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Graham Nunn at Another Lost Shark has been doing a fascinating series of interviews with various Australian small press poetry publishers. There’s an interesting array of opinions here, some consensus but also a lot of divergence on issues such as the value of electronic publishing and the commercial opportunities for small presses.

Small presses have arisen in response to the decline in interest by the corporate publishers, to meet the need for poets’ voices to be heard and read. I doubt if any of them actually make money out publishing, but that’s not the point of it, though it would be nice. Lyn Reeves, Pardalote Press

I was interested that more poetry publishers, such as John Knight at Post Pressed,  are not turning to print on demand to help with the economics of small print runs. I’ve also been wondering for a while if Australian poetry as a genre is ripe for a cooperative marketing/distribution arrangement between small publishers. This worked particularly well in the independent music scene in the last 10 years. Ralph Wessman in his interview suggests that the Small Press Underground Collective (SPUNC)is not focused on assisting with distribution, yet distribution is the key problem to solve of all creative industries. I could imagine a successful collective that pools its resources to promote and sell (for best results, online and probably POD) poetry in all forms – chap books, full collections, CDs, digital downloads and merchandise. And yes, marketing is an issue. You’d have to work hard to drive an audience to such a site, but I imagine that would be a lot easier to do working collectively as part of a co-op than for a small press and/or their poets to do on their own.

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JamseedJamseed is the first official “coolest thing I’ve seen all year” for 2009.

 

I found out about it via this short essay on the Harvard Business blog by Soft Skull’s Richard Nash.

For most of human existence the output of art could never keep up with the demand. I believe that is now changing, and that’s why we’re seeing the great intermediaries in this process–record labels, movies studios, book publishing companies Borders, etc.–start to shrink, or even fail. They relied on demand being so pent-up they didn’t really need ot work very hard ot match tastes, to connect artist and audience. But now that demand can in fact be sated, their lack of connection to either artist or audience may doom them.

So given that the great intermediaries can’t match-make, what’s an artist to do? For the last decade, many artists have used the web, and subsets of the web like MySpace, to connect with their fans. But the more intimate a connection, the more powerful a connection can be forged. Intimacy is a quality that was lost in the drive towards ever lower marginal costs of reproduction and distribution, but now that the price reductions are close to over, since the marginal costs are reaching zero, reaching back to the past for the personalized, individually-crafted art object is what can distinguish one artists from another, or rather one artist-fan relationship from another.

Oh hell yes!

So then I trundled over to Jamseed. What is it? An easy and effective web platform to help musicians reward fans with personalised stuff.  Now my brain is busting out with ideas for how this could assist authors. Hooyah.

New MatildaMy decidedly awesome brother, Ben Eltham, has published an excellent round up of New Matilda‘s recent essay series on Australian culture.

Your Cultural Policy Has Expired
by Ben Eltham

He even includes publishing in his survey of cultural sectors:

It was Apple’s iPod that drove much of the massive format shift in contemporary music to the MP3. Publishers will also soon be faced by a credible “killer app” that will allow readers to download books at the touch of a pad. It probably isn’t Amazon’s Kindle, but one is likely to emerge in the next generation or two of the industrial ecology. At this point sales of whole product categories of books will plummet as the market migrates online. Of course, as John Hunter has argued, for nimble independent publishers this could prove a massive opportunity, allowing them to access much larger markets than a small print run ever could. Even so, many publishers will have an organisational issue adapting to the new paradigm, and will disappear. This could be disastrous for many Australian writers, who (as Jeremy Fisher has told us) are already doing it tough. This will particularly apply to those in marginal niches — like novelists, who will now have to either publish with small domestic independents or find rare success with international publishers. Change is never painless.

Read full article

I used to turn over the problem of distribution for small press quite a bit. Distribution is a key challenge for most creative industries, at least those that aren’t digital. One of the business models my brother and I used to toss around was a co-op that would take on the functions of distribution, sales and marketing. Neither of us had the energy or time to tackle it but I’m really heartened to see strong cooperative efforts in independent publishing.

The best of these is SPUNC (Small Press Underground Collective) which has a well articulated vision and fantastic engagement with the broader publishing and bookselling industry.

Today I also learned the indefatigable Tehani Wessley has launched a blog to raise the profile of Australian small press.

It struck me that while Australian small press produce some amazing works, often they receive little wider recognition due to a restricted distribution. This means authors don’t receive all the kudos they should, general readership don’t get access to many of these productions, and has a negative impact on further projects. I’d like to see that change. This is just my way of seeing if I can help increase the visibility of small press publishers in Australia to libraries, retailers and readers outside the traditional sales sphere of small press.

An admirable project!  Tehani is so far focusing on speculative fiction publishers. Hopefully she and the gang at SPUNC will find each other and team up, especially as SPUNC has funding.

Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a few weeks. More travel and even, selfishly, some carefully hoarded time away for my own writing, joy! I’ve got some meatier blog posts brewing but here are some links to some fantastic articles to keep you going until then.

From Print to E, Some Items to Consider – Booksquare
Kassia Krozser has some fantastic suggestions for publishers who want to get e-books right. I particularly support her ideas regarding royalties and rights. Authors are wary of e-boook business models because the profitability for publishers (whether some or none) is so opaque. Open it up, show you’re about collaboration and sharing, and authors will follow.

Target, Serve and Adapt: A Simple Model for Audience Development – Tools of Change for Publishing
Living as we are in an attention economy, it’s useful for publishers to think about how they can target niches. This article from TOC looks at two examples of publishers – Politico and myballard.com – who are getting big by thinking small.

Bookkake; Or, putting my money where my mouth is – booktwo.org
James Bridle of booktwo has launched an admirable new project called Bookkake, a print on demand publishing service of classic literature. The new website is fantastic – simple, elegant with excerpts, introductions and multiple e-book editions available for free download. You can order p-book editions on the site which will be printed and shipped directly to you. Fingers crossed for this one! This is exactly the kind of model that the Literature Board of the Australia Council could adopt to return classic Australian literature to readers, instead of whinging that publishers don’t support unsustainable traditional print runs of it.

Author Questions: Distribution – Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog
Joe Wikert has a neato series going about questions authors should ask their publishers. Joe says,”Far too frequently it seems like the critical discussions between author and editor focus on things like writing schedules and compensation packages.  While those are certainly important subjects there are plenty of others that need to be covered as well”. The first topic he deals with is distribution.

Bob Stein has published a brilliant piece over at if:book about the paradigm of the book in a networked world, and the role authors/ readers/ editors/ publishers can play in generating and curating ‘book’ content. I place those quotation marks deliberately because Stein interrogates the notion of the book as artefact, whether print or multimedia, and discusses how this concept has changed as we’ve evolved into a networked society. 

GavinBell

Image: GavinBell

“Reading and writing have always been social activities, but that fact tends to be obscured by the medium of print. We grew up with images of the solitary reader curled up in a chair or under a tree and the writer alone in his garret. The most important thing my colleagues and I have learned during our experiments with networked books over the past few years is that as discourse moves off the page onto the network, the social aspects are revealed in sometimes startling clarity. These exchanges move from background to foreground, a transition that has dramatic implications.”

This is essential reading but Bob is also encouraging comments and discussion.

Link to article: A unified field theory of publishing in the networked era by Bob Stein
Visit the Institute for the Future of the Book

Ebook readers: it’s a war story – Times Online
Mark Harris finds that DRM, price and limited range of titles all undermine the eReader hype in the UK, but mostly DRM.

Small Book Publishers Offered New Technology – The NY Times
Getting together with your friends to buy as a group can make some things cheaper,  like wine, books and, of course, digital publishing services! Perseus unveils Constellation. This is fantastic for indie publishers. [via Booksquare]

How to find love, literally – The Independent
Search for a good book… find a date! Penguin plays match maker. Oh boy!

Bloomsbury unveils academic imprint – The Bookseller
A goal kicked for Creative Commons. Bloomsbury is launching a new “on demand” academic imprint that will make titles available online for free under non-commercial CC licences. Looks like Richard Charkin is making his presence felt at his new home.

Buy to Own versus Rent to Read – Brave New World
Wot he said. (Although written from the perspective of someone in the UK with flexible data/broadband plans. If only it were so in Australia! *sigh*)

Cory Doctorow (Photo by Bart Nagle)

Cory Doctorow Photo: Bart Nagle

Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother, has written an elegant analysis of micropayments and the intangible costs they could impose on writers hoping to skip all the intermediaries and sell direct to readers.

When you take money directly from someone, they become your customer, a relationship that’s fundamentally different from the “writer-reader” relationship that you get when the reader is the publisher’s customer.

 

Cory’s argument is made in the context of an earlier essay about digital distribution. Rather than trying to sell a gazillion digital works for a tiny amount each, focus instead on making it easy for people to give you a decent amont of money when you blow across their path. Except, he said it prettier, and with a dandelion metaphor. Go read it.

[via Boing Boing]

The third thought is about rights, yep, that old nugget again. If I sound like I’m harping on this topic it’s because I’m coming at these issues mostly from an author’s perspective and the rights are the basic unit of tradable property from which authors’ incomes derive.

The current rights debates do not stop publishers digitising their processes they merely stop them being able to realise all the possible opportunities. However, at a time when the digital market is not established, for many, this may be a huge leap into the dark.
Link to Martyn’s original post.

The point about realising the opportunities is the key for authors here. Has it occurred to publishers that the ability to digitise in order to realise commercial opportunities is one of the services they have to offer authors who retain digital rights? If publishers move toward fully digitising their pre-press processes, as Daniels suggests, and can create format neutral content, then they could sell these formats back to authors as a service. When put next to their ability to provide marketing and branding oomph to the ‘author as brand’, it reinforces the idea that publishers, as intermediaries between author and reader, could be reconfigured to be author-oriented services companies rather than content producers.

The second thought is really a looking-at-it-backwards inversion of one Martyn’s comments in his blog post Create Digital First:

…we are the start of a digital consumer offer but it is…based on yesterday’s physical cost model, processes and perceptions. Merely taking the finished book and generating a digital rendition that mirrors the physical one is what music did with CDs. Is it logical to merely replicate the book and create just another rendition? We don’t envisage the same demand change as music experienced in selling just fragments (tracks), but it is possible to see the selling of instalments or part works, where all the complete ‘book’ may not be bought.

Or looking at this another way, couldn’t the book be the fragment? I wrote a little while ago about the idea of extensibility, that books could be surrounded by, in William Gibson’s words, a ‘quasi-spectral hypertext’ that extends the frame of the text beyond the information contained only on the page. This is the kind of thing Harlequin are beginning to explore with their Enriched Editions.

So if consumers are open to new pricing models and new ways of configuring book content, especially fragments and parts of works, doesn’t it also stand to reason that the basic text of a book could be the fragment, and consumers pay a premium for enriched versions that have value-adds? This would bring it more into line with the DVD retail model of included special extras in limited editions. It would also help publishers to differentiate between general retail audiences and niche fan audiences.