Archive for March, 2009

Reading books seen as “an anti-social activity for people who don’t know how to live.”

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

A British report based on research conducted by HarperCollins, the Trade Publishers Council and the National Year of Reading (NYR) says the book trade is out-of-touch ["too intimidating"] towards the C2DE socio-economic group, characterized as lower income, non-professional families. Many families in this group [comprising about 20 million people in the UK] felt books are “alien and unattractive.” In still very class-conscious England, to many in this “lower class” group, reading is apparently considered “an anti-social activity for people who don’t know how to live.”

One wonders if some publisher will rush out to install video-gambling-dart-karaoke-eBook machines in pubs to reach these people where they “know how to live.” Or maybe add coupons for chips and Guiness in each book?

National Reading Year’s Honor Wilson-Fletcher is quoted as saying: “These are good solid families who don’t have literacy problems but who just don’t read. They are one step away from book-buying – they do consume lots of leisure products and may have 2-300 DVDs in the house. But intentionally or otherwise, a lot of people involved in the book world are conveying the impression that reading is associated with a particular area of society and lifestyle.”

Here’s a link to a story about this report at

thanks, cheers,


Experiments [or plainly loopy behaviour?] by desperate book publishers is becoming the norm

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Thanks for appreciating the oddness in book publishing. Clearly the announcements get less logical by the day as publishers desperately try to hash together the latest trends to market their traditional content.

Perhaps I can shoulder a fraction of the blame — years ago I was telling publishers to think expansively and create multiple editions to be “products” for all the emerging “long tails” of retail distribution [pdf eBooks, POD, hardcovers, paperback, Kindles, Sony, audio books, etc.]. Even if you only make a trickle of revenue from each stream, I suggested, if your cost to participate is very low then that combined revenue might be enough to save your asses jobs as the landscape evolves.

What I didn’t anticipate was someone believing that you could profitably take a manuscript written for reading in a printed book format, and chop it into 140-word [think of one third of a page] episodes — then email some episodes as “tweets” [Twitter text messages] to subscribers’ cell phones. THEN, the publisher GIVES AWAY the book free, and hopes readers will discuss the book in their tweets among themselves. Note that there is no plan yet for anyone to PAY for reading these books…

Here’s the news clip about Picador’s experiment:

I wonder how even Charles Dickens — perhaps the most successful serialist of all time — would have fared with such short episodes? Try taking your favourite manuscript and chopping it into 140-word excerpts. Books simply aren’t written for this format. And the concept of encouraging critiques and book-club-like discussions online has been tried — without success — with forums, listserves, websites, blogs, MySpace, FaceBook, etc., so why would Twitter be any more productive?

Well, one has to give the innovator at Picador some credit for at least experimenting!

thanks, cheers,

NelsonFree test could be dangerous to ‘old-style’ publishers; smacks of desperation

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

An article in Publishers Lunch e-newsletter tells of what might pose a serious threat to the largest publishing houses. Here’s part of their news item, under the title of NelsonFree Bundles Audio and eBook with Print Purchase:

Thomas Nelson will provide buyers of selected hardcover books with access to an MP3 audiobook version and several types of ebook files (including ePub, MobiPocket and PDF) at no extra charge under their NelsonFree program. “After readers purchase a book with the NelsonFree logo, they will be directed to a website where they must register and answer a simple security question.” Once approved, they are able to download the files.
CEO Michael Hyatt says in the announcement, “I believe that the industry is shifting and we, as publishers, need to explore new methods of getting our content into the hands of customers. NelsonFree will give readers a new level of value and flexibility. It will enhance their literary experience and allow greater employment of the content without breaking the bank.”

My prediction — made over two years ago at a presentation to the Association of Canadian Publishers — was that multiple editions would each be bringing in additional revenues (what I referred to as “multiple long tails”). This move by Nelson, if followed in time by other publishers, instead gives away free the other editions to shore up sales of the main (hardcover, in this case) edition.

Might this bundling of editions introduce some of those hardcover readers to the experience of eBooks and audio books? If so, doesn’t it also present the unfortunate perception that the “cost” of audio and eBook editions is “free” (and the “value” is “nil”)? Seems a bit of a muddle, and no guarantee of not “breaking the bank”. Once a value precedent is lodged firmly in customers’ minds, it can be hard to change.

I’m reminded of how some publishers tested “returnable” books to their bookstore clients back in the panicky initial period of the first Great Depression — and began the financial disaster of “returnable books” that is still with us today — and is costing the industry billions each year.

Is this test an act of desperation from the executives of a gigantic billion dollar corporation in danger of becoming an anachronism? Are the buyers of the hardcover edition very likely to buy eBooks or audio books? My friend, author Major General Val Pattee, says, “Seems to me that Nelson is mixing apples and oranges. And why would a single reader want the same book in several versions? I think that the readers of different versions are different people. My 13-year-old granddaughter is using all three mediums, conventional print, electronic, and audio, but not for the same book.”

Certainly we won’t have to wait too long to find out if the NelsonFree test sets a financially-crippling precedent, or is merely a desperate muddle — or, proves to be sheer marketing genius! We won’t need to wait long because the rate of business change is accelerating as we move ever further into the speed-of-light digital age and begin experiencing the near-collapse of conventional capitalism. If that seems too scary, don’t forget to go outside often, and to hug your loved ones. Remember: the most important things in life won’t change.