Thursday, June 29, 2006

New Republic takes a swipe at your friendly blogger

The New Republic published an article (account required) earlier this week about World Ahead and the "Help Mom" series that's part of our Kids Ahead imprint. Overall it's less of a hatchet job than I might've expected, but conveniently they omitted a couple of important points.

First, these days "mainstream" publishers are very busy marketing politically oriented children's books directly at kids. At a panel entitled "Trends in Children's Publishing" at BEA last month, the panelist from Random House crowed about how they're using "cause marketing" to lure kids into wanting to purchase their books, a sentiment echoed by the representative from Simon & Schuster. Cause marketing, as the panelist put it, is basically telling kids that what this book advocates will make you feel good and important, so you need to get your parent to purchase it for you. Apparently Random is using this for books pushing environmentalism.

Unlike the liberal dominated big publishers in NYC, Kids Ahead books aren't targeted at children. Our marketing and publicity are geared towards their parents. Author Katharine DeBrecht and I agree that adults -- and not kids -- are the ones who should decide if a book dealing with political issues is appropriate for a child to read. If memory serves, I discussed "cause marketing" with the TNR reporter for several minutes and explained why we felt there are ethical problems with publishers targeting their marketing directly at kids.

Second, Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed and Help! Mom! Hollywood's in My Hamper aren't being forced onto children by liberal-dominated government bodies such as public schools and libraries. But while having Mass. school teachers read books like King & King or Rainbow Fish to their second grade classes is OK with TNR, the thought of parents wanting to make an informed decision about imparting their values to their children is just too horrible for liberals to ponder.

Another PayPal alumni venture: YouTube

Earlier this week the WSJ ran a nice article on a couple of PayPal alumni -- Chad Hurley and Steve Chen -- who started the online video sharing company YouTube.

This venture is one to watch. I hate to compare it to MySpace (since everything in the new media gets compared to MySpace these days), but it seems merited. YouTube is wildly popular, viral, and another decentralized media platform that fits into Chris Anderson's "long tail" model. This kind of a platform is both a source of further media fragmentation, but at the same time it gives traditional content providers such as NBC an excellent platform for promoting their mass market offerings, as well.

Congrats, guys! Just be careful with those lawyers and regulators. (Radley Balko recounts how they tormented PayPal in his review of my book, The PayPal Wars.)

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The book on Rush's bedside table?

Judi McLeod from CanadaFreePress gives one of our books a nice mention while skewering liberal schadenfreude over public disclosure of Rush Limbaugh's use of Viagra:

"It’s not as if a Hillary Clinton or a Nancy Pelosi could sneak his diary off a bedside table, where Rush only keeps copies of the Bible and books like Help! Mom! There’s a Liberal Under My Bed! And Rush doesn’t wear a toupee."

Click here to read her editorial.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Murdoch: Tech is making publishers less relevant

Wired Magazine has just published an interesting article on News Corp's purchase of MySpace, using it as an analogy to discuss what's going on in the battle of new vs. old media. In it, Murdoch specifically states that my job is becoming less important: "Technology is shifting power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now it’s the people who are taking control."

He's right. But also wrong.

Technology -- especially the Internet -- is empowering consumers by enhancing choice and lowering distribution costs. This gives rise to the "long tail" effect where the providers of content can no longer afford to focus on a handful of mass marketed hits, but instead must provide a greater diversity that caters to more targeted interests.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing for publishing, though. Contrary to what Murdoch implies, consumers have always had a say about what goes on in publishing via the marketplace; even in the days of mass marketing, publishers that were unable to meet their demands paid a financial price. But as technology changes the way the game is played, it enables savvy publishers who tap into hitherto unexplored markets to do quite well for themselves. Technology and the "long tail" are just as empowering for publishers as they are for our readers.

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Harper Lee slams e-books

Publishers Weekly reports that Harper Lee writes in Oprah Magazine that she is no fan of e-books. PW quotes the legendary author as writing: "Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up—some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal."

I suspect that part of Lee's view is based on a generational perspective -- she is in her 80s, after all. But even as a proponent of technology I've got to cede that she makes a good point. Despite years of hype, the publishing industry hasn't made a significant shift to e-books yet in part because no hardware solution has yet been able to equal the consumer experience of reading words on bound paper.

This may be changing. At Book Expo last month, it was evident that major tech companies are eager to rethink the e-book concept -- and it sounds like publishers may be ready to work with them. Amazon unveiled a new program called "Amazon Upgrade" that will allow purchases of printed books to also access the content online in digital format for a small additional fee. Google's book search program seems to be gaining acceptance in spite of fierce lobbying by techno-phobes in the industry against it. Microsoft is also on board with offering technology similar to what Google is doing. And hardware companies such as Sony are also continuing to refine portable e-book readers into more user-friendly formats -- the adoption of which will likely be aided by the explosion in popularity of portable devices such as web-enabled cell phones and Ipods.

Technology marches on, and as a publisher who has to spend 10-20% of his company's revenues on printing-related costs for each project, let me say that I hope it marches faster! But even with signs that the e-book concept is about to be revamped, Harper Lee doesn't need to worry that the printed word will vanish any time soon.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Forget Kryptonite: "Help Mom" Takes on Superman

Katharine DeBrecht, author of Help! Mom! Hollywood's in My Hamper, raises some interesting questions about the new Superman movie. According to published reviews (the movie is not yet in theaters), "Superman Returns" features Lois Lane with a 5-year-old son -- an out-of-wedlock child who may or may not be Superman's.

While there's nothing wrong with "updating" a classic character, and I don't object to a movie intended for grown-ups having adult themes in it, Katharine makes a great point here. Much of the marketing of this movie is directed at children, and there is a ton of product tie-ins aimed at the elementary school set. (Walk down the cereal aisle at a grocery store and you'll see what I mean.) Like many recent action hits -- such as Spiderman and the Star Wars prequels -- this film is clearly intended to appeal to adults and kids alike.

Given the inherent appeal that Superman has on kids, the movie probably should've avoided this plotline. With a great actor like Kevin Spacey taking over Gene Hackman's famous role as Lex Luthor, and a talented director like Bryan Singer at the helm, surely they could've made a good movie without adding this extra baggage -- baggage that is sure to make parents everywhere squirm when their kids ask why the Man of Steel is a daddy but isn't married to mommy Lois. And if Superman does something, doesn't that mean it's OK?

Click here to read the press release with Katharine's comments.


Rep. Kay Granger on Fox Dayside

Look for House Majority Deputy Whip -- and World Ahead author -- Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) on today's episode of Fox New's "Dayside." She will be discussing her recent trip to Iraq as well as her new book, What's Right About America.