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Publishing News: Week in Review

Margaret Atwood isn't sold on merchandise, piracy isn't all about price, and a Lonely Planet app ditches the book

Here are some highlights of what grabbed my attention in publishing news this week. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Margaret Atwood said “No!” to merchandising

As traditional publishing revenue is diluted by digital content sales, new revenue models are being bandied about. One example: merchandising. Authors and publishers can use online tools like Zazzle and CafePress to quickly create promotional merchandise to accompany book releases. These items (theoretically) could help authors own their brands, connect with fans, and bring in much-needed money.

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Click to see full Dead Author slide

One author, Margaret Atwood, has already employed the merchandising model — not in connection to a book release, but in connection to a keynote speech she gave at TOC 2011. Her vivid imagery involved the “Dead Author” (pictured above) and the danger of solar flares.

So what does Atwood think of this merchandise model? Is it a boon to authors? Does it hint at a bright future for publishing?

Don’t get your hopes up.

“No, I don’t think it’s a good model!” she said via email.

This story continues here.

Does the Facebook comment plugin increase the quality or just reduce the number of comments?

Alistair Croll and Sean Power recently reviewed how embedded Facebook comments affect the number of comments on posts. They used TechCrunch as a test case, comparing comment totals, Facebook likes, Google Buzz and Twitter activity one week before and one week after TechCrunch implemented the FB comment plugin.

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On first blush, the numbers might be surprising, and even a bit disconcerting. Croll and Power’s analysis showed:

  • For all posts, implementing FB Comments caused a 42% reduction in the total amount of comments, and a 38% reduction in comments per post.
  • For the average post, implementing FB Comments caused a 58% reduction in the total amount of comments and a 56% reduction in the average amount of comments per post.

The story continues here.

Piracy manifesto indicates price isn’t the only factor

Manifesto.pngLast week, the Social Science Research Council published the results of a three-year study on piracy in the “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” report. The report concluded that price was the overwhelming issue contributing to piracy around the world. In a post for thinq_ summing up the study results, James Nixon described an example from the report:

They cite the example of Russia, where legal versions of the film “The Dark Knight” sold for $15 — roughly the same price that consumers would pay in the US. But with wages much lower in Russia, that price represents a much higher percentage of consumers’ income — the equivalent of a US buyer shelling out something like $75 on the film. Pirate versions, says the report, can be obtained for less than a third of the price.

In February, a group of contributors got together at a workshop and came up with piracy guidelines. Of the five points outlined in the “Don’t Make Me Steal” manifesto, only one addresses the price issue.

The story, with comments from Brian O’Leary, continues here.

Lonely Planet threw the print book out the window to make its first all-digital product

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In a recent interview, Gus Balbontin, director of transformation at Lonely Planet, talked about some of the the development challenges facing publishers in the digital age:

What we face is breaking down the barriers of a very long-standing way of operating and working. For Lonely Planet, for almost 40 years, we’ve been creating books, in a particular way, with a particular process and tools and workflows. That’s been all thrown up in the air as new mediums and platforms come out. The lucky thing for Lonely Planet is that we’ve been in the mobile guides business for a long time. Although they were manifested as books, they were still mobile guides.

Balbontin discussed the challenges of content origination as well, suggesting that when developing digital content, it may not always be best to begin with the printed book, as is the tendency in traditional publishing:

The mechanics of getting [mobile digital products] out are very tricky — all the way from where we originate our content, which is originated primarily for a book, which then needs to be repurposed. The things that you create or generate for a book don’t apply for an app or an ebook. Stripping those things out or changing or morphing or massaging that content to fit the different mediums is a serious challenge.

Balbontin and the team at Lonely Planet recently addressed this challenge with a completely new product: walking audio tours. The Audio Walking Tours iPhone app is Lonely Planet’s first digital-only product with material that did not originate from a print book. The app takes users on city tours, much like the walking tours available in many museums. According to a press release:

The apps provide detailed information to let people explore at their own pace, with an easy to navigate location aware map that allows the user to stop and start their journey or skip ahead to any of the selected stops. The tours also work offline so roaming charges for international users can be avoided.

For more on how the Audio Walking Tours app came about, the importance of handling content in nimble ways, and why authors need to be more flexible as well, check out the entire interview with Balbontin in the following video:

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