25 August 08 | Chad W. Post

Richard Nash pointed this out on Friday, but Business Week ran an interesting article last week by Sara Lacy about how book publishers should learn from Web 2.0 ideas and revitalize their practices.

Publishing is a subject near and dear to me—and not only because for the past two years I have been writing my first book. One of my parents was a philosophy professor and the other taught high school literature. Books were everywhere in my upbringing.

bq, I want to keep it that way. A way to do that is to ensure that publishing learns how to exploit the full benefits of the social media tools now taking hold of the Web. Newspapers dragged their heels and look what’s happening to them. As great as the Kindle is, publishing has a long way to go.

She then goes on to list five lessons for book publishers:

  • Make it Social

“There has to be a way for Web 2.0—a movement whose raison d’etre is to connect people—to meet the ongoing need for building community around books. Every publisher should at a minimum build a Facebook app. around its titles. The limitation with book clubs is time- and space-related. Not everyone can get their schedules (and geography) to mesh, and not everyone can read a book in the same time frame. But social networking could do for book clubs what Scrabulous did for fans of Scrabble—it let them play games together online, whenever they want.”

  • Take book tours out of the stores.

“The conventional wisdom in publishing is that book tours no longer work. I agree, insofar as tours are confined to bookstores. The sad truth is that bookstores are declining in relevance. There are exceptions, of course, but even stores that draw big crowds for an author will struggle to reach the wide community of people interested in a particular author.”

  • Create stars—don’t just exploit existing ones.

“When an author is established, publishers have to do less to make a book sell. So bidding wars start. As a result, even some best-sellers aren’t very profitable.

Instead, publishers should take a page from the handbook of Gawker founder Nick Denton and create stars. Find micro-celebs with a voice, talent, a niche base of readers, and most important—enthusiasm. Then leverage the publisher’s brand (and the techniques I advocate, of course) to blow them out.”

  • Go electronic from the get-go.

“Publishers would do well to keep the book electronic— even if it’s PDFs of typeset pages. That would help them blast teaser chapters around the world (engaging bloggers and the long tail of the press). Presumably it would help get the book on Kindle and other e-books from day one.”

  • Make e-commerce even easier.

“Yes, Amazon transformed how we shop for books. But the industry can go much further. Take the titles far beyond Amazon.com—through one-click widgets appended to blogs, Facebook pages, and other sites across the Web. Link these tools directly to PayPal and Google Checkout (GOOG). Think: one-click purchase, not one click takes you to Amazon.”

Most of these things seem pretty basic, yet it’s true that there aren’t many publishers engaging in these kind of activities. At least not many getting a lot of exposure or press. Of course, her reference to low advances, like in the $50,000 range, indicates that the type of publishers she has in mind aren’t your New Directions or Archipelagos or New York Review Books.

Equally interesting though is a mention in the comments section of the recent slew of SEC filings from Amazon. I don’t claim to fully understand (or even partially understand) the stock market, but it does seem suspicious that in the couple weeks following the “leak” of info regarding Kindle sales (a number a lot of people—myself included—find rather suspicious) more Assistant Directors at Amazon sold off stock than at any other time this year. Which may be natural, since the price rose based on the rumors that the Kindle was doing so well . . . still, if the Kindle is about to really take off, and there’s a cool new version coming out in the near future, wouldn’t the stock rise continue to rise? I would think so, unless the sales figures weren’t very accurate . . .


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