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From France, Love Letters to Booksellers

posted October 23, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in Bookselling E-books books publishing technology trends

Lettres à mon libraire

What is the biggest challenge for publishers and bookstores today? The simple answer, of course, is that people are buying fewer books, and when they do buy books, it’s increasingly online. But it’s not as if people are reading less. They might, in fact, be reading more, except now they have a new option: free content in the ever expanding virtual world of the Internet.

I sometimes think of this as an American phenomenon. In the United States attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and people seem more interested in reading blogs or watching strangers lip sync on YouTube than doing something as sedate and tedious as reading a novel. But I was discouraged to learn recently that in France, too, book buying is on the decline.

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Publishing Prophet Chris Anderson

posted October 15, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in Bookselling publishing

Not long ago I was one of 50,000 people who made the pilgrimage to the book festival in Mouans-Sartoux, a small town in the foothills north of Cannes. Publishers from the region and elsewhere in France set up stands and showed off their titles. Writers, too, were there, waiting behind their little stacks, hoping to chat with a reader or sign a book. If we are about to enter a new era of electronic books and unlimited distribution, the festival was a reminder that most people are still living in a slower time of texture and paper.

So what is going to happen? The publishing industry is aswarm with utopian visions of an electronic, democratic future. Many find support in a theory developed by Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, and described in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. The kernel of the idea can be said simply. In the past there were limited distribution channels (e.g., movie theaters or bookstores), meaning only a small number of products found buyers. But the Internet has created unlimited access to goods, making consumers aware of niche and obscure products and increasing demand for them. Using the terminology of the idea, demand is moving away from the head (the most popular products) to the long tail (everything else).

Here is Chris Anderson explaining the theory.

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Publishing Prophet of the Week: Richard Nash

posted September 29, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in books publishing social media trends

Humans seem to be attracted to visions of great change, whether social, religious, or economic, especially during periods of instability. Publishing is not immune. With people reading fewer books and spending more time on the Internet, and with paper books, long the preferred container of long narratives, beginning to give ground to ebooks, there is a lot of speculation about what is going to happen to publishing.

Among the most interesting publishing visionaries today is Richard Nash, formerly editorial director of Soft Skull Press. Nash is one of many people who think traditional publishing is broken and needs to be replaced by the new tools and social habits of the twenty-first century. In Nash’s view publishing has to stop selling books as objects (wholly opposite to the current fetish of the object in literary publishing) and consider a different way to get writers and readers together, especially on the Internet.

Nash outlines that different way in a recent Publishers Weekly article. According to Nash, except for the 500 best-selling books, which will be published on the Hollywood blockbuster model, the future of publishing will be based on niche social communities. Reflecting this vision, Nash is starting a new publishing venture, Cursor, which will contain a “portfolio” of online membership communities to which people can subscribe. The first two will be Red Lemonade, a “pop-lit-alt-cult operation,” and charmQuark, a “sci-fi/fantasy community.” Nash explains these communities in Publishers Weekly.

Each community will have a publishing imprint, which will make money from authors’ books, sold as digital downloads, conventional print and limited artisanal editions—and will offer authors all the benefits of a digital platform: faster time to market, faster accounting cycles, faster payments to authors. But the greatest opportunity is in the community itself. Each will have tiers of membership, including paid memberships that will offer exclusive access to tools and services, such as rich text editors for members to upload their own writing, peer-to-peer writing groups, recommendation engines, access to established authors online and in person, and editorial or marketing assistance. Members can get both peer-based feedback and professional feedback.

Nash is looking for investors, so we’ll have to wait a while to see Cursor in action.

So Long, Quartet Press, Sassy Publisher of Romance Novels

posted September 11, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in E-books independent publishing

Who doesn’t get seduced by the Internet? Always on, always clothed in beautiful colors, always full of stories to tell. It almost seems real, like something’s alive, like something’s there. Though admittedly from an aerial view, we all must seem a bit pathetic staring at our illuminated screens.

Wednesday night I had nothing better to do than to eat a light dinner—Gouda with cumin, mâche with tomato—and to read a short book I just bought, Insoupçonnable (Beyond Suspicion) by Tanguy Viel, a thriller about family deceit in the south of France. But before doing that, it seemed like a good idea to shut off my illuminating little seducer.

That’s when I saw the news, a bleak tweet stuffed in its 140-character jacket.

quartet2 QuartetPress  I truly hate being the bearer of bad news, but it has to be announced: Quartet Press has disbanded. 1 hour ago from TweetDeck


How can I explain my reaction? It was something like a heavy object and a thud. And suddenly gone were all thoughts of family intrigue in the south of France. I had a real death to consider.

There was, however, one problem.

I didn’t know anyone personally at Quartet Press. I just thought I did, sort of, in an Internet way. Quartet Press was an ebook publisher recently started with great fanfare and confidence, its little Windows-like flag flying bravely into the new world of publishing. But it didn’t last long enough to publish a single book.

So why did I care?

Quartet Press was to publish romance novels, a project far from our own. They were going to focus on ebooks, while we will be offering both paper and electronic options. But I admired the enthusiasm of its site, its clear desire to do something new, its courage. And, I guess, in the mysterious way the Internet, or a book, makes you believe in what you can’t see, I was seduced by the drama of another new publisher.

Only yesterday morning did I learn the cause of death: higher than expected editorial and technological costs. Kat Meyer, one of the quartet heading the press, said, “The financial risk was increased beyond what our financial backer was able to accept, and the only options we had were to close or to regroup and go forward without financing,”

So adieu, Quartet Press, onetime maker of digitized, illuminated colors on my screen. I’ll miss you, whoever you were.

HarperStudio: The New, Open-Book Strategy

posted May 26, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in publishing technology

Are publishers too reclusive? Do they hide in their offices, refusing contact with the outside world? That’s the verdict of Carolyn Pitts, vice president at HarperCollins. In an article published in the online magazine Book Business, she argues that publishing companies need to become less anonymous and adopt “authentic, personalized, continuous engagement” with readers, reflecting the model of social media on the Internet. “There are no wallflowers,” she says, “at this digital dance.”

One bright spot noted by Pitts is HarperCollins’s own HarperStudio, a new, experimental imprint intended to address structural problems, including high advances, afflicting the publishing industry. As part of its marketing strategy, it gives Flip cameras to authors so they can create online videos for readers. Another attempt to communicate with readers is the HarperStudio blog, The 26th Story, written by the imprint’s staff. Recent posts discuss crowdsourcing for books (a collective brainstorming process for writing text), the use of public domain classics (such as Edith Wharton) for magazines, and the latest in Twitterature. HarperStudio seems to be directly addressing Pitts’s warning: “Anyone choosing reclusivity or anonymity over engagement chooses irrelevance.”

Here’s a video from the HarperStudio website of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who signed a ten-book deal with HarperCollins under the HarperStudio imprint.

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