The Shatzkin Files

We’re getting SaaS-y, going Hollywood, and starting to plan Digital Book World 2013

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It is hard to believe that we’re starting to plan the fourth annual Digital Book World conference, which will be held January 16-17, 2013 at the Hilton in New York City. But we are.

The first DBW was held in 2010. Planning for it began the June before when David Nussbaum and Sara Domville of F+W Media called me to say “we think there can be a better conference than any we’ve been to about digital change in publishing.” They challenged me to come up with an approach and to take on programming the event.

What I hit upon then as a differentiating proposition was to make Digital Book World focus on the business issues created by digital change in trade book publishing. We wouldn’t focus on tech, per se. We wouldn’t focus on how digital change would affect publishers who didn’t rely primarily on bookstores to reach their customers. It has long been my belief that general trade publishers would be the most challenged by the digital transition because their core proposition, their key value-add, was putting books into bookstores.

That’s worked for us very well. Not only have we had three very successful DBWs, I believe we have really helped focus the conversation about the digital transition. When we booked agents to speak at DBW 2010, it was the first time they had been featured at an industry event on digital change. Of course, the agents’ role — and the nature of their organizations — has changed as much as publishers and booksellers have in recent years. We’ve looked at the globalizing impact of the digital transition, how bookstores are coping with it, how publishers’ relationships with libraries are changing, and, repeatedly, how digital change is affecting trade publishers’ organizations, staffing, and workflows.

Then in 2012, Michael Cader and I formed Publishers Launch Conferences because, as big and sprawling and complete as DBW is (and with 30 different breakout sessions plus a ton of plenary programming, 150 or more speakers, and about 2000 attendees, it is definitely the biggest conversation about digital change for trade publishers held anywhere on the planet), we can’t cover everything there and we need interim conversations throughout the year.

As it happens, PLC is letting us focus on subsets of the broader conversation — one might call them “verticals” — that require a deeper dive. Last year we used that capability to deliver “eBooks for Everyone Else”, the primer for ebook publishing without an IT department, in New York and San Francisco and a half-day show dedicated to children’s book publishing in Frankfurt. Both of these ultimately enriched DBW itself; we made “eBEE” a breakout track and did our own full day Pub Launch standalone on children’s book publishing as a co-located event at DBW 2012.

We have two exciting vertical shows lined up for Pub Launch 2013 that will definitely spawn programming for DBW tracks.

“Publishing in the Cloud”, which we’ll stage on July 26 at Baruch on 25th and Lexington in Manhattan, is about SaaS (“Software as a Service”) for publishing. We think SaaS is starting to change publishing practices, workflows, and the IT departments themselves. SaaS will mean a totally different deployment of technology resources for big publishers and enable capabilities that were previously out of reach for smaller publishers.

Although almost all the from-stage presentations at “Cloud” will be by publishers who are using SaaS services, the suppliers will be there too. They’ll meet the delegates at their sponsor tables during breaks and will also participate in “speed-dating” sessions, where the attendees meet sponsors and the speakers in small groups that enable exchanges about the very specific challenges attendees come to the conference to have addressed.

“Publishers Launch Hollywood”, which will take place on October 22 at the Hollywood Renaisssance, will be the first conference event specifically designed to introduce the movie and TV communities to the new opportunities created by digital publishing. Networks, studios, producers, screenwriters, and agents in LA all control properties that would make books that can sell and can now be delivered at a nominal cost. We know of one major studio about to announce a program to sell 300 “classic” scripts as ebooks. NBC, the one major network not already affiliated with a publisher (CBS has S&S, ABC has Hyperion, and Fox has HarperCollins) has started its own ebook publishing operation. These initiatives are the tip of an opportunity iceberg and we plan to bring that message to Hollywood and deliver the information about all the new ways that exist for film and TV properties to generate more fame and more revenue that are now readily available.

Both SaaS and publishing’s Hollywood connection will find their way to the DBW program for next January. They join a list of topics we think are moving up on the agenda for publishers and that we’ll want to cover pretty thoroughly at DBW 2013..

Digital is making the world smaller. That creates opportunity for US publishers to sell more abroad and opportunity for foreign publishers to sell more here. We will feature more on export, more on import, and more conversation with international publishers in general next January. (There’s quite a bit of this on our PLC BEA show, which will take place on June 4.)

Pretty clearly, DRM (digital rights management) is an element in transition in our dymanic ebook world. We’d say that conversation began in earnest at DBW 2012 when Matteo Berlucchi, the CEO of ebookseller Anobii, made his plea to eliminate DRM as a way to combat Kindle lock-in. Now Pottermore is selling DRM-free ebooks, getting heretofore inconceivable concessions from Amazon and other ebook retailers as a result, and Macmillan has just announced that their division will make the same switch in the next two months. The future of DRM, and, more to the point for us, the impact on piracy and on the overall marketplace, will be front and center at DBW 2013.

Discovery is a topic that has been on our minds for some time, but it is getting increasingly crucial as bookstores decline. Discovery is about metadata, of course, and that’s a subject we’ve covered at DBW before (and will again.) Many social reading and sharing options are being developed. Whether these give publishers and authors the tools they need to propel a book to the level of awareness necessary to get sales and word-of-mouth rolling is something we’ll definitely be trying to learn more about at DBW 2013.

The importance of brand and community is increasingly obvious. I’ve been thinking about a whole conference on verticals (which we’ll probably do as a Publishers Launch event in 2013), but we’ll start that process at DBW 2013. The best example we know of a multi-niche publisher is F+W Media, the owners of DBW. I think 2013 may be their time for a more featured role in the programming. Under the same heading, we take note of name-gathering efforts at several major houses. How names get gathered, how they get segmented and used, and what difference it is making to increase sales and reduce marketing costs will be a prime topic at DBW 2013, particularly now that Pottermore has shown us a whole new way name-gathering efforts might work.

As the traditional paths to market (bookstores) atrophy and sales of books prove more difficult to get, alternate revenue opportunities are going to grow in importance. We know of some. For one thing, international markets are more accessible. There are also new business propositions like Semi-Linear “citia” apps for high-concept non-fiction and Yummly for recipes and food content that offer publishers licensing revenues. And publishers may learn that some of their future dollars will come to them in pennies. Micro-transactions enabled by Copyright Clearance Center (a Publishers Launch global sponsor, but also the purveyors of Rightslink, a capability we think publishers will increasingly find indispensable as a rights marketing tool) and AcademicPub, among others, will likely deserve a real airing by DBW 2013.

We’re also seeing new models developing inside and outside of publishing houses and we’ll be putting examinations of them on the program too. Late last year, Penguin launched Book Country (a portal to help fledgling writers improve their work and get to market) and Sourcebooks is pioneering an “agile” publishing model with futurist David Houle (a hit with our DBW 2012 audience whom we’ll probably bring back in 2013.) Sourcebooks and F+W are also trying subscriptions, a model pioneered by O’Reilly with Safari a decade ago. To the extent that DRM fades, experimentation is further enabled. New models will be an important topic by next January.

We’ll also be gathering data from any source we can and as we have at all DBWs past. Self-publishing is a subject that is bound to get coverage beyond Book Country; I’d love to assemble a panel of self-publishing authors that have turned down major deals (and have really done it themselves instead, not signed with Amazon as their publishers!) And, of course, ebook pricing will be a topic we’ll figure out a way to cover even though most of the retailer and publisher players feel highly constrained talking about it.

The digital transition won’t last forever. Transitions don’t. At some point, the transition is over and we’re into a new world. But if one prediction for eight months from now is safe, I think it would be that we’ll still be in a state of flux next January, with a year away as hard to predict then as it was last January. Digital Book World every January and Publishers Launch Conferences throughout the year still have a lot more value to deliver.

What I want from writing this piece are suggestions for what we should cover at DBW. What do you think the burning issues will be in publishing’s digital transition by next January? We’ll be convening the DBW Conference Council at the end of June to discuss this question, but we’d love to be further informed by your thoughts by then. Comments are fine; sending us emails (to [email protected]) is fine; making suggestions to us when you see us at other shows is also fine. But please tell us what you think.

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  • Thomas P

    Mike, have you had a chance to talk to the folks at Baen Books yet?  They have been doing much of what you are talking about here for well over a decade. 

    A free web based Community Forum for author/editor/publisher/reader interaction since the late 90’s.  Running their own ebook retail site DRM Free and mutli-format since 1999 and opening it up to books from other publishers such as Nightshade and Tor (back in Tor’s last attempt to go DRM Free in 2006) while still distributing Hardback, Trade, and Massmarket paperbacks to bookstores large and small via S&S.  Email newsletters and other social media outreach to the fans.  Running well attended panels at fan conventions on what is coming out over the next 12-24 months.  How many imprints do you know of where the READERS throw parties for other fans of the imprint at multiple conventions a year due to the sense of community built up around publisher’s brand?

    I know that Jim Baen and Eric Flint gave presentations at some industry conferences about a decade ago on their ebook and fan outreach programs but didn’t get much traction at the time.  Some of Eric’s thoughts on the matter at in a series of essays at

    • Our email outreach to Baen has been unavailing, but generic. We’ll redouble efforts. They come up often in these conversations. I’d love to put them on a DBW program.

      I guess they don’t read this blog.


      • Thomas P

         I passed on the message in Baen’s publisher Toni Weisskopf’s section of their forums along with a link this blog post.

  • Jimnduncan

    As an author, and not as knowledgeable as I’d ever hope to be on the vagaries of publishing, I’d like to hear publishers talk about how they should improve their relationship with authors going forward, to stem the growing tide of writers who feel that there is nothing they offer that can supercede what can be done with self-publishing

    • Jim, that’s an ongoing topic at Digital Book World, our annual conference that takes place every January. Last year, we had a fabulous panel of top publishers talking about that very topic. I’ve had two conversations in the past week with Big Six execs about this very thing. On the one hand, they want authors and agents to know. On the other hand, they’re trying to create competitive advantage so they don’t want the other publishers to know. Tricky…

      But I can tell you that one big publisher pointed out that their company does 3000 books a year. That’s about 10 a day. They use every social network known to man and they are getting feedback on dozens of NEW books every week. This exec made the point that it is very unlikely that any individual author knows what they do about what works, etc., even aside from their power to write algorithms and do sophisticated statistical analysis. I think that executive is right.


      • Jimnduncan

        Curious. Do you know if they have conversations with authors about this
        stuff? As a traditionally published author who has had a contract not get
        renewed and is seriously pondering self-publishing, I get both sides of this
        picture. I see the pros and cons. I honestly prefer the advantages you get with
        traditional publishing, but the potential lure of actually making a liveable
        income from sales that would likely give you vacation money from a traditional
        publisher, is incredibly hard to pass up for many writers. Would I trade off
        broader readership and bookstore shelving for having to do and pay for
        everything myself? If I could replace my current income and pay for health
        insurance (a very big if, mind you), I would do it.


        As it stands now, however, I do not have the time or financial resources at
        my disposal to be serious about self-publishing. I’ll keep plugging away in the
        traditonal manner, and I’ll probably at some point test the self-publishing
        waters if/when I feel capable of doing it well. Until then, I’ll keep hoping the
        publishing industry reinvents its relationships with authors a bit so that you
        don’t have to be a best seller in order to be successful.

      • Jim, you’re always basically going to get paid for what you sell. In a full-service publishing deal, they pay for marketing and other things and remit less of the consumer dollar to you than does self-publishing, which is at best more of a crapshoot and at worst just not possible to make work.
        Just keep building up your personal brand and make sure you can get your rights back on books of yours the publishers don’t successfully sell. If you build an audience, eventually you’ll make some money, one way or the other.


      • Jimnduncan

        Wow, my last comment did not paste correctly. Sorry about that. Eventually, you are probably correct. I’ll get rights back a few years down the road here. I’ll keep writing and trying to sell mainstream, and I’ll likely end up self-publishing books they don’t buy. I like the notion of doing both, and that actually may be an ideal situation. My agent’s company is getting into helping authors through both sides of the equation, so I have resources to tap into there. Speaking of which, agenting is a very interesting topic (which you mentioned for DBW already). 

        Patience is a key element, which so many new writers don’t seem to have. The “I want results now” mentality is hurting self-publishing. Writing isn’t an instant gratification business. You already know this of course, so it kind of goes without saying. 

      • Building success over time is definitely the most likely strategy to work.
        And a hybrid model — some with a publisher and some on your own — also seems to be the direction of the future, unless and until practices in publishing houses change to change that.


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