Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Christmas Season - One Hundred Marketing Channels and Nothing On

With Christmas just around the corner (and down the hall a bit), I find myself a little overwhelmed by the vast array of ‘Must Have’ gadgets. Just looking for an eBook reader is an exercise in frustration. If I want to use eInk, then I have to go with one of the walled gardens like Kobo, Sony or Amazon. If I want something less restrictive, then I have to pay three times the price to get an android tablet and load the apps that I want.
I almost fell for the marketing and bought an android tablet from one of the walled gardens but found that it was no different than it’s eInk brethren. Sure, you can surf the web but if you think you can install any app you want just because it’s running android, you’re in for a shock.
Buyer beware.
DVD’s are even worse. The latest transformers release is a pared down, movie only disc with no special features. The marketing team doesn’t even bother to come up with a catchy name for this obvious double dipping anymore. You will buy this AND the special edition, or Michael Bay will be very unhappy with you.
Not wanting to fall for this, I have made my own version by mixing random NASCAR crashes with scenes from “Blow down” where various buildings are demolished.  I feel the character development is on par with the original and the environmental impact is reduced because I don’t intend to burn it onto a disc.
Speaking of environmental impact, anyone remember the “Earth Day” version of Avatar? How exactly is it environmentally friendly to release a bare bones DVD on Earth Day when you plan to dangle an extended version in front of everyone’s face a few weeks later? They even expected you to throw the extended version in a landfill and go buy the 3D version when it came out. I hear that it comes with a free lunch with the director who will lecture you about your carbon footprint (you have been buying too many copies of the same movie, after all…).
I'm trying to take my lead from the folks who read indie novels. They tend to ignore the endless marketing and self promotion and do their own research. They prefer to rely on word of mouth, review blogs and random chance to find good books.
Who knows, if you ask around, you might just find out what your friends and family really want, rather than just getting whatever the local tech store tells you to buy.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Indigo Sells Kobo

I woke this morning to find this in my inbox - Kobo sold to Japanese company, Rakuten Inc. I am literally speechless (perhaps in part because I write in the basement and there is nobody to talk to down here). In a reporting period that showed overall decrease in revenues, sales in the Kobo division are up 219% over the same quarter last year. In their annual report for 2011, Kobo is front and center; part of their bold march into the future of reading.  This move comes as a bit of a surprise.

Indigo has seen some growth from their general merchandise which would explain why a quarter of their floor plans now seem to be filled with mugs, decorative globes and knick-knackery. In their latest release, they have indicated that they will be focusing more on this part of the business.  I’m not sure they can sustain mug and notebook sales if customers stop coming in to look for books.

In the interest of fairness, Indigo CEO Heather Reisman recently revealed in an interview with Canadian Business that she doesn’t believe they have the war chest needed to keep the Kobo division competitive. The new Japanese owners are talking about putting over a hundred million behind Kobo’s next phase.

Perhaps this is the right move for Kobo, with this new financial backing, they might be able to cut back on their backlog of pending titles. Publishers interested in doing short term sale prices would be able to do so without having to keep their titles off the Kobo shelves (pricing delays have been a bone of contention for some time now). As an owner of a Kobo Touch I have to say that it is a truly excellent product and I hope to see it succeed. Still, this all seems unfortunate for Indigo.

Even so, I wish them all the best (after all the acquisitions, they are pretty much the only place left in town where I can buy books).

Friday, 14 October 2011

And Someday, Our Way of Life…

Polybius stood beside Scipio Africanus as the general surveyed the burning carcass that was Carthage. As Rome’s greatest enemy went up in flames Scipio wept and grasped his companion’s hand. “It is a glorious sight,” the General explained, “but I confess a dreadful foreboding that the same fate will someday befall our country.”
He was right and if Polybius had not been an historian, we may never have known of Scipio’s moment of prescience.
His words are more than a famous example of ‘I told you so’, they are an immutable law of nature. Just as generations grow old and pass away, so do civilizations. Whether it is the Aztecs, the Babylonians, the Egyptians or the Romans; all great civilizations carry their ultimate doom within their genetic makeup.
The same is true of our current system.
Our economic systems are rotten at the core and the only thing our elected leaders can think of is to pour more money down the hole. They gave bailouts to the big corporations, allowing the chief executives to protect their hefty bonuses while the public get nothing. Meanwhile, Greece teeters on the brink, French banks tiptoe around the word ‘run’ and Germany is printing deutsche marks so they can be ready to leave the Euro at a moment’s notice.
The rampant consumerism that has propped up the system is grinding to a halt. Most of the driveways in my city are filled with the owner’s vehicles. This is because their garages are filled with jet-skis, ATV’s weekend motorcycles and last year’s LCD TV’s (gotta have LED now…). How much of that was paid with cash and how much involved a payment plan that still bleeds money from their accounts?
When the system finally falls apart, how far will we be knocked back?
I ask that question every time I look at my children.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Sleeping Giant Awakes - eBooks and India - Pt 3

Back in July I posted about the potential impact that India would have on the eBook market if a device were offered with the right price tag. Then in July I continued with a second installment noting , among other things, the potential for the educational system.  
Imagine my surprise when I saw an article at The Passive Voice announcing that the Indian government has inked a deal with Montreal tech firm Datawind. I did a quick search and found a flurry of corroborating sources such as this article from PC World. The deal is for an initial order of 100,000 Aakash Android tablets at an initial price of $50 per unit though Datawind believes they can bring the price down with higher volume. The initial order is believed to be destined for a subsidised program at the nation’s universities.
As to volume, the government expects to buy eight to ten Million units before the current fiscal year end. That price is going to start sliding down to the sweet spot pretty fast.
Though the unit can handle web browsing, video and double as a cell phone, it can also handle eBook apps. Remember, were talking about the second largest population on Earth and with a unit price closing in on that magic 0.5% of per capita GDP, we are going to see a massive shift in how books are consumed.
Every now and then, I manage to anticipate the news. I just usually don’t get excited enough to write about it…

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Death of a Salesman - Part 2 Bookstores Tired of Selling Books

In years past, I used to work for a company that sold general merchandise. It made the lion’s share of it’s revenue from groceries and by lion’s share – I’m talking about somewhere between thirty five and forty Billion dollars a year. I know, you’re thinking ‘Andrew, that’s pretty vague. A Billion here, a Billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.’ Well, you’re right but I can’t be bothered to look up the exact numbers on their latest quarterly statements and l like throwing Billions around like candy.
Anyway, when my employer realized how much higher the profit margin was for GM, they decided to give it more space. They did this by building larger stores. People kept coming to buy groceries but they started to buy a lot more GM (bathmats, pillows, strollers, automotive, clothing, books…). Profits increased and shareholders were happy.
The reason I mention this is because of what I am seeing in the bookstore down the street. Over the last four years, I have noticed that the impulse purchase racks by the checkouts have been multiplying. At some point a couple of years ago they evolved, becoming heavy duty floor displays and they moved out onto the sales floor. Firmly established in their new habitat, they continue to displace the weaker species – books.
With eBooks doubling their market share every year, you would think they would reflect that in the pricing  but they don’t. Publishers often list eBooks for 60% more than the paperbacks. So you have the industry cannibalizing the eBook market to bolster sales of paperbacks even while reducing the square footage where those sales happen.
They are killing their business at both ends.
Frankly, when I see the type of impediment pricing I don’t think “I’ll just spend twenty minutes getting to the bookstore to buy the paperback like a good little consumer.”
I log onto Amazon or Smashwords and look for a new indie author (more on that in the next post).
We tend to assume that businesses know what they’re doing. In reality, this tends to be false. If you need further proof, then have a look at the bookstore down the street. They are slowly but surely getting out of the business of selling books. Roughly a quarter of their floor plan is dedicated to selling general merchandise, and that’s not counting the space taken up by the Starbucks franchise. Where books used to sit, we find coffee mugs, note holders, and various knick-knacks.
In another couple of years, this will reach a tipping point. People like to go shopping for books and sure, they might pick up a mug while they’re heading for the checkout but nobody will say; ‘Let’s go to the knick-knack store’.
A shame, really. They might have decided to pick up a paperback at the impulse rack by the checkouts.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Publishing to KDP using Mobipocket Creator

After I had finished converting my book at Smashwords, I decided to take a crack at converting for Kindle Direct Publishing. From looking around, I soon found that the best way to go about it (for me, anyway) was to use Mobipocket Creator  (free). Just so you don’t rush into this, be aware that you will need to do some HTML editing in order to get your table of contents and NCX to work. It that seems daunting to you, don’t give up just yet.
Before you decide to sit back and wait for the long heralded Smashwords/Amazon deal, take a side trip over to CJs Easy as Pie Kindle Tutorials and read your way through the excellent series of tutorials that are posted there. I’m not sure who exactly CJ is but from the profile picture It would seem that the author is some kind of sentient winnebago. Species aside, a determined KDP publisher will find everything needed to get their book ready to launch.
Some things to keep in mind first:
1 – Mobipocket wasn’t compatible with IE9 when I used it a couple of months ago. I had to de-install IE9 and that allows IE8 to get back to work (it was still there all along – just hiding in the shadows).
2 – You will need to save your book as an HTML  document and then clean up all the garbage that isn’t needed for your eBook (CJ can help you there as well).
3 – You will need to do a fair bit of editing in HTML (See CJ’s Tutorials) so if you feel comfortable with the idea, make sure you have a decent HTML editor. I used Komodo Edit (Free – open source) and found it very easy to work with.
4 – Use the kindle Previewer from Amazon to see how the book will look and work before you upload it. Use it to check the cover page as well as the functionality of the Table of Contents and the NCX. Make sure the progress bar shows at the bottom and go through each page of your book. This is your last chance to make your first impression.
This process took me the better part of three days, thanks largely to the issue with IE9. Had that not been the case, I probably would have converted Prometheus Bound in a day. If I had to do it over again (and I will in December), it would take an afternoon.         
If you feel up to it, then best of luck and be sure to leave a comment on CJ’s tutorial site; that winnebago worked very hard to share it’s knowledge with us humans!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Bonus without Borders - Fear and Loathing at the Bookstore

By now, everyone is aware of the continuing saga unfolding at Borders. The latest twist, just reported in Publishers Weekly gives us valuable insight into the underlying sickness that continues to infect our economic engine – greed may or may not be good, but stupid doesn’t go away when you put on a suit and tie.
At a time when rank and file employees are fighting to get their severance pay, their former employer is fighting in court to ensure that the top fifteen management employees get severance bonuses of $125,000 each. To put that in perspective, it’s two and a half times the annual salary of one of their store managers.
What makes them worth so much money and why do we continue to accept such bloated compensation as reasonable? Back in April, Bloomberg reported on how many millions would go to the top five executives based on how much money they could return to the shareholders. Does anyone really believe that executives are worth millions a year?
A surprising number of them turn out to be hopelessly inadequate and got there simply because they know the right phrases and when to use them. They talk about creating value and having passion for the job, but at the end of the day, they make a ton of bad decisions and end up jumping ship with as much loot as they can carry.
To carry the metaphor just a bit further, consider that those large severance bonuses are justified by all their hard work on behalf of the debtors (while employees fight in court for severance pay). It’s little different than the officers of a cruise ship ramming an iceberg and then taking one life boat each, brandishing their flare guns to keep the passengers from joining them.
They like to put their feet up, and they deserve it – don’t they?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Publishing an eBook with Smashwords

At Smashwords
Like so many aspiring authors, I felt that I had a really good idea for my debut story. After six years of trying to write part time, I finally took the plunge and began to work full time on the story. After so many years of struggling to get the story sorted out and find my voice, I was alarmed at how quickly everything was coalescing.
I really needed to find an agent. I had been putting it off because I had heard so many stories about how hard it was to find a good agent. The struggle to find a willing publisher would be even worse. I was starting to realize that finishing and editing the book wasn’t even half the battle. It would be years before my story ever saw a sale.
Then, as I surfed the various sites and blogs looking for advice I started to stumble onto authors like Joe Konrath and David Gaughran. David is an excellent author and recent convert to ePublishing. His blog and his latest eBook Let’s Get Digital is a highly inspirational resource for eAuthors. Joe is a well established author and one of the leading prophets of the eBook revolution. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is something akin to a masters degree in self publishing your work. This is where I first heard of Smashwords.
Smashwords is a game changer. For an author new to the digital publishing world, getting your book into the major retail sites can seem just as daunting as the traditional publishing process. Smashwords takes that headache off your hands by converting your file for you and shipping it out the major sales sites. They have an automated ‘meatgrinder’ program that converts your file into all the major formats, and human staff that vet the file. Once your file is shown to be free of major flaws (they aren’t editing it for you, just a review of cover quality and general appearance) your book ships out to major retailers. There is no charge for this conversion, they get paid by a commission of 15% for each sale. Not bad when you realize that a traditional author would be lucky to get 15% percent of the sale, let alone 85%!
Congratulations! Just like that, you are a published author!
Don’t go rushing off to buy that bottle of Champaign just yet. You still have to put in some work to get ready for the conversion. You still need to format your book. Fortunately, Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide provides a comprehensive review of all that needs to be done in order to get your masterpiece into premium distribution.
Nonetheless, I did hit a few small snags.
The first was the page breaks. I had put in page breaks to keep the chapter headings at the top of the screen. The style guide warns that the breaks might be stripped out during conversion and that you should put a couple of hard returns before and after so that some separation will be preserved. My problem was that too many of my chapters were ending so close to the end of a page that I had empty pages between chapters. I fixed this by taking out the two hard returns that sat in front of the page break.
The next issue that I came up against was my navigation points. Despite trying to be careful, I somehow managed to double up on one of my bookmarks and ended up with an extra chapter tag that led nowhere. I spent the better part of a day trying to track it down (the engineer in me likes complicated problems). I finally accepted that I could blow away the whole index and rebuild it in an hour. Finally – success – sort of.
I failed my first vetting because I had colored text. I didn’t figure the dark grey text in my chapter headings would be an issue, but Smashwords is very clear about text needing to be black. Colors can disappear on some screens. I changed them and re-submitted.
I failed my second vetting because I had colored text. I was kind of confused by this one – I had selected the entire document and changed the whole thing to black font so what could I have missed? Then I looked at the very end where the ‘About A.G. Claymore’ links were. I had to change the hyperlinks from blue to black. I fiddled around for a few frustrating hours before I realized that they weren’t going to change colors unless I changed the underlying hyperlink style in Word.
Finally, I had a convertible document. It went back through the meatgrinder and into review status on my dashboard. Within a couple of days I was pleased to see my status upgraded to ‘approved’! The book is now for sale at all major retailers.
All you have to do to start the process is – well – start the process. The two or three days that I spent formatting the first novel will likely only take a few hours for the sequel.
The only question you have to ask is this; do you want a traditional publishing deal where your books might get a couple of months shelf time for pennies a sale, or do you want them to sell as eBooks for as long as you want, for dollars a sale?
Smashwords can help you with that, when you’re ready.  

Monday, 22 August 2011

Death of a Salesman - Legacy Publishers and eBook Pricing

 Looking through the Kobo site, I noticed a strange thing - the prices are upside down.
As an example, Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Objective (Okay, it’s really Eric Van Lustbader’s work at this point) sells for $14.99 as an eBook.  In a world where the vast majority of self published eBook authors are trending towards the magic $2.99 price point, this seemed like a real kick in the teeth. Out of curiosity, I decided to check what a paperback would cost. Going to their main site, I was stunned to see that the paper back retails for $10.00 – 67% of the eBook price. On the face of it, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Then I remembered David Gaughran’s analysis in let’s Get Digital. The big publishers are trying to protect the sales of their physical books. That means you pay for paper, printing, distribution and sales outlet overhead even when you’re simply downloading a copy of the file off their server.

So, what does this mean for the major publishers? With the deep discounts on physical books and the prohibitively high pricing on eBooks, it doesn’t seem like much will be left for the author. How long before the Van Lustbaders of the writing world look at the money they could be making if they left the big firms? It’s not like they need the ‘marketing reach’ of the traditional publishing houses. They are already known brands. They could move their stories as eBooks far more effectively if they weren’t up against the pricing policies of their publishers.
Having worked for a company with yearly revenues of more than $35 Billion, I have witnessed some breathtakingly bad decisions. The logic may have worked within the confines of the decision, but it often failed to account for the company’s health as a whole. This may be happening now with the big firms. They think chasing everyone away from the lifeboats will save the ship but there really is no saving the ship – those lifeboats are their future. Maybe it’s not the final straw for the legacy publishers, but it could be one of the nails in their coffins.
How long before we start to see an exodus of major authors?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Phone Scams & Hide-a-Beds

Skype Phone by re-ality
Under Attribution 2.5 Generic License
Another one of those calls – Because you are a valued (insert random company name here) customer you are entitled to receive (insert wildly unlikely reward here).  When I was working at a desk job, I often went along with it just to waste their time. I would ask a million questions and act excited while slowly giving out false credit card information. I figure I’m entitled to a little compensation: they are trying to rob me after all.
The last time it happened at work, I spent five minutes on the phone with the guy, trying to convince him to buy an old hide-a-bed couch that we had in our cellar. I was kind of amazed that he stayed on the line for so long. He kept telling me that he might be interested in the couch, but could he please have the information needed to sort out my credit card problem first. I finally told him that I had to go because I didn’t  think he was serious about the couch at all.
I even had someone claiming to be from the bank, except it wasn’t the bank that I dealt with. “A problem with my account?” I said, anger creeping into my voice. “The proceeds from selling the condo are in there,” I yelled, as my co-worker stuck her head over the cubicle wall with a raised eyebrow. “Are you telling me that you lost over two hundred grand of my money?” I could almost hear the heart palpitations on the other end of the line as my would-be thief imagined what he could do with all that cash. I kept him on the line for at least ten minutes while I went to look for my account information.
When I got back with a fresh mug of coffee I could hear him talking to someone in the background in hushed tones. I tapped the phone on the desk and they went silent. “OK, I have my statement here, what exactly do you need?” He was in the middle of telling me how I needed to give him the account number and online banking log-in when I cut him off. “Wait, did you say (insert random bank name here)?” When he confirmed that it was indeed that bank, I delivered the Coup de Grace. “Oh, I my account is with (insert MY bank name here). You must have the wrong number!” I sounded SO relieved. “You really scared me there!” I told him with the air of one who is re-living a frightening moment with an old companion – he hung up without another word.
It seems to me that the police don’t really seem to take this stuff seriously. They repeatedly claim that they aren’t able to do anything about it. Is it really that easy to hide from the police even when they have your phone number? Why do police shows like Law & Order – Elevator Inspection Unit always show someone sitting there with a pile of gear, tracing the bad guys call? Shouldn’t it be more realistic?
“Got the number, Captain! 555-1234.”
“Well, nothing we can do with it - our hands are tied.”
Kind of annoying really. With the money they blew on that tracing gear, they could have bought my old hide-a-bed for their break-room.
At least the Canadians have come up with a “do not call” registry. You send in your phone number and it goes on the list. Companies then have to subscribe to the list so they know who they can legally call. Even better, the scam artists subscribe to the list so they know who they can illegally call – no more random dialing for them! Personally, I can’t wait for the “Don’t mug me because I walk dark streets at night with tons of cash in my pocket registry” Should be a roaring success…
Anyway, I have to go. I’m helping the King of a small European nation move his cash out of the country. All I have to do is put enough seed money in his account here, so the Bank will give him a higher interest rate when he transfers his money.
Sounded like a really nice guy on the phone…

Monday, 15 August 2011

The sleeping Giant - eBooks and India - Pt 2

The old and the new - Mysore, India Photo By A.G. Claymore
A few weeks ago, I posted about the potential that India represents in the eBook market. Days later, Amazon announced that they were in talks with possible Indian eCommerce players (purely coincidence, I assure you…). So now we stand back and wait to see how it plays out. You might say we are in the eye of the hurricane. One of the leading eBook retailers is taking the worlds second largest population seriously, but what form this will end up taking is still unknown.
Library is undoubtedly important. One of the biggest points of discussion about eBook penetration tends to be the language targeted libraries. Amazon has a decent library for the German market with more than 150,000 titles. Kobo recently came to the game with 80,000 German language titles and a German version of the Kobo touch eReader. It will definitely be one of the major factors in India. They were producing literature on the sub-continent when my ancestors were still following wild herds. A lot of the existing literature will be public domain. Making local heritage available as free eBooks would go a long way towards naming a winner in the eReader race.
Just thinking of the potential makes my head hurt. The state could even subsidize the readers for the school system. If you could provide texts in eFormat, that could eliminate literally tons of books that get beat up and replaced on a continuous basis. A child could sign out the reader at the start of the school year, loaded with the texts (on a mass license) and then return it at year’s end, or buy it out.
That brings us back to the one issue that can make or break the eBook revolution in India. The price. In North America, eReader sales took off when the price hit 0.5% of per-capita GDP. I believe it a reasonable assumption that that kind of metric is directly transferrable.  If eReaders in India were to cost 0.5% of per-capita GDP then you will be able to walk into a tech store in Bangalore and hear the same thing I hear down the street at Indigo – “sorry, we carry that model of eReader but they sell out the same day we get a shipment in.”
So, what is that magic price in the Indian economy? Roughly Rs. 530, or twelve dollars US. If someone figures out a way to provide a good reader at that price, tied to their own library, they’ll ride the hurricane all the way to the bank.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Once you start down the dark path - forever will it dominate your destiny...

Books by Katmere under
Attribution 2.5 Generic License
Until a few weeks ago, I was one of those people who always said that they would use an eBook reader but that the tactile experience of holding a ‘real’ paper book would always be king. There was something about the feel of the pages that you just couldn’t replicate. Right?

A week ago, we bought a second Kobo and I've loaded it with the usual collection of old public domain books. I also have newer releases that I want to read without waiting a year for the soft-cover. That counts as a point already – lower price (slightly) and quicker release.
What really pushed me past the tipping point was reading while holding my three month old son. I was holding the Kobo (this is not an ad, it’s just what we bought), and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to hold a paperback or hardcover the same way. I would have to hold a finger against the spine to hold it open to the right page and it would be tricky when I got to the part of the book where the spine is cracked. Most of our books get re-read several times and, sooner or later, they start to fall apart.
And forget about turning a paper page without waking my son…
As I slid my thumb over to change a page, I realized that I had crossed over to the dark side of the – umm – market? The convenience is hard to ignore. I still love our personal library with its hundred linear feet of shelving. It will get one further expansion when we move it into the new office downstairs but that's the end. We'll probably do most of our reading with eBooks except for series that we have already started on hardcopy.
I don’t think eBooks are going to fade away. They will probably consolidate into one universally accepted format but I think it is a bit late to keep saying they are future. They are already past the point of no return. Hard-copy sales continue to plummet and eSales continue to climb. Check the published quarterly returns of any major book seller.
Putting it another way - How many of you still buy vinyl records?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

eBooks & the Sleeping Giant - India

Tiny Tech Store in Mumbai
Photo by AG Claymore

With Kobo moving into the German eBook market with their carefully built German library and soon-to-come German language reader, I have to wonder what’s next?  Germany may be the second biggest book market in the world, but the second biggest population is in India. With just under 1.2 Billion people, they run a close second to China and thirty percent of the population is urbanized. Think about that for a second. India’s urban population is bigger than the total population of the US and Canada, or the entire 17 country Euro Area. Talk about a massive market.
English enjoys the status of subsidiary official language in India. This has less to do with their colonial past than you might think. English is now the language of major parts of their economic engine. Due to their international nature, the IT and software sectors tend to work in English and they pay quite well.
Internet access is ranked at an impressive number six globally (roughly 60 million). That has them running just behind the Germans for total number of users. What the number doesn’t show us is the vast number of Internet CafĂ© users. Give it another five years and that number will grow into the hundreds of millions.
So, where is the bottleneck that’s keeping this sleeping giant from becoming the dominant market for electronic books? I believe it’s the eReaders. I see prices in the Indian market hovering around five to eighteen thousand rupees. A reader at Rs 18,000 represents 13% of per-capita GDP. If you compare to the North American Market the same reader will cost only 0.4% of per-capita GDP. This isn’t just a case of exchange rates in different economies. Comparing in dollars, the same reader is sold for at least three times the price in India. I sure wouldn’t buy an eReader if it cost more than a tenth of my income.
Pricing like that is an incentive to the strong IT sector to follow the example of the auto industry. India has a very strong automotive industry and it has gone shopping in the West. Companies like Jaguar and Land Rover now fall under the Tata brand.
 Sooner or later, (if not already) a domestic entrepreneur will launch a decently priced reader and become the first to properly serve this potentially massive market. This isn’t a slow country with tech adoption either. Once a local start-up dominates this market, they will have enough economic clout to do a little off-shore shopping of their own.
Should the current players look at partnering to develop a locally built reader? Will any of them recognize the huge potential in this market, or the risk of waiting too long?

Friday, 22 July 2011

Publishing an eBook from a Beginner's Perspective

When I started writing Prometheus Bound I had blithely assumed that I would go the traditional route. I had planned to search for an agent and go shopping about for a publisher but the prospect was a daunting one. Every day, as I wrote, the sheer improbability of the whole thing loomed before me like the cliffs of my childhood home. It was frightening, to say the least.

After six years of trying to write part-time, sneaking in an hour of work every now and then on a decrepit old laptop, I found myself in a situation where I was finally able to work full time. Now the idea of having to find an agent at some point in the next couple of years was replaced by the need to find one right now.
How do you know if the agent gushing with praise about your story is the right one? For all you know, this may be the guy whose submission causes the commissioning editor to roll his eyes and chuck it straight on the shred pile while thinking yet again about taking that job at his brother-in-law`s used car dealership.
As I surfed the web, looking for hints and tips on how to find a good agent, I stumbled onto Joe Konrath`s blog. I stopped and scratched my head for a while. Where had I heard of this guy? Then I realized that I had read his article in one of the writer's periodicals about how he got his first publishing deal. I figured that his blog would be a good place to learn a bit more about how to get a foot in the door. Talk about an eye opener. The door is on my own house. I`m already in; I just have to do the work.
 I always viewed self-publishing as a good way to blow your life savings to have a pile of unsold books in your basement. What store wants to take a box of books from some unknown? At best, they might let you sit at a little folding table in the front of their store where customers can pretend not to see you and your neatly stacked piles of books. I always feel bad for the unknowns sitting there like some kid with a lemonade stand. Boy was I missing the point.
Back when Johannes Gutenburg invented movable type and then took it a step further and combined it with an adaptation of the wine press, he started a revolution. Until then, books were copied by hand in scriptorums and were prohibitively expensive. No doubt some monastic pundit was heard to say, ``I think there may be a global market for perhaps five books`. Let`s call him Brother Watson. Gutenberg`s work led to a revolution – for publishers.
Don’t get me wrong, Gutenberg`s work helped lay the foundations for the renaissance, and he made it easier for authors to get published but the publishers still held the keys. This latest revolution has put the keys in the hands of the authors.  
Online publishing houses like Smashwords represent a game changing concept. Not only do they sell and distribute eBooks, they convert them as well. In Smashwords` case, their `Meatgrinder` application  will convert your word file for free and allow you to place it for sale on their website for a small commission.
When I learned about Smashwords, I knew immediately that I wanted to try them out. Who wants to struggle through the arduous process of finding an agent, searching for a willing publisher and then waiting for over a year for the book to hit the shelves? Especially when you can sell your eBook for a third of the price and get four times the commission.
So, fool that I am, I happily banged away at the keyboard knowing that I would simply go to Smashwords, convert the file and put it up for sale. Then I finally read the Smashwords Style Guide. This is a great document, written by founder Mark Coker, and it really does tell you everything you need to do if you are going to use their conversion process.
The trouble is, I was up to ninety thousand words before reading the guide. I had to go back through the whole thing and search for all the little things that can make the conversion process stumble. At the time, it seemed an arduous process but, looking back, it all makes sense. For the second book in the series, I plan to go with Smashwords again and I will review the guide before setting up the new Word file. Second time around should be a breeze!
So, at this point, I have the files waiting for human review as there are no auto-vetter errors to correct. If all goes well, it should go into their premium distribution catalogue which ships to the major distributors such as Kobo and Apple.

Now I have to concentrate on the wonderful world of eBook marketing.
Fingers Crossed…

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

National Debt Reduction Plans - Change Management & Title Loans

Obama at American University by diggersf under
Attribution 2.5 Generic License

In a surprise move, the President announced the formation of the ‘Change Management’ department. This new agency will be responsible for the collection and rolling of spare change donated by citizens in the name of debt reduction. 

“With all the concern over the national debt, we felt we had to take some concrete action,” stated an unidentified staffer. “And we were able to re-use some campaign signs for the launch, so there’s some savings there as well.”
Full funding for the new department has yet to be approved by the Republican dominated Congress, but estimates range between 900 Billion and 1.2 Trillion annually. “You have to spend money to roll money,” stated the same staffer.
Speculation now centers around the Republican backed plan to get a title loan for the state of Alaska. In a bipartisan, emergency, all-night session, a series of big screen televisions were set up in a congressional hearing room. Session members took it in turn to call in to the various title loan ads that run mostly in the wee hours of the night. “It’s really a no-brainer,” a congressional aid was overheard saying during an off-the-record meeting over drinks at someone else's table. “We have fifty states, so we can keep that up for quite a while.”

Okay, so it's an obvious parody, but maybe it could help?

Brick and Mortar Book Stores – Legacy Publishing Houses

Over the last few days, we have been watching the Borders saga unfold with a grim fascination. It’s kind of like the crowd at the 2001 Melbourne Grand Prix watching Schumacher barrel roll into the fencing. There’s the same feeling of uneasy guilt, watching a Titan fall. A lot of good people will find themselves jobless as this crash unfolds.
So how are the other Titans doing? Is there any hope for their kind?
I have been looking at the quarterly statements of Indigo, the store that I like to buy my hard copies from, and the picture that emerges is not necessarily one of doom and gloom. It’s not all sunshine and roses either.
Although they report a revenue increase over their previous year, they also show a dip in same store sales. The smaller the store format, the worse the sales dip. They credit the increased revenue to the new superstores that they opened during the reporting period. The first thing that I notice when I walk into the store down the street is the vast array of general merchandise for sale. Perhaps that is the saving grace of their superstore format; the smaller stores have little room for GM even though it provides a higher profit margin.
One thing I can’t miss at the front of the store is eBook readers. More specifically, you cant miss the Kobo. The older Kobo is readily available and you can play around with the new Kobo touch but you might have a hard time getting one of your very own to take home and show off to your friends.  Every time I check with the many stores that serve our city, I get the same story, Sorry, we got a load in on Friday but they sold out over the weekend. I want to be angry about this, but I find it hard, as a writer of eBooks, to get too upset when eBook readers are selling like – well like something that sells a lot (lets face it, hotcakes have had their day as the exemplar of good sales).

So why are they selling so well when you can get an iPad and use it to read as well as surf the web and manage your entire life as long as you keep it compatible with Apple? Two things come to mind: price (no explanation needed here) and eye strain. I wouldn't want to read a ninety thousand page novel on a backlit screen, hence the eInk touch.
It’s not something that Indigo is blind to, either. They own a majority share in Kobo and though they attribute a 7% decrease in online sales to eBook migration, they indicate that Kobo readers and eBook sales are the major driving force behind a revenue increase that is more than six times the online sales loss.
It doesn’t stop there. Rather than sit back and see how it goes, they have raised cash and invaded the German market (second biggest book market on Earth) with plans to release a German language reader in August. This reader, giving access to the biggest German library of titles, should do well against the English operating systems of the competition. This is covered in depth in an excellent article by Laura Hazard Owen that was recommended in a tweet by Derek Haines.
I think we will see a future where the only brick and mortar book retailers that survive will be the ones with a healthy eBook footprint. They will carry a different assortment from what we see today because the tail will start to wag the dog. The legacy publishers who manage to come out of this shakeup may well end up mining the eBook market for titles to print. Let’s face facts, commissioning editors make as many bad choices as good when sifting through the thousands of submissions that land on their desks. If they can look at sales stats to find performing authors in the eBook market, they can put together an offer with a reasonable expectation of successful sales. Of course that leaves the eBook Marketing entirely in the hands of the writer, and maybe that's where it should be.
This would leave us with stores that sell a smaller selection of high volume titles at the back of  the store, behind all the general merchandise…
Or maybe I’m wrong.
(by the way, Schumacher went on to win the 2001 Melbourne race despite having a second car destroyed when one of my own countrymen hit him from behind…)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

What'll it be - The moon or the Stone Age?

How robust is civilization? I don’t just mean individual societies; I’m talking about the whole planetary system. We take it for granted but does civilization have an Achilles’ heel?  What would happen if the whole thing began to unravel? One shudders to think of the impact to the commemorative plate industry.  People ask the same thing about our ecosystem. Some claim the environment is like a fine watch and any disruption could bring the whole thing crashing down around us. Others claim that the environment is more like the business world; if a species dies, another, stronger species will take its place (Note to self: find image of grizzly bear wearing a blue vest, welcoming visitors to the park). Even if this is the case, you end up with a monopoly and when that species dies off you end up hungry; wishing the small mom and pop species were still around.
Which brings me back to civilizations. What if we had a species that got up early every morning and worked their butts off (They don’t really have butts but ‘Worked their cloacas off’ doesn’t have the same cachet) supporting our civilization? Bees pollinate our crops and we tend to take that for granted. The commercial colonies of European bees have pretty much displaced the domestic wild colonies that used to do the job for free, which gives them a monopoly. Those European imports are now starting to die off and no-one is quite sure why.
So, what happens if we don’t have enough of them left to support our crop production?
Sure, there are other methods for pollination, but can they keep up as the colonies that currently service our crops die off? If not, does civilization carry on or should I stop caring about my student loans? Maybe I should re-amortize my mortgage to forty years and use the spare cash to buy a small island in the Juan De Fuca straight - set up some domestic bee colonies, stock up on seeds…
If it comes apart on us, it could be worse than the fall of Rome. Back then, technology was more sustainable. A blacksmith could still get his hands on ore and produce iron. Farmers carried on with their lives, trading continued…
Nowadays, everyone is a tooth in a gear that meshes with another gear and so on. There are no blacksmiths, there are massive multinational steel conglomerates. Fifteen hundred years ago, one man could make iron, nails, hinges, horse-shoes, wagons (heck my Grandfather did it all that two generations ago), but we have progressed too far beyond that level of technology. Everything now requires the cooperation of thousands of highly specialized individuals.
So the question that I am slowly getting around to is this: How far would we get knocked back if our food production failed? Would we be able to halt the slide at the Iron Age level, or would large areas of the world fall all the way back to hunter gatherer clans with stone tools?  There could be a few isolated pockets where the Iron Age survives. Those wild west theme parks with the working blacksmith shops might just end up being the shining beacons of human achievement in an otherwise dark world. Then again, they might end up being over run…  
I’m asking because I am writing a series of stories that relate to the subject and I am wondering what folks think about it. What is the most likely outcome of my doomsday scenario? Life can be crazy, but fiction has to be plausible so I really want to hear what thoughts you might have on the subject.
I think I’ll check out the prices on some small islands in the meantime. If everything turns out for the best, I can at least pretend to be an evil super villain…

See? I was serious about the bear…