Friday, 30 April 2010

It's a crime...

We're so excited about the launch of our eCC imprint - eBook versions of Creme de la Crime's fabulous crime titles! Our guest blogger is Lynne Patrick, managing director of crime publisher Creme de la Crime.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that technology and I do not get along.

I’m probably the only person in the free world who doesn’t own a mobile phone, and wouldn’t know how to work it if I did. (OK, I do use a computer, because it seems to be impossible to function without one; but I’ve learned how to use it on a need basis, and if I don’t need it, it’s foreign territory.)

So about this time last year when eBooks began to make their presence felt, my first reaction was to run away and hide.

But it soon became all too clear that I wasn’t going to be able to ignore them, since they were shaping up to become the biggest book trade development since Caxton invented the printing press.

I went to a meeting at which young men in sharp suits used a lot of words I didn’t understand, and came away with my head spinning and just two coherent thoughts in it: first and loudest, do I really have to do this?, and second, if I do, can I just license the rights, as I do with audio and large print?

The answer to the first question was yes, of course I do; it’s the future.

The second was harder: something that would be possible at some point, no doubt, but at this early stage of the new game, no one seemed to know where to look for it.

And then, on a very wet night last summer, at a great party at the home of a good friend who has been a great support to Crème de la Crime for the past few years, I found myself talking to a woman a little younger than me – OK, quite a lot younger – whose energy and enthusiasm for life seemed to emanate from her in waves.

That woman was Ali Muirden. It turned out she had been looking for a way to expand Creative Content into fiction, just as I had been looking for a way to get into eBooks which didn’t make my head spin.

One painless meeting, several long phone calls and an awful lot of e-mails later, we had an agreement. Crème de la Crime supplies the books, Creative Content takes care of the part that makes me dizzy. The upshot was that we launch our joint ebook imprint eCC this month with four of Crème de la Crime’s most popular titles, and after that the sky’s the limit… well, maybe not quite, but fingers are firmly crossed for a big success.

Everywhere I go, people ask me if printed books are in their death throes. Luddite to the end, my answer is always, not if I can help it! But ereaders and ebooks will surely introduce the enormous pleasures of the printed word to a whole new audience for whom gadgets and gizmos are an essential part of life. And I’m hoping our books will be available in places where previously they weren’t. And that has to be a good thing.

So though I’m glad Creative Content was around to take care of the part my low-tech brain will never properly connect with, I’m delighted to raise a glass to this piece of new hi-tech wizardry.

And to meeting people at parties… Maybe I should get out more. - Lynne Patrick

photo by xchanttelx

Friday, 23 April 2010

Life in the Digital Fast Lane

Ali Muirden's recent article on a brave new world.

s an old saying that if you want to make a million in publishing, youd better start off with two million - and, as is the nature of a cliché, it has the ring of truth.

However, since the world of publishing was forced to go digital, the opportunities that are opening up for would-be publishing entrepreneurs have never been brighter - although some might say things have also never been more problematic.

As someone who cut her publishing teeth during the heyday of long boozy publishing lunches, wild launch parties and book sales resembling international telephone numbers, I could perhaps be forgiven for wailing for the good old days” – but instead, I’m looking hopefully towards the future.

Sales of digital downloads are on the increase. In the US they have grown rapidly from just 6% of the audio market in 2004, to 21% in 2008. Total audio sales in the US are currently estimated to be $1 billion at retail. Sales of pre-loaded MP3 players like Playaway have risen to 3% of the market in the last year alone and have proved to be popular with US public libraries and the US military.

Meanwhile, CD sales in the US market have fallen from 78% in 2007 to 72% in 2008. Is this clear evidence that download is at last cannibalising physical-format sales? Interestingly, library sales are down in the US too, from 43% to just 32%. This could be due to library users migrating to download, or the result of funding cuts in the library sector, which has been hard hit since the US economy crashed.

Sadly, there are no up to date turnover figures available for the UK. The most recent figures published by the UK Audio Publishers Association showed that the UK audio market was worth £72 million retail in 2006/7. Download is now estimated by some to be worth 12-15% of the UK audio market, but there are no firm figures available to prove or disprove this.

In my previous life as Audio Publisher for Macmillan UK, I watched with ever increasing interest the exponential sales growth of our digital download sales in audio and quickly recognized the potential advantages that publishing in a digital-only format can offer:

Firstly, you have no expensive CD and print manufacturing costs, no stock inventory to fund, no warehousing charges to consider, no CDs or cassettes gathering dust, waiting to be shipped to (and from!) a high street retailer. Secondly, there are no expensive teams of key account managers or sales reps to be factored in. Thirdly - and best of all – there are no returns at the end of the line.

But what are the disadvantages of publishing in digital audio format alone?

Download is still not widely understood by a generation that favours the audiobook ; they will need convincing to move to this new format. Historically, the main demographic for audio book downloads has been the professional male in the 24 - 45 age bracket, although research shows this is beginning to change and, I suspect, will become more evenly split between male and female in the next few years.

In April 2007, Apple announced it had sold over 100 million iPods worldwide and that 70% of new cars now come equipped with an iPod integration system. Interestingly, research has compared users of the iPod touch with the iPhone and reported that 74% of users of the iPhone are over 24 years old and 70% male. Publishers need to bear this demographic in mind when tailoring their content to this market.

Customers tend to want unabridged products, which are expensive to produce - and the download market is still only a fraction of the CD retail market. It is a challenge to publish unabridged audio editions and make them economically viable when you factor in this market share and the low price points they sell for on download websites.

Publicity for audio downloads in the media (other than online social media) is almost impossible to come by and, most crucially of all, the digital market has a business model that most publishers find untenable and many consider unsustainable.

There is no doubt this one area of the digital market will be hotly debated and negotiated over the next few years, until we get the revenue split to a level that allows us all to make a decent return on our hard work and investment.

But if you keep your recording and production costs low (and it is possible if you know what you’re doing), keep a beady eye on your overheads, focus your publishing to target specific demographics, genres and customers, you might even find yourself with a lucrative bestseller, which quickly earns out and starts making a profit.

I was inspired by the opportunities in the digital market to ask Lorelei King, who is now my business partner, to invest our own hard earned money in the launch of Creative Content, which specialises in digital audio publishing.

One of CC’s launch titles was “Improve Your Speech - British English.” This book has been so successful in the download market, that at one point it was even outselling Barak Obama’s audiobook ,“Dreams of My Father,” on iTunes.

Creative Content have deliberately targeted our content to the professional male business traveller; as a result we have been particularly successful with our self-improvement titles.

We’ve worked incredibly hard, had the odd set back (like the global credit crisis!), but have already broken even - and made a small profit. We have doubled our publishing output this year and are now expanding into the eBook market - and we are continually on the hunt for new opportunities and outlets to sell our books…. online.

And you never know… one day soon, we might even make that million. Without spending two! - AM

photo by urbanwoodswalker

Friday, 16 April 2010

A Leap of Faith

CC director Ali Muirden's husband Al has joined the freelance world and now counts Creative Content Limited as one of his clients.

Since my last CC blog, something monumental has occurred in my life - I have just completed my notice period from the company where I have worked for over 30 years, and stepped into a new phase of my life…. As a freelance sound editor. I think you’ll agree, that’s a pretty big step to take!

This wasn’t something I did without some considerable thought, I hasten to add, but having re-trained as a sound editor in order to work on Creative Content’s audio books in the middle of 2009. I was increasingly finding that my “day job” was crucially lacking in two things - it wasn’t allowing me to be creative and it wasn’t giving me any real job satisfaction

With my skills in audio editing rapidly improving, I felt genuinely confident that this was a skill I could also market elsewhere. Coupled to that was the fact that CC had increased its publishing schedule for 2010 and the seeds of change were sown…

Of course one down-side to the freelance lifestyle/work-choice is the uncertainty of where (and when) the next job will come – but luckily with a strong self belief in my abilities and the fact that this is something that I particularly enjoy and am genuinely good at, I am looking forward to the challenge of securing new clients for my fledgling business in the coming months.

Following on from Ali’s recent blog about “portfolio working” it also gives me a chance to put my other skills that I’ve acquired over my years in publishing into practice to help the CC team - I will keep you posted on how all this develops!

In addition to this, another big part of the decision to alter my working life, was to provide a little more time to work on my other ‘creative’ projects which include music and creative writing (I am also a drummer for several rock bands in my spare time!). It will also be great to take advantage of working outside the restrictions of a “normal” 9–5 job, to fit in a little bit of ‘me time’ and with the weather turning for the better, I hope that THAT becomes a reality too.

Watch this space for how this leap of faith develops! - Al Muirden

photo courtesy of Nickton

Friday, 9 April 2010

To Russia with love...

I was listening to one of our titles recently – 'The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – Russia’ – and it got me thinking how I wish I’d had access to this title when I was last in Russia in the 1990s.

I was in a film, which entailed flying back and forth between Moscow and London. Even in those pre-9/11 days there was a lot of bureaucracy getting in and out of the country – but one Moscow to London sector is especially memorable.

The production company had let me fly back to London for 48 hours to audition for a television series, and I was travelling with two members of the crew - one was taking the film rushes, and one was going to his father’s funeral.

A bit of advice if you’re trying to get out of Russia:

Don’t try to get out of Russia accompanied by a grieving, weeping, very drunk chippie who has the contents of the hotel mini-bar clinking in his pockets.

Nor should you attempt to leave in the company of a gorgeous, soft-spoken, five foot tall, 98 pound, blonde techie - whose passport says she was born a man.

The airport guards confiscated the film rushes and our passports, and after much discussion (not with us) and many curious looks at the little blonde, they announced that we couldn’t leave. My drunk friend was busy trying to light the filter end of a cigarette, so he didn’t really notice – but Blondie came into her own. Without raising her voice or making any attempt to speak Russian, she told them not to be ridiculous, the rushes were for an internationally significant film, and we were getting on that plane come hell or high water. I looked at the set of her tiny little jaw and the steel in her baby blue eyes, and I looked at the big airport bruisers with their Kalashnikovs ... and was astonished when - after a bit of a standoff, and at the very last minute - we were allowed to board the plane and leave.

Years later, when we published our title about doing business in Russia, I read, “If it’s important to success, then be absolutely firm – but explain your reasons. Don’t ever be weak or ‘wishy-washy.’ Russians will take it as weakness and exploit the advantage.”

My blonde companion instinctively seemed to know this, and for that I am grateful. We made the trip (with my grieving friend sleeping in my lap). I got to the audition on time – and arrived with a great story to tell. (To this day, I’m convinced that’s why I got the job!).

I don’t know what Russia is like now – the authors of “Business Etiquette Russia” tell me it’s quite different from how it was in the 90s - but it was so exciting then, and I missed it when I left. It’s an amazing country, and Moscow is a compelling city. I’d love to go again and see what changes there have been.

If you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip there - Udachi v Rossii – which I am assured means ‘Best of luck in Russia!’ - LK

We’d love to know: Have you ever done business in Russia? How did you find it?

Photo courtesy of neiljs

Friday, 2 April 2010

Woman With Portfolio

CC director Ali Muirden talks about her new portmanteau career....

It’s funny how a new buzz word suddenly seems to start cropping up all over the place, isn’t it?

A few years ago, the term “portfolio” working was something you’d associate with a Government Cabinet Minister (I never did understand the difference between a Minister without Portfolio as opposed to one who had one!).

But recently there have been tons of features in woman’s magazines like ‘Red’ and ‘Woman and Home’ and in the daily newspapers trumpeting the new “work/life balance nirvana”: portfolio working.

Maybe it’s because so many people have found themselves unemployed in the last two years and this is one way to make a living but still have a life. Or is it a completely new way of working that will evolve and develop over the next decade, so that in the future this is the way we will all work? It’s an interesting idea and worthy of debate.

When I mentioned this ‘new’ way of working to Lorelei, she just laughed at me. As an actor, it’s something she’s been totally used to doing all her working life. It’s quite normal to her to juggle several different “careers”; a bit like a top class plate spinner who doubles up as a tight rope walker and occasionally does a stint as a trapeze artist in her ‘spare’ time at Billy Smart’s Circus.*

As someone who worked for the same company nearly my whole working life, the last 18 months have been a bit of an eye-opener. I absolutely love the freedom and variety of being a freelance audio producer, audio publishing consultant and e-publishing entrepreneur, but what are the downsides?

Well, first up, the most obvious is the lack of a regular monthly paycheque. Then there is the drawback that any holiday or sick leave is unpaid, which gives me pause for thought more often than when I was a salaried employee, gleefully booking several holidays and mini-breaks every year! Most of all I miss my friends from work, the daily camaraderie and the witty banter of office life.

But I don’t miss the endless meetings, the occasional office politics, an average 200 emails arriving every day, 4 hours of daily commuting and spending a fortune on designer coffees and lunches in London every month. And I definitely don’t lament the demise of my daily use of the Tube!

These days there are websites dedicated to portfolio working.... they give advice on how to ditch the 9–5 daily grind and still earn a good living. Why not visit which gives information on the pros and cons and how to go about putting a portfolio career together. It just might change your life.

Will we all be "Portfolio Professionals" in ten years time? Tee us what you think. - AM

*Just to set the record straight: I have no circus skills whasoever! :oD - LK