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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eau de Vancouver?


The Scent of Departure is a perfume collection that captures the scent of a city in a bottle. They are sold at airport retail shops for the traveller who wants to remember the “crisp, refreshing and green scent” of Munich, the “gourmand notes of vanilla, liquorice, chocolate and coffee” of Vienna, or the “rose Turkish delight” of Istanbul. There are 5 perfumes in total—Frankfurt and Budapest being the other two—and more on the way.

The line is created by Gerald Ghislain and Magali Sénéquier. Gerald Ghislain is a fragrance creator behind the luxury brand Histoires de Parfums. Magali Sénéquier is the artistic director behind both lines.

Cool idea.

What does your city smell like?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

Have you heard of Madras Press? They are the publisher of Andrew Kaufman’s story The Tiny Wife but, most important, they publish small square books and donate the proceeds to charities nominated by their authors. Very cool.

Now, Kaufman is one of my favourite authors. His two previous books—All My Friends are Superheroes and The Waterproof Bible—are top reads on my list. I was really excited to get this book!

The Tiny Wife begins with a bank robbery.

The robbery was not without consequences, the consequences were the point of the robbery. It was never about money. The thief didn’t even ask for any. That it happened in a bank was incidental. It could have just as easily happened in a train station or a high school or the Musée d’Orsay ...

‘While this is a robbery ...’ the thief said. ‘I demand only one thing from each of you and it is this: the item currently in your possession which holds the most sentimental value.’

Now, what would you hand over?

For the narrator’s wife it was a calculator. I’ll leave you to read the story to understand why, but the consequences are that she starts to shrink. Although this is alarming, it’s not as alarming to me as the character whose lion tattoo comes to life to chase her around the city.

But I don’t want to give anything away so what you should do is go to Madras Press and pay the full $7 for this awesome work. The sales benefit SKETCH, a community arts initiative in Toronto.

UPDATE: Andrew Kaufman’s The Tiny Wife is available from Cormorant Books


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: The Long Song by Andrea Levy


Andrea Levy’s 4th novel, Small Island, which won her the Orange Prize, was one of my favourite books of all time. In that novel, the Jamaican heroine finds herself in post-war London speaking a version of the Queen’s English that is unfamiliar to her English neighbours. It’s a story of prejudice and isolation as well as love and acceptance.

In The Long Song, Levy brings us to the Jamaica of the 1830s, which is full of unrest and slavery. On the sugar plantation Amity, our heroine, named July, is a mulatto born to a slave named Kitty and a Scottish overseer, Tam Dewar, who has taken advantage of his position. July is a force to be reckoned with. She is pulled into the household as a lady’s maid and we follow the drama that comes with that position.

What I loved about this novel was the post-modern nature of the narrator chatting to the reader about the consequences of writing such a tale, and the interventions by her son, the editor of her tale.

Overall, it’s good. I liked it a lot.

Related links:
Globe and Mail review
Amazon with a video of Andrea Levy talking about the book

Monday, March 14, 2011

Location-based Stories from Storytude.com

Storytude is a website and app for Android and iPhone that lets you find stories based on your location. The fictional stories based on read-world locations can be called up as a literary way to discover a city. At the moment, Storytude is focussed on Germany, in particular Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and Cologne.

For those of you who speak German:
Website: http://www.storytude.com/
Mobile partner: http://www.mobile-melting.de/

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I’ll Show You Mine: The vagina book that is NOT porn

I’ll Show You Mine edited by Wrenna Robertson,
photography by Katie Huisman ($40 includes shipping in NA)

I’ll Show You Mine is the first publication of Vancouver-based educational publisher Show Off Books. The book is a series of photographs and personal stories from 60 women. The intention is not pornography or erotica but rather to accurately and objectively display the beautiful diversity of the female genitalia, as said to me by publisher Whelm King in a phone conversation prior to publication.

I admit to feeling weird about browsing a book of vaginas because there aren’t many interactions that women have, aside from porn, to be presented with labia. Puppetry of the Penis gave me the same feeling, but after 5 minutes with the “hamburger” and “windsurfer” I was thinking of Play-Doh rather than sex organs.

With I’ll Show You Mine, the lighting of the photographs brings humanity to the subject matter in a way that is not normally seen in women’s studies textbooks, clinical pamphlets, or adolescent sexual education materials. The women’s anecdotes and short stories are also coming from a place of emotional support for young women (or rather any woman) who is anxious about what “normal” looks like.

I’ll Show You Mine is an educational resource meant to counteract the pervasiveness in North American culture to let pornography set the standard for what female genitalia should look like.

Editor Wrenna Robertson

Read more: Vancouver Sun

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: Night Train to Lisbon


Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon has sat on my bookshelf since January 2008. Then I almost gave up on it after 100 pages.

Raimund Gregorius teaches classical languages at a Swiss lycée and has an otherwise routine, and dull, existence. Until one day, walking to school, he encounters a Portuguese woman on a bridge who is so distraught that Gregorius believes she’s going to jump. Instead she tears up a letter, throws it over the edge, panics and writes a phone number of Gregorius’ forehead.

Sometimes the smallest things change us, sometimes the most bizarre.

The encounter rattles Gregorius out of his quotidian life and he ends up on a night train to Lisbon, where he proceeds to re-construct the life of Amadeu de Prado, a doctor conflicted by religion, love, friendship, dictatorship and betrayals of many kinds. Based only on a slim volume of Prado’s published work, Gregorius finds family members, neighbours, and friends who all contribute bits and pieces to his patchwork understanding of what made Amadeu de Prado tick. Thankfully Prado was an interesting a guy.

I can’t match up my feelings of the book with the blurbs.

“A book of astonishing richness ... visionary ... a deserved international smash.” —Le Canard enchaîné

“One reads this book almost breathlessly, can hardly put it down ... A handbook for the soul, intellect and heart.” —Die Welt

I don’t share the enthusiasm of the French and German reviewers of the time, but Mercier has certainly provided a philosophical tale of repression, resistance and the struggle of men to achieve something memorable. I made it all the way through the book because of Amadeu. Gregorius’ measured uncovering of this figure was rewarding. There are lots of passages that are still resonating with me, but overall this was a slow read.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Technology Disruption and the Tale of the Despair

I tweeted about Matthew Ingram’s post Book Publishers Need to Wake Up and Smell the Disruption and received replies from my publishing friends that were inline with the comments Matthew received on his blog. But Matthew struck a chord for me, not with his outlier examples of self-published authors selling great numbers of books for less than a dollar, but with his comments about the accumulating evidence that Kindle and iPad are industry disrupters and, in particular, that they are going to continue to have an impact on author-publisher contracts. Again, we can argue about what we consider evidence, but this is my perspective from marketing, sales and technology.

1. Technology Continues to Transform the Publishing Industry

The Product Life Cycle for some categories of printed books is in decline, meaning that the revenue generated by that category has gone from development, introduction, and growth, peaked at maturity and is now in decline (declining revenue).

The cookbook category is a good example.

Cooks still want the content, but instead of buying 101 Fast and Easy Recipes they are searching Google for what they want to make for dinner that night.

And Google just made that easier by introducing Google Recipe.

In that Decline Stage, publishers have exercised all the options:
* Maintaining the product as is.
* Reducing the costs and finding new uses for the product (rejuvenating backlist)
* Lowering prices to liquidate inventory (hello front of store at Indigo)
* Promotion (reinforcing brand image, celebrity-driven)

But at the end of the day, this is a declining category. Due to brand or author loyalty, profitability may be maintained longer for some. Plus, product life cycle doesn’t map completely to a predictable sales forecast since, in the case of cookbooks, the product doesn’t stand alone. Each book category is part of a larger ecosystem, it’s not dying in a petri dish independent of other factors.

That said, Matthew Ingram’s post Wake Up and Smell the Disruption calls to mind that marketing managers do need to address the challenges that products in a declining stage are likely to face.

For example, in the case of cookbooks, would-be-buyers are also happy to access content for free online.

A common publisher argument is that the quality of a cookbook vs. the quality of an online recipe vastly differs.


Is the above image from a cookbook?
Or from a blog?


You know what, the answer doesn’t matter.

The fact that free content exists means that some would-be-buyers will chose free over quality, or just as good over quality, especially if free = as good as paid.

Cookbooks, Travel, Reference: the next publisher argument is that these are outliers. Maybe they are right now, but they won’t always be.

Kindle, Kobo, iPad and even mobile phones are changing the game.

Let’s just look at text-based fiction and non-fiction. I’m not talking about the reading experience of architecutre books, photography, or kids books, just basic text.

Here’s the competition in a would-be-buyer’s mind:
* Print copy, hardcover, of The Shallows for $33.50 from an independent bookseller
* Print copy, hardcover, of The Shallows for $21.00 from Indigo at a 34% discount
* Kobo, digital edition, of The Shallows for $9.99 at a 63% discount on the list price

The arguments about whether digital is a better reading experience or not are inconsequential to many would-be-buyers when presented with $9.99 vs. $33.50 or even $21.

If you said to someone, “would you like to pay more for that,” the answer is rarely “yes.”

Digital editions of books and app versions of books are directly competing with the print editions.

This is the disruption that needs to be smelled.

2. The eBook Buyer Is the Same As the Print Buyer

BISG’s publication “Consumer Attitudes Towards E-Book Reading” tell us that

* an ebook buyer is the same buyer as print
* same demographic/psychographic

In terms of marketing, this is good because we know these people. In terms of sales revenue, it’s bad because ebooks do not represent a new, expanded market audience.

The power buyers of ebooks are:
* 30-44 years old
* women
* employed
* they entered the ebook market 6 months to 2 years ago
* as power buyers, they buy weekly
* urban

In terms of unit growth, sales units are up but this does not compensate for lost revenue.

In our above example, $23.51 differentiates the ebook version of The Shallows vs. the print edition.

We are seeing at least a $5 differential for ebooks vs. print.

In addition to that lost revenue, as an ebook buyer buys more ebooks—becomes more at ease with reading digital vs. print, enjoys the simplicity of buying on-demand, and is rewarded with reading on the go or at night in bed with the backlit screen—they buy fewer hardcover and paperbacks.

Ebooks do canabalize print (especially when measuring revenue dollars).

3. Cash Usage and Cash Generation

The Boston Matrix developed by the Boston Consulting Group in the early 1970s isn’t without its faults, but it is a simple method for looking at market share (cash generation) and market growth rate (cash usage).

(This is the point I have mulled over the least so contemplate and critique vs. simply criticizing please.)

The four categories here are:

Dogs: Low market share and low growth rate. They neither generate nor consume a large amount of cash. Backlist titles.

Question marks: Rapidly growing but also consuming large amounts of cash. Because they have low market share, do not generate much cash. The problem child. eBooks and apps.

Stars: Strong market share but also consume large amounts of cash. Frontlist. Especially frontlist print+ebook. Stars, if well positioned, can become the next cash cows and ensure future cash generation.

Cash cows: Leaders in a mature market. Generate more cash than they consume. Generates a relatively stable cash flow. Value can be determined with reasonable accuracy. The ideal print book.

You can see, of course, the immediate limitations. I’m not sure how many publishers can quickly identify their Cash Cows, as the margins in publishing are so small.

The other issue is that the many factors of profitability are overlooked in this simplified view since the products in each quadrant are not independent of the others. A dog of a cookbook could still help another cookbook gain competitive advantage. The amplification of awareness for series, or the celebrity book that is really about giving the author competitive advantage over others on speaking circuits are other examples of how this ecosystem isn’t as simple as the above framework.

The reason I bring up the matrix is that it’s a starting point for discussing resource allocation and strategic planning for those products in a Declining Stage (print books) and those in a Growth Stage (ebooks and apps).

The growth stage is the period where sales increase as more customers become aware of the product and create demand, which fuels retailers to become interested in carrying the product.

Certainly what we are seeing with the growth of ebooks and consumer demand for Kindle and iPad.

Regardless of Matthew Ingram’s examples of outliers like Seth Godin, there are fundamentals publishers need to face:

1. Book publishing is a technology-enabled business.
2. A conversation about a technology-enabled business is a conversation about market changes.
3. We can argue about the speed of change and the type of changing coming, but we should mentally prepared for the fact that change is coming (like waves on a shore).
4. There is a lifecycle for everything. People argued to keep scrolls, but they printed those arguments in bound books. (See Johannes Trithemius)
5. Few people are successfully managing the product lifecycle in all 4 quadrants. (DRM and borrowing restrictions are not endearing consumers yet publishers are implementing these measures as a necessary way to support the required staff to keep both print and ebook development during this transitionary period. Matthew Ingram points out some of the mathematical challenges of the author-publisher contracts in his post, which aren’t endearing authors either, who I think are the glue that holds the whole thing together.)
6. “Change happens through a process, not a product” (Kate Fialkowski). The internet and ereaders have changed the way we read. Search engines, websites, wikis and blogs have changed the way we publish and share information.
7. The game changers tend to be outsiders to the industry. Music changed because of the development of MP3, which meant we could more easily share music, which led to peer-to-peer sites like Napster. Then iTunes changed the cost structure. Blockbuster > Netflix. Banking > Online Banking.

What I took from Matthew Ingram’s article was just another reminder that as Kate Fialkowski says, the game changers redefine the ecosystem, change the business models, price points, distribution systems, and support processes.

I’ll let Matthew respond to his commentators but for mine:

A coffee at Starbucks costs more than a $1.50 because they changed the game. They can demand $6+ for what tastes to me like shitty, burnt coffee with excessive sweeteners that will likely develop gut rot for an entire generation because they created demand for that product.

Publishers fearing the lost of authors and staff is not equal to fearing that one of them wins the lottery.

If you value an employee, you should consider that they could win the lottery and leave.

But really, the probability of an employee winning the lottery is pretty low in comparison to the probability that good people will leave the industry altogether or that the smartest will be picked off by start-ups providing incentives to acquire the best talent. See Open Road Media, Kobo and any number of interesting new ventures.

I don’t want to haggle over the definition of “lottery” but I can tell you that the folks holding the big cheques are the ones doing ebook conversion and app development.

And a happy dance can be a lottery in itself.


(People in the system are going to make money in unexpected ways. The ones who will keep making money are the ones who understand the motivating factors of their consumers and are able to repeatedly win them over. Excuse me now, I have a new iPad 2 to purchase. Let me know what books to buy.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Why Pizza and Books Go Together


Publishers are looking at new models for selling their wares, and in the case of Spanish publisher ES Ediciones, pizza pairings is the choice.

La Pizzateca, located in Madrid’s Barrio de las Letras, bakes up artisanal pizza pies, calzones, and special book sidedishes. The bookstore/pizzeria has this special menu item: “menú de las letras” — a slice of pizza and a book for just EUR 5. Satisfy your mind and your belly.

Website: http://esediciones.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/La-pizzateca/116529655070130?v=wall
Twitter: http://twitter.com/lapizzateca

(Source: Springwise)