Friday, January 29, 2010

Blog has moved -- update your bookmarks and feed readers!

Hi readers (if I have any left after ignoring you all for so long), I am relocating my blog to Wordpress to get all the fancy bells and whistles that come with it.

You can read my blog now at

And the RSS Feed is:

Or you can get my updates via Twitter: @HannahSJohnson

See you all on the new site!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ebook Pricing

It has been a while since my last post, so what has made me come out of hiding? Ebook pricing. The Bookseller reported today that Transworld has finally announced that the UK ebook price for Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol is going to be the same as the hardcover: £18.99. Same goes for Random House in the US, where the hardcover and ebook are both priced at $29.95. Pardon me, publishers, but there is no way in hell I will pay 30 bucks for a Dan Brown ebook. You are making Amazon look like the good guy by pricing its proprietary ebook at $9.99.

This kind of pricing strategy is selfish and shortsighted on the part of publishers because they are not listening to their customers, who believe, right or wrong, that ebooks should be less expensive than print editions. Charging the print price for an ebook is not going to change the customer's mind. It is going to make them go elsewhere to buy the book or illegally download it somewhere. The customer is not thinking about what percentage of the ebook price eventually goes back to the publisher. Instead the customer is thinking about whether the product is worth the asking price, and in the case of The Lost Symbol for $29.95, the answer is going to be: not worth it.

Random House sited among the reasons for its pricing decision, that they were afraid a lower ebook price would decrease the number of hardback copies sold. But a lower ebook price also means that some of the people who would have waited for the paperback or just borrowed a friend's hardcover copy might now buy the ebook instead. More units at a lower price is just as good as less units at a higher price, isn't it?

To be honest, this subject gets me riled up because the larger publishers seem to pay very little attention to what their customers want or are willing to buy, and that is a Business 101 lesson. From Andrew Savikas of O'Reilly Media: "Think long and hard about what your customers want, and provide the service of giving that to them." O'Reilly has great publishing model that successfully incorporates DRM-free ebooks and print editions. Why are they so successful? Because their customers wanted DRM-free ebooks, so O'Reilly started selling them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Take on FiledBy Author

I saw the hype about FiledByAuthor in PW, on Twitter, in my Google Reader. Most of the hype simply said that the site had 1.8 million writer profiles on there and that it was set up as a resource/community for writers and readers. So I checked it out, signed up and created my profile as a reader. I even uploaded a profile picture and added some books to my “favorites” list. However, the thought occurred to me mid-way through this process that I might be wasting my time. What benefit do I, as a reader, gain from FiledByAuthor?

Digging deeper into how the site works, I discovered (shockingly) that I am not necessarily the target audience. Apparently, FiledBy aggregates content about authors from all over the internet and packages the information in the form of author profiles with a picture, bio, list of works. After that, authors are asked to pay a subscription fee to verify their listing and add extra features to the profile. According to the website, publishers can also elect to pay this fee on behalf of their authors. Carolyn Kellogg of Jacket Copy pointed out that the author information on this website will not be removed at the request of an author. She talked with a co-founder of FiledByAuthor, Peter Clifton and asked why FiledBy does not offer an opt-out. Clifton answered that he hopes people will prefer to participate, but that FiledBy has every right to create a directory of authors using available information from the internet. However, in Carolyn’s opinion, “to be truly author-friendly, it has to demonstrate that it values intellectual property.”

Tricky. If an author decides to participate, he or she is out at least a hundred bucks and now has another site that needs regular updates and attention. On the other hand, opting out means having no control over the information, correct or otherwise, listed on FiledBy. It might look like the author does not care about reaching readers. Of course this all depends on how many readers actually sign up.

I get the idea behind FiledByAuthor. Publishers encourage their authors to have a web presence and to market themselves online. Many authors don’t have the time or inclination to do as much as they or their publishers would like. FiledBy offers an all-in-one resource for author information. As a resource, it is pretty comprehensive. I did some test searches on German authors whose English translations are out of print, and they turned up results! Even some German children’s book authors are in there.

Final conclusion: As a basic resource for ISBN and publication info, this is a great site. The interface is simple and easy to navigate. However, the marketing and community aspects have yet to impress me. Urging people to come to you, rebuild their profile information and invest time means you have to offer something there that is more valuable than what they find somewhere else.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I thought publishers were broke

It turns out that they are able to reach deep into the coffers for certain acquisitions. Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, just landed herself a $4.8 million advance from Scribner for her next novel. $4.8 million?!? A huge advance any way you look at it, the money becomes that much more important in this new era of acquisition freezes, layoffs, and penny-pinching. This novel better be one heck of a bestseller, or Scribner will be that much deeper in the hole. Publication of the book is set for September, so we'll have to wait and see if this pays off.

As the New York Times points out, second novels by bestselling authors have a tendency to underperform. The other, and most obvious risk, is that Scribner is going to have to wait until September to start seeing returns on their investment, which may or may not pay off. The publisher is at the whim of a reader's subjective decision to buy this book or not. How many more people have to say that publishing needs a new business model? In an industry where margins are slim in good times, why are we risking millions of dollars ahead of time?

Maybe HarperStudio with its low advances and 50-50 royalty split with authors can make a better go of it. Or anyone else out there willing to step outside the box.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bob Stein at TOC on building communities

This short snippet of Bob Stein's TOC presentation comes from Ed Nawotka's article in PW today:

In this brave new world, the key role of publishers “is to build and nurture vibrant communities for authors and tend to their readers.” They will be judged on their ability to “curate and build communities for their authors around their readers.”

The idea of building communities and becoming more attentive to reading audiences has been a major one at this year's TOC Conference. Interacting with the target audience is presenting a major challenge for many publishers today who have traditionally taken a very distanced approach when it comes to readers.

How many times have we all heard or participated in a discussion about the "good old days" of publishing when it was a glamorous and artistic endeavor, when publishers were the "gate-keepers" of literary and academic taste? In the past, book publishers were situated on the forefront of cultural movements. Significant and society-altering ideas were published in print before they appeared anywhere else. I am not arguing that books can no longer play that role, but today, technology has pushed book publishing back to the lagging edge of cultural trends. Often times, authors have blogged about their revolutionary ideas long before these ideas make it into a printed book.

Publishers have to engage their readers, build communities of readers, and let these communities take some of the burden of marketing every title off the publishers' shoulders. User-generated content and viral marketing are very powerful, but they depend on a strong network of dedicated fans. Let's spend some real energy opening up to readers so they can become champions for the book publishing cause (obviously, the question is how to do this, and if I had that answer, I would be rich).

UPDATE: Chad Post echoes my sentiments in his analysis of BEA's new structure.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Free downloads and DRM

The other day I downloaded Free-Range Chickens by Simon Rich and The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss to my Kindle. For free. FOR FREE. I probably never would have read either of these books if I'd had to buy them. Sorry, Random House, but it's true. The good news is that they can only make money off of me, not lose any. What if these two authors turn out to be my new favorite authors and I rush out to buy more books by them (or more likely download them to my Kindle from the comfort of my shoe-box apartment)? Random House has just increased the chances of that happening.

Through February 28th, Random House has made a selection of their backlist books available for free on the Kindle and through Stanza, an e-book iPhone app. These books are also available for download from Lexcycle. According to a Lexcycle press release from December 8th, this promotion is to build a readership for these authors and encourage sales of more books by these authors. Excellent idea.

Fewer Book Trailers, More Market Research

This item in GalleyCat reminded me that book trailers even exist and that they don't work. Have a little faith that readers are intelligent enough to tell the difference between stock video footage and a description of a book. I know that GalleyCat's article is about how book trailers DO work, but I will argue that the two videos mentioned are not actually book trailers.

The lion video is amazing and (I will admit this only to my blog readers) brings a small tear to my eye. The book, A Lion Called Christian, came out in 1972. The YouTube video was posted in 2006. This is a perfect example of viral marketing at its uncontrollable finest. Marketers are hard-pressed to artificially generate interest for their products like this. Why? Because consumers are at a point where they want to control and interact with content instead of ingesting what is put in front of them. They take pride in discovering obscure videos on YouTube, then discovering long lost books that correspond to these videos (or pick your own example). Creating something obscure then making people discover it is a tough thing to do.

As for the other video mentioned, I will admit that this is the kind of cool, supplemental media that should surround a book (kind of like giving away free sample chapters or even free books), but I would not categorize it as a book trailer. The video gives people a better sense for the author and wins readers based on the content. There is nothing flashy about an author reading an essay out loud, but if the quality of the content strikes a chord with readers, that works.

On another topic, GalleyCat's opening line to this article reminds me of another pet peeve of mine about the publishing industry:
"...nobody really knows if 'book trailers' actually motivate readers to go out and buy books..."
Nobody knows? Why is that? No, don't answer that question because it was rhetorical. Instead I am going to tell you why. Many publishers apparently put more faith in their innate ability to artistically glean which books will be successful than they do in market research. Of course market research is less glamorous and scholarly than artistic gleaning, but it has the distinct advantage of giving businesses an idea of what their customers think and how they will spend money. If you are a publisher who is willing to spend money on book trailers, you should also be willing to spend money on market research.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Powerful President

He has only been the president for just over an hour, and we can already see Obama's power to inspire Americans to participate in their country's direction and future. Mashable has the latest numbers from the CNN/Facebook live streaming video of Obama's inauguration, and they are staggering! Our new president is truly of this generation.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Publishers, Take Some Notes!

Apple iTunes will now offer DRM-free music from Sony, Universal and Warner starting this week. According to the NY Times, music label EMI was already offering their music through iTunes without DRM. I had no idea. Shows how much I know!

Over the holidays, I had a conversation about this very issue, which concluded with the assumption that iTunes would eventually drop DRM, but not anytime soon. Good thing we were wrong. We have all heard the arguments for and against DRM over and over. Without it, there would be rampant sharing and less buying. With it, people will find a way to hack it or buy music without it.

How many of us have borrowed physical CDs and physical books from people? Each instance represents a potential sale lost through sharing. Even in the pre-digital age, we were sharing and loaning and not buying. Sure, it is easier to share a digital file, but it is also easier to buy one.

Again over the holidays, there was an article in the NY Times reminiscing about the good old days of the music industry, before digitization. Sound familiar, publishing people? It reminded me of all the "death to publishing" articles and laments about this new digital era of publishing. I think the reality of the situation is that no matter what era we are working in, something will challenge us. Those challenges change constantly, and that is what keeps things exciting. We could all certainly find jobs out there with fewer challenges and more stability, but didn't we get into publishing to avoid such jobs?

Monday, December 8, 2008

The iPhone

Question: is the iPhone worth $199 plus an extra $30 each month of my hard-earned cash? With an iPod, a digital camera, a video camera, a laptop, and a cell phone, do I need to add another gadget to my arsenal? After realizing that all the hip and cool people have iPhones, I decided last week to drop the dough and get the answer to my burning question

Answer: I was an idiot not to get one sooner! I love my iPhone. I have bonded with fellow iPhone lovers. Gone are the days of wandering aimlessly through the city armed only with a poorly drawn map of my destination. No photo opportunities can escape me now. Feel the urge to blog? Anytime, anywhere, that is possible (ok, anywhere there is a 3G or Edge Network signal). I can satisfy my musical urges by playing the piano or the ocarina on my iPhone. I can whip out a classic literary text at a moment's notice. I have already downloaded several books from Project Gutenberg and some free books from Random House through the Stanza reader. Pleasant experiences, both of them.

I am suddenly so connected to other people and to my own creative impulses. Get an iPhone!