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Nick CaveVia Booksquare, Scottish publisher Canongate has announced it will digitise its entire back catalogue and make 450 titles available as e-book downloads by the end of this year. One of their more interesting digital projects is a simultaneous physical and e-book release of Nick Cave’s first novel in 20 years, with added extras such as a soundtrack and unabridged audio book narration by Cave.

Canongate has gone from strength to strength since Jamie Byng rescued it from near-bankruptcy in the mid-90s. It has acquired some big titles in the last few years, including UK and Commonwealth rigths to the Obama memoirs.

But for me, this Nick Cave project is the most exciting recent news. It perfectly exploits Cave’s multiple talents and reaches out to several audiences simultaneously, with the possibility of introducing new consumers from each to Cave’s various music recordings and novels, not to mention his poetry and films.

In many ways, Nick Cave is the perfect example of an artist in a position to commercialise digital content for modern audiences, a Renaissance man for the 21st century. He produces content across a range of media and artforms, he has an established and loyal fan base, he can derive additional revenus streams from touring and merchandise opportunities and he can cross-pollinate audiences from books to music to film.

Kudos to Jamie Byng and Canongate for a well-considered digital product.

“We’re doing some really cool stuff that will turn some heads and break ground in the area of e-books,” said Jamie Byng, the managing director. “We are using the medium, not just replicating content. That’s where the real opportunities lie.” Jamie Byng quoted in Sunday Herald article

Another reason for publishers to stop getting tunnel vision about the Kindle.

ReadWriteWeb reports on data from AdMob showing that Apple has a 48% market share of the mobile web in the US market. Interestingly, the iPod Touch has contributed as much to this growth as the iPhone. As RWW rightly points out, this demonstrates that Apple’s interface (largely the same for the iPhone as the Touch) makes for a happy web browsing experience for mobile users.

Given this data, it’s obviously not a coincidence that the most common search query that leads visitors to this blog is actually “ebooks ipod Touch”.

Publishers considering market channels for ebooks should note these stats and look for ways to connect their content with mobile users. At 48% of the market (or for that matter, more than one half of the population of the world) there are a hell of a lot more potential book buyers with a phone than there are owners of an ebook reader.

Everyone loves to recommend a good read. Hell, it’s what makes the book world go round. So here’s your chance. I’m off to Canada and the US next week and I’m following Sherman Young’s lead and going digital all the way. So I’m looking to load up ye olde iPhone with things to read and books to listen to. Suggestions welcome, as long as I can get it in digital format.

Here are some examples of things I will be making sure are “packed”:

  • the last few episodes of Litopia After Dark [always a thoughtful and entertaining show]
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Librivox) [this wonderful audiobook store now has 365 days worth of audio content available absolutely free]
  • Content – Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) [I actually recently bought this in hardcover but couldn't be arsed taking the dead-tree version on the plane with me]
  • The Hollow Men – ABC TV [I missed the last few episodes on telly and am just loving ABC's new free downloads]
  • Magic For Beginners – Kelly Link [available for 12 months as a free CC-licensed download]

What else, what else? Send your suggestions!

BoingBoing has alerted us to a marvellous multi-channel fiction and photography project called Dr. Julius T Roundbottom. The puppetmaster of this fascinating world is Jeremiah Tolbert, who says of the project:

“It’s a little fantasy, a little steampunk, a little clockpunk, and I hope a hell of a lot of fun. The comment community that has grown up around the site respond to the stories in their own characters, and the characters of the site have a dialog with them. The audience, through comments, influence the direction of the story, often introducing new concepts to the world building.” [via BoingBoing]

The site structure is essentially a blog, beautifully designed in steampunk style, which follows the adventures of Dr Roundbottom, a naturalist studying faeries in City Park. Each post is fiction written in the first-person voice of the good doctor, with a few other characters thrown in. Tolbert accompanies his posts with high-quality art photography. He has also established an ‘encyclopedia’, a tikiwiki to expand and flesh out worldbuilding aspects of the site (there’s that quasi-spectral hypertext again)

I particularly love that readers are encouraged to engage with and extend the narrative by posting comments “in character” and conducting dialogue with Dr Roundbottom and his colleagues. Tolbert is monetising the narrative through sale of photographs and premium memberships to the site. I imagine there are any number of other ways he could introduce income streams to this, especially once the community builds up around it.

…and with that neat turn of phrase, Brian Tart, publisher of Dutton of Penguin Group USA, has expressed why subsidiary media rights are no longer subsidiary. They are the whole box and dice.

From Rachel Deahl @ Publishers Weekly:

Dutton has laid out big money for what it’s dubbing a “digi-novel” by the creator of the C.S.I.television franchise. The Penguin imprint paid millions for a multimedia three-book series from Anthony Zuiker that, at its centerpiece, features a mystery novel which will send readers to a Web site with companion footage relating to the plot…Zuiker’s story…will, as Dutton noted, “move from books to film to the web with ease.” Read the whole article…

It’s an exciting project from its description. More importantly, this is an early example of more and more digital “publications” that publishers will be doing in future, which begs the question – how do you sell the rights to it? This is not a traditional deal where a publisher licences print rights and also subsidiary media rights, including film and digital. Most publishers have fairly standard contracts, but this project is entirely bespoke. It requires an entirely different way of conceiving of the project and the intellectual property involved.

I think this is largely positive. Publishers need to loosen up their contracts and start thinking about different ways of licensing content. I’ll admit the morass of copyright legislation makes it difficult to slice and dice copyright however we want, but there is still scope for more flexible approaches to publishing contracts. For example, with a project like Dutton’s (or for that matter Scholastic’s 39 Clues or HarperCollins’ The Amanda Project) there may be a mix of licences needed, including Creative Commons licences to cover the web 2.0 components and user generated content.

All this may be obvious, but I recently had a conversation with an Australian publishing professional who works in contracts and insisted that digital = e-books. What about alternative reality games, web 2.0 and mobile content, I asked? “That’s what game rights and film rights etc are for,” she replied.  My point is that these things don’t sit in neat little boxes anymore. They haven’t for some time and we’re only just catching up.

Aside from sorting out who licences what, another question I have is, how do authors get paid? 10% of a book’s cover price is a neat equation. It provides a simple economic basis for calculating advances and also judging the success of a title. Not so with mixed media projects like this one. I think we’re going to see more revenue models proliferating now, including profit sharing between authors and publishers.

Lastly, and slightly off-topic, with more projects like this popping up I wonder what the difference is now between publishers and other media companies? Not a whole lot, it seems.

One of the fun things I did while at Melbourne Writers Festival was create an audio postcard for the new ABC Pool, described on the site thus:

Pool is a social media project developed by ABC Radio National. It’s a place to share your creative work with the Pool community and ABC producers – upload music, photos, videos, documentaries, interviews, animations and more. It’s a collaborative space where audiences become makers.

The shared content is provided using Creative Commons licences and there are already a lot of ripples and splashes happening in this here digital billabong.

The lovely Sarah L’Estrange, producer of The Book Show on Radio National, vox-popped me for her new Pool page Letter Vox. On the page right now you can hear me babbling on about that strange breed, science fiction writers. Go on, have a listen. If nothing else it proves that I talk too fast. I welcome mashups, especially ones that make me sound less like Woody Allen on ritalin. Let me know if you do any remixes and I’ll link to them from here and my Pool page, which has no content yet.

In light of my last post, this seems like proof positive that in moist loamy conditions, creators and publishers can live a happy coexistence like different species of mushrooms. (Note to self: don’t put too many metaphors in one blog post)

More from HarperCollins, this time some sweet data on the results of their recent experiements with “free”.

Publishers Weekly reported that at recent panels at BEA and the IDPF Digital Book conference HarperCollins shared the results of digital giveaway campaigns they did with books by Neil Gaiman, Erin Hunter and Robin Hobb.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Promotion for: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
    - Content given away: Full access to the book, through the company’s Browse Inside feature
    – Number of page views generated: 3,827,306
    – Average page views per visit: 46
    – Number of clicks on a buy link: 1,177
    – Result: Promotion bumped weekly sales of the title at bricks-and-mortar locations by 250%.
  • Promotion for: Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things
    - Content given away: DRM-free audio download of Gaiman’s short story “A Study in Emerald” to promote the collection Fragile Things
    Result: Promotion didn’t drive registration and, according to Harper, “readers bypassed our up-sell efforts” because content was “too easy to take and run.”
  • Promotion for: Erin Hunter’s Warriors, Volume 3
    - Content given away: Browse Inside preview of 20% of the book
    – Result: Preorders of the book increased 30%.
  • Promotion for: Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing
    - Content given away: Full e-book (downloadable with DRM and registration)
    – Result: Same-title and backlist sales of Hobb’s e-books increased.
  • The results are interesting and certainly seem to indicate the value of offering free open-access trials of content to entice people to buy the book. I hope more publishers will be willing to share data for the benefit of the industry.

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