Disruptive Innovation

Drake scores year’s first platinum album

12 August 2015

From Yahoo News:

Drake on Monday become the first artist to release an album this year that has sold more than one million copies in the United States, ending the latest industry drought.

The Canadian rapper’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” which he put out digitally without prior warning in February, has sold 1.007 million copies as of the week ending Friday, tracking service Nielsen Music said.

. . . .

In a sign of the growing dominance of digital music, Drake — a close collaborator of Apple — released “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” on iTunes two months before physical copies hit stores.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have for years resented artists who put out their music first digitally.

Link to the rest at Yahoo News and thanks to Antares for the tip.

Why That Ebook May Cost More Than The Hardcover

10 August 2015

From Thought Catalog:

It’s Not Over ‘Til The Big Dog Barks

Indie publishing is still growing and it seems that established publishing is at a standstill.

Mike Shatzkin’s column of August 5 may be the one in which we someday remember hearing a new sermon, the beginning of the endgame.

But Shatzkin is not delivering a benediction yet:

This is not a death-knell for anybody. This is a changing world for everybody.

His essay is The publishing world is changing, but there is one big dog that has not yet barked.

True, that headline sounds like bad Dylan. But this write is one of Shatzkin’s best, replete with even-handed accommodation. It’s an important and different homily. Take this line now and just hold it in your mind. We’ll come back to it more than once: “Publishers might have boxed themselves in with their return to Agency pricing.”

For now, note Shatzkin writing:

Hugh Howey told me this was happening in a private exchange three months ago. I didn’t believe him. I do now.

Told him what was happening?

We’re hearing widespread but totally unofficial reports that big publisher ebook sales are dropping noticeably when their new higher Agency prices are activated.

‘To Keep Ebook Prices Artificially High’

The author and commentator Kristine Kathryn Rusch walks us through her surprise at finding a long-awaited new hardcover at Amazon selling for less than the ebook price on its release date.

In Business Musings: Price Wars and Victims, she writes about pre-ordering Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back, and by the time the release date had arrived, “the Kindle edition was $13.99 and the hardcover was $13.”

Rusch asserts that new-Agency terms create a condition in which publishers’ higher ebook pricing will diminish the level of royalty percentages they get from Amazon on those ebooks.

. . . .

Here is the line in which you read Shatzkin  at his most “surprising,” as she puts it, on the subject of Agency (and we’ll return to it yet again in a bit after finishing with Rusch):“Publishers might have boxed themselves in with their return to Agency pricing.”

. . . .

What appears to be happening, writes Shatzkin, is that higher Agency pricing by publishers may be placing  the majors’ ebooks right out of the market for many potential buyers. And at a bad time:

Recent data seem to show that, for the publishers, the growth in the retail ebook market has slowed down or stopped (at least for the moment), while Amazon’s ebook sales apparently continue to grow. The share of the market controlled by the publishing establishment — the Big Five publishers and others — is starting to be slowly eroded. This does not yet suggest that an author’s best bet is to go out on his/her own and we may be a very long way from that. But it does suggest that life may get increasingly difficult for publishers.

Something for everybody, right? The gatekeeper-haters will be giddy about “life may get increasingly difficult for publishers.” But note that Shatzkin hasn’t cued up the theme from Exodus outside the front doors of the Big Five. “We may be a long way from that.”

. . . .

And this week, we have Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch on Simon & Schuster (S&S) where CEO Carolyn Reidy tells him:

“We consider ourselves more flat” than down after leaving aside last year’s big releases this time, “and we hope to end the year up a bit.” …Reidy noted, “Obviously our goal is to grow revenues, but there are so many factors to it. Not just the switch from physical to ebooks, but the pricing on ebooks, and the changes in how ebooks are sold; all those things factor in.”

Cader tells us that S&S ebook sales were 20.1 percent in the second quarter, as opposed to 22.3 percent at the same time last year. Reidy denies that this has anything to do with the publisher’s newly negotiated Amazon contract for ebook sales. This is the Agency question, manifested on many sales pages by that famous note from Amazon: “This price set by the publisher.”

Asked whether their new ebook terms have weighed on those sales, Reidy replied, “What we do know is it hasn’t. We’ve done a lot of studies of this and our unit sales are absolutely holding. So we’re very pleased with the new arrangement, and the results of it. There can be effects from pricing changes, but now the pricing changes we’re doing ourselves.”

. . . .

At a time when the ebook adoption growth rate was high and fast, price points were less important than those sheer numbers that made so many boats float. That’s a cogent observation from Cader. Now that all our dinghies are lying lower in the water, “the anecdotal reports I’m getting,” Shatzkin writes, “suggest that the price increases aren’t being so easily swallowed in the current round of Agency pricing.”

. . . .

In an interesting comment at Shatzkin’s site echoed by a couple of others, the Canadian publishing consultant Thad McIlroy proposes that “decoy pricing” is the publishers’ game with their comparatively high ebook prices. McIlroy:

Why do this? Because the overall success of any new title is significantly influenced by its presence in retail outlets. Depending on how you define “book retail outlets,” and how popular the title, there are some 5,000 locations in the U.S. that will prominently display proven and potential bestsellers. Within the current publishing business model this exposure is an essential part of the sales ecosystem.

. . . .

There’s now so much content competing for the traditional book customer’s eye — including the self-publishing avalanche of titles, of course — that the plethora could erode the traditional hold on the brass ring. It can also make it impossible for most independents to gain even a modicum of traction.

And for the moment, we can put aside questions of quality and value. Sheer volume is creating a howling cacophony of competition out there.

In a comment suitable for needlepoint, Shatzkin puts it this way:

The modern digital problem is that in this day and age the book (ebook) that I wrote in my spare time and put up on Amazon myself doesn’t look any different than the one by a star author with a big house behind her. Ten years ago, the star author would have been in the bookstore and my self-published book wouldn’t have been, at any price.

Imagine what would happen if self-manufacturers could flood the automobile market with hundreds of thousands of homemade cars that looked as good as Detroit’s models? That’s what’s happening in books. It’s a hobbyists’ heyday, and no market in any business that I can recall has experienced such a sudden and deep influx of amateur material, some of which, as Shatzkin says, “doesn’t look any different” from the professional wares.

Today? The self-published ebook that Shatzkin is describing appears right alongside the big dog’s trade-house ebook.

Link to the rest at Thought Catalog

PG says the Big Dog writers will be among the last to leave Big Publishing.

Why? Because Big Publishing (PG initially mistyped this as Pig Publishing) is designed to provide excellent service to monster best-selling authors. When a Big Dog calls his/her publisher, someone at the publisher will take the call. The contracts Big Dogs sign are worlds away from those given to other authors.

Most importantly, the compensation paid to a Big Dog is much greater, as a percentage of the publisher’s gross, than a Little Dog author receives.

However, for all the paeans sung to the dead-tree book and the traditional bookstore, both of those institutions are sinking, faster in some areas than others, but they’re sinking.

The percentage of Americans living within 15 minutes of a traditional bookstore is notably lower than it was five years ago and will decline further during the next five years. We are never again going to see a five year period that includes an increase in the number of traditional bookstores.

With every smartphone doubling as an ereader and discount bookstore, where are the millions of new young customers for paper books from paper bookstores going to come from? Traditional bookstores will look more and more like AARP recruiting centers (except for the minimum-wage bookstore employees).

Children’s books are often cited as a paper bastion. Those who believe this won’t change have never observed a precocious two-year-old with an iPad. Yes, parents may not trust a toddler with an expensive new iPad, but a lot of parents are on their second or third iPad and don’t much care what the kids might do to the old one.

And ever-helpful Amazon will sell you an armored Fire tablet for kids for $149 that includes a two-year, no questions asked replacement warranty in case the dog eats the tablet.

Of course, Amazon is also happy to sell you a lot of children’s books to read on the Fire. Those children’s ebooks will, of course, always remain pristine with no torn pages or grape-juice stains.

This is a massive disruptive change for the traditional publishing and bookselling business. This change will only move in one direction.

Smart Big Dog authors (and most of them are smart) are often respected leaders in the world of tradpub, but they are not and will not be leaders in the disruptive change that is in process today. Big Dogs will be among the last to leave a publishing system designed to serve their specific wants and needs. The war will be decisively won by the time the Big Dogs move.

The Self-Published Authors Standing On Your Lawn

8 August 2015

From author Gene Doucette via HuffPost Books:

Print journalism’s death rattle

Let us all bemoan the demise of the intrepid reporter, that guy or gal whose job it was to doggedly suss out an Important Story, do the necessary background work, meet the informants, verify the facts, and stand up for The Truth and speaking that Truth to Power.

Alas, his/her job was taken by the nerdy, obnoxious blogger, trader of unsourced gossip, unverified facts, and inventor of lies about good people to get page hits, unconcerned with Truth in favor of what will get attention.

Now… let’s turn off whatever movie we’re watching and rejoin reality.

For reasons I’ve never been entirely clear on, when the newspaper industry began its slow decline, the very best version of the professional journalist was compared to the very worst version of the Internet blogger, and somehow–perhaps we recently watched All the President’s Men–we all went along with it.

. . . .

I think what happened next is instructive. If we can imagine, for a moment, that the institution of newspaper reportage spoke with one voice–I personally hear the voice of an old man who wants me off his lawn–that voice would say these things:

  1. “Bloggers don’t have the training or connections like we do! Nobody will read them to get The Truth!”
  2. “Okay, maybe SOME people will read them! But not our core readers! Our readers know Quality! People who get their news from the Internet are idiots!”
  3. “Fine, most people are getting their news online, which is proof of the decline of modern civilization, and it’s the bloggers’ faults!”
  4. “We’ll go online, dammit, but we’ll charge for it. Of course people will pay, because we’re better than the free news and everyone knows it!”
  5. “What do you mean, that didn’t work??”

I’m actually here to talk about the publishing industry and not the newspapers, but I’m bringing up newspapers because the slow death rattle we’ve been hearing for about a decade from print journalism sounds an awful lot like the one we’re hearing now from the big publishing houses.

. . . .

Today’s ongoing discussion regarding traditional publishing versus self-publishing is being framed in more or less the same way as that of the intrepid fictional reporter against the venal fictional blogger, and for more or less the same reasons.

Self-published authors, we are led to believe, are scheming “writers” who aren’t good enough to land an agent or a publisher, have no interest in improving the craft–and show no respect for that craft–eschew editing they are badly in need of, and, in short, don’t deserve to be published, period.

In contrast, traditional big market publishers are producers of high quality curated works that have been thoroughly edited and expertly marketed, and are in every sense superior for it.

. . . .

We need to stop comparing the very best example of one category with the very worst example of another. It is absolutely true that there are self-published authors in dire need of improvement, an editor, and a better understanding of how to write. Also, there are indeed books put out by big market publishers that are of the highest quality, and that may not have otherwise existed were it not for this industry.

But let’s keep in mind that it’s equally true that big publishing can produce pure dreck, and high-quality novels can spring from self-publishing. For some reason we aren’t comparing quality-to-quality and dreck-to-dreck.

. . . .

For publishers, the change in the market was the development of e-books as a viable publishing option, and most of what we’ve heard in the industry since has sounded a lot like old man journalism yelling at us to get off the lawn.

First, they accuse self-published authors of being unworthy of readers. When that doesn’t work, they blame the readers for not recognizing quality. When that doesn’t work, they blame the medium itself–which is in this instance means blaming the inventor of the e-book market (Amazon) rather than the medium, but it amounts to the same thing.

Link to the rest at HuffPost Books

Here’s a link to Gene Doucette’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

How Music Got Free

25 July 2015

From The New York Times:

In 2007, with the record business well into a seemingly bottomless free fall, Doug Morris, the chairman and chief executive of the Universal Music Group, was interviewed by Wired magazine. He insisted it was a “misconception” that the labels were caught unaware by the digital revolution that had led to compact disc sales plummeting by 50 percent in seven years.

“They just didn’t know what to do,” said the head of the world’s biggest music company, going on to add that there weren’t really any steps he could take to stem the tide of illegal downloads. “We didn’t know who to hire. . . . I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person.”

Morris, then 69 years old, was vilified for his cluelessness, and told by Universal’s parent company that they would soon be expecting his retirement. But in the taut, cleareyed “How Music Got Free,” Stephen Witt writes that it was too easy to make a power player like Morris the punching bag for the business’s collapse. “The decline of the music industry had affected every player, from the largest corporate labels to the smallest indie,” and no one in 2007 — or still to this day — had figured out a truly effective strategy in response to a new paradigm.

. . . .

Rather than arguing the moral pros and cons of “stealing music,” he examines the stories, and the range of motivations, behind individuals who played a part in this upheaval, from the North Carolina factory worker who became the world’s primary source for albums leaked ahead of their release dates to the well-intentioned British college student prosecuted (and exonerated) for running a popular BitTorrent site in an attempt to create a global music library.

Perhaps the most telling journey is that of Karlheinz Brandenburg, an idealistic German professor who invents the MP3 as a near-perfect way to compress audio files, then watches it lose out as the official industry standard format to a less effective but better-connected rival. In a last-ditch effort to keep their work alive, his team releases the MP3 free, and users soon discover its merits. As his technology gets licensed and bundled into different operating systems, Brandenburg receives a cut from each transaction, and grows increasingly seduced by the resulting wealth and acclaim — profiting from the very sort of piracy he once resolutely decried.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

SaaSing The Music Business

19 July 2015

From Hyperbot:

The music business is about to undergo another seismic shift. And Apple’s streaming service is the tsunami that will force the industry to rebuild. Again.

It was around 2005 when I joined Warner Bros. Records as their new head of technology. I was the 20-something-year-old kid who was supposed to have every answer about all things digital. I remember distinctly the first record I worked on. Not because the record was special to me personally (it wasn’t), but because that was when I began to understand how a “record” was viewed by the record labels and the industry.

Back in the day, two things drove music sales: the record itself and the story that publicists told about the record. There were no iTunes pre-sales or bundling the album with new Samsung phones. Everything depended on first-week sales and chart position, as well as how the record rose or fell during the second week. It was a totally anonymous process. Even the record store owners had no idea who was buying. It was a simple transaction reported to SoundScan.

. . . .

By the late 1990s, the music industry had created a pretty successful promotion and publicity machine. First-week sales were driven by meticulously choosing the best single from the record, getting spins on top radio shows, producing big budget videos for MTV, print and TV promotions, record reviews and interviews with the artists. All things served the commerce transaction funnel.

The results of that first week of sales, along with the radio airplay, helped tell the “story.” If the record charted to No. 1 with millions of sales, the news was used to bolster second-week sales, as well as support the second single on radio and MTV and help launch the tour. The story, the sale and the spins — this marketing dance worked over and over again.

When the iTunes Music Store started dominating digital retail sales, and digital started eating into the total retail picture, the record labels didn’t bother to change the process very much. They just got a level of analysis and quantification that they never had before (for Apple, primarily), as well as higher margins.

. . . .

Music industry professionals never thought about loyalty or customer churn, because the month-over-month cycle (or even year-over-year) was less important than release-over-release.

In fact, the record labels often anticipated that an artist would lose portions of their audience with every new release, in exchange for new fans, as people got older, audiences changed and pop culture evolved.

. . . .

While first-generation SaaS (software as a service) providers were taking hold in the enterprise, a few pioneering streaming music services were making their debut. As Napster fell victim to legal battles, Rhapsody emerged in 2001 as one of the first legal providers of subscription-based music. At that time, the record labels viewed Rhapsody and others subscription services as “just another” source of revenue to support physical retail sales.

When retail sales in Wal-Mart and Target were strong, streaming was a nice additive source of revenue. In the waning days of physical retail sales, iTunes and Amazon propped up the entire music business, and streaming continued to be a small additional source of revenue.

It appears now that the scaffolding is falling away for the digital music sales cycle.

The problem? The music industry is still organized to support the traditional retail and digital sales cycle. As subscription services become the dominant source of revenue for recorded music, the entire business will have to shift gears to survive.

It’s no longer about pre-sales and Week 1, it’s about nurturing an audience month-over-month to drive loyalty and increase returns on a streaming service platform. All of the promotion dollars and methods to support Week 1 have to be retooled for a longer cycle, up to 6 months in many cases.

Link to the rest at Hyperbot and thanks to Glinda for the tip.

Authors United Epic Fail-O-Rama

14 July 2015

Joe Konrath considers the latest whinings to the Justice Department from Authors United, the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association and the Association of Authors Representatives:

More nonsense from Authors United.

. . . .

This is a long one, because their letter was so long. And so, so stupid. Tomorrow I’ll spank the Authors Guild, which did something semi-helpful by blogging about ebook royalties, and then stomped on that good faith with awful opinions about piracy, and by endorsing the following nonsense:

Dear Assistant Attorney General Baer:

We believe that Amazon has gathered unprecedented market power over the world of books, which many experts have asserted make it both a monopoly in its role as a seller of books to the public and a monopsony in its role as a buyer of books from publishers. We believe Amazon has been misusing that power in many ways, and we seek the benefit of your office to address this situation.

Amazon is not a monopoly, via Time Magazine:

While Amazon is certainly a large and growing online retailer, even a liberal interpretation of its share of the domestic e-commerce market puts the figure at less than 50%, which is well below the 70% threshold courts typically require as proof of monopoly power. (…) And even if a court found Amazon to possess monopoly power — as one could somewhat realistically claim it does in the e-book market — that’s still only half the battle, as it must also be proved that said power is being exercised to the detriment of consumers.

Lower prices is not to the detriment of consumers.

. . . .

Good luck trying to show that suppliers are being forced to sell ebooks at a loss, which reduces the supply. There are more ebooks available than ever, with more suppliers than ever. Digital media doesn’t subscribe to the rules of supply and demand. Supply is unlimited, because ebooks can be copied and delivered with the press of a button, with low to no overhead other than sunk costs involving the initial production (editing, cover art, formatting, etc.)

The Big 5 are hurting because they are too stupid, lazy, and inefficient to compete. Not because Amazon is controlling them, or anyone else. And, ultimately, pulishers aren’t suppliers. They are middlemen. Writers are the suppliers–something Authors United can’t seem to grasp.

On its current course, Amazon threatens to derail the benefits of a revolution in the way books are created and sold in America. This shift was brought about by two broad innovations. The first is the e-book, the most dramatic new technology in publishing since the invention of the printing press. Because of the low cost of producing and distributing an e-book, many more authors now have the opportunity to self-publish, and millions of people can read books in formats that better fit their pocketbooks and preferences.

The second advance is the e-commerce technology that makes possible on-line bookstores. This techonology has connected readers with a vast selection of physical books, including rare, obscure, and out-of-print volumes. E-commerce has also made it far easier for small publishers to reach customers around the world.

I might be getting ahead of the letter, but apparently Amazon threatens to derail the benefits that Amazon itself–at great cost and risk–revolutionized.

Also, I hope Authors United spell-checked and corrected “techonology” before sending this. Lots of irony in misspelling that…

. . . .

Initially, Amazon deployed these new technologies in ways that benefited both readers and authors. While Amazon did not invent the e-book or e-reader, it created a platform that made it easy for millions around the world to access e-books, including readers who live nowhere near a brick and mortar bookstore.

But as Amazon has become a global corporation of unprecedented size, scope, and power, it is increasingly engaging in practices that undermine the interests of readers, authors, publishers, and society as a whole. Amazon has used the digital revolution in book publishing to exercise control over the marketplace of ideas in ways that threaten not merely open markets but free speech.

And Gutenberg needed to be stopped because he sold more printing presses–you know, that thing he invented–than anyone else.

If by “threatening an open market” they mean “competing better than anyone else” than they are correct.

I’m looking forward to see how Amazon also threatens free speech and the marketplace of ideas. Let’s read on…

While Amazon contends that its goal is to serve consumers by eliminating middlemen in publishing (which it calls the “gatekeepers”), Amazon’s executives have also made clear they intend to make Amazon itself the sole gatekeeper in this industry.

Unlike every other company, which limit themselves to small shares of a marketplace without ever trying to grow. I mean, Coke never tries to take market share from Pepsi. That would be unfair.

But what’s at stake here is not merely monopoly control of a commodity; what is at stake is whether we allow one of the nation’s most important marketplaces of information to be dominated and supervised by a single corporation.

Okay, I think I’m beginning to understand. So many consumers and suppliers use Amazon, freely and by choice, that free speech and ideas will be squelched, because…

Uh…

Because there is no other place to speak freely or exchange ideas. Because Amazon has become the sole omnipotent totalitarian power in the universe, because…

Um…

Because consumers and suppliers freely choose it to be.

Ack. And there are 20 more pages of this crap.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

The Industry’s Latest Thinking on Disruption and Innovation

13 July 2015

From Digital Book World:

With the digital transition slowing down, many publishers may find themselves with more breathing room than they did just a few years ago, when ebooks were growing at a rapid clip. That’s leading some to make important adjustments to core processes, while others are seeking growth opportunities through acquisitions.

But for all those who welcome the stability of today’s hybrid market, there are some who still warn against getting too comfortable. And since pushing forward on innovative products, distribution models and publishing strategies—not to mention buckling down for broad-based disruption—is arguably harder to do well than fine-tuning a familiar system, we thought we’d turn a spotlight on some of those challenges and contingencies.

To be sure, there’s valid and wide-ranging disagreement over whether publishers even need to seriously rethink what they do.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World which will ask you to register to receive a copy of its report on the subject.

PG hasn’t read the report, but here’s his prediction of Big Publishing’s thinking about  disruption of its business model.

 

How to Survive the Death of the Book

9 July 2015

From Digital Book World:

Founders don’t start companies to fight their future competitors. They start companies to fix something that they recognize—to an extent untrue of most others—as frustratingly broken. Indeed, an entrepreneur’s obsession is so myopic that most early-stage investors struggle to get founders to name their competitors. “We don’t have any,” says everyone ever.

Cute. But virtually every need is served today in some way. Horses provided transportation before the car, encyclopedias worked well before Wikipedia, and I’m confident root canals will seem perfectly sensible until there’s a pill for that. In similar (but less painful) ways, the book was a very sensible solution to a lot of problems for a long time, until it wasn’t. Today it increasingly isn’t. And many entrepreneurs are finding niches ‘without competitors.’

Getting a degree? Use a textbook. Looking up a word? Grab a dictionary. Traveling? Buy a travel guide. Want to be whisked away to another universe for a few hours? A novel, printed in a book. What an amazingly versatile device! Yet in spite of this homogeneity of format, publishing’s problem isn’t a single competitive technology. Rather, it’s the hundreds of small software companies that rise from the cracks to nibble on the feast of available problems to which the book is no longer the best possible solution. It is (ahem) death by a thousand paper cuts.

Examples abound. Tripadvisor reset customer expectations by providing comprehensive coverage of the world’s hotels and attractions with up-to-the-minute information in an easily searchable database. A book simply cannot compete.

. . . .

It looks like the software industry is eating publishing for breakfast. To survive, every publisher must find its path to reinvention as a software company or else decline into irrelevance. If you once sold books to customers to help them solve problems like getting a degree, to entertain them or to help them do their job better, you now had better find a way to do it ten times more effectively with software. Otherwise someone else will. The flaccid argument that software companies don’t understand content is mere hubris.

Of course, this isn’t new news. But the software landscape, and what’s possible within it, is in a perpetual state of ‘new.’ It expands every year, which makes ‘becoming a software company’ a notoriously difficult thing. New technologies haven’t changed the publishers, they’ve changed the customers. And those fast-changing customer expectations set the rules, not the start-ups themselves. After all, the start-ups don’t have any competitors, remember?

. . . .

For a time, we perpetuated the physical-world model of ‘buying’ a book into the digital world. It happened in music for a while, too: iTunes was once the de facto standard for music, back when people bought tracks. Today, it has been rendered far less relevant by the likes of Spotify, which provides a superior experience through an unlimited subscription.

This is a well-understood phenomenon. Time and again, from cell phone minutes to cable TV, markets have shown that products with zero marginal cost (like digital copies of content) ultimately become subscription markets. This will be true of virtually all markets with digital services as products. People no longer want to buy digital goods, but they’ll subscribe to your service in order to get them.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Rise of the sportswriting machines

6 July 2015

From The Washington Post:

There’s a sports writing revolution going on out there and it doesn’t involve sportswriters – thanks to “automation technology,” sports articles are now being written by, uh, computers.

Two companies – Durham, N.C.-based Automated Insights and Chicago-based Narrative Science – are aiming to make sportswriters the next dinosaurs. These companies transfer data into written reports, rendering obsolete the ink-stained wretch sitting in a press box eating free hot dogs.

First there was the driverless car. Now there is the writer-less sports story.

This nation was BUILT on the backs of sportswriters, and THIS is the thanks we get?

. . . .

Can an algorithm really replace a beat writer? I guess so – never misses a deadline, less chance of libel, no bloated expense reports.

According to its Web site, Automated Insights’ “Wordsmith platform uses artificial intelligence to transform raw data into actionable stories and insights [and] creates content with the tone, personality and variability of a human writer.”

. . . .

The Associated Press is using Automated Insights technology to cover more college sports than ever, events it wouldn’t have the manpower to staff. It’s already providing Division I baseball recaps via computer-generated game stories and will expand exponentially, including Division II men’s basketball.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to  for the tip.

PG is a big fan of technologies of all types, but he doubts any sports writing computer program will generate anything like the following in the near future:

“Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again.

“In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

Grantland Rice writing in New York Herald-Tribune about Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory over Army, October 18, 1924

Tipping the Editorial Apple Cart

29 June 2015

From Digital Book World:

Software is at once the existential threat and the messianic savior of the publishing industry. Publishers that pursue transformation strategies and successfully reinvent themselves as software companies will thrive, propelled by the value of their content assets and skills.

This is no simple feat, however. Coupled with the backdrop of financial, technical and market challenges, one overarching challenge makes any publisher’s transformation especially daunting—corporate culture.

Corporate culture shows up across any organization in a million small ways. It’s the set of reflexive behaviors, like default settings, that companies develop over time. It influences everything from how the company hires and how it interacts with customers to the way it develops its products. Corporate culture is the result of countless subtle inputs over time, and as many CEOs have discovered, it’s profoundly difficult to change.

But culture is precisely what must change in today’s publishing industry. From stem to stern, the most successful publishers are rethinking risk tolerance, speed of development, the opinion of the customer and even the structure of their companies. Although culture isn’t good or bad, it can certainly be right or wrong for what a company is trying to accomplish.

. . . .

A few decades back, in the heyday of desktop publishing, publishers were centers of intense innovation, leveraging new software to move from analog layout mechanisms to digital ones. Experimentation with tools like Aldus PageMaker and Quark Xpress led to entirely new workflows. Initial investments, while expensive, yielded exciting results in both the products and the financial efficiencies of the publishing process.

Over the ensuing years, publishers adeptly outsourced the non-strategic parts of their digital workflows. More and more work was done offshore and less of it in-house, and the institutional knowledge of these methods largely dissipated. Business process outsourcing (BPO) companies now own many of those core processes, with publishers providing inputs and receiving outputs, such as illustrations and page layouts.

It’s within that environment that publishers today confront the completely new problem of constructing digital content and products, and they haven’t yet figured out how to do it at large scale. Meanwhile, these same BPO companies are asked to ‘solve’ the digital content problem. They try, but these companies are skilled in process optimization, not in initial problem solving, especially when the end product isn’t yet fully understood by anyone.

When publishers reflexively outsource these supposedly non-strategic processes, the outsourced work is either frustratingly poor in quality or impossible to scale up. Instead, publishers themselves must first invest in the problem-solving, just as in they did in the ’90s with desktop publishing. Only then can the optimization of outsourcing begin.

. . . .

I’ve often marveled at the power editorial teams wield within publishers. They’ve traditionally controlled budgets, product roadmaps and sales teams, all in one. Talk about influence! But this cultural hallmark is unattractive to engineers and designers, who expect to be at the center of the discovery and decision-making processes of a software company. It’s the age-old MBA-meets-engineer cliché on the grandest of scales: “I’ve got a great idea, all I need is an engineer to build it for me!” Alas, the engineer, if she’s smart, has her own ideas.

The publishers that successfully shift their internal cultures to be technology-driven, rather than editorial-driven, will more quickly adopt methods and practices that favor the transition from publishing to software. These companies will, in turn, attract better talent. And the virtuous cycle will accelerate.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

The author of this piece doesn’t use the term, but he is talking about disruptive change in the publishing world.

One of the common responses to disruptive challenges is “Let’s disrupt ourselves!” and change the disruptee into the disruptor. Perhaps the disrupt yourself strategy has worked somewhere, but PG can’t think of an example.

One of the reasons that startups are the most common creators and exploiters of disruptive technology is that a startup has no preexisting corporate culture to slow it down (or defeat it altogether). Disruptive technology doesn’t just disrupt companies, it also disrupts the management within companies. Many of the old kings and queens will lose out under the vastly different new business structure and they invariably manage to submerge the innovative new ideas beneath established corporate fiefdoms and processes.

PG suggests that tradpub corporate culture is the ultimate reason it will find survival in anything resembling its current form almost impossible in an ebook/ecommerce world.

He’s mentioned it before, but since most big US publishers don’t own themselves, but are owned by large international media conglomerates, PG says the corporate culture challenge is even more daunting. You not only have to change the culture of the publisher, you also have to change the culture of the conglomerate managers who are at least one step removed from understanding the disruptive business challenge and the need for change.

A tech startup is expected to lose money, often for a long time. Figuring out how to disrupt an existing business is very difficult work. Mistakes will definitely happen and U-turns will probably be necessary.

Conglomerate bosses become very nervous about any plan that expects to lose money and can’t demonstrate a clear path to a profit. Mistakes and U-turns are anathema.

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