June 9, 2009

BookCampTO: How the Plight of Publishers and Authors Affects You

First the "uncola" (7 Up). Now the unconference. An unconference is volunteer-run conference minus the boring bits. My first experience came at BookCamp Toronto, which took place on June 6, 2009 at the University of Toronto iSchool. Sessions were lead by moderators and designed for attendee participation. This event included an excellent boxed lunch --- all for free. Thankfully, there were no sales pitches, nothing to buy. The 300+ attendees included authors and publishers from as far away as Vancouver. What an opportunity to experience something different. 

The conventional book world is struggling with the same massive changes that affected the music and movie industries. Piracy. The $9.95 ebook (the equivalent of the $0.99 song). The Amazon Kindle ebook reader (analogous to the iPod, though only available in the US at present). The public's rebellion against copy protection (called "Digital Rights Management" or DRM). Inconsistent ebook formats (remember VHS vs Betamax or BluRay vs HD DVD?).

The sessions had lively discussions from passionate attendees. At the end of the afternoon, I felt energized, not zombified. There were many younger attendees (close to university age) and this added to the energy. 

The book world faces many tough challenges, much the way our clients do. The complicated issues include
  • cross border: we can see prices in different countries and get annoyed to see different ebook prices
  • subsidies: successful books subsidize the lesser known (the government also provides subsidies but this wasn't mentioned)
  • copyright: including a photo or poem may require permission that's only available for the printed first edition
  • content protection: annoys readers since printed books come fully "unlocked"
Publishing Schublishing
The role of the publisher is becoming less relevant since authors can self-publish and self-market. Publishing has a costly infrastructure, like the music business. This results in the creator getting pennies on the dollar. However, major publishers are the easiest way to get books on the shelves of major retailers. 

How involved is publishing? Let's look at a simple example: an Advisor Guide for a life insurance product. Here's the process
  1. write a draft
  2. send for review (readers in marketing, administration, IT and legal)
  3. revise a few times to finalize the content
  4. send for professional editing (which the author reviews)
  5. get French translation (for a simultaneous launch)
  6. design the booklet (graphics, layout)
  7. print samples and check for colour accuracy etc
  8. print and bind
  9. package with related content (e.g., brochures, circular letter, projection software)
  10. ship
The painstaking work involves many people. A print book would be even more complicated. 

Over time, we simplified the process by creating the original in Word, importing into the publishing program and printing directly. Eventually, we created PDF ebooks for readers to print on demand.

Nowadays, authors can eliminate the intermediaries. I'm blogging from my patio without a professional editor but with free, instant, worldwide distribution. There's some loss in quality but a huge spike in spontaneity.

Authors can't rely on publishers for marketing. Since books rarely sell well, authors may look like commodities with the publishers focusing on the winners. Overall, authors seem reluctant to promote themselves. Or they don't know how. Advisors often have similar issues. 

Books have about three months to succeed. Advance marketing helps build anticipation and the buzz helps kickstart the crucial early sales. A few weeks ago, I piloted How To Succeed With Entrepreneurs, a new series of three live presentations. During part one, Be The One They Want, advisors like the animated falling man borrowed from the cover of The Dip. They like the section on marketing, which builds on earlier posts. And they love the accompanying 36-page full colour booklet. Attractive handouts make a huge impression that outweighs the cost and effort. You'll probably get a similar outcome, even if no one asks for an autograph.

Two Examples
Here are two excellent examples of book marketing underway right now from first-time authors:
  • Kerry Taylor (Squawkfox): 397 Ways To Save Money 
  • Mitch Joel: Six Pixels of Separation
Kerry has been interviewed and mentioned numerous times in major media including CFRBThe Globe & Mail, and various blogs. She mentions this publicity via Twitter (@squawkfox) and in her blog (squawkfox.com). That creates more publicity in a virtuous spiral. Nicely done.

Mitch's book comes out in September in multiple languages and multiple formats (paper, ebook, Kindle, audio) simultaneously. You can pre-order from six retailers already. Reviewers can request advance copies. Some reviews are already online. This book already feels familiar. I spoke to Mitch at BookCamp. The multi-month pre-launch campaign has other phases to bring the book to the attention of the target audience.

We face marketing challenges too. Months can elapse between meeting a prospect and their decision to buy. In the case of life insurance, the client could be rejected by the insurer for medical or financial reasons. At least with a book, the retailer will gladly take your money and complete the transaction. 


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