Thought Leaders — And Eggs

Re-Set Business Conference, Hosted by HarperStudio and Vanity Fair

Yes, you heard that right. We’re hosting a breakfast with Vanity Fair called Re-Set Business.

Vanity Fair is our media partner, and Seth Godin is the host/moderator.  The four panelists are Anna Bernasek, Michael Eisner, Tom Peters and Gary Vaynerchuk, so we are guaranteed a provocative conversation about what it will take to succeed in the “re-set” business world ahead.

It’s taking place at the Harvard Club, 35 West 44th Street (bet. 5th and 6th Avenues), on April 20, 2010, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:45 am (there will be a V.I.P. reception from 11:00 am to noon, which requires a separate ticket).

TICKET PRICES INCLUDE BOOK BY EACH AUTHOR.

Pre-registration (closing 3/05): $275

Early Bird Registration (closing 3/19): $320

Standard Registration: $375

V.I.P. Reception (limited capacity): $225 additional

For more information, pls go to www.resetbusiness.com, or call 917-338-0491.

Hope to see you there!!!

Oh…..and one more thing……you can keep in touch with us about the conference on Twitter and Facebook.

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Gen Y Asks “Why Not”

Yesterday I came across Marian Schembari‘s blog post titled A Gen Y’s Reaction to Macmillan’s Piracy Plan on the Digital Book World site.

I reblogged it on Tumblr.

I reblogged it mostly because I was impressed that a young woman in the publishing industry would be bold enough to fearlessly and intelligently state her opinion about the controversial subject of piracy in such a public forum. Whether one agrees or not with Marian, there is no denying that her candor is rare among young women, and for me, a cause for celebration.

Reading this quote from Marian’s blog, I can’t imagine she’s not representing many readers in her generation:

I’m poor, I understand technology, and I guarantee I can find any book online, for free, in 10 minutes or less. You can delete and sue all you want, but at the end of the day the internet is a wide and limitless place, meaning it’s a waste of time, money and energy to fight it. Embrace the change and find another way to make money without a) annoying your audience, b) suing your audience, and c) losing you audience by wasting cash on completely ineffective “precautions”.

My Tumblr automatically feeds to Facebook, and before I knew it, men from the publishing establishment were leaving comments that felt scolding about the post on my wall. Yes it’s controversial and it’s not the opinion of many (most?) people employed in mainstream publishing — but it’s an honest opinion by a young woman who’s brave enough to share it with us — and that’s RARE! A few women chimed in on my wall that a dose of honest opinion is good for us, her piece is smart, etc.

Here’s the bottom line for me — whether you agree or not with Marian Schembari’s views on piracy, she has given us a glimpse into the psyche of a Gen Y reader. I appreciate her honesty. I believe this is a gift. I think we should listen.

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Clay Shirky: “Not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.”

Ladies on the interwebs are buzzing about Clay Shirky’s recent blog post in which he explains, in a nutshell, how women are less likely to adopt a blowhard, fake it till you make it attitude when it comes to their career. A student’s request for a letter of recommendation got Shirky going:

“So I get email from a good former student, applying for a job and asking for a recommendation. “Sure”, I say, “Tell me what you think I should say.” I then get a draft letter back in which the student has described their work and fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an Assistant Brand Manager blush.

So I write my letter, looking over the student’s self-assessment and toning it down so that it sounds like it’s coming from a person and not a PR department, and send it off. And then, as I get over my annoyance, I realize that, by overstating their abilities, the student has probably gotten the best letter out of me they could have gotten.

Now, can you guess the gender of the student involved?

Of course you can. My home, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, is fairly gender-balanced, and I’ve taught about as many women as men over the last decade. In theory, the gender of my former student should be a coin-toss. In practice, I might as well have given him the pseudonym Moustache McMasculine for all the mystery there was. And I’ve grown increasingly worried that most of the women in the department, past or present, simply couldn’t write a letter like that.

This worry isn’t about psychology; I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.”

The reactions to Shirky’s comments were mixed among my friends. One person said “I know a SHITTON of self-aggrandizing blowhards who also happen to be women. Regardless of gender, I always think karma’s at work anyway and if you are ultimately just faking it, it will bite you in the ass in the end when people eventually realize you’re full of shit!”

I am curious to hear what people think. Is there some kind of ultimate karmic justice in the world? Do people agree with Clay Shirky’s take on women?

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It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

- A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Decades from now, when we look back at the book business in 2009, it seems likely that we’ll see it as a threshold year, one in which all of the signs were there for what followed. It was a year in which sales held steady (Nielsen Bookscan, which covers 75% of the market, reported that overall unit sales through December 20 were 724 million copies, only a 3% drop from last year—and adult hardcover fiction was up an amazing 3%), and a few authors were so successful (Stephanie Meyer, Jeff Kinney) that the fates of entire publishing houses were altered by them; however, it was also a year that saw publishing’s profit margins squeezed in perplexing new ways. It was a year in which some of the most highly-respected bestsellers (Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry; Andre Agassi’s Open; Edward M. Kennedy’s True Compass) were also apparently the year’s biggest money-losers for their publishers, due to their multi-million-dollar advances; at the same time, some of the books with the highest rumored advances (Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol; Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue) were likely the most profitable. It was a year in which e-book sales increased exponentially, with the cherry on the sundae being Amazon’s announcement that they had sold more e-books on Christmas Day than p-books (though of course this was helped by all the people who got Kindles as presents and spent the day filling them); but it was also a year in which the prices charged for those e-books made them a threat to the health of the p-book retailers on whom publishers continued to rely, and possibly a future threat to publishers’ ability to make money on the e-book format itself, in spite of that format’s wonderful ability to eliminate the costs of production, distribution, and returns. It was a year in which the largest publishing houses slowed title acquisitions and reduced the number of titles they published, while one company—Author Solutions—increased its annual output to a remarkable 24,000 authors (even more remarkably, these authors were all paying for the privilege). It was a year in which review coverage of new fiction disappeared almost entirely, and yet one first novel (Kathryn Stockett’s The Help) sold more than a million hardcover copies thanks to word of mouth alone. It was a year in which publishers continued to spend exorbitant amounts of money on print advertising, in spite of data showing how ineffective such advertising tends to be, but also a year in which some publishers discovered the power of online media to reach niche markets at significantly lower costs.

What does this mean for the future? That for every trend there will be a counter trend. And since this is the time of year for Top Ten lists, here’s mine:

1. Trend: The large publishing houses will continue to reduce overhead as profits shrink in the years ahead. Counter trend: Publishers will be looking for mergers and acquisitions to compensate for those shrinking profits. The Big Six could be the Big Three within five years.

2. Trend: These companies will continue to focus more resources on fewer titles, using their strengths as large-scale marketers and distributors to publish brand-names. Title count at the largest houses could drop by as much as fifty percent over the next five years. Counter trend: At the same time, self-publishing (including partnerships like the one announced recently between Author Solutions and Harlequin) will grow exponentially.

3. Trend: Title reduction will be most significant for new talent, with the largest houses entrusting support of new authors to a handful of editorial imprints. The editors at those imprints–editors with proven ability to choose new material successfully–will increase in value. Counter trend: Editors whose job is to handle existing talent will find their roles diminished.

4. Trend: In terms of advances, the amounts paid for brand-names will continue to increase, with seven-figure or eight-figure acquisitions commonplace among authors with established track records. Counter trend: There will be an increase in five-figure acquisitions (perhaps with profit-share arrangements) for less predictable material. The six-figure advance—that dangerous neighborhood inhabited by books with lots of potential but few guarantees—will become a rare species within the decade.

5. Trend: E-book sales will grow exponentially, with the proliferation of new devices and applications for reading on smartphones, etc… Within five years, half of all reading will be done electronically. Counter trend: There will be a resurgence of appreciation for well-designed physical books, as keepsakes, gifts, etc… While e-books will create a downward pressure on pricing, there will be notable exceptions (as seen this year with Carl Jung’s The Red Book, in great demand at $195.00, or Thomas Keller’s gorgeous Ad Hoc at Home, a bestseller at $50.00).

6. Trend: As more consumers become e-book readers, demand will increase for the availability of e-books simultaneously with p-books. Counter trend: Publishers will try a variety of strategies to meet this demand while not undercutting their p-book sales, such as offering more expensive “enhanced” e-books at publication and plain vanilla, less expensive e-books several months later (the strategy recently announced by Macmillan) or by offering a variety of “bundled” discounts to purchasers of multiple formats (prediction: within five years, it will be common practice to give every p-book purchaser a “free” e-book version of that book at time of purchase, as is already the case in the music business, in which someone who buys a cd can also listen to that cd on other devices in digital form, without paying a separate fee).

7. Trend: Fewer and fewer books will be sold to publishers at “auction,” and that practice will disappear completely within five years, as more and more publishers realize that the “winner” in such auctions—the publisher willing to pay more to acquire a book than any of their competitors–is often actually the loser in the end. Sales will be made either by brand-name authors to their previous publishing company or by new authors to carefully chosen editors with strong reputations. Counter trend: Instead of auctions for the highest advance, there will be auctions in which a basic advance is established by the agent, with the auction winner being the publisher who bids the most in marketing committed to the book.

8. Trend: As the initial sale becomes less of the focus for authors, the agent of the future will become more of a business manager who handles every aspect of an author’s career, overseeing the author’s online presence, developing sources of revenue outside of book sales such as workshops and lecture tours, and acting as the author’s publicist in between publications. Counter trend: Publishers will create free-standing departments whose services can be purchased a la carte by authors, whether that author is self-published or published by a competitor who doesn’t offer such services.

9. Trend: As the Boomers lose their eyesight and their children become teenagers, demographics will favor books for young adults over books for adults. This is also the generation most likely to embrace a variety of online and offline formats, without feeling the need to choose one over another. Counter trend: While auctions and advances diminish for adult titles, they could heat up for young adult material as publishers bet big in search of the next Stephenie Meyer. (Prediction: publishing houses will soon have entire departments devoted to developing books about the undead.)

10. Trend: Every year for the foreseeable future, books will be purchased between Thanksgiving and Christmas about how to prepare high-calorie foods (a favorite from this year: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, by Jennifer McLagan). Counter trend: Every January for the foreseeable future, the bestseller lists will be dominated by books about how to lose the weight gained by eating those high-calorie foods. (Not much of a prediction, sorry…but I needed a tenth trend to complete the list!)

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Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

NYU's Media TalkI’ve been thinking a lot about last week’s panel discussion about free versus paid content, moderated by Chris Anderson, author of “Free.” The discussion moved primarily between two points of view; Chris’s view that media companies should be much more aggressive in their experimentation, giving more content away in order to sell “premium” content (he said that he should have titled the book “Freemium,” jokingly blaming his editor, Will Schwalbe, for pushing the catchier “Free”), while the panelists (John Sargent, ceo of Macmillan; Gary Hoenig of ESPN Publishing; and Alan Murray, in charge of online at the Wall Street Journal) were talking about the dangers of giving too much away. Alan Murray, for instance, was glad that the Journal had charged for its online content from the beginning, as opposed to the New York Times’s approach, because it’s very hard to go back from free to paid.

Even Chris had to admit that the experiment of giving away his most recent book for free in e-book form had been a mixed success. “Free” was given away to 500,000 people via various e-book platforms, but sold less than what Chris’s previous book had (“The Long Tail“). But as I told Chris after the panel, the problem wasn’t the experiment. The experiment was a great learning experience, and even if they sold only ten percent of the sales on “The Long Tail,” that would have been a success if the book had been done on a low advance/profit-sharing basis. The problem is when authors want to have their cakes and eat them, too…getting a large advance but wanting to experiment with free content models, or getting a large advance and then deciding that what they really want is more marketing. I love to experiment, too…but we should all benefit equally from the results.

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LIVE FROM YOUR COMPUTER

The other night I had my first real HarperStudio experience. I call it that because it was experimental and different. I’ve been to author events before, but not in this capacity. With just my laptop, we live streamed. Isabella Rossellini’s event for GREEN PORNO at a local bookstore. It was a great event—Isabella is charming, funny and very knowledgeable about how whales reproduce. We had a good crowd, good films, good questions. And we had viewers tune in to the event on their computers at home to watch live. Don’t worry if you missed it, you can see it here:

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Does Curiosity Kill More Than the Cat?

Stanley Fish gets curious about curiosity in his latest post for The New York Times.

Stanley Fish's post in The New York Times

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Obsessed with Animoto

I went to the Inman News Connect Conference last week. What a blast. Who knew a Real Estate conference could be so much fun. I have a feeling Brad Inman brings the magic with him wherever he goes.

Among the many discoveries last week was a site called Animoto. I heard about it from speaker Brian Boero.

Simply load your photos, choose some music (I used their music because I knew it was kosher)……and voila. Animoto makes magic. The whole process took about 3 minutes.

You’ve got to check out life on Animoto. Watch out……it’s addictive.

Jennifer Gilmore made this awesome trailer for her book using Animoto:

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What do Hula-Hoops Have to do with Real Estate?

I’m at the Inman News Connect Conference in San Francisco this week (more on that another day). The conference is about the convergence of real estate and technology — and it is so quirky and cool and interesting……and utterly “Brad.” I LOVE IT! Just to give you some idea of what I’m talking about, he kicked off the conference with this video:

Anyone want to guess what the point of the video was?

I’ll leave the answer in the comments tomorrow. :) In the meantime, enjoy the video. I loved it.

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Will Somebody in Publishing Please Hire This Woman, And Why I Think Hyper-Targeted Internet Ads Are A Fine Price to Pay for Getting to Use Facebook For Free

Marian SchembariThe publishing industry desperately needs people with these skills: creative, innovative, risk takers who know how to work the tools of the internet and aren’t afraid to use them.

I discovered Marian Schembari yesterday when I noticed her ad on my Facebook page saying she wanted to work at HarperCollins. How clever. I clicked through on the ad and found the most awesome, “2009″ resume.

A few hours later, I saw a screenshot of this ad on another HarperCollins employee’s Facebook page with a note saying “Uh, this is kind of scary.”

Of course I had to chime in with my 2 cents :)

Not scary at all, I countered. I think it’s creative and innovative and blah blah blah. On and on I went……..to which she replied that it’s the Facebook tool of using her personal information to target ads to her that she finds scary. I must point out that we both have the fact that we work at HarperCollins as part of our Facebook profiles — so I’m not sure Facebook has used anything we declared as private for this woman to be able to target us with her campaign. I’m sure what’s fair game information is all in the fine print of Facebook.

The conversation went on a few more rounds with others chiming in about the brave new world and their thoughts on targeted ads, etc..

Here’s the bottom line for me: I would so much rather have an ad that is targeted to me than some spaghetti on the wall generic message that I could care less about. Please, give me an ad about a book or someone in publishing rather than make me endure a laundry soap commercial or car ad or any of the other products that I care nothing about and yet am held hostage to as the price to pay for consuming traditional media. Hyper-targeting is one of the many advantages that internet media has over traditional media platforms, and is a modern day gift to marketers. It’s Nielson ratings versus Google Analytics — and it’s why I think Facebook and Twitter and all of the other free platforms that we use are going to be just fine in the new economy.

Now if marketers could just be fabulously creative and interesting with their targeted ads, we could all be happy and prosperous.

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