Sinking Into The Pubslush
Years into publishing’s encounter with the digital dynamic, it’s not as if anything is holding still, is it? A kind of heaving grace is about the best you can find on some days in this deeply shaken, tech-swept industry. Every other week, my colleague Jane Friedman and I find ourselves looking at a small, choppy sea of potential topics for our author newsletter, The Hot Sheet. And as in any good tempest, you see small craft come floating by at times, unmoored, headed out toward the horizon.
A good example, just this week, bobbed by in the news that Pubslush has left the building.
— Ron Martínez (@ronmartinez) October 6, 2015
As I’d written here at Thought Catalog, at the end of August it looked like the crowdfunding service for books had been rescued in a deal with Toronto’s Greg Iaonnou of Colborne Communications. But, as Iaonnou now has it in his news release, “Unfortunately, the deal did not come to fruition and Pubslush has announced that it will be closing its doors after a three-year run as the only crowdfunding site of its kind.”
Talk about filling a vacuum. Iaonnou is simultaneously announcing—follow the bouncing start-up names—PubLaunch, to go live on the first of February. What you’ll see there now is a nice placeholder and some copy that indicates Iaonnou’s intention to consolidate his many author services under this new umbrella with his own crowdfunding element for “the authors and publishers who were looking to Pubslush for help on their journeys.”
I’ve come to like Iaonnou, good sense of humor. I don’t think he’ll mind a gentle Porter-poke at this line in his news release:
PubLaunch will be the new home for the book world, connecting readers, writers, and trusted industry professionals.
“The new home for the book world”? Not only are we all packing up to move to Canada, apparently, but those mistrusted industry professionals (and you know who you are) need not apply.
Such is the typical heady verbiage of a start-up’s start-up. Most of them do promise us that “new home for the book world,” and some of them are still promising all those things years later when I recommend we start calling them done-started-ups.
Meanwhile, Hellen Barbara of Pubslush has kindly sent a note at my request for some confirmation, and she says, in part:
Yes, I am sorry to say that we will be closing. And yes, we really did give it our very best shot. The deal with Colborne didn’t progress as we would have liked and just wasn’t in our best interest. Amanda and I are very sad as we loved our authors and truly enjoyed working to make a positive difference in the publishing world. We are very proud of the strides we made and are thankful for all of the wonderful people we had the opportunity to work with. We hope that our influence and ideas will pave the way for others, and that authors will continue to receive the assistance they need to achieve success.
In The UK: ‘Kindlegeddon’
The Pubslush nosedive is floating alongside another business whiplash this week: Waterstones is yanking those Amazon Kindles off the shelves.
You might remember that the UK’s chief chain bookstore had started stocking Kindles in October 2012, according to my colleagues at The Bookseller (paywall on this one) ironically with the slogan, “There are two sides to every story.” I guess we’re getting the other side of that story now, as Waterstones managing director James Daunt speaks of how, “Sales of Kindles continue to be pitiful.”
As my colleague and Bookseller editor Philip Jones writes for us at The FutureBook, however, in his extensive parsing of the situation—Is It Now The Time For Something Completely Different? (no paywall on this one)—the predictable rush to proclaim this “the end of e-ink” and “the end of the Kindle” and “the end” of anything else someone can think to attach to the news is, of course, premature and overheated.
I don’t believe this signals yet the end of the e-ink e-book. In fact, the market for digital content could be as it is now for years, without there necessarily needing to be a new push on devices. The job now of e-book vendors is to service their customers, and grow sales incrementally. We see this in Kobo’s recent roll-out of its loyalty scheme, but also in much of what Amazon does, be that aimed at Kindle readers or Kindle authors (and both). This is a £400m sector, if it falls aways it is because retailers, publishers and authors failed to build on its dramatic beginnings.
What’s more, Jones points to the fact that while the Waterstones in-store sales effort around the Kindle was an interesting effort, certainly, but not necessarily a whole-hearted and fully formed one. There was something piecemeal and bolted-on about what was tried here. As he writes:
Much as I admire the good work done across Waterstones to get back to its best as a book retailer…its digital strategy could never be described as “joined-up”. Perhaps its customers simply got this not-so-hidden message. In the end, Waterstones re-mastered the art of selling physical books in a digital age, but aside from its brief flirtation with Blinkbox Books it never attemped to acquire the skills to sell digital content.
“The skills to sell digital content,” exactly. Jones gets so well at this hesitancy, the half-hearted try and the hanging-back we see in so much of the business. Progress is everywhere, but, as he frequently reminds us, there’s still so far to go.
Many events and non-events in the industry! the industry! seem to generate so much sheer confusion and debate that any hope of learning something tangible and applicable looks futile.
Countless times in the past few weeks, we’ve heard people refer to Alexandra Alter’s New York Times piece of 22 September, The Plot Twist: Ebook Sales Slip, And Print Is Far From Dead. Like it or hate it, the only verifiable “takeaway”—such a tired term, I wish they’d take it away—is that nobody agrees on just about anything. Print is up, print is down, digital is up, digital is down, hopes are up, outlooks are down…and then the sea turns, the deck tilts, and the water is cascading over the heads of the other guys. Who’s sputtering now? You never know.
That’s why I think I know why the FutureBook series of “manifestos” is so popular, both among its writers and readers. Grab your sextant.
For The Future Of The Book Business
When we first put out the call for these 500-word essays on the seventh of July, the idea was that the exercise might produce a few bits of commentary useful in presentation at the FutureBook 2015 Conference, which is set for the fourth of December. We expected a modest response.
Instead, we sailed into a strange but somehow exhilarating lagoon of imagination, hope, and—most of all—certainty of purpose, if not of outcome.
In each case, what you read is someone torching for something they feel needs attention, often in “if we could only get this fixed, everything would be better” tones. Immediately, you understand a writer’s interest in seeing one or another effect or change or result.
But at the highest level, what I think we’re looking at is the age-old joy of “shooting” a star, plotting a course, calibrating the imagination to think of stability, of dependable navigation: a way forward. It’s a heartening group of writings, and I commend them to you. Read one or two a day and you’ll have looked into the minds of colleagues and co-workers who know, or at least conjure in their minds, clearer travel ahead, eventually.
Just today, for example, we’ve posted the publisher and technologist Emma Barnes’ Manifesto For Skills, in which she decries the menial nature of so many entry-level positions in publishing and calls for a development of the workforce that starts with “educating senior management.” She worries that the young generation of publishing workers is being left unprepared and unsatisfied by their assignments and their leadership:
People are angry about having to prove themselves in menial roles. Let’s harness the power of this sentiment and give people a platform on which to discuss change, without fear of retribution by their management. A StackExchange site for publishing? Meet-ups, like we do in tech? There’s a groundswell of opinion on this and we should find ways to raise our voices coherently.
One of the most effective pieces, A Manifesto For Flexing The Publishing Model, is from publishing consultant Alison Jones, and she wants to see publishers get better at prioritizing some diversification in how they approach the market, not clinging to the past understanding of who and what a publisher is. She writes:
Here’s my definition of a publisher: the entity that organizes these elements. The publisher clarifies the cause, works with the creator to make the best possible content, decides on the best carriers and the right commercial models to reach the right consumer. The creativity is not just in the creation of the content, it’s in the organizing of the elements to create the most effective outcome – the commercial IS the creative. Is flexing difficult? Sure. But it could be the strategic shift that saves your company, that positions you to survive and evolve in the future. You say disruption, I say unprecedented opportunity.
Trajectory CEO Jim Bryant—headed for Frankfurt Book Fair where he and Scott Beatty will join me in a special discussion of the company’s work at 3 p.m. on Friday 16th October—has written A Manifesto For A Digital Book Platform—in which he envisions the kind of “natural language processing” work that he and Beatty are doing coming together in a thunderclap moment of universal publishing capability by an author. It’s wonderfully heady stuff:
The ultimate future, which I believe we will glimpse in our lifetime, is a point of singularity where authors and readers connect directly. We will reach this point when an author, perhaps in cooperation with an editor or content curator, will release a single copy of their work that will be simultaneously translated into every language and made available to everyone on the planet who has defined their interests to include the unique content of the book.
We now have more than 20 of these pieces on the site, and many more are to come.
In a follow-up, Jones called these Those magnificent manifestos, and he’s not far wrong. Somehow we’ve hit the right combo of invitation, constraints of brevity and focus, and unfettered topical license to deliver a unique and engaging series.
Most important here is the sheer range and surging point of view we find: so many ways to get one’s bearings, to sketch a new map, to trim sails and power ahead.
Whenever it all gets a little too crazy, drop in and catch a couple of these visions. They’re refreshing and rewarding, sticking with you long after you’ve read them. Good navigational aids in the squall.