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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Join the Tyee: An Independent Newspaper

Independent newspaper. Does anyone recall what that means?

The Tyee has a new campaign this summer to get 5000 new subscribers. There’s a video component and a website all about spreading the word.

I like the design but there are a couple of things that don’t work for me.

1. I like to indulge in crappy entertainment fluff, I mean news. Mocking the garbage in favour of pristine news doesn’t appeal to me, but maybe I’m not the target market.

2. In order to enter to win prizes for telling my friends, I have to send them an email using a form on the Tyee site. There’s no privacy statement. Are they going to spam my friends after? I don’t know. Why can’t this blog post count?

The part I do really like is the design of the site. Nice, clean layout. Easy to read text. And the text content is good. The video though is a little too earnest for me. Maybe we should AdHack it.

See The Tyee Video.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Yukon Cigar is the CBC Radio 3 Track of the Day

Craig Konyu of Yukon Cigar is the Track of the Day on CBC Radio 3 today.

I have musician friends. They make me feel very happy. Especially when I think about how awesome they are.

The song pick is “Hello Soul”, a little bit of dock music to move you through the rest of the week.

Listen to the song here.

Simon & Schuster Launch BookVideos.tv

I missed this one early in the month, but for prosperity, Wall Street Journal reports that CBS Corp.‘s Simon & Schuster book-publishing arm is launching an Internet book channel called Bookvideos.tv that will be hosted on YouTube.com and other video-sharing sites.

Maybe they’ll let me do a couple of book videos.

One Degree, Kate and The Personal Technologist

My friend Kate, of MyNameIsKate.ca, recently gave me the honour of talking about my company Work Industries and the Personal Technologist service on One Degree,  which is a fabulous site for internet marketers and those who want to know more about internet marketing.

One Degree is a phenomenal resource and I’m pretty thrilled to be part of the “5 Questions” series.

You can read my interview here.

The other big news is that Kate recently bought One Degree, which was owned by Ken Schafer, VP Product Management and Marketing at Tucows.

It’s pretty exciting and you can read Kate’s post “Why I bought One Degree”.

Congratulations Kate!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Orca Book Publishers Announce “So You Think You Can Write?” Contest


So You Think You Can Write?
Orca Book Publishers Novel Contest

$5000 Cash Prize

Orca Book Publishers, publishers of outstanding books for youth and teens, are on the hunt for great Canadian fiction writers.

Orca publishes many of Canada’s most popular writers for teens:
- Eric Walters
- James Heneghan
- Carrie Mac
- Shelley Hrdlitschka
- Katherine Holubitsky
- Beth Goobie
- Don Trembath

Do you want to be added to the list?

Orca invites Canadian writers (new or established) to submit manuscripts of contemporary realistic fiction for readers aged 13 to 18.

The deadline for submissions is October 31, 2007.

The prize-winning novel will be announced in spring 2008 and published in fall 2008.

In case you missed what I’m saying, the prize is a publishing contract with Orca Book Publishers plus $5,000 cash.

The rules:
For complete contest details and to download a submission form, please go to Orca’s website http://www.orcabook.com and click on Contest.

Here is the direct link to the contest rules.

Good luck!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Better Books Part 5

In Part 5, Dan and I talk about the marketing of books.

With the many multimedia channels that are being explored by publishers is it creating a move away from point-of-sale in-store marketing to direct consumer marketing?

In a Wall Street Journal article earlier this year, Jim Warren, the Chicago Tribune’s managing editor/features said publishing is “The last industry in America to go to for any wisdom about marketing!”

So I suspect the question is not ‘digital vs POS?’, but rather ‘how do we market books better?’…

It’s a strange question. As Dan mentions below, I’m not sure POS materials were ever really for the consumer. They look good in the store, maybe they help customers notice certain titles. But are we talking about displays and posters? They don’t have any interaction or engagement on a customer level, not like a blog, online review, podcast. That to me is more about having a conversation with potential readers. A poster is a poster.

In your opinion, are in-store materials still as effective as they have been in the past?

Are in-store materials for customers or for the store themselves? Isn’t POS marketing a way of giving the bookstore something other than a bigger discount?

I’m sure customers like freebies too, but I am not sure it is about selling more books directly.

As long as there are bookstores I am sure there will continue to be POS marketing. 

Again, I agree with Dan. If we’re talking about bookmarks, posters and displays, it’s not the same as a shampoo sample in the drugstore. And I’m not sure if it was ever meant to be.

Perhaps that’s why they are ineffective, the purpose behind them is unclear.

Do most customers respond to the digital content, traditional advertising, or POS materials?

Nobody really believes advertising works and yet everybody still does it just in case it does… So whilst I’m not sure any of these things work by themselves, they probably don’t hurt, so we’ll keep on doing them … I point you back to that Jim Warren quote … 

Digital content: people respond to digital content that is engaging.
Traditional advertising: people respond to advertising that is creative.
POS materials: people respond well to point-of-sale materials that make sense.

I refer you also to the Jim Warren quote.
I think publishers get it, perhaps they just don’t get it right.

Does this represent an opportunity to reach out beyond the traditional market for books, to reach potential consumers that traditionally may not have been prone to walk into a bookstore?

Yes for sure, but also it allows you to appeal to niche markets that aren’t necessary in one geographic area. It ties in quite nicely to Chris Anderson’s long tail ideas in that sense …

Where did the questions come from this week?
Who is this “traditional” market and when did we only include bookstore customers in that market. Geez.

I don’t have numbers on this, but I suspect that non-traditional or non-book retailers collectively outsell and outnumber traditional book retailers. This is one of the challenges for independent retailers and for publishers. The barriers to entry for carrying book stock are very low. This means there are a lot of people in the market who are selling books, including Home Depot, Costco, Superstore, London Drugs, and Starbucks.

With so many players—and big players who usually only want to carry bestsellers and new releases at discounted prices—this creates a marketplace that overvalues the bestsellers and new releases. Something Chris Anderson tells us to stop doing. All those big players with deep discounted prices also create a market that puts a lower perceived value on books. That’s not good for anyone, in particular independent retailers who can’t match the discounts.

The challenge then is not “should we look beyond traditional marketing to our traditional market base,” but rather “how in a fragmented market do we match readers to good books?”

Better books. Better marketing. Better questions next week.

Better Books—a conversation in multiple parts:

* Introduction
Part 1. Market challenges.
* Part 2. The music industry and the book industry.
* Part 3. We go on a bit, discussing what we’ve learned.
* Part 4. Ebooks and POD.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chris Anderson starts BookTour.com

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, has a new start-up. He officially announced it on his blog today. Well, he announced that there will be an announcement.

Chris Anderson says BookTour.com is a new company but that it will be run by 2 partners and it does not affect his day job. The rest is under wraps until Thursday when M.J. Rose of Buzz, Balls and Hype interviews Chris at Book Expo.

Thursday May 31 at 2:00 pm in Room 1E06.5 in the Javits Center in NYC.

Siobhan, you best go and take notes for us.

And who knew the domain BookTour.com was available?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ZipTrek Whistler

Off she goes

Did it.
It was fun.
Want to do it again.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Think Before You Send

I once had quite the mishap with a snotty email of mine that was accidentally forwarded to a client. No malice was intended, but it required a lot of groveling afterwards to set things right.

Do you have your own example? Please share. This space should not be about my humiliation alone.

I’m thinking about saving face today because my pal Kate from Random House sent over a funny email about a new book Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home.

Send is a quirky book about email etiquette.

Here’s the Amazon.ca page and here’s the Random House page.

The authors of Send have also launched a website dedicated to the book, thinkbeforeyousend.com.

You can share your bad email story.
Or you can just read other people’s stories.

Either way, I’m happy to know that my foible is not the world’s worst email faux pas. I didn’t get fired. Check out “District Superintendent loses job by CCing school board.”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Better Books: Part 4

“Better Books” is a many-part conversation between publicist Dan Wagstaff and Monique Trottier, which looks at the book publishing industry’s challenges, successes and promises from a technology perspective.

If you’re new to this conversation, or want to catch-up, here’s what we’ve been discussing.

Introduction, where we outline why the series is called 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.”

Part 1. What market challenges does the Canadian book publishing industry face.

Part 2. Dan and I debate the merits and demerits of comparing the music industry and the book industry.

Part 3. We go on a bit, discussing what we’ve learned.

Welcome to Part 4

Last week we were talking about ebooks and POD (print on demand). The question this week is

Could (or should) ebooks be something publishers offer directly?

Dan says:
Honestly, I don’t see the point in offering books to download until there’s a really good way to read them, and, more importantly, there’s evidence that consumers actually want to be able to do this!

I think our discussion in the last two weeks has shown that there is a desire to read ebooks, but not a desire on the part of publishers to make new releases available in that format.

Dan goes on to say:
Anyway, if there’s the demand, I would expect that downloads will be provided by online bookstores not by the publishers directly. I mean publishers could supply books to their customers directly now if they wanted to, but they don’t have the desire or infrastructure, etc. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Dan and I then disparaged the publishing industry’s lack of innovation and revolutionary thinking. We might have been a bit harsh so I’ll let you speculate about what we said.

Here are my half-baked thoughts.

Monique says:
Publishers should be investing in technology that improves discoverability of their titles—on their own sites and others.

I’m particularly interested in the publishers who are investing in technology that allows them to make their titles available in search inside the book formats from their own websites.

If publishers want to create online community and drive sales to stores, I think it’s good money spent by investing in technology and getting your flipping titles up on your website. Go digital. Offer PDFs, which can be read by any computer, most hand-held devices including Palm, Blackberry, Sony Playstation Portal (PSP), etc. At least start some form of ebook publishing and experimenting with the production, costs, distribution, formats, market desires.

Google and Amazon offer Search Inside the Book. Those are two great options. Publishers should participate in both, but they also have to offer something on their own sites and on their own terms. You want to own your digital identity and part of that is archiving, storing and distributing your own books online, as well as planning, measuring success and improving. Market knowledge isn’t going to come to those who are afraid of being early adopters.

Next week we’ll talk more about publishers offering titles directly and what impact that has on booksellers.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Top Tech Tools for Business

I’m presenting next Wednesday at the Editors’ Association of Canada—BC Branch Meeting on the top tech tools for editors with small businesses, freelance gigs and/or other contract editors. These are tools for business from an editors’ perspective. Below is the session description.

If you have a favourite work tool, post about it in the comments and it may make it’s way into the presentation.

Wednesday, May 16, 7:30 pm
Welch Room, 4th Floor, YWCA Health & Wellness Centre
535 Hornby Street, Vancouver
Tried, Tested, and True: Top Tech Tools for Business

Web-based tools allow for simple, cost-effective ways to access information from any computer. In this one-hour presentation, you’ll learn about the top web-based tools used by one small-business owner, Monique Trottier, to:

* organize and share files with clients and project teams
* manage multiple clients’ contact information, project documentation, and correspondence
* track time, and subcontractors’ time, against each project
* create invoices and track payments

Although the discussion focuses on web-based tools, alternative desktop applications will be discussed, and audience members will be invited to share their top tools with the group.

You’ll leave with a better understanding of how to assess and use web-based tools in your business.

Please join us! Admission is free for EAC members. Non-member admission is $10 at the door ($5 for students with valid ID). Light refreshments will be served following the program.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Better Books: Part 3

Our discussion of the comparison of the music industry and the book publishing industry continues this week with

Question 3: Is there an opportunity to learn from the format that has been developed for music in downloading content?

The comments from last week’s Better Books: Part 2 certainly suggest that there is a great opportunity to be had from looking at the business models that work with music and those that work with books.

Victor from Bookyards points out that

The main difference between music and ebooks is the time component. A song lasts a few minutes, a book will take longer to consume. But even with this difference, ebook popularity has been steadily growing.

He goes on to offer some interesting insights into the number of book downloads from his competitors’ websites.

Dan makes a similar comment in this week’s “Better Books” conversation:

Technology has the potential to revolutionize both the music industry and book publishing—I just think it’s a mistake to assume that the outcomes will be the same. It doesn’t logically follow that we’ll want to download books because we like to download music.

Listening to music and reading a book are very different kinds of activities. On a very basic level, listening to music is often a passive experience; reading requires some kind of engagement.

Dan goes on to agree with my point from last week (a la Cory Doctorow) that the music industry has seen much greater change than the publishing industry in terms of the driving forces behind format.

Music has constantly evolved in terms of how we listen to it –- we have gone from vinyl to tapes, tapes to CDs, and CDs to MP3s in my lifetime –- because people wanted better sound quality and more convenient ways to listen to music. By comparison, books have hardly changed at all. The print quality has improved, but the format—the book itself –- was always a pretty handy (and cheap) way to read things so it has stayed the same more or less.

And, it’s not just that there isn’t a good way to read books digitally as yet (although I’m sure our kids won’t be as squeamish about reading digitally as we are), there are lots of great things about digital music that just don’t apply to books—downloading single tracks, shuffling songs, creating playlists etc etc. For now, most people still want to read books (especially fiction) cover to cover in the sequence in which they were published. 

Dan does mention that “I can see that textbooks and manuals are going to have to go digital, but I would argue that this has more to do with competition from the likes of Google and Wikipedia than to music downloads.”

I differ on Dan’s opinion to some extend but more or less agree.

Paper is a damn good technology, and I suspect that we will see widespread use of ebooks when we no longer have trees to make paper.

But I disagree about there being no good way to read books digitally. I read all sorts of materials (long materials) online.

PDF is a great format. With my MacBook most text is quite easy to read for long periods of time (font on PCs really does suck). And although it’s difficult to drag a laptop to the beach or the bathtub, that’s not where I do most of my reading. It’s easy reading when you are propped up on the couch, in bed or at a desk.

For me the choice between digital and paper is about longevity. How long do I want to have ownership or access to a particular piece of work. There are some books I have to own. There are others that I’m happy to read online and, because I have a lowsy filing system, I’m sure to lose or misplace them without a care.

Short stories, poetry, reference books, recipes, trashy novels, I’m happy reading it online.

And, being in a university setting the last couple of months for the occasional guest speaking gig has shown me, quite clearly, that reading assignments, however long, are preferred in a digital format by students. It’s not our children, it’s the people who are 5 years younger, 10 years younger who are embracing this format.

I agree with Dan that textbooks and manuals are already digital. My point is that university students have no desire to buy and carry around textbooks. If they can read it online, they are happy to. There’s no question about it. Certainly some still want to highlight pages, but overall students have a totally different attitude to books for school. If it’s required for school, put it online: articles, novels, textbooks.

Reading for pleasure is the only category that really isn’t seeing advances in digital—again, Cory Doctorow would argue differently, “science fiction is the only writing that people are willing to steal online.” He releases everything for free from his website, gets hundreds of downloads, and enough sales of physical copies that his publishers are happy.

Doctorow argues that the challenge is not about losing physical sales because of free or almost free digital copies, but rather the challenge for any author is obscurity.

We’ve probably said enough, but Dan and I like to go on.

Dan points to Scott Pack, the Commercial Director of publisher The Friday Project and former head buyer for Waterstones bookshops. Scott recently posted his ideas about the comparison of the music and publishing industry on his blog Me and My Big Mouth.

I recommend subscribing to his blog.

And because we like to go on and on, after batting around ebooks, Dan and I drifted off into POD-land, Print on Demand.

It seems to me that there is also a good case to suggest that print-on-demand (POD) is really the future of publishing not downloads. British journalist Bryan Appleyard wrote a fascinating piece for the Times newspaper about it last year.

Honestly, I’m currently fascinated by the idea of POD, or at least a printing process that can respond quickly and cheaply to demand. To my mind this is where the industry should be looking…

It’s true, Bryan has an interesting perspective on POD being the wave of the future, but here again is a problem with technology.

The technolog exists to make books on demand. The technology exists for ebooks.

The problem is with quality.

The POD systems I’ve seen tend to have challenges printing full colour book covers. The interiors are ok but sometimes the binding isn’t as great as it could be.

Sure the technology continues to improve and even in the last 2 years I’ve seen a difference, but the costs have not come down the way a publisher would hope.

If it costs me as a publisher $6-10 dollars for a POD book and $3 for a traditional printed book then I’m going to go with the lower unit price and gamble on estimating the market demand for the book.

Where POD really can play a role is with books that would otherwise go out of print.

Like ebooks, POD is finding a market with out of print, obscure or copyright free books. Not so much with new releases.

It’s a big topic and one we aren’t going to completely cover today. I’ll stop there and say that next week we’ll look again downloading books, POD and the choices the publishing industry faces.

“Better Books” is a many-part conversation between publicist Dan Wagstaff and Monique Trottier, which looks at the book publishing industry’s challenges, successes and promises from a technology perspective.

Part 1
Part 2


Monday, May 07, 2007

Book Review: If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre

If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre is about the world of philosophy as seen by a teenage boy.

Ben Wagner is quite happy playing football and frying chips for his summer job at Cod Almighty. Happy enough, that is, until Lila orders a bag of chips and asks him if he thinks the chips taste the same to him as it does to her. How do we really know? How do we know if “salty” means the same to you as it does to me? How do we know what happiness is?

The next thing you know Ben is crawling through the towel closet for regular chats with Lila in the World of Ideas, the land where philosophers go when they die. A land where they just talk and talk and talk about philosophy.

This is the Narnia-meets-Wizard-of-Oz version of Philosophy.

The World of Ideas a rather boring place, which is suddenly seeing excitement due to a bet between Socrates and Wittgenstein. The bet is whether philosophy can (Socrates) or can’t (Wittgenstein) make a person’s life better—a regular bloke, a Joseph Blogg, a Joe Blo’s life better.

Enter Ben through the closet.

If Minds Had Toes ... then we would tickle them.

Lucy Eyre does a great job of tickling her readers’ minds.

All the age-old questions are on display: free will, right vs. wrong, ethics, morals ... it’s philosophy 101.

I’d say that If Minds Had Toes by Lucy Eyre is a good book for teens, more so than for adults interested in philosophy.

I don’t think it’s pitched that way but at age 15, 16, you do start thinking about free will and the larger universe and whether there is a god or a powerful being, what is right and wrong. Lucy has a way of portraying straight-up philosophy in an entertaining way. So much so that I’ve started to understand why someone could argue that we do not have free will.

My mind has been tickled.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Better Books—Better be coming ...

Our Monday installment of Better Books will be published on Tuesday this week.

I’m out of town and my computer does not want to play nicely with the wireless here.

Hope everyone had a nice weekend.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Make Better Light Bulbs

Compact florescent light bulbs use less energy and last longer than standard incandescent bulbs. Great but they are a big problem when we do throw them out.

Florescent bulbs are hazardous waste and need to be dealt with appropriately. Very few facilities exist to do this and yet we’re now all on the band wagon with florescent bulbs.

Why don’t we just make incandescent bulbs that last longer? We know from the book Made to Break that this is possible. That during times of war we did make better bulbs. Why not now? Where’s our War on Waste.

Hello culture of waste. Let’s make good decisions, not half-hearted ones in the name of environmentalism.

Look up recycling florescent bulbs.