Quote of the Week

On Acknowledging Truths

May 3rd, 2010 · 12 Comments

The shifts in today’s publishing business are happening lightening fast and iceberg slow. Epiphanies strike at odd moments. Brett Sandusky had one. Below is where he ended up; read his entire post (linked below) to see how he got there.

In the end, no amount of market research, anecdotal evidence, kaffee klatsches, or cocktail parties can ever replace actual and real interaction with our customers. Recently, I attended a conference where a panelist kept repeating throughout her presentation, “The reader is the consumer who is your customer. I openly admit that, at the time, I begrudged this panelist for stating the obvious. Of course the reader is our customer.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized what she was really saying: in an age of digital books, in an age where many of this industry’s institutions are, one by one, going away or becoming irrelevant, we are no longer the industry we thought we were. And, the reality is this: we can no longer afford to act as a B-to-B business. The future, if we have one, depends on our ability to reconfigure as a B-to-C business and start interacting with readers directly free of buffers and intermediaries. From product development, to consumer feedback, to buyer-less sell-in for digital products, to direct to consumer sales, to verticality, to providing readers with what they want, a new wave of customer interaction needs to guide us along our paths to the future.

Now, do you remember that money which we took from marketing budgets slated for BEA? What if we funneled that money into establishing direct consumer contact? Think of the awesome changes we could make in place of printing thousands upon thousands of galleys that end up in the hands of someone who could get the book for free regardless.

I can only repeat these wise words, something I didn’t fully understand just a few months ago, “The reader is the consumer who is your customer.”

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On Facts and Piracy

January 18th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Brian O’Leary on the major problems surrounding today’s discussions about piracy. More facts, less breathless assumptions.

At this point, there’s not much clarity in the debate. If this is an inflection point, we need data to establish trends. Declaring the answer limits discussion.

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On The Future

December 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment

David Ulin, of the Los Angeles Times focuses on the question we kicked down the road. And, oh yes, he notes that reading is stronger and more prevalent than ever before.

Writing and reading are about engagement, about participating in a conversation, and inasmuch as technology can play a role in this interaction, it only draws more people in. How does the screen change things? This should have been the question of the last decade, but it appears it will unavoidably be the question of the next. What kind of platforms — social networks, Web, print, multimedia — are we looking at? And how do we move flexibly among them, using each according to its ability and taking from each according to our need?

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On Listening and Learning

October 30th, 2009 · 8 Comments

Author Mur Lafferty offers her thoughts about the changes in publishing.

What really surprises me is when you hear publishing people say that they don’t know what to do, or that they refuse listen to Internet professionals. They seem to believe if they do what has worked in the past, eventually the storm will pass and the anchor of tradition will have kept them steady and safe. They look at the people who are succeeding by merging their digital plans with their traditional print plans and call them anomalies at best, or insane at worst. What they need to be doing is learning from them.

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On Reality Based Business

October 20th, 2009 · 1 Comment

In his Frankfurt wrap-up, Richard Nash distills a lot of thoughts and questions into some very big ideas. Picking a single quote was hard, so go read and consider the whole thing. There will be an essay test later.

What this means is that we (publishers, authors, agents) are going to need to make decisions based on the world that is (people will make unauthorized copies, people will undercut your price), rather than the world we will wish for. Until recently, it was not clear that the publishing industry accepted this, but these statements by Richard Charkin, Victoria Barnsley and other industry decision-makers are powerful indicators that this approach has solidifed to the point of consensus.

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On Readers, Importance of

October 6th, 2009 · 4 Comments

In which a very smart man says it better than we ever could:

One of the things we’re doing the best, I think, is engaging with our audience, and listening. Publishing is a very insular industry, where insiders are constantly talking to each other, but very rarely do they actually talk to or listen to the actual end customer: the reader. There have traditionally been some very valid arguments as for why this is the case, but as digital media democratizes the world more and more, those arguments become much less convincing or even relevant.

Tor.com is one way in which we’re talking directly with readers, listening to what they have to say, and we’re finding out a lot about them. And I do mean a whole hell of a lot—some of the very dearly-held assumptions of the publishing industry really don’t hold much water with the reading public, and it’s very sobering to compare and contrast what I see and read every day on Tor.com in particular and the internet in general with what I see and hear from within the walls of the Flatiron building.

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On The, uh, World Wide Web

September 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Surely this is the most inane first line of any article written in 2009? Late 2009, no less.

Book publishers are learning to love the Web. They have to.

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On Deadlines

August 5th, 2009 · 5 Comments

As belts tighten, publishers are considering the extremely drastic (and ungentlemanly!) action of canceling contracts for late manuscripts. On presumes the photo Dan Brown associated with the article is merely for decoration. (As an aside, the fantastic Mary Beth Lucas, my journalism instructor, put the fear of deadlines into me something good!)

“What has happened is that in the cold light of morning, publishers are looking at all these expensive deals they made based on the inflated marketplace, and now the bill is coming due and they don’t want the contracts anymore,” said one top agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I buttoned up all my contracts—I amended all of them way before the due dates came. Once the author delivers on time, then the publisher has to find something unacceptable in form and content, and that’s a much more serious thing to do. At that point there’s a whole process that they have to go through, and it’s much more challenging for them to find something in breach.””

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On Budget Busting

July 23rd, 2009 · 1 Comment

The next few months will see book releases from a slew of literary giants (just in time for the holiday shopping season!). Is the reading world ready for Thomas Pynchon, Dan Brown, A.S. Byatt, Michael Chabon and more to duke it out on the shelves and bestseller lists?

“It gets us excited, but the big question is, will people buy that many books?” Mr. [Ira] Silverberg said. “What’s unfortunate about that is, it’s a short season! All these books are coming out in three months, and there’s overlap in their core audiences. Also, these are hardcover books–at 25 to 30 dollars! That’s tough.”

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On Loving Reading

June 11th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Ann Kirschner, after reading Little Dorritt in four different formats:

Oh boy, have I had a lot of arguments along the way to the marriage of Little Dorrit and her long-suffering beau, Arthur Clennam! Readers are passionate and opinionated advocates for their preferred formats. Flip announced that she reads only hardcovers; end of conversation. “I get it,” said Bill, watching me read on the iPhone: “You like your books little.” Bob is no Luddite, but he insists that Steve Jobs has bribed me, since the Kindle is so obviously superior. Just wait for the Apple tablet,” advises techno-sage Joe. And Judith derides my affection for audiobooks as “not really reading.”

That’s the worst accusation: that I am not a serious reader. Not guilty! I love books as much as anybody. But I love reading more. It is the sustained and individual encounter with ideas and stories that is so bewitching. If new formats allow us to have more of those, let us welcome and learn from them.

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