Monday, June 15, 2009

Publishing Perestroika in the Age of the Kindle: You Need a Publisher Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

Curious about Kindle sales numbers?

If so, there has been plenty to chew on in the last few days.

Let's just establish up front that, in the long run, the most important Kindle sales numbers involve calculations of how many Kindle books -- or any other e-books, for that matter -- are being purchased and downloaded. Those are the numbers that are going to make a difference to authors, publishers, readers, and booksellers of every variety. For instance, it may be a good thing for Sony that the company has sold XXXX units of its ereaders in Japan, say, or globally. But until I see evidence that publishers and authors are experiencing significant sales of their ebooks to Sony device owners, those hardware unit sales numbers won't have traction for me.

On the subject of U.S. ebook sales, let me suggest the following very interesting and informative posts and links....

Joe Konrath's A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: You may already be familiar with Joe Konrath (or his alter-ego-de-plume Jack Kilborn) via Kindle Nation Daily, but in addition to being a fine author of suspense and horror fiction Joe is engaged very actively in experimenting with and thinking and writing about the world of book publishing from an author's perspective here in 2009. Joe has shared more information about actual Kindle edition sale and royalties, overall ebook downloads, and his approach to marketing and promotion than any other author writing today, and there's plenty to learn from what he has to say in his posts Ebooks and Free Books and Amazon Kindle, Oh My; Helping Each Other and Amazon Kindle Numbers.

Morris Rosenthal on Kindle Sales Rankings: On another front, the guy who has done more than any other commentator to parse Amazon Sales Rankings and their meaning over the past decade, author and indie publisher Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books, has turned his attention very useful to the meaning of Kindle Store Sales Rankings in a recent post entitled How Many Kindle eBooks Are Selling Based On Amazon Sales Ranking. Although I believe Morris is off by about 600,000 in speculating that there are about 600,000 Kindles currently in use, his overall calculations and research are very well-founded and they strongly suggest that Joe Konrath and I will soon be joined by hundreds -- and eventually thousands -- of other authors for whom revenue from Kindle sales alone begins to provide something like a livable income. Morris also makes a fascinating argument that, among those of Amazon's top bestselling titles that are available both in print and Kindle editions, there is now a 1:1 ration in sales units between the two. When seen in an overall context wherein this ratio moves strongly in favor of print editions as sales numbers decline out the long tail, this model seems generally consistent with Amazon's recent (and, at the time, stunning) announcement that, looking back over an unspecified historic period, Kindle editions sales had accounted for somewhere between 26 and 35 per cent of all sales when both print and Kindle editions were available. If you want to be present and accounted for as the ebook revolution continues to unfold, I highly recommend you follow Morris' posts.

Indie Authors and the Kindle Bestseller Lists. Even among bloggers who write about all things Kindle, there is occasional some confusion about, well, all things Kindle. Among those who commented on the above posts by Joe Konrath, one blogger focused on what Joe's success might mean for self-published authors. (Joe, by the way, is not a self-published author, although he is certainly one who is taking the bull by the horns and restructuring the traditional hierarchical relationship between authors and publishers). Trying to focus in on whether "self-published" authors could earn "a decent living" publishing for the Kindle, the author of the iReaderReview blog asked his readers "Do you think by 2011 self-published authors will be able to hit the Top 25 [in the Kindle Store sales rankings]?"

Not to crow, but it's worth mentioning here that my self-published guide to the Kindle 1 spent 17 consecutive weeks in the #1 position in the Kindle Store during the Spring and Summer of 2008 before going to paperback in late August, and my Complete User's Guide To the Amazing Amazon Kindle 2 spent some time in the top 15 when it came out earlier this year. There have, along the way, been other self-published titles in the Kindle top 25, and they have not only been books about the Kindle. But while it will continue to be interesting to plot the progress of individual titles, I suspect the more interesting sea changes will be those involving the kind of publishing perestroika that I write about in my Beyond the Literary-Industrial Complex: How Authors and Publishers Are Using the Amazon Kindle and Other New Technologies to Unleash a 21-Century Indie Movement of Readers and Writers, including its chapter "Rebel Distribution and Amazon's Marketplace of the Mind: You Need a Publisher Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle." As these sea changes evolve, the "self-published" label will cease to exist in any meaningful way except inasmuch as it means "smart," and will be replaced a kinder, gentler sense of "indie author" and "indie publisher" that is embraced by readers, by authors who previously had chosen traditional publishing routes, and, of course, by the DIY renegades among us.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It's the Real Thing: A Meditation on Immortality and Commerce

It's the Real Thing

A Meditation on Immortality and Commerce

We play at it. We work at it.

It makes us laugh or weep.

It reveals to us

Something divine deep within us,

And something diabolical.

It is sex,

And it is what we build in the absence of sex.

It is beauty,

And it is in the creations that we imagine

As we run in sheer terror from our demons.

It is built upon physics and fart jokes.

It is spoken and written and painted and sung,

And that is just the tip of the ice sculpture.

It is in the sweet smell of morning bakeries,

the tangy tumult of teargassed rebels,

the rhythmic challenges of bass-thumping football paraders.

It is in what we proclaim and what we hide,

In what we share and what we charge for.

Is it still there, we wonder,

When, as we begin to create,

We sometimes allow ourselves the risky freedom

Of using our creations

To seduce,

To intimidate,

To mystify,

To pay for groceries,

To promote ourselves?

There, when we sense

Fuzzy boundaries between our creative energies

And our economic lives,

Our natural self-preserving careerism,

It all becomes so confusing.

After all, we are not only creators

But critics as well.

We are audience too:

We read,

We listen,

We meditate.

We see ourselves

Not only in the brightest mirrors

And stillest waters

But also in the terrifying imponderables

Of Rachmaninoff

And Dostoyevsky

And Van Gogh

And Danielle Steel.

We are audience,

We are organisms,

We have taken drug-addled journeys beyond,

On which we have seen past the seams

That seem to organize the universe,

Water from stone,

Being from sky,

Puppy from Citgo sign,

Sonnet from soccershot from tonguebath,

Sand from breath,

Shadow from nipple.

Our ability to act and to create in the present moment

Is betrayed by our tendency

To be neurotic

About anything related to the questions

Of who and where we will be tomorrow,

Of who will carry our lines

(Our soliloquies and our DNA)

One hundred years from now,

Of how much loot we will take with us

Or pass on.

Trained to think

That our own physical lives are finite,

We speculate about our souls,

But we hedge our spiritual bets

With obsessions about what we might create

That might live, in some sense, another day:

Live to be seen,

To be heard,

To be read,

To be discussed,

Or even to be bought and sold.

Jealously guarding our energies,

And our projected reputations,

We look all around us,

And especially within ourselves,

To judge what in our culture is worthy

Of our time and our reflection.

We are biased

In favor of anything that we create ourselves,

Of anything that comes from a friend

Or lover

Or family member,

Anything that has been created by a member of our tribe,

Our neighborhood,

Our college class,

Anything that seems to be about us,

Or someone that we know,

Or would like to know.

Will we settle for vicarious immortality:

The immortality of a fellow traveler?

We know what we like

We resist what we are told that we should like,

But we don't want to miss out on anything cool,

Anything that might give us pleasure,

Anything that might lead

To a pleasant sexual connection,

Anything that we believe

We should be the first one in our group

To tell the others about.

Some days we rise in the morning

And wish that the world were limited

To our neighborhood:

That the only players

Were the garage band down the street

And the folksinger on the subway platform.

Then we log on

And connect

With a billion other provincials.

But time and again

We break through the barriers of parochialism and prejudice

And we find the most wondrous works of art,

The most compelling visual and textual and sensual meditations

On our nature,

On our plight,

On something mutually recognizable

In our common capacity for hallucination.

These moments of epiphany drive us

To play, to create,

To hunt down something archetypal

That we acknowledge but cannot quite remember in our past,

To set ourselves aflame

With the intensity of our intentions and our nightmares.

Out of all this comes drivel and dreck,

But also something more,

Something hopeful,

Something that once in a great while

We sense is the real thing.

How do we find the real thing?

How do we know when we have found it?

How do we know when we have made it?

There is no handbook for this moment,

Any more than there is a handbook for love.

(And yet there are so many for love!

Are they all impostors?)

Indeed it is a lot like love,

Or a lot like lust:

Who cares what the difference is,

Or if there is a difference?

Don't we know it when we know it?

Can't the quest for love or art,

In its purist moments,

Be polymorphously perverse,

Free of any hierarchy or compulsion to rate,

Yet still and all fixed only on what is beautiful,

On what is beautifully grotesque,

On what may give rise to beauty?

Looking for love,

Do we confine ourselves

To top ten lists of others' favorites,

Or are we hotly vulnerable

To the taboo thrill

Of looking in all the wrong places?

The answer need not even be spoken,

Neither with love nor lust nor art,

Neither with what others create

Nor with what we make ourselves.

What we love,

What stirs us

To our highest and lowest moments,

Whether it involves

Sound or sight or words or ideas

Or the touch of another body,

Whether it is ornamented and accessorized

Or narrative or naked

Or humorous or monstrous,

Is nobody else’s call.

Can the entire process

Be reduced and distilled

To the synesthesia

That has been engineered in our genes

By generations of aromatic aphrodisiacs,

Cool, syncopated movie trailer themes,

And gender-transcendent, bare-bellied,

Masturbation-miming rockers?

We will love where they lead us,

What they make us think or feel,

Who they make us into,

Who they bring into our bedrooms:

What are you wearing?

What are you reading?

What’s on your night table next to the Chivas?

Wanna screw?

Maybe you will when I tell you my last book read!

Are you you, or “The Brand Called You?”

Is that a swoosh on your manuscript

Or are you just happy to see me?

We are the Indie Nation:

You and me and Bukowski and Eggers and Robert Redford.

I’ll tag your novel if you’ll buzz about my poem,

And Google will send us both a micro-payment.

Stephen Windwalker

Monday, June 8, 2009

Just bring your Kindle to your nearest indie bookstore today for ...

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is sometimes fascinated by the issues that pop up, among my fellow authors and readers, as reasons for staying away from new technologies such as the Kindle and even print-on-demand publishing services such as those provided by Amazon's and Ingram's Lightning Source. Some of us are Luddites, some of us are anti-corporate (so we would prefer Random House, right?), some of us are skeered to death of being branded as DIY self-publishers, and ....

And here's the one for which I, as a former brick-and-mortar indie bookseller and member of the American Booksellers Association, have the most patience:

We want to support indie bookstores and we want to make it easy for our readers to find our books on the shelves in indie bookstores. Real bookstores.

Not Amazon. Certainly not the Kindle store. Not chains. Okay, maybe chains if they serve good coffee.

Of course. I love indie bookstores and the people who run them and work at them. I am well aware of the forces that have conspired against them over the past few decades, and it is true that I cannot help but notice certain parallels between the indie bookselling trade and the traditional newspaper business. These parallels may even include the prospect that changes in technology are making it inevitable that indie bookstores and traditional newspapers will share the same fate. But those of us who want to do all we can to keep indie bookstores and traditional newspapers alive are driven in most cases by honorable motivations.

That being said, I for one want to see signs from the indie booksellers themselves that they are doing all that they can, and being as imaginative as possible, in an effort to find ways to appropriate the newest and most interesting technologies to connect more readers with more books in more customer-centered ways. One example that tickles me: a favorite local bookstore of mine (and one that like my tiny publishing company may also have drawn its name from a venerable institution from my undergraduate days) is offering inexpensive delivery of all local orders, using emissions-free vehicles, in partnership with MetroPed, “Boston’s human-powered delivery service."

And here's another: another long-time bookstore fave o' mine, Vermont's Northshire Bookstore, has installed an Expresso Book Machine to offer almost-immediate in-store printing and binding of an incredible array of titles including thousands of titles from On Demand Books, thousands more becoming available from the 8,000 publishing partners of Ingram's Lightning Source POD facility, and -- I especially love this one -- a growing catalog of local-interest titles offered by Northshire's in-house Shire Books imprint. (Yes, this is how Lawrence Ferlinghetti would have begun offering his own Pictures of the Gone World and other City Lights Books titles at the North Beach store if the technology has existed back in 1955).

So, this is great, right? Despite the fact that the Expresso machinery takes up almost as much space as some entire bookstores and looks a lot like -- am I dating myself much here? -- Univac (or the latest invention of Will Farrell's unfortunate recent character), it is an interesting step toward the Long Tail and new-tech delivery systems for indie bookstores. I've been following the Expresso "ATM for books" concept and narrative since mainstream publishing industry veteran and chronicler Jason Epstein became associated with the concept a few years back. And part of what is exciting here is that Northshire is -- among its fellow independent booksellers -- one of the most respected bookshops in the country. I met founder Ed Morrow through ABA and the New England Booksellers Association decades ago and throughout my own bookselling career I never turned down an oppportunity to pick their or their staffers' brains about what might work in my store.

But the Expresso-at-Northshire experiment got me thinking about another potentially exciting way in which indie bookstores could welcome, and profit from, new technologies.

Okay, take a leap with me here. This idea involves indie booksellers actually marketing their stores to Kindle owners (or substitute another ebook brand here, provided that certain compatibilities exist) and inviting the Kindlers to bring their Kindle units into their neighborhood bookstores. If I haven't lost you there already, here's the concept:

  • Imagine all the books that exist or ever will exist in the public domain.
  • Add all the books that are or ever will be available through POD services of any kind including CreateSpace, Lightning Source, On Demand Books, and the Espresso.
  • Add all the other digital books or documents that any bookstore might ever be able to acquire or offer -- whether as a college bookstore agregating instructor's packets and lecture notes or a store like Northshire creating its own POD-and-digital imprint.
  • Render this entire (and, may I say, humongous?) catalog compatible with eBook readers in a copyright-sensitive but DRM-free format that, like PDF files for the new Kindle DX, do not require an extra data-conversion step.
  • Allow all booksellers from Amazon to indie brick-and-mortar shops and chains to offer as much as possible of this entire catalog in both digital ebook and digital print-on-demand as well as other print modalities.
  • Monetize the entire catalog with prices ranging from 49 cents for public-domain to $9.99 for bestsellers (and more when justifiable for technical books, etc.), a sensible royalty structure back to publishers (including Amazon Digital Services), rights holders, and authors, and a point-of-sale slice for pysical stores.
  • Provide apps to integrate the entire process not only with Kindle owners but with the iPhone, the iPod touch, the Blackberry, netbooks, laptops, and every other device imaginable.
  • Invite device owners to bring their Kindles or other readers into bookstores to browse and zap content right onto their hardware via USB, wireless, etc., and offer specific promotions (such as first-day in-store only downloads of the latest Dan Brown) to get readers into the habit of bringing their devices in.
  • Outfit the in-store operation hardware-wise with a user-friendly "music kiosk" like station that requires little or no staffing.
  • Offer a BOGO deal whenever a customer comes to the counter to buy a print-edition (with appropriate back-end monetization: "If you'd like to step over to the kiosk with this coupon that expires in 30 days you can also get a digital copy of this book for an additional 99 cents."

I don't know if it would catch on like the Univac thing did. Sometimes it seems as if it is the nature of e-commerce these days to drive us all away from the local toward the global, and certainly Amazon is well-positioned to take advantage of this momentum.

But there is great value in the local, and indie booksellers and their loyalists are working hard at the process of trying to figure out how to remain viable. If it makes any sense for them to install interesting monstrosities like the Expresso Book Machine in their stores to sell digital p-books, than it has to make sense to figure out and operationalize a process to sell digital e-books like the one I have suggested here.

Imagine all the booksellers, living life in peace....

June 15 deadline approaching for $4,000 Narrative Prize

The $4,000 Narrative Prize is awarded annually for the best short story, novel excerpt, poem, or work of literary nonfiction published by a new or emerging writer in Narrative.

The deadline for entries for each year’s award is June 15.

The winner is announced each September, and the prize is awarded in October. Notices of the award, citing the winner’s name and the title and genre of the winning piece, will be placed in prominent literary periodicals. Each winner will also be cited in an ongoing listing in Narrative. The prize will be given to the best work published each year in Narrative by a new or emerging writer, as judged by the magazine’s editors. In some years, the prize may be divided between winners, when more than one work merits the award.

Click here to submit your work. (See our Guidelines.) Or go to

Narrative Prize Winners