March 11th, 2012
I’m going to start by saying these opinions are my own. They do not reflect those of the company that I work for nor of the industry that I am in — they are mine as a reader and as a blogger.
I have composed this blog post in my mind a half-dozen times over the last few weeks. When I was on mat leave, I mistakenly thought I’d have oodles of free time to sit around reading so, I thought, I’ll subscribe to a number of magazines. Oh, how foolish — they sit, collect dust, the pile mocks me, and then I often read some of them very early in the morning on the weekends while the RRHB sleeps, and the RRBB and I hang out. In the March 2012 issue of Toronto Life, yet another writer, this time technology critic Jesse Brown, is once again proclaiming “death” (or a some version of demise) for the book industry claiming, “Books are good business for everyone but the book business,” as he wrote in “The Final Chapter,” his essay in the March 2012 edition of Toronto Life (I’d add the link to the essay but, alas, it’s not online, you have to buy the print edition, oh, the irony, right?).
Now, I’m going to say something radical. Please, go ahead and disagree with me — there may be issues with the book selling business: independents getting crushed by the chains; Amazon’s heavy-handed, well everything; Indigo’s move into whatever “lifestyle” means; and the fact that we are probably just publishing too many books — but none of that has to actually do with publishing. Publishers, sure, need to evolve as well, and I’ll be the first to lecture on new and improved business models to ensure our survival, but, and this is the important part, so please pay attention: Our margins might be small but our business is profitable. (more…)
October 21st, 2009
There’s nothing new that I can possibly blog about Malcolm Gladwell‘s The Tipping Point. It’s a book that’s back in the Amazon.ca top 100 today, I’m guessing because of all the Nook news, and it’s simply one of those titles that you imagine everyone to have already reviewed, if not read. So when I was browsing around the Vancouver Public Library sale last Thursday trying to ward off the persistent stomach butterflies (there because of the whole public speaking element to happen the next day; bleech), I was pleased to find a battered copy of The Tipping Point from the Kitsilano Branch for a whopping $0.55.
The central thesis of Gladwell’s book, that little “things” can lead to sweeping change, seemed particularly relevant reading for the days leading up to and passing by Book Camp. The iconic work looks at all of the social conditions that surround a product, event or action “tipping” into an epidemic. From smoking to book sales, the book comes to some pretty cool conclusions about the power of word of mouth. Words that we toss around all the time, like connectors and mavens, this theory of something “tipping” has become part of the everyday business lexicon. And it’s easy to see why.
Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It! isn’t as intellectual nor as everlasting as The Tipping Point, but it’s a really good example of putting Malcolm Gladwell’s theories into action. Vaynerchuk grew his business exponentially by investing in his own personal brand, used the “free” tools of the internet to grow it, and then tipped over into the uber-successful range by simply working hard and “crushing it.” It’s a veritable how-to manual for his kind of success and a good handbook for anyone somewhat curious about social media.
I like how both books focus on finding/offering solutions instead of lamenting the demise of the “old” ways of doing business. Vaynerchuk’s work isn’t necessarily innovative; it’s stuff people have been doing on the internet for as long as the web’s been around. But what he managed to achieve goes above and beyond how everyday people use the tools, which is impressive. Also, he’s driven to succeed in ways that, yes I’m going to say it, regular people may not be — he’s a born Salesman, a picture perfect Connector, and proof positive that word of mouth absolutely works to drive community, which in turn drives sales, which in turn allowed his endeavours to tip into an epidemic.
The stickiness of Gladwell’s book versus Vaynerchuk’s can’t really be compared. I dogeared piles of pages of the former and returned my copy to work the morning after I read the latter. One’s a book that would benefit from repeated reads and the other I’d recommend as a handbook to anyone looking to build their brand through social media. All the way through The Tipping Point, I tried to define myself in terms of the different personalities Gladwell presented. All the way through Crush It!, I wondered how much coffee Vaynerchuk must drink in a day to get himself out there to the extent that he does — two very different intellectual exercises on my part.
Regardless, there were lessons from both books that I’d apply to my everyday and my work life.
1. That you need to pull the best, most relevant ideas from everything you read, fiction to non, and everything in between, and apply this learning to your life. Maybe it’s just in the sense that you enjoyed something and want to pass it on, but that your passion, about anything, can be contagious. And that’s not a bad thing.
2. Pay close attention to what goes on around you. You might not think you have anything in common with how “cool” becomes relevant, but within that, you’ll discover what’s authentic and what’s rubbish — especially in areas of your own expertise.
3. Don’t be afraid of people. Or situations. Or of doing things that might make you uncomfortable (read: running a seminar in front a large group of people). Ahem. YES, I realize how ironic this is coming from shy, scaredy-cat me.
4. Read more nonfiction.
5. Getting people excited about reading isn’t just about selling books. For me, it’s about the survival of our culture, whether it’s pop or otherwise, it’s a record of who we are as a people at the time. It’s necessary. It’s important. It’s valuable and it’s a part of our survival. Art matters. Fighting about it won’t get us to our goals any quicker.
October 19th, 2009
Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to synthesize my thoughts about Book Camp Vancouver into some cohesive post that captures everything that happened over the couple of days. Beyond the networking and the bookish talking, I met some really great people who seem to be just as passionate about dealing with the issues within our industry and moving forward. As a friend tweeted, we just want people to read books and figure everything else out as we go along. In my case, I don’t care where or how people are reading books, just that they are reading. In short order here are the talking points (some from my own session on Content Would be King and some that arose from others) that have consumed me in the wee hours of the morning as my body stubbornly refuses to adjust to West Coast time:
1. As an industry on the whole we need to start separating our selling tools, our B2B assets from the messages we’re sending out D2C. We can’t keep using the same messaging for both and expecting the consumer to be thrilled. The audiences are different. These differences are crucial to creating content both around authors and books. We need to imagine strategy and technique to talk to both camps effectively and accurately.
2. Everyone is so panicked about losing traditional book sales and the impending ebook revolution that they’re focusing all their energy in the wrong direction. We shouldn’t be sitting up complaining that the physical book is disappearing. Let’s move beyond the fear and decide to push in the direction of having our content available cross-platform. This isn’t revolutionary; it’s just common sense. In my session, when a woman held up a notebook and proclaimed her deep love and affection for the format, I held up my blackberry. It’s not one or the other. I read books, ebooks, web content, web books, and once we can figure out a way to have all of these devices talk to each other, we’ll be golden. From commute to bedtime, you’ll be able to enjoy the same content — just because we want more options doesn’t mean we want the book to go away. This is a common misconception that just means we do more and more arguing and defending one position against the other. How about we meet in the middle and find a solution?
3. The internet/online/digital is not marketing’s slushpile. It’s not something you should be doing just because you think you have to but because you think it has value. It also can’t be an afterthought. It has to have clean, concise and effective strategy behind it. It’s another argument I can’t believe we’re all still having. It’s cache (cash) — not cache (cash-shay). Traditional marketing has the cache; big full-page ads in the Globe and Mail are incredible, but they don’t have the cache — the sticky power of the internet to hold on to every bit of information that gets posted. We need to push the power of the cache and keep driving as much content as possible. Eventually we’ll get to conversion, which is what everyone wants.
4. We have a problem with revenue, not audience. This was revolutionary with me; it’s almost as if it freed my mind to accept the fact that the seismic shift needs to encompass new business models.
5. More and more the truly brilliant people I come into contact with, whether they work at the chain or for an independent bookstore, whether they’re readers, bloggers or writers, whether they’re in the press or starting up an online business, are open to saying good-bye, and in shocking ways, to the way things have always been done. Some of the most interesting conversations I had weren’t just about what wasn’t working but about what we can do within the confines of the business itself.
There’s so much more that I’m sure I’ll be talking about as the days go by and my brain keeps mulling over and over how to truly move forward in a way that gets everyone paid. Holler back your thoughts and let me know if I’m truly crazy or if you think, like I do, that we can get there too.