The New Sleekness

Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Oh God. Dad’s Finished His Book.

by Kate Rados

Before you make that face, let me stress that I am 1,000% supportive of anything he wants to do.  Just as I’m totally supportive of him getting a degree in Archeology at the spry age of 68.  However, I’ll kill him if he calls me Junior.

I honestly thought that he would treat this project like our family basement refinishing:  He would get 85% of the way through painting a villa/landscape mural and leave it to sputter out into a series of well-intended pencil lines.  I never thought after 10 years he would actually FINISH writing his story.

So, now he’s looking to me for advice and it’s flipped my usual mindset.  Do I sugarcoat everything because he’s my dad and I want him to be happy?  Do I do my usual ‘no bull’ approach and warn him he might not make it past a self-published work for family/friends because he doesn’t have a platform?  Do I drop everything each weekend and market the hell out of it, no matter how good/bad it is?

And how the hell do I explain ePub?!

How do I guide him through this process? He’s not going to be on Twitter.  He doesn’t have a platform.  He thinks ‘blog’ is a marketing term for nasal congestion.

On one side of my brain, I know what kind of writer my father is:  meticulous, verbose, and writing in a language that is not his native tongue (he was born in Greece), so it needs editing.  My inner businesswoman can’t shake the cold voice of skepticism I bring to every acquisition meeting.  It’s not like I can hand him a copy of Tribes (DRINK) and tell him to go forth and Tweet.

On the flipside, he’s the smartest person I know.  And, perhaps more importantly:  the King of Charm.  Bring us to a Greek diner and we’ll be eating for free after a quick word in the kitchen.  He’s best friends with the former Connecticut Secretary of State – who he met at a random fundraiser.  He’s the artist/photographer/taxi-driver/bridge inspector/travel agent/bus driver renaissance man – who’s never interviewed for a job.  He’s gotten them because he’s the master of one on one conversations.

Here he is, looking at his fairly successful daughter in the publishing industry and here I am, looking at my father, who has written a hefty Historical-Fiction novel without one clue how to bring it from words on a screen into a bound achievement.

I’m probably being selfish by even questioning the next step (shut up and support him, ya jerk!), but I can’t help feeling protective of my Pop, wanting to keep his expectations low, for his obstacles are many.

Is this my punditry coming back to bite me square in the press release?  Yeah, probably.

More to come on this subject, as Dad and I pursue his dream together.

Pages adds ePub export

by Pablo Defendini

Good news, everyone! Apple has updated its Pages word processing app (part of iWork) to export ePub files directly from the app in as little as two or three clicks. Very simple, very user friendly. Since Pages supports MS Word’s Track Changes feature (on the desktop—as Lou point out in the comments below, Pages for iPad does not), I can see this, at the very least, being a good resource for editors who want to mark manuscripts up on their iPads, on the go. If nothing else, it further lowers the barrier to entry for self-published authors.

As usual, Liza Daly is on the case taking a deep look at the kind of ePub file that Pages generates, and the news looks pretty good. I also went in and did some fooling around myself last night, and was very happy to discover that Pages will export ePub files with video and audio, using the appropriate HTML5 tags.

Granted, since these tags aren’t part of the ePub spec, the files don’t pass ePubCheck, but neither do the multimedia-enhanced ePub files that are currently being sold on the iBookstore. Pages doesn’t seem to do any media encoding or compression, which is to be expected, but it also means that multimedia-enhanced ePub files generated by Pages aren’t quite ready for prime time. Aside from that, as Liza points out, Pages is using <div> tags instead of <p> tags, which is baaaaaad, and the CSS styles could stand to be a bit more human-firendly (why not simply pick up the names of the Pages text styles they’re based on?). There’s also some awkward funkiness going on with how Pages is generating a cover, but I’m not sure if that’s due to my lack of Pages-fu. But in general they’re close. Damn close.

As I tweeted last night, Apple has (unsurprisingly) just outdone Amazon in a very important space: content creation. Creating Mobi files for Amazon’s Kindle platform is a huge pain compared to simply clicking about in Pages. Next up, I’m going to play with running some Pages-generated ePub files through Kindlegen, and see what happens.

It’s gonna be a fun weekend.

500 Million Users + Location Based Services = Opportunity

by Kate Rados

Sitting here, waiting on the live announcement of Facebook Places, a location-based check in system, integrated into their social platform. As most of you know, I’ve been loudly shouting about the merits of LBS apps like Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, and the new SCVNGR (which, I’m still not fond of yet. I’ll check in, but don’t make me do stunts for points that get me nowhere.)

And while I haven’t checked into Foursquare in about a week (I blame AT&&T and their crappy network for my frustrations) and though I’m on level 37 of MyTown, but haven’t built anything in over a month (again, ATT.), I’m actually excited about this announcement.

Why? Because it’s a network of 500 MILLION Users. Users who read online. Users who purchase content in any form.

(about 15 mins later…)

So they’ve announced partnerships with most of the apps I mentioned above: Foursquare, Gowalla, Booyah (which runs MyTown, but will be launching the new ‘InCrowd’), and Yelp. This, my friends, could be a major opportunity.

You can read more about it here and here. I won’t cover it point by point because I’ve only got about 10 mins of laptop juice. And I’m not a reporter. Not even a good note taker.

Anyway, I tweeted this earlier, but it bears repeating:

‘I just hope the industry is listening. My fear is that they are not. They’re still worried about a NYTimes Book Review ad.’

Comes off a little flippant, yes, but I am sincere. I saw only maybe a handful of publishing peeps actually tweeting and chatting about this in real time. Yeah, they could just not be on Twitter.  But I wonder if the people who need to rethink their marketing, reconfigure their events, and rework their audience development — in order to sell content and keep the business running — are paying attention. Hope so. Because this #mktgnerd is giddy with ideas. And still blaming AT&T.

SXSW, Nonsensical Drama, and my Penguin Football Jersey

by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Looking through the SXSW Interactive proposals for 2011 related to publishing, they range from thoughtful to outright hostile.

Writing is easy, and any monkey can be a publisher because that’s what the little button tells every WordPress blogger they’re doing when they click it and their latest post goes live. (You’re soaking in it!)

Also, eBooks are the magic beans that will lead to the storming of the gates, destruction of the ivory tower, and theft of the publishing industry’s golden goose. They might even slay the dragon, rescue the Princess, and completely redefine the American Dream, too!

Or something like that.

Of course, most commentary on the transition the publishing industry is currently going through tends to fall at the “outright hostile” extreme; sensational nonsense offered up by technophiles selling virtual bridges, or even worse, authors with axes to grind and speaking calendars to fill.  While the effects of “the digital transition” (drink!) on the value of newspapers and magazines has been pretty clear, and the broad acceptance of e-commerce has had an undeniable effect on brick-and-mortar booksellers (long may they live!), I firmly believe that the changes occurring in book publishing are much less dramatic than they seem.

Also, far less traumatic because, contrary to popular belief, the majority of publishing companies aren’t dumb ostriches with their heads in the sands. Many are actively examining their options, understandably reluctant to jump too fast at the latest new shiny lest it turn out to be a mirage.

Remember the Skiff? QUE?

The reality is, once the eBook market shakes out in the next year or two and becomes more efficient, the publishing industry will still be the dominant supplier of books people actually pay for.

Will the players change?  Maybe, maybe not.

Will the business model have to change? (drink!) Sure, for some publishers. Same for agents and authors, too.

Simon & Schuster just announced a pretty clear step in a new direction, but there’s a ton of different working models already in place, especially out there in the vast, diverse world beyond The Big Six. It’s worth noting that Richard Curtis launched eReads back in 1999, long before Andrew Wylie decided to play soft ball with Odyssey Editions, and Diversion Books is Scott Waxman’s second go-round with eBook publishing.

And Theo Gray, author of the The Elements? He’s not your average author; he’s also the co-founder of Wolfram Research, Inc., makers of Mathematica, among other things.

Niche, vertical, digital-first, transmedia… none of these are new concepts in the publishing industry; there are examples of each within the “major” publishers, and even more beyond them. Of course, facts and nuance are anathema to punditry and page views, and don’t often fit in 140 characters sound bytes or, sadly, even in articles published by mainstream media outlets.

(What’s Apple’s eBook market share again? And Amazon sells more Kindle Books than razors, right?)

How about instead of yet another “Death of…!” and “[Whatever] Killer?” and “Ebook Sales Up [whatever]%” linkbait article or tweet, we start focusing more on the important stuff?

Where are our initiatives to reach and engage new readers, of both print AND eBooks?

What are the kids who loved Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson and Twilight going to read next, and how are they going to find about them?

What about the vast majority of kids to whom none of those franchises were appealing? What are we publishing for them?

And finally, how do we empower avid readers of all kinds to champion their favorite authors, books and publishers the way sports fanatics do their favorite players and teams?

Where’s my Penguin football jersey?

No Peaking

by Kate Rados

If you haven’t checked out TED talks in a while, here’s a perfect opportunity to do so.

Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) gave a a talk on Creativity and dealing with following up after a huge personal success.  She points to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, where people believed that Genius didn’t come from within, but was a spirit that visited them to help further along the creative process.  If the end result was brilliant, you would be humble, because you had help.  If the result bombed, well then, it wasn’t entirely your fault.

Stephanie Anderson from Word Brooklyn and I had chatted briefly about Gilbert, when I told her that EPL was my literary Sex and the City.  I’ll explain:  I’ve never seen an episode of SATC and stubbornly refuse to do so, out of the ridiculous need to be original and contrarian.  I was in the process of dubbing this highly successful novel the same title; everyone’s read it, it’s now a Julia Roberts fantasy, and the hype is too big for me to have that same existential moment that one gets from falling in love with a book they’ve ‘discovered’.

Stephanie suggested I watch Gilbert’s TED talk and if I don’t think she’s an incredibly smart and insightful person by the end of it, then, no worries, just don’t read the book.  See?  This is why she’s a good bookseller.  She’s earwormed me without the hard sell.

The talk is below.  I’m not revealing whether I’ll read the book now or not, because it’s been hyped up enough and frankly, it’s your call.  Let me know what you think.

This Chick is Toast

by Kate Rados

What causes a trend?

No, seriously.  I’m asking because suddenly I’m into quirky objects surrounding toast.  And it’s not because I’ve been on a low-carb thing for a couple of weeks (I hate you, quinoa).  For instance, I have a new office to decorate and since the average New Yorker in Publishing spends roughly 1.5 million hours a day* at work, I thought I’d make it homey.  Wall decals are pretty cool and there are a lot of options out there.  For instance, there’s a wall-sized Super Mario Brothers set, though I don’t think 1UP properly sets up the ‘I’m a Marketing Executive’ message.  But then, there’s this pretty rad Rube Goldberg machine decal that eventually makes toast.

No, those aren’t my feet.  Nor toast.

Same day, in Google Reader, up popped a defibrillator toaster. And Toast Bandages.  If I was working for a women’s lifestyle magazine, I would declare Toast a TREND and immediately speculate when it would be pregnant with Robert Pattinson’s love child.  So why is toast suddenly ironic?  Why not english muffins?  Is it because it’s plain and accessible?  Is it because the hipsters declared it so?  Is it because I made fun of hipsters?

I swear this has to do with publishing: when society pounces on a trend, sometimes it’s not really clear why that particular item/theme/person is popular. But the curiosity is there, as is the need for instant gratification.  Do I think there should be five new books on the history or toast?  Not necessarily.  There will always be noise on the internet and there will also always be a group of people pointing to what they find fun and interesting.  The question is:  how are you ready to connect?

PS: Here’s the title reference. If you knew already, you have my unwavering affection. Hat. Tip.

PPS: I hold no responsibility for any toast memoirs.

*Rough estimate.

B&N is for sale (or: If I were a rich man….)

by Pablo Defendini

So Barnes & Noble has put itself on the block.

If I were a rich man, I’d buy B&N, get rid of all the mass market shelf space, replace it with an Espresso Book Machine, start strong-arming publishers to print and bind really, really nice hardcovers at lower print runs and stock the hell out of those, and open up the B&N in-store ebook store to all devices and platforms (fuck it; even license mobi from Amazon if I can).

What to do with all that extra big box retail space once I’ve coldly slit the throat of the mass market and trade paperback retail supply chain and replaced it with a POD machine? Simple:

1) Expand the café to include actual meals from a relatively gourmet kitchen with table service (featuring produce from a rooftop or back-of-house organic garden, where possible).

2) Create a lounge area for leisurely reading

3) Create a cloistered co-working space for freelancers

4) Expand the children’s area (with short-term day care)

5) Hire a badass events coordinator for each store to bring in local artists, musicians and theatre troupes for performances, as well as authors, for nighttime events

6) Apply for a liquor license for those nighttime events

Boom: Instant community centers that promote book (and other) culture where before stood a big, cold piece of consumer monoculture. And better yet: four of the above points should bring in some relatively decent revenue. Who’s with me?

EDIT: Bob Stein sent me a link to a post of his where he proposes a similar approach to brick & mortar bookselling, but with an interesting dimension: instead of focusing on an existing brick & mortar store like B&N, he posits that perhaps publishers should jump into the retail game. He makes the excellent point that, after all, many publishers actually started as printers and booksellers.

On radio silence.

by Pablo Defendini

I’ve been struggling to find the right words to blog about why I haven’t been blogging on here (yeah, how meta is that?) recently, apart from the fact that I’ve really been too busy at orim to do much of anything else; leave it to the formidable Kassia Krozser to sum up my feelings exactly (read the whole thing; aside from this snippet, the rest of the post is spot-the-hell-on, by all accounts):

Though everybody is writing about ebooks and the digital experience these days, I find I don’t have much new to add to the conversation; I’ve said it all before. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong, sometimes I evolved. I still absolutely believe that user experience is — after the content of the book — the most important place for publishing types to focus their attention.

I’ve given up on reading banal analysis and wild conjecture. I ignore anything with the word “killer” in the headline or lead. If there’s a question mark in the headline — Will the iPhone Destroy How We Cook Dinner? — I don’t even bother to click through. I presume it’s a question the writer is asking himself, not actually bothering to consider with any depth. It’s just vague punditry designed to fill the web equivalent of column inches.

Others seem to agree, which is heartening. I feel like the publishing industry is at a place where the pundits have said what they needed to say, some in a nice, evenhanded and measured manner, some, not so much.

We’ve been talking the talk for years (at least some of us have been), now it’s time to walk the walk. More to come (maybe. maybe not).

Embracing the Game

by Kate Rados

Evan Schnittman and I had a brief Twitter exchange about Foursquare on Friday morning and it got me thinking about the outside perception of Location Based Services and how people are starting to use it. And of course, how it can be effectively used as a marketing tool. Natch… that’s my bag. Oh and when I say Foursquare, I’m also talking about all LBS apps, like Gowalla and MyTown. (PS: Gowalla, I’m not that into you. MyTown, you just bought me a cocktail from across the bar and I might be interested.)

Evan brought up some very good points that many people are probably thinking:

1 – Why should anyone care where he is?
2 – What’s the point of Foursquare?
3 – Why do we have to let anyone know where we are at any time?

My counter/bright side is this:

1 – There’s a spirit of camaraderie and competition in Foursquare. Kind of the point of the game. And I should say that word again: game.

2 – The point is to connect with people, leave information about a place, and potentially meet up with friends. That’s the consumer side. The biz side is to connect with your consumers, offer them a discount, market the hell out of your biz.

For instance, I just moved to Brooklyn (again), into a neighborhood with which I’m unfamiliar. So, I used Foursquare to check in and see what’s trending (where there are a lot of check-ins) and see if there are any local tips or special deals. One benefit of Foursquare is that it’s gotten me excited about exploring. Who wouldn’t want to earn the ‘Brooklyn for Life’ badge after just moving there?

And when a bunch of us went to SXSW this year, we all lived on the app. Not necessarily because we wanted to beat each other and get the most badges, but because I knew if I checked in at XYZ bar, my friends would know to meet me there later if they were around. And vice versa: we coordinated a number of times based on ‘not sure where we’ll be, but we’ll check in when we get there.’

And finally, whenever I go to a new city, I will definitely be using Foursquare as my Fodor’s. Logging into the app tells me what’s around, what’s trending, etc. What a fun way to sightsee – while earning badges and rewards.

3 – We don’t *HAVE* to let everyone know where we are. Just like Facebook filters (No need to cancel your account. Use your filters, check your settings, be responsible for your own content.) Don’t broadcast that you’re in line at the drug store, if you don’t want. Don’t follow people, if you don’t want to hear where they are. For that matter, don’t play. It’s like MySpace – I appreciate that there are still millions of people there, but I’m choosing not to be there and I’ll focus my energy on other outlets. Not a big deal.

And now, I’ll step into Marketer mode. If you’re a business, you should be looking into Location Based Social Media. I mean, why not?! If you’re a book store or library, why wouldn’t you prompt your readers to ‘check in’ to receive a 10% discount or special access to a signed copy or ‘firsties’ for the next author event? Why wouldn’t you add an upcoming event or book launch or author signing to your location? You can, you know!

I think Evan was right for bringing up these questions because he’s echoing a lot of what’s being asked. But, when people start to ‘get it,’ like they did with Twitter, wouldn’t you want to at least know how to meet them there?

Rube Goldberg Is Zeksi

by Kate Rados

Guy asked the Roundtable to weigh in on what’s exciting us these days and since I’m stuck at jury duty for an indefinite amount of time, I’m weighing in here, in case Her Honor doesn’t break us for lunch Thursday at 1pm-1:30pm EST (sign up why don’t ya).

While on the train back from Atlantic City this weekend, I listened to my new favorite podcast ‘The Nerdist’ (walking the walk, fellow geeks). Host Chris Hardwick, on which I have an insane crush b/c I like em nerdy, sat down with two members of the band OK Go to talk about their creative process…and it wasn’t about their music, per se. It was about their latest video for ‘This Too Shall Pass’, featuring a massive Rube Goldberg machine. And most importantly, they talked about their PASSION for every aspect of what they do.

Hardwick asked about their special sauce when it comes to viral videos – and their response was that there isn’t one. They do what they think will be fun, creative, and they’re passionate about their projects. And as for the video, they couldn’t fake it. They had to be genuine. Yeah, they could’ve used special effects and edited the crap out of it, so they could succeed quickly and push out the video as fast as possible. But they didn’t and that’s what make the video and their connection to their fans so frigid amazing. And the noise didn’t stop with the video, there’s an interactive floor plan where I will be living for the next few days, while of course listening intently to evidence. They also created a fan contest where you can create your own Rube Goldberg project and win two tickets to any of their concerts. To them, it doesn’t cost anything, but to their audience it’s the chance to connect with the band and creating fun stuff for the sake of creativity and brainstretching.

This got me thinking about authors and their relationships with their publishers. EMI supported their first video for the same song, but wouldn’t allow it to be embedded or pulled from youtube. So, OK GO pretty much said ‘see ya’ and eventually ended up breaking their contract with EMI, working as independent band and ended up selling a crap load of CDs anyway and got over 12 million hits on YouTube for their new video. It’s easy to apply that same equation to publishers. Go ahead and block that video, lock in that content, close your Facebook wall, lock your Twitter feed. Then we’ll see what happens when frustrated, yet savvy authors move out and create something amazing for their fans and because they are in love with the process, not the business.