Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Sign of the End Times???

A week ago Monday, the New York Times reported on an innovative publishing joint venture by the Perseus Books Group and the Daily Beast: A new imprint called Beast Books.

One of the people behind Beast Books is Tina Brown. You probably know her as a magazine editor. At varying times over the years, she has edited Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. A year ago yesterday, she hopped online with the launch of the Daily Beast, a news aggregating site here that includes original content.

With The Daily Beast under her belt, Brown is ready to enter the world of print publishing . . . with a twist. Beast Books seeks to tighten the time schedule in bringing books to release. The plan is for an author to spend three months writing a non-fiction book on a topical subject, which Beast Books will then release as an e-book a month later and then follow up with the paperback release shortly thereafter.

This model for publishing is exactly the reverse of the model currently being pursued by the Big Six publishers. Most of the New York giants are releasing the print book BEFORE the e-book, hoping to protect the p-book sales.

Kassia Krozser described this protectionism approach as a "stupid publishing trick" in her post here. Kassia argues that "There is absolutely no evidence that withholding the ebook will encourage ebook readers to purchase the hardcover instead."

The New York Times reports the first release expected from Beast Books will be Attack of the Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America by John P. Avlon, a CNN commentator. It will be released as an e-book in December and as a paperback in January, 2010.

I was initially appalled by the three-month writing term. Then I saw this paragraph in the Times article:
She [Tina Brown] envisioned most of the Beast Books titles as being 40,000 words, or about 150 pages. They would cover touchstone political and cultural topics first addressed on the Web site, as well as more personal memoirs.
That's 160 manuscript pages. Most writers would not have difficulty producing 53 manuscript pages a month for three months. That's 2 1/2 pages a day on weekdays only, taking the weekends off. {grin}

All the hoopla in the press was about the quick turnaround to release. But what I find really interesting is this: Brown is proposing not a full-length book, but a demi-book, which should really appeal to today's busy multi-taskers. If you think about it, it's sort of a super-size expanded version of those in-depth articles you find in Vanity Fair or The Atlantic now. Something you can read while waiting in an airport or on a plane flight. Easy to read on your iPhone or your e-reading device.

Brown herself told the Times "there was a gap between online writing and full-length books that was no longer being fully met by a dwindling market for magazines."

A terrific niche market to capture the burgeoning e-reading populace.

She's aiming to capture those hot topics that have a short shelf life. Everyone talks about them for fifteen minutes--or three months--and then forgets about them. By the time traditional publishers produce a book, no one cares any more.

I couldn't find any mention of the pricing of the e-book. And there was no listing for Attack of the Wingnuts on Amazon, B&N or Borders.

I'm wondering if Beast Books will price the e-books at or higher than the price of the paperbacks in order to cash in on the topicality of the subject matter. It's a safe bet they'll advertise on The Daily Beast. But I'm wondering what distribution channels they'll use.

This is really interesting. Stay tuned . . .

To read the New York Times article, go here.

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