June 2007

sun graphicBook publishing appears to be going through a great period of experimentation transition as it responds to changes in its core technologies and the new generation of web marketing tools.  So will it be a golden era or a dark period?  It could be either, depending on the role you play in the current ecology of book publishing, marketing and selling.

“Long tail” bookselling (ala Chris Anderson) and distributed (local) print on demand combine to preserve a publishr’s back list indefinitely.  The searchability of the “booksphere” is improving steadily – e.g. Google Book Search and Amazon tools.  Web-based peer-to-peer recommendatin tools are challenging traditional book reviews in mainstream media to guide customers book selections.  

Audiences and their preferences are now more measurable and predictions about customer buying behavior can be more grounded in analytics.  What actually sells is based on real data gathered from retail outlets, both online and in the stores rather opinion and guess-timate.   And authors – at least new authors – share their ideas and build their audiences before they pubish.

In a sense, each stage of the publishing process is beomning more transparent.  How might publishing models of the future look?  Below is one possibility (open publishing) compared with the traditional mode. 


Create manuscript – keep it secret Share your ideas – e.g. blog or podcast
Sell manuscript to agents, publishers Build audience
Publish Market yourself and your ideas
Market Create manuscript
Build audience Publish
Make money?? Make money!!


In this scenario, publishers’ overall margins should improve since titles will have a much higher probability of being profitable.  Also, if the traditional retail channel is compressed by local print on demand (POD), publishers will no longer have the costs of inventory, storage, fulfillment, shipping and returns.  There may be savings in marketing as technology makes finding and aggregating buyers in the typically fragmented book market easier.  In this model, revenues and costs are more evenly matched across a title’s life cycle.  Publishers can return part of the savings in production, distribution and marketing to both authors and consumers, and still improve their margins.

Hot selling titles may still need a more centralized production process and inventory – at least for awhile.  But distributed POD technology improvements should reduce the time required to produce books and make it easy for retailers to create and replenish inventory locally in high demand situations.  In such a model, the emphasis shifts to the backlist.  A produtive backlist makes up the greater part of the value of a book publisher anyway.  With the ability to continue the backlist indefinitely, the aggregate value of the publisher  increases with the growth of the backlist in a fairly predictable fashion. 

As new production, distribution and marketing technology penetrates the publishing industry, one can imagine the balance of power shifting.  Here’s my guess.  The winners?  Consumers, authors and publishers.  The losers?  wholesalers, distributors and centralized production houses (whether POD or not).  The uncertain and stressed out?  Booksellers (since the door is open for more retailers to jump into the fray).  For all involved, the time has already arrived to make adjustments to old though patterns.

Espresso Book MachineImagine going into your favorite coffee shop, browsing an online catalog from your laptop, and upon finding that special book you’ve been searching for, having it printed and bound for you while you sip your latte.  The Espress Book Machine, from On Demand Books LLC, is making that dream a reality.  With a small physical and budgetary footprint, the machine promises to revolutionize book publishing, distribution and sales.   

Beta versions of the Espresso Book Machine are already in operation at the World Bank Infoshop in Washington, DC and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (The Library of Alexandria, Egypt).  Recently, a production version of the machine was installed and demonstrated at the New York Public Library.  Additional machines will be installed this fall at the New Orleans Public Library, the University of Alberta (Canada) campus bookstore, the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, and at the Open Content Alliance in San Francisco.  A smaller version of the machine is in the works.

Dane NellerRecently, we interviewed Dane Neller (right), CEO of On Demand Books LLC, about the Book Espresso Machine.   Dane is co-founded the company with publishing legend Jason Epstein, and formerly served as President and CEO of Dean & Deluca from 1997-2005.

FPP:  Could you provide a brief description of how the machine operates and some of its general capabilities?

Dane:  The Espresso Book Machine (“EBM”) is a fully integrated patented book making machine which can automatically print, bind and trim on demand at point of sale perfect bound library quality paperback books with 4-color covers (indistinguishable from the factory made original) in minutes for a production cost of a penny a page. Digital files are retrieved and transmitted via the Internet through our proprietary web-based digital rights management software.  The EBM requires minimal human intervention and maintenance, and all printing, book block milling, page jogging, cover alignment, binding and shearing are performed in a continuous mechanical process.

FPP:  The Espresso Book Machine has been referred to as an “ATM for books.” Can it be configured to be operated in an automated fashion (like an ATM) by a consumer?

Dane:  Yes. Orders can be entered at a home/office computer, or at an in-store kiosk. The current models are not configured like a traditional vending machine, so that the printing of the book is likely to be done in a stock room, back office or behind an information desk where a clerk retrieves the book for the reader. But order entry can be done anywhere at anytime.

FPP:  How much does the Espresso Book Machine cost and how much physical space does it occupy?

Dane:  The current models are being custom manufactured but are still a fraction of the cost of a traditional POD line. Our plan is to lease EBM’s and charge on a per book basis. We expect that in mass production the EBM will cost about the same price as a large office copier. The current 1.5 model is about 8′ x 5′ but version 2.0 will be about 5′ x 4′.

FPP:  How many machines do you expect to have installed over the next 3 years?

Dane:  We hope to have installed over 500 EBM’s by the end of 2009.

FPP:  Who are your primary target customers for the Espresso Book Machine?

Dane:  Our target customer includes public and academic libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, university bookstores, university presses, hotels, US post offices and other government offices, reprographic shops, supermarkets, mass retailers, cruise ships, UN agencies, etc.

FPP:  How do you think bookselling models might change as adoption of the Espresso Book Machine spreads?

Dane:  Bookstores will be able to reconfigure their floor space to sell faster moving, higher margin inventory and rely on the Espresso for mid- and backlist books. Since the Espresso is a mini electronic book store, non-bookstore retailers will be able to use the machine to print all types of books, which will increase competition and probably reduce book prices. Also, self-publishing will become a profitable business for bookstores, libraries and other retail venues.

FPP:  How would you expect the pricing of books to change once they can be printed at the point of sale?

Dane:  As noted above, prices will likely decline as more stores have Espresso’s. Since the EBM eliminates all supply chain costs, the price of content relative to the overall price of the book is likely to increase while the cost of distribution and printing as a percentage of the price of the book is likely to decrease. While it is very difficult to predict pricing patterns, we believe that book prices will decrease especially with long tail books.

FPP:  How do you think publishers will need to adapt their book marketing strategies (if at all)?

Dane:  Publishers will need to digitize their backlists and allow these titles to be easily searched. Some marketing and promotion of these titles may be helpful, but just making them available on the Espresso will allow publishers to monetize their backlists.

FPP:  Do you think eliminating the distribution barrier will encourage more books to be published?

Dane:  Yes. With the EBM no book need ever go out of print, and any book in any language can be available anywhere in the world. More books will be published efficiently i.e., supply will be matched with demand.

FPP:  What are the remaining hurdles for getting access to all published works?

Dane:  The scanning of book files, and a settlement with Google on the copyright lawsuit, which I predict will happen since Google and content owners can both be winners.

FPP:  Are there any consumer buying habits that will need to change in order for this technology to be successful?

Dane:  On the contrary. The Espresso liberates consumer demand similar to what the iPod did for music. It’s as easy as clicking a title on line and picking up your book.

FPP:  How do you see this technology evolving over the next few years?

Dane:  The EBM will get much smaller and quicker. The printers will double in speed from 40 pages per minute (20 sheets) to 80 pages per minute (40 sheets), and the core machine will be the size of a small copier.

You can download the company’s Espresso Book Machine v1.5 overview, as well as recent articles in the New_York_Times, Newsweek and Fortune Small Business to learn more.

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The phrase “create, rip, mix and burn” – popularized by Apple – summarizes how fans are personalizing and sharing their experience of music.

richard baraniukRichard Baraniuk, in a talk entitled “Goodbye, textbooks; hello, open-source learning” at a TED conference in February, 2006, talked about how a similar movement was taking shape in the world of educational publishing.  Baraniuk has created a website called Connexions which provides an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web.  Authors contribute modules – small “chunks” of learning, – and teachers or students can remix these into customized courseware.   Courseware chunks can include text, video or even software.

He identified the slowness and rigidity of the current publishing process as a barrier which in effect shuts out potential contributors who can make meaningful additions to a knowledge base and provide learning experiences customized to the needs of specific audiences.

The key to creating these modules and allowing them to be linked is XML.   XML (Extensible Markup Language) is the software infrastructure that allows content to be tagged and then repackaged into personalized learning experiences.    Tagging via XML allows content to be be more easily related and linked.  It allows us to liberate the pages from the books and form “knowledge ecosystems.”  Author / contributors become, in essence, “educaitonal DJ’s.”   The potential is great.   Consider Catherine Schmidt-Jones, a mom in Illinois, with degrees in music, who creates music curriculum for children using the Connexions process.  She has over 600,000 downloads from her site, many by traditional K-12 teachers. 

The production (“burn” phase) of customized textbooks is done using print on demand (POD) technology which allows textbooks to be profitably printed in small quantities.  Such textbooks can be sold on Amazon or via other online book sales channels.  One can imagine that as systems like the Book Espresso machine become more widely available, the costs of customized textbooks will fall further. 

equation webTextbooks created in electronic form or (one day) with e-paper may have the ability to link with other books, or feature interactive simulations to enhance the learning experience.   Baraniuk, himself an engineering professor, demonstrated how learning some very dry mathematical equations related to signal processing might be enhanced by showing interactively how it related to music, cell phones and image manipulation. 

The Creative Commons license has emerged as an IP frameowrk that makes aharing safe.  First used for open source software, it makes explicit what can and can’t be done with content.  In general, open source educational content licenses require only that its users attribute the author.  One measure of the popularity of open source educational content is in the number of licenses issued for text, music and video – 43 million and cocunting.  Over 500,000 unique visotrs per month visit Baraniuk’s site and a similar number MIT’s open courseware site.

Quality control is of course a paramount issue and is still the subject of much experimentation.  In general, it is managed by a peer review process, similar to Wikipedia, facilitated and tracked by software.

The advantages of this approach to textbooks are:

  • Faster response to changing knowledge
  • Customizable – important in a global economy where local needs may require a different presentaiton of the material
  • Lower cost for students
  • Wider base of contributors and potentially richer material
  • Typicaly faster translation to other languages by members of the community

pile of textbooksTextbooks sales in 2006 were $9.3 billion.  As the technology and legal frameworks for “create, rip, mix and burn” take hold in the educational world, textbook publishers will need to figure out whether and how they will play a role in this new market.  As Bowker noted in its report on U.S. book production in 2006, “categories that are the most challenged by the emergence of new online content showed declines in title output for 2006.”   RIP indeed.

kids with cell phonesAn article in the July 2, 2007 BusinessWeek entitled “Children of teh Web” caught my eye this weekend.  The article focused on how the swelling ranks of digital youth worldwide – the young, savvy generation that grew up with the Internet is forcing businesses to rethink the way they market their products and services.  In particular, it highlighted the way increasingly global networks that are forming among this demographic. 

They are used to participating in social networks that may include members from other countries and cultures.  The result isn’t the Americanization of world culture we witnessed in the 1980’s, but rather a mixing of cultures.  New trends can emerge anywhere and spread around the globe rapidly.  As author Steve Hamm writes, “Addressing this vast market of globally dispersed young people will force companies to become new kinds of multinaionals – plugged into the digital grid and quick to respond to shifts in demand that begin as tremors halfway around the world.”  This is clearly a phenomenon to which publishers and booksellers need to pay attention.  Smart publishers will redesign their book publishing models accordingly. 

social networkThe biggest social networking site is Myspace, followed by Facebook.  But interestingly, not all the social networking action on MySpace takes place among youth.  In fact,  comScore Media Metrix reported in late 2006 that – in the U.S. – half of the site’s users are 35 or older.  Only 30 percent are under 25  and teens under 18 make up only 12 percent.  The 35-54 group represents 41 percent.  And books are doing well on MySpace – there are currently 4,420 pages devoted to books. 

If MySpace and Facebook don’t meet your needs, you can build your own social networking site.  Ning, a Silicon valley based startup, provides tools that allow you to construct your social network site.  Currently, Ning powers over 66,000 social networks.  A quick survey of Ning revealed 355 networks tagged “books.” These ranged from author or title focused networks, to more general book lover networks.

Social networking appears to be establishing itself as a new way to form relationships and share experiences.  While it’s appeal has spread beyond the youth demographic, this group will no doubt pioneer the artistic mashups that will enrich and transfuse our culture, including our literature.

sales clerk helping customerIn May 2007, R.R. Bowker, the global leader in bibliographic information management, reported that the number of books published in the U.S. grew 3% in 2006 to 291,920  new titles and editions.   Advances in print on demand technology, as well as cost effective Web 2.0 marketing techniques and soon, the ability to have book production at the point-of-sale, are trends that will present book buyers with an overwhelming set of choices.  

As the aggregate number of titles in print continues to grow, it will be more imperatie for users to have better tools to sort through the market clutter and find books aligned with their interests.  Chris Anderson, in his book “The Long Tail,” highlighted the need for post-publication filters (peer reviews, search and recommendation engines) when the available investory of products becomes – for all practical purposes – infinite.  Amazon pioneered this strategy offering suggestions for books based on a customer’s previous purchases, as well as similar purchases made by others. 

business2 - June 2007 coverIn it’s latest issue, Business 2.0 reported on a new generation of recommendation engines that promises to go a step beyond purchase history.  These new tools will instead focus on discovering attributes in product purchases that the customer may not even be aware of and presenting recommendations based on these common features.  The new tools even examine consumer click patterns to deterine whether they are simply browing, researching or actively buying a product.  They can also compare products across sites to make more targeted recommendations.  These approaches are now under active testing by such companies as Netflix, Blockbuster, Drugstore.com,  Comcast, Overstock.com and iTunes.  The three companies featured included:

  • ChoiceStream – recommends products based on numerous attributes or characteristics the customer values applied to their purhcase history
  • CleverSet – analyzes product descriptions, prices, ratings and multiple other attributes to make recommendations
  • Aggreagte Knowledge – makes suggestions based on cross site online consumption and buying patterns

biofeedbackI recall my experiences in bookstores when I would wander the aisles, looking at many different books, often in wide ranging subject area, trying to find that one most delicious read.  I have had similar experiences cruising the virtual book shelves of Amazon.  I wonder if these recommendations engines could figure out my thinking patterss and make that perfect suggestion.  Probably some aspects of why we desire a particular book will always remain ours – personal, hidden from even the cleverest pattern recognition software and most comprehesnive databases.  Bust who knows, perhaps this new class of recommendatino engines may act like our externalized unconcious, knowing what we want before we are conciously aware of it. 

Steve WeberLately, there has been a lot of interest in virtual book tours as a marketing tool for authors and publishers.   We invited Steve Weber, a well known book marketing expert, to talk about the in’s and out’s of virtual book tours. 

Steve, a former newspaper reporter, has been a full-time Internet bookseller since 2000, selling new, used and collectible books on sites such as Amazon.com, Half.com, and eBay. In 2005 he self-published his first book, “The Home-Based Bookstore.”  The lessons he learned from promoting that book inspired this year’s “Plug Your Book!: Online Book Marketing for Authors.”  Originally from Charleston, W.Va., he resides in the Washington suburbs of northern Virginia.

FPP:  What is a virtual book tour?

Steve:  It’s making a guest appearance on a blog that serves likely readers of your book.  Sometimes it’s called a “blog tour” or “guest blogging.”  So it’s a good way of popping up in front of your target market — by going to a place where they already congregate.  Blog tours are especially valuable for authors who can’t travel or are uncomfortable with public speaking, and when touring is impractical because a book’s readers are widely dispersed.  Exactly how it’s done depends on your preferences and the style of the blog.  A plain-vanilla virtual book tour would be like newspaper editorials, but in the best case it’s an interactive affair, and the author provokes a discussion among the blog readers.  Typical blog tours include these elements:

  • An excerpt displayed on each host blog in the days preceding the tour to publicize the tour appearance.
  • A one-day appearance, beginning with a short essay on the topic of your book and then inviting discussion.
  • Follow-up visits for the next four to seven days to answer questions and comments from blog readers.

FPP:   How popular are virtual book tours with publishers and authors?  Are they becoming a regular part of book marketing?

Steve:  Absolutely, they’re becoming very popular among authors who handle their own publicity, and professional book consultants are jumping on the bandwagon too.  Blogs are the place where people who are passionate about something gather to exchange ideas.  So there’s no better place for an author to start a discussion and get people excited about his or her book.

FPP:  What is the best way to find good blogs on which to appear?

Steve:  Perhaps you already read a blog that covers your genre or topic area. But it never hurts to look for new blogs, because they can spring up seemingly overnight and gain popularity quickly.  Unfortunately, there’s no authoritative directory or listing of blogs divided into neat categories.  You just have to research it for yourself.  Three sites are good starting places for your search:

  • Technorati.  This blog tracking site lists the 100 most popular blogs at Technorati.com/pop/blogs. But to find niche content, you’ll need to look beyond the mainstream.  Use the advanced search tool.

To drill down into specific topics try these sites:

  • Google Blog Search.  Type in keywords related to your book.  Ignore results from personal blogs that focus on the author and get little traffic.
  • Forbes’ Best of the Web. This directory reviews blogs with high-quality content.  Also, some of the popular, general book blogs have “blogrolls” on their sidebars, which are long lists of other quality book blogs.  For example, scroll down the right side of the blog Grumpy Old Bookman

That blogroll has links to dozens and dozens of great book blogs, and in turn, those blogs link to more far-flung niche blogs. Also, the blogs you pitch don’t necessarily need to be a “book blog.”  Especially if your book is nonfiction, you’ll find lots of opportunities at all kinds blogs that target people who care about your topic.

FPP:  How should an author or publisher approach a  blog owner about an interview?

Steve:  Send a personal e-mail to the publisher or blog author.  Offer to send a review copy of the book, and explain why this will provide interesting content for the blog’s readers. This is a win-win for the blog author because they get free content that provides value for their readership.

FPP:  How many blogs should a tour include?

Steve:  It all depends on how big your niche is.  You should ask to appear on every blog in your topic area or genre that gets appreciable traffic.  Look at how many reader comments the blog attracts — that’s a sign of an engaged audience.

FPP:  How much time should an author or publisher expect to invest in setting up a tour?

Steve:  It can easily take a week or two. It’s also a good idea to prepare a book excerpt or HTML document that can serve as sort of an online book flyer.  The excerpt can be posted a few days before your appearances at the various blogs to publicize your appearance and get the dicussion going.  I explain this in some detail in my book “Plug Your Book,” where you can see an example of an excerpt.  

FPP:  What things should an author do to prepare for an interview?

Steve:  It’s helpful to read the previous few weeks of postings to the blogs you’re going to appear on.  Since you’re the author, you’re the expert on your book.  Just remember to be diplomatic, and if you get rude or off-topic comments, steer the discussion back to the points you want to discuss.

FPP:  How can the effectiveness of a blog tour be measured, if at all?

Steve:  The only way to measure the results is by posting an affiliate or tracking link, which enables you to see the book sales resulting from a specific site.  The blog owner might allow you to post your own affiliate link, but they might want to post their own links to Amazon, for example, so that they earn a commision (and that’s fair).  It’s always been terribly hard to track book sales, because they depend on word of mouth.

FPP:  Do you see any new trends emerging in the use of virtual book tours?

Steve:  I think a lot of people are catching on to this method of marketing, in the book industry and in other areas. Consumers just don’t pay much attention to traditional advertising anymore.  You’ve got to show up at the places where they are already discussing something that matters to them, like blogs.  It’s getting a lot easier to put audio and video content on blogs, so this will undoubtedly be a trend to watch.  Virtual book tours in the future will go beyong plain text, and into spoken-word interviews, book readings, and visual performances.

book club book wormbook club book wormbook club book wormAre book clubs on the social fringe – a hangout for shy book worms?  Hardly.  According to Diana Loevy, author of The Book Club Companionclose to 20 million Americans belong to book clubs, often to multiple clubs.  She concludes that part of this is due to the need for intellectual stimulation, but the need for socializing in a community plays a major part as well.   Book clubs would seem like a potential goldmine for authors and publishers.  But how to find these folks.  This would involve taking a bottom up approach to finding readers vs. selling to large book clubs like Book-of-the-Month club.  One approach is using web tools like Meetup.com.

Meetup.com is a site where you can define an interest, create or find a group that shares your interesst and then arrange meetings with that group.  For example, here in Seattle, there is a group interested in blogging that meets monthly, all managed and scheduled through Meetup.com.  You can find meetings by topic and meetings by city. 

The other day I visited Meetup.com to check out the topic “Books” and discovered there were 912 groups there organized under various categories.  Some of the categories were concerned with specific authors and titles, some were more generic.  The largest category was “book clubs” with 391 groups.  These were pretty dispersed across the U.S.  In the Seattle area, there were 9 book clubs, with an aggregate membership of about 665 members. 

Marketing to these book clubs mgith be facilitated by arranging a virtual book club tour utilizing low cost web or VOIP conferencing services (e.g. Skype Out) to feature a “live” author reading and Q&A session, and perhaps offering a discount to those who purchased the book during the author’s “visit.” 

Of course, the book clubs you find on Meetup.com represent just a fraction of the estimated 50,000+ book clubs.  The advantage of using a site like Meetup.com, however, is that each book club has a contact, as well as a description, making it easier to find appropriate groups and schedule a virtual visit. 

With new Web 2.0 technology, marketing to book clubs is not only viable, but can form the seeds of a successful word of mouth viral marketing campaign. 

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