Derek Dahlsad is a technical wizard and sharp designer. Self taught in most respects, he pulls a formal theatrical design education and part-time computer science courses into a skill-set that is neither purely artistic nor limited by technicality.

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Used Book Sales Growing
27 Sep 2005, 9:43:39 am

The used book market is booming according to the BISG -- topping $2 billion dollars in 2004. Two billion!

Of course, when looking at the mysterious 'bottom line,' to publishers this means customers aren't buying two billion dollars worth of new books. The opposite argument is one that the music & film industries hates hearing: those buyers wouldn't have bought the item at retail price anyway. Of course, publishers would rather scoff at that statement -- how absurd! -- than to figure out why these customers wouldn't pay full price for the book in the first place. Oh, if they had to do that, then they'd have to admit the audience for their books is smaller than they figure when planning, thus showing a flaw in their estimates. This, then, neglects the fact that, when accurately estimating future sales, the book industry could, in theory, budget themselves better.

Publishers also overlook that author/commodity dissemination educates the public about the publisher's product -- via an item that's already been purchased and 'used,' not by spending advertising dollars. It doesn't work with shampoo or shoes, but the used auto market does a good job of keeping the 'successful' products out where potential new-product customers can see them. Even the used-CD market allows customers to experience new or untested bands without too much of a financial investment.

Books also take up space, and the second-hand market allows book-buyers to make room available for new purchases by liquidating books they've finished -- plus put money in their hands that might go back to publishers eventually. Again, back to the used car market: most often, the used car is used as a downpayment on another used car -- or a new one. This is as much a space necessity as a financial one: where would they put both cars? Some people can keep both, but most get rid of the one they're finished with. As in my other tips, mixed used/new booksellers can gain from this process as the used auto market helps auto sales.

So, publishers, embrace the used book market: even if you can show math proving you're losing customers to it, by embracing it the publishing industry could manipulate it into something valuable. Figure out how to keep books rotating in the used-book market, and it will increase product knowledge; base customer estimates knowing a large portion will be reading a book that was already read by another person. Encourage customers to rotate their stock of books, and they'll be buying more books per person -- those books have to come from a retail outlet at some point, and that'll be an increase in sales.

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Gaiman and Wedon On Reading, Writers, and Creating
27 Sep 2005, 9:35:10 am

Time magazine, under the explanation that both have movies coming out, got both Neil Gaiman and Joss Wedon on the phone at the same time. Both are gods of sci-fi writing, Wedon for screen and Gaiman in a variety of media. The two comment on the blurring intersection of mainstream and fringe/genre reading, sci-fi, and fantasy today. Gaiman has a nice quote about the nature of creative writers:

Except the trouble is, as a creator...I saw a lovely analogy recently. Somebody said that writers are like otters. And otters are really hard to train. Dolphins are easy to train. They do a trick, you give them a fish, they do the trick again, you give them a fish. They will keep doing that trick until the end of time. Otters, if they do a trick and you give them a fish, the next time they'll do a better trick or a different trick because they'd already done that one. And writers tend to be otters. Most of us get pretty bored doing the same trick. We've done it, so let's do something different.
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Wolfe Goes Title-Free
20 Sep 2005, 5:02:30 pm

If you'd like to know what the title of Tom Wolfe's new novel is, the paperback's cover won't tell you. Neither will the review on the back cover -- the book is completely devoid of title. Reuters doesn't say if the spine has a title (I'd hope it would), but the marketing theory behind this is rather odd: the marketeer quoted in the article struggles to connect the college-student market to the desire for atitled book covers. How is this, might you ask? "We are using Tom Wolfe's name as a brand, rather than the title of the book. He is an icon himself," says the Picador representative. Because, you know, opening a market that wasn't attracted to the brand name when the product was first released means that those customers are so familiar with your product's brand name that they'll buy it regardless of content....ummmm......

The cover is stylish, but it probably wouldn't attract me on sight. When I was a college student who counted my pennies and didn't take too many purchasing risks? The cover would probably have been overlooked, in favor of one more familiar, more descriptive of the content. Even if the title was added and nothing else changed, it'd be at least something more for a buyer to go on.

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Banned Books Week Is Coming
20 Sep 2005, 9:13:19 am

Don't wait until you read about it as it happens: get ready for the American Library Association's Banned Books Week now. The "Week" actually runs 8 days, from September 24th to October 1st, and the ALA is the place to get the most information. They do offer quite a bit of materials -- for a price -- but if you're going to spend some bucks, get the Banned Books Bracelets (in either adult or juvenile versions) and show your support.

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Chicks Dig Books
20 Sep 2005, 8:57:10 am

Ian McEwan, writer for the Guardian and book lover, set up a stand to give away excess sample books he's recieved -- for free, no strings attached. He discovered an interesting statistic, hailing back to the early marketing days of books. Nearly 100% of women are book lovers. Early novels were all for female customers, the romance genre is a giant in the book industry, and most other genres cater to women in some form. An entirely new book genre, Chick Lit has sprung up to feed the appetite of women -- it should not be surprising that women would take a free book from a stranger.

The opposite, men, fared poorer than I'd have thought: one response was, "Not for me. Thanks mate, but no."

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Microsoft, Videogames and Books -- In Harmony
20 Sep 2005, 8:30:18 am

A few years back, Microsoft bought a gaming companythat brought along a video game series called "Perfect Dark." Now, from a book standpoint, this isn't particularly important....however, a bit of recent news related to the game and Microsoft is: Microsoft is licensing the Perfect Dark story and characters to Tor Books.

Microsoft isn't known for wasting time, money, and assets on something without profit. Granted, this might entirely be a Tor screwup, dumping money into a worthless product by banking on name recognition (it's happened before). However, Microsoft isn't one to lend the name of their product to another poor product; that damages the name-value of the game, and the book is part of the launch campaign for the newest edition of the Perfect Dark series. I suspect this choice is influenced by the Halo novelization released last year. Microsoft must be pleased with the Halo results, to try it again with a lesser-known game.

Now, videogames are often included in the list of Great Destroyers Of Reading Ability, so why would Tor and Microsoft bother with it? Everyone knows that videogamers hate reading -- they're the ones who are killing books! And -- dare I say it -- if some gamer figures out how to read, Microsoft might lose a future customer! Well, not really.

A misconception is that the people who are not reading are deliberately choosing not to read -- they, when presented with a book and a PS-2, choose one over the other. This is not always the case, and I'll bet it's a small occurrance, under 20%. Ask 10 non-book-readers why they choose not to read, and I'm certain at least eight will say it's because they haven't found anything worth reading, not because gaming takes up all their free time. The people who are playing videogames instead of reading are an untapped market.

Now, here's Tor's dilemma: give the gamers something worth reading. Gamers aren't going to tolerate some ghost-written, over-edited, sterilized and generic storyline made up of events that repeat things gamers already saw in the videogame. The videogamer market is dominated by young, imaginitive, fantasy-devouring people with disposable incomes capable of paying $70 for a videogame. Don't offend them. Give them a reason to read, and they will fit it into their time -- escapist videogaming gives gamers a way to relax; if they could carry a bit of that escapism on the train, into the breakroom at work, on the balcony, and to bed before sleep, they'll do it. Even a cynic could agree that a gamer needs something to do when they get bored with all their PSP games and their Gameboy's batteries are dead.



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Donate Books to Katrina Victims
13 Sep 2005, 11:18:37 pm

Ephemera Bound Publishing, the team 'o' folks who run this blog, have arranged for donated books to get directly into the hands of displaced Gulf Coast residents. Shenanigans are at a minimum: the Salvation Army of Houston, which is already helping many of the survivors & evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, is expecting the donated books to be sent directly to their offices and will get the books to the people who need them. BookCrossing is helping by getting out the word, and their system should let book-loving donators connect with the book-recieving donatees.

There's readers who might scoff, saying the people could use money & food more than books -- but, given that this is a bookly blog, we think most of you will agree with our position. A good book can help relax a reader and entertain a person. A children's book gives parents a chance to sit and bond with their kids without attention devoted to their other problems. Books can also impart knowledge, or get a reader to reflect on their own life. Heck, when has anything bad happened because a person read a book? Donating a book to the Katrina victims could easily be the least corruptible act of charity these days.

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Mirrored by the Moscow Book Fair
9 Sep 2005, 10:09:11 am

Novosti reports that books in Russia are being published at huge rates, but buyers aren't buying. At the Moscow book fair, new titles of all kinds are available, but sales have been stagnant; the article blames lack of reading youths, the internet, and general oversaturation....sound familiar, USA? This article could just as easily have been written at an American book fair, but it does go into greater detail about what is selling, rather than what's going wrong: fantasy novels, things on TV, the classics, and history books sell the best in Russia.

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Niche Mini-Amazon.coms
7 Sep 2005, 1:28:04 pm

Amazon.com is the big-boy online, but much as how large publishers are balanced with niche publishers, one entrepeneurial seller is melding online booksales with church fundraising.

Spread The Word Ministries allows other ministries to set up their own online bookstores, for fundraising purposes. Their 'fundraising,' from a purely business standpoint, is the difference between their wholesale cost and their retail price...pretty much what all bookstores deal with. The wholesale discount Spread The Word gives ministries is 30%, so if they're getting something akin to the 50% large retailers get, the main ministry is keeping a good chunk of money, their middlemen ministries keep another chunk, while customers can still see 10-20% discounts comparable to Amazon.com.

Now, brainstorming that's happened around our office has focused on a business model called 'boutiquing,' or specialization of small stores targeting a customer base that's highly likely to buy -- compared to Walmarting, which is to provide generalization in hoping to grab a small fraction of the customer base repeatedly. Christian stores are a good example of specialization: they cater to a specific type of customer, not a specific product.

People have tried to create their own 'stores' by utilizing Amazon's affiliate data-interchange tools, which will get them a few percent on each order while focusing on selling books to people with similar interests (model railroaders, skateboarders, quilting bees), but the Ministry above is offering distribution and a store front-end, creating actual sales revenues instead of referral commissions. Were some middle-ground distributor to make it easy for small businesses to get set up with a storefront, selling books the distributor gets via Ingram, each of the parties can split up the post-Ingram discount and still discount books at competitive pricing. The distributor gets sales without marketing, small groups share the power of volume purchasing, and everybody goes home happy. I believe there's home electronics companies who do this; booksellers can benefit as well.

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School's In, It's Textbook Time!
2 Sep 2005, 7:48:04 pm

Online book-middleware Alibris saw a huge jump in sales -- just from textbook sales. Now, that's sales of used textbooks, not new textbooks...because who wants to pay full price for their books? It's insane to -- students spend around $900 a year just on the text. Alibris' increase is quite remarkable: 40% over last August, and 70% increase just from July to August. On the other hand, textbook producers have been hoping electronic versions will drive future sales...but reliance on electronic knowledge has given way to shunning textbooks altogether.

From a publisher's standpoint, free and open used textbook sales cut into profits, and abandonment of textbooks is a scary proposition. Ebooks do represent an opportunity, through use of digital copy protection, but if the files cost the same as the ink-n-paper version most students will not be pleased at the elimination of the resale market. What's a publisher to do?

Look at the textbok-free school: where are they getting the knowledge imparted upon the students? Teachers are either downloading curriculums from websites devoted to the subject, or they are developing new curriculums referring to internet-based information repositories. When I was in high school and college, barely 15 years ago, teachers and professors jumped around within a textbook, skipped chapters, and created new ones via handouts and alternate reading -- not much different than the so-called textbookless schools; they are essentially an extreme extension of curriculum 'tweaking'. There will always be free websites with good info, but the ease of getting the info or collecting all the information into a semester of classwork can be difficult if starting from scratch. While most teachers love their work, I doubt many are prepared to create a textbook's worth of instruction on their own.

Publishers would be wise to ease into the market of packaging single-subject content: for example, a 7th grade Earth Science teacher could log in to McGraw-Hill's curriculum aggregator, and pick individual 'chapters' from dozens designed by experts -- one on volcanoes, one on weather, one on earthquakes, another on glaciers -- but state law doesn't like evolution, so that's left out, and only a quick summary about hurricanes is included since they're uncommon in Kansas. The instructor would recieve warnings for chapters that overlap, or if a chapter has a prerequisite piece of information that must be included. Once the teacher reaches an acceptible curriculum, the aggregator's software will assemble the chapters, compile them into a table of contents (with cross-referenced information in chapters), and design handouts, research materials, online references, and a teacher's guide -- almost instantly. What if the teacher would prefer hard-copy textbooks? Print-On-Demand services could produce, in a matter of days, enough custom textbooks for a teacher to supply all of his classes. Progressive teachers could download an HTML version for teaching online or a PDF version for eBook distribution. The cost will not need to be as high as traditional books -- but a teacher may even be willing to pay more, knowing that every page of the book will be used to instruct the class. Individual chapters could be altered as new information is discovered or errors corrected, with automatic updates sent to subscribed teachers, rather than requiring an entirely new edition to be released. Coursework could be coordinated between different teachers, even in different schools -- for instance, to ease the transition from junior high to high school, or so a sociology teacher and a history teacher could cover the same topics around the same time of year.

Students hate buying textbooks that they don't feel they're getting the full value out of; at least one school has found no value in buying textbooks at all. What's needed is a new way to create textbooks everybody needs: what schools need is timely information that fits their curriculum, and they've found that pulling the information off the internet is better than buying a textbook. Publishers need to step in and make themselves available this way: providing their textbooks in a format that can be downloaded and assembled, creating a valuable resource for both the teacher and the students.

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