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Building Shepherd - Book publishing is weird.

2,345 authors have turned in a book list for Shepherd or committed to writing one (amazing as always 😃).

November 1st to November 12th
Busy, busy, busy :)
The last two weeks have been intense and I feel like I haven’t had many calm days. Here are some of the highlights:
  • We caught up on publishing book lists from when I was on vacation in September (nice work Serita!).
  • I hired a new team member! Cathy is going to be working part-time to help out with emails as things get busier. I’ve been training her this week and she should be in good shape by the end of next week.
  • I’ve emailed or talked to around 15 authors as I research what is working around book launches and book marketing. I am trying to learn how Shepherd could help.
  • A lot of work to test and vet the upcoming features.
  • I rolled out HotJar on the website to see how people are using the website. It has been super helpful to spot UX issues that we will fix. And, it feels great to see how many readers love the website.
  • And, what feels like a billion small things…
Over the next two weeks, I am going to clean up a lot of data as I haven’t been staying on top of that as much as I want. I am worried I’ve missed some authors when we moved to Zendesk in late August and I am trying to check everything to ensure that didn’t happen.
Book publishing is weird...
I’ve been talking to a lot of authors and publishers over the last 6 months and I am repeatedly awe-struck by how weird this market is. The below is a simplification…
Authors create a product (book).
A publisher acquires that product from the author.
Publishers pay the author a combination of an upfront payment and a percentage of future sales to own that product (depends on a lot of factors).
The author has almost zero financial incentive to impact the sales of the product they created.
The publisher rarely does any marketing or sales. But, if they do, they focus their limited resources on promoting the books that cost them the most to acquire or are seen as “winners”.
So, why does the author not keep ownership of the product and sell it themselves?
  • The barrier of printing the book, logistics, digital formatting, distribution to bookstores, Amazon, and all those relationships. Maybe call this the business side of books.
  • The barrier of marketing and selling the product. Even though most publishers don’t do anything here either.
  • For many authors, the actual product is themselves and not the book. So they want it published in order to help them achieve something else, open doors, etc…
  • For many authors, there is a lot of passion and fun in writing, so they just don’t want to dilute that with the business side of things. So they sell it off and are onto the next thing.
  • Time.
Things I am thinking about…
  1. How does the cost of print-on-demand offerings compare to larger orders to offset the physical cost of books.
  2. How hard is it to get an individual book into a big distributor to ensure that bookstores and other can pull it?
  3. How do you launch an ebook marketplace that competes with Amazon and its Kindle ecosystem? And/or, how do you hijack the Kindle to be used by other ebook marketplaces (esp that would benefit indie bookstores and authors more)?
Updates on the 3 key features
Reminder - We are working to launch topic pagessearch, and a new front page (previews on those links). These are the 3 crucial features so that readers can better browse for books (we only have the related book-list section at the end of every page right now). The goal is to ship all 3 of those toward December.
Update on Search Feature
Things are going fantastic! We broke down the complexity into small chunks which helped immensely. So far the data looks great. What type of data?
  • If you have a favorite book, we have to make sure we can recommend other books, book lists, and bookshelves around that book.
  • If you have a favorite author, we have to make sure we can recommend books, book lists, and bookshelves around that author.
  • If you have a topic you are interested in, we have to make sure we can recommend books, book lists, and other bookshelves around that topic.
  • If you are viewing a book list, we have to make sure we can recommend books, other book lists, and bookshelves around that book list.
  • etc…
Update on Bookshelves
Everything is ready for the developer, and we will start work after the search feature is done (the good news is this doesn’t have any complex features so that is good).
I have 900+ bookshelves ready to ship as of November 12th! I can’t wait to see these live in December! :)
Update on the new Frontpage
Everything is ready for the developer and the good news is this doesn’t have any complex features so that is good.
What else is going on?
My son got to experience his first American Halloween, the local ex-pat group threw an amazing event in the huge park here (picture below of my wife and son all dressed up).
Have a great weekend,
Thanks, Ben
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Ben Fox

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