eBook Aggregators Comparison Chart

19 October 2013

From Publish Your Own eBook:

“In some cases instead of publishing directly to an ebook store you might choose to publish via an ebook “aggregator”.

“What is an Ebook Aggregator?

“An ebook aggregator deals with ebook authors directly and interfaces between them and ebook retailers such as Apple and Sony.

Read more:

Julia Barrett

Does an extroverted writer have the advantage? Maybe not

18 October 2013

From Writers in the Storm, by Laura Drake:

“I’ve read a lot of blogs lately about introverted writers, (whining), pointing out how hard it is for them, nowadays.

“There are probably more introverted authors than extroverts. After all, it’s darned near a cliché – the writer living in seclusion, typing away in obscurity. That’s all you see in movies: As Good as it GetsSomething’s Gotta Give – even, dare I mention, The Shining?Misery? (don’t throw tomatoes, I’m not judging!)

“As an extrovert, it’s killing me that the introverts get all the press, even though they shrink from it!”


“Before I go farther, you know the difference between the two, right? In the simplest terms, an extrovert is a person who is energized by being around other people. An introvert is energized by being alone.

“But which writer has the advantage– the extrovert, or the introvert?

“Seems obvious, right? The extroverts love the promo, the press, the spotlight! They have it easier.

“Not so fast. I’m here to point out some of the disadvantages the extroverts deal with.”

Read the rest of the story here.

(As an introvert I’m no expert on extroverts, with the possible exception of my husband who can be, for lack of a better word, loud. I’m not convinced promo is any harder or easier for me than it is for an extrovert. And there is whining on both sides. Personally, I like my peace and quiet. Do you extroverts out there carry a bigger burden? Is more expected of you?  Julia Barrett)

Mike, you keep using that word…

17 October 2013

Mike Shatzkin’s latest post is all about discovery: Finding your next book, or, the discovery problem. Every time someone from legacy publishing utters the word “discovery”, I cue up Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. If you’ve watched the movie, you’ll know that Vizzini use the word “inconceivable” every time something happens that is outside his plan. Likewise, folks in legacy publishing uses discovery as a gloss for the changes in the industry that are outside their understanding.

One problem with the change to online buying from the discovery perspective is that the funnel for each shopper keeps getting narrower. It isn’t hard for somebody in a bookstore to look at hundreds of books in a few minutes. It’s nearly impossible online. This either requires the consumer to spend more time shopping to see the same number of titles they used to see in a store, or to make a decision having seen fewer. And the concern is that the decision that gets made having seen fewer can be not to buy anything at all. (Or, particularly in the case of tablet users, to buy something other than books.)

I think Mike is doing it wrong if he finds it harder to evaluate books online than in a bookstore. First, how long does it take you to get to the bookstore? I can get to Amazon in less than 10 seconds at any time of day and from anywhere I happen to be (with a few exceptions). Also, maybe Mike is shopping from an e-ink device or phone. I find those to be less than ideal. I prefer to do most of my shopping on either my PC with a 24-inch monitor or my iPad (through the Kindle HTML5 Store). But more importantly, I buy many books because someone recommends them and includes a link directly to Amazon’s page. That means I can buy those books with two clicks and start reading them in less than 30 seconds. The funnel to each shopper isn’t getting narrower, it’s getting broader.

He goes on to describe recommendation engines in a thoroughly muddled way, but I’m not going to fault Mike for his ignorance of the technology and design of recommendation engines. That’s not his area of expertise.  My problem is that he fails to understand the market for stories.

But is this all really part of a larger problem for publishers? Is online discovery really affecting the sales patterns for books? It would appear so. One of the global ebook sellers told me during Frankfurt that their online sales are far more concentrated than publishers’ sales tended to be, with a tiny fraction of titles (under 5%) making up a huge percentage of total sales (nearly 70%). (I am assuming here that this retailer’s data is typical; of course, it may not be.) If memory serves, at the turn of the century Barnes & Noble stores saw only about 5% of their sales coming from “bestsellers” and, I believe (relying on memory of detail, which I admit is not my most powerful mental muscle) backlist outsold new titles. Publishers really live on the midlist. We know the long tail is taking an increasing share of sales and it would appear the head is too. Those sales come out of the midlist. It is pretty hard to run a profitable publisher without a profitable midlist.

Does the fact that an ebook retailer sees sales concentrated in a tiny fraction of titles mean that there is a discovery problem? No. Instead it’s evidence of how much better “discovery” works in the digital world. It’s the denominator of the fraction that’s changing the equation. That is, the number of titles available has skyrocketed so that even if there was no change in the sales patterns of successful books, the trend would be for a smaller percentage of to generate a higher percentage of the revenue. But there’s something much more interesting going on.

In the U.S. (and I suspect in most other developed countries), there are two primary groups of consumers for written narratives (stories told with words). From here on out, “books” will refer to novels and narrative non-fiction. About two-thirds of the adult population buys and reads fewer than 6 books a year. The other important group is the 12% or so that read more than 20 books a year. As we’ve moved to digital books, the behavior of these two groups has changed and both are happier. The books with broad appeal can reach more people faster as the network effects of lowering the friction for buying books takes over. That is what is driving the growth in sales for ebook bestsellers (the story in print is very different). You can see that most easily in this slide from Russ Grandinetti’s presentation at Publishers Launch Frankfurt conference.

Sales of The Cuckoo's Calling


(If you want to understand what’s going with books, you should study that whole presentation.)

But the explosion of titles has made it possible for people like me to find more books to buy and read. Most of the books I read are books that would never have found a legacy publisher. I’m no longer confined to what legacy publishers and the big chain bookstores thought would sell. I get to read historical fiction from Victorian San Francisco (M. Louisa Locke), steampunkish fantasy (Lindsay Buroker), and noir-ish detective fiction (Brian Meeks), all stuff that I never would have gotten to read in the old system. [See what I did there? Those links go directly to Amazon so you can buy the books, if you are so inclined. That's reducing the friction. And those are PG's affiliate links so if you do buy, you'll be helping out the site.]

Both of these effects increase the total number of books sold, but they also re-allocate those sales away from publisher midlist. Mike’s right about that (“Those sales come out of the midlist”), but he’s wrong about the solution. There’s no discovery problem. There’s a “the industry isn’t responding to market signals problem”. Publishers will die by the midlist if they try to pretend that nothing has changed. Big publishers who want to survive need to start drastically trimming the number of new books they put into print. They need to start putting their backlist up as ebooks for prices competitive with the folks I linked to above. I’ll save them (and me) some time. Somebody already figured this all out. Just go read Bob Mayer’s blog. That’s how the Big 5 would be running their operations if they had a clue.

-William Ockham

A Golden Age for Paid Content.

16 October 2013

“It’s coming, if publishers can get three things right.

“Readers will pay for content online so long as three conditions are met:

1 The content is worth paying for.
2 The price is low.
3 The transaction is easy.

“There are some trade-offs within those criteria. If you have an overwhelming need for a particular channel of content — the Financial Times, say, or The Economist — then you will accept a relatively high price, and quite a lot of friction in the process of subscribing.

“But for paid content to be the rule rather than the exception, publishers need to deliver on all three criteria at once.

“Here’s how it can happen.”

Read the rest here.  The Browser.

Thanks to Jeff Shear for the tip.

Julia Barrett

I Am “Flippish”.

16 October 2013

The Filipino American International Book Festival.

“Filipino American authors and artists have come together to share their stories at the second Filipino American International Book Festival.  Hosted by PAWA, a Northern CA based 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization and independent publisher of Filipino American lit.  PAWA’s main goal is to create and encourage literature and arts for the preservation and enrichment of Filipino and Filipino American historical, cultural and spiritual values.”

At the San Francisco Public Library, October 19-20.  Read more here:                  Leslie V. Ryan- Author

Julia Barrett

Publishing Gets Its Own Hackathon

23 May 2013

From The Atlantic:

What was billed as the first-ever Publishing Hackathon took place over the May 18-19 weekend at Alley NYC, a crowded co-working space in midtown Manhattan. Digital designers, programmers, engineers, and assorted techies gathered to devise the means to improve book discovery. About two hundred people — working in teams as small as a single individual to a group of seven — came up with thirty submissions with a simple, common objective: how to help readers find books that will appeal to them based on a variety of criteria, including their social media and browsing histories. Enabling readers of all ages with a cross-section of interests to connect with publishers is a major challenge for the book industry as it evolves ever more deeply into a digital universe.

It may seem surprising that hackathons — which have become a standard, competitive means for the development of apps, websites, and widgets — are a new concept to publishing. But for publishers as well as readers, traditional bookselling is increasingly dependent on the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth, the myriad ways to find books that are most likely to attract an audience.

. . . .

On the second afternoon, the teams were each given two minutes to make their presentation (a formidable test of their ability to frame what could be complex notions cogently), and an additional minute to respond to comments from the judges.

. . . .

The finalists are:

1. Evoke

2. Book City

3. Captiv

4. Library Atlas

5. Koo Browser

6. Cover List

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Discovery of eBooks Will Never Improve Until Retailers and Publishers Learn to Speak Like Customers

5 February 2013

From Dear Author:

When readers talk to other readers about books, they speak in a language of tropes, character types, and hot button issues. They ask for spoilers and in depth details. They want to know if a character in book B is like the character in book A that they love.

A quick run down of forum topics at a popular romance gathering includes:

  • Fight club
  • Shy awkward / alpha
  • Books where heroine almost dies

When I gather books for the DA New Releases site, Calibre pulls down the metadata for a book including the “category” a book is placed in. Categories, generally speaking, are the BISAC codes assigned by the publisher (whether it be a publishing house or author).  A BISAC is a classification system that “BISG develops and maintains a number of classification systems for both physical and digital products.

. . . .

Online discovery isn’t happening at the retailers, like it happens in the bookstore, because retailer sites aren’t set up for discovery beyond the front page.  BN’s romance page has featured 50 Shades above the scroll for months.  Scrolling down, you get horizontal scrollbars for things like “Coming Soon”, “Bestsellers”, “New releases” but a quick scroll through both and you begin to see repetitive titles.  This is not hand curated like a table in the retail store (or if it is, the curation is poor because the constant repetitive nature of the titles reduce visibility of other titles).  Further, little information is imparted about the book unless the reader can guess from the title and the cover exactly what the genre or subgenre is on it. No wonder romance cover artists rely so heavily on the naked chest.  BN offers no advanced search function.

Amazon hews closely to the BISAC codes, as does BN.  Amazon does offer an advanced search wherein you can filter by subject matter and keyword as well as publisher and date published.  However, how many users realize that a) it is available and b) can figure out how to use it.

. . . .

None of the three major retailers allow you to exclude titles.  For instance, maybe I want to see all contemporary romances but none with a title of billionaire.  But these complaints address just the existing flawed search functions.

Beyond how rudimentary and unhelpful the search features are at these retailers is the fact that the search terms are designed to speak to readers.  Amazon has tried to address this by allowing readers to add “tags” to books but the tag feature has been sorely abused.  Many of the books at AllRomance have no tags either.

Link to the rest at Dear Author and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Passive Guy comes to computer-based searching with past work experience at LexisNexis, the company which pioneered computerized legal research and, later, computerized business and political information research.

For legal research, you can’t miss anything. Even a single court opinion can blow up your case or, if used well, blow up the opposing party’s case. On the other hand, a search that generates a list of 200 case opinions averaging 15 pages each doesn’t help because you’re swamped with case opinions that are not really relevant to the legal issue you’re looking at.

If you know what you’re doing, you can use the Lexis search engine with great precision to pull needles from haystacks comprised of collections of cases and statutes or millions of academic papers. It’s miles more powerful than Google. Unfortunately, it’s also very expensive to use and PG was sad when his Lexis password eventually expired several years after he left the company.

PG thinks that one of Amazon’s big advantages over other etailers is more sophisticated methods of discovery. That said, he agrees with Dear Author that, given the range of possibilities for computer-based searching, Amazon is far from ideal for discovery. He also thinks that BISAC codes are primitive holdovers from a mainframe world that work much better for bookstores than they do for readers.

Given the rapid proliferation of new genres and sub-genres, rigid categories such as BISAC are always going to be outdated and of marginal value. A category comprised of 200,000 books is essentially useless for a reader. She usually wants a category comprised of something like 25 books she hasn’t already read. And the 25 best-selling romance books is not the kind of subjective category that is useful for most romance readers. Romance readers recognize many more categories of books than BISAC or Amazon do.

If anybody at Amazon asked PG for advice (they haven’t and he doesn’t expect them to do so), he would tell them to develop their search function to be much more dynamic, flexible and accessible to customers.

Amazon has the data to provide Frequently Bought Together and Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought information for a particular book and should expose more levers to allow customers to use these tools. If a customer is so inclined, allow him/her to perfect a search or multiple searches that bring up the kind of books he/she wants.

At LexisNexis, gobs of legal case opinions swarm into the computers every day. For purposes of gathering cases into useful libraries – criminal law, real estate law, entertainment law, etc., etc., the computers perform content analysis and automatically sort the opinions into many different libraries. Then, an attorney can limit searches to opinions that reside in the real estate library without seeing irrelevant criminal cases. As the law changes, the case-sorting algorithms change.

Another way of helping an Amazon customer  to find books to purchase would be to permit the customer to list his/her 25 favorite books, then ask Amazon’s search engine to generate a list that applies the Frequently Bought Together and Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought data to those books and create a list of five or ten or twenty-five other books that are most similar to the 25 favorite books. Give the customer a lever that allows him/her to limit the list to books published in the last two years or five years to remove moldy oldies.

Then allow the customer to save that search and ask Amazon to send an email that includes updated search results every couple of weeks. Since Amazon knows what books the customer has purchased, screen out books the customer already owns from the search results and give the customer a button to indicate that she’s already read a recommended book. The fact that a customer already owns or has already read a book is an important fact that should be rolled into the suggestion algorithm. If a customer buys a book from the recommended list, that fact similarly provides information for the suggestion algorithm. Amazon could also include a button the customer could click on for a listed book that was definitely not what the customer was looking for and that negative rating would be further information for the suggestion algorithm.

If PG were playing with Amazon’s data, he would take advantage of the fact that the company has the full text of every ebook it sells sitting on its hard drives and use artificial intelligence techniques to derive data from that text. For non-fiction books, full-text search could be valuable to customers on its own as another way to sell them more books – allow a customer to perform a search of the text of all information systems books for the terms, “denial of service attacks” and “foreign intelligence services” then provide a list of books that include those terms.

However, full-text search is old stuff that LexisNexis and its competitors have been doing for ages. It would be much more interesting to use full-text to conduct content analysis of fiction books to help group similar books together into new genres regardless of BISAC categories or author-provided tags.

Mix sales data in with content analysis, you’ll make it more likely that customers will find books they’ll enjoy – Viking vampire romances or Jane Austen look-alikes. As an additional benefit, this kind of information would give Amazon unparalleled insight into emerging book trends. Among other beneficiaries, the folks at Amazon Publishing could use this kind of information for acquisition strategies.

PG will stop now because he knows very few people get turned on by the many possibilities presented by mining large data sets or enjoy discussions of computerized search and artificial intelligence.