Category Archives: publishing

Now Google lets you search old books for, say, sex and chocolate

You’ve been reading about sex. We can tell.

First, let us explain that there are 129,864,880 unique books in the world — most printed long before the Internet, no longer published, and sitting on shelves with their acidic paper slowly deteriorating, sending words into oblivion. Google, in a wonderful-yet-controversial side project, has been trying to save this knowledge by scanning books with an Elphel 323 camera and serving them free of charge to the public. To date, Google has digitized 15 million books.

Now, Google has launched an Ngram Viewer to help you search old books for topics — kind of a “trending” analysis for any given period of time before the Internet and its ADHD cousin Twitter. Above is a peek at the number of published instances of sex vs. chocolate since 1800. Chocolate, it seems, is a relatively stable interest, while sex crept up in the 1920s and spiked after 1960. Was it the advent of world wars, modern communications, or perhaps birth control? Ponder away and try Google’s book searches here, or read the entire texts for free at Google Books.

Of magic books and micropublishing

IDEO has mocked up the future of the book, where reading gets three new twists: informational layers (the “Nelson” prototype above), social connectivity (“Coupland”), or narrative interactivity (“Alice”). While it should be no surprise the convergence of words and tablets will open up possibilities, what’s most interesting is the probable impact on the publishing industry — soon to be replaced by micropublishing.

You see, today publishing is hard and risky, with every book an unknown start-up business model, so the boys in Manhattan make money by promising to remove that friction. But what happens when friction disappears? Anyone in the future will be able to write and publish books using almost-free tools such as Apple Pages to whip up layouts and then email, Twitter, text or signal-share it to the masses. Big-city publishing houses that once vetted authors, forced them to shill through their networks to sell the minimum amount of books to get to $100,000 in break-even revenue, will fade as your son learns to publish professional views on the final Hogwarts twist to his friends in 6th grade via $99 iPads. Write. Layout. Send. You’re done.

Information wants to make money

Of course this means clutter, fragmentation, the PDF version of a million Wikipedia pages. Cheaper access will create a groundswell of new content inventory 10,000x more than that on today’s Web. The pressure on publishing will accelerate, because old third-party ad models that paid for some editorial gates (once called “magazines” and “newspapers”) will be small compared to the wordsmith tide. There aren’t enough advertising budgets in the world to fill all that space even at 5-cent CPMs. Advertising will still work, but only in subsets of the content, the Super Bowl/Harry Potter hits of the world that ride the Pareto power laws above the long tail of mass self-proclamation.

The twist is that individual writers, unlikely to scale to Rowlingesque masses in this new sea of content, may start charging more for their own work to the few who are interested. When content/writer/video/photo producers hunger to make money and marketing can’t subsidize the costs, the creators will want a greater slice of publishing pie. Books will still cost money, but perhaps you’ll pay it to the close circle of friends who write what you want.

Micropublishing will arrive because in a world of perfect informational networks, the closest distance between two nodes is a straight line. Tablets, beam away.

Film at page 11

Videos in magazines? Angela Natividad notes that French publication Enjeux les Echos recently included video ads for Citroën DS3’s “Anti Retro” campaign, even with a little plug on the inside page so you can download the files to a laptop. The technology to insert disposable video into magazines, brochures or direct mail has been around for a while and is costly — typically $10.00 or more per unit, which works out to a $10,000 CPM, about 300 times that of a normal color ad in a marquee pub.

We’re entering an age of gimmickry as print publishers try to defend their old pulp-based models, which while dying still drive far more ad dollars per eyeball than web equivalents. Toss in the iPad, which conceivably could make anyone a publisher of book-quality material, and the old guards of text may soon die. Until then, enjoy the show.

How Apple could destroy publishing in 5 easy steps

Publishers such as Condé Nast, masters of our beloved Wired magazine, are so hopeful the iPad and the tablets chasing it will revive their economic health: you know, more readers will pay for subscriptions; no paper means lower operating costs; advertisers will suddenly yearn for higher CPMs to get aboard such gorgeous, interactive content …

Yet perhaps Apple has deeper motives for the iPad, say, moving the margins of the book and magazine industries directly into its own pockets. (See: iTunes, the No. 1 music vendor in the United States.) Here’s how Apple could destroy publishing in five easy steps:

1. Launch the iPad, then gradually reduce price points while adding features (webcams, backside video cams, slimmer bezels, 3-D) until ramping gadget sales achieve lock-in for Apple as the de facto tablet-cum-publishing store in the world.

2. Upgrade the Apple word processing program Pages to include simple templates for books, novels, pamphlets, and magazines, all publishable electronically as gorgeous interactive PDFs. And just as an iTunes software version exists for Windows, promote a version of Pages to work in Microsoft environments as well.

3. Give consumers new incentives to publish books or magazines themselves by including interactive ads that fit in the margins of their self-published PDFs. You’ll get paid for every thousand eyeballs reading your stuff, and advertisers will compete for this new form of contextual advertising tied to GPS location systems built into the iPad.

4. With a click, allow these aspiring authors to upload their now-beautiful, already monetized book layouts to the iBookstore.

5. Build in social media features to help you promote your own book to your network of followers on Twitter and Facebook, and pray that they scale it to their friends.

You may not sell a million books or a best-selling magazine, but you’ll no longer need all that thorny pitching, rejection, approval, editing, and self-whoring that comes from working with big publishing houses. Don’t look at us. Chris Anderson called his own book “Free.”

Earth Emergency Procedures Safety Card

Want to promote your next book? Try gut-wrenching fear.

Author Eli Kintisch is about to release Hack the Planet, which proposes that our human desire to control things could get us into trouble as we try to solve big problems. Take global warming: Sure, you may not buy it if you watch Fox News, but imagine what would happen if a rogue nation decided to try and fix the atmosphere by flying a few planes around seeding chemicals for geoengineering … and got the formula wrong? Kintisch is promoting his upcoming missive with a blog and juicy interactive Earth Emergency Procedures Safety Card, you know, if the planet melts, please head for the nearest exit.

This is really not news. Our Planet Earth, a strapping young adult about 4 billion years through our sun’s 10 billion-year lifespan, has gone through five major extinction events in which almost all life died. Yup; not only the dinosaurs, they were just the last to get hit. Today, scientists warn we could be approaching another extinction whack — not just a random asteroid (like the one that punched a 180-kilometer crater in the Yucatan Peninsula) or global warming, but massive methane leaks from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, nuclear holocaust (we’re still pointing bombs at each other), robotic advances that might replace people, or nanotechnology that if unleashed without care could turn our planet into mush.

Good promotion. Sweet dreams.

Newsday’s pay wall crumbles

Newsday is the United States’ eighth-largest newspaper, so when it set up a “pay wall” at its web site in November, media circles buzzed. Could Newsday prove that forcing people to pay to read online newspaper content is a viable business model? Could Newsday, an example of a large local paper with a lock on a region’s news, use its unique editorial to build subscriptions online?

Early indications are — nope. Quantcast data shows monthly U.S. traffic, which had hovered for years in the 1.3 to 2.5 million person range, suddenly fell off a cliff to just over 600,000 individual people. Newsday may be hamstrung by the fact its web site is incredibly confusing to navigate for nonsubscribers — quick, click to and try to determine in 5 seconds how to sign up. But this failing experiment can’t make print publishers happy as they reconsider making readers pay for online content. The buzz is new tablet devices may give subscriptions a boost. Be careful, publishers. The long tail of substitutes is just a click away.

Magazines play with their bill options

We’re seeing innovation in the magazine sector, which is good since it is shedding pages and titles faster than you can say Microsoft Explorer. The Economist this week announced UK readers can order a single issue for next day delivery — just in case you’ve got to hear about the latest financial panic in 6,000 words or more. lets U.S. readers subscribe to a bucket of magazines for one monthly fee, and mix up the titles mailed to you whenever you want, so you can segue from Maxim to American History depending on when your spouse is out of town.

Magazines have fared better than newspapers with the rise of the internet. Prior to this recession, U.S. ad revenue in glossies rose from $9 billion in 1996 to $14 billion in 2007, hovering at about 5% of total U.S. ad expenditures (which went up in that decade). Newspaper ad dollars fell from 22% to 16% share in the same period.

Still, with magazine ad pages off 26% this year, we suggest anything to get the circulation up. gives new writers a lift

Writing fiction is a dark and unfathomable business; success is almost random, given the odds of a major publisher casting marketing dollars behind your little novel. In 1995 Joanne Rowling submitted a typed manuscript to 12 publishers and each rejected it. Rowling finally had a stroke of luck when Alice Newton, the 8-year-old daughter of the chairman of Bloomsbury publishing house in London, happened upon the first chapter, loved it, and demanded that her father give her the next. Bloomsbury eventually published Harry Potter — but in turn demanded Joanne use the initials “J.K.,” fearing young boys wouldn’t want to read a book written by a girl. now offers a simpler solution to writers who want to get noticed — if you pen fiction, simply email 3,000 words or less to the site, they’ll produce it in an e-book, and you can sell copies to your friends for $4.95. The site offers small cash prizes for the books liked most by fans, and a starting point if you want to spread the word about your brilliant plot of a young unloved boy who was almost killed years ago by an evil boss and wakes up to discover he is being groomed to cast magical marketing spells in an underground world of advertising social influencers. Oh wait. That’s us.

Image: Allan Grainger.

The word of mouth for Stephen King

As the battery drains from a loaned laptop in our northern Maine vacation, we realize we must bid the web and this blog farewell … until next Monday, July 14. We leave you with the image of Stephen King’s front gate, and the tale of his second “brand.”

You know Mr. King as the prolific writer of horror books. But talk to people within 20 miles of Bangor, Maine, and you get a different story — about a guy and his wife who started out small, always remembered their home, and gave back in the form of charity and building baseball fields and cracking jokes at local bookstores or movie theaters. Seems Stephen King has built a word-of-mouth brand around goodwill.

We drove by the water park he built for the community, which doesn’t have his name on it. We drove by King’s house, saw a relatively modest home for a guy who makes millions. The gate was open, we were tempted to drive in, knock and say hello. The wrought iron gates were a little goth, but didn’t fool us. We hear he’s just a nice guy.

Funny thing, word of mouth. Changes your entire perspective of the official brand.

Photo: Silver Starre

Book of the year: Clichéonomics

Wired’s big-idea book generator is brilliant. The concept here is that only a few of the thousands of business books published each year break out, so why not follow the formula of best sellers?

1. Create a title-as-theory. Should sound like a bad B movie. Ours will be “The Marketing Zombie from Payback Lagoon.”

2. Give it a subtitle, to explain what you really mean. Ours: “How to Unlock the Transformational Power of the CMO Before She Gets Fired.” This doesn’t have to make sense, but it will have more terms to sound even more important. Also helps if it makes executives squirm in their airplane seats.

3. Write an even more detailed premise to pitch the book, using words such as “dynamic,” “collective,” “profound,” and “previously hidden.” Wired recommends terms such as “tribes” and “the power of unconscious thought.” We’re thinking “The Secret Signals CEOs Send to Marketing Execs Before Calling in HR.” Nice.

You’re done. Send the memo to a publisher, get contract, punch up Word, and jump on stage next to Malcolm Gladwell. You’ve just written the next Big Idea Book. Thanks, Wired.