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imagesOyster eBook subscription service last week announced they are suspending business. This two-year old start-up had gathered a lot of publicity and industry buzz. They had $20-million in seed money and founders from the tech world. But, in the end, Oyster could not generate enough business to sustain. The company will “sunset” over the next few months with Google is picking up some of the pieces.

So what went wrong?

  1. Flawed Business Model — Oyster paid publishers their full cut of an eBook once 10%-20% was read. So even if a consumer only read 1/5 of the book, Oyster was still on the hook for the full amount to the publisher. Plus the best customers were the ones that Oyster lost money on.
  2. The Best Customers Were Not Profitable Ones – Subscription services appeal most to those who read a lot. This group easily consumed more than the $9.95 monthly fee. So this group of customers used the service the most, also cost them the most. There were not enough “join the gym and never go” customers to make the service profitable.
  3. Lack of Publisher Support — Although they had over 1,000,000 titles, they were missing most of the high profile front-list ones. Quantity is not nearly as important as the quality. The biggest publisher, Penguin-Random House (with 50% of the best-sellers) didn’t participate. Although other corporate publishers played (S&S and HarperCollins most notably), they only let the back-list on the service.
  4. Tough to Compete with Amazon — They lost competing with one of the strongest retailers in the world. Amazon created their own subscription service and set the rules. They acknowledged out the gate that there would not be books from big publishers; they have most of the top self-pubished authors locked in; and they set the financial terms. Amazon has paid out almost $100-million to authors over the past year from Kindle Unlimited.
  5. Book Market isn’t Big Enough to Sustain — Millions of Americans don’t read even a book a year. Many read just one or two. That group is more apt to just buy the book that they want to read. The movie/tv industry and music are much more broad based. Most everyone listens to music or watches something every day. Reading is a much smaller subset. A book can sell less than 10,000 copies and still make the NY Times bestseller list.
  6. Comps to “Netflix for Books” is Seriously Flawed — This comparison never made sense. Viewing movies and tv shows is vastly different than reading books. Consumers will watch movies together. They will browse through the Netflix offerings and watch something on impulse for “a night in.” Reading is a solo event and has much different reasons for consuming. Plus, Netflix has original programming that competes with the major studios. Oyster had no original works.
  7. Comps to “Spotify for Books” Equally Flawed — This comparison also was not appropriate. Music is background. Music is on all the time. Music is easily sampled. People listen to the same song thousands of times. All of these are not characteristics of the way people consume books. Plus, the music industry has much different economics.
  8. Few Have the Time to Justify a Subscription for Books — Reading takes time, It isn’t quick like watching a movie or listening to an album (another reason why it will never be like Netflix or Spotify), Most books take days or even weeks to read. There just are not enough people who have the time to read that many books.

Oyster made a good run at creating a subscription service for eBooks.  They had funding, smart leaders, good UX, a fair amount of mindshare from the publishing industry. But in the end, they missed on too many key points.

Oyster was a good experiment in a new way to read/buy/consume books. There will be others. The idea of subscription can work.

Over the past few decades, I have accumulated thousands of books. I have also donated thousands as I cull my collection to a manageable amount. No longer is “having the most books” the goal. It is now to have the right books and to pass on the other titles to others to enjoy.

I sorted my non-fiction books by subject. I became fascinated by the U.S. CIvil War ever since the Ken Burns PBS series THE CIVIL WAR. The Civil War more than any other event shaped America.  At the time the series debuted, I was a new book buyer at Waldenbooks (at that time having over 1,200 locations). I was given History for it generally was a sleepy category and seldom had bestsellers. Ken Burns changed that.

The book that benefitted the most was the official tie-in, THE CIVIL WAR : AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY by Geoffrey Ward (Knopf). What a wonderful book and made the perfect gift. This book is still in print and worth adding to anyone’s collection. It was a $50 book back when that was a lot of money for a book, and the sales exploded the History category. But it also helped sell so many other books.IMG_0010

Stumbled across three books that I loved that helped me understand the dynamics:

BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM by James McPherson (Oxford) — this is the best, single volume history of the U.S. Civil War ever written. I realized watching the Ken Burns series that my understanding of the war was lacking. So I turned to McPherson’s 904-page tome. It was wonderful. Although over 900-pages, it was still a “quick read” in that the story of the war just flowed. This book gave me more background on the most important event in American history. I may re-read it now.

IMG_0011THE CIVIL WAR : A NARRATIVE by Shelby Foote (Random House) – an amazing feat of writing and research. This three-volume, 1.2-million word opus is amazing. It took me a bit longer to plow through this set, but it was worth it. Foote was one of the talking heads on the Burns series and became a star because of it. His story-telling prowess made the events come to life. He spoke as if he was actually experiencing the events live.

IMG_0012A BATTLEFIELD ATLAS OF THE CIVIL WAR by Craig Symonds (N&A Publishing) — while reading the other books, I needed better visuals on the battles. This book was great to use as a companion to the narratives. The maps are clean and clear. The minimilist style of the maps was perfect. There are a lot of books of maps on the battles on the Civil War, but I found this to be the most effective.

I read all of these in physical book form for at the time, ebooks were not available. But if I was to read today, I would stick with the physical editions.


I love this book. The message is clear and focused. It means a lot. It is deep. It is inspiring. I have read it hundreds of times.Unknown

I first read the book over 25 years ago. I didn’t know anything about it except that it seemed to always sell. I was National Account Sales Director at Knopf back then and it was part of my job to research backlist titles. This one kept on selling.

Then I found out about the backstory. This book was first published in the USA in 1923 by Alfred A. Knopf. It started out modestly but just kept on selling every year. To date, almost 10-million have been sold in the States. The book is still in USA copyright and will be until 2018. So, Knopf publishing will have the rights for 95 years. It is in the public domain in most of the rest of the world.

In 1988, the book was due to go into the public domain (at that time it was 75 years), but the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act added 20 years. If the book had been published one year earlier, it would have been PD. But, Knopf (a division of Penguin-Random House) got an additional 20 years and millions more in sales.

So be it.

imagesI just read that an animated movie is coming out this weekend in the USA. But it is only at one theater in NYC and one in LA. I guess I could pop on a train the NYC, but wish it was available closer or online. The movie stars the voices of Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, John Krasinski, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina, and Quvenzhané Wallis. Check out the trailer.

I hope the movie is true to the spirt of the book. I hope it is good. I don’t expect the movie to match the experience of reading this book. All it needs to do is spark interest and guide people to the book.

I look forward to seeing the movie — and now I think I will read some more of the book.


“They come through you but are not from you.

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”


“And stand together, yet not too near together;

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”



This song was originally performed by John Denver. It has been one of his most acclaimed songs. His version has been so popular that is has been adopted by the University of West Virginia and sung after all home football games. The state of West Virginia has made it the “official state song.”

I respect the John Denver original.

But prefer a couple of remixes better.

imagesOne from Israel Kamakawiw’ole about “country road take me home to West Makaha, Hawai’i. Altering the lyrics to match the place.

There is also a cool reggae version from Toots and The Maytals. THis version is about West Jamaica. images

The song has been covered by hundreds of artists. Olivia Newton-John had a hit with it in Japan. And many country artists did versions.

The last link will be one from Ray Charles though…images


imagesAmazon just listed their editors picks for the 2014 Best Books of the Year. This is the overall list for the Adult titles. The Amazon editors did a very good job selecting the right mix of literary and popular – with a few execptions. It is a list that for the most part reflects the publishing industry, except it is corporate publisher dominated.

Of the 100 books listed, 41 are from Penguin Random House and another three are from publishers distributed by PRH. So, 44% of the entire list of the “Best” books of the year are from one corporation. The list encompasses over a dozen imprints within the Big House. Although the imprints are independent of one another, they are still part of one massive publishing entity. As long as Penguin Random House has this cache of rich content, they can negotiate on equal or stronger status with Amazon.

  • HarperCollins has 12 titles.
  • Simon & Schuster has nine titles.
  • Macmillan has nine titles.
  • Hachette has only four titles.

The corporate five have almost 80% of the entire list. Penguin Random House has as many titles as the next four corporate publishers combined. Harper, S&S and Macmillan are bolstered by their literary imprints Ecco, Scribner and FSG. Has the Hachette feud influenced the list? Who knows? But only four titles does seem small compared to the size of the publisher.images

A few other things of interest:

Grove-Atlantic has seven titles and combined with Basic and Nation each having one, gives Perseus nine titles. The same as S&S and Macmillan. Add Perseus Distribution (adding in PGW) to the list of the “Big 5″ and almost 90% of the titles come from six corporations.

Amazon Publishing has two titles as does HMH, Norton and Bloomsbury.

A handful of publishers have a single title.

I didn’t review the Children’s list yet but a quick scan on the YA titles and Penguin Random House has five of the top seven. Penguin’s children’s books are especially strong on the list (and also on the latest NYTimes YA fiction list with six of the top eight books).

The Amazon-Hachette issue has been written about ad nauseum. I have no desire to add that debate. But I don’t fear Amazon “ruining” the culture for their list is thoughtful although it does protect the status quo.

As long as Penguin Random House has so much top-notch content, Amazon will not be in complete control.



2014-10-27 20.18.32Children’s books have changed a lot over the years. I guess so has so much of the media aimed at kids. I was reading a classic, CURIOUS GEORGE to my two-year old last night, I came across this one picture of George relaxing after a hard day smoking a pipe. Ok, this was written during the MAD MEN era. But I still found it rather funny, Then I started thinking of other cartoons that were from my childhood that were doing inappropriate things.

I thought about the HAMM’S BEAR and baseball…


PETER PAN and the insulting “indian dance…

The list goes on and on.


2014-07-30 23.33.51Every so often it is time to clean out the books on my nightstand. Each of the following are titles that I am either currently reading, browsing or have finished. I enjoyed each one but for different reasons. This is a circumstance that physical books are better than ebooks. I can pile them up and grab what I want. Sureit can be done via digital too, but I like the “feel” of the physical.





1) FLATLAND – (Edwin A. Abbott – Shambhala Pocket Classics) – A book that was originally written in the late 1800s. The world is two-dimensional and then a 3D character enters. The “disruption” of the current society scares people and the react with anger. In addition to the wonderful and timeless fable, I enjoy the format this book is in. It is part of Shambhala’s Pocket Classic series and the small trim size is perfect for traveling and collecting.



2) BEAT THE DEALER (Edward O. Thorp – Vintage) — This is a book that is a MUST read for anyone who plays or wants to play blackjack. Thorp is the creator of the basic strategy and county cards that is used by all who actually try to win at 21. Thorp is a math genius and figured out how to beat the casinos. The book is 50 years old. The strategy is still as relavent as it was 1/2 a century ago and the history of Thorp’s process is still spot on. But the book cold use a revision. I feel it could be updated, reported and be a best-seller again. This one is worth re-invensting (if even the ebook only).



3) CHOPPER (Mark Brandon Read – John Blake Publishing) — I was given this book by a friend in Australia. I had never heard of this guy until I received the book. He was a criminal and a killer — but had a fascinating story. The book was delivered by the Book Depository. This company is amazing in that they deliver physical books throughout the world and do so efficiently and reasonable on their prices. A threat to Amazon’s dominance – so that is why they were sold to the Seattle-based on-line giant a few years ago.




4) WRITING DOWN THE BONES (Natalie Goldberg – Shambhala) — This is another great book. If you want to be more creative (and everyone should), then this is one of those primers that you should read. I write notes throughout my book, draw ideas and just generally use the book as a “notebook.” I have tried to do that is ebooks and just doesn’t work. My drawings and notes in the physical book are far superior than writing notes by computer onto an ebook.




5) FIERCE PATRIOT (Robert L. O’Connell — Random House) — The subtitle is “The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman.” I have read numerous books on Sherman and the U.S. Civil War, but this one added to my understanding. Sherman was one of the heroes of the North and one of the key people in the winning of the War. He was border-line crazy and could have easily been lost to history. It does show how fate can be a fine-line and how a few events can change the course of history. Another fact, when Sherman was marching through the South, he had an advantage because he had surveyed the entire area earlier in his career. He had a photographic memory and knew the terrain and landscape better than anyone.


00259589-481019_6006) HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES (Mark Stein — Smithsonian Books) — When I first saw this book, I immediately bought it. I thought to myself, “this is a great idea, I can’t believe it has not been done before.” I didn’t read this book in sequence (although the author suggests doing so). But I have read it enough times that I understood it all. Again, just like so much about history, many states shapes ended up that way by a quirk of fate. Some because someone just asked or even there was enough money to influence Congress. It also illustrates that the “firm borders” many think are set is stone are all relatively recent and are not sacred. They can be changed again and again if desired.



7) THE ROLLING STONES : ITS ONLY ROCK AND ROLL : SONG BY SONG (Steve Appleford — Schirmer Books) — I am a huge Stones fans. This is a good book for providing the back story to their songs. I enjoyed the book and still refer back to it from time to time. It isn’t as good as Steve Turner’s A HARD DAY’S WRITE about the Beatles’ songs. But it is still a wonderful resource. I have probably read twenty books on the Rolling Stones and have many more to go. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need.”


imagesIt has been over six weeks since my last post. I have always tried to put up something at least 2x a month and my original goal was 4x a month. I generally have kept to that schedule. Some of the time it is a short post and just to get a thought conveyed. Some of the time it is a longer post that has depth. I have even taken to drawing and then making a post based on that.

I also blog for Digital Book World. I generally put more polished posts there – I will write and rewrite many of those 5-6 times. Since it is a site that gets considerably more traffic than mine, I want to make sure it is free of error (or at least as much as possible).

So this post is just one that I am pushing forward on. I guess I could say I have “blog writers block.” I have been unable to put something down. The funny thing is I have written some ideas down and noted that I will turn them into a post. But I just never converted.

This is a post about nothing.

This is a post about the block.

This is a post to just have a post.

Some of the time, the best way to get unstuck is to write about being stuck.

A blank screen is actually filled with something — but nothing.


I have been consulting for five fulfilling years. I started 38enso after I left the corporate world in Feb 2009. enso_twitter-225x300

When I started consulting, Amazon’s Kindle was a year old and eBooks were just starting to make a dent in the industry. B&N Nook was viewed as a real challenger to Amazon. Apple had not even released the first iPad. The retail eBook market was just starting out.

Today, five years later, Amazon is still in charge but they have evolved every year. Apple is a solid second place although they are still a long ways away. B&N Nook continues to drop in sales and many wonder what is next for them.

I started consulting as many publishers had just started (or not at all) into the digital realm. Many knew they had to set up a workflow, but were not sure of what the next steps were.

I also was able to experience first hand the controversies regarding ebooks and public libraries. Overdrive has been in the space longer than anyone and was the leader then and still is. Although 3M and Baker & Taylor Axis 360 have entered the space.

I also was able to help 6-7 start-ups to enter the publishing world. In addition to consulting for that group, I also probably spoke with 30+ companies. The disruption of the industry opened up an entire new revenue stream and opportunities for new companies. Most will not make it, but the ones that do have and will be part of the new way to sell and market books (print and eBooks).

I am lucky in that I was consulting during a time of great change. The change and the uncertain future opens up opportunities for a need for outside expertise. I was able to absorb a lot of new ways of doing things, hear a lot of new ideas and be completely outside the bubble but still understand the impact.

I am now putting my consulting company on hold.

I have accepted a full-time position with Highlights/Boyds Mills Press – the book division of Highlights for Children. The time is right to go back to a publisher. Highlights is a wonderful company with a strong brand and major upside. I am excited to be working for them.


02.28.2014, Comments Off, Books, by .

CREATIVITY, INC. — I finished reading this book last week. images

It will be a Classic. It is the story of Pixar.

The subtitle is “Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration.” That is a mouthful.

The book is Ed Catmull‘s story. Catmull co-founded Pixar with John Lasseter. Add in 26 years with Steve Jobs and how Pixar grew from a small money-losing segment of George Lucas’ empire to taking over Disney Animation is a true fairly tale.

The writer is Amy Wallace. She did a great job. Wallace has written for over 20 major magazines. She recently did a piece in NY Times Magazine on Baz Luhrmann That was an insight into brilliance too.

This is a business management book. It is about how to manage a successful company but still retain the creative spark. How do you become corporate and bottom-line driven. but also remain fresh, new and relevant?

The book will appeal to so many segments:

    • Pixar
    • Animation
    • Disney
    • Steve Jobs
    • Tech
    • Business
    • Leadership
    • Movies
    • Zen
    • Toy Story
    • Transitions
    • Growth

I have been tweeting as I have been reading. I probably sent 40 tweets over the past few weeks. I don’t have a lot of followers (<1,000), but I still like tweeting and feel it effective. What has been so cool is the co-author, @msamywallace has been kind enough to re-tweet me on numerous occasions. Thank you Amy.

The front of the book has a letter from editor Andy Ward. His email was on the page so i figured I would ping him and mention how much I enjoyed the book and especially the afterword. The afterword is 18-pages about Steve Jobs (The Steve We Knew). It is a great counter-balance to Isaacson’s authorized biography. I loved Isaacson, but would very much like to see more about Jobs from Catmull’s perspective. Andy mentioned there was more… Hopefully they will release (short ebook?). There is also a very helpful appendix titled Starting Points. It has 33 comments and thoughts for “managing a creative culture.”

Who published the book? From the title page:

Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of

The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC,

a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

That is a mouthful.

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

Goes on sale 4.18.14