A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

FoodVancouver.com Goes iPod

Kevin Freeman and Geoff Peters of GK Media are pretty cool guys. They launched www.foodvancouver.com in April 2005. Part of the mandate of the site is to help those with special dietary needs find restaurants accommodating of those needs.

Today the site just got better. Kevin and Geoff added a downloadable restaurant guide for iPods.

Download the iPod Guide.

I checked it out and it’s pretty easy to download and install. Any iPod newer than the 2002 model supports the guide. You load the app into the Notes features of the iPod and then off you go.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More on The Long Tail

Several weeks ago John Maxwell from SFU posted a comment on my posting “Lessons from The Long Tail”.

I had every intention of responding straight away but clearly that didn’t happen. Yesterday John and I were on a Book Talks panel at Word on the Street, and it reminded me that I should get on with it and respond.

John says (I’ve excerpted here):

Here’s the thought: the Long Tail describes markets, but not marketING, and as such, it is descriptive, but not prescriptive in any strategically meaningful way.

John also admits to not having read the book. So I’ll point out that although the Long Tail describes the market (which is a market of multitudes vs. the one-size-fits-all model we’re used to), Anderson does talk a lot about marketing and how to effectively market along the tail—Rule #1: don’t focus only on the hits. (There are far more niche goods than hits. The cost of reaching those niches is falling dramatically due to a combo of digital distribution, powerful seach and filtering technologies, and broadband accessibility.)

John says:

We (consumers) have a finite amount of attention to pay to marketing messages, so one thing wins only by pushing something else out. And if that is the case, then it still makes more sense to play for the big numbers—i.e., the “short head” is the more strategically valuable space, regardless of how interesting the long tail itself may be.

This would be true if the hits were still producing the big numbers. But they’re not.

The introduction of The Long Tail is all about the world of the blockbuster and why marketers need to move on—because we (consumers) already have.

The hits are the lens through which we understand the world: bestseller lists, top 10, platium record sales, etc. Anderson says, “Number one is still number one, but the sales that go with that are not what they once were.” So you can go ahead and focus only on the hits, but those numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Most of the top 50 bestselling albums of all time were recorded in the 70s and 80s. Every year network TV loses more and more of its audience to niche cable channels and the internet. This year saw the cancellation of UK’s Top of the Pops. A couple of books are hitting the really big numbers (Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter) but you don’t want to “need” the hits in order for your business to survive.

The old way of looking at products and audiences is “the pie is only so big” and if I want more marketshare it is at the expense of someone else. The new way to look at the pie is, “hey, there’s a whole other layer here.”

That other layer is all the stuff that, due to the lower distribution costs of digital materials, is now economical to distribute. The digital book shelf, where you sell and distribute digital works is one model, or the digital mail-order catalogue is the other, where you market works digitally but still distribute a physical product.

There are a lot more non-hits than hits. If the non-hits and total misses collectively are larger than the hits, and the costs to supply all your products vs. just the hits is the same, then why not make more money by offering everything.

People no longer only buy what’s available. They buy what they want. And if they can’t find exactly what they want right away, there’s the internet—someone, somewhere is offering exactly what they want.

... certain distribution/retail players can win by catering to the long tail itself (Amazon being the obvious one) ... They are simply capable of capturing more attention, and everyone else is playing for scraps. The Long Tail players themselves are blockbusters at playing the Long Tail.

What’s fascinating about Google, Amazon, Netflixes, iTunes is that their business model is the clue to how customers behave in markets of infinite choice.

It’s about availability, trusted sources, filtering, searchability and discovery. Those players have the attention because they’re using technology that responds to what users want to do.

You may argue (in fact, you probably already have, and it’s a good point) that various tech/media advances make it possible to capture more attention across the board than previously—things like blogs and RSS feeds, search engines, and lightweight data definitely seem to allow individuals to manage far more information than ever before. But these are incremental, occasional, and relatively small in scope; in short, they are a far cry from the kind of paradigmatic change that the Long Tail phenom aspires to: that is, a wholesale changing of the rules of the game.

Tell that to media companies that are losing revenue due to craigslist, news blogs, etc.

Anderson would say you need to think about the decades of innovation that have made business what it is today. The various tech/media advances unified and amplified the problems in existing distribution channels, but they also improved things on a non-internet, physical world level. Online purchases involve, in the case of Amazon book purchases: FedEx, ISBN numbers, standard bibliographic data, credit cards, databases, tracking codes—big improvements to business and distribution channels. But the massive change is our tendency to turn to the internet for information. The expectation is 1) if it is available, it is online, and 2) if you want me to buy it, you’ll help me find it.

You’re right that there’s a scarity of attention on an individual level, but the tech/media changes that are successful are the ones that help us filter info, find what we’re looking for and discover something new.

There are lots of arguments one can make about The Long Tail, but I do think it’s a book worth reading. In some ways there’s nothing new, but that’s why we should be paying attention. Anderson isn’t speculating on the future and what consumers will do in the future, he’s telling us what they are doing today, and all the ways that businesses can improve.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reminder: Word on the Street is today

If you’re in Vancouver come out to library square downtown. I’m on a panel at 12:15 downstairs in one of the conference rooms. Word Under the Street is also down there with us. Cool comix, meet Joe Sacco. Then come up for air and sunshine and check out the book and magazine stands.

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Book Review: A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

Everyone goes through a spot of bother at some point in life. Some of us go through a spot of bother daily—minor things that niggle away at our brain, things that make us doubt what we know or believe to be right. The four main characters in A Spot of Bother go through this hourly.

There’s George. Father of the family. Presumed (by himself only) to be dying of cancer. The doctor says it’s eczema.

There’s Jean. Mother of the family. Been having an affair for several years without complication. Now that George is retired (and fearing he is dying of cancer), he follows her around like a puppy. The foreign attention makes Jean paranoid that George has discovered her affair.

There’s Katie. Daughter. About to be married (for the second time). The family is “chuffed” that her choice of groom is Ray. Ray is dependable, great with her son Jacob, has money and a house they live in for free, but he’s not really their type—class wise, intelligence wise, they can’t really put their finger on it. Katie is also torn about why she’s marrying Ray. Is it to piss off her mother?

There’s Jamie. Gay as a three dollar bill—when he’s with his friends and with Katie—but straight-laced and rather private with his parents and their neighbours. Coming to Katy’s wedding with his boyfriend Tony will disturb the neighbours, cause his mother to hug Tony like a long-lost son (she knows Jamie is gay but doesn’t talk about it) and cause his father (who also knows Jamie’ is gay) to pat Tony on the back and treat him like an associate or sportsmate of Jamie’s.

A Spot of Bother indeed.

George goes crazy.
Jean calls it off with David.
Katie cancels the wedding.
Ray throws a dustbin.
Tony breaks up with Jamie.
Then I can’t tell you what happens because it will ruin the ending for you.

A Spot of Bother is as funny as his first book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

There’s a website for the book aspotofbotherbooks.com, which is also tres drole.

The opening image is an invitation to Katie and Ray’s wedding:

George and Jean Hall
Invite you to the (second) wedding of their (tempestuous, stubborn and ferociously tempered) daughter

who plans to wed

(an inappropriate hulk with “strangler hands”) on

September 5, 2006

By which time ... George, who is losing his mind as politely as he can, and Jean, who is shagging George’s ex-colleague, and Jamie, their gay son who cannot commit to his lover by inviting him to the wedding, and Katie who fears she really doesn’t love Ray ... pray that their family madness proves to be nothing more than

a spot of bother.

Listen to an audio excerpt.

I enjoyed Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother very much, although I’m secretly pleased not to hear any more about Katie. She was a bad influence on my character. I shall try to be more like calm, dependable Ray from now on.



Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Join me at WOTS

Join me at Vancouver’s 12th Annual THE WORD ON THE STREET FESTIVAL.
(WOTS for those of us too lazy to say the whole thing.)

11 am to 6 pm
Library Square, Vancouver Public Library
Admission: Free

It’s basically a day of fun, books, magazines, cooking and comics.

Here the full event schedule.

At 12:15 I’m on a Book Talks Panel: Writing and the Web
Tyee Books website editor Charles Campbell will moderate a panel featuring Steve Zio, author of Hot Springs: A iNovel; SFU Master of Publishing Progam’s technology specialist John Maxwell; me (Raincoast Books’ Internet marketing manager Monique Trottier); and Crawford Kilian, Capilano College teacher, blogger and author of Writing for the Web. Presented by TheTyeeBooks.ca.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Tyee check out their website, in particular the books section. It’s new.

What else goes on at WOTS?
Here are my event picks.

For Hockey Fans
Raincoast is publishing Canucks Legends: Vancouver Hockey Heroes, which chronicles the team’s first four decades through 75 player profiles and more than 300 photos. The book isn’t available until November but there are 25 special advance copies with a bookplate signed by Trevor Linden. The books will be sold by donation with all proceeds going to the Canucks Family Education Centre. What’s more, Raincoast Books has pledged to match all donations.

More Hockey
Hockey book authors include: author of Canada’s treasured The Hockey Sweater, Roch Carrier; author of Hockey: A People’s History, Michael McKinley; and, Ed Willes, author of The Rebel League.

THE WORD UNDER THE STREET presented by Mint Records
** One of my favourite parts of the festival **
Enter the annual Comics Contest, meet Nardwuar the Human Serviette, take an art class with Robin Thompson and a hear a session with the widely acclaimed comics-journalist Joe Sacco. And of course, peruse dozens of great local comix on display for sale. The lovely and talented Eve Corbel and Sarah Leavitt of Geist will be there as well.

150 exhibitors: Book and magazine publishers, booksellers, literacy and educational organizations, libraries, writers’ associations and more will exhibit an array of current and back listed books and magazines to browse through or buy. And it’s back: the 9th Annual Book Bag Treasure Hunt.

Drop by for readings and events at the Authors Tent, Chapters Indigo Poet’s Corner and Canada Writes Tent. Check the event schedule.

See you there.

One Day Only
11am to 6pm
Sunday September 24, 2006 at Library Square Vancouver
As well as locations in Calgary, Kitchener, Toronto and Halifax

Admission: FREE!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Make the Most of a Writers Conference

From Lorraine of The Shebeen Club comes this announcement about “making the most of a writers conference.”
Who: The Shebeen Club presents kc dyer, author of the Eagle Glen Trilogy
What: Making the Most of a Writers’ Conference!
When: 7-10 pm Tuesday, September 19th, 2006
Meet & Mingle 7:00-8
Listen & Learn 8-8:30
Trililoquizing and behaving like Young Adults 8:30-10
Where: The Shebeen, behind the Irish Heather, 217 Carrall
Why: Because we’ve got the Word on the Street, Surrey International Writers’ Conference, Vancouver Writers’ and Readers’ Festival, and Jewish Book Festival all coming up in the next six weeks!
Because if there’s a writer in this hemisphere that knows how to get the most out of a conference, it is kc dyer. She works a lunch table full of strangers like nobody else! 
It seems but yesterday she was a dewy-eyed newbie accepting the Special Achievement Award at the SIWC, and now she’s seized absolute control as next year’s coordinator. Since that distant day, she’s found time to run the SIWC’s (huge) annual writing competition as well as become an integral part of the North Vancouver literary community. Somehow, she’s also managed to complete her acclaimed Eagle Glen trilogy for young adults, develop teaching materials for the books, and begin a fourth novel. Her books are: SHADES OF RED, SECRET OF LIGHT & SEEDS OF TIME, all published by The Dundurn Group.
How (much)? $15 before September 16, $20 thereafter, includes your choice of bangers and mash or vegetarian pasta, plus a glass of beer or wine; networking over food is a key conference skill!
Reservations and media inquiries: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Bio: kc dyer ( http://www.kcdyer.com/ ) was born in Calgary, and after a peripatetic decade or two now lives with her children (and other animals) north of Vancouver, British Columbia, where she works as a freelance writer. kc is the author of a number of books for young adults that are published in North America and the UK. Having a secret fondness for inducing nausea in teens, she can often be found sharing some of the greatest grotesque moments in history with large groups of high school students. Unable to see the folly of her ways, she continues to write and most days can be found sitting at her desk, staring out the window and trying to think of the perfect word.

Online Marketing Resources

I received some nice feedback today from someone who attended the SFU summer workshop in book publishing.

“I wanted to thank you for your workshop on internet marketing. It proved to be one of the most informative and useful sessions for me.  I was wondering if you could recommend any books or websites that would be a good resource to learn more about internet marketing?”

How can you not offer recommended reading after receiving such nice praise? For everyone’s benefit, and as a reminder to me, here’s a short list of resources.

Web Theory
Harness the power of the web. How business models need to change to adapt to online markets. If you read anything, read this. The full book is free online. The Cluetrain Manifesto

What Is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software
O’Reilly website

Web Stats & Measuring Success
Work Industries blog on web strategy.
Post on How to Read Webstats

The four general questions that you should ask yourself to measure your online ad or website’s return on investment.
Chief Marketer website

Search Engine Optimization, Email Newsletters, Etc.

Search engine for blogs. See what people are searching for, talking about online. You’ll find great resources if you search for “web strategy”, “online marketing”, “user testing”, “search engine optimization.”

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Spot of Brilliant Cover Design

Mark Haddon has a new novel, A Spot of Bother.

My friend Patricia over at BookLust and I enjoy Mark Haddon’s book design. So I hope she likes this cover as much as I do.

A Spot of Bother just arrived in the mail last week and it was very exciting to open up the package. I’d only see the cover online. In person it is quite spectacular.

I haven’t cracked the spine yet but I hope to this afternoon. Yesterday’s New York Times books section said, “Haddon is too gifted and too ambitious to write a hacky second novel. In fact, he’s so wondrously articulate, so rigorous in thinking through his characters’ mind-sets, that ‘A Spot of Bother’ serves as a fine example of why novels exist.”

Pretty high praise. I’ll let you know what I think.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Geist Hits the Festival Scene

imageThe good folks at Geist magazine are going to be at the Vancouver Word on the Street Festival on Sunday, Sept. 24.

The Geist booth is always fun: they have giveaways and super deals on mag subscriptions and, this year, the forthcoming Geist Atlas of Canada.

Get in the literary mood with the Geist-sponsored Haiku Night in Canada, on the Main Stage at 2:20 pm. Also Geist your way over to the Magazine Mews stage at 4 pm for a panel on getting published in magazines.

And if you don’t like sunlight, visit Geisters and comix phenoms Eve Corbel and Sarah Leavitt at Word Under the Street, in the basement of the library.

Eve Corbel and Sarah Leavitt have officially adopted the comix artist Joe Sacco for the day. They’ll be displaying their comix wares all day: Slug Noir, Small Dogs Haiku, Ex-Husbands from Hell, Why Editors Have No Friends, and more. There’s lots of fun, comics drawing contests and other cool stuff.

Not in Vancouver but need a Geist fix? 

In Toronto at Word on the Street, Geist teams up with Maisonneuve (another great mag).

In Kitchener, Geist is part of the action in Victoria Park.

And Geist sightings will be recorded in Calgary and Halifax.

(BTW: If you’re interested in the Geist Atlas of Canada, you can order before September 30th and receive a 30% discount. Need more details?)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Busy at the PNE, Birthdays and Days at the Beach

Fair Zone

Check out Flickr for photos on what I’ve been up to lately.

I still owe John Maxwell a response about The Long Tail. It’s coming.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Review: Before I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema

I finished reading Robert J. Wiersema’s novel this week, Before I Wake.

It’s the type of book that I really like. There’s a good story, it’s well-written, there’s something smart, clever or quirky going on. It definitely fits the bill.

I know Rob as a bookseller, but I’m very glad that he’s written such a fine novel. It gives me another good reason to buy him a drink.

Before I Wake is a very fine book indeed. It is the type of book I’d like to write. It has magic in all the right places.

Sherry is 3, she gets hit by a truck. It’s devasting to her parents, whose marriage is already on the rocks. When it come time to take Sherry off life support ... nothing happens. She stays perfectly healthy. Like a sleeping child, she stays, unchanged, in the family living room. Until one day her nurse notices that her arthritis has disappeared. Her doctor is stunned. Sherry lies there like an angel. Is she an angel, a healer? The nurse brings over her sister, who is clearly on her last legs. Another miracle. The sister’s cancer goes into remission. These events set the stage for the rest of the novel. Long lines form of believers who want to be healed. Crowds of Christian protestors appear, determined to proclaim that Sherry is the devil’s work. There’s a long-standing battle of good and evil that’s also taking place in the heart of the driver of the truck.

Before I Wake is good for a read, but if there are any academically minded folks out there looking for a new novel to add to the CanLit curriculm, Before I Wake offers a lot to think about.

Here are some photos of the book launch from last week:

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bolloxed Is Full of Testicular Delight

I saw my first Vancouver Fringe play ever. Bolloxed.

Bolloxed is written by my friend Darren Barefoot. It’s about a Canadian programmer working for an American anti-spam company in Ireland. He simultaneously meets the girl of his dreams and gets incredible pain in his balls.

I thought the play was hilarious. There’s a cast of two and they play several different secondary characters as well the main love interests.

I don’t want to spoil the plot twists so I’ll just tell you it ended with an excellent piece of ass. It’s your job to go watch the play, I’m not going to tell you anything else.

I should mention it’s not X-rate, it’s not potty humour; it’s good adult fun: lots of puns, quirkiness and double meanings. My only criticism was it ended too early. I wanted more.

BOLLOXED: A new comedy by Darren Barefoot

CBC Radio Stage 6: Playwrights Theatre Centre

Sat, Sept 9 at 9:00 pm
Sun, Sept 10 at 1:30 pm
Tues, Sept 12 at 5:30 pm
Sat, Sept 16 at 11:00 pm
Sun, Sept 17 at 7:30 pm

Get Tickets to Bolloxed.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bolloxed at The Fringe

My friend Darren Barefoot has a play at The Fringe Festival in Vancouver. He wrote it, which means I now know a playwright. Could come in handy some day.

The play opens tomorrow.

BOLLOXED: A new comedy by Darren Barefoot

CBC Radio Stage 6: Playwrights Theatre Centre
Thurs, Sept 7 at 5:30 pm
Sat, Sept 9 at 9:00 pm
Sun, Sept 10 at 1:30 pm
Tues, Sept 12 at 5:30 pm
Sat, Sept 16 at 11:00 pm
Sun, Sept 17 at 7:30 pm

An intrepid Canuck meets the girl of his dreams in Dublin, but will the clash of cultures kill the romance? This off-the-wall love story chronicles the misadventures of a man on a mission in a country that doesn’t understand him. He’s bolloxed.

Get Tickets to Bolloxed.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lessons from The Long Tail

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. I spent time mulling over some of these ideas and trying to look specifically at the book industry. Here’s my summarized account of what I think Chris is saying.

Online channels allow customers to pick from a full range of products and services. More choice means the hits sell less because a percentage of the people who would have bought the hit (if it was the only option available) have moved down the tail, discovering products more closely tailored to their needs, personal style, taste, budget, etc.

In order to increase revenues and optimize profits, companies can no long rely on the hits. They need to find ways to engage with customers on their own terms (online, anonymous, search-driven) and expose them to the tail (full range) of products.

How do I think publishers going to do that? By ...
- Studying their customers’ behaviour.
- Looking at trends in online purchasing.
- Paying attention to their web stats to understand what their customers are doing online.
- Placing importance (and budget) on online sites that are searchable, filter-friendly, and include recommendations and ranking systems or any tool that allows for further customization or tailoring by the user.

I think The Long Tail is screaming out for all companies to rethink their physical assets and determine what digital components already exist or can be created. If you get past step one, then you can figure out the business model.

In book publishing, we’ve been aware of the long tail for years. We call it backlist. Publishers have historically looked at ways to balance the ratio of sales of frontlist titles (new titles) to backlist titles (titles published 6 months ago or beyond). Even if that split is 40-60, publishers mostly put time and money into selling and promoting the frontlist. I assume the theory is that if you can get the new books going, then they happily carry on without a lot of effort. But what Chris is saying is you could sell a lot more with a little effort.

I suspect that publishers will continue to obsess over the hits, but Chris is pointing out that sales are no longer coming from one channel—independent stores, chain stores, wholesalers, discount stores, online retailers—customers are no longer gathering in one place, “they are scattered to the winds as markets fragment into countless niches.” But the one big growth area is the web.

Why? Because customer behaviour is changing. Internet connectivity in Canada is widespread. People have access to cultural content across a broad spectrum. Their attention is sought after by content creators from the mainstream to the fringe to the underground. But what still drives purchases are recommendations from trusted sources, recommendations tailored specifically to one’s needs and interests. The web is perfectly positioned to aid in that search for book recommendations. We can search online for extra information, we can read about the author, maybe hear a podcast, we can send our friends links to books we like, we can write reviews on book sites. We Google, we Yahoo, we MSN, we blog, we email, we browse. It’s a time of infinite choice, and the web is the land of infinite discovery.

The Long Tail is about how technology is turning mass markets into millions of niches, what people do at a niche level, and how to filter and reference and measure success within a niche.


On a related note, I noticed that Amazon has recently changed the way they generate URLs. Instead of seemingly random numbers, the title and author name are included. One small step towards search engine domination. Put your cursor here and look at the status bar to see “www.amazon.ca/Long-Tail-Chris-Anderson/...”

Final Station of the Bool


To enter to win the package of Stephen King books, tell me in the comments field something interesting you know about Stephen King. Does he staple the sheets of his bed to prevent monster attacks, did you read a great King book and have a favourite quote ... anything you find interesting and would like to share. Use a valid email address and live in Canada. Those are the only rules.

You have until Saturday, Oct 21 to enter. I’ll do a random draw on Sunday, contact the winner for his/her mailing address and then mail the prize.