DBW Weekly Roundup: 7/9/10
- First off, we’ve seen markets for music, video, as well as other types of content move into the opposite direction as they’ve evolved, moving from fractured markets to ones where the vast majority of sales/market share migrates towards a few dominant players. Sure, curated specialty sites and communities have grown like wildflowers across the fertile ground of the Internet, but when people transact – meaning spend money – they tend to go where they’ve gone before, meaning Amazon, Apple, or other places. Second, there are some very powerful trends at play in regards to how consumers relate to specific devices, the associated content on these devices, and the channels through which the obtain that content. Currently the strongest headwind in controlling consumer purchase behavior is through ownership by the content storefront of the actual playback or reading device. Apple no doubt has been the biggest influence here over the past ten years, but Amazon and the gaming hardware makers like Nintendo have also employed this method.
- My theory is that readers will grow more and more intolerant of those books that have no real value, books that are worn out before they are unembargoed. And no point in pretending you can keep the best parts from leaking out. The future of print is not day-late print versions of last year’s news. Let’s be honest here: most of these print books are bought at deep discounts by consumers. The “value” assigned by purchasers is far less than the value assigned by the publisher. This is why, when the bookcase fairy finally delivers my dream bookshelves, I will not be dragging out every book I have stored in the garage. In fact, the longer the books remain out of sight, the less important displaying them becomes. Just as friends are comfortable browsing the house’s iTunes library, they happily page through my Kindle, sampling and discussing. What I will keep when I finally open those boxes — ah, the love and care with which they were packed! — will be those books on the endangered species list. Books that cannot be bought in any other way.
- Georgina Capel of Capel & Land welcomed Wylie’s comments, saying she thought he was “completely right and completely brilliant on this”. She said: “We believe 50% is the right royalty rate and in most cases we are asking for 50% on backlist titles. We are not agreeing to anything less than 25% on new titles, and we believe it will be 30%–35% soon.” David Miller of Rogers, Coleridge & White said Wylie was in “a unique position” because his list is heavy on high-profile literary estates, but added: “I will not be surprised if companies emerge that will look to acquire digital rights in backlist titles just as Open Road is doing in the US—you can equate them with the paperback houses of 50 or 25 years ago.”
- A variety of remedies for suffering agents is being promulgated. One is to shift their compensation from a contingency basis to charging for billable hours the way lawyers do. Another is charging for specific services that are now freely offered, such as editing, lecture and tour arrangements, marketing, promotional activities, website management, and social networking. Still others are setting up publication programs for clients who contemplate self-publication. Another answer is for agents to raise their commissions. About this option Strauss reminds us that “During the 1980s and 1990s, US agents raised their commissions from 10% to 15%; it seems to me that an increase to 20% could be undertaken with relatively minimal pain on all sides. This would acknowledge the ways in which agenting has changed and expanded, but wouldn’t unfairly burden writers.” (Strauss does not seem to have confirmed that with any authors.) These are all viable alternatives, and some of them are being implemented as agents urgently strive to redefine themselves. Many of them will work. But will agents still be defined as agents as we know them today? Or are we witnessing the birth of a new species?
- This goes back to a dynamic I touched on in a previous column: the rapid rise and fall of social networks, apparently due to simple novelty, with little to actually anchor audiences on any one site. According to separate figures from comScore and Quantcast, MySpace’s total U.S. audience has declined from about 74 million in May 2007 to 46.5 million in May of this year, while Facebook has soared from 35.7 million to 130 million over the same period. Or just think about Bebo, a promising new social network purchased by AOL for $850 million in 2008, recently offloaded for an embarrassing $10 million. This volatility in audiences and valuation is amplified by redundancy, resulting from the proliferation of new networks which do similar if not identical things (for example, the recent wave of location-based services).
- I met a book agent and he asked to see the manuscript. He said, “I can get this published for you.” And I said doubtfully, “Yeah, you go do that.” Because I thought, come on, who’s going to read a book that isn’t real? I did it as an exercise in sanity. And then it sold like crazy. I knew I had turned a corner when I did my first zombie-protection lecture, which was at Colorado College, I believe. Two hundred people showed up and I was so panicked, flop-sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. I did my lecture for 45 sweaty minutes and I opened the floor up to questions, thinking, okay, they’ve suffered through my lecture. I thought they’d ask me questions like, “Is Will Ferrell really that funny?” or “Is Tina Fey nice?” but the questions were all, “If I cut off my arm, can I stop an infection?” “What rifle do you recommend at what range?” “Should I wear body armor?” They were all actual zombie questions, and I thought maybe I was on to something.
Tweet of the Week
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