February 2008

espresso book machineAt Future Perfect Publishing, I have often written about On Demand Book’s Espresso Book Machine(EBM) and the potential benefits of “print at the point of purchase.”  The EBM allows books to be downloaded and printed on demand, essentially at the time of purchase.   Now, according to BTW, Vermont’s Northshire Books is preparing to launch an in-store print-on-demand program. They are the first commercial bookstore in the world, to have one of the Espresso Book Machines on premises. 

General manager Chris Morrow told BTW that Northsire wants to:

. . . provide more choice for our customers.  We are bringing back into print local histories, and we will be publishing local authors. We will also have access to all public domain titles.

The store will publish titles under their Northshire Press imprint, and will also offer self-publishing services to customers under the Shires Press label.  Morrow indicated that most of the titles will be locally orientated, but sees the potential for significant expansion in the years ahead. 

An article in the Manchester Journalindicated that the store would charge between $.05 to $.08 per page.  The system is the first to be placed in a bookstore.  The other four installations have been at libraries and museums, most recently the New York Public Library.  While the system is not for commercial sale at this point in time, Morrow used his personal connections with On Demand Books to arrange to be a beta site.  Currently, only books that are out of copyright protection are available to be printed.  The founders of On Demand Books are working out arrangements with publishers to get greater access to copyrighted material as well.  The EBM has the potential to allow retailers to make less popular books readily available to customers without having to carry inventory.  From the publishers side, it could mean that stores could carry titles without the publisher having to pay for fulfillment, shipping and returns.  In both respects, it could take the “long tail” revolution to the next level.

chris and barbara morrowNorthshire Bookstorewas founded by Chris and Barbara Morrow in 1976.  The store opened its doors in Manchester Center, Vermont in  September, 1976 and has gone through two major expansions as well as the addition of a small restaurant called the Spiral Press Café.  On the store’s website, Barbara Morrow writes:

We will keep growing in the sense that we are always open to new ideas and interesting ventures. We live in a fast changing world, where one of the main constants is change itself. With your help, we hope to be able to respond.

By becoming the first commercial bookstore to use the Espresso Book Machine, they are continuing that pioneering spirit. 

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citizen reviewerDon’t underestimate the power of customer reviews to influence buyer behavior and impact product sales.  New studies are confirming this message to online vendors, including book publishers.  As reported on e-Marketer, recent studies conducted by PowerReviews, the e-tailing group and Avenue A / Razorfish found that most online buyers seek out one or more user reviews before making a purchase.

Here are some of the interesting findings:

  • Over 43% of respondents said that they read product reviews prior to making a purchase
  • Over 46% said they read 4-7 reviews  <show graph> 
  • The use of user reviews trounced both comparison charts and expert reviews 55% to 22% and 21 %, respectively. 

In the world of consumer e-commerce, consumer generated media, in the form of reviews, clearly are more influential than expert opinion. 

Dave Chaffey, an Internet marketing specialist, underscored the power of reviews on page views, sales conversion rates, total sales value and for online customers.  (His site also provides some useful tips on how to best utilize customer ratings and reviews.)  Another good source of advice on how to use the reviews your product gets can be found in a post by Bryan Eisenberg, How to Use Customer Reviews to Increase Conversion.

In fact, BazaarVoice, quoting a study from comScore / Kelsey in October, 2007, indicated that Consumers were willing to pay between 20 to 99% more for a 5-star rated product than for a 4-star rated product, depending on the product category.  This can translate into greater customer satisfaction.  According to another, Foresee Results, reviews drive 21% higher purchase satisfaction and 18% higher loyalty.

Lisa EdeOf course there are now citizen book reviewers who make a career (unpaid) out of reviewing books.  In some respects, they are becoming the new expert reviewers, gatekeepers to consumer wallets.  Awhile back, Lisa Ede shared here thoghts about the motivations and techniques of these new inflencers in an interesting interview with Paul Bausch.  A more detailed examination of the citizen reviewer is available on her blog, The Writing Way.

confused customerUltimately, a customer’s purchase decision is based on trust.  The long tail of e-commerce has put more choices in front of customers.  As advertising, expert reviews and even the testimonials of experts printed on book covers, have become ubiquitous, tiresome and suspect, the advice and guidance of anonymous peers has assumed a greater standing in the buyer’s trust hierarchy. 

Caveat vendor!

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book vid lit iconSheila Clover-EnglishBook Vid Lit

by Sheila Clover-English

Sheila Clover English, the CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, has been a pioneer
in book video production, marketing and distribution for authors and publishers.

There is a lot going on with digital video these days.  For example, new technology that embeds live links throughout a video, YouTube distribution tricks and successful new distribution sites that can give your video increased exposure.Live links embedded in a video is relatively new – at least in the way our company, Circle of Seven Productions, is using them.  The links can be embedded wherever the retailer, author or publisher wants them and provide access to additional information.  You can view a samplethat uses three links within the video.  Just follow the instructions at this site.  The added dimension this provides the viewing experience almost guarantees that embedded links will be the wave of the future.  (This video will be featured on the Borders Media site in a couple of weeks.)YouTube logoCOS has started doing industry news once a week on YouTube.  Our intention was to keep the news program available for 48 hours and then take it down to encourage viewers to subscribe to our YouTube book trailers feature  (http://www.youtube.com/booktrailers).  However, we had so many people ask us to leave it in place, we felt compelled to honor their request.  Our first video blog or vlog, focuses on using live links within YouTube videos. You can see a pattern emerging here and there’s a reason for that. People want more engagement. They want more from their online experience. Live links give them more to do and see. Historically, YouTube did not allow live links. Most social media sites don’t either.  But, we discovered a couple of weeks ago that YouTube had changed their policy and was allowing the links. (Whether this is an oversight or an evolution is yet to be seen.)  Regardless, if you upload video to YouTube you can include the “http://” at the beginning of your URL in the description area of the upload and it will become a live link when you save. This is great because you can now direct viewers to your website and to a place where they can buy your book. Perfect for the impulse buyer!Revver.com logoI had planned on talking about utilizing RSS feeds to extend your distribution, but I had been using the Revver.com RSS feeds. They are very easy to work with. But, a few days ago I heard that Revver went up for sales and it’s looking grim. It’s a great site, just not assertive enough with ad shares and incomes. So, I’m now shopping around for another site with easy to use RSS feeds. I can recommend a new site though.  It’s FastClips.com

cell phone videoFastClips.com is in its infancy, actually still in early beta stage, but if the site can generate enough revenue to stay afloat this year, I expect it will be a huge success.  They have something rather unique. Their videos will be viewable through all portable devices. Their mobile video is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Being a beta tester for the site, I was able to check out the mobile feature on my Smart Phone. The thing that sets them apart from other mobile video offerings, is their ability to offer different sizes and formats to the end user before the video plays.  Many sites can send to mobile for a particular type of phone.  FastClips is set up so that any video-enabled phone can use play their videos.  I also found that the video was pretty clear despite its small size.

wall of TV screensUtilization of book video continues to grow as the technology advances.  Mobile phones, RSS feeds, and new distribution opportunities abound.  If such features continue to emerge at this rate, it will become harder for publishers and retailers to justify other types of advertising.  For just $75 we can upload a book video to over 1,000 online sites.  It is easy to see the potential of numbers like that.  Consider this example. If the top 10 upload sites show your video 1,000 times each and the other 990 sites only show it only 50 times each, that’s still 49,500 exposures. And bear in mind these are very low estimates.  Even better, online viewers are individuals who have chosen to watch your video.  This makes them more likely to become a customer. 

By contrast, you could pay $5,000 for a television ad that reaches roughly one million people.  But how many of those people will be watching the moment your ad is played? And of those who do, how many will actually pay attention to your message?  Of the individuals who do pay attention, how many will be able to recall the name of the book by the end of scheduled program they were watching?  And finally, of those how many will think to buy the book the next time they’re out shopping at a bookstore? There’s a strength in online views that television views can’t match.  Online videos can be watched again and again at the viewers option.  They can be bookmarked for easy reference and to share with others.  Motivated viewers can link directly to an online store and purchase the book immediately. 

All this can be summarized by something I discussed in an earlier post:  television views deliver quantity views; online delivers quality views.  Each medium has its time and a place. The secret is knowing which is best for your book when it matters.

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Louis MayerMovie producers have developed many different channels to help offset the high cost of films.  These include theatre distribution, TV, DVD sales and rentals, and movie merchandise tie-ins (e.g. see Movie Money).  Book publishers don’t generally have seven or eight figure production costs to contend with, but they have a highly fragmented audience.  They must consider which channels are most appropriate to reach their target audience.  Managing channel risk is one key to success.  For example, retail bookstore channels offer wide exposure for a title, but sales are contingent.  Returns of up to 30% are the norm and can swamp the profitability of smaller publishers. 

In addition to the traditional retail and online bookstores, new channels are now opening up to publishers.   These include:

  • Retail bookstores
  • Online booksellers
  • Libraries
  • Educational channels
  • Catalog sales
  • Non-bookstore retail 
  • Non-traditional channels – e.g. gift and corporate channels
  • Book rentals
  • Serialized delivery to e-mail or mobile devices
  • Direct sales

But how should a publisher judge which channels will be most effective for the finite marketing resouces he or she has to invest?  The book channel mix should be weighted according to risk and then ranked according to reward.  In this sense, it is like constructing an investment portffolio.  Here is one suggested technique. 

For the risk factors consider:

  • Access and service costs– This factor is based on the selling and marketing costs required to establish and maintain a presence in a given channel.  Part of the cost is related to the length of the sales cycle.  For example, corporate sales often have a lengthy sales cycle with multiple decision makers invovled.
  • Contingency – This factor concerns the degree of risk associated with returns.  Retailers typically can return unsold merchandise to the publisher at the publisher’s expense.  Often the returned books are not in salable condition.
  • Commitment– This factor takes into account such things as the level of inventory reqired to service the channel and the degree to which the inventory is covered by prepayment.

The rewards for selecting a certain channel are determined by its effectiveness – the ability to reach and sell to customers who are the target audience for the title, as well as the profitablity of each sale.  A channel may provide broad exposure but to the wrong set of customers. 

  • Audience coverage – This measures the number of customers appropriate for your offerings that are served by the channel.
  • Conversion – How well similar offerings sell in this channel.
  • Per sale profitability – This is the amount you, the publisher, receives from a sale through this channel.
  • Payment – This indicates how quickly the publisher gets paid by the channel.  Time is money, and cash flow dynamics are critically important to publishers.

calculatorRank each of these factors on a scale of 1 to 3 for your title where 3 is the most favorable and 1 the least favorable.  Divide each risk score by the sum of all the maximum risk scores.  Divide each reward score by the sum of all the maximum reward scores.  This normalizes the risk and reward values.  Compare the resulting risk and reward values to see how well they balance out.  A score heavy tilted toward more risk is means the channel is probably not a good bet for the publisher. 

Creating a portfolio with channels that show high reward to risk will be more likely to yield good results.  

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Jimmy WalesWikipedia has popularized the notion of a major reference being created by the crowd – unpaid individuals contributing their knowledge to be viewed and edited by others in a more or less continuous evolutionary process.  According to (what else!) the Wikipedia:

Wikipediais an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. It was formally launched on 15 January 2001. Initially it was created as a complement and ‘feeder’ to the expert-written English-language encyclopedia project ‘Nupedia‘, in order to provide an additional source of draft articles and ideas. It quickly overtook Nupedia, growing to become a large global project, and originating a wide range of additional reference projects. As of 2008, Wikipedia includes several million freely-usable articles and pages in hundreds of languages worldwide, and content from millions of contributors. It is one of the world’s most popular web sites and is an extensively used reference source worldwide.

This publishing process is known as “crowdsourcing,” a term coined by James Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds.  Crowdsourcing has been used to create textbooks and to solve problems in science and business.

Richard Chenevix TrenchHowever, the Oxford English Dictionary may represent the first instance of unpaid volunteers contributing to the creation of a master reference work that, for its time, challenged the capacity of an individual or even a dedicated team of experts to create.  The process of assembling and editing the content for what is now the world’s foremost English dictionary was described by Simon Winchester in his book The Professor and the Madman.  The idea of using non-experts to help gather the raw content for the proposed dictionary was suggested in 1857 by Richard Chenevix Trench, dean of Westminster and archbishop of Dublin, in a speech he gave at the London Library entitled “On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionaries.”

He proposed a new, comprehensive dictionary for the English language that would provide essentially a biography of each word; it’s current and historical definitions, nuances and usage.   The project was gigantic in its scope and scale.  The idea of such a dictionary wasn’t new, but the method Trench suggested for gathering the lexicographical content for each word was unusual and exciting.  Here is Winchester’s description:

. . . here Trench presented an idea, an idea that – to those ranks of conservative and frock-coated men who sat silently in the library on that dark and foggy evening – was potentially dangerous and revolutionary.  But it was the idea that made the whole enterprise possible.

The undertaking of the scheme, he said, was beyond the ability of any one man  To peruse all of English literature – and to comb the London and New York newspapers and the most literate of the magazines and journals – must be instead “the combined action of many.”  It would be necessary to recruit a team – moreover, a huge one – probably hundreds and hundreds of unpaid amateurs, all of them working as volunteers.

The project commenced about a year after Trench’s speech.  The dictionary would draw from three periods of English literature:  1250-1526, 1527-1674 and 1675 to the present day.  A circular was issued asking for volunteers and each volunteer would specify what period they would read from.  They would create word lists as they read and also search for words of particular interst to the dictionary editorial team; then they would provide the context for the occurrence of these words.  Volunteers would record their findings on slips of paper.  Each slip would contain the target word, the date, the title of the book or paper in which it was found, the volume and page number, and finally the full sentence in which it occurred.   Volunteers would then submit these to the dictionary’s staff, which sorted them using alphabetically organized oakboard pigeonholes (54 in all).  The senior editor would then sort through these slips to find those of the greatest interest and necessity for the compilation of the dictionary. 

James MurrayThe project moved forward with fits and starts.  It’s original editor, Frederick Furnivall, eventually handed off the task of managing the compilation to James Murray, who was better able to motivate the volunteers and obtain sponsorship from Oxford University’s press.  The first complete version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was published in 1928.  The compilation, editing and publishing of the dictionary took over 70. 

Oxford English DictionaryThe scope of the achievement is best characterized by the number of words it defines (over 500,000), the detail of its entries and the sheer physical heft of its printed volumes.  The OED team were the early pioneers of crowdsourcing.  Their version of the “wiki” was done without the Internet and computer technology.  It was also less democratic – while it used volunteers, the fate of the material they submitted was subject  to the scrutiny and control of the dictionary’s editorial staff.  In this sense, they were a not fully evolved “proto-wiki.”  But the project demonstrated the wisdom of crowds and provided an important historical precedent for using amateurs to create important, large reference works. 

Wikipedia, with over 2.2 million articles and  961 million words, has vastly exceeded the Oxford English Dictionary in its scale and the speed of its growth.  However, Jimmy Wales, the charismatic founder of Wikipedia, would no doubt offer a tip of the cap to the tireless, passionate staff and volunteers of the original OED who for their accomplishment in creating an enduring and monumental reference work. 

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rouletteBlog to book stories are becoming more commonplace.  We have chronicled a number of such examples, and you can find a virtual library of blog to book stories on Blooking Central.  Some of these were serendipitous, but more and more writers, especially new authors, are being more intentional about converting their blogs into a printed title.   There is more than one way to execute a blog to book strategy.  Here is my attempt at a blook typology:

  • indie blook – This is the type of blook where an author independently publishes and markets a title based on their blog.  Low cost self publishing and inexpensive Internet marketing techniques are making this an attractive option for new authors who are not shy about self promotion.
  • traditional blook – This is the form of blook that you read about in the newspapers.  A publisher discovers a high traffic blog and offers the blog owner a book deal.  Tjhe rationale is that the blog has an established audience and a topic in line with the publisher’s market focus.
  • podiobook – This is more of an audio blook.  Here the author serialize his or her book into podcasts and uses a blog for audience feedback and book marketing.  It is especially effective for fiction writers.  Two of the best know podiobook authors are Scott Sigler and JC Hutchins. 
  • crowdsourced blook – This is a rare blook, but every author’s dream come true.  Here, the blog is so popular that a community emerges and contributes content which eventually winds up being part of the publishing or marketing strategy for a title.  In other words – build a community that helps you generates content and then publish it.  The best known example is Frank Warren’s Post Secret.
  • reverse blook – In this scenario, an author blogs the content from an existing book to build an audience for the current or a new edition.  This may be a good way to revitalize a book whose sales are fading.

attack of the BLOGWe believe that these – and other – blog to book strategies will replace the traditional (and mostly ineffective) approach to getting a book published which involves submitting a manuscript to agents or publishers in hopes of getting it read and eventually published.  Publishing is a risky business.  Of the many risks, the first and biggest is signing an unkown author who may or may not be able to attract an audience for their title.  An author who has a blog with an established audience is an attractive proposition.  Publishers can assess the quality and appeal of the writing.  The popularity of blog posts can be measured and ranked.  We can see how the audience reacts to the content long before it is edited into book form.   In the case of a popular blog, the audience can be larger than the circulation of many magazines or newspapers 

Blooks are not just a publishing sideshow – interesting examples of pluck and luck.  They represent the future of publishing in a world of consumer generated media.

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