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Just a quick fillip… here is what WordPress tells me are the top searches that lead visitors to this blog:

iPod TouchTop Searches

itouch books,  itouch ebook reader,  itouch reader,  pdf reader for itouch,  books on itouch

Well, there you go!

I was sure that I wrote a blog post about Penguin UK’s Spinebreakers website when it was launched, but a quick search of the archives reveals I only dreamed I did. Nevertheless, I’ve been meaning to write another (first) post for a while. The site has been operating for more than a year now and it has really grown into the lively online space for young readers that it always promised to be.

Here’s what I love and admire about Spinebreakers:

  • it’s an online book community for teenagers… run by teenagers. The editorial team is aged between 13 and 18 years and clearly changes and refreshes regularly. I’ve seen at least one call out for new contributors and editors since I’ve been following the site.
  • Spinebreakers welcomes your content, instead of just talking at you about books. The site is chock full of opportunities to contribute content, whether it be writing book reviews, submitting video poems, making book trailers,  or writing an alternative chapter for your favourite book.
  • The editorial team are fantastic curators. This not a my Space-style social network. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we have plenty of them already!) The Spinebreakers Crew of more than 30 teenagers keep up a constant stream of quality author interviews, writing tips, book info, short stories and, yes, commentary. I have the RSS feed in Google Reader and would probably get more than a dozen items a day from Spinebreakers. It’s fresh.
  • Spinebeakers is an experience not just a website. The best part of all (except for me living in Australia) is that Spinebreakers have branched out into live events such as author talks and writing workshops. The first Spinebreakers Live, on July 25th, was a muster of more than 50 teenagers who worked with mentors on film creation, music production and creative writing. (As I so often do these days, I found myself whingeing “they didn’t have anything that cool when I was a teenager!”)

I wrote a while back about deep niches and the potential for publisher-driven sites to realise the value of vertical channels. Spinebreakers, along with the new Tor.com website, are examples of exciting initiatives in this direction. Of course, I can’t know if or how Spinebreakers has impacted on Penguin’s book sales of YA fiction but I do know they have attracted a loyal and active audience, including me!

An article over at SNL Interactive explores the delicate business of dealing with Amazon. Sarah Barry interviews Michael Cairns of PersonaNonData and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company about the ways publishers have responded to the growing market power of Amazon, and the online retailer’s willingness to use it.

Despite the strained relationship between Amazon and the publishing community, neither Cairns nor Shatzkin believe publishers will decide to stop dealing with Amazon altogether.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a love-hate relationship; it’s more of need and fear relationship,” Shatzkin said. “They need Amazon because it’s probably every publisher’s first or second largest client. But they fear Amazon because it’s every publisher’s first or second biggest client.”

Link [Thanks Jose, via Read 2.0!]

Whenever futurists or commentators talk about the future of books and the publishing industry they tend to focus on publishers, and how their industry is changing. Naturally, I’m more interested in writers and how the landscape is being changed around and by them.

There always seems to be a bullish optimism about future opportunities for writers, especially those who can adapt the way they think and act about storytelling. I share this optimism, but I’ve yet to see any tangible, viable suggestions for how such storytellers will be able to support themselves financially via the marketplace. I’m confident business models will emerge – they always do – but I’m impatient and I don’t have anything other than Yoda-like assurances to offer my members when they ask me how authors are going to get paid in the future.

Patrick Tucker doesn’t provide the answer in his article The 21st Century Writer. Nevertheless, his analysis and historical perspective is incisive and explains why authors should be engaged and proactive.

For people who make their living selling words to readers—and indeed for readers themselves—these are times of upheaval. The information technology revolution has led to an explosion in textual content. More people are engaging in more conversations, sharing more opinions, learning more, and learning faster than anyone could have imagined just a few decades ago. The site Blogherald.com counted more than 100 million blogs as of October 2005. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 93% of U.S. teens aged 12–17 used the Internet in 2006; among them, 64% have created content, up from 57% in 2004. We’ve entered an era where the acts of thinking, writing, and to a certain extent publishing are indistinguishable, and where charging money for editorial content is becoming an ever trickier proposition.

This is the best article I’ve read so far this year. Hands down.

Via Justine Larbalestier‘s blog, a neato essayby author Justine Musk on writing and selling books. Musk offers some insightful musings on the economic realities of mass market PB fiction and the venus fly trap of book sales data. Here’s a little taster…

Because here’s the thing. In this age of such relentless number-crunching, books don’t get the shelf life they used to get. There’s no time for a slow build-up: either the book performs once it’s out of the gate (in fact, my deal for the sequel to the sequel to BLOODANGEL offers a ‘bonus’ if the book ships above a certain number of copies within the first few months of its release date) or it gets dumped from the stores altogether and the author gets tagged with a stigma that’s hard to overcome. The problem is that the best way to sell a book – the only way, for most books that don’t get the loving PR attention of the publishers – is reader word-of-mouth. And word-of-mouth, if it’s going to happen, takes a while to get up to speed. People not only have to buy the book, they have to actually read the damn thing, and recommend it to people, who also have to read it, and then have to… etc. And by the time enough people have read it to maybe make something start to happen, the book is out of stores and maybe even out of print.

Link

//flickr.com/photos/libraryman/2048264201/I read blogs daily that cover the ongoing changes in publishing, especially in digital channels. Through my little pipeline of RSS feeds, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and assume that, because the publishers I’m reading about are diving in to digital experimentation and thinking about new ways of doing business, that all publishers are doing so. In a few chats I’ve had recently with Australian publishers, agents and staff at writers centres, it’s clear this is not true.

Even The Economist, a conservative journal better known for its coverage of international trade and politics than the publishing industry, is observing the ways technology is changing publishing.

Publishing has only two indispensable participants: authors and readers. As with music, any technology that brings these two groups closer makes the whole industry more efficient—but hurts those who benefit from the distance between them.

When The Economist starts calling the race it’s time for publishers still in a default mode of “wait and see” to move to “evolve or die”.

[Image Source: libraryman, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0]

Apropos of a conversation I had with an industry pro on Friday, this nifty little comment from Galleycat:

…with the industry in as much flux as it is right now, it’s better to experiment and risk failure than to sit on the sidelines and then try to learn how to do what works after somebody else figures it out.

GalleyCat was referring to online promotion in the book industry, a panel he was on at BookExpo America (BEA). It’s an important observation in the context of book and author marketing, but I think it can also be applied across the whole digital publishing spectrum. If publishers adopt a “wait and see” attitude, they cede the market advantage. They may be worried about risk, or they may wonder who, among their industry rivals, will be the first to really seize the opportunity. However, are they sufficiently worried about people from outside publishing who are encroaching on their space – Amazon, Google and, before long I’d wager, Apple? Because when one or all of these behemoths turn their eye to a market, they colonise it. Seems like better sense to dive in, even if you’re not sure whether the water’s warm.

By the way, GalleyCat’s notes about online promotion from that BEA panel are fantastic. Go read them here.

Last week at QWC‘s Meet the Publishers industry seminar, Bernadette Foley of Hachette Livre Australia confirmed what I’d suspected for a while, and that is that Australian publishers are still largely unfamiliar with the opportunities (some would say imperatives) in digital publishing. When I say digital publishing, I’m not just talking about e-books. I’m talking about all aspects of the publishig value chain which might be affected or improved with digital initiatives. These might include e-books, but they also include book marketing and author promotion, distribution, community and brand building and product development (ie. other forms of digital content like audio books and mobile content) All the things Brent Lewis of Harlequin described as technology enablers in his presentation to the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York earlier this year.

The tide is definitely turning, and Bernadette confirmed this when she spoke of the fascinating panels she attended at Sydney Writers Festival last week. Clearly some Australian publishers are taking steps to explore these opportunities, some tentatively, and some with confidence. Yet I worry that these changes aren’t taking place fast enough for authors.

Why worry at all? After all, what will happen to authors if the Australian publishing industry takes its sweet time in embracing and exploiting technology enablers. For one thing, despite my optimism, the ability of authors to commercialise their writing will be tied to publishers for a while to come. There are opportunities even now for writers to go direct to audiences through blogs, podcasts, e-books, alternative reality games, self-publishing and other channels. Some of these blogs, podcasts and self-publishing ventures have paid off in spades. But, by and large, authors still depend on publishers to help them refine, distribute and market their content, and the distribution/marketing/branding side of the publishing business is the side publishers can dominate.

Perhaps Australian authors and publishers need their own Tools of Change for Publishing conference, a watershed event to create energy and momentum that will carry us forward… together.

Scott William Carter has launched a fab new blog called The First Book, with interviews with debut authors. And Scott gets extra cool points for being a science fiction and fantasy author.

The First Book is a great source of inspiration and encouragement to emerging writers still struggling to find that first elusive book deal. Go support it! And if you are a recently published first-time author, contact Scott about an interview for the blog.

Along the same vein as Sara Loyd’s musings on “book as artefact”, Booksquare is asking the question “what does a publisher do?”

The idea of “publishing” is no longer a print book based model. As I noted above, the way consumers read is vastly different than it was even a decade ago, and if you’re paying attention to your Twitter account, it’s change, change, change, all the time. With this change comes new business models and relationships with authors.

If authors don’t view this first (okay second) salvo as a wake-up call from the future, they’re going to lose. Lose like the Writer’s Guild did in 1982. And again with every contract thereafter (including, if you want my opinion, with the current contract; SAG — the Screen Actors Guild — is trying to fight for more, we’ll see how that goes). Because if you believe that “publishing” begins and ends with a (print, bound) book, then you’re going to be one of those cars sitting on the side track while the big trains whoosh by.

Sometimes you might get to take a little ride, but mostly you’re just hoping to be noticed.

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with industry types – publishers, agents and authors – about the changes that are coming, and the changes that are already here. Provided they can recognise it and adapt, authors have some wonderful opportunities before them. It’s kind of my job at Queensland Writers Centre to help them understand and adapt. I wonder who is helping publishers do the same?

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