Archive | September 2015

eBooks are not taking over


Digital eBooks are not taking over from print books in the same way that online newspaper websites are destroying print papers, MP3 files took almost all of the CD music market, or digital cameras and smartphones replaced film for consumer photography.

This last week saw two articles on this debate. The New York Times started us off with a piece based on data from the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which said that eBook sales were down 10% in the last year. The very insightful Mathew Ingram replied with his own article in Fortune, which said that the AAP data didn’t tell the whole story, and eBook sales from non-AAP publishers were doing much better. Mathew went on to say

…the overall trend in book publishing remains clear: Digital sales are going to increase, and print is likely to become a niche market over time, just as it is becoming in the newspaper and magazine industries.

I admire Mathew very much, and we almost always agree – but not on this issue. Two big reasons:

First, while I agree the AAP numbers are incomplete, that only means that eBook sales are likely to be down less than the headlined 10%. They might be down 5%, flat or even up 5%. But they are not out there stealing huge market share from print books! Based on my estimate for 2015 final US book sales, revenues for print books will be down about 11% from 2010 levels based on constant 2014 dollars. Print has been AFFECTED by digital, but only marginally so. (And the US is the market which has seen eBooks have the greatest success: on a global basis print books sales have been virtually unaffected. eBooks are under 5% of sales in most countries.)

Don’t get me wrong: down 11% has hurt print publishers and bookstores. But does this really compare to what we have seen in other industries that have been digitally disrupted? US print newspaper ad revenues are down 78% from their peak; CD sales are down 92%, and film camera sales have fallen 99.5% since 1999. When we compare how eBooks have affected print book sales…well, “one of these things is not like the other.” 🙂

Secondly, the shift in the growth of eBooks from AAP publishers to other publishers (see chart below) is very real, and not to be ignored. But equally, I do need to point out that the kinds of eBooks being published by those indie publishers do fall into certain categories. They tend to be what is called genre fiction, often romance, erotica or fan-fiction. Nothing wrong with any of those, but they tend to serve niche markets, with low price points, low volumes and an element of “disposable reading.”

If I compare what is going on with eBooks and the print book market, it would be very different from what we have seen in music, magazines or newspapers. Digital disruption did not mean that MP3 files were the preferred format for emerging acts and polka bands, while Taylor Swift still sold lots of CDs. Digital shifts didn’t mean science fiction fanzines went online, while Time and Newsweek kept selling tens of millions of print copies weekly. And the newspaper story is not that the Moose Jaw Times Herald was crushed while the Toronto Star kept thriving in print. 

Across music, magazines and newspapers the digital destruction has affected all artists, all genres, all titles and all publishers more or less equally. That is NOT happening in the book industry: eBooks are thriving in certain pockets…but they are not doing as well in the segments that most readers and book buyers care about.

Andy Weir’s The Martian (now a Major Motion Picture!) was originally self-published as an eBook. Yay! It sold incredibly well…35,000 copies in only three months! Double yay! If eBooks were truly the future of books, he and the book might well have stayed there.

But he didn’t. He took a $100,000 advance, submitted to professional editing and added more content, and launched it in print. Where it sold hundreds of thousands of copies in hardback and paperback, and continues to sell out of bookstores I visit around the world.

To be blunt, most people view eBooks as a reasonable place to start, but “REAL books” come in print versions, and usually outsell the eVersions by tens or even hundreds of times.

Unlike other print publishing businesses affected by digital, and based on the evidence so far, it looks to me like eBooks are the real niche market.

The Martian


Advice to sickly speakers: please be seated


BMW CEO Harald Krueger collapses at a presentation during the media day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

BMW CEO Harald Krueger collapses at a presentation during the media day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach


New BMW CEO Harald Krueger passed out on stage at the Frankfurt auto show last Tuesday and generated some internet laughter. But as someone who has had to give more than a few speeches when feeling decidedly unwell, I didn’t think it was funny at all, and I have some advice for Harald…or anyone who is due on stage in 30 seconds and feels faint: ask for a chair.

Next Thursday evening I will be part of a North of 41 panel on “How to Deliver a Killer Presentation” (tickets still available here) at the Environics offices at Bloor and Yonge in Toronto. Our panel moderator will be Vanessa Cohen from Environics, and my co-panellists will be IBM’s Paul Zikopoulus and Dian Chaban from RBC Wealth Management. (Note to future panel organisers: please observe the 50/50 gender split. It’s not hard to do if you make it a priority!)

We’re going to tackle a wide range of topics, but the BMW example from this week is worth discussing as a sneak peek of what I am going to say. Why?

You may think you don’t need to worry about this issue. Maybe you only have to give one or two speeches per year, and the odds of them being on a day when you’re feeling poorly are low? Plus, speeches can be moved, or someone can fill in for you. But sometimes this CAN happen to you, and listen to your Uncle Duncan: fainting is WAY more common than you think. The medical word for it is syncope, and while it isn’t usually serious, it does ruin your speech…as Harald just found out.

In my own experience, the pre-conditions for a possible faint aren’t that unusual: lack of sleep, jet lag, a persistent cold or cough that you can’t shake, not eating properly/low blood sugar, too many meetings and too much stress and travel. Especially when all of these combine, you are a syncope just waiting to happen.

Assuming the event can’t be moved and there is no one to cover for you, I have always found the perfect solution to be 100% honesty. If you have even a suspicion that you might pass out, tell the organisers you aren’t dying, but you don’t feel well. Ask for a chair or a stool. (A chair is better, stools can be tippy.) Have it put on stage, and when you come out, tell the audience what is going on. “Hi folks…I am not feeling perfect, but you all came here to hear me talk, and I don’t want to let you down. So I am just going to talk while seated, and we will see how it goes.”


In the 4-5 times I have needed to do this over 20 years, I have never had an audience complain. I usually start slowly, but because I am not worried about passing out, I am able to keep my energy level high, wave my arms around, use my voice, and still try to keep things interesting. If I feel better during my talk, I might even get out of the chair and walk around a little…ready to sit back down if I don’t feel well again. It has always turned out fine! So here is my top 5 countdown on why this is such a good idea for speakers:

#5: Fainting on stage is really bad and to be avoided. Ruins the event, takes away from your message, and you will have to deal with a battery of annoying medical tests after.

#4: Fainting isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Not to go into too much detail, but feeling sick can have other symptoms too. That REALLY does not impress audiences. 🙂

#3: Giving a speech while seated will allow you to focus on how you present, and you may learn things about voice, projection, body language and movement that can use again when you feel 100%.

#2: Speaking while seated isn’t necessarily lower impact than bouncing around stage. Go find a version of Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia to set yourself straight: 85 minutes of a guy sitting at a desk can be more captivating than most action movie chase scenes.

#1: If Dave Grohl can rock the house while seated…so can you!


[All of the above ONLY applies if we are talking about a vague sense that you are a bit sick and might faint. In the last few years I have had two blood clots and a pulmonary embolism, and the only reason I am alive today is because I went to Emergency as soon as I felt something wasn’t right. If you worry you are having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious medical problem, go to a fucking hospital right away. No speech is more important than that.]

Facebook had a billion users in a single day. What does that REALLY mean?


Mark Zuckerberg announced that on Monday, August 24 over one billion people had accessed Facebook. That was a single day record, and FB has not yet updated their “daily active user” (DAU) number that was 968 million as of June 2015. But I expect them to reach a billion DAU sometime this year.

A billion is a big number, but how does it compare to other forms of media?

I can’t seem to find any article discussing that question, part of the problem may be that DAU is only an internet statistic, and most traditional media aren’t measured that way. But I think the comparison is relevant and useful, so I will take a swing at it.

As a start, the global newspaper industry says that 2.5 billion people read print newspapers. That won’t be every day, but it is probably fair to say that perhaps a billion have done it on a single day, likely over the weekend. But that number is likely dropping, and won’t be a billion soon. Estimates of the global TV audience tend to be around 4-5 billion, but not everyone watches every day, so somewhere between 1-2 billion as a daily peak seems about right. Radios are very common in the developed world (75% of homes have a radio) but are MUCH less common in the developing world. I would be surprised if the Facebook number wasn’t bigger than the radio peak. Other forms of media like cinema, magazines and so on would all be much lower still – less than 300 million daily users.

Therefore the Facebook billion is a good number, but not mind-blowingly better, right? That’s true, but we need to remember that TV, radio and newspapers have been around for decades or more…while FB is 11 years old. To reach a billion that fast is pretty impressive!

Next, how does the Facebook billion compare with some other large audiences in the past, especially TV? A broadcaster friend of mine pointed out:

…a billion simultaneous viewers is something television has been delivering for some time around major international events like the Olympics and even the Oscars… A billion viewers was the estimated audience for a single SEVEN HOUR cricket game earlier this year (between India and Pakistan) at the cricket World Cup…

I have a few points to make in response to that:

  1. The numbers that are often thrown around for global TV audience are deeply suspect. FIFA repeatedly claims audiences of over a billion, while the measured number is always much smaller…a few hundred million at most. There is an entire Wikipedia article looking at the likely distortions, with one example being the Kate and William wedding: estimated at an audience of 2 billion, the actual number is likely closer to 300 million. The Elvis Aloha from Hawaii broadcast of 1973 was claimed to reach a billion people…but the population of countries receiving the broadcast was only 1.3 billion, and a 77% reach seems unlikely.Aloha_from_Hawaii_Via_Satellite
  2. Next, broadcasts like the Olympics, moon landings or Royal weddings are highly infrequent events. It appears that Facebook will be delivering a billion people on a daily basis soon. That ability to connect with a billion people every single day of the year is impressive.
  3. More importantly, even if a billion people watch a sporting event worldwide, they are doing so across tens or hundreds of different broadcasters. The billion that Facebook gets is from a SINGLE CHANNEL, owned by a SINGLE COMPANY.
  4. If I were trying to buy advertising space to capitalise on a billion people watching a TV show, reaching that audience would require me to negotiate with multiple broadcasters. That fragmentation doesn’t exist with Facebook – it is a “one stop shop” to reach a billion.

Where does that leave me? After more than a week thinking about it, and doing a deeper dive on daily users of other media, as well as other famously large global audiences…I am now MORE IMPRESSED by the Facebook billion users than I was before. There was a lot of hype over that number. But the reality is even bigger than the hype.