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What Scares Publishers Today

Today was the long session day at Tools of Change, with all day tracks in E-books, Print on Demand, XML and Social Networking/Community building. I believe the idea is to present a fairly comprehensive picture of what steps a publisher who is new to one of these technologies needs to take to get moving. I sat in a bit of the ebook and community building sessions, maybe a half hour each, and I accomplished my goal of not asking disruptive questions.

Listening to the questions posed by others, it's clear that many trade employees are still fixated on the technology (and it many cases, that may be their job function) while other are questioning the big picture - ie, can we make a living doing this sort of stuff. I'd written recently about the inability of large trades to scale down to a leaner Internet/ebook heavy model in order to survive, and about those publishers who trip over technology or spend big dollars for little results. The advertising aimed at publishers in magazines shows they are still buying expensive Content Management Systems (CMS) and vertical integration with XML. A new workflow solution may make sense if you're dumping your old system anyway, but it won't buy you an online presence. There's just no way to automate experience and intent, and taxonomies belong in libraries, not websites. Readers may notice I don't even bother tagging this blog. That's because I figure Google does a better job figuring out what I'm trying to say than I do.

It's hard to get a vibe from a crowd, unless they're burning cars and waving signs, but I got the feeling that the economic climate has publishers very worried, accelerating a loss of control that began with the rise of the B&N and Borders chains and has morphed into a world of Amazon and Google. Publishers once occupied a unique and enviable position in the information and entertainment world, at the center of a tightly knit group of retailers, distributors and trade organizations. Today, if Amazon and Google aren't yet calling the shots, they are at least making it clear that the trade publishers don't either. One fashionable reaction to all of this is declaring that the customer is the only one who should be calling any shots, but the examples of this working for a publisher are at best anecdotal, and at worst, thought-leader fantasies. As some guy in some movie should have yelled, "Show me the tax return".

Speaking of intent, I came to listen but I spent most of my time talking outside the sessions. While this means that a whole new crop of people who have never seen my videos can be sick of my voice, a big thank you to Lynn Scanclon who did recognize my voice from a video and came over to say "Hi" rather than punching me in the mouth. I try not to wash my dirty soul in public, but I'm beginning to suspect that I'd rather listen to myself talk than listen to presentations. Must be all the $^%# blogging taking effect! In any case, I hope to catch the train back in for Wednesday and attend some of the small sessions, so if any of you see me there, remember the no punching thing.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not sure why you say readers don't call the shots in the "new" publishing economy. I think ultimately they do. They have easier access to analysis of various options and they are more educated and informed, and the difference between two choices costs them very little. In the old days customers were cows that were herded where the retailers wanted them to go, since retailers were the ones who knew the supply chain and could control the selection of products. Now the customer can get any product anywhere anytime. If thats not control what is.

By the way, regarding blog tagging, there are a lot more advantages to tagging than just helping google figure out what your page is about. Tagging literally creates a number of additioanl static pages with tag words as url slugs and hence more chances that search engines will send people to your pages for a broader range of keywords. I've seen a direct correlation in traffic and tagging.

Bryan

Morris Rosenthal said...

Bryan,

Don't agree with you at all. I'm not aware of any publishing companies where readers tell the publishers which books to publish, how much to charge for them, etc. Bookstores still use co-operative advertising (ie, shelf placement) programs to make money, including Amazon. And don't forget, there are fewer independent book stores today than last year, they year before, etc.

And the "customer choice" that many of the presenters are talking about at TOC is really focused on ebooks and DRM, ie, customers having the right to take whatever they want on whatever terms they want and publishers having to live with it. That's what I was refering to when I wrote there are only anecdotal examples of this working for publishers in fairly specific cases, but they get a lot of talking time because the folks that do the talking benefit from the attention.

As to tagging, I've used it in the past on other blogs, and the main thing that bothers me about it isthat very production of duplicate static pages. While it doesn't result in penlaties, I find it very messy, and wasn't a bit impressed by the traffic to those dupes, which of course, I monitor. Maybe results vary if with content, age, etc.

Morris

Gary Roberts said...

Here at home recovering from the noro-virus (if you don't know if it, don't ask), I've pushed this blog up to the top of my must-read lists. Morris, you must have been an archivist or librarian in a former life.

Tagging: near worthless now. Google allocates a low priority to tags due to the proliferation of link-farms and blogs with tons of tags. Without sufficient companion content, the tags can actually push your ranking down in the search patterns.

Shots: At work, the publishers have dictated to the libraries and readers the formats they will receive. If you want to receive the IEEE journals in print and electronically, it will cost you more. Go all electronic and you save considerably. In time, the print will be phased out, whatever the reader wants. This is just one example of where the field is going.

Publisher knowlege of techonologies: pitiful as a rule. Even in libraries and archives, the Powers That Be are crawling to try and catch up. In the one year sinced I decided to put together a business plan for launching a publishing enterprise, my goals, techniques, service bureaus and management plans have altered over and over in response to the changes in technology and the marketplace.

I've found that the big publishers, like most corporate types, feel that unless they are spending big bucks on complex CMS setups and fancy equipment, the money is illspent. Each level of corporate management has to show off to the next that they are on the cutting edge, have special knowledge and can do something No One Else Can.

In the long run, I do believe that the market will winnow out the inadequate business plans, the ill-conceived technologies and the over-priced products. I had planned on a solely POD print operation with some electronic products as a kicker.

Just yesterday I was contacted by the author of one of the seminal research books in the field of the history of industrial technology. His question was how to go about having his 30 year old book (tons of color photographs) re-published as an eBook or something similar. This is from someone who is just learning how to use email.

Sort of like the current economic climate, I think that what we thought we knew about publishing (from the author, publisher, librarian or reader end of things) is being turned on it's collective ears.

I agree with you, Morris, on the DRM problem. Security features only go so far. Stuff will be ripped off and that is already simply part of the business plan. Google Books changed that one.

And now, good sirs, to sleep.

Gary

Morris Rosenthal said...

Gary,

I've spent more time in libraries than anywhere else, but never worked in one.

If your industrial author isn't worried about making a lot of money, I would tell him to punt the book and set it all up as a website. He'll get far more readers, and end up with a resource that can outlive him if he's so inclined. May even be money in it if he chooses to go that route with POD books as an option. Sounds like great material for a serious website.

Morris

Anonymous said...

That was exactly my point. You are right that bookstore chains control the supply. But who the heck takes book store chains seriously anymore? I don't. I do serious research online, where I am in charge. Publishing is no longer about shoving your way into bookstore end caps, but delivering content online, whether to sell books or just as a website.

All I'm trying to say is that consumers have more choices now than they ever have before, even if merely by virtue of the fact that they can now be more AWARE of their choices ... via the internet and efficient use of search. I forget why we were debating this ... guess I'll read your blog post again. :-)

Bryan

Morris Rosenthal said...

Bryan,

I guess we were just thinking about different things in this case. But don't forget, even though Amazon is now the largest book seller in the US by my calculations, they're overall share of the trade book market isn't that impressive, because nobody's is. You can't forget about all of the college bookstores selling textbooks, drugstores and supermarkets selling romance, Walmarts etc selling bestsellers, etc. They amount to more sales in total than "traditional" booksellers by most counts.

Morris

Anonymous said...

Regarding tags...this morning I noticed a spike in hits on one of my web pages. I did a little snooping. Here is a search one of my viewers did to get to my website:

http://lymebook.com/snip.JPG

Notice that I am #1 and #2 in the rankings (lymebook.com). One was an article and the second listing was a tag. I would guess this helped me get the click - having two instead of one listing. This is a real life live example of how tags can help.

Gary Roberts says tagging is worthless. I beg to differ. If anyone else has any real time actual google evidence like this but to the contrary, please do present it.

I do suppose that this kind of tagging benefit may dissapear in the future as what Gary says may come to pass. However right now, tagging is alive and well and just bought me an extra #2 search listing at the top of google for only the time it took to punch out a few words from my article into the tags list.

Bryan

Morris Rosenthal said...

Bryan,

I'm afraid that's a horrific search phrase example - "Science, Politics and Values Lyme." Does one person a year search on this phrase? It reminds me of a discussion I had with a local guy who was blown away by the fact that this SEO expert had pushed a site to #1 for a phrase like "John Stradvarious Custom Bird House Design". For something so uncompetitive, Google will always stick the page with that as a title or a tag in the top slot, but nobody other than the owner (or a bot) would ever search on it.

Note that I'm not arguing that tags have no SEO value for blogs, only that my experiments showed them to be so marginal for me as not worth junking up my site with dplicate posts, which may have its own hidden downside.

My server stats for the ifitjams site show exacly how much traffic the tag copies draw becase they are all placed in a /labels directory. Out of 3,457 page views last week, the /labels directory drew 161 page views, and while I only spot checked them, they all may have been imaginary bot traffic, ie, "Direct" visitors. In other words, no humans, just increased bandwidth requirements.

Search engine rankings for specific phrases mean nothing, the question is how often those phrases are actually searched on and whether or not people then click when they see you in the results. If you go back and look at your server stats, you might be able to make a compelling argument for label use on your blog, I don't know, but it's not the example you gave above:-)

Morris

Anonymous said...

In the Lyme disease world that phrase, "Science, Politics and Values Lyme," is actually pretty popular right now because it is the title of a Journal of the American Medical Association article that just came out. The article is pretty controversial and people are trying to research it. FWIW.

Bryan

Morris Rosenthal said...

Bryan,

It's still a bad example:-) Here's a more practical bad example. I'm #1 in Google for "401K Bailout" a snarky piece I wrote last October. People do actually search on that whenever it bubbles up in the news, but it's hardly a strategic asset for my site. It's also a blog post without tagging.

In your case, with the current article, it may be worth something to you for a few weeks, though one entry may be just as effective as two, but wait a couple months and see if it brings you any search results. I'm strictly in it for the long run. The short-runners spend their time spamming social networking sites with "look here" and get lots of eyeballs, if not conversions.

Morris