Wednesday, June 28, 2006

DPP Sponsors World eBook Fair

Check Out Nicky Pitman's Interview about DPP's Sponsorship of the World eBook Fair:

DPP ( and the DPPstore ( are pleased to participate in the first annual World eBook Fair. We have joined in as contributors and sponsors for this exciting event.

1/3 of a million eBooks will be offered to download for FREE from July 4th - August 4th...

Visit to check out this spectacular event!

Monday, June 26, 2006

White Hats v. Black Hats

Zig Ziglar - "If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want."

White hats versus black hats is a reference to the old spaghetti westerns where the bad guy had a big black Stetson, while the hero had the big white Stetson. This phrase has been adapted to describe the distinct approaches that business entities take to a given marketplace. Based on this approach, consumers will either label an organization as black hat or white hat.

How do customers know how to make this distinction? Essentially they look for organizations that appear to want the same thing for them that they want for themselves; low prices, something for nothing wherever possible, an easy acquisition (shopping) experience; and all of this without any sacrifice in quality. If you can deliver this, you are a white hat. If you promise, but cannot deliver you are a black hat. If you neither promise nor deliver you may just as well holster your pistol and go home.

In relation to intangible products like eBooks, the image an entity projects to their customers is pivotal. In our industry, there are basically two major approaches to the customer:

  • The proprietary
  • The open

The proprietary approach is about locking down the intellectual property tight, so tight that it may never see the light of day. The organizations who take this tact are the groups who want to squeeze as much money from the consumer as possible, give them as little access to what they bought as possible and call it a day. It is obvious in our industry, that these have been identified by the consumers as the black hats. They promise you content, and then deliver something which has limitations that were never clearly defined on the front end: the customer can only read this file once, they can never transfer this file to a new computer, they cannot use this file on both your regular PC and a portable device, and on, and on…

When there are other alternatives in the marketplace, this approach usually gets money from that customer about once. They say to themselves – well, that was a waste… then they never come back.

The open approach is about protecting intellectual property, in an honest way; getting value for intellectual property, at a reasonable price point; bringing the consumer more than they expected, never playing bait and switch. They also operate on the theory that there is room for many players in the game…as long as they play their own cards right, their operating philosophy is – the more the merrier. The groups who approach the customer this way understand the theory of creating a loyal customer base.

When the customer is met with this attitude, they tend to respond with open pocket books.

In this environment the current consumers have already placed Black Hats on the propietary, and White Hats on the open model proponents. The buzz is in the air, on the blogs, in the newsgroups and all over the list serves.

So, back to that dusty old standoff outside the local saloon – watch a few dozen old flicks, and then do your own quickdraw math – how often do you see the white hat go down?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Every Book is an eBook Waiting to Happen

Why can’t we all get any and every book in eBook form? Most books are never released digitally - because the rights to publish these books as eBooks are held by companies who are traditional, or print, publishing houses. Why don’t these publishers want to generate additional revenue without additional expense by adding eBook selections to the forms in which they offer their print books? Good question.

As far as I can tell, there are three main issues at play here:

  • Sentimentality about the current form of books
  • Fears about piracy and DRM
  • Concerns about competition with existing products


The participants in this industry have a romantic notion about books. The books that they grew up with will be held out as an ideal. Often, when you ask someone to tell you about their early experiences with books, they will tell you about the classics that they read and the deep and meaningful relationship that they built with the written word.

Ok, this happens. I read my first classic fiction when I was eight; “The Chronicals of Narnia” and “The Nancy Drew Mysteries” in the stairwell at my aunt’s big suburban house in Edina, MN. They were wonderful and truly ignited my imagination. I also read my first erotica (semi-porn) when I was eleven. It was wonderful and truly ignited my imagination. It was one of those “books” that the publishing industry forgets all about when they become entranced by the idea of a book. The cover was torn off – and even so, I only read it in the dark – behind a locked door. Gee – a backlight would’ve come in handy then.

My point here is simply that it was not the medium, paper, which delivered the book to me that I built a relationship with. Rather, it was words, ideas, second-hand experiences that became an essential part of my human experience. Had those same books been eBooks, they would’ve been equally seminal in my formative years.

If, as I’ve heard so many times, it’s the smell of paper that does it for you – I’ll invent a scratch and sniff sticker to adhere to your eBook reader, so that you don’t have to miss a thing!


Traditional, print publishers fear piracy. I’m with JFK – the only thing to fear is fear itself. I get it, someone might steal the digital version of your book and use it without paying for it. Most likely, someone will. But, the VAST majority of the consuming public is honest and lazy. A great combination if you want to sell us something. I do count myself in this group.

When you are looking for; ham radio channels, wireless internet access, or content on the internet you must weed through what you don’t want to find what you do – this is called the, “signal to noise ratio.”

I will digress for a moment, indulge me, this is relevant. One of my dear friends, an exception to the laziness bit about the consuming public … but steadfast in honesty … told me about a signal/noise experience. He is my age, 29, and reads books primarily as eBooks. When the sixth book in the Harry Potter series came out last summer, he wanted to read it, but he didn’t want to carry around the hard cover. Harry Potter was not being offered as an eBook by the publisher. So, in order to consume this product by his own preferences, while still honoring his conscience, he ordered the hardback from Amazon, then went about searching for a scanned, digital copy for his personal use. After reading about 100 pages of terrible dialogue, and painfully trite plot … his hardback arrived. It turns out that someone has taken the time to author a fake Harry Potter, 600 pages of it!

This is only one example of the kind of noise (what you don’t want) that you may have to filter through when you get signal or content (what you do want) from illegitimate sources. Worse yet, if you try to get a pirated or illegal version of an eBook (or any other digital file) you can get a virus and ruin your whole computer system.

Thus, the end user (reader) would face both nuisance noise and virulent noise in trying to obtain the signal in an illicit fashion. So not only is piracy a very limited issue because most consumers are honest – piracy is a very limited issue because most consumers won’t put up with that level of aggravation in order to get the product they want.

FEARS ABOUT DRM (Digital Rights Management, for the unjargoned)

OK – this is a hot button issue for those who know. How can you protect content and preserve copyright and intellectual property values? The various schemes by which this can be done are known as DRM or Digital Rights Management.

DRM technologies essentially give the user (reader) restricted access to the content they purchase. Instead of buying an eBook outright, the reader buys what amounts to a use license. The schemas of protection are endless; access for a particular period of time, limited sharing between devices (you can only transfer or copy the file one or two times), embedded technology to track illicit sharing (to allow prosecution of pirates), etc.

The long and the short of this is that there are a number of clever ways to protect your content, but NONE of them are 100% pirate proof.

The point here, piracy is a fact of life. But the ways to combat piracy are more effective all the time. DRM is helpful, but not foolproof. However, it is much easier to photocopy a paper book, or to scan it to create a digital copy, than it is to crack even a dumbed down DRM schema.

Not offering an eBook edition of any book as a means to prevent piracy is a self-defeating approach. That’s like declaring, “I refuse to sell $100 jeans to teenagers at the mall, because some of them will shoplift the jeans and I’ll loose those profits.”

Publishers, like retailers, simply need to build the best theft deterrents possible. Then take the unavoidable (but minimal) loss to theft as a deduction against the (potentially very large) profits from the honest consumers.


For this, let’s go back to the example of the jeans retailer at the mall. Let’s imagine that the retailer has been paying $20 wholesale for the jeans, plus the cost of having them delivered, plus the cost of keeping the inventory warehoused, plus the cost of delivery to the various retail locations, etc. … then selling them for $100 … he nets $10/pair. The retailer finds a new brand of jeans that is made by magic elves. They are $15 wholesale, and the elves can deliver them magically to all of the retail locations perfectly folded and beautifully merchandised for NO additional cost to the retailer… he nets $85/pair…or $65 if he decides to sell more jeans for less – say $80 price point, instead of $100.
The only catch, the retailer must accept that magic is real.

Back to “Books” as eBooks – the magic is real – it’s called technology. Our whole world depends on it in one way or another. Technology allows publishers to use a product that they already have to create a new product and a new revenue stream with no additional investment.

So what if someone chooses to buy the eBook instead of the paperback or the hard cover? Great! Then, a large portion of the costs that would normally be taken out of the profit (printing, binding, shipping, freight, warehousing, etc) are negated by the magic of technology. Books are the $100 jeans with all of the built in overhead – eBooks are the $80 jeans with all of the built in profit margin.

Please excuse my silly examples and allegories. I'm constrained by the reality that while I am a geek, I'm still a girl.

THE POINT, in case I didn't make it clear:

It’s not hard math. Here’s the simple equation:
No eBook product available = 0% of the potential revenue from digital sales.
eBook product available = X% of the revenue from digital sales
Where, X is always greater than 0!!!!

To Be or Not to Be, silly question!
Traditional print publishers: some money from digital sales, or no money from digital sales? That is actually the question that some in this industry are still asking!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Up a Dike, with Carly's Paddle

At Book Expo America, 2006, I had the opportunity to attend only a few select speaking events. As an exhibitor, my time out of the booth was fairly limited.

What time I could find was carefully allocated. I did make time to attend at least two interesting events.

Carly Fiorina gave a speech entitled, “The Future of Publishing in the Digital Age”. Carly carefully crafted her speech on what was guaranteed to be a nerve wrecking topic for some in the publishing industry.

A few days later I found myself facing Mr. John Updike at a un-breakfast (little food was harmed in the making of the event) in one of the grand ballrooms. I listened to him lazily reminisce about a boyhood where he found his love for books, and bookstores….the smell, the people, the ambience, but most importantly, the books. I felt almost like an intruder in his reverie of days long past. I willingly indulged him as he slung 50 cent words out at the audience almost like an episode of “Says You,” on NPR challenging us all to understand, requiring a stretch even for people who spend their lives, and their careers, with words. He was silently proclaiming, “I am better, smarter, more important.” I agreed. I have not had an illustrious writing career. I’m just a snot nosed kid. I’ve known Mr. Updike’s name and fame since I was barely pubescent. I listened with rapt attention (even over the lonely grumbles of the coffee and mini muffin in my stomach)

Back to Carly … she stood in a room full of publishing industry professionals and talked about … music, and photography. Odd choice you might think, but the important parallels became apparent quickly. She also talked about overarching themes of the technological, social and cultural changes that our society is enduring. She talked about a world that is fast becoming; “digital, mobile, personal, virtual.” The needs of consumers are changing, the masses want more. They want more intimacy, more specificity, more of what they want … because now, they can get it. This was also touched on at the Chris Anderson event that preceded Carly’s talk.

Chris talked about, “The Long Tail,” or in a nutshell…selling less of more. This is the very paradigm shift that the music industry is now adjusting to, just in time to keep from becoming utterly obsolete. I’ll fall down this rabbit hole another day.

Carly told us that the music industry came to the party just a little late… the booze of revenue could’ve disappeared all together. The digitization of huge catalogues of music, the i-pod, cell phones equipped to listen to music, the opening up of innumerable channels for distribution of that music - via the internet, are all pieces of this industry’s effort to turn water into wine. It may even work if they can be nimble enough and remember the simple and basic rule that, “The customer is always right.” If you don’t give them what they want, someone else will.

Back to you John, can I call you John? O.k., Mr. Updike… you lost me when you shared your nightmarish interpretation of Kevin Kelly’s NY Times Article, “Scan This Book.” Kevin, like Carly and Chris, was trying to talk to an attention deficit publishing industry about the good news / bad news reality check that is needed to revamp the business models that are no longer conscious of the market they operate in. Frankly, I think you read the article and got scared of what this might mean for you. The interesting bit that you told us was how you abhorred the idea of contact with the unclean masses who are foolish enough to buy and read your books. I have these naïve ideas that writing was meant to be a form of communication – that people, even authors, write because they have something to say. Maybe, for you, writing is just an erudite, secluded and abstract event … shared only begrudgingly to make a buck. For some people, the opportunity to communicate further with their readers would be a great value-add for writer and reader, both.

Value-add was a business term that Carly threw around quite a bit. This term means defining what makes your product unique and more valuable to the customer. She also talked about the constant need to update a business model to adapt to the changing marketplace. Carly comes from a technology based business model, where vicissitude (yes, at least I know when I’m dropping the 50 cent, but I do love words … vicissitude = change, but more than that… the inevitability of change, the natural order of the universe is flux) is the accepted way of life. The organizers of this year’s BEA seemed to realize the fact that as the use of the internet becomes more and more a fact of everyday life … no industry will be untouched by the technology model. Carly also talked about the cautionary tale of Kodak and the advent of digital photography.

The long and short of this story is that Kodak did not take the move to digital photography seriously and they waited too long to join in the digital age, suffering huge and unnecessary losses. The Kodak experience is a story of holding on to old ideas, cleaving to the past and avoiding the future.

John took a large portion of his time to read the words of Kevin Kelly. I wasn’t sure for a long time what he wanted us to take from this audio book version of the prior week’s NY Times. Most everyone in the room could read for ourselves. Was he vying for a position as a voice professional? He does have a lovely, radio quality baritone. Then, he finally reached the end of his excerpts and delivered his point. He described the difference between “Books” of his definition and his time… and the (said in a sneering tone) “authorship in snippets” that supposedly will dominate the digital book model. He used almost three minutes of purple prose to decry the advent of an additional medium for dissemination of ideas and words as an affront to the tree swallowing, bound up, static editions of collections of words that he deems fit to call, “Books”.

He finished by calling his troops into battle, like Custer at his last stand, “So booksellers, defend your lonely forts, keep your edges dry… your edges are our edges. For some us, books are intrinsic to our human identity.” For all of us in that audience, books are intrinsic to our identity…we are in the book industry. Mr. Updike, whether you like it or not, the definition of the book itself can be expanded to include more than just what feels safe and familiar to you.

Carly wrapped up her session with a gentle prod, a challenge to adapt or be left behind. Her final note was one of hope, it’s not too late. The consumers don’t realize what’s possible yet. Our industry still has time to redefine itself before the consumers do it for us. This is the window of opportunity that some will hurl themselves through in order to find the future… the expansive future of the publishing industry.

Beyond delivering a product that sells well, why are some in this industry obsessed by their proprietary skill for discerning value? Collectively, we put out more drivel than divinity. So what! Is it our job to be the arbiters of the value of ideas, words, meaning? Or is it simply, pragmatically, our job to run in the black making a nickel or two and giving consumers access to what they really want? Well, maybe a bit of both.

The murmur amongst the consuming public is that they would like the option to read eBooks, along side their hardcover and paperback choices. Shouldn’t we consider getting products ready in this form before their murmur turns to a shout?

Isin’t the very act of, “Defending those lonely forts,” best achieved by making them less lonely? If the consumers aren’t coming to you, the internet is a tool by which you can come to the consumer. You can be in the comfort of their living room with them, quietly displaying your wares. The imaginative author can build a following without accruing vast supplies of frequent flyer miles. You can make your book personal to them without so many personal appearances…take heart John.

One example of a brilliant parlaying of the internet into community, and thereby, revenue was Orson Scott Card’s use of his Hatarack River Community at America Online. I first discovered this advent in 1993. Card was then effectively using this online tool to bring his readers the value-add that would make us all life long devotees. I will buy every Card book from now until the end of time…but these days, I want them delivered digitally. This way, I can read them wherever I go without carting a hard bound copy along with me. I can have all ten of the books that I am currently reading in my purse, on one small device.

Sadly, many of the titles I want are still not available as eBooks. So I still plunk down my money and walk off with paperbacks and hardbound books. I often wonder why the publisher would not want to take advantage of the increased profit margins on delivering that same sale with no printing, warehousing, shipping, freight, or delivery charges. Sure some people want paper. But why not augment your sales by making an additional product available?

So John, let the elite hide in their ivory towers and snicker at the expansive human discourse and creative output … sneering at the idea that a book is still a book whether read on screen or paper. For us on the ground, the foot soldiers in the war for the continuation of the existence of literary ideals, the means of delivery - stone tablet, scroll, hand written sewn artistry, hard back, trade paperback, or eBook - should mean far less than the fact that literature and literacy itself continues to flourish.