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Alphabet SoupI’ve been too busy with Clarion South to be able to write longer posts, so here’s a round-up of a few interesting tidbits I’ve seen around the interwebs lately.

Winnie the Pooh to the Rescue
Apparently a Pooh sequel is in development. PersonaNonData quotes a Times article: “Michael Brown, for the trustees who manage the affairs of A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, said that he had been hoping to give the green light to a sequel for a very long time.” This intrigues me since I was fairly sure A. A. Milne’s works entered the public domain in 2007.

Self Publishing Continues to Grow
Martyn Daniels over at Brave New World comments on the continued rise of self publishing as an option for authors finding it hard to be published. It may be cheaper and easier than ever before. But watching my members’ experiences with POD and self-publishing at QWC, it seems the only ones making money out of it so far are the service companies Daniels mentions, like Authors Solutions.

Canadian Wine Meet Canadian Content
Mark at Index//mb has a nifty marketing idea: pair Canadian books/authors with Canadian wines. Mark, Australian Coriole Wines did a brilliant promotion using exactly this idea a few years ago with Adelaide poets. Poetry and poet bios on the labels, attractive limited edition half-cases with royalties to the poets, and even “Poets in the Vineyard” events with readings and music. I hope Canadian wineries can follow the example!

Do publishers still dream of electric books?
Brian Joseph Davis, guest blogging at the Globe and Mail, has a short, sweet with Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash about the state of publishing.

There are two fixed points in the cultural economy of books; the writer and the reader. Everything in between is up for grabs. And everything in between will need to earn its piece of the action by providing valuable services to writers and readers. Publishers especially have shown little regard for readers and most will need a radical change in culture in order to create a strong enough service culture.

So folks in a 2019 publishing office will be connecting writers and readers with passion, elan, humility and respect. Or not at all.

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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.

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.

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)

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!]

blueskysmiling77

Yes, I’ve been away from the blog a long while. Work travel, flu, two seasons of Veronica Mars, Ekka, fiction deadline. In that order. Mea culpa.

To make up for my non-posting, here is a selection of links for your reading pleasure. I’m off to MWF later this week so I endeavour to give you better blog than I have lately. Or, you know, any blog.

Short Fiction in the Age of the EBook – The Digitalist
Gary Gibson muses on a possible digital renaissance for short stories. As a short fiction writer and reader this gives me warm fuzzies.

10 Reasons Not to Write Off Reading From a Screen – The Digitalist
Also at The Digitalist, Michael Bhaskar writes in defence of screen reading. Yes! It is absolutely about multiplicity of channels. After all, video really didn’t kill the radio star.

Personanondata Bookstore
Because I read his RSS feed instead of visiting the site, I had no idea PersonaNonData had such a marvellous list of recommendations for books and reports about the publishing industry, all handily arranged in an Amazon store. I think my credit card is cringing.

An Open Letter to Random House
Publishers take note: this is why DRM makes customers unhappy.

The Kindle Kronikles – Print is Dead
Despite the hype, and various guesstimates about sales figures, I am not a Kindle believer. I think this is cul-de-sac technology and any consumer uptake or design/tech improvements achieved by eReaders are destined to be folded back into mobile phones. Nevertheless, this multi-part post series by Jeff Gomez, author of Print is Dead, is a good read and an interesting primer.

Audible Launches IndieFirst – Brave New World
Martyn Daniels is my favourite commentator on publishing futures. This post has some interesting analysis on the launch of an independent publisher initiative by Audible (the Amazon-owned audiobook retailer)

Last year I read Spook Country by William Gibson. It was, as usual, a great pleasure. I remember Gibson saying in an interview at the time that “every text today has a kind of spectral quasi-hypertext surrounding it… all of the Googled information that found its way into the book but which isn’t available to the reader as a literal hypertext unless you’re willing to be the animator of the hypertext process and Google each term that’s distinctive and new.”

“It’s curious. When I published ‘Pattern Recognition’ ” — his previous book, which was also set in the recent past and achieved mainstream success — “within a few months there was someone who started a Web site. People were compiling Googled references to every term and every place in the book. It has photographs of just about every locale in the book — a massive site that was compiled by volunteer effort. But it took a couple of years to come together. With ‘Spook Country,’ the same thing was up on the Web before the book was published.” Somebody got an advance reader copy, and instantly put up a site for his fictional Node magazine.

Blogs and social media are already making this spectral hypertext less quasi and more actual. But as Gibson predicted, other text was destined to follow.

Today, Harlequin US launched Enriched Edition e-books, acknowledging that books are (and always have been) extensible. The text of enriched edtions will be embedded with links to additional information about the content. (As a cute aside, you’ve gotta love Harlequin’s quaint usage of terms like ‘interactive buttons’ and ‘hyperlinks’ in their media release)

The launch title, UNMASKED by Nicola Cornick, a Regency-set historical available from www.eBooks.eHarlequin.com, has been enriched with interactive buttons that hyperlink to Web sites containing photos, historical commentaries, illustrations, sound effects, maps, articles and more, bringing the world of the novel to life without the reader having to leave the computer or the current screen page. The interactive buttons have been designed to be unobtrusive, so if one prefers not to access the bonus material, the reading experience remains uninterrupted. Link

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.