According to a federal judge, the U.S. Treasury Department is breaking the law by failing to design and distribute currency that helps the blind and visually impaired distinguish denominations.
It is odd to me that this oops is just now coming up. Currency designers did it right with coins: I can feel the difference between a dime, nickel, penny, and quarter, and when I'm fishing for laundry money, any coin that's not large and ridged just won't do. An obvious solution to this ancient oversight is to create paper money of different sizes according to denomination.
Ah, hindsight . . .
Reconciling art with logistics is an issue that comes up often for designers. We are focused on the idea, the creative concept behind the project—whether it's a book cover, a marketing campaign, or an island wrapped in plastic. Part of our reality is inside Photoshop (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that CS3 will have the ability to make REAL breakfast tacos).
That can cause problems when it's time to carry out the design in the real world. The last thing on my mind when I'm running with a new idea is what the shipping will cost, or if the holiday card with the eye-catching trim size will fit inside the box it's supposed to be mailed in. This isn't always a bad thing. It allows for unimpeded creativity. But the shape of things is important, and so is coming up for air near the beginning of the design process to make sure that all of your great ideas will work in real life.
Real life also has a habit of introducing new hiccups to work around. Beginning in spring 2007, there will be a 3-cent price hike on first-class stamps and the shape of your mail will have a bigger impact on the cost of shipping. If you're designing an oversized, butterfly-shaped invitation for a garden party, remember, if it's not “machinable” (it can't be sorted automatically) it may cost more to mail. Make sure to think about shape—and everything it can affect—early in the project, so you don't have to cut corners later.
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ReganBooks, known for Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star and José Canseco’s steroid exposé Juiced, has a long history of courting sensationalism. But the publisher—or more accurately, its parent company News Corp.—found the stopping point. Last week HarperCollins (owned by News Corp) announced that its imprint ReganBooks was to publish a book titled If I Did It by O.J. Simpson. The release would follow a two-part interview series set to air at the end of November sweeps on Fox (also owned by News Corp.).
The television tie-in immediately produced problems. Ratings and advertising revenues during sweeps help television networks set their advertising rates for the rest of the year. News Corp. decided to air the O.J. Simpson interview on Fox on two of the last days of sweeps and follow it up with the release of the book on November 30. Broadcasting companies often use outrageous ploys to pull in higher audience numbers and increase ad revenue.
This time, media buyers thought the sensationalist stunts had gone too far. Several buyers told Fox flat-out that their clients would not be advertising during the program. Some reports said Fox’s ad salespeople didn’t even try to sell the time because they knew the response would be negative.
Bookstores were just as reluctant. Although the book had hit Amazon’s top 20 list before it was released, Borders, Inc. announced it was going to donate all net profits earned on the book to a nonprofit organization for victims of domestic violence.
The message to News Corp. was that no one wanted to touch the project. Both projects were scrapped when News Corp.’s chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch issued a public apology.
“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” Murdoch said. “We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.”
The backlash is considerable, and the incident is unique in the history of the entertainment industry—although Simpson’s “hypothetical memoir” was something of a singularity as well. All the books that had been shipped will be returned and then destroyed.
The question that remains is the long-term effect on the industry as a whole. Is there such a thing as a limit to our sensationalist appetites—and have we discovered it?
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year—holiday shopping season. Maximize your exposure and let the holidays work for you. Follow these three tinsel-tastic tips and you can deck the halls with boughs of book sales:
- Black Friday Ah, the joy of waking up at five AM the day after Thanksgiving only to go to the mall, park miles away from the door, wait in a line with a hundred of your closest friends, and then push and shove your way into the halogen light heaven that is After Thanksgiving Day Sales. Black Friday, or Blitz Friday, has become the day to shop for the holidays, which means you have the opportunity to expose your book to thousands of shoppers looking for the perfect gift for their loved ones. (Although the day itself offers a lot of opportunity, these techniques can be effective for the rest of the holiday shopping season as well.) Make sure your local bookstores have copies of your book on the shelves. If your best friend owns a gift shop, why not incorporate your book into a holiday display? Contact locally owned businesses about setting up a charity event in which you will donate some of your proceeds to the local food bank if they will agree to sell your book during Black Friday. Be creative, but get it out there!
- Cyber Monday Last year we saw a trend emerging, with online retailers launching digital campaigns and promotions the Monday following Thanksgiving Day: Cyber Monday. This is a great opportunity for you to get your book involved in a new shopping tradition. Offer book deals on your book’s website, perhaps a two-for-one deal or a 20 percent off coupon. Send emails to everyone you know with a coupon attached for 50 percent off the cover price of your book if they buy it through you and can provide you with three email addresses of friends who might also be interested in your book. There are no limits to the simple online promotions you can try to boost sales for the holidays.
- Work the Trends One of your most important duties in marketing your book is to be constantly aware of the trends, and I don’t just mean publishing trends. The worlds of advertising, PR, and marketing constantly change. Know where consumers are going to be, when they are going to be there, and how you can be there with your book. For instance, one of the hottest trends this year has been the growth of online social communities like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. Try running a holiday promo through your MySpace page. Utilize your online social network and offer them a special deal.
And remember, 'tis the season to be jolly. Have fun with holiday promotions, don’t let them stress you out.
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I think it's safe to say that we are all relieved to know that News Corp. has decided not to publish O.J. Simpson's controversial book If I Did It and that it will not air Judith Regan's Fox interview with Simpson. Several bookstores, including Border's, had decided to donate all proceeds from the sale of the book to charity. Erin Crum, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins, said today that some copies of the books have already been shipped to stores. Those books will be recalled and destroyed, she said. The New York Times reported yesterday why executives at News Corp. decided to pull the plug on the project. Read the NYT article at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/20/business/21simpsoncnd.html?ref=media.
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Shelf Awareness passed on a letter written to them from Carin Siegfried, the Baker & Taylor rep for New England and upstate New York reporting on a new scam hitting several bookstores. Hopefully we can help pass this news to more readers to help make bookstores aware of the problem.
"In the last month or so, I know of three stores hit by those perennial scam artists who call using the TDD operator or e-mail, asking for large quantities of expensive books, using a stolen credit card that initially goes through but later is charged back. These scam artists have gotten smarter, no longer ordering hundreds of bibles but instead ordering 20-30 copies each of three or four different textbook titles. They refuse to give out their phone numbers, and their name does not match the name on the card (which of course one can't determine over the phone or Internet without a call to the credit card company).
Fortunately the three stores caught the scam before shipping out the books, but one had paid for next-day delivery from our West Coast warehouse on some very heavy books and was out a small fortune on freight costs. Two of the booksellers are fairly new store owners, so they hadn't read articles on this topic."
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The allure of the Amazon.com sales rank is well known to many an author, as is the bewilderment it often brings. How convenient—a number that tells you in hard, empirical terms how your book is doing! But alas, the Amazon sales rank is a fickle mistress. After noticing wild fluctuations in their placement, authors and publishers often fall prey to obsessive rank-checking, waking up at night in cold sweats to boot up the computer and surf to Amazon.com, spending endless hours staring bleary-eyed at the monitor: Refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh.
Yet for all this scrutiny, the Amazon sales rank remains cloaked in mystery.
Derived from a complex algorithm that the folks at Amazon are not about to give out, the rankings take into account more than just how many copies of a certain title have been sold. There are varying decay rates, predictive curves, tiers with different refresh rates, historical analysis. Rather than regurgitate the inconclusive findings of studies that try to identify Amazon’s secret formula by buying books and painstakingly analyzing the changes in rankings, let’s first identify what we know for sure about the system.
- The smaller the rank number, the more books you’re selling. Perhaps this is obvious, but to clarify—the number one spot is reserved for the top seller. As your relative sales go down, your rank number goes up.
- Not all books are updated hourly. And in fact, some books are updated more frequently than that, as the seasoned refresh button junkie will tell you. It all depends on the range you fall in. Books between 1 and 10,000 are re-ranked at least hourly. Books between 10,000 and 100,000 are re-ranked once a day. Those beyond 100,000 are re-ranked weekly.
- After you sell one book, you get a rank. There is one slot per book, so no two books have the same ranking. As your book sells more, it moves up the ladder; as other books outsell yours, it moves back down.
- Total historical sales are part of the equation, but not a huge one. For instance, Martha Stewart’s latest book has no problem towering hundreds of slots over, say, Catcher in the Rye at the moment. This is because her book has sold more copies at a faster rate within a recent time span, not because she’s sold more copies overall.
The most important thing to remember about your sales rank is its temporary and relative nature. The Amazon rating is more like a popularity contest than the litmus test for a book’s success. The number you see on the page is merely how you’re selling compared to other titles in a very brief period. Two or three purchases of the same book within an hour can send a title skyrocketing up the rankings. Sure it’s exciting to leave a few thousand of your competitors in the dust, but unless the buying continues at a good pace, you can slip from the higher rankings fairly quickly.
By the same token, don’t feel sick if following your rankings feels like riding a particularly nasty roller coaster. For a more accurate assessment, get an average ranking: check the rank once an hour for twenty-four hours if you’re in the top 10,000, once a day for a week or two if you’re between 10,000 and 100,000, once a week for a couple of months if you’re lower than that. This will give you a much more stable picture of how your book is selling online. Services like titlez.com can show you a graph of a particular book’s historical rankings. Titlez.com is in beta testing and currently does not list all titles, but you can request that a particular book be added. At booksandwriters.com, you can register to receive email reports on your rankings for a small fee.
Remember also to take seasons into account when assessing your sales rank. Students buying for the upcoming semester can clog the top spots with textbooks and paperback classics in the late summer and midwinter seasons. Likewise, books without gift appeal will probably see a significant drop in the holiday months.
But in the end, the sales rank is meant to be, in Amazon.com’s words, merely “interesting.” Don’t sweat it if you can’t figure out why your number is exactly where it is. Instead, focus your energy on making your product page as informative and consumer-friendly as possible. It has been our experience in optimizing Amazon pages that the product’s rank improves as it collects additional content. Whether good reviews and number of hits have a direct effect on the sales rank formula is unclear; it’s more likely that books with more detailed pages simply attract more buyers. Either way, ensure that your product page does a good job of representing your product.
For those of you interested in deducing sales numbers from rank and trying to crack the magical algorithm, read Morris Rosenthal's What Amazon Sales Ranks Mean or this report from MIT's ebusiness center. If you don’t have the time for übercomplicated mathematical gymnastics, just remember that your ranking depends on many variables we’ll probably never fully identify. Enjoy the spikes in your number—you’re selling copies fast—but don’t forget that the Amazon.com sales rank does not make the book.
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Not sure what to buy someone on your Christmas list? We may have just the thing you were looking for. Just in time for the Christmas season the publisher of the cult classic "Pop-Up Book of Phobias" brings us a satirical pop-up book with some of the funniest celebrity meltdowns we have ever seen. All that's missing is sound effects!
"The Pop-Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns" puts you front and center as ten of the most spectacular public crack-ups of our day unfold before your eyes. Open the page to trigger a wardrobe malfuntion and watch as Janet Jackson bares all at the Super Bowl . . . Pull the tab and see Tom Cruise leap up on Oprah's couch like an excited puppy . . . From the aerial view of a news copter, watch as a phalanx of squad cars pursues O. J. Simpson's Bronco in slow motion. . . . Brought to life with hilariously humorous caricatures and stunningly ingenious paper engineering, this deluxe, handcrafted gift book proves once and for all that celebrities are just like the rest of us, only much, much more so."
CNN.com posted a video today of an interview with the publisher of the pop-up book and a sneak peak of some of the pages inside the book. Please click on the link to view CNN video.
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Is there a place for product placement in books? With advertisers’ ever-increasing fears about the demise of the thirty-second TV spot, product placement has become a more and more popular way of promoting consumer goods, whether we’re aware of it or not. Books have mostly remained an untapped resource for advertisers, but readers are aware of brands in books. And some publishers and marketers are starting to explore the possibilities that can create.
Product placement, in its simplest form, is an advertising tactic in which a real product is placed in the context of a television show, movie, video game, or book as the result of an exchange between an advertiser and a media client. Showing a product in entertainment media can produce results. One of the most famous product placements occurred in E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. Reese’s Pieces were used in a pivotal scene; sales of the candy increased by 65 percent. Product placement is controversial, however, because often nothing marks the difference between paid advertising and entertainment content.
In movies and television, the trend has been gaining steam for a long time. But in books, the controversy over product placement started just a few years ago. In 2001, author Fay Weldon was paid by Bulgari to mention the famous jeweler twelve times in her novel The Bulgari Connection. Recently, Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart, authors of Cathy’s Book, included a mention of a specific type of Proctor and Gamble’s Cover Girl lip gloss in the book. In return, P&G advertised Cathy’s Book on its teen website, BeingGirl.com. No monetary exchange, just your basic I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine. Simple, right? Wrong. Many object to this case in particular because the book is aimed at a young—and presumably less jaded—audience.
However, adult chick lit thrives on unpaid (we think) homage to designer treads like Prada and Jimmy Choo. If we are already promoting brands and products in adult contemporary fiction, then it’s inevitable that young adult fiction will follow suit. If it does, does it matter if the promotion is paid for?
In a report published by Scholastic, 46 percent of teens ages 15–17 are low-frequency readers. They say the number one reason they don’t read is that they can’t find anything that interests them. Product placement could conceivably help close that gap, if corporate marketers can pique interest in a book through means unavailable to a publisher. And if that can help get teens reading, it’s unlikely many publishers will complain.
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Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, co-authors of several health and diet books, received the much sought after support from Oprah Winfrey for their new book "You: On the Diet". Roizen and Oz appeared on Oprah's television show last Thursday and since then their books have occupied the top three spots on Amazon.com. Dr. Oz has become a regular on Oprah's show providing tips on healthy living.
It has has been ten months since Oprah has selected a book for her book club, which virtually guarantees a books success. Her last selection was Elie Wiesel's "Night". While "You: On the Diet" is not part of her book club, it too can expect a successful sales boost from appearing on her show and her golden touch.
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Want people to believe what you write? Persuade them. It’s not complicated, but there’s a lot of competition out there fighting for your audience’s trust and attention. You can’t afford to sound unsure or unqualified. Here are three techniques guaranteed to get more people listening:
1. Use clear, strong language. As The Elements of Style so famously declares, "Vigorous writing is concise." Avoid clutter. Structure sentences with active verbs. Use the right word, not the longest or most "impressive" word. (Often this means the Anglo-Saxon instead of the Latinate: not utilization, but use; not prevaricate, but lie.) Reduce clauses, trim sentences, clarify meaning. You don't want to bore your reader with inert vocabulary and flaccid structure.
2. Give evidence. Readers may be taken with your bold style, but they appreciate substance as well. Support your argument with your reasoning or your proof. A reader who can follow your logic is much more likely to agree.
3. Use your own voice. If what you write sounds forced or uncharacteristic, you lose credibility. Don't ignore etiquette or grammar, but don't affect any styles or mannerisms that aren't natural unless you do so for a reason.
Listen to the responses you get, and try to tailor your message to address the obvious complaints. The art of persuasion is a powerful one—just try not to use your power for evil.