Tag Archives: e-book publishing

How to Keep Your Local Bookseller in Business

How to Keep Your Local Bookseller in Business: By Buying Ebooks from Vendors that Support Bookstores
In my blog post “3 Big Takeaways from Book Expo America”, I mentioned that “a startup called Zola Books has developed a user-friendly way to deal with the issue of ‘showrooming’—the term we use to describe what happens when a customer at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore looks over the titles on display and then orders a print or e-book copy from a web retailer, often for a lower price. Zola Books gives a bookseller a well-earned piece of the action for its part in making such sales.”  Here is an explanation from their website that explains how their plan is coming along:

Support independent booksellers!  We’re happy to announce the Indie Pledge – the opportunity for readers to buy eBooks on Zola while supporting their favorite independent bookseller – is now live on Zola Books.  It’s still a work in progress, and at the moment our eBooks are readable only on iPads/iPhones, but we encourage readers to try it out by pledging to one of our test stores:

BayShore Books LLC, Oconto, WI
Book Passage, Corte Madera and San Francisco, CA
The Book Cellar, Chicago, IL
The Bookies, Denver, CO
BookPeople, Austin, TX
Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX
Capitola Book Cafe, Capitola, CA
Chaucer’s Bookstore, Santa Barbara, CA
The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
Cuppa Pulp Booksellers, Chestnut Ridge, NY
Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA
Gallery Bookshop, Mendocino, CA
Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL
Mysterious Bookshop, New York City, NY
Patti’s Book Nook, Gueydan, LA
Politics and Prose, Washington D.C.
Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, NH
St. Johns Booksellers, Portland, OR
Strand Book Store, New York, NY
Square Books, Oxford, MS
Third Place Books, Seattle, WA
WORD,  Brooklyn, NY

Over the coming weeks we’ll be putting up many more eBooks for sale, and in a few months we’ll be able to make eBooks readable on any device – computer, tablet, or phone.  But for now we are excited to partner with booksellers in building a site for booklovers eager to connect in a vibrant, independent community.  Let us know what you think at indies@zolabooks.com, since we’ll be improving and refining the pledge process even as we add functionality.

The way this “pledge” idea works is that you declare yourself to be a regular customer of a particular bookstore, and then when when you order an eBook from the Zola website, that bookstore will receive from Zola a part of the eBook sale price. This seems utterly fair to me. If the store has helped to make the sale by having a print copy of a book on display, then that store should be rewarded.

Tell your favorite local bookseller about Zola. I fear that if the local stores do not find a way to participate in the eBook market, their chances of staying in business are not good.

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3 Big Takeaways from Book Expo America 2013 for Independent Publishers

At the big book convention in New York, we saw old friends and made new ones against the backdrop of one of publishing’s biggest powwows. I also observed some very exciting things happening for the indie publishing community.

There were many more indie presses in attendance than has been the case for the last four years or so. At the IPG booth we had conversations with dozens of very promising publishers who have quite extensive and impressive publication lists. It is clear that an improving economy has brought forward a surge of entrepreneurial energy in the book business. The future is going to be a lot of fun.

The hall was alive with e-book and e-commerce solutions and propositions that are really beginning to make sense. The geeks now know enough about the actual business of books to go after some real problems and opportunities. For instance, a startup called Zola Books has developed a user-friendly way to deal with the issue of “showrooming”—the term we use to describe what happens when a customer at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore looks over the titles on display and then orders a print or e-book copy from a web retailer, often for a lower price. Zola Books gives a bookseller a well-earned piece of the action for its part in making such sales.

It is now clear that the e-book market will not be dominated by just a few huge web retailers. We were approached by 15 new ventures at the show, all offering very favorable terms for publishers and proposing innovative marketing strategies that could really work. By the end of this month, IPG’s e-books will be available through about 75 web retailers, and it’s great to see that many of the smaller ones are growing quickly. This means there will be plenty of healthy competition, no matter what the Department of Justice thinks have been the sins of the past.

These developments add up to a lot of promising opportunities for independent publishers.

IPG at BEA 2013

IPG at BEA 2013

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Making Indie Publishing & Social Media Work Together: Part II

“Social media has one foot in the highly commercial world of advertising and the other foot in the realm of human communication—hopefully sincere human communication. This combination might not always be a comfortable one; but it is now possible to glimpse some social media strategies that may be especially well-suited to the needs of indie publishers.”

Making Indie Publishing and Social Media Work Together Part IIEffective social media marketing has to at least appear to have a higher purpose than just selling a product. It needs to support the idea that community-building information is being exchanged. But can you really make an effective sales pitch, somehow hidden inside friendly communication, in a tweet or a blog or a Facebook post? I think authors and independent publishers can pull it off.

How? With the exception of bestsellers, marketing books has always been a question of bringing the right title to the attention of a buyer already interested in the book’s subject. It has always been a question of matching rather than convincing, a soft sell rather than a hard one. And traditional book marketing has long had a crucial social aspect: word of mouth—information passed among members of a community—is really what drives book sales. Since authors and indie publishers have all along aimed to create some degree of community rather than just driving sales, social networks present a new opportunity to further this goal.

I believe that social media marketing can be particularly effective at the author level. Authors can get away with a little obvious self-promotion. Writing a book is very hard work, often for little pay (again excepting the bestsellers), and most importantly requires a level of self-exposure and risk of failure that most of us simply shy away from. There is a heroic aspect to authorship that serious readers appreciate and admire.

This special connection allows authors to promote their own books, as well as those of their compatriots, without violating social media etiquette. They can inspire readers to buy books through tweets, blogs, and other forms of social media and can use those social outlets to steer customers to their publishers’ websites. After all, to the extent that their publisher is working a niche, that website will in itself amount to a sort of community where publishers, authors, and readers can connect over a shared interest. Over time, it is possible to build a bridge that leads from the author’s social media efforts to the publisher’s website.

What can a distributor do to turn the social media efforts of authors and publishers into sales? IPG has constructed sophisticated shopping carts, at no charge, for some of our client publishers’ websites. These shopping carts are customized to match the look of each website or meet the design preferences of the participating publisher, and they offer eBooks, print books, and streaming audio and video directly to consumers. IPG takes care of all of the back end processing and fulfillment services, as well as automating product and stock information and providing options for promotions. IPG is also developing a “buy button” which can easily be attached to author and publisher social communications, taking readers directly to the relevant book page on a publisher’s new shopping cart. These initiatives are still in beta, but they look very promising and will offer authors and publishers a chance to capitalize on the online communities they’ve cultivated through their social media efforts.

At a macroscopic level, every participant in the publishing industry can be a participant in the larger social conversation revolving around books and the people who love them. By engaging in these conversations, indie publishers (and distributors) can join vibrant communities of authors and readers, leading these groups to their websites, and thus, their books.

**Check out some of IPG’s new shopping carts here: Urban Land Institute Bookstore, American Cancer Society Bookstore, and Nomad Press Bookstore

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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When It Comes to Authors: Part II

Will good authors put up with rough editorial handling? They will, and with enthusiasm, if from the outset you involve them in the development of the marketing ideas that shape the book. The idea is to get them to focus not just on the publication of a book with their name on it, but on the publication of a successful book.

The essential first step is to have your authors fill out a demanding author questionnaire. (If they refuse to fill it out, find another author.) This questionnaire, in addition to eliciting the usual biographical information, should request information on possible special markets, professional contacts, relevant specialized media, sources for blurbs, and possible sales “handles” or angles. What websites did the author use to help research the book? Social media marketing of a title works much better when it is done by an author with an already engaged audience rather than a publisher.

Then, when the book is past the editing stage, furnish the author with a written description of how your company publicizes the books it publishes. This will provide a second opportunity to discuss with the author how the book will be marketed and to explain the author’s role in making the book a success.

Involving the author in the marketing of his or her book is not a cynical means of manipulation and control, but a highly effective strategy. Authors who really know their subjects (if yours doesn’t, find another author) are easily the best source for marketing ideas, especially niche marketing ideas; and the process of winnowing out the good ideas from the less promising will put your author in the right frame of mind to produce not just a book but a successful book.

Including the author in aspects beyond the creation of the book itself have other unforeseen benefits as well. Over the past few years many independent presses have been pleasantly surprised to find authors with fine track records at major houses showing up on their doorsteps prepared to accept a small fraction of the advances customarily offered by the major publishers. Most major houses do not want to hear an author’s marketing ideas, and if offered them anyway, summarily dismiss them. Many authors feel that they are treated like three-year-olds by such publishers.

If we are willing to listen to our authors (and we are crazy if we are not willing to listen) we can maintain their goodwill and cooperation–even when we are tougher on them. Or perhaps because we have been tougher.

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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When It Comes to Authors: Part I

Many people believe that in simpler times authors wrote the books, publishers touched up the spelling and punctuation, designed a suitable package, and published them. The truth however is that you can add books to the famous collection of things that you don’t actually want to see being created, along with laws or sausages.

An author’s manuscript is usually just a promising first draft. All sorts of marketing questions need to be asked and answered even before the editing—which is likely to be extensive—begins. Who is the book for? What is this audience really interested in? Are illustrations needed? What is the right tone, the right length, the right price?

Occasionally, the author’s views on these matters are exactly correct; far more frequently the author’s very closeness to the subject prevents him or her from having an objective, balanced assessment of the material and the market for which it is intended. Most manuscripts need to be cut back here, augmented there, lightened up or made more serious, reorganized or restructured—in short, extensively rewritten by the author according to ideas insisted upon by the editor or publisher.

Some authors object to this process, but anyone who has been at publishing awhile knows that it is usually the new and inexperienced authors who believe that every word they have written is sacred. Experienced authors in fact insist on strong editorial guidance; they often follow suit when their strong editors switch publishing companies.

Independent presses, of course, often publish new authors and have to contend with their inexperience. The time to explain that every word is not sacred, and that extensive revisions will probably be needed, comes before the author/publisher agreement is signed. If the author is uncooperative during this initial phase, find another author.

Perhaps this advice sounds harsh, but consider the likely consequences of going forward with an uncooperative author. A book that is wrong for its market will not sell well. And if you as the publisher or your editor is forced to rewrite the book, you will have so much time tied up in the book that it will almost certainly be a financial failure even if it does sell quite well.

But what if you have signed up an author and despite your best precautions find you have a prima donna on your hands, or else an author who is simply incapable of responding to editorial direction?

The only reasonable course in such cases is to insist to an author that, if the book is to be published, either the royalty rate must be reduced to reflect the work that the author cannot or will not perform, or else that the royalty must be shared with a ghost writer of the publisher’s choosing. To earn a full royalty, an author must do a full author’s job.

In the low-margin business of publishing, there isn’t a percent to spare.
To be continued…

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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The 20 Habits of Successful Independent Publishers

Over the years my work at IPG has given me experience with more than 500 different indie publishing companies ranging in size from very small to quite large. I am also the founder of a prosperous mid-sized house, Chicago Review Press, which now publishes 60-70 new titles a year.

In this post I make some observations about the way the most successful independent publishers tend to conduct their business. My list is no doubt idiosyncratic, biased, and incomplete. The point is to stimulate some new thinking and, more importantly, to suggest that indie publishing is unique from what big publishers do, and for that matter, quite unique from how standard business is practiced.

Business Strategy

Successful indie publishers spend very little time thinking about how the industry should function or talking to people who do. Instead, they thoroughly learn how the business actually works and how to prosper within it.
They focus on a niche, but they are always looking for new, or better yet, related ones, because they know that the half-life of a particular niche may only be about 2.5 years or less.
They attempt to sell their books into many markets, be the market trade, or library, or gift, or special sales, rather than relying on only one. They create electronic editions of every title they publish. They want a lot of baskets, even if they have only a few eggs.
They develop a business plan, a set of goals, even a mission statement; but they nimbly alter any of these (perhaps not the mission statement) when circumstances change.
They keep their fixed overhead as low as they possibly can. They make use of freelancers and outside services whenever the price and quality are reasonable. They hire additional staff only as a last, desperate, measure.
They use consultants only when they need solutions to very clearly identified business problems. They know Mother is cheaper for sympathetic hand-holding.
They never tell anyone that their author will be on a big national TV show or that their book is going to be a major motion picture until the show is in the can or the filming has commenced.
They never bet the company on any one book. They understand that the first requirement for success is to be able to stay in the game, and that staying in the game brings experience, contacts, and reputation—advantages that cannot be gained in any other way. They don’t imagine they are in the bestseller business.

The Books

Successful indie publishers only publish books that are rich in content. They know that the books with strong content are the ones that can perform as backlist, and that strong backlist is the sine qua non of successful independent publishing.
They have special access to the information needed to make their books content-rich—years of personal involvement in a subject area, a close relation to a special-interest publication, a means of identifying individuals especially qualified to write books for a particular niche—some special advantage or edge.
They work with their authors to deliver manuscripts shaped for very particular audiences, and they don’t hesitate to push their authors until they get what that target audience needs. They know that for every book that fails because the audience is too narrow, hundreds fail because the audience is too broad.
They always have their book covers and interiors designed by professional book designers, even if they have a niece who went to art school.
They understand how to wisely conduct market research. Instead of wasting funds on focus groups and other auxiliary market research, they focus their efforts on their consumer audience and conducting competitive research of similar titles to gain a firm grasp of how their book is unique to the marketplace.
Their books are very cleanly designed, copy-edited, and typeset, but they never ask their customers to pay extra for a level of quality that is not wanted: for instance, 80lb paper or a sewn binding in a book that will only be read once or just a few times.
They put an enormous amount of time into imagining the ideal realization of each book so the finished product is harmonious and (this is the really hard part), somehow, exactly right for the book’s subject and intended audience. They spend a lot of time in bookstores looking over the merchandise with a skeptical eye.
They don’t think for a second that publishing a title as an eBook somehow makes strong content and excellent design irrelevant.

Ethical Considerations

Successful indie publishers treat their employees with unusual care and consideration, because they know a productive employee at an independent press could earn a higher salary working in a different industry—almost any other industry.
They remember that the publishing community is small and that their reputation will precede them. They under-promise and over-deliver.
They understand the power of the printed word and that what they do as publishers can have a cultural influence, for good or ill, completely out of proportion to the dollars generated by their books or the number of copies sold.
They are serious people, well worth knowing.

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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The Trouble with eBooks: A Recap

Most of the blog posts put up in this space over the last two months have circled around three very major issues in regard to eBooks. Here they are, together with an account of what if any progress has been made in resolving each of them.

eBook Distribution: What’s the Deal?:
No one who is really privy to hard information about what is going on is able or willing to speak out.

Non-disclosure and Confidentiality Agreements, Most Favored Nation Clauses in distribution contracts, and then out of nowhere, the Department of Justice restraint of trade litigation against most of the biggest houses—all these things conspire to silence any informed debate about the issues. And to be blunt about it, most independent publishers feel abject terror at even the thought of confronting Amazon’s enormous market power. This part of the problem has not improved at all.

Market Share: You’d Be Surprised What the Big 6 Controls:
“The Big Six publishers, who control about half of the entire market for trade books, have been able to drive a better bargain with Amazon than the independent publishers could.”

A structural difference of that magnitude (roughly 20 points of discount) would put the independents out of business in short order (See also At What Discount Should Publishers Sell Ebooks to Resellers). This part of the problem may have eased a bit. The Department of Justice’s litigation could have the effect of largely taking away the discount advantage briefly enjoyed by the Big Six which would level the playing field. We will see.

The Oxymoronic Notion of Digital Content: Part II:
“The 50% plus take that Amazon insists on for distributing eBooks from independent publishers bears no relation at all to the cost of delivering that service.”

A free market and real competition would squeeze out excessive margins wherever they might be found in the supply chain from author to book consumer. So far we have not had anything like a free and competitive market for eBooks. On this issue, however, there is some very good news on the horizon. Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble’s eBook programs is very welcome. Two other eBook programs, which look to be robust and publisher friendly, are well in the works. Of course for the reasons explained in point one above, I can’t tell you a thing about them.

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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Who Will Stand Up for Books as Books?

orig image theamazingworldofpshychiatry.wordpress.comThe word around the blogosphere assumes that publishers are angry about the state of the book marketplace because their superannuated business model is about to be blown away, and that’s a good thing because that old model makes books too expensive, excludes too many fine authors, and makes too much money for greedy owners. Most of this sounds like sour grapes, or misinformation, or as I pointed out in a previous blog, a way for dot-com start-ups to make money.

But what’s really driving publishers crazy is the fact that the big movers and shakers in the book business at the moment—Amazon, Apple, and now here comes Microsoft—are not really in the book business at all. Amazon uses books as a loss leader to sell more expensive things. Apple really cares about electronic devices. Microsoft wants to make Windows an eBook reader operating system. The publishing industry is being batted around like a shuttlecock by players who don’t much care about, or even care for, books. Who is standing up for the book itself?

While it is true that in terms of sales, each of these companies generate more than the total of all of the book publishing conducted on our planet, aren’t books important enough in their own right to be the focus of an industry? Aren’t we courting cultural disaster if books become just a means of selling something else? Is economic power the only legitimate measure of everything?

Despite all the cynical commentary on many blogs, publishing professionals are not just worried about keeping their jobs. Most of them care deeply about books and are easily talented enough to make a better living doing almost anything else. Serious publishers, distributors, editors, designers, booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, author agents: these highly trained specialists bring an enormous amount of expertise to the making and distribution of good books. People who really know and care about books should be in charge of the business of books.

Curt Matthews
CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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Vanity Press vs. Real Publishing

The advent of the e-book may seem to have made the distinction between professional and vanity press publishing less important. Electronic distribution obscures the traditional gate-keeping functions of publishing houses, distributors, and booksellers.

The electronic-format vanity houses argue it is possible now for authors to go straight to consumers and therefore skip all the hypercritical (and hypocritical?) publishing professionals. One of these outfits is now bragging that it “published” 92,000 new titles in 2011. How much attention could have been paid to any of these titles? I have heard it said that attractive covers and careful editing are wasted on e-books.

But is it true that the traditional publishing gatekeepers are passé?

If you have been paying attention to the chatter that has surrounded the rise of e-books, you will have noticed that a new word, curate, is popping up everywhere. While “gatekeeper” has a nasty, undemocratic sound to it, “curate” is drawn from the classy world of museums and sounds tasteful and fair. It might almost be a pleasure to be “curated.”

This new choice of words however is just spin, a distinction without a difference. While it is certainly true that plausible book-like objects can now be produced easily and cheaply—approximately a million new titles were published last year—all but a very small percentage of these have no business taking up bookstore shelf space or even being displayed on Web sites. They just aren’t good enough.

Somehow those of us who consume books will need a means of separating the wheat from the chaff. Otherwise the chaff will suffocate us. Somebody is going to have to curate this mess.

(This is an excerpt from an essay that will soon appear in the Independent, the magazine of the Independent Book Publishers Association, www.ibpa-online.org)

Curt Matthews

CEO, IPG/Chicago Review Press, Inc.

Curt Matthews is the founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, which is the parent company of Chicago Review Press and of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), the first independent press distributor and now the second largest. Curt has served on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) board and has also served as its president.

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