The Wannabe Venture Capitalist

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Blooks, Lulu & the Publishing Industry

Today I read the first chapter of Hackoff.com and enjoyed the experience. Hackoff.com is a blook, or book published via the blog paradigm. This particular blook is being written by Tom Evslin. For those of you who are not aware of Tom here is a little background I found on him at A VC. Tom was one of the first successful Macintosh software developers, sold his company to Microsoft, oversaw the development of the first versions of Back Office, Outlook and Exchange. He then went to AT&T where he got them into the Internet and invented flat rate pricing for dial-up internet access, and then finally to ITXC where he invented commercial grade VOIP. As you can see, Tom is an innovator and he is continuing to innovate in his new career, writing books.

I am sure what you are thinking now is that we've seen this before. John Battelle has been writing his blog for a while now which was a window into the book he was writing called "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture" that is now available in hardcover. There have been others too (Jason Chervokis and Seth Godin) but hackoff.com is different. Tom is making the blog part of an overall reading experience, an essential part of reading the book.

Hackoff.com is a murder mystery set during the internet bubble. Murder mysteries such as this inevitably get people talking: Whodunnit? Publishing a book of this genre in blook format is a great idea because the links, comments and discussions will be an essential part of the reading experience. The blog format has also allowed Tom to leverage the power of the audience through an RSS feed and e-mail list that will deliver the newest chapters directly to your aggregator/reader or inbox as soon as they are published. However, the interactivity doesn't stop there.

Tom has numerous blogrolls for people who link to the blook in their posts, maintain a constant link via services like Word of Blog, write reviews of Hackoff.com, and post about blooks in general. He has also set up a fake company website for Hackoff.com which will hold company press releases and other data to enhance the reading experience. All of this makes Hackoff.com a unique reading experience and I recommend everyone go ahead and read the first chapter.

After reading Chapter 1 of Hackoff.com this morning I got to thinking about the paradigm shift taking place in the publishing industry. Many of the comments I have seen on blooks so far have said that blooks are the new wave that will bring down the traditional publishing industry. Isn't this what was originally said about digital music? What has digital music done to the traditional music labels? It appears to me that it has actually increased sales. I personally love that I am no longer forced to buy a whole CD for one or two songs. Having been burned before in the pre-digital music age I would sometimes be deterred from buying a CD if I wasn't sure of a new band. Now I can sample the tunes and buy the whole CD or single tracks. My music spending has definitely increased and I have heard the same story from many of my peers. Also, with the advent of Pandora, I can now find artists that I otherwise would not have.

It doesn't appear that Tom is looking to publish his book solely in blook form. In fact, he mentions that a traditional hardcover version of Hackoff.com will be available in early 2006. I am not sure if Tom is publishing via a traditional publisher or a self-publisher like Lulu.com. For those who don't know, Lulu is a self-publisher (or as they say: a technology company that allows people to retain control of their work) not to be confused with your standard run-of-the-mill vanity press. Lulu allows an author to upload their piece to Lulu's site and then Lulu operates in a similar fashion to CafePress. Lulu will publish an author's book on demand as books are ordered managing the logistics as well. Lulu also allows the author to keep much more of the profit than traditional publishers. Leave it to Bob Young, co-founder of open source giant Red Hat, to come up with this business model.

So, it looks like blooks in and of themselves are probably not going to undermine the publishing industry. At least, not yet. However, blooks in combination with companies like Lulu could. Allowing the public to sample books along with additional content that adds to the overall reading experience through the blook format would allow the author to build a strong and evangelistic audience. This audience would no doubt buy the author's book through Lulu if it were offered leaving the author with complete creative rule over his/her creation and a larger royalty check in hand.

This combination combats the detractors of a shift in the publishing paradigm who say that author's need the publishing house's advertising resources and network of book stores to get a book sold in large numbers. The blook is a democratic advertising campaign that allows the customers to decide who and what gets published. When customers decide who will get published Lulu takes over. Lulu eliminates a lot of the costs that dog traditional publishers including the large number of books that do not get sold. These books are shipped back to the publisher at the publishers expense. After returning to the publisher these books are shipped back out, with a publishers mark, to discount booksellers and sometimes even to the store who sent them back in first place. If they are still not sold the publisher pays to have the shipped back again and they are recycled. Talk about inefficiency. Lulu eliminates this with on demand publishing.

It appears as if the tipping point would come with a big author, someone like Dan Brown for instance, publishing via the blook/Lulu system. However, if enough good content gets published via the new paradigm the tipping point could still be reached through the buzz that early adopters would create and the stickiness that would follow once authors learned how the system was better for them. This paradigm shift would allow information to be freely distributed with no gatekeepers involved besides the reading public itself. After all, who says that the best way of deciding what gets published is a small number of high powered publishing executives sitting around with market surveys in their hands as their guides?

2 Comments:

  • I'm always a few steps behind! I thought about publishing my blog as a book (or blook) but I don't want to self-publish. Maybe there's still time...

    By Blogger Clarissa, at 5:37 PM  

  • I'm a first-time author with a book,which in my opinion, is ready for printing. The Lulu process appears to be so convoluted that I'm not sure if this is the route to go to get my book on the market. I have a very small, clost to zero, budget to get this book into the hands of a publisher; I wish I could decide if Lulu is for me. My status could be best described as: confused, puzzled, bewildered, and befuddled.

    By Anonymous PatMack, at 3:28 PM  

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