November 2008

plastic-logic-e-reader-side-viewNew technology from Plastic Logic could threaten the Kindle’s brief reign as king of the e-reader hill.  Plastic Logic officially entered the e-reader wars when it unveiled its digital reader at the DEMO technology convention in September.  Its reader is based on plastic electronics and designed to display various types of media such as newspapers, e-books and magazines using E Ink electronic-display technology seen in similar devices.  According to Wired, the Plastic Logic’s device is sized like Letter-sized paper (8.5 by 11 inches), measures less than 0.3 of an inch thick and weighs less than a pound (about the size and weight of a pad of paper). The actual display area measures 10.7 diagonal inches.

By way of comparing it to the Amazon Kindle, Gizmodo characterized Plastic Logic’s reader thus:

Here is what the clunky Amazon Kindle should have been since the beginning . . .

Here are a quick overview of the Plastic Logic reader’s capabilities:

Download capability – The company says the device, when launched, will support both wired and wireless download of content.

Readability – High quality, but no backlight which means you need another light source if you’re reading in a location where light is dim.

Battery life – Generally about a week.  In part the longer life is due to the lack of a backlight.

Durability – Plastic Logic claims it is tough enough to withstand being hit with a shoe.  (Gizmodo checked this out and found it was indeed true.)

Interface – Gesture based page navigation, with the ability to type on a screen based keyboard and create markups using your finger or a stylus.

Formats – The Plastic Logic reader supports a full range of business document formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and Adobe PDFs, as well as newspapers, periodicals and books. 

Here a couple ofvideo that demonstrate how the reader works. 


plastic-logic-e-newspaperThough the Plastic Logic reader will certainly change the e-book reader balance of power over time, it is probably more likely to impact the newspaper business first.  US newspaper are in a life and death struggle.  A large body of readers already gets their news online and would probably prefer to do so from a trusted source.  An inexpensive, widely adopted, mobile and convenient e-reader would allow newspapers to ditch printing and physical distribution and be profitable with a smaller advertising base.  It would also allow them to partner with online advertising networks in a more meaningful way. 

As far as e-books go, Plastic Logic can do both publishers and readers a great service by avoiding the use of proprietary formats.  While the Kindle has been successfulespecially relative to other e-book readers – e.g. the Sony Reader – it’s closed architecture will ultimately keep it from being a dominant force in book publishing.  And with open format competitors like Plastic Logic sporting a compelling new design and robust feature set, the Kindle could soon join the ranks of other e-book museum pieces.  And of course you can’t rule out e-books on the iPhone using reader software like Stanza.  Gizmodo had an apt suggestion for Jeff Bezos:

[He] should buy these guys and smash his frankenbookreader.

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Janey Bennett1

Janey Bennett

Here’s a scary story for you.  Imagine laboring on your novel for seven long years.  Finally – it’s complete.  You deliver your finished work to your publisher, who, at that decisive moment, closes his business.  As far as the marketing of your book goes, you are on your own.  And you don’t know the first thing about book marketing or promotion.  What would you do?  That’s what happened to author Janey Bennett.  Since that time, she has become a marketing dynamo, selling thousands of copies of her book, The Pale Surface of Things, and garnering seven book awards. 

the-pale-surface-of-thingsJaney Bennett has enjoyed colorful and varied careers, from radio announcer to horse trainer and drama critic. She spent five winters teaching English to Buddhist nuns in Thailand. Her writings on architecture have been published in the United States and Finland, where she held a Fulbright research fellowship.  She has been writing fiction for eight years.  We spoke with her recently about her book and what she had learned about book marketing.  These days, publishers expect more of their authors when it comes to marketing and promoting their titles.  Janey Bennett’s story should give every author hope and the confidence to successfully promote their work.

FPP – Can you give us a brief overview of the story told in The Pale Surface of Things?

Western Crete

Western Crete

JB – It is a fast-moving novel in a Cretan village-kidnaps and killings, prayers and healing, ethics and ritual: When a young American archaeologist flees his impending marriage and secure future, he lands in the traditional world of a Cretan village, where he must confront feelings he’s always avoided: rage, fear, envy, and shame, as he becomes the central pawn in a vicious family vendetta. Years prior, in World War II, the village suffered horribly at the hands of the Nazis; now, its priest labors to heal the lingering wounds from that time.  It’s a story about love, loyalty, power and death pass set in western Crete.  I’ve been told that in many ways, it is a book that reads like a movie.

FPP – What motivated you to write The Pale Surface of Things?

JB – Most novelists, I think, write to figure out some puzzle about human behavior. In my case, it was the contrast between the joyous enthusiasm of my students in Thailand, young Buddhist nuns who had left their villages and ordained as nuns to learn skills to support themselves, and (the reason I was there) to learn to speak English and to read – contrasted with the dour self-pitying complaints from the well-heeled backpackers from the West who stayed at the guesthouse where I lived. I wondered if a life of material success doomed us to chronic complaint and dissatisfaction (my students were happy and they had nothing!) or if there was something else. It occurred to me that what freed the young nuns to be happy was that they belonged to a culture that defined who they were and what their lives would contain. Wherever they went, they carried their village and family traditions with them. They didn’t have to invent themselves. So the idea rose: what lessons would it take to bring a young, comfortable but insensitive American to a place of integration and social connection if he were thrown into a traditional village life.

venetian-chania1FPP – Why did you set the story on Crete?

JB – I was enchanted but puzzled by the traditional life I saw in Thailand. Crete is specific in its traditions, and although I spent years researching those traditions, I knew they could be seen. If I were to create an image of the two locales: Thailand is filled with leafy deep shadows, and Crete has hot sunlight on hard rock. Emotionally as well as physically.

FPP – Who/what has had the greatest influence on your writing?

Paul Scott

Paul Scott

Daniel Mason

Daniel Mason

JB – I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. I have read all my life and I learned to think because of the books I read. Since for me, writing is puzzle-solving, I think I was influenced by plays, movies, and all kinds of stories that taught some glimmer of information about how life works among us humans. Also, I was influenced by living abroad, in another culture, seeing how other places support different lives than ours. 

I loved the writings of Paul Scott, especially The Raj Quartet, and The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, because both writers allowed their locations to direct their stories, as locations DO direct our lives. Many other writers have delighted me, as well, of course.

FPP – Marketing and writing seem like such vastly different endeavors. How did you orient yourself to the marketing role after being so immersed in writing the book?

JB – Simple. I gave up writing for the first year of promoting the book. I became the book’s guardian and that was my full-time job. Now I’m back writing on the next novel, and it’s much harder because every time I stop to do something for Pale Surface, it shatters my story-generating concentration. I may need to postpone the writing a bit longer. They are two different jobs altogether.

FPP – How did you go about organizing the marketing for your book?

JB – I had no plan when this started. My publisher went back to graduate school and I took over the task of marketing and I simply did everything I could think of to do. I respected the book. I respected the markets. I showed up wherever I saw the possibility of introducing the book to new readers.

FPP – Which of the various marketing efforts has been the most effective? The least effective?

JB– It’s hard to make a direct correlation between a marketing effort and a result, because they all feed the buzz about the book. My advice is make every effort you can. You never know what’s going to link up to something big. I’m not sure I would take a booth at all the bookseller tradeshows again. I’d be there, standing near a group display, but the booths were a lot of money for attention that might have come anyway with a lesser expense. But I’d go to those shows, for sure. Nothing is wasted. No effort is a total dud. Do it all.

FPP – What marketing techniques would you like to try, but haven’t yet?

JB – I don’t know. I’ve tried every one I could think of, and I’m sure I will think of more as the months roll by.

FPP – What is personally the most difficult aspect of marketing your book?

JB– Redesigning graphics for posters, postcards, ads, etc., on short notice. I’ve done much of the graphic design – I have training in it – but I don’t do it daily and I am slow at it. I know what I want but I forget how to ask InDesign or Photoshop to give it to me. I don’t like accounting much, either. I didn’t like cleaning my room as a kid, either. Lemme do the fun stuff!! Meet the people!! Talk about the book!! Share ideas!!

FPP – What would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

JB – I would have hired my book marketer sooner. I didn’t know that such people existed until I met her. She has saved me hours of effort by knowing how to do some of these things.

FPP – You have said your book reads like a movie. If it were made into a movie, who would you like to see play the roles of the leading characters?

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks

JB– I’m so glad you asked!! I would like Tom Hanks to play Fr. Dimitrios, the village Greek Orthodox priest, who is the mentor for the young American and who has to uncover dark secrets in his own family’s past. I would like Keanu Reeves to be the young American, because he has the range to move the character from numb through shaken to compassionate. And I would like George Clooney for Spiros, the Cretan bully. I know that’s casting against type, but he’d be so good at it, and I think he might like to do it for a change. That’s enough dream-casting for now.

FPP – What is your next writing project?

JB– I’m two-thirds through writing a tale of domestic crisis set in central California,–in Big Sur and the Carmel Valley, where I used to live. And I’m starting research for a sequel to Pale Surface of Things, which will involve saving the village after the young men all move to the city for work. I don’t know how they WILL save it, but that’s the joy of writing: learning what might be.

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blank-online-video-screenAuthors have one more tool they can use to build community around their work – the video blog.  A video blog (also called a vlog) is essentially a blog that uses video vs. text as its primary way to communicate.  According to Wikipedia, video blogs have been around in one form or another since 2003.  Today there are thousands of video blogs.  For authors, video blogs offer yet more way to connect with their audience. 

Many authors are already using book trailers as a visual medium to communicate the message of their book and perhaps offer a little bit of their own background.  However, book trailers are limited in the goals they are trying to serve.  Book trailers are aimed at getting potential readers interested in a title.  They are typically 1.5 – 3 minutes in length.  This makes them an effective promotional tool, but not a good way for readers to get an in depth understanding of the author.

videoheadA video blog on the other hand is something that is ongoing.  It provides a recurring engagement with the audience.  While it makes sense to keep any given video blog short (probably 3 – 5 minutes tops), the author can address a variety of topics across multiple video blog posts.  The visual presence of the author provides a stronger impact and a keener sense of his / her personality and temperament. 

Some publishers are already encouraging their authors to experiment with video blogs.  Koldcast is an online video channel that publishes book trailers and video blogs from Doubleday’s authors.  AuthorCams offers another use of author video.  It showcases a variety of author video book tours readings through three author news networks—PubBuzz (fiction and non-fiction), CooksRead (cookbooks) and KidsRead (children and young adult books). 

video-camSetting up a video blog is straightforward and inexpensive or free tools abound to help authors wanting to explore this new avenue of outreach.  For a good list of video blogging resources and tips, check out Christina Laun’s post

Happy vlogging!

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author-loftWhy do authors write?  They want a wide exposure for their ideas and stories.  Publishers have generally focused on playing the role of Darwinian gatekeeper for those ideas; determining which will live and die accoring to often opaque criteria.  This has been driven in part by the investment required to successfully produce and market a printed book in a few crowded and competitive channels. 

In an interview on The 25th StorySeth Godin chided publishers for misunderstanding their true role in the book industry.  He noted:

Publishing is far too focused on the pub day. The event of the publication. This is a tiny drip, perhaps the least important moment in a long timeline. As soon as publishers see themselves as marketers and agents and managers and developers of content, things change.

If they would help authors find that wider exposure for their ideas, and not be locked into the concept of printed books and sales in bookstores, they could leverage that intense desire and potentially be more profitable than they ever dreamed, he insists.  What would such a publishing model look like?  Here are some thoughts.

Author “lofts” – In a idea driven book industry, publishers provide online spaces where authors are encouraged to develop their content and build an audience around it.  As I have discussed before this could include, but not be limited to, blogging, building socials networs around content and carefully tracking the size, engagement and needs of that audience.  These lofts are essentially incubators for authors and could be dsigned to be self funding.  Not every author becomes published in the traditional sense, but they have a real opportunity to move their ideas forward.

Pyramids of values – Not every idea will (or should) become a printed book.  The ideas may be most effectively expressed in a blog, or best distributed in some digital form – e.g. widgets or e-books.  Or shared out on social networks.  Books are being delivered in chunks – via e-mail, on CD (ala the NetFlix model) or to iPhones.  Any of these idea distribution modalities can serve to create an audience. 

free-samples-of-foodFree (and sumptuous) samples – Just like fine cuisine, ideas should be sampled to be fully appreciated.  In the past, this has been limited to reviews, carefully controlled excerpts and author appearances.  However, the degree of sampling necessary to become a loyal member of the audience varies by individual.  This calls for broader and more flexible sampling tools – e.g. Google Book Search.  Google has settled the lawsuit with the AAP and the Authors Guild, opening the door to wider access to the content of books.  Despite the fears of the publishing industry, this will increase book sales, but it may reallocate the revenues.

new-star-formingAll of this is leading to a new concept of book.  It begins as a “digital haze” where consumers can sample content and publishers can see whether the idea should be promoted to a higher place on the value pyramid.  Some ideas will find their audience and may eventually form a (solid) core: a printed volume which represents to the consumer, author and publisher the highest expression of value.  Not every idea makes it all the way up this pyramid, but not every idea has to. 

As Godin points out, there are many ways to monetize ideas.  The key is to build an audience for those ideas by being creative in the way you develop, promote and manage them.

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barack-obama-electionBy any measure, the presidential election this past week resulting in a decisive win for Barack Obama, was a stunning news story:

  • The first African American president
  • A redrawing of the longstanding electoral map.
  • A firm mandate for change and a repudiation of the existing order.

selling-newspaper-on-streetThe following day, newspapers sold like hotcakes, a temporary respite from the agonizing death spiral that many newspapers in the US find themselves confronting every day.  Newspapers could hardly keep the newsstands supplied with enough copies.  According to an article in the Los Angeles Times,

The Chicago Tribune sold framed front pages for as much as $99. A single copy of the New York Times is said to have sold on EBay for $249.99, and another copy of that paper drew more than 20 bids before the auction closed — for $400.

The numbers were impressive.  Here are some examples reported by The Guardian:

  • NY Times sold 225,000 copies obove the normal run of about 430,000
  • Washington Post sold an additional 30,000 copies above its normal newsstand sales of 100,000
  • Both papers sold hundreds of thousands of commemorative copies of their post election papers
  • Chicago Tribune reported selling an additional 200,000+ newspapers

Papers in Denver, San Francisco, Orlando and many other markets also reported selling out their print runs  Newspapers have seem similar short term spikes in their sales following major events – e.g. immediately following 9/11.  Overall, the run up to the election didn’t help newspapers; circulation in October didn’t rise despite the presidential race and the global economic tumult.  Inevitably, they will no doubt return to their dismal long term trend – shrinking circulation, shrinking advertising revenues, rising costs. 

This phenomenon may indicate at least a couple of things:

  • People still see (at least some) newspapers as providing a more in depth analysis of important events compared to either the highly compressed news bytes of the television networks, or the mostly opinion laden prattle of cable networks and the blogosphere.
  • Newspapers – as mementos of history – provide a materiality that has become more important in our digital and ephemeral age.

hug-bookWhile the book publishers aren’t facing quite the gloomy economic prospects of their newspaper cousins, printed titles retain value as cherished reading artifacts that goes beyond their simple utility for delivering entertainment or information.  The printed book fills the human desire for things substantive and tactile, and frees our imagination and intellect to explore something in depth, sans commercial interruptions.

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Today, authors and publishers have a number of powerful online book marketing tools at their disposal.  One example is the book trailer or book video.  In just a few years, this has become an important adjunct to the book PR campaign to build excitement and buzz about a new title.  Another tool that may be a little less familiar is the book widget.

Widgets are small snippets of code that make it easy for anyone to add functionality to a website.  As we move into the era of the “cut and paste” web, authors have more options than ever to construct snazzy book widgets.  Widgets have the advantage of small size and can become viral quickly.  Book widgets can also provide a quick way to create a super low cost, surrogate book trailer.

The pictures below shows an example of a book widget, for a book called La Vida Vampire by Nancy Haddock, created using a tool called Sproutla-vida-vampire-book-widget









The top picture shows how the widget looks on your website.  It contains buttons that provide interactive access to:

  • Story line
  • Setting
  • Author information
  • Quotes
  • Purchase link
  • Sample chapter

The widget also prominently features the book cover and shows some rotating testimonials.  All in all, a pretty powerful widget for conveying to a potential purchaser what they are likely to encounter in the book.  It is the “widget-ary” equivalent of quickly browsing a book at the bookstore.  The bottom picture shows the code snippet you need to embed to drop this onto a website or blog.

sprout_logoThe process is pretty straightforward. 

  1. You select a template (or you can build your own widget
    from scratch).
  2. Add and lay out content – graphics, text, audio, video, etc.
  3. Accessorize with drag and drop object – think of these as “mini-widgets.”
  4. Then publish to websites or blogs, or use the company’s partners as a way to get your widget into distribution.
  5. Track downloads and copies.

The simplest book widgets probably only need a book cover graphic, author picture and some excerpts from the book, as well as an Amazon or other purchase link.  A nice touch would be a short author reading.  All of this is easily accessible to most authors.  When you change the content of your widget, it automatically updates every copy.  So if you want to use your widget as a way to deliver sample content from the book, you can periodically provide new excerpts to build interest. 

Book widgets are like book videos in that they are viral.  However, the interactivity of book widgets lets the user to explore the book to a degree that the book video cannot.  These two web marketing cousins will no doubt both claim an important role in the book marketer’s promotional strategy.

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