Not Quite Fully Transparent

January 27, 2005 · 18 comments in Miscellaneous

In a comment to our recent publisher update posting, Evan Erwin voices concerns that Robert and I have strayed from our original commitment to total transparency.

"This is a very interesting change in tone, I think, as things are slowly beginning to conform to "normal publishing standards".

I’m not nay-saying here, I’m just noticing a trend. First the agent, then the loss of some openness, then there are 3 publishers whose names we won’t know (will we ever know the two losing publishers?)"

Evan, you are right.  There has been some drift.  We began this project with a certain swagger and did not fully think through the consequences.  So we’ve pulled back a few steps from total transparency, but I don’t think we’ve gone as far back as you fear.

Let’s look at some of the changes and why:  We claimed we would auction off publishing rights on eBay.  This turned out to display an attitude of more balls than brass.

This project’s primary objective is to publish a book. We are using blogs to prove certain points of the book and to get feedback from a great number of people who have an awesome quantity of collective brainpower.  But most, we want to publish a book and that process, like many business contractual processes is more complicated than it first appeared to be.

We are learning by the minute. We are learning about publishers and agents, promotions, bargain bins and all sorts of stuff.

Let’s go back to the auction.  We’ve pulled back because: (1) eBay won’t allow it, (2) Publishers won’t play and (3) the deals are much more complicated than just the actual advance on royalties, which is the nmber that is so often discussed.

Other issues connected to a publisher are vast.  To namme a few, there’s revision , international and paperback rights (we’ll forgo movie rights because I refuse to appear on the Red Couch nude). Then there’s distribution issues: Where will our book be placed in the store? The publishers want to know if Robert and I have the talent and organization to deliver the book on an agreed-to schedule.  They want to know if we can get our own coverage, speaking engagements, guest shots on talk shows etc.  We want to know if the publisher can set up a book reviewers/bookstore tour for us, or maybe a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times. They really will do it if they think they can sell enough books.  Publishers and authors don’t always end up loving each other, but it is a most symbiotic relationship.  Our book is their propertty. In the end, we get compensated by how many of them they sell.

Evan, we did previously name two interested publishers–O’Reilly and Wiley. A third has asked that we do not publically name them at this point.  We will honor that request.

When our deal is done, we want to announce the terms. The right publisher for this book will probably see the wisdom of it and will probably negotiate to get something held back. We don’t know how that plays out yet, but we will tell you.

Despite other comments we have received, we understand that if it’s a large deal, the publishers like it to be made public because it gets attention and attention sells books. 

I imagine its the authors who want to be tight-lipped on the small deals because it indcate a dubious commitment on the part of the publishers. Let me explain why.  The advance on royalty–the money we receive as we write the book is calculated by number crunchers who make estimates on the numbers of book sold at full retail, then as time goes by, increasingly lower amounts. The publishers get 52 percent of the sale at full retail, and then we get a negitiable amount–in the vicinity of 10% of that.  At some point the book is sold at "below publishers cost" and they will want to give us nothing. How we calculate publisher’s cost is subject to sometimes contentious negotiations.

We will talk about as much of this as we can and we admit we should have been saying a lot more as we go on.  The story right now is changing on a daily basis.  Robert has had the good fortune recently to speak with Malcolm Gladwell, and Erik Hansen, Tom Peter’s branding guy. Halley Suitt knows lots more than we do about the publishing business and she’s been Robert’s House Guest. Buzz Bruggeman, our mutual pal who helped get this project going is trying to put us in direct touch with his friend David Allen who has had a best-seller running for four years. We are learning fast and furious. 

Likewise we have mountains of arguments for and against hiring an agent and we have not decided, despite my promises to tell two of them whether we were a go/no go with them by now.

Into all that, Robert has been going through an enormously busy time, and I have been happily immersed on a project with Jambo Networks, advising them on their upcoming Demo launch, and oh yeah–I’m writing chapter 1.  We figure we’ve produced 5000 good words and have about 115,000 more to go.

So, Evan, to shorten the point. No we will not be a fully transparent book as we had hoped to be.  We will however, produce the most transparent book in history.  We have taken what Dan Gillmor started when he posted chapters of "We the Media," on his blog and watched how his readers improved his work, and we hope to move the needle.  Someone after us will get to produce the first completely transparent book.  Sometime after that it will simply be the way it is done and publishers seeing what can be accomplished in gathering insight and information, not to mention a full head of steam on the word-of-mouth engine may some day insist on it.

But thanks for calling us on the drift.  We’ll try to do better in the future.  And we’ll start telling you more about what we aren’t telling you, because you guys deserve it.


Jeremy C. Wright January 30, 2005 at 10:00 am

Can't wait for you guys to sign a deal as well. If y'all have some time for a chat I'd love to bounce some things off of you :)

Robert Scoble January 30, 2005 at 12:31 am

Thanks Carmi, we're gonna push every limit we can. Those who know me know that I'm a pretty open guy. It's an experiment though and there are limits I'm finding to how open you can be.

Carmi Levy January 29, 2005 at 5:06 am

You are both to be commended for your courage in even publishing this very private exchange on this blog. I wouldn't have the guts if I were in your shoes. Way cool, and impressive.


Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate January 28, 2005 at 11:20 pm

Even the term "blogging" is rather silly.

No one "blogs" as if that was some new or separate reality or what have you.

It's just plain old talking via typing, word processing, writing. That's all. No mystique whatsoever.

If "blogging" exists, then why not "web siting" or "wiki-ing" or "discussion listing" or "bulletin boarding", etc.?

Sure there are some special aspects to blogs, emails, online forums, discussion lists, BBs, chat rooms, etc., but it basically comes down to plain old communication, talking, writing, talking in the form of writing.

Despite the hype, "blogging" is not so radical. The software that makes it possible to post content online without HTML, that's new. How people are using blog sites to bypass the Main Stream Media (MSM), that's new.

But a "blogger" is nothing more than a "writer" who writes on a blog, as a way of "talking" to others, hopefully others, if anyone bothers to read the specific blog.

Curt January 28, 2005 at 10:20 pm

I think your case studies are going to be very important. There is going to be a real fear-factor regarding the reputation of bloggers for exercising a minimum of self-censorship. To many of your audience (those to whom you are preaching who AREN'T in the choir), blogs are adolescent and unprofessional (and there's no denying that that is one of the things they frequently are). Instead of trying to convince them that there won't be any problems, that there is no 'danger' to them, I think showing them these case studies in which taking the chance — risking their employees' and customers' *gasp* honesty — has paid off, is going to be crucial. Under no circumstances should they ever be 'reassured.' To blog — even with a trustworthy (whatever that means) workforce and a clear set of guidelines, is to take a real risk. But as my dad — regular Navy — is wont to say, "no guts, no glory."

Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate January 28, 2005 at 8:34 pm

Hey, that wimpy non-commital "I'm just not comfortable with (whatever)" is not just confined to adverse reactions to blogs.

Managers are notorious for being weeners when it comes to direct statements.

"It's just not appropriate" and "I'm not comfortable with it" often, not always, but often: "I feel threatened by your intelligence and gung ho gusto. I am starting to feel insecure and professionally challenged. I don't want my incompetence and stupidity to be revealed. So stop it."

But on the other hand, employees are not allowed to say anything they want in memos, on the company phone, to the press, to a customer, to a supplier, to a community representative, in letters with corporate letterhead, etc.

So what's the big deal about restricted verbiage and subject matter on a corporate blog?

Why does anyone think blogging = communicative anarchy?
Stupid idea.

Curt January 28, 2005 at 5:50 pm

OK, Shel. This may not be the best place for these comments, but maybe it is, since it's the latest post.

What I mean, specifically, is, within a corporate context, what would happen if (and I acknowledge that this is a very academic question) everyone, across the board, agreed to impose no restrictions of any kind on any of their officers or employees? No restrictions on confidentiality, on business plans, on individuals within and outside of one's company? What would happen? Would the world end? Would we enter into the blessed light of the Messianic era? Would we all wind up on post-apocalyptic beaches trading necklaces made out of hubcaps and human bones, or driving solid-gold hovercars through a disease-free Star Trekian future of universal wealth and honesty?

One other thing: The distinction you made earlier between getting fired for blogging and for what you're doing on your blog, etc. is one that is missed by some bloggers, but the distinction is a bit specious.

Considering the rate of use of blogs, this "delivery system" is becoming more and more of an issue. (Is the medium the message?) The things that make it a unique system — the interconnectedness, radical accessibility — make it a bit different than other ways of screwing up and it will need to be dealt with. At the same time, there is incumbent on bloggers a need to not be quite so histrionic.

Although, there have been several people whose dismissals did not have anything resembling clear explanations — several people have been told, 'it's your blog' and when they asked, 'ok, what about it? where? which posts?' have been told, ‘we're just uncomfortable with it.’ I think that's the fear of change that some business people always have.

Evan January 28, 2005 at 10:35 am

Wow, a whole post based on my comment. I'm flattered as hell. You guys are doing a tremendous job and I want to thank you for the response. Keep up the great work, and I'll be sure to chime in at the appropriate times.

Todd Sattersten January 28, 2005 at 8:59 am

I know everyone is talking about transparency, but I want to go a slightly different direction and come back.

You spent this post talking alot about the publishing process. I think this is great. My question is why don't you publish it yourself? I talked to Robert about this at BBS. I think there are a gazillion reasons why it would work for this book.

I think there are three reasons to go with a publisher:

1. Distribution – they can put the book lots of places
2. Media – If you need help with PR, having Crown or Portfolio on the spine is important.
3. The Advance – This money upfront often can fund the authors while the book is being written

So point by point. First, business books are being sold less and less in bookstores. It is Amazon for single books and 800-CEO-READ for bulk (dis: I work for 800-CEO-READ).

Second, I don't think you are going to need help with media. I think you will get as much as you want.

Third, you both seem to be doing fine. The advance might be great, but with self-publishing there is alot of money left on the table after you print the book.

I think you will also find you have more control over the project. I think it allows the transparency that people want.

Maybe, it is not black and white like I am describing, but maybe you should publish a limited edition immediately to get it out and then let the publisher take over when it comes out a year later. Or sell 10,000 copies yourself and have greater leverage with the publishers.

I think there are other routes you should consider.

shel israel January 28, 2005 at 7:48 am

First, a clarification. Robert and I see no conflict of interest as previous comments imply. Our interest is to write a book. This blog is intended to make it a better book, and to generate interest in that book when it gets completed.

Second, links and rankings, IMHO do not make a great blog. A blog is a success if it meets the author's goals. You can have a blog behind a password to hold a geographically strewn family conversation. ou could have a public blog that had no links and ten readers, but if those ten readers were the heads of ten nations and you were influencing them, I'd say you were a success. One of the attributes of blogging that I think is often overlooked is–you decide what makes you a success.

Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate January 28, 2005 at 7:00 am

P.S. I know when a blog is successful and when it isn't, but, since I am a paid web analyst and blogologist, that's privileged information that clients pay for, so, in fairness to them, and my bank account, I cannot at this time or in this forum reveal such hard won wisdom.

How's that for non-transparency?

Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate January 28, 2005 at 6:52 am

Very true "/pd" (pay day?).

Hiding something for dubious, or even dishonorable reasons, is one thing.

But spilling your guts about every little thing, and not being discreet or reserved when it's appropriate, is entirely different thing.

A person deserves to have some private, non-transparent items in their life: their sexual orientation or practices, their religious beliefs, medical records, past shameful deeds that have been compensated for and abandoned, legal transaction details (like publisher contracts, divorce settlements), etc.

Where did that stupid word "transparency" come from? Reminds me of "politically correct" a phrase which is itself politically INcorrect, for I have zero political beliefs, thus can never be politically anything.

I support Robert and Shel in being as honest, credible, and frank as situations warrant, and no more.

/pd January 28, 2005 at 6:42 am

Tom: I hear you !!. Yes, 'total ransparency' is an ultraian purist attitude. I don't thnik any human being is capable of being that. There is always the conflicts of interest that need to be negotiated. This could also mean that a disclosure is made, such that these conflicts of interest are laid at the table-without going into details. That is– one is not left hanging for an answer to certain agenda's. Its there, its become an issue which is delicate, private and personal business. By knowing such facts, the transparenecy factor is elevated. Being honest and candid is the essense of being who one is.. thats creditablity !!

SnoopDoug January 28, 2005 at 6:31 am

I find it interesting to examine the whole topic of "success" in blogging. Is it the number of hits/readers? Is it the number of other blogs who link to you? Is it the self-satisfaction of knowing someone, somewhere, is reading your words and groking their meaning?

Or is it yet another form of ego gratification?

Inquiring minds want to know,


P.S. One more question: Should bloggers post their biases up front? I've read a number of lucid postings on the failure of the mainstream media to admit to bias, and yet I find most bloggers revel in their positions despite no public admission of their own bias.

shel israel January 27, 2005 at 9:35 pm

I've fixed Evan's Link.

Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate January 27, 2005 at 7:35 pm

Transparency, bah!

That "total transparency" might be good for teenage confessional digital diary vanity blogs…

…but not for business or serious blogging.

A blog is a more dynamic, user-generated content, frequently updated form of a web site.

And a blog or a web site succeeds when audience needs are met. Transparency meets what need? Voyeurism? Blog readers of rock star blogs maybe wonder what brand of beer they drink and what their favorite nightmares are and what their dad said yesterday, but come on….

Transparency is never the highest good. Be honest, candid, credible…but I don't need to know every single thing about you, nor you me. That's a twisted interpretation of blogging and online interactivity.

Tom Guarriello January 27, 2005 at 5:51 pm

So now we get more interestingly into the depths of "transparency." The notion that any of us is capable of being totally transparent is clearly nonsense, and we all recognize that at some level. We all reveal more or less of what is available for us to reveal. Much of what is "operative" in any situation is not available to reveal, as both Freud and Gladwell have adequately demonstrated.

But then we get into the practicalities of transparency and revelation, and further complexities arise. To /pd's concern: Where is that point at which the transparency is sufficiently lost and the word no longer has meaning? Your friends out here want you to both be transparent AND publish a book. You've made it clear that when a conflict between those two simultaneously held, and perhaps conflicting, intentions arises, you're going to do what's necessary to publish the book. In my mind, that doesn't mean you don't REALLY want to be transparent about the process, but that you are having to manage the whole situation at once, not just one part of it. That can sound weasley if you're wanting purity of intent…but purity of intent is tough to find in the real world.

Let's just keep talking about all these things and see where it takes us. Remember, we're making this up as we go along.

/pd January 27, 2005 at 4:26 pm

First things first. The link to Evan is wrong. I did troll …but was lazy to find out exactly what you quote. Nevertheless, I belive that you say –what he said .. :)- ..nuff said

2 cents worth here.. transprency is the art of blogging. If you dont do it.. then the essence of it will be lost.. Thank your lucky stars that peeps like evans and other are actully willing to take the time blog the foo.. in simple terms that means creditablity and loyalty too.. i.e in the inverse analogy.. !!
correct ??

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