September 2007


dailylit logoSerialized books are a good way to beat the time crunch.  We are all slaves to e-mail, so why not get our books that way too – a little bit at a time?  DailyLit, a small company in Mamaroneck, New York, formed by husband and wife Albert Wenger and Susan Danziger, is doing just that – delivering serialized versions of about 500 public domain and copyrighted books in installments that can be read in under 5 minutes (or about 1,000 words).   As an example, Dracula is e-mailed in 187 installments.  When you browse the BookLit library, you can see the number of installments for each title.  Readers control how frequently they want to receive installments, and, if they want to read more than one installment at a time, can use the “send the next installment immediately” feature. 

Public domain books are free and copyrighted books carry a modest price.  With copyrighted material, readers get the first few installments free, and if they do not want to continue, can stop the subscription.   Most of the current offerings are free.  Many of the book entries have a link back to Amazon for those readers who might wish to purchase the book.  Subscribing is easy; an e-mail address.  For a paid subscription you supply a credit card, or soon, can use your PayPal account.  If you prefer to receive your installments via RSS, DailyLit will create a custom feed that you can use with your favorite feed reader or RSS enabled browser. 

According to Publishers Weekly, the company has recently signed deals with several publishers, including Berlitz, Baen Books, Chronicle Books and E-Reads.  All of theses will be revenue generating, according to Danziger.  The company is trying to price these books at about $5 for all installments which would be comparable to a similar e-book price. 

books on a mobile deviceTwo other services also provide subscription reads:  Mobifusion and Moka.  These deliver books to mobile devices.  For example, Moka charges about $5.99 per month to receive a full book via SMS text installments on a cell phone.  All of these services may represent a new reading experience for time pressured bibliophiles.  They are also a potential new marketing vehicle for publishers.  Using a subscription model with a “try before you buy” free sample feature, publishers can give readers a chance to see whether they want to purchase a book.  It is doubtful that most of us would want to read an entire book on a small screen in tiny chunks.  But, like a free sample at the bakery, a few installments might induce us to buy a print version of a book that looks interesting.  In this sense it is one more extension of Amazon’s Search Inside the Book and Google Reader. 

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BookSwimThe book industry supports many book channels.  The largest traditional venues for books are:

  • Bookstores
  • Libraries
  • Catalogs
  • Book clubs
  • Non-bookstore merchandisers

Now you can add another to the list – rental books.  Lifehacker reported on a new service called BookSwim.  The rental process mirrors that of the popular movie rental service NetFlix.  It works like this:

  1. Create your list of books online
  2. BookSim ships books from your list
  3. You keep each book for as long as you want.  (There are no late fees.)
  4. You return finished books in the mail using prepaid mailers from BookSwim and BookSwim sends new ones from your list. 

BookSwim rental modelThe service charges $20 per month.  This allows you to rent 3 books at a time.  For $36 per month, you can rent up to 11 books at a time.  Currently, the service has only 150,000 titles in 27 categories, but the available stock is expanding.  The service allows you to buy a book you really like online.  Purchasing a book counts as a return.

Another book rental service is Booksfree.com.  Its model works essentially the same as BookSwim.  The title base is somewhat smaller – 79,800 books, 18,000 audiobooks.  Pricing varies by the number and type of books you rent.  For hardcover or paperback books, prices range from $10 per month for 2 books, up to $38 per month for 12 books.  For audiobooks, the prices range from $22.50 per month for 2 audiobooks at a time, up to $42.50 per month for 4 audiobooks.  There are specialty services for audiobooks – e.g. SimplyAudioBooks and Jiggerbug.  A couple of years ago, it was reported in the Wall Street Jounral that even Google was exploring the possibility of renting books. 

too many booksIt remains to be seen how popular book rentals will become.  However, they currently offer readers a lower cost alternative to read books that are popular, but may not be available at a library.  Also, rentals help space conscious readers avoid the necessity to find physical storage for books they have already read.  As book prices rise in response to inflationary pressures, publishers might do well to examine the economics of movie rentals to see how rentals might impact the for purchase book market.

twitter birdEver since the social networking service Twitterlaunched it has been a magnet for speculation about what it is and what it means.  Twitter has been called a form of micro blogging because, like haiku, it constrains the length of each entry (known as a tweet) to 140 characters or less.  Twittering has also been referred to as live blogging, because the short length of tweets makes it feel more like instant messaging or online conversation. 

Some of the speculation about Twitter has centered on it being a possible replacement for blogging.  Twittering is simpler than blogging.  The short messages are easy to digest and can be read comfortably on the small screens of mobile devices.  I doubt that 140 character tweets will replace blog entries.  They each have uses for which they are best suited.  For example, consider the case of books. 

Imagine reading a book and being able to share an interesting excerpt or impression of what you’re reading with friends or associates quickly and more or less continuously as you work your way throught the title.  You can share something memorable while it’s fresh.  It’s like a bit of social glue between in person meetings – say at a book club – when you want to get into more depth about a book you’ve just read.  It’s ideal for connectors – those super communicators Malcolm Gladwell identified in the Tipping Point – who spread awareness of interesting new things.

Book twitters, however, wouldn’t replace a book review.  A book review – closer to a blog entry in size – is a considered reflection made after the book has been read.  The book twitter is more about sharing an impression.  It is another way to build excitement and community around a book.  Twittering about a title may inspire others to read it and share their impressions as well.  As Amazon demonstrates, peer recommendations count for a lot among book purchasers, no matter how the recommendaiton is packaged.  The practice could become something of a book club on the fly.

book twitterThere are some intriguing experiments happening in TwitterVille.  For example, an Amazon affiliate called TwitterLit is serving up one line literary teasers to entice readers to check out titles.  The site shows the first line of a book and contains a link back to Amazon for users whose curiosity gets the better of them.  The title of the book isn’t shown with the excerpt – you have to go to Amazon to see it. 

Another example is a post on Bob Baker’s Author Blog entitled Smart Ways Authors can Use Twitter.  It provides some ideas authors can use to publish their content in tweet size bites.

And finally, if you want to hone your Twitter craft, visit Slacker Manager and check out The Several Habits of Wildly Successful Twitter Users.

diamondsIf you are an author who blogs then you have the opportunity to incorporate content from your blog into a book.   We have chronicled a number of successful blog to book (“blook”) storieson Future Perfect Publishing.  But once you have accumulated numerous posts in your blog’s archives, it gets difficult to remember which ones were relevant and popular.  Post titles, tags and categories can provide clues to relevance, especially if your book outline coheres in some form with your category labels.  But what is the best way to select those gems that your book’s readers will respond to?  Is there a some objective way to asses your blog’s content and guide your choices? 

One way might be to use  comments.  Comments represent an investment of time by the reader to respond to something you posted.  They probably feel strongly about what you’ve written and that certainly merits consideration.  Also, there is some evidence that lots of comments improve the search rankings of posts on Google and possibly other search engines.   Comments by themselves may be an unreliable guide to selecting popular blog content however.  For example, comments are often used as a way to leave links to another site.  Also, comments are often sparse on a blog relative to the interest the blog gets in terms of overall visitors and page views.

A second approach may be to use bookmarks.  Bookmarks are a proxy for interest.  Posts that receive bookmarks from readers have undoubtedly engaged them.  And a bookmark indicates the reader wants to share the post beyond the audience coming to the blog.  Again, however, posts with lots of bookmarks may be relatively scarce. 

Another measure of post popolarity is the number of page views it receives over time.  Once a post has passed into the archives, it will still turn up in search results or via links to it from other sites.  Both of these are indicators that the post holds interest for readers.  You could conceptually arrange your posts in a distribution with those having the most page views at the head, and extending out in a “long tail” to those with relatively few page views.  This rather blunt measurement can be refined a bit further, as follows:

  • Longevity – the number of days since the original post.  This is useful to find topics that might be evergreen
  • Concentration – the number of days since the original post for which there were page views.  Some posts may see all their activity concentrated in a few days (e.g. posts related to news stories) and thus may not be as “durable” as a post that continues to receive page views day after day. 
  • Density– the number o page views for the post divided by the overall page views for the blog.  This shows the contribution of the post to overall blog activity. 

panning for goldSo how would you use these measures to find the gold in your blog?  I would look for posts with a high number of page views, reasonable longevity, low concentration and relatively high density.  These represent posts that have demonstrated the ability to draw readers over time.  There is definitely some work involved in making these measurements.  But the nuggets they yield could more than compensate for the modest amount of time invested for their calculation.

Blooker prizeBlooks are certainly coming of age (after only a few years).  We have a growing body of blooks and a few celebrity blook authors.  If you have any doubts, check out Cheryl Hagedorn’s comprehensive site, Blooking Central which analyzes published blooks to discover what makes for a blookable blog.  We have a number of success stories to capture the attention of Big Media and insprie other writers.  There is the Blooker Prize, both lauded as a visionary way to stimulate a new medium and deried as a time-wasting promotion of amateur efforts

So is the blook merely an accident in the evolution of consumer generated media, or is it really a new way to write books with staying power?  Many of the early success stories read like accidents.  But there are characteristics of the blook that make it attractive to authors, readers and publishers.  Here are a few for your consideration (and comment):

  • Serial presentation – In a go-go, not enough time for anything world, this can be a way to digest someone’s writing a bit at a time.  It’s also easier for a writer to create a work 300 or so words at a time, especially if you know there is an audience there practically from the start of the enterprise. 
  • No commitment – A blook gives readers a chance to sample the writer’s work, and if it doesn’t hold them, there is little time invested and no commitment of money.  Try before you buy is always attractive.
  • Community – A blook offers the opportunity for audience interaction, both with the author and potentially among the readers.  A sense of community and sharing adds energy to the enterprise of writing.  The author doesn’t feel so alone; the audience feels connected with something significant.  Connection builds loyalty.
  • Viral – Blooks make pieces of the book to be shareable.  The print version can be shared by reference, but its content is difficult to share directly. 
  • Measurable – Blooks are blogs; and blogs are wonderfully measurable.  An author can measure the extent and engagement of their audience and the impact of their content on that audience.  Publishers understand and love that.
  • Structure – Blogs have a structure with many similarities to books (see our earlier post Slurping a Blog into a Book).

ten commandmentsNovelr.com provides some tips on writing a blook vs. the traditional book manuscript.  But has anyone published a formula for blooking success?  Not that I’ve discovered.  But for a little fun – with a dash of truth – check out Susi Weaser’s post The 10 Blooking Commandments on ShinyShiny.  

Interestingly, one reason I have frequently encountered as a rationale for writing a blook is the idea of preserving a blog’s content in a more permanent printed form.  Blog authors can invest a substantial amount of time in their blogging enterprise, so the idea of .  So the desire to save their work is understandable.  After all, technologies come and go, blogs go into quiet senescence as interests change, and permalinks fade into that dark abyss of the blog morgue. 

Even in our digital culture, print it seems is still the medium of choice for credibility and durability.

Espresso Book MachineThe most popular post on this blog is the interview with Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand Books.  This is the company that manufactures and sells the Espresso Book Machine (EBM).  The EBM basically prints and binds books at the point of purchase.  There is clearly much excitement about the possibilities the Espresso Book Machine offers.  Production at the point of purchase means the potential elimination of inventory, at least for books that sell a modest number of copies. 

I decided to have some fun and see what the financial impact of an all EBM sales and distribution strategy would look like with regard to a title profit and loss statement.  I started with a pro forma title P&L produced by Peter Stahl.  Then I factored in the impacts on the statement of print at the point of purchase:

 title P&L statement

Smaller discount from suggested retail price.  Why?  Because the wholesale and / or distributor are elmiinated from the equation.  I figured 35% because reailers would have some additional manufacturing cost.

No returns.  This might be a little brash.  I figure if a customer actually has a book printed where they shop – even it is a bookstore – they are not going to return the book.  Other types of retail outlets don’t generally let customers return books anyway.

Higher unit cost.  The EBM advertises that it costs about a penny per page in production costs.  Using that, I get a higher unit cost than that used by Stahl in his sample statement.

Higher author royalty.  Since the net revenues are higher (with lower discounts and no returns), authors get a bigger dollar payout for their work. 

The result?  Gross profit margins that are about 8 percedntage points higher and net profits that are about 350 percent higher!  This goes to show that the world of production at the point of purchase can significantly change the publishing world from one of marginal profits to significant earnings.   Without the dual tyrannies of inventory and returns, the publishing industry could actually be fun again. 

Of course, the onus is still on finding titles that have an audience to begin with.   But improved analytics should help with that end of the equation. 

library catalog cardIn a long tail world of online bookselling, tagging represents the new classification system.   Library and bookstore classifications systems have struggled to keep up with the changes in society, technology and consumer tastes.  This has become more apparent as individuals increasingly search and buy books online.  Tagging is still relatively new, but is becoming hugely popular as evidenced by the growth of sites like Flickr and del.icio.us.  The Pew Internet project published a report earlier this year that focused on how tagging is used by the general internet popolation.   Quoting from the study summary:

Just as the internet allows users to create and share their own media, it is also enabling them to organize digital material their own way, rather than relying on pre-existing formats of classifying information. A December 2006 survey has found that 28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts. On a typical day online, 7% of internet users say they tag or categorize online content.

david weinbergerThe demographics of taggers are spread surprisingly even across gender, income, age and ethnicity categories.  The study contains an interview with David Weinberger who recently published a book on user generated classfiication systems for web content entitled Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital DisorderWeinberger posits that tags have become so popular because they are easy, useful and menaingul.  As individuals, we can use them to classify and organize all things digital – information, photos, emails.  When we tag on public sites, we self identify through our tagging choices.  This allows groups to form around shared tags. 

Tagging is one of the mechanisms that “thickens” the long tail of books offered for sale online.  Search popular tags on Amazon and you are likely to disocver new titles associated with those tags that you wouldn’t have considered with a more traditional classification.   This encourages the sale of more books toward the end of the tail.  Software programs that analyze tags are getting more sophisticated and we can expect better search results and book recommendations. 

Brick and mortar bookstores need to find a way to tap into consumer generated tags.  Like the Dewey decimal system, bookstore categories represent a sure way to misclassify titles and leave them undiscovered on the shelf.  Publishers should also explore tags as a way find and entice new readers.   Sometimes the metadata surrounding a book can be as important to selling it as the content between the covers.

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