Book Country

Taking book marketing where the book readers are likely to be


Digital marketers who want to sell books are increasingly turning to the virtual places where readers cluster. This includes marketing through the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), using the data mining tools available to target within those networks, as well as marketing in niches and online communities of readers (in some cases publishers are even building vertical communities themselves). Publishers are also increasingly turning to book- and reading-focused social sites to get the word out about their books. These vehicles carry an additional bonus in the digital age: they’re global and give publishers a one-stop opportunity to reach markets beyond their natural national audiences.

Goodreads, recently acquired by Amazon, has built a network of book-oriented conversation. Now with 19 million members, they have been for the past few years trying to show publishers how to use the platform as a marketing tool. This was, of course, their original reason for being. They have overtly built a site around books and conversation about books. Since the book business routinely deals in “comps” — books that are like the book I’m trying to sell you — Goodreads has a firm foundation from which to sell publishers marketing services. They’ve been doing that for some time.

What is not clear is whether that business will be reined in by their new corporate owners in any way. Amazon’s prior history doesn’t demonstrate great interest in marketing that isn’t Amazon-centric. And we know that big publishers are generically nervous about Amazon and not inclined to spend any more promotional money than an already aggressive large account with lots of coop buckets already squeezes out of them.

Whatever the extent to which Goodreads maintains its mission as a marketing vehicle for publishers to reach book audiences regardless of where they shop (and, as of this writing, the B&N link is actually above the Amazon link in their drop-down menu of “online stores”), publishers are bound to be looking for alternatives to work with as well. We think we see two of them emerging, although neither of them started out in life aimed at being a marketer of books available to publishers.

Wattpad is a Canada-based startup that is a reading and writing community. It preceded Penguin’s “Book Country” , started with social reading of public domain titles, and doesn’t have Book Country’s overtly commercial focus, nor its stated emphasis on genre fiction (although, perhaps inevitably, Wattpad’s strongest areas are YA, paranormal, romance, and fantasy), but the sites are similar in that they give aspiring writers the opportunity to have their work commented upon by a community of other aspiring writers. Wattpad has grown to over 10 million users. And it is a very active and engaged community. They publish stats suggesting that that users spend an extraordinary amount of time on their site, something like half-an-hour, twice-a day. And they have attracted such luminaries as Margaret Atwood to post content on the site.

There are already several examples of aspiring authors who have published on Wattpad, built audiences, developed their stories, and gotten a book deal including Beth ReeksAbigail Gibbs, and Brittany Geragotelis. And PW just did a piece on up-and-comer Nikki Kelly.

With its large number of highly-engaged readers and a track record of being successful promoters for undiscovered talent, Wattpad has recently started to call attention to the opportunity for publishers to market to its audience. It is now encouraging publishers to connect with its audience by posting teaser or attention-getting content in advance of the launch of a book. Random House, Scholastic, and Macmillan (for Amanda Hocking) have already taken advantage of this.

A similar opportunity is now also being seen by Scribd. Scribd is a repository of documents. It is often used as a “convenience”: a place to post court decisions or company reports or anything somebody wants to make accessible to a broad audience. In its early days, Scribd was seen as a pirate-enabler, but it has aggressively worked with publishers to make sure unauthorized copyrighted content is taken down. Meanwhile, it has built a vast treasure-trove of documents from 200 countries in 70 languages and is getting 10 million unique visitors a month.

That’s a lot of people looking at a lot of documents, giving Scribd a lot of knowledge about who they are and what else they might like to read.

Our view is that the marketing opportunities through all three of these companies should be understood by publishers. It is early days for all three of them, really, but as marketing entities Wattpad and Scribd are really just getting started. Some things have been “proven” to work at Goodreads, but, really, all three of them are like jungles still being hacked through with superhighway travel still in the forseeable future, but not around the corner.

There’s quite a bit of marketing activity by US-based publishers on Goodreads; it’s beginning to happen on Wattpad and it is a gleam in the eye at Scribd. But they all have big numbers of readers paying attention to their site and they’re all looking for ways to make themselves more valuable. It looks like Wattpad and Scribd are seeing the possibility that marketing for publishers could be a very significant revenue-generator, if not their principal one. (Goodreads started out with that hope.)

Painful aspects of the digital transition — the diminution of bookstore shelf space and the reduction of room for book marketing in the established press — are just beginning to bite in markets outside the English-speaking world. With all three of these communities teeming with non-English-speaking members, they all become tools publishers around the world will need to know about.

And that’s why we have them all speaking at our Publishers Launch Conference at Frankfurt, focused on what meaningful marketing reach they can offer to publishers outside the US. As conference programmers, we look for those win-win situations where what the presenter wants the audience to know is information they will find immediately useful. For our Frankfurt conference audience, which last year had c-level executives from 25 countries, this would appear to be a bull’s-eye.

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Business models are changing; trial and error will ensue


The announcement late last week that Random House is starting three digital-first imprints was just the most recent example showing that publishers are exploring new business models. Just days earlier we got news of the partnership between Simon & Schuster and Author Solutions making S&S the third major publisher — preceded by Christian publishing titan Thomas Nelson and dominant romance publisher Harlequin — to put their name to an offering in the “author services” sector.

One might say that S&S is the first of the Big Six to take such a big step in this direction, except that Pearson, Penguin’s parent company, actually bought Author Solutions a couple of months ago and HarperCollins bought Thomas Nelson last year. So, in fact, three of the Big Six are now involved with author services and it is four out of six if you remember the other recent big news, that Penguin and Random House are merging. (And that’s not counting more modest initiatives like HarperCollins’s “Authonomy” or Penguin’s “Book Country”.)

I remember being on a panel in Canada a few years ago with Carolyn Pittis, the very smart digital pioneer from HarperCollins, who referred to the way most publishers did business — buying the right to exploit copyrights and then monetizing them — as one possible business model for a publisher’s organization. She explicitly mentioned “author services” as another one. That was before her company had launched Authonomy, a couple of years before “Book Country”. In other words, big publishers have been thinking for a while about “author-pays” models (just as the professional publishers have).

This really all follows the lead of Amazon, which has made a practice for years of selling a la carte every component of its own value chain. I was just reading an ebook called “The Amazon Economy” published by The Financial Times (an example of a non-book publisher adjusting its own business model to include being a book publisher, about which more on another day) that suggested that Amazon actually makes more money making its infrastructure available to others than it does using it to sell stuff.

In other words, there is potentially profit in deconstructing one’s value chain and selling access to it in pieces.

In a sense, publishers have known this for a long time. They’ve made the part of their operation that handles things after the books exist: warehousing, distribution, credit and collection, and sales available to other publishers for years. Some publishers, like Random House, have built distribution into a significant business with its own management structure within the corporation. Perseus, which as a publisher is itself a roll-up of a number of smaller houses, has built a distribution service that has more than 300 clients. Ingram, whose core wholesaling operation combined with the Lightning subsidiary they built in the 1990s to provide print-on-demand and later digital services, has a comparable publisher distribution offering.

But what Author Solutions — and a host of less robust (and largely cheaper) competitors — has shown is that there is also very widespread demand for the services that precede the actual delivery of books ready for sale.

I have no way except inference to know how Nelson and Harlequin are doing with their author services offering powered by Author Solutions, but the fact that Penguin parent Pearson bought them and S&S has now done this deal certainly suggests that ASI has a good story to tell. Of course, they are market leaders because they make money, and they make money by having good margins. And the prices announced for the services for the Archway initiative — ASI’s project with S&S — are higher than those services could be purchased for elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they won’t sell lots of aspiring authors on using them.

This is all very logical, but also very tricky. Most publishers — at least until very recently — would have thought about the services they sold in a distribution bundle as “commodities”, widely available and highly comparable. It is true that any of the major publishers, many minor ones, and distributors even beyond Ingram and Perseus can deliver the core capabilities: active accounts with all the major retailers, the ability to transact with them and collect the money, and placement of the messages of availability throughout the supply chain. Obviously, they all strive to do these things better than the next guy and to justify charging a point or two more because they’re better at it.

But further up the value chain the publishers’ pride and belief in a qualitative difference between what they have and what the next guy has is much greater. Publishers generally believe in their editors and marketers more than they believe in their sales forces and warehouses. (Buddies of mine in sales 20 years ago used to say, with conscious irony, that there were two kinds of books: editorial successes and sales and marketing failures.) They see their time and bandwidth as precious. They are far more reluctant to make that time available for rent and, in fact, it would appear that all three of the big publisher deals with Author Solutions rely on ASI to provide those capabilities. They’re not coming from the publishers themselves.

All of this sidesteps another important component of successful publishing: the coordination of all these activities. Successful publishing is the result of a lot of very small decisions: in editing, in presentation (both the book itself and the metadata, like catalog copy and press releases, that support it), and, increasingly, in the SEO tags and signals about “placement” that are included in the book’s digital file or marketing metadata. In the digital age, these things can change over time. Every day’s news — about UN votes or Pentagon sex scandals or anything else — could call for a change in the metadata around a book published a month or a year ago to make it more likely to be shown by the search engine queries being placed today.

(The FT ebook on Amazon, which I recommend, makes it clear that Amazon also sells “coordination” on the retail side as an extremely important, and apparently much-appreciated, value-add.)

Indeed, whether to put more effort into a book or stop paying attention to it is — or should be — based on an analysis of sales and search trends, as well as more old-style measures like the reviews it is getting.

In the old pre-internet days, publishing books was like launching rockets. Most crashed to the earth, some went into orbit. But the publisher’s efforts — most of the time — were limited to the launch. Then the marketing team could move on. This was not a way of doing business that was appealing to authors, but it was consistent with the realities of the marketplace. The big book chains wouldn’t keep a title in stock if its sales appeal wasn’t evident at the cash register within 90 days. Without copies of a title in the stores, there was no point to the publisher pushing it.

That’s something that has changed dramatically in the digital age. With some titles and genres achieving half their sales through ebooks or online bookselling, there is no longer a time limit on marketing effectiveness. In what is a subject we will certainly explore at a future conference, this must be causing traffic jams in publishers’ marketing departments. They can no longer be counting on the older titles making way and clearing marketers’ schedules to work on newer ones.

Open Road is a digital-only publisher that works primarily, but not exclusively, with backlist. (Recently they seem also to be specializing in books brought in from offshore publishers and in helping illustrated book publishers break into ebooks.) What impressed me when I met with them a year ago was that they didn’t distinguish between “frontlist” and “backlist”. They marketed to the calendar and the events and holidays everybody was thinking about, not to the newness of their books. I believe this actually brought increased relevance to their marketing. Obviously, this was also making a virtue of necessity because they didn’t have a flow of “new” books to tout. But it also capitalized on the new situation: that the books don’t suddenly become largely unavailable because retailers throw them off the shelves.

A by-product of the extended sales life of books is that it makes it easier for publishers to cluster them for marketing purposes. Now four books on a similar topic can be pushed in unison, even if they were published months or even years apart. Open Road has made ample use of that reality.

These are challenges and opportunities that compel publishers to rethink the organization of their marketing departments and the deployment of their marketing resources. It is an opportunity for a publisher to extend its value to an author if it pushes an author’s book six months or a year later when a related title hits the marketplace or a news event makes an older book newly relevant. Since authors are increasingly able to do some useful things on their own behalf to capitalize on these opportunities, they will be increasingly impatient with publishers that quit on their books too soon..

There are things the author just can’t do. They can’t adjust the book’s metadata and add tags. They can’t push for or buy promotional screen placement from the retailers when somebody else’s new book makes them suddenly relevant again. Authors also don’t have the benefit of arriving at marketing best practices and rules of thumb by examining performance data across various groupings of titles: large title sets, categorized sets, comparable-selling sets, and others. They’re counting on the publishers to do that.

The publisher’s role in coordinating and managing a myriad of details has always been one of its principal value-adds and it can be even more so in the digital age. But only if they actually do it, and there’s precious little indication that they intend to do it for the titles they’re being paid for.

Jane Friedman (the blogger and expert advisor to writers, not the CEO of Open Road) points out that her alma mater, Writers Digest, and Hay House — the vertical publisher in mind-body-spirit that has done so well interacting with their reading audience — also did ASI deals. She points out that the big successes we all know about among self-published authors — John Locke, Joe Konrath, and Amanda Hocking being the headline names — didn’t go through ASI. Jane takes issue with the ASI promise to help publishers “monetize unpublished manuscripts”. It’s hard to dispute that publishers who are primarily in business to pay authors to publish them could be walking a fine line having a business model right alongside that charges authors for services that are unlikely to lead to them making money.

On the other hand, Random House has made an emphatic statement about the value legitimate publishers can bring with the success of “Fifty Shades of Gray”, originally a self-published story and now, very much thanks to the biggest publisher, the biggest commercial success of all time. No self-published book has come close and it will be a very long time before one does. I see their digital-first imprints (which they are not the first to launch, but seem to be the first promoting aggressively to the self-publishing diaspora) as a step toward a different business model that recognizes the new commercial realities of publishing. It enables lower-investment publishing — the authors in these digital-first imprints are unlikely to receive advances at levels commensurate with most Random House books — and perhaps they’ll get less editing attention too. Marketing is simplified by the fact that print isn’t involved and therefore retail stores aren’t either. So the threshold for profitability is much lower and, as we have learned, they can still decide to give any book in these new imprints the “full treatment” — print copies stacked up in stores — later on if they want to.

It is too early to judge whether the tie-up between publishing houses and author services offers will produce value on all sides. All these publishers now have or will have, at the very least, a stable of self-published authors that are contributing margin to them and in which they have a financial stake (even if they didn’t have to invest to get it). There is definitely inherent conflict between trying to make the most money one can from an author hiring publishing services and recruiting authors and books that will be commercially successful.

But publishers still know how to make books with commercial potential sell better than mere civilians do. Whether ASI and their partner publishers can find the formula that makes the promise inherent in a publisher’s brand productive for authors that hire services under it is a question that will be answered in the months to come.

Having more companies trying to figure it out certainly improves the odds that somebody will (and ASI has every interest in spreading best practices as they emerge). And more and more cheaper services for those aspects of self-publishing that really are commodities means that ASI and all its partners are going to have to demonstrate convincingly that they can add effective marketing to their offering mix if they’re going to be around ten years from now.

Michael Cader and I are doing our first Authors Launch show, in partnership with our friends at Digital Book World, on Friday, January 18, the day after the 2-day DBW 2013 will end. The question of where the line gets drawn between publisher efforts and author efforts is a major topic. We have a great roster of experts to serve as faculty: the aforementioned Jane Friedman, along with Porter Anderson, Jason Allen Ashlock, Dan Blank, ex-Random House marketer Pete McCarthy, co-authors Randy Susan Meyers and M.J. Rose, Meryl Moss, and David Wilk. Among the publishers speaking will be Matt Baldacci of Macmillan, Rachel Chou of Open Road, Rick Joyce of Perseus, and Matt Schwartz of Random House. This is a conference really intended for published authors rather than self-published, but it will teach skills and insights for any author willing to invest time and effort to sell their book.

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Full-service publishers are rethinking what they can offer


At lunch a few months ago, Brian Murray, the CEO of HarperCollins, expressed dissatisfaction with the term “legacy” to describe the publishers who had been successful since before the digital revolution began. For one thing, he felt that sounded too much like “the past”. “We need to come up with a different term,” was his assessment and he suggested that perhaps “full-service” was more apt.

I find I keep coming back to “full service” as an accurate description of the publisher’s relationship to an author. That’s what the long-established publishers have evolved to be.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that publishing organizations were deliberately created as service organizations for authors. They weren’t. In fact, as we shall see, the service component of a publisher’s DNA was developed in service to other publishers.

My Dad, Leonard Shatzkin, pointed out to me 40 years ago that all trade book publishing companies were started with an “editorial inspiration”: an idea of what they would publish. Sometimes that was a highly personal selection dictated by an individual’s taste, such as by so many of the great company and imprint names: Scribners, Knopf, Farrar and Straus and Giroux, for examples. Random House was begun on the idea of the Modern Library series; Simon & Schuster was started to do crossword puzzle books.

That is: people had the idea that they knew what books would sell and built a company around finding them, developing them, and bringing them to market.

And the development and delivery to the market required building up a repertoire of capabilities that comprised a full-service offering.

The publisher would find a manuscript or the idea for one and then provide everything that was necessary — albeit largely by engaging and coordinating the activities of other contractors or companies — to make the manuscript or idea commercially productive for the author and themselves.

The list of these services describes the publishing value chain. It includes:

select the project (and assume a financial risk, sometimes relieving the author of any);

guide its editorial development (although the work is mostly done by the contracted author or packager);

execute the delivery of the content into transactable and consumable forms (which used to mean “printed books” but now also means as ebooks, apps, or web-viewable content);

put it into the world in a way that it will be found and bought (which used to mean “put it in a catalog widely distributed to opinion-makers or buyers” but now largely means “manage metadata”);

publicize and market it;

build awareness and demand among the people at libraries and bookstores and other distribution channels who can buy it;

process the orders;

manufacture and warehouse the actual books or files or other packaged product;

deliver;

collect;

and, along the way, sell rights to exploit the intellectual property in other forms and markets, including other languages.

It has long been customary for publishers to unbundle the components of their service offering. The most common form of unbundling is through “distribution deals” by which one publisher takes on some of the most scaleable activities on behalf of other smaller ones. It has reached the point where almost every publisher is either a distributor or a distributee. Many are depending on a third party, quite often a competing publisher, for warehousing, shipping, and billing and perhaps sales or even manufacturing. All the big ones and many others, along with a few companies dedicated to distribution, are providing that batch of services. It is not unheard of for one publisher to do both: offering distribution services to a smaller competitor while they are in turn actually being distributed by somebody larger than they.

An assumption which influenced the way things developed was that the key to competitive advantage for a publisher was in the selection and editorial development of books and in their marketing and publicity, which emerged organically from their editorial efforts. All the other functions were necessary, but were not where many editorially-conceived businesses wanted to put their attention or monopolize their own capabilities.

About 15 years ago, working on VISTA’s “Publishing in the 21st Century” program, I learned the concept of “parity functions” in an enterprise. They were defined as things which can’t give you much competitive advantage by doing them well but which can destroy your business if you screw them up. This led to the conclusion that these things were often best laid off on somebody else who specialized in them, leaving the publisher greater ability to focus on the things which truly and meaningfully differentiated them from competitors.

Another driving force here was the way that bigger and smaller publishers look at costs and scale. If you’re very big, it is attractive to handle parity functions as fixed costs: to own your own warehouse, have a salaried sales force, and to invest in having state-of-the-art systems that do exactly what you want them to do. If you’re smaller, you often can’t afford to own these things anyhow and, on a smaller base, fluctuations in sales could suddenly render those fixed costs much too high for commercial success.

It is therefore more attractive to smaller entities to have these costs become variable costs, a percentage of sales or activity, that go up when sales go up but, most importantly, that also go down if sales go down. And the larger entity, by pumping more volume through their fixed-cost capabilities, subsidizes its own overheads and improves the profitability and stability of its business.

One of the things that is challenging the big publishers — the full-service publishers — today is that the unbundling of their, ahem, legacy full-service offering has accelerated. You need scale to cover the buyers and bill and ship to thousands of independent accounts. If you’re mainly focused on the top accounts — which today means Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor for most general trade publishers — you might feel you can do it as well or better yourself with one dedicated person of your own.

And if you’re willing to confine your selling universe to sales that can be made online — print or digital — you can eliminate the need for a huge swath of the full-service offering. Obviously, you give up a lot of potential sales with that strategy. But the percentage of the market that can be reached that way, combined with the redivision of revenue enabled by cutting the publisher out of the chain, has made this a commercially viable option for some authors and a path to discovery for others.

So the consolidation of business in a smaller number of critical accounts as well as the shifting of business increasingly to online sales channels has been a challenge for some time that larger publishers and distributors like Perseus and Ingram have been dealing with.

But now the need for services and the potential for unbundling is moving further up the value chain. The first instances of this have been seen through the stream of publishing efforts coming directly from authors and content-driven businesses like newspapers, magazines, and websites.

To the extent that the new service requirements are for editorial development help and marketing, it gets complicated for the full-service publishers to deal with. The objective of organization design for large publishers for years has been to consolidate the functions that were amenable to scale and to “keep small” the more creative functions. So it is a point of pride that editorial decisions and the publicity and marketing efforts that follow directly from the content be housed in smaller editorial units — imprints — within the larger publishing house.

That means they are not designed to be scaleable and they’re not amenable to getting work from the outside. It’s much less of an imposition for somebody in a corporate business development role to ask a sales rep to pitch a book that had origins outside the house than it is to assign one to an editor in an imprint. The former is routine and the latter is extremely complicated.

But what does this mean? Should publishers have editorial services for rent? Should they try to scale and use technology to handle editiorial functions — certainly proofreading and copy-editing but ultimately, perhaps, developmental editing — as a commodity to assure themselves a competitive advantage on cost base the way they do now for distribution? Should publishers try to scale digital marketing? Should they have teams that can map out and execute publishing programs for major brands?

The way Murray sees it, a major publisher applies a synthesis of market intelligence and skills that can only be delivered by publishing at scale. He believes that monitoring across markets and marketing channels along with sophisticated and integrated analysis of how they interact provide an unmatchable set of services.

The scale challenge for trade publishers to collaborate with what I’m envisioning will be an exploding number of potential partners is to find ways to deliver the value of the synthesized pool of knowledge and experience efficiently to smaller units of creativity and marketing.

There is plenty of evidence that publishers are thinking along these lines. The most obvious recent event suggesting it is Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions. Penguin had shown prior interest in the author services market by creating Book Country, a community and commercial assistance site for genre fiction authors. Penguin suddenly has real scale in the self-publishing market. They have tools nobody else has now to explore where services for the masses provide efficiencies for the professional and how the expertise of the professionals can add value to the long tail.

There are initiatives that stretch the previous constraints of the publisher’s value chain that I know about in other big companies, and undoubtedly a good deal more that I don’t know about. Random House has a bookstore curation capability that they’ve coupled with editorial development in a deal with Politico that could be a prototype. Hachette has developed some software tools for sales and marketing that they’re making available as SaaS to the industry. Macmillan has a division that is developing educational platforms that might become global paths to locked-in student readers. Scholastic has a new platform for kids reading called Storia that involves teachers and parents that they’d hope to make an industry standard. Penguin has a full-time operative in Hollywood forging connections with projects that can spawn licensing deals. Random House has both film and television production initiatives.

These developments are very encouraging. One of the reasons that Amazon has been so successful in our business is that our business is not the only thing they do. One of the elements of genius they have applied ubiquitously is that every capability they build for themselves has additional value if it can be delivered unbundled as well. Publishers were comfortable with that idea for the relatively low-value things that they do long before they ever heard of Amazon. It is a good time to think along the same lines for functions which formerly seemed closer to the core.

Speaking of which, many of publishing’s most creative executives will be speaking as “Publishing Innovators” at our Publishers Launch Frankfurt conference on Monday, October 8, 10:30-6:30, on the grounds of the Book Fair. 

We did a free webinar with a taste of the Frankfurt conference last week and it’s archived and available and worth a listen. Michael Cader and I were joined by Peter Hildick-Smith of The Codex Group, Rick Joyce of Perseus, and Marcello Vena of RCS Libri.

Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks, Helmut Pesch of Lubbe,  Rebecca Smart of Osprey, Anthony Forbes Watson of Pan Macmillan, Ken Michaels of Hachette, Stephen Page of Faber, and Charlie Redmayne of Pottermore (as well as Joyce and Vena) will all be talking about initiatives in their shops that you won’t find (yet) going on much elsewhere. And that’s just part of the program. There is a ton of other useful information — about developments in the Spanish language, the BRIC countries, the strategies of tech giants and how they affect publishing, and much more — that will make this the most useful single jam-packed day of digital change information you’ll have ever experienced. We hope to see you there.

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


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 Tor.com 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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Another lesson from the digital trail: the Italians are shy about speaking in public


I spoke last Thursday at the 2nd annual IfBookThen conference in Milan staged by the Italian ebook retailer Bookrepublic. On Friday, I teamed up with the UK literary agent David Miller and Penguin US’s Molly Barton, formerly an editor but now the company’s Global Digital Director at a “workshop” session staged by the same organizers. Molly is also the empresario of the new author services site from Penguin for genre fiction called Book Country.

We got a bit of a cultural education. The Thursday conference was attended by about 300 delegates from across Italian publishing. Judging by appearances, this seemed to be a pretty senior crowd; there were very few people there in their 20s. That makes sense. The same thing is true at Digital Book World and Tools of Change and for the Publishers Launch events Michael Cader and I deliver. These conferences cost a fair amount and require a lot of time away from the office (a full day for IBT and for most PLC events, two or three days for DBW and TOC.) Junior staff can’t afford the money and can’t get the time.

But there was one distinct difference between the Italian audience and the audiences I’ve seen at those other events or at others I recall speaking at in Canada, Brazil, the UK, and Denmark. The Italian audience hardly asked any questions! I got one on Thursday. Most of the speakers that day got none. I found this baffling.

At lunch, I was standing at a round “rest your plate of food” station with four local attendees. They all spoke English well. (Simultaneous translation in both directions was available for anybody who needed it.) I said, “you in the audience need to talk more! Where are the questions?” One woman theorized that the problem was that Italians were just too polite; they were reluctant to call attention to themselves by asking questions. (Milan is in the industrial North of Italy. Most of the time I’ve spent in Italy has been in the South — Rome and Capri — and I certainly wouldn’t have characterized the wonderful culture down there as overly polite. Maybe the North is very different.) I agreed that questions are sometimes used as a platform to make a speech and that wasn’t welcome when it happened. But, still…

The event on Friday being billed as a “workshop” had a smaller, and not quite so senior, audience. There were perhaps 80 people. The focus was the changes in the relationship between publishers and agents. Molly explained Book Country, what Penguin had in mind when they launched it, and how it was an acknowledgment of the change in circumstances and choices for authors. David had been provided a list of questions solicited from attendees in advance. My job was to provide “context”, a sense of the environment in which these publisher-and-agent negotiations were taking place.

We brainstormed with the organizers how to encourage more participation. An alternate explanation for the reticence we’d experienced came from an Italian agent, who thought that people weren’t asking questions because their bosses were in the room. Well, it’s another theory…

I followed a suggestion, starting my talk at the workshop by asking the audience to self-identify a bit. I asked editors, agents, those who worked with straight text, those who worked with illustrated books serially to raise their hands. I made the point that I was giving people practice at putting their hands up; we were all hoping that they’d continue to do so throughout the show. I actually got a few questions. So did Molly.

But David had a different technique that, coincidentally or not, appeared more effective. He waved a box of fine British chocolate-covered mints in front of the crowd and promised a wrapped piece of candy to each person who asked a question. (When I asked David a question myself from the seat alongside him on the dais, he even gave a piece of candy to me!) Whether it was to get the chocolates or because David’s presentation and expertise evoked more active interest than Molly’s or mine, or because participation begets participation, he had a successfully interactive two hours with the audience. It was impressive.

The one question I did get the first day actually led to a provocative exchange that I think opened some eyes in the audience. I was asked how big I expected the Italian ebook business to get and how fast. I asked what percentage of Italian book sales were ebooks now. I was told “2%.” I asked what it had been a year ago. I was told “about 0.7%.” If those numbers were right (they could well not be, but I’ll bet they’re right on the growth rate), the percentage tripled.

“Is there any reason you’d expect it to slow down in 2012 or 2013?” I asked the audience. The consensus was “no.” I pointed out that one more tripling would take them to 6% and another after that would be 18%, which is not far from what the US number is now. (If you believe the starting percentage was low, then add one more year to get to 18%.)

The next day, David Miller talked about an author he represents whose percentage of ebook sales had gone from 1% to 11% in one year! I made the point to the audience that this might be the single most important fact they’d have learned in two days to illustrate the rate at which things can change.

Last year at the same IBT event, there seemed to be very widespread skepticism that Italy had much to worry about from ebooks. Then Amazon introduced the Kindle this past December, about 60 days ago. Suddenly, the skeptics are in hibernation.

Apparently the same thing has happened in Brazil since I went there to speak 18 months ago and found a lot of resistance to the idea that ebooks would spread or that bookstores would suffer. The Brazilians I’ve talked to since, and the non-Brazilians who are planning expansion of book and ebook sales to new markets, all see that a robust growth of the ebook market in Brazil is around the corner.

It always seemed understandable to me why ebook takeup, and its companion disruptor, online transactions for print, first got traction in the US. You can’t beat a market of 300 million people with one language, one currency, and one set of commercial regulations as a place to launch a new delivery mechanism for media. We see the dampening effect in Europe of high taxes (VAT) on ebooks and the relatively small language silos that exist side by side. We see the challenges to online ordering of print as well as to ebooks in less affluent parts of some countries, including Italy and Brazil, presented by the lack of capital for investment in infrastructure. Many people can’t afford readers for ebooks. Many can’t conveniently get to the Internet to order hard goods and, even if they can, the ubiquitous parcel delivery infrastructure our Internet merchants depend on doesn’t exist the way we’re used to it. And many people don’t have credit cards. All these factors slow things down.

The hard goods delivery bottleneck is difficult to address, but the readers are getting cheaper and the mobile phone has proven to be an effective banking-and-credit mechanism where none had existed before. I find it hard to believe that highly differential rates of screen reading to overall reading between countries is a permanent condition. Cell phones are proliferating everywhere. Printing and distributing books is, ultimately, a lot more expensive than delivering them to a cell phone. Readers are getting much cheaper; the Kindle costs about 80% less than it was when it was introduced four-plus years ago.

I think in time we’ll all end up in pretty much the same place in our ratio of ebooks to printed ones for straight text reading. If that’s going to be the case in a few years, then the places that haven’t been experiencing rapid change so far are in for a roller-coaster ride in the years to come that will make what we’ve lived through in the US and UK seem very tame by comparison.

I suspect that at IfBookThen 2013, the audience will feel moved to ask a lot of questions and whatever cultural barriers there were this year will be overcome by the urgency of adjusting to an environment which signals that cultural barriers are made to be broken.

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Can big publishers actually do tech and make books at the same time?


Something caught my eye this week that has been very little commented upon elsewhere: the news that Hachette Book Group developed an app-making capability that they are now licensing out. Their first customer was Round Table Companies, a book packager.

I found this striking because big book publishers are not generally known for developing technology; they’re more likely to be buyers of it. This is not an ironclad rule: Scholastic has an ereading platform in development to satisfy the special needs of the children’s book market and it is trying to work with other publishers who might want to avail themselves of the platform.

But from the standpoint of one who has observed publishers wrestling with technology for many years, this deal is very unusual. When Random House bought Smashing Ideas, a technology company, that seemed like the likely course for big publishers to take: acquiring technology that could be useful to them after it had been developed by somebody else.

There are other companies and entrepreneurs developing app-making tools. Most big publishers would be trying those out and getting great deals to do so because the companies making the tools need the validation of having them used by major players. The fact that Hachette even attempted to develop this capability on its own is unusual; that they succeeded at making something useful and cost-effective to the extent that Round Table preferred their solution to one developed by technologists is why it is worthy of comment.

Even acknowledging that selling the tech to a packager is not quite the same as selling it to a direct Big Six competitor, I don’t know if this is a harbinger or an outlier.

But I do know that it challenges one of my long-held assumptions about publishers and technology.

When you invest in intellectual property, whether publishing a book or developing software, you normally want to monetize that investment across the widest possible range of customers which you can only do by distributing through the widest possible array of channels. That’s the handicap Amazon has right now being a publisher: they don’t have effective distribution to brick stores and, as long as they want to keep what they invest in restricted to the Kindle for ebooks, it is pretty certain that they won’t. Over time, the number of brick stores will diminish so that will matter less and less and, if Kindle retains its position of primacy among ebook retailers, what is a real handicap today may become trivial. But traditional or legacy or real (pick your adjective) publishers really do have a wider distribution base than Amazon for books published today. (That doesn’t mean they will necessarily sell more, but it does mean they should!)

By the same token, I never thought it made much sense for a publisher, on its own, to develop software for product development or distribution that should have industry-wide application. I figured it would be hard for one publisher to sell software to another; the buyer would be afraid they were just permanently strengthening the margins and the hand of a competitor.

That same fear of strengthening a competitor is the reason that other types of collaboration that would seem obviously synergistic, like for publishers who do science fiction books to join together to create a science fiction community, haven’t happened. There was a moment a couple of years ago when Macmillan’s Tor.com suggested they’d start selling other publishers’ books to their community and invite other publishers in to strengthen it, but that never happened, even though it can’t make sense in the long run for what are ostensibly genre-driven communities to be siloed by publisher. I felt the same logic applied to publishers doing software development.

But that long-held assumption of mine is being challenged, by Random House buying Smashing Ideas and planning to keep it going as a provider of services to competitors, by Scholastic developing its own platform for displaying digital content and recruiting other publishers to join them, by three US publishers combining to create the new retailer Bookish (and three UK publishers replicating that idea with a UK version called Anobii), and, most dramatically, by Hachette creating an app-maker that a leading book packager finds a cost-effective way to build apps.

We still don’t know what will work. Will Smashing Ideas thrive under Random House ownership? Will Scholastic succeed in establishing a new reading platform for children’s books that can find a prominent place in the market? Will Bookish or Anobii succeed at becoming an important force in ebook sales alongside Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Google, and B&N?

And will what Hachette has done with their app-making capability be a trick they can repeat, developing technology to meet other challenges publishers face? Will Hachette become a specialized software vendor, developing publishing-specific tools, as well as a book publisher?

If so, they have found at least one formula that can help them through what are bound to be increasingly challenging times for general trade publishers.

We’re staging a conference next week in San Francisco which is a reprise of the very successful and well-received eBooks for Everyone Else event that we did in New York on September 26. We have a great show in San Francisco, adding a talk with successful self-publishing author Bob Mayer; a presentation from Penguin’s Molly Barton about their new Book Country initiative; a very interesting group of agents that will be interviewed by Charlotte Abbott; and a reprise of our “speed-dating” 1-on-1 sessions for attendees with service providers and experts to enable everybody to get their specific questions answered.

One major highlight of the show is going to be a presentation by my Publishers Launch Conferences partner, Michael Cader, which sorts out the myriad distribution and go-to-market choices facing today’s self-publisher. Michael did thorough research for this segment and, having seen the outline of the talk, I am certain it is the clearest and most complete survey of what has been a confusing and cluttered landscape of services that anybody attending will have ever heard.

Undoubtedly, Michael’s summary and analysis will make it to the web in the days after the conference, but if you’ll be in or near San Francisco next Wednesday, November 2, it alone will be worth the price of admission to eBooks for Everyone Else.

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