Monthly Archives: October 2010

I Like New York in June. Click Here if You Do Too

It took 100 years for scholars to discover books in Mark Twain’s personal library that he had copiously annotated.  But future Mark Twains need not worry that their own notes will remain in obscurity. With the touch of a button they can share their comments with the world, thanks to a Kindle feature called “Popular Highlights”.

“Marked by a dotted underscore that indicates that other Kindle users have found the passages significant,” writes Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times, “popular highlights constitute crowd-sourced literary criticism. Readers, on the spot and yet collaboratively, make meaning of what they’re reading.” By clicking on the popular highlights function you can discover how many other Kindle readers found a passage to be as noteworthy as you thought it was.  Unfortunately, many readers are not aware that the function has been activated, and, as they read what they thought was a virginal edition, they discover someone else’s spoor all over it. A lot of someone elses in fact.

You would think that Heffernan would hate the feature, and at first she clearly disliked it.  All she had to do was disable it, but she thought better of it. “There’s a genie-in-the-bottle problem here. As with many things on the Web, once you’ve glimpsed popular highlights, it’s hard to unglimpse them. You get curious about what other readers think, especially with a book like ‘Freedom,’  which bookstore windows and airplane waiting lounges would have you believe everyone is thinking about. Reading, after all, is only superficially solitary; in fact, it’s a form of intensive participation in language and the building of common culture.”

Hmmm. “Reading is only superficially solitary.” I like that.  I’m going to highlight that.  How about you? Are you going to highlight it too?

Read E-Readers’ Collective

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting conducted by the New York Times.

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Investors Would Love Amazon if It Weren’t for Those Damn Books

Okay, it’s time to play Institutional Investor. Here’s today’s quiz:

Net sales of Amazon leaped by 39% in the third quarter of the year,  exceeding predictions of $7.35 billion. Fourth quarter revenues are estimated to be over $12 billion.  What happened to its stock on the day that news was announced?

  1. It went up by 5%
  2. It went up by 10%
  3. It went up by 20%
  4. It went down by 4%

If you guessed 1, 2 or 3 you don’t know jack about investing.  In fact it dropped 4.01% to $158.35, because investors were disappointed. Why?

According to Publishers Weekly‘s Jim Milliott it wasn’t the earnings. It was the spending. “Investors were disappointed,” he wrote, “with the company’s higher spending on new distribution centers. Analysts said they were concerned about the cost of the 10 giant warehouses that opened in the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, and a handful more that are to open before the end of the year.”

In a publishing environment that has shifted to digital delivery – and who knows more about that than Amazon? – the construction of brick and mortar depots to contain printed books feels not just counterintuitive but downright perverse.  This is especially true because Amazon has the wherewithal to do away with warehouses altogether. It’s called print on demand, and Amazon has a division called CreateSpace devoted to printing books on demand.  Sometime back we speculated that Amazon’s POD operation could make warehousing a thing of the past. (See The Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla Bares Its Fangs.)

Though Milliott points out other reasons that investors were not enchanted by a growth surge that would be the envy of any other company in the world, Amazon’s heavy bet on a fading world of tangible goods could continue to drag the stock down.

Read about it in detail in Print, Digital Book Sales Accelerated in Third Quarter, Amazon Says

Richard Curtis

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The Best of E-Reads:The Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla Bares Its Fangs

From time to time we bring back some of the more popular articles and blogs posted on E-Reads. This one is from April 2008. The name “BookSurge” for Amazon’s print on demand company was eventually changed to CreateSpace.
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I write this blog in two capacities: as an authors’ advocate and as president of E-Reads, an Internet publisher that, in addition to publishing e-books, prints its titles on demand for readers who prefer traditional volumes. Indeed, fifty percent of our company’s revenues are generated by print on demand. Our PODs are produced by Lightning Source Inc. and sold on Amazon. The excellent relationships we enjoy with both firms have enabled us to realize our vision of what a twenty-first century publishing venture can be. We are happy to claim them as partners and would hate to be placed in the position of choosing between them. But Amazon’s proposed policy requiring small presses such as E-Reads to shift its POD business to its BookSurge press would do just that.

 

Though Amazon’s ploy comes as a shock to publishers and authors, it did not come as a surprise to me. In the summer of 2005 Amazon.com announced the acquisition of MobiPocket, an e-book company, and BookSurge, a print on demand operation. A lot of ink was spilled on the MobiPocket deal but no one except me speculated on what it meant for a book retailer to have the capability of printing books on demand. In a guest editorial in Publishers Weekly, I wrote,

“It’s hard to say for sure what is behind amazon.com’s acquisition of BookSurge, the on-demand book-printer. But any move the Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla makes is worthy of serious consideration. Indeed, the implications of the deal, especially combined with amazon’s purchase of e-book company MobiPocket, are profound.”

The implications were so disturbing that PW’s editors urged me to tone down my speculations, which seemed to fall at the red end of the spectrum of possibility. Actually, I suspect that the editors were so freaked out that they went into denial. And who can blame them? In my editorial I spun the logic of Amazon/BookSurge to the max.

Here is the conclusion I reached: If Amazon is capable of printing books on demand, they will no longer have to carry any physical books in their warehouses at all! They simply have to load the files of Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin, and every other publisher onto their server and print all of their books – frontlist as well as backlist – on demand. It would not only be a huge savings for Amazon in terms of warehouse space – it would be a huge savings for the publishers, too: they all would eliminate printing, warehouse, and freight costs at a stroke. Yes, they would still have to print and distribute books to other retailers besides amazon, but such sales would be modest compared to those of Amazon with its incomparable marketing and technical capabilities. Allowing Amazon to become the POD press for the publishing industry is a very seductive lure to publishers operating on razor-thin profit margins. But it would also enable Amazon to undercut bookstore prices, put Barnes & Noble and other bookstore chains and independent booksellers out of business and complete its march to monopoly. While you’re trembling, consider the possibility of a mega-retailer ultimately deciding what you read as well as how and where it’s printed.

If you are as incredulous as my Publishers Weekly editors were, ponder this statement in the letter just issued by the amazon.com books team: “It isn’t logical or efficient to print a POD book in a third place, and then physically ship the book to our fulfillment centers. It makes more sense to produce the books on site, saving transportation costs and transportation fuel, and significantly speeding the shipment to our customers.” You need only to remove the term “POD” from that statement to arrive at the terrifying conclusion that I reached in 2005.

Though I have railed for decades against the stupidity and wastefulness of an industry based on tangible books sold in brick and mortar stores, I have to wonder whether Amazon’s Orwellian vision of absolute zero-returns efficiency is even more destructive than a traditional business model that pulps one copy for every two it distributes.

It is vital for publishers of every size to confront this potential restraint of trade.

– Richard Curtis

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Mystery Writers of America Delists Dorchester

We recent wrote up Dorchester Books’ woes and the strategy it announced to deal with them (see The Incredible Shrinking Publisher).

Today the National Board of Directors of the Mystery Writers of America removed Dorchester from its list of Approved Publishers. This is not the first time MWA has taken this position.  In December of 2009 it took exception to a Harlequin initiative and delisted it, too.

Following is MWA’s memo to its members concerning Dorchester:

Richard Curtis

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Dear MWA Member:

The National Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on October 6, 2010 to remove Dorchester Publishing from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately, primarily because the company no longer meets two of our key criteria.

First, the initial print run by the publisher for a book-length work of fiction or nonfiction must be at least 500 copies and must be widely available in brick-and-mortar stores (not “special order” titles). In other words, print-on-demand publishers and Internet-only publishers do not qualify.

Second, the publisher must not wrongfully withhold or delay royalty payments to authors. We have been hearing an unusually high number of reports from our members of unpaid advances and withheld royalties on their Dorchester books.

Dorchester titles will no longer be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration nor will its authors be eligible for Active Status membership for any books published after October 6, 2010. The board made it clear to Dorchester that it is welcome to re-apply once these problems have been cleared up.

This e-bulletin is being sent on behalf of MWA’s National Board of Directors.

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Takedown Notices? Antipiracy Weapon or Exercise in Futility? Part 2: What the DMCA Means to You

Astrid Anderson Bear, recounting her frustrating efforts to fight piracy by using takedown notices (see Takedown Notices? Antipiracy Weapon or Exercise in Futility? Part 1), refers in passing to the “DMCA”.  The initials stand for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and because it is the bedrock law governing those takedown notices it’s important that every author understand it.  A recent lawsuit involving two titans of industry, Google and Viacom, exemplifies the issues.

It happens that YouTube, a division of Google, carried some film clips uploaded by customers, and it turned out that those clips belonged to Viacom. Upon receipt of Viacom’s complaint, YouTube took the offending content down. Nevertheless Viacom brought a $1 billion infringement claim against Google. Google claimed it had acted properly under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  The court supported Google’s position.

What exactly does the law say?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law in October 1998 by President Bill Clinton, “criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works,” according to Wikipedia.

However, one provision of the Act provides a “safe harbor” for Internet Service Providers (like AOL or Yahoo) that carry infringing content. Under Title II, if an ISP is notified by a copyright owner that the ISP is carrying infringing or allegedly infringing content, and promptly removes or blocks access to that content, the ISP does not incur liability. By following the procedures prescribed by Title II of the Act, Google escaped liability.

That same safe harbor is accorded to websites that carry pirated e-books. Title II prescribes the arduous takedown procedure that aggrieved authors and publishers must follow. Infringers that ignore or defy that procedure may be subject to prosecution under DMCA.

But what happens if, after an infringer complies with a takedown notice, the material pops up again? Is the claimant helpless in what Ms. Bear describes as ” the whack-a-mole world of illegal downloads”? Here there is hope for the Astrid Bears of this world. Some lower-court decisions have ruled against websites that re-post infringing content after having been enjoined from doing so.

And what happens if a website doesn’t actually carry infringing content but links to websites that do, or links to software or websites that circumvent or disable DRM?  Again, there is protection for copyright owners from repeat offenders. Unfortunately, some aspects of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have not been fully tested in the courts.

It may require a Viacom-sized plaintiff (or a Harlan Ellison) to put pirates out of business. Nevertheless, DMCA offers a potentially powerful legal tool for driving back some infringers.

Richard Curtis

For a complete archive of E-Reads postings on piracy, visit Pirate Central.

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The Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla Bares its Fangs

From time to time we bring back some of the more popular articles and blogs posted on E-Reads. This one is from April 2008. The name “BookSurge” for Amazon’s print on demand company was eventually changed to CreateSpace.

********************************

I write this blog in two capacities: as an authors’ advocate and as president of E-Reads, an Internet publisher that, in addition to publishing e-books, prints its titles on demand for readers who prefer traditional volumes. Indeed, fifty percent of our company’s revenues are generated by print on demand. Our PODs are produced by Lightning Source Inc. and sold on Amazon. The excellent relationships we enjoy with both firms have enabled us to realize our vision of what a twenty-first century publishing venture can be. We are happy to claim them as partners and would hate to be placed in the position of choosing between them. But Amazon’s proposed policy requiring small presses such as E-Reads to shift its POD business to its BookSurge press would do just that. Though Amazon’s ploy comes as a shock to publishers and authors, it did not come as a surprise to me. In the summer of 2005 Amazon.com announced the acquisition of MobiPocket, an e-book company, and BookSurge, a print on demand operation. A lot of ink was spilled on the MobiPocket deal but no one except me speculated on what it meant for a book retailer to have the capability of printing books on demand. In a guest editorial in Publishers Weekly, I wrote,

“It’s hard to say for sure what is behind amazon.com’s acquisition of BookSurge, the on-demand book-printer. But any move the Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla makes is worthy of serious consideration. Indeed, the implications of the deal, especially combined with amazon’s purchase of e-book company MobiPocket, are profound.”

The implications were so disturbing that PW’s editors urged me to tone down my speculations, which seemed to fall at the red end of the spectrum of possibility. Actually, I suspect that the editors were so freaked out that they went into denial. And who can blame them? In my editorial I spun the logic of Amazon/BookSurge to the max.

Here is the conclusion I reached: If Amazon is capable of printing books on demand, they will no longer have to carry any physical books in their warehouses at all! They simply have to load the files of Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin, and every other publisher onto their server and print all of their books – frontlist as well as backlist – on demand. It would not only be a huge savings for Amazon in terms of warehouse space – it would be a huge savings for the publishers, too: they all would eliminate printing, warehouse, and freight costs at a stroke. Yes, they would still have to print and distribute books to other retailers besides amazon, but such sales would be modest compared to those of Amazon with its incomparable marketing and technical capabilities.

Allowing Amazon to become the POD press for the publishing industry is a very seductive lure to publishers operating on razor-thin profit margins. But it would also enable Amazon to undercut bookstore prices, put Barnes & Noble and other bookstore chains and independent booksellers out of business and complete its march to monopoly. While you’re trembling, consider the possibility of a mega-retailer ultimately deciding what you read as well as how and where it’s printed.

If you are as incredulous as my Publishers Weekly editors were, ponder this statement in the letter just issued by the amazon.com books team: “It isn’t logical or efficient to print a POD book in a third place, and then physically ship the book to our fulfillment centers. It makes more sense to produce the books on site, saving transportation costs and transportation fuel, and significantly speeding the shipment to our customers.” You need only to remove the term “POD” from that statement to arrive at the terrifying conclusion that I reached in 2005.

Though I have railed for decades against the stupidity and wastefulness of an industry based on tangible books sold in brick and mortar stores, I have to wonder whether Amazon’s Orwellian vision of absolute zero-returns efficiency is even more destructive than a traditional business model that pulps one copy for every two it distributes. It is vital for publishers of every size to confront this potential restraint of trade.

Richard Curtis

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MH Execs Puncture Five Myths about Death of Publishing

Two lions of the publishing industry – McGraw-Hill chairman and CEO  Harold McGraw III, and president of MH’s professional book division Philip Ruppel – have posted a heartening piece in USA Today’s Opinion feature. It will buck up your flagging spirits to spend a few minutes reading Will technology kill book publishing? Not even close

In their statement they attempt to puncture five myths, and in our opinion they accomplish their mission. Despite all those Death of Publishing headlines, “the industry itself is anything but washed out,” they write.” In fact, many parts of the industry are thriving in the digital age. ”

“Why,” they ask, “is there such a gap between the perception of a dying industry and the reality of a rapidly adapting one? It begins with five common myths about publishing:

Myth No. 1.Publishers are merely printers. That would be news to companies like ours, which don’t even operate their own printing presses. Publishers today are in the content business. We develop it; we design it; and we deliver it however our readers want it….

Myth No. 2.Authors don’t need publishers in the digital age. Anyone who has ever written a book knows this to be false. Many great authors would never have found their audience without a great publisher willing to take a risk on their talents and market their works…These relationships are even more critical to a book’s success in the digital age. With the ascent of e-books, authors will need publishers to serve as digital artists who can bring words to life by pairing text with multimedia features such as audio, video and search….

Myth No. 3.E-books should essentially be free books. This would be true only if paper and binding represented the bulk of publishing expenses, and that is simply not the case. In bookmaking, manufacturing costs typically account for less than 10%-15% of the total. In short, the price of printing pales in comparison with the cost of creating content….

Myth No. 4.Consumers won’t pay for digital content. Tell that to the millions of customers who have already purchased e-books. In cyberspace, just as in the local marketplace, people will always be willing to pay for quality….

Myth No. 5.The last word on publishing has been written. Not in our book. Around the world, innovative publishers are pushing the boundaries of technology to meet the demands of a new generation of readers. These publishers understand that the e-book is not a threat to their survival but rather an extraordinary opportunity to connect authors and readers in ways never before possible. That’s the real future of the industry, and that’s a story worth publishing.

We think so too, and we thank USA for publishing it.

Richard Curtis

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Attributor Badge Proclaims Your E-Book is Kosher

Publishers, flash your badges – your Attributor Protected Badges proclaiming your e-books are authorized. Attributor, a service that came to our attention a few years ago (see Tracking Content on the Internet), was created to search out, monitor and combat Internet piracy, and with a 54 percent increase in the demand for pirated e-books in the past year – 20% since May of this year alone –  the company has its hands full.  “Daily demand for pirated books,” they tell us, “can be estimated at 1.5 to 3 million people worldwide.” * To check on this activity, Attributor search engine spiders crawl through 100 million Web pages a day.

Though the firm’s original mission was more about consumer education and monitoring than enforcement, it has since become proactive in copyright compliance. “Once you’re signed up with Attributor,” we previously wrote, “you can give them marching orders and legal authority to respond to unauthorized use of copyrighted content by requiring links, requiring a share or ad revenue or demanding that a site take down the content. Perhaps some of those pirates will soon learn to think of Attributor as their own personal Terminator.”

How does the Terminator terminate? “The Attributor Guardian piracy monitoring service performs continuous comprehensive searches across file sharing hubs, torrents, web sites and other illicit content distribution channels, and suspected pirated content is reviewed by our professional services staff. Using a graduated response system, our team contacts unlicensed sites to review options for responsible content sharing. If a resolution is not achieved, we effectuate removal of unauthorized copies and take steps to prevent further piracy.”  In many cases the company blitzes perps with takedown notices until they give up, seeking softer and less well financed targets.  Though Attributor doesn’t litigate, it provides evidentiary support in lawsuits. You can read about their services here.

Most recently Attributor announced partnerships with Macmillan and Kensington who have pledged to support the Attributor Protected Badge program. The badges are a key component in an initiative “to drive consumer awareness about fair trade and distribution of e-books, and protection of author royalties.”

“The global e-book community, which includes consumers, authors and publishers, is taking a major step to address the challenges book publishers face as they move to address the digital age of syndication,” said Jim Pitkow, CEO of Attributor. “This initiative enables consumers to purchase e-books in line with their values and principles, and represents a major advancement in providing educational information about the fair trade and fair use of e-books.”

Beginning in November, Kensington Publishing Corp. will include the Attributor Protected Badge in more than two-dozen new e-books per month. E-books containing the Badge signify the authorized purchase of an original copy, including a link for consumers to learn more about – and respect – copyright.  Though the badge is not a guarantee of protection or even authenticity – don’t be surprised if counterfeits show up on pirate sites – Attributor hopes it will become as reliable as another familiar symbol.

Richard Curtis

* (Tech blogger Eric Hellman has some serious reservations about this estimate. In a subsequent post we’ll tell you what they are.)

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The Best of E-Reads: Aerosol Makes Your Nook Smell Like Crunchy Bacon

From time to time we bring back some of the more popular articles and blogs posted on E-Reads. This one is from November 2009.

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A while back we wrote up a book lover who said she was reluctant to buy a Kindle “unless Amazon comes out with a special ‘book scented’ Kindle.” (See If They Can Make the Kindle Smell Like a Book, Maybe She’ll Buy One). It was all kind of a joke, but an enterprising manufacturer took it seriously enough to produce a line of aromatics simulating book scents. The aromas include New Book Smell and Classic Musty. The product is trademarked as Smell of Books™ and here’s how their website describes it:

Does your Kindle leave you feeling like there’s something missing from your reading experience?
Have you been avoiding e-books because they just don’t smell right?
If you’ve been hesitant to jump on the e-book bandwagon, you’re not alone. Book lovers everywhere have resisted digital books because they still don’t compare to the experience of reading a good old fashioned paper book.
But all of that is changing thanks to Smell of Books™, a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer.
Now you can finally enjoy reading e-books without giving up the smell you love so much. With Smell of Books™ you can have the best of both worlds, the convenience of an e-book and the smell of your favorite paper book.
Smell of Books™ is compatible with a wide range of e-reading devices and e-book formats and is 100% DRM-compatible. Whether you read your e-books on a Kindle or an iPhone using Stanza, Smell of Books™ will bring back that real book smell you miss so much.

Among the five smells offered is “Crunchy Bacon”. This is a welcome novelty for noses jaded by such natural book fragrances as grass, leather, printer’s ink, and decaying paper. Hopefully, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France will invest heavily in shpritzing their collections with Crunchy Bacon. Some other but lesser known aromas associated with books are baked lamb shank, General Cho’s Chicken, and asparagus vinaigrette.

On a more scientific note, Henry Fountain of the New York Times reports on research to quantify old-book odors to help librarians preserve books more effectively. Fountain describes how conservators “analyzed the volatiles produced by 72 samples of old paper of different types and in varying condition from the 19th and 20th centuries, using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. They found that some compounds were reliable markers for paper with certain characteristics — high concentrations of lignin or rosin, for example, which make paper degrade relatively quickly.”

There was apparently no manifestation of crunchy bacon in the spectrum analyzed by the scientists, but it is well known that subatomic bacon particles are even more elusive to detect spectrometrically than the Higgs boson, and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN may be required to capture one.

Read Digging Into the Science of That Old-Book Smell.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by The New York Times.

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Is Beg, Borrow and Barter a Good Business Model? It Works for Cory Doctorow

Reading Cory Doctorow’s serialized account in Publishers Weekly of his self-publishing venture is like watching a man walk across the United States.  We thrill to his courage and determination and root for him to prevail when he wanders down a wrong path or finds his way blocked. We know many people will extend a hand out of the goodness of their hearts.  When it’s over some will applaud his amazing achievement. Others will say he could have done it better, faster, and cheaper by driving an air-conditioned car from coast to coast.

Whichever way you look at it, Doctorow is – or says he is – weeks away from crossing the finish line with his book With a Little Help. We have been chronicling this pilgrim’s progress as he attempts to beat publishers at their own game, using every resource at his disposal to not just self-publish his book but make a profit as well.  So far he’s he’s done the latter: in advance of publication date he reckons “Total expenditures to date: $3,959. Total income: $10,000.”

When Doctorow announced his scheme we asked What Can We Learn from Cory Doctorow? Our answer then was: Everything. But now we’re not so certain.  Yes, we believe that With a Little Help will be published, and yes, we believe it will make money, and yes, it’s been an entertaining adventure.  What we’re far from sure of is whether it will yield any practical results, the kind that any publisher – major, minor, or one-person – can scale up. He has created his Spruce Goose with chewing gum and bailing wire and though we’re sure it will fly, it’s hard to understand what we can apply to our own processes that will make us better publishers.

For instance…

  • Contemplating the problem of shipping his $275.00 hardcover edition, Doctorow decided to wrap the books in burlap coffee sacks, and luckily came across a London coffee roasting firm that had a surplus of them and gave them to him for nothing.
  • To affix an SD (Secure Digital) card to each book cover, a reader friend created a “quick and dirty duplicator app” enabling him to load cards onto the books. The price of the friend’s services? Free.
  • Doctorow obtained another service by barter. “While on the road, I put out a call on Twitter for someone to help me tweak my launch template—after all, the different audio/hardcover/paperback/e-book choices can be hard to present in a clear way. I offered a limited edition hardcover in exchange… A designer named Andrew Crocker came through with a brilliant design and even put together the HTML/CSS template, saving my Web master, Mike Little, some time.”

Necessity is the mother of invention, and it would be hard to find a more inventive improviser than Cory Doctorow.  But what’s the takeaway?  Can Hachette’s David Young cadge burlap sacks from a coffee roaster?  Can Simon & Schuster’s Carolyn Reidy get someone to design a launch template in exchange for a free book?

There is a lesson that all publishers can learn, and that is to think outside the box and seek creative solutions to difficult problems. Doctorow’s brilliant use of social media and network of devoted fans and friends point the way to approaches to the publishing game that conventional houses are clueless about or are just beginning to explore.  But for publishers to apply on a wholesale basis Doctorow’s one-of-a-kind experience – that just isn’t going to happen. When we’re talking about total expenditures not of $3,959 but a hundred times $3,959, creativity invariably yields to expediency, conventionality and risk-adversity.

Read how Doctorow’s book stumbles toward publication day in With a Little Twitter Help.

Richard Curtis

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