Four hundred words from Anita Elberse’s book “Blockbusters”

Rather than spreading resources evenly across product lines (which might seem to be the most effective approach when no one knows for sure which products will catch on) and vigorously trying to save costs in an effort to increase profits, betting heavily on likely blockbusters and spending considerably less on the “also rans” is the surest way to lasting success in show business.

[…]

With such high stakes and money tied up in a few big projects in the pipeline, the need to score big with a next project becomes more pressing, and the process repeats itself. The result is what I call a “blockbuster trap”: a spiral of ever-increasing bets on the most promising concepts.

[…]

Third, by extension, not bidding for sought-after projects makes it harder to get best efforts from sales and marketing representatives and other employees. After winning the hotly contested rights to a book like Dewey, Grand Central executives can forcefully make the case that this book will beat its competitors. (“It’s a sure bet to do as well as Marley & Me—why else would everyone be after it?”)

[…]

Fourth, critically, if entertainment businesses forgo making big bets on likely blockbusters, they will find their channel power waning over time. Retailer support is decisive in most media markets, In the film industry, the number of screens a movie receives from exhibitors in its first few weeks remains the best predictor of its revenues. Exhibitors want to see evidence that a movie is worthy of their scarce resources; they like nothing better than to know that a studio is making a significant push for a film and planning an extensive marketing campaign.

[…]

As this example again makes clear, the idea of smaller bets being “safer” is a myth. Blockbuster strategies reliably beat the alternative of more risk-averse strategies: the highest-performing companies in the entertainment and media sector thrive by investing a relatively large proportion of their resources in just a few titles and then turning those choices into successes by giving them a higher level of development and marketing support. It may be partly a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it works. And because the marginal cost of reproducing and distributing entertainment products is relatively low—especially compared to their up-front production expenses—and because of the economies of scale involved in advertising campaigns, the advantage of a bestseller, a box-office champion, or a ratings monster is huge.

More here…

The case the book makes is compelling and terrifying. It explains quite well the behaviour of most large media companies over the past few years. The implications for those of us who care about variety and diversity in our art and media are … disconcerting. Highly recommended for anybody who wants to be depressed about the state of art, media, and culture.

Knights and Necromancers: new books and megapacks!

Knights and Necromancers three and four are ready to be released but you can get them a bit earlier than the rest.

The third and fourth book in the series have both been submitted to Kobo, Apple, and Amazon for their pre-publication vetting process (which, frankly, can take days).

But you can get them sooner, if you really really want. :-)

Continue reading

Books of Christmas Past

My original intention with this post was to write about beautifully designed books from past years but I admit I lost my way a bit. No matter, it was mostly an excuse to talk about a lovely book published last year called “Íslenskir fuglar” by Benedikt Gröndal.

Benedikt Gröndal was a very talented man. He was a poet, artist and a natural scientist. He was the first director of The Icelandic Natural History Society in 1889 whose main goal was to build a Museum of Natural History in Reykjavík. This guy did a lot more interesting stuff but I honestly can’t be bothered to translate it right now. Maybe some other day.

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Benedikt Gröndal did some calligraphy too.

Anyway, last year Crymogea published Íslenskir fuglar which he finished in 1900 but it was never published. In this book he documented all birds seen in Iceland before 1900. He drew them, described them and wrote down what was known about each species at the time. This book is amazing. There are two versions of it. The normal one you can buy in book stores and the special edition. The special edition is bound in leather and comes in a wooden box. They only made 100 copies and each copy is numbered. It is, of course, pretty expensive.

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Paper package.

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Edges.

The regular version is awesome too. It comes packed in paper and on the front is written in Benedikt Gröndal’s handwriting: “This book is my property and has nothing to do with the financial aid given to me by the Parliament”. They left in a lot of his own writing and even used his original calligraphed title page. When his own handwriting wasn’t used, they use a typewriter font so it keeps with the old manuscript feel of the whole thing.

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Lovely pattern.

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List of birds.

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No more caffeine for this owl.

The drawings are brilliant. They’re obviously not quite what they do these days but you can just feel the passion and enthusiasm he had for nature. Benedikt Gröndal was definitely a pioneer in this area in Iceland. For this one guy to sit down and meticulously document not only birds but also plants and mammals at a time when Iceland was…well lets just say things were pretty shitty. Good job Crymogea for publishing this book.

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The Great Auk. Extinct since the mid-19th century.

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Eurasian Curlew.

Now when I decided to do this post I was quite optimistic about finding more brilliantly designed books published in Iceland in the past few years but I honestly came up a bit short. I must say the design of Icelandic book covers has improved dramatically in the last couple of years.

While desperately searching through Bókatíðindi I came across a couple of books whose popularity astounded me at the time. One such book is “Sumarlandið – framliðnir lýsa andláti sínu og endurfundum í framlífinu” or “Summerland – the deceased describe their death and reunions in the afterlife”. Yes that is the title and it sold out completely before christmas 2010, was reprinted in February 2011 and sold out again.

When it shot up the bestseller list in 2010 I remember briefly thinking that maybe we are a little bit weird as a nation. But it’s really not that surprising. We do have a reputation of readily believing all sorts of stuff. The book has a good message and was published by Guðmundur Kristinsson, a writer in his eighties who has quite a bit of experience in writing about these things. According to Bókatíðindi, it was published due to encouragement from beyond and when the dead encourage something I really do think it’s best to comply. And it all worked out. I’ll bet the big publishers were a bit annoyed at this surprise bestseller.

Another book that took me completely by surprise was “Og svo kom Ferguson…” or “And then came Ferguson”. It’s about Ferguson tractors in Iceland. When I first saw it I couldn’t help but wonder who would buy this book. Turns out lots of people did. If I remember correctly it also sold out before Christmas 2010 much to my amazement but in a cultural and historical context it all makes sense. Ferguson tractors were start of mechanisation in Icelandic agriculture. Before Ferguson tractors came to the country farmers used mostly people and small horses. As someone raised in the city what would I know about the importance of tractors? Interestingly enough a second book was published in 2011, this time about Farmall tractors.

Now I’d like to end this post on a low note because, why the hell not? The following is the worst book cover I’ve ever seen. It also came out in 2010 (clearly a weird year in publishing) and its name is Blowballs all over the place (it sounds even worse in English).

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Share the pain, that’s my motto.

Yes, those are naked people with blowballs (such a silly word) as heads. And yes, this book is real. When we opened the box containing this wonder we honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s just oh so bad.

Design highlights from the Icelandic book season

Gísli from Uppsalir

Like so many professional illustrators, I just happen to work in retail. My particular expertise is actually art supplies but the store I work in also sells office supplies and books. And since now is the most exciting time in Icelandic publishing, I’d like to talk about a few books coming out in this year’s Christmas Book Flood. During this time a lot of our effort goes into piling up books on massive tables, constantly changing the prices in attempt to have the best offers and flipping through “Bókatíðindi” (Bókatíðindi is a catalogue that lists all the books published this year) trying our utmost to memorise every single book.

There are some surprisingly good book covers this year and overall lovely designs. I just want to mention some that caught my eye. Now, I’m aware that most of you can’t actually read any of these books but at least you can look at the pretty pictures.

The first one I’d like to show you is called “Gísli í Uppsölum”. It’s a book about man most people over a certain age in Iceland know about. Gísli was basically a hermit thatlived on a farm in Iceland in almost complete isolation with only his animals as company and no technology. It was only in 1984 that he was introduced to the nation through a TV show called “Stiklur”. Now we have a book about his life, his family and the bullying he endured. Definitely a must-read in my opinion.

Not only is this book interesting but it also visually stunning. There are some gorgeous photographs featured in it and instead of piling them up in the middle like so many biographies do, they blend in beautifully with the text. They’re not printed on special glossy paper but instead simply printed on the same paper as the rest of the book.

First Chapter Spread

13th chapter: the unexpected guest

Gísli dragging hey

Last example from Gísli á Uppsölum

Now another book that caught my eye for it’s clever design is called “ð ævisaga” which pretty much translates to ð a biography. It’s the story of the letter ð, from its origins in the writings of Anglo-Saxon monks and how it became an inseparable part of the Icelandic alphabet. As far as letters go, I think ð is one of the more interesting ones but this book is definitely not for everyone (although I kinda want it because I’m easily swayed by pretty covers and ð is kinda interesting and why did we start using it in the first place? I actually do sort of want to know).

The biography of the ð

I’m always attracted to simplicity and the cover of ð ævisaga is just that. And I love their use of colour. From the bright green title page to the red chapter breaks and little bits of red text. It’s very visually accessible which makes sense since there are three graphic designers involved in the writing of the book (and one historian).

Ð examples

Ð in signage

Now these are the first two books I’d like to mention but I’d also like to quickly express my  delight in the republishing of some of my favourite Scandinavian children’s literature. Ronia (by Astrid Lindgren) was one of my favourite books as a child and one of the few children’s books I could read without crying in frustration (I’m looking at you Enid Blyton). And The Brothers Lionheart (also by Astrid Lindgren) is such a lovely, heartbreaking and traumatising story. A must read for all children.

They also republished one of Ole Lund Kirkegaard’s books. I’m not sure English speakers are familiar with him but he wrote some of the weirdest, wackiest books of my childhood. In one of his books a couple of kids draw a rhino on a wall and it comes alive. Another is about a boy who’s physically weak and gets bullied at school. He then meets a witch that makes him strong for a day so he gets a chance to show up his bullies only to become weak again the next day and life goes back to the way things were. I think it’s very important for kids to read books with a good message so I really do hope they continue republishing his work.