Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Writer's Horoscope #5 - It's Written in the Stars!

Welcome back for another installment of Writer's Horoscope  When reading this feature, it's important to remember that as writers, we're all professionals at making sh*t up. But this is REAL. It must be true! You read it on the interwebs!

If, however, you don't find that your entry in this horoscope seems to apply to you, it's entirely possible that your parents lied to you about your birth-date. (They may also be aliens. Or robots. Or robot aliens. Just remember next time you visit home, it wasn't our idea to cut them open and see what's inside!) Try another sign and see if it makes more sense to you. If it still doesn't seem to apply, keep in mind that they may not only have fudged the date, but the year, and possibly our earlier installments will fit you better. Find them here and here and here, and here.

Note that we've adopted the new world universal writer's astrological symbols in place of the ones you may be more familiar with.

Arial (March 21 - April 19) - Your word count is down and you're disappointed in your output.  We all have our bad days, but there's no one-size-fits-all solution.  The question to ask yourself is, where does your energy come from?  Take the time now to figure out where that place is, then go there and recharge your batteries.  It's worth doing now, even if it costs you a little time, because next time you'll know to go there immediately.

Thesaurus (April 20 - May 20) - Feeling the networking blues?  You're better connected than you imagine.  Don't dismiss the value of casual acquaintances, of people you wouldn't think of as having publishing connections, and remember that friends of friends can be of value as well.  The key to finding these less-obvious connections is communication.  Talk candidly with your friends and associates about your work, interests, and goals.  They can't help you if they don't know what you need.

Galley (May 21 - June 20) - Publishing is changing too fast for you to fall comfortably back into your preconceived notions.  Assume nothing.  Keep your eyes and your mind open to changes and new developments.  Caution and forethought will be rewarded.

Copyright (June 21 - July 22) - You'll profit from a positive environment and that positivity starts close to home. If you're spreading negativity and ill-will you're poisoning the water you swim in.  Cast off the gloom and doom, break out the optimism, and give your positive support to those around you.  In time, it will return ten-fold.

Litho (July 23 - August 22) - If you're excited about a project, don't put it off.  If you write it down, the idea may still be there when you get back to it, but the energy may well be gone.  Ultimately, the energy may be more important than the idea.

Verso (Aug 23 - September 22) - Stop staring out the window.  That daydreaming is killing your productivity.  Pull the drapes and get back to work.  You can open them again when the job is done and the urge has passed.

Library (September 23 - Oct 22) - You're having doubts that your flavor of work fits in out there.  Relax.  Publishing is a big machine that needs parts it doesn't even know exist yet.  Your job is to keep doing what you do, and keep looking for the unfound empty spot where it goes.

Slush (Oct 23 - November 21) - Don't spend too much time obsessing about your mistakes, missed opportunities, and fumbles.  Nobody is perfect, and the best and most successful writer you can think of certainly has made their share of screw-ups.  Learn what you can from those mistakes, resolve not to make the same ones again, and move on.

Sans sarif (Nov 22 - Dec 21) - Perhaps you've heard of a new opportunity, a new book line, or an editor looking for the sort of writing that you like to do, and decided that it's way out of your league.  You might be wrong about that.  The only way to find out is to try.  You've nothing to lose, and something wonderful might just happen.

Caption (December 22 - January 19) - The only certain thing about publishing is uncertainty.  In times of plenty, it's tempting to think that things will go on that way forever.  Rarely is that true.  Plan accordingly.  Minimize your expenses, chose your luxuries carefully, and always, always, keep something in reserve.  Security is the best form of living well.

Apostrophe (January 20 - February 18) - They say you are what you eat, but it's more than that.  You're also the sum of your environment.  Maybe its time to live some of the trappings of what's in your head.  Change out how you dress, the music you listen to, the lighting in your office, anything to shore up the story developing in your head.

Pica (February 19 - March 20) - Be careful putting your heart into a project that isn't your own.  That project could break your heart, and you'll have nothing to show for it.  There are things worth risking heart and soul on, but they're the things that are yours to keep.  Use caution.  Choose wisely.

If this is your birth month: Writer's organizations can provide education, networking, and support.  But they can also be quagmires of politics, battling egos, and dueling time-sinks.  Maybe you've been thinking about becoming a joiner.  If you think the benefits are there, go for it, but beware the pitfalls, and keep your bearings.  It's too easy to slide into the traps gradually without knowing it.  If you see yourself slipping, get out, and give yourself some time and distance.  Don't worry that you're missing anything.  Time spent writing is never wasted...

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do iPad Buyers Read? There's Reason to Doubt


The publishing industry has been looking to the iPad as some kind of savior to them in the eBook Wars.  I think that's a pretty dubious proposition for a lot of reasons, starting with Apple's poor track record of being a friend to anyone but Apple.  (Just look at what's happening to Adobe right now, and a huge part of the Mac's success, even its survival, can be attributed to Adobe products.)

But now there's reason to think otherwise, at least for that part of the industry that would just like to see eBooks go away, or at least, stop their rapid growth.  Many predicted that the iPad would immediately steal the eBook market from Amazon's Kindle and everyone else as well, and embracing the agency model of purchasing books, head off Amazon's $9.99-and-lower price-points.

But though the iPad is so far a success, outselling the iPhone in its early days, it's far too early for publishing to count their chickens.  Because, and I have to keep reminding people of this, the publishing industry is not in the business of selling iPads.  It's in the business of selling books, in whatever form, electronic or print.  And early numbers suggest the iPad isn't selling that many ebooks.  In fact, you could make the case that it's actually hurting ebook sales, and in a more speculative way, hurting print book sales as well.

Let's look at some of the numbers that have hit the press in the last few weeks.  First of all, we're told that iPads sold about a million units in its first month.  That's quite a few iPads, and since there's been no end of discussion about what a snazzy ebook reader the iPad, that should translate into a lot of ebook sales, right?

Well, not really.  About the same time we were told that the iPad app store had sold 1.5 million ebooks.  That sounds like a lot, but any idiot can do the math.  In that month, that exciting month, when a million people were trying out their new iPads, finding out what it can do, and showing those things off to their friends, the average iPad owner purchased 1.5 books.  Not so good.  Worse, this number apparently includes free books!  What owner who ever intended to ever use their iPad as an ebook wouldn't download at least a couple free books just to trying?

Even if every iPad owner downloaded at least one book, it means that no more than half of them ordered a second one.  If you assume that many avid readers ordered at least three or four or five or more books, and it you assume that the people that bothered to order a book at all probably ordered at least two or three then it starts to look like a lot of iPad readers may have little or no interest in using their iPads as ebooks at all.  Ever.

 Let's look at another set of numbers that just came out, a survey of iPad owners on the subject of market cannibalization.  (You can read the details at AppleInsider.)  According to the survey, 28% see the iPad as an eBook reader replacement.  More view it as a replacement for a netbook or an iPod Touch.

But let's assume that the 28% are the kind of serious readers who have apparently been buying the Kindle and Nook, the kind of people who order lots of books.  If we assume that only that 28% (let's call it a third, just for ease of math, and on the assumption that a few others were buying books as well) bought books on their iPad, then suddenly we're up to 4.5 books per iPad user that actually uses their iPad as an ebook.  Given my unscientific observation of myself and other Kindle owners, that doesn't seem hugely far off the mark.

But come on, don't you think a larger percentage than that at least tried the ebook function, at least with a free book?  So the numbers are probably lower.  It's all guesswork, but it could mean the average serious ebook customer who bought an iPad on average bought only 3 or so books.  Maybe less.  And some unknown number of those were freebies that didn't generate revenue for anyone (except Apple).

Why should that be happening?  Well, it could be that, despite the mostly glowing reviews, the iPad simply isn't that great a reading experience.  Remember that the problems don't have to be glaring or obvious.  They just have to cause people, consciously or not, to choose not to read (and therefore to buy more books).  It could be that the iPad is too heavy, that its LCD screen is causing eye-strain or (as some researchers have warned) insomnia, that the screen is washing out in the sunny locations where people want to read, or that its too large to haul around conveniently, or even that those animated page turns and 3D shadows are getting on people's nerves after the novelty wears off.

Honestly though, if those things are a factor, I'd expect them to shake out over more time.  You'd see them in the first quarter's numbers, maybe, but not so much the first month.

It's far more likely that iPad owners, even those who purchased it with the idea it would be used as an ebook,  are just distracted by all the other wonderful, flashy, animated, loud, cool, interactive things that it can do.  Publishing, already suffering (especially among male readers, as shown in this essay by Tom Dupree) from competition by our plugged-in modern lifestyles, has just signed-on with a big-ol'-slab-O-distractions.

So, what do we have?  The average iPad owner possibly isn't much interested in using their iPad as a book.  Even among those that do, they're getting distracted and not buying a lot of books.  Meanwhile, the iPad apparently has convinced somewhere between a quarter and a third of a million people not to buy a relatively-distraction-free Kindle or Nook or Sony Reader instead.  So they may have hurt ebook sales overall in a number of ways.  And you can bet, if those new iPad owners are too distracted to read books on their iPad, then for sure they're too distracted to put down the iPad and pick up one of those old-fashioned hardcovers that the publishers are so hot on moving.  So it's fail, and fail for the publishers.

Of course, there's a way that all my assumptions could be totally full of fluff.  That 1.5 million books apparently only includes books sold though the iPad app store.  It presumably doesn't include books sold through third-party eBook reader apps.  

And though the app-store may be the easiest and most obvious way to get books on your iPad, it isn't the only way.  There are lots of ways.  But the way people are most likely to go for, the way whose numbers I'm betting will dwarf all others, is the Amazon app for iPad.

Uh-oh.  Weren't we supposed to be freezing those people out?

And if most of the ebook sales for the iPad are going to Amazon anyway, the publishing industry has accomplished what exactly?  They've (probably temporarily) broken Amazon's $9.99 price point for new-releases and top-sellers (though it looks like a lot of those will end up being $9.99 in the iPad store anyway).  They've also alienated a lot of Kindle owners through those price increases and unavailability of books, and lost a lot of ebook sales as well.  (Penguin, who has published the great majority of the novels written by my wife and I, has yet to come to an agency agreement with Amazon, and all of their new titles remain unavailable on the Kindle.)  I'm not sure how any of this is greatly going to benefit the industry.

In any case, these numbers will change over the long haul, and that's what really counts.  Not how many iPads sell, or even how many sell to people who intend to use it (at least in part) as an ebook reader.  What counts for publishing is how many ebooks will iPad owners buy?  And not just today, or this month, but over the long haul.  Check back in six months or a year and we'll see where things stand.

Maybe it will turn out that early adopters read less.  Maybe seasoned users will get bored with the novelty of all that noise and color and finally settle down to read a book.  Maybe those low sales averages will improve.

Or maybe iPad users won't like reading on the iPad as much as they expected.  If so, they'll quietly vote with their credit cards, and they may not even realize why.  And if so, the biggest losers could be those of us who write, edit, and are in the business of selling, books.

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