At #FutureBook16, a conference based in London, authors, agents, publishers, and others converged to discuss the future of the book. Or, really, the future of publishing.
Spoiler: the industry doesn’t think it’s that bright. In his keynote, Tim Healy Hutchinson Hachette UK said that the book market is in “secular decline.”
The entire industry is shaking, reeling, seizing up. I’ve talked about the failure of the book industry to adapt to digital marketing strategies.
One statistic that I saw passing through the Twittersphere really leapt out at me:
In online searches, 60% of all book searches are deliberate.
A few weeks ago, a journalist met the President. The journalist was a blogger who took photographs and talked to people. He’s also the author of The New York Times bestseller, “Humans of New York.” His name is Brandon Stanton and, in late January, he managed to help raise over a million dollars for Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a school in one of New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods… and helped the students and principal meet the President of the United States.
He told the story on a blog. He told the story through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And, above all, he told the story through photographs of people talking about life.
Stanton is making a living taking photos and reporting on things. He’s not associated with any media publication. He took the tools technology has made available and used them to make a huge impact.
Stanton’s success isn’t just inspirational, it’s a powerful indictment of the cynicism permeating the art world when it comes to social media, art, and the digital world.
I’m not really qualified to decide what does and doesn’t deserve a Pulitzer. But I’m of the somewhat strong opinion that “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt shouldn’t have made the cut.
Let me break down this epic journey in rambling, poorly plotted, erratically written, Pulitzer-worthy material. And then let me explain why it spells trouble for the book industry if “The Goldfinch” is what we consider great literature. I’d warn you that there are some minor spoilers ahead, kind of, although, since Tartt fails to put anything at stake or develop any meaningful characters (aside from one), there’s really nothing to spoil. You read the book for the writing, put it down, and say: “Huh. Well, guess it’s over.”
If you’ve paid any attention to the book industry, you’ll know by now that Hachette and Amazon are locked in some kind of pricing battle.
The details aren’t that well known, but the strategy is: Amazon disabled the pre-order option for Hachette books, discounts have vanished and some authors have gone completely unlisted.
Meanwhile, Hachette just laid off 30 people (or, in The Wall Street Journal’s more dramatic terms, 3% of its US workforce). The reason? “Softening book sales.”
Hachette isn’t exactly a two-bit publisher. It’s part of a media conglomerate, Lagardère. Famous authors on the roster right now include JK Rowling, Steven Colbert, Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson.
People don’t really know why Hachette and Amazon are having a stand-off. All they know is that they can’t get the publisher’s books as easily if they’re trying to buy from Amazon. But most speculate that it has something to do with discounting the prices of eBooks.
The real question, then, is this: how do we value books today? And what happens if publishers decide to not renew their contracts with Amazon?
When it comes to online marketing, independent authors like to think they’re ahead of the curve. Social savvy, internet savvy, and savvy in other miscellaneous ways.
But just because you made a Facebook Page and have a Twitter account doesn’t mean that they’re helping sell your eBook.
Online marketing is a mysterious mix of luck and gossip. Whenever social media is brought up – whether by indie authors or bands, or in a corporate boardroom – a reflective hush falls over the crowd. The sound of doubt.
Social media or a blog campaign can help promote your eBook. But you need to know how to measure those efforts to see what’s actually working and what’s just hype (such as paying $599 for social media services). Amazon won’t give you any kind of dashboard to see where sales are coming from, so it’s up to you.
Here are three ways to do it:
The Tribune Company did something that surprised me the other day: it released a new product. An app, to be specific. Newsbeat converts newspapers into audio, so people can listen to them in the car, on their iPhone and in various other Mobile scenarios.
Aside from Tribune newspapers like The Los Angeles Times, Newsbeat will also play content from news providers like CNN and Fox News. Stories can be skipped and, over time, the app will learn what kinds of stories readers – I mean listeners – will want to hear most.
Maybe this will work. Maybe people will stick with the relatively unpredictable and unpersonalized stuff coming from the radio. But the great news, either way, is that The Tribune Company is trying to do something different.
Can book publishers say the same?
The government shutdown is over. For now. After so much productive and rigorous hashtagging on Twitter, complaints on Facebook, and half-plagiarised news articles looking for traffic, our representatives had no choice but to start funding things again. And agree to fund the things they passed this year already.
During that time – while I was caught up in the virtual world of eating different blog posts like Cheetos – I stumbled upon one entitled “The Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by budget cuts, not fire.”
Interesting headline. Related to the current crisis, albeit peripherally. It was enough to get almost 100,000 views since October 8, along with over 200 comments, so I would consider the piece a success.
And the best part? The blog post was advertising a book by the author. A book I actually clicked.
I just watched “Dear Mr. Watterson,” a light-hearted documentary about the impact that Bill Watterson’s ever-famous, ever-persistent comic strip, Calvin & Hobbes, has had on people over the years.
The part that gripped me most was when several prominent cartoonists spoke in extremely gloomy terms about new media.
Berkeley Breathed, the cartoonist behind Opus, Bloom County, and Outland, said that Bill Watterson had created the last great comic strip. He claims that art itself is now “atomized.”
He reasons that there’s a lot of stuff out there, but nothing that could be water-cooler conversation material, a piece of art that people – including Breathed’s mom – all know.
That made me wonder – are artists specializing their work to death? With so few filters to get through, and the freedom to only support the very, very specific, niche work we like, are we guaranteeing that no art can have the same widespread, enduring impact of something like Calvin & Hobbes?
Sometimes, I feel guilty about blogging. It’s a little pinching sensation, probably a sensation most writers are familiar with – the feeling that you’re wasting time you should be using to work on your novel.
That’s why I was reassured when I read a recent interview with a professor about “the Lost Generation” and found out that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were also both dawdling bloggers, in their own right.
I forget what I was Googling, but I found a very unique press release that caught my eye: “Serial Killer Starts Blog Ahead of 2MCH4YA Book Completion.” Yes, a serial killer featured in the upcoming novel, “taRNished,” now has a blog.
The blog is an example of what I’ve been thinking about a lot when it comes to book marketing: the power of personas. The only thing I wonder is… is this really going to work?