Thursday, May 19, 2011

Knowns, Known Unknowns & Unknown Unknowns

Yesterday's news was Bowker's Books in Print report with preliminary estimates of the number of titles published in 2010. "Traditional" print is up by 5% and "non-traditional" is up 169%. The growth in the traditional sector is lead by Science & Technology. Fiction, the largest category, is down by 3%. Children's, the second largest category, is also down. The leaders in the non-traditional sectors, "books marketed almost exclusively on the web, are largely on-demand titles produced by reprint houses specializing in public domain works and by presses catering to self-publishers and 'micro-niche' publications." (from the Bowker announcement). These are the knowns.

Publishers Lunch points out that books that don't use ISBN's are not included in the report—many self-publishers don't use ISBNs—and, to my mind more significant, Bowker doesn't include any ebooks in the count. Those are the very big known unknowns.

These known's have already generated a lot of enthusiastic commentary, much of it interpreting the numbers as positive for publishing and indicative of a thriving culture of reading. I think that interpretation may be optimistic. On-demand printing has made it possible to bring an enormous number of public domain titles back into print and a mountain of self-published titles into print. But publishers know all too well that having titles in print doesn't mean anybody is buying them, but only that someone is manufacturing them, and we've all published books that lots of people bought and few people read, which really isn't something to celebrate.

Looking beyond the numbers, we know that something approaching the universal availability of books, either in print or digital formats, is rapidly becoming a possibility. Once the Google Book Settlement is settled, that will be even more evident. We don't know how people will respond to this deluge of content, and, closer to home, what impact it will have on the publishing industry.

As for the unknown unknowns, that's tomorrow's news.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm losing interest in ebook news

I've mentioned many times before that changes affecting the publishing industry are taking place at an amazing pace. I keep up with them, but I don't know how long I can keep talking about them. Take today, for instance. Two big things happened.

Kobo, the Canadian ebookseller with its own ereading device, dropped the price of the Kobo Wireless eReader to $99.99 (with free shipping). That's huge! You now have a high-end device for a low-end price. You know that Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's nook will soon drop to that price or lower. Price of the reading device is no longer relevant to the ebook discussion.

Ed Victor, the venerable British literary agent, announced that he was forming a print-on-demand and ebook publishing venture called Bedford Square Books. He follows other recent moves by literary agencies such as Andrew Wylie's Odyssey Editions, Scot Waxman's Diversion Books, and, of course, the forerunner of them all Richard Curtis' E-Reads. All of these ventures offer slight variations on the business model but, short form, they all represent a significant shift in the industry enabled by ebooks and print on demand technology. After publishers, agents control more publishing rights than anybody. They are now exploiting those rights. It makes such good sense. What is now a trickle will soon be a flood.

Okay, so agents are going into competition with publishers. Yesterday, or maybe the day before, three of the big six announced the pending launch of, a social networking site that looks a lot like publishers going into competition with booksellers, at least of the Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Google type. I just watched an interview with the head of Lulu, the self-publishing giant, announcing a change in initiative inviting authors to become publishers, so that authors are in competition with publishers.

Imagine an elephant (the Big Six publishers) being swarmed by ants (content providers of all ilk). Will the ants eat the elephant's lunch? Or will the ants eat the elephant for lunch? If I were an elephant, I'd be nervous.

Be that as it may, publishing is changing irrevocably and precipitously. The news is outdated almost before it's reported. It's time to start focusing on what this is all going to look like on the other side of the news.

Birds on my mind

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day! May Day! May Day!

The official distress call—MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY—derives from the French m'aider, an abbreviation of the sentence, "Come help me." However, I am not in distress. I am merely celebrating May 1st. It has been a long winter and today finally convinces me that spring has come. In honor of the day, I would like to give to you, and, as it happens, ask for your help in passing along, a book we are publishing soon.

WINDOWS ON THE WORLD by Andrea White is science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world in which an orphan girl, Shama Katooee, is summoned to an elite military academy in order to travel back in time to New York City on September 11, 2001, to save the future. This is the first title in the UpCity Chronicles trilogy and we would like to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.

To that end, we are offering a free ebook edition (.mobi, .epub, or .pdf) of the book to all and sundry. To get a copy, go to the namelos web site, and click on WINDOWS ON THE WORLD. Enter the promotional code "wotw" in the box under the menu of editions and click "submit." That will take you to a page where you enter your name and email address and the format you require. You will receive an email with a download link. The file will be delivered to your hard drive and from there you can transfer it to your e-reader. That's it: the whole process should take less than two minutes. Please note that the files are generic with no DRM and, therefore, can be shared with anybody. Also you can send the promotional code and the recipient can download a copy. We want as many people as possible to enjoy the book. We will disable the promotional code on the official publication date: June, 1, 2011. 

We hope you enjoy the book and this glorious day!