A Defense of Curation

12 January 2015

From author and TPV regular Andrew Updegrove:

It is fashionable for content producers to rail against the concept of “curation” in the Age of the Internet. Why? Because the guidelines of those  terrible people, the “traditional publishers,” are supposedly keeping authors from the global audience that certainly must be their birthright. True, the balance can (and in the recent past certainly has) swung too far in the direction of permitting far too few good books to gain access to traditional distribution channels.

But it’s worth remembering that the situation can look very different to a content consumer than it does to a content producer.

Why is that so?   Because in the modern world, we are awash – indeed drowning – in a flood of content and data. More than we could ever possibly consume, even if we had a lifetime to read even a single day’s output of the global Internet production machine. And what drives that machine to expose most content is too often purely commercial, or ideological, or just damn silliness rather than good editorial judgment (take a look at your Twitter feed, if you think I’m wrong).

This is not, of course, entirely bad, although it is undisciplined. Content producers that previously had no way to reach an audience now can, and thousands of eminently worthwhile creators have taken advantage of the level playing field that the Internet provides to reach a readership that they could never have accessed a generation ago. And that audience has benefited equally.

But the Internet is non-judgmental: everyone’s bytes are just as worthy as everyone else’s when it comes to transmissibility. That leaves readers with a serious problem. How do you find the time to winnow the wheat from the chaff? Or even the occasional wheat from the usual chaff of a single source?

That’s where the process of curation comes in. I’m a lifelong reader of The New York Times, and even at its current high price, I still find enormous value in the fact that a staff of demonstrably educated, talented, discerning individuals are consumed with the goal of distilling all of the news that the world creates in 24 hours into a digestible summary of articles that they believe are worth the notice of someone that has only so much time to dedicate in any given day to keeping up with the news.

. . . .

If that sounds like agents and publishers, well, guess what, it should. The combination of filters and curation is a timeless, fractal approach that has demonstrable benefits. Just as a start-up company is only likely to get the attention of a venture capitalist if they are recommended  by a start-up attorney (like me), accountant or other entrepreneur, publishers rely on agents to filter the great mass of submission, and so it is across many other disciplines as well. The reading public benefits accordingly.

Is the process perfect? Of course not. There are endless numbers of worthwhile books you’ll never be exposed to if you only shop at brick and mortar stores. But how much reading time do you have in one lifetime, anyway? And at least you’re not likely to find dreck when you pull a book off a shelf at Barnes & Noble.

So here’s the moral to the story: we shouldn’t want to go back to the days where the publishers (and particularly today’s Big 5, corporate owned publishers) have near-total control over what content can reach an audience. But we also do not (yet) benefit from an ecosystem on the self-publishing side where readers can easily find the best self-published new books among the hundreds of thousands of new offerings that reach the market every year.

Link to the rest at Andrew Updegrove

Here’s a link to Andrew Updegrove’s books

The Shazam Effect

21 November 2014

Not directly related to books, but an interesting discoverability story.

From The Atlantic:

In 2000, a Stanford Ph.D. named Avery Wang co-founded, with a couple of business-school graduates, a tech start-up called Shazam. Their idea was to develop a service that could identify any song within a few seconds, using only a cellphone, even in a crowded bar or coffee shop.

At first, Wang, who had studied audio analysis and was responsible for building the software, feared it might be an impossible task. No technology existed that could distinguish music from background noise, and cataloging songs note for note would require authorization from the labels. But then he made a breakthrough: rather than trying to capture whole songs, he built an algorithm that would create a unique acoustic fingerprint for each track. The trick, he discovered, was to turn a song into a piece of data.

. . . .

While most users think of Shazam as a handy tool for identifying unfamiliar songs, it offers music executives something far more valuable: an early-detection system for hits.

By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. “Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it,” Jason Titus, Shazam’s former chief technologist, told me. (Titus is now a senior director at Google.) Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam’d songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world’s most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they’re starting to set off tremors. (The company has a team of people who update its vast music library with the newest recorded music—including self-produced songs—from all over the world, and artists can submit their work to Shazam.)

“We know where a song’s popularity starts, and we can watch it spread,” Titus told me. Take, for example, Lorde, the out-of-nowhere sensation of 2013. Shazam’s engineers can rewind time to trace the international contagion of her first single, “Royals,” watching the pings of Shazam searches spread from New Zealand, her home country, to Nashville (a major music hub, even for noncountry songs), to the American coasts, pinpointing the exact day it peaked in each of nearly 3,000 U.S. cities.

Shazam has become a favorite app of music agents around the country, and in February, the company announced that it would get into the music-making business itself, launching a new imprint under Warner Music Group for artists discovered through the app.

. . . .

What do people want to hear next?

It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

. . . .

Pop music is a sentimental business, and predicting the next big thing has often meant being inside that crowded bar, watching a young band connect with the besotted, swaying throng. But now that new artists are more likely to make a name for themselves on Twitter than in a Nashville club, Culbertson is finding that the chair in front of his computer might be the best seat in the house.

New tools may soon further diminish the importance of actually hearing artists perform. Next Big Sound, a five-year-old music-analytics company based in New York, scours the Web for Spotify listens, Instagram mentions, and other traces of digital fandom to forecast breakouts. It funnels half a million new acts through an algorithm to create a list of 100 stars likely to break out within the next year. “If you signed our top 100 artists, 20 of them would make the Billboard 200,” Victor Hu, a data scientist with Next Big Sound, told me. A 20 percent success rate might sound low, until you gaze out at the vast universe of new music and try to pick the next Beyoncé.

Last year, the company unveiled a customizable search tool called Find, which, for a six-figure annual subscription, helps scouts mine social media to spot artists who show signs of nascent stardom. If, for example, you wanted to search for obscure bands with the fastest-growing followings on Twitter, Find could produce a list within seconds.

The company has discovered that some metrics, such as Facebook likes, are unreliable indicators of a band’s trajectory, while others have uncanny forecasting power. “Radio exposure, unsurprisingly, is the most important thing,” Hu says. It remains the best way to introduce listeners to a new song; once they’ve heard it a few times on the radio, they tend to like it more. “But we discovered that hits to a band’s Wikipedia page are the second-best predictor.” Wikipedia searches are revealing for the same reason Shazam searches are. While getting a song on the radio ensures that people have heard it, Culbertson says, “Shazam tells you that people wanted to know more.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Can pop-up bookshops change the way we buy books?

8 October 2014


What’s a distinguished, old publishing house like Faber doing hosting gigs in its own pop-up shop?

From John Walsh at The Independent.

You’re familiar with pop-up restaurants? And pop-up fashion outlets from Comme des Garçons, and pop-up Marmite emporia and pop-up Halloween shops? Well, here’s a new one: pop-up publishing. From tomorrow for three months, Londoners passing through Cecil Court, in the heart of Soho’s second-hand book trade, will find a new arrival: a temporary “pop-up shop” devoted to the productions of just one publisher, Faber & Faber.


Is the shop a branding exercise? “It’s an attempt by a publisher to engage directly with its readers,” said Brackstone, cautiously, “an opportunity to express ourselves in the high street. We want people to walk into a shop in the heart of traditional bookselling London, and go, ‘Wow, these 80 music books, stretching from The Beastie Boys to Beck, are all published by one company.’ It’s a way to say we don’t just make books, we also create experiences.”

Brackstone concedes that publishing is in a trough. “It’s no secret that the last three-to-five years have been a bit of a bloodbath. Simply judging print runs has become difficult. Where, five years ago, we could expect bookshops to buy in 5,000 copies of a book, today it might be 500 copies. E-book sales are approaching 40 per cent of total book sales. In the US it’s over 50 per cent. So if we can identify the likely audience for our music list, and build a community who follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and get to know them, we can judge much better what kind of experience we can offer.”

If the pop-up initiative seems a gamble, Faber Social have chosen the right partner. The Cecil Court shop is owned by Natalie Galustian, a rare-book dealer with a fondness for risk. After 10 years in the book trade, she opened her shop in 2010 offering just one large item: a collection of vintage poker and other gambling books. “There were 400 of them,” she says. “I’d been putting the collection together for years, and I was determined to sell them as a single entity. After three months, they were all bought by [Hollywood actress and poker ace] Jennifer Tilly, who spotted them in the window on her way to the Empire Casino in Leicester Square, to play in the world series of Poker Europe.”

Galustian’s shop has often featured themed collections – Caribbean literature, Prohibition-era cocktail books, French erotica – and has a downstairs gallery for art and photography exhibitions. The idea for the pop-up started, she says, “at the London Book Fair, when I was complaining to some friends about business being a bit slow, and Lee said why didn’t the Independent Alliance [a loose confederacy of independent publishers that includes Granta, Faber and Canongate] use it to sell their new titles. A few months later, he reminded me of the conversation, and it took off from there.”
Will Faber’s little shop start a trend? “I don’t think we’re seeing the start of a seismic shift in how the publishing ecosystem works,” says Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association. “The basic model of how publishers work, through wholesalers and retailers, isn’t going to change dramatically anytime soon. It’s true that, in the Netherlands and Germany and Japan, there have been publishers who own every bit of the supply chain, including bookshops – but they invariably offer shelf space to other publishers and stock their rivals’ books. You can’t read too much into this pop-up idea. It’s a really great tactical way of drawing attention to the brand… but no more than that.”

Read the rest here.

From Guest blogger Randall, who’s had nothing in the last twenty-four hours but some scotch and a bag of Funyons while he finishes his next book.

That Book cover is ugly!

6 October 2014

What Makes for a Brilliant Book Cover? A Master Explains
By Kyle VanHemert at WIRED

If you find yourself in a bookstore, Peter Mendelsund can be hard to avoid. His dust jackets wrap big-name contemporary releases like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He’s created ingenious covers for reissues of Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and other literary giants, updating a wide swath of the canon with a striking, graphic look. Cover, a new monograph of Mendelsund’s work, showcases the designer’s uncanny talent for capturing entire books with succinct, compelling imagery—a talent that has led some to deem him the best book designer of his generation. What makes it even more remarkable is that Mendelsund started his career with zero design experience whatsoever.


On one level, dust jackets are billboards. They’re meant to lure in potential readers. For a certain contingent of the publishing industry, this means playing it safe. “The path of least resistance when you’re designing a jacket is to give that particular demographic exactly what they want,” Mendelsund explains. “It’s a mystery novel, so you just splatter it in blood, and put the shadowy trench coat guy on it, and use the right typography.” Familiarity, the thinking goes, will always sell something.

Mendelsund does not subscribe to this view. He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one, and looking at his body of work, the thing that holds it together is that nearly all of his jackets have something weird going on, in one way or another.


Of course, catching a potential book-buyer’s eye is only part of Mendelsund’s job. A truly great jacket is one that captures the book inside it in some fundamental and perhaps unforeseen way. As Mendelsund describes it, his job is “finding that unique textual detail that…can support the metaphoric weight of the entire book.” That, of course, requires actually reading a manuscript closely enough to A) determine the metaphoric weight of the book and B) find a handful of relevant details within it. In other words, making a great book cover isn’t just about making. It starts with understanding.


Ideally, every dust jacket is unique to the book it’s wrapped around. But the realities of the marketplace often dictate how experimental a design can be. Mendelsund will have more interpretive freedom for a small volume of poetry, for example, than he does for a hotly anticipated piece of new fiction. “If you spend a lot of money on a book or an author, then you ratchet up the scrutiny the jacket’s under a lot—a hundred fold,” he says. “If this author got a big advance, then you’re going to have to jump through some flaming hoops with the jacket.”

Take The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Such was the buzz around the manuscript that when it came time to design the jacket, there were already a chorus of voices adding their take.


The final version, sure enough, had “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in huge type. To round it out, Mendelsund did what he describes as the “dumbass thing” of echoing the title visually on the cover itself, putting the text on top of an image of… a dragon tattoo. It was the rare case in which a novel had so much momentum that the best thing a designer could do was stay out of the way. “The book was going to sell well no matter what,” Mendelsund says.

And yet, Mendelsund insists that it wasn’t the most obvious approach he could’ve taken. The design featured at least one small victory against the obvious: the bright yellow backdrop. “Up until that point, I would defy you to find a dark gothic thriller with a day-glow cover,” he says.

For another view, an indie one if I may, I found Derek Murphy

Here’s what’s wrong with Peter Mendelsund’s Book Covers
From Derek Murphy at Creative Indie

A couple weeks ago I saw an article about Peter Mendelsund’s new book on book cover design; and I scoffed. Now I just saw another article on Wired, shared by Tim Ferriss.

Peter is obviously doing the rounds (and quite well) to promote his new book. Kudos to him. Here’s the big problem: Peter’s had a luxurious career as a cover design rebranding already famous and classic works of fiction, and breakout bestsellers – amazing books – supported by a heavy media campaign and a major publisher.

He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one, and looking at his body of work, the thing that holds it together is that nearly all of his jackets have something weird going on, in one way or another.

Looking at Peter’s work, I agree with his own take on his design philosophy. They are all creative, potentially clever, and ugly. And that’s fine – for literary fiction appealing to high brow readers. The tragic mistake is in applauding Peter’s work as a “golden measure” for book cover design, because it absolutely will not work for most books.


You see, most authors start out with no platform and have to catch reader’s attentions. They don’t have a big media or marketing campaign. Readers aren’t going to spend more than a couple seconds looking at their cover while browsing thousands of others in the same category.

The cover has to tell readers, immediately, what the book is about and what genre it fits into.

This can’t be done by being clever or thoughtful. Nobody is going to appreciate the cognitive associations and playful visual metaphors. Not to mention that a vast majority of authors are writing popular genre fiction or non-fiction (not literary) – and while literary authors may want to adopt Peter’s style to ‘fit in’ with other literary fiction, that in itself can be accused of being cliche; in other words, books in the same genre should look similar.


I pick the cover that is going to sell the most copies – and I’ll test it out with paid advertisements if I have to (though I’ve gotten very good at knowing which will perform the best). Selling more copies is all that matters for most authors. If you have a literary career, or are a professor, and are writing a book just to make yourself look good, then sure – go for something smart and obtuse and a little hard to figure out; something most people won’t like but a few people will think is brilliant.

But if you want to make money as an author, don’t be swayed by the sirens warning you to avoid the obvious and focus on something deeper and non-representational. Don’t worry about avoiding book cover cliches. Don’t focus on being creative. Get a damn fine cover that looks professional and immediately broadcasts the right genre. It SHOULD look a lot like the other bestselling books in the same category.

After you get enough people to buy it, read it and love it, and your name is so famous that people will buy anything you write, then you can start having fun with your book cover and taking risks with the design.

I’m not saying Peter isn’t a brilliant cover designer, of course he is. Another designer I like a lot is Chip Kidd.
And I’m obviously jealous of their talents. I’m not saying I’m a better designer than they are; only that, if they had to design covers that would sell popular fiction, they would probably look entirely different – and a whole lot more like mine – than the creative samples they’ve built their careers on.


So you have to decide what kind of author you are.

1. Are you the artist, who just wants to make an amazing book, even if nobody recognizes it in your lifetime and nobody loves and understands it like you do; you get no acknowledgment until decades after you die? Or, are you writing professional literary fiction with an established marketing campaign and recognized name? Great! Your book cover is a blank canvas.

2. Do you want people to read and like your book? Do you want hundreds of reviews? Do you want to make a bunch of money so you can write full-time? Then you better make sure your book fits the conventions of bestselling books in your genre, and appeal precisely to the readers who love that genre, and broadcast the core story message, and most importantly, make an emotional connection (in away that literary book covers almost never do, being purely conceptual).

In other words, the publishing methods that apply to famous authors are not and should not be the same for unknown authors on a small budget. You need to be more careful with how you do things. Your cover needs to look like it belongs in the top 10 books in your category.

While Peter’s new book should in no way be used as a manual for commercial book cover design, as an exercise in creative thinking and design it’s definitely worth perusing.

Peters Book Cover at Amazon

Derek Murphy at Amazon

From Guest Blogger Randall

No, I don’t want to read your self-published book

2 October 2014

From Ron Charles at The Washington Post
Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book magazine, has had it with what we politely call “indie writers.” Yesterday, he posted “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed.

Dear self-published author:
I can imagine how frustrating it is to have your book refused possible review coverage by the Horn Book simply because it is self-published. But here is why that situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.
If we met at a party or something, I, and I think my colleagues at the other review rags, would tell you that we don’t review self-published books because there are too many of them. More than half a million such titles are published every year in this country, and I’m guessing children’s books account for at least 100,000 of those. Right now, I’m dealing with about 8,000 titles a year of traditionally published children’s books, of which we review approximately 5,000. If we were to commit to giving self-published books the same level of scrutiny we give to what we already cover, I would need to increase our staff exponentially, which is not going to happen.


Thus my final point. Self-published children’s books seem remarkably ignorant of the great history and scope of children’s literature. You don’t need this awareness to write a good or even great book for children (I know several worthy children’s book authors who pay no attention to the field or its heritage) but you do need it to publish a good or great book for children. (Or even a terrible one. Trade publishers publish bad books all the time, but they publish them for good reasons.) An editor isn’t there to “fix mistakes.” His or her most important job is to understand what contribution your story makes–or doesn’t–to the big world of books and readers. That’s what is most missing from self-published books for children today.

He begins kindly enough: “I can imagine how frustrating it is to have your book refused possible review coverage by the Horn Book simply because it is self-published.” But then he lays out the case from the review editor’s point of view. He’s bracingly blunt.


I contacted Sutton this morning for additional comment (and to see if he’d been assaulted yet). As I suspected, his open letter had been inspired by an e-mail exchange with a “self-pubber.” Those of us in the business know these exchanges well. They’re pretty much why I don’t answer the phone anymore. There’s always some aggressive or depressed “indie writer” on the other end insisting that his book is spectacular, unlike anything else being published today. If only I’d read 25 pages, I’d be hooked.
I asked Sutton, “What do you say to the indie writer who reminds you that Walt Whitman was self-published?”

“You are not Walt Whitman,” he said


At The Post, we’re getting about 150 books a day. A day. And these are books that had to find an agent. And then a publisher. And then were professionally edited. And now are being professionally marketed by people with money on the line. Many of these books, of course, are bad, but many — far more than we can review — are interesting, engaging, informative, moving, timely and/or newsworthy for various reasons.

All the winnowing and editing work that went on before a galley ever arrives at our door make this job possible. The idea of dumping several hundred thousand additional books on our small staff every year is terrifying.
Are there great, truly great self-published books being produced — and ignored — every year?

I’m sure there are, and that’s a tragedy. But it’s not a tragedy that I can solve by reading 25 pages of every one of the 300,000 self-published book that would land in our office if we opened the door.

See the full article here at The Washington Post (Link may expire)

From Guest Blogger Randall.

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

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