Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jane Friedman Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

I was both interested and impressed with Jane Friedman's concept for her new venture, OpenRoad, which I talked about in a post yesterday.

Two things Friedman said during the Q-and-A caught my particular attention. She said OpenRoad is not trying to remove the agent from the equation. However, she did say her contract has "the traditional agent's clause for agents who've brought us the estate."

The estate. Friedman is thinking mostly in terms of her author-branded backlist business when she talks about agents. Does that mean she is planning to plumb the releases at Lulu for her
e-Riginals publishing arm?

The other thing Friedman said, which simply blew me away, was that OpenRoad was entertaining the notion of releasing 1,000 e-books in their first year in business.

And THAT wasn't even the part that struck me upside the head.

Almost immediately she was asked about the pricing of her
e-books. Her response was that the value of the e-book to the reader was the same as the value of the book in any other form. Therefore, she felt the appropriate price point for OpenRoad's
e-books was around $14, the price of the trade paper.

For months, we've listened to publishers nattering on about how an e-book is as expensive as a p-book to release.

And then--in one fell swoop--Jane Friedman, the doyenne of publishing, veteran of two of the five biggest publishers, inventor of the book tour, stands in front of a room and says her new company is thinking about releasing ONE THOUSAND e-books in their first year of business and charging $14 apiece for them.

Whew! That's some brass balls. How complicated and expensive can it be to release an e-book when she's proposing to release ONE THOUSAND of them in a year???

Let me put that into perspective for you. If we take two weeks off during a year for vacation, and only count the remaining fifty weeks, we have approximately 250 workdays in a year. One thousand books divided among the 250 workdays is the release of FOUR e-books a day, every day for the entire year.

Yeah, that's a lot of effort and expense, all right.

What that one statement tells me is that--for all her talk about innovation and flexibility-- Friedman is still thinking like a traditional publisher. Instead of pricing from the ground up, she starts with a price she knows and is comfortable with and goes on from there.


Less interesting were these other details about her plan for OpenRoad revealed during the Q-and-A:

  • The business model is currently based strictly on the sale of e-books. OpenRoad is a marketing company
  • No advances, but a very good profit-sharing deal for authors/copyright holders (50/50)
  • The videos OpenRoad will produce are strictly for marketing purposes although they may also be used as value-added features for the e-books
  • Code and Theory is the Manhattan firm helping to build the marketing platform
  • She wants to collaborate with traditional publishers
  • The strength of OpenRoad is its ability to be flexible; to be able to change course and try a new direction
  • She believes it will be very difficult for the mega-publishing houses to go forward (the large advances and returnability of books are huge problems) while they push the front list to the exclusion of the back list
  • OpenRoad is in discussions with Lulu about having their self-pubbed authors use OpenRoad's marketing platform AFTER the books go through an editorial process
  • The marketing platform is intended to be long-term, not just a six-week window
  • OpenRoad will be weighted toward fiction, but will not be exclusively fiction

It remains to be seen if OpenRoad is truly a creative new venture or just another old-time publisher in mod new clothes.

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