ISBN 9780393333947 Published Jan. 2009
W. W. Norton & Company
See all formats
Posted Oct. 28, 2011 10:40 a.m. by dylan
In - 800 CEO Read Blog
➻ Mathew Ingram posted today On the Death of Book Publishers and Other Middlemen. It doesn't contain any major insights that haven't been noted before, but it does a nice job of summarizing what Amazon and now Kobo are doing to directly sign authors, what that future of publishing may look like in light of that, and what traditional publishers can do to stay attractive to authors.
What can publishers do? The same thing Amazon is doing: give authors what they most want and need. It’s a quick and painless way of reaching their readers—as many readers as possible, in as many different ways as possible. Also, make sure they are really adding value to that relationship with an author, not just counting on the former gatekeeper status to keep authors in their stables.
It should be noted (and Ingram does briefly note it) that Amazon and Kobo are also middlemen. The simple yet strong advantage they now have that publishers used to have exclusively is that they now physically produce the books we read—or, in this case, the e-readers we read them on.
First, friction for a purchase is drastically reduced by a deeply discounted price point. $2.99 for fifty thousand words will significantly impact sales.
Second, a book no longer sits there on your desk. Anyone with an iPhone can hold 1,000 of them. So your most recently read/opened books become your RSS reader, with new things popping up all the time.
Third, add numbers 1 and 2 above and you naturally get many more unfinished books than you’re used to seeing—that is to say, readers not bothering to finish books. You don’t see the unfinished books at the bottom of your Kindle list, so you never finish them, and the price point means you didn’t waste much. New books on the top of the pile end up being tried out instead of old ones getting finished.
Fourth, this means shorter books end up dominating. Seth Godin has it right here.
Fifth, the ebook (or whatever we end up calling it) ends up becoming the midpoint between the blog post and the book. Some authors (many, actually) may stay here since it’ll provide them with enough income to survive and a direct connection to their audience. I’m thinking the Ev Bogue and Gwen Bell types.
Sixth, publishers naturally need to adapt—and they end up at the top of the market, grabbing the best of the ebook markets and offering them great deals (the way publishers like Wiley do with bloggers now).
Like Ingram's piece above, none of this is mind shattering to those following these developments, but I think is a great summary of the direction we're headed in, or as Julien rightly notes:
All of these things are happening already. This ... isn’t about the future at all; it’s about the present. Hope you’re ready!
➻ David Streitfeld wrote about Amazon the company and their Big Drop in Income in The New York Times this week.
Moments after the retailer reported Tuesday that operating income for the quarter had fallen 71 percent from 2010, the high-flying stock sank $25 in after-hours trading. Add the $10 that Amazon had lost before the earnings report, and its market cap shriveled in one day by about $16 billion.
If the past was weak, Amazon was cautious about the future, too. Despite the new Kindle Fire tablet’s selling so well that it was already increasing production, Amazon said it might lose as much as $200 million in the fourth quarter.
The Kindle Fire selling so well even hurts their bottom line a bit, as they're selling each one at a loss—something they've done with many books for years as a way to get people in their store. (Quick sidenote: I've always thought it was cool, even a promising sign for our culture and society, that our largest online retailer is essentially a bookstore that uses books to lure people in to buy other products, and vice-versa.) Of course, even with all that, it doesn't seem likely that Amazon is in danger of getting into any real financial trouble.
I believe the real danger is on their customer-service and image side. The negative side to my sidenote above, for example, is the fact that they're luring people out of bookshops by so often selling books at cost or at a loss, and then won't even allow those bookstores to sell e-books compatible to their e-reader as all the the other major device manufacturers/distributors do. (PW had a very good and quick read about The Kindle Question and vendor choice recently.) That is probably not as much of an annoyance to those outside of bookselling circles, but Amazon has been having other image problems lately as well, from their refusal to pay taxes (another advantage they have over bricks-and-mortar stores) and the fight they've put up against states that are finally asking them to do so, to the The Morning Call exposé on the conditions workers face Inside Amazon's Warehouse. Streitfeld turns to those issues at the conclusion of his piece.
Amazon’s relentlessness has made it a very successful company. But some in the tech world are beginning to wonder if there is a point at which you can become too driven, even if it is supposedly in the service of your customers. As Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote in an open letter to Mr. Bezos at the height of the tax controversy: “Don’t make me hate you.”
Paul Saffo, an expert on Silicon Valley culture, says that traditional companies are owned by their shareholders but digital companies are in effect owned by their customers. Apple is the most celebrated example of this passion, but Amazon also evokes strong feelings. People shop there because they like what it stands for, or what they think it stands for.
“Amazon is not just a place you buy stuff,” Mr. Saffo said. “You have an emotional attachment to it. So if Amazon thinks things like collecting taxes and how it treats its warehouse workers are not an issue for their customers, they’re in for a surprise.”
In one sense, X-Ray expands a feature that has been common in early ebook readers: the ability to call up a dictionary definition of a word. But X-Ray goes much further, both in augmenting the author's original text and in integrating the additions into the reading experience. Some may see the additions as enhancements, others as irritants, but whether good or bad they represent an editorial intrusion into the contents of a book by a third party - a retailer, in this case. As such, they exist, I think it's fair to say, in an ethical and perhaps legal gray area. That seems particularly true of novels, where the addition of descriptions of characters and other fictional elements would seem to intrude very much into the author's realm. (I have to think X-Ray will make a lot of novelists nervous.) The fact that the supplementary text is sold along with the actual text makes the intrusion all the starker.
I don't doubt that Amazon can get these things right, and (though we hope you buy all of your books through us) I really hope that they do. It's kind of like that home run David Freese hit last night. I really didn't want to see him do it because I can't root for the Cardinals after they knocked our Brewers out of the playoffs, but watching the St. Louis native circling the bases after winning game 6 of the World Series for his hometown definitely made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
➻ One thing I think Amazon is getting right in their publishing venture already is its focus on authors. As Shawn Coyne tells us in a entertaining tale about Scott Fitzgerald writing short stories Out of the Garage to earn extra cash and how Scott Meredith changed the publisher/author relationship forever in 1952, traditional publishers have not always been so focused.
So what happened in 1952?
A twenty nine year old macher-agent named Scott Meredith (he’d changed his last name from Feldman to Meredith when he entered book publishing in 1946) was sick and tired of waiting for gentlemen publishers to respond to his submissions. He’d only been in the business six years, but he represented the extremely bankable Pelham Grenville (P.G.) Wodehouse. With Wodehouse in his stable, Meredith was able to get the houses (and most of them were WASP in the extreme) to pay attention.
So instead of going one by one like every other putz, in 1952 Meredith decided to send out his novel of the week to twenty publishers at the same time (alas, the name of the novel he sent has long been forgotten). He informed each publisher that they were in a competitive bidding situation and then set a date when he expected offers to arrive at his office. They did. Meredith sold the book to the publisher who agreed to guarantee an advance against future royalties at the best possible terms. The guarantee meant that the writer wouldn’t have to pay back any “unearned” royalties. With Meredith’s auction, the tide for the novelist and book-length nonfiction writer began to turn.
Three decades later in 1980, The New York Times did one of its evergreen pieces on the character of the literary agent. Here is what they had to say about Scott Meredith…
“He superintends a 49-man shop that represents some 2,000 clients, the most often cited being Norman Mailer. He is a smallish, bespectacled man, though he has been painted by publishers as someone who comes at you with a knife clenched in one fist and a Treasury bag in the other. Talking about his tough-guy style, he remarks, “Very often a publisher will say ‘Isn’t my word good enough,’ and I’ll say, ‘No it’s not. You may be dead tomorrow, I may be dead tomorrow.”
Scott Meredith was far from the ideal champion of the writer (he notoriously charged people just to read their work), but he had the nerve to question the status quo. I’m sure that in 1952, he was as terrified as any of us would be by trying something so radical as changing the way the business operated (is there anything more telling than a man masking doubt and fear with tough talk?), but he did it anyway. And because he did, writers—Meredith was only as powerful as his client list—began their sixty-year climb up in the hierarchy.
Moving words and ideas for a living—being a author, a publisher, a book seller or distributor—is a wonderful and sometimes heady thing. But, in the end, it's still a business.
➻ Are you sitting down? Have you heard around?
The Shallows: Interview with Nicholas Carr
Posted June 2010 4:15 a.m. by jon
In - 800 CEO Read Blog
Last year, Nicholas Carr wrote a book called The Big Switch on how computing was changing history, the economy, and our lives in powerful ways. His new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains addresses the issue from a different standpoint: That the internet, while extremely useful, is making us become more dependent on it, and in the process, is literally changing the neurological patterns in our brains, and thus, how we think.
Controversial but insightful, this is the kind of book that makes you step aside from routines you didn't even realize you were a part of, and examine them. The writing is based on both personal experience and critical research, which caused me to nod in shared experience, and learn from broader data. It's an important book for our time.
In advance of the book's release, I did a brief Q&A with Mr. Carr. His answers offer a great overview into what's covered in the book. Be sure to pick this one up when it's available.
Where did the idea for The Shallows come from?
It came, originally, from my own personal experience. I'd been enjoying the bounties of the Internet for many years, but three or four years ago I began to notice that my ability to concentrate had been severely eroded. When I'd sit down to read a book, for instance, my mind would wander after a page or two, and then I'd hop back to my computer to check email or do some Googling. It dawned on me that my brain craved to take in information in short, quick bites - the way it did when I was online. Other people told me they were having similar problems, so I began exploring what history and science had to say about the way technologies influence the way we think. The Shallows is the story of what I discovered - and the news is not good.
How are the effects of the internet on our brains problematic as opposed to evolutionary?
I think they're both, actually. The cognitive effects of the Net - the way it promotes quick but shallow thinking, the way it keeps us perpetually distracted - represents in one way a natural progression of electric and electronic media, from the telegraph and telephone to radio and TV. But because the Web is displacing many other information and communications media and becoming what I call a universal medium, it's having much farther reaching intellectual consequences than earlier media did. Some of those consequences are good - we have easier access to a lot more information than we used to - but others are bad. We seem to be losing, without much noticing it, our contemplative, reflective, quiet modes of thought. Some would argue that those modes are essential to our humanity and our culture - and I would tend to agree.
You quote and use the term, "know a subject ourselves." How is technology enabling or inhibiting us to do that?
We've begun to use the Internet as a replacement for our long-term memory. In fact, quite a few writers have applauded the "outsourcing" of internal memory to external data bases. But if you look at the unique qualities of biological memory, you quickly realize that the connections we form within our own minds are essential to the depth and distinctiveness of our thoughts and even our personalities. To truly know a subject, you need to think deeply and attentively about it and connect what you know with other thoughts and memories. If you fail to do that, you're going to be a superficial thinker.
What is good about reading a book?
The great thing about a printed book is that there's nothing else going on. It shields you from distractions, focuses your concentration. That's actually an unnatural mode of thought, but it's an extraordinarily valuable one. I argue that it was the book that in large measure trained us to be attentive, deep thinkers over the past 500 years, since Gutenberg invented the printing press. As text moves from the quiet page to the busy screen, we're in danger of losing that mode of thought. We're returning to our natural state of distractedness - but with more distractions than ever.
What are some ways to avoid becoming part of a distracted culture? And what can we do as individuals and organizations to keep ourselves and others more focused?
It's very hard, because the Net is being woven deeply into our lives - into the norms of work, socializing, education. So the trend we're seeing may, unfortunately, be impossible to stop. Of course as individuals we can choose a different course, curtailing our use of computers and cell phones and social networks and the Net. That's not easy, but it's something people should at least think about.
The Future of Reading
Posted Dec. 30, 2009 5:18 a.m. by the-roy
In - 800 CEO Read Blog
I was browsing NPR today and noticed a little article about e-books and Lynn Neary's take on what is happening and perhaps what will happen in the future to not only how we read books and get information - but also how it's written and distributed to the masses. It start off in a quirky way - about how we unsuspecting readers whouldn't have guessed that at the beginning of the decade we would have such a thing like an electronic book and that we would be reading them on our cell phones.
Kind of puts things into perspective.
The article quotes Nicholas Carr (author of the Big Switch): "When printed books first became popular, thanks to Gutenberg's press, you saw this great expansion of eloquence and experimentation, all of which came out of the fact that here was a technology that encouraged people to read deeply, with great concentration and focus. And as we move to the new technology of the screen ... it has a very different effect, an almost opposite effect, and you will see a retreat from the sophistication and eloquence that characterized the printed page."
Neary goes on to talk about the different mediums, like Twitter Books, that authors and their readers have turned to in order to get people to read. Gimmicks, links, correspondence with other consumers and so forth and so on.... are now common staples that help to keep things entertaining and ensure that things will get read.
Will this always be? Will the future of the written word keep changing and morphing?
What do you think?
For more on this - read the NPR article HERE
Channel Insider's 21 to Read
Posted May 27, 2009 4:49 a.m. by dylan
In 100 Best - 800 CEO Read Blog
Channel Insider recently posted a slide show of 21 Must Read Books for Business Success. It was compiled by asking "successful solution providers what books have both inspired them and shaped their approach to making their businesses a success." You can get detailed descriptions of the books by viewing the slide show, but the list itself, with links, below. If you're interested in knowing which books are also in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, they are starred.
- In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies* by Tom Peters & Robert Waterman
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity* by David Allen
- The Power of Process: Unleashing the Source of Competitive Advantage by Kiran K. Garimella
- How to Castrate a Bull: Unexpected Lessons on Risk, Growth, and Success in Business by Dave Hitz
- Balanced Scorecard Strategy for Dummies by Chuck Hannabarger, Rick Buchman & Peter Economy
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins
- Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne
- How to Win Friends and Influence People* by Dale Carnegie
- The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr
- The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business* by Clayton M. Christensen (They throw in The Innovator's Solution here as well.)
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference* by Malcolm Gladwell (They cheat a little here, too, adding Gladwell's subsequent books, Blink and Outliers to this.)
- The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson
- Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers* by Geoffrey A. Moore
- The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It* by Michael E. Gerber
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change* by Stephen R. Covey
- The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done by Peter F. Drucker
- Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff
- Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done* by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan Ram Charan
- The Go-Giver: A Little Story about a Powerful Business Idea by Bob Burg & John David Mann
- Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life by Tony Dungy
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu