Posts Tagged ‘kindle’

Enhanced Salsa

Have you seen this video yet? If you haven’t, click on over to Vimeo and watch (can’t embed, for good reason). If you have, I’m pretty sure you would click on over to watch it again, just for fun. I would. Heck, I will. Be right back.

Okay, so. Amazing, right? I was absolutely stunned when I watched that video the first time, and I didn’t even comprehend that it was a site takeover until I watched the entire page swirl back into the salsa jar at the end. I had to watch it again (and again, and again) to catch the genius animation that snuck onto the screen, from the vines that creep up from the bottom to the slicing up of the Vimeo logo when the girl steps out of the frame to dance around the background. It’s interesting how much I have to force my brain to see the subtle shifting of the video frame and background zoom-in, since it didn’t even register the first few times I watched. This was more than an advertisement…viewing this was an experience. And even though I don’t like tomatoes or site takeovers, dang it if I don’t want to crack open a jar of salsa right now.

But aside from making me really hungry, the video also made me think of how certain media is presented to allow for an experience, to make the technology behind it disappear. That oh-so-smooth transition from “video on a video hosting website” to “Salsa Show!” was clutch to making me view this as more than a 40-second clip about a vegetable I really couldn’t care less about and something I wanted to click away from. Movie theaters are certainly designed to be invisible, and I think physical books are as well, providing only the turn of a page as the sole interruption between the written word and the reader’s imagination. Even then, that interruption is the mark of a good book: a “page-turner.” With the boom of electronic reading devices, it’s important to keep this feature in mind; which device will allow you to have an experience with a book, to make you want that salsa and nothing else, and then give it to you?

In the ramp-up to the iPad announcement, the internet ate up every little rumor and spit out post upon post of speculation about the features, capabilities, and technical specifications of the mythical creature. Then both during and after the event, many found themselves underwhelmed by the lack of glitter (No flash! No camera! That name!). Adam Frucci over at Gizmodo listed 8+ things that suck about the iPad, considering the lack of multitasking to be “a backbreaker.” But Joanne McNeil argues for the lack of multitasking in both the iPad and other devices because it solidifies the reading experience. The New York Times’s David Carr, as well as Jon Gruber at Daring Fireball, also noted the iPhone and iPad’s ability to, as gadgets, disappear, leaving as little as a finger swipe (page turn) between the user and the content. Similarly, while the Kindle can’t do much else, it certainly lets you read. What others may consider faults in these devices, readers should appreciate as features for creating a reading experience.

Now, as for what content is necessary for an experience, I’m not sure. That’s a whole ‘nother ballpark, but I think Kassia Kroszer hits one over the fence with her “What Are Enhanced Ebooks?” post. Now that we have the technology that allows us to create such enhancements and focus on them when reading, we need to actually deliver good salsa.

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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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Judge a Book by Its Trapper Kindle

Lunchbreath brings us the solution to one of life’s biggest problems: how to judge a reader’s taste based on their cover-less Kindle. The Trapper Kindle keeps your Kindle safe…your reputation, not so much.

Trapper Kindle by Lunchbreath

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Will Books Get Cold without Jackets?

Farrar, Straus and Giroux's No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Farrar, Straus and Giroux's No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

I read this article in The New York Observer yesterday about book jackets, and how some publishers are forgoing dust jackets in favor of stamping a design directly onto the cover boards. It got me thinking about how I read my books, and if I would actually prefer hardcovers without jackets. Sometimes I do remove the jackets before reading because they slip around when the book is opened, and they’re less likely to be torn or folded when set to the side. Other times though, I use the jacket as a bookmark, taking one of the flaps and inserting it between the pages. I tend to dog-ear paperbacks, but if I have a flap handy, I’ll use that. So, I personally value book jackets for the designs that I don’t want to ruin and the less obvious uses. The tell-tale designs also clue me in to what others are reading with a quick glance – if you’re on a Kindle or have removed the jacket, you’ve probably had people have to ask you what you’re reading before launching into a conversation.

The way most books are printed today, the actual boards are minimally designed with simpler fonts and two-toned material, with the understanding that there will be a jacket in place to please the eye. The jacket, which is easier and cheaper to produce, allows for range in the color, typeface, images, and even texture of the design. Printing or stamping directly onto the boards is limited, even if one were to design without a jacket in mind. Covers can still look attractive and appealing without jackets, but it’s more difficult to differentiate between books if manufacturers can only produce certain color boards and stamp certain typefaces. Since we all know that people do actually judge a book by its cover, jackets are still needed to make most books stand out.

This isn’t to throw out the idea of designing uncovered boards – in fact I really appreciate books that can offer an aesthetically pleasing and unique cover when the jacket is removed. (We added a little bit of flair to Who Is Mark Twain? by stamping Twain’s signature onto the board.) Maybe what we need is a happy medium, where books won’t be considered completely naked if stripped of their jackets.

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How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Kindle

Amazon's KindleAmazon isn’t giving out much info, but informal sources are reporting that the snowballing growth of e-book reading is made up primarily of commercial fiction. My own experience bears this out; over the past few weeks I have read more suspense fiction electronically than I have ever read before in print. It’s not just the price, either. There’s something irresistible about the popcorn-eating effect of finishing one novel and starting the next one without even getting up off the couch. My previous experience was that sometimes I’d be reading a book, but there would often be downtime before I got around to choosing a next one. Now there are simply no barriers to non-stop reading, and without having bought a physical book, I don’t feel like I’m being somehow overindulgent as I move from one to the next.

So after finishing George Dawes Green‘s terrific new novel, Ravens, I immediately ordered his first one, The Caveman’s Valentine, a brilliant book that fully deserved its Edgar Award.

If my experience is any indicator, the downward pressure on price from e-books might very well be counter-balanced by something we can all feel good about, and hopefully find a way to make money from: a newly voracious appetite for page-turners (or page-clickers, as I guess we’ll now need to say).

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The Worst Part About Reading…the Reading Part

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4 Books, 2 Weeks, 1 Vacation — Not a Lick of Paper

Debbie's reading spot in the Virgin IslandsI just got back from two weeks off. In the past I’d travel with a suitcase full of books to alleviate any fears that I might not have something good to read (nothing worse than not liking your vacation book). Summer 2009, I traveled with 1 Kindle, 1 iPhone, and 1 Blackberry. I read books, blogs, magazines and newspapers on all 3 devices. It was glorious in every way, though I do have to admit to having one sinking feeling on the plane when I realized I had nothing to read during take off. Besides that moment, the transition to digital reading is complete. I loved being able to download a book from a boat when I finished one and was ready for the next.

Here’s quick and dirty re-cap of what I read:

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah — I loved it. I realize I’m late to the party on this one, but I never got around to it when it first came out, and now my son has to read for school. I sobbed and sobbed numerous times. I had one moment of thinking “is this all true?” — and when I looked up online and saw controversy, I clicked off quickly. I don’t want to know. To me it was real. Takes a powerful book to move me like that.

The Odyssey — Again, Summer assignment for my son. I read quickly, had trouble enjoying. Will go back and re-read when he gets home and try to find the joy (suggestions welcome). I did read this in college and remember the gist — I’m looking to find the joy though.

Lies My Mother Never Told Me by Kaylie Jones — This is a memoir by the daughter of the prize-winning novelist, James Jones that comes out on August 25, 2009 from William Morrow. I toggled between this and The Odyssey. It’s about a young woman’s struggle with addiction (her own and her mother’s) as well as her coming of age as a writer. Set in Paris, New York, and Sag Harbor with characters such as Bill Styron and Norman Mailer throughout the book, this is a lot of fun to read. (Full disclosure: I haven’t quite finished, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it).

Double Take by Kevin Michael Connolly — comes out from HarperStudio on October 13. I’d read this before on the fly, but wanted to re-read in the comfort of a hammock overlooking the ocean. Loved it every bit as much the second time around. This is the story of young man born without legs who traveled the world with his camera- and found out what it truly means to be human along the way. I think this is going to be big. Great quotes just in from Sara Gruen and Lee Woodruff.

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An Author Studies His Kindle Sales Numbers

In case you missed JA Konrath’s fascinating blog about his Kindle numbers and what he concludes, here it is.

JA Konrath studies the numbers from selling his books on the Amazon Kindle

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The Kindle…Now in Print!

The irony of the full page Kindle ad in next week’s New York Times Book Review was not lost on us.

New York Times Book Review Kindle Ad

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Will the Espresso Machine Make Waves the Size of the Kindle?

It finally happened: The print on demand “ATM for books” device people like Jason Epstein and Ben Vershbow have been talking about forever launched last week in the UK. Some say the Espresso machine is the greatest change in book publishing since the printing press. The device is said to be the equivalent of 23.6 miles of shelf space, or over 50 bookstores rolled into one. I vividly remember an agent I respect sitting in my office a couple of years ago saying “if the Espresso takes off, publishers and editors will be dead men walking.” I am curious to hear what others think of that statement. Of course, since I had that conversation a couple of years ago, the conversation about the future of book publishing has turned sharply towards E-books. (Yesterday we felt the earth move, as Debbie would say, when we read about Amazon’s most recent acquisition). Apparently it takes five minutes to print a book on the Espresso machine. Is five minutes a long time in our digital world?

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