How many of us remember iPublish.com? I didn't make the link active because it just points to a placeholder page these days. The rise and fall of Time Warner's big Internet play took just eight month months, not counting the pre-launch preparation. Time Warner blamed the failure on ebooks lack of market acceptance, but as a potential candidate for the iPublish fiasco, I seem to remember it being pitched to fiction authors as a path into print. I also seem to remember the contract terms being abusive, which is why I didn't sign. The model involved peer review of manuscripts (free labor) to bubble the cream to the top. These were the good old days when it was assumed that nobody in the publishing community cheats.
Another notable failure was the Sobol Award, announced in late 2006, denounced by everybody who was already somebody, and renounced just four months later. The Sobol Award looked too much like a pyramid scheme, with it's $85 entry fee and $100,000 prize. The real carrot for writers was the promise that the top three fiction manuscripts would receive contracts with Simon and Shuster. If they had attracted the 50,000 manuscripts they were hoping for, they would have grossed $8.5 million. Instead, they issued refunds and closed down the contest with some serious out-of-pocket expenses.
A notable success story would be Safari, the ebook subscription service that for technology books, a joint venture of O'Reilly Media and The Pearson Technology Group. Considering that O'Reilly and Pearson are the two most web savvy publishers out there, it's not surprising that they could create a going business. Sales of O'Reilly ebooks through Safari between May '05 and May '06 exceeded sales of O'Reilly paper books through Borders, though the results are heavily influenced by corporate consumers of software titles.
Yesterday, we were treated to Simon & Shuster announcing a "book-centric video channel" christened BookVideos that will go online in June with a ".tv" domain. It's a good way to lose a large proportion of your potential visitors who read about the "channel" in print but who will type ".com" when they sit down at their computers. The channel will launch with 40 videos of top authors produced by TurnHere. My guess is that Simon & Shuster hopes to leverage initial fan viewings of the videos into subscriptions to e-mail lists and memberships in fan forums. It seems unlikely to be a crashing failure or a resounding success, though I suspect the more web savvy authors will eventually figure out that they are sending fans to the Simon & Shuster site at the expense of their own traffic.
The BookVideos initiative sounds more like a a new shopping channel than an exciting books and Internet hybrid. If they had announced a new site for audio books with novel distribution through pod casting to cellphones, that would have been interesting:-)