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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German Publishers Do It Themselves
23 Oct 2005, 11:39:46 am

What with all the hullaballoo over Google scanning things, recent decisions by US publishers to sell books direct-to-consumers, German publishers have jumped in feet first, setting up their own network of websites to provide electronic copies to readers, allow searches of texts, and sell their own books. This move is designed to intercept other companies' attempts to do this while walking the fine line of copyright violations.

From a Capitalistic standpoint, bully to them -- when other companies come up with a rival product that interferes with your profit, produce one of your own to augment and defend your business. Competition at it's finest, right? Well, when it stymies other business -- book sellers, collectors, distributors, etc -- then there could be trouble. US publishers may need to step backwards and decide what their objective is in the industry: if they are claiming posession of more and more of the book-world for themselves under the auspices of copyright protection, then someone needs to look at what it means to the book-world itself.

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Publishers As The Bookstore
20 Oct 2005, 12:31:10 pm

If you walk into a Barnes & Noble, the racks have a number of books published by Barnes & Noble, mostly reprints and public domain books. Amazon has started a print-on-demand service, comparable to B&N's iUniverse connection. Now, publishers are turning the tables -- selling books at their own online retail outlets.

Now, you may not know this (or understand the scale of it), but bookstores, in general, keep 55% of the cover price. Author royalties are around 10%-15%, and minus the cost of marketing & printing, publishers keep only a tiny portion of each book's cover price.

Bookstores certainly have a lot of expenses to cover -- salespeople, retail locations, computers -- but if Amazon has taught the industry anything it's that books can be sold online. Why should a publisher bother with the middle-man? Publishers can keep the 55%, or even discount sharply and beat the retailer's discounts, yet still get their books out to the buying public.

This certainly is reason to scare booksellers, and publishers are quite behind the times if they didn't see this before. It might even be touted as the savior of the publishing industry, a new unforseen source of income that requires little more than a canned software package to run the online shopping cart. Hopefully those people don't overlook the benefit of retail stores, which feed the public's need to touch the books & flip through them before buying. Amazon is the one who needs to look out; with e-retail aggregators like Froogle, individual online sellers can be paired alongside their competitors without a middleman's help.

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Blookers: Awards for Blogs-Turned-Books
11 Oct 2005, 4:53:58 pm

A new type of book award has been announced: The Blooker Prize. Behind this venture is Lulu, the big online POD house that lets bloggers turn themselves into bloogers through the magic of self-publishing. Any book that originated as blog content is eligible; only physically-printed books are accepted.

Now, I'm pleased with this award: bloggers really have returned value to the written word, and should be rewarded as such. In the olden days, you had a couple publish, or publish yourself. Both required significant effort, devotion, and financial independence to get started towards success. Magazines often purchased works, but it was still work to get an editor to like your work enough. Today, anyone with something to say can set themselves up with a blog, and eventually move to print, without any financial investment whatsoever. 15-20 years ago, I read an article commending email for returning value to the art of letter-writing in the era of telephones; blogging returns value of the art of writing in the era of television.

On the other hand, I'm also raising my eyebrow at the Blooker awards: are there really that many good blogger-written books to pick from? If there are that many, the award will definitely raise the profile of such books. Most bloggers out there aren't particularly relevant or fun to read; simply composing their blog to type won't make their writing more appealing. I suppose that's why the deadline is January '06...writers have plenty of time to get their books to LuLu and have them ready for submission.

While LuLu stands to benefit from it, the printed word benefits as a whole. This award is different from other book awards, in that the books considered were created in a far different manner than regular publishing. Look at it as a sign of where the publishing industry is changing, and not some antiquated industry that's going to be killed by the online world. Print still has value, and we're seeing the first expansion of its next-generation evolution.

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"Who's going to criticize a veteran's organization" For Destroying Books? Me.
4 Oct 2005, 4:35:13 pm

The American Veterans in Domestic Defense is cutting up so-called "perverted" books -- as a sensible alternative to burning them, no doubt. The group has no information on their website about the book-destruction planned for Saturday in Montgomery, Ala...but at least they waited until the ALA's Banned Books Week was over. Or maybe that was an oversight; they could have gotten LOTS more media attention by coordinating schedules.

Despite espousing 1st Amendment rights as justification for at least one of their programs, they've picked out 70 books to take out their rage on, since books (not the readers, nor the writers) fit their definition of "domestic enemies." On top of this, they have the utter gaul to hide behind the label of "veteran." This heavily Christian organization, no doubt, isn't all that interested in the Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim veterans (godless heathens!), nor those interested in protecting people's right to free spech and freedom of the press. Oh, and don't get them started on the "unlawful" IRS. I shouldn't criticise too much, though -- "Who's going to criticize a veteran's organization?" Well, me, for one: veterans who fought to protect our freedoms shouldn't be violating them, nor defining what the government (whom they so diligently acted on the behalf of) is or is not doing right.

Books are an easy target: They can't fight back. They are full of words and feelings, yet cannot expound, recant, or explain their intended meanings. They, often, are used to communicate radical forms of thought from one person to another: long after Hitler and Marx had decayed into dust their works are still surpressed throughout the world -- rightly or wrongly. Should they be? No. Parents lead their children, teachers guide their students, society shows its boundaries and expectations....but books are merely the tools used to do so. It's far more difficult to a group of censors in dress blues to challenge teachers and parents to change their ways than it is to cut up a few books in front of the TV cameras in the guise of patriotism.

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Disruptive Technology, Here And Now
4 Oct 2005, 12:59:26 pm

Rich Gordon describes how transistor radios caught the tube-radio companies off-guard, even though there was plenty of indications that transistor radios would be important. The lack of early-adopters among the existing companies, and subsequent takeover by the 'upstarts' is called "disruptive technology," a term coined by Harvard prof Clayton Christensen. It works thusly:

  • They generally produce inferior performance based on the prevailing standards of the market.
  • They enable products that appeal to a new, underserved group of customers.
  • The new products ó and markets ó are less profitable than the ones attracting the attention of leading companies, so they donít compete vigorously.
  • While the traditional market leaders stand by, companies that capitalize on the new technology keep improving it until it becomes competitive with its predecessors.
  • The traditional market leaders fail to adapt to the new technology, their sales plummet, and a new generation of market-leading companies is born.

This sequence is repeating itself left-and-right in the migration from offline to online areas. However, it's not a guarantee of failure for old technologies: above, I've bolded important sections. These demonstrate where the existing companies fail to keep up, flounder, and are overtaken by the new product.

Now, from a publisher's standpoint -- ink-and-paper publishing looks like it's falling behind the wayside. Hell, people have been predicting it for decades, but just because books are still selling well doesn't mean the above sequence can be overlooked. The article above uses the change from newspapers to online news sources as an example; publishing is already seeing its affects in certain areas.

Answers? I haven't got any. I mostly wrote this entry as a bookmark, a reminder to myself to keep disruptive technology in mind. The transistor didn't kill off tube radios; tube-based audio is still a highly profitable market, just not in the same way. Print publishing won't die off, either -- but it'll have to become something else. With all the innovations in printing (POD, for one), and explosion of both readers and the written word, there's something on the horizon that will become the future of books.
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The Quills of the Proletariat
4 Oct 2005, 12:41:07 pm

NBC and Reed Business Information have gotten together for their own version of the People's Choice Award for books, called The Quills. Quite a daunting award -- considering the thousands upon thousands of books published every year -- but the candidates were narrowed down to a select few by booksellers and librarians. Their goal was to give a Oscars-style profile of the book world, awarding the people's favorite writers for their work.

The problem? Well, they don't see a problem, but voting was quite small. In fact, people interviewed at Barnes & Noble, browsing a display of Quills nominees, had no idea they could vote, or even that the Quills was an award competition. Their voting website traffic wasn't even large enough for the big statistical agencies to take note.

On one hand, here was the perfect opportunity to skew results: if a nominee could win with only a thousand votes, one person with a knack for making fake email accounts could be the difference between the winner and the loser. On the other hand, this doesn't look good for the book industry. No, people are still buying books -- but people are going to reach an "obvious" conclusion when a high-profile, book-related contest that fails because nobody cared. Let's hope that the award gets people reading more, even if the winners are already best-sellers on their own, awards or no. We all still watch the People's Choice Awards, despite the pocketbook votes being registered long before the ceremonies. The industry can only benefit by bringing books up to the level of other popular media.

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