So this Saturday finds me up at the office with the blinds shut on my window while getting caught up on a variety of things that I didn’t get done during this four-day week that had a two-day trip out to Abilene wedged into it to discuss all things wind energy: approving pending requisitions, sending out belated emails, and closing out weekly reports. Plus, to top it all off, with all the running around, I didn’t even remotely have time to watch over my rss feeds like I normally would so that’s why this is the semi-latest publishing news as it comes from the week of March 22-26. On the other hand, this week’s news has been dominated by all things iPad and until I actually get to play around with one, I’ll try to stay out of that discussion.
So, from the week before last week that was, news we found most interesting and relevant includes:
A good overview of the state of freelancing in book publishing along with some good quotes from Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, one of our favorite editors to work with. As in any industry where there is a state of turmoil and revenue is in flux, the quickest way to lower overhead is cut full-time personnel and utilize independent contractors. So, in that sense, there are more opportunities for freelancers than ever before. This article has some good advice from experienced pros as well as those new to this career path.
This has all the makings of a classic Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla smackdown: Amazon has a big head start with the Kindle (and something like 85% of the current ebook market) while Apple has the iPad that just came out this week and the iTunes business model that they’ll be using for ebooks. Given the relative difference in their ebook readers alone, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. And, it’s just another reason publishers are watching from the sidelines or, at best, are making very cautious/thoughtful forays into ebooks so that nobody invests a ton on money and effort into a particular platform and/or file format that winds up being the Betamax of ebooks.
Colin Robinson, co-publisher at OR Books, provides a detailed breakdown to show why they are not utilizing Amazon as a method of sales. As he says, Amazon didn’t get to where it is by being touchy-feely and the concessions they are demanding from publishers—especially as the ebook wars heat up—are becoming more onerous and more numerous. On the other hand, OR Books can probably get away with this as they seem to have fairly direct access to the audience for their well-defined publishing niche. For most small publishers, though, the problem is that Amazon is the only way they can get the reach they need for their books. It’s certainly a very deliberate and interesting choice they’ve made . . . one that hopefully turns out better than the HarperStudio experiment that went south this week.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the customer reviews at Amazon. On the one hand, before buying any book I’m always curious to see what other people have said about it. On the other hand, the only people who typically have the inertia to write a review either loved it or hated it and so there’s not much, if any, middle ground. Then, when you add the agendas that reviewers can have that are completely unrelated to the book/product at hand, it can become a real mess. The first example of this I remember had to do with the album the Dixie Chicks released just before their big pr dust-up. (Then again, as I also recall, I think it won the Grammy for album of the year, so maybe there’s no such thing as bad press.) Anyway, the “online mob” attacking Michael Lewis’ book was angry that it wasn’t available on the Kindle so they inundated its product page with one-star reviews based on that fact alone. As a publisher, I know we are always keeping our fingers crossed when it comes to Amazon reviews . . . you want good ones but you want the negative ones to at least be dealing with book itself and not something separate from it.
Three or four years ago I went to an M2M (machine to machine) conference in San Antonio where the cell phone service providers were bemoaning the fact that the market for cell phones had become saturated so that they were now looking at M2M applications such as electronic notifications if a gate was open on a ranch when it should be closed or monitoring the engine performance of a delivery truck. Well, those applications have certainly come to pass and are becoming more robust. But, the service market to cell phone users has changed dramatically as well. As it happens, the director for marketing and sales at PTC (a Polish cell phone service provider that’s a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom Group), is a long-time friend of my wife’s family and so two weeks ago he and his wife came to Texas to visit. He and I talked about the future of the cell phone market and he said that the real money in the future would come from offering new add-on services to existing customers as opposed to just trying to get more new subscribers. Then, a few days later, the announcement above . . . which only reiterates what he was saying as well as indicating that that’s where that industry is headed.
This article discusses Paragon Software Group‘s strategy in offering $15-$60 apps for access to Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries in the face of free sites like Dictionary.com (which I admittedly use on a regular basis). Paragon’s CEO is betting that people in specialized market niches—grad students, academics, business executives—will be willing to pay a premium for highly vetted content instead of going with (often crowdsourced) free alternatives.
I found this article interesting mainly because we have variations of this discussion all the time: with so much information being freely available on the Internet, is there any real need for textbooks of any kind anymore? Sure, it’s easy to say that the textbook has had its day, but it’s also just plain wrong. There are significant dilemmas when relying on a collection of Web sites for information—especially technical information—to teach by: a collection of facts is not the same as content designed for learning (otherwise all any teacher would need is online access to the OED, Encyclopedia Britannica, and some technical manuals); Web sites are here today and can be gone later today instead of being permanent, codified content; anyone can create a Web site relatively easily with no process for vetting information as opposed to textbooks which will have that built into the publishing process; and, finally, most faculty would rather spend their time actually teaching instead of cruising the Internet looking for yet another Web site that offers a piece of what they’re covering in class.
Will textbooks in the future look the way they have in the past? Most certainly not. With the move toward digital textbooks—and I have higher hopes for the iPad in this area as opposed to the Kindle—in the future this content will be created with all the multimedia capabilities that technology will offer. But in the end that means the cost for producing these types of media-rich materials will be even more labor intensive and require even more production and design resources than a textbook—or someone’s DIY Web site—demands today.
Yikes . . . I’m already passed my self-imposed one o’clock deadline to get out of the office this afternoon so I can go home and mow the yard. By the end of this coming week I hope to be back on a more calendar-aligned schedule for my next set of recommended reading links.