Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Harlequin Shows Disappointing Form

Torstar the owner of Harlequin published their first quarter results this morning showing Harlequin revenues fell $15mm versus the prior period. $11mm of the short fall was due to the decreased value of the US dollar versus the loonie. The company also suggested that the comparison favored a much stronger first quarter 2007 when Harlequin had a stronger publishing schedule. (I believe this is the same 'publishing schedule' that strategically they have looked to trim). Reported revenue was $109.7 million in the first quarter, down $14.8 million from $124.5 million in the same period last year. (In 2006, 1Q revenues were $116mm. Under lying revenue growth for the 2007 quarter was only up $1mm with forex delivering a $5mm gain on the 2006 level).

First quarter underlying revenues have been a mixed bag at Harlequin over the past four years: Up big in 2006, down big in 2008 and 2005 and it is hard to discern any real pattern.

The following is from their press release:

Book Publishing revenues were down $3.9 million in the first quarter of 2008 excluding the impact of foreign exchange. North America Retail was down $2.8 million, North America Direct-To-Consumer was down $1.2 million and Overseas was up $0.1 million. Book Publishing operating profits were down $0.6 million in the first quarter of 2008 excluding the impact of foreign exchange. North America Retail was flat, North America Direct-To-Consumer was up $0.3 million and Overseas was down $0.9 million.
Torstar stated that "Harlequin’s outlook is positive" except if there is a major economic down turn in the US. (Which I believe we are in). Any further decrease in the value of the dollar will continue to result in a material impact on results. As an aside, the company doesn't note any hedge against the US dollar fall which seems somewhat irresponsible given the US outlook although they have hedged in the past. The company went on to state that "Harlequin is also experiencing accelerating progress with its digital media strategy which will contribute to earnings growth in 2008 and beyond."

Operating profit was also impacted by the unfavorable impact of foreign exchange. Operating profit of $16.2 million in the first quarter of 2008, down $2.9 million from $19.1 million in 2007 including a decrease of $2.3 million from the unfavourable impact of foreign exchange rates.

Torstar announced a restructuring program earlier this month but Harlequin was not mentioned.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Fake (With Branding)

JK Rowling can't catch a break. The Guardian blog points to an infraction by Bloomsbury but does so by using the name of Rowling to draw attention, thus;
The latest of these comes from JK Rowling's publisher, Bloomsbury, which was due to publish on May 5 a new biography of Louis XIV's mistress and "secret wife" Madame de Maintenon, by Veronica Buckley.

Turns out Ms. Buckley quotes a document in her book that was outed as a fake a number of years ago. The publisher is recalling the title as they were notified of the error during the review cycle. While there is no 'crime' here on the order of some of the more recent fakery and Bloomsbury is recalling the title, it still points to the rather shoddy fact(less) checking that seems not to occur. It appears that it was well known that this document was a fake.

But what does Rowling have to do with this? Some in the comments section noted the same thing.

Miss Pettigrew

Some times there is gold in them thar hills. The Guardian this weekend profiled the book that became the under-the-radar hit movie Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. From the article:
The novel was a small sensation in the 1940s, but has gone on to sell far more copies after being republished by Persephone, which specialises in forgotten women's literature from the inter-war years. In the month since the release of the film in America, 12,000 copies have been sold, while British sales have topped 24,000, a remarkable feat for a book in this niche market.
The author of the book Winifred Watson gave up writing only a few years after penning this book when her house was bombed in 1940. Her family couldn't convince her to start writing again.

Francis McDormand, the lead actress in the movie has also contributed to a new audio version of the book that will be out later this year.

S&S Revenues Off 12%

Directly from the CBS press release on the performance of Simon & Schuster,
revenues for the first quarter of 2008 decreased 12% to$201.6 million from $229.3 million for the same prior-year period, as best-selling titles in the first quarter of 2008, including Duma Key by Stephen King, Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark and Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult, did not match contributions from prior year titles, which included The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Publishing OIBDA and operating income decreased 28% to $17.1 million and 32% to $14.6 million, respectively, principally reflecting the decline in revenues partially offset by lower royalty expenses, production costs and selling and advertising expenses. Publishing results included stock-based compensation expense of $1.0 million and $.7 million for the first quarter of 2008 and 2007, respectively

Monday, April 28, 2008

400,000 Titles Published!

Rachel Donadio in The NYTimes book review section has an essay on the expansion of publishing. As she points out, if reading is generally going down hill this isn't stopping people from adopting self-publishing as a hobby. "Publishing" a book is like putting your photo collection on flickr now-a-days. It is so easy and the hurdles so low that anyone with a half baked idea is doing it. Not that there's anything wrong with that; I happen to believe that the creativity, the experiences and the expression evident in many of these books will become a reference point for our age. Just as letters between family members shone light on a family's history, future generations will browse the published output of family members. I want my parents to do this.

On the other hand, my view may be too prosaic; since many of these self-publishers still think their titles will become the next best seller. As mentioned in the article, the potential for titles to be on display at B&N garners considerable attention and revenues from their legions of authors. So, there is some delusion but the self-publishing market is estimated to be worth over $1.3billion (although, regretably I can't recall the citation for this number) and deserves significant attention from all segments of the publishing community. As I have suggested before, one of the major publishing houses is going to get into this segment in a big way (Xlibris aside).

As for the number of titles published annually, the absolute number is meaningless without explanation as it grows by 35% from 2006-2007. In order to draw any analysis from this number of published titles the number would have to be broken down considerably. Impressive as the number is it is noted for effect only.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Reed Business to be Broken Up

PaidContent cites inside knowledge that the RBI sale will be broken into bite size pieces.
We have also learned that Reed Elsevier has changed its mind on how to sell it. Initially it did not want to sell off various pieces separately, but now at least the U.S. part, RBI-US, will be sold off separately, and multiple parties are aligning their arrows for when the process starts.
In my opinion, in the US we will see a group of PE partners join to buy the entire US segment and then carve this up subsequently into smaller chunks. The RBI media titles represent one such chunk which I have mentioned before.

The "Bankrupting Costs of Textbooks"

That is the conclusion of an editorial in this mornings NYTimes. The newspaper also notes a bill pending in Congress that would require publishers to sell "unbundled versions of textbooks minus the pricey add-ons." The editorial is short but makes some significant and spurious leaps in logic. As one example, Educators must,
embrace new methods of textbook development and distribution if they want to rein in runaway costs. That means using digital textbooks, which can often be presented online free of charge or in hard copies for as little as one-fifth the cost of traditional books. The digital books can also be easily customized and updated.

In conclusion, the newspaper suggests that institutions should take advantage of these new developments citing a tiny publisher offering textbooks for free and 'research' that suggests free geography material produces the same results as purchased materials.

Noting there is 'no reason' a textbook costs $140 is like saying there is no reason gas is $4/gallon. Higher education is like buying a car. You don't expect to get the gas for free and you shouldn't expect to get educational material for free. Legitimately, a student should expect to be treated fairly in respect to the materials they are asked to purchase for their course work but this is a complicated issue and to suggest 'publishers are calling the tune' is inaccurate and misleading.

Wolters Kluwer, Thomson Acquire Accounting Firms

Earlier this month, two of the big players in information publishing purchased accounting firms. Nonsensical? Not really, when you consider that both companies are in the business of offering a suite of products and services to their customers that encompass not only what we may traditionally think of as publishing products but also services and solutions that leverage or embed the information and expand the relationship with the customer. (I touched on this at a recent industry conference).

In the case of Wolters Kluwer, they have taken over the UK offices of Melbourne, Australia based accounting software firm MYOB (Mind Your Own Business). WK reportedly paid £35.5m earlier this month for MYOB. From AccountingWeb:

The MYOB Accountants Division product range includes PerTax and Viztopia accounts production and practice management programs acquired from MYOB's fellow Australian software Solution 6 in 2004. MYOB also produces the Singleview
knowledge management portal, plus corporation tax, trust and insolvency practice programs.

CCH's ProSystem portfolio includes many similar applications. In an email to customers CCH UK managing director Martin Casimir said the long term plan was to migrate all the solutions to a single range of best of breed products. "Please rest assured that this will be done in a considered and carefully controlled manner," he wrote.

CCH is WK existing software division.

Competitor Thomson has purchased tax software company Digita within the same time frame but after considerably wooing of the Digita founders. Thomson's UK and European market share is far smaller than their US position and they see Digita as enabling a rapid development of that market. As core markets mature, similar companies will be looking to the international market for growth performance. Additionally, in the case of both companies, the acquisitions will enable the companies to further expand the range of business solutions and services that they offer to their key markets.

Thomson will place Digita with Sweet & Maxwell.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fictional Non Fictionists

Colson Whitehead had me. As I read this in New York magazine, I thought how could they have missed this story. But by the third paragraph, it struck me. This guy is lying!

Nevertheless a thoroughly entertaining satire - somewhat lost on some of the readers as noted in the comments - but then these are exactly the target audience so no matter. Here's a sample:

Average. That’s one thing Margaret most definitely is not. I broach this subject with her friend Misha Defonseca, author of Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, which describes how she hid out in the forests of Europe to escape the Nazis and was taken in by a gang of wolves. Whenever Misha makes it out to the States for a visit, she and Margaret go shopping for Levi’s, which are difficult to come by in her native country. She resells them to aspiring hipsters in her village at a dreadful markup.

I visit her tiny cottage, a few kilometers outside a large Eastern European city. Misha is a little Cabbage Patch doll of a woman, with an energy beyond her years. It’s not hard to see her nestled in with the other cubs, fighting bravely for the teat of the she-bitch. I ask her if it’s harder to be adopted by black people or wolves. She chuckles at my question and sips her tea. “We tease each other, Margaret and I. She says, ‘At least we had cable and White Castle—you had to forage for nuts and berries.’ But the wolves, I tell her, the wolves have”—and here she turns her eyes to the ceiling—“they have La Vida Lobo. The Wolf Life!” It is a brief audience, and she soon dismisses me to return to work on the prequel of her memoir, about her time on the run from the Armenian genocide, when she was taken in by ferrets.

Ah, ferrets...

Net Galley Announce Digital Galley Early Adopters.

Earlier this year, NetGalley announced an important partnership with Publisher's Weekly as their first major step to implementing their digital workflow tool NetGalley. NetGalley is a tool that may transform the current paper based Galley workflow into a truly digital based process that will become both make the distribution and management of Galleys more efficient and effective. The product will be launched commercially at BookExpo, but they announce today that St.Martins, SourceBooks, Hachette Book Group and Bloomsbury US will be the first publishers to implement the tool.

From their press release:

"We are delighted to be here at the beginning of this terrific program," said Matt Baldacci, VP, director of marketing and publishing operations at St. Martin's Press. "NetGalley will make our interaction with Publishers Weekly more efficient, and has the potential to show cost, resource, and environmental efficiencies. These benefits are good for PW, the publishers that will join the full roll-out, and the industry in general.

During the pilot period, publishers will submit their title information—and optionally digital galleys—electronically to PW. In return, PW will provide visibility on review acceptance and status through Pilot publishers will also have the opportunity to invite other reviewers, media, and bloggers to join their community and view their “NetGalleys” online.

Ted Treanor, CEO of Rosetta Solutions, commented, “The response from publishers to support this initiative has been extraordinarily positive. NetGalley selected this group for their diversity of size and publishing type, and their willingness to innovate. We’re counting on these partners to help us continue to refine”

Earlier this year, I interviewed Mike Forney from RosettaSolutions.

Dilbert Mashups

It is here. Your opportunity to match wits and funny bone with office humor superstar Scott Adams. Publisher's pay attention, because here is a perfect example of a content owner embracing their audience and letting them interact in a meaningful way with their product. I have noted that travel publishers, cookbook publishers and some others are experimenting with this idea and I hope we will see more of it. Register with and have some fun with it.

That is my submission at the top of the screen shot.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Copyright Clearence Center: Copyright Conference


OnCopyright 2008 will bring thought leaders and change agents together to explore the evolving world of copyright. It’s a unique opportunity to share insights and exchange ideas on where copyright is headed, and how it will affect the future of written works, music and other forms of intellectual property. Register now to reserve your place. The $395 fee includes breakfast, lunch, cocktail reception and conference materials. For more information, contact the conference organizer at (978) 646-2691 or


OnCopyright 2008
hosted by Copyright Clearance Center
May 1, 2008
Union League Club New York, NY

This one-day event will focus on four themes: Art, Society, Technology and Law. Speakers include:
SUZANNE VEGA Singer-songwriter
PAUL HOLDENGRABER Director, Public Programs The New York Public Library
GIGI SOHN President & Co-Founder Public Knowledge
STANLEY PIERRE-LOUIS VP and Associate General Counsel, IP & Content Protection Viacom Inc.
CLAY SHIRKY Author Here Comes Everybody
JIM GRIFFIN Warner Music
MARK TRIBE Assistant Professor, Modern Culture & Media Studies Brown University
PAUL FAKLER Partner Moses & Singer LLP
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF Author, Teacher, Documentarian
TIM WUProfessor Columbia Law School
MICHAEL W. CARROLL Professor of Law Villanova University School of Law
JONATHAN LETHEM Bestselling Author, Novelist, Essayist
ALLAN ADLER VP, Legal & Governmental Affairs Association of American Publishers
KEVIN O’KANE President & Founder Red Lasso
MATT MASON Author The Pirate's Dilemma

Borders Stickers Books - Why?

As promised Mike Shatzkin for a second time this week.

I don't buy a lot of books in bookstores anymore -- I'm an ebook man -- and when I do, I generally patronize Barnes & Noble or an independent. So when a colleague a couple of days ago walked in with a couple of books he'd bought at Borders and pointed to the stickers on each book and said "hnh?", it recalled a bit of book retail history and some considerable irony.

It is obvious, or should be, that for a bookstore to be stickering every book is evidence of a pretty dumb supply chain. Every book has a bar code with a price extension. This is extra work that should just not have to be done.

It was the early 1970s when the B. Dalton chain introduced point-of-sale capture at the cash register. This was only a few moments after the invention of the ISBN and before there was any cash register technology for "reading" by scanning. So it was complicated to do this.

The way it worked is that each title Dalton bought was assigned an SKU number. When the buyer in Minneapolis made a purchase decision, stickers were generated for the books and sent to the store. When the books came in, they were stickered before they went to the sales floor. There were "holes" in the system, of course: when a store bought a book from a local wholesaler, they often would put a "dummy" sticker on that got them past the cash register but didn't record the specific book being sold. But the system delivered information that was light years ahead of what any chain retailer had ever had before and rapidly pushed B. Dalton ahead of their competition at the time, Waldenbooks, and particularly so in the sale of steady-but-slow backlist.

It was a revelation at the time to learn that the sale of six copies a week across all stores (in a multi-hundred store chain) was a "hot" title and that sales of six titles a month got you on the "warm" list. That introduced some real perspective to how books move. Or don't.

For a few years, Dalton operated with knowledge of what was selling and Walden didn't. Then, in the later 1970s, "machine-readable" typefaces were invented, which I think were called OCR-A and OCR-B. Harry Hoffman had taken over as head of Walden by then -- he who had introduced the microfiche reader at Ingram a few years before -- and he told publishers that, as of a certain date (I think this was about 1980), Walden would require that the ISBN be printed on the books in a readable font. And suddenly, Walden leapfrogged Dalton. Dalton had invested in a system that required a unique number (their SKU) and stickering and punching those numbers into the cash register. All of that was sidestepped by Walden, which only had to scan the readable ISBN (or punch in the ISBN if it weren't readable.) No stickering. No unique numbers.

The irony today is that Barnes & Noble, which owns (and is closing) B. Dalton, has a great supply chain that requires no stickering. And Borders, which owns (and is closing) Walden, has a poor supply chain which requires them to put their books into a "flow-through" warehouse to be stickered before they can go to the stores.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Voyager to Take $45mm Charge

Voyager Learning will take a $35-45mm non-cash charge against its 2006 operating results as a result of the sale of Proquest Information and Learning. PQIL was sold in 2007 to Cambridge Information Group for $222mm. The write down represents 20% of the value of the business unit and in retrospect it is hard to understand how that purchase price could have been effectively negotiated given the current accounting disclosures. On the earnings call last week, Mr. Richard Surratt, Voyager Company's President and CEO noted that they will also take a non-cash charge against goodwill for the purchase of Voyager. In November, Mr. Surrat noted that they expected to have their 2006 10-Qs and 10-K competed by the end of the first quarter 2008; however, they are six weeks behind and do not expect to have that work completed until mid-May. They do expect to have their financial reports for 2007 completed by July.

Mr. Surratt went on to note the status of several lawsuit against the company but there is little change here since the last update in November. He was joined on the call by Ron Klausner, President, and Brad Almond, CFO, of Voyager Expanded Learning.

On an operating basis the company appears to be performing consistently and is stable given a challenging operating environment. Mr. Almond commented on the full year results:

For the fiscal year ending December 29, 2007, the Voyager operating business had preliminary revenue of $110 million, earnings before interest and taxes, or EBIT, of $8 million and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, of $30 million. These three results each fall within the guidance we gave in November. This compares to 2006 preliminary revenue of $ 115 million, EBIT of $ 6 million and EBITDA of $ 30 million.

In his comments, Mr Klausner concluded the call with a number of comments about the operating environment faced by the company.
We have a terrific track record in developing capabilities that address very difficult problems. While some of our competitors are creating uncertainty and doubt about us as a result of the board's decision to consider strategic alternatives, we are encouraged by how well these new capabilities have been received in the market. Based on the explosive growth in usage of Ticket to Read and the early feedback on the redesign of Passport, we continue to be optimistic that our focus on researched based curriculum, high levels of implementation support, embedded professional development, and web based practice will be rewarded.
The company expects to continue their gradual operating improvement with anticipated 2008 revenue in the range of $111 to $119 million, EBIT between $6 and $10 million, and EBITDA between $28 and $32 million.

Call Transcript

Monday, April 21, 2008 and Book Pricing

Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company asked if I would like to post the following article. He also has another in the wings which I will put up on Wednesday.

Amazon stirred two controversies in the past couple of weeks. A lot of attention was paid to the one concerning print-on-demand, where they did an arm-twist to get publishers who use the capability to set their books up at BookSurge, even if they were already set up someplace else, most likely Lightning. I have expressed my concern on behalf of publishers about that policy which, although characterized as a mere attempt to be customer-friendly, should be a matter of great concern to Amazon's suppliers.

The second controversy, however, is a bit more complicated and, to my way of thinking, Amazon's position is considerably more justifiable. That was Amazon's suggestion that they will interpret the price at which a publisher sells directly as the "real" retail price, on which discounts to them should be based. This recalled for me a 10-year old industry conversation and, in doing so, showed me the sense in Amazon's position.

In the 1990s, the suggestion that retail prices should come off the books became pretty vociferous. Bernie Rath, then the pioneering (and publishers and big retailers would say, "troublemaking") Executive Director of the American Booksellers Association was among those making the case. In a nutshell, Rath and some very sophisticated and successful booksellers made the argument that it was a mistake to "cap" the retailer's margin with a printed price, above which they then obviously could not charge. The argument was that retailers in every other field adjusted their prices to the neighborhood, reflecting both the cost of real estate and the local community's ability to pay. By limiting booksellers' margins, publishers were, in effect, limiting the number of outlets that could sell their books.

At that time, there were two "most popular" arguments against the idea. One was that booksellers, by and large, benefited from the prices being on the books. It saved them the effort and cost of stickering prices themselves; it relieved them of the responsibility for prices in the eyes of their customers, who could clearly see the price was printed before the bookseller got the book; and it dramatized any discounting the bookseller cared to do. Because book clubs were a more important component of a publisher's sales at that time, they represented another constituency that supported the printed price because it emphasized their own cut-price offers. And booksellers could live with that discounting because book club membership was constricting; it was not about buying what you want when you wanted it.

At the time, I often made a third argument, which I believed was the most important even if it wasn't the most ubiquitous. Publishers have always been willing to sell any book they publish to any consumer who asks for it. At the time, it was absolutely routine that those sales would be made at the full publisher's retail price, plus some charge for postage and handling. In that way, publishers respected the reality that some of their books might not be widely available (remember, even after there was an Amazon, there was a period before most people had regular internet access and a comfort level about using it), but avoided "competing" with their retailers.

I pointed out that this practice meant there really IS a publisher's price, so the question narrowed to whether it would be revealed to the consumer on the book, or not. And the retailer who decided to sell the book at a price higher than the publisher's price -- which, even at the time seemed more of an imaginary than real opportunity -- would be taking the risk that his/her customers would soon know they had been gouged because either they or somebody else might let them know what the publisher's price actually was.

How times have changed. And two aspects of this equation have really changed with it.

First of all, no bookseller today would anticipate being able to sell a book at higher than the publisher's retail price. There are already consumers walking around bookstores with handheld computers checking prices online while they shop in the store. And, as we all know, prices online are never going to be higher than publisher's suggested retail, whether printed on the book or not.

But, secondly, many publishers now sell to consumers aggressively through their web sites, and price offers are part of the effort. So while the old bookseller arguments for taking the prices off the books are no longer valid, neither is my rejoinder. Time has passed both arguments by.

But Amazon is making a good argument here, and it is one that B&N and other retailers, and, by extension, all wholesalers, will likely join them in pressing on publishers. The price printed on the book really means nothing if the publisher doesn't sell at that price. All it becomes, then, is a basis on which to establish prices to intermediary customers; it is no longer a meaningful price to the consumer, "suggested" or otherwise. And if the longtime industry convention that prices to intermediary customers is pegged to the price charged (presumably by the publisher) to the consumer, then the discounts should be calculated from the publisher's consumer selling price.

We have not heard the last of this argument. Publishers selling direct to consumers better be thinking this through very carefully.

Mike can be reached at mike (at)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Links: London, Sex and Origami

At the NYTimes Sarah Lyall takes a literary tour of London in 36hrs. She missed Dickens' house. And if you are there for 48hrs visit Sir John Soane's house (it's free) and it is an incredible house and collection. He was an architect by profession but a patron, etc.
From Lyall's article:

But it is better to visit, if only for the joy of seeing the landscape of your imagination come to life. How thrilling to happen upon Pudding Lane, where a bakery mishap led to the Great Fire of 1666, after reading Pepys’s account in his diaries. Or to wander along Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes once fictionally solved the unsolvable. Walk across London Bridge and gaze down, toward Southwark Bridge: this is the stretch of the Thames where Dickens’s sinister characters dredged up corpses in “Our Mutual Friend.”

In my early fun-filled days at Bowker (contrasted with the later years) we used to joke about publishing a BIP/sex & erotica edition since a) there were many titles in the database under those subjects and b) we knew it would sell. It's probably a good idea it remained a joke but Rupert Smith in the LATimes reflects on his experience writing and selling titles in this active publishing segment.
The fact that erotica sells so much, and so widely, suggests that it's really just like any other type of genre fiction -- doing a job for an audience that knows what it wants and where to get it. Crime, horror, sci-fi and romance authors set out their stalls in very similar fashions, offering a mystery, or a fright or a flight into fantasy. The porn writer's offer is just as simple: I'll deliver two good orgasms per chapter (or one, for readers over 40), along with a rattling good plot that will get you to the next sex scene, some likable characters and a big dollop of humor.
I found it interesting that two traditional print based travel map publishers are battling over who owns the rights to maps that use the ancient art of Origami. Am I going to have to consider how I fold my mapquest printout? Link.
Compass, which produced the official map for the Athens Olympics and is hoping to produce the official one for Beijing, was recently granted European patents for the maps. The case comes amid concerns about the growing cost of commercial litigation.
So, Compass (who are fighting Langensheidt) got a patent for an origami technique...?

Things aren't going so well for the owner of Harlequin. Torstar announces they are cutting 160 jobs and taking a restructuring charge of $21mm. These reductions will all be in the newspaper division (as you might expect). Link

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Blurb Again

mThe NYTimes covers the d0-it-yourself self-publishing segment including a focus on the cottage industries that are developing around technology sites such as (I've used Blurb and love the tool).

From the article:
Today, Ms. Leendertse still turns a pile of pictures and paragraphs into bound books, but instead of working just for a roster of major publishers like MIT Press, she helps individuals create books. She is participating in an offshoot of the scrapbooking phenomena, the hobby of collecting and preserving photos and mementos. What was once a pastime for mothers recording family memories for their children has blossomed into a new, fertile marketplace of collaboration. People with stories to tell are creating personalized books filled with pictures, blog entries and even business proposals. While some of these glorified scrapbooks are aimed at the world at large, many new titles were never intended to be sold in stores or marketed in any way. For instance, architects submitting bound proposals for their projects have used some of the scrapbooking tools.

More Vibrant Less Cynical

Rachel Harvey of the BBC tells educates us to some tips for aspiring authors.

"With the London Book Fair inspiring budding writers, Rachel Harvey looks at the best ways to get published."


London All The Time

An interesting Art/Photography installation on London's South Bank.

"A circular photo gallery on London's Southbank is capturing images every five seconds for three days. Gabby Shawcross and Jason Bruges designed the memory project, which is touring the UK."


Thursday, April 17, 2008

WH Smiths

UK High street retailer reported half year profit increased 8% on the strength of motorway, airport and train station outlets. Same stores sales slipped 2% however. Kate Swann, group chief executive said: “The economic environment remains uncertain and, whilst we continue to be cautious, we are confident in the outcome for the full year”.

From the TimesOnline:

WH Smith today gave a cautiously optimistic forecast for the rest of the year despite falling sales elsewhere on the high street after the 215-year old newspaper and stationary retailer reported profits above expectations and lifted its interim dividend by 24 per cent. Shares in the company rose 5.25p to 371p in early trading after it revealed pre-tax profits rose by 8 per cent to £64 million for the six months to February 29. City analysts had expected profits between £59 million and £63 million for the period.

From the Press Release:

• Group profit before tax up 8% to £64m (2007: £59m). Profits from trading operations are £50m1 in High Street and £17m1 in Travel.
• Group total sales up 2%, with like-for-like (LFL) sales down 2%, reflecting our strategy to
rebalance the mix of our High Street business towards our core categories:
• Travel total sales up 14%, with LFL sales up 1% (excluding tobacco, LFL sales up 3%)
• High Street total sales down 2%, with LFL sales down 3%
• Gross margin improved by 70 basis points year on year.
• First half High Street cost savings of £4m delivered, in line with plan.
• Good progress with return of £90m of cash to shareholders through a special dividend and on market share buyback programme.
• Strong free cash flow of £61m.
• Underlying2 earnings per share of 26.9p (2007: 25.8p).
• Basic earnings per share of 28.3p (2007: 26.7p).
• Interim dividend of 4.6p, up 24% on last year.

Commenting on the results, Kate Swann, Group Chief Executive said:
“We have delivered another period of good profit growth, with Group profits3 up 8%. We have seen further strong performance from Travel with substantial progress in new business development in the hospital, air and motorway channels. In the High Street, we successfully continue to deliver our strategy to rebuild our authority in our core categories."

Borders 10K Report

I still don't get it. Borders appears to have mortgaged its immediate future with a short term loan that on the surface appears questionable. The company had cash on hand at the end of 2007 of $61mm versus $108.6mm in 2006; however, they also spent $123mm (versus $153.8mm in the prior period) in capital expenditures, technology improvements and new stores. Any of this could have been slowed to under $100mm if they believed they had a brewing problem. The company has announced for 2008 they will hold cap ex under $100mm and have also suspended their quarterly dividend (approx. $20mm). Importantly, the company has managed to effectively manage inventory and payables which has had a material impact in bridging the operating income stortfall to free cash. On inventory it looks like they have gained almost $120mm in cash from 2005-2007. A decent amount of good news. (Borders10k)

To the extent the company has operating issues they appear to have managed their way into them. The high costs of the Borders rewards program and the increasing costs of store occupancy costs are having a significant impact. Again, however the negative result of both of these items derive from management decisions on strategy. Pulling back on the promotions would enable the company to improve gross margin. Occupancy is a little more complicated and I suspect this is the real nub of the company's problem. The company has lost $113mm in gross margin between 2006-2008 (3%pts). In retail that is a lot to give up. Difficult to understand is whether the cost of the added bonus program has been covered in revenue growth. Revenues have gone up but the report doesn't tie one to the other directly.

Occupancy costs are also included in gross margin and the company has many long term lease obligations. It is likely that revenues are not growing fast enough to cover the rent escalations and this situation will grow worse over time. Borders has 435/509 store leases with terms that expire after 2014. If Borders can't aggressively grow top line revenues faster than these fixed occupancy costs they will continue to erode gross margin. Walden is in slightly better position with the majority of store leases expiring within 10 years. Borders can and is closing Walden stores because the leases are coming due.

The short and long of this evolving story is that we will know the fate of Borders by year end.

Here are some other highlights from the 10K:
  • Opened 18 new stores in 2007
  • $228/avg sales per sq ft
  • Avg sales per superstore $8.6mm
  • 541 Superstores (US-509, Oz-22, NZ-5, PR-3, Sing-1)
  • 490 Walden stores
  • 112 Paperchase stores
  • Avg store sq ft is 7% less than their existing average (no explanation)
  • Plan 14 concept stores in 2008
  • Walden Avg sales/sq.ft: $299
  • Walden avg sales/store: $1.1mm
  • International: avg sales/sqft $381
  • International: sales/store $8.3mm
  • Closing 1 of 3 distribution locations in TN and expanding OH
  • Interest expense up $13.2mm to $42.9mm in 2007
  • Consolidated sales up $8.1mm due to new openings. Comp stores sales down 2.2% due to book sales decline
  • Walden comp down 7.1%
  • International comp up 0.1%
  • Net cash from continuing operations 2007-$101.5mm, 2006-$38.7mm, 2005-$161.2
  • Net cash used for investing: 2007-$123.1, 2006-$153.8mm, 2005-$57mm
  • Borders retains some off balance sheet items related to leases for their sold UK store operation
  • L/T liabilities to $350mm from $313.2mm

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Authonomy From Harpercollins

Via Eoin Purcell an update on the Harpercollins web site to support writers and booklovers. They have launched a blog. I mentioned Authonomy last year.

Making Information Pay

The following is a reminder from the Book Industry Study Group about the upcoming Making Information Pay conference.

Making Information Pay Conference 2008: Experimentation and Innovation in the Digital Age is just weeks away. As an added value to this year’s conference we’ve put together 10 in-depth case studies based on recent publishing experiments in sales, marketing, and digital publishing.

Attendees of Making Information Pay 2008 will receive a free printed copy of the complete set of case studies and hear many of the experimenters discuss what they’ve learned and answer questions about how it affects your business.

To reserve your copy, register now at:

Michael Healy
Executive Director
Book Industry Study Group

FROM: Hachette Book Group’s “Light DRM” on Audiobooks

Based on an interview with Neil DeYoung, Director of Digital Media, and David Stack,
Senior Manager, Digital Media, Hachette Book Group USA

Neil DeYoung and David Stack face a complex strategic challenge. Like other publishers with extensive audiobook lists, Hachette sees a distribution supply chain limited to two retailers (iTunes and Audible) that support the consumer-favorite iPod device with copy-protection digital rights management (DRM). There is real incentive to figure out how to diversify the distribution channels and give the consumers what they want.

Distributing digital audiobooks in MP3 format without copy-protection DRM would allow consumers to play audiobooks on the iPod and any other device, and open the door for additional distribution channels, but it carries the risk of piracy or rampant unpaid re-use. Hachette’s senior management is very concerned about piracy and felt it necessary to evaluate the risks of distribution without copy protection. HBGUSA is conducting a test, which hasn’t been simple and isn’t cheap. But the results so far have been encouraging and although they are not definitive, they support the idea that distribution without copy protection might not lead to widespread piracy of audiobooks.

For the full text of this and 9 other case studies of recent publishing experiments, register for
Making Information Pay 2008 today!

Georgia State Sued For Copyright Infringement

The migration to digital delivery of course pack and text material is inexorable in today's educational environment. Unfortunately students, administrators and academics are taking matters into their own hands and digitizing publisher content without permission and without compensation. Over the past (at least) five years, AAP has taken corrective action against schools and universities that have facilitated the ability of students to access this content, and behind the scenes have been able to help institute policies that protect the rights of publishers. In egregious cases, academics have scanned entire works for all reading material required for their courses, placed this material on their intranet course websites and then broadcast the availability of this material to their students. Often they have noted 'you (the student) don't have to pay for your course material'

Many will admit that the educational publishers as a group are not moving fast enough to replace their print versions with electronic databases but fear of entering the 'valley of death' prevails. The 'valley of death' is the graphic depiction of what will happen to your revenue line as you proactively make a transition from print to digital. If you are lucky, after 3-4yrs you will regain the revenue you had in the year before you attempted to transform your business. Ultimately, the business becomes stronger and more flexible in the manner in which the publisher can seek new markets and business development. It's just that the valley looks so horrible (and no one will make their bonus) that discourages the publisher. This is the transition we went through at Bowker in the early 2000's with the added benefit that we actually had a business at the end of it.

Three publishers (and notably not AAP) have sued Georgia State for allowing course material to be made available to students that goes beyond 'fair use'. In the NYT article Brewster Kahle is looking for "innovation" but this is just plain steeling. Simply because the materials are not available in the form they want gives them no right to scan it and place it on a network. This case is no different than the Kinko's xeroxing case almost 20 yrs ago. All institutions have it in their power to set standards and policies that protect the rights of publishers. After all, many of these infractions occur on the university's computer networks. Too many universities appear to disparage the property rights of others and with not much more than a 'nod and a wink' regarding 'fair use policy' to facilitate this activity.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Harry Potter and the Rule of Law (1)

Collegues and I were having a conversation online about the J.K. Rowling lawsuit. Someone had asked about why some had refered to this as a 'Disney-like' lawsuit. I'm not completely sure but I speculate:

I can’t help thinking that to a great extent our perception of the merits of this case are clouded by the fact we know JKR is a mega-bazillionaire. Afterall we conclude, hasn’t she made enough already? Even their front page Daily News today basically called her a whiny cry-baby. I think this is entirely unfair. Regardless of how much she has made she still has the legitimate right to claim infringement and no one should begrudge her that right because of the size of her bank account. And we shouldn't root for the underdog because they are battling the odds either. This particular case is murky for a number of reasons not least of which she appears to have approved of the web site (from which the lexicon is to derive) although it seems to me that she was only encouraging a fan.

Disney has always been known as aggressive in defense of their intellectual property and characters. They are the gold standard representatives of the theory that aggressive defense is the only form of maintaining and retaining copyright. JKR will say the lexicon is both a copy of her work AND of crap quality but like Disney she is ensuring any future defense of her copyright. After all, something much bigger may come up and she is preparing for that possibility by killing this one off. Even if she looses she is establishing a track record of defense. If she allows third parties to use her property without attempting to stop them it is easier for future judges to point at this inactivity and side with the 'infringing party'.

Also mentioned in the 'conversation' was a post from Print Is Dead guy Jeff Gomez (Admittedly his title might be better than mine). This is part of what he said but you should read the whole post:

In Rowling’s case, her books are going to sell no matter what. But if she’s allowed to succeed in stopping RDR, think about all of the books about books (not to mention books about movies and plays and music) that won’t get written as a result
I believe Jeff is off the mark here. There are numerous ways in which a copyright holder like JKR can loose a case and a third party can create 'a separate and new work' which can be used by adoring fans everywhere. There are also ways to do this by avoiding the threat of the law entirely. In this case there appears to be a question of quality and plagiarism although the Judge will decide.

London Book Fair

BBC video from the London Book Fair.


Digital Stuff: Random House, Macmillan, Penguin

On Monday Random House UK announced that they will make as many as 5,000 titles available for previewing on their web site. The application is available currently on everytitle that has an "open the book" icon over the cover image. Random House like other large trade publishers has been in the process of building a digital warehouse of their content for a number of years. This process looks to be well in hand and at RH and other publishers we are likely to see new and interesting applications appear with regularity. The link for the Wingfield title is here. RH has also said the tool will be available to other sites. The Guardian noted that as well as bloggers and book fans will be able to use the widget.

Other publishers with digitial news includes Penguin who let it be known they will adopt the .epub IDPF standard for ebooks and release all their titles in this format beginning later in the year.

Over at Macmillan they are experimenting in a number of different ways to create extra value with an e-version of a printed work. (At some point they become entirely different of course). This notion is similar to my suggestions in what to do about but the nice people at Thedigitalist actually have an example:
The idea that a special edition eBook can contain marginal material produced before, during, or after a print edition features in two other eBooks to be published by Picador this year. Sid Smith’s China Dreams, which we published in hardback in January 2007 and in paperback in January 2008, will be issued in a uniquely up-to-date edition, in the author’s latest version, with corrections, changes, and new material, and a foreword in which he considers the process of composition and revision. Cliffhanger, by T. J. Middleton (the alias of our established Picador author Tim Binding), takes this idea in the opposite direction: alongside the print edition, which we publish in October 2008, will be an urtext: a composite version of the novel as it was before it was edited here at Picador, with the text in its original form, reinstated and modified scenes and characters, and a radically different ending, also with a foreword by the author explaining the urtext’s conception and the editing process that turned it into Cliffhanger.

I am sure much more to come.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Travelling Man: Thomas Kohnstamm

My whole world shattered this morning. Thomas Kohnstamm, a travel writer for Lonely Planet actually didn't visit the country he was supposed to write about. Instead he was sunning himself in Northern California. The story hit the wires because Thomas has written a 'tell all' book "Do Travel Writers Go to Hell" about his adventures as a travel writer. Not satisfied with that riveting subject on which to write a memoir, he has thrown in lots of naughty stuff young wild (writers?) boys do when they are writing. Oh and by the way, that book he wrote on Columbia; he decided not to go there and wrote it from San Francisco. (His girlfriend was Columbian).

As you might imagine, this info seems to have put Lonely Planet on the defensive. Lucky Thomas may have generated more interest in his title than he may otherwise have deserved but it turns out he may have embellished his writing assignment. According to LP, they say he was only asked to cover the history of Columbia so there was no reason for him to visit. What of the rest of the book then?

At Berlitz we published travel guides which were updated every three years or so. (Many were on a cycle longer than that). The company also had stringers in most locations and these people helped us update the titles when they came up for review or reprint. In today's age it is inconceivable that any publisher could get away with publishing travel guides that were inaccurate for the simple reason that we have the internet! People love pointing out when you publish wrong or inaccurate information and they aren't afraid to broadcast the news to everyone.

My Wall Street Journal!

A parody of the Wall Street Journal is to be published in celebration of tax day tomorrow. Apparently some of the copies have leaked in advance and one copy has made its way to the executive suite at News Corp.

(Fake, but funny; especially the bit about Roger Ailes).

Machine Publishing

This is why statistics on annual publishing output as generally constituted are meaningless(NYTimes):
Mr. Parker has generated more than 200,000 books, as an advanced search on under his publishing company shows, making him, in his own words, “the most published author in the history of the planet.” And he makes money doing it. Among the books published under his name are “The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea” ($24.95 and 168 pages long); “Stickler Syndrome: A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients and Genome Zesearchers” ($28.95 for 126 pages); and “The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India” ($495 for 144 pages).
The variation in publishing segment, tiers of publishers and the increasing numbers of new variations (or definitions of publishing) in publishing models is generally obscured by the headline grabbing "200,000 new titles published" in {fill in year}.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Subscribing to PND

Subscribers to PND continue to grow every week which is gratifying. I hope that all readers will consider referencing the site and also referring new subscribers to the blog so that readership continues to grow. I am prepared to offer the bribe of a PND T shirt to those that refer the most new subscribers. Over the past few months, the articles that current subscribers may want to forward or reference to colleagues include my posts on Amazon the Monopoly, the Borders situation and my Five Questions series.

I also have a standing invitation to anyone wishing to step on the soap box with me and offer their thoughts on the publishing industry.

Someone emailed me this week asking how to subscribe to personanondata. Other than visiting the web page directly (presumably using a bookmark), there are two subscription methods. An email subscription will deliver an update to your designated email address once per day and the message will contain any posts made since the previous email was sent. Approximately 25% of my subscribers use this method.

The second method is to use RSS. Using the PND RSS feed enables you to get updates when they are made on the site (rather than see them only in the next email message). RSS is simple to use and very functional. The RSS link is here.

Let me know if you have any problems (to do with this blog) and I hope you continue to enjoy my commentary.

michael.cairns @

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Sell Out Of Borders

Ever get your mortgage banker to knock 25% off your interest rate? Me either. Not so those intrepid financiers at Borders. In announcing the loan rescue on their conference call, they professed due diligence seeking the best terms "under the circumstances" (what those are remain a mystery); they have now managed, no more than ten days later, to reduce their interest rate from usury 12% to a 9% rate beloved of Shylock: "Three thousand ducats for three months."

Pershing Square, the largest shareholder in Borders and the provider of this financial rescue package still retain all the advantages they had before they lowered the rate. They wouldn't have done this unless someone else offered up a better rate but even so as an insider they always had the advantage. What is troubling is that the 'due diligence' that should have occurred upfront to get the best rate clearly never happened. And remember, it is still not clear that this financial lifeboat was even necessary. The financial 'crisis' was news to every analyst that follows the company on behalf of their investors.

Great news however for all the managers at Borders since they have been able to provide a safety net for themselves. Stay bonus's galore: "For positions at the executive vice president level and above, the threshold, target and maximum bonus opportunities under the Bonus Plan as currently in effect are established at 20%, 80% and 160% of salary, respectively." This enhancement to their existing bonus plan only applies to four executives. Two of which - Jones and Wilheim (CFO) aren't going anywhere and one of the remaining is head of HR and with all due respect what is important about his contribution to the financial health of the company? And that leaves aside the question why no one lower than EVP has a package. Jones also got more options and is already in the money. There are many more insider transactions noted from last week and there was a lot of volume at the open on Monday. The stock closed at $6.54 up 6% on the day.

The company also indicated they would hold off filing their 10K.

SEC filings on Monday also saw a new strategic investor enter the fray. Gerald Catenacci who owns Highway Partners equity fund has acquired 5% of the company. Reuters also reported the news and notes no reason has been given for the investment. He evidently has something with roads: Highway, motorway, expressway, freeway are all names of investment vehicles (oopps). There doesn't appear to be any relationship between Highway and Pershing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

No Advance No Return

Type 'no-returns' and 'Harpercollins' into Google search and you get over 1600 results. Replace Harpercollins with 'no advance' and Google returns 500+ results. All of this since last Thursday when it was announced that Harpercollins would establish a new imprint managed by ex-Hyperion President Bob Miller. Such is the dearth of new thinking in publishing that this constitutes real excitement.

Bookstores will always return unsold books if they don't sell and they won't sell if no one wants them. Authors will never earn out their advances if their books are uninteresting. The potential of the new imprint at Harpercollins under Bob Miller is interesting but the focus on returns and advances is misguided. Both these aspects of our industry are easy targets for people who either don't understand the business or who are looking for easy solutions. And spare a thought for Bob who will have gotten off to just the start he wanted with all those authors! Aggressively managing returns and advances is nothing new even at the larger publishers and there have been many smaller & medium sized publishers that have established themselves while minimizing (and eliminating) advances paid to authors. The much harder discussion is the one about publishing books readers care about and are willing to buy.

The whole focus on 'no returns' and 'no advances' was probably started by the WSJ which chose to focus on this aspect of the announcement. Publishers as diverse as Public Affairs and Sourcebooks have built strong businesses and publishing programs by focusing on fairly narrow segments and limiting advances (Public Affairs) or treating books like consumer goods which has been the case at Sourcebooks. Disallowing returns and not paying advances is not going to produce a successful publishing program but producing content readers will buy will eliminate a need for returns and advances. So the solution is simple: Publish what buyers will pay for and read, and this is where Bob Miller (and all others) have their challenge. Bob's job at Harpercollins is really not that much different that the one he left at Hyperion and the focus on returns and advances continues to miss the point.

An interesting analysis (where I saw it I don't recall) was thrown up to me recently related to library book purchasing. An analysis of books owned by readers on (I think) matched against titles held in library collections seemed to show that readers are buying (and presumably reading) more obscure titles than are being purchased by libraries. Libraries tend to buy what they are told either by B&T or by the larger publishers. The context of this analysis was to show that libraries are in danger of building generic collections while also reducing their appeal to their patrons. If there is a lesson here for Bob Miller and all the other publishers it is that they like libraries need to work harder to fill the consumers needs. The need (in marketing terms) is real but increasingly it remains unfilled by the larger publishers. Fill the need and eliminate returns: Simple really.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Harper Embarks on a Publishing Experiment

Industry veteran (and fellow Hoboken resident) Bob Miller who has headed Hyperion since 1991 is to join Harpercollins as head of a new imprint that hopes to change the traditional publishing model. The key change will be to share profits with authors in a model more akin to self-publishing than the traditional publishing model. He is expected to start his new role at the London BookFair in two weeks. The "publishing studio" division will combine traditional trade book publishing techniques with Internet-based strategies to market and publicize about 25 moderately priced books per year. (What was I saying...)

This news has been widely reported but I thought the news noted on Eoin Purcell's blog today anticipated in significant ways the immediate need for new thinking in Publishing.

Eoin noted a story in The Bookseller that claims Weidenfeld are returning author advances because they (supposedly) don't have the staff to edit the titles. This seems idiotic to me.

My comment:
There is probably more to this but it is hard to believe that if these titles were good on the fundamentals; profitable, message driven, good for the imprint(important titles), that they don't still stand up. Sadly, it probably speaks to the continued lack of focus on business principles that continues to be prevalent in publishing. Rather than cast these books off - assuming they had merit in the first place - seek another model. Take them to POD or a vanity press type model where the publisher and the author share some risk. The announcement that Harpercollins in the US is thinking differently anticipates this announcement from Weidenfeld.

I anticipate we will hear more about Bob's new venture. Good luck to him.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Amazon TextBuyIt

Everyone walks into a store with a mobile phone and virtually every product in a store has some type of barcode identifier. Marrying the these two apparently unrelated technical solutions could actually produce significant value to consumers. A few companies have attempted to produce a barcode reader software on a mobile here and here.

In the book world a number of booksellers using Amazon services have recognised the utility of combining a cell phone look-up service with the Amazon database. Essentially, booksellers looking for second hand titles to add to their stores can improve their selection and make better choices if they are able to tell if a book they see at a swap meet is in demand on the Amazon bookstore.

Amazon today announced a different approach to combining the cell phone with a look-up service. This one relys on SMS and lets customers use text messages to find and buy products sold on From the press release:

With the addition of TextBuyIt to Amazon's existing mobile offering, including its mobile site and mobile iPhone site, customers can now shop, compare prices, and buy from virtually anywhere they are, with any mobile device, using either text messages or their mobile device's web browser.

"With today's launch of TextBuyIt, any customer can now use any mobile device to shop and buy from, at anytime, anywhere they are," said Howard Gefen, Director of Amazon Mobile Payments. "With TextBuyIt, if you're walking out of a concert and want to buy a CD from the artist you just saw, or if you're at dinner and a friend tells you about a great book you should read, all you have to do is get out your mobile device, send a text message to Amazon, reply to the response, confirm your order, and your item will be on its way. It's incredibly simple and convenient."

In less than a minute and using only text messages, customers can find the product they are looking for and complete a purchase using TextBuyIt. Simply send a text message to "AMAZON" (262966) with the name of the product, search term or a UPC or ISBN code, and, within seconds, Amazon replies with the product or products that match the search, along with prices. To buy an item, customers simply reply to the text message by entering the unique single digit number next to the item they want. Customers will then receive a short phone call from Amazon with the final details of their order and asking them to confirm or cancel the purchase.

So imagine you want the personal experience of visiting a store with the potential advantage of better pricing online. All you need to do is text Amazon to check prices as you walk around a store. If the margin is wide enough you can buy from Amazon rather than the store or if you don't want to carry something home you can have Amazon sent it to you. Aren't we getting closer to the time when every physical retail store is a potential showcase for Amazon products?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

SharedBook And BigOven

SharedBook (which I have featured before) has struck a deal with BigOven to use the SharedBook api so that BigOven users can create their own custom cookbooks. Any registered user can both use their own recipes by adding them to the BigOven database and use any of the 160,000+ recipes already in the database. Long time users of BigOven will find this tool immediately useful since they will be able to choose from their favorites list and from lists of items they have searched specifically for in the past.

The recipes in the database range from Aunt Millie's Down Town Meat Loaf (I made that up) to recipes taken from magazines and added by users. The books can also be collaborative so in addition to creating your own best of title, a group of users can create a collaboratively generated cookbook and add their own commentary and dedications.
The finished version will be delivered looking like something you could buy in a store and it comes in two versions: A slipcased version and one that lies flat that is best for use in the kitchen.
More specifically from the press release, SharedBook notes the following:

Simply visit and type in anything you’d like to print a book about. Then, look on the right hand side of the search results for a “Print a Cookbook with these Recipes!” link, and that will take you right to the bridge page with the recipes queued up. You can then select which ones you would like to include and change the order.

Recipes Contributed by Any Member – visit a chef’s page and click on the “Recipes I’ve Posted” link to generate a search of all recipes that member has posted. Now, look on the search results page, right hand side, about halfway down the page. Click on the link “Print a Cookbook with these Recipes!”

Any Cooking Group – The BigOven Cookbook is an easy way for groups of friends and family to create cookbooks. Groups are free to create on You can simply create a group on BigOven and join for free, post recipes to the site (at not charge), and add them to your cooking group and then, anyone can print a group cookbook at any time.
There is no question we will see more of these types of collaborative software tools enabling consumers to create their own personalized products using publishers (and others) content and adding their own material whether it be editorial, photos and probably embedded video and audio. SharedBook looks like they are making all the right moves and this deal comes on the heels of a recently announced deal with Random House.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Amazon: What Do We Do Next?

Someone emailed me today and asked what publishers should do in light of Amazon throwing their weight around and others posing threats to the industry.

My response,

Indeed, I agree that publishers don’t seem to be taking the threat seriously and I really don’t understand why. I really don’t know what the answer is (I wish I were that smart) but it should be the case that any interaction with Google, Amazon and Microsoft should be guarded. In addition, the publishers should be offering some type of counter policy – whether it is alternative options to access to their content (new pricing/subscription models, distribution/retail) – so that consumers have more options. For example, publishers have hesitated historically to mess with the retail channel and I recall in the early days of the internet there was a lot of discussion about publishers creating channel conflict with existing retailers if the publisher set up their own store front. In the past 10 years the retail channel has become far more concentrated and could become even more concentrated as more content becomes electronic.

Perhaps it is time for publishers to be more aggressive in becoming retailers as well as content producers. If so, it’s not as simple as setting up a store front that looks like a mini-version of the Amazon bookstore (obviously) since no one would switch. However, publishers do have the direct relationship with the author and can use this exclusivity to build a more robust presentation of the content. On Amazon you get the Buick version but on the Publisher site you get the Cadillac. None of the added or supplemental content would be made available elsewhere. What that extra content would be I don’t know. Maybe every author is twinned with an additional writer and site designer that builds/creates websites focused on the authors work but with far more expansive material about the works, process, background details, audio, video etc., any of which could be purchased by a consumer. This becomes the new marketing and promotions approach or the way to spend money that is traditionally allocated to print advertising, book tours and launch parties.

That’s a quick thought. Trade faces challenges. Education and Information are/have morphed into new beasts but it is less clear where trade will end up.

Later on in the day, I came across this news story about musicians and acts setting up their own social networking sites. The reasoning is simple: The artist has decided they don't have to have an intermediary between themselves and their fans. Their actions don't mean they forgo any of the other outlets such as Myspace or Facebook but they are understanding that they can insert themselves into the value chain at their choosing. Reuters:

"The thing that separates Thisis50 from MySpace is we control the e-mail database," says Chris "Broadway" Romero, director for new media at G-Unit Records, which handles Thisis50. "We can e-mail members if we want to." Thisis50 isn't meant to be a fan club, but rather a platform for 50 Cent to showcase his music and music he likes, and comment on news and user profile pages. Ludacris', on the other hand, is more of a hub for aspiring artists to upload their music.

Publishers can do the same kind of thing to distinguish themselves and their authors in the minds of consumers while also establishing more balance in the relationship between producer and retailer. Change is certainly on the horizon but whether publishers move fast enough is the question.