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.


lighthouseJetse de Vries has established a picofiction anthology on Twitter to showcase optimistic science fiction.

Submission guidelines here.

OUTSHINE, the resulting weekly Twitterzine, to be published here!

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.

Map of Australia










Jess Haberman has been musing about where to base herself as a publisher. I find this fascinating because I live in a large Australian state that is very decentralized.

Quick geography lesson: Australia is about the same size in land area as the continental United States, but with only six states and two territories. This makes most of our states extremely large, but Queensland (my state) is the second largest. In fact, at 1,852,642 km2 Queensland takes up one quarter of the total area of Australia. It is further from Brisbane to Cairns, cities both in Queensland, than it is from Brisbane to Melbourne, three states away.

Despite being the third most populous state, we are also decentralised. In nearly all other states and territories a high percentage of the population (65% or more) is clustered in and around the capital cities, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. In Queensland this figure is only 45%.

Quick publishing industry lesson: Similar to London and New York, Australia’s publishing industry is concentrated in one major city, Sydney. At least, that’s how it is for the major trade publishers, the big six: HarperCollins, Hachette Australia, Pan Macmillan, Random House, Allen and Unwin and Penguin. By extension, that’s also where most of the literary agents are.

But here’s something interesting… some of the most innovative and energetic publishing in Australia is taking place outside of Sydney, and outside of traditional industry networks. At the mid-size level of the industry, a swag of publishers are really performing above and beyond what might be expected for their size, particularly UQP (Brisbane), Scribe and Text (Melbourne) and Fremantle Press (Western Australia). Melbourne is also the locus of a vibrant, exploding small press scene, with small independents flourishing in every other state, such as Small Change PressTiconderoga, Wakefield Press, eatbooks and Pulp Fiction Press.

There are any number of conclusions you could draw from this spread of the publishing map. For publishers, I would suggest that it doesn’t matter if you are located close to the hub of industry activity or not. There are now few if any barriers to publishing damn fine books wherever you are. Jess Haberman offers good arguments for not being based in the city at all, adopting a friendlier small town lifestyle which is likely more supportive of small businesses. But more than this, I wonder if the evidence in Australia demonstrates you’re actually better off not being situated in the swirling vortex of the publishing industry at all. If the publishers listed above are anything to go by, perhaps the distance lends some kind of perspective or inspiration for excellence and new innovation.

For writers, I think isolation is a tough burden and geographical isolation in Australia can be acute, especially in Queensland. Writers don’t need to be physically close to agents and publishers to sell a book, nor do they need to be physically close to other writers to participate in vibrant social networks. They just need a reliable internet connection (that’s a whole other story)

But I’ve seen the lightbulbs go on over authors’ heads when they attend a seminar or panel with publishers and agents and hear directly from industry professionals how the business works. I’ve seen the spark of new connections and relationships. I wonder if the mushrooming of small publishers in regional towns across Australia could, in turn, further support the development of writers in those communities.

What are your thoughts? I’m keen to hear from publishers and regional readers on this one.

[Note: Here’s some bonus material on the Australian tourism debacle that inspired the title of this post]

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

Every now and then I use Google Reader’s recommend function to find me a list of blogs I might add to my feeds. My list of regular feeds changes over time so it’s good to reach out for new content based on what I’ve been reading lately. When I did that today, Google Reader recommended the Puffin Blog.

I hadn’t come across this one before but, despite my interest in young adult fiction, I will not be adding the Puffin Blog to my feeds. This is an example of the all-too common “blog as marketing channel”. Most companies fail dismally at this, and publishers are no exception.

You can spot a “blog as marketing channel” a mile away. Firstly, there are no comments.  A blog is a social media platform. You know it’s achieving its purpose when you can see evidence of social behaviour, of conversation, of engagement. Regardless of how many people may be subscribed to your RSS feed, if you’ve got zero comments your readers don’t care enough to engage with your content or with you. That’s bad news for a company hoping to use a blog to reach out to customers. It’s also a waste of time and resources.

Another telling feature of the blog as marketing channel is the ubiquityof product mentions. On publisher blogs, this means almost every post is a book plug. Sometimes this is dressed up with witty banter or disguised within a personal anecdote by a company executive. Sometimes, in an attempt to show that the organisation is staffed by real, flesh and blood humans, you’ll see a variety of employees posting, everyone from the book designer to the receptionist. You’ll rarely see real analysis or opinion, or a sense of the company’s understanding of its place within a community of customers, readers, authors, and industry players. The result is pervasive sense of PR fluff and lightweight content.

It used to be common wisdom that content is king. But the popularity of social media has demonstrated that what internet users are really seeking is connection. A blog may be a cheap and easy way of publishing web content but its biggest strength is that it is a platform for conversation.

Are there publisher blogs that get it? Over at the 26th Story, I think HarperStudio has understood the opportunity and challenge of a company blog very well. There is real opinion, meaningful engagement with issues relevant to the HarperStudio brand and active encouragement of community discussion. The same is true of Soft Skull News and Abbeville Manual of Style.

These are blogs that still manage to showcase their authors and upcoming titles, but also maintain a place in a lively community of readers and other bloggers. Most importantly, these bloggers realise that conversation is taking place everywhere simultaneously. There’s no way to control it, only to participate in it.  I don’t need to take a sneaky-peek at these blogs’ Google Analytics results to know they’re more effective than a “blog as marketing channel” promo site.

bloggingthisHaving taken a day to think about some of Martyn Daniels’ predictions for publishing in 2009, I want to explore some of his specific comments for authors.


1. Whose job is online marketing?

Authors should come to the front with podcasts, videos, blogs and web sites to promote them and their titles and the interesting question is whether they will do it themselves, be aided by their agents, leave it to the publisher, or look to others?

My own thought is that nobody can promote an author’s books better than the author. Writers should be the most proactive when it comes to blogs, podcasts and any other digital initiative. It’s important to work with your publisher and agent to maximise effort and avoid confusion, and in the current climate, not to expect a squillion dollars to be spent on the promotion of your book. But my experience, in Australia at least, is that some publishers are only equally (and possibly less) informed about digitial marketing than many authors. Given that cheap tools exist for authors to be proactive, creative and fast with their online activities, there is no excuse to leave this solely to the publisher. I don’t know of any agents that have the time and resources to perform this function for their clients either. More importantly, an author’s online presence is a constant thing. It requires maintenance and attention, it requires effort to engage in multi-threaded conversation and authors are best placed to do this on an ongoing basis, whereas publisher attention may only be sporadic with each new book release. This is a critical part of your business now, authors, whether you like it or not, and whether you feel you have the time or not.

2. Stand up for your rights

The whole spectrum of rights will continue to be questioned as POD is used to grab more orphans and retain rights in perpetuity. Permission rights will start to become more visible and an issue as ‘chunking’ will become more common together with the sale of digital fragments.

I think this is an area authors have critically overlooked in the last few years, especially those without agents and there are plenty of unagented authors in Australia. The issue isn’t about a land grab for rights and that authors should withold as many rights as possible. After all, the bundle of rights that comprise copyright can only generate revenue for an author when able to be exploited in the marketplace. But if they’re not informed about digital applications of their work, authors will contrinue to sign publishing contracts that rob them of future revenue streams. I think the area where authors can exercise better control is in term limits on subsidiary rights, rather than contracts that sign over permissions in perpetuity. Authors can also look at splitting up digital rights into finer categories. Copyright is infinitely divisible and, really, the concept of “digital rights” to a book is ludicrous in the current environment when a digital application of a book could many any one of a dozen different things. It wouldn’t hurt to have separate treatments for ebooks and other applications, such as Alternative Reality Games or mixed media products. Authors and their agents should also consider distribution networks and whether signing over ebook rights should include distribution to mobiles. If your publisher’s ebook ambitions are limited, you are also going to be limited and so are the number of potential income streams.

If authors and agents are on their game, we should start to see fewer “standard” contracts from publishing houses and more bespoke agreements based on the digital expertise and reach of the publishers, and the individual desires and commercial opportunities of the authors. After all, the ability to exploit digital rights doesn’t only rest with book publishers. Some would say publishers are least equipped to do it right now. They face competition from nimble media companies not burdened with the same expectations and organisational cultures that some book publishers are.

The changes taking place in the publishing industry are not limited to publishers. Authors stand to realise wonderful opportunities in the new landscape. But in order to do that, they need to be in control of their own creative businesses.

Alphabet SoupA round up of some interesting links that escaped my attention in the feeds the last few weeks…


2009 – the year the physical bookstore lays down and dies?
Over at Futurismic, Paul Raven looks at a NYT article sounding the death knell of bricks and mortar bookstores. Seriously, NYT, you really think booksellers are going out of business because people are swapping books with friends? You sure it’s not because of structural economic change in the supply chain?

Brave New World’s 2009 Predictions
Martyn Daniels hangs nails his colours to the mast for the year ahead in publishing.

iPhone Apps for the Bottom Line
HarperStudio’s 26th Story looks at publishing-related apps for iPhones. Personally, I’m pretty impatient for publishers to get in the game with this.

The economics of video games
Dan Visel at if:book points picks up on an interesting point in an essay by John Lanchester about the artistic merit of video games. Are games bucking the trend of cheaper production and democratisation of media?

Unseen Hands Turn These Pages
New Matilda is running a marvelous series on Australian culture over the summer. One of the essays is by John Hunter, General Manager of SPUNC (Small Press Underground Collective) about the vital economy of Australian independent and small press publishing. [P.S. Spiffy new website, SPUNC, congrats!]

Book Designs of the Year, 2008
There are some seriously funky, creative people at the Penguin Art Department, if one judges their books by the covers. Check out their favourite book designs for the year just past. I look forward to more in 2009.

SleepyKoalaElectric Alphabet has been silent the last two months, and it’s time to fix that.

So, one of my new year’s resolutions is to blog every day. I thought I would have blogged more over the Christmas break, but there’s something about summer that switches off my critical brain. I get sleepy and lazy, like a koala. All I want to do is watch cricket and read books. I’m absolutely certain this resolution will be broken, but it’s great to set the bar high. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to putting WordPress and Twitter on my iPhone I think it will be a lot easier to blog little and often, although I still intend to post longer, more thoughtful pieces as often as possible.

There are a heap of other new year’s resolutions, of course, mostly the usual feeble nods to better diet and exercise, but as far as this blog is concerned, there’s exciting discussion happening all over the interwebs about publishing futures and I’m keen to participate.

To start with, here are some fantastic events I’ll be attending over the next few months:

Maybe I’ll see you there!

The Casual Optimist led me to this remarkable story of growth and prosperity in a traditional publishing medium in Fortune Magazine.

While storm clouds gather for newspaper, magazine and book publishers, the comic book market is surging ahead. And there’s nothing but upside for the two big publishers – Marvel and DC Comics – who share more than 80% of the market between them. Wow!

“In the quarter ended June 30, publishing accounted for $32 million of Marvel’s $157 million in revenues, and $11.7 million of its $85.2 million in operating profit. (The bulk of the rest came from licensing – which generates even higher margins of more than 80% – since the spoils from “Iron Man” won’t show up until the next couple of quarterly results.) Although its publishing revenue and profits declined in the first half of the year, the company has given guidance that it expects revenue growth in publishing between 3% and 7% for the year, and margins between 37% and 40%.”

My god. I’m not entirely sure if book publishers have ever had margins like that, have they?

Read full article: Spoiler alert: Comic books are alive and kicking