Monthly Archives: April 2011

  •    Merlin Mann on writing a book and ‘Cranking’. You really need to read this. #
  •    It seems that a number of online booksellers have resorted to algorithmic auto-pricing. See, for instance, this story about an $23,698,655.93 book about flies on Amazon:
    A few weeks ago a postdoc in my lab logged on to Amazon to buy the lab an extra copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly – a classic work in developmental biology that we – and most other Drosophila developmental biologists – consult regularly. The book, published in 1992, is out of print. But Amazon listed 17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).
    Funny things happen when you let programs determine your book prices for you. #

Writers Are The New Publishers

In my last post I talked about $0.99 eBooks in the context of industry disruption. Today, I want to talk about what looks like a corollary to that trend: the writer-as-publisher.

Tim O’Reilly said recently that he believed a small group of successful indie writers will soon create their own publishing outfits. He has some authority on the matter: O’Reilly, after all, started out as a self-publisher, before he began doing it for other people. Today, O’Reilly Media, Inc is a multi-million dollar publishing outfit, one of the few successfully adapting to a digital shift.

I think this makes sense, and I’m not going to spend too much time on the obvious advantages:

1) Successful independent writers have ‘been there and done that’. If you were a writer you would probably be attracted to the idea of having an accomplished indie writer (say, J.A. Konrath?) help you with your ebook. Think: is it a good trade to give away the difficulties of designing, marketing, and selling your ebook to indie-writers who are well-experienced in the matter? They get to take a small cut of your ebook sales, you get to focus on writing. I think it’s a good trade.

2) The margins for a small, writer-as-publisher startup makes a lot of sense. You’re not likely to make much per book, but thanks to the economics of the digital bookstore, you are likely to make a sizable amount — so long as you gather a small team of editors and designers, and focus on releasing as many ebooks as possible. The long tail of digital economics would ensure that you’ll make money for about as long as your ebooks are online (which can be forever, if they’re on the Kindle store).

We’re already seeing several web fiction writers turn to publishing. Last week I linked to Alexandra Erin’s new outfit, LitSnacks. This week I spent some time browsing through web fiction author MCM’s catalog, over at his 1889.ca website. He’s lent his ebook and design expertise to a small (but growing!) number of authors, under the 1889 Labs label.

We’ll soon see more of these publishers, I bet. And — yes — these outfits will still be in the margins of the publishing industry. But they will be profitable, and they will grow as the market grows.

Writing this article has made me realize that there are really two barriers to publishing at the moment: one bit of it is technological, which we’re trying to solve with the software we’re writing at Pandamian; the other bit is process — the very human effort of taking a book from manuscript to market. These small publishing outfits are likely to be the solution to the process problem, and I look forward to seeing how they solve the intricacies of editing, design, and ebook production in a low-margin, high-output context.

Note: I’d love to hear from you, if you are (or you know of) a writer-turned-publisher. Just leave a link to your outfit in the comments, and I’ll include you in a roundup post next week.

  •    Isa’s just released a cool little tool called the thebestsellercode.com. Feel free to play around with it; it’ll be included in fluffyseme’s analytics package in the near future. #
  •    Marco Arment speculates about an Amazon iPad competitor:
    … But it would cause a pretty big short-term headache for Apple that, if there’s a new and very inexpensive tablet alternative from Amazon, could pose a credible (although almost certainly not fatal) threat to the iPad’s marketshare. And Apple knows this.

     I suspect the Kindle app will continue being mysteriously and indefinitely exempted from the in-app-purchase rules.
    Better still if it uses a Pixel Qi screen. #
  •    Eric Snider, a freelance writer at AOL property Cinematical, resigned from his position a few days ago. The resulting rant is one of the funniest things I’ve read all week:
    At first glance, AOL buying HuffPo might look like a good thing. Huffington is well-known for not paying her writers, who contribute work for free because it gives them a platform from which to make their voices heard. Perhaps AOL, as the new owner, would make HuffPo start paying its writers. Say what you will about AOL, but when you perform work for them, they pay you. They’re old-fashioned like that.
    Yes: it gets funnier, and no, this doesn’t end well. #
  •    How I got a blank book to the top of the Amazon charts. Shed Simove and his 200-page, completely blank book titled What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex. #
  •    Chinese ‘web literature’ authors have been profitable for some time now:
    People who signed up as writers on the site could publish their stories in serial form. If their works happened to attract a large group of readers, Qidian.com editors would call the writers and ask if they would like to sell their copyrights to the website. After they signed a contract, their works would be displayed in the site’s VIP section, where readers could read a certain number of chapters for free and then be charged for the rest of the novel. Later, the website would split the profit equally with the writers.
    Bizarrely enough, I found out about this a couple of months back when I observed a few of my Chinese friends reading web novels in their spare time. “Are they any good?” I asked. “No,” My friend answered. “We just read them for stress relief.” (thx, SgL) #

Disruption and that 99c eBook Thing

This post is the first in Novelr’s Interesting Problems in Publishing series. Read more about that here.

Innovator's Dilemma

Disrupted industries tend to follow a common pattern. I spent the last month or so reading Clayton M. Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, and realized, at the end of it, that the $0.99 ebook is really a part of one such pattern. But in order to understand that, we need to know how a disrupted industry looks like. So let’s begin by talking about hard disk drives.

The first hard drives were developed between 1952 and 1956. They were horrendously large (in physical size) and ridiculously small (in memory). But what followed this initial innovation is instructive when thinking about pricing, technology, and industry-wide disruption.

The first harddisk

In 1978 the dominant hard disk drives on the market were 14-inch drives, at 300 to 400 MB of memory. They were used in large mainframe computers.

In the same year, the first 8-inch drives hit the market, built and sold by startups at the margins of the hard drive industry. Nobody wanted them. The models weren’t taken seriously. The drives themselves were small — at 20, 30, 40 MB capacity — which meant that they were of no use to any mainframe computer maker.

So what do you do when the mainstream computer manufacturers reject your product? The new 8-inch drive makers turned their attentions to the smaller (and therefore less profitable) minicomputer market. This market didn’t mind paying for less capacity; they prized other attributes such as the smaller size of the new hard drives.

And so the minicomputer market exploded. The startups found that they could increase the capacity of their small drives at a rate far faster than that of the 14-inch drive makers. When they became good enough — that is, when the new 8-inch drives had enough memory to be of use to the mainframe computer manufacturers, the mainframe companies began to take a closer look at the 8-inch drives. They discovered that the smaller models had several other valuable attributes: lower mechanical vibration, for instance. The new drives began to invade the mainframe computer market, and the incumbents were driven out of business.

Fast forward 3 years. Seagate Technology introduces a 5.25-inch hard drive. At capacities of 5 & 10 MB, these new drives were of no use to the minicomputer market. And so the new startups turned to the PC market.

When the 5.25 inch drives became large enough for minicomputers to use, other attributes became more important. The wide adoption of personal computers meant that it made sense for many mainframe and minicomputer manufacturers to switch over to 5.25-inch drives. All the older companies (with the exception of Micropolis) were wiped out.

(Incidentally, this cycle is repeated for the next two waves of hard drives! 2.5 inch drives, for instance, were poo-pooed, but were used in laptops and eventually became large enough to invade the market categories above them. The attribute that mattered, in this case, was the fact that 2.5-inch drives were more rugged than their bigger cousins).

  •    Tim O’Reilly on Piracy, Tinkering, and the Future of the Book:
    Let’s say my goal is to sell 10,000 copies of something. And let’s say that if by putting DRM in it I sell 10,000 copies and I make my money, and if by having no DRM 100,000 copies go into circulation and I still sell 10,000 copies. Which of those is the better outcome? I think having 100,000 in circulation and selling 10,000 is way better than having just the 10,000 that are paid for and nobody else benefits. […] People who don’t pay you generally wouldn’t have paid you anyway.
    This is the kind of clear thinking that I wish we had more of. #

Interesting Problems in Publishing, A Series

It’s 1am over here, so I’m keeping this short.

About a week ago, I was talking to writer Lee L. Lowe about publishing, eBooks, quality (perhaps just as important: perceived quality) and style. A couple of things leapt at me from the conversation: that 1) we are at a exciting, slight frightening crossroads for publishing. 2) I don’t have good answer to half the questions a normal person would ask me about the publishing industry anymore. Lee isn’t a normal person, but some of the things she brought up gave me pause.

(Note: I will admit that an increasing number of people have asked me about the publishing industry, in part due to our work at Pandamian. And I’m not very good at answering some of those questions.)

Today, I’m announcing a new series of posts on Novelr: Interesting Problems in Publishing (or, #IPiP), as a way to think through some of the issues that affect all of us in this digital shift. Some of these issues would have a technical bent to them (I am, after all, a technical person), but a good number of them would also be about more general, equally-worrisome things.

I’ll be honest: some of these posts will be slightly rough around the edges. Others would have half-formed ideas. I’m welcome to comments, of course – I find that the best ideas emerge when there’s a good amount of conversation going on at Novelr.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be updating this series, in addition to the normal posts on Novelr, but I’ll try to keep up a weekly schedule. I’m also not sure if this series of posts would interest you, but my hope is that we could perhaps work out some solutions as we go along.

You’re welcomed to join me for the ride.