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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

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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.

    Author and journalist Gary Kemble made a great comment in response to my last post that I wanted to elevate to the main blog since it’s worth talking about.

    I  interviewed Cory Doctorow a couple of years back. I asked him if film companies had the right to protect their multi-million dollar investment in a film by trying to stop online sharing of movies.

    He said: “That’s kind of like saying the Catholic church invests three generations of labour into the construction of a cathedral, how will religion continue after this Protestant Reformation of yours, right? Well, I don’t think the important thing is cathedrals.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/arts/articulate/200604/s1616706.htm

    Same goes for books. I think once someone comes up with a user-friendly, cheap, eye-friendly and nice-to-use ebook reader, it’s game over.

    I like books. I like to buy Stephen King books, because I’m a fan. I think I would do this regardless of ebooks. BUT, a lot of books I read, I’m kinda *meh*.

    So basically, I think a lot of people will buy most of their books in electronic format then, if they really like the book, may go out and buy the dead tree version.

    Yeah it’s a good observation, Gary, and Cory Doctorow is certainly the poster child for free e-book distribution. If I was ever in a position of negotiating with a book publisher about digital rights I’d be arguing pretty hard to implement some of his strategies.

    But for me, this whole topic is not really about e-books. Sure, e-books are coming and they are part of the digital transformation that is overtaking traditional publishing. But I think too many people get side-tracked by the e-book debate (will it be a format or a device? When will it tip? etc) and forget that there are other ways that technology can change or threaten your business.

    Amazon is already proving it with their moves to form a vertically integrated supply chain from POD publishing to direct-to-consumer book sales. Given that POD is now cheaper than traditional print for runs under 1,200 copies I would think this is a far bigger threat to publishers NOW than e-books are likely to be even in the near-future. It should be of interest to Australian publishers especially since print runs are smaller here.

    Some bricks-and-mortar booksellers, like Borders US, are moving to establish POD centres inside their bookstores, and offering author services to along with it, such as in-store events and distribution within their retail chain. They also promise new special areas of their stores which will give such titles physicla shelf-space. With retailer-supported distribution, this takes self-publishing to a whole new level and is encroaching on some pretty significant areas of publishing that used to be solely the province of trade publishers.

    I also think some populous nations will jump right over the e-book device debate altogether. In fact, they already have. Phone manufacturers have already stopped shipping 2G phones to Japan. You can only buy 3G there now. And mobile phone penetration in Japan is higher than 100%. So when there are more phone subscriptions than there are people in the country, and those phones are also high-speed internet browsers, integrated media centres with increasing memory capacity, why would a device that only reads book be of any interest? This is the same country, by the way, that last year shot five novels written on mobile phones into the top ten bestselling books list. Those readers didn’t need an e-book device to become fans of the books and turn them into hits.

    The thing about structural changes in markets, though, is that they always create new business models and lucrative opportunities for those who can be the first to work out how to exploit them. So the thing I don’t understand is why every publisher isn’t experimenting like crazy to to find those opportunities. (Of course, some are experimenting, and I’m very happy about that and keen to point it out wherever I can)

    The biggest opportunities may not be in e-books at all, but it in cheaper, more effective ways for publishers to connect with communities of readers, to brand and market their authors and to wring more long-tail sales from their backlist.

    Cory Doctorow has an excellent column at Locus Online about the economic conundrum of e-book readers.

    Frankly, book reading just isn’t important enough to qualify for priority treatment in that marketplace. E-book readers to date have been either badly made, expensive, out-of-stock or some combination of all three. No one’s making dedicated e-book readers in such quantity that the price drops to the cost of a paperback — the cost at which the average occasional reader may be tempted to take a flutter on one. Certainly, these things aren’t being made in such quantity that they’re being folded in as freebies with the Sunday paper or given away at the turnstiles at a ballgame to the majority of people who are non-book-readers.

    Meanwhile, handheld game consoles, phones, and other multipurpose devices have found their way into the hands of people from every walk of life. In some countries, mobile phone penetration is above 100 percent — that is, a significant proportion of the population maintain more than one phone, for example, a work cellular and a home cellular.

    This dovetails with what I was saying about convergence the other day, and my firm belief that it’s not going to be a device that tips e-books. When next generation mobile phones are ubiquitous, and can play my music, videos, games, deliver my emails and texts, display my photos, store my documents and provide internet searches (oh, and make phone calls), why would I want to pay US$300 for something that only reads books? In Australia, it’s even more daunting than that – Dymocks wants me to pay a whopping AUD$900 for an iLiad. I both understand and applaud their push into the e-book space, and let’s face it, without publisher and retailer support, it’s hard to see consumer take-up of e-books at all. But to me, convenient, affordable and easy access to content (masses of content) will attract me faster if I don’t also have to purchase, configure and get comfortable with yet another gadget.