New Publication: The Academic’s Guide to Self-Publishing

There is a growing cohort of Web-based startups and organizations that are promoting the idea of self-publishing to the Internet. Every now and then a guide to the basics and how-to of it all shows up too.

One example of this can be seen in “The Academic’s Guide to Self-Publishing,” which was written by Claire Morgan and may be found on the Web site of the Open Education Database.  OEDB is a directory of online degree programs.

Interested authors may want to have a look at the guide.

Duking it Out in the E-Book’s “Wild West” Marketplace

(NOTE: This article appeared in computers in libraries 33 (no 1), jan-feb 2013. in light of current litigation, I’m posting it to information | mixology)

 

The e-book is a new medium, but it follows many other breakthrough products with histories of disruption, adoption, market acceptance, and the forging of new business relationships. Perennials such as CD-Roms, DVDs and iPods come to mind, as each of these new technologies triggered important changes in commerce and entertainment. The disruption was real and has caused serious distress for publishers, but there is no getting around the fact that we are in a new era now. Publishers have gained expertise in digital media and are engaged in intensive experimentation. They are taking big risks with e-books and trying new innovative pricing models. And they are playing a tough game to protect revenue.

The e-book market is moving at “warp speed” and it is hard to stay abreast of events. Fortunately librarians have been lucky in our leadership. The American Library Association has been very assertive in advocating for the most expansive model acquiring and loaning e-books. The result has been a lot of “dialogue,” some tough new policies from the largest publishers, and a sense that it is hard to know what is going to happen next. Authors are involved too, and have their own turf to protect.

With so much ferment, what strategies should librarians adopt to become central to the e-book market? Also, what are the best avenues for revitalizing our long-term relationships with publishers? I see two fundamental strengths that might inform our actions. The first is our close relationship with our user communities. The second is a combination of two related sources of knowledge: how to perceive the e-book “market” from a user perspective, and how to collaborate. A collaborator understands the importance of keeping a balance between open access and making a profit—and that kind of awareness may be the “glue” that keeps libraries and publishers in conversation. Even so, the next few years might be bumpy for e-book collaborators. Here are few signposts of the times, and some thoughts about where we are collectively going.

Borrowing, Buying and Both

2012 has been a year for learning a lot about e-books—and recognizing that we need to know even more. We need better data, too. Blogger Jeremy Greenfield is one great source of intelligence. He is a journalist who follows the e-book industry, both on his own blog and for Forbes (see digitalbookworld.com). In June 2012 he reported on something many of us probably know:  libraries and publishers don’t understand each other. Publishers don’t “get” the operational side of libraries, and ALA President Molly Raphael allowed that librarians have more to learn about the e-book market and its effect on publishers and distributors. The result has been a great deal of dialogue, and that’s a good thing. We are talking intensively to publishers to advocate for better access to e-books and reasonable curbs on pricing.

We have good company in our quest to understand how to deploy e-books, too. Greenfield looks to the research findings of the Pew Project on Internet and Society, which has long been a leading voice in analyzing disruptive technologies. Pew reports that e-book consumers are likely both to buy and borrow e-books. What a fascinating approach; it suggests that there is personal joy and comfort in “owning” a digital copy of say, Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, while you might just want to “borrow” a new book by Dean Koontz have an enjoyable, one-time read.

So: buying, borrowing, and both: it’s a user’s solution to a complex market, and it works.  As an iPad Mini user, I enjoy checking out what e-books other people keep on their tablets whenever they allow me have a look. Here’s what I find: a collection of favorite books that tends to grow, slowly but surely. I also see a smart shopper’s independent streak concerning “where” they do their buying and “borrowing.” The Kindle app for iPad is widely used on iPads, even though it is an arch-competitor to iBooks. This open-minded “collection building” and shopping suggests a deep love for the artifact, even in digital form, as well as interest in value-shopping in every direction.

It’s hard not love books that enrich our lives, and it looks like the digital version, read on a retina screen, preserves that crucial value. But “process” matters too. Some people favor bookstores, others prefer Amazon Prime, and still more troll through Apple’s ecosystem of goodies.  Many are still in the process of deciding what they like best. That’s very big unknown factor for publishers, and our familiarity with user behavior gives us an edge. For example, a friend of mine recently bought a Nook e-reader, and set herself up with a library of favorite titles and authors. Within a month, she was back to print, because she didn’t enjoy the process and experience of e-reading.

The Risk of Rhetoric

It would be an understatement to say the libraries and publishers are worlds apart in how they approach the challenge of e-reading. One of the single biggest risks is frank and committed dialogue might give way to rhetorical warfare. Many advocates of open access already feel that large publishers, such as Harper Collins with its 26-times-only policy, or Random House, with its mammoth price increase to recover for simultaneous and persistent access, have gone over to the “dark side.” Fortunately ALA has taken a lead in trying to forge common understandings, which is helpful, since Jeremy Greenfield reports that 67.2 percent of libraries have been loaning e-books since 2011.  Moreover, experimentation is essential, but publishers face a serious obstacle:  they cannot collaborate to set prices without facing antitrust litigation. In the resulting free-for-all, every e-book publisher must come up with its own pricing plan. In some ways, the current e-book market has a wild west, “Dodge City” feel.

What strategies can librarians use in the “Dodge City” of e-book pricing? I can think of two. Stay close to their user communities and make sure they know that we are advocating for them, and also continue to keep a place at the table to debate a fair balance that addresses the needs of publishers, distributors, and libraries as collaborators.

“Windowing”

Other entertainment industries offer some guidance on how to sell and how to price, particularly cinema and music. But once again it is worth noting that conditions change fast. The iTunes Library faces competition from subscription services such as Spotify, and the market may change in the near term. But some of the lessons learned may be worth a look. Blogger Michael Schatzkin reports, Hollywood has perfected the art of “windowing” —delaying the release of DVDs until new movies have had a chance to earn their keep at the box office. Move studios are reluctant to hand over their entire catalogs to Amazon and NetFlix, for good reason, if they can still sell DVDs first.

The Windowing approach is an intriguing alternative for publishers, distributors, and libraries, but it has some built-in shortcomings. Most people want to read their favorite authors right away, and many people (myself included) reserve copies new releases months before they appear in print. Would library patrons accept waiting one or two years to borrow an e-book? That seems like a stretch. Therefore my theory is that publishers can certainly try a windowing approach, delaying the release of  e-books and perhaps employing a significant markdown, but I think they may face a reader backlash. Social media give activists a very handy tool for registering their dissatisfaction. Perhaps the e-book market will spawn a “reader’s guild” of activists, who could use the power of social media to shape policy.

What’s Needed: Unity

My first career was in independent bookselling, and for that reason I follow the publishing business closely. I find that the many “year of the e-book” debates that are running at full steam follow common threads that go back as far as the release of the mass-market paperback, which was seen as a force of doom for publishers—but was anything but that. The eventual outcome of the e-book debate carries high stakes for publishers, distributors, and libraries, but there is some good news too, showing up among all three stakeholders. Publishers have become much more skilled in handling digital media, and this is making them less conservative. We can now expect some healthy innovation from them. Distributors are crucial players in the sales process, and they have gained more clout. Perhaps they too will push back on pricing and access restrictions as a form of self-preservation. If so this may help consumers. Librarians have become the most articulate advocates for the importance of open access and fair use; we have done our homework and have a compelling “social good” to use as a rallying cry.

Each group has gained through innovation, and yet each  has more to learn about a very important function of markets: mutual benefit. At a time when the e-books debate threatens to push players into armed camps, it is vital to find common ground and build unity. If we fail to do that, we should have the courage to admit that the real losers will be readers themselves, who rightly expect us to do a better job of managing the emerging e-book market.

Marketing Help for the Self-Publishing E-Author: Enter “Kbuuk”

While many authors are trying their luck at e-publishing, either completely on their own or with the help of a Web-based publishing service, fewer of these intrepid souls may be skilled in what it means to market their work. Indeed, the same dilemma faces consultants and independent contractors, who must 1) do the work they are paid for and 2) market and promote their consulting business. What is more, successful marketing requires special knowledge of the target audience to gain traction and garner attention. My favorite example of this comes not from the trenches of capitalism but from Broadway. The celebrated musical The Music Man begins with a group of sales people on a train, chanting their market tips in time with the clicking rails. Keeping perfect time, one of the sales guys calls out, “But ya gotta know the territory!” more than once.

The territory of self-publishing authors is a tough one to learn. Even now, several years into the era of the e-book, it often seems like the best marketing coup an author can hope for is to be discovered by a mainline publisher and to pick up a contract. Several popular authors have made their fame and fortune from just this sort of process.

Enter “Kbuuk?”

Authors, take note: entrepreneurs have you in their marketing gun-sights.  On April 9, 2013 The San Francisco Chronicle profile a new Houston-based startup called Kbuuk (don’t ask…OK. “K” is for cloud and “buuk” is for…well, Fritz Lanham at the Chronicle figured it out from there; see SFC, April 9, 2013, p. D1).

Kbuuk can convert a Word manuscript into a e-book, and host it on its own distinctive web site within the Amazon Cloud ecosystem, in Amazon itself, and on Kobo’s and Barnes and Noble’s platforms. This reduces costs (and gives Kbuuk a 20 percent margin). Kbuuk creates marketing “value” by crafting a Web presence that will grab the attention of readers.

Sounds great! But–in addition to “knowing the territory” you must have a quality product to bring in the sheaves of fame and fortune. No shortcuts there.

New Terrain: “The Lowest Publishable Denominator”

In addition to discussing the merits of a comprehensive marketing plan Lanham points out that there is something new about how pricing works in the self-publishing e-book market. He quotes Ed Nawotka, editor in chief of Publishing Perspectives, on the new dynamics of pricing. Apparently, “less is more:  authors are pricing lower for smaller bits of information.  New and good idea, yes?  Except academics will quickly recognize the tried-and-true vehicle of the “lowest publishable denominator,” i.e., stretching out your research into as many articles as possible. But then, many famous authors have also shown their skill in the LPD derby (Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones, anyone?)

Anyway, it works like this. If you, the reader are being charged $1.99, your expectations are lower, and you might be more willing to buy something. Amazon’s Kindle store (as well as The New York Times) give ample proof of this new e-sub-market. Famous authors are now publishing novellas, short stories and excerpts at very low prices. This low-cost come-on, in my opinion, may be deepening the e-book market by giving readers affordable options, using the hook-power of name recognition.

For those without name recognition in place, the marketing work must continue. Perhaps startups like Kbuuk will make that work a bit easier for aspiring authors.

Computers In Libraries Column: Key Players in the E-Book Marketplace

 

From my column, “Duking it Out in the E-Book’s Wild West Marketplace,” in Computers in Libraries, January/February 2013, p. 17:

The e-book is a new medium, but it follows many other breakthrough products with histories of disruption, adoption, market acceptance, and the forging of new business relationships. Perennials such as CD-Roms, DVDs and iPods come to mind, as each of these new technologies triggered important changes in commerce and entertainment. The disruption was real and has caused serious distress for publishers, but there is no getting around the fact that we are in a new era now. Publishers have gained expertise in digital media and are engaged in intensive experimentation. They are taking big risks with e-books and trying new innovative pricing models. And they are playing a tough game to protect revenue.

Chronicle of Higher Ed Reports on Electronic Course Reserves Kerfuffle

In the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Publishers and Library Groups Spar in Appeal to Ruling on Electronic Course Reserves”

This case is heading for appeal. The following quote expresses one the publishers’ key arguments:

In their brief, filed on Monday, the publishers argue that, if the lower court’s ruling stands, it will have implications that go far beyond Georgia State’s practices. The publishers play up the idea that e-reserves amount to course packs or anthologies of reading material. Judge Evans’s decision “invites universities nationwide to accelerate the migration of course-pack creation from paper to electronic format” and to sidestep legal permission to use copyrighted content, the brief states.

And this from the intrepid Association of Research Libraries:

…Brandon Butler, director of public-policy initiatives for the Association of Research Libraries, took issue with the argument that e-reserves put publishers at great risk.

“I’m baffled that the publishers continue to claim that course reserves pose some kind of existential threat to their business,” he told The Chronicle via e-mail. “It was established at trial that GSU’s practices are in the mainstream, so libraries are basically already doing what the publishers claim will put them out of business, and yet Oxford University Press reported $1-billion in sales last year, $180-million in profits. Is that what a publisher on the verge of collapse looks like?”

Let’s hope the principal of “Fair Use” continues to prevail.

Big Data Meets Literary Scholarship

The New York Times published a very interesting update on how humanists are applying big data approaches to their scholarship (see The New York Times, January 27, 2013, p. B3). The article begins with a description of research by Matthew L. Jockers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He conducted word- and phrase-level textual analysis on thousands of novels, enabling longer-term patterns to emerge in how authors use words and find inspiration. This kind of textual analysis revealed the impact of a few major authors on many others, and identified the outsized impact of Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.

Jockers said that “Traditionally, literary history was done by studying a relative handful of texts…what this technology does is let you see the big picture–the context in which a writer worked–on a scale we’ve never seen before.”

The implications for comparative literature and other fields that bump up against disciplinary boundaries are compelling.This kind of data analysis has long been the domain of sociologists, linguists and other social scientists, but it is increasingly finding a home in the humanities.

Steve Lohr, the Times article’s author, provides a number of other examples. One of my favorites is the research conducted by Jean Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden, who are based at Harvard. They utilized Google Books’ graph utility–open to the public–to chart the evolution of word use over long periods of time. One interesting example: for centuries, the references to “men” vastly outnumbered references to “women,” but in 1985 references to women began to lead references to men (Betty Friedan, are you there?)

Studying literature on this scale is indicative of the power and potential of big data to revolutionize how scholarship is done. Indeed, the availability of useful data is subtly transforming humanist scholars to the point that interested humanists are gaining a new identity as computer programmers.

Lohr also points out that quantitative methods are most effective when experts with deep knowledge of the subject matter guide the analysis, and even second-guess the algorithms.

What is new and distinctive is the ability to ramp up the study of a few texts to a few hundred text. The trick will be to keep the “humanity” in humanism.

I also draw considerable inspiration from the growing awareness that pattern recognition–a daily exercise for information professionals–is gaining new attention as part of the research process in general.

Perhaps it’s time for some of us to collaborate as co-principal investigators….

My December Column in Computers in Libraries: “Making Our Own Futures.”

Computers in Libraries magazine usually devotes its December issues to trend-spotting and future-casting. In that end of year spirit, I take a look at “additive manufacturing” (aka 3D printing), “Zoomable user interfaces (ZUIs), “Unsourcing” (I love that use of irony), and widely distributed Print on Demand.  Have a look at the December issue of CIL.