26 August 2010
Phew! It's been a busy few months, but I'm pleased to say that I've finished work on my new Microsoft Office book, a sister title to my social networking book published by Wiley. I've just finished checking the last of the page proofs today and it's looking fantastic.
The book covers both Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office 2007, and there aren't that many differences between them. It takes a project-led approach, so that readers are taught what they need to know in the context of something useful. The book goes from the early steps of introducing the ribbon interface (particularly useful for those who haven't upgraded since Office 2003), and covers advanced layout in Microsoft Word, creating spreadsheets with formulae in Excel, creating a photo album slide show in PowerPoint, and making a recipe scrapbook in OneNote. There's also a bonus chapter on using Windows Live Mail together with Hotmail to send email messages including your Office files.
Each chapter concludes with ideas for other projects that can be created using the skills taught in that chapter. I hope this will help readers to see how they can use the skills in the nine detailed projects to do almost anything they will want to using Microsoft Office on their PC.
I've had a lot of fun writing this book. Some bits were challenging to explain (I took a few drafts to explain why styles matter in Word), but generally it flowed easily. I've tried to make the screenshots fun and colourful as well, and I'll be uploading my example files from the book to this website so that readers can experiment with them and use them as the starting point for their own projects.
There were a few sections that were cut for reasons of space as well, which I'll upload to this site if they make sense lifted out of context.
For more information, visit the homepage for the book Microsoft Office for the Older and Wiser. The book will be published mid-October (just in time for Christmas!) and is available for pre-order at Amazon now. Amazon guarantees that you will pay the lowest price it offers between when you order and the publication date, so you might be able to save a few pounds by ordering now (even if you're buying it as a gift for someone else). You won't be charged until the book is posted to you.
14 August 2010
Tom Scott has come up with a brilliant idea: labels that can be stuck on to newspaper articles to warn readers that the contents might be bad for them. We have warning labels on just about everything else, so why not on newspapers, he reasons?
He's created a sheet of stickers you can print out that covers the most common problems with news media today, including PR surveys masquerading as news, unverified tip-offs reported as facts, unverified plagiarism from other publications, and the publication of almost unedited press releases. My favourite one is 'Warning: Journalist does not understand the subject they're writing about'.
I've written about bad journalism in the past, including the Daily Mail and the Sun's publication of unverified claims of a ghost sighting, and the Daily Telegraph's poor research on a medical story. It would be wonderful to see people sticking warnings on stories such as these.
Tom Scott says that he's been putting the labels onto free newspapers on the underground, but it would be an interesting exercise to take a paid-for daily newspaper, and see how many articles do not deserve any of the labels. For a lot of the dailies, I'm guessing few stories will escape unscathed. That's one reason why newspapers will struggle to charge for online content: they're not doing their job well enough for people to be willing to pay.
All of the labels concern the reporting and not the material selection, so I did suggest that one missing label might be: "This is trivia. It doesn't matter. Read a book." Tom Scott replied that "one person's trivia is another person's vital information", which is true enough and puts my suggestion outside the scope of his project. Even so, I think poor story selection is also an important constraint on newspaper quality today. If there were fewer Paris Hilton stories, there would be more space for real news, and more need to generate real news too.
You can download the labels at Tom's website.
05 August 2010
Amazon's latest financial results show that it is selling more ebooks for its Kindle reader than it is hardbacks. Specifically, Amazon says it sold 43% more Kindle books than hardbacks over the last quarter, and 80% more in the last month. Ebooks sales in the first half of 2010 were triple those in the same period last year.
The ebook and hardback figures aren't necessarily directly comparable. Firstly, hardbacks tend to be much more expensive than ebooks. They're premium products marketed to those who are willing to pay a bit more for a luxury copy of a book by a favourite author. The stat released by Amazon refers to quantity sold and doesn't make reference to total ebook and hardback revenue, but ebooks tend to be cheaper. Secondly, hardbacks are limited run products while ebooks will stay in the catalogue permanently. The catalogue from which Amazon can sell ebooks is likely to be much wider than the catalogue of currently available hardbacks.
That said, the figures do show how the industry is changing. They prove there is an appetite for ebooks, and that Amazon has had great success in exploiting it with its Kindle device. It will be interesting to see whether this momentum can be sustained, or whether it is driven by the novelty value and people re-buying much loved titles in a new format.
For authors, it represents a great opportunity. Amazon has a programme that enables authors to self publish their work for Kindle. As I said in my article about how to self-publish with Lulu, distribution is not the same as promotion, so you'll still need to do some legwork creating demand. But these latest stats suggest the market might be large enough to justify your time targeting it.
Update: When I blogged about ebook buying behaviour around the Kindle launch in 2007, I said that I suspected ebook sales would be existing customers buying in a new format. I wonder whether the hardback sales are down because the Kindle sales are up? Amazon doesn't report any trend details for hardback sales.