Friday, January 19, 2007

My Speech at Google

I just returned from the Unbound conference in New York. Google flew me in first class, set me up at a nice hotel, and plied me with liquor, all so I could deliver eight minutes of my thoughts on the internet and the future of publishing to more than five hundred publishers.

I didn't pull punches.

Other speakers included Tim O'Reilly, who was smart, Cory Doctorow, who was great, and Seth Godin, who was both smart and great. Another big name was also there, but I missed his speech. It may have had to do with a chat we had backstage, where I revealed that I visited 612 bookstores last summer and he replied, "Apparently you place a zero value on your time." I smiled and explained that my time spent touring was an investment in my future career, and that I was a recruiting a nation wide sales force.

"Talk to booksellers?" he replied. "I never considered that."

Some people don't get it. Or they don't want to get it, because it implies they might be doing less. No biggie. I wish him much success.

The speakers on my panel were the delightful Josh Kilmer-Purcell, and the surprisingly down-to-earth Stephen J. Dubner, who--even though he's got to be a gazillionaire from Freakonomics--still signs 5000 bookplates for fans every month. He is now my new hero.

Here's what I said to the publishing world, fleshed out a little bit (I had to make some cuts for time) and minus the jokes (which involved the NY subway, Powerpoint pie graphs, and Hollywood---trust me, you aren't missing anything.)

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--JA's Speech to the Publishing World--

I write about a police officer named Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels. The books are a cross between the scares of Patterson and the laughs of Evanovich. But most of my professional time isn't spend writing, it's spent trying to spread the word about what I write to potential readers.

Publishers try to do this by advertising. Two generally accepted ways to approach advertising are top down and bottom up.

Top down advertising includes billboards, print ads, TV commercials, and internet banner ads. It's casting a wide net, hoping that a potential customer will see the ad and seek out the product. It works, but isn't cost-effective;the amount of time and money spent doesn't justify the few sales the ads generate.

Plus, no one enjoys being sold. And people natural distrust ads. Readers already have a pretty good idea of what they like and don't like. And they seek out what they like, and are constantly looking for information about things that might fit their tastes.

Bottom up advertising uses a different approach. Instead of treating customers like a huge group and hoping the ad reaches some specific people, it targets specific people.

Advertisers crow about the importance of name recognition, but how many authors do you know by name? Does that mean you buy their books? I can name a few hundred, but only buy a few dozen of them.

That's because name recognition doesn't mean anything, unless it has a positive experience attached to it.

Last summer, for my book Rusty Nail, I visited 612 bookstores. I met over 1400 booksellers, gave them free books, and signed coasters, and told them about my series. I also thanked them--every one of them--in the acknowledgments of my fourth book, Dirty Martini, coming out this summer.

Basically, I recruited a sales force by trying to turn the people selling my books into fans, or at least make them knowledgeable about my brand, which is significant considering there are 150k titles in an average bookstore.

That's bottom up; targeting individuals, providing them with entertainment and information so they can decide if my books are right for them, or in this case, their customers. So when someone comes into a bookstore looking for a specific type of book, these booksellers can pass along the information and make recommendations. I gave them more than a free signed book. I gave them a positive experience. And that, plus name recognition, equals branding.

How can this be applied to the world wide web?

The Internet, like those booksellers, can make recommendations. It can inform, and entertain, and be a positive experience that reinforces a brand. .

I've used the net to target my audience. When you're targeting potential customers, it isn't about what you have to sell. It's about what you have to offer. And if you have a smart web presence, you don't even have to target individuals---they'll find you.

I recently got on MySpace, and realized it is a publisher's wet dream. People with MySpace pages list the things that they like, to tell others about themselves. Many people list books. Think about this--books are so important to these people that they use author names and titles to define who they are. It's very easy to find fans of Evanovich, Patterson, and Coben. And it's very easy to invite fans of those authors to be MySpace friends, if you write similar books.

I have a blog called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. It's based on the principal that it isn't what you have to sell, it's what you have to offer. I offer content, in the form of information and opinion about the publishing industry. I've had over two hundred blog posts, and each one of them becomes a permanent road on the net that leads to me. I get Google hits on posts I made 2 years ago, and the threads don't die--people keep adding comments.

My website isn't set up to be an ad for my books. It's set up to be entertaining, and informative. You can download free novels, short stories, and book and audio excerpts, along with an ebook about how to find an agent. I have over a hundred pages of content for fans and newbie authors looking for advice, and even though I don't update as often as I should, I still get close to 1000 unique visitors a day.

On my website, I make it easy for people to stay in touch. I have a newsletter that more than 10,000 people have signed up for, and one click Paypal buying so people who can't find autographed copies of my books can get them from me directly, inscribed and with free shipping.

While publishers worry about finding readers, and go about it as effectively as using a sledgehammer to kill a gnat, readers are actively looking for books to read. But they need more than slick ads to persuade them. They need a positive experience to link with a name. That's 99% of what I'm trying to do--provide a positive experience, for the people looking for me, and the people discovering me by surfing.

The bigger web presence you have, the more people will discover you.

How does this apply to the future of publishing?

An entire generation is learning how to read by using computers. More and more people are getting their information and entertainment on the web. And they aren't being passive about it--they're seeking it out.

On the subway today, I counted 7 people with PDAs, Blackberrys, and Palms, and two more with mp3 players. People need their media so much they're taking it with them when they leave their desks. Only three people on that train were reading newspapers. What does that say about the future of print media?

People read online all the time. It's up to the publishers to teach them how to read books online.

There's no reason why books can't be packaged with a CD. It could contain various downloadable text AND audio formats, so people can read it on their PDA or listen to it on their mp3 player. It can include pictures, video interviews, deleted chapters and extra short stories. It could be popped into a computer and take the reader to a webpage where they can chat with other fans, and the author, and leave messages and comments and questions.

And publishers should also approach it from the other end. Each book could have a dedicated website, just like movies. And it could offer the same things; downloads, previews, screen savers, and forums for fans to meet. It should also provide links to buying the book, both as a download, and as a print copy.

Why stop there? Take a cue from the DVD and music industries, that package whole season sets of shows and full discographies of bands. Do you want people to embrace ebooks? (You should--no shipping, no returns, no printing, no distributor, no waste, higher profit margin.) Then package 20 Stephen King books on a Sandisk card for $40. Steve gets the 60 cent per book royalty he would have gotten from a paperback sale, and the buyer changes his reading habits.

We switched from LPs to CDs, and VHS to DVD. We can convert some people from print to online leisure reading---especially since everyone reads online anyway.

You can spend a fortune hunting mice. You can mount expeditions, buy expensive mouse hunting equipment, tour the world, and devote all of your time to tracking those little suckers down.

Or you can toss some cheese in the corner and wait.

The choice yours.

26 comments:

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Great speech, Joe. I would love to have been there.

I'm not sure that the world is ready to pay for eBooks, though. I know that a small percentage of people do, and I'm sure that will grow, but will it ever come even close to replacing printed books?

Cory Doctorow is giving away his eBooks, but plenty of readers are still buying the printed book. If most people switch to reading electronic books, I guess he will have to stop giving them away. :)

It would be a lot easier, though, wouldn't it? But I'm not sure where that leaves the publisher. It would make it a lot easier for the writer to bypass the agent and publisher, no?

Rob in Denver said...

I agree... it was a good speech. Although, I'm still not sold on how frequently people are reading book-length electronic versions of stuff.

Studies by Jakob Nielsen, a leading Web usability researcher and consultant, show that people read about 25 percent more slowly when they're reading screen text. Which is why, almost universally, experts say writing for the Web is best for users when headlines and bullets dominate.

It makes the page easy to scan, which is what we want to do anyway.

Plus, I've mentioned before that I tend to believe book people like the full experience that the real deal gives: the spicy smell of paper, the heft of something in their hands, browsing their own bookshelves.

Even though the words inside an electronic book are the same, the sensory association we have with their analog counterparts is powerful. It'll be hard to overcome.

JA Konrath said...

I don't think paper books will ever die. But I do think there's a potential for a segment of the population to switch to ebooks, but publishers haven't figured out how to tap that demographic yet.

Proper bundling, price points, and extras could lead to a tipping point.

And if they don't, what did we lose? Some bandwith and storage space?

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of ebooks (hey, I designed and wrote yBook, an ebook reader!), but I'll never buy digital data tied to one piece of hardware or software.

Either it's DRM free or they can keep it.

And the other thing is, publishers release the hardback and follow it up with the paperback some months later. Why not release the ebook when the paperback has had its run in the shops? Even if they don't sell many, they could still generate many new fans for that author's NEXT release.

Anonymous said...

While I personally think it's still a little early to push ebooks, I love the idea of making books a full-media event, like movies and the music industry. A CD included with a book could include tons of extras that readers would love. Heck, I see DVDs sometimes packaged with book versions of the movie, why not the other way around?

As for ebooks, I think it will take another generation or two before most book readers are comfortable enough with taking in long texts online. Even then it might not happen. As was mentioned, breakouts and bullets and headlines make for easier reading ... but who knows, maybe those graphical elements will create a new form of the novel.

ATL Girl said...

I will never buy an ebook. Never!

There's a big difference in scanning foxnews.com for short articles of information and reading 350 pages of text on a computer screen.

JA Konrath said...

I will never buy an ebook. Never!

Never is a long time. ;)

What if you could get an ebook by a favorite author for free? What if it was the only format the author released the book in (no paper, no audio)?

What if the ebook came packaged with six exclusive short stories, three video interviews, and access to a invite-only website where you could get free personalized and signed stuff fromt he author?

What if the ebook contained ten books and only cost five dollars?

What if an ebook reader was both user friendly and cheap? One that held 2000 books, was waterproof, had a 500 hour batter life, had backlighting so you could read int he dark or in harsh sunlight, and was the same size and weight as a paperback? What if it also allowed hyperlinks, internet access, and made the book interactive in ways that haven't even been developed yet?

I'm not running to buy an ebook reader, but I do think this is the future. Or at least, a part of the future.

ec said...

My husband loves loves LOVES his Sony e-book. Loves. It. He has read more books since he got it in early November than he did in the previous months of 2006. The screen is extremely easy to read, so much so that he claims he can read faster. It's extremely portable, so when he's traveling he can take the equivalent of several paperbacks in a device that's smaller and slimmer than one.

I like the suggestions one reader had about the hardcover/paperback/ebook progression. That makes a great deal of sense.

And what about books that are long out of print? Ebooks would be a cost-effective way to make them available again. I've been searching high and low for a copy of "The Tragedy of Kirk o' Field" by G.H. Mahon, originally published in 1930. It's a history of Henry Lord Darnley's death, and it's referenced in damn near every book written on the topic--but just try to find a copy. Ebooks would be an easy way to reproduce and store such books, and if the "long tail" business model holds true, there should be enough sales over time to justify the effort.

This post reminded me of a terrific article in Wired magazine a few months back entitled "What Is the Future of Books?" Highly recommended.

Mark said...

A good, thought-provoking talk, Joe. And I was a bit taken-back by the author who said you must put zero value on your time. Kind of rude, but maybe he was just startled by your ambition (I know I am).

I try to stay open-minded about e-books. I'm more intrigued with the idea of bundling, though, and publishers--and I suppose authors in many ways are already doing this--may find it more cost-effective to either offer this for free on their websites (or on the author websites), or, one way to do this so they didn't have to package CDs with books would be to print an access code in the book that readers could use to access part of the publisher's website via a password. (Yeah, it would get passed around, but so what?) And if publishers really wanted to get smart, each book would have a unique code, so they could track who's buying it and who's accessing the website. And that website could have a lot of cool stuff--MP3 interviews, video interviews, short stories, interviews with the author, the editor, the publisher, extras from the book, or if someone wanted to, hire actors to be the characters and be interviewed, even mini-movies, etc. Would it cost money?

It depends, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

"But most of my professional time isn't spend writing, it's spent trying to spread the word about what I write to potential readers."

It seems to me it would be better to increase the number of books on the stands. After all, there is no advertising for a product like having the product to begin with, e.g., a NUMBER of books at stores, libraries, etc.

When readers find an author they like, they often read everything that author writies. It's also for readers to find an author if they have 5 or 10 or 20 books on the shelve as opposed to just a few.

The best promotion is to have a large number of high quality books. The word will spread by itself over time.

Rob in Denver said...

I think that it's going to take most---if not all---of those things you mentioned, Joe, for ebooks to make larger strides into the market.

The big question, then, is: "Will publishers do it?"

JA Konrath said...

The best promotion is to have a large number of high quality books. The word will spread by itself over time.

Yes and no.

A huge stack of books in a bookstore will encourge more browsers to take a look, but veyr few people fork over $22 on a book/author they've never heard of.

Plus, getting stores to stock a huge number of books isn't easy, because there have to be orders first. You can print 100k books, but if the chain stores only order 10k, you're in big trouble.

That said, I believe cameos/dump boxes, and coop to go along with a large number of books on display, do work better than any other form of top down advertising.

But word of mouth works better.

Jeremy James said...

eBooks will probably be the future, but not until eBook reading hardware develops in ways Joe already touched on: long battery life, light weight, water / sand resistant, bright sunlight viewable, low cost, etcetera. It's also a matter of readers adjusting their reading habits (or a younger audience).

But I wonder if hyperlinked novels, or eBook readers that connect to the internet, won't actually be too much of a distraction for most readers to get through a book (especially given the 25% slowdown in reading speed).

Imagine you're on the subway on your way to work, and a little "you've got mail" icon pops up in the bottom corner of the screen...or you click on a link that takes you to a "deleted scene" on the author's website, and next thing you know, you're watching some kid break-dance on YouTube.

For me, that's part of the value of reading a paperback or hardcover: escaping somewhere AWAY from the computer and all of it's temptations.

Of course, who would spend over a hundred bucks on any piece of electronic equipment with a screen that *didn't* connect to the web? It'd be a hard sell.

Probably the whole structure and form of a novel will change in significant ways 20-100 years from now. Maybe they will go entirely digital. If so, my guess is that novels will be composed of far fewer words, but some of the words will be replaced with audio snippets, video, pictures, and links.

Anonymous said...

Lots of books on store shelves ... and personal promotions ... and ebooks ... and DVDs and other extras ...

Why can't an author do all of the above?
What the heck is wrong with trying something different?
Joe Konrath is turning out about a novel a year, from what I can tell, which is probably about average for most novelists. He's also out doing MUCH more promotional work than most authors, AND he is working at being innovative in an industry that's stagnant in many ways.

Geez, I'm a glass-half-empty kind of guy, but even I get tired of the continual anonymous naysayers on Mr. Konrath's blog.

Joe, my apologies. I don't know you personally, and won't be insulted if you decide to delete this post ... but ... come on people, give a little credit where it's due. At least somebody is trying to think outside the box.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes these ideas just take time. But, the fact is, there are less readers, so everyone scrambles to send advertisements to those readers we know are already out there.
Doing what Joe suggests reaches out to bring in NEW readers as well. We have over 6000 subscribers to our MySpace. It was one of the best things we've ever done. And, like Joe, we don't use it to sell our services. We use it to offer services, to "meet" readers and authors and to show our involvement in the book world. Does it work? Absolutely! We've been in Newsweek and on NPR because people found us on MySpace.

To say "This has always worked in the past" when you market a book, is being blind to what's really happening in the world of entertainment. It may "always" work, but it's working on a dwindling number of people. The way of the future is to reach out and bring in more readers, instead of just advertising to a dwindling number of established readers.

New ideas offered to antiquated processes are often looked upon as ridiculous or frightening. I hope this blog is still around in 10 years, so we can revisit it...on our PDA's on the subway.
Sheila Clover English

JA Konrath said...

I picked up a Seth Godin book at the conference, and while I don't agree with everything he says (he's a little to technochic for my taste) he does share many of my opinions.

One that stands out is how companies make a fortune by innovating, then stick with doing the same thing instead of continuing to innovate.

This goes along with my belief that the publishing industry is broken. It is based on an an archaic business model, and it refuses to change.

We need innovators. But NY publishing isn't trying to innovate. They're fighting to hold on to what they have, rather than looking to see what might come next and how to get a piece of that.

Advertising isn't cost effective. The Internet has made the world a buyer's market. And the only way to generate interest in a book is one person at a time, which means the writer must play a big part.

If we want to succeed as writers, we need to figure out where and how we fit in. Leaving it up to our publishers might be a recipe for disaster.

Jane said...

But I do think there's a potential for a segment of the population to switch to ebooks, but publishers haven't figured out how to tap that demographic yet.

Certainly Ellora's Cave and other e-publishers have figured out some demographic problems. The fact is that romance is a widely read genre in the e-format. Harlequin has invested a large sum in digitizing its front list and some backlist. Avon releases almost all of its romance genre books in e-format along with paper format as well as releasing about 3 authors' backlists in e-format every month.

S&S and Random House are devoted to digitizing their backlists as well. I look to purchase all my books in e-format and then those that I cannot, I purchase in paper. I've been preaching the e-gospel for many years now to friends, neighbors, and online readers. I haven't yet met one reader who regrets reading e-format. Entire books. Long books.

There are so many advantages for the romance e-book reader because we are avid re-readers; we consume more books in one month than other genre readers; and we like to take our books everywhere. Since I've started e-reading, I find I read more because I read while I am standing in line to get my lunch or mail my packages. I whip it out during half time of my nephew's basketball games. Whenever there is a lull is an opportunity to read.

I would be lost without my e-reader. I think that others would be converted if it was as easy as buying an Itunes song.

Anonymous said...

Another consideration...the proliferation of e-books into bookstores. Some consumers have talked about the experience of going to a bookstore, browsing the shelves, letting the covers sell the books. Well, what happens when bookstores realize they can profit from e-book sales as well? They can create little e-book sections, where video screens display titles and information about authors, sample chapters, and even audio clips of interviews or other author content. Consumers could swipe a credit card, plug in their iPod or E-reader, and *zap* the $5 e-book directly into their portable system.

Some of us in the book business suspect this scenario will be a reality sooner rather than later. While e-books will never completely wipe out print books (there certainly won't be a paradigm shift in publishing), it's likely that e-books will at least consume a larger portion of the market in the near future.

Just something to think about...

gregory huffstutter said...

So do I get a $.07 royalty for giving you the terms: "top-down" and "bottom-up" advertising?

Good thing I don't yet have an agent... I'll get to keep that $.01 commission!

JA Konrath said...

See Greg? And you thought I wasn't listening. :)

Lynda Hilburn said...

Very interesting post. It really made me think. I agree with others who've said that it would make sense for publishers to release ebooks of their print books after a certain time period. I don't think print books will ever fade away -- I can't imagine that -- but I do think ebooks are just another option. What a great thing to keep our work available!

One thing you said in your speech stopped me in my tracks:

Last summer, for my book Rusty Nail, I visited 612 bookstores. I met over 1400 booksellers, gave them free books, and signed coasters, and told them about my series. I also thanked them--every one of them--in the acknowledgments of my fourth book, Dirty Martini, coming out this summer.

My brain boggled as I thought about you giving away 1400 free books. Did you?

JA Konrath said...

I gave away 750 books. My publisher paid for them.

Anonymous said...

Some people don't get it, some people don't think of it. My husband doesn't get the scratch their back and they'll scratch yours. He's big on not wasting effort and I'm sure a whole lot of the book tour you did felt like you didn't immediately get back what you put into it. I know I can't do what you did, but that doesn't mean I can't do smaller, more local version.

T.Thompson said...

Hi J.A.,
I'm an independent publicist and book marketer. I was at the conference (thanks to me reading this blog) and I absolutely loved it. Your speech, Cory's and Seth were by far the best and I even took home some great ideas for my clients. I refer all of them to your blog for inspiration.

Lara Adrian said...

Great speech, Joe! As usual, lots of thought-provoking stuff and more reasons to be impressed by all you do to get your name and your books out there. Thanks for blazing the trail for the rest of us!

I'm curious about those 750 books you gave away and how you presented that idea to your publisher so that they were willing to pony up for the promo copies?

p.s. Am I the only one who checked the Unbound conference brochure to find the author who was clueless about marketing to booksellers?

Anonymous said...

One of the barriers to eBooks is user ignorance of themin association with a heavy dose of the same people "knowing" about how eBooks work. The old saw of "I don't want to read on a computer screen" is a case in point.

Those of us who have taken our eBooks mobile (I use a Dell PDA dedicated as a reader) know that flexibility and portability are increased by eBooks.

I read my eBooks using one hand. There's no need to hold pages open. Turning pages is a matter of pushing a button. using a finger of the same hand that holds the PDA. There's never a concern about proper lighting. I even read books in the dark when my wife is asleep.

Quite the contrary to the common view, using eBooks, with a proper reader, is far superior to sitting with a real book, though I'll admit to having and enjoying my print-copy library.

The problems with eBooks are associated with availability and publishers who believe that PDF files are eBooks.

Cheers --- Larry