Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.

Banks: Market Caps

Good, safe investment these banks, eh? The blue circle represents market capitalization of banks in Q2 2007; the little green peas are the same banks’ market caps in Jan 2009:

bank market caps

[via zig]

New Podcast: Media Hacks

Mitch Joel, Julien Smith and I get together every once in a while for lunch, inevitably yakking about media, the web, communities. Sometimes they make me talk about marketing too. It’s almost invariably intense, and fun, and illuminating, and I usually leave all fired up (after having let loose with a few grumpy-old-man tirades against various offenders against common sense). Mitch keeps saying, “You know, we should record these lunches.” And Julien & I say: “Yup.”

But Mitch one-upped that idea, and asked some more smart digital people to join us for an every-so-often podcast. So, together with the three Montreal amigos, Chris Brogan, CC Chapman, Chris Penn will help round out the podcast sixsome. We’re calling it:

media hacks

(No url yet, but it’s coming I think).

Here is the first episode (mp3), featuring Julien, Chris Brogan, and Mitch, but not: CC, Chris Penn, and me. [Note: it’s intro’d as Six Pixels of Separation, but it’ll have it’s own, er, branding soon. Also Note: Julien swears like a drunken sailor, which is why we love him].

[photo by CC]

Conservatives and Liberals

I was just in London for BookCamp (fantastic, see my comments here). When I fly, I usually download a number of TED Talks to watch on the plane. Loved this one, about the moral decision-making of liberals and conservatives.

Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet

From MagCulture:

Ben emailed me last week promising a surprise, which duly arrived in the post yesterday.

He and Russell have published a tabloid newsprint publication featuring some of their favourite posts from 23 friends’ blogs last year. The project came about when they found out how cheap and easy it is to print 1000 copies of a newsprint tabloid. They also wanted to draw attention to some longer written pieces that are more easily assimilated in print than online.

blog tabloid
Wonderful…”we” ought to do the same.

Happy New Year!

[via liber.rhetoricae]

LibriVox2K

Just posted over at LibriVox:

Just in time for your 2008/09 new year’s celebration, LibriVox has reach another great milestone, by cataloging our 2,000th book, Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vol. VI.

The rest of the series can be found here:

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

LibriVox is an all-volunteer project to record public domain audiobooks, and give them away for free. We are among the most prolific audiobook publishers in the world.

We reached 1,000 books on October 31, 2007, after 26 months; the second thousand came 14 months later.

Congratulations to all the readers, coordinators, proof-listeners, moderators, and techies who have helped build LibriVox into one of the great communities online. Thanks to Internet Archive for hosting our audio files, and to Project Gutenberg for making thousands of public domain texts available online. And thanks to all our listeners for listening.

If you’d like to volunteer to help make audio recordings of every public domain text in the universe, you could take a look at our volunteer page, or jump right into our forum.

What If the Book Business Collapses

[X-posted at Huffpo & Book Oven]

Question: What would happen if, tomorrow, every publisher, and every book store, went out of business? What would you do?

The Big Stores

About fifteen years ago I walked into my first of the new breed of big book stores, Chapters in Toronto. I thought to myself: how can the book business support such a huge store? How can book selling pay for all this real estate? How can there be so many books?

At first I was encouraged by these stores. The choice of titles seemed endless. They were comfortable, well-designed. There was attention to detail. The coffee-shops were a nice touch, especially in the old days when you could get a stack of books from the shelves, get a coffee, and flip through books to your heart’s content. If these book stores could be profitable, I thought, maybe there was hope for humanity after all.

Soon these big book stores were everywhere: Barnes & Noble and Borders in the US, Chapters and Indigo in Canada (now merged, but with separate branding to create the fiction of competition), Waterstones in the UK, and others elsewhere. They invested massive amounts in real estate, getting huge commercial spaces in prime locations in major cities, and bigger spaces in the suburbs. They stocked their stores with a dizzying array of books.

Boon or Bust?

But things started to go a little sour early on. The first indication that the new book behemoths might be bad for the long-term health of the book ecosystem came quickly, when the little guys started going out of business. Economies of scale and and pricing clout meant that the big stores could charge less than their smaller competitors; and because of their size, their selection was always bigger. Following their in-store caffeine partners, Starbucks, they liked to choose their locations near existing successful independents. The little guys couldn’t compete, and went out of business, or got bought up, and absorbed into the book selling borg.

So now, there are precious few independent books stores left even in big cities.

The indie stores weren’t the only ones complaining. Because of the volume that goes through these stores, they could squeeze the publishers, on cost of books and return policies. They could charge for prime shelf-space. Small publishers found it harder to get the attention of the readers. But even the big publishers complained about the policies of these stores – and a little later, the other behemoth on the scene, Amazon.

Then there’s that odd feeling of being in a book store staffed by people who don’t know much about books. Any inquiry about a more obscure title more often than not ended up in front of a terminal. It seemed as if book stores, if their hiring policies were any indication, no longer cared much about books.

More: as time went on, it turned out that book sales weren’t really the most profitable kind of business these stores could do. Solution: reduce the shelf-space for books, increase the shelf-space for candles and trinkets. In Canada Chapters/Indigo has reduced book shelf-space from 75% to 60% (with Canadian fiction losing, and publishers cutting their lists in consequence). If the trend continues, books will be the minority in bookstores, and we might consider renaming them smelly candle stores that carry books.

The book business has stopped caring much about books.

Step One: Make Profit

These big stores are public companies, and big businesses. Like all businesses listed on stock exchanges, the people running them (boards of directors, and executives), have one central responsibility: to increase shareholder value.

The problem is that “shareholder value” has been defined almost exclusively as: “increased profits.” The owners of shares of Borders or any other large company don’t give a shit about books. They care about increased profits and increased share prices. The same is true in all businesses listed on stock exchanges. Mutual fund managers and institutional investors don’t buy stocks because of what a company does; they buy stock in companies whose stock prices will rise. And stock prices rise when profits go up.

But extracting profit is not necessarily related to long-term creation of value. In the book business (selling and publishing) what we’ve witnessed in the last couple of decades might be considered a stripping of true value, in order to deliver shareholder profit.

The “fault” does not lie with the big companies. They’re driven by a particular motive – profit. It’s built into the DNA of public companies, and the way stock exchanges work. There’s no use blaming them, might as well blame beavers for chewing through trees. But we should all remember that these companies are not driven by “value,” if you define value as healthy long-term prospects for readers and writers.

The state of the book publishing business is dire. Publishers are cutting back staff, editors are getting fired, or leaving. Amazon is putting the squeeze on everyone, and bookstores across the land are having a hard time, with major closures expected.

The Future?

So the rest of us, readers and writers and lovers of books, entrepreneurs and technologists, those of us really interested in the voracious appetite of the powerful and relatively affluent group, are going to have to come up with new and different ways to get books written, published and in the hands of readers.

Imagine: what would happen if every publisher in the world went out of business tomorrow? If every book store closed it’s doors?

Here’s what I think: I think we would see a flourishing of innovation and the kind of excitement the book business has not seen since the printing press was invented. These companies (sellers and publishers) aren’t all going to close their doors, but a good number might.

Lamentable? Maybe. Or maybe this is a fabulous opportunity for something new.

I’m optimistic. New technologies are coming along that change the economics of books: ebooks, ipods, print-on-demand, the web, and more to come yet. The readers are there, maybe fewer of them, but no less passionate. The writers are there. And let’s face it, if the doom and gloom in the business is right, whatever model these companies were using hasn’t worked all that well.

So it’s up to us — all of us who care about books — to figure out what the book business is going to look in the next decade or so.

Exciting times.

Economic Crisis & IP Policy

Canada’s feisty copyright lawyer, Howard Knopf, explores how good intellectual policy could help Canada thru the economic mess:

Most governments are now taking decisive steps towards decisions on and implementation of major stimulus/investment packages to rescue, resuscitate and even reinvent national and international economies. Canada, apparently, is going about this in its own way, with no such decisions yet announced. In Canada, things are actually getting “curiouser and curiouser” as we head towards a political crisis.

However, following the Rahm Emanuel maxim that “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste”, here are some bold ideas that would probably never fly or even be seriously considered in normal times in Canada about using IP and IP policy to help fix up the economy. Some of these would require legislation or regulations. Some would not and would only require sufficient leadership, will and skill at the political level – which are not necessarily any easier to come by [more…]

Why Copyright?

From Michael Geist:

Panel Today at the Canadian Centre for Architecture

I’ll be on a panel this afternoon about science, web, collaboration, and I’m not sure what else, organized by Steven Mansour:

On Saturday, November 29th, please join us for an informal discussion panel bringing together Scientists, Technologists and Designers to weigh in about the current and future influence of each of these disciplines on one another. The Mother-Child Health International Research Network, The World Association of Young Scientists and the Canadian Centre for Architecture invite you to a public conversation on collaboration between these three critically important – and increasingly interdependent – fields of knowledge.

This session will be structured around a series of questions posed to our guest panelists, followed by a discussion and open exchange with the audience.

Saturday November 29th, 2008, from 2:30pm until 4:00pm
Canadian Centre for Architecture: 1920 rue Baile, Montréal, Québec – Shaughnessy House.
Refreshments will be provided.
[more…]

(By the way, it’s almost 2008, and the CCA does not have a URL for an event they are hosting.)