Thursday, February 19, 2009

Publishers and Twitter

The feature article in our March issue will be about how book publishers can use Twitter--which, as Chris Brogan says, is an increasingly important business tool. We would love to include input from blog readers in the article. Let us know your thoughts in the comments, via e-mail, or, of course, on Twitter.

Do you and/or your company use Twitter?
If you do, what has your experience been like?
If you don't use Twitter, why not?
How do you think book publishers should be using Twitter? Do you follow any book publishers on Twitter? Whose Tweets do you like, and why?
Any great Twitter business stories to share?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

5 Things We Learned About Teens at TOC

At TOC on Wednesday afternoon, we attended "Youth and Creativity: Emerging Trends in Self-expression and Publishing," a session by Evangeline Haughney (Adobe) and Bill Westerman (Create with Context). They hung out with real teenagers in their homes to get a look at their creative processes. When choosing which teens to follow, they looked for those who were creative, but not necessarily planning to go into art or design after high school. They picked those who were involved in interesting self-expression activities and who were creating digital media to share with others outside their immediate circles of friends. Here are five not-so-obvious takeaways (beyond the fairly apparent "Teens want to create identities for themselves online" and "In general, teens are pretty tech-savvy"). (The panel didn't focus much on book publishing, but it provides useful background to YA publishers who want a better look at what their target audiences are doing online.)

  • Teens don't see buying a software program (like Adobe Photoshop) as a major "life event." Whereas people in their twenties and thirties may sign up for classes and buy instruction manuals after purchasing a program, teens churn through many different technologies quickly, using programs only for what they need and then moving on.
  • At the same time, teens feel as if they have mastered these programs. Westerman pointed out that when he asks an adult, professional Photoshop user if she knows everything there is to know about Photoshop, that adult will usually answer, "No, I haven't even scratched the surface." Teens, on the other hand, will answer, "Yeah, I know Photoshop." Nor are they concerned that they haven't learned all the "right" ways of doing things with a program--they're concentrated on the outcome, not the tool. They don't ask, "How do I use the masking tool?" They ask, "How can I create a cool rain effect?"
  • That's not to say that teens aren't asking for help. They are! But they're going to their peers online or typing queries into Google. There's a return of the "apprenticeship"--teens learning skills from their more knowledgable peers, actively seeking critiques of their work, and really adopting a craft mentality. Learning is a process of watching and doing on the fly. "There's no more learning curve," Westerman said.
  • Any niche site can become a social hub--teens aren't just using Facebook for social networking. One subject in the study, "David," spent most of his time on the "Silverfish Longboarding" discussion boards. (A longboard is a type of skateboard.) These microcommunities give teens, who tend to define themselves through 2 or 3 major interests when creating online personas, a sense of belonging.
  • Teens aren't using the fanciest, newest technology. Most of those surveyed had fairly old computers and older versions of software. They were making do with what they had. And they were not pirating software. One teen, "Gina," bought a copy of Adobe Photoshop with her friend at Costco, and the girls took turns using it at home, since they only had one license.

Haughney said that future studies will target teens who DO plan to enter the design field after graduation, since the ways they are using technology now may have a major effect on the field--and on how software is designed.

TOC: The Narrative Is Changing

On the final day of TOC, Tim O’Reilly gave his keynote, following on the heels of the inventive Nick Bilton from the NYT’s R&D labs. (Bilton created the interactive website for David Carr’s book.) Much of what he discussed was focused on the topic that was subsequently addressed at the next session, where a group assembled to address the big issue: The Changing Role of the Publisher. Not surprisingly, given TOC’s pursuit of the future, the only traditional publishers were Michael Hyatt from Thomas Nelson and O’Reilly himself. And even these two would hardly be considered traditional in any other setting.

All the participants argued for greater interplay between author, reader, and publisher. Eileen Gittins of claimed that the company doesn’t publish, but rather goes after “folks who’ve got stuff” that they want to share. With triple digit growth since its founding, “we’ve tacked to that part of the slipstreams and found a goldmine,” she announced. There is also an ongoing effort to get the community of folks all over the world who have money but don’t know how to publish together with those who have skills but no money: BlurbNation. Ultimately, this cross-promotion “amplifies word of mouth.” In an ambitious demonstration of that idea, Blurb worked with flickr and the Tate Modern to create a participatory show of street photography. Tate curated the work that came out of it into a book, which Blurb sold. To celebrate the participatory event, the Tate threw a party for 5,000 people.’s Bob Young basically said he planned to follow Blurb’s lead, but meanwhile he also is seeing an uptick in revenues and titles published--5,000 a week. He surmised that there has been a huge increase in people who meant to write a book and are now unemployed, so have the time. Clint Greenleaf of the Greenleaf Book Group argued that to break out of the pack, the author must create a platform, but that the credibility of work is what counts.

Like all the participants, Thomas Nelson’s Michael Hyatt Twitters, because it draws attention to what is going on at the company, and creates specialist blogs that often highlight books. A recent innovation is a book review bloggers site that allows serious reviewers to get review book

Tim O’Reilly, who published his wife’s play on Lulu, talked of the Lulu and Blurb models as publishing as a social act--a chance to share an experience. These publishers offer a combination of social networking and the creation/curation/production of books. The book is, in the Lulu sense of publishing, “a souvenir of that shared activity.” But there is much traditional publishers can learn from it. Earlier he had talked about O’Reilly’s “Rough Cut” initiative, a peer review program whose books are getting 2.5 times the revenue of books that weren’t in the program. As he said earlier, but could have reiterated to sum up the discussion, “Participation drives revenue.”

Factoid from Nick Bilton: The number of links on the Huffington Post alone in one day is 657. Multiplied by the average media consumer’s grazing, that’s 162,000 possible links in a day. “Our social networks are becoming paths to social aggregation--swarm intelligence to disseminate content flow.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

10 Things We Learned from Chris Brogan at TOC

Yesterday, PT attended Chris Brogan's "Blogging and Social Media" tutorial at Tools of Change for Publishing 2009. Brogan is a social media/community-building super blogger--check him out here. His panel wasn't a lecture or traditional speech; rather, it was a conversation with the audience. He jumped from topic to topic; showed us his Facebook, Google Reader, and Twitter pages; played his friends' YouTube clips and book trailers; and took questions throughout. Here are ten takeaways:

  1. Focus on grabbing your customers' attention and keeping it. Don't get too upset over the fact that people's attention spans are short. "We don't have time for Moby Dick," says Brogan. "It's at once depressing and a reality."
  2. Twitter is THE social media tool publishers should learn how to use. (If you keep hearing about Twitter but have no idea what it is, don't worry--it will be the topic of the feature article in the March issue of PT!) Many people in the audience were Tweeting throughout the panel, and when someone asked a question about book social networking sites, Brogan Tweeted the question to his followers and got many answers within a few seconds.
  3. Twitter is a better marketing tool than MySpace or Facebook because it allows users to develop genuine relationships with each other. Brogan described most MySpace and Facebook marketing as being much too pushy and impersonal: "If I'm using my hand to shake your hand, don't put your tongue in my mouth."
  4. How should publishers (and others) decide which social networking sites to use? Brogan recommends they find out where their customers are, and go there. And it's better to be very involved with them on one site than to do a lackluster job of being everywhere: "If you're going to be everywhere," Brogan said, "you have to answer the phone and you have to offer customer service everywhere."
  5. Try putting your slush pile online! What a great way to find out what readers would be interested in before you publish it.
  6. Want to try something new? Don't look to other book publishers for ideas, Brogan says. Instead, "Why not rip off people in other verticals? Can you adapt it to what you're doing?" Take a look at Viddler, for instance--it's like YouTube, but lets users comment on and tag specific parts of a video.
  7. Segregate your list! Forget the "Here's everything we're publishing" e-mail blast. If you're a publisher, nobody is interested in ALL your books. You can use technology to splice your lists and target specific people with only the ones they'll be interested in. To help you do this, check out BatchBook.
  8. It's all about the fans. "It is always awesome when the would-be famous person celebrates the audience, rather than the other way around," says Brogan. "That never goes out of style."
  9. A quality blog is always trying to interact, rather than just delivering or pushing content. "You are hoping to inspire some level of two-way," Brogan says, even if it's not on the blog. Seth Godin, for example, doesn't allow comments on his blog. He'd rather have readers write their own ideas on their own blogs and link back to him.
  10. Books are a distribution problem. "Think of solutions that are not so DRM-ful," he says to publishers--i.e., don't focus on protecting your content from people who would want to read it. "You will not lose all money," he says. "You will lose some money. But you lose money every time you release a book. It's called marketing."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Librarians on Street Lit

Brooklyn and NYPL librarians recently ran a survey about street lit (what is it? here's Wikipedia's entry), and they've written up the results in the most recent issue of School Library Journal. Some findings:

  • 49% of the respondents worked in urban libraries, 43% in suburban libraries, and 8% in rural libraries. 92.5% offered street lit in their collections.
  • Of the 7.5% not offering street lit (and, no, they're not all from rural areas!), 50% say it's because there's "no patron interest."
  • A librarian from urban Ohio wrote, "Our library director does not allow us to buy it because he feels it is inappropriate for our town....I am going to try to sneak some in.”
  • Street lit is often stolen, possibly because some patrons feel embarrassed about checking it out. To help solve this problem, the authors say librarians should shelve street lit where it's easy to find and be ready to answer questions about it openly and cheerfully.
  • An encouraging result, the authors write: "One thing we hoped our survey would show is that street lit is bringing nonreading teens into the public library—and that appears to true. Indeed, librarians are actively using street lit as a jumping-off point to create relationships with teens. As a librarian in an urban California library wrote, 'Talking about urban fiction with teens is a great way to get to know them… Having read some of the titles and/or at least being familiar with them helps to start the relationship.'"
For the full article, and examples from the "street lit canon," click here. And here are street lit resources for librarians--including lists of publishers and popular titles for teens.

Creative Commons image from satanslaundromat on Flickr.

Why Do You Go to the Library?

In the most recent issue of Publishing Trends, we wrote about book rental companies BookSwim, Booksfree, and Paperspine. Read the article here.

The comment that leapt out at me during the interview process and has stuck in my head since I wrote the article was from Doug Ross, CEO of Booksfree, who said:

"When you go into a library, more than half the space is taken up with entertainment product. Mass market paperbacks and hardcovers are all over the place and there's a little bit of room where kids can go in and do research and use computers."
I found the phrase "entertainment product" totally jarring and assumed librarians would hate it, too. But when Ross posted similar comments in a response to a post entitled "Will Libraries Go the Way of Video Stores?" on Strollerderby, the librarians who responded in turn weren't outraged at him. They seemed more irritated by the original post. One commenter, Matthew, wrote:
"Admittedly, I am annoyed by this reoccuring question: 'Will libraries go the way of videostores?' or, phrased another way, 'Have libraries outlived their necessity?'. Both of these questions assume that libraries are primarily about books, and not about information & literacy. All of this assumes that all citizens have the same level of easy access to newer technologies, and that class doesn’t separate us as information consumers."
It's true that I, and most people reading this entry, don't need to use computers at the library because they have their own computers at home and at work. And the realization that librarians themselves think libraries are much more than books is a good reminder that they are many different things to different people. So how ARE people using libraries? The results of a recent Pew survey "challenge the assumption that libraries are losing relevance in the internet age. Libraries drew visits by more than half of Americans (53%) in the past year for all kinds of purposes, not just the problems mentioned in this survey. And it was the young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) who led the pack. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and in general patronage for any purpose."

We'll delve into more of the results of the Pew report in the next post.

PT will still never refer books "entertainment product," though.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Here's Kate, "The Library"