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Posts Tagged ‘buying habits’

With all the focus on shiny (or, to be more accurate – black and white) devices this week, it’s easy to be distracted from the bigger picture goals for publishers: such as getting to know readers and what they really think about e-reading. In our small attempt to retrain the focus on what really matters, today’s #FollowReader will be all about – the reader! We have the great fortune to be joined by Kelly Gallagher of Bowker (@DiscoverBowker) who will preview some of the latest findings from the Book Industry Study Group’s ongoing consumer study, Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading and offer some insight about what’s going on beyond the hype of press releases and talk shows.

So, join us today at 4pm EDT for some fascinating conversation about book consumers’ actual interests in and preferences for digital content, and the factors that influence reading habits and purchasing decisions.

Kelly Gallagher of Bowker

About Kelly Gallagher
Kelly Gallagher is the Vice President of Publishing Services at RR Bowker. In this role he manages the implementation of a host of Bowker business intelligence and supply chain products including exclusive sales data reporting tools and EDI ordering for the Canadian, Higher Education, and US Christian markets. This business unit also manages a consumer research panel surveying over 36,000 consumers on media behaviors and purchase trends. Prior to joining Bowker, Kelly served as the Vice President of Business Development at the Christian Publishers Association for six years. In this role he managed the development and implementation of industry initiatives including research, technology and supply chain management. Kelly also serves the book publishing industry as the Research Chair for the Book Industry Study Group.

Helpful Hints for the #FTR uninitiated – To join the #followreader conversation today, here’s what to do:

  1. Just before 4pm ET today, log in to Twitter or whatever interface you prefer. (We recommend Tweetchat, which refreshes quickly and automatically loads your hashtag when you are in the discussion.)
  2. To follow the discussion, run a search for #followreader
  3. I’ll start by asking a few questions, before opening up the discussion to the group.
  4. To post a comment to the discussion, make sure that the hashtag #followreader is in each tweet you write.

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Just because I am pretty sure no one else is talking about this (yes, this is me being funny) – you will definitely want to join us tomorrow (Friday) at 4pm ET for this week’s #FollowReader — where the topic will be e-tailer book pricing and other issues regarding that Amazon/MacMillan quagmire — all in relation to how these issues ultimately affect readers.

Kassia Krozser (@BookSquare)

We’ve gathered a pretty awesome panel of guests to talk about the issue of ebook pricing and you know, the theoretical pros and cons of a world where book selling is dominated by one super power. In fact, we have reps from: the reader’s perspective – Kassia Krozser (@booksquare); the author’s perspective – Tobias Buckell (@tobiasbuckell); and the indie r(e)tailer’s perspective – Lori James and Julie Cummings of  AllRomanceEbooks.com/OmniLit.com (@allromance). (full disclosure – AllRomance is a client of my company Next Chapter Communications).

In other words – this is going to be quite the twittersation.

Some questions we’ll be discussing:

  • What is the real issue behind the Amazon v. MacMillan showdown? Is it about ebook pricing? Is it about Amazon wanting to dominate the marketplace with Kindle? Is either player really thinking about the reader in this situation (as each has claimed more or less?)
  • What does agency model mean? What does it mean to READERS? What does it mean to AUTHORS? What does it mean to RETAILERS (indie/chain/big box/online behemoths)?
  • Are ebooks priced at $12.99 and up really too high? Not just from reader’s perspective, but in reality – does an ebook’s production and distribution costs merit that kind of pricing?
  • Does the agency model actually limit publisher’s ability to price ebooks higher?
  • Would a higher priced product be viable in the kind of retail channel contemplated in the agency model?
  • Will agency model ultimately result in different priced formats targeted at different audiences, with different participation models for authors?
  • What impact will the so-called agency model have on independent booksellers? What impact will it have on author royalties?
  • Should publishers just scrap e-tailer partnerships and sell direct to consumer? Why or why not?
  • When it comes to ebooks, do proprietary devices and formats work for, or against readers in the long run? Isn’t a store that sells all formats for all devices offering a better service for readers?
  • Where does DRM fit into all of this?

We want to hear from you readers – what do you think about ebook pricing, paper book pricing, retailers both indie and not-so-indie? Let us know by joining in on this not-to-be-missed #FollowReader.

Tobias Buckell (@TobiasBuckell)

Hope to see you on Twitter tomorrow at 4pm ET!

Our Guests for #FollowReader, Friday February 5:

Kassia Krozser (@booksquare) has seen the future and it is good: more people are reading, writing, and publishing than ever before. Kassia consults with publishers about digital publishing opportunities at Oxford Media Works (OxfordMediaWorks.com), and writes about current digital publishing trends at booksquare.com.

Tobias S. Buckell (@tobiasbuckell) is a New York Times Bestselling Caribbean-born SF/F author who now lives in Ohio with his wife, twin daughters, and associated pets. He’s seen over 35 short stories in various magazines and anthologies, along with 4 novels and a short story collection. He keeps a website at www.TobiasBuckell.com.

Lori James of AllRomanceEbooks

Lori James(@allromance) is co-owner and Chief Operating Officer of All Romance eBooks, LLC. Julie Cummings is the company’s Manager of Marketing and Promotions. All Romance eBooks, founded in 2006, is privately held in partnership, and headquartered in Palm Harbor, Florida. The company owns All Romance (www.allromanceebooks.com), which specializes in the sale of romance eBooks and OmniLit (www.omnilit.com), which sells both fiction and non-fiction eBooks.

Note: Julie Cummings will be (wo)manning the keyboard and monitoring the chat while Lori James joins us virtually virtually via this thing called a “phone” (we are all about equal opportunity technology here at #FollowReader).

Julie Cummings (@allromance)

HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN #FOLLOWREADER:
The trouble begins at 4pm ET (or 1pm PST).To join the #followreader Twitter conversation today, here’s what to do:

  1. 10 minutes or so before 4pm ET, log in to Twitter or whatever interface you use (we recommend Tweetchat.com).
  2. To follow the discussion, run a search for #followreader.
  3. I’ll announce about 10 minutes ahead of time that we’re going to begin. And I’ll introduce the guests.
  4. I’ll start by posting a question.
  5. To post to the discussion, make sure that the hashtag #followreader is in each tweet.

NOTE: TweetChat.com refreshes quickly and automatically loads your hashtag when you are in the discussion.

Some Background links Re: Amazon/McMillan Showdown and Issues (Thank you @BJMuntain!):

@booksquare Amazon, Macmillan, Agency Models, and Quality (oh, my)!

@rilnj The Myths of Amazon/Macmillan http://bit.ly/aPpKUu by @Hornswoggler. <–Esp. #5

@charlesatan Amazon Capitulated My Ass http://bit.ly/8XTwFS

@victoriastrauss New blog post at Writer Beware about (what else?) the Macmillan-Amazon face-off http://tinyurl.com/y8oqmq6

@GrammarGirl This looks like an interesting piece on e-book and app pricing: http://j.mp/aWGVnP

@paulkbiba Legal analysis of Amazon/Macmillan http://is.gd/7rwVK

@scalzi One last Amazon/Macmillan post: All The Many Ways Amazon So Very Failed the Weekend http://bit.ly/bUN03H

@gkiely Publishing’s Weekend War: 48 Hours That Changed an Industry http://bit.ly/9s8xkn

@RachelleGardner I posted on the Publishing Smackdown today. Stop by and leave your thoughts! http://is.gd/7skPe

@ShelfAwareness Here’s our take on the Amazon/Macmillan scuffle http://bit.ly/cn79Ft (Very thorough overview)

“Amazon needs to stop meddling in ebook pricing & let free market do its thing.” @mollywood http://bit.ly/b6eHPS

@DigiBookWorld Macmillan won the battle over eBook pricing, but did Amazon win the PR war? http://bit.ly/9ULGIt

@DigiBookWorld Authors React to Amazon/Macmillan battle; @scottwesterfeld gets in the last word: http://bit.ly/9P8kLA

@atfmb: Amazon Concedes to Macmillan on E-Book pricing: http://tinyurl.com/yhz7d2n (NYTimes)

@ScottWesterfeld In which I weigh in (heavily) on the Amazon fracas: http://scottwesterfeld.com/blog/?p=2138

@MikeShatzkin The wild weekend of Amazon & Macmillan: Now I swear all this is true http://bit.ly/d2t9mr

@tobiasbuckell New blog post:: Together, lets break the Amazon monopoly on Kindles! http://bit.ly/bKsYUg

@charlesatan Smart post by Small beer press on Amazon http://smallbeerpress.com/?p=6915

@JoeFinder Check out this great blog post re the Amazon power play: http://mountaineermusings.com/

@Mitch_Hoffman A “passive aggressive” capitulation by Amazon, says the Washington Post. http://ow.ly/12nEh

@LAGilman My insta-reaction to Amazon’s response Warning: sort of cranky: http://suricattus.livejournal.com/1202577.html

@BradStone Amazon surrenders http://tinyurl.com/yd3hezf . “We will have to capitulate &accept Macmillan’s terms”

@PublishingGuru Is Amazon’s Kindle Killing Book Publishing? http://ow.ly/16sXSz

@GrammarGirl Excellent explanation of how Amazon currently gets pricing better than physical bookstores: http://j.mp/a9ZBnv

@GrammarGirl Another Macmillan author (@jay_lake) is articulately furious with Amazon http://bit.ly/dogHYG

@Hannasus Interesting article about the economics of book publishing: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13556_3-10250017-61.html

@EMEvans11 Amazon no longer carrying Macmillan titles? Andy Ross weighs in: http://bit.ly/93UkXg

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When it comes to book advertising, what are the do’s and don’ts for authors and publishers? How useful are metrics like ad click-through rates? And how are publishers and authors reaching audiences in specific subject areas or “verticals” on the web?

Those are some of the questions we explore in the second half of our conversation about trends in book advertising with Verso Advertising President, Denise Berthiaume, and Group Director Tom Thompson, which picks up where we left off Monday’s interview.   

And tomorrow, Berthiaume and Thompson join us for a live chat, in our weekly #FollowReader conversation on Twitter (Friday, December 4, 2009, from 4-5pm ET). To follow to our discussion in real time and contribute your own comments, go to TweetChat and type in #followreader. 

Q&A with Denise Berthiaume and Tom Thompson

What are the biggest mistakes that publishers and authors make when trying to engage with online audiences?     

Denise: The biggest mistake I see is authors and companies spending a lot of money on very cool site design, but leaving no part of the budget (and that includes money, employee time and enthusiasm for the project!) for the marketing required to drive people to the site.     

Tom:  Because budgets are so tight, publishers often use the “silver bullet approach” – hoping a single marketing or promotion piece will make all the difference. Instead, we really need to think about all the factors, the whole ecosystem that leads to a book being discovered and purchased.     

What’s the smartest thing publishers and authors can do in their online ad strategy?     

Tom: Think of your online strategy hand-in-hand with, and really no different from, your “offline” strategy. Authors should use the web to drive foot traffic into physical stores and use their in-person appearances to build audience for their site/blog/etc. Authors need to think about their brand long term.     

Denise: Focus first on your audience wherever they are: on- and offline. Usually both, and usually at  the same time.   

In determining the effect of online ads, how useful are metrics like click-through rates, site traffic and Bookscan book sales – and how effectively can you map one variable to another? 

 Denise:  Obviously, our job is to sell books. So our primary goal with each campaign is to drive sales.  To that end we recently worked with Nielsen BookScan to study book sales during Verso Reader Channel ad campaigns and found a significant correlation – meaning a bump in sales – when campaigns served 1.5 million + ad impressions. We go into that in a bit more detail about that in a post on our blog.  

Tom Thompson

 Tom: Click Through Rate (CTR) tends to be the first and only number people want to know. But it’s misleading. With the FSG and Vanguard campaigns mentioned above, for example, neither performed astonishingly well in terms of CTR. But both spectacularly accomplished their goals.  

Denise: CTR is a big topic in advertising right now. Everyone’s looking for guidance on measuring performance, but no one knows what that measure should be. CTR has been declining and worrying people for a long time (if you Google it, the first thing that comes up is a blog from January 2001 about declining CTR).  

Tom:  The general CTR average is .08% — which matches up with what I’m seeing with our clients everywhere except the NYTimes.com, which is generally higher. That .08% figure comes from a DoubleClick report cited by ComScore

Denise:  There have been lots of CTR-boosting remedies proposed over the years, most prominently the Cost Per Engagement model of rich media. But in the end, click-throughs  of any variety have to be considered in the context of content, impression level, and campaign goal. What I mean by that is:   

  1. Content: Are you offering something of value that is targeted either by context or behavior to the audience that’s seeing the ad?
  2. Impression level: Are you serving enough impressions to make a difference?
  3. Campaign goal: What do you want out of the campaign? Awareness? Clicks? Newsletter sign-ups? Sales?

Tell us about the online network of 5,000 sites you have put together for book publisher ads. What subject categories have the most sites and are the most popular with advertisers?  

Denise Berthiaume

 Denise: The Verso Reader Channels were created after we saw the need for marketing plans that truly took advantage of the unique ways different interest-groups are now clustering online. Now that there are sites for every interest group – from cooking to pop culture, fitness to parenting – we can target hundreds of relevant sites at a time, thanks to our partnership with Burst Media. Burst is a  leading network that’s been around since the early days of the commercial web, has relationships with over 4,500 sites that provide over 110 million unique users a month, and reaches over 60% of the web population. Our partnership leverages Burst’s strengths in aggregating content into verticals along with our knowledge of publishing categories and creative expertise to give our clients extremely cost-efficient online media buys.  

Tom: The other advantage of the network model is that we don’t have to confront the minimum spends that we face with buying ads for a single site. The standard $10-25k minimum spends for ad buys on single sites that we’re seeing now are well down from the $30-50k minimums of 2007, but still too high for most campaigns.  There is no minimum with a Reader Channel buy – although you do face diminishing returns if you spend less than $5k. The standard cost per thousand impressions (CPM) for ads on the Reader Channels is $6.    

If bloggers or bookstores want to apply to join your network, how do they go about it? How much do the sites get paid to run your ads?     

Denise: While we’re big fans of bloggers and do buy ads on blogs for most of our clients separately, blogs are not part of the Reader Channels because Burst has strict rules about member-site content, audience level and comment field moderation that most blogs cannot meet, according to the eligibility requirements of the network.      

What have you learned about what readers respond to from observing the activity in this network of 5,000 sites?     

Denise: We surveyed thousands of respondents about their book buying habits and preferences, with early data showing some surprising behavior by heavy readers and ebook enthusiasts. We will reveal more about that at the Digital Book World Conference on January 26 and 27.     

Join us for tomorrow’s live chat with Berthiaume and Thompson (Friday, December 4, 2009, from 4-5pm ET), in our weekly #FollowReader conversation on Twitter.

To follow to our discussion in real time and contribute your own comments, go to TweetChat and type in #followreader. 

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As publishers and authors strive to connect with their audiences through more channels than ever, what can the latest trends in book advertising teach us about how readers are engaging with books on the web and beyond?

Denise Berthiaume

That was just one of the questions that prompted this interview with Verso Advertising’s President, Denise Berthiaume, and V-P, Group Director, Tom Thompson. Over the past 20 years, these two have worked with all the major houses, and many smaller ones, as well as one-on-one with many authors, both famous and not-so-famous. Their survival  in an industry that’s never been known for extravagent advertising budgets, at a time when rival agencies have closed or scaled down, speaks volumes about their resourcefulness and ability to stay ahead of the market.

Here’s the first part of our two-part interview with Bethiaume and Thompson about how readers are discovering books through ads, and some recent campaigns that reveal smart ways to allocate book advertising dollars. 

Look out for the second part of the interview this coming Thursday (December 3, 2009), with a discussion about how to measure an ad’s effectiveness and Verso’s vertical ad network, which reaches roughly 60% of the web and more than 110 million unique users a month. 

And on Friday (December 4, 2009), Bethiaume and Thompson will be the guests on our weekly #FollowReader conversation on Twitter, from 4-5pm ET. To follow to our discussion in real time and contribute your own comments, go to TweetChat and type in #followreader.

Q&A with Denise Berthiaume and Tom Thompson

What important new trends are you seeing in how readers discover books? 

Tom Thompson

Tom: Readers discover books now the way they always have: through friends, family and communities of interest. What’s new is how these groups are communicating and the unprecedented opportunities to reach them at a relevant moment in the conversation.

Denise: We feel the biggest potential for growth right now is with vertically-oriented sites or networks, whether that means an ad network like the Verso Reader Channels, or a site that caters to a particular enthusiast base, like Tor.com is becoming for Sci-Fi readers, or Harlequin’s new publishing venture, Harlequin Horizons. 

Tom: Also, Sourcebooks’ brand new PoetrySpeaks.com  is likely to become for poetry readers.

Do book ads influence readers as much as in the past? How are they maintaining their relevance in a world where people don’t trust ads and marketing as much as they used to?

Denise: People treat ads with the same amount of healthy skepticism they always have. As advertisers, we have to know our audience and speak to them in a way that respects who they are and what they want.

Tom: Trying to pull one over on your audience or talk down to them in some way is simply insulting, and a waste of everybody’s time and money.

Denise: The major difference in ad placement now versus ten years ago, is that you used to be able to reach booksellers, wholesalers, authors and agents with a single ad in the New York Times.  The Times is still the best place to reach a good portion of the book business. But you can’t count on reaching the majority of consumers that way anymore.

Tom: The mechanism [for reaching the book market] has splintered, and the consumer that publishers once simply left to the booksellers to worry about now needs to be every publisher’s focus. That means that the publisher has to reach out to a book’s readers wherever they are: whether it’s military history enthusiasts on military sites, sports fans on sports sites, or parents on parenting sites.  The web obviously makes this kind of targeting easier than ever.

Denise: The trick now is to target each book’s audience and yet also reach the kind of scale that we still enjoy on TV, radio, and, yes, print venues like the Times.

Do print, radio, TV or online ads give the most bang for the buck in terms of reach?  

Denise: The latest Nielsen stats on media reach offer some perspective: 95% of the adult population is reached via broadcast TV; 77% is reached via broadcast radio; 64% via web; and 62% via print.  

If an author or publisher has a limited advertising budget, where is the best place to spend the money?

Tom: Well, it depends how much money we’re talking about! Certainly for the most limited ad budgets — $5-$10,000 — online is the way to go. But in terms of number of people reached for each dollar spent, radio is often the most efficient way for publishers to reach large numbers of people – as long as you have $20k plus. For the biggest budgets, however, TV still provides the most significant mass reach.

Denise: But there’s a good reason the bulk of our business remains in print. Even though print circulations are precipitously declining, newspapers and magazines are still (for now) a great place to reach the older (40+) wealthier segment of the population, the people who buy print books.  The New York Times circulation is now under million. But it’s still reaching more than 900,000 readers every day.

How should online advertising fit into an overall advertising strategy for publishers and authors?

Denise:  Online advertising is best used in concert with everything else that’s working for a book: publicity, promotion, community outreach, reviews, building bookseller enthusiasm. With nothing else happening—no publicity, no author platform, no news tie-in—an ad isn’t going to go very far working on its own.

Tom:  But if an ad offers something of value to a relevant audience, and happens at the same time as word is building in other media, it will make a difference.

What kinds of online book ads are readers most actively responding to now? Is it necessary to have a video ad rather than a flash ad to make an impact?

Denise: Readers respond to any message or offer, however high or low tech, that’s relevant to their interest or need. Generally, rich media (including video) performs better, but that’s often because the immediate value-offer is more apparent. But rich media requires a bigger budget, since third party servers like DoubleClick or Point Roll are crucial for optimum serving and reporting.

How necessary is it to run a contest or give something away in your ad, like an audio download or keychains or other gizmos?

Tom:  These days, a free excerpt alone isn’t enough to elicit a click– unless it’s a highly newsworthy person or spectacularly timely piece of information. FSG, for example, ran a highly successful campaign that featured an interesting twist on the free excerpt model for Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded.  Over a month before the hardcover’s on sale date, FSG offered free audio downloads of his entire last book as well as an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming title. This ten day pre-pub online ad campaign led to nearly 100,000 downloads (and tens of thousands of email addresses). You can read more about the campaign on our site.

Denise:  Another successful campaign was for the Vanguard Press title Bad Dogs Have More Fun. Taking advantage of the author’s previous success with Marley and Me, Vanguard ran a simple promotion offering a free keychain to the first respondents across hundreds of pop culture websites on Verso’s Pop Culture Reader Channel. The book’s website was deluged with over 100,000 people registering to win. (You can see Bad Dog creative at http://www.versoadvertising.com/online/).

Tom:  In both cases, the publishers did more than create a promotion that offered the audience something it wanted. They let the potential  audience know the promotion existed! The “Build it and they will come” theory of online marketing is pure fantasy.

NOTE: Look out for the second part of the interview this coming Wednesday (December 2, 2009), with a discussion about how to measure an ad’s effectiveness and Verso’s vertical ad network, which reaches roughly 60% of the web and more than 110 million unique users a month.

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The long-simmering question of how to elevate the status of women writers when it comes to major review coverage and awards drew scores of smart comments and many new faces in a rousing discussion on November 13, 2009, with the #followreader and #fembook hashtags on Twitter.

Intially prompted by the sidelining of important books by women from various year-end “best books” lists and awards, the #followreader #fembook conversation explored some reasons why women writers may be judged differently from men; which books by women rightly deserved major attention this year; and whether or not a women-only literary award might help draw greater attention to the best women writers in the U.S.

Tweets came fast and furious, leaving my guest, Bethanne Patrick (@thebookmaven), host of WETA’s The Book Studio and a National Book Critic’s Circle member, and me (@charabbott) — doing our best to keep up. By the end, many participants said they would like to revisit the topic, in a discussion focused on possible solutions to the problem…and not just for women’s history month!

For highlights from the #followreader #fembook conversation, keep scrolling.

Keeping Score on Women Writers

For those who are curious about the how women writers have been faring in the weeks since the #fembook discussion was first sparked by announcement of Publishers Weekly’s all-male Top Ten Best Books of 2009 and Amazon’s male-dominated Best Books for 2009, here are some updates.

No women writers won a National Book Award this year, but there were a number of very strong female finalists, including Bonnie Jo Campbell, who talks here about her novel American Salvage, and  Jayne Anne Phillips, who talks here about her novel Lark and Termite. In nonfiction, there was also Adrienne Mayor, who talks here about The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy.

On a much more encouraging note, four of the five novelists on the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35″ were women: Ceridwen Dovey, author of Blood Kin; C.E. Morgan, author of All the Living; Lydia Peele, author of The Reasons For and Advantages of Breathing; and Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

On Library Journal’s list of 31 Best Books, 11 were by women, or about one third of the list. That’s marginally higher than on the PW and Amazon long lists, where women were 30% and 25% of the total, respectively, as EarlyWord.com pointed out.

On the Atlantic magazine’s Best Books list, two women were on the list of the year’s top five writers (A.S. Byatt with The Children’s Book and Alison Light with Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury).  Nine women were on the Atlantic‘s long list of 25 authors, which amounts to a 36% showing for women. That’s the highest percentage of women on the Best Books lists we’ve seen.

EarlyWord also noted that there was little consensus between the “best books” on the Atlantic, PW and Amazon lists, except when it came to women. Interestingly, four books by women got the nod from two of the three lists – making them slightly more critically acclaimed than the books by men that appeared on only one list.  Here are the favored women:

  • Byatt, A.S., The Childrens Book — Amazon #88 and Atlantic Top Five
  • Davis, Lydia, Collected Stories — Amazon #56 and Atlantic Runner Up
  • Mantel, Hilary, Wolf Hall — Amazon #3 and Atlantic Runner Up
  • Munro, Alice, Too Much Happiness — Amazon #30 and Atlantic Runner Up

Highlights of the #Followreader #Fembook Discussion

 Why Do Men Get the Lion’s Share of the Critical Attention?

@thebookmaven: I interviewed Mary Gordon today, and she said “Notice WHO REVIEWS.” #fembook #followreader

@jenwgilmore I had a prof-and this was grad school-tell me women didn’t write big books. except ship of fools,and that was a mess! #followreader #fembook

@thebookmaven See? That prof and others like him are why I think we need to keep talking about this. #fembook #followreader

@CapitolClio No “domestic details” and the home = no 19th century literature. No Austen, Trollope, Thackeray. #fembook #followreader

@bookladysblog Reactions to work by Wally Lamb if he = female? #followreader #fembook

@charabbott When Roth and Updike write domestic novels, they are praised for their versatility! #fembook #followreader

@toofondofbooks Yeah, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jon. Tropper is totally “family fiction!” #fembook #followreader

@bookladysblog What about THE CORRECTIONS. If that’s not family fiction… #fembook #followreader

@Wordlily Robert Morgan writes some family/domestic fic too. #fembook #followreader

@words_lover: The Corrections, East of Eden, Faulkner, Cheever – all “family fiction” #fembook #followreader

@Eugenia_Kim MEMOIRS GEISHA also interestngly compounded as Asian female story by White Male #fembook #followreader

@hmccormack Would be interesting to do male/female writer book pairings in book groups. See how common themes are handled #fembook #followreader

@hmccormack I, for instance, would pair Carson McCullers’ Heart Is a Lonely Hunter w/Lester Bangs’s Psychotic Reactions & C Dung #fembook #followreader

Women and Awards

@charabbott Three women won the Nobel in last 6 years, but there were v. few U.S. reviews of Elfrede Jelenik’s work #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Also, I don’t see male critics and readers putting Jelenik, Lessing and Muller on their must-read lists. #fembook #followreader

@bostonbibliophl I’ve heard more ppl say Muller didn’t deserve to win than say kudos. #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven Those big wins…NOT IN THE U.S. — which is kind of why I’m here today. We need to woman up! #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Yes, the U.S. is far behind the UK and Canada, where many women contend for major awards every year. #fembook #followreader

@DavidRozansky: Many prize juries read manuscripts without names, race or gender, though. #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Awards comms are mixed & still pick male aus -deeper issue is assumption that men are more important #fembook #followreader

@charabbott It’s the same on Twitter: men have more followers and RTs, even though Twitter is female-dominated. #fembook #followreader

@DavidRozansky Prize submissions should be stripped of author ID. #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Elaine Showalter says that since 1850s, women have dominated US book market & men have had more literary esteem. #fembook #followreader

@Bookgirl96 I think it’s interesting, all this focus on prizes. They don’t seem to help book sales. #fembook #followreader

@batpoet What a great #followreader #fembook disc.! More women reviewers, bloggers, booksellers will help equalize too.

Would a Women’s Award Help?

@charabbott Would a prize for women writers like the Orange Prize in the UK help address this problem? #fembook #followreader

@charabbott I believe that this is part of the solution. #fembook #followreader

@Wordlily I’m loathe to think separate prizes are the best answer. #fembook #followreader

@charabbott I am genuinely surprised that we don’t have a national prize for women’s lit already. #fembook #followreader

@FlossieTeacake: Continuity now noticeable between Orange lists & other prizes later in the year (cough, Booker) #fembook #followreader

@charabbott But some worry that an award for women only, will ghettoize women’s writing #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven I have thought about that, about separate prizes reinforcing this gender gap. BUT! #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven I think in order to get past the gap, to jump over it for good, we may need a US women’s lit prize. #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Let’s hear from those who don’t like the idea of a prize for women – why?

@Wordlily It could ghettoize female writers, & assumes they won’t win major prizes. May keep from winning “majors”? #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven It hasn’t done so for women in UK. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a point. Need to keep discussing. #fembook #followreader

@Wordlily Just that it’s separate, in some ways means not equal. #fembook #followreader

@jenwgilmore yet there’s a Jewish Book Award, Asian Book Award,etc. You think these bad? Anything to get bk noticed. #followreader #fembook

@Wordlily  I can def see US women’s lit prize as a potential part of the solution, but it can’t be the only thing. #fembook #followreader

@jenwgilmore although: I have felt ghettoized by the Jewish book stuff, but that’s a whole other thing. #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Why can’t the two co-exist – effort to make existing awards more fair, and also prize for great women? #fembook #followreader

@myfriendamy Maybe separate prizes says….we realize you won’t acknowledge us but we aren’t going to be quiet #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Wouldn’t a women’s lit prize draw more attention to excellent women’s work, if judged by high standard? #fembook #followreader

@rosewhite22  ideally yes, but i think there’s the danger of it not being taken seriously, like we can’t compete #fembook #followreader

@charabbott If women’s writing is as good as men’s, why wouldn’t women’s award use same standards? #fembook #followreader

@Wordlily Hopefully the two efforts (natl women’s prize + changing system) can coexist. Just a danger, I think. #fembook #followreader

@charabbott Would look pretty bad if other prizes said, “Women have their own award now, we can ignore them!” #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven With prizes, we enhance visibility. Must know that a prize is simply that. More to be done. #fembook #followreader

@hollowaymcc: Wouldn’t a women’s prize be a natural step in “vertical” marketing? #fembook #followreader

Women to Read

Bookgirl96  Who would you pick as top 5 women writers today? #fembook #followreader

thebookmaven Thanks for asking! GREAT question. World, or US? #fembook #followreader

thebookmaven US: Toni Morrison, Lorrie Moore, Jayne Anne Phillips, Jane Smiley, Annie Proulx…that’s five, but NOT all!! #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven World: Hilary Mantel, Kiran Desai, A.S. Byatt, Elfriede Jelinek, Sarah Waters. #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven Also: I heart A.L. Kennedy. #fembook #followreader

@jillmwo Consider reading Joanna Russ’ excell work, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (http://bit.ly/20pR7l); #fembook #followreader [Changed my life]

@Bookgirl96 Two of my favorite female writers: Carol Shields and Susan Minot. #fembook #followreader

@janiceharayda Top 5 female writers not mentioned by others? Joan Didion, Nadine Gordimer, Wislawa Szymborska #fembook #followreader

@nicholemcgill Other female writers who rock: PD James, Marie Helene Poitras, Lynn Crosbie, Evelyn Lau… #fembook #followreader

@nicholemcgill More female writers who rock: @halseanderson, @pinkmeringue, @zoewhittall, Claudia Dey, Elina Hirvonen…#fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven I’d also like to recommend Kristoff/WuDunn HALF THE SKY to all of us here today. Great book about women. #fembook #followreader

Women’s Writing Stuffed in a Nutshell

@charabbott  I was an avid reader, but never read a black woman novelist until I got to college. #fembook #followreader

@jenwgilmore right,but I bet you’d read the Bell Jar. (great book, but reinforces women as crazy!) #followreader #fembook

@jenwgilmore The Bell Jar is totally great. But it’s an unstable woman story, that was my point.I’m a big Plath-head. #followreader #fembook

@SarahABA Today’s #followreader makes me appreciate all-female (by chance) AP Lit class and all-female (on purpose) college #fembook

@nicholemcgill I went to school post-sexual revolution and believe me, I am thankful! So all should be. #fembook #followreader

@Bookladysblog I think 1 problem is women’s fiction is automatically considered commercial. #fembook #followreader

@Bookgirl96 Very true. Hard to market a woman who writes literary fiction. #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven We shouldn’t! I think women are sometimes PUSHED towards those genres, consc or unconsc #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven  I think that in US, women often get diverted from developing as fiction writers. #fembook #followreader

@thebookmaven We are a Puritan nation; woman “taught” to do industrious things. Fiction can be cast as frivolous. #fembook #followreader

@adevries18 When do we get to blame (or praise) Oprah? #fembook #followreader

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Two of my non-professional book interests collided last week sort of unexpectedly.

#1: I had the opportunity last weekend to attend a seminar held by Daniel Traister, Curator of the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater). The session was titled, “What Good is an Old Book in the Age of Google?”

#2: I ran the Scholastic Book Fair at my kids’ elementary school, not for the first time. One of the biggest aspects of the job (besides steering kids away from $5 pens!) is of course helping them select books that are a. appropriate and b. they can afford.

Here’s where the collision fits in.

During the Penn session, the attendees were treated to a glimpse of two editions of the Nuremberg Chronicle, printed in 1493, a phenomenal specimen. The book has a rich history in art and literature and much has been written about it….but what struck me was Professor Traister’s reminder that the book was never intended to be read. It was intended to be owned. It’s large, unwieldy, heavy, not particularly well-written, and the material isn’t all that exciting. But if you could afford to display it in your house? Well, then…

Fast forward 516 years to present day, where the same principles are applied (loosely) on a small scale at my book fair. Magic Tree House: $4.99 paperback. Displayed next to $11.99 hardcover of the newest book. Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Friends: hardcover, $17.99. Softcover school edition, also available, with fold-out insert: $4.99.

I understand the economics of publishing: hardcovers are more profitable. But where is the value to the consumer? How can I, in good conscience, direct any child to purchase the same product in different binding for 3 times more when the reading experience will be exactly the same (maybe better for the softcover if you consider the fold-out insert)? We didn’t. We directed kids away from the $17+ hardcovers and to the softcover editions, where they could spend the same amount of money and walk away with triple the number of books to love and enjoy.

It’s not that the $17.99 by itself is too much (that’s another debate). It’s the additional cost for the hardcover when the content is the same. Particularly–and why don’t more people say this?–when there are just too many quality books available out there.

Certain formats will always demand to be owned rather than consumed, it’s true (see this video from HarperStudio about the Art of Bookmaking). But I’d like to suggest that for most books this simply isn’t the case, especially as ebooks continue to push prices lower and there is a larger gap between the hardcover and “other format” prices. Timing, too: as the time between hardcover, paperback and ebook releases shorten, there is a greater incentive for consumers to just wait it out until the less expensive version is available. Particularly when–and why don’t more people say this!–there are just too many quality books available out there.

In many ways, the pricing model for books was established over 500 years ago, when the physical format of the book clearly denoted its worth and purpose. Though many publishers continue to experiment with formats and release schedules, now seems to be the time for publishers to veer dramatically away from the traditional process to consider at the manuscript stage: What format provides the best value for the consumer? Is it useful content, format-agnostic? Maybe best as a website or iphone app or ebook, then. Is it for entertainment and a one-time use? Perhaps the hardcover version is eliminated, or published after the paperback, as a “collector’s edition” the way DVD collections of TV shows are (ie, when the book’s saleability warrants the hardcover edition.)

Although price is set by the publisher (or retailer), value is of course determined by the consumer. It’s anecdotal, but what I hear from regular old consumers, at book fairs, shopping for birthday gifts, on the playground, is that book pricing is confusing, too expensive and even a little manipulative. In a frugal economy with an abundance of options for information consumption and entertainment, where consumers can compare prices nearly anywhere, are we getting it right for our readers?

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Random House sales reps by day, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness are also bloggers by night–and subjects of the latest installment in our Profiles in Convergence series, about influential bridge builders between the print and digital worlds. They launched Books on the Nightstand in April 2008, with one of the few podcasts about books aimed at booksellers, librarians, and the general reading public. “We thought that our insider’s perspective on books would be a fun twist,” they explain. Most of the books they write or talk about “happen to be published by Random House,” since they read so much for work, although they swear they will talk about any book they love, no matter who publishes it. And while their self-funded blog is an independent project not related to their employer, Kindness and Kingman confess they do dream “that Levenger will want to sponsor us someday.” Read on for their recent conversation with Follow the Reader.

What motivated you to take on your blog in addition to your very busy jobs as sales reps?

Michael: Talking about the books has always been my favorite part of the job. Several times a year we present titles to reading groups [in bookstores], and often get asked to do many more than our schedules would allow. Ann came up with the podcast as a way to have those conversations online, on a regular basis.

Ann: At one of our evening presentations at bookstores, a consumer approached the store owner and asked if Michael and I could write a monthly column in the store newsletter. Though circumstances prevented it, I didn’t forget the exchange. A year or so later, as part of a new hobby, I saw the incredible power that a well-written and engaging blog or podcast could have in creating excitement about a yarn or pattern. And I finally put two and two together and realized that we create excitement about books and give readers a peek behind the “publishing curtain” by starting our own blog.  

Ann Kingman
Ann Kingman

Has blogging made you better at selling books to your accounts?

Michael: I think the feedback we’re getting directly from readers has given us a better intuitive sense of what’s being read out there. Yes, I knew The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was a big, popular book, but the feedback we received from our readers and listeners let me know exactly how much this book touched people.

Ann: It has made me read differently, and think and talk about the books in a different way. In our sales calls with the bookstore buyers, we tend to emphasize comparisons: this book is similar to that book. We talk about the marketing and publicity campaigns. We look at the book jacket. But for the blog and podcast, we speak much more in the language that frontline booksellers use when selling a book to their customer: This is why I love the book; here’s how I felt when I was reading it. We talk about the use of language and the storytelling ability of the author. I think this change has made us more effective in talking to booksellers, and allows them use our information with their customers, even if they haven’t read the book themselves.

Which of your blog posts has been most popular?

Michael: One of our most commented on posts was ironically one I called “95% of You Don’t Need to Read this Post.” It was about baby naming books. I just love that it happened to be useful and perfectly timed for so many people! 

Who is your typical reader?

Ann: We recently did a survey of our readers and listeners, and found the following to be quite interesting: 

  • 88% of our readers and listeners are from the United States
  • 28% of our audience works at a publisher, at a bookstore, or at a library
  • 26% of our audience has a blog that frequently discusses or reviews books.
  • 87% of our audience has read at least 1 book based on our recommendation, and 24% have read 6 or more.
  • Just under 50% of our readers/listeners engage with Books on the Nightstand through our GoodReads or Facebook groups, or regularly comment on our blog.

To what extent do the bookstores in your territories tune into your blog, versus readers who have stumbled on the blog but don’t work with you professionally?

Ann: People in our stores read the blog, though I don’t have any hard numbers, and I don’t know if they are subscribers or just occasional readers. We also have bookstore readers who are not in our territory, as well as readers from used or nontraditional bookstores. Overall, though, the bulk of our readers are “civilians”–people who love books and want to hear or talk about them.

Michael: On the blog, I raved about one of Ann’s titles several months before it came out. When she was selling the list to one of our stores, the buyer said he’d definitely take that book “because Michael loved it.” Things like that still surprise me. You represent your publisher’s books to regional bookstores, yet by blogging about Random House books, you’re taking on a role that’s akin to marketing or publicity, since you’re now reaching consumers as well. 

Do you think more publishing people will play this kind of hybrid role in the future?

Ann: We’ve been speaking directly with consumers through bookstores for the last several years, so those roles have already been shifting. In the publishing industry, there has always been a filter between the publisher and the consumer: bookseller, book reviewer, TV personality. But it turns out that book consumers also like to hear directly from the publisher.

Michael Kindness
Michael Kindness

 Michael: It’s so hard to know exactly how the reps’s role, and indeed all publishing positions, will change over the next few years, but I think we can all agree that it will. It’s vital to be adaptable and that’s what I think Ann and I are doing. And not only with blog: we’re doing more consumer interaction than before, like reading group nights and holiday gift presentations.

I do want to stress, though, that at Books on the Nightstand, we don’t speak in an official role for the publisher. It is an independent project, and so we truly talk about the books that we are passionate about, or the books that we think our readers and listeners will love, and we don’t care who the publisher is. The reality is that we read mostly Random House books because of time constraints, but we never write or talk about a Random House book just because we want to “market” it. I believe that our readers and listeners would see through that in a minute.

How does Random House regard your efforts? Are they encouraging people to blog, or just tolerating those who do?

Michael: Everyone at Random House has been incredibly supportive of our work. A few of the RH publishers have given us books for giveaways and have been pleased with the attention those giveaways received.

What person in publishing do you most wish would write a blog?

Ann: I can’t limit it to just one. I wish everybody would blog. In our industry, we work with the most interesting people, and I would love to get to know them all better. And I’m not alone. I think there’s a huge opportunity for publishing people to connect with readers. Readers have a fascination with the “glamorous” world of publishing, and I know they would love to hear from publishers, editors, publicists, designers.

What upcoming book are you most excited about?

Michael: From the Random House list: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. It’s an amazing novel about identity and identity theft and features three separate storylines that come together in very unexpected ways. From “out-of-house:” Stitches by David Small. I got this galley at BEA and read it that weekend. I’m still thinking about this graphic memoir about Small’s childhood. I expect it to end up being one of my favorite books of the year.

Ann: I can’t wait to see what happens with The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, coming from Doubleday on September 15th. Personally, I am over the moon about Lorrie Moore’s new novel, A Gate at the Stairs (Knopf, September). As soon as I finished the novel, I wanted to re-read it — something that I never ever do. Beyond Random House, I’m dying to read Scholastic’s Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to The Hunger Games, one of my favorite reads from last year.

We are pleased to report that Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman will make a guest appearance at this week’s #followreader publishing discussion on Thursday, July 30 from 4-5pm EST. To follow to our discussion in real time, go to Twitter Search and type in #followreader. To add your questions to the discussion, tweet them to moderator @charabbott with the #followreader tag. And to contributute comments to the discussion, use the #followreader tag.

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