Monthly Archives: December 2010

Do You Have to Love Books to Succeed in Bookselling? Do You Even Have to Read Them?

“I read a book once.”

That was what my father said to me many years ago when I told him I had taken a job in the publishing business.  His wit was so dry he was affectionately known among his friends as “The Great Stone Face,” and to this day I don’t know whether or not he was pulling my leg.  On the other hand, I don’t remember ever seeing him with a book in his hands.

But that’s all right. In his line of business he didn’t really need books. You would think, though, that if he ran a bookshop it would have been something of a disadvantage. It isn’t one for Sam Husain, who runs one in London. In fact he’s the chief executive of the city’s most famous one, Foyles. “I do not think I have ever really read a book from cover to cover,” he admitted to Deirdre Hipwell of The Independent. “But Husain, who has headed the store for more than three and a half years, argues that the measure of success of his job does not depend on a love of literature,” writes Hipwell.

Apparently so. He more than quintupled Foyles’ profits in the one year from June ’09 to June of this year, £80,625 to £434,588 in the year to 30 June.

What’s his secret? The former accountant analyzed sales per square foot of store space and got rid of stock that didn’t cover the cost of £150 to £200 per sq ft. It may come as a surprise that that’s how booksellers measure success, but when you can make a big multiple of your cost per square feet by populating your shelves with flat screen televisions, alligator handbags or pantyhose, you will appreciate why bookstores are an endangered species.

Obviously Sam Husain is an avid reader, but it’s not books that he reads but store traffic patterns, and that’s good news for Foyle’s. Read The bookseller who doesn’t read novels

Richard Curtis

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Smashwords Founder Coker’s 10 Visions for ’11

Another prominent e-book publisher, Smashwords’ Mark Coker, has checked in with Galley Cat’s Jeff Rivera with ten predictions for the coming year. Here are the headlines.

1.Ebook sales rise, unit consumption surprises

2. Agents write the next chapter of the ebook revolution

3. More big authors reluctant to part with digital rights

4. Self Publishing goes from option of last resort to option of first resort among unpublished authors

5. Big 6 publishers increase ebook royalties

6. Ebook prices to fall

7. The customer is king- Readers will decide which books become hits, not publishers.

8. International ebook market explodes, causing publishers to rethink territory rights restrictions

9. Discoverability becomes HOT

10. Big 6 publishers refuse to abandon DRM

For the juicy details check out Galley Cat: Predictions for 2011 from Smashwords Founder

And compare Coker’s to those of E-Reads founder Richard Curtis.

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Richard Curtis’s Hot Ten Predictions for ’11

As he did last year, Galley Cat‘s Jeff Rivera invited literary agent and E-Reads’ President Richard Curtis to make some predictions in the book and e-book industry for the coming year. He produced ten, and here’s one that will raise a few eyebrows:

The Big Six publishers will raise their current royalty rate over the standard 25% they currently offer.

To read all ten, visit Publishing Predictions for 2011 from Richard Curtis

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Should You Kindle a Kindle on the Sabbath?

The rabbis and Jewish scholars who created that fountain of wisdom called the Talmud could not have imagined the force called electricity and the challenges it would one day create for modern Jews.  Yet the same logic and common sense that used scripture to guide the perplexed of the fifth century or the twelfth is now being applied to the use of modern electronic devices – such as the Kindle.

When electricity was discovered and harnessed, Jews applied the strictures against working on the sabbath to electric appliances and determined that activating them was a form of work. Today, observant Jews will not flip a light switch, turn on a stove burner or press an elevator button. (Some hospitals and other institutions visited by Jews on the sabbath have elevators that automatically stop on every floor.)

Now consider the Kindle. Though it’s commonly referred to as an electronic device is it an electric one? The prevailing Jewish wisdom is that it is, and reading a book on it is the equivalent of turning on an electric light. But there’s more…

Because the screen of a reading device is not a fixed medium – it is a blank matrix on which words are produced by running a tiny electric current through it – orthodox Jews believe that the act of turning a page is a form of writing.  And writing is prohibited on the Sabbath.  But there’s still more…

Even if one were to read the Torah – the core Jewish scripture – on the Kindle on the sabbath, it would still be unacceptable. Why?  Because Kindles, one modern orthodox rabbi pointed out in an article in The Atlantic, “in epitomizing our weekday existence, aren’t appropriate for the Sabbath.”

Thus blogger Morris Rosenthal’s brainstorm – “a special Kindle that can bypass Sabbath prohibitions by disabling its buttons, turning itself on at a preset time, and flipping through a book at a predetermined clip” – would not get past rabbinical scrutiny. You can read scripture on your e-book six days a week, but on the seventh you have to give it a rest and read the p-book instead. Sorry, Kindlach, you’re out of luck.

Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to put your Kindle down on the sabbath. Many moderns of all faiths observe Internet Sabbath, a day off from the frenzy of electronic communications and social media. Blogger Nat Friedman tried it a year ago and wrote “After just a few minutes, it felt like a vacation.” Somewhere a rabbi is smiling with satisfaction.

Read People of the E-Book? Observant Jews Struggle With Sabbath in a Digital Age by Uri Friedman. And here’s a fascinating Wikipedia entry on use of electricity and appliances on the Sabbath.

Richard Curtis

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And That’s Why They’re Called Kindlach

Take one cup of Java, add two heaping tablespoons of electronic ink, stir some solid state electronic components, drop it into a plastic frame and let it simmer. Does that sound a little like Grandma Sadie’s matzoh ball recipe?

Actually, it’s how you make a Kindle. Why the matzoh ball analogy?  Because, according to David Shamah writing for a website called Israel 21c, the Kindle was created in Israel.

Who knew?

It was “largely developed in the heart of Israel’s high-tech center in the Herzliya Industrial Zone on the central coast,” writes Shamah. “‘Four years ago, Amazon contacted Sun (which was acquired by Oracle last year) in California and said they wanted a small device that could be used to read e-books,’ says Lilach Zipory, the leader of the team that helped to develop the Kindle application. ‘They had already acquired the software to run it, but were looking for the right technical design, and especially a platform to run the software on.'”

Funny, Kindle, you don’t look Jewish. Read Amazon’s Kindle: A Made-in-Israel story

Richard Curtis

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Microsoft Re-re-re-relaunches Tablet

If Microsoft keeps introducing the tablet, will they finally get it right?  We’re about to find out. At next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, MS will present what, by our count, is its fourth tablet.  Not v. 4 of the same tablet, mind you – the fourth of four different machines.

The presentation will be made by MS’s CEO Steve Ballmer, and this time the company does expect to get it right.  The only problem is that another Steve got his tablet out first and has a multimillion unit lead.

Presumably by next month there will be a name for Ballmer’s device. The first, launched about a decade ago, didn’t really have one.  Then came the HP Tablet, released less than a month before the other Steve released his, but the HP flopped.  Then came the Courier. Came – and went. In April 2010 Microsoft announced that it would no longer support the Courier.

How will the No-Name differ from its Apple rival?

The device, manufactured by Samsung, is “similar in size and shape to the Apple iPad, although it is not as thin,” writes Nick Bolton of the New York Times.  “It also includes a unique and slick keyboard that slides out from below for easy typing.” It will run on the Windows 7 OS “but will also have a layered interface that will appear when the keyboard is hidden and the device is held in a portrait mode.” One source speculates it will run on something called Windows 8.

The marketing strategy may tilt in the direction of business applications. Has Apple left that niche open? “The company believes there is a huge market for business people who want to enjoy a slate for reading newspapers and magazines and then work on Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint while doing work,” said one observer.

If it feels like you’ve heard this story before, well, you have. Read Microsoft Snoozed its Way through Tablet Revolution.

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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Google eBooks: a Refresher

It’s actually happened. Google Editions,  delayed for months while its developers built its stupendous inventory and refined its delivery system, has opened its doors under a new “DBA” (Doing Business As): Google eBooks.

You’ve been waiting so long that you probably need a refresher course in what it is that will make Google eBooks unique.

Earlier this year, PC World’s Ian Paul wrote: “Unlike Google’s biggest competitors, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which rely heavily on restrictive DRM, Google’s store will not be device-specific – allowing for e-books purchased through Google Editions to be read on the far greater number of e-book readers that will flood the market in 2010”

Now you’ll be able to download Google’s vast library on just about any device available. Since most publishers have not given their content exclusively to Amazon or B&N, you’ll be able to find and buy it from Google editions and read it on whatever device you fancy. But the content will not be stored on your device or on the hard drive of your computer. It will be stored in what Google poetically calls “The Cloud” but more prosaically is simply Google’s server farm.

The royalty deal Google offers publishers is 63 % of gross sales. This compares favorable with the 50% offered by most e-retailers. But Google is also offering to partner with retailers. If you decide you’d like to open an e-book retail store but don’t know how and where to acquire the content, Google will furnish it. Your company would get 55 percent of revenues less a commission for Google.

“Google’s e-books would reportedly be indexed and searchable like many books are now through Google’s Book Search,” says Paul. “Unlike titles offered through e-readers, Google Editions books would not have to be accessed through a dedicated reader or special application.Instead, any device with a Web browser will be able to access a Google Editions book. After you purchase and access your online book for the first time, it will be cached in your browser making the book available when you’re offline.” (Details in Google Editions Embraces Universal E-book Format)

As counterintuitive as it may sound, Google eBooks may prove to be a bonanza to independent bookstores. Julie Bosman writing in the New York Times tells us that “Google Editions will allow users to buy e-books from Google or from the Web sites of independent bookstores, which have yet to find a way to compete with Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple on the electronic front. E-book customers would be able to set up an account for buying books, store them in a central ‘library’ online and read them on Internet-connected computing devices, including smartphones and tablets. Millions of books would be available free.”

E-Reads is loading its books into the Google’s bookstore and we look forward to partnering with them.

Richard Curtis
Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

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Is This Watchdog Guarding the Bad Guys?

We’re not sure if the website’s founders had a double meaning in mind when they named it “Chilling Effects“, but it sure sounds that way.

Ostensibly, Chilling Effects was created to provide evenhanded information to both content providers and content consumers about intellectual property rights. But to this observer it displays a definite libertarian, Information Wants To Be Free bias. It is filled with legal and paralegal references to assist those poor unfortunate filesharers and fences who receive takedown notices from authors and publishers whose copyrights have been infringed. Chilling Effects suggests the copyright owners are the abusers and the pirates are the victims. Not much is said about the chilling effects of theft on the creators and legitimate owners of those works.

The organization providing this guide to the perplexed is a pretty prestigious roster of eggheads. It is described as “A joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, University of Maine, George Washington School of Law, and Santa Clara University School of Law clinics.”  We’re sure they’re well meaning and have done their homework in the letter of the law, but the spirit seems to have eluded them, and we have to wonder if they’re familiar with the definition of a liberal as someone who’s never had his pocket picked.

So, what guidance do these sages offer? “Do you know your online rights?” the home page asks. “Have you received a letter asking you to remove information from a Web site or to stop engaging in an activity? Are you concerned about liability for information that someone else posted to your online forum? If so, this site is for you.”

“Anecdotal evidence,” the site declares, “suggests that some individuals and corporations are using intellectual property and other laws to silence other online users. Chilling Effects encourages respect for intellectual property law, while frowning on its misuse to ‘chill’ legitimate activity.”

Chilling Effects is “gathering a searchable database of Cease and Desist notices sent to Internet users like you. We invite you to input Cease and Desist letters that you’ve received into our database, to document the chill. We will respond by linking the legalese in the letters to FAQs that explain the allegations in plain English.”

Spend some time on the Chilling Effects website and tell us if it sounds to you as if this outfit is providing aid and comfort to the bad guys. Or are we just being oversensitive because we’re tired of getting our pockets picked?

For a complete archive of postings about piracy-related topics visit Pirate Central on the E-Reads website.

Richard Curtis

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Agents Recount Author Queries from Hell

A few weeks ago, a writer named Jeff Tohline emailed me asking a simple question: “What is the single biggest mistake writers make when querying you?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Meets“, I fired back at him. “As in The DaVinci Code Meets Genesis. As in Crime and Punishment Meets The Shining. As in Buffy Meets Dracula.” “Send me a ‘Meets‘ and you’re deleted,” I said. Perhaps I was a bit arbitrary, but that phrase, derived from Hollywood pitch lines that were clever in their day (the 20th century) but have become a stale convention in ours. So – writers beware.

Tohline’s query was sent to some 100 of my agent colleagues and the comments by the 50 who responded are well worth every aspiring writer’s time. I didn’t find anyone else who complained about “meets” but I did discover that…

Three agents complained about “Go to my website for a sample of my work…”, four about pitching their book’s sequel, five about unproofread queries, nine about queries addressed to “Dear Agent”, and fourteen about authors who have no clue what the agency handles or what its submission guidelines are.

Many agents amplified on their peeves.

Michael Murphy of Max & Co.: “The answer to your question is an easy one. The single biggest mistake writers make when querying me is sending manuscripts for areas I do not represent. On my website, in all my interviews, and I believe in most websites that list areas of interest for each agent, it is quite clearly stated that I do not represent YA, prescription (How To) nonfiction, nor genre fiction (SF, fantasy, romance, thrillers). Yet almost half the queries I receive are for these very categories.”

Gina Panettieri: “Don’t try to cut corners by simply referring agents to your website rather than writing a well-prepared query. It’s great to let us know about your website and we can check it out to get more info about you and your book, but we’ll only do that IF you’ve intrigued us with your knock-out query!”

Pam Ahearn: “‘This will be a bestseller and make you very rich.’ Let’s start with getting the agent to read 5 pages before you start thinking about the fortune you’re going to help them make!”

Heather Mitchell: “It all comes down to the writing. An agent’s first peek at the quality of the writing comes from the query letter. You would be amazed at the number of authors who write long, drawn out, messy queries. A query letter should be a tease – a taste for more to come. Don’t give it all away on the first date, and please, show up clean and polished.”

Want to know why your submissions come back from agents faster than a tennis serve? Read The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents.

Richard Curtis

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E-Books Drifting Vookward

“Enhanced e-books” was one of the most overused catchphrases in 2010. Publishers stampeded to load up conventional e-books with all manner of enhancements ranging from author out-takes to big-name intros to film and video clips. The idea was to justify boosting the price of their souped-up e-books.

Some of these products were interesting, entertaining and attractive, But were they worth those extra bucks? Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal asked that very question in Testing Enhanced E-Books.

Ana Maria Allessi, publisher of HarperMedia, says definitely yes. “When both digital editions are available, and consumers are given the choice, in half the cases they’ll pay more for extra content,” she says. Sourcebooks’ publisher Dominique Racca thinks so too: “I can imagine a product where you multiply by 100 percent because it has so much more value than the non-enhanced editions.”

But a very different view was expressed by Tony Woodlief, oddly enough in the Wall Street Journal too. He had a one word explanation for why most enhanced e-books will flop.  Click here if you’d like to learn what it is.

And if you’d like to hear it expressed poetically…

Publishers expressed enchantment
With the notion of enhancement.
Audio, video, music, flix,
Bangles, baubles, Bar Mitzvah pix.
A tune or two was all it took
To constitute a mobile vook.
They tossed in every kind of crap
And designated it an app.*

Richard Curtis

* From 2010 (The App) by Richard Curtis with permission of Publishers Weekly, PWxyz, (c) 2010 Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by The Wall Street Journal.

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