Publishers are reshaping themselves

It was reported last week that Hyperion plans to sell off its “backlist” to focus its attention on new titles it will develop in conjunction with its corporate cousins at Disney and ABC. This follows Wiley’s selling a lot of the most bookstore-dependent parts of its list, including the sale of Frommer’s Guides to Google, in 2012.

I believe these transactions are the front end of a trend I first anticipated in a post about four years ago. 

Publishers are going to find it increasingly compelling to reconfigure their inventory of title offerings around their most current thinking about their marketplace. Both Wiley and Hyperion are moving away from a “general” trade model. They’re moving away from publishing books for which their primary revenue dependence would be on bookstores and their primary marketing dependence on the book review media.

Wiley is actually returning to its professional roots. I did a lot of consulting at Wiley in the late 1980s when they were building out their trade presence. Although they were very disciplined about sticking to specific subjects where they had special marketing capabilities or subject expertise, they became increasingly “trade-y” over time. They built a powerful organization to sell to the book trade which reduced the need for them to be as focused on core subjects as they were when they were first building their trade capabilities. But the core of the company — its heart and soul and its DNA — always remained primarily professional. (Wiley also has a college textbook list, but it is a much smaller part of their business than professional books and journals.)

That means that Wiley would view the diminution of bookstore shelf space with more equanimity than a straight trade house, like one of the Big Six (soon to be Big Five) would. They would see themselves readily able to move away from a shrinking business segment that was never “core” for them anyway.

Hyperion is a straight trade house. Unlike Wiley, they don’t have a direct-to-user business or the big library revenue that a professional publisher does. But what Hyperion does have is a close relationship with sister companies Disney and ABC. Those relationships make possible partnerships which don’t change the sales and distribution challenge, but have a huge impact on the marketing opportunities. Hyperion is increasingly able to publish titles that have a strong public awareness component built on the back of TV or movies.

But Hyperion is a straight trade house without a lot of fixed overheads. They have outsourced the heavy requirements of sales and distribution, currently to Hachette. So they can sell off their backlist, even if it amounts to a substantial chunk of their sales, without having to worry about reorganizing their sales force or underutilizing their physical plant. They have apparently decided to become a different, more focused, kind of publishing house, not so much committed to “publishing books” that can make money from whatever source as they are to being the book publishing arm responsible for building out the brands and franchises their corporation invests in for movies and TV.

Both Hyperion and Wiley are showing us what the publisher of the near future is going to look like. They will be more focused. They will be shedding overheads so they can expand or shrink their offerings more readily to respond to opportunities and circumstances. They will be less dependant on the trade bookstore and book review trade networks. And Hyperion’s decision says something more about the future that Wiley’s doesn’t: book publishing will increasingly be an activity operating in tandem with or in service of other objectives of the owning organization. (There is a parallel here in retailing, where Amazon and Google and Apple fit this description, and Kobo and Barnes & Noble do not.)

There may also be a message here about the relative importance of backlist. When digital first started to happen, it seemed like the backlist might be the biggest beneficiary. After all, stores had limited shelf space and online merchants can “carry” all the books they want, particularly if there is no pre-purchased inventory required. (There isn’t for ebooks and there increasingly isn’t for printed books either, which can be purchased from wholesalers for next day delivery, even if they are printed on demand!)

But it turns out that the current state-of-the-art for merchandising and presentation of books online is not very helpful to backlist. Most retailers return a limited number of books (10 or 20) per screen to any query. Customers have limited patience for refreshing screens, so the number of titles an online purchaser “browses through” is far fewer than the number that would catch the same eyes in an equivalent amount of time in a store. This appears to be pushing sales more and more to newer books and books on bestseller lists.

This problem of concentration will probably just get worse as mobile devices become more ubiquitous and the shopping takes places on ever-smaller screens.

It isn’t clear yet to what extent publishers’ marketing practices could be responsible for the consumers’ bent to purchase from the top titles or whether changes in how publishers market could ameliorate it. But it does mean that marketing backlist is its own challenge and not sufficiently addressed, as it was in years past, by sales reps or store systems just keeping in stock what has been selling.

It is now necessary for publishers to communicate directly with consumer audiences to be effective marketers. At the same time, it is now possible for publishers to do the core work of reaching the trade without big fixed overheads. The combination of those two things will motivate changes in how publishers view the value of both their backlists and their publishing programs. What Wiley and Hyperion have done shows what kind of conclusions publishing today allows them to come to.

Should be great times coming for the small number of players in trade publishing’s M&A world.


Seven-and-a-half days of conference programming coming up during 4 days in January

Blog posts have been scarcer for the past couple of months because I’ve been so engaged with a major responsibility: putting together what amounts to 7-1/2 days of conference programming that will be presented on four days next month in New York City.

As most readers of this blog probably know, we’re responsible for the programming of the two-day extravaganza that is Digital Book World. DBW 2013 — taking place on January 16 and 17 at the Hilton New York Hotel — will be the fourth iteration of the event, which aims to explore the commercial challenges facing trade publishing in the digital transition. DBW is not about technology per se; it is about the business problems publishers must cope with in an age of technological change.

DBW’s main two days are divided between morning plenary programming — all 1500+ people in one big room — and afternoon breakouts. We’ll have up to five simultaneous breakout sessions in each of three slots each day. So we have what amounts to 4-1/2 days of programming in the breakouts plus one on the main stage.

Because people really do come from all over the world to attend DBW, we were delighted to agree when they asked us at Publishers Launch Conferences (the conference business I own with Michael Cader) to add a show on each side of theirs to build out a week of programming. (The team at DBW itself are also putting together some pre-conference workshops that will run on Tuesday.)

So on Tuesday, January 15, we’ll do our second annual “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” conference at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium (put together with the invaluable assistance of our Conference Chair and close friend, Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners). And on Friday, January 18, we’re presenting (in conjunction with the DBW team) a new program called “Authors Launch“, a full day of marketing advice for publisher-published authors. (Self-published authors are welcome and will learn a lot, but the program is framed for authors who are working with publishers, not looking for ways to avoid them.)

Programming the “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” show revealed what we think will be the most important theme in the children’s book space for the next few years: the development of  digital “platforms” that, like subscription offerings (which some, but not all of them, clearly are), will “capture” consumers and make them much less likely to get ebooks and other digital media from outside of it. The list of platform aspirants in this space is long and varied: Storia from Scholastic; RRKidz from Reading Rainbow (the TV show brand); Poptropica from Pearson (which launched Wimpy Kid before it was a book); Magic Town; Disney; Capstone; and Brain Hive. All of them are presenting, as well as NOOK, which, like Amazon Kindle, has announced parental controls on its platform that encourage parents to manage their kids’ reading experience there.

There are other big issues in children’s publishing, particularly the creation of original IP by publishers so they can better exploit the licensing opportunities that follow in the wake of successful kids’ books. We’ll have data presentations from Bowker and from Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex to help our audience understand how kids books are found and selected outside the bookstore in today’s environment.

But we know that the digital discovery and purchase routines will be markedly affected by the platforms as they establish themselves. Publishers are faced with an interesting conundrum. They can’t reach the audiences that are loyal to a platform without going through the platform. But it is the presence of many publishers’ books that strengthens the attraction of the platform and, once it gains critical mass, the value of the content to it (and probably what it will be willing to pay for the content) is reduced. So publishers licensing content to these platforms may be strengthening beasts that will ultimately eat them. I think the roundtable conversation Lorraine and I will lead at the end of the day, which will include publishers Karen Lotz of Candlewick, Barbara Marcus of Random House, and Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, will have interesting things to say about that paradox.

We’ve developed some “traditions” in the four years we’ve been doing Digital Book World. As we’ve done the past two years, the plenary sessions will open on Tuesday with the “CEOs’ view of the future” panel organized and moderated by David Nussbaum, the CEO of DBW’s owner F+W Media and the man who really dreamed up the idea of this conference. David will be joined this year by Marcus Leaver of Quarto, Karen Lotz of Candlewick, and Gary Gentel of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And Michael Cader and I will — as we have every year at DBW — moderate a panel to close the plenaries, “looking back and looking forward” with agent Simon Lipskar of Writers House; Harper’s new Chief Digital Officer, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, and Osprey CEO Rebecca Smart.

Among the presenters on the main stage who will be unlike what our audiences usually hear at a digital publishing conference will be Teddy Goff, the digital director for the Obama campaign, who will talk about targeting and marketing techniques that might serve us well in the publishing world; Ben Evans of Enders Analysis in London, who will tell us how publishing fits into the strategies of the big tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) that he tracks regularly*; ex-Macmillan president and now private equity investor Brian Napack, talking with Michael Cader about the investment climate in publishing; and Michael D. Smith, Professor of Information Technology and Marketing from Carnegie-Mellon, talking about a study he and his colleagues have done on the real commercial impact of piracy.

(We’ve also scheduled a breakout session for Teddy Goff so he can talk more about the Obama campaign for those in attendance who want to learn more of its lessons to apply.)

We’re also delighted to have gotten Robert Oeste, Senior Programmer and Analyst from Johns Hopkins University Press, to deliver his wonderfully insightful, entertaining, and informative presentation on XML, the subject so many of us in publishing need to understand better than we do. And we will after he’s done. (We’re also giving Oeste a break-out slot to talk about metadata which I’ll bet a lot of our audience will choose to attend after they’ve heard him on XML.)

(*Late edit: Ben Evans had to cancel.)

Some authors have had remarkable success without help from publishers in the past year, but few or none more than Hugh Howey, the author of “Wool”, who has just signed a groundbreaking print-only deal for the US with Simon & Schuster. His dystopian futurist novel has sold hundreds of thousands of self-published ebook copies and rights all over the world and to Hollywood. We’ll have a chat with Howey about how he did it and we’ll be joined by his agent, Kristin Nelson, for that dialogue. Kristin will stick around to join a panel of other agents (Jay Mandel of William Morris Endeavor, Steve Axelrod, and Jane Dystel from Dystel & Goderich) to talk about “Straddling the Models”: authors who work with publishers but are also doing some things on their own.

We will have several panels addressing the challenges of discovery and discoverability from different angles. One called “Closing the New Book Discovery Gap” teams Patrick Brown of Goodreads with three publishing marketers — Matt Baldacci of Macmillan, Angela Tribelli of HarperCollins, and Rachel Chou of Open Road — and is chaired by Peter Hildick-Smith. That will focus on what publishers can do with metadata and digital marketing to make it more likely their titles will get “found”. Barbara Genco of Library Journal will share data on library patron behaviors and then helm a panel discussion with Baker & Taylor, 3M, Darien Public Library, and Random House exploring the role of libraries in driving book discovery and sales. Another session called “Making Content Searchable, Findable, and Shareable” introduces three new propositions from Matt MacInnis of Inkling, Linda Holliday of Citia, and Patricia Payton of Bowker, along with SEO expert Gary Price of INFODocket. Publishing veteran Neal Goff (who is also the proud father of Obama’s digital director) will moderate that one. MacInnis, Holliday, and Payton offer services that will help publishers improve the search for their books. Price will talk knowledgeably about how the search engines will react to these stimuli.

We’re covering new business model experimentation (with Evan Ratliff of The Atavist, Brendan Cahill of Nature Share, Todd McGarity of Hachette, and Chris Bauerle of Sourcebooks) where publishers discuss ways to generate revenue that are not the old-fashioned ones. We’ll underscore the point that we’re about changes caused by technology rather than being about technology with our “Changing Retail Marketplace” panel, featuring publishers and wholesalers talking about the growth of special sales (through retailers that aren’t bookstores and other non-retail channels).

The future for illustrated books will be discussed by a panel with a big stake in how it goes: John Donatich of Yale University Press, Michael Jacobs of Abrams, Marcus Leaver of Quarto, and JP Leventhal of Black Dog & Leventhal. Two publishers who have invested in Hollywood — Brendan Dineen of Macmillan and Pete Harris of Penguin — will talk about the synergies between publishing and the movies with consultant Swanna McNair of Creative Conduit.

We will have major US publishers and Ingram talking about exports: developments in the export market for books — print and digital. And we’ll have some non-US publishers joining Tina Pohlman of Open Road and Patricia Arancibia of Barnes & Noble talking about imports: non-US publishers using the digital transition to get a foothold in the US market.

One session I think has been needed but never done before is called “Clearing the Path” and it is about eliminating the obstacles to global ebook sales. That one will start with a presentation by Nathan Maharaj and Ashleigh Gardner of Kobo where they will enumerate all the contractual and procedural reasons why ebooks are just not available for sale in markets they could reach. And then Kobo will join a panel conversation with Joe Mangan of Perseus and agent Brian Defiore to talk about why those barriers exist and what might be done in the future to remove them.

Oh, yes, there’s much much more: audience-centric (what I call “vertical”) publishing; the changing role of editors; the evolving author-publisher relationship; and a conversation about the “gamification” of children’s books. David Houle, the futurist and Sourcebook author who wowed the DBW 2012 audience, will return with his Sourcebooks editor, Stephanie Bowen, to discuss their version of “agile” publishing: getting audience feedback to chunks before publishing a whole book.

We will also do some stuff that is more purely “tech”. We have a panel on “Evolving Standards and Formats” discussing the costs and benefits of EPUB3 adoption, which will be moderated by Bill McCoy of IDPF. Our frequent collaborator Ted Hill will lead a discussion about “The New Publishing IT Department”. Bill Kasdorf of Apex will moderate a discussion about “Cross-Platform Challenges and Opportunities” which is about delivering content to new channels.

But purely tech is the exception at Digital Book World, not the rule.

And purely tech won’t show up at all at Authors Launch on Friday, January 18, the day after Digital Book World.

Authors Launch is what we think is the first all-day marketing seminar aimed squarely at authors with a publisher, not authors trying to work without one. It is pretty universally taken as a given that authors can do more than they ever have before to promote themselves and their books and that publishers should expect and encourage them to do that. But, beyond that, there is very little consensus. What should the publisher do and what should the author do? That question is going to be addressed, in many different ways, throughout the day.

The Authors Launch program covers developing an author brand, author involvement and support for their book’s launch, basic information about keyword search and SEO, use of metrics and analysis, a primer on media training, when and how to hire a publicist or other help, and a special session on making the best use of Goodreads. We’ll cover “audience-centric” marketing, teaching authors to think about their “vertical” — their market — and understand it.

The faculty for Authors Launch includes the most talented marketers and publicists helping authors today: Dan Blank, co-authors MJ Rose and Randy Susan Meyers, journalist Porter Anderson, David Wilk, Meryl Moss, Lucinda Blumenfeld, agent Jason Allen Ashlock, and former Random House digital marketer Pete McCarthy.

We have assembled a group of publishers and an agent to discuss how an author should select the best places to invest their time from the staggering array of choices. (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etcetera.) That panel will include agent Jennifer Weltz of The Naggar Agency as well as Matt Baldacci of Macmillan, Rachel Chou of Open Road, Rick Joyce of Perseus, and Kate Stark of Penguin. Matt Schwartz, VP, Director of Digital Marketing and Strategy for the Random House Publishing Group, will conduct the session on metrics.

A feature of both our Kids show on Tuesday and the Author show on Friday are opportunities for the audience to interact with the presenters in smaller groups so each person can get his or her own questions answered. At Kids we’ll do that at lunchtime, seating many of our presenters at tables with a sign carrying their name so our attendees can sit with them and engage. At Authors Launch, we’ll be conducting rounds of workshops, crafted so that the authors can get help in their own vertical (genre fiction, literary fiction, topical non-fiction, juvies, and so forth), and on the topics of greatest need for them.

We are sure the week of January 15-18 will prove to be an energizing and stimulating one for all of us living in the book publishing world. We hope you’ll join us.

Digital Book World Week | January 15-18, 2013

Children’s Publishing Goes Digital | Tuesday, January 15, McGraw-Hill Auditorium
DBW Pre-Conference Workshops | Tuesday, January 15, Hilton New York Hotel
Digital Book World Conference + Expo | January 16-17, Hilton New York Hotel
Authors Launch | Friday, January 18, Hilton New York Hotel


Show me the data!

One thing we try to do at Digital Book World is to present our audiences with useful, relevant, and, when we can, original data. It is a familiar complaint in our industry that we drive blind. Part of that is due to the sheer diversity and granularity of the “book business”. And another part is due to the blistering rate of change. The net result is that we are constantly trying to read tea leaves. We do our best to deliver some useful tea leaves to our DBW audience.

I make no pretension here to telling you all you’ll hear at DBW (which would be bad business even if I were able to do it!) But here is a roster of the data presentations and a small taste of what the DBW audience is going to get from each one.

We’ll start off with James McQuivey of Forrester Research doing a reprise of a high-level survey of publishing executives that they inaugurated at DBW 2011. Forrester got good participation in the survey, including getting fully filled-out responses from at least two of the Big Six executives.

One very interesting fact from the Forrester research is that the consensus for when the trade business will become 50% digital has moved up from 2015 to 2014. When Forrester announced the original number at DBW 2011, it seemed to many to be aggressive. A year later, it is not likely that the new prediction that it will come sooner is going to surprise a lot of people. We are apparently now used to the accelerating pace of change, but perhaps just in time to have to readjust to it slowing down. (More on that to follow.)

The team of the Milan office of A.T.Kearney (the big global consulting firm) and the Italian ebook retailer Bookrepublic have been tracking the spread of digital reading worldwide. They presented research at last year’s IfBookThen conference in Milan and followed it up with additional research presented at the Publishers Launch conference in Frankfurt. They’ve extended their investigation further — about devices, about internet purchasing, about ebook uptake, market-by-market around the world — for this year’s Digital Book World. They have added questions about self-publishing and piracy to the research they did previously and responses to them will be reported at Digital Book World.

One insight they’ve had is extremely provocative. They say, “We should stop thinking of self-publishing simply as a nice way for indie authors to be published. Viewed another way, measuring self-publishing activity calculates the amount of money Amazon (and others) are no longer sharing with publishers. And it’s growing.”

The data that will justify that insight will be part of the presentation we’ll see at Digital Book World.

We decided to take an intensive look at the romance genre because it is often considered to be the consumer segment that has moved most rapidly into the digital future. We were fortunate to enlist the help of the ebook retailer AllRomanceEbooks.com in our investigation. They circulated a survey that got responses from almost six thousand of their customers. The results of that survey will be announced at DBW and will be followed by a panel discussion with special attention to what other genres and segments of trade publishing can learn from what has happened in the romance market.

What caught my eye from the preliminary results was that only 4% of the ebooks All Romance sells have DRM. Since they carry the ebooks of all the major publishers, and all of those have DRM, what this statistic tells us is what a vast business exists in romance publishing outside the realm of the biggest players in the industry. I’ll leave the analysis to the experts we’ll have on stage for this discussion, but I personally wouldn’t leap to the conclusion that DRM-free is the only reason that 96% of the sales were of that category. Those books are undoubtedly cheaper as well. They may score higher on All Romance’s unique “flame” scoring system (which is all about how frequent and explicit the sex scenes are). But I would imagine that any big publisher hearing that statistic would, at the very least, have its curiosity piqued.

It turns out that a big component of All Romance’s sales success is that they took it upon themselves to add sub-categories describing romance — such as that flame index referred to above — that didn’t exist in the industry’s BISAC standard. That’s metadata!

Metadata isn’t ever going to be a “sexy” subject but it is certainly becoming an increasingly popular one. Our early polling of Digital Book World registrants indicates that our breakout session on metadata might be the most heavily-attended of the 30 breakouts on the schedule. (And everybody who goes will be glad they did. We just reviewed the content of the session with presenters Bill Newlin and Fran Toolan; it’s going to be great!)

Having been told for months and years that good metadata enables sales and bad metadata prevents them, I wanted to get some factual confirmation of that. So I asked Jonathan Nowell, the UK-based head of BookScan and the bibliographic source BookData, if he could do some research to connect the two (his being the only organization that has the information to tie metadata to sales data.) Jonathan did a presentation on this subject for Publishers Launch Frankfurt; he’s updating it for Digital Book World.

The most arresting takeaway last October at the Frankfurt presentation was that adding “enhanced metadata” elements to a basket of backlist books not only stopped their normal sales decay, it reversed it and actually made sales of those books rise after the metadata was improved. Everybody will really be able to visualize the importance of metadata after they hear Jonathan’s presentation.

Verso Media is an advertising agency with high digital consciousness and a deep interest in book purchasing and consumption habits. They survey book consumers looking for insights about the digital changeover. The single most startling takeaway for me from the preliminary results I saw from this year’s research is that the number of people who actually resist the idea of reading digitally has gone up from 49% to 51% of respondents. This data point is in line with other tea leaves that suggest that we might have started to hit real resistance to ebooks, slowing down the digital switchover from the rates of the past few years. And that certainly would not have been what I would have predicted. Jack McKeown, who has held senior positions at three major publishing houses, oversees the Verso research and will present it.

At our Publishers Launch “Children’s Books Go Digital” show on Monday, Conference Chair Lorraine Shanley recruited two trend analysts who are offering interesting trend and data observations of their own.

Amy Henry, VP of Youth Beat, observes that parents and kids are sharing personal experiences more than we remember from our youth. More than 2/3 of teenagers listen to music with their parents! The takeaway is that parents can be marketing conduits to their kids; they’re not just gatekeepers you need to sneak your way past, which is how they have often been characterized in the past.

Ira Mayer, Publisher of Youth Market Alerts, delivers data that tells us that two-thirds of the apps Moms get for their kids are either free or under a buck. Fewer than 10% are more than $3. These are sobering facts, but anybody entering the app space to make money better know them!

Kelly Gallagher, Vice-President in charge of research at Bowker, will have important data to share at both shows. His team has been surveying a pool of book purchasers on behalf of BISG for a couple of years and has charted the growth of the ebook market for the industry throughout that time. The data he’ll be reporting from the latest fielding is so fresh that it misses the deadline for this post. But it would seem likely that the data will show that the ebook switchover is finally slowing down after about five years of doubling or more than doubling annually. That would be of meaningful interest to everybody in trade publishing and would tend to confirm Verso’s finding that the point of more determined ebook resistance grows nearer.

Bowker also runs a study of the children’s book market and he will share appropriate data from that research at the Pub Launch show on Monday. Kelly showed me a couple of slides that suggest that young children’s print could be around for a while. Parents like the idea that a book isolates kids from what are otherwise constant digital stimuli. And what attracts kids to digital is portability (having access to more titles) which, broadly speaking, is more important as kids get older. And he’ll reprise that data presentation at Digital Book World on Tuesday, followed by a panel discussion among participating publishers in the study, including Disney, Scholastic, and HarperCollins. That discussion will be moderated by Kristen McLean, founder of Bookigee and former executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children.

I don’t mean to suggest that data is all we do at our conferences, or even most of what we do. It isn’t. But we see it as part of our job to encourage the development of original information, such as we did in conjunction with All Romance and Nielsen, as well as to deliver information from efforts already underway within the industry, like the reports we’ll get from Bowker.

Digital Book World will also feature main-stage presentations from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo which we expect will also be data-rich (as well as one on business model experimentation from Oren Teicher of the American Booksellers Association), helping us all understand what happened this past Christmas. Keeping up with this pace of change is hard enough; doing it without data is impossible.


Will juvie publishing remain a book business as tablets take over?

This post will discuss a realization I had even before this morning’s news about the developing e-products scene. I’ve always been a skeptic about enhanced ebooks, based on seeing my hunch that they wouldn’t work come true 15 years ago with CD-Roms. But it is increasingly obvious that CD-Rom type thinking will work very well for kids’ books. In fact, I’m beginning to think that enhanced ebook or app-type delivery could overwhelm books as a container-of-choice in a pretty short time. Single digit years.

The reasons that I’m skeptical about enhanced (or enriched, a recent term I’ve heard that might be better) ebooks is because most adult books are written as narrative reading experiences not intended to be interrupted and now being read by people who value the immersive experience. (Not all. But most of the kind we think of as bestsellers or literature.) My guess is that it is going to be hard to shift many of the hours of consumption now devoted to immersive reading to something quite different. And I see that as a qualitatively different challenge than moving immersive reading itself from one delivery mechanism (paper) to another (screens.)

The reason that kids’ material didn’t survive the CD-Rom period 15 years ago was the complexity of the delivery mechanism. You had to be at a computer, which usually meant a desktop computer. You had to load the CD-Rom, which on most computers (because few then were Macs) required additional navigation before they would play. These products just weren’t really accessible to kids, even if the programming they contained was designed for them.

But those reservations just don’t hold for kids’ “books” (if that’s what you call them) migrated to the iPad, a smartphone or, now, the NOOKcolor (which, I think, is how its owners would like us to spell it.)

The degree to which you can immerse yourself in a book is directly proportional to the fluency with which you read. That means that the younger you are, the more likely you are to accept the interrupted reading experience .

And as the devices get cheaper and more ubiquitous, parents and kids will learn fast how entertaining, instructive, and accessible interactive experiences can be.

I started writing this post over the weekend because we knew about several entrepreneurial ventures that were focused on developing kids’ material in this way. Then this morning’s Publishers Lunch told us the story of the developments at Callaway, which only underscore that some serious money is betting on this direction.

In short, I have come to the point of view that the juvie book business is going to migrate to enhanced digital products much faster than adult narrative text and that, as a result, the origination and publishing for the various kids’ book marketplaces will be increasingly the province of new companies and less and less the business of book publishers.

The Callaway Digital Arts story as Publishers Lunch reported it today is stunning. Not only did they secure $6 million in financing led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s iFund, they have won a $30 million “Ready to Learn” grant from the Department of Education. With this wind at their backs, Callaway says they plan to be producing 150 apps a year by two years from now. They’re being seen by Apple as a “strategic partner” helping the iPad to “transform education.”

While the Callaway start-up is the most dramatic, they’re hardly alone in focusing on the market for enhanced kids’ content built on books .

Oceanhouse Media is building what seems like a comparable business a completely different way. Rather than going to investors for capital, Oceanhouse managed to self-capitalize by building a network of developers willing to work for a piece of the projects they are developing. They’ve got deals with Hay House (that’s not for kids, primarily), their neighbors in San Diego. And they’ve secured rights to Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears. In a conversation with them, it sounded like they’d be delivering new products at the rate Callaway projects even sooner than two years from now.

Trilogy Studios has partners who have run game studios at Electronic Arts, Fox Interactive and Vivendi Universal Games and recently launched their most successful children’s product to date, a casual MMO (that’s a “Massive Multiplayer Online” game) based on a very successful animated feature film. They’ve expanded their portfolio to include interactive storybooks and social games and hired publishing veteran Marc Jaffe (recently of Rodale) to secure rights to some of the most recognizable entertainment and publishing brands for further digital development.

Rick Richter, recently the head of children’s publishing at Simon & Schuster, has his own new entrant in the field called Ruckus Media Group. They’re doing Apple and Android apps, have acquired rights to the Rabbit Ears Library (children’s classics read by celebrities) and are signing authors for original content.

Smashing Ideas is a website, game, and app studio that has been in business for 14 years. They’ve worked with youth-focused brands like Hasbro, Nickelodeon, and Disney for many years. Now they have a deal to develop projects with Random House and they’re also going to town on public domain books with apps out or coming soon for War of the Worlds, The Jungle Book, and The Wizard of Oz. This shouldn’t be a big surprise because Ben Roberts, who now leads their ebook division, helped create Alice for the iPad.

All of this investment and all of this development must be seeing the same thing I’m seeing. Kids are going to be a big market for this kind of product. Straight narrative reading can be immersive to the extent that the act of reading itself is easy and effortless. You can’t lose yourself in the story if you’re looking up words or frequently re-reading sentences to get the meaning.

That means it is a lot harder for a younger person to get immersed in just words on paper. That’s why kids’ books offer so much more than that: pictures, of course, but also pop-ups and various other entertaining three-dimensional devices, to the extent they can be delivered in something which is fundamentally bound paper.

You could say kids have been getting “enhanced books” forever!

The new devices have much better capabilities than CD-Roms did to engage in ways other than with words — ways which those of us who love immersive reading might find distracting or annoying but which kids love. Intuitive touchscreen navigation, a relatively recent development, makes it even easier to engage and interact with an active mind that hasn’t yet learned enough language to work comfortably with written cues.

I don’t live in a child-centric atmosphere, but I’ve been aware for the past couple of years that parents who thought their kids were too young for the connectivity expense of an iPhone would buy them an iPod Touch, which does what an iPhone does except make and receive calls (and, therefore, has no monthly connection fee associated with it.) A friend of mine who is pretty determinedly “old media” was recently asking me what I thought about a Touch for his 7-year old, who wanted to keep up with his friends by having one. These kids aren’t using Google for their homework; they’re playing games that are the leading edge of the new kids’ book business.

The iPad drew these new players into the explicit business of making enhanced ebooks of kids’ books. The NOOKcolor only adds fuel to the fire.

And because the NOOKcolor is half the price or less of an iPad, parents will be more relaxed about having their kids playing with it.

There is anecdotal testimony that kids can become more interested in a paper book after they’ve been exposed to the character and story through an enhanced ebook or app. We’re finding that out because the enhanced ebooks being made today are starting out from books that already exist. This is a totally sensible way into the business. Why add to the creative challenge by starting from scratch when there is a wealth of established brands and characters to license? And as the first great success in this enhanced kids genre, Alice for the iPad, demonstrated and Smashing Ideas has picked up, even the requirement of licensing can be sidestepped by using a public domain text as its basis.

The guess from here is that publishers — or whoever owns the rights — will have a nice business for a while licensing books and characters to enhanced ebook developers called “digital studios” who will make very successful products. In time — and not too much time — those studios will become the originators of the new characters and franchises and the book will become the “subsidiary right.” How soon? Not long. Three to five years?

Any publisher that wants to be serving the kids’ market in the middle of this decade better buy one of those studios, or start one.

This idea jumped into my head about a month ago; it had to get past my prejudice against annoying interruptions which is how I view most enhanced ebooks meant for grown-ups. So of course, we started to put together a panel on the subject for the Digital Book World Conference immediately. That got me talking to a lot of these companies. We haven’t made the final call on which three or four will be discussing what they’re up to at the show on January 25-26, but it will certainly be a conversation about juvie publishing’s near-term future.


What will be the big digital issues in January 2011?

I have found a way to describe the difference between the Digital Book World conference we organize for F+W Media and the O’Reilly conference Tools of Change which I believe is accurate and is certainly not intended to be a pejorative description of  Tools of Change. I go to TOC and I find it very valuable, but different from what we’re trying to do.

Tools of Change explores developments in technology that have impact or can have impact on publishing (in general) and helps publishers (of all kinds) understand how to apply them. Digital Book World explores business challenges to trade publishing (defined as book publishers who work primarily through the retail network, or “the trade”) generated by digital change and helps publishers address them. So if I were organizing Tools of Change, I’d want to scan the horizon for technologies that could have an impact and ask “how?” Because I’m organizing Digital Book World, I’m looking at trade publishing’s commercial environment and operations for the impact of technology and asking “what should we do?”

The next Digital Book World Conference is set for January 25-26, 2011. That obliges us to ask: what will the hot digital change questions be eight months from now? What should we be planning to discuss then that will be immediate and relevant to the attendees we’re targeting: the editorial, marketing, sales, and digital strategy people in trade book publishing houses?

To help us figure that out, we’re in the process of recruiting the DBW 2011 Conference Council. That group of about 30 people — CEOs, digital strategists, and marketers from publishing houses large and small, agents, retailers, and independent industry thought leaders — will help us define the panels and choose the speakers that can enlighten and inspire. I’ll introduce you to that group in a future post; the team is in formation at the moment.

Today’s blog is to recruit the readers of The Shatzkin Files to help too. I hope you will.

Here are 15 topics, or speculations, we’ve identified to start building an agenda for discussion next January. Do you have any thoughts on any of these to refine our thinking? Some of these are ideas looking for examples: do you know particular people or companies doing things suggested here (or not suggested here) we should be highlighting? And, most important, what are we missing?

1. What’s going to be in an ebook? We’re definitely moving past the stage where the ebook is a “straight lift” from the print: half-titles, blank pages, and all. As ebook sales are rising, publishers are paying more attention to presentation and quality control. And there have been a few experiments with “enhanced ebooks” that contain added content and features, some of which are presenting books as “apps” to increase the functionality that can be offered. Where will we be drawing the line between “standard” new ebook features — dictionaries and linked notes, for example — and enhancements that might be worth extra money? And what enhancements will we see working in the sense that consumers see them to be worth paying for?

2. What will ebook sales channels look like eight months from now? In addition to the main ones we have today — Kindle, iBooks and the App Store, Nook and B&N, Sony, Ingram Digital and Content Reserve — will we be seeing substantial sales through Google and the Android marketplace, B&T’s Blio, and Copia as well? Will the mobile phone service providers be creating retail outlets that matter too? Will the retailers newly in the ereader game — Walmart and Costco and Best Buy — also be motivated to create a branded outlet of their own to sell ebooks?

3. To what extent will publishers view single-title marketing as a practical endeavor? We’ve maintained that title-by-title marketing is the Achilles heel of general trade publishing and that the steady erosion of book-format-oriented marketing opportunities (book review pages in newspapers, radio and TV talk shows) and verticalization call for different marketing strategies. Where will publishers’ thinking be next January on the challenge of launching each new title into the marketplace?

4. How much progress will publishers be making on establishing direct-to-customer contact? What has characterized trade publishing is its dependence on intermediaries to reach the market. And what has made trade publishing possible is the leverage provided by those intermediaries, allowing publishers to reach millions of readers through mere thousands of touch points. But all publishers today acknowledge that the intermediary structure is breaking down and direct contact with end users is necessary. How is that working out? We may need two panels to answer that question: one of niche publishers that will find it pretty natural to do and one of general trade publishers who will undoubtedly find it very hard and complicated.

5. How important is the mobile phone market? How fast is it growing? What kind of books work best on it? And what do publishers have to do differently to please that market than what they do for larger-screen PCs, tablets, and ereaders?

6. How are publishers tackling the shrinking marketplace for printed books? Are they shedding warehouse space or considering consolidation with other players? Are they renegotiating printing contracts, reconsidering what constitutes a “minimum run” or acceptable print book margins? Are they developing new short-run and POD models to complement their prior pressrun models? Are they launching any new books with a no-pressrun strategy?

7. How much progress are publishers making toward changing their workflow, so that we have “ebook first” editorial processes? Since the beginning of ebooks over a decade ago, the standard technique has been to make them after the print book has been completed, and for the editor and author to focus their efforts on making the best possible print product. There is an increasingly widespread belief that this is backwards, and more complex ebooks help make a compelling argument for reversing the order of things. How far will we have moved in that direction by next January?

8. Does the growth of ebook sales change the thinking of publishers and agents about the efficacy of dividing up the territories for single languages? Do publishers start to see a growth in offshore sales facilitated by ebooks? Anecdotal reporting by O’Reilly, which owns global rights in all its titles, suggests that they’re seeing big sales growth in digital from markets that are hard-to-reach with print.

9. Do non-US publishers start to establish more of a sales presence in the US exclusively through virtual means? We’ve been suggesting on this blog that the growth of online sales — print books and digital books — will soon enable reaching a majority of the US sales potential without inventory, which means without the need for a warehouse or a distributor. That should lead to greater penetration of our market by offshore publishers, in all languages. Will we see enough signs of this by January 2011 to build a discussion around it?

10. How does the future look for the brick-and-mortar bookstore marketplace? On this blog (and elsewhere), concerns have been expressed about the impact on bookstores of the increasing shift to online purchasing for both print and ebooks. Christmas 2010 is being viewed in the consumer electronics industry as the “ebook Christmas”. When we’ve had a chance to digest the sales numbers of new devices and we combine that with what we know about the impact devices have on a consumer’s print book purchases, how do we see the future of bookstores when next January rolls around?

11. Is “profitable self-publishing” an idea gaining credibility or is it a pipedream? In 2009, author J.A. Konrath made a bit of a splash when he blogged about the substantial revenues he was earning putting his short stories and out-of-print backlist on Kindle without a publisher. Will there be more stories like this by January? Will this look like a viable option for established authors?

12. What’s the best approach to ebook distribution for small and mid-sized publishers? Will the original DADs (digital asset distributors) like Ingram Digital and LibreDigital provide the full service suite and sales effort that smaller publishers need? Or will the publishers-as-distributors model — notably including O’Reilly, who went into the business last February, as well as trade publishers and trade distributors like Perseus and NBN and Ingram Publisher Services, be the better option? How much is effective ebook distribution dependent on technical competence and how much of it requires sales competence?

13. After many years of discussion, are we yet beginning to see some new revenue models with any impact, like subscriptions (Disney has tried it now, in addition to O’Reilly’s Safari), selling books by the slice, or new models to compensate for library lending? We know that publishers need metadata-labeled fragments of their books for marketing purposes, but, for trade publishers, is there yet any indication that there’s a real payoff for that kind of tagging in sales revenue?

14. How much of the print backlist is still locked up by rights issues and what impact can different royalty offers have in clearing it up?Jane Friedman’s Open Road has had some success signing up established backlist for higher ebook royalties than the majors want to pay. Is the reservoir of candidates for this treatment substantial? How are agents and big publishers going to resolve these issues?

15. Is the notion of publishers building vertical presences on the web, so often expressed and promoted on this blog, gaining any significant traction in the real world? How are Poetry Speaks and Oxford Bibliographies Online and the forthcoming Pixiq from Sterling doing at establishing a new publishing model? What other examples are emerging or will emerge of publishers using delivering vertical solutions to create new business models?

At the Digital Book World conference, we want to be strategic and we want to be practical. And we want to be focused on the real-world problems digital change is forcing trade publishers to face. Have we left out any of yours?

I have finished this but not posted it yet and am already thinking of things I left out. A substantial publisher I spoke to last week learned from having his trip to the London Book Fair cancelled that he doesn’t need to go there anymore. This company has already given up its BEA floor space in favor of a meeting room. And this CEO himself is no longer going to go to Frankfurt and can see the day not far off when his company will no longer take space there either. Are trade shows  an anachronism in the age of digital communication? I have a feeling you readers and the Conference Council will think of a lot more.