Jan 252006

Buying Back Your Own Left Leg

Buying Back Your Own Left Leg

There has been much written about the spectacular sale of Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion this week.  The fact that Steve Jobs is now Disney’s largest individual shareholder is amazing news on many levels.  Fred has a great posting on this today from the investor perspective.

Another angle that I find interesting about this transaction is that it reminds me to some extent of Yahoo’s purchase of Overture a couple years back.  Yahoo OWNED the search business.  For years.  Invented it.  Synonymous with it.  Then they let others lap them they became more of a diversified online media company, and voila!  Others focused, innovated, and created a massive business in paid search.  Yahoo lost its own leg and had to pay $1 billion or so to buy it back.

The same could be said of Disney.  There was no other animated film company in America of note for DECADES.  Disney was it.  The mouse ruled the house.  Then others innovated, figured out how to sprinkle their own version of pixie dust on things, while Disney became a global multi-dimensional media and entertainment conglomerate, and poof!  $7.4 billion later, they had to buy their own franchise back to reclaim the animation throne.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but these stories tell me that diversification may be a wonderful thing, but businesses should never forget to innovate at their core and think like insurgents, not like unassailable market leaders.

Aug 152005

Why Publishing Will Never Be the Same, Part I

Why Publishing Will Never Be the Same, Part I

As you may know, we published a book earlier this year at Return Path called Sign Me Up! Sales are going quite well, in case you’re wondering, and we also launched the book’s official web site, where you can subscribe to our “email best practices” newsletter.

The process of publishing the book was fascinating and convinced me that publishing will never be the same.  Even in two parts, this will be a long post, so apologies in advance. Front to back, the process went something like this:

– We wrote the content and selected and prepared the graphics

– We hired iUniverse to publish the book for a rough total cost of $1,500

– iUniverse provided copy editing, layout, and cover design services

– Within 8 weeks, iUniverse put the book on Amazon.com and BN.com for us (in addition to their site) and properly indexed it for search, and poof — we were in business

– Any time someone places an order on any of those three sites, iUniverse prints a copy on demand, binds it, and ships it off. No fuss, no muss, no inventory, but a slightly higher unit cost than you’d get from a traditional publisher who mass prints. We receive approximately 20% of the revenue from the book sale, and iUniverse receives 80%.  I’m not sure what cut they give Amazon, but it’s hard to imagine it’s more than 10-20% of the gross

Other than the writing part (not to be minimized), how easy is that?  So of course, that made me think about the poor, poor publishing industry. It seems to me that, like many other industries, technology is revolutionizing publishing.  Here’s how:

– Publishers handle printing and inventory.  iUniverse and its competitors can do it for you in a significantly more economic way.  Print on Demand will soon be de rigeur.

– Publishers handle marketing and distribution.  iUniverse gets you on Amazon.com and BN.com for free.  Amazon.com and BN.com now represent something like 12% of all book sales (cobbled together stats from iMedia Connection saying the annual online book sale run rate is now about $3 billion and the Association of American Publishers saying that the total size of the industry is $24 billion).  Google and Overture take credit cards and about 5 minutes to drive people to buy your book online.  Buzz and viral and email marketing techniques are easy and cheap.

– Publishers pay you.  Ok, this is compelling, but they only pay you (especially advances) if you’re really, really good, or a recognized author or expert. iUniverse pays as well, just in a pay-for-performance model.  Bonus points for setting yourself up as an affiliate on Amazon and BN to make even more money on the sale.  iUniverse actually pays a higher royalty (20% vs. 7.5-15% in the traditional model), so you’re probably always a fixed amount “behind” in the self-publish model, but you don’t have an agent to pay.

Unless you are dying to be accepted into literary or academic circles that require Someone & Sons to annoint you…why bother with a traditional publisher? As long as you have the up-front money and the belief that you’ll sell enough books to cover your expenses and then some, do it yourself.

In Part II, I will talk about how iUniverse pitches a “traditional publishing model” and why it only reinforces the point that the traditional model doesn’t make a lot of sense any more in many cases.