Table of Contents
- Is It the Future Yet?
- And the Future of Making Money Writing? Scratch
- Macmillan and the Library Biz
- Last Gas: Quarantine ‘em All
Is It the Future Yet?
You can blame this on Frankfurt doing its job well.
The big trade show got us all so rightly revved for the future of publishing that now it’s on everybody’s mind. You pick it up here and there—the odd note of impatience, a longing for the wonderment of it all, the haggard sigh about something we’re still struggling with that’s so…now.
And hey, I can’t throw stones. I was getting off a quick response to a comment from reader Joseph Ratliff at the end of the week and found myself writing: “There are those who get it and are reaching out for more.”
I was alerting him to the two-day international Books in Browsers Conference produced by Hypothes.is and Frankfurt Book Fair. It opens in San Francisco on Thursday. (9 a.m. PT / noon ET / 1600 GMT, hashtag: #bib13)
I’m told by organizers that there should be a live stream of some or all of the presentations, so watch that hashtag and we’ll be letting you know how to see it if you’d like to follow there and/or on Twitter. More is in the Conferences section below.
That edition of Writing on the Ether, in fact, was about the Sprint Beyond the Book program at Frankfurt with its emphasis on how publishing culture, business, and books are changing. More about it is here in our Publishing Perspectives report from the Fair.
London-based author Dave Morris was leaving a comment in regards to our exchange about the interactive app he wrote for Profile Books and inkle studios, a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
The intent of that work is to “place you in conversation” with Victor Frankenstein, in a conceptual shift of the story to revolutionary-era France.
In terms of digital development in literature, Morris put his finger on the at times uneasy relationship between our early efforts and “gamification”:
Where are the publishers going with this? They seem to crave animations, audio, visual FX – but that’s the games business, not the book business. Logic and history both suggest that if we are to see genuine innovation in interactive stories—real innovation in the interaction with characters, I mean, not prettier zoomable images—that will come from the tech people hiring in the writing talent, not by book publishers moving into tech.
And the most serious thing to do at this stage may be to let that comment hang in the air.
Proponents of the best culture of gaming will tell you it all is based in storytelling. And it’s worth listening even when the conversation hasn’t turned directly to the content.
In his Gaming the Future With EA’s [Electronic Arts] Frank Gibeau, the New York Times’ David Streitfeld hears Gibeau say at one point:
If you have 10 minutes, you’re not going to read five pages of a book or watch five minutes of “The Avengers.” You’re going to drop into gaming. It’s bite-sized time.
The more the digital dynamic pits reading against other entertainment media (I still enjoy cursing Angry Birds), the more the industry! the industry! is going to need to face this.
Sometimes, in fact, the gamers aren’t even trying to talk about the primacy of story.
It was Streitfeld, again, who wrote Saturday’s Times piece, This Is War (for a Game Industry’s Soul), featuring the work of Stockholm’s Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment, or DICE, owned by Gibeau’s EA.
Patrick Bach and his DICE team are behind Battlefield 4, which Streitfeld calls “a dream of Armageddon without civilian suffering to make things messy.”
Storytelling in this production hotzone, at least, writes Streitfeld, may be a casualty: “Here’s one explanation for all this Swedish success: Gaming is losing its roots in narrative.”
He quotes Bach:
The story is just the coating on the game. The game is now the experience of playing it.
And another DICE management team member, Patrick Soderlund, tells Streitfeld:
I hate to say this, but storytelling does not come naturally to Swedes. But we’re good at designing systems, and that’s what these games really are…Battlefield is a system designed for entertainment rather than for telling you a story.
As dismissive as some in publishing may be of digital “bells and whistles,” this is one arena in which, according to its own practitioners, storycraft already can only dog the main event.
But in terms of expressive storytelling—”the writing talent”—there are interesting developments to report, as well.
For UK author Dan Holloway, the issue is very much rooted in a writerly exchange with others, his own brush with a form of crowd-sourcing and social writing in 2009 having delivered him an unexpected and welcome surprise now:
A while ago I entered a “first lines” competition on the Harper Collins website Authonomy for a bit of a laugh. I entered the first line from The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, a line I’ve always loved:
“It’s nearly midnight and I’ve watched Agnieszka die 103 times since I woke.”
Mine was one of 1208 entries. Anyway, this Tuesday I discovered, when someone posted this link on my Facebook wall, that I’d won.
@sposth that IS cheap, I guess the goal being to get entice folks and maybe increase prices later!
— Eoin Purcell (@eoinpurcell) October 17, 2013
In his post at the Authors Electric blog, Creativity, Collaboration, and the Curveballs of Fate (and a free story), Holloway writes:
My experience of interactive, or engaged, or whatever you want to call it, writing with The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes was four years ago. And involved nothing higher tech than a Facebook group. But it opened my eyes to the possibilities, and to just how rewarding it can be to be that engaged with your readers throughout the writing process. It’s also a wonderful way to build a community around your work. In many ways, it reminds me of the ancient communities and their oral storytelling, each community modifying their tales to tell the lessons most pertinent to them. With the proliferation of places offering a platform to write like this, it’s something I’d encourage everyone to at least try.
And Holloway’s authorial turn is followed by New Modes of Reading from Brian O’Leary. He tells of a book fair experience that confirmed, all too well, what some of us keep saying about the fixation we, as a culture, have on a “book” as a thing, something you can hold in the hand or click or swipe or tap. O’Leary:
Before the fair started, I had a chance to talk with a cross-section of the authors…Curiously, several asked me a variation on the same question: “The book is going away, isn’t it?” I kept saying, “No, not really.” …It surprised me that people who wrote and read books, the kind of people who take time on a weekday evening to come to a book fair, could be so pessimistic about the future of the book. In each of these exchanges, I kept pressing to better understand what people meant when they talked about “books.” Although authors and readers agreed that they loved the narrative, a structured argument—a story—they still saw the book as a container, a physical or digital object, a defined way to obtain and consume content. There’s the problem, and the opportunity.
And while in preparations for its FutureBook Conference in London (November 21, more in Conferences below), The Bookseller has opened a monthly essay-writing competition themed on “the future of the book business.” In its announcement, the staff writes:
The inspiration for the initiative comes from Profile Books’ digital publishing director Michael Bhaskar whose book The Content Machine is a conscious attempt to chart a line from publishing’s past to its present, and see how it tracks into the digital future. As Bhaskar writes: “Now anyone can publish or be a publisher, what does it really mean to publish?”
On the business side, you feel the press of digital expansion—the energy of which is distribution—right alongside the less happy moments in the disruption. You’ll remember that Kobo and WHSmith—and their authors and their readers—went through a stressful week in which Kobo quarantined its UK store’s ebooks to respond to criticism about self-published pornography. More is in our Last Gas section today.
Kobo comes to #India: Touch, Glo and Aura HD e-readers, and Arc Android tablet launch today http://t.co/IUOjMqiTlh via @thenextweb — Digital South (@digisouth) October 20, 2013
But even as that painful exercise played out, Kobo announced “the arrival of Kobo’s digital reading platform in India.” In a press release headlined Kobo Sets Sights On Billion-Reader Opportunity As It Introduces World-Class eReading Experience To India, the Toronto-based firm on Thursday wrote: “Starting today, Kobo will be available in retail locations across India through its partnerships with Crossword, WHSmith and Croma.”
Chief Content Officer Michael Tamblyn‘s statement caught the spirit of a triumphal entry into a massive new market:
Traditionally known as the land of storytelling, it was important to us that we enter the market with an offering that met the expectations of a discerning Indian audience who are passionate about the books they read. We are delivering an experience that delivers the very best from around the world and titles from the most beloved local authors. In partnership with some of the best retailers, we’ll set the standard for digital reading in India. You can read some more background on the India launch here at Publishing Perspectives, in this interview with Malcolm Neil, Director of Content Acquisition for APAC region, Kobo, published earlier this month (wayyyy back on October 2): “Can Kobo Conquer India? Well Know Soon.”
In the US, the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project reports that mobile and tablets in particular are rising smartly, stating in Tablet and e-reader ownership:
The number of Americans ages 16 and older who own tablet computers has grown to 35%, and the share who have e-reading devices like Kindles and Nooks has grown to 24%. Overall, the number of people who have a tablet or an e-book reader among those 16 and older now stands at 43%.
One form of content enabled, in part, by e-reading is Joe Wikert’s topic in Kindle Singles and the future of ebooks, positioning them as “a model that will become much more common over time.” He cites five reasons as “the formula” for Singles’ success:
- End the practice of artificially puffing up content
- Attention spans are shrinking
- Amazon becomes the publisher
- Kill the competition (publishers and retailers)
- Raise short content prices to today’s longer content levels
And even Singles don’t have to remain the text-replica of print we usually see today.
Back in the more technical realm of possibility, author Hugh Howey—no stranger to futurist thinking, with his Silo Saga running out to more than 300 years ahead of us—touches on the issue this week in his essay about the potentials of augmented reality for storytelling in The Future of Books:
Donning an AR headset to read a picture book will be as common twenty years from now as putting on 3D glasses to watch a film can be today. But imagine this scenario: You put on a pair of AR glasses and grab a copy of Gulliver’s Travels. The glasses recognize the cover of the book, and it knows you’ve purchased the AR version of Gulliver. When you open the book, the story comes to life all around you. Not just on the pages of the book, but on the floor in front of you. There’s Gulliver being washed up on the beach. You might pull your knees up to keep your feet from getting wet. There are the Lilliputians staking Gulliver to the sand. Maybe one of them asks you to place a finger on a knot while they tie a bow.
MATTER co-founder @bobbie gave a sermon (of sorts) on the #future of #publishing @thewyeberlin last week. Recap here https://t.co/yulfkZP0uo — MATTER (@readmatter) October 16, 2013
Because moving into new potentials will mean leaving some things behind, it’s hard to contemplate, at times, the sort of speculation we need. Letting go is not easy. As O’Leary puts it in his piece:
It’s hard to re-imagine our world, but it is overdue.
And what he’s suggesting is that we try to ease our grip on the “book,” digital or print. Think beyond the object.
We have to change our metaphors. Limiting ourselves to the container robs us of a chance to lead. We need to become fluid enough to tell stories, not just efficient enough to fill books.
And in his more recent write, The Water’s Edge, O’Leary has a finely explicit way of saying what we need to keep telling ourselves every time anything new or untried looks daunting:
The most significant challenge publishers face is the threat to reading. Diminishing our options for innovation only increases the likelihood that we’ll fail to address that threat.
Lovely illustrated scratch-and-sniff guide to becoming a wine expert – zero snobbery required http://t.co/dFFOLugc7Y
— Maria Popova (@brainpicker) October 20, 2013
And the Future of Making Money Writing? Scratch
Oh, yeah. Hm. Money. Well. That’s another subject entirely, isn’t it?
Yes it is, and the co-editors of a brand-new online quarterly magazine like to point out that you can barely walk 18 inches in any direction without running into advice for writers, but:
Very few people or publications speak openly about the economic realities of this business. In our bare-it-all media culture, frank talk about money remains taboo. Writers often lack the context or insight to understand our own industry, even as that industry undergoes massive structural and economic changes. Scratch is here to provide a home for open and sustained discussion of these experiences through high-quality content. Yes, we publish advice for writers—but we also go further, investigating the nuances of writers’ relationships to money, work, and publishing.
That’s @Scratch_Mag on Twitter, ScratchMag.net on the worldly wide web, and it’s launching a free preview issue today that will make a lot of folks sit right up and take notice, you’re invited to look it over.
The two creators and editors of this magazine that “publishes smart, useful stories about the intersection of writing and money” are:
Jane Friedman, Digital Editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, host of Writing on the Ether on Thursday. And yes, you just saw her in Frankfurt at the CONTEC 2013 Conference and on the Beyond the Book team. How does she do it?
Manjula Martin, a freelance writer, editor, and communications strategist…who happens to know Jonathan Franzen and his wife.
What do you really think of Twitter?
She does, she asks him that. Having been given a preview of the new magazine, I can tell you that Martin does a long Q&A with him, and does it since the big Guardian piece from September, Jonathan Franzen: what’s wrong with the modern world, in which nobody asked him but he told us, anyway.
Want a taste of what he tells her? Here’s Franzen. (Watch out—”animus” ahead.)
I have a particular animus to that social-media world because I feel as if the kinds of writers I care about are just temperamentally not very good at that. Hard to see Kafka tweeting, hard to see Charlotte Bronte self-promoting. If we don’t maintain other avenues for establishing a literary reputation and finding some kind of readership—things like traditional publishers and reviewing, where the writer could just be a writer and not have to wear the flak hat, the salesman hat, the editor hat, the publisher hat—if we don’t maintain those, then we hand over the literary world to the personality types who are, I would say, less suited for the kind of work I care about.
What Franzen lives up to here is Martin’s promise that he’s funny. It’s a long, rich read. Martin presses him about how some highly regarded novelists (in Franzenian, “cliché-free”), including Gabriel Roth, say they think of Twitter as “a formal way to play with language.” Franzen:
A great artist can make great work out of anything, even Play-Doh. It doesn’t mean Play-Doh is an expressive medium for the ages.
So maybe Martin won’t be winning this round, but playing along is fun. When you’re done, you may not like Franzen better, but you might dislike him less. I hope that’s not a cliché.
Best in this free-trial edition is a round table piece with editors Alexis Madrigal, Nicole Cliffe, and Dan Kois from, respectively, The Atlantic, Slate, and The Toast. In Who Pays Writers? We Asked the Editors. they carry on with alarming candor about what they pay and, worse, what they don’t. You have to love Madrigal telling Friedman that The Atlantic has “a very federal system.” You may feel like looking for an extra day job, too. Did I mention having alcohol nearby?
Other entries include:
- A Freelancer’s Journal with Erin Siegel McIntyre at the US-Mexican border in Tijuana. “Walk dogs, clear head. Remember that I’m not trying to sell daily news. I can’t afford to. Web doesn’t pay enough and neither do the newswires.”
- Friedman gets into The Age of the Algorithm, in which she asks if everything we know about book marketing is wrong. Freshen up the drink.
- Cartoon work from Susie Cagle, MAKE $$ FROM HOME WITH YOUR ONLINE MEDIA COMPANY – ASK ME HOW!
- A little something about a Lamborghini Countach from Gawker and Gizmodo’s Cord Jefferson, The Boy With the Least Toys.
And the editors include a Transparency Index at the end with all their costs expressly revealed for doing the magazine. Check out the “friend rate” for the sweet logo. It’s where almost half the resources went on this issue. I’m in the wrong business.
Scratch’s free-trial issue is a little uneven; one piece strikes me as stretching to build the theme, and I’d like to see more images. But these are minor quarrels, especially for a first outing.
This is a deftly paced collection of work that defines its intent with authority and humility. “Let’s face it. Nobody really knows how all this stuff works,” the co-editors write in their opener. “Scratch doesn’t claim to have all the answers.” How refreshing. The magazine is spunky and cleanly designed, happily without aping Medium, as some others do. And its tone is smart without trying to impress you with that fact. You’ll find yourself bookmarking more than one article along the way.
Plus, everyone writing for Scratch gets their Twitter handle in their byline so people like me don’t have to look them up. Perfection is at hand.
“libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.” @neilhimself http://t.co/U8HtPcveQf @guardian
— Edirin Oputu (@EdirinOputu) October 21, 2013
Macmillan and the Library Biz
Almost while we weren’t looking last week, a considerable step forward was made in making ebooks available through US libraries.
In fact, I like that Sarah Weinman at Publishers Lunch reported in Macmillan Expands eBook Library Lending to Total of 11,000 Backlist Titles the means by which we learned this:
The news was first reported on Twitter by 3M collection development coordinator Heather McCormack.
See? That’s one jetpack we do have: big corporate announcements are blasted first out on Twitter.
As Weinman wrote:
A little more than 6 months after entering the digital library market with a pilot program including 1,200 backlist Minotaur titles and other titles from romance imprint Entangled, Macmillan has expanded its digital library offerings to include an additional 9,300 backlist titles across all company imprints. That brings the total number of backlist Macmillan titles available for digital lending to approximately 11,000.
And the good Laura Hazard Owen in Big-5 publisher Macmillan makes many more ebooks available to libraries at GigaOM did us the favor of a quick wrap on where the other major US publishers now stand on library ebook lending:
Random House (now merged with Penguin, but, according to Publishers Lunch, the publishers will retain separate library ebook policies) makes all of its ebooks available to libraries, but at prices as much as three times higher than the retail price.
HarperCollins allows its ebooks to be checked out 26 times before the library has to buy a new copy.
Hachette makes all its ebooks available to libraries and charges more than the retail price, but a library only has to buy a copy once.
Simon & Schuster does not make its ebooks available to libraries.
As usual, I have no idea what @safaribooks’s #bib13 talk is about, but at least this time I’m not also presenting it. @abdelazer @gunzalis
— Liza Daly (@liza) October 21, 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.
October 24-26, San Francisco: Books in Browsers: Produced by the Frankfurt Academy and Hypothes.is, BiB is described as “a small summit for the new generation of internet publishing companies, focusing on developers and designers who are building and launching tools for online storytelling, expression, and art.” Now in its fourth year, this is among the most advanced of conferences for issues of form meeting content beyond today’s norms. Books in Browsers is produced for a fourth time by Peter Brantley and Kat Meyer 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)
October 25-27, Surrey, British Columbia: Surrey International Writers Conference: “The Surrey International Writers’ Conference, held every October in British Columbia, is the most comprehensive conference of its kind in Canada. SiWC offers writers in all genres — from beginners to experts — the opportunity both to hone their craft and to expose their work to the international literary marketplace. Registration.
November 4, London: The Writing Platform Mini-Fair and Conference: The Writing Platform returns to London’s Rich Mix for a daylong second annual event featuring discussion, practical workshops, a short story competition and a chance to win a Kobo Aura thanks to the involvement of sponsor Kobo Writing Life. Led by author and Bath Spa University professor Kate Pullinger, the day’s full program of panels and seminars is here (PDF) and features speakers including Polly Courtney, Philip Hensher, Anna Lewis, Suw Charman-Anderson, and many more. For tickets, use the Rich Mix box office site.
November 13-14, Online: Get Read – Marketing Strategies for Writers: Dan Blank’s We Grow Media presents this two-day Internet conference for authors, “focused on helping you ensure your books get read.” Speakers are to include Jason Ashlock, Claire Cook, Elizabeth S. Craig, Jane Friedman, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Ami Greko, Rachel Fershleiser, Richard Nash, MJ Rose, Therese Walsh, Chuck Wendig, and more. (Hashtag: #GetRead) For a discount on registration, use code “porter.”
November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Nine session, seven “big ideas” pitched, and 40+ speakers including Charlie Redmayne, . Matthew Cashmore, George Walkley, Michael Tamblyn, Patrick Brown, Stephen Page and more. (Hashtag: #fbook13) Now open for bookings.
January 13-15, 2014, New York City: Digital Book World Conference & Expo: “Digital Book World’s sessions strive to offer you the most practical, relevant and actionable programming on everything from eBook publishing and internet marketing to digital solutions for selling and marketing your books. While we’re still building the final program, registration is officially open.” Speakers include Brad Stone, Tim O’Reilly, Simon Lipskar, Peter McCarthy, Dominique Raccah, Mike Shatzkin, and more. (Hashtag: #DBW14) Best prices end November 8.
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
In the WHSmith/Kobo/Amazon controversy, it’s worthwhile remembering that publishers have ALWAYS “gamed the system”: http://t.co/yAQ2t0q05g
— ljndawson (@ljndawson) October 15, 2013
Last Gas: Quarantine ‘em All
Quarantine all new ebook titles, even those from big publishers. Only remove the quarantine when either the ebook or its print counterpart has sold more than 100 copies.
Baldur Bjarnason’s piece Quarantine all ebooks appears as a response-to-a-response-to the business of WHSmith in the UK having shuttered its own site last week while Kobo went about quarantining self-published and small-publishers’s ebook titles. They were removed from the UK store for days while Kobo worked to root out reported porn titles and evaluate others before reactivating them for sale.
Our colleague Dennis Abrams here at Publishing Perspectives invoked the c-word, “censorship,” in his post on the situation, Should Self-Publishing Platforms Censor Objectionable Books?
Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss, on the other hand, in Thoughts on the Great Erotica Panic of 2013, wrote—not in response to Abrams specifically but to industry hubbub in general:
This isn’t censorship; these are businesses, which have the right to sell what they choose.
She was on the way to a point I also was making in Said the Online Retailer to the Entrepreneurial Author at Writer Unboxed, in Strauss’ words, the real point here is “the degree to which the apparently free market of self-publishing is vulnerable to Big Brother control.”
I woke up wondering just how many hot publishing startups have actually gotten traction. I can only name a few…
— Don Linn (@DonLinn) October 21, 2013
In Bjarnason’s cunning suggestion:
Quarantined titles only appear on Author pages and if you follow a direct link to their page. This means that most publisher online sales and marketing campaigns would still work as normal. Once a title has sold 100 copies it is reviewed by a human to see if it fulfills the ebook retail platform’s quality requirements. If it does, quarantine would be lifted. If it doesn’t, the publisher gets a notice as to what it is that needs to be fixed.
He anticipates the objection: “But this would destroy the sales for most self-publishers.” And he counters:
But it would increase search discoverability and the sales of those who do sell more than 100 copies. Consider it a ‘you must be this tall to ride’ kind of thing. The ebook retail platform would probably increase their overall sales with the added bonus of preventing forever [a] PR disaster like the one that took place last weekend.
A grain of Icelandic salt:. Bjarnason is familiar to many of us for his enjoyment of the role of provocateur.
WOMBATS ARE COMING: http://t.co/6aw4e1fhBW (much like Winter, but more cuddly and they like to burrow)
— Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) October 21, 2013
Still, you could hear the basis for his post and its tone in many comments, such as this one from Karen Myers at Writer Unboxed:
From the perspective of someone in a more sophisticated industry (IT), the underlying problem is so trivial (gosh, what are all those category fields again?) that spectacles like WH Smith shutting down its entire website (not just books) is beyond laughable. Never thought much of them as an online bookseller, but they’ve managed to sink even further in that regard. What is it about the publishing industry that makes them so clueless about how to handle data?
Many might say “clueless” overstates the case. But “drastic,” for many, might describe Kobo’s and WHSmith’s handling of the moment.
And Bjarnason takes advantage of the whistling winds of outrage around the event to write about his “plan” to recognize no book before it sells 100 copies:
Would it piss everybody off? Absolutely, and on that basis alone I think it should be implemented on all major platforms.
This is the map of the Internet circa 1969 via @history_pics pic.twitter.com/YI9my9Wd5u
— Jonny Geller (@JonnyGeller) October 21, 2013
Porter Anderson (not a pen name) 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 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: 1971yes