Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Netflix Model Would Not Work For Books

There are many ways to charge for content.  Here are a few models that have worked in the present or recent past:

·         Buy a book in a store or online.
·         Buy an e-book on line.
·         Buy a movie in a store.
·         Rent a movie from a store or online.
·         Read a blog for free.
·         Read a Web site for free.
·         Buy a ticket to attend an event.
·         Download music, movies, and books on demand.
·         Get a newspaper subscription for home delivery or buy a single newsstand copy.
·         Get a magazine subscription for home delivery or buy a single newsstand copy.

But the trend is to bundle things and charge monthly fees:

·         Cable TV – pay a monthly price based on the number of stations and premium packages you sign up for.
·         Netflix – pay a monthly fee based on how many DVDs you have access to at any one time (and access their system of streaming video)
·         Sports – The NFL and Major League Baseball and other sports leagues charge a monthly fee for a package of games, accessed online or on TV.

Could books be sold in some monthly-fee fashion?  No, I think the book is an investment of time and money that should remain as such.  To have an all-you-can-read buffet for books for a single price would cause too many problems. For one, how would publishers get compensated?  For another, people can’t and shouldn’t consume books the way they do re-runs of a TV show or movie.  The last thing you want is to commoditize books and sell ideas, feelings, stories and information by the pound.

The publishing industry needs to team authors, publishers, and book stores in a major advertising campaign that supports the purchase of books.  For the sake of society’s development, we need to define and defend the value of books.  A book is not a Web site or blog or magazine or newspaper or anything else.  It is a piece of art, a living treasure, a unifying force, a well-developed information source, a clearinghouse of ideas, a home for fantasy and a canvass of what was or what could be.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Every book is unique and every copy of a single title is experienced differently by every reader.

We mustn’t let books become devalued.  The Information Superhighway can do so many wonderful things, but as the digital dynasty reigns, don’t let what a book means and represents get downgraded, bastardized, or diluted.

Interview With Cynthia Shannon, Publicity Manager, Berrett-Koehler Publishers

  1. What does the publicity manager for Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. do in a typical day? My main job function is to try to get media coverage for my authors. The tiniest placement can take months to coordinate, but when a producer needs a source for their show in three hours I need to move fast to set it all up. It’s a lot of juggling schedules, coming up with media angles, and jumping on opportunities when they arise.

Because we’re based in San Francisco and three hours behind the East Coast, I’ll usually check my email first thing in the morning, before I’m in the office, to respond to the most urgent requests. I’ll then spend about half an hour reading the news online to get a sense of what’s making headlines, and what’s trending on Twitter. I’ll take a break to write a press release, put together a media mailing, or attend one of the many meetings we have here, then check my email again in the afternoon.

A few times a month, Berrett-Koehler has “Author Days,” where we invite the author to visit our offices to meet with the entire staff and learn about the publishing process. That way, the author gets to know the people who are doing their production design, editing their manuscript, marketing their book, and even writing their royalty checks! We do this for every author we publish, even if we’ve published them before.

Staff members who aren’t directly involved in the project learn about the book during the author’s lunchtime presentation. We invite outside members – friends, colleagues, media - to join us for those, and the discussions after the presentation can get quite lively. On those days, I try my best to answer emails, but sometimes it’s just too busy!

  1. What are the challenges and advantages to the new media climate of today when it comes to book promotions? The challenge, no doubt, is getting heard among all the media noise. There’s no silver bullet in publicity, so every little media hit counts. You never know what is going to go viral, or what the audience is going to pick up on.
One of the advantages is that the authors can be much more involved, and directly in touch with their readers. They can get their opinions published on their own blogs, and converse with others on Twitter. 

Another advantage is that the audiences can be much more targeted. I can find the niches where my books will resonate the most. I can get in touch with reporters through various forms of communication, including Facebook and Twitter. It’s a lot easier to get information about people these days.

  1. What do you love most about being a part of the book publishing industry? Book publishing is an important industry, even with all the advances in technology. There’s something legit about a published book. I love knowing about books before they come out, and knowing that the ideas will stay out there long after the related website goes down. Berrett-Koehler publishes a lot of books that other publishers might turn down for being too controversial, the ideas may be too “new” and not proven to work, but these are actually the most important ones to put out there. Publishers can impact the way people think and what they think about; I think it’s incredibly exciting to be part of that. 

  1. Where do you think the industry is heading? Unless publishers can explain their value-add, authors are going to turn to self-publishing a lot more frequently. The publishing production process – from manuscript submission to final product – is going to decrease in time because publishers need to be quicker to react to what’s going on in the world. Booksellers are going to host more creative events because people’s attention spans are going to get a lot more shorter (yes, shorter than they are already!). Traditional print books will be more interactive, with stories continuing online or alternative endings written by fans, and authors are going to do a lot more heavy lifting when it comes to marketing (yes, a lot more than they are already!)

  1. What can publishers do to work more closely with their authors? Be transparent with the entire publishing process. Let the authors know what stage their book is in, and what the authors can do to help support it. It’s tough for an author to give up his manuscript only to find it transformed into a book half a year later, with no input on what they wanted it to look like, or what they were hoping to accomplish. I always ask the author why they wrote the book – is it to make money? Is it to brag that you were on the best-seller list? Is it to change the life of people, no matter how few? Publishers also need to see the author as part of a lifelong team, not a client with whom they’re temporarily working. Berrett-Koehler does this particularly well – our authors continue to come back and work with us!

  1. You're out in San Francisco. How much different is the publishing and media scene on the West Coast than New York City? The industry is a lot smaller, so everyone really knows everyone. There’s a lot of camaraderie between publishers. Being in the backyard of Silicon Valley, publishers out West are a lot more receptive to technological advances than in New York. We’re early adapters of new online platforms, and try to incorporate new things even if they don’t work perfectly at first – we’re willing to take the risk. Things are just lot more casual out here, and we’re constantly keeping an eye out for what’s new.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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