I’ll Trade You Boardwalk for Hilary Mantel

Of all the many remarkable things to notice about the exchange between Amazon and Macmillan this past weekend, perhaps the most remarkable, at least from a linguistic point of view, is Amazon’s use of the word “monopoly” in their message to their customers yesterday. Yes, the company that has frightened the book business so badly with its attempt to create a closed system for e-book delivery on its Kindles said that Macmillan had a “monopoly on its titles.”  This nasty monopoly of Macmillan’s was forcing Amazon–now the David to Macmillan’s Goliath–to “capitulate.”

Whatever your point of view on this, the use of “monopoly” to describe a publisher’s control of its content is a bit overheated, no?  Maybe we can go back to calling it what we used to in the old days: “copyright.”

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You Say Piracy Like It’s a Bad Thing

In yesterday’s Publishers Weekly, Jim Milliot reported on a new study of online book piracy done by a company called Attributor. According to Attributor, publishers “could be losing out on as much as $3 billion to online book piracy.” On the face of it, this is bad news for publishers. We all know what Napster did to the music industry. And it sure would be nice to have that $3 billion back, no? But reading further into the report, we learn that the average number of free fiction downloads was just over 2,000 copies. Wait a minute. 2,000 copies? Is that a bad thing? It isn’t unusual for publishers to give away more than 2,000 advance reading copies of a piece of new fiction. Why? Because we want people to read the book and tell other people about it. And what about libraries? Don’t we sell copies to libraries that they then lend out over and over again—for free? How much money are we “losing” to free reading in libraries? (I shudder to think of how my wife and I may have contributed to the problem, taking our children to the library every Saturday and letting them each take out ten books. Who knew that we were raising a bunch of pirates?) Furthermore, how much money are we losing to people who lend a friend a book they’ve just read, saying, “You have to read this book!” We’d better put a stop to that right away…

We need to protect our author’s copyrights, and make sure that we don’t get Napstered by massive illegal online distribution. But small quantities of people reading our books for free may not be harmful, and may actually promote literacy, and the joy of reading…and the business we’re so worried about protecting.

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Publishers Weekly Have You Lost Your Mind?

I found the cover of this week’s Publishers Weekly disturbing. Am I the only one?

PW cover 12-14-09
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Is Staggering Hardcover/E-book Pub Dates a Long-Term Solution?

Kyle Bean's "The Future of the Book"As much as I love hardcovers and print books in general, I understand why e-book readers are frustrated about Simon & Schuster and Hachette’s announcement on delayed e-book releases. In an attempt to “preserve our industry,” both houses are (or plan on) publishing e-book editions of their titles three to four months after the hardcover release. The idea is that readers will end up paying the higher price for the book in hardcover because they won’t want to wait four months for the book in their preferred format. Most authors at those houses are on board with the plan because they stand to make more money from hardcover sales, but that’s only if people are equally inclined to buy either format but make decisions based on price alone.

If they are, then I understand why you would delay e-book releases to remove the competition for hardcover sales. But it seems that a majority of e-book readers, who have spent the couple of hundred dollars on an electronic reading device, are rather dedicated to the format and wouldn’t let a timing delay convince them to spend extra money on a hardcover. In those four months, they would spend their $9.99 on other books (and you know there are plenty out there to choose from) and possibly forget about the delayed titles by the time they’re available. As an Amazon spokesman said in the Wall Street Journal article, “Authors get the most publicity at launch and need to strike while the iron is hot. If readers can’t get their preferred format at that moment, they may buy a different book or just not buy a book at all.”

James McQuivey over at the Forrester blog posted a great response to the announcement, proposing alternatives to the delayed e-book plan, including bundling the formats and offering premium digital editions that can be released at the same time as hardcovers. We’ve discovered some challenges with bundling formats and putting the physical and digital into the same shopping cart, but we’re still working on finding solutions that won’t keep any readers out in the cold.

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Heaven On Earth

Northshire BookstoreImagine a big old Victorian Inn at the center of an adorable New England village. The inside is filled with books, beautifully displayed in every nook and cranny. The space is buzzing with energy — lots of people (but not too many) browsing and chatting. There’s electricity in the air, and a cafe with home-baked snacks and steaming coffee. People come to hang out and share ideas, hear authors read from their books and partake in conversation that is stimulating and entertaining. The ambiance is comfortable and inviting, relaxed but engaging.

This little slice of heaven actually exists in the real world. I’ve sent authors there many times over the years and always heard reports back that it’s a very special place. They’ve won awards for their fabulousness, including the bookseller of the year.

But nothing I’d ever heard could describe the magic I felt when I walked through the front door of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT last Saturday. I was there to speak on a panel with Bob Miller and David Black and moderated by Joann Davis about the future of book publishing.

As soon as I walked into the store, the pressing issues about the future of book publishing — pricing and ebooks, DRM, the kindle, the nook, returns and advances — faded to the background. This was a place of community and ideas. Northshire Bookstore felt like a quality of life issue, and I couldn’t help but feel like that’s been muffled in the conversation about the future of our industry.

I took a mental picture before I left. If you love books, you’ve got to put Northsire Bookstore on the list of places you must visit. Seriously, it’s a destination bookstore.

Here’s a passage from their business plan that captures the essence:

We see the Northshire Bookstore as a resource promoting the

stimulation, development, improvement, or refinement

of the

mind, emotions, interests, manners, skills, taste, and knowledge

of the people who make us part of their community.

We operate from a belief that truth comes in many forms,

and exposure to diversity is healthy.

We seek to serve in a way that offers people the tools to

nurture a more complete and comprehensive view of life,

inclusive of art, morals, science, and religion/faith/spirituality,

as an integrated whole.

In our workplace we seek to integrate considerations that the

traditional workplace focuses on, behavior and systems,

with consideration of

our colleague’s emotions and values and general welfare.

See more photos from Saturday here.

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Come to Vermont With Us This Weekend!

Northshire Bookstore, VTBob and I will be speaking on a panel about the changing face of publishing with the esteemed literary agent David Black and publishing veteran Joann Davis (who also happens to be the wonderful author of The Book of the Shepherd (just on sale now)).

The event will take place at Northshire Books on Saturday at 4 pm, so please spread the word and come say hi. In fact, they asked if I would tweet what is going on during the event, but I’m not so great at tweeting and talking at the same time…so if someone wants to take that on, that would be great!

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The Sans-Culottes of the Digital Revolution and What We Can Learn From Them

From the left: Eli Horowitz/ McSweeny’s, Todd Zuniga/ Opium, Maja Thomas/ Hachette, Chad Post/ Open Letter, Molly Barton/ Penguin, Julia Cheiffetz/ HarperStudio, Paul Morris/ Bomb

In France literature is practically a form of religion, and the “droit auteur” or copyright is sacrosanct. We have our Founding Fathers. They have Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, and Balzac. The extent to which the French are ready to defend the rights of authors and publishers came into sharp focus for me this past week on the Courants Study Tour hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Cultures in Paris and the French American Foundation. Seven American publishers of varying sizes – including Penguin and Hachette- were invited to participate in a week-long exchange about the future of e-books and digital publishing. We met with publishers large and small (as well as the mega chain Fnac). We engaged in passionate debate about Amazon and Google- often disagreeing amongst ourselves, but also with our French counterparts. We ate.

If you are vaguely familiar with the French book market you probably already know that writers in France are not typically represented by literary agents. Book advances are usually small or nonexistent. One thing I didn’t realize before last week was that the French government passed legislation to fix the price of books in 1981. This is why French independent booksellers have been able to thrive in the wake of superstores; one figure cited 800 independently owned bookstores in France – 800! Of course, to put things in perspective, the French have unions for writers, publishers, literary reviews, and the notion of publishing a book solely to turn a profit is, well, foreign. (On the other hand Oliver Cohen was quick to remind me that French publishers want to make money, too. And that their publishing ethos is not based on lofty socialist ideals, but rather on a strong sense of individual taste; they simply publish what they like.)

Despite the radically different playing fields it was heartening to hear that publishers across the pond are having the same conversations about the state of the book business – and to see that we are all experimenting in similar ways (see Léo Scheer, also Francois Bon) But really, unless the US government steps in to regulate the price of books and support the arts in a more European fashion, the business challenges will eclipse the philosophical ones.

Oh, and the word for pie chart in French? Camembert.

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Crush it! Comes to Life…As a Vook!

For a long time we’ve been discussing how to maximize an author’s content for the various platforms that are emerging. Check out the amazing comments in this blog post from last February about building a dynamic experience for a phone. It was not long after that blog post that I read this article about Brad Inman in The New York Times. Amazingly, Brad was bringing the same vision to life.

As soon as I heard about the Vook, I knew I wanted to experiment, and the perfect author to start with was Gary.

Cut to six months later, and a baby Vook was born last night at 11:50 pm in the iTunes store.

In the video clip you see here, Gary discusses the future of media with US News reporter Rick Newman. There are a few pages in Crush It! about the future of media. During the writing process, we had a lot of discussion about how much to add in the book on this topic. We knew Gary’s vision would most likely be controversial, so the question became, do we add more to this section so he could flesh out his vision, or do we not spend more than a few pages, because after all, this isn’t a book about the future of media. We decided to leave it at just a few pages, but then went back to it for the Vook and have Rick interview Gary so it could be explained further.

It was so liberating to be able to expand out from the print book in areas where a video could enhance the written word, while at the same time, it was a challenge to come up with video content that was fresh and unique from Gary, who’s all over the Internet in video. I think we achieved what we set out to do with the Vook. This is whole new medium with so much potential.

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Don’t Miss the Shelf

Check out our dedicated issue in today’s Shelf Awareness and catch up on what we have coming this fall!

HarperStudio's dedicated issue in Shelf Awareness

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Re-thinking the Publisher/Author Partnership

Check out Bob’s recent piece on PublishingPerspectives.com about why the relationship between Publisher and Author should be a collaboration, not a tug-of-war.

photo credit: Adrian Kinloch

photo credit: Adrian Kinloch

I’ve just read M.J. Rose’s editorial from last Friday, “Publishers Must Change the Way Authors Get Paid,” and I couldn’t agree more that it’s time to re-think the publisher/author relationship.  M.J. deserves credit for moving this conversation forward; indeed, for years M.J. has shown by her own example how authors can and should be full partners in the marketing of their books. If anyone has earned the right to question author compensation, it’s M.J. Rose.

However, I don’t think that the solution is to have authors paid a higher royalty in exchange for their marketing efforts.

First of all, how would this be judged? What amount of marketing effort should be expected of the author before their royalty changes?  Shouldn’t author and publisher alike be doing everything possible to make a book succeed, without needing to count up who has gone beyond the call of duty and who hasn’t and trying to calculate how that should translate into how they share the proceeds of their success? What if the author and the publisher have both made herculean marketing efforts, but the book has lost money? Should the author get a higher royalty, even as the publisher is taking a loss? (Similarly, I don’t see how publishers and authors would know how to apply the author’s marketing expenses to their advances, as M.J. suggests here.)

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