Monday, March 3, 2008

Huzzah! A book trailer that actually works

If all book trailers were as good as this one, I’d be much more convinced of their value:


This was created by film-makers from the national film & television school (in the UK) in conjunction with Random House. Find out more at the booksatrandom and websites.

Sounds like a smart promotion to me, and it’s certainly led to a very high class product! I’d buy The Outcast based on this trailer (but not on the blurb)…

On perfect reading conditions

At the present moment I have three books on the go – one I’ve read before (and, ironically, am making best progress on), one I’m reading in ebook format on my phone (but only when travelling on public transport) and one that has been loaned to me by a friend (for before lights out).

I’m not making very good progress on any of them, which is more that I need time and mental space in order to read well. Right now I have very limited time, and even less mental energy.

When I’m in a reading zone I can snatch 5 mins here and there with no problem and make excellent progress on a novel – even on a first read. BUT I need to already be hooked on the book and desperate to find out what happens next (you know, where you steal extra time before turning out the light because you need to read just one chapter more). I also need to be able to dedicate a fair amount of mental energy to the book – a tiny part of my brain to keep the story ticking over, if you will.

While I’m GETTING hooked, I need to dedicate larger chunks of time. I’m a nervous traveller – when I’m going on holidays or away on business I obsessively research the hotel, where it’s located, what is around it, how I’m getting there from the airport and so on. I’m a bit like that with a novel, too. Using the travel scenario, I need 20 mins with a map and google before I’ll make the booking. From time to time I fall instantly in love but usually we have to date a bit first before I’m willing to invest. ;)

So what are my magic reading ticky boxes? 30 mins reading time at a stretch to get sucked in and enough energy to make an emotional commitment. If I have the space and time to invest, then I’m MUCH more likely to have a magical reading experience.

BTW, for the record I don’t think either my ebook or the loaner were ever “Magic” material, but at least half of my apathy is my own fault, rather than about anything the writer has done (or hasn’t done)!

The main reason I’m getting some traction with my re-read is because it’s one of my warm fuzzy comfort reads. It’s a novel I’ve read many times before and the characters are old friends - I can dip in and out because the writing is superb (and quickly engages me), and I know the story and the characters so well that it’s not in the least bit taxing.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Free as part of the business model

Everyone and his cat is blogging about the free ebooks being given out at the moment so I'll just point them out to you: Tor (promo) HarperCollins (promo) RandomHouse (promo) Baen (Bus. model) Cory Doctorow (all round awesome dude)

I found related article on Techdirt timely:
How 'Free' Has Even More Value Than People Think It Should
Ariely ran more similar experiments (economist Tyler Cowen wrote
about one
recently) and found that again and again people overpay for

The experiment mentioned in the article is about kids, chocolate and Halloween (which made me want a Mars bar but that is a WHOLE other issue!)

I think there are three issues with ebook take up right now: devices (in the process of being solved by smart phones/convergence devices); DRM (yeah - I know I'm banging my head against the wall on THIS one) and consumer education.

The more freebies given away the more people will try an ebook - and hopefully enjoy the experience - and the more robust the industry will become. Consumer education via freebies makes sense. INCREASING the value of the traditional market by giving away something scalable like a digital copy makes sense.

What if we gave away a digital download of book one for free with each sale of books two and three. Or if we gave away a free download of the ebook edition with a premium edition version of the p-book (leather bound or with a ribbon or something a bit EXTRA that we can charge through the nose for)... I'm not the first (or the last) to play with this idea, I know, but this makes lots and lots of sense to me!

The true cost of ebooks

There is an interesting conversation going on in The Guardian about the Hollywood Writer's Strike and how authors should follow suit. Go read it. Lots of smart things being said, a few dumb things being said (and I'll leave you to work out for yourself which is which!), but not enough representation at the moment from the publishing community.

Whenever one of these Publishers Are Evil articles comes out, or I see it on an author blog (usually on wannabe writers blogs rather than their published colleagues!) I have one of two reactions. One is exasperation, the other is considerably less polite.

Yes, publishing is a business. Yes, we want to make money. Yes, we are gatekeepers out to ruin YOUR life, personally. One of these things is not true, the other two are the same point...

Anyway, want to know the real cost for a publisher of creating an ebook? I've replied in the comments but - while for obvious reasons I can't give you numbers - here is my thinking:

As someone who is project managing a digital content backlist project for a
‘household name’ publisher I’d LOVE to beg, borrow or steal that '20 mins'
system that is being used by my learned colleague in the small press.

In my experience creating a decent digital version of one of our pbooks is a lot more labour intensive than that – everything form updating the imprint pages, removing blank pages (to ensure that the reading flow is as comfortable as possible) and the quality assurance at the far end. Assuming, for one moment, that someone else manages the schedules and the conversion and loads the thing in to systems for accounting and distribution and that the ONIX files are automatically created and distributed etc etc etc…

The time spent decreases the more you do in one hit (this is a workflow that scales
comparatively well), and better yet when you work on dual production, but there
are costs in human resource terms – in addition to the dosh required by conversion houses – in creating an ebook!

If there's a justification for a 15-20% royalty on digital downloads, I want to hear it!

Right now? It’s that we all need to invest in infrastructure to cope with this new market. Digital asset management – the backbone of these sorts of workflows – is massively expensive. Think lots and lots of 0’s. And unfortunately we all need to pony up for systems that can cope with ebooks the moment we walk in to the market – it’s a mandatory investment and that cost has to be covered.

Also keep in mind that the CURRENT ebook market doesn’t break even for most authors looking purely at conversion costs.

This all changes when the VOLUME of sales is there. Right now in my market? Sell 3 copies of a single ebook in a single day and you have a #1 bestseller. That is changing, but it’s not changing as quickly as I personally would like.

BTW, I DO love ebooks. And one day I think there will be cause for authors to negotiate royalty rates, but right now the market is so small it's an acedemic argument. Mind you, as a member of the Big Bad Publishing Conspiracy I want all of my lovely authors to starve to death. Make of that what you will ;)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's the book, not the paper that counts

I'd just like to give Michael Hyatt a virtual cookie for his resounding common sense in his latest post "Is It Really Books That We Love?"
I think books are similar. I don’t believe that people are as wedded to the technology as they think they are. What they love about books are the stories and the content. They remember how those words made them feel. They love the experience of reading and the places that takes them. The delivery mechanism just happens to be a book—granted a very sophisticated technology that hasn’t really changed in hundreds of years.

Spot on and bravo! It amuses me that this industry is so terrified by technology that we, by and large, haven't grasped the simple fact that we're in the content business. It's the way our users experience our content, not the way it gets to them, that is the important thing.

User experience - bring on the future

I find all of this user experience stuff really inspiring:

See, I’m not sure if it’s a left brain, right brain thing but something interesting happens when you take digital concepts, and make it analogue.

Take information architecture – if I’m mapping out an IA I’ll start with a list of content. I’ll break it down to the most minute level possible (which can take a running list spanning several days) and will then plonk each item on an index card. More precisely, because I don’t like being wasteful, I plonk it on about 1/3 of an index card.

I then shuffle and make little piles of “like content”. I then label the piles and do it again. And again. And again with lots of people until some sort of order and reason comes out.

It’s amazing how often the simplest, sanest IAs are created by card sorting. Sometimes they marry up to the experience you get from an xls and someone cutting and pasting cells, but not always.

So I say bring on these real world ways of representing digital information!

Monday, November 26, 2007

To DRM or not to DRM, that is the question

First, a disclosure: I’m one of those people that loves technology. I’m also an avid reader, and I don’t look on these passions as being a contradiction in terms. Call me strange – and many in the book biz do – but I firmly believe that digital mediums suit books beautifully.

I believe it so much that I frequently read my books in a digital format. About 50% of my reading for pleasure is in the form of ebooks. About 10% of my reading for pleasure is in the form of mss (usually in MS Word). So that only leaves about 40% for physical books… Which makes me somewhat unusual in the publishing industry.

As a person who reads a lot of ebooks AND works on the biz, I have a very delicate balancing act when it comes to DRM. When I’m reading? I HATES it.

Hate, hate, hate.

I abhor the fact that I can’t read my legally purchased ebook on my work laptop because I can’t get Microsoft Passport to validate my installation of MS Reader. And you know what? I’m a pretty tech savvy chick – if I can’t do it (and I think it’s probably that I have too many devices activated – I have two current personal computers, plus a PDA, and probably had my last machine and maybe even the one before THAT activated with the same account), then bet your arse other people can’t do it, too.

I have nightmares about the coming day when my beautifully catalogued library of ebooks will become useless because Microsoft stop supporting the format. Or because a format other than .lit becomes the mainstream.

I hate the fact that neither Sony Reader nor Kindle will ever be a good option for me, because I have such a huge investment in a different format.

And you know what else? If that day comes, I’m ready willing and able to crack the DRM on my ebook library so that I can continue to read my books…

Flip side? I understand why Publishers are so keen on this technology. We know it doesn’t work, we know that the main formats have long since been hacked. And yet, it’s really really tempting to do it anyway because up until now, we’ve been protecting by the very fact that books are an analogue product. Unless you work as a typesetter or in editorial or production at a mainstream publishing house, your only options for pirating a book have been either ridiculously labour intensive or just plain ridiculous. Witness the Harry Potter leak – someone went to LOTS of trouble to photograph that book pre-release; but did anyone actually read more than a handful of pages? So when you talk about putting a digital copy of the book out there WITH NO PROTECTION the hearts of publishing execs (and probably authors) around the world start palpitating.

But, I think the main reason that they are so keen on the idea of DRM is because NO ONE IN THE INDUSTRY ACTUALLY READS EBOOKS! ‘Cause I can assure you – in all my travels I’ve never met a single person who uses this stuff that thinks it’s a good idea. Most, like me, are happy enough to live with it so long as the files keep working. A few violently hate it. But most don’t have the tech savvy to work WITHIN DRM. And that is a very serious usability problem!

So that’s my challenge to the pointy heads out there with their encryption algorithms: make me a DRM that is as easy to use as a pirate version, and I’ll be a happy camper indeed.