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Why Are Publishers Happy About Missing Out on the Digital Revolution?

The chart you see above is from Gallup and Pew measuring the percentage of adults in the U.S. who have not read a single book in the year measured.

It was 8% in 1978 and has been hovering at 23-27% in recent years. This is not a trend one associates with a growth industry. Meanwhile, I see newspaper editors, authors, and book publishers celebrating the death of the ebook without looking at this long-term trend of reading decline.  Are they dancing on their own graves?

It seems likely that print book reading has been in decline since around the time the Internet came on the scene because of new entertainment choices.  We know from many studies that people are spending more and more time engaged with content provided on a networked screen: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Facebook, Instagram, streaming sports, and so on.

Yet in the traditional book publishing industry, the collective decision was made to raise ebook prices to about what paperbacks sell for to save the old industry. And in the process kill the only networked screen innovation the book industry could participate in, the digital book for Smartphone and tablet reading. Vested interests across the supply chain published stories about the inferiority of reading books on a screen. How people remember less when reading digitally. An active campaign was undertaken to ward off innovation by The Establishment. (Them again!)

The inclination in the face of change is to duck one’s head in the sand and hope you can make it though the storm.  Maybe YOU can make it, but what about future generations who want a viable book industry? This is analogous to the old wooden ship builders deciding not to enter the iron age. Or the suits at Kodak who smugly looked at industry-funded Photo Marketing Association research, ignoring what was happening in the larger world. Just as with AAP research, the photo industry research ignored the emerging players and their market growth quietly occurring outside the normal competitive landscape.  Do you remember when supermarkets sold food but didn’t make it available to eat in the store? Someone smart decided competition was happening all around them at restaurants so along came Whole Foods, where people now eat right next to where others pay.  Brilliant!

We know from looking at traditional publishing financial results that publishers gave up easy profits when they chose to ignore the future of the ebook and hide in the print past. The only way the old business models have survived is through continued consolidation, which means pumping through more titles in lower volumes to fewer readers to just about stay even. For now. When the next recession comes, that will change again. Those higher number of titles coming from fewer traditional publishers with less staff  has to translate into a poorer experience for authors as a byproduct.

Crossing the chasm from the old, which provides most of the current income, to the new is nearly impossible. This is why competition almost always comes from the outside, from new players who have no investment in the old ways so are free to seize opportunities while the old plays a difficult balancing game. I experienced this firsthand when the 35mm photo industry had huge investments in obsolescent technology and equipment, while needing to  also invest in the digital new, the sum being a very expensive, unsustainable business model, which was too much weight for the likes of Sony, Konica, Kodak, and Polaroid.

The publishing industry seems to have throttled back the digital new more than was needed. No one I speak with in the book industry can answer the important question: “How many sales did you lose when you raised your ebook prices to the same as paperback?”  If you apply the strategic thinking of dividing customers into clusters of Most Engaged, Somewhat Engaged, and Not Engaged, I would expect many in the Somewhat Engaged group bought fewer books once ebook prices went up to the current high (I would say absurd) levels.  Yes, the Most Engaged are stepping up as they always will in continuing to support the old print business and indie booksellers, but can publishers survive well into the digital future in a highly competitive screen-based entertainment marketplace with just the Most Engaged?  I doubt it.

A possible better way to straddle the change would be to launch the hardcover edition that all publishers currently offer for those Most Engaged customers, and hold off on both the ebook and paperback editions until a year later when released simultaneously.  Price the ebook at $9.95 intended for the Somewhat Engaged shoppers. The $16-$20 paperback sales should not be hurt much by this change, as those who prefer to read in paperback will pay $10 more. And the net margins should be higher, without returns and printing costs. Bookstore sales should stay flat, especially when Barnes & Noble is out of the mix. The smart indie booksellers can do well in this overall environment that allows publishers to play a new game, as well as an old one.

I hear authors and industry insiders blaming Amazon for lowering book prices and reducing everyone’s profits as a result. (Same thing they said about Barnes & Noble back in 1986.) They claim this is now (ironically) why Barnes & Noble is on the ropes. I disagree. Barnes & Noble is on the ropes because they are caught in the middle, too large to compete with indie bookstores and too small to compete with Amazon. The core issue is not Amazon and lower book prices, but an overall shrinking market for book reading. That is the challenge people should be focusing on, not whining about how the shrinking pie is being affected by unfair competition. Ebooks were that path forward, as a new competition for other forms of digital entertainment, but pricing ebooks at $14.95 will never attract those less engaged potential book buyers. Duck and cover is not a winnable long-term strategy. You can’t go home again. You can be progressive or regressive.

It’s the same old question: do you see digital as a threat or an opportunity? It is in fact both, so don’t forget about the opportunities.

Missing out on the digital revolution is not an option for book publishers who want to operate well into the future. Actively promoting and celebrating the decline of the one new good thing that has come along to make the industry competitive with all other entertainment options, strikes me as self-defeating strategy.

The Future of Small-Batch Publishing

(This post first appeared on the BookBusiness Website.)

One of the great backlashes in our era of conglomerates is the steady growth of small-batch businesses. These are very small businesses that cater mostly to customers willing to spend more for a seemingly better and more controlled product offering.

There are many happy consumers who will buy a four-pack of local brew for $16, which when you think about it, is only $4 for a very good can of beer.  Compare that to the bar. I live in Maine where we have many small-batch breweries, and one of the things I love about these business owners is their commitment to buy local even though it means paying more.

For instance, Maine’s potato farmers now grow malt barley for local beer production, which is used by many of the state’s breweries even though the cost is far higher than buying “from away.” The farmers also make more on this new crop versus potatoes. The positive impact on rural areas struggling to compete is significant.

Lately I’ve been pondering the future for small-batch publishing, which is what I am doing with my company Publerati.  Identifying as a small-batch producer immediately shifts a lot of the norms for how products are acquired and produced. I have extensive background in the “pile them high and watch them fly” mass-market retail product areas. This method makes a lot of sense for high-volume mass- market products, including bestseller books.

Offset printing huge volumes of a title that will sell in huge numbers, and accepting that 20-30% of them will be piled high but never actually fly, is a reasonable business proposition for all concerned along the supply chain, from author to publisher to printer to bookstore to remainder company.

The problem arises for those books that do not warrant a large offset first printing, so are not actually represented by agents and published by the conglomerates. If you agree, as I do, that many of them should continue to make their way to readers through a traditional publishing gatekeeper process, it seems logical to conclude that the methods and rules need to change.

For me, so much of this small-batch publishing revolution hinges on two key developments: the increased use and access to inkjet printing of small quantities to ship; and the ability to get a fresh book printed at an in-store book machine, similar to what Espresso Books offers.

Fresh Beer… Fresh Books

Putting my small-batch consumer hat on for a moment, I like the idea of buying a book that was printed and bound in minutes while I was enjoying a coffee in the store. No one else has thumbed through it. I know it is new. Fresh. I also like the idea that this means there will be less waste going into landfills, or at least I think a reasonable consumer would assume so. This also allows the store to decide how many copies of a particular title to print to meet their local demand. They can print and display some on their own dime, so to speak.

Most consumers (other than writers) don’t think about this next point, but I also like knowing books are being kept in print that otherwise would not.  Many major publishers continue to be reluctant to offer their out-of-print backlist books through networks like the Espresso Book Machine, most likely feeling they will make them available on their own “down the road.” It’s the typical gorilla mentality, and one that does not benefit consumers in the here and now.

I like knowing the publisher of a particular title, like the maker of that local cheese, produces fewer products and devotes more time and attention to each one.  It’s the individual attention and care given to the creators of the products—the authors—where so much potential exists for small-batch publishers.

I was never comfortable working for a publisher knowing we did not actually produce the products (the content) that paid our bills. Across the spectrum of all products produced and sold, this is not normal. The risk is that more and more authors are shut out from the conglomerates and so look for someone more eager to show some love. This has been happening for years now with publishers like Coffee House Press and the many university presses that have published books thought to be “too learned or narrow” for the lay reader. They have done a great job filling a void.

Ironically, as we consolidate more and more into the “large-few,” it’s the “small-many” who continue to proliferate faster than we can keep up with. Both can live happily together, serving different customers with differing expectations. The large-few have many advantages of scale in distribution and labor. But so do the small-many, as long as they stay true to who they are. Acquisitions of smaller companies by larger ones can be a disaster, as I’m sure many readers here have experienced.

The processes of the huge factory are not the right ones for the small shop, and vice versa. I continue to be hopeful that the efficiencies of scale we are already witnessing in printing and distribution will allow all publishers to operate more efficiently in serving their customers: authors and readers.

So grab yourself a fresh brew and curl up with that just-printed book bought at your local store.   — Caleb Mason.

Announcing “Publishing Outsights”

Someone made the mistake of asking me for my opinions on book publishing. So I will be offering them through a new blog on BookBusiness called “Outsights on Publishing.”

Why the name? It’s my sincere hope that I can share something of value to others based on my many years working in the book industry, photo industry, mapping and GPS industry, and tourism industry, each different in their own unique ways but with similar challenges brought about by rapid rates of disruption from unexpected places.

My latest post concerns the possible negative impact on publishers’ profitability due to small gains in print book sales offset by much larger losses in ebooks. The big question in a world of disruption, is how many of those former ebook readers bought an ebook from Amazon or another source outside the AAP-measured traditional book industry?

Anyone have any reliable way to measure that?

Can We Achieve Better Editing Outcomes?

For all you authors and editors who have wrassled a long novel to its editing conclusion, there is one constant truth: you will always have regrets when looking back at some annoying error(s) that slipped through much to your bewilderment.

Let’s face it, all authors and editors would love to achieve a flawless work every time, but with hurried schedules; editing tracking tools that themselves open doors to new errors; multiple editorial projects in the hopper at various stages of development, plus business and employee demands on our time and attention—this goal is admirable but unlikely to be realized as consistently as anyone would like.

What to do?  I have now edited several works of fiction published under the Publerati imprint and have felt the weight of each one in terms of striving for perfection. And I will be the first to admit that some have proceeded to final better than others. But all in all, I am proud of the quality of each published novel. Publerati only publishes fiction, which requires a host of unique sensitivities and give-and-take between author and editor.

It can be a complicated world of editorial  ping-pong, where sometimes the ball mysteriously disappears behind the sofa and there is no cat to retrieve it.

In a completely fortuitous manner, I have made a discovery I would like to share. This discovery grew out of my initial desire to exclusively publish ebooks, followed quickly by the realization that networked retail print-on-demand kiosks offer a new way to efficiently provide print copies to those who want them. We use the Espresso Book Network for this need, which I have written about previously.

This discovery has to do with the benefits of publishing first in ebook format and then waiting one year for the print-on-demand edition. This has allowed our authors and me to gain some necessary distance from the novel-wrassling, love/hate deadline process, so we can revisit the work with fresh eyes after it has been published as an ebook to make one final editorial sweep before locking it into print.

The end result has allowed us to fix issues that in many cases were most likely only evident to the author (e.g., foreign name spelling inconsistencies, the occasional copyediting style inconsistency), but also other more embarrassing fixes all too commonly found in many traditionally published books. These annoying issues can lose readers quickly, especially if they come in bunches early on. Even more so if a reader paid $27.95 for an error-riddled hardcover edition.

As long as most traditionally published books are released simultaneously in ebook and print formats, which I expect will be the case for some time, I realize this new method can only be utilized by new ventures such as Publerati. But I expect down the road, with the further loss of brick-and-mortar bookstores (which means pre-printed fiction book distribution will continue shrinking), this digital-first approach will deliver a better printed book experience for author, editor, publisher, and reader.

I am reminded of my time working in corporate marketing departments in other industries, when digital testing first became possible in the 1990s, allowing businesses to test various marketing messages and visual concepts digitally before locking them into expensive and permanent print campaigns. This led to better results and a vast reduction in the waste created by throwing away print materials that were deemed to be ineffective and in need of revision following product launch. You know, by the new CEO who just came onboard with his own strong opinions. (Anyone remember the new Kmart CEO who walked into a store and decided he liked yellow so had all 2,000+ stores expensively retrofitted with new signage shortly before they went Chapter 11?)

I would love to hear the thoughts of others who have experience editing fiction and nonfiction.

Happy summer!

Best, Caleb Mason


Giving Back for the Holidays

Publerati is pleased to announce now through December 31, 2013 we will donate 100% of our publisher’s share of all Publerati ebook sales to the Worldreader Organization, who also has a matching program in place now through year-end.

A core mission of Publerati is to increase access for excellent fiction around the world using ebooks and e-reading technologies. Worldreader is achieving remarkable success through a combination of hard work and vision in providing digital readers and ebooks to teachers and children in developing nations.
Publerati wants to be more than just another publisher. Our goal is to help bring interesting, challenging fiction to readers at accessible ebook prices and in the process donate a portion of our sales to Worldreader on an ongoing basis. 
It should be a win-win: excellent novels and story collections that might be a little too risky for mainstream publishing now see the light of day as affordable ebooks, and in the process those less fortunate gain access to a huge digital library of ebooks on e-readers provided by Worldreader, fostering a lifelong love of learning.
Our list is purposefully small as we are highly selective in what we publish and have worked to create a diverse list showcasing what we feel represents the best of the art of fiction done in differing styles.
Please share this and help make a difference around the world simply by reading. You can find our titles on Thanks.
Happy Holidays!
Caleb Mason
Founder & Publisher









Book Editing Meets Beethoven

Many music-lovers believe that Beethoven’s music and those composers who followed during the great Romantic Era  would not have existed without destiny’s timely intervention, in the form of the iron sounding board added to the wooden piano forte frame.

The famous piano-maker Broadwoods made their last harpischord in 1793 and in 1808 introduced bracing bars of metal to support the wooden frame. Other engineering improvements followed and the art of the piano and musical composition was forever changed.

This interplay of new technology and artistic development is a fascinating one and I believe we are living in a similar time for books. These watershed time periods present many challenges and opportunities for the authors and composers and I would like to share some of what I have learned so far while editing manuscripts for my company Publerati.

This challenge is especially difficult for publishers originating content headed for print and ebook formats simultaneously. The author and publisher maintain control over their work in print because the reader cannot adjust font sizes, for example. The print text is not flowable. I witnessed a similar challenge when working for a map publisher, who had many exciting new user-experiences heading out the door digitally, while still needing to update and publish static paper atlases. For those managing this giant layered map data soup, aspirin and vodka were always on hand.

Because I can enlarge the type on ebooks, I am much more aware of punctuation. Punctuation, like a good waiter, should work efficiently in the background. (Hey: how’s everything tasting Mister!)  Full colons shout and wave at you in 24-point size in a novel.  Em-dashes, given their larger size, work better if a connecting mechanism is truly needed but sometimes all this “punctuation intrusion” into the uninterrupted dream of reading is an indication further rewriting is needed.

Another example is the difficulty ebook conversion processes have with certain combinations of punctuation.  “Everything was going well until my bi-polar wife Audrey screamed at the neighbor’s son ‘Get out of here or I’ll gut you like a pig’!”  That ending ‘!” trifecta is likely to set off machine-driven havoc on e-readers. So I would rework the sentence, probably getting rid of the exclamation mark as the first easiest solution. And the author might want to bump off Audrey.

So what to do? I think any editor working on a manuscript heading for simultanous print and ebook production needs to be sure to pay attention to what happens on the ebook, which means looking long and hard at the use of punctuation. This in turn, could lead to better writing via rewrites, which is a desirable outcome for the work in all formats.

Related to the above is to be sure to proof the book on ereaders in EPUB and mobi formats before simply releasing to the public unchecked. Assume those reading on ebooks will enlarge the fonts. Acknowledge you are giving up some control so write and edit to that new user experience where possible while taking care of print readers as well. I have found that when I go from “final” manuscript to first ebook proof I notice further edits that I cannot believe we all missed. I attribute this to the challenge of “state-specific memory,” the reason you can recall your wife’s phone number on your work phone but not on the phone in the next office.

Being able to change the context of the editing experience after staring at the same pages for so long and over so much time, (oftentimes sitting at the same desk staring at the same screen or printout), simply by injecting an ereader proof as a pre-publication tool, is a great development for book editing.  Quite possibly similar to how a modern composer can play his work on a computer and revise before hearing for the first time at a live performance, which is what the 19th-century composers had to do, so they made their changes oftentimes in horror after that first embarrassing performance. Edward MacDowell once said he much preferred writing piano sonatas to symphonies because he could hear them right away fully under his control, literally at his fingertips.

I think the ebook proof is a better next proofing stage than the bound galley, which does bring the work closer to a print book but does not allow for the full editing power available on an ereader. For instance, once the proof is on the ereader, you can select any word to make sure it is spelled correctly or jump to the Internet by highlighting an historical character’s name spelling, and in the process discover other fact-checking errors you and the author missed by being able to dive deeper.

Back to Beethoven. Instrument evolution for books will surely cause the artform to evolve as well. Some will gladly continue playing their piano fortes and harpischords for a welcoming audience. Others will head out onto the bleeding edge and quite possibly replace many forms of books with something completely new. Maybe Facebook and Google have already done so. The information we once got from books is quickly being replaced by the Internet, which is making life so difficult for education and non-fiction publishing.

I happen to believe the novel will survive as a sustainable art form, similar to the sonata. Personally, I am interested in fiction and the challenges of writing and editing fiction, which is why I started a company that only publishes this genre. But I also figure I am being near-sighted and fiction will change in unforeseen ways in the future. Especially when read by our relatives, the Borgs. (Not Bjorn. His grandson Cy.)

— Caleb Mason



What is the biggest problem digital content solves, in books, photos, texting?




And what does digital sharing supplant?


Old-fashioned print.  Photos in shoe boxes.  Books in the mail. Checks in the mail. The snail mail itself.


How much have we really mourned these “losses” in recent years?


Do you miss mailing photos to Grandma? (Put that tablet down I’m talking to you Mrs. Facebook.)


Do you miss requesting and waiting for a AAA TripTik to arrive in the mail? (“Can’t go dear, TripTik not here yet.”  Divorce.)


Do you miss licking ten envelopes a week to pay bills? (How many have died needlessly!)


Do you miss mailing books as birthday presents? (All that time lost in long hopeless lines.)


The point is this. Digital does supplant print because it offers so much more. Print does not go fully away, but it does find a new much lower level of usage from where it was before digital became widespread. (Let us hope this happens to printed catalog mailings soon.)


So if digital enables sharing, then let’s build new business models that encourage sharing.


Which is why Publerati shares our ebooks freely for use in developing nations and also believes in the power of expanding literacy using ebooks and e-readers provided by sharing of funds. One person pays, another person gains access.


Remember the kids who would never share? They don’t work at Publerati. 


— Caleb

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“What Will it Take to Get You Into this Leased Book Today, Ma’am?”

When you buy a print book you own it; when you buy an ebook you are licensing it. Might this eventually become one of the key decision factors when selecting a book?

Let’s think about cars. How many more new cars do you suppose are on the road because they are available to lease at lower monthly prices than if they were only available to buy? It looks like during difficult economic times somewhere between 50-60% of all car acquisitions are leases in the U.S., and this number declines as conditions improve. Clearly the availability of the leasing option puts more cars on the road and keeps cash flowing for the companies that invest in making cars and trucks.

For books, we already have good information from the AAP and others indicating that ebooks are extending the market reach of publishers and authors. I never thought I would say this, but I actually find print books to feel a bit dated now when I wander through a bookstore. Reading on a tablet feels more advanced from an evolutionary perspective. This from someone who has worked in bookstores and publishers and cherishes many of my old books, including my grandmother’s first edition complete set of Proust in French.

I am very happy to “own” that Proust collection. I “inherited” it. Quite a meaningful gift. There is weight behind the collection; I can feel my grandmother’s hands on the pages, and my mother’s. I imagine them chuckling at the Baron de Charlus in the same sections that appeal to me. When my mother was dying, she asked me what I wanted of her personal effects and I said her old books. They are like a fine antique chair in our home, but better. 

On the other hand, there are many books I do not need to own and leasing them is just fine. Preferable. So when a publisher leases me a new novel for $9.95 I feel that makes sense. I can choose to pay $29.95 in hardcover if I want to own it. But as with software, licensing is just fine for most content and the lower licensing price means I will engage with content I might otherwise not. I expect as digital/print volumes continue to shift, publishers will be able to charge $40 for a well-done hardcover for those who want to own and cherish the title.

Ebook licensing via libraries will continue to be important for spreading knowledge to those who might be denied. The major publishers are coming together around a licensing model where a library pays a price to license an ebook 26 times before they need to pay for it again. The license will close down the edition, same as done with trial software. My former software colleagues would say: “Hey, simple, it’s just code.” (Hopefully the person who borrows the ebook does not find out the hard way at home the license has expired. Not sure how that will work.)

I am very optimistic about these changing business models and what they will mean for reading. Licensing ebooks should open up access and also earn authors more than they are paid now.  With print, the author only gets paid the first time a book changes hands. Do you really think the street people selling “Piracy and Its Discontents” out front of the city bookstore care that the author is not being paid each time the book changes hands? 

When I sell my used car…the one I own, I get paid.

So let’s see how many more readers we can bring into the fold as the digital age improves our lives in so many ways. Open minds will make it happen.

— Caleb

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An Idea for Facebook and Apple

Idea time based around user needs and existing music paradigm shifts implemented by Apple.

I awoke this morning realizing it is Easter. (Happy Easter!) And that I am still here.
The ebook publisher I own called Publerati published a novel with a very funny Easter scene, so let’s share it on Facebook.
Awesome, the latest iBooks upgrade let’s me scroll, so now it’s easy to copy that entire Easter chapter. And look! They added the Share buttons just like news articles.
Now just hit the share to Facebook button and there my shared chapter will be…

DARN!  Only a short passage with a link to the book in the iStore and the free preview of the opening pages. But the content I want is deep into the book. Personal resurrection incomplete.

How come I can preview every song on an album online but only a limited section of a digital book or just the opening pages? Especially when in print I can prance into any bookstore and sit down and read the entire book if I want. How come print gets to break so many copyright laws when digital is locked down like a lunatic in Congress. Oh, wait….

So here is the idea for Apple and Facebook. Apple to-dos: charge .99 cents for those people who have already bought the full ebook under the copyright laws of “first sale” and then make a boatload more money by charging .99 cents for any chapter I want. I would have paid you another .99 cents this morning to share the funny Easter chapter of our novel Normal Family. This way you, the publishers, and all those authors out there will raise the average revenue per book to more than its list price. (Maybe this notion is part of the Amazon march toward reselling digital content?)

This in turn allows me to share that chapter I want on Facebook, the open social network, which likely will no longer be the case for Goodreads once Amazon integrates them into whatever comes next there. This in turn should sell more ebooks because Facebook has the largest social network by far and allows the original copyright owners to share a full chapter from their purchased ebook for .99 cents and make money and better virally promote the book.

Tell me please oh wise reader what is wrong with this idea? Usually when I think I have a good idea it is already being worked on or exists. The publishing industry has shown they want to work with Apple to counterbalance Amazon. Why not give Apple and Facebook this unique competitive advantage while Amazon and Goodreads fumble forward through their acquisition period and legal and technology cluster-f&*&cks? 

And this is not a publisher collusion tactic but a feature enabled by Apple to allow it to compete as a reseller does and should in enhancing the customer experience.

Okay…I gotta go look for some jelly beans now. 

— Caleb

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The Writers Call the Shots

The “times they are a-changin'” for everyone involved in the book business. From traditional publishers to literary agents to self-publishing authors to Amazon and the future of reselling digital content, these “are the best of times, and the worst of times.” Bob Dylan… meet Charles Dickens.

But it just could be these really will be the “best of times” for one group in particular. The writers. They have more options than ever before. And Publerati is designed to allow authors the flexibility to do many things at once. 

If you go to the Publerati main page and click on the Writers’ Corner tab, you will see what makes us different. 

Click on the Writers’ Corner tab from this landing page above and let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.

— Caleb

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