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In this interview, Jane Friedman and I discuss the top publishing trends for 2016 and how you can make the most of the opportunities available.
In the intro I mention Amazon's embeddable Kindle previews, 24 Symbols partnership with Facebook, as well as updating on my personal news. As conference season starts soon, I'll be at Smarter Artist Summit, Digital Commerce Summit and London Book Fair.
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Jane Friedman has over 15 years experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She teaches publishing at the University of Virginia and is an international speaker and author.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- You can read Jane's post on 2016 trends in publishing here which provides many of the links that we discuss
- Why the rise of mobile reading is so important, both in the US and also in developing markets. How authors can get their books for sale on mobile devices, and also discoverability possibilities on mobile devices. Dominance of phone manufacturers in various markets e.g. iPhone in China, and in-app purchases vs browser purchases. How Amazon will continue to own the early adopters who jumped in to the Kindle eco-system but readers coming into digital now might go straight for more ‘native' phone readers like iBooks. The possible shifts for physical bookstores and integration with mobile, and considerations for B&N Nook.
- Thoughts on Google Android for mobile and Google Play for books and what we hope might happen after the purchase of Oyster subscription service. Google Loon and bringing streaming internet to everyone on the planet – which will impact ecommerce on an even greater scale. So perhaps Google's impact is in these huge moonshot ideas, not ebook sales.
- On Kobo's development. Rakuten (who own Kobo) also bought Overdrive in 2015 which brings ebooks and audiobooks to libraries, so hopefully this will be integrated into Kobo in 2016. Plus, when Flipkart gave up on ebooks in India, they sold their customer base to Kobo, as Sony did back in 2014.
- On BookBub and how email marketing may shift in 2016. We discuss the purchase of the Midlist email list by Harper Collins in Oct 2015
- Why traditional media and publishers are ignoring the ‘shadow industry' of self-published books and continuing to report dipping ebook sales and rise in print, even though they are ignoring potentially 33% of the market
- Publishing territories and how indie authors have an advantage because we can publish globally immediately, but there is a shift to publishers taking worldwide rights and trying to do launches in multiple countries at once. However, they are unlikely to publish everywhere at once, as indies do.
- Are authors more empowered than before? Has the power dynamic shifted along with the indie movement?
- The Hot Sheet newsletter. Porter Anderson and Jane Friedman offer authors curated publishing industry trends.
- Audiobooks, further growth through in-car streaming internet through Apple Carplay and Google Auto. Great Courses on Audible and Jane's own course on How to Publish your Book. Plus the tipping point for online education.
- Microsoft 2016 year of AI (artificial intelligence) and how big data and AI + natural language processing and more will help discoverability as more and more books and content continue to be produced
- Changes in social media usage, pay to play and whether Facebook will get into publishing
- The importance of your author website. Consider redesign for mobile optimization in 2016. [Check out my tutorial on building your own author website here.]
You can find Jane at www.JaneFriedman.com and on twitter @janefriedman
Transcription of interview with Jane Friedman
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today, I'm here again with Jane Friedman. Hi, Jane.
Jane: Hello, Joanna. Great to be back.
Joanna: Yes, third time on the show. I think you're actually the first person to come back for the third time, which is just amazing. But just in case anyone missed the previous episodes, Jane has over 15 years' experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She teaches publishing at the University of Virginia, and is an international speaker and author.
So Jane, we're going to skip over all your wonderful accomplishments and dive straight into it today, because you just did a brilliant blog post on what authors should be watching out for in 2016. And we're going to go into some of those things, but let's start with mobile.
So talk a bit about why mobile is important and what authors should be doing.
Jane: Well, if you look at all of the Internet trends, as far as how people are accessing the Internet, more and more, it's on mobile devices. And of course, if you look globally, a lot of people are skipping over some interim steps that the Western countries experienced and they're going straight to mobile devices for all sorts of reading and entertainment.
So where you see a lot of growth is not, let's say, in desktop reading, or laptop reading, or e-reading devices, but mobile reading. And there was an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal which I point to in my trend roundup, talking about what the shift might mean, how publishers are changing their marketing strategies to make sure that when people are looking at their mobile device and come across a new book, they have ways to immediately access that book and read it while they're on their commute or whatever it is that they're doing on the move.
Joanna: Let's just go into that a bit deeper.
Which are the platforms that are most likely to benefit from this shift to mobile?
Jane: Well, there are very specific sites and social media networks that we all use. For years now, Facebook has seen a growing trend of more people accessing it through a mobile device than through the desktop. It passed the 50% mark some time ago.
Also, if you look at people who are reading eBooks, more and more of them are actually reading them on tablets and mobile devices, so that then affects how people read their Kindle books. It might be on an iPhone, for instance, or an iPad. IBooks, of course, has a huge advantage because it's pre-installed into tablets and iPhones. So people might go through that portal first if they haven't been active eBook readers already through the Kindle.
Twitter, to some extent, although we can touch on that later about some of its mixed fortunes, Apple has also put out a news app to try and capitalize on more news access through apps and mobile devices. It still feels a little bit like, maybe, Dark Ages, and there's also like a bigger picture battle that tends to happen between whether we're accessing news, reading, and information through an app on our mobile device or whether it's through a browser.
I don't know that those types of concerns need to be front and center for an author. But it's interesting to keep your eye on whether reading tends to be more app-driven or just more mobile-driven in general.
But it's mobile all day, all the time, regardless.
Joanna: Exactly. And it's interesting because I was thinking about this, and I read on my phone. I have an iPhone which now has iBooks come as standard in the device, which it didn't originally. And with Kindle, you can't buy Kindle books within the app because of Apple's in-app purchase rules, I presume, which would mean Apple would get a cut of all the sales.
Joanna: So you can only add a Kindle book to your wishlist, or you have to go through the browser. I use the browser for search. It would be like, “What time does the cafe open down the road?” But I wouldn't use the Amazon site through the browser to go and buy books. That makes me wonder about the global market in terms of Apple.
Are we going to see a bigger rise in those places where the Apple devices are more dominant?
Jane: It's possible. Certainly for those people who have not yet made any kind of investment in a specific platform. Speaking for myself and for my partner, we both bought into the Kindle years ago because we bought an e-reading device. We both have a Kindle standalone device. And so it would be very difficult for us at this point to say we're going to switch over to iBooks, even though it would likely be more convenient given what you just said.
It's, I think, what happens with people who have already got their loyalty in one place. You can see why Amazon had the strategy it did or it does to get you locked in to their platform. I often make my purchases now when I'm at a desktop or on a laptop and it's not really an issue to just buy it at some other time or point in my day. And then when I'm ready to read, it's already there waiting for me in the app.
Joanna: When I think of bookstores as well, I'm one of those terrible people, of which there are many of us who go into bookstores a lot. I still buy books for gifts in bookstores. But I will often take a picture of book covers, or I'll write down the name of a book I want to go and look at, and then I'll go get it on my Kindle.
In England, Waterstones, which is one of the big ones, they initially went with this “If you log on through our Wi-Fi, we'll get a percentage.” But that was just really hard and people weren't doing it.
Of course, now we have Amazon with a physical bookstore where I think you can check prices or something with your phone as we do.
Are we going to see a change in physical bookstores related to mobile technology?
Jane: I think you could. What's interesting from the United States-based perspective is that the one retailer that was in a fabulous position to do that, Barnes & Noble, has not done it.
They had the Nook device, but the Nook has just been really kind of in a downward spiral for quite some time now in terms of sales, and it's losing money. And Barnes & Noble never really brought those two experiences together, found a way to integrate them. I can't speak to why, but it hasn't happened. And I don't think it's going to happen in the future.
And right now in the United States…and I think there are similar things happening in the UK. If I look at the trend pieces, everyone's rallying around the so-called “resurgence” of prints and how well independent bookstores are doing. And the independent bookstores are now strutting around a little bit very proud of themselves. They're not tempted to try and integrate that experience. And I think it would be very hard for them to do so. As I said, Barnes & Noble was in the best position.
I really don't see anything happening in that sector for a very long time. Although I would love…there is a company called BitLit…I'm trying to remember if they changed their name recently. But their appeal is that they can provide you with an eBook copy of your print book if the publisher has agreed for that transaction to take place, whether for free or for some amount of money.
And of course, Amazon offers that through MatchBook, and I wish there were more of that happening. Certainly in the music industry, we've already seen how that has worked successfully. So if you buy, for instance, the LP or…you don't have to say, “Well, I'm not going to get the digital version because it's going to cost double.” You get a code that allows you to download the digital files because you bought the physical media. So I wish there were more of that happening on the book industry side.
Joanna: It seems incredible that we're still talking about that now. Isn't it just crazy it's so behind? I was saying to someone the other day about the Futurebook Conference. To me, it's like what happened three years ago is what they cover.
Joanna: Which is funny because mobile is one of the things that people are talking about. And it's like, “we've been reading on our phones for years.”
What's interesting to me is now the international side. Back on the phone, Google Android, of course, is a big competitor and also a lot of the early adopters…it's a cheaper phone, it's open source. It doesn't have that in-app purchase thing; I don't think it does anyway.
Now, Google Books this year, like, what the hell? Basically, if people don't know, they've stopped taking new publishers, so you can't self-publish direct on Google Books right now. You can go through a distributor, like Publish Direct, for example, I think, is one. But essentially, nothing seems to be happening there.
What are your thoughts on Google, Google Books, and mobile as well?
Jane: I have so little insight into what they might do in the future, and so they've almost become a nonentity to me when I think specifically about independent publishing. I think…you know as well as I do, they represent such a minuscule percentage of eBook sales. And it would be very hard for them now to try and compete on the level that Amazon or Apple is competing, but it's not to say that Google's not important.
When I think about them, I'm thinking about how authors can use them to ensure that their books or their name come up in relevant searches. So that when you're looking for the next great book you want to read that was like “Girl on the Train” or “Fifty Shades of Grey”, that somehow what you do in your work can be connected.
Consider lookalike audiences. When we look at online marketing, and we can talk about this as it applies to Facebook advertising as well. Where you know that your audience has a lot in common with this other author's audience, and you can use Google's tools, and analytics, and keyword searches, and keyword trends, to figure out some of the finer points of that to be more effective with how you build your site, what keywords you use in your advertising and so on.
Of course, they did acquire Oyster. And so they're probably doing something interesting, but I always think of Google in terms of really blue sky, big picture initiatives…
Joanna: Self-driving cars, space.
Joanna: Google Loon.
Jane: They're out there looking 10, 50, 100 years ahead. And so I feel like the things that concern authors on a practical day to day level, Google is not even…they don't even have time to glance.
Joanna: And Google Loon, if people don't know, is one of the initiatives that is looking to bring streaming Internet to every person on the planet, along with Facebook, Qualcomm, Virgin, a whole load of other companies.
I think they're saying before 2019 or something. It's really amazing. So basically to put cheap mobile and streaming Internet at, I think, 4G speed to every person on earth through balloons and through all this other stuff.
And to me, like you're saying, that's probably where we're going to see the impact of Google, is in making the rest of the planet aware, even, of this type of stuff.
Joanna: That's pretty cool. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Kobo.
And I was looking at a roundup of the year. Rakuten, who own Kobo, also bought OverDrive, which is the library, eBook, and audio book system like back in March or something. It missed my radar until I looked back at the year. We're talking entirely our own thoughts.
Would Rakuten buy Nook, for example? They just took Flipkart, didn't they?
They took Flipkart in India, has gone to Kobo. What do you see happening there? Anything interesting with Kobo or comment?
Jane: Well, Kobo is an international company. It's fascinating. But I think I don't have much of a crystal ball insight there as to whether they would be interested in Nook. My first gut reaction is no, because I don't know that they offer any advantage unless there's some customer data there that would be useful to them.
Joanna: The list?
Jane: Yeah, exactly. Who was it that acquired Sony?
Joanna: Their customer database went to Kobo, as did Flipkart.
Jane: I could see something like that happening. More data is great, obviously, for these companies, especially if they don't have much US data. From everything I can tell on the outside, they don't have as good market penetration in the US as they do elsewhere.
Joanna: Yeah, and I'm excited. I just did my Kobo report and I've now actually sold books in 72 countries now through Kobo, which is super exciting…
Jane: It is.
Joanna: And then talking of lists and the power of lists, there have been a few people saying that BookBub might get acquired this year, because they did another funding round. They've gone international. They have…I don't know, millions of names now, of readers.
Joanna: Again, this is crystal ball opinion.
Will BookBub get bought by a traditional publisher like the people who just bought the Mid-List?
Jane: Right, yes. That's HarperCollins, I think.
Joanna: Yeah, it was one of the big companies. And we all immediately lost another market. What do you think will happen with BookBub this year?
Jane: Well, maybe they will be acquired. But for some reason, I don't think it'll be a traditional publisher. I'm more inclined to believe it'll be Amazon or someone like Amazon.
Joanna: Someone like Amazon. Who would that be? It's interesting, isn't it? It's a data play, the whole thing is a data play, and a list play. And I keep coming back to that from an author perspective. You're so across everything in the industry.
Is it still just a case of writing books and building up a customer list?
Jane: Yes. Is that too simplistic?
Joanna: It's simple, but it's not easy.
Jane: Right, simple but not easy, I would agree.
Joanna: But it's funny that way. Anyway, back to your stuff. Back to the traditional publishing industry and that print, all the print journalism that went on this year.
Why are the traditional publishing industry and the media and the press ignoring the shadow industry figures?
Jane: Well, I think it's easy for them to dismiss it because they're not seeing the numbers in book scan many times except for, really, standout titles. I know that you and others have also mentioned the ISBN issue. The traditional publishers are going to pay attention to the traditional metrics that they've always worked by. Out of sight, out of mind, if it's not popping up as taking…like concrete taking away market share.
And I think that…whatever aspect of that falls under Amazon, too, I think they're likely to think, “Oh, that's just Amazon.” And I don't think that this is right or appropriate, but they still think — and to some extent, rightly so — that a lot of the most important market and sales, and a lot of their profits are happening through the bookstore market. And you don't find a whole lot of self-publishing sales activity in that traditional bookstore market.
Joanna: As we said, the other thing is on that global thing, I've seen rumblings that they're looking to change the concept of territory.
At the moment, I feel like the indies have got a big advantage in global markets because most traditional publishers focus very much on very small silos. Whereas we just go, “Yay,” everywhere, 170 countries or whatever. But I've seen that that might be changing as well.
Do you see publishers changing their attitude on territories?
Jane: I think some publishers would like to do more worldwide releases, where it's simultaneous or as close to the same launch date as possible. This was discussed a little bit at NINC, the novelists' conference for people who have published more than two books; this was a really hot topic there. But what you find once you start scratching the surface of that is even though there are some really great stories of having a worldwide lay-down date…like for “The Secret”, I think that was one example that came up at NINC.
Very few publishers have that kind of capability where they would have all of the different footprints in the countries that are necessary, even all of the necessary resources in investment. Obviously, it costs a lot of money to be able to do that and you have to have a reasonable level of confidence. And most publishers aren't going to make that investment upfront before they have some kind of evidence that it's going to pay off.
Joanna: And yet, as you say that, we've seen the Authors Guild pointing out the terrible contracts that are being offered to authors where even though, as you say, they're not going to publish it worldwide, they're asking for World English and a whole load of other things.
From what I've heard from authors who are traditionally published, the contracts are getting worse.
Is this something that you've seen, and why is it happening that way?
Jane: Yeah, isn't it funny that publishers want…they want Worldwide English or worldwide period, but they're not doing these releases that take advantage of having those rights in the first place. But it's true; the contracts are very rights-grabby. And sometimes it's justified, and many times it's not. Any book that's agented in most cases, the publisher isn't going to get what they want in the boilerplate.
But certainly, for authors that have become global brands, this is not necessarily a bad thing for the publisher to have all of those rights under one umbrella, because it just makes it easier to do a worldwide release and brand marketing. It's such a case by case situation of whether or not it's a good thing for the author to be signing away those rights.
And some of it is about how much money they're getting paid, the trust, the history and relationship between that author and the publisher, and what the agent themselves can do with those rights.
Joanna: Again, you're across both sides of the industry and you go to a lot of conferences. Have you seen a change in the power dynamic, I guess, between authors, agents, traditional publishing?
Are authors more empowered now than five years ago?
Jane: I want to say yes, but I'm worried that it's wishful thinking.
Joanna: No, me, too. Like, “Hell yeah, but maybe not.”
Jane: I think that for authors who have been able to reach their audience in some way, apart from a reliance on a publisher, I do think those people are more empowered.
Unfortunately, I think it's a small segment of the author population that has been entrepreneurial in the same way that many independent authors have been. Where they have the power and the ground to stand on if they walk away, and they're not afraid to venture out on their own. And you've seen some isolated cases of that happening with some well-established authors.
But there are some authors, even if they were able to reach their audience directly…Stephen King is the example everyone loves to bandy about. Because he did go out on his own once or twice with some success. But at the end of the day, he's like, “I don't want to bother with that. I don't want the money that badly. I don't want the control that badly.” And I'm sure he's got a really good deal with his publisher.
Joanna: Exactly, yeah.
Jane: There is a class of author who I think is more empowered. But I don't think the emerging writer, the person without any credits to their name, are they more empowered? Not necessarily. But there are lots more options and paths for them if they educate themselves.
But in that first book contract, if they choose traditional, it's hard. It's as hard as it's ever been.
Joanna: Let's talk about audio because this holiday, I got audio books on Audible and iTunes, and of course, I've been podcasting for years. But finally this Christmas, I fell for Audible's monthly recurring payment, and have been listening to a lot more. And my husband got the double one, he's really into it.
And it's gamified. I didn't even know this until the last few weeks. You get badges for how much you listen. And he's like, “Hey, look, I just got another badge.” And I'm like, “Whoa, that is crazy.” Why aren't we gamifying eBook reading for a start?
But what is happening with audiobooks?
Because you mentioned it in your post as well. Last year, I started off like, “Yay, audio is amazing.” And then the royalties changed, the offers changed and made it much harder to get royalty split deals because of the discounting. But again, with the mobile, it's so easy to get audio, Whispersync, etc. What's going to happen this year with audio?
Jane: I don't see a huge strategic change for anyone. I just see increased interest and increased growth. In 2014, the biggest growth area for traditional publishers was audio. And I would argue that for any independent author also moving into that area, it was huge for their growth. John Scalzi did a beautiful post about the importance of audio to a new release that he had. Started to wake up, if you hadn't been awake already, to what audio means. Because there are some people who that's…that's how they consume books.
Joanna: How they read.
Jane: Yeah. The other interesting post that came down the pike was…unfortunately, a misleading article about how audio books were outselling print, which is true in some isolated cases, but you're also looking at audio books that are narrated by highly desirable talent. Whether that's celebrities or really high quality productions that bring together an ensemble cast. They're becoming major productions for some types of books.
In that sense, I think we're going to see more elaborate productions, especially with authors where you can see like John Scalzi. This is a person who is going to be selling as many audio books as they are print during a certain window of time.
Joanna: Didn't Scalzi sign a 10-year massive deal…
Jane: He did.
Joanna: …that basically takes everything for the rest of his life?
Jane: More or less, yes.
Joanna: It's interesting, for those authors, he started out traditional and have reached a really high level. It makes sense to leave all that with a publisher. And actually, audio would be one of those things.
I'm interested in selling audio rights because of the high quality that these companies can do. And selling foreign rights, I think, as well, because self-publishing and translation is a pain in the neck. It's seriously so much work. That's interesting.
But back on all-audio, I wanted to mention this year, Google Auto and Apple CarPlay will bring streaming audio into cars. All newly manufactured cars will have this streaming internet. Podcasting and audio books, I think that will really affect it. Probably not this year, but next year, and of course, both Google and Apple are working on driverless cars.
Jane: Right. Yes.
Joanna: Whether that's again, two years, five years…by the time they sort out their legalities. But people will need something to do when they're in their driverless cars.
Jane: Indeed they will. And I think it also points to just how much more growth is yet to come.
And there was a great study in the US; I don't know what the equivalent would be in the UK or Europe, but that 50% of the US market hasn't heard of the term “podcast”.
It's kind of like, “What's going on there?” We had this huge phenomenon in 2014 of the podcast “Serial”, which has just now gone into its second season. Some part of me wonders if people know about “Serial” but they're thinking radio show rather than podcast.
I think people are still kind of figuring out the universe of podcasts and what's available. And it struck me a few months ago as I was searching for podcasts to listen to, that it's actually really hard to search for podcasts by episode or topic, or to go back into an archive of all the available podcasts; impossible. There's not like a Google for podcasts.
Joanna: For podcasting. And there are now networks springing up. Copyblogger…rainmaker.fm now has one. The boys at SPP have just started a podcast network.
Then you at least get multiple podcasts from similar creators. But as you're saying that, I'm thinking, “I still get e-mails,” you probably do as well, which says, “Should an author have a blog or a website?” We both laugh because we've both been doing this for so long. But without understanding that a blog is a website or a website can have a blog.
And I think the word “blog” and the word “podcast” come from an earlier stage of technology.
Like Weblog, nobody uses that anymore. Maybe we shouldn't use blog anymore, because my site's not a blog and yours isn't either. Well, you have a blog tab, don't you?
Jane: I do.
Joanna: And so do I. It probably could be news or updates or articles rather than blogs. I think maybe podcast is the same because it comes from iPod, right?
Joanna: And how many people don't use an iPod anymore, but they just use a phone?
Jane: Oh, gosh. Most people I would say, at this point, yeah.
Joanna: So it could be a phone-cast or a car cast. I don't know. I think we're missing the vocabulary. Even eBook could get confusing.
Jane: Yeah, I agree. A lot of people use the term “eBook” for basically a PDF.
Joanna: Yeah, which is crazy.
But just as you're talking there, Microsoft announced 2016 is the year of AI.
We're seeing a lot of AI. My husband just got the latest iPhone and he's chatting away to Siri. We've got little AI.
But we're talking Amazon and looking at AI for their review stuff, we saw that last year. And what I'm thinking of is the discoverability like you're saying. We should have…Microsoft owns Skype, right? We could Skype in different languages now, and they have a translator, that's like an AI.
Joanna: What I want, this is my want list, is a discoverability engine, an AI discoverability engine, that indexes the content of a book, so I don't have to choose seven keywords and categories.
It's ridiculous, don't you think, with the book? Why are we having to choose this type of thing when AIs could use emotion analysis, all of this type of thing to work it out? What impact do you see AI, big data happening?
Jane: Yeah. Everything you said, I think, points to there being more powerful tools, more powerful AI, to help authors with these decisions.
And there's a site that's starting to get at this just a little bit. Maybe you've seen it. It's called Find My Audience. And so what it starts to do is you tell it, “Okay, my book is like this,” or I'm an author who's like this one over here. And it tries to use data that's publicly available to try and tell you who your audience is and what your keywords are, and I think it's still quite primitive. But I think once it gets more powerful, it'll be fascinating to see how that tool develops in the next year, two years, because I think that's where we're all headed for sure.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, amusingly…we'll talk about Porter Anderson in a minute. But he's going on about the tsunami of books and how there's way too many books, and all that.
But with the growth globally, we're looking at not just being markets for selling books; we're looking at more authors in all of these markets. There will be more authors, more books, more podcasts, more everything.
So we have to get this better discoverability — which is a terrible word — engine. But like for you, to look for podcasts, and me, too. That's why I went to audio books because I got to the point of going, “I'm just going to move on to audio books,” because it's easier to find audio book content than it is to find podcast content, which is kind of crazy.
But okay, moving on. I mentioned Porter Anderson. Of course, you guys have this thing called the Hot Sheet.
Tell us about the Hot Sheet and what that's about.
Jane: Probably the best place to start is to talk about a newsletter known as Publishers Lunch, which is out of the United States. It's part of a larger service called Publishers Marketplace. It's been around for nearly 15 years, if not longer. It's by Michael Cader, who's an industry insider.
And it's called the Industry Newsletter for Publishing Professionals or something like that; it goes to 40,000 people. I've been a religious subscriber my entire career. It's fabulous. I often recommend it to authors, but ultimately, it's too insider-y, it's too in the weeds. Authors aren't getting a lot of information that's particularly relevant to their careers.
Off and on, I would do trend pieces like the one that we mentioned earlier, or I would do link roundups of stories that I felt were relevant for authors. But to do it consistently is best for authors if they want to understand how things are taking shape, and what news is most going to affect their next steps for their release or for their back list, or for their next marketing plan.
So the Hot Sheet is supposed to be kind of like a Publishers Lunch.
Not as frequent; that goes out daily. This goes out every two weeks. It's supposed to do the job of Publishers Lunch for a professional audience of writers and authors who know that things are changing quickly. They don't want to have to be worried or anxious that they're not reading the right blogs, or the right news articles, or the right trend pieces.
We package it up, we select the events or the changes, or the trends that we think are most worthy of paying attention to, and try to offer some context, background, a little bit of analysis. We try to stay away from anything too opinion-driven; one of our taglines is “No hype, no drama.” Because we're trying to shave away a lot of the headbutting that can come into play between different author groups, and just present the information and what it means to different author groups, and then you decide what steps you need to take. In a nutshell, that's what it is.
Joanna: And where can people find that?
Jane: It's at hotsheetpub.com, and it's just a landing page that describes what the content is like. It links to a couple of sample issues, and then it provides a place to get a free trial for a month. You can try a couple of issues for free, and then it's $59 a year after that. So every two weeks.
Joanna: Which is fantastic. And again, as we mentioned with the AI and the discoverability, one job is curation.
There is so much content out there, that the Hot Sheet and other things — your blog, my blog — we're curating the massive amount of information and trying to interpret it. I don't know about you, but I hope we're supplanted by an AI at some point, because it's quite a lot of work keeping up with everything.
Jane: It is a lot of work, indeed.
Joanna: It is, but we really enjoy it. But then also going onto other things you're doing because you're a busy lady.
When I was looking for an audio book, I discovered Great Courses, and lo and behold, I discovered you have a great course on Audible. Tell us about that because it's fascinating and why you did it.
Jane: The Great Courses is basically an adult education company that takes a range of what are considered university education topics, puts them into 12 or 24-lecture units, and then delivers them in audio and video versions. But The Great Courses, they've been around for 30 or 40 years. They recently got into more what we could call “hobbyist” areas — arts, music, wine, yoga, and writing.
It's been about a year and a half ago, they approached me. Because their polling or their surveying showed that a publishing course would do very well. A long process, it was more or less like writing and publishing a book, because I had to write all of the lectures in advance, it amounted to more than 100,000 words, and then I went to their studios. And then we produced the entire lecture series in a two-week production period. And then they had three months to then get it out the door in a consumer format.
Yeah, they're a fascinating company in terms of the future of media. It was just so fun to see them, their marketing, and their distribution for these pieces of content, and how they were thinking about how the content might be chunked up or put into smaller modules down the road. There were just so many…for me, being a publishing nerd, it was fun to see their approach to the content.
Joanna: I didn't know they were video because I just got on Audible. And I'm listening to one on…I didn't actually get yours because yours is on publishing, right?
Jane: Yeah, you knew all about that.
Joanna: I didn't want to listen to something on publishing on holiday. But I'm listening to the apocalypse; a whole load of lectures on the apocalypse.
Jane: Oh, my goodness.
Joanna: It's research. I love that. And I did theology and I love all that stuff. So it's really fascinating. But of course, courses are one of the other trends that is going on right now. I find it quite amusing because it seems like the author community has just discovered…
Joanna: It really does seem that way, right?
Jane: It does.
Joanna: You and I met years ago, and courses have been around a long time, but why do you think there has been a sudden tipping point?
Because it's super interesting, right?
Jane: It is, I agree. Like you said, the world has woken up to the potential, the profits of online education. And it's something that when I worked at Writer's Digest in the 2000s, this was a huge profit center for us. It was called…it's still called Writer's Online Workshops. And it evolved out of a correspondence course, like, when people used to do courses through the mail.
Joanna: Mail? What's that? That's on my phone, right?
Jane: I think one of the reasons it's kind of had this…its time has come or it's now very popular is that it's so much easier to do than it used to be. You have places like Udemy and other places like teachable.com where you don't have to know anything about hosting videos or putting together a website. You just use these ready-made packages to put it together. And I think also, the tools required to record audio or video, or put-together curriculum, those are also now pretty much available to anyone with a desktop or laptop computer.
If you go back, say, three years or five years, the barrier to entry was so much higher. And now, I think it's very affordable. It doesn't require much investment
Joanna: Yeah, it's kind of like self-publishing.
Jane: Yeah, it is.
Joanna: And that's what it is. We're all teachers, we're all writers. And I really like that. And again, in the same way with self-publishing, there's variable quality. But everybody…there's so many courses and so many cool things, which is just really brilliant.
Now, I also…and I could talk to you for hours, you know that. But I do want to come back to Twitter, because we did mention that. And of course, you and I met on Twitter. I think it was over five years ago now. When you had maybe 100 followers instead of 200,000 followers. You're just super Twitter. And of course, I love Twitter, too. As we mentioned, there are some problems with Twitter and social media is changing so much.
And I was talking to some teenagers the other day, and they're like…they wouldn't go anywhere near it. And Facebook is obviously buying up places like Instagram and using Messenger as a different platform, so they're adapting.
What do you see changing with social media, and also how authors have to use it? As in, is it just pay to play?
Jane: Yeah. I think Facebook is more powerful than ever. I know lots of people talk about how teenagers or young people aren't using it. But I don't know that it really matters, at least not yet.
Joanna: Not yet.
Jane: It's still more than a billion people on it. Facebook is also innovating very well; they've got the Instant Articles feature. They always seem to make changes. Even if they anger people in the short term, we all ultimately accept it. So I think being on Facebook, starting to become conversant with Facebook ads, if you aren't already, especially if you're a professional author, I think those are things that everyone is going to have to accept and educate themselves on if they haven't already.
Twitter, I feel like it's still valuable, but it's maybe more of a take it or leave it.
If you feel like you can't stand it, then there's no need for you to be there. Twitter has made quite a number of changes in the last year. A lot of the core users like myself are not that happy with those changes. But I think it has to evolve because it's being left behind, and it's not retaining new users, it's not attracting a lot of new people. I don't know what its future will be. I think it will survive, but I think it may end up just being a very specialized niche community.
News and journalism and media people rely on that so much, and I think it will continue to be very important for current events and reporting. But I don't think it can be a Facebook.
Joanna: I agree. And then I've mentioned before on the show that I think Facebook might get into publishing, as in they are publishing articles, but in-app purchases, as such.
Jane: Oh, yeah.
Joanna: I think there are apps within Facebook where you can link it to stores like Selz. You're essentially selling direct.
Would you see Facebook setting up like a KDP, like a self-publishing platform where people can buy eBooks to read within Facebook?
Jane: I wouldn't rule it out. I just see them doing more and more to keep people in their environment, including helping people search for information outside of Facebook within Facebook, so that you never have to necessarily leave the cocoon. Maybe. I don't know that it will happen tomorrow, but clearly, they have an interest in keeping content within its walls.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Okay. Well, we've covered so much and it's all super exciting.
Any last words on what authors should be doing in 2016 to essentially move with the times, I guess?
Jane: I would say just about every author could stand to take another look at their website. Think about how it's going to be more mobile-friendly if it's not already. Rethink the design. A lot of people are stuck with designs that are really more appropriate for five years ago and it starts to show. That would be my housecleaning task for everyone.
Joanna: That is a good one, actually. It's funny, isn't it? I did a redesign, I think, two years ago. I think even the redesign before that, you mentioned my redesign on your blog as an example of, “Finally, she's finally made it.” And now I'm like, “I really should be doing it again.” Is it a kind of every two year thing?
Jane: I do. I do think it's every two to three years. And certainly choosing the right theme that's flexible can ease the pain of any design updates you have to do.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Good, okay. Where can people find you and your blog, and links to all of your stuff online?
Jane: I'm at janefriedman.com, and really just about any social media account you might want to find me on. It's Jane Friedman, so twitter/janefriedman, facebook/janefriedman.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Jane.
Jane: Thank you. A pleasure, Joanna.
Nate Hoffelder says
Thanks for the mention, Joanna!
Nate, editor of The Digital Reader
Jason Bougger says
“Why traditional media and publishers are ignoring the ‘shadow industry’ of self-published books and continuing to report dipping ebook sales and rise in print, even though they are ignoring potentially 33% of the market”
33% !! We really are getting to the point where anyone who is willing to put in time and do the hard work can make it writing. It’s never been easier to break in to the business.
Even if the “gatekeepers” are still guarding the gates, there are a dozen other doors left unlocked.
Mark Coker says
Great conversation, Joanna and Jane!
I published my entire backlist to Google Play last year and make more there than on Apple, Nook and Kobo combined. What I really like about Google Play is their search engine. And the best part is that they index your entire book content. So if you take a line from your book and put it on the Google search bar, your book (in Google Play) will show up as the first item. And I get a lot of sales from Europe and Asia.
Joanna Penn says
That’s great Prasenjeet – have you had any problems with the price discounting? That’s the biggest downside I hear from other authors, the fact that Google will suddenly discount significantly, then Amazon price matches and you lose money with no control over that promo period? Some suggest pricing Google books 40% higher to deal with this – your thoughts?
Also, they have closed to new publishers although you can publish through PublishDirect and other platforms. Do you go direct?
Sarah Wood says
To reiterate from the above … great conversation, Joanna and Jane!
I would like to ask one question. For 2016 you suggested the importance of upgrading one’s website. With the strength of Facebook now and the foreseeable future, and their potential direction into Amazon-type publishing, could an author forego a personal website/blog and make a knockout ongoing Facebook page?
Joanna Penn says
The one certain thing in this game is that sites rise and fall and change is the only constant. There are people who built their platform on myspace a few years back … and Facebook changes the rules all the time. Building on a platform you don’t own means that you may lose it all at any time – which is why as authors, we grow our own email lists so we can always sell books even if the platforms changes. Even Jeff Bezos says he expects Amazon to be disrupted at some point. You can’t count on these companies sticking around as long as you want to make a living as an author. I would suggest having your own site as a hub and even if you want to build elsewhere, always keep building your own site for the long term.
Sarah Wood says
Thanks so much and I very much appreciate the advice.
Alta Leah Emrick says
May I use some of your points for a speech at Ozark Chapter of American Christian Writers, while crediting you and advertising your Author20 book?
Joanna Penn says
Hi Alta, yes, you’re welcome to quote from this site as long as you reference the source. Thanks, Joanna
Saviour Agobah says
I really enjoy the Chats. But my concern would be how can publishers Africa take advantage of the new trends in publishing due to the technology revolution. How can we position ourselves to take advantage of the new revolution, mobile
Erlich Stewart says
I’ve read recently about Augmented Reality books. These are books that come with a dedicated app and truly speaking, it gives you an amazing reading experience. Children will be in love with it as soon as they get their hands on it. If you want to know more about this technology, I suggest you this article I found very helpful. —> https://appreal-vr.com/blog/10-best-augmented-reality-books/ . I think publishing houses should take advantage of this technology considering the craze around VR and AR technologies worldwide. This will surely boost sales and benefit both publishers and authors.
The Orlando Gray says
Thanks for the tips. It was exactly what I was seeking. Also good to get a couple laughs. While your friend can’t find a podcast, I keep finding them when I’m not looking. I was seeking the current publishing trends and was brought here. I’m subscribed to Pat Flynn and he sends me links to his podcast. I also read from Jeff Goins and even he has a podcast. Somewhere I used to work an employee listened the a podcast the whole day. I can’t escape it. Perhaps I should start my own.