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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Better Books: Part 2

Dan Wagstaff, publicist extraordinaire over at the Raincoast blog, and I have been having an ongoing conversation about books and technology.  In this series, Better Books, we’re looking at the book publishing industry’s challenges, successes and promises from a technology perspective.

Here’s what you missed:
Part 1

New this week:

Question 2
There have been comparisons between the music industry and the book industry –- diminishing placement, payment for placement, digitalization of content—in your opinion is this an accurate assessment?

I say sure. But I also say compare apples to apples. The music industry has seen much more dramatic change in the last 100 years than book publishing. Cory Doctorow talks about the music wars and how each stage of technical advancement had some type of cannibalizing effect on the old format. (I’m paraphrasing and likely missing a lot of steps here. Old Doctorow article with some of these thoughts.)

He rightly points out that the music industry was mainly sheet-music publishers.
Hiring a live pianist gave way to the piano roll.

From Doctorow: The player piano was a digital recording and playback system. Piano-roll companies bought sheet music and ripped the notes printed on it into 0s and 1s on a long roll of computer tape, which they sold by the thousands—the hundreds of thousands—the millions. They did this without a penny’s compensation to the publishers. They were digital music pirates. Arrrr!

Composers and music publishers were in an uproar, and this repeats every 10 or 15 years (the uproar part, but also the technology shifts).

- Records, 8-track, tape, cd, mp3
- Live music, sheet music, piano roll, radio, iTunes

The motion picture industry is a better comparison to the music industry: vaudeville theatre to theatre house to home movie to BitTorrent.

With books—we have books. I know there are ebooks, there are digital downloads. But for whatever reason we are still cutting down trees, making paper and buying bound formats instead of digital books.

So can we compare the music industry to the book publishing industry. Sure, but there are complications and historical parallels and divergences. We should be careful about only comparing the apple bits to the apple bits. (Subtle plug for Mac and bits and bytes.)

I think Dan agrees with me. I should have let him go first.

The similarities between the music industry and the book industry tend to be overstated. Sure, there are some superficial similarities - they are both creative industries right?  But I’m sure part of the reason this has become a popular notion is that HMV owns Waterstones bookstores in the UK. Admittedly HMV often behave as if there is no difference between music and books, but it’s not exactly working out for them and in general I kind of think it is a slightly sloppy comparison.

Dan’s British. He says things like sloppy and rubbish.

There are far smarter people who’ve compared music and books. I’m going to go read them and we’ll be back next week with more about download formats for books. I’ll make slightly sloppy references to other smart people and Dan will say smart things. You’ll love it. Please come back.

Happy BC Book and Magazine Week.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Make Your Own Dog Food Is On The Rise

Jamie Young dog food recipes in Grrrrowlicious Food for Hungry DogsI’ve been doing some work this week for Whitecap Books and author Jamie Young on his dog food cookbook Grrrrowlicious Food for Hungry Dogs.

I was interested in the project because Jamie has a great website, www.GRRRR.com.au, the book looks amazing, and the recipes have me drooling.

What’s been surprising to me is people’s reactions to the pet food recall. I think every pet owner has taken notice. Some are taking action by switching up their pets’ food to different brands. And others are making full-scale changes, in particular by making their own pet food.

The challenge, of course, is figuring out what your dog or cat should or should not eat, and figuring out how to create balanced meals that are easy and affordable.

This is where I have been loving Jamie’s book. The recipes are absolutely delicious (I have wondered about making the recipes for myself—that should give you a clear indication of the “easy” and “affordable” factor):

Bacon and Cheese Cookies from Grrrrowlicious Food for Hungry Dogs by Jamie YoungHomemade Dog Food Recipes from Grrrrowlicious

- Rabbit stew
- Cooked sardines
- Chicken meatballs
- Fried rice
- Bacon and cheese cookies—PDF sample recipe

I recommend checking out Jamie Young’s website for sample recipes and videos from GRRRR TV, his online dog food cooking show. You can also peak inside the book.

Another article that caught my eye was in the New York Times, “Home Cooking for Pets Is Suddenly Not So Odd”

So it is no surprise, perhaps, that cookbooks for dogs and cats are enjoying an increase in sales.

According to Nielsen BookScan, for the week that ended March 25, after Menu Foods recalled more than 60 million cans of pet food packaged under numerous name brands and store brands, “The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs” sold 194 copies, compared with 42 the previous week. Other books with even more modest sales totals also showed sharp increases over the previous week: “Real Food for Dogs” sold 66 copies, up from 23, for example, and “Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diet” sold 34, up from 8.

The NY Times article also offers some other dog food cookbook recommendations.

If you want to know more about Grrrrowlicious Food for Hungry Dogs, check out:
* the website
* recent press release about the book

Monday, April 23, 2007

Book Review: The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexandre McCall Smith is book 8 in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

This is a series I particularly love. The characters are incredibly charming, the adventures and mysteries are secondary to the human-behaviour stories being told, and at the end of a long day I can depend on Mma Ramotswe to give me a good laugh.

These are just fun, well-written books.

Often with a series there is the risk of the author running out of steam or of the plots losing their shine, not so with this series. Thank you Alexandre McCall Smith.

Better Books: Part 1

A many-part series, “Better Books” looks at the book publishing industry’s challenges, successes and promises from a technology perspective.

Question 1

The Canadian book publishing market faces particular challenges:

- A saturated book market
- Canadian geography
- Diminishing in-store placement
- Diminishing book coverage in traditional media channels

What are some of the innovative ways for book publishers to meet these challenges?

Tough question. I’m making Dan answer that.

Wow. Where to start?

Technology does provide a lot of opportunities for publishers –- we always talk about Google Books and online retailers. Then there’s all that web 2.0 + wizardry that can help publishers connect to readers. BookNet gives them all sorts of sales numbers that weren’t available before… But you’re far more informed about this stuff than me.

Dan attempts to cop out of answering the question. No such luck.

In any case, I think the tech innovations are only going to work if the book industry does everything else better than it does already. I mean they don’t really address the underlying problems, you know?

Technology is only part of the solution –- it’s great and all, but it’s like thinking we can save the planet with a few wind turbines when it’s our everyday behaviour that needs to change! We all get over-excited about technology (that we don’t really understand because we’re all Arts majors) when actually we should be worrying about the way we do business… 

Wait, I’m an Arts major!

I think Dan is suggesting that lots of people talk the talk but have never seen the walk, don’t understand the walk, and in some cases don’t even want to walk.

This is our collective demand for better books. Dan’s right that technology is a part solution. The technology is about changes to behaviour—publishers’ ability to track sales, to supply electronic data to retailers, to cut costs by creating digital assets instead of physical assets—but it’s not the be-all and end-all problem solver.

We still have a saturated book market. Technology can help us filter through the crap to find what we want, but maybe we just need less books, but also better books.

Technology doesn’t make Canadian geography any different. We still live in a country who’s commercial centres are spread apart. Shipping a book from Ontario to BC takes time. Vancouver to Halifax by truck—technology can’t really help you. It can help tell you where between those two points your package was last seen.

Diminishing in-store placement is still a problem. Stores’ websites don’t really mimic the front-of-store table in the same way. You can email me about new books. I can see them on the home page. I can see that people who liked x also liked y. But it’s not the same as walking into a store and seeing a huge stack of books. Glossy covers. Textures. Other people picking up books that catch our eye.

And then there’s diminishing book coverage in traditional media channels. Does it help that there are so many book blogs. Sure. But do people still look to mass media and bestseller lists. Yes, lots of people do.

But back to that wise crack about Arts majors. The best thing about Arts majors is our ability to think critically. Dan doesn’t want to sound like a “know-it-all-smartass-smarty-pants,” but, secretly, I assure you he is.

I’m a publicist not a CEO for heaven’s sake – I’m very low on the food chain, but for me a lot of the challenges come from our inability to get the basic stuff right… We’d rather pin unrealistic hopes on the internet and moan about all stuff we can’t change instead.

So what are those unrealistic hopes?

That with the right email campaign, or website or copy on Amazon, we can connect niche books to potential readers. The challenge Dan and I often talk about is that the resource allocations are not always spot-on and sometimes despite the best-laid plans, a book is just crap. Technology or a fine PR campaign can’t solve that problem. 

We’re aiming for results not effort.

We want better books.

Dan and I will explore what better books means in upcoming posts.

Happy BC Book and Mag Week.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Better Books: A Series on the Challenges of Book Publishing

In the spirit of BC Book and Magazine Week, I have a books and technology series for you.

I’m not sure if this is the right name for it, but I’m calling it “Better Books”. Despite the industry’s many challenges, the greatest is to produce better books. Better in terms of quality, but also in terms of distribution, format, discoverability. Better ... define it how you wish.

My friend Dan and I are often debating the merits and demerits of certain book campaigns, the industry’s interest in technology and publishers’ participation on the “interweb”. For the next couple of weeks you’ll see our thoughts on book publishers’ challenges, ebooks, digital content, promotional opportunities and similarities to other cultural industries.

This post will be updated with links to the rest of the series. We start on Monday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

BC Book and Magazine Week is April 21 to 28, 2007

BC Book and Magazine Week

BC Book and Magazine Week is coming up!

If you’re interested in BC Books and Magazines then this is the the blog for you: www.bcbookandmagazineweek.com

The blog rocks. Great interesting content about what’s going on during BC Book and Mag week. Lots of events. Lots of photos. Lots of coolness.

Go publishing!

Find out about:
* The Main Street Shuffle
* The North Shore Writers Festival
* BC Book Prizes Soire

Here is a PDF of events for BC Book and Mag week: bc-book-events.pdf

I definitely recommend coming to The BC Book Prizes Soire

Saturday, April 21
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
The Lookout at Harbour Centre, 555 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

Live music by Ron Johnston. Tasty treats from Salt Tasting Room. Prize giveaways. A silent auction. A spectacular view.

Mix and mingle with the publishing and writing community, and be the first to learn who wins the fourth annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.

Here’s the website for details.

Aimee and the Great Cat-Sit

Aimee looking smartJames and I are cat-sitting Aimee the Great. She’s very sweet but also very clever. In 5 days she has managed to quietly take over our home. Those soft purrs and head butts have turned into a full-scale claiming of all things. I’m thankful that cats are not like dogs, they don’t pee on things to claim them. Cats, however, do their own thing. The rub.

Every corner, book edge, plant pot, sofa pillow, wall, knee, and ankle have been rubbed and re-rubbed. She’s quite assertively suggesting that we are now hers.

There’s such a fine line between master and slave.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Blogging and PR

“What goes up, always comes around,” as James’ grandmother likes to say.

I think this is true for the blogosphere. There was the “up”, everyone talking about blogs, how great blogs are , how horrid blogs are, the uptake of corporate blogging, the integration of blogs in journalism and news sites, the ... add your up here ...

Now there’s the “come around”. Things are leveling out, we’re starting to understand the roles blogs play in assisting with corporate identity, as focus groups, compliant centres and positive feedback loops, as ... add your come around here ...

Today I read some great posts on PR, blogs and the news. For my reference and yours, here are the links:

Top 10 Risks for Corporate Blogs by Kami Watson Huyse, APR. She is the principal of My PR Pro, an independent public relations consultancy based in San Antonio, Texas.

Survey: PR professionals recognise importance of blogs but do not know how to integrate them in their planning. Notes on Euroblog 2007 by Philippe Borremans on Conversationblog.

7 Signs That Your Press Release Sucks by NakedPR, a PR blog from Jennifer Mattern. Kind of practical but worth noting.

Measuring PR: What I learned going in-house by Cece Salomon-Lee, marketing communications manager for ON24. Totally awesome tips on how to track campaigns.

How to get a business magazine to write about your company by Stuart Bruce. A little hard to read this post, but good info regardless.

I found these posts on New PR, a site where users submit articles and readers choose which stories make it to the top. A bit like Digg.com but with a PR focus.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Amazon.ca Seeks “Harry-est Town in Canada”

All in good fun, Amazon.ca is looking for the “Harry-est Town in Canada,” the Canadian town who has order the most Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows per capita.

Here’s the press release.

You can track the “Harry-est Towns in Canada” at Amazon.ca/harrypotter/

The Top 10 Harry-est Towns in Canada currently are:

1. Gibsons (B.C.) (Last Week’s Rank: 1)
2. Banff (Alta.) (Last Week’s Rank: 2)
3. Bonnyville (Alta.) (Last Week’s Rank: 4)
4. Sechelt (B.C.) (Last Week’s Rank: 9)
5. Kincardine (Ont.) (Last Week’s Rank: 8)
6. Sooke (B.C.) (Last Week’s Rank: 3)
7. Port Elgin (Ont.) (Last Week’s Rank: 5)
8. Wainwright (Alta.) (Last Week’s Rank: 22)
9. Perth (Ont.) (Last Week’s Rank: 21)
10. Canmore (Alta.) (Last Week’s Rank: 10)

CBC The National Reports on Climate Change

I received my daily CBC News digest this morning and discovered the following story:

Climate Change
The National looks at adapting to climate change.

I was excited to read the article because I thought The National, who just did an extensive report on climate change, had decided to adapt their own new reporting practices (i.e., flying around the world—hello big footprint) in response to the devastation they saw.

I’m clearly an optimist. The article is a summary of the devastation they reported on from around the world. It’s still an interesting article, but it does’t signal any change in action from The National.

If we know we should be doing things to stop climate change, then isn’t now the time to do those things? Isn’t now the time for someone big and mainstream to say, “I’ll be the leader on that.”

I overheard an interview with David Suzuki where he said something like, “we’re in a van speeding into the path of a brick wall and instead of slamming on the brakes, we’re arguing about where we want to sit.”

Here’s the CBC article.

Here’s what I’m doing to hit the brakes:
- shorter showers
- carpooling to work
- driving the speed limit
- turning off the computer when it’s not in use
- handwashing instead of dishwashing (except when the heathens come to dinner and I can run a full load)
- less chemicals (cleaning products, make-up, processed foods)
- buying local and fresh instead of processed and shipped from far away (although sometimes I do eat a kiwi)
- recycling and avoiding buying stuff that’s wrapped in plastic and/or styroform
- generally being aware and making good decisions as often as possible

Share what you’re doing. What would you like to do, or like others to do?


Monday, April 09, 2007

Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics, Launches Book in Second Life

I received a press release this morning that I’ve summarized below.

Rabble.ca is holding a book launch in Second Life for Don Tapscott of Wikinomics fame.

Don Tapscott has given a lot of talks in a lot of places in his career as a writer and businessman, but never one in another world.  On Tuesday April 10th at 6:00 PT (9:00 ET) Don Tapscott will appear in “avatar” form at the rabble.ca home in the virtual world of Second Life to discuss his book Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Penguin).

I can’t make my Fashionista shopping day today in SL so I think a book launch tomorrow will allow me to get my SL fix for the week. Ooo, I wonder if I should try changing my hair again ...

Rabble.ca is a pretty cool online space. I haven’t been to the site for awhile so this SL thing is a good reason for me to venture forth into their virtual world. The Rabble folks have developed an online book club and book lounge, and now a Second Life home on Canadian-owned “Better World Island,” which, according to the press release, also hosts CARE International, the Peace and Justice Centre, the Centre for Water Studies among other NGOs and non-profits.

Teleport to the book launch Tuesday April 10th at 6:00 PT (9:00 ET) by clicking this link:

See you there. I’ll be the one wearing curtains.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter

Magnolia bloom

Magnolia tree

Notte Bon Bon

Easter Parade

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Travis Needs to Get a Customized Wii

My favourite illustration blog Drawn.ca posted today about custom-designed Wii and a contest Nintendo Canada (along with Magic Pony and Udon Entertainment ) are hosting.

The Art of Wii Contest: Enter here for a chance to win one of 6 custom-painted Wii consoles by six Canadian artists.


April is Cancer Awareness Month

I was reminder today that April is Cancer Awareness Month. This fact struck me in two ways. The first is that the statistics are staggering, doctors diagnose over 1 million new cases of cancer every year. I don’t know anyone who has never had a friend or family member diagnosed with cancer. In the Vancouver blog scene, we’re all rooting for Derek K. Miller. The second is that my step-father died of brain cancer in April 1997. It’s hard to believe that he’s been gone for 10 years. I remember crying through an English exam the morning he died. I decided that it was easier for me to write the exam and be free to grieve than to try and explain with less than 24-hours notice that I needed to reschedule the exam, which I would then have to write 3 months later. It’s strange the decisions we make in stressful times.

So for those who have survived, Raincoast published a brilliant book last year called Picking Up the Pieces. It’s about how to move forward after the doctors have given you the all-clear, after there’s no more medications. That’s a strange time. Sherri Magee and Kathy Scalzo, the authors, talk about how that holding period can disrupt your life. You’re not 100% but you’ve survived. People can’t understand why you’re not gleeful, why you can’t just pull yourself together and get on with life. The first day back in the office is what stuck with me. People don’t know how to respond to you. “Hey, great to see you back. Now about that stats report ...”

Here’s the link again: Picking Up the Pieces by Sherri Magee and Kathy Scalzo.
There’s a podcast you can listen to with them talking about the book and their research and work with cancer survivors. It’s good for the survivor but also for family and friends.