netflix. Stay tuned for the potential development of nomenclature to indicate that a book has gone “straight to Oyster.”
Who wouldn’t like [a Netflix or Spotify for books]? Well, publishers and agents, as well as authors generating decent income from book sales. We’ve learned through music services like Spotify, MOG and Xbox Music that a pay-per-listen or pay-per-view is pennies to dollars from actual recording sales…The video market seems more amenable to this change, as we see competition among Netflix, Hulu and Amazon for paid streaming services. But this industry was already undergoing a series of technological revolutions–DVRs, digital cable channels allowing more outlets, original scripted cable programming, web-only channels–long before the new Netflix model emerged.
Books are once again entirely different, both on the existing business model and on the way we consume them. We take far longer to read a book than we do to listen to a song, and we are less likely to re-read that book than we are to listen to that song again. You can price a syndicated TV show on a streaming service with royalties on each episode; it isn’t logical to pay an author for each chapter read of a book.
And Jellybooks creator Andrew Rhomberg goes to the Digital Book World blog with Netflix for Ebooks or Spotify for Ebooks? Spot the Difference!, tries to deflate some of this quick Netflix/Spotify comparison, writing:
Oyster is of course getting compared to Spotify (music) and Netflix (movies), but the interesting aspect is that these two companies are very, very different role models for Oyster and the book publishing industry in general.
Ministry of Sound: ‘It is time that Spotify’s actions are held to account’ http://t.co/cN7uIEKRmM
— Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) September 7, 2013
On Spotify, he writes:
Spotify offers you unlimited access to almost any music single or album you might possibly want…Pulling the same stunt in ebook is going to be near impossible. Record labels have embraced Spotify because it makes money from consumers in their teens and tweens who would otherwise take to pirated content. In other words the music industry is financially better off. In publishing the consumers likely to take up a “Spotify for ebooks” are much older and predominantly female and they spend more than $9.99 a month on books while not pirating anywhere close to the account that a music obsessed teenager would. Thus most publishers would make less money under this model…trade publishing revenues as a whole would contract.
And the Netflix comparison? Rhomberg writes:
Many have commented on how Netflix is becoming more like HBO. It has just enough unique content that consumers must have a subscription, but it does not have everything, so you still keep buying latest releases or keep a cable subscription. I think Netflix is a much better guide to the future of an “access model” in publishing. Services like Oyster may evolve to being like Netflix with killer content developed in-house, maybe in association with Wattpad (see the Sourcebooks alliance) and a limited catalog.
So as part of the press lauds Oyster’s “gorgeous” app (that’s a term Wired has used for it)—and congratulations to the team on it—creative people in publishing are likelier to want to know more about payment.
Coker at Smashwords writes:
The closest, most familiar analog to Oyster on the ebook market today is Amazon’s Kindle Owners Lending Library, where subscribers to Amazon’s Prime service who own a Kindle can download and read one ebook for free per month. The author or publisher, who must enroll their book in Amazon’s KDP Select program to benefit from KOLL, earns about $2.00 for each download.
And how much will an author get each time an Oyster reader reads more than a sample of his or her book? Coker is telling his folks that information is coming.
The email will contain complete financial details, including royalty rates and sampling thresholds, so you can make an informed decision about your participation. It’s an author friendly deal so I expect you’ll be pleased.
— Raymond M Rose (@TheRaymondMRose) September 6, 2013
And maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. Owen at GigaOm writes:
Oyster wouldn’t get into details with me about how it’s compensating publishers and authors, and wouldn’t state whether newer, more well-known titles are getting better royalties than older ones.
I’ll be glad when more of these details come out, about compensation for content owners. I’m also interested to see what a one-price buffet plan like this does, if anything, to our culture of reading.
Until we know more, we just don’t know what’s inside that Mollusk.
— Vivek Patel (@revivek) September 5, 2013
Each phase requires a specific developmental strategy, and they are progressive. You can’t market a book if you haven’t done your work to build a necessary community online or locally. And, you don’t build your website AFTER the book is out.
One of the reasons I appreciate the work of WriterCube’s Kristen McLean, founder and CEO of Bookigee, is that she’s able to get a global view of issues facing both entrepreneurial authors and the corporate publishing settings in which they work—traditional or otherwise. If you’ve read her weekend guest post, Understanding the Five Phases of Book Marketing at Writer Unboxed—and the comments that follow it—you’re getting an interesting, quick picture at both some of the leading guidance on authors’ book marketing of the moment and of some of the pushback and doubt that greets these concepts in the field. McLean writes:
I’m starting to get a very clear idea that we need to approach marketing more as a progressive and phased activity. A mix of different strategies is required at each phase, and authors will move up and down between phases kind of like shifting a car.
She then offers five main phases (gears in that car, if you like the shifting analogy), with resources and recommended reading on each. The phases are:
Industry 101 – “Where Do I Start?”
Building an Author Platform – “Here’s Who I Am and What I Do”
Pre-Publication Engagement – “It’s Coming – Get Excited!”
Post-Publication Marketing & Publicity – “It’s Here and It’s Hot!”
Ongoing or Backlist Marketing – “Opening Doors and Creating Opportunities”
What lines up here nicely with a key point from author Hugh Howey’s 10 Counterintuitive Tips for Self-Publishers here at Publishing Perspectives, is that progressive element. Look at Howey’s third point:
There is no promotion as strong as writing the next book. None. That always comes first.
The primacy of the work creation can be a steadying concept in that phase- or gear-shifting marketing drive for authors. And in the wake of McLean’s guest post, you read the importance of anything that might help authors feel less uncertain about their marketing efforts. There’s a comment, for example, from Kellie Coates Gilbert, who writes about her very committed effort to support a traditionally published book:
The most frustrating aspect was the lack of sales data to tell which of these activities were most effective and worth duplicating. No other industry buys marketing and can’t see if it sold anything until a statement comes a year later, and even then the numbers are so diluted, you can’t really assign them to a particular campaign or ad or social media platform. An author would need to be able to perform an activity and then have immediate access to and evaluate the data. Traditional pub houses seem very reluctant to share sales information, and I get their reasons. But the model doesn’t work.
It’s like an echo chamber in these comments, several authors speaking right up—they don’t have a way to get feedback on what works in marketing and what doesn’t. Some excerpts:
If only there was a way to tell which task you perform to market you and and your book is THE best and most profitable…the idea of operating in a vacuum, without data to rely on… There’s an opportunity here for some savvy programmer to derive a system for solving this problem…There just is not enough time in each week to do it all; I’m not sure how others do it!
And high-profile agent Donald Maass, himself (like me) a regular contributor at Writer Unboxed, weighs in, as well. His point is about the supposed amplification of effect normally assigned to the question of how social media work:
How are fiction writers supposed to reach and influence (to the point of purchase) all those readers who are not (yet) Facebook friends, Twitter followers, readers of book blogs, members of book clubs or anything else? A certain number of readers must by definition be people who will “discover” your novel without any of that. How does that discovery work and what can fiction authors do to reach readers whom they have no means to reach?
What gradually appears in these comments takes on just as much logic as McLean’s good evocation of a five-phase, progressive process for marketing. In this case, there are two major quandaries in place: First, data. Without data on what marketing effort sells books and how many, how can an entrepreneurial author understand his or her effectiveness in the marketplace and enhance that? (Note that in my Publishing Perspectives interview with Howey, Hybrid Author Hugh Howey on Self vs. Traditional Publishing, even he is talking of how badly the world’s most elite best-selling authors need unified, comprehensive data.) Second, reach. As Maass is inquiring, when does the best social-media platform run out of fresh potential buyers? As he lays them out in his comment, the “unit sales required for an author to become self-sustaining,” the development of that highly prized community of readers, can involve some very big numbers. And what isn’t clear yet is how entrepreneurial authors, especially without the heft of traditional houses behind them, can expect — except in the rare instances of formidable authors like Howey — to command the big numbers of loyal readers needed.
Everyone in book publishing: “Go home and don’t come back unless you work in marketing.” SHATZKIN THE MAGNIFICENT. LOVE HIM! — Paul Bogaards (@paulbogaards) September 4, 2013
McLean knows what she’s talking about. Her WriterCube team focuses on resources authors can leverage:
If you are willing to do the research and put in the time, every author can improve their online marketing & find new readers.
There’s a lot to learn, however, in how much improvement is being described here, and what mechanisms, especially without adequate feedback on what’s working, are going to move the sales necessary for an author to prevail in such a difficult market. Back to Table of Contents
This CONTEC session is designed to tackle the polarization of language and opinion surrounding print “or” digital.
We’re so used to that presumed war of words when we talk of print and its disruption by digital that until Sheila Bounford made the point, I wasn’t even perceiving it clearly.
Digital isn’t just about “product.” It is about method. And print publishing – still a vital revenue generator for most publishers – has been learning plenty of useful things from the tech world.
Bounford, the founder of Off the Pages Ideas in the UK, is talking about “Creating Change Within Physical Publishing,” a key session in the October 8 CONTEC Conference being produced by Frankfurt Academy at Frankfurt Book Fair. She’ll be joined in this session by three colleagues:
- Charles Catton is Publishing Manager at Amber Books Ltd. in London
- Alon Melchner is an entrepreneur in Israel, the founding CEO of WakingApp
- John Pettigrew is founding CEO of the UK’s Cambridge Publishing Solutions,with Collate It as a first product
Boundford talks of how people working in print and digital contexts frequently don’t register the contributions of “the other side.”
Whilst digital tools and tech entrepreneurs are revolutionizing the publishing ecosystem, what they don’t always do is pay reference to or understand the many skills and processes involved in creating well designed print products. UX design is where these two worlds collide, and the result can be either an unholy smash, or an explosive innovation.
Far from a battle, digital and print might be far more productive if they thought more in terms of a courtship. Bounford:
If great publishing is about curating content and understanding context, a marriage of print and digital—not the elimination of one by the other—provides fertile ground for the traditional print product industry to become a service industry providing both print and digital products with efficient tech processes under the bonnet.
During the CONTEC session, she says, she and her colleagues will cover how digital affects, or could and will affect, editorial and production print processes; the types of skill sets print publishers need to watch for in employees; and business models, reflecting the bottom line financial impact of digital’s effect on print. And then, Bounford says, the team will draw input from the audience, bringing attendees’ own experience into the mix. She echoes a theme running through the whole day’s plans: interactivity.
Just as publishing is no longer about broadcasting one view or a set of views, this conference session is not about telling delegates what to think. It’s about collaborating to explore what’s happening, what can happen, and how we can all benefit.
For more on the CONTEC Conference, check our Conferences section below.
Writing and print are associated with a ‘print culture’ centered on fixity, social isolation, and authority. This opposes a preceding emphasis on orality, fluidity, and social communication. However, the hegemony of print culture has been challenged by the binary revolution.
Almost as if he’d been listening in on Bounford and her thoughts on the coming CONTEC session (in the above segment), Corey Pressman is thinking of the ways we think of books…and “our digital post-book experiences.”
Pressman, a teacher of anthropology who has founded the software design and development company Exprima Media, is slated to talk at Peter Brantley’s Books in Browsers in San Francisco, an October 24 and 25 conference produced, again, by Frankfurt Academy, this time in association with Hypothes.is.
I asked Pressman to tell me something of what he’s thinking of presenting at #BiB13. Here are some of his notes, obviously with that anthropological mind at work:
Every expressive artifact is an interweave of, one, the creator’s intended message manifested in, two, a physical means of expression that is experienced in, three, some sociocultural context. All three strands of the braid impart significance to the expression and experience of the whole. This is true of all human artifacts of expression; cave paintings of Lascaux, Beatles songs, Harry Potter, and your Twitter feed all benefit from this triple thread of meaning.
Pressman turns to the work of French literary theorist Gérard Genette and his concept of paratext “as that which reinforces and accompanies a text,” that, he quotes Genette, “‘surround and extend it.'”
The physical and social context of a work constitutes an active “threshold”, a zone of transaction that stands between the reader and the content. This zone influences the reader’s access to, experience, and interpretations of the content.
And with the “threads metaphor” in mind, paratext comprises “those threads other than the maker’s intended content – the physical and sociocultural contexts of the message.”
This, then, brings Pressman to see a “post-book era” arising from an exchange of paratextual factors. As he puts it:
The widespread success of ereaders, apps, the web, and electronic reading in general indicate a nascent post-book era. The essential difference between a paper book and its electronic analog is the stripping of the former’s paratextual elements. We should be deliberate about designing the paratext of our digital post-book experiences. With digital, we’ve the opportunity to reintroduce elements of the pre-print orality, continuing what scholars have noted as the development of ‘secondary orality’ instigated by radio and the television. This time around, an entire profession already exists whose mission is to design and implement platform-specific elements that attend to the delivery of content: interaction designers. These professionals can help us design the future of reading.
What on earth is a ‘social curation company’? — Don Linn (@DonLinn) September 9, 2013
If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term. Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion. As a service, I also list any discount codes that might be of use to readers. September 26 New York City (Metropolitan Pavilion): Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo: “This innovative conference & expo is really two related shows, held together. The Marketing Conference is a full-day dedicated event that presents a comprehensive strategy for marketing in the digital age. The Publishing Services Expo offers three finely-targeted “mini-conferences” for important and often-overlooked publishing constituencies. Each track is an affordably priced, efficiently programmed two-and-half-hour session that pairs concise educational sessions with vendor speed dating to learn about new solutions.” Produced by Digital Book World and Publishers Launch (Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin). (Hashtag: #DBWMP) Save $25 on registration with code PORTER at checkout. September 26 London (Southbank Centre): The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference. “Building an international children’s publishing company in an internet age…current and future technologies that are driving change in children’s market…a whistle-stop overview of the market using Nielsen BookScan sales data. Are the biggest writers continuing to dominate? Are sticker books still selling? And what’s up with YA?” (Hashtag: #kidsconf13) Registration is open. September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest Conference West: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors at Writer’s Digest Conference West.” Speakers include: Jon Fine, Nina Amir, Philip Athans, James Scott Bell, Lisa Cron, Eric DelaBarre, and more. The program this year includes boot camp sessions, a one-day self-publishing conference, and the regular conference with agent pitch slam. (Hashtag: #WDCW13) Save $25 on registration with code PORTER at checkout. September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest’s Screenwriters World Conference West: “Scribes from around the world unite at Screenwriters World, the annual destination for both professional and aspiring screenwriters to come together to discuss the craft, share ideas, and network with fellow creatives.” Speakers include Erik Bork, Ruth Atkinson, Josie Brown, Karl Iglesias, Jeanne V. Bowerman, and more. The schedule this year includes optional boot camp sessions. (Hashtag: #SWCW13) Save $25 on registration with code PORTER at checkout. October 8 Frankfurt Book Fair: CONTEC Conference: “A new, highly-engaging event experience created by the Frankfurt Academy to address the complexity of the needs of today’s publishing business. CONTEC gathers stakeholders from across the publishing ecosystem – from STM and trade publishers to service providers and tech startups – in one arena to redefine and redesign the experience of publishing.” (Hashtag: #CONTEC) Save 20% on registration with code CONTEC13KPTW20 at checkout. And consider the Frankfurt Academy’s All-Access Ticket, which includes unlimited access to events including CONTEC Frankfurt 2013, Publishers Launch Frankfurt, Rights Directors Meeting (RDM) 2013, First Timer Seminar, Rights Express, Digital Resume, Frankfurt StoryDrive, Experience the Exquisite, Business Breakfasts and more. October 8 Frankfurt: Publishers Launch Frankfurt 2013: “Publishers Launch returns to the Frankfurt Book Fair for the third year in a row, now moving to the natural pre-Fair “conference day,” Tuesday, to make it easier for you to attend. This packed event will continue and expand upon today’s key themes of scale and consolidation across the publishing world, while also looking at scaling strategies for vertical publishing – a natural way to prosper in the shadows of publishing and retailing giants. We’ll also look at the implications (and opportunities) of the explosion of digital publishing from non-traditional players and authors and agents publishing directly. October 12 San Francisco: Writing for Change Conference: “The Fifth San Francisco Writing for Change Conference is the place to discover whether your book can change the world. The theme of the conference is “Changing the World One Book at a Time,” and the goal is to encompass business, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.” The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Center at the corner of Geary and Franklin in San Francisco. October 24-26, San Francisco: Books in Browsers: Produced by the Frankfurt Academy and Hypothes.is, this is among the most advanced of conferences dedicated to bringing designer and code savvy into contact with editorial and content leaders, Books in Browsers is produced for a fourth time by Peter Brantley in generous association with the Internet Archive and Swissnex San Francisco, produced and sponsored by Hypothes.is and Frankfurt Book Fair. Speakers include Kate Pullinger, Baldur Bjarnason, Bill McCoy, Justo Hidalgo, Richard Nash, and more. (Hashtag: #bib13) General registration now is open. November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they become available. (Hashtag: #fbook13) Now open for bookings. February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops. An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents. And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.” Back to Table of Contents
Do you know the John Kander and Fred Ebb song “Class” from Chicago?
Whatever happened to fair dealing And pure ethics And nice manners? Why is it everyone now is a pain in the ass? Whatever happened to class?
I’d like to call to your attention the passing of a little class here in the US.
Today with little fanfare, NPR News ended its long tradition of on-air, end-of-program credits for employees behind the curtain — the producers, editors, engineers, librarians, and others who help create NPR’s signature programs and signature reporting.
The network’s Executive Editor for News Programming Ellen McDonnell told me and my Morning Edition colleagues last week that vast amounts of recent research indicates with clarity that on-air credits are a turn-off for listeners.
A turn-off for listeners. Giving credit where it’s due is a turn-off for listeners.
Some books feel like cover versions -literary Karaoke. Write a story only you could have written. — Jonny Geller (@JonnyGeller) September 9, 2013
Those lovely, highly educated, endlessly pledge-driven-out-of-their-minds, current-affairs-savvy listeners whom NPR likes to tout so much?—are turned off when they have to hear credit given to journalists and support staffers.
Well, suddenly the NPR audience doesn’t look so nice, does it? NPR’s Ellen McDonnell just took the bloom right off those rosy cheeks for us.Way to tear down your crowd, Ms. McDonnell.
And National Public Radio looks, and sounds, a lot less good today for this. To justify this change for himself in his essay, Wildman has to resort to the warm-and-fuzzy refuge of “story.” (Are we getting tired yet of this Kumbaya-invocation of “story” as some holy mantra when things hit the fan?)
We don’t do our work each day for the periodic on-air thank yous, of course. We do it because we’re all storytellers. And good stories often begin with “Good morning. I’m still here. Here’s a story I’ve got for you.”
So does the glory of “story” justify the suppression of credit? Not for me. In journalism today, there are life-risking wire-service reporters whose bylines rarely see the light of day; there are countless support personnel whose work, some of it direly hazardous, a lot of it incredibly demanding, much of it underpaid, is unknown and unrecognized while the on-air few, of course—who, in many cases, are fed the material they deliver—are regularly recognized.
Have a great first day of school, kids of NYC! Ignore how much your parents are celebrating.
— Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) September 9, 2013
I’ve been on both sides of the camera. And I’ve been on both sides of the byline debates.
I can tell you that until now, the NPR custom of crediting support staffers was a special and heartening tradition. Many of us could listen to those names being read off at the end of a show (it took seconds, not minutes, seconds) and we could feel good that somewhere in the industry, recognition was still valued and performed.
Not anymore. Because research seems to make NPR feel that credits are a turn-off for listeners.
I disagree with NPR’s policy change. I regret it. I think they’ve done us a disservice.
When you tell me that on-air credits are a turn-off for listeners?—you just turned off another one.
— Kai Ryssdal (@kairyssdal) September 3, 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. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com. Find him at Google+
Main image: iStockphoto – Valentyn Volkov