Instagram Blows Away Twitter on Brand Engagement

19 December 2014

From SocialBakers:

Twitter is great for news and real-time buzz. But Instagram is now bigger, and according to our newest data, it’s the definitive place to be for brands who want to engage with their communities.

. . . .

Instagram is making waves – it now has more than 300 million users, 70% of whom are from outside the United States, and best-performing brands garner nearly 50× more engagement with organic content. This engagement is defined as the sum of all retweets, replies, and favorites on Twitter.

Instagram gives brands an outlet for creative storytelling and engagement with tight communities of people who share a passion for the the brands’ values. From the stunning photography of National Geographic and Magnum Photos, to the latest fashion from Zara and H&M – ‘Grammers love their brands.

Link to the rest at SocialBakers

Flickr kills sale of Creative Commons prints, issues refunds

19 December 2014

From Gigaom:

Flickr has abruptly ended a service that allowed people to buy canvas or wood prints based on pictures that appeared in its Creative Commons gallery, the photo sharing site announced on Thursday.

The decision comes just weeks after Yahoo, which owns Flickr, first launched its so-called Wall Art service as a way for customers to purchase physical copies of its millions of images that can be used for free online.

The service immediately ran into controversy after some photographers complained that Yahoo was earning up to $49 for each print, but was not sharing any of the money with those who had posted the photos in the first place.

Link to the rest at Gigaom

A Message From John Sargent

18 December 2014

From Macmillan president John Sargent via Tor.com:

Dear Authors, Illustrators, and Agents,

There has been a lot of change in the e-book publishing world of late, so I thought it a good idea to update you on what is going on at Macmillan. The largest single change happens today, December 18th. Today a portion of our agreement with the Department of Justice (called a consent decree) expires, and we will no longer be required to allow retailers to discount e-books.

. . . .

Late last week Macmillan reached an agreement with Amazon on a multiyear deal for print books as well as a multiyear deal on the agency model for e-books, starting on January 5, 2015. All our other retailers will also be on the agency model, leaving Apple as the only retailer who is allowed unlimited discounting. Irony prospers in the digital age.

This odd aberration in the market will cause us to occasionally change the digital list price of your books in what may seem to be random fashion. I ask for your forbearance. We will be attempting to create even pricing as best we can.

Under our deal with Amazon your net percentage of the proceeds will not change. You will be affected, as you always have been, by our changes in price. Your books will continue to be featured in Amazon promotions and deals.

In reaching agreement with Amazon, we have not addressed one of the big problems in the digital marketplace. Through great innovation and prodigious amounts of risk and hard work, Amazon holds a 64% market share of Macmillan’s e-book business. As publishers, authors, illustrators, and agents, we need broader channels to reach our readers.

. . . .

We plan to try subscription with backlist books, and mostly with titles that are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores. Our job has always been to provide you with the broadest possible distribution, and given the current financial and strategic incentives being offered, we believe the time is right to try this test.

Link to the rest at Tor.com and thanks to Jim for the tip.

An archaeologist

18 December 2014

An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.

Agatha Christie

What Traditional Publishing Learned in 2014

18 December 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Traditional publishers learned a lot these past few years, and in 2014, started putting their knowledge into action.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll do the traditional media thing, and provide you with my own sort of year in review. All of it will focus on publishing and writing, both indie and traditional, and all of it will be my opinion.

. . . .

I started with a comment Dean made about a line in a traditional publisher’s quarterly financial report for the third quarter about the importance of copyright. Dean couldn’t remember what financial report the line came from, so I decided to find it–and of course, I couldn’t. Not fast anyway. But the upshot was that I read a mountain of financial reports for traditional publishers, and honestly, they sent chills through me, considering what’s been occurring with publishing contracts.

Over the past year or two, publishing companies have changed their thinking about the industry.

. . . .

Much of the change is in response to 2013’s dismal fall sales, which happened courtesy of the Justice Department’s investigation of six major publishers and Apple for price-fixing. It didn’t matter how that case turned out; the case itself changed business as usual inside publishing.

Business as usual was this: Before that all important Christmas shopping season, publishers consulted with each other about the timing of their blockbusters.

Think of it the way that the movie industry does: When a film that will suck up all the ticket sales of a particular genre (like an Avengers movie) declares it will release in May, other filmmakers in that genre will avoid that weekend. Generally, studios will release a film that they think will appeal to a different type of audience.

. . . .

it was smarter marketing to make certain that John Grisham’s latest novel would not compete with Scott Turow’s latest novel, on the theory that legal thriller readers wouldn’t pony up $60 the week of the hardcover releases—they would choose which author they liked best, and only pay $30.

So publishers would contact each other about a year before and informally discuss release dates. Weekend 1 (in September) would belong to Turow; Weekend 6 (in November) would belong to Grisham. But…Stephen King was releasing around that time, and he might take some sales from Grisham, so move the Grisham to Weekend 4…and so on and so on.

When the court case started, publishers couldn’t make these informal phone calls. And traditional book production takes a fraction of the time movie production takes. The publishers released their fall catalogues early in the year, and then the orders would occur, and the release dates would be set in stone.

Because there was no consulting in 2013, a disaster set up: Turow, a former juggernaut author, whose legal thrillers were always an event, was releasing his first book in three years. In theory, his sales would have destroyed any other author’s sales in the same genre.

Just like John Grisham’s sales would in their first weekend. Grisham’s books had ceased to be “Events” like Turow’s, but Grisham had a loyal mass following that bought everything. He got his own release week, generally speaking, just like Turow.

Only in 2013, their releases were exactly seven days apart. Turow’s novel came out on October 15, and Grisham’s on October 22. And Grand Central, Turow’s publisher, learned that readers preferred John Grisham by a huge margin.

Even so, neither book sold at the author’s historic high.

. . . .

No book in that fall sold at an historic high. Factors came together to prevent it. Some of those factors were:

1. Publishers could no longer collude on release dates (or anything else, including price).

2. The rise of independent publishing meant a lot of readers, who would have bought a legal thriller from Turow or Grisham because those two authors were among the few still writing in the genre, got siphoned off. Those readers found other legal thriller writers or backlist novels that had been taken out of print when the legal thriller genre “died.” Indie publishing gave readers what they wanted when they wanted it, and a lot of them abandoned the bestseller they sorta liked for a midlist writer they loved and whose book was now available to them.

3. The utter decimation of the newspaper book review section. When newspapers died, they took their book review sections with them. Surviving newspapers cut the “fat” from their pages, including the book section. (Which is stupid to me, because the book section was a guaranteed source of weekly advertising revenue.) Only a handful of book sections survived, and those were in truncated form.

4. Magazines got rid of book review sections as well. Those that kept the review section, like Vanity Fair, put it in (I kid you not) 9-point type or smaller.

5. The reluctance of the book blogger. Book bloggers with large followings don’t feel the need to review a Big Book just because some publisher said they must do so. In fact, book bloggers prefer to be the source of recommendations for the eclectic reader, not the mass reader.

6. The decline of shelf space in the brick-and-mortar store. In 2013, there were fewer paid placements available in bookstores (up front is paid for, folks, as is that new release table). Readers were learning to shop differently.

7. The rise of the algorithm. Online bookstores would send out targeted marketing e-mails to readers based on previous purchases. Sometime in 2013, online bookstores changed their home pages so that a reader might see only the types of books that interested her. This is changing back in late 2014 because Amazon has realized what a cash cow coop advertising is. Now, when you log onto Amazon or Kobo or Barnes & Noble, you will see a scroll of bestsellers along the top (relatively small) before you see all the “recommended for you” books. But that sales venue is nothing like walking into a store and seeing John Grisham’s latest stacked in piles of twenty everywhere.

There was a lot of gloom and doom throughout the entire traditional industry in 2013 because it was clear to everyonethat the old system wasn’t working. The old system, based on velocity and constant push of new product, was actually falling apart.

So traditional publishers did what all businesses do when something isn’t working: they reassessed. They studied financial sheets and looked at two things—where their business lost money and where it earned money.

The publishers had a surprising realization: those backlist titles they threw up on Amazon and one or two other sites because everyone was demanding ebooks? Those damn things were selling and making the company an astonishing amount of money.

. . . .

Here’s how Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stated that in their third quarter results:

The increase in product profitability was primarily driven by a $17 million reduction in product cost…

You’ll find little phrases like that one in all the financial reports of the major publishers.

. . . .

Ebooks—at any price—are an astonishing revenue boon to traditional publishers. I say astonishing, because I’m pretty sure that no traditional publisher realized how well these things earned until they reassessed their entire business model.

The protectionism that sparked the price-fixing case from the Justice Department? That desire to make sure no ebooks sold so that customers would only buy hardcovers? That’s so 2012.

Where publishers discovered that they lost money was on marketing and any attempt to push velocity. Ad buys in book publications, doing a ton of up-front promotion to spark interest in a book, pay-for-placement in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, all had very little effect on sales, unlike the past.

. . . .

The present is pretty simple: the bestseller numbers have flatlined significantly. In the past, a new release by John Grisham would have sold at least half a million copies in its first week.

Last month, Gray Mountain, Grisham’s 2014 release, sold 122,506 copies in its first week, the highest selling fiction title out of the gate for the entire year. (The closest competitor? Top Secret Twenty-One, the latest Janet Evanovich title, which sold 88,997 copies in its first week. (As reported in the November 14, 2014, Entertainment Weekly Chart Attack [no available link.])

Neither sales figure would have gotten the Evanovich or the Grisham on any chart before the ebook revolution. Those sales figures are extremely low.

I spent much of the fall of 2014 asking serious readers if they heard that this bestselling author or that bestselling author had a new release. Every question I asked was about an author with a fall release, and every person I asked, in my informal sample, said no.

I was particularly shocked to see the anemic promotion for Lee Child’s latest, Personal, which came out on September 2, 2014. Personal is a Jack Reacher novel, and Jack Reacher is a well known character—so well known that Tom Cruise played him in a film—10 months before.

. . . .

Writers haven’t yet realized what they’ve signed. Nor have a lot of this potential cases become lawsuit worthy. Writers have yet to complain about the contracts because writers are still working to fulfill those contracts.

Although you’re hearing whispers. The entire controversy over L.J. Smith who wrote The Vampire Diaries for twenty years is a contract dispute.  Smith signed with Alloy Entertainment, a packaging firm. Smith got nothing from the sale of The Vampire Diaries to television, nor does she get anything from all the marketing and merchandising rights. In fact, Alloy Entertainment fired her a few years ago—which was all within the legal boundaries set by the contract.

Packaging firms have existed for decades. The packaging firm owns the rights to the entire creation (the “world”) and the writers are simply contractors with no rights in the work whatsoever.

When traditional publishers can devise contracts that essentially do the same thing, they do. And writers, desperate to be published, signed those damn things.

Signing those publishing contracts is more dangerous now than it was fifteen years ago. Because fifteen years ago, books would go out of print, and then the contract would end.

Now, books don’t go out of print.

. . . .

Traditional writers who go blindly into this world will get screwed worse than they ever have before. Traditional writers who go in with their eyes open might gain some benefits at the expense of a book or two or three.

Generally speaking, the writers who go into traditional publishing are risk-averse. But it would seem to me that the only writers who should go into traditional publishing are writers who appreciate and understand risk.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Elka for the tip.

PG is very happy to see Kris posting again about the publishing business, traditional and indie.

In PG’s astoundingly humble opinion, nobody writes on this subject as well as Kris does.

At the bottom of this piece, Kris has a Paypal, credit card, etc., donation button. If you want her to keep writing on these subjects, you might consider clicking on the donation button.

Here’s a link to Kris’s books

Amazon offers one-hour deliveries with Prime Now

18 December 2014

From Engadget:

Amazon has just launched a new service called Prime Now, which will let Prime members order “tens of thousands” of “daily essentials” for immediate delivery. Once you download the new app (on Android or iOS), you’ll get the option of picking a one- or two-hour delivery between 6AM and midnight, with Uber-like tracking included. The fastest option will run $7.99 per order and two-hour deliveries are free for Prime members.

. . . .

Prime Now will operate exclusively in Manhattan to start, but Amazon has promised that it’ll soon be coming “to a city near you.”


.
Link to the rest at Engadget and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Reading in the Age of Amazon

18 December 2014

From The Verge:

Chris Green holds an envelope. At least, it looks like an envelope. In reality, it’s a piece of office copy paper that’s been cut and folded into the shape of a Kindle Voyage, the latest in Amazon’s bestselling line of e-readers. Green, the head industrial designer at Lab126, the secret lab where Kindles are designed, unfolds the paper to show it has been stuffed with everything that makes a Kindle: a CPU, a modem, a battery.

Green is a boyish sort, and he hands me his fragile bundle of electronics with a certain glee, but the most important thing in his hands is actually the paper itself. For Amazon, paper is more than a material for making prototypes. It’s the inspiration for the Kindle of the future: a weightless object that lasts more or less forever and is readable in any light. “Paper is the gold standard,” Green says. “We’re striving to hit that. And we’re taking legitimate steps year over year to get there.”

. . . .

Hundreds of millions of tablets and e-readers have been sold, but today we’re still inclined to think of a book as words on a page. Amazon’s success with Kindle has hinged on recognizing how much more they can be. So where does the company go from here? In a series of rare, on-the-record interviews for Kindle’s 7th anniversary, Amazon executives sketched out their evolving vision for the future of reading. It’s wild — and it’s coming into focus faster than you might have guessed.

. . . .

It’s been a decade since “Fiona” was first imagined, the codename Amazon gave to the first iteration of the Kindle. As recounted in The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s rollicking 2013 history of Amazon, Jeff Bezos commanded his deputies in 2004 to build the world’s best e-reader lest Apple or Google beat them to it. To Steve Kessel, who was put in charge of running the company’s digital business, Bezos reportedly said: “I want you to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.”

It took three years for Kindle to come to market. The first model wasn’t particularly beautiful: a $400, off-white chunk of plastic with a full QWERTY keyboard. But before the world had ever heard of an app store, Amazon had integrated its bookstore directly into the device. For the first time, you could summon almost any book you could think of within seconds, no matter where you were.

The initial, never-quantified run of devices sold out in five and a half hours, and soon Kindle became synonymous with e-reading. Amazon has never released sales figures for the Kindle, but analysts believe the company has sold more than 80 million of them, and Morgan Stanley estimated the devices would generate revenues of $5 billion this year. (Amazon declined to comment on sales figures.)

. . . .

“When you’re reading, you want to fall down the rabbit hole,” says Green, a native of northern England who came to Amazon after eight years with Bay Area creative consultancy Frog Design. Amazon has actually built a rabbit hole, of sorts: a reading room somewhere at Lab126, stuffed with comfortable chairs, where pinhole cameras study the way people really read. (Because test subjects are in there using prototype devices, I am not allowed inside.)

It’s in this room that Amazon learned people switch hands on a book roughly every two minutes, even though in surveys they claimed not to. (This is why the Voyage has identical page-turn buttons on both left and right.) The Voyage’s page-forward button is much bigger than page-back, because Amazon’s data showed 80 percent of all page flips are forward. As Green describes research like this, it seems likely that Amazon has spent more time studying the physical act of reading than any company before it.

. . . .

From the start, Amazon has defined its hardware mission narrowly: to build devices that disappear in the hand, with uniquely useful features, for a low price. “We would never make a gold thing, because that’s too distracting,” Green says. “There are many companies that create pieces of jewelry. We’re not going to do that, because that’s an added cost that takes away from the actual content.”

. . . .

There’s another dimension to the future of reading, beyond how we read. It’s what we read: who writes it, who publishes it, how it gets distributed. Nowhere are more important decisions being made about those issues than at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. With physical bookstores in a state of seemingly perpetual decline, Amazon has achieved a dominant position: the company sells 40 percent of all new books in the United States, and two-thirds of ebooks.

On one hand, that represents less than 10 percent of Amazon’s overall sales. But even as the company has pursued its dream of becoming a place to buy anything, books have retained an outsized place in the corporate imagination. “Books are home for us,” says Russ Grandinetti, senior vice president of Kindle content. “It’s where we started. Not only is it a great business that we like, and many customers know us for, but it’s something about which we have a passion. A lot of us on the team are personally passionate about books. Books changed our lives.”

. . . .

The rise of self-publishing, which Amazon has heavily promoted, has led to an explosion of genre fiction. Kindle Singles, which allow authors to sell work of medium lengths, has become a home for projects no traditional publisher would consider. Cable TV, YouTube, and Netflix created avenues for new kinds of visual storytelling, and new ways to make money; the elimination of gatekeepers in the world of books is doing the same for text.

“Technologies change, and then what people make with them changes,” Grandinetti says. He points to the way cable allowed for both Breaking Bad, which told a single story over 62 episodes; and True Detective, a multi-season series that tells a complete story each year. “Nobody would take a chance on those TV shows 10 years ago, because the model didn’t exist. So even though the evolution of these media may taketh away in some places, it giveth in some others. And I think the same may be true in books.”

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

Jesse Ventura goes after ‘American Sniper’ publisher now

18 December 2014

From TwinCities.com

With a win against the estate of late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle behind him, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura now has his sights on HarperCollins, the publisher of the bestselling memoir “American Sniper.”

Ventura filed a lawsuit Monday against the New York publisher, alleging the publicity generated by the book with a “false and defamatory” segment “substantially increased sales of ‘American Sniper,’ thereby generating millions of dollars in revenues and profits for Harper Collins.”

HarperCollins does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

A federal jury in St. Paul found in July that a segment of the book — about an alleged bar fight in California between Kyle and “Scruff Face,” later identified as Ventura — was false and defamatory.

The 8-2 verdict, delivered in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, awarded Ventura more than $1.8 million from Kyle’s estate for harm to his reputation and unjust enrichment. HarperCollins announced soon after that it would pull the section from the book.

Two HarperCollins employees — the book’s editor and publicist — testified during the trial. They said the Ventura story was a minor element of the book that had little to do with its success.

But email exchanges showed the story, and the attention it attracted, caught the publishing company’s eye. At one point, an editor sent a link to a news article about the Ventura story, calling it “priceless.”

Other emails discussed a possible online marketing campaign that would include keywords tied to the Ventura story.

One message from the publicist said the incident “has helped the book go crazy.”

Link to the rest at TwinCities.com

PG will note that, under standard publishing contracts, the author of this book would be required to pay all of HarperCollins’ damages and attorneys fees. In this case, however, the author is deceased.

Amazon Not as Unstoppable as It May Appear

17 December 2014

From The New York Times:

Thanks to its ugly spat with book publishers, Amazon has lately been cast as the abominable boogeyman of American commerce.

As hundreds of authors took up arms against the giant, The New Republic declared in a cover article this fall that “Amazon Must Be Stopped,” insisting that the company’s unbounded retail ambitions would end up “cannibalizing the economy.”

But there’s another theory about Amazon’s future, one for which evidence began to mount this year: Despite fears of Amazon’s growing invincibility, the company’s eventual hegemony over American shopping is not assured. It might not even be likely.

. . . .

Amazon may face a deeper problem. Like many of the local and big-box retailers it has displaced over the last decade and a half, Amazon could itself become increasingly vulnerable to the threat of technological upheaval.

. . . .

The key to its vulnerability is the smartphone, a device whose scope and significance Mr. Bezos has not yet managed to corral.

Phones have already radically altered both how Americans shop and how retail goods move about the economy, but the transformation is just beginning — and it is far from guaranteed that Amazon will emerge victorious from the transition.

Phones are at the heart of the service offered by Postmates, one of several start-ups that are working with retailers and helping to change shopping experiences. “Everything that we’re doing is anti-Amazon,” said Bastian Lehmann, the co-founder of Postmates.

Postmates runs a network of couriers who, like Uber drivers, are dispatched by phones to deliver food, apparel, toothpaste and other goods from local stores in 18 American cities. The company recently announced a plan for retailers to build Postmates’ technology into their own technology systems, a way to give small stores the kind of logistical efficiencies that were previously available only to giants like Amazon.

. . . .

These services all have in common speed and convenience: Because they route purchases from stores, they can often shuttle goods to buyers faster than they are available from Amazon. The prices are even competitive with Amazon, which delivers most of its products, even groceries, from warehouses that are a few hours away.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Can Amazon be defeated? Of course it can.

Jeff Bezos, like most successful tech executives, is paranoid about a new startup that will beat Amazon at its own game. That’s one reason that Amazon continues to innovate in its core business (robot warehouses, drone delivery), move into new lines of businesses and keep its margins very low, to defend against the next Bezos.

The bestseller effect

17 December 2014

From Seth Godin:

There are two markets for books (and music).

The first market are grazers, collectors or omnivores. They make the market happen. They read a lot of books. They visit the library often. They have 2,000 LPs in their collection. They listen and read around the edges.

The second market consume in response to the market. The average American buys just over one book a year. When I was in college, the typical dorm room had just 40 LPs stacked up. (Even today, when students have 100,000 mp3s, most of them don’t listen widely).

This second market is almost always the market that turn a book into a bestseller. Bestsellers are the books that people who don’t buy books are buying.

. . . .

The same effect is responsible for all those copies of Harry Potter and The Davinci Code… they become bestsellers because people who don’t buy a lot of books are buying them.

So, consider the trap that the bestseller effect sets: the publisher and the author want a bestseller, so they spend a lot of time and money on mass media, on storefront promotion, on even writing a book that feels like it will appeal to the second group. But! That’s not what the second market wants. What they consume (read/listen to) is what their peers demand they consume. They are protective of what they buy and consume, because they don’t have many slots for new books or new music.

Which means that if you try to reach people who aren’t shopping for what you sell, who don’t think about what you sell, who aren’t even in the store for what you sell, you’ve got a tough road ahead.

The way around the trap, it seems (and I think this is true for many of the bestsellers that have broken through) is to obsess about delighting a critical mass of readers in the first group. To create a book and a marketing plan that captures the energy of this group and let them bring the work to the rest of the market.

Link to the rest at The Domino Project and thanks to Jessica for the tip.

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