Archive for the 'Books' Category

Will the iPad change book publicity?


It almost always follows the obligatory question and answer session. The MC of whatever venue that is hosting a published author makes his way to the podium and announces that said author will be signing books in the lobby, the perfect segue to transform an inspired audience into inspired book buyers. It’s not uncommon for book publicists to send authors on signing tours, plane hopping to various locales where the author, if he’s particularly lucky, will have a liaison escort him to a Barnes and Noble where, if he’s even luckier, a large audience of fans will congregate, waiting to purchase books for him to sign.

But what happens when there are no physical copies of books, but rather their digital brethren, the ebooks that are currently harbored on iPads and Kindles? Wouldn’t this turn the whole concept of book signing on its head? And what about advanced review copies (known in the biz as ARCs) that are sent to book reviewers? Will publicists be able to accommodate their ebook readers, and if so, would this increase the chances of ebook piracy before a book’s official release?

Cassandra Ammerman, a book publicist for Tor Books, didn’t seem too worried about these questions. She said that any ebook revolution would be slow and gradual. And besides, most of her seasoned colleagues have been addressing these concerns for years. “I think it was changing before the rise of the Kindle and the Sony Reader and now the iPad,” she told me in a phone interview. “Everything has been kind of moving more online and away from the traditional book tour and the brick and mortar stores. I don’t think [the iPad] is going to make it move any quicker, I guess. It’s just another factor.”

Ammerman asserted that what most influences the direction of book publicity is the decline of newspapers; with so many publications laying off their book reviewers, publicists have increasingly tapped into other venues, many of which are online. And since ebooks are often sold via Amazon and iTunes, this online publicity makes for a smooth transition that can lead to easy impulse buying. “So much of our audience is online, and that’s where they go for reviews and news about their favorite authors. That’s where our authors are. So for us I don’t think it’s that big of a change.”

What about the notion of signed books?

“I think people will find ways,” she said. “There are even some authors who are talking about having people present their ereaders to them to sign. People will always find creative solutions, and I don’t think the book tour is quite dead. We still send authors around on tours and everyone enjoys them. They say you can’t draw a crowd at a bookstore anymore, and that’s just not true. You can’t send a debut author all over the country to all these stores and cities they don’t have any connection to, but if you pick the right store and the right authors, you can absolutely sell books, you can make connections, and everyone has a great time.”

For the most part, book reviewers still prefer physical ARCs, with the exception of a few bloggers. “I think for me I feel like you have more of an opportunity to get a dialog going with a physical copy because there’s so much more there to get someone’s attention … You have the novelty of the thing that’s like the book, but it’s not the book, it’s not for sale. It’s kind of an exclusivity thing, I guess. That said it would be much easier and much cheaper to have digital copies.”

Overall, the people I spoke to for this piece couldn’t point to any monumental changes to book publicity that would result from the iPad, meaning either its influence is overstated or it’s not fundamentally changing how we consume books. But Stacey Miller, a Massachusetts-based book publicist, said that her tactics are changing every few months. “I know we were all talking about doing blog tours, instead of book tours,” she explained. “I was doing blog tours, and my colleagues were doing blog tours, and finally a couple months ago someone said to me, ‘what’s a blog tour?’ I started to talk that potential client through what a blog tour was, and sort of stopped myself mid-sentence and said, ‘but that’s not even what I do anymore, let me tell you what I really do,’ and my whole demeanor changed.”

These days, Miller identifies niche communities related to book topics and encourages authors to enter the comments section and become part of the discussion, linking back to their own book pages in the signature. In other words, book publicity is moving beyond the traditional reviewers and directly to the readers themselves. The iPad, or any other platform, then becomes irrelevant. The medium, despite popular belief, is not the message.

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UPDATE: Not long after I posted this article, I came across this post by author John Scalzi, who received a digital ARC and wasn’t exactly happy about it.

New study shows some correlation between free ebooks and higher print sales

john hiltonThose who have advocated the release of free ebooks to boost print sales of book titles have been perennially dogged by arguments that they rely too heavily on the anecdote. That is, they tend to hype singular cases of success — the wayward example of a book’s sales rocketing after the viral spread of its ebook counterpart online — without considering the myriad of other factors that may have been involved.

John Hilton, a doctoral candidate in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University whose interests focus on open education and open access, recognizes that there could never be a completely controlled study on the matter, but that hasn’t hindered him in collecting as much data as possible. Hilton coauthored a study recently published in The Journal of Electronic Publishing titled “The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales,” for which he examined Bookscan sales for dozens of print titles before and after they were released online for free.

For those who support this method of publishing, the results are encouraging yet not altogether conclusive. Hilton studied 41 titles, limiting his research only to print books that had been on the market for a minimum of eight weeks before a free ebook was released. This way, he could measure the sales prior and after the ebook and compare them. However, not all 41 titles were released in the same exact way. For instance, there were several Tor titles that were only released for a week and only to those who signed up for Tor’s online newsletter.

This distinction is important, because the Tor titles were the only group to see a significant drop in sales after the release of the ebook.

“Why were the results from Tor so different from the others?” the study’s authors write. “This question cannot be answered with certainty. The only thing we know is that Tor’s model of making the books available for one week only and requiring registration in order to download the book was substantially different from the models used to create free versions of the other books we studied.”

Of course, as Hilton pointed out to me in a phone interview, just because those specific Tor books saw a decrease didn’t mean that the publisher didn’t benefit from their release. For instance, the ebooks lured thousands to sign up for its online newsletter, which it could then use to promote future books. There was also anecdotal evidence that a free ebook would boost sales of other books by that same author, especially if the released-ebook was part of an ongoing series.

“Of course the big elephant in the room is that whatever it’ll be today, it’ll be different three years from now, maybe even three months from now,” Hilton told me. “As people get more iPads, or something like a Kindle takes over, all of this could drastically change.”

Those who have advocated free ebooks sometimes argue that people inherently don’t like reading longer works on a screen, so they would sometimes buy a print title after sampling it online. But this new generation of e-readers are designed to be read just like dead-tree books, adding a new dynamic to the mix. If ebooks themselves become a valuable commodity, why give them away for free?

Of course, sales are not the only factor involved.

“Think of the educational benefit of making this resource available,” he said. “I think there’s a huge benefit to society by making something available for free. Recently I’ve been involved with another study with my dissertation, and this studied just eight books, and over a few week time these books were downloaded over 100,000 times, and sales increased moderately. But the point wasn’t whether sales increased or decreased; here are 100,000 people who accessed works who otherwise wouldn’t have. So my hope would be that this study would relieve people’s fears that if they put books online for free their sales would tank, and they’d say, ‘let’s think about a more global benefit to having your works online for free.’”

Though Hilton will graduate in the spring, he intends to replicate his research in the future, hopefully as a university professor.

“I think the key would just to be to have more titles,” he said. “We did 41 in this study which I felt was pretty good … but if you could see hundreds, or 500 books over a longer period of time — we had eight weeks on either side, what would have happened if we had 16 weeks on either side? The other key thing I think is missing is not knowing how many people downloaded the book. So we don’t know if 100,000 people downloaded the Random House books and 100 people downloaded the Tor books. That would account for the difference.”

The problem thus far is that most publishers have dabbled with free ebooks only haphazardly, and don’t publicly release much data that might shed light on future studies. Such unknowns will likely give the dissenters plenty of ammo, especially as several corporate battles on the issue of ebooks — Google Books, iPad, and Kindle, to name just a few — heat up.

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Tor authors express worry over their careers because of Macmillan/Amazon dispute

amazonWhen the news broke last week that Amazon had removed Macmillan books from its available inventory, the publisher’s authors first expressed confusion and then, when it became apparent that the move wasn’t a glitch, anger. But now many of these writers are experiencing genuine worry for their own careers.

jay lakeSpeculative fiction author Jay Lake, who has had three books published by Tor with a fourth out soon, told me today that Amazon’s dominance when it comes to online book orders means that being blacklisted from the site can put a serious dent in a midlist author’s sales.

“The worry would be if I had a book released last Tuesday or this,” he said. “A significant portion of my initial sales velocity comes from the first days on Amazon. Writers like me sell relatively few books so that missing a few hundred initial sales, and the related rise in sales ranking and attention, could be damaging, quite possibly seriously.”

I asked if Tor had reached out to its authors at all during this entire ordeal to address any concerns that they may have. Lake said that it hadn’t, and that he had heard from a source that “Macmillan has instructed the entire staff from the top down not to speak on the record.”

In a blog post titled, “A Call For Author Support,” Tor author John Scalzi, while asserting that he was confident that he could weather the Amazon storm, said that there were no-doubt authors that would be affected.

“Many if not most of these folks do not have the financial cushion I do, and the sales that they are getting cut out of here are going to make a real and concrete difference to them when it comes time to tally up royalties, and when they’re trying to sell that next book,” he wrote. “I have friends who are deeply worried right now about what this thing is doing to them, and they should be worried, because it’s going to hurt them if it drags out. Amazon is not the entire sales universe, to be sure, but it’s a significant chunk, especially for genre writers who build their communities online and sell a large percentage of their work online (and thus through Amazon) because of it.”

Scalzi claimed that by waging war on Macmillan, Amazon was also waging war on Macmillan’s authors, and by extension their fans. Because of this, he said, people should “support the authors affected. Buy their books.” That is, in non-Amazon outlets.

tobias buckellTobias Buckell, who has written several Tor titles, said that the extent of the damage depends on how long the dispute lasts.

“I have a fairly large online presence, and my print books are sold at Amazon obviously,” he said. “And for the past five or six years I’ve worked really hard to send people from my website to Amazon because it’s the dominant online book store. It has a tremendous impact because all my sales for my original Tor books will be dropping by 80% probably.”

Buckell noted that the effects on an author’s career can be more widespread than a temporary drop in sales. He pointed out that the print runs for future books — or even if an author can sell future books — are partially based on the sales of previous books, so that if a first-time author experiences weak sales, “down the road that affects their second book.”

Of course, authors may wake up tomorrow and find their books suddenly available for purchase at Amazon. But given how willingly it removed their titles, such an event wouldn’t put them completely at ease. The online retail giant has demonstrated that it’s willing to play hardball to settle pricing disputes, and book titles caught in the cross hairs are simply collateral damage.

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Steve Forbes falsely inflates his own book Amazon numbers

amazonGawker is reporting that Steve Forbes had his sales staff buy copies of his book, Power, Ambition, Glory, in order to drive up his Amazon numbers and create the image that it was a bestseller. It partially worked, getting the book into the top 100 on Amazon.

It’s very important to Steve that he be considered a successful author and a serious scholar. So he (or someone that works for him) instructed the Forbes sales staff to buy the book – every day, several times a day, in different stores, especially when they travel, so that it will help inflate the book’s sales figures. They can expense these purchases and the company will presumably write off the cost. Using this technique, they successfully got the book into the top 100 on Amazon during the first week of release, but it’s flatlined since then.

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Visualizing Amazon’s acquisitions

This comes via Silicon Alley Insider
amazon acquisions

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Adjusting book bestseller lists for Kindle sales

amazonUSA Today Adds Kindle To Book List

Gannett Co.’s flagship newspaper, USA Today, said it has begun collecting Kindle book-sales data for its widely read weekly best-seller list and will include the data starting with Thursday’s rankings, as electronic books increasingly make their presence felt.

The list won’t break out sales of individual titles on the Inc. digital reader.

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How a major publisher shouldn’t treat a book blogger

A popular kids lit blogger named Tasha Saecker approached a publicist for Little Brown to query about receiving advance review copies of their books. The resulting conversation has to be read to be believed:

Me: Hi, I have a blog and you are one of the only publishers here I don’t work with.

Her: We hear from hundreds of people that they blog.

Me: Yes, I’m sure. And I know… (I was going to say that I knew it was hard to tell who has readers and who doesn’t, but she cut me off.”)

Her: So we will need you to contact us with your numbers.

Me: OK, I can do that. I’ve been blogging for 5 years now. (That line is usually a winner.)

Her: Everyone has been blogging for five years. (Um, no. Really. No.) We need solid numbers.

Me: Well, I get x number of visits a day. (Don’t want to turn this into a discussion of the number of visits I get. It’s about more than that.)

Her: Everyone gets x number of visits a day. (Um, no.) We need real numbers, like unique visitors each day. (Which is the number I just gave her.)

via Ed

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