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BookNet Canada Tech Forum round-up: pirates, pricing, and social media

This year’s BookNet Canada Technology Forum – or “gathering of beautiful nerds,” as Soft Skull Press founder Richard Nash called it – took place on March 25 at Toronto’s MaRS Centre, and involved about 200 publishing professionals. The theme was “Calculated Risk: Adventures in Book Publishing,” and attendees spent the day discussing the intersection of technology and publishing.

Bob Miller of Workman Publishing (formerly of HarperStudio) had some counterintuitive ideas about the rise of book piracy. “Certainly, if we saw our business being pirated completely, it would be terrible. However, we give away 2,000 copies at BookExpo, and we’re upset if we can’t give them all away!” he said. “So I think 2,000 copies being pirated is good news. It shows they will read it, tell their friends, and go buy the author’s next book.”

This sentiment was echoed by Richard Nash. “Two thousand pirated e-books is a good sign – it means somebody wants the damn things,” he said. Nash suggested that the real risk is for the publishing industry to stagnate. “It is too risky not to completely reconceive our business. The risk lies in remaining siloed, remaining in the manufacturing business.” What aspiring authors need to do, he said, is become an active part of the writing community – not just to get published, but for their personal happiness. Writers should submit to literary journals, read their favourite authors’ blogs, and attend reading series to avoid the “post-partum depression” that comes with publishing a book.

Michael Tamblyn gave a slick PowerPoint presentation detailing the first year of Kobo (which, he pointed out, is both the Japanese word for “workshop” and Trinidadian slang for “vulture”). Tamblyn revealed that, in e-book land, long-form reading is alive and well: Kobo’s three best-selling e-books are Pride & Prejudice, Dracula, and Little Women.

On top of that, it turns out pricing is not the top concern of e-book readers. According to focus group research, said Tamblyn, the most valued aspect of e-books across all demographics and income levels is the ability to buy a book instantly, followed by the ability to carry books around with you wherever you go. Although readers said e-books must always be cheaper than print books, this was not their biggest concern.

Additionally, Tamblyn believes that the $9.99 price point for e-books is not immovable. “The bet is that customers want the books enough, are passionate enough about reading, and are loyal enough to the authors they love that they’re going to absorb a $2 to $5 price jump.” As for the new Kobo e-reader, which will be available in Canada this May, Tamblyn refers to it as “the e-reader for everyone,” the model in between the premium e-readers and the “low-cost-but-basically-hideous” e-readers. The Kobo e-reader, which will sell for $149, is intended for people who care about reading more than technology, who “aren’t willing to drop $200 for a device.”

One of the most retweeted speakers was Deanna McFadden (@tragicrighthip) of HarperCollins Canada, who said she’s tired of hearing that the book is dead. “Publishing is pronounced dead in every e-mail newsletter I receive on a daily basis, and I think the novel died again last week for maybe its 27th time,” she said. As a strong believer in top 10 lists, she offered the audience 10 tips for promoting content on the Web, from analyzing your online traffic to using social media wisely.

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September Q&Q: Dany Laferrière and more in the spotlight on Quebec publishing

quill-sep2009coverThe cover star of the September issue of Q&Q is the Haitian-born, Montreal-based author Dany Laferrière, who came to national attention in the 1980s with his first novel, How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, and is set to make a comeback in English-Canada with his latest novel. Also in the issue, Q&Q looks at a Quebec City publishing house that is bringing English-Canadian writing to French readers, and at the Montreal micro-publisher Conundrum Press, which evolved from being a quirky literary house to a quirky publisher of graphic novels. All that plus Fall Announcements, listing every fall adult title, and reviews of Linwood Barclay’s Fear the Worst, Douglas Coupland’s Generation A, Shinan Govani’s Boldface Names, and Arthur Slade’s The Hunchback Assignments.

Returning North

Globe-trotting novelist Dany Laferrière is a big-time celebrity in Quebec. Now, after a decade-long hiatus, he’s being published again in English

Exposing family secrets

Six authors on navigating the personal minefield of memoir writing

The English invasion

An upstart Quebec City house is discovering a surprising demand in its home province for English-Canadian writing. And more in the spotlight on Quebec publishing: The evolution of Conundrum Press, and the dying art of literary translation

Fall Announcements

The season’s complete listings

FRONTMATTER

Bonnie Burnard is back in the spotlight

Don LePan among the Animals

Snapshot: BookNet Canada’s new CEO Noah Genner

Cover to Cover: Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv’s The Tel Aviv Dossier

The e-catalogue cometh

Harry Bruce on the Hugh MacLennan novel that almost never was

Local Buzz: Back to the Beach

GUEST OPINION

Canada’s beleaguered litmags must experiment online to stay relevant, argues Jason McBride

REVIEWS

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

Galore by Michael Crummey

The Fallen by Stephen Finucan

Animal by Alexandra Leggat

Plus more fiction, non-fiction, and poetry

BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

Violet by Tania Stehlik and Vanja Vuleta Jovanovic

The Winter Drey by Sean Dixon

The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

Plus more fiction, non-fiction, and picture books

THE LAST WORD

The ups and downs of Amazon’s sales rankings can drive authors to distraction, writes Linwood Barclay

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BookCampers head to Vancouver

After the success of BookCamp Toronto – the daylong book-themed “unconference” that took place in Toronto last month – the concept is being exported to Vancouver, where a group of BookCamp TO alumni and other book enthusiasts have put together BookCamp Vancouver. The event will take place on Friday, Oct. 16, at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre campus in downtown Vancouver.

Other details for the day are still “nebulous,” says organizer Sean Cranbury, a Vancouver-based blogger and podcaster. The event’s website will go live in the coming weeks, where users can register for the free daylong event and propose session topics. Until then, interested parties can sign up at BookCamp Vancouver’s Facebook page.

The event’s other organizers are Monique Trottier, a blogger and co-founder of Boxcar Marketing; Nick Bouton, founder of the interactive fiction website Protagonize.com; John Maxwell, of the SFU publishing program; and BookNet Canada‘s Morgan Cowie.

Cranbury hopes to find a “common thread” with past BookCamp events, including one that took place in London, England, last January. Still, the event is sure to have its own West Coast spin. “The tech scene in Vancouver is huge,” Cranbury says. And while the event’s ties to SFU’s masters of publishing program is sure to attract a number of people from within the publishing industry, Cranbury also views the gathering as an “an ideal opportunity to get new ideas from people who are a little ‘off the grid.’”

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Richard Poplak and more in the May Q&Q

Jet-setting author Richard Poplak travelled to 17 different countries to research his latest book, which looks at the influence of American pop culture in the Muslim world, and he’s Q&Q’s cover subject in the May 2009 issue. Also in the issue, we look at the surprising success of Harlequin Enterprises at 60 and at how print-on-demand is changing the bookstore of the future. Our Library Special Report examines the tricky task of putting Canada’s archival history online. Plus reviews of new books by Colin McAdam, Emily Schultz, Giles Blunt, Lynn Johnston, Barry Callaghan, and more.

Pop goes the world
Richard Poplak bets that tawdry TV and banal bubblegum can bring cultures together

Print-on-demand: The dream and the reality
The bookstore of the future, and why POD machines are waiting for books in the present

Love wins out
While other major publishers are bleeding money, Harlequin Enterprises is raking it in. How the firm has managed to beat the odds

History, bit by bit
What’s the best way to put our national heritage online?
AND MORE IN THE LIBRARY SPECIAL REPORT: Coping with rising patron demand, and learning to LOL at the reference desk

FRONTMATTER

  • Ninety minutes with Stuart Ross
  • Comedy is easy, kidlit is hard
  • The adventures of Pierre Turgeon: a timeline
  • Cover to Cover: Lauren Kirshner’s Where We Have to Go
  • Snapshot: Alexandra Moore of Word on the Street
  • Breakwater unbroken
  • David Bezmozgis moves from control to collaboration

REVIEWS

  • Heaven Is Small by Emily Schultz
  • Though You Were Dead by Terry Griggs
  • The English Stories by Cynthia Flood
  • Plus more fiction, non-fiction, and poetry

BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

  • Dance Baby Dance by Andrea Spalding
  • Dracula Madness by Mary Labatt and Jo Rioux
  • Soccer Sabotage by Liam O’Donnell and Mike Deas
  • Swim the Fly by Don Calame
  • Plus more fiction, non-fiction, and picture books

THE Q&Q/BOOKNET CANADA BESTSELLERS

THE LAST WORD
Lesley Choyce
does the math on three decades in writing

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Proofreading the public domain

At last month’s BookNet Canada technology forum, one memorable moment came during a talk by Montrealer Hugh McGuire, one of the co-organizers of BookCamp Toronto and the founder of LibriVox, an online repository of free, public domain audiobooks. McGuire had just finished sharing his thoughts on time, love, and the power of open source technology, when one audience member asked – rather petulantly – what, exactly, McGuire did to make a living. His response, if this Quillblogger recalls correctly, referred to The Book Oven, McGuire’s latest online startup, which has the stated goal of helping “more people make more books.” On Thursday, The Book Oven launched its first application, which aims at correcting typos in texts uploaded to Project Gutenberg.

Bite-Size Edits is a collaborative proofreading application that McGuire describes as either “a word-based online game” or “a massive — yet productive — time waster.” Here’s how it works: Instead of presenting volunteer proofreaders with long passages drawn from public domain texts, the program selects short, one-sentence snippets, along with the surrounding lines for context. Users read the snippet and then either approve it as is or suggest changes. According to technology blogger Suw Charman-Anderson, one of the principals involved with BookOven, “If our calculations are correct, it will take 100 people just 10 minutes to proofread a 100,000 word book, and we want to bring that collaborative power to bear on on the public domain.”

The application is still in the private, alpha phase, so to sign up, you need to have a valid invitation code (posted here, here, and here). Upon first use, the Book-Size Edits module seems clean, easy to use, and indeed, surprisingly addictive. (So far, about 1,600 individual snippets have been evaluated from public domain texts.) One conspicuous thing that’s missing, however, is an easy-to-access style guide that the proofers can refer to. Copy-editing, after all, can be a subjective art.

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Michael Tamblyn’s six good ideas for the future of publishing

BookNet Canada is getting around to posting videos from last week’s technology forum, and the first one to go up is BookNet CEO Michael Tamblyn’s talk entitled “6 Projects That Could Change Publishing for the Better.” Judging from audience reaction, Tamblyn’s lively and wide-ranging presentation was one of the most popular of the day, covering everything from how to make e-readers sexy to improving online browsing experiences for book buyers to developing “an XML workflow that doesn’t suck.” The talk also included a pitch for BiblioShare.org, an online ONIX repository and data aggregator.

BookNet will continue to post videos each week. You can view slides from the conference here.

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Anne Michaels and more in the April Q&Q

Thirteen years after the blockbuster success of Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels is about to publish her second novel, and she’s Q&Q‘s cover subject in the April 2009 issue, which is available now. Also in April, we look at the some of the ideas for industry networking and sales-generating that have sprung up in the wake of BookExpo Canada’s collapse, and at the Literary Press Group‘s future plans now that new executive director Jack Illingworth is on board. Plus reviews of new books by David Suzuki, Kim Echlin, Trevor Herriot, Robert J. Sawyer, Vlasta van Kampen, Tim Wynne-Jones, and more. The full table of contents is after the jump.
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Notes from BNC’s tech forum

About 225 industry people crowded into a Toronto conference room on Thursday for BookNet Canada’s annual technology forum. The theme of this year’s conference was “evolution or revolution,” though most of the speakers seemed to opt for the less radical of the two options: the event was focused on the brass tacks of adapting to the digital marketplace, with idealistic Web 2.0 barnstorming kept to a minimum.

BookNet has posted slides from the day’s presentations here, and it will also be posting videos of the talks to YouTube in the coming weeks (to be kept up to date, subscribe to BookNet’s mailing list). Below is a recap of some of the key themes addressed at the conference.

  • The rise of mobile devices. It was less than a year and a half ago that the Kindle first hit the market, but already the notion of a dedicated e-reader – even with e-Ink capabilities – is starting to look dated. Several speakers addressed how the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices – especially the iPhone – is creating what Indigo chief technical officer Michael Serbinis described as “a billion dollar opportunity” to provide digital content on the handheld devices people already have. (Indigo launched its downloadable e-book application Shortcovers two weeks ago, and according to Serbinis it is already being used by readers in 124 countries.) One of the most surprising successes in this emerging market is Stanza, an application that allows users to read e-books on their iPhones, which already has 1.5-million users in 60 countries and has sold over 7-million downloadable e-books since its launch last year. According to Stanza spokesperson Neelan Choksi, “There’s enough technology out there right now to make e-books a good reading experience.” The challenge is to make more content available to readers, and to inform them of what’s already available in digital formats.
  • Collective opportunities for Canadian publishers. One question on the minds of many people in the room was how to make sure that Canadian content, especially from small- and mid-size firms, is easily discoverable on the Web. Several speakers argued that this would require collective action among Canadian publishers, whether it be using the standard EPUB format or, as Craigs Riggs of the consulting firm Turner Riggs Workspace suggested, consolidating distribution in the digital realm. When pressed about including more Canadian content on Shortcovers, Indigo’s Serbinis said it would be working with more publishers in the coming weeks, but that the company would likely deal with smaller firms through a distributor in order to speed up the process. (Indigo’s chief merchant Joel Silver, responding to questions from the crowd, noted that smaller publishers can also upload their content to Shortcovers using the “create” function, and then “hustle” sales through blog posts and other marketing initiatives.)
  • Innovative new products. Several new products were demoed over the course of the day, including an overview of Shortcovers (currently available only to iPhone users), the new Sony e-Reader (which will include search, annotation, and highlighting features, as well as a touch screen, a built-in LED reading light, and the ability to display colour photos), and the new version of Stanza (which will include a built-in dictionary, customizable toolbars, and increased search capabilities). However, one of the most innovative new products on display came from none other than Harlequin Enterprises. The veteran romance publisher, which turns 60 this year, began offering several e-book-only programs in 2007. Since then, the company has also begun offering enriched editions of e-books that include extensive hyperlinks, full-colour photos, authors’ notes, etc. As the day’s closing speaker, Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly Media, noted, publishers need to begin thinking of e-books as more than just digital copies of print content. “E-books should not be print books delivered electronically,” Savikas said, but should actively take advantage of new capabilities offered by the Web.

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Bookmarks: reviews of Shortcovers, Mailer’s reviewers, and a new book for uppity editors

Sundry links from around the Web:

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Good news alert: 2009 sales up so far, says BookNet

After a Canadian holiday retail season that could have been much worse, some (well, this Quillblogger) thought the recession’s effects would really start to make themselves felt in the new year. So far, though, Canadian bookselling looks to be holding up surprisingly well.

According to a BookNet Canada release, Canadian book sales in January were actually up 10% over January 2008. That refers to unit sales, but dollar value is up, too, by 6%. The trend is basically holding steady for February, as well. For the six weeks ending Feb. 15, unit sales were up 9% over last year, and dollar value rose by 6%.

To arrive at a year-over-year comparison, BookNet used a subset of 665 reporting retailers, avoiding any who came on board only in 2008. Currently BookNet tracks sales from more than 1,000 retail sources.

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Book Pictures

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Fans wait in line to have their copies of Empress of the Night signed by Eva Stachniak

Lesley Strutt, Dean Steadman, Amanda Earl, Alastair Larwill and Frances Boyle

Frances Boyle, Dean Steadman, Lesley Strutt and Alastair Larwill

Amanda Earl

Jewel of the Thames launch

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