Enhanced ebook university

Introducing E2BU, indispensible for anybody investing in ebook enhancement

Last winter, before the announcement of the Agency model as the path to ebook price maintenance, some major publishers had acknowledged out loud that enhancing ebooks in various ways would be the way to keep the public paying print book prices for content.

That got me thinking. First I thought about the CD-Rom debacle of the mid-1990s. But then I thought: if publishers are going to be spending time and money enhancing their ebooks, maybe this time around it can be done thoughtfully and knowledgably. And that’s where the idea for Enhanced Ebook University, E2BU, came from.

E2BU is a partnership of The Idea Logical Company and Digital Book World, the unit of F+W Media with which we work on an annual conference. We are providing the content and our Digital Book World partners are providing the hosting, tech, and marketing. We’re delighted that, so far, Aptara and Copia have signed on as sponsors. We’re starting out with three core offerings which we hope the larger community of the ebook-interested will find of value.

Our White Paper, entitled “Enhanced Ebooks Today and Tomorrow: A Survey for Authors and Publishers”, is a soup-to-nuts survey of the possibilities inherent in enhanced ebooks, written for the publishing people, not the geeks. We hired Peter Meyers to write it. Pete is the former editor of O’Reilly’s Missing Manuals series and, as near as I can tell, the person on the planet who has done more thinking about how the ebook experience can be enhanced than any other. Pete was already working on his own project, “A New Kind of Book” when we met. He has written a really solid study, which itself was “enhanced” by peer review from more than two dozen industry professionals.

E2BU will also launch a series of nine webinars for publishing professionals on June 29. The first session in the series will be free. The kickoff program describes the “state of the art” for enhanced ebooks today. In later sessions, we will cover the complex rights issues that ebook enhancements raise, the complications of multiple platforms, the options for and challenges to producing enhanced ebooks, and issues of analytics and marketing.

Our webinar moderator is Kirk Biglione, whose Oxford Media Works advises publishers and others on tech issues. Kirk is also the Chief Technology Officer for the whole E2BU project. Joining Kirk for the kickoff session will be Jessica Goodman of Wiley (who will talk about their amazing How to Cook Everything app), Theodore Gray of Touch Press (behind the renowned iPad app, The Elements), and Rhys Cazenove of Enhanced Editions in London (the creators of one of last year’s most successful enhanced ebooks, Bunny Munro.)

In addition to the webinar series, E2BU plans a special session especially for authors who, we believe, will find it increasingly necessary to know what ebook enhancement is all about and to be preparing material for enhancement as they create their books.

The third offering will be the E2BU Resource Directory. The Directory will be an increasingly robust guide to services on offer to help publishers with ebook enhancement. It will cover app and web developers, software, a/v, development tools, digital conversion, media production partners, DADs, content management services, analytics, and social media/ereading platforms. The Directory will launch with over 100 company listings.

The entire E2BU project is overseen by Jess Johns of The Idea Logical Company, who will take charge of the blog and field what we expect will be many suggestions for more webinars and Directory entries.

So what is a guy like me, who is a skeptic about many aspects of ebook enhancement and who makes a living trying to get publishers to do “the right thing”, doing creating a program like this?

I see signs everywhere that, even though the initial impetus for ebook enhancement — that it would help maintain prices — has receded a bit, the impulse to explore the possibilities remains very strong. Our analysis of publishing’s “shift” includes the observation that format-specific publishing will yield to format-agnostic publishing. Format-specificity was a requirement of the physical world; you couldn’t distribute printed books through the airwaves and you couldn’t embed in a magazine.  When content creators and audience owners deliver to their customers through files, constraints disappear. Files can be anything: words, pictures, sound, moving images, amination, games, productivity software. Newspaper web sites have had an explosion of video content in the past few years; reporters are often carrying flip-cams these days.

And publishers are feeling an increased need to master video. On a recent tour of HarperCollins, I was shown the new TV production facility they have in the New York office. They do author interviews whenever authors come in. Last week, Peter Kaufman, a longtime TV and publishing veteran, was explaining his ideas about a holistic approach to video creation for publishers which he believes could save them lots of money and deliver them much higher-quality footage for various uses.

On the same day, I saw the Managing Director of an independent literary publisher in London who is currently hiring a video professor for his staff. Earlier in the week, we had a visit from a game developer who wants to develop game “apps” for publishers built around the characters and plots of books they are already publishing.

In other words, publishers are going to be spending money and effort enhancing their ebooks, whether Mike Shatzkin’s instincts say that’s likely to pay off or not. It would be best if that were a thoughtful process. Publishers investing in enhancement should do so understanding the full range of possibilities and having absorbed an informed dialogue about what their effors are likely to mean to the reader and the author, critical stakeholders who are sometimes a bit inconvenient to consult during development. We’re confident that the whole E2BU program: the paper, the webinars, and the directory, will help publishers make sounder — and less risky — ebook enhancement decisions.

I would add that while all this is going on, I am currently reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my iPhone and wishing that they’d built in a way for me to identify all those Swedish proper nouns with a click. That would be enhancement I could really go for.


What does a consultant do at the London Book Fair?

I spent a chunk of yesterday working on this post while, with one eye, I was watching the news about the volcanic eruption in Iceland that shut UK air traffic. As I post this on Friday morning with a flight scheduled to leave tomorrow night near midnight, I’d guess the chances of actually getting there might be as low as 50-50. In fact, the post has already been edited because two people from one client I was going to work with there — Copyright Clearance Center — already had to cancel because of the air travel disruption. I hope the post will be of interest no matter how this turns out.

It’s been a running joke between me and my oldest friends (none of whom are in the book business or digital space or anywhere near it, having chosen careers long ago as teachers, lawyers, engineers, TV directors, and other “normal” comprehensible things) that all of them wonder “what the hell does Mike do?”

It has occurred to me that readers of The Shatzkin Files might wonder very much the same thing. So while I’m thinking through my planning for what promises to be a very busy time next week at the London Book Fair, it seemed to me that writing about it would both help me think and spell out a bit about how a book business consultant adds some value and earns a living. And hey, maybe we’ll promote some clients and some of these activities of mine at the same time!

My principal mission next week is to talk to UK publishers, mostly to the digital strategists but also to some senior management, about the following initiatives:

1. I am just starting to organize the program for the second annual Digital Book World conference, which will take place in New York in January, 2011. I’ll be doing a post here sometime after London to enlist the help of all my readers in brainstorming and planning this, but what I’m going to do next week is tell publishers what I have in mind and get feedback and suggestions. It is an article of faith among the US publishing community that we’re “way ahead of them” and, indeed, I am not aware of conferences dedicated to publishers in the UK that are comparable to Digital Book World, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change, or the Book Business Conference and Expo. (There is London Online, but that is not a conference focused on book publishing.) Since it would seem that the world of digital would bring publishers of different nationalities closer together, not further apart, I’ll be looking for possible speakers as well as ideas, and probing whether it makes sense for our partners at F+W to really market our conference in the UK to look for paid attendees as well.

2. We’re also on the verge of formally announcing a new program in partnership with F+W Media: E2BU, Enhanced Ebook University. The White Paper, being written by Pete Meyers, is expected to go out for “peer review” next week. Kirk Biglione of Oxford Media Works, our CTO, has been leading our effort to craft a multi-track webinar program that will also be part of the initial E2BU offering. Since this effort is all virtual, we’ll definitely want to market it in the UK. I’m expecting UK participants in our webinar sessions (as “faculty”) and we’re recruiting peer reviewers from the UK for the White Paper as well.

3. As readers of this blog know, we’ve been working with Copia, a new ebook platform with social networking integrated in (and six ebook reader hardware offerings as well). Copia offers some unique marketing opportunities to publishers that are simply not a part of any competitive platform. So we’ll be using the London Book Fair to meet with the digital heads of UK houses to jump-start the awareness of this new platform and sales channel among non-US publishers. The response to the Copia presentation among publishers and agents in New York has been unanimously enthusiastic. Meanwhile, from the Copia side, we’ve been seeing that we need to engage with publishers well beyond their ebook departments; really taking advantage of Copia will require the involvement and creativity of editors and marketers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the UK publishers react to the opportunity.

4. London Book Fair ends this coming Wednesday, April 21. Exactly one week later, I’ll be addressing the AGM of the PA (which everybody in the UK knows is the “annual general meeting of the Publishers Association.”) My remarks are already thoroughly planned, of course. I’ll be talking about where the world of content and publishing will be in 20 years, predicting a world where owning IP won’t be of nearly as much commercial value as owning eyeballs. And I’ll be talking about a couple of publishers who are already getting ahead of that change. Then I’ll discuss where the US book marketplace is going in the next three years, which I think has very significant implications for UK publishers thinking about territoriality and global markets. But I’ll be using the book fair to get somewhat more acquainted with how UK publishers see their market today, hoping to find additional bits of relevant information to sprinkle into the talk.

The London Book Fair is not just about meeting publishers and publishing operatives from “across the pond” or around the world. Sometimes it is presenting an opportunity for us to work in person with US clients who are not based in New York, or to introduce clients to US publishers who are not based in New York, as with these:

5. I have also written on the blog about our “freight forwarder” client, SBS Worldwide and their eDC supply chain solution. Steve Walker, the Chairman of SBS, is speaking at the BIC (that’s Britain’s Book Industry Communication, their rough equivalent to our BISG) Supply Chain Meeting, an annual London Book Fair event. So, of course I’ll go see that. In addition, we’re using the London Book Fair to introduce Steve and eDC to a couple of US publishers from outside NYC.

6. In the same vein, we’ll use London Book Fair to meet with our clients at Bookmasters. They have a very broad suite of author- and publisher-support services, which have grown organically from their roots as a short-run printer. The range of their services really extends across the entire publishing value chain: literally from getting the book written (if necessary), getting it set up for printing or digital distribution with an XML workflow, content conversion, printing (POD, short run digital, or offset), and all sales and distribution services up to and including a toll-free number to take orders. And, unlike others that approach that range of services, they’re a willing on-ramp to publishing for individual authors and tiny publishers. Bookmasters is based in Ashland, OH and they’ve just created a new position called Business Development Manager for Integrated Solutions and put a new executive named Bob Kasher in place who is making their very complex set of solutions accessible to potential customers. LBF gives us a chance to meet and refine the way the propositions are being presented in light of real customer reactions and responses.

Oh, that’s not all, of course. I’ve been invited to speak in Ljubljana at a digital publishing event next year and the person who invited me will be available for a chat in London. I’m having dinner with the head of one of the big DADs (digital asset distributors) that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to know personally. I’m seeing a Boston-based publisher with which I’ve had some conversations about digital change to see if there’s a potential engagement. I’m meeting with an Irish publisher to be interviewed for a thesis he’s writing. And I’m seeing lots of old friends before my wife comes in and we head off with two of those old friends (and their dog) to spend a weekend seeing Scotland from our base at The Pineapple in Dunmore.

I certainly won’t be bored at the London Book Fair and now you know why new posts from me might be sparse until I get back to the States on April 29.


Do enhanced ebooks create a comeback trail for packagers?

This post contains a reference to our next conference effort: this year’s Making Information Pay for the Book Industry Study Group. There is a survey associated with this conference about how processes and job descriptions are changing that we really hope everybody employed in a publishing house — particularly those people involved in editorial, production, marketing, and sales — will take. If you’re employed by a publisher, please respond to the survey!

Even though I personally have concerns about the precious money that could be wasted on “enhanced ebooks”, I know that we’re going to see an explosion of interest in them and a huge escalation of investment in them in the next couple of years. That’s why I’m working on a new project called Enhanced Ebook University (EEBU) about which there will be much more to say in the next few weeks.

The idea behind EEBU is, to twist a quote from Mark Twain, “everybody’s talking about enhanced ebooks but nobody is quite sure what they are.” The first task of EEBU will be to survey the possibilities of what can be done and how it can be done. The process of building the outline for the White Paper that will be part of this project has uncovered a lot of great ideas that give me some renewed hope that enhanced ebooks can be more useful, and more supportive of the immersive reading experience, than were the CD-Roms we created 15 years ago.

One thing we’re hearing often enough now so that it is becoming a new cliche is that making enhanced ebooks is “like producing a movie.” The point is that there are many creative efforts that need to be integrated. This all makes me nervous for publishers. This is not their skill set. This is CD-Rom land. This is an invitation to spend enormous sums of money creating products that will never earn back their costs.

Now what I’m wondering is whether the enhanced ebook could lead to the resurgence of a diminishing breed: the (enhanced e)book packager. It may be already happening.

Starting in the 1960s and famously led by Paul Hamlyn, who consecutively created and then sold packagers Hamlyn and then Octopus, the UK-based packagers of heavily-illustrated books intended to be delivered in multiple languages became a critical component of commercial book production worldwide. The “packaged” book had a number of requirements that challenged publishers. They were illustration- and design-intensive; they required large amounts of subject and photo research that then needed to be rendered in a consistent and (for each title) formulaic way; and they required an understanding of design and language requirements so that they could be printed for different language markets with just a black plate change. (Some languages consistently take more characters to express the same thought than others and knowledge of those details was a component of the packagers’ expertise.)

Packaging evolved over the years. Some packagers, like Dorling Kindersley and Octopus, went for the greater margins of being publishers. With the greater margins, of course, also came greater risk as they invested in books, rather than being hired hands creating them on the back of a publisher’s firm order for copies. (One major packager — Quarto — evolved into a bifurcated company that is half-packager and half-publisher.) As the bookstore chains and other large customers like the mass merchants grew, they sometimes went directly to the packagers at Frankfurt, rather than waiting for a publisher to buy the book and offer it to them. That disintermediation reduced cover prices for the packaged books in those outlets which put further pressure on any attempts by publishers to sell the books in the remaining parts of the market.

Packagers existed for a reason: they added value. They organized themselves differently from publishers, focusing on complex project management challenges that publishers didn’t want. They set up important relationships, with Asian printers and with photo stock houses, and developed skill sets, for templated design and efficient assembly of books from multiple component parts, that publishers didn’t have.

So today we have ScrollMotion (which acts, in many ways, like a publisher), Brad Inman’s Vook in the United States and Peter Collingridge’s Enhanced Editions in the UK and, according to Peter Meyers — a veritable font of knowledge on this subject that I just tapped for EEBU — literally hundreds of others that now call themselves “app developers” offering up the equivalent of book packaging services for enhanced ebooks. These entities probably have a bright immediate future; they can do things that publishers will find themselves highly challenged to do for themselves.

In these still early days of developing the EEBU idea, it had already occurred to me that agents were going to be playing in this sandbox. When I first looked at Blio, it seemed immediately to me that authors had a key role to play and Blio’s very intuitive toolkit made it possible for them to do that. I included an agent in my initial round of readers for the EEBU White Paper outline because I believe that  before very long big agents will be hiring staff to help their authors execute enhanced ebooks. Meyers, who seems seems to have done more thinking about this subject than anybody else I’ve met (I’m meeting Collingridge next week at Tools of Change), also posited that agents could become the new packagers in the emerging enhanced ebook landscape.

One other point has arisen repeatedly in our early research for EEBU and also touches on another upcoming project of ours: the next BISG Making Information Pay conference that we’re organizing which, this year, is on “Points of No Return.” (That’s the one I want publishing company employees to take the survey on.) PONR is trying to assess how much the workflows and jobs will change in editorial, production, marketing, and sales as the digital revolution takes hold. That project intersects this discussion: when we make ebooks first or enhanced ebooks often, will the required skill sets change so much for editorial and production people that the current incumbents will be unqualified?

At least one expert I’ve talked to thinks they will be. A friend who has worked in trade publishing but who is now oveseeing vast programs that create college textbooks says that the editorial skill sets that work for print alone don’t seem to port to multi-media. I have heard this before. When we were doing research for the BISG conference in 2008, a digital operator at Wiley made a very similar observation.

The use of outside packagers for ebooks might not work as well as it did for illustrated books twenty and thirty years ago. Packaged books, generally, did not have single authors or, if they did, the author was secondary to the idea and to the package. In fact, the author was usually hired by the packager that had the idea rather than the author developing and pitching the idea, which is how the agented-author book usually works with publishers. That argues for the agent-as-packager model.

Or it argues that some kinds of enhanced ebooks — the movie-like ones — won’t be the purview of publishers at all. I saw somebody suggesting an enhanced ebook of Avatar. Good idea. I had the same idea. But the way I’ve been thinking about it is that it will come from the film producer. It would be a lot easier for somebody working for James Cameron to pull five minutes of movie clips and 100 stills and hire somebody to turn the script into a ten thousand word narrative than it would be for somebody working for a book publisher to do this. Why would anybody think a book publisher would be needed for a tie-in of this kind in an app and enhanced ebook world? The publisher was needed for thebook tie-in because the publisher put the product on store shelves. Publishers have no advantage over movie studios for access to the App or Kindle stores.

On the other hand, there are a lot of enhancements to ebooks that aren’t so movie-like and which would be more like what an author or publisher could provide expertise to do better: character description capsules; background material about a person, place or thing; back story narratives that would interrupt the flow for most people; links to sources or further information. It could be that the Baker & Taylor Blio tool, and other things like it that are coming along, will enable an author and editor to accomplish a lot of that. They can even mix in the video. But it wouldn’t make them qualified to shoot it or even curate it, let alone negotiate for any rights.

That’s the kind of thing we’ll be exploring in the EEBU project.