PG’s Thoughts (such as they are)

Author Website Checklist

5 October 2017

From Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader:

No two author websites look the same, but they all share a few common characteristics. Generally, author websites have to fill four needs.

I would describe author sites as a type of business websites (you do want visitors to buy your books, after all). As such, an author site needs to tell visitors:

  • what an author has written,
  • who the author is,
  • how to contact the author, and
  • what the author is writing next.

Before you launch your author site, here’s a quick checklist to make sure you have all the parts you need.

  1. Author bio – Have you posted a bio on your site, and does it include a photo?
  2. Books – Have you set up a listing page for each of your books? With cover images? And do you have a directory page for your books? What about a series summary?
  3. Mailing list – Do you have a sign up form for your mailing list? Do you offer a freebie to anyone who signs up?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says the rest of Nate’s suggestions for an author’s website are well worth applying if you don’t include those features on your website.

One item he mentioned – search engine optimization (SEO) – woke PG’s little gray cells from their morning somnolence.

PG has been using Google since the site first opened. He remembers when it looked like this:

PG continues to use Google, almost daily, to find all manner of important and inconsequential information.

Not long after Google began to overtake Yahoo (remember them?) as the go-to place to find things on the internet, people started trying to show up higher in Google’s search results and SEO was born. PG was having fun with Google SEO 15 years ago when he was running marketing and sales for a start-up tech company.

However, re: SEO, PG doesn’t remember the last time he searched for a book using Google. His first, second and third impulse in such situations is to use Amazon to find books. For PG, the Zon is a much richer and more informative place to locate reading material plus there’s not a lot of extraneous information when he’s in the books section.

PG decided to find out a little about Amazon SEO and discovered, yes, it’s a thing.

Amazon has a page talking about how sellers (not just indie authors) can optimize their listings for searching and browsing. KDP listings are somewhat different than Amazon’s general product listings. However, here are a few things they mention:

Search is the primary way that customers use to locate products on Amazon. Customers search by entering keywords, which are matched against the information (title, description, etc.) you provide for a product. Factors such as degree of text match, price, availability, selection, and sales history help determine where your product appears in a customer’s search results. By providing relevant and complete information for your product, you can increase your product’s visibility and sales.

. . . .

Information provided in the product description and bullet points is searchable by customers. The product description and bullet points help customers learn key details about your product. These sections should include product-related information in a clear and concise manner. Amazon will remove your page/listings with long product descriptions.

. . . .

Amazon provides sellers with an opportunity to add hidden keywords for a product. These keywords should only include generic words that enhance the discoverability of your product. For example, if you are selling headphones, your hidden keywords may contain synonyms such as “earphones” and “earbuds.” Hidden keywords are not required fields.

Here are some best practices for providing hidden keywords:

  • Don’t include product identifiers such as brand names, product names, compatible product names, ASINs, UPC codes, etc.
  • Don’t provide inaccurate, misleading, or irrelevant information such as the wrong product category, the wrong gender, out-of-context words, etc.
  • Don’t provide excessively long content. Respect the limits that are set for different fields.
  • When entering several words as a search term, put them in the most logical order. A customer is more likely to search for big stuffed teddy bears than for teddy stuffed bears.
  • Use a single space to separate keywords. No commas, semicolons, carets are required.
  • Don’t include statements that are only temporarily true, e.g., “new,” “on sale,” “available now.”
  • Don’t include subjective claims such as amazing, good quality. etc., as most customers don’t use subjective terms in their queries.
  • Don’t include common misspellings of the product name. Amazon’s search engine compensates for common customer misspellings and also offers corrective suggestions.
  • Don’t provide variants of spacing, punctuation, capitalization, and pluralization (“80GB” and “80 GB,” “computer” and “computers,” etc.). Our search engine automatically includes different case forms, word forms, and spelling variants for searching.
  • Don’t include terms that are abusive or offensive in nature.
  • Abbreviations, alternate names, topic (for books, etc.), and key character (for books, movies, etc.) could be included as keywords.

Link to the rest at  Optimizing Listings for Search and Browse.

If you search for Amazon SEO on Amazon, you’ll find books on the subject.

PG would be interested in hearing about/receiving links for authors who have tried SEO techniques for their book listings on Amazon.


Back in the Saddle

28 September 2017

PG has returned after a quick trip with Mrs. PG to visit Mrs. PG’s sister, Beth, who is suffering from early-onset ‎Alzheimer’s disease.

It was a difficult trip for both of us, but we’re glad we made the visit. It is likely the last time we will see Beth alive.

PG is happy to be back at the controls of that complex and meticulously-honed system that is The Passive Voice.

Building our new house

13 September 2017

From Medium:

I was struck by Jeff Jarvis’s recent polemic, ‘If I ran a newspaper…’ published on Medium.

In it, he quoted an unnamed editor’s description of the predicament he — and many of us — find ourselves in:

“We have two houses. One is on fire and the other isn’t built yet. So our problem is that we have to fight the flames in the old house at the same time we’re trying to figure out how to build the new one.”

He was, of course, describing the rock-and-a-hard place dilemma that’s beset legacy media brands for more than a decade now: We know print is declining fast, and the future’s digital, but the problem is most of our revenues are still in the former, and the latter will never generate the money we made back in the day.

I’ve lived in this cleft stick for most of my career. The legendary ‘tipping point’ is still talked about hypothetically years after it should have become a reality for more of this country’s legacy media — particularly in the regions. The tipping point comes when your digital revenue growth offsets your print revenue decline. Rather than waiting reluctantly for it to happen — or indeed trying to postpone it — we should have been doing everything to make it happen on our terms. Unfortunately, I think the industry dragged its feet for too long.

. . . .

We announced this week that we are creating a new, standalone and sustainable digital business that could be a model for similar enterprises across the UK and beyond.

At the heart of the new operation is a digital-only newsroom forged from the team that has made the fastest-growing regional news website in the UK for much of the past year. Thanks to my team’s efforts, we reach more than 50% of Brummies every week, and now we want to reach even more with our new approach.

At the same time, we want the new model to be completely self-sustainable, achieving a profit driven by programmatic and solus digital advertising, and not over-dependent on print upsell from legacy clients. There’ll be whole new revenue streams, too.

The new newsroom will be more than digital-first; it will be digital only.

. . . .

When you lose pounds in print, you only ever get pennies back online / we’ll never make enough money to have a newsroom as big as it was ten years ago.

True(ish), and true. Sadly, we know the future requires the business to be leaner and more flexible than we are now, and despite years of seemingly endless restructures and job losses, we will have to make further reductions. We are building the new model by asking the question: “What size newsroom can we afford, given what we know about our current and future digital scale, how much programmatic revenue we get, and how much new digital revenue we think is out there in the market?”.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says the OP describes a constructive way to deal with disruptive innovation. “What would my business look like if I was starting it from scratch today?” It’s a much better management strategy than, “How can I preserve my existing business when the economics of the market it serves have completely changed?”

The more common strategy of downsizing, then downsizing some more, then further downsizing is self-defeating in the extreme.

  1. Employee morale tanks and stays tanked with deleterious effects on the enterprise.
  2. Talented new people who might like the idea of working in a particular business stay away because of justified skepticism about the long-term future of the business and a rational desire to avoid a sinking ship.
  3. The talent level of new hires is lower than that of veteran employees.
  4. Existing employees who can leave do leave, taking their experience and abilities with them.
  5. The percentage of staff who stay with the business because they can’t get a job elsewhere skyrockets.

PG considers himself typical of many traditional readers of printed newspapers.

Growing up, he pretty much read every newspaper that arrived in his home cover to cover every day. When he commuted to work by train, he bought and read one newspaper in the morning and another in the evening.

(Yes, my young friends, in large cities, some newspapers published every morning and others published every afternoon. Chicago had four major daily papers, two morning and two afternoon, plus at least a half-dozen other dailys devoted to particular audiences, African-Americans, for one example.)

When he didn’t commute via mass transit, PG had at least one daily newspaper delivered to his home, usually two.

A couple of years ago, PG observed many issues of the two daily papers he received were piling up, largely or completely unread. He stopped The Wall Street Journal, but still pays for access to the entire digital edition.

At first, he kept his subscription to the local daily paper because he has always wanted to support local news organizations. However, when a week or two would pass without him reading any physical papers, he quit renewing that subscription as well.

Perhaps based upon years of habit, PG’s delivery person has continued to drop the local daily on his driveway, despite PG not having paid for a subscription for several months. PG has wondered if the paper’s management is trying to artificially pump up its subscription numbers.

The Village Voice Is Ending Its Weekly Print Edition

24 August 2017

From The Vulture:

After more than 60 years, the Village Voice is shutting down its weekly print edition. Founded in 1955 and converted into a free weekly in 1996, the Voice built its name as one of the country’s first alt-weeklies by covering and critiquing New York politics, culture, and more with its distinctive downtown sensibility. The progressive alt-weekly plans to continue on in digital form, according to an announcement from Peter Barbey, who purchased it in October 2015 amid financial struggles, and will also continue to sponsor events like the Obie Awards and Pride Awards. “[The Voice] has been a beacon for progress and a literal voice for thousands of people whose identities, opinions, and ideas might otherwise have been unheard. I expect it to continue to be that and much, much more,” Barbey said. “The business has moved online — and so has the Voice’s audience, which expects to do what we do not just once a week, but every day.”

. . . .

The no-longer-weekly alt-weekly has a hallowed history of defining and exemplifying New York counterculture, having been founded by Norman Mailer, Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and John Wilcock. It launched the careers of numerous authors and journalists.

Link to the rest at The Vulture

A question popped into PG’s mind as he read this item. Because there was not much else popping in his mind, he noticed this question.

Is there any traditional print publication that has transitioned to a pure digital form (and binned the print side) that has prospered?

By prospering, PG doesn’t mean surviving or claiming a zillion website visits. Rather, he means the publication demonstrates at least some of the traditional outward manifestations of prosperity – hiring more people on a consistent basis without laying them off later, moving to larger offices, etc.

Does any such transitioned publication make more money than it did before the digital deluge?

According to Statista, The New York Times had 5,363 employees in 2012 and 3,710 employees in 2016.

In June of this year, hundreds of staff members of the New York Times staged a walkout to protest more firings. The laid-off copy editors wrote a letter:

“We only ask that you not treat us like a diseased population that must be rounded up en masse, inspected and expelled,” they wrote. “After all, we are, as one senior reporter put it, the immune system of this newspaper, the group that protects the institution from profoundly embarrassing errors, not to mention potentially actionable ones.”

Are the tech giants too big to be good partners for book publishing?

22 August 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

An online discussion forum that includes publishers and librarians and tech people usually sends me several emails a day. About 10 days ago, a conversation evolved about Google Book Search and the Google Library Project, two initiatives by the search giant that were initiated in the early part of the last decade.

Because both programs essentially gave Google a trove of book-published content for full text search, there was a wariness among the publishing community about them when they started. In time, publishers (through the AAP) sued Google and the course of the lawsuit ultimately led to a sharp curtailment of Google’s ability to just do the scanning. After a while, it appears the reservoir of interest at Google for the project, which started as more of a “service to humanity” idea than a profitable one, just evaporated. The scans that Google had already done became part of the HathiTrust repository of content, an important research and scholarship tool in the non-trade world without any recognition or impact on the trade world at all.

. . . .

And, of course, Google is the single most powerful source of “discovery” and many in publishing wonder if books overall would have benefited from Google being more “knowledgeable” about what is inside of them.

So, to this day, years after the litigation and the scanning program have concluded, there is a division of opinion in the publishing community. Some see Google as a bully and a villain, trying to make its own rules to benefit from publishers’ content and crippling the value of copyright. Others focus on the lost opportunity and believe publishers would actually have more valuable intellectual property (more valuable copyrights!) today if they’d just allowed the Google programs to develop and flourish.

. . . .

In the course of the discussion, a very knowledgeable and experienced veteran of publishing across education, professional, and trade offered the comment that “Google is a terrible partner.” I asked him (offline from the group discussion; he’s a friend) to amplify that.

My points of context for Google weren’t in publishing; they were in tech. My own most extensive experiences with the big three tech companies that publishers dealt with — Amazon, Apple, and Google — was working out their participation at publishing conferences.

. . . .

What I saw was that Apple was the most uptight; it was hard to get speakers because messaging was so tightly controlled by upper management.

Amazon would sometimes be very agreeable, but primarily when they had an agenda: some program they wanted to get across or some point they wanted to make. So they were often cooperative, but very much on their terms to put across their message du jour. In general, they wouldn’t do panels or Q&As. They needed to control the conversation and skillfully avoided being pushed to publicly discuss anything they didn’t want to talk about. But they were often available and always interesting, and unlike Apple (in my experience), would engage with you honestly about their agenda.

. . . .

Google was, in my experience, by far the most open and accessible of the three companies. You could tell them you wanted speakers or panelists to cover one subject or another and you’d get directed to people who could help you. And Google employed a pretty fair number of ex-publishing people who were conversant about issues from a perspective that publishers could relate to.

. . . .

What my friend said in response to my inquiry, in which I had only mentioned Google, was, “Google, Apple, and Amazon are all bad partners. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Firebrand are good partners.”

So much for my contextual frame.

But grouping the three to me made the point that my context was what mattered. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Firebrand all make their living in the book business. Google, Apple, and Amazon have a financial stake in the book business that amounts to a small rounding error to their overall financial performance.

. . . .

For the entire life of the book business until about fifteen minutes ago, it was very much a free-standing industry. The only larger-than-the-industry enterprises it had to deal with were the Post Office and United Parcel Service. Our authors, designers, typesetters, printers, and, most important of all, customers to which we shipped directly (the wholesalers and retailers and libraries) were part of the publishers’ world. They depended on the publishers as much as the publishers depended on them.

Amazon was the first piece of evidence — and still the most important piece of evidence — that the old world has disappeared.  . . . . They sell more than half of the books for most publishers, but all the books they sell probably amount to less than 5 percent of their total margin. And while Penguin Random House may be in the neighborhood of half the consumer book sales overall, they wouldn’t amount to nearly that big a percentage of Amazon’s book sales because Amazon gets a disproportionate share of professional and other niche markets and thus from publishers who don’t compete at all with PRH in the consumer market.

And because Amazon has very intentionally created a whole massive pool of consumer books that nobody else has, through their own publishing and enabling independent authors.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has had direct business/legal dealings and negotiations with Apple and Amazon over the last 15 years or so. For context, he has also had business negotiations with Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Intel in the tech world plus every major investment bank in New York (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, etc., etc.), most of the large accounting firms plus Disney, American Express and a bunch of other big companies.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean PG knows everything about negotiating intellectual property partnerships and other deals with large organizations, but he does know some things about that subject.

PG definitely has not represented any large publishers in their dealings with large tech companies. He has, however, represented a lot of authors in their dealings with large publishers.

Speaking generally, large publishers are not cut out to be good partners for tech companies.

Publishers are simply too rigid in their business vision and very much focused on the short term (which is strange for organizations that license copyrights, which extend far into the future).

This short term outlook is substantially affected by the fact that the Big Five publishers are all owned and controlled by other and larger media conglomerates. Four of the Big Five are owned by large European publishing corporations that are not known for their commitment to innovation and could not be described as tech-savvy in any sense. The fifth Big Five publisher, Simon & Schuster, is owned by CBS.

Each of these media conglomerates is heavily focused on this quarter’s and this year’s income, expenses and profits. They’re not what anyone would call forward-looking or focused on the long term. If they think about the long term at all, they’re convinced it will not be much different than last quarter.

(PG worked for a major subsidiary of a very, very large international media conglomerate for three unhappy years and knows that of which he speaks.)

This means that if Google sends someone to talk to the President of a Big Five publisher, Google is talking to a middle-manager in a much larger business organization. The Big Five President can do pretty much whatever he/she wants to do with Barnes & Noble and Ingram (as long as it doesn’t have an adverse impact on profits), but cutting a strategic deal with Google is way, way out of his/her job description.

Organizations like Google, Apple and Amazon quickly become frustrated with organizations that are not able to move rapidly.

iPad vs Mac: Episode 7

21 August 2017

From Monday Note:

With the sophisticated user interface and powerful system apps afforded by iOS 11, the iPad feels like it’s finally reaching maturity. But what does the device’s clarified identity say about the Mac’s future?

The iPad is a strange animal, a Chimera that has had trouble finding its place in an Aristotelian classification of computing creatures. Is it a smaller PC, a bigger phone, something else? During the January 2010 iPad unveiling, Steve Jobs briefly departed from his usual razor-edged storytelling to admit ambiguity about the identity of his latest creation:

“[iPad] has to find its place between the iPhone and the Mac”

Jobs’ hesitancy proved to be insightful. In fact, exceptionally so: Seven years later we’re still debating what the iPad actually is. The meteoric rise followed by a three year slump didn’t help clarify the iPad’s place in the world.

. . . .

Tim Cook has long professed his faith in the iPad’s future:

“The iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing.”

Does the iPad’s rebound prove him right? Does Cook’s proclamation mean that the iPad is destined to replace the Mac? This question — perhaps I should say ‘agitation’ — was raised when the iPad came out and continues to this day.

In the Socratic spirit I referred to in last week’s Monday Note, I’ll take both sides of the argument…

It’s abundantly clear that the iPad will continue to replace the Mac.

. . . .

By offering flexible user interface choices — touch only, Smart Keyboard, Pencil — iPad Pros will not only compete with the Mac, they’ll surpass the laptop.

The iPad also wins the price war. Prices range from $329 for an entry-level 9.7” iPad to $1099 for a 512Gb 12” iPad Pro. Add a keyboard and a Pencil to a fully decked 10.5” iPad Pro — it has a better screen than its larger cousin — and you’ll top out at $1212.

. . . .

Although the Mac still brings in more money-per-device — the Mac’s ASP of $1,303 is three times that of the iPad’s $435 — the company’s mobile devices make it up in volume. Last quarter, Apple sold more than 55M iOS devices (iPhones and iPads), compared to 4.3M Macs.

. . . .

As it becomes a more general-purpose machine, the iPad will continue to steal uses and users from the Mac. As often stated by its execs, Apple isn’t worried about cannibalization. More important, the iPad’s ever-improving UI and functionality will wrest users from its competitors.

This leaves the Mac line doing nicely for two disconnected reasons: High-end “truck-like” applications, and the estimable population of users who, as a matter of personal preference, opt for the traditional “horizontal-hands” UI.

Link to the rest at Monday Note

With due respect to all his Mac friends, PG says Apple is mostly a phone company. A quick check discloses that the iPhone has represented over 50% of Apple’s revenue for almost five years, nearing 70% during several quarters during that time period. The iPad and Mac aren’t what make Apple the company it is today. If the iPhone misses a beat, Apple will shrink quite rapidly.

PG started in DOS when dinosaurs roamed the earth, then transitioned to Windows. A few years ago, with the help of one of PG’s Apple-bedazzled offspring, he bought a top end Mac laptop with appropriate software, but, despite using it as his principal computer for a few months, the magic just wasn’t there for him.

One of the problems was finding Apple versions for the zillion little non-mainstream software programs PG has built into his daily workflow and which either save him lots of time or provide extra security for the confidential information he has on his computer.

An example? Autohotkey , an open-source macro program.

PG’s use of macros dates back to WordPerfect, a perfectly lovely word processing program (far better than MS Word is, even today, in PG’s stunningly humble opinion) that was acquired by Novell, another essentially extinct company, and died a quick death thereafter. (PG knows Corel still produces a product called WordPerfect, but it bears as much resemblance to the real thing as a dinosaur skeleton does to a living velociraptor.)

PG had over 150 WordPerfect keyboard macros that he used in his daily work. With them, he could move like a rocket in his law office. In some cases, he could literally finish a document for which lawyers typically charged the equivalent of a four-figure fee in today’s dollars before the client finished writing a check to give to PG’s paralegal to pay for the document.

Any legal documents PG produced on a frequent basis were macro’d to the max.

He practices a much different type of law today than he did in that day, but still uses Autohotkey keyboard macros for his legal work, his blogging and to make things a bit zippier in the Lair o’ PG. Examples of macros used frequently on TPV are ltr – “Link to the rest at”, ttt “and thanks to ______ for the tip.”, tpv “The Passive Voice” and lwsj “Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)”.

One of the earliest macros PG remembers reading about was used by a prolific author who used an ancient word processing program called WordStar. The macro inserted a period, then a closed quotation mark, than an Enter key, then a tab for the next paragraph, then an open quotation mark. He used it for finishing one paragraph of dialogue and beginning the next:

words, words, words[.”

“]Words words words

If you type at 65 words per minute, you are using approximately 20,000 keystrokes per hour. If you can make some of those keystrokes instantly produce much more than a single character each, your productivity could increase.

New WordPress Theme for The Passive Voice

18 August 2017

PG has decided it’s time for a new WordPress theme for TPV.

He still likes the look of the current theme, but it hasn’t been upgraded by the theme’s author for a long, long time and PG is concerned about plugin compatibility (it definitely won’t work with a couple of newer plugins PG wants to use) and security issues that may originate from an aged theme.

PG also thinks a well-designed new theme might improve some performance parameters for the blog to everyone’s benefit.

Long-time visitors to TPV will remember that PG tried a new theme a few years ago and the consensus of the TPV regulars at the time was that it was a step down from the previous (and current) theme, so PG switched back.

PG is hereby soliciting suggestions for a new TPV theme.

Here are things PG will be looking at:

  1. Two columns in the approximate configuration of the current theme.
  2. A background/color combo that’s easy for eyes of all ages to read on a variety of screen sizes. PG is assuming that any theme he chooses will be phone/tablet friendly automatically out of the box.
  3. Either a color combination that’s close to the current one or a combo that says “reading and books.” (PG can’t be more specific, but he’ll know it when he sees it.)  A configurable theme that permits a wide variety of PG-configurable color combinations is a definite plus.
  4. Fast loading for as many devices and connection speeds as possible is important.

If you would like to nominate a WordPress theme for soon-to-be-enhanced TPV, please include relevant info in a comment or send PG an email through the Contact page.

If you think PG might be failing to consider a theme-choice factor you believe is important, feel free to explain in the comments.

If there are any theme designers in the audience who feel one of their designs would work well, don’t hesitate to suggest your own.

After his experience with moving Mrs. PG’s author website to a new WP theme a few months ago, PG has decided that it’s a false economy to avoid paying a reasonable license fee for a theme and using a less-capable free theme instead.

Strategies to cut overheads in a shrinking book business

31 July 2017

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

An inexorable reality of today’s commercial book publishing world is that it is shrinking.Although there have been no obvious signs yet that actual long-form book reading itself has declined (even though that would seem a likely consequence over time of the changed ways we get our reading inputs), the self-publishing and indie segment of the market keeps growing at the expense of the legacy commercial business.

Although it would take data I don’t have to prove this, it certainly appears anecdotally that the big houses are cutting back their investment in midlist titles, perhaps actually cutting future title count (which, over the years, has been an often-espoused but seldom-pursued strategy) but also offering smaller advances for all but the very top books.

Sales seem to be drifting away from the established publishers as their title outputs shrink or remain static and are shifting to Amazon’s own titles and indies, which is where the title base is expanding.

When businesses are shrinking, or even just not growing, it is a normal reaction to find ways to cut costs to maintain margins and profits. And, in fact, the big publishers have generally been managing their costs pretty effectively during a period of flat or declining top line sales.

In that context, it was no real surprise when it was publicly announced last week that F+W Publishing, which recently changed ownership, will cut overheads by moving from doing their own sales and distribution to working instead through Perseus, an Ingram company.

Meanwhile, the whole legacy industry worries about the future for Barnes & Noble.

Last week a significant Barnes & Noble shareholder called publicly for the chain to offer itself for sale, apparently calculating that new (and perhaps “private”) ownership would see paths to profits that aren’t being followed right now. This follows continuing evidence that B&N’s overall sales track the legacy business, and are therefore declining. Amazon, of course, is not just the principal creator and beneficiary of the new competitors, primarily independent authors. They are also moving from being an online-only retailer to competing in B&N’s milieu: physical locations offering books.

. . . .

Amazon’s supply chain, built on a scale that the book business alone could never support, is now the gold standard. It will enable them to continue rolling out smaller stores, which is the kind of outlet that can succeed in today’s book marketplace. The stark fact today is that more than half the sales are online (and despite and the increased frequency of online book peddling from authors and various vertical organizations enabled by Ingram’s and its competitors, almost all of those go to Amazon).

Big in-store inventories have become a pointless anachronism.

It is cheap sport to ridicule Barnes & Noble’s performance in the Internet age. They’ve made many of the standard incumbent mistakes in the face of upstart competition. They dealt themselves out of the online business by not pursuing either of the two most likely paths to success. They should either have made their dot com a stand-alone business, with pricing and growth aspirations beyond books that competed with Amazon, or they should have tightly integrated the online and store offerings to produce a hybrid that had its own appeal. They did neither.

. . . .

The shrinkage of the commercial business has other visible impacts. There is anecdotal evidence that the agents are suffering from these cutbacks. One much-younger-than-I-am publishing veteran recalled for me that when he started agenting (he no longer is active in that aspect of the business) a dozen years ago, he could live on his salary as a fledgling agent and he could really “build a list”. Neither of these things seem to be possible anymore, or at the least they are much more difficult. Meanwhile, even the older agents — those who have a list of productive authors — are finding it get harder and harder to make sales. And like publishers of a certain age, these agents don’t find their own progeny or their younger staff as willing to commit money or time to the future of the business as they would have expected them to 10 or 20 years ago.

Present trends clearly suggest that we will continue to have fewer commercial publishers signing up fewer books for smaller advances outside the handful of authors that are virtual guarantees to deliver big unit sales. And for those books that do have an assured big unit sale, publishers will tend to be willing to overpay because they need throughput to feed their fixed-overhead machines.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has disagreed with more than one of Mike’s posts in the past. In this instance, PG doesn’t disagree with the way Mike has characterized the current business climate for publishers. Mike has described the serious (likely fatal) problems of the traditional book business utilizing perspectives and information sources only a long-time publishing professional would understand.

However, as far as a solution for Barnes & Noble’s or the publishing industry’s overall problems, PG is reminded of an old business adage, “You can’t cut your way to success.”

Unless there is a reason to believe that a smaller book business will, by virtue of its size, gain access to powerful strategies, tools and talents that the larger one can’t obtain, cutting expenses is just trying to keep the Titanic afloat by tossing buckets of water overboard.

For authors, PG will repeat his harangue that the “standard” publishing contract that will last for the term of the author’s copyright – the remainder of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US and similar lengths of time in other countries – puts traditionally-published authors into a very difficult situation. They’re the only ones who can’t jump ship and take their sources of income with them.

Traditionally-published authors have signed a contract that ties up their books basically forever. The contract is with a publisher that is a corporate entity, not a person.

Although the publisher’s past record of selling books or an editor’s reputation for quality work developing other authors’ careers may have been a key element in deciding to place the author’s book with that particular publisher, the editor and the people who worked hard to establish a successful sales record are not parties to the contract. They have no obligations to the author or to the publisher. The publisher probably has no long-term obligations to the people who built the publisher’s reputation.

Cutting your way to success often means firing people with the highest salaries. Cutting your way to success can also mean ruthlessly pruning expenses so the corporation can be sold to an entirely new owner.

The author has no voice in choosing a new owner for the publisher and no ability to change the lifetime term of the publishing contract.

The new owner will undoubtedly be another corporation. That corporation may be operated by people who are experienced and skilled in the book business or the new owner may be a hedge fund that specializes in sucking the last dollar from distressed properties prior to placing them into bankruptcy where even lower bottom-feeders will pick over the bones of the once-successful publisher.

And the author continues to be an unwilling participant in the process by virtue of the lifetime plus 70 contract she signed.

Visitors to TPV can decide whether publishers operated by bottom-feeders will be conscientious about sending out timely and accurate royalty reports. And royalty checks.

If an author has an obligation to give the publisher first option on new books or is prohibited from writing books that will compete with those the publisher has already published, how likely is it that the bottom-feeder will promptly respond to the option manuscripts or agree that the new books are not competitive so the author can sell those books to another publisher or self-publish them? A bottom feeder might decide that the author should pay a fee to obtain clearance to take each new book elsewhere.

PG reflexively takes the author’s side in business transactions with others. As he has mentioned before, Mrs. PG is a long-time author, first traditionally published and, in recent years, very happily self-published.

He lays out these possibilities and probabilities not to ruin the day for a traditionally-published author, but as a warning to act like a business person who sees a big storm on the horizon and take whatever precautions are available to minimize the financial and emotional damage which is likely to occur based upon current trends in the book business.

New owner of Garcia Street Books aims to offer what online sellers can’t: relationships

12 July 2017

From the Santa Fe New Mexican:

The new owner of Garcia Street Books is banking that an old formula, encouraging customers to browse, will help the independent bookstore survive in the age of Amazon’s Kindle and other online services that have eaten into the profit margins of brick-and-mortar booksellers across the nation.

Jean Devine, 63, said she wants the 15,000-square-foot building off Garcia Street and Acequia Madre to “open amazing places for the mind and spirit to go” while readers browse the eclectic selection at a store that’s managed to survive the introduction of chain-retailers such as Barnes & Noble in the 1990s and then the creative destruction the internet brought to the publishing industry.

Two weeks after purchasing the store from former co-owners Rick Palmer and Adam Gates, who had owned it since 2012, Devine said she has come to understand the loyal following Garcia Street Books has earned from customers over several decades. If the store does not have a certain book, regulars will eschew online ordering and keep her up to date about the books they want to purchase, she said.

“What keeps us alive are the people who live here, whether they’re full time or part time,” Devine said.

. . . .

The location, next to Downtown Subscription, has long been home to booksellers. A Canadian couple, Edward and Eva Borins, took ownership of the store in 2000 from Greg Ohlsen, now owner of the Travel Bug, who opened it about a decade before that.

Devine is optimistic about the viability of an independent bookstore in Santa Fe because of the creative people who live in the city. She said the pace of life is more deliberate and interactive than in larger cities where she’s lived, including St. Louis and Dallas, where the faster pace prompts more people to order online out of convenience.

. . . .

“One customer said, ‘When I come in the bookstore, it inspires me. …’ ” Devine said. “You don’t really have a relationship with an online ordering service.”

Link to the rest at the Santa Fe New Mexican

PG notes that the template for stories about an independent bookstore being sold to a new owner always includes a quote from a bookstore customer about how wonderful it is to hang around a bookstore and how much their little gray cells are stimulated by the experience.

And (the template continues) Amazon can never offer the customer the same wonder and stimulation that Jane’s Books or Joe’s Books or Jane and Joe’s Books can provide every single time a refined and sensitive soul wanders in the door to caress a few hardbacks.

PG finds this template particularly ironic following the conclusion of Prime Day, a major worldwide shopping event Amazon decided to invent three years ago. In July, when most retailers go to sleep.

The latest reports PG located when he posted this said Amazon expected Prime Day 2017 to be the biggest sales day in its history. If expectations are correct, that means Amazon just sold more stuff than it has on any Black Friday, Cyber Monday, three days before Christmas and December 26 in its history.

PG can relate to that sort of thing (and further stress his over-burdened credit card) far more than walking around a bookstore.

But, he probably is a more constrained spirit than the target customer for Jane’s Books.

Plus, PG already has a lot of very nice friends who never expect him to buy things from them.


Bookselling in the Age of Amazon

26 June 2017

From Shelf Awareness:

“At the end of the day, bookshops needn’t fear Amazon,” James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said during a keynote speech last week at the Australian Booksellers Association’s annual conference in Melbourne.

. . . .

“If the bookshops are good enough, if the relationship with your customers is truly there, if your booksellers are enjoying themselves and you’ve trained them and you’ve respected them and you’ve allowed them to develop their skills… then our customers truly will remain loyal to us.”

. . . .

Starting when Amazon opened operations in the U.K. in 2000, the behemoth “slowly ate away at the High Street [downtown] market,” he said, and now has about 60% of the market, including 95% of the e-book market. The casualties have been extensive: most chains, including Borders, Ottakar’s, Dillons, Hammicks and James Thin, have disappeared. Indie bookstores declined from about 1,550 in 2005 to about 600 last year. Indies now account for about 5% of the market, and Waterstones about 16%. “Amazon virtually destroyed us,” Daunt said.

But “all is not doom and gloom,” he said. Amazon is known for doing a few things very well, particularly offering customers low prices on books and shipping quickly. As Daunt put it, Amazon is “alluring for one reason only: they’re cheaper.”

As a result, there is much that bricks-and-mortar stores do that Amazon can’t, from putting on events even “in the smallest of shops” to more generally “giving people a sense of excitement about books,” making books relevant, and keeping books “in the forefront.” He added, “We as booksellers have a duty to create excitement about books. If we do so, we’ll continue to have customers come through the doors.”

. . . .

In one of the most striking changes at Waterstones, the company reduced its return rate to 3% from 20%. In part this came about from better buying but also from forgoing substantial promotion co-op from publishers, to the tune of £27 million (around $35 million at current exchange rates). The “wholly destructive cycle” involved publishers “paying us to take particular books.” Besides abrogating buying decisions to publishers, the program also made Waterstones stores less distinctive from one another as well as from their competitors. The change, he added, was painful, like “coming off heroin,” but it had “massive benefits.” Besides improving returns, it “stopped us filling up our shops with books customers didn’t want to buy” and improved working capital by tying up less money. Eventually stock came down 20% and title count rose 20%. The company has also gone from two to five stock turns. He noted that with stock turns below five, “a lot of books are sitting there getting dusty, getting unattractive.”

Cost cutting included reducing head office costs by 60%, cutting costs in the centralized warehouse by 16%, and cutting store payroll by 16%.

. . . .

The emphasis on selling and being on the sales floor, also “brought energy into the shop. If you’re literally running around and don’t stop, customers feel that energy.”

Even though Waterstones staff has been cut, Daunt said he’s increased pay for the remaining employees. At Daunt Books, booksellers are paid a salary rather than by the hour. Waterstones pays by the hour but is starting to pay salaries. “We need to pay booksellers more and make it so people see this as a career,” he commented.

. . . .

When it named The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry its Book of the Year for 2016, the title, which before then had sold under 1,000 copies, became a bestseller. Waterstones’ “books of the month” promotions have also increased sales “dramatically” for each title.

He noted that Amazon doesn’t have any impact on these titles, and called it an “urban myth” that people come into stores saying they can get titles at 50% off on Amazon. To the contrary, there is a sense, he said, that “a book bought from a bookshop is a better book…. When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it’s not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop.”

. . . .

“Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop,” he commented. “The book is never an expensive item,” particularly for the many customers who “we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee.”

. . . .

The Waterstones website “doesn’t produce any sales for us,” accounting for less than 3% of the company’s revenue, Daunt said. But targeted e-mails lead to increased sales in shops, and social media is “an opportunity” for local bookshops to communicate with customers.

. . . .

Waterstones sells “a lot more things that aren’t books,” with children’s the most successful area, and has done so in “careful and measured ways,” so as not to “compromise ourselves as a bookshop.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness 

While he read this, a phrase floated into PG’s mind from an unknown source, “the myths and fables we tell ourselves”.

Traditional Publishing Myth #1: Consumers don’t feel any emotional attachment with Amazon like they do with a local bookstore.

Does anyone who regularly purchases from Amazon not feel a little buzz when a package appears at their door? It’s an event which is followed by an unboxing experience. (If you don’t think unboxing is an experience search YouTube for unboxing. Millions of people watch videos of perfect strangers unboxing their Amazon purchases.)

In survey after survey, Amazon is ranked as one of the most admired and respected companies in the world, usually fighting with Apple for first place. PG has never seen Barnes & Noble or Waterstones on any of those lists.

Amazon has a superb reputation and that reputation carries over to all its product areas, including books. Amazon reviews, sales rankings, etc., are a gold standard for many book purchasers. PG doesn’t discount the existence of phony reviews, but he thinks most Amazon regulars aren’t fooled by such reviews, particularly when a book has dozens of reviews.

When it comes to spending his money PG would certainly give more credibility to a few dozen Amazon reviews about a book than he would to recommendations from a minimum-wage bookstore clerk who will soon be moving to McDonalds because the pay is better.

If a book doesn’t meet expectations, Amazon makes it simple to return it for a full refund. With an ebook, the return process is almost instantaneous.

Locating his receipt and trekking back to a bookstore to return a book is something PG is almost certainly never going to do. The book remains somewhere in Casa PG, reminding PG of his bad purchase choice whenever he sees it.

Traditional Publishing Myth #2: Ebooks are a fad and printed books are making a comeback.

Spare me.

Everybody carries a cell phone and almost everybody consults it on a regular basis. Sometimes, they look at illustrations and photos and cute puppy GIFS, but most of the time, they’re reading text. Actual text messages, email, the latest celebrity gossip, Facebook, The Wall Street Journal, Google search results, Wikipedia, etc., etc.

As of the second quarter of 2015, US consumers began spending more time in mobile apps than watching television (and that includes times when the TV is on in the background and no one is watching it). As TV viewing stagnates, the time spent with mobile apps has increased every quarter since then.

The idea that people who spend hours each day receiving information and entertainment from a screen will prefer switching to a printed book on a regular basis is delusional.

PG would probably be labeled as a frequent reader under most systems for categorizing readership. He reads from books every day. He has purchased hundreds and hundreds of physical books, many of which still populate his bookshelves. The same could be said for Mrs. PG.

PG is not a teenager and hasn’t been for some time. He remembers being a teenager, but suspects many of those memories have been smoothed and brightened during the intervening years.

But he’s on his fourth iPhone.

Over the last couple of years, PG has purchased some physical books, usually through Amazon and always when the title doesn’t offer an ebook version. He always regrets these purchases because they sit on a TBR pile that never grows smaller.

He starts to read each book, but when he puts it down, he never picks it back up again. It’s just not a satisfactory experience for him any more. He just won’t read any long-form text document unless it’s an ebook on his Kindle Paperwhite.

PG has run out of time before he has run out of Traditional Publishing Myths to debunk. Perhaps he’ll return to the topic in a future post, but don’t count on it. Feel free to add your own myths in the comments.

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