In England in the 1600s, newsletters were distributed about parliamentary and Royal news by mansucript subscription “news letters”. They literally began as letters, which were copied by teams of scribes and sent out – often to be shared in groups, read aloud or copied and passed on again.
Printed newsletters (called “Corantos“) were largely, at first, about foreign news – partly as a consequence of strict censorship laws. However, some bright sparks in the manuscript trade started included the printed foregin news – the first newspaper supplements, apparently:
But rather than competing, the two forms proved complementary. Corantos could be enclosed within manuscript news letters as they circulated, providing printed foreign news alongside the handwritten domestic sort. Letters from this period contain abundant references to printed material […] entire transcribed copies of them and, on several occasions, the printed corantos themselves. Coratnos were printed versions of what were originally manuscript documents, and the information they contained was in turn recycled into manuscript news networks.
There have always been news networks – and there have always been social networks bound up in them.
With some non-fiction books that I have found especially useful, I’ve coughed up for the audiobook, e-book and even the paper version. I read mainly on the Kindle, if it’s heavy going I love to listen to it as an audiobook, and then if I want colleagues to share and read the book, I buy one for the office.
I’d love to be able to buy triple-play books – all three formats for a reasonable price.
What’s a BitTorrent Bundle? I’d not heard of it before either, but it sounds great.
BitTorrent Bundle is an Alpha project, made with and for the web’s creative community. Our mission is to help artists connect directly with fans, inside the content they share.
Basically the Bundle lets you share some content and then give people a key to unlock the rest. In the case of Ferris’s promotion for his new book The Four Hour Chef giving him your email was enough to get the whole audiobook for free.
A quote from Ferris paints a picture of an unbridled success…
BitTorrent Bundle is possibly the fastest way to find new fans online. By releasing the 4-Hour Chef audiobook as a BitTorrent Bundle, I was able to give potential readers an in-depth, multimedia intro to the world of the book. As a result of the campaign, sales of the print and e-book versions of the 4-Hour Chef doubled, and sales of my previous books jumped.
It’s an interesting idea – give away one format to sell another, but it makes sense to me. When you’re trying to get people to buy your book, you want them to engage deeply with your content, but it is hard to tell exactly what a book is like until you’re reading it. We take it on faith that it will be good – a recommendation from someone we trust, a new book from an author we love. If a book – especially a non-fiction book, which begs for re-reading, quoting, sharing – hooks us, then we really want to own it.
This is a case study of one – and from a very popular author. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more examples though – especially from lesser known writers.
Why are nonfiction books, business books in particular not shorter? Or available to buy in sections or by the chapter?
In their book Big Data: A Revolution… – my most quoted of the last few months – Cukier and Mayer-Schonberger discuss the huge, unexploited stores of data Amazon has about how we read.
Despite Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers’ being capable of showing whether a certain page has been heavily annotated and underlined by users, the firm does not sell that information to authors and publishers. Marketers would love to learn which passages are most popular and use that knowledge to sell books better. Authors might like to know where in their lofty tomes most readers give up, and could use that information to improve their work. Publishers might spot themes that herald the next big book. But Amazon seems to leave the field of data to lie fallow.
One insight from an Amazon competitor in the US has prompted the firm to start producing shorter nonfiction books:
Barnes & Noble’s analysis of data from its Nook e-book reader revealed that people tended to quit long nonfiction books midway through. That discovery inspired the company to create a series called “Nook Snaps”: short works on topical themes such as health and current affairs.
Amazon Singles is effectively the same proposition – and it appears to be successful – having sold almost five million downloads since it started in early 2011. It’s a money-spinner for some authors apparently, while others see it as a way to break into the literary world.
But will it become the norm? More popular than longer form
The short-form non-fiction book really makes sense. Anecdotally I half-finish, or third-finish a lot of nonfiction books. It’s not that they are bad, just that you feel like you have got everything you need after the first ten or twenty thousand words (a full-length book is typically 60,000 words or more).
When I wrote Me and My Web Shadow, it really felt like three shorter books – a theory of online reputation, a how-to guide and a set of manuals for various online tools and social networks.
Now that I am looking a second edition and a possible new book square in the eyes, I think that a series of shorter
And yet… people still buy the longer books. Unlike music, they don’t yet seem to want the singles. At least not yet.
I think that what it will take for the short-form e-book market to take off is longer books being published with an accompanying series option – either preceding, simulataneously launched or
From an author’s point of view the serial ending in a complete book is the best option. Each section will be more current, more immediately available and can be amended up to the point that the paper or complete ebook is published.
This is the contract publishing industry, the kinds of publishers that create the supermarket mag, the in-flight periodical, the car brand’s customer title. Largely due to this lack of reliance on advertisers (beyond the client) and cover-price revenue it was a different kind of publishing gathering to ones I’d seen before.
There was little of the web-denial, the over-obsession with iPad as a saviour for the industry, a way of porting old formats (and business models) into the age of the web. The sense I got was of opportunity, of openness to new ideas and possibilities.
As I said in the notes to my talk, the marketing and media sectors are wide open for new approaches, new business models Everything is up for grabs, from content formats to how advertising is sold.
On that last point, I was really impressed by the analysis of the decay of the traditional advertising model presented by William Owen of Made by Many (one of the most interesting firms in this new space). His slides are below, but I recommend taking a look at his blog post which walks through his arguments.
William was set the brief by the APA of answering the following question: “is the traditional [advertising] model dead?”.
His response was to begin with a sensible “no”. Obviously the media buying-centred model of advertising is alive and kicking multi-million pound behinds. But it is decaying, and evolving.
Walking us through possible stages of the advertising model’s evolution (or decay, depending on your point of view), William took us through mass, fragmented, earned media models and arrived at this networked model (I nearly stood and cheered at that point, but this was an English conference so resisted):
The networked media model. This diagram is really a crude approximation of something much more complex: communities of customers becoming value producers in their own right, creating content, making recommendations, providing thousands of small services to each other. There’s an opportunity for brands to harness that power by adding services to products and creating communities of interest around social objects.
And of course there are also opportunities for still-powerful media channel brands in television and print to build direct relationships with advertisers and sponsors, using technology creatively to build applications that add co-branded services to content and facilitate direct transactions. This removes their reliance on ad networks and ups their margins.
He’s got it dead on, I think. That’s not to say I won’t be continuing to mull this presentation over for some time to come to challenge and build on the ideas, but for now I simply applaud…
Experience Design will become the master discipline for businesses that want to be good at selling stuff.
That actually sounds obvious to a lot of us in this space, but it is worth repeating, rolling around the brain, and repeating again. That is experience design, not media buying, that will be at the core of the selling part of the media/marketing complex in years to come. Those experiences will be conceived in, of and through networks.
Seth Godin says that he’s going to publish his next book himself. Rather than sending his next manuscript to his publisher he told the Wall Street Journal he is going to hire an editor and a designer to format the book and then he’d be on his way:
“After those fixed costs, your idea is packaged as you want, and it can then be put on sale next to other potential best-sellers on Amazon and elsewhere,” he said. “The business race is on to have the relationship with the reader.”
Having had my first experience of publishing a book over the last year, I’m fascinated by his approach.
Being of a geek-ish disposition, I was as delighted when my publisher issued the Amazon Kindle version of Me and My Web Shadow as when I got the first hard copy in the post. Since I got an iPad I’ve been reading a lot of books on it – I love the convenience of being able to buy and read books instantly, to carry several different books when I travel without extra weight in my bag and the ability to read in the middle of the night without having to turn on my lamp.
So, as a consumer, I’m an e-book fan. As an author, I’m more wary for now. I don’t have the kind of “direct relationship with my readers” that Godin has built up over the years. The book was aimed firstly at people who would not be likely to be regular readers of my personal blog, for a start. It’s also been useful to have been published by a reputable publisher like A&C Black, not just for distribution but for the association with the brand: it’s legitimising in a way.
For a first time author expecting reasonable but not stellar sales, the incentives to self-publish may be growing. One of the most interesting approaches to self-publishing I’ve seen recently is Ian Ozvald, who publishes The Screencasting Handbook as a kind of serialised PDF and Wiki membership.
While I was in the final stages of getting my hardcopy book published, Ian was publishing his own online. Around the time that my book hit the shops and I got my modest first-time author’s advance, we had earned almost exactly the same from our respective labours.
The technical barriers to publishing your own e-books are lowering all the time,. (a new iWorks update will let you publish in the EPUB ebook format straight from your word processor) but finding readers may be harder. Godin’s last book, Lynchpin has sold 50,000 copies, while his blog readership is 438,000. I’d imagine he would be able to sell more books online at a lower price and increase his revenue. How will it be before more mainstream authors follow his pioneering lead?
Beyond how I will publish my future books (I’ve got a couple in the pipeline at the moment that will be destined for publishers, I hope), I’m really interested in the different e-book publishing models that will emerge. There’s bound to be some interesting new ways of making money out of e-books (e-book advertising is already in its way) and independent e-book led publishers trying out new ideas. I expect we will also see e-book publishing beign added to the repetoire of other media owners, businesses and brands, whether to add a new revenue stream or find a new way to win attention.
For all sorts of reasons, the publishing industry and e-books is going to be a really interesting area to keep an eye on the next couple of years…
Like most of the world, it seemed, I was perfectly prepared to offer an opinion on the iPad without having ever seen one. Like most of the pre-launch “analysis” I’m not sure I added much of value to the discussion around it, other than to caution that we will have to wait and see what its real impact would be.
Apple’s newest product became a kind of proxy war for all sorts of other interests: DRM, death/survival of publishing, Mac v PC (yawn) etc etc. Cory Doctorow’s discussion of why we should not buy iPads was both typical of this slew of writing and stand out brilliant. It got me thinking, it made me hesitate for a moment about buying one…
Now? Reader, I bought one. And all the hypotheticals fell away, and it became about being a user – and that’s a whole different matter…