|SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)||This
Week's Clue: The New Vanity Press
In the last year, Bruce Batchelor's Trafford Publishing has created a new business model for self-publishing. If you're confident in your story and can scare up a few thousand in cash, he'll get your book to market.
"We've figured out what services we can offer, and which we shouldn't try," he says. Trafford originally printed (it's a photocopy process) authors' computerized book files, and offered marketing services a la carte. Now those services are part of its standard $950 package. You'll probably want to spend another $1,000 or so on perfect binding and a cover if you're serious about sales, he says. Trafford doesn't run Web sites, but Batchelor also insists authors who are serious about selling their work get one - figure another $500 there to get started.
What you'll get for your $2,500 are nine copies of your opus in your hand, and two copies in your national library (the Library of Congress if you're an American). You'll also have the ability to have Trafford create more copies on an as-needed basis. If you offer copies for $20, however, you've got that back on sales of 200. (The original $2,500, remember, doesn't include printing the other 190.) Trafford also gives you the basics of a marketing campaign you'll direct. These include an ISBN number, cataloguing publishing data, a bar code on the front cover, press releases to 1,400 people, and Trafford's agreement to send additional copies to reviewers you choose. The announcement of your publication will include links to your Web page, and he'll send you business cards you can hand out, "so when you're networking you can hand out a card with ordering information" and that URL. "We're also submitting the books to Amazon and Books.Com - all of them. That means the books have distribution."
Beyond this, you're on your own. "We're trying not to sell false hope. We cannot guarantee any sales. It's up to the author to generate publicity. The channel is there, the access is there, but we can't create the excitement. If you're well known in your field, you can chat it up, if you're a university professor you can put the book in your courses. The authors can also buy at wholesale to sell through bookstores." Also, "We don't edit the material, we don't do design and lay-out of materials or covers," although there is a bulletin board on the Trafford Web site where experienced Trafford authors, like Nelson Winkless and romance author Vanessa Grant, offer their expertise.
If you can't write a lick, you can still make a few quid by becoming what I call a Trafford "agent." "One thing we're starting to do is offer finders' fees to editors, print shops, librarians, booksellers and trade publishers for references," says Batchelor. "Anyone who refers us an author (even by just handing out Trafford's brochures) will get 15% of our fee as a finders' fee - that's $140 US. An example would be someone writing their memoirs, their how to, and they're typically going to make a couple of copies at Kinko's. One of the clerks might say 'you're writing a book, why not do this.'"
What books get back their investment? "The books that sell well are unique, and have useful information, with a defined audience," he says. Vance Peavey's "SocioDynamic Counseling," which uses the constructivist theories popular in Scandinavia, is a big-seller. So is "1984: The Ultimate Van Halen Trivia Book," which as the title implies has 1,984 trivia questions (and answers) on the rock band. "The author has deals with Van Halen web sites, newsletters, and newsgroups. It's a targeted audience." Batchelor is also doing well with the local British Columbia government, which has published 70 technical manuals with him. That kind of short-run, short time-frame printing is perfect for the Internet.
Some months ago Ken Auletta wrote in the New Yorker that the Trafford model represents the future of book publishing. But after running the numbers for a year Batchelor doesn't think he's much competition for publishers who depend on bookstores for sales. "If you're paying for editing and other things, our model doesn't save you much," he admits, and once you print the 5000 copies you need to stick a few copies in each bookstore, your per-book printing costs are lower with offset. (The results are also more attractive.)
Internet publishing, in other words, works only with Internet distribution. "We're selling direct to the public and so it makes sense. If you have to go through the chain, you still need thousands of copies."
So what's the use? "We do have one of our authors who'll sign a contract with MacMillan next week, having sold through us and then the Internet," Batchelor says hopefully. "We provide a channel for people who wouldn't have them."
We're trying to run this "business" on a more businesslike basis, hence our new URL. It's more than our URL, it's our new name, pronounced "a dash clue dot com." After appearing on the CompuTalk radio program March 21 with host Tom King, I also agreed to post these letters on the show's Web site as its "Internet" column. As usual, I'm also talking to lots of new publishers, thanks to contacts made at Internet World .
Still, you know the drill. It's Journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully, writing on deadline -- which keeps the Clues coming, although I also handle consulting and commercial writing (ask about those rates via e-mail). If you're looking for excellent work, as found in Atlanta Computer Currents, at PlugIn Datamation or in Net Marketing magazine, among other locations, don't wait for the e-mail -- give me a call at 404-373-7634.
And now back to our show...
Journalists are hated in part because of this necessity. When times are good we must warn of trouble ahead (although when times are bad we're allowed to see silver linings).
When a company like Yahoo trades at 29 times its sales (not earnings, its sales), and even average stocks trade at 25 times earnings, it's time to be a scourge. When Market Guide surges in value nearly 600% on word it's got a deal with AOL, so even James Cramer, who'd just signed a similar deal, raises red flags and no one hears, what you've got is a mania. The hard fall of last year has been forgotten, but the lesson should remain.
Still, it's hard to hear the dirge when everyone's rolling in dough. The latest from ActivMedia is that 46% of year-old Web sites are already profitable from current sales. Buried in the report is that the Top 10% of the surveyed sites had sales of $4 million. What this means is a lot of people are making money in spite of themselves, and they're not making what the hype thinks they're making.
Ironically, Yahoo's got many Clues that will lead to staying power. It's buying new operations judiciously, it's concentrating on brand (and its core business), it's changing slowly (white for gray). Its joint ventures carry little risk - when the bottom drops out of the market I'd be a buyer. In contrast, outfits like CUC International (Cendant) and America Online have been exploiting brands rather than building them. Microsoft is using mass market assumptions in a niche market world. TheStreet.Com (Cramer) is entirely dependent on a bull market, as are at least a dozen of the Internet stock brokers.
Your best Clues this week come from looking at markets that have fallen for future survival strategies. Look at Japan, Mexico, even Thailand - what endures are balance, hard assets and (most of all) credibility. If you're going to depend on anyone or anything for your long-term future - as opposed to a short-term trading profit - stay prudent.
From the people who first brought you interstitials and multi-"page" stories comes the latest ad technique. "Sticky Search" ads are built using Dynamic HTML. Highlight a few words on the page and you'll go to a quick search of their official bookstore . This could provide value for database-based stores, but the bet here is it will be horribly abused.
Starting here. Microsoft Start will aim directly at Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and Infoseek. Pete Higgins, a group vice president at Microsoft, was quoted in the Tacoma News Tribune as saying "Start sites are really dictating what people are doing online," and we know how Microsoft likes to dictate. See where we're going? Sites marketing with Microsoft get "sticky search" access to its Start site - highlight any text anywhere and you go there (whether you want to or not). When the official "Start" launch approaches, make yourself some money by shorting the search engines. And ask yourself (or the Justice Department) when Start's rivals gain access to the technology.
If you're not part of it already, get yourself onto I-Sales , the leading shared mailing list in this space. As with all such letters, what you'll get will be ore, but there are nuggets in ore. Here are two.
Noah St. John wrote in with some great ideas on how to use e-mail in your marketing the right way. Read whatever might involve people who are likely to buy what you're selling. When you read something that calls for your expertise or product, respond to the author directly. Don't ask for a sale - ask if the people they work with might want to learn more about your knowledge of the topic. This will bring huge promotional opportunities in front of the right audiences. It will cure what St. John calls the "success anorexia" afflicting most businesspeople.
The second note came from Sunglasses Internationale, and involves how to deal with credit card fraud. Card numbers are very easy to get, so the author offered some solid tips for minimizing your site's risk. First, don't take orders from "freemail" addresses. Second, use an address verification service like Echo , offered by merchant account providers -- you'll pay a higher discount than with a direct account, but it's money well spent. If you're robbed contact the Secret Service - it's their job to run it to ground. Finally, watch for these tip-offs you may be dealing with a fraudulent order: the order's much larger than normal, they want expedited delivery, or size and color attributes are deleted. When you see this, call the number left with the order before it's processed...chances are the person who answers won't know you from Adam. "Follow these simple rules and most of your problems will go away," the author writes.
Like I said, nuggets.
Audionet rose to prominence by re-broadcasting college football games and other radio shows. That business will fade as the rights become worthwhile. Fortunately, the company's figured out a new business - partnering to plug music. The company has partnered with Yahoo and Cdnow to push the latest release by Willie Nelson. The online store gets a one-month exclusive on sales from Willie's record company , Audionet gets a lot of traffic, and Yahoo will host chats with the star, and a contest.
When I was with CMP Media we had a lot of good arguments over whether the publisher should sell hardware and software online. The risk is substantial, since the company's profits come from its "channel" publications, which are read by re-sellers and OEMs. Competing with your own channel doesn't sound smart. Well, like it or not they've gone and done it, announcing last month they'll affiliate on hardware sales with NECX, a direct seller which was early to the Web. CMP's TechShopper site launches the link next month. They're about a year late to market, but at least they're there.
Clued-In is the Environmental Defense Fund, which launched a site, complete with maps, that lets you zero-in on pollution sources in your area, and quickly generate nasty faxes to leading polluters. The proof this works may be found over time in people joining the organization, but I think you'll agree the execution is pretty snappy.
Clueless is California assemblyman Mike Machado, who this week offers a bill that would give tax breaks to ISPs that offer "server side filtering" of Web content, a la Singapore. Like many people, Machado's motive is to protect children, but what he doesn't know is this is already a very viable business . Viable businesses don't need government subsidies, Mike.
This week we've got an extra "Needs A Clue" award for GeoCities. They've headed toward a certain IPO by taking a publisher, Thomas Evans, as the new CEO. The man doesn't know the business, he's looking for a quick flip to millions...why take a gold digger when there are so many smarties out there? Memo to founder David Bohnett - couldn't you find someone with a Clue?