Chris Webb's Publishing Blog A Wiley book publisher's thoughts on technology and social media effects on publishing Thu, 12 Mar 2009 16:19:40 +0000 en 39.907838-86.014057chriswebb Social Media Tools For Publishing Professionals Thu, 12 Mar 2009 15:07:49 +0000 Chris Today I had the opportunity to give a crash course in social media to a group of publishing colleagues at Wiley’s European headquarters. The talk was only an hour, so we covered a lot of ground quickly with hopes that everyone could pick up at least one tool they could put to use right away. If social media is like drinking from a firehose, we all got a little wet today.

Many if not most of the attendees were involved in some sort of social media activity, either personally or professionally.  Almost everyone was using Facebook to some degree, less using Twitter, and a lone MySpace user.

Like most, the challenge of everyone in the room was in filtering the noise in order to find opportunities where they could provide value. My goal today was to provide a collection of tools that might be used to set up a Social Media Listening Post - a place where all the signal can be collected and where one might find opportunities for conversation.

The group asked a lot of very smart questions, and as a result we bounced around quite a bit from tool to tool, as everyone contributed ways in which they found certain sites or tools useful. I admit I rediscovered a forgotten tool while answering a question, so I came away with something new again as well.

Among the tools we covered were:

What other tools do you use when filtering social media? How did you develop your social media listening post?

Interesting Twitter Strategy from Chelsea Green Publishers Wed, 18 Feb 2009 21:31:20 +0000 Chris I witnessed an interesting use of Twitter today by  Chelsea Green Publishers who promoted their website and books with a very simple contest.

The premise was very straight forward - tweet about a book from their website that you would like to read. The 10th person to tweet a book wins the book tweeted. Free book, free shipping. Easy, right?

There are several things I like about the way Chelsea Green ran this contest including:

  1. You have to follow them on Twitter to be eligible
  2. They have built “Tweet this book” links into each product page that includes a link to the book, as well as hashtags.
  3. They primed the contest with a countdown which was re-tweeted several times to spread the word.

So, how did they do on the first run? Some quick stats:

  • Total contest time was approximately 4 minutes
  • Total contestants was 27
  • Total tweets (entries) was 45

At first glance these look like really small numbers, but consider how many others saw these tweets.  According to my quick study via it appears that these 45 tweets reached 14,216 Twitter users. And each of those 14,000+ users was sent a book title, hashtags, and a direct link to the book’s product page. And, those 14,000+ followers does not include any users who may be consuming searches for the variety of hastags or terms that were part of those tweets.

As a bonus, it appears the Huffington Post re-tweeted at least one funny entry from @daveburdick (over 5000 followers of the 14,000+ total.)

So if you ask me, reaching 14,000 people in the span of less than 5 minutes is pretty good. Of course, we don’t yet know how many of those, if any, clicked through to the publisher’s website, nor how many purchased books.

But, Chelsea only spent some time and the cost of one book plus shipping to try this experiment, which I think is important to do. We need to experiment a little more.  All in all I think it is a very clever use of Twitter to perhaps gain some awareness of the publisher and their books.

What do you think? Productive use of Twitter, or social media folly? What other examples have you seen?

Digital Books: Digital FAIL? Wed, 11 Feb 2009 15:03:55 +0000 Chris This week I had a lively conversation about Amazon’s recent Kindle mobile phone announcement with Wiley Author Reto Meier. I invited Reto to share his thoughts with readers on why he believes digital books have a very long way yet to go.

The future of publishing may be digital, but costly Kindles and eBooks on iPhones aren’t enough to trigger a digital book revolution. It’ll take more than the promise of a portable library to convince readers they’re better off without paper.

The iPod heralded a seismic shift in content distribution. Music downloads now seem as obvious as they were inevitable, so it’s reasonable to expect written content to follow music, movies, and TV down the path towards digital distribution. But to get consumers onboard, eBooks will need to supply a superior reading experience and better value for money than they currently offer.

Increased availability satisfies a demand that doesn’t yet exist

Last week Google released Book Search for mobiles and made over 1.5 million public domain books available on iPhones and Android mobiles. As well as introducing a revamped Kindle 2.0, Amazon has announced that its more contemporary range of Kindle titles will be made available for download to devices other than the Kindle.

Both companies are addressing the issue of title availability, but that’s not the eBook bottleneck. Having more titles is an important step, but it’s not enough to trigger a fundamental shift in people’s reading habits.

It’s easy to blame the slow uptake of digital books on nostalgia for printed paper

There’s a some good reasons digital books haven’t taken off, and the least of them is the ‘I just like paper books’ problem. Don’t get me wrong, like many people, I don’t think that the look, feel, and smell of books will ever be fully replaced. But it’s possible to imagine a future where convenience, cost, and environmental concerns make digital books a mass market alternative to the paperback, in the same way that paperbacks have become a cheaper, more convenient alternative to hard covers.
The true causes of consumer reluctance are more compelling, and more easily addressed, than an enduring love of paper:

  • Readability and the user experience
  • Value and the total cost of ownership
  • Flexibility: to sell, trade, and loan books

eReaders need the readability of a paperback printed on recycled paper, to last 12hrs, and be durable enough to throw in a backpack

Many books will soon be available on mobile phones, letting you read eBooks on hardware you already own, though at a cost to your battery-life and with poor readability. With better batteries, phones may yet become a reasonable platform for reading, but it’s hard to see such a small, eye-straining LCD screen leading to the mass desertion of paper.

Both the Kindle and Sony’s eReader use breakthrough technologies to offer improved readability and extended battery life, as such they seem the more likely catalyst for mass eBook adoption. They’re not cheap though, they cost over $350 and lack the readability, durability, and portability of a paperback. The hefty price tag doesn’t include a contrast ratio that approaches black text on white paper and the low resolution is a problem for the line drawings in text books.

Paper books combine content with the hardware needed to read it in one convenient package

Like CDs, books are a way to distribute content, but unlike music, electronic books introduce a new hardware cost for consuming written content. CDs don’t come with headphone jacks, so the removal of the physical media makes sense for content that’s always needed a separate ‘player’. Fully self-contained, books have never needed extra hardware to be read: no turntable, no CD player, no iPod. Electronic book readers need to be much better value and find ways to justify their upfront costs.

As a reader, what do I gain from electronic distribution?

People like the option of listening to a lot of different music, so an iPod that makes your entire music collection portable is a big win.

Digital books ask readers to sacrifice the advantages of paper for the same reward as iPods, but if you’re not at school or working in publishing how often do you want to carry around more than a couple of books? I’m a big reader, but I don’t often have more than two books on the go.

Until digital books can be traded as easily as their paper cousins, publishers must consider the implicit costs of digital delivery

DRM is a regular source of contention in the tech industry, and there’s plenty of debate over the use and effectiveness of rights management for books. Leaving aside the important arguments over fair use and piracy, it’s worth remembering that the exchange of books has been a powerful force in their marketing. I’ve borrowed, loaned, and traded a lot more books than I’ve bought new, but it’s the books I’ve borrowed that have fuelled my appetite for buying new fiction and trying new authors. It’s important to consider the implied costs of DRM if it means eBook readers won’t share books with friends and family.

Aside from that, by selling or exchanging their used books, readers have been able to subsidize the cost of further purchases. Digital editions, at a discount of only one or two dollars, don’t offer a payoff comparable to exchanging or selling used books.

Without the opportunity to experiment with digital music, it’s unlikely that its adoption would have been so fast or comprehensive

When music started shifting to digital, early adopters could rip CDs they already owned to MP3s. If publishers offered free digital copies along with every paper edition sold, wary consumers could experiment without paying twice. Eventually ‘digital only’ editions could be sold cheaper to encourage people to make the switch.

Until students, editors, and literary agents are reading textbooks and manuscripts on eReaders, there’s little chance that the general public will welcome them

Rather than focusing on paperbacks, publishers and book sellers should look to replace the backpack full of textbooks. Students, and people in publishing, are an obvious target for replacing a bag, or briefcase, full of heavy books with a lightweight, convenient device. At $350 it’s clear why this hasn’t already happened.

By targeting students, you can develop a market for digital fiction through an audience that’s already comfortable with electronic books and the associated hardware.

Free, durable hardware and cheaper digital content will make eBooks as inevitable as on-demand movie downloads

Where iPods offer a familiar user experience at a familiar price, with the convenience of having all your music on hand, eBooks on mobiles and $350+ readers offer poor readability at a premium price. Consumers being asked to consider taking their libraries digital aren’t being given enough reasons to take the plunge.

The future of print may be digital, but for a real industry shakeup we’ll need to see cheap, easy to read, durable hardware coupled with cheaper digital editions. If Amazon started giving away Kindles while including a free Kindle edition with every paper book sold, they could quickly become the iTunes of the written word.

Reto Meier is a mobile software engineer and author of Professional Android Application Development. He’s based in London and blogs about Android, technology, and programming.

Pulling the Sword from the Stone: Amazon’s Kindle Books to be Available on Mobile Phones Fri, 06 Feb 2009 15:26:25 +0000 Chris Did you feel that? That was a tremor in the publishing world. There have been many of them over the past several months, but yesterday’s announcement from Amazon could be especially game changing in my opinion.

Amazon announced plans to make its Kindle titles available for a variety of mobile phones. Earlier this year they announced that they would no longer support PDF or Microsoft Reader formats for their ebooks, effectively locking buyers into its Mobipocket or Kindle formats.

Since the Kindle format is only an offshoot of the Mobipocket format, I wonder if these mobile device efforts will revolve around an updated Mobipocket Reader. The Mobipocket Reader software is already available for a variety of mobile phones including Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Symbian. If Amazon plans to revamp this application to make it available for other handhelds including iPhone – and they can duplicate the easy buying experience Kindle owners already enjoy – this could really change the landscape for ebooks.

In an article entitled The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age, published earlier this week, Ars Technica’s John Siracusa lamented that dedicated ebook readers are not the entire answer, and asked why Amazon didn’t realize that devices like the iPhone were where reading was headed.

I do still believe that dedicated readers are more appropriate for a mature e-book market, when consumers can more easily justify the cost of such a specialized device. But that doesn’t mean a dedicated reader can’t succeed. The Kindle is the best example, hitching itself to the star of Amazon’s existing retail store. Maybe Amazon will haul the ungainly Kindle right across the critical mass threshold and it will become “the iPod of e-books.” Then again, maybe Apple will finally figure out that the iPod (and, yes, the iPhone) is “the iPod of e-books.” Amazon’s efforts are handicapped by the hurdle of that separate hardware purchase, so the door is still open for a strong competitor targeting an existing reader-capable hardware platform, whether it be Apple or someone else.

John also suggested that Apple was best positioned to lead us to the ebook promised land.

Will Apple wake from its apparent slumber and pull the sword from the stone—the sword that’s currently taped to its hand and sheathed in a teflon-lined crevice? That’d certainly be the shortest path between the present and the inevitable e-book future.

I say if Amazon plays this right and creates applications that open their ebook store to a variety of devices - including iPhone- they may actually hold Uther’s sword. But controlling formats and owning the largest selection of current and best selling books won’t in itself make this a winning solution. Amazon needs to deliver the right experience, making both the buying and reading of ebooks easy and enjoyable.

What do you think – major shift, or just another ripple?

(Image credit DaveQ)

From Around the ‘Net on 01/08/09 Fri, 09 Jan 2009 03:03:54 +0000 Chris
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    My Glamorous Publishing Life Tue, 06 Jan 2009 20:40:27 +0000 Chris I’ll keep this short. The inspiration for this post comes from yet another a recent NYT article on the demise of Publishing (go ahead and read it - I’ll wait.) When I read the comments of my colleague Ellen Gerstein, I knew I had to throw my two cents in as well.

    The publishing life described in the NYT article does not reflect my more than a decade of experience in the industry. So, when we are all lumped into the types of antics described in the article, it’s no wonder people show little sympathy for the current challenges in the print publishing world.

    I’m here to tell you that most of us the publishing industry do not enjoy huge expense accounts and 3 martini lunches.

    Our industry is not dying, but it is evolving - rapidly.  And those of us in the publishing business are up against many challenges, the least of which is expensive lunches and other indulgences taken by the minority.

    (Photo credit ginsnob)

    NORAD Tracking Santa for their 53rd Christmas Wed, 24 Dec 2008 15:11:06 +0000 Chris In 1955 a Sears & Roebuck store in Colorado Springs advertised for children to call and talk to Santa. Only trouble was that the misprinted phone number connected the children to the Commander in Chief of CONAD, responsible for the tracking of possible incoming ICBMs over North American airspace. Colonel Harry Shoup happily gave children updates as to Santa’s progress via CONADs radar systems and a tradition was born.

    For 53 years, NORAD has been tracking Santa’s trips from the North Pole and around the world and providing up to the minute updates on his deliveries. This year you and your children can track Santa with NORAD by visiting NORAD Track Santa where you will find real-time updates on Santa’s position, videos from his stops in various cities, and the option to track him with Google Earth in 3D.

    We have our Santa tracker already set up and are watching him make his way from the other side of the globe to our house. I hope he remembers to stop!

    Netflix on XBox 360 is Very Disappointing Sat, 20 Dec 2008 14:35:15 +0000 Chris I am a huge Xbox 360 fan.  I was one of those who stood in line on a very cold November morning to get my hands on one of the first units.  I suffered through the Red Rings of Death without complaint.  I’ve spent countless amounts on games and hardware.  So when I say something about the Xbox 360 experience is disappointing you know it must be serious.

    Netflix on Xbox 360 is extremely disappointing.

    It could be my fault.  Perhaps I had my expectations set too high.  I guess I fully expected to sit down at my Xbox 360, browse through Netflix’s amazing collection of movies and TV shows, click a few buttons and finally enjoy the ultimate home theater on-demand experience. Unfortunately Netflix on Xbox 360 is not that at all.

    1. The browsing experience does not take place on the Xbox 360 at all.  Instead you have to browse and make your movie selection on a PC and then wait for the Xbox 360 to sync with your Netflix Instant Queue.
    2. While browsing the Netflix Watch Instantly movies available, you will quickly find that the selection - well the selection sucks.  The currently listed New Arrivals include 2000’s Frequency, 1996’s Swingers and 1990’s Pretty Woman.
    3. No HD quality videos available as far as I can see.  You will have to settle for DVD.
    4. The delivery is actually pretty good.  Once you select a movie, it syncs to the Xbox in a matter of seconds, and you are up a and watching in under a minute.

    To be fair, my disappointment is not Microsoft’s fault; unless you consider that they chose to partner with Netflix which seems like a really good idea on the surface.  Microsoft and Netflix could have done a better job of integrating the browsing experience into the Xbox Dashboard so I don’t have to bounce to a PC to select movies and them back to the Xbox to watch.

    The real issue is with Netflix’s Watch Instantly selection, which they have touted on the PC for quite some time, and now on the Xbox 360.  The truth is the movies available are either very old, or films you probably haven’t heard of.

    The Xbox 360 Video Marketplace on the other hand has a good selection, but you have to plan ahead as the download times ar way to long to consider “on-demand.”

    Has anyone else had similar or better experiences with Xbox 360 video?

    Of Wine and Bullhorns - Social Media for Authors and Publishers Thu, 18 Dec 2008 16:07:40 +0000 Chris Full credit for the idea behind both the headline and content of this post is owed to (soon to be) Wiley Author Chris Brogan. This week I attended Chris’s Social Media For Publishers webinar presented by O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) which was packed full of really good advice for not only publishers, but authors as well.  And, if you have ever seem Chris Brogan speak, you know that his talks are usually sprinkled with great little sound bites and phrases that stick with you for a very long time.

    One of the main points Chris made is in my opinion, Rule #1 when you start thinking about entering the social media environment.

    Bring wine to the picnic - not a bullhorn.

    It seems simple and obvious, but the statement is at the heart of what usually goes wrong for those who only view social media as another channel to send the same old messages.  You need to be a part of the community, connecting, contributing and sharing and not just broadcasting about your product or service.  If you do this, the opportunities to introduce people to your product or service will present themselves naturally. But you have to listen and watch for them as part of the ongoing conversation.

    Remember it’s merlot, not megaphones.

    I’m obviously paraphrasing only a very small portion of what Chris Brogan covered in his webinar, which you can view in its entirety here.

    So, do you have any bullhorn or wine moments to share?

    (Photo credit theparadigmshifter)

    Thinking About Borders No-Returns Deal with HarperStudio Wed, 17 Dec 2008 21:38:33 +0000 Chris

    It was widely reported this week that Borders has agreed to accept books from HarperStudio as non-returnable.  For those who don’t know, books sold to almost every bookseller can generally be returned to the Publisher for full credit.  In fact, this has been the norm since the 1930s so this arrangement between Borders is unusual and interesting.  Some thoughts:

    The reported discount is pretty deep - 58% to 63% so that in itself is interesting in that it will allow Borders to deeply discount them in the stores if that is what they choose to do.

    A discount that deep would normally trigger a deep discount clause in many publishing contracts.  I’ll assume that HarperStudio either has no such clause or has taken this into account in some other way.

    The non-returnable nature of the purchases likely means Borders will take less stock to begin with, meaning less copies of a book per store.  Unless, of course, they decide to adopt a strategy where they buy large quantities at discount and hope to “stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly.”

    At any rate it’s it very encouraging to see that a publisher and bookseller are willing to experiment and push the edges of an industry that is in transition and in need of change.

    What do you think?

    (Image credit Leo Reynolds)