Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Book Expo is All About

I have been coming to Book Expo America since 1990, back when it was called the ABA. I was with a small book publisher less than a year out of college when I was treated to seeing the book industry in action in Las Vegas. It was overwhelming, fun, and educational. In 2011, I find it a little less intense, but no less informative. It is still a special gathering place for a unique industry.

BEA is a great meeting spot for all those involved in making a living from the construction of words, the arrangement of photos and illustrations, and the artful packaging of content. Where else do literary agents, book stores, sales reps, marketers, news media, bloggers, publicists, editors, authors, distributors, publishers, photographers, illustrators, cover designers, binders, printers, wholesalers, foreign publishers, and wannabe writers and readers gather but at BEA?

The online world and all of its Facebook groups, chatrooms, and blogging carnivals can be a beautiful thing but nothing beats the synergy you feel when you physically get tens of thousands of people with a bonding interest together to talk shop. The ideas flow, the handshakes and hugs follow, and for a brief respite from the realities and demands of the world we can reimagine and recapture our love for books.

I met with longtime colleagues, friends, and associates.  I ran into former co-workers and met new authors.  I handed out hundreds of pamphlets about Planned Television Arts and collected about 200 business cards. At a show like this one must network his relationships but I also used the time to learn what’s new and to see where the industry is heading. Truth is, no one knows. Trends are forming but one can’t make any bets about book publishing five years from now.  You can take the industry’s temperature today but the pulse rate could change next week.

I have a special place for BEA in my heart. It was at the annual convention in 2000 in Chicago that I met the woman I would marry.  She worked in marketing for Random House Audio and I was a senior publicist for PTA at the time. We met at a book launch party for Liz Smith, a well-known gossip columnist at the time for New York Newsday.  Liz even wrote about us in her column a little over a year later when we informed her we got engaged because we met at her party.

Some things in publishing remain. Young people are still entering the field.  Publishers still can’t keep up with their own publishing schedule and most publishing staff still work long hours doing what they love.  More titles are being published than ever before and publishers still want authors with platforms, who will buy books, and who have ideas for developing a book series.  But publishing is changing by leaps and bounds:  E-readers, self-publishing, social networking, and shrinking news media are driving the industry to the brink of developing new success models.

Only time will tell where the industry heads off to. Wherever it goes, if I can’t lead it, I will surely follow it!

Long live books!

            *** Brian Feinblum can be reached at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

Monday, May 30, 2011

Nothing Beats Discovering An Old Book From 1986

Imagine stepping into a time capsule, where you can go back and touch the thoughts of another era.  The year is 1986 and you’re reading a book by a best-selling author about developing excellence in yourself and others.  I got to briefly enter a time warp the other day when I picked up a copy of Zig Zaglar’s Top Performance at the most famous used book store in the country, Strand, where they brag of having over 12 miles of books if they were to be stacked together.

I only paid $1 for the hardcover book that originally cost $15.95 a quarter-century ago.  The cover was ripped and tattered.  Normally I’d want to buy a new book in pristine condition but I loved the used look of it and I loved the price.

I wasn’t searching for something to read, for in my job as a marketer and publicist for the nation’s largest book promoter, I am inundated with books.  But this book called out to me.  It wanted a home, the way a pet up for adoption commands your attention.

There was something about this book that made me pick it out of the vast trove of old books.  Its yellowed pages, softened by time and use, reminded me the book had a previous owner, maybe more than one.  It had been read and its principles acted upon.  This book may have made the difference, even a small one, in at least one other person’s life.  And now, indirectly, it was being passed on to me.

It reminded me back to the days when I’d visit my grandparents (on my mom’s side) in Brooklyn, circa late 1970’s and early 80’s.  I would see bookcases of old books and rummage through them.  I felt a little more connected to them by knowing the books they read.   They embodied a certain scent and had a particular feel.  The books had texture and substance.

There is something quaint about the book. It comes from a pre-Internet era and pre-9/11 time.  Life was different in 1986, perhaps hectic and complex for its time, but not the same as 2011.  Information had more value then, simply because there was less of it.

The author photo, in black and white, looked outdated even then.  Ah, the charm of a book jacket!

Part of the book’s appeal to me is simply that it was published in 1986, a year that was the best of my youth. My favorite team won the World Series that year and college was fun.  It was a time of excess, those go-go 80’s.  It was also a quieter, more innocent time than today.

So what did Zig Ziglar have to say back then about leadership, success, and management? I found these nuggets most helpful and still relevant:

·         “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough people get what they want!”

·         “Regardless of your past, tomorrow is a clean slate.”

·         “The choices you make today will determine what you will have, be, and do in the tomorrows of your life.”

·         “Our weaknesses are often extensions of our strengths.”

·         “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care…about them.”

·         “You cannot consistently perform in a manner which is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.”

·         “Look for good in others.  Catch them doing something right.”

·         “Seize the opportunity to share a sincere compliment.  Praise in public: censure in private.”

The era of everything being done, sold, communicated, and saved online is well upon us and we’ll find a way to reflect upon today 25 years from now as some type of golden time. But for now, my bar is set at 1986 and I am loving every word of Zig’s book as if he wrote it today.

***Brian Feinblum can be reached at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who Is Book Publishing’s Mascot?

When you think of milk, you think cow.  Go to the ballpark and you order a what? A hot dog.  Come to a casino and you envision a slot machine jackpot.  Companies and teams have their logos, countries have their flag colors, and famous people have their catchphrases. There are lots of strong brands out there. It seems every industry or product has a face , a corresponding visual, a soul mate.  But what now represents the writer or book publisher?  Is it a typewriter or a pen?  A keyboard?  A book?

The typewriter is a relic.  The pen is second to a gadget for communicating info but the image of a smartphone or ipad or laptop doesn’t immediately conjure up writer.  You may think information, communication or technology, but not necessarily writer.  The book (a paper one), only represents half of the sales of new books, or maybe two-thirds, and that number decreases with each e-book sale.  How do you symbolize an e-book?

Maybe more important than finding a picture to represent writers and publishers is the need to find a spokesperson to pitch and best represent the industry.  Can you think of someone who is the posterboy for publishing?

The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Publisher’s Lunch, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, best-selling authors, leading bookblogs, C-Span, and other media and retail outlets all contribute to creating some kind of image of the world of writing but none of them stand out as the clear leader, as the one that completely speaks for authors, publishers, literary agents, editors, distributors, cover designers, illustrators, photographers and all those involved in the craft of books.  Perhaps the reason is that there is no one company or individual who can truly represent all of these interests, ideals, and needs.  I guess this is why we have so many different Web sites, associations, awards, and companies involved in publishing – because there are so many specialty areas, each deserving of a lobbying voice.

Still, I wonder if we struggle to find the mascot of book publishing because we simply no longer have a handle on defining the industry and all of its components.  Book publishing has changed more in the past five years than in the prior 50. And it’s still changing.

The New York Times recently reported a new venture, www.bookish.com, will launch late this summer.  It will cover literary things – reviews, news about authors, book experts, etc.  It will sell books too.  Three major publishers are behind it – Simon and Schuster, Penguin Group USA, and Hachette Book Group.  It remains to be seen if a site like this can become the leading face of book publishing.

I don’t see the discussion of promoting literacy as much as I used to.  For some reason society assumed everyone has a computer and this is reading and writing, but the truth is we have millions of illiterate and functionally illiterate adults in the United States.  Maybe part of whatever image book publishing wants to create for itself should go back to its roots of championing literacy, free speech, and the idea that a book can transport us to places we never imagined. I love books and hope the next generation embraces them too.

Distinctions blur these days: Who is a publisher and who is a writer? Who is a book-seller and who is a book publisher? What is a book and what is a white paper? We also have a dual image arising:  that of the writer-reader.  With over one million new books published last year – and millions of blog postings every day – we have the same people engaging in both writing and reading.  So perhaps the commercial script to promote the publishing industry has to take all of these factors into consideration. Publishing is changing, in part, because of the active role a consumer now plays in the production of what is being bought.

Whatever or whomever comes to represent publishing, if such a thing or person exists, may it highlight our mutual love for the written word and to not only praise the convergence of bits and bytes into bucks and books. May we also pay homage to the valuable role books serve in creating a society of thinkers and doers.

So, before you go write a book, buy one and support the industry of book publishing.

        *** Brian Feinblum can be reached at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fly-Fishin’ With The Enduring Brand of Fonzie

Over the years I have been fortunate to promote and market a number of legendary best-selling authors, including Dr. Ruth, Jeff Foxworthy, Stephen Covey, Seth Godin, Og Mandino, Harvey Mackay, and Bill Bryson. For some of these authors I may have only had a chance to know them for a brief period of time, promoting one of their books with a radio tour and then moving on. But of all the authors I have worked with – and there have probably been close to a thousand of them – none have impressed me as much as Henry Winkler.

He has quietly built up a legendary entertainment career that few living icons can match. And I am now involved in promoting his upcoming book with his publisher, Insight Editions, as my client.
As one of my television heroes, Fonzie was an idol to millions while starring in the nation’s number one television hit, Happy Days. I fondly remember watching the show as an adolescent and thinking I needed a real-life Fonzie to complement my Richie Cunningham life. I wanted to be cool, to be the one who gets the girl with a snap of my thumb, to be the one who can walk into a room of toughies and have no fears, and who can say nothing and still say a lot.
The mid-1970s, when Happy Days debuted, there were many comedies competing for bragging rights.  By 1977, the season after Happy Days topped the charts for a full year, there was stiff competition from MASH, Threes Company, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Welcome Back Kotter, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude and even its own spinoff, Laverne and Shirley. Oddly enough, critics back then chastised television as a wasteland and said it was going down the tubes. Upon reflection, one might argue this was the golden era of television. By contrast, today’s era of reality shows and well, more reality shows, has debatably spawned a new television low.
Henry is on a USA Network Show, Royal Pains, and is filming a new movie. He has had a long career since putting his leather jacket in the closet – Broadway, films, TV movies, and a best-selling children’s book series,  Hank Zipzer.  His new book is entitled I Never Met An Idiot On The River, which is a wonderfully written book about his passion, fly-fishing. It is filled with his original photographs, poetry, and stirring text describing life on a fishing boat far away from Hollywood.
In the process of writing his press materials, I researched a man I thought I knew fairly well, though had admittedly fallen off my radar after his 250+ episodes of Happy Days last aired nearly three decades ago. I felt I was learning anew about an old friend, as if we were separated after high school and now reunited on Facebook.
After an exhaustive online search I concluded he is a rear gem. Not only has he managed to live a very productive life long after being the hottest television star, but he has been able to pull off the near impossibility of living a sane and respectable life. He is the anti-Charlie Sheen. Fame has not turned Henry into some scandal-riddled celebrity who finds himself making headlines for arrests, addictions and public meltdowns.  He doesn’t fill the tabloids with confessions of sexual indiscretions. He doesn’t have public spats with anyone. I don’t know that he has ever gotten a parking ticket.  I am sure he has not an angel – none of us is perfect – but it is refreshing to see someone still performs at such a high level and also comes off as a clean and humble. He is even married to the same woman for over 35 years. That’s no easy feat in Hollywood.
One of the things I like about his new book is that he talks about  family and fatherhood and about living a double life – the busy work life in LA or NYC – and the escape to the rivers of Montana and other hideaways. As a dad of two young children I always look to find a balance between work and play and between myself and my role of caring for others.
For Henry, he’s found fly-fishing as a release, as a hobby. For me, for today, I find comfort in rewatchnig Happy Days in the memories conjured up by working with The Fonz.
***Brian Feinblum can be contacted at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What’s A Book Worth?

As the debate rages within the publishing industry over how much information is worth a May 3rd Sotherby’s auction yielded a 170 million-dollar windfall for 44 works of art.  There was one painting – a Picasso – that sold for $21.3 million.  It made me wonder why we don’t value the written word the same way.

Now, granted, books, other than ancient or rare manuscripts, will ever fetch millions of dollars, but why is information today being devalued in the marketplace?

The Internet poses many challenges to information peddlers.   Book publishers, newspapers, magazines and websites are still searching for the ideal pricing model.  Part of the problem is there’s so much information out there and a lot of it is free. But the art of writing should not be commoditized, where we weigh words by the pound.  It’s the quality, more than the quantity, of content that should count.

As it is, many authors fail to earn much from their work. Publishers Weekly reported on a study performed last year that showed 7 percent of all books published generate 87 percent of the sales revenue. Further, 93 percent of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies each. In fairness, many sales happen off the radar (via authors’ sites, seminars, bulk organization sales, etc.) and thus there are probably more successful authors on top of this study, but still, these are sobering statistics.

I believe book publishers have made a tactical error in making e-books so cheap.  As a result, they undercut the perceived value of all published writings.  It’s a model that, the longer it persists, will be harder to reverse.  I would prefer they give extra value to a higher purchase price, rather than lower the price.

There are many factors weighing on the pricing of information, including:
·         We’re still in a recessionary mode and for some, buying a book or subscribing to a magazine poses some challenges.
·         Publishers are playing follow the leader, letting, Amazon, Apple or Walmart dictate terms.  If a publisher tries to push its own model, it has to compete against what the vast majority has established.
·         All information is competing with each other, so people are choosing what to spend on the increased choice of books, magazines and newspapers – while also reading free blogs, posts on social networking sites, and Tweets.
·         More than ever before, people are spending time creating content and writing, and therefore, devote less time reading and buying the works of others. Our nation is moving from consumers to producers of content.
·         Aside from free and purchasable information, there is a competition for time and mindshare.  People also devote hours and hours to television, radio, video games, on-demand video, and a host of other entertainment forms.
·         As the number of e-readers increases, more people will secure information digitally, and thus, the printed version of content is likely to suffer lower sales.
·         Global competition online.  Walking into a bookstore used to confront you with hundreds of thousands of choices but online, the choices extend to the millions.  Books never go out of print online and no boundary of store or country stands in the way of you accessing materials from around the globe.

In time, the dust will settle.  I would venture a guess that in a few years a clearer model of pricing will develop and the lines will blur as to what even constitutes a book.  Information will merge and the distinction of what’s a book, a magazine, a newspaper or a blog will become less clear.

Just look at television and movies.  The boundaries of distinction are decreasing.  Not long ago the major TV networks produced content and then syndicated reruns were shown on cable stations.  Now cable stations produce original shows.  Netflix used to rent old TV shows and movies.  Now it’s getting into the game of airing shows that didn’t air elsewhere first.  More importantly, people are not going to movie theaters as often as they used to and not buying DVDs as often as they used to.  They watch it on TV or through streaming online video, for free or little charge.  Even worse, millions of homes are off the TV grid. 

Nielsen reported this past week that three and a half percent of all homes do not own a single TV.  Some of it is attributed to the recession, although TV-based entertainment is cheaper than almost all other forms.  Some of it is attributed to the switch two years ago over the elimination of antennas, thus requiring transition to cable or the purchase of a converter box.  Others may simply believe TV offers nothing of redeeming value and avoid it.  But the real culprit may be the Internet.  People are watching TV for free online.

So what does all of this add up to when it comes to pricing books?  I would suggest publishers stop lowering their prices and curtail all of the free content to a degree.  Or else look for ways to trumpet the uniqueness of a book. Authors devote their lives to their writing.  Shouldn’t they get paid more than what comes out to below-minimum-wage royalties?  This is true for self-publishers and print-on-demand authors: Don’t devalue your own work.  Once we’re all on the same page, the market shall improve.

But if writing doesn’t pay off for you, consider investing in art.  I hear there’s money to be made there.

            *** Brian Feinblum can be reached at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

Read A Few Thousand Good Books Lately?

Imagine being sequestered somewhere for about a year, getting paid to do what you may love the most:  read books.  Lots of them.  Every day.  Non-stop.  A marathon of books, books, and more books.  Could you do it?

The equivalent for sports watching is taking place right now.  Major League Baseball, in its infinite marketing wisdom, is paying two guys to watch baseball day and night throughout the season.  They will watch 2450 regular season games and then the playoffs and World Series.  They are on display to the public – you can go to their first-floor “fan cave” in a space formerly famous for occupying the original Tower Records on East 4th Street in Manhattan.

Besides watching games, the two superfans film a reality show that airs on www.MLB.com.  These unabashed baseball addicts interest me because they call into question the old adage:  Too much of a good thing is not so good.  I wonder after it is all done if they will ever want to watch another game or will they come away as addicted as ever?

Can publishing sponsor some gimmick like this?  Can Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster or St. Martin’s Press host a read-a-thon by its best authors?  Would Amazon sponsor a book-a-thon to highlight the readings of its best customers? Should Barnes & Noble pay someone to read as many books on its Nook as possible over the summer?  Maybe someone wants to set a Guinness Book of World Records mark for most books read and blogged about in one month?

The writing profession does get its due. There are many book and author awards out there.  There are a number of best-seller lists one can make.  There’s attention drawn to a book by reviewers and bloggers.  There are public book signings.  And there is countless coverage on social networking sites.  But maybe the industry, as a whole, needs some fanfare.  It’s been a rough few years with layoffs and consolidations, shrinking sales and store closings. 

It’s time to celebrate the profession and art of writing.  Go buy a book – or read one.

Or a few thousand of them.

            *** Brian Feinblum can be reached at brianfeinblum@gmail.com.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Coming Soon: Memoir of a Six-Year-Old

My six-year-old soon recently asked me if I can “advertise” a book that he plans to make.  He doesn’t exactly know what I do for a living even though I remind him that I promote authors to the news media and market their books. But he knows enough to see that anyone – even a kid – has access to cheap technology that can create a book (regardless of the quality of the content) and he knows that it can sell with the right promotions.

I didn’t ask him what his book would be about or why he thought others would want to buy it.  I wanted to applaud him for thinking this up and on the other hand I didn’t want to encourage him to put his book together because I knew it would mean I’d have to promote it.  Not that I’m lazy or disinterested in supporting his efforts. It’s just that I wasn’t sure how I’d explain all the things many adult authors seem to miss the boat on.

Too many authors think like my kid does – slap together a book and promote it.  Then count the sales, right?  It’s not that easy.  Just as almost any healthy under-40 adult can have a kid, provided they have unprotected sex, that doesn’t mean he or she will be a good parent.  And so it goes with publishing.  Almost anyone can get a book published but it doesn’t mean the book is any good. And even if it’s a gem, it will need smart, relentless promoting or it will just die a quiet death.

I suppose if I did encourage my son, Benjamin Feinblum (I put his full name here so he can find himself online), to pursue his dream of getting published, selling lots of books, and becoming famous, I’d first help him think through what he plans to do.  I’d want him to think about how his book will be written, designed, and presented.  Image is becoming just as important as content. I’d ask him to define his marketplace – Who does he envision as his customer or reader?  Why will they buy from him and at what price point?  Lastly, he should tell me how he’ll promote it. Yes, a six-year-old with a business plan!

That may be a tall order to ask of a six-year old. Many adults fail to answer those questions or to deliver as promised on the answers they provide. There’s a lesson here, I think.  Technology allows us to get a book published instantly.  It also creates a marketplace and a means to promote. But behind all of the button-pushing we still can’t lose sight of the basics – you still need a compelling book, lots of energy, time, money, and creativity to promote it, and a readership that can be targeted to with the right offer.

Ben has already convinced me to participate in his other money-making schemes – a car wash, cupcake sale, lemonade stand to name a few.  Maybe publishing and marketing a book for a kid these days will become the new norm. I’m sure some other six-year-old is asking his parent to help with blogging or creating a website as we sit here now.
One thing my son has that most adult authors don’t is his innocence.  He has charm and personality. Who’s going to turn down a smiling six-year-old peddling a cute little book for a couple of bucks? Maybe he should write about dogs, happiness, money, or chocolate – a big percentage of the population supports each of those things.  Throw in a charity tie-in (Let’s raise money for the homeless, maybe?), and you have a neat little package.  For publicity, do I need much of an angle beyond; “Six-year-old publishes memoir; nation’s largest book PR firm promotes it?”  Too bad Oprah is gone but I can see a Publisher’s Weekly interview, New York Times profile and a Today Show segment (albeit, hour number eight) in the cards.  At least that’s what we’ll write on the galley copy’s back cover. His mom can give a great testimonial though his three-year-old sister, Olivia, can’t quite use her crayon to write neatly.

Say, the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to see why my son suggested his publishing foray in the first place.  He has me sold on it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Information Peddlers Are Making Millions, But What of the Writer?

Although book publishing may feel it needs a bailout, there is good news about the business of information and entertainment.

According to a Wall Street Journal article of May 9, 2011, six of the 12 most compensated CEOs in the nation come from companies involved in creating or distributing intellectual content, namely television stations, cable companies, and satellite TV, and a movie house.  Here’s a look at the compensation for 2010’s elite:

No. 1 – Viacom CEO Philippe Davman               84.328 million dollars
No. 3 – CBS CEO Les Moonves                           53.881 million dollars
No. 5 – Direct TV CEO Michael White                32.635 million dollars
No. 8 – Disney CEO Robert Iger                           27.219 million dollars
No. 10 – Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes        26.012 million dollars
No. 12 – Comcast CEO Brian Roberts                  24.950 million dollars

Is this a sign that one can still make money with information?  I didn’t see any magazine or book publishing CEOs on the list of the top 20, but maybe that’s more of a reflection of how the industry pays its top hat rather than as an indication of the industry’s health.  Not sure.

But the bigger question arises: Can the creators of content make good money, however you define “good money?” How many bloggers are making money?  What do journalists get paid?  Are most authors making money?  There are companies getting rich off of content, through private stock sales and advertising such as Facebook, but the writers of its content are you and me and we work for free.  There are companies that peddle content, such as Amazon, and they are doing well.  There are search engines that organize existing content that they don’t pay for, like Google, and they are making billions of dollars.  But what about the individual who writes well, does original research, and performs at a high level in the crafting of ideas and sharing of information?  Is he or she making enough to earn a decent living?

The New York Daily News just reported on a branding study issued by a marketing firm, Millward Brown. They identified the top 10 brand values. Not surprisingly, six in 10 top brands are technology and telecom companies. That’s where the money is at.  Just look at Google, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, AT&T, and China Mobile. They produce gadgets, move information, or provide a service for users to create and transport information.

Maybe instead of blogging, writers should just invest n the stocks of the information-peddling companies.  It may be the best way to earn money off of information, since the creation of information doesn’t seem as valued.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Marketing Strategies Found in a Casino

I have been marketing and promoting authors and books for the past two decades and it occurred to me on a recent trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino that many similarities exist in one’s approach to gambling and book publicity. Here are few observations I would like to share with you:

  1. Don’t bet what you can’t afford to lose.  Lesson:  Invest your time and resources to support your book but don’t mortgage your house or quit your day job to do so.

  1. Never put all of your chips on one bet.  Lesson:  Don’t pin your hopes and dreams on one particular media outlet.  Go after big, medium and small wins.  They all add up.

  1. Diversify your efforts and play more than one type of game. Lesson:  Don’t focus all of your efforts solely on blogging or in just seeking out TV interviews. Instead, approach a number of mediums – local and national (radio, print, radio and online).

  1. Be aware the odds are not stacked in your favor.  But the only way to win it is to be in it.  Lesson:  You need to catch a lucky break and it can only happen when you play the game and not sit on the sidelines.

  1. Look before you leap. Watch the betting strategies of others before you play. Lesson:  Observe, learn, and then live it.

  1. Don’t bet on something you don’t understand or feel comfortable with. Lesson: Only market and promote in a way you feel secure in; otherwise hire a professional or avoid it.

  1. Enjoy the win.  Celebrate!  Lesson:  When you do experience success in your PR and marketing, celebrate it and value the moment.

  1. Play the hot hand.  Lesson:  It may be luck or skill or being in the right place at the right time but whatever it is, keep doing what works until it doesn’t.

  1. Take a risk – the reward can be huge.  Some bet on the long-shot knowing if they win they get a huge payoff.  Lesson:  Take a chance on the long-shots and enjoy the reward if it comes through.

  1. Know when to walk away.  In gambling, the more time spent betting, the more likely you’ll lose.  In marketing and PR, the opposite is true -- you need to keep at it to have a chance at success.  Lesson:  In either scenario, assess where you’re at regularly and know when it’s time to call it quits.

In case you were wondering: I won 50 bucks at the Roulette Wheel – after being down $250 and got to walk away feeling like a winner

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Publishing E-pocalypse? Look At Your Information Footprint

Is the relatively inexpensive and widespread access to information technology hurting or helping book publishers and authors?

It would seem one needs a scorecard to figure this out.  Certainly with any change brought into the marketplace you will see a ripple effect across the board. New winners and losers will appear and the degree by which one succeeds or fails will be altered as well.  Those who gain early access to, and successful adoption of a new technology will win.  Those who are indecisive or just want to stick their head in the sand will fall behind. But with the advent of the next gadget, software or service, one can again jump ahead or fall further behind.  Change happens so frequently that it’s a certainty that nothing remains set in place for long. Publishing is becoming like the Dow Jones, with sweeping highs and lows by the day.

When it comes to book publishing we should examine technology’s impact on the publisher, the author, the consumer, and society.  There are overlapping interests as well as unique interests amongst them.  Technology has impacted who becomes an author, how one is published and distributed, and how books are edited, designed, promoted, and marketed. It has redefined the industry in such a short period of time. The publishing landscape is forever changed, for better and for worse.

Publishing is an industry deep in tradition and rigidity.  Where one sees standards and practices others see stodgy elitists dictating terms.  But book publishing, for well over a century, was an industry that was looked upon as special.  To have a book published was a dream to many.  Not only was an author’s voice heard, it was validated by the approval of the publisher. An author could feel proud of his or her accomplishment, knowing millions of other Americans wanted to trade spots with him.  Further, for a book to make a bestseller list, namely The New York Times, and to get reviewed in a leading magazine or newspaper, was quite an accomplishment. Publishing was quaint, intellectual, and somewhat exclusive for many decades. And New York was its capital. Now it seems like publishing’s doors have been thrown wide open to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Publishing is now very different.  For one, so many books are being published that the glut of titles overwhelms the marketplace, media, critics, and consumers.  Over one million new books were published in 2010.  Only about 45,000 were released in 1989.  That’s an increase of 2,200%.  The U.S. population has only grown by 33% since then. 

Who has the money to buy or time to read these books?  Of what quality are these books? Are there new stories and new ideas presented, or do so many of the books repeat and mirror each other? Is the very definition of what constitutes a book changing?

Coupled with the flood of books there is an overflow of other entertainment options – DVDs, CDs, video games, cable TV, and entertainment on demand.  You can rent, borrow, trade or buy millions of other information products.  Then add on the zillions of blogs, websites, and emails and social media (videos, FB page, Tweets, podcasts, webinars) and you just wonder what is the result, financially, socially, educationally, and otherwise on society and on the information peddlers?

We love freedom of speech. I fear we’ll soon come to love freedom from speech just as much.  I know the information universe needs a haircut – less will be more. It also needs a librarian, but not a censor or gatekeeper. We need to be able to process, judge, and understand all of the information that we have access to.  And the writers and publishers must reform their ways and take responsibility for the information overload that we each contribute to.  Perhaps I add to the information pollution as well.  We all need to examine our information footprint.

No doubt, many good things are happening with the creation and dissemination of information.  I love my smart phone, an Android, and though I don’t own one, the iPad looks great.  I know there is hope that we can find a balance between easy access to information technology and the practical employment of it but right now we have what seems to me a cluttered and chaotic – and not always profitable model – world of information.

Whereas a book gives us  sense of order – a cover, table of contents, beginning, middle and end, an index, a glossary, resources, etc. – the world of publishing is no longer so neatly ordered. With nearly 3,000 books published daily – or 125 an hour (that is one every 30 seconds) – we must seek to create a better system for reviewing, ranking, announcing, selling, and promoting them.

Whoever can figure out a way to solve this dilemma should get the Nobel Prize. 

Then he or she can blog about it and write a book.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Donald Trump Branding Lessons for Authors

After President Obama felt obliged to release his long form birth certificate to silence the right wing “birther movement,” most recently championed by Donald Trump, my wife said to me :  “Trump’s going to lose some fans over this won’t he?”

I think he got more fans from it. For Trump, he’s made a living off of his name.  He’s a brand.  His brand’s image:  Be famous, for anything.  He used to be known as a real estate developer and then casino owner.  Then he delved into reality television and anything else he can get paid to slap his name on, including books, tea, golf resorts, etc.

It doesn’t matter if you agree with Trump’s political shenanigans, and let me just say that I don’t, but you have to admire one man’s ability way past his prime to still get all of this free publicity.  He used an old issue –the supposed controversy over whether President Obama was born in the United States – to get himself interviewed by major news media for several weeks. He really used it, not to sway the public on this particular issue, but to get millions of dollars of free exposure for Celebrity Apprentice and for the continued, non-stop marketing of the Trump brand name.

He’s as famous for bad hair, hot trophy wives, and numerous bankruptcies as he is for being a savvy businessman, but his image and name endures because there’s something about him many aspire to be.  He exudes success.  He gives off a confident, powerful persona. He may at times be an actor, but he gets us to buy in.  Even when he’s filing for divorce or another business venture goes under, we believe in him.  We hear that magnetic voice, see his grin of determination, and a spark of vision in his eyes. He looks like what we expect a billionaire to be – and we secretly hope to be him. He’s got charisma and he’s willing to be playful, hosting Saturday Night Live, getting roasted on Comedy Central, and participating in entertainment as often as he seems to lead board meetings.

Here’s what Trump does that all authors seeking to promote themselves need to do:
  • Always be where the cameras are – he loves to have a snappy comment on news of the day.
  • Talk about things beyond your domain – when’s the last time he discussed real estate?  He talks about the Mets being up for sale, politics, and anything else.
  • Act like you’re an authority and people come to see you that way.
  • Dress for the job.
  • Pick a side – don’t just comment in a wishy-washy way on something - love it or hate it!
  • Expand your area of expertise and build up multiple brands – there is business Trump, there is entertainment Trump, and political Trump.
  • Surround yourself with images of glamour; Trump got into casinos, Miss America Pageant and celebrity reality TV.
While the recent birth certificate campaign orchestrated by Trump shows us, there seemingly is no limit to how far one can use free media to build their brand, the real lesson we should take from this is that you don’t have to be the biggest, the best, the largest, the richest, or the smartest to garner book publicity.  Just ask Trump.