Lorraine Shanley

“Scale” is a theme everybody in publishing needs to be thinking about, so we’ve made it the focus of our next Publishers Launch Conference

The overarching theme of our upcoming Publishers Launch Conference at BookExpo America on May 29 is “scale”. I thank my PLC partner, Michael Cader, for urging that we label that as a core concern worthy of being the centerpiece for a day’s discussion. (With that nudge, I identified “scale”, along with “verticalization” and “atomization”, as one of the three big forces driving publishing change in the current era of transition.)

We’re covering “scale” from many angles on May 29.

The program will kick off with a presentation from Pete McCarthy, formerly a digital marketing strategist at Random House, about moving beyond our standard understanding of “industry data” — what we learn about the industry in the aggregate from BookStats and Bowker and others — to mining and analyzing the massive amounts of public data about readers: who they are and where they are. The data we care about, and that can really help us, isn’t labeled “book publishing data” but is far more useful and actionable than much of what we try to decipher meaning from that is tagged that way.

The requirements of scale threaten to really change the business of literary agents. Since the rise of agents as intermediaries between publishers and authors in the 1950s and 1960s, it has always been possible for agents to operate as very tiny operations. Single-agent offices have never been terribly unusual, and agents could run a successful business with a handful of prosperous clients, or even just one! The unusual convention in publishing by which the buyer (the publisher) customarily pays for the lunch at which the seller (the agent) learns about the buyer’s likes and priorities has been a symbol of the viability of this highly decentralized world.

But those times are changing. The opportunities for self-publishing and the requirements for authors to be self-promoters have placed new demands on literary agency offices. It is often no longer sufficient to have knowledge of acquiring editors and what they want and a network of foreign co-agents who can help place projects in other languages and territories. Agencies large and small are adding self-publishing services, which can include capabilities as mundane as getting cover art designed and as sophisticated as distribution to a global network of ebook retailers. This adds the potential for “conflict” for the agents. In some cases, agencies have chosen a course that might present a choice for an author between a publisher’s deal and their agent’s deal.

These changes and the challenges they present will be discussed by three agents — Brian DeFiore of DeFiore and Company, Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media Group, and Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management — in a conversation that will be moderated by Michael Cader.

We will have presentations from three publishers about how they are employing scale. David Nussbaum of F+W Media (owners of our Digital Book World partners) will talk about how they support a variety of vertical businesses with central services providing ecommerce and event management that make it possible for all their communities to benefit from a wider variety of offerings and capabilities. Ken Michaels of Hachette will describe some of his company’s solutions to knotty challenges like digital marketing and metadata quality that they are then making available industry-wide as SaaS offerings. And Jeff Abraham of Random House will be talking about their efforts to utilize scale in a new publishing environment, to drive efficiency and reach in the supply chain and to reach consumers more effectively via their marketing programs.

Ben Evans of Enders Analysis studies big companies that operate at scale far beyond our industry but whose activities very much affect us: namely Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. His presentation will focus on how their strategies and activities influence the environment for the publishing industry, with insights as to how publishers can surf the waves of these giants’ activities rather than be overwhelmed by them.

As publishers have rethought their organizations in the past several years, the words “business development” have popped up in publishing job titles, which they never had before. We’ll have four publishers talking about what “business development” means to them: Peter Balis of John Wiley, Andrea Fleck-Nisbet of Workman, Adam Silverman of HarperCollins, and Doug Stambaugh of Simon & Schuster, in a panel conversation moderated by Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners International.

Brian Napack was President of Macmillan for several years; he’s now an investor at Providence Equity Partners. In a conversation with Michael Cader, Napack will discuss how he views the importance of scale as an investor and how his views have evolved since he was an operator in one of the large companies that might be challenged by the scale of even larger competitors.

The changes in publishing and the provision of services have also enabled publishing with less organization or investment and by the application of scale created outside publishing to new publishing enterprises. A panel of new publishers with roots outside the industry: Jennifer Day of the Chicago Tribune, Steve Kobrin of Wharton Digital Press, Alison Uncles of the Toronto Star/Star Dispatches, and David Wilk of Frederator Books will talk about how their organizations publish in ways that wouldn’t have been possible or even conceivable a few short years ago on a panel that will be moderated by longtime Harper executive and digital pioneer Carolyn Pittis.

Dan Lubart of Iobyte Solutions has been tracking ebook sales data for years and has been providing the data and analysis behind the Digital Book World ebook bestseller list. Lubart will present insights from “behind” the bestseller list data, including a deeper dive into the trends relating to ebook pricing. The ebook bestseller lists have been the evidence of strong challenges to the publishers who operate with scale on their side, as an increasing number of self-published authors have seen their work rise to the very top of the charts.

Our conference will also tackle the special problems facing illustrated book publishing. The success of ebooks has been pretty much confined to narrative reading made reflowable on devices of any screen size. No formula or format has yet proven to work commercially for illustrated books. We’ll address that question from two angles.

Ron Martinez of Aerbook is the best thinker we know around the question of making creative complex ebooks and apps more efficiently. His company has developed its own tool, Aerbook Maker, to address that challenge. But Ron is also knowledgeable about and respectful of other efforts, including tools from Apple and Inkling, that reduce the cost of experimentation for illustrated book publishers looking for ways to deliver an appealing and commercially viable digital version of their content. He will kick off our discussion of the challenges for illustrated book publishing by reviewing the tools and best practices for lower-cost experimentation. And in his quest to improve the margins for illustrated book publishers delivering virtual versions, he has also worked out what might be a marketing and distribution tool that can improve the equation from the revenue side.

Ron will be followed by a panel of illustrated book publishers talking about how they plan to thrive in an environment where the virtual solution hasn’t arrived and the store environment is becoming more challenging. Joseph Craven of the Quarto Group, Tim Greco of Dorling Kindersley, Lindy Humphreys of Abrams, and Mary Ann Naples of Rodale will discuss these issues in a panel moderated by Lauren Shakely, who faced these challenges herself as the longtime publisher at Crown Illustrated.

Our normal practice at Publishers Launch Conferences, which this review of our planned show spells out, is to put the smartest and most articulate players really dealing with the challenges of digital change in the spotlight to talk about what they’re doing and what they’re facing. This has the virtue of showcasing real solutions to real problems.

Frankly, our view is that very few of the outside disruptors, often tech- and private equity-centric start-ups providing “solutions” to the problems as they perceive them, have gained much traction or added much value. We’ll get more perspective on that from our “business development” panel, who are the ones in their companies charged with interacting with the aspirants, but we stick to the belief that there is more to be gained by watching what the established publishing players and the biggest companies in technology are doing than in tracking the theories spawned by industry outsiders who think their insights will change our world.

But we recognize a weakness to our approach. There are some things the established players just can’t discuss. We can’t expect Random House and Penguin — or their biggest competitors — to talk about what the merger of the two biggest publishers will mean to the marketplace. We can’t expect publishers who must trade with Amazon and Barnes & Noble to discuss the impact of their unique marketplace power — one in online sales and one in brick-and-mortar — on publishers’ margins. We can’t expect agents and publishers to talk candidly about when and whether established authors might be willing to eschew their bookstore sales in favor of higher margins on their online sales through a direct tie to Amazon.

But Michael Cader and I have informed opinions on these subjects and neither of us is looking for a job in the industry beyond the one we already have, which is, from our different perches and platforms, to call them as we see them. So we’re going to engage in a 30-minute 1-on-1 discussion of the topics we think it would be hard for the speakers we recruit to discuss as candidly as we will.

I think our discussion will be a highlight of what will be a stimulating day. Frankly, I’m looking forward to all of it. Join us if you possibly can.


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.


Children’s books: the new value chain is a work-in-progress

It occurred to us about a year ago that the children’s book business was wide open for disruption from new players outside the publishing business. Already, two of the companies we mentioned in a post back then about the new entrants that might be the actual instruments of disruption have linked up with established publishers. That suggests that the legacy publishers and the new ones need some help from each other to deliver profitable children’s book publishing going forward.

Even though I’ve been a skeptic about the commercial viability of “enhanced” ebooks and content-based apps, my reservations are inversely proportional to the age of the intended reader. For the past 18 months or so, it has become clear that tablets and color ereaders would become ubiquitous. Roger McNamee of Elevation Partners, one of the visionary investors in Silicon Valley, has been making the pitch that tablets will be replacing PCs and that the opportunity for content creators is to figure out what will work best in the tablet form factor. (To be fair to Roger, I vastly oversimplify: his analysis, which includes the decline of Microsoft and Google and the rise of HTML5, is much more sophisticated than that.) That’s more or less what the companies cited in the post from last November were already working on a year ago, focused on children’s books.

That focus is totally logical. While enhancement for adult books, particularly for books of immersive reading like novels or narratives of history, has required creators to figure out ways to change established behavior that immersive readers will accept (with a stark lack of success so far, I’d say), we’ve been delivering “enhanced” children’s books for years. Die-cuts, pop-ups, and computer chips to make books talk, sing, squeal, and be responsive to touch commands have been implemented for a long time.

And allowing a book to deliver on another established behavior — reading aloud to a child — is a trivial technical problem in the digital context. Touchy Books has an app that will deliver a wide selection of books that with a “read aloud” option for 99 cents and up. Every household with a digital device with color and touchscreen capabilities can give these to a kid for far less than the cost of books.

The companies we talked about in that post — Oceanhouse Media, Ruckus Media, Smashing Ideas, and Trilogy Studios — were focusing on that opportunity. It struck me at the time that these digital content packages could rapidly overtake the appeal of books for these younger audiences and their gatekeepers. I concluded the piece by saying that publishers who wanted to stay in the kids’ books game in the next few years would have to buy one of these studios or start one.

Regular readers of this blog know I’m comfortable acknowledging that predictions made here can be wrong. This one is already being proven right.

Last May, Random House bought the digital developer Smashing Ideas. Smashing Ideas was actually not a newbie formed around the tablet opportunity; it was a digital developer with a decade of experience working with a variety of big non-publishing brands. But they had the tech chops to pursue the tablet opportunity and had been developing children’s apps for Random House for several months before the acquisition. Random House saw the opportunity to accelerate their own development of digital product creation skills by cross-pollinating the SI team with their own. And their stated intention, at least so far, is to allow SI to sustain its third-party development business, even for competing publishers.

Last week, Ruckus Media formed a new partnership, described by Ruckus CEO and experienced book publishing veteran Rich Richter as like a music business “label deal”, with Scholastic. (In a “label deal”, a small record company develops the content and then turns it over to a large record company for manufacturing and distribution, sort of like an “imprint deal” — rare these days — in publishing. There is the implication there that Scholastic also invests and shares ownership in the product. If it were described as a “distribution deal”, that would not be implied. )

There are some interesting wrinkles here. Ruckus is developing original digital content for Scholastic to sell and market. Projects that are starting from scratch are in the pipeline, but Ruckus is also looking for out-of-print children’s books that deliver some brand recognition and can be built more quickly into interesting digital products to jumpstart the list. They’re paying advances for those and it would seem likely that agents will give them a lot to choose from.

What is made very clear by the Ruckus-Scholastic deal that wasn’t as obvious in the link between Random House and Smashing Ideas is that digital developers can use help from publishers, not just the other way around. Although there have definitely been commercial successes delivered by these non-publishers, most of them appear to be from licensing brands already established elsewhere or leveraging public domain titles. Those are thin reeds for a sustainable business model. The licenses will get harder to obtain as publishers figure out how to make these products themselves and the field could get very crowded with multiple digital versions of public domain classics.

Ruckus is doing a smart thing jumping in to mine the world of “out-of-print”. With their visibility, early start, and willingness to pay advances, they have a good chance to harvest the best low-hanging fruit before others get into the game. But this strategy also has a shelf life; a few years from now there won’t be many opportunities of this kind left to be exploited.

And when you can’t get properties that already give you a branding head start, the ability publishers have to introduce books into the marketplace — knowing the influencers and, at least for a while, having the additional marketing and revenue opportunities delivered by print — can provide crucial help that is necessary no matter how clever the new digital products are.

Scholastic, of course, has a very special marketing platform. They are in direct touch with an enormous number of teachers, probably more than a million, who are the gatekeepers for many times that number of kids. (It should be noted that while Scholastic’s position there is dominant, it is not unique. There’s a division of Readers Digest called Weekly Reader that delivers a similar mindshare opportunity to a smaller number of teachers, probably about 200,000. One must wonder how that marketing capability will become part of this picture. Who will acquire whom?)

But the other big players in children’s publishing, even if they don’t have frequent email exchanges with hundreds of thousands of teachers, also have a great deal to offer. Even the newbies who have started successfully (Oceanhouse Media began with a unique partnership business model for its developers which, combined with its license of Dr. Seuss product, has apparently enabled it to be profitable without needing outside capital) will probably find that what big companies like Random House and Scholastic can deliver will be useful, if not essential, before very long.

And, conversely, the big publishers will find it hard to muster the dedicated focus on original digital products (as Richter said to me last week, “that’s all I think about from the time I get up in the morning”) that these new studios do. Alliances, whether by acquisition or some other means, are natural. We should expect to see more combinations like this developing in the months to come.

Both Ruckus Media and Scholastic are on the program for our half-day Publishers Launch Conference in Frankfurt “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital”. (Thanks to our esteemed Chair for that event, Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners, for that!)

That event shouldn’t be confused with our all-day Publishers Launch Conference in Frankfurt “eBooks Around the World”. Follow the links to learn more or register for both. 


Publishers Launch Frankfurt will focus on data and retailers that every publisher needs to know

Our Publishers Launch Conferences venture is doing two shows in Frankfurt: a full-day “eBooks Around the World” program on Monday, October 10 and our first conference dedicated to children’s book publishing, “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital”, which will be a half-day program on Tuesday, October 11. We’ve enlisted the capable help of Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners International to program the children’s show. This post will talk about what I’ve been developing for the all-day Monday program.

There are other things going on, but there are two central themes for Monday: data and retail.

We are always focused on data about digital change because in this transitional time we’re in, none of us can get enough of it. Things are changing fast and if you haven’t looked at the thermometer in the past week or two, you probably don’t know the temperature. That’s even more true on a global scale, because global data is that much harder to get and track.

We are focused on retail because the list of “major accounts” for all publishers will be changing in the next few years. Global players will often (but not always) be replacing local ones as each publisher’s biggest intermediary customers. The ebooks marketplace in the US demonstrates how rapidly new channels can rise with the Kindle and Nook.

To begin the day at Frankfurt, we will have what we believe is the most comprehensive research report yet produced about the digital transition country-by-country and region-by-region. The Milan office of the global consulting firm, A.T. Kearney, working in conjunction with Italy’s Bookrepublic, will update and expand some substantial research they did at the end of last year. They presented their findings at the IfBookThen conference in Milan in February.

The Publishers Launch Conferences team — Michael Cader, Emily Williams, and I — have suggested some additional lines of inquiry around the intrusion of English and the expansion of the global players’ activity which we believe will enhance the already-robust research the Kearney team did before.

We’ll have a data presentation of a different sort from Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen, the company which both is the guardian of a worldwide bibliographic database and the operators of BookScan, which collects point-of-sale information around the globe. Jonathan is going to focus on how metadata affects sales and specifically how deficient metadata costs sales. The lessons here will be the ones everybody will take home and implement immediately. Nowell will point publishers to the metadata fixes which are absolutely necessary to avoid sales leakage.

The retail conversations and presentations will be sprinkled throughout the day.

We wanted to focus our audience on what we consider to be a remarkable story, the resurgence of Barnes & Noble in the digital realm since the introduction of the first Nook device 20 months ago. B&N’s success in using their brick-and-mortar presence to combat Amazon’s two year head start with the Kindle is a case history that retailers in every country in the world will want to examine carefully. That’s why we’re giving it close attention.

Theresa Horner, B&N’s VP for Digital Content and Patricia Arancibia, Manager, Digital Content, International, will join Michael Cader and me for a conversation about how they did it. They started out with a Nook that was pretty similar in price and features to the monochrome e-ink Kindle, but then they carved out their own device niche by offering Nook Color and a touchscreen version which, to this point, nobody else has matched. The color capability enabled B&N to expand their ebook product offering to include content, like magazines and children’s books, that wouldn’t work well on a Kindle or original Nook device.

But they also expanded their content base of non-English publications, building a Spanish-language store for their domestic US market that is more comprehensive than any other in the world!

All of this has propelled B&N to a spot where they are a significant challenger to Amazon’s ebook supremacy in the United States. There have been some recent indications that Nook devices may now be outselling Kindle devices, although not everybody agrees with that proposition.

Many countries have a dominant brick-and-mortar retailer that is contemplating an impending challenge from Amazon. Whether or not the B&N formula is replicable in other markets, perhaps by licensing the Nook or the Kobo reader or the new Google reader or another device, is still a fair question. The answer might be much clearer after the B&N section of our show.

But B&N has not (yet) announced any plans for a global presence. Four other ebook retailers that will grace our Frankfurt stage are declared global players.

David Naggar of Amazon.com will talk about what publishers around the world should do to best benefit from Amazon’s continuing global expansion. We know that Amazon will be a market leader in every country they enter. They are the biggest account for most US publishers today and they will be a top account soon for every publisher in the world if they aren’t already. Tips from their experience about what works best for publishers to increase their sales are useful to every publisher in every language. We had a presentation from Amazon at our Digital Book World show in New York last January which attendees all agreed was helpful and enlightening; we’re expecting the same at PLC Frankfurt.

Tom Turvey of Google will also have a lot to talk about at PLC Frankfurt. Google has just announced a Google ereading device and we keep hearing rumors (although not yet directly from them) that they will be pushing their ebook capabilities hard this Fall when a host of new tablet computers hit the market. Google’s program is the only one really built for participation by retailers and web sites everywhere and there has been a pretty widespread uptake by independent stores in the United States in the program’s opening months. If the biggest dominant chains in each country will want to pay close attention to what B&N has to say, the independent stores around the world, and the publishers that depend on them, will be paying close attention to what Google has to say.

Kobo just opened a store in Germany, following quickly on Amazon’s heels in the biggest single European market with a title base larger that is larger than Amazon’s and larger than the German aggregator, Libreka and with a special reader for the German language. They have said they’ll have stores opening in Spain, France, Italy, and Holland in the next few months. We’re working out the details with Kobo about what they’ll discuss in conversations early next month, but we know they’ll be on the program. Kobo has been distinguished among their competitors so far by their declared willingness to share sales data with publishers and, indeed, they have established a reputation for revealing things we didn’t know about the market at presentations they have made before. Kobo is the purest ebook play among the global competitors that have been in the market for some time; all the rest have other fish to fry.

But there’s a new entrant to global ebook retailing that, like Kobo, is (at least for now) purely about ebooks. That would be the UK-based start-up, Anobii.Their CEO, Matteo Berlucchi, will explain their very enticing proposition to enable crowd-sourced curation and taxonomy for books. On Anobii’s format-agnostic discovery-social platform, you’ll be able to follow a book, an author, a reader, or a topic, and you’ll be able to name your own topics. The basic functionality is supposed to go live in the next month or so and we believe our October conference will be a debut of sorts for what promises to be an entirely new approach to ebookselling. And publishers will be excited to hear that Anobii intends to share data with their vendors as well.

It could well be that the retailers we will have on the stage at PLC Frankfurt will be delivering half the sales or more for most of the world’s publishers in a few years, or perhaps even sooner than that.

Data and retail are our features, but there will be much more covered in the show.

Tracey Armstrong, the CEO of Copyright Clearance Center (which is, along with Perseus Constellation, one of our Global Sponsors) will talk about the importance of collective licensing to capture revenue that will otherwise be lost in a world where any fragment of any book might be a key component of somebody’s new app or web site.

A panel of agents will discuss the emerging new models in that segment of publishing’s value chain.

We’ll have what I think will be a very provocative panel of trade publishers who are benefiting from the fact that their company works in segments other than trade which made the digital transition sooner.

Octavio Kulesz did a pioneering study of the digital transition in the developing world that suggests that entirely new tactics will be called for if publishers are going to realize revenue from the masses who will read books on cell phones, but can’t afford to pay much.

Chris Bauerle, the Director of Sales for Sourcebooks, a mid-sized (or perhaps we should say small-major) US trade publisher, will explain their transition to a digital workflow, done a few years ago but paying off in big ways now that they want to use their content in new creative ways.

And Michael Cader and I will have a thing or two to say as well.


Publishers Launch Conferences: a new partnership with Michael Cader

I had already been in the “publishing futurist” game for a few years when my frequent project partner Mark Bide and I put together a day-long conference in March 2000 at the London Book Fair called “Publishing 2010.” (As I look at what I wrote for that conference, I can see some things I got right, some I got wrong, and some look like good predictions for the next few years, but haven’t happened yet.)

Although it was an “innovation” when I included agents in the digital change conversation at Digital Book World in January 2010, Mark and I actually did it for the first time at that conference 11 years ago. One of the agents we recruited for this conference was Michael Carlisle. Just a week before the conference, and the day before I was leaving for the UK, Carlisle called me with bad news. One of his literary clients was the driver of Lady Diana Spencer’s car in the crash that killed her in August of 1997. The driver’s book was coming out, Carlisle represented it. The promotional book tour needed to take place during the week of London Book Fair and Carlisle just had to cancel his trip across the pond.

“But,” he said, “I can give you a replacement. I know you don’t know him, but his name is Michael Cader and I can assure you he’ll do a great job as my substitute.” With no time to find somebody else, or even to vet this fellow Cader, I just said thank you and good luck with the book tour.

The conference was a success. We made a little money, had a very provocative day of conversation, and a few people even told me it was the best such conference they’d ever attended. Cader was, for my money, one of the stars of the show. I hadn’t ever heard anybody say so many things about digital change in publishing that I agreed with but hadn’t really thought of before. It was easy to agree that we should stay in touch.

A month or two later, Michael sent me a prototype for an idea he had and was about to start: a newsletter called Publishers Lunch. It was a great concept: links to stories about publishing from all over the internet with a graf or two of summary, explanation, and comment. I was bound to think this was a great idea because I’d had a similar thought about six or seven years earlier, just before the Web changed all of our lives. I had suggested to my friend (and one of my very favorite people to work with) Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners that the publishing world needed a service. Since a story about publishing could appear in any one of several newspapers or magazines on a New York newsstand on any day, we should hire a kid to read the papers at 3 am and send out a FAX at 6 in the morning telling people what stories they shouldn’t miss!

We didn’t do it. Cader’s version, with the advancements of technology, was an infinitely better iteration of the idea. As it turned out, his ongoing commentary also added more value than we could possibly have added (unless, of course, we had his help, but we didn’t know him then!)

In the decade-plus since that London Book Fair and the start of Lunch, Cader and I have had the opportunity to work together from time to time on conferences and industry events. We’ve shared stages. At the last BEA in Washington a few years ago, I interviewed Michael in a 1-on-1 session. And we have endlessly discussed our views about publishing and digital change.

We are both, in different ways, already making our living delivering “industry education.” For public consumption, Michael delivers each day’s facts with a few words of wise context; my less-frequent Shatzkin Files posts select a context or a paradigm to explain with, usually, some supporting facts. The consulting assignments of my company often involve teaching a tech company about the publishing business or helping an industry service get a better handle on what their client base needs or can accept. We’ve talked about ways to formalize a partnership over the years. Before it disappeared, we talked with the Stanford Publishing Course about delivering a new digital curriculum. We’ve fiddled with live event ideas.

When David Nussbaum, the Chairman of F+W Media, came to me two years ago with his concept for a new conference called Digital Book World and asked me to organize the program, I suggested strongly to him that he figure out how to engage Cader as his marketing arm. David agreed, and for the past two years, Michael and I have happily collaborated on programming and promoting a 2-day event which, in two short years, has grown to the same size as the 5-year old, very successful, and very worthy Tools of Change.

Today, Michael and I have announced a formal partnership called Publishers Launch Conferences to deliver live events — globally and throughout the year — on publishing and digital change. It is an anchor of this business that we will continue to do the 2-day Digital Book World event in January 2012 and for years thereafter. We call Digital Book World a “State of Play” event, covering the landscape of digital change.

DBW is aimed primarily at US trade publishers and the extent of the show — 2 days and 4 parallel programming tracks for half of the time — allows us to cover more than two dozen distinct topics with panels and presentations. Publishers Launch Conferences will, in its first year (ending next January with DBW 3), deliver about seven shorter (1 day or 1/2 day) and more focused events in New York, London, Frankfurt, and San Francisco. Our first day-long conference will be at (and in conjunction with) BookExpo America in May, aimed at international visitors and the Americans who are doing business with them. Our event in London on June 21, being presented in partnership with the UK’s Publishers Association, will address digital change from a UK perspective.

It has already been an education for us to think things through from the point of view of the different audiences we’re delivering for. Our plans for our London show were greatly informed (and modified) by meetings we had three weeks ago (thanks to our partners at the PA) with about 20 different players in UK publishing to discuss what needed to be addressed, how, and by whom.

Some of the Publishers Launch Conferences events will be topic-targeted. We’re planning two niche shows in the Fall: one on juvenile publishing (which both Michael and I see as the segment of the book business facing the most potential intrustion from outside players because of digital change) and one we’re calling internally “ebooks for the rest of us”. That one will focus on the mechanics of ebook publishing — from content conversion to the ultimate sale — for the smaller publishers, agents, and authors who don’t have the IT and marketing resources of the big publishers. A number of small publishers and entreprenurial authors have achieved notable success in the ebook world already. We’ll focus on what it takes to do that so that more small players can follow in their footsteps.

We decided on doing a few things differently than most other conferences. We won’t have a zillion sponsors; we’re limiting sponsor participation in the interests of our audience and in the interests of the sponsors themselves. Our first two Global Sponsors, Copyright Clearance Center and Perseus’s Constellation service, have embraced our unconventional practices. There will be no sponsor pitches from the stage during our programs. There will be no email spam sent to attendees by sponsors after the programs. Even our printed program will be designed to be helpful and worth keeping and we’ll do our best to have it contain the information that our audiences need to take home, reducing their need to take notes during the show. As readers of this blog know, organizing conferences engages me in conversations that often turn into posts.

Part of my value — and Michael Cader’s — comes from talking to people who are smart and well-informed about the topics that all of us in publishing must inevitably wrestle with if we want to stay in publishing during this time of constant and roiling change. Planning these events and recruiting speakers for them as a continuous and year-round process will be a new ongoing feature of my life, and therefore of these posts as well. I hope we’ll see you at some of the shows but, whether you’re there or not, they should result in you should be reading a more informed blogger when you come to The Shatzkin Files.


Building a new-fangled conference program the old-fashioned way

There is certainly more than one way to build a conference program. I have been putting them together since long before I learned about the concept of “crowd-sourcing”. I’m a bit of a plowhorse about some things so the Digital Book World conference program comes together pretty much the same way as the first digital book conference aimed at trade publishers I organized, Electronic Publishing & Rights, back in 1993. I put together a list of topics for panels or presentations and a roster of people who could either speak or lead me to speakers. Then I engender a lot of conversations between the conference-creation team and the potential speakers and audience to craft the topics, the framing, and the ultimate presentation.

Two other important conferences which appeal to an audience that overlaps Digital Book World, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change in February and SXSW in Austin in March — seem to take a different approach. As near as I can tell, they do crowd-source a lot of their programming. It appears to me that Tools of Change throws out suggested topics and requests that panels and speakers put themselves forward as components of the show. Then, presumably, the people in charge at O’Reilly (the heads of the conference are Andrew Savikas and Kat Meyer, and both of them are smart, knowledgeable, and discerning) choose what will comprise the show. At SXSW it appears that the candidates are selected by an online vote. It seems to me that you therefore guarantee that you’ll get the panels sponsored by the best campaigners, but not necessarily what would give your ultimate audience the best show. But I guess it works for them.

I should declare myself here. I am a fan of Tools of Change. I participated in a day-long brainstorming session several years ago which O’Reilly Media organized to plan the first conference. I missed that one, which was in California in the summer of 2007, but I’ve attended the three annual February conferences in New York, 2008-2010. It’s a great show and a great rendezvous for people thinking about technology and publishing. As this piece makes clear, we can’t handle every worthy subject in two full days of conference programming at Digital Book World; there’s room for lots of other conversation and TOC is a useful one. On the other hand, I have never attended SXSW. The program didn’t look like it had much relevance to commercial trade publishing (although it covered a lot of other things that neither TOC nor DBW does.) Plus it comes in the same month that has a chunk taken out of if for me by baseball spring training. There are things in life besides digital change…

As I think through what we do and how it all works, it is hard for me to see how we could produce nearly as good a show without the conversations. We are helped considerably in our work by a Conference Council of more than 30 top players in the industry from across houses large and small, agents, members of industry bodies like BISG, Association of Booksellers for Children, and the Frankfurt Book Fair, and some other consultants. We talk to literally dozens of other people as we put the show together, getting advice about whom to contact to speak and shaping and re-shaping our formulation of the panels and presentations.

This does, indeed, start in my head. I wrote a post in May outlining what I thought might be the major topics. We got comments on the blog and then we pushed the list out to the Conference Council in formation to get more input.

Once the Council was formed, we put the topic list up on Survey Monkey for them to give us feedback. What we were mainly looking for is “of what we postulated might be on the program, what’s essential and what’s a yawn?”, but we also got thoughts about things that could be combined or reframed. Then at the end of June, we had an exciting and rigorous 2-hour meeting with many of the Council and a number of our F+W colleagues at which we solicited even more ideas and honed our thinking further.

This process eliminated a number of topics that were on my initial list. Some of them were dropped because the group thought interest would be low (usually because they were too narrow or specialized); for others we couldn’t see who could speak to them effectively. But among those we knocked out were:

* Will non-US publishers start to establish a virtual sales presence in the US as ebook sales grow?

* How do publishers deal with image rights for old titles becoming new ebooks?

* What changes are on the horizon for publishers’ relationships with the library market?

* Are trade shows becoming an anachronism in the age of digital communication?

* How much of the solid print backlist is still locked up by rights issues?

* To what extent do publishers view single-title marketing as a practical endeavor?

All of these topics are “worthy” but, against very stiff competition, they didn’t make the cut.

The survey and Council conversation also helped us refine how we’ll approach a number of subjects.

Author royalties for ebooks will be handled as a survey and presentation, not, as first occurred to me, primarily through a panel of agents.

Our Council felt that how publishers make the business decisions to acquire content not necessarily intended for first use in a book was worthy of discussion. A subsequent conversation with potential speakers convinced us that “making books out of content that started another way” would be a relevant extension and should be in that same discussion.

Marketing and metadata were identified as topics that I should have included but hadn’t. As a result, we will have two metadata panels (one on core, one on enhanced) and we’re getting great help from BISG Executive Director Scott Lubeck (on the Conference Council, of course) putting these together. Although we have several panels that touch on marketing, I’m still thinking about the best way to tackle how single-title promotion has changed (which it has: profoundly).

What I had imagined as “The Tools Every Publisher Must Have in 2011″ morphed into a conversation about “industry solutions” — such things as Edelweiss and NetGalley and Filedby. A further refinement from our first idea is that we’ll have a panel of publisher-users discuss these, rather than go with my initial idea of inviting the companies themselves to present their solutions.

We knew we needed to discuss the future of bookstores. Our Conference Council meeting yielded the suggestion that we have analysts who follow industry stocks discuss that topic (and a hat tip to Michael Cader for that idea.) We’ve recruited Marianne Wolk, a market analyst who follows Amazon and Google, to speak, and she’s helping us look for other analysts or investors to join that discussion. And we’re also putting together a panel of independent bookstores; we’ve already talked to more than half-a-dozen and will talk to several more to pick the three or four that can deliver the freshest, most relevant, and most articulate content for our conference. (I would hate to leave this to self-selection.)

A panel I’d thought we needed on “ebook first” was dismissed as old news and too narrow.

We lean heavily on expertise that we know and trust.

Apparently, sometimes our technique gives us the same result as our counterparts’ crowd-sourcing. Liza Daly is the most compelling thinker I’ve encountered on ebooks. Last year we had her do 20 minutes on “ebook basics” which was one of the most-praised components of our program. I knew we had to have her back and a fast conversation with Liza quickly yielded the subject. She’s going to talk about “cost-effective development of enhanced content: how to display on multiple platforms without multiple headaches.” I’ll bet many attendees will find this the most useful 20 minutes at the show. I see that O’Reilly has her on their Frankfurt TOC program. That’s a good decision no matter how they arrived at it. (And I’d advise SXSW to make sure the ballot box is properly stuffed for Liza if she’s a candidate for their event next March.)

We had outlined three different research projects we wanted to present. Two are follow-ons from last year. Verso Media has a panel of “book” consumers and Bowker, working with BISG, has a panel of “ebook” consumers. This year, Digital Book World is sponsoring a follow-up effort with Verso and so the reports from both of those groups of consumers will be updated. (The BISG-Bowker effort was already ongoing.)

But then we discovered a new data-gathering opportunity with a company called iModerate, which does both surveys and online qualitative research, and we put them on an assignment of studying in depth a particular subset of ebook readers: those that read on multi-function devices like iPads and smartphones. Michael Cader suggested some ways to help the audience get maximum value from the data. As a result, we put those presentations together on the program, will distribute some data to the audience in advance, and have the presenters join in a panel after they say their own pieces. We thought that was a great idea; we’re doing it.

Maria Campbell, the veteran scout who has been on the foreign rights scene for decades, knows the players trading international rights better than anybody. So we drafted her to help us find the right person to lead a discussion of how the growth of ebooks will affect territorial rights. That right person is Cullen Stanley of the Janklow and Nesbit Agency, with whom we’re now working to craft the right combination of agents and publishers, American and foreign, to make this a balanced and informed discussion. The inclusion of agents is a key point of differentiation between Digital Book World and just about every discussion about the digital future I’m aware of. There are many aspects of the conversation about the digital future that simply can’t be sensibly conducted without the involvement of agents.

Lorraine Shanley, a member of our Council, is not only a consultant but also one of the leading executive recruiters in publishing. We wanted to examine how skill sets are changing in publishing. I thought I’d put together a panel of recruiters. Lorraine suggested that it made more sense to create a panel of executives who came to publishing from other industries. We liked her idea better and we now have Charlie Redmayne of HarperCollins as the first of the executives who will join Lorraine for that conversation.

I don’t mean to suggest we’re unique in doing things the way we do. Mark Dressler, who puts together programs for BookExpo America and for the Frankfurt Book Fair (and who will interview me about the Digital Book World program at a Halle 8 stage on Frankfurt Wednesday), is also a micro-programmer and very highly consultative and interactive in his program creation. I am sure some of what you see at TOC and SXSW resulted from interaction, too. I just can’t help thinking when I hear “calls” for programming how much the conversations we have inform and improve what we offer. Although I’m the proud Conference Chair who gets credit for putting together the Digital Book World program, it’s consultation with the most knowledgeable players in town that makes it what it is. Perhaps it is “crowd-sourcing” of a different kind.


A brilliant Conference Council helps make a great Digital Book World

We had a very successful debut annual conference for Digital Book World last January, even though we didn’t conceive the idea until June, put together a group of helpers (which we now call our Conference Council) until July, or draft the initial program until August. This year we’re way ahead of that schedule. We’ve put together a fabulous Council to advise us this year and we’re having a meeting of many of them next week to discuss the agenda and to start getting suggestions for speakers.

The Council gives us wide exposure and connections to the trade publishing industry. That way we make sure we don’t miss any ideas and we don’t miss knowing about any talented people whom our audience would want to hear.

We have several publishing company presidents and CEOs (Sara Domville of F+W, Marcus Leaver of Sterling, Maureen McMahon of Kaplan, Brian Napack of Macmillan, Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks) and some presidents and CEOs from other companies and support organizations in the industry (Kristen McLean of the Association of Booksellers for Children, Tracey Armstrong of Copyright Clearance Center, Peter Clifton of Filedby, David Cully of Baker & Taylor, Joe Esposito of GiantChair, John Ingram of Ingram Content Companies, Scott Lubeck of The Book Industry Study Group, and Steve Potash of Overdrive Systems.)

We have other senior level executives, many with specific digital responsibilities (Peter Balis of Wiley, Ken Brooks of Cengage, Mark Gompertz of Simon & Schuster, Madeline McIntosh of Random House, Thomas Minkus of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Larry Norton of Borders, Kate Rados of F+W Media, Charlie Redmayne of HarperCollins, Adam Salomone of Harvard Common Press, John Schline of Penguin, Evan Schnittman of Oxford University Press, Michael Tamblyn of Kobo, Maja Thomas of Hachette, and Tom Turvey of Google.)

We have agents (Sloan Harris of ICM, Simon Lipskar of Writer’s House, and Scott Waxman of the Waxman Agency) and industry consultants and commentators (Michael Cairns of Persona Non Data, Ted Hill of THA Consulting, and Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners International.) And because he is our media partner, we have help from Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace as well. And we also get great input from others on the F+W team: David Nussbaum, David Blansfield, Cory Smith, Guy Gonzalez, and Matt Mullin.

So we have all the Big Six represented, as well as small publishers, industry-wide associations and service providers, wholesalers, digital distribution partners, retailers, and agents. All of these people have real input into the topic list and speakers. Many of them are joining us for a meeting next week to review our ideas for the program, which we previewed on this blog about a month ago.

Because Digital Book World tries to be at the cutting edge of trade publishing and digital change, we often face one or both of two challenges. Sometimes we believe something should be happening, or be about to happen, but we may not know where or whether the publishers leading the charge will talk about it. Several topics come to mind that fit that description: vertical efforts inside general trade houses; what houses are doing to adjust to reduced expectations for print sales in bookstores; how houses are gearing up or changing their sales efforts to compete in and serve a growing list of digital intermediaries; how enhanced ebook and ebook first creation change the traditional order of things in product development.

The other challenge we have to work around is when people can say things privately but not publicly. One topic that is very tough to talk about is ebook royalties, which is a major point of contention between publishers and leading agents at the moment. The big houses are pretty adamantly trying to hold the line (publicly) at a royalty of 25% of net receipts. But upstart publishers like Jane Friedman’s Open Road appear to be willing to pay 50%; publishing through Smashwords yields 85% (but sells the books without DRM, which would frequently scare the copyright owners of valuable properties); and self-publishing through a distributor would deliver a yield somewhere in between. (Remember: self-publishing ebooks carries no inventory risk.) In that environment, some agents are able to wring some concessions from some publishers. But the agent can’t talk about that without jeopardizing her ability to get concessions for her clients and no publisher will volunteer to reveal the isolated concession and start turning that into a policy.

Some things are just hard to discuss. Do booksellers, or even the publishers and wholesalers who supply them, want to talk about the possibility of their impending demise? But how can one plan for the future and ignore that elephant in the room? If a publisher suddenly sees the necessity of developing direct selling relationships with end users, after years of telling booksellers he was against it, does that publisher want to talk about those efforts in public?

When competitors participate in industry education initiatives, they must draw lines around what they will reveal and what they won’t. One ebook-responsible executive we know at a major house is persistently reluctant to reveal what he’s doing or what he’s thinking. But he has a boss, one who is proud of what he does and what their house does, who pushes him forward as a speaker.

Frankly, I think these challenges are greater for us than they are for other conferences on digital change that focus more on technology than they do on business practices. Very few publishers are masters of tech; usually they’re working with outside suppliers who are happy to share best practices. But business practices are different; they’re more sensitive. Sometimes the reluctance to share them is sound. Sometimes constraints are even legally required. Since our job is to focus on business practices, we’re glad to have relationships with very knowledgable players who will candidly engage with us on these challenges so we can figure out the best way to protect true proprietary knowledge but still disseminate valuable information.

We’re really proud of the illustrious group we have gotten to advise our efforts, and we get great value from them even though their first responsibility is to the company they work for. We feel confident that this group helps us cast a net that is wide and broad enough to assure us that any major development in the trade book world will hit our radar screen and that we’ll know if there are informed people willing to talk about it.


Tech companies need to look like they understand publishing, which they don’t always do

I showed up Tuesday morning at the gorgeous Cipriani restaurant and ballroom on 42nd Street for The Future of Publishing Summit, not knowing what to expect. I had been invited to attend this in an email last month which promised an interesting program (lots of big tech companies plus a book publishing “track” led by the always-interesting Carolyn Pittis of HarperCollins) at an all-day conference. I was invited because of my status as a “thought leader”; an all-day event like this with no fee is not unheard of, but it also isn’t common. I accepted.

Then when I heard from my friend Evan Schnittman of OUP over the weekend that he’d be going, I decided I should look at “what is this” more carefully. So I went to the web site for it and I found it almost impossible to figure out who was staging this thing and what they hoped to get out of it. My prior experience with free events — many I helped organize that were run by VISTA Computer Services (now renamed Publishing Technology) in the 1990s and several since hosted by MarkLogic — tended to have the organizer highly branded and visible. This one was opaque. “About us” on the “The Future of Publishing” web site described the conference, the agenda, and the goal of “setting the agenda for publishing’s new business model amid digital disruption”, and it led to a link listing the sponsoring companies. But nowhere did it say, “I’m the organizer of this event and this is why I want you there.”

When I got to Cipriani in the morning, I started to see some people I knew: Evan, David Young and Maja Thomas from Hachette, Peter Balis from Wiley, Dominique Raccah from Sourcebooks. “What is this about?”, I asked them. “Who is behind this?” Nobody really seemed to know.

As the day developed, it seemed that the two parties in charge were Tim Bajarin, President of Creative Strategies and Colin Crawford, former EVP Digital at IDG Communications, Inc. Bajarin kicked off the session recalling a critical meeting at UCLA in 1990 that really charted the course for CD-Rom development.

Uh oh, I thought. I wonder if these guys know what “CD-Rom” calls up in the mind of anybody in the room who was in trade publishing the 1990s.

What I had walked into took me back to the early 1990s when I went to a conference sponsored very openly sponsored by Microsoft for book publishers. The message then was, “here are the amazing things we are going to be able to do with CD-Roms in the very near future. To realize the true value of this technology, we need content. We’re not sure exactly how you make money from the content, but, hey, guys, get creative.” And, in fact, that was the message that the five key sponsors of this Summit — Sony, Adobe, Marvell, Qualcomm, and HP — had for their publishing audience.

This was the takeaway. Consumers are going to be navigating their content on faster, smarter, lighter, and cheaper devices that will open up more flexible and robust content delivery and consumption models. Publishers should take advantage of this! But “taking advantage” in this case often meant “more sound, more pictures, more video”. And that recalls the veritable disaster of CD-Rom development for book publishers: largely uncontrolled spending in development of new kinds of products, ostensibly but loosely rooted in books, that had no established market and never found one. The iPad had already unleashed several sparks of enthusiasm for enhanced ebooks; this conference wanted to pour fuel on those sparks and start a real fire burning.

The format of the day was that each of the primary sponsors got a half-hour to present their technology, following 30 minutes from Tom Turvey of Google on the forthcoming Google Editions. (Turvey joked about the fact that he had given the presentation to just about everybody in the room before in their office or his.) I’d say that most of the 30 minute presentations packed at least 5 minutes of useful information into them. There were definitely people buzzing about the fact that Adobe has a workaround to enable Flash-like content on the iPhone, which doesn’t support Flash. We all got the message that connectivity will be more robust and more routine; that both LCD color and e-ink (and before long, color e-ink) will be available in a staggering number of devices (or “form factors.”)

With all that capability in your hand, you can pull up just about any content you want. “Why would you read a plain old book” was certainly part of the message.

Then after a really terrific lunch, about half to two-thirds of the audience (I’d reckon; couldn’t really see because we were broken into three groups in different rooms for books, magazines, and newspapers and no more than a fourth of the audience was there for the final part of the program after the breakouts) remained to hear the content-based presentations. The intention here was “the tech guys will explain what’s coming in the morning; the publishing guys will explain where they are in the early afternoon; and then our experts will ‘pull it all together’ at the end of the day, allowing us to leave with a new plan for publishing.” The “experts”were additional sponsors, of course, and creators of tools or platforms for products or presentation: Zinio, Notion Ink, ScrollMotion, Vook, and Skiff. These are all very worthy companies with substantial propositions that have made real inroads working with established media.

But are they qualified to chart a commercial course forward for complex publishing enterprises? Frankly, I don’t think so.

Cader said privately on Monday that he had joined Conferences Anonymous. He wasn’t going. Admittedly, these guys had a rough row to hoe trying to tell people something new following on the heels of Digital Book World in January, Tools of Change in February, Pub Business Conference and Expo earlier in March, and an ABA meeting on digital change in between. People who are really junkies for this stuff were out at SXSW, which apparently also didn’t seem as revelatory to some savvy book practioners as it did last year (or so said my buddy from the Microsoft conference two decades ago, Lorraine Shanley.)

My sense of this one was “nice try”, but it didn’t work. The superficial logic of putting the tech and publishing people together, laying out the picture from each side and then coming up with “answers” within a single stimulating day is appealing, but it is ultimately impractical. Book publishers (and, I suspect, other publishers as well) aren’t going to do much today based on what they see tech might deliver two or four years from now. And book publishing isn’t one business anyhow. As Turvey of Google, who understands the publishing business better than any other tech company representative I know and, frankly, better than most publishers, spelled out in the beginning: “book publishing is about five different businesses that don’t have much to do with each other.” We in publishing know that very well. Tech companies that want to get our attention need to make clear that they know that too.


Introducing Digital Book World

Back in 1993 or so, my friend Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners International and I went to a free half-day conference sponsored by Microsoft. At the time, Microsoft was really pushing the computer manufacturers to install CD-Rom drivers into new computers. They had a definite selfish interest, which was to reduce the cost of goods for their software, which was being delivered on multiple floppy disks. One CD-Rom could hold what a dozen or more floppies would hold and would cost Microsoft considerably less. Since the consumer was paying for what ended up in their computer, not the manufacturing cost of the shrink-wrapped product that got it there, Microsoft knew that making the delivery mechanism cheaper wouldn’t oblige them to cut the cost of their software; they’d just make more money.

So on this particular day, they were hosting the publishing community to tell them what CD-Roms could mean to them. This was the first time that I was aware (although perhaps it had happened before) that the mainstream tech community was talking to the consumer trade publishing community and saying “have we got something for you!”

What Microsoft tried to demonstrate was that many things could be done with all the data that could be packed on a CD-Rom. They were in the process of creating their own CD-Rom encyclopedia, Encarta, and they wanted all publishers to get on the CD-Rom bandwagon. The message essentially was: “you’re the creative people; you’re the content guys. Look at all this cool stuff that CD-Roms can do. Now we don’t know what the product should be exactly and we don’t have a business model for you, but, don’t be Luddites, get off your duffs and start making some CD-Roms!”

Lorraine and I walked out of that meeting thinking, “this isn’t very helpful” to the content publishers who were our client base. So our two companies joined forces with another consulting company owned by Dan McNamee, got PW as a sponsor, and staged a full-day conference called “Electronic Publishing and Rights” (which turned out to be the first of two.) We had a plenary session in the morning, and then the afternoon proceeded on three tracks: consumer, education, and professional. (When we did the second show, we made it five tracks: consumer, school, college, sci-tech, and legal/accounting.) Both shows were sellouts and what I learned putting them together really pushed me, before the Web, before Amazon, and before ebooks had anything more than a 4-line display on an early Sony device, into the business of thinking about what the impact of digital delivery of content would be on consumer trade publishing.

Before long, the conferences we did led to the “Publishing in the 21st Century” program I described last week and the regular reminders that book publishing is many  businesses with quite different characteristics, not just one (which we had acknowledged at our EP&R shows with our afternoon tracks.)

And that leads us to Digital Book World, the new conference on digital change for consumer trade publishers that was announced yesterday. We’re now having conversations that go beyond our very illustrious Advisory Board about speakers and topics. What comes back to us over and over again is how important the trade book focus is.

For example, earlier this week we spent the day working with a client — a large aggregator — that wanted a little “ebook seminar” for their team to be part of our visit. In order to really focus the conversation, I asked for a list of questions and concerns. It became evident very quickly that this company needed information about sci-tech, college, and school ebooks and, of course, what I know best is trade. But I knew enough about the others to know that they are quite different, so I checked in with two smart industry colleagues (both of whom are members of our Advisory Board, as it happens) who know both the trade and non-trade spaces. We came up with a list of distinctions, but one really stood out to me.

In the trade space, one of the big ebook topics (which we plan to explore in depth at DBW) is “pricing.” What should ebooks cost the consumer? The convention among trade publishers has been to peg ebook retail prices to the least-expensive edition available in print. So if there is a cloth edition and a paperback edition, the publisher would be guided on ebook pricing by the paperback (usually setting at or slightly below the print book price.)

But in academic publishing, hardcover and paperback editions are often published simultaneously. The publisher figures that the paperbacks are for the students; the hardcovers are for the libraries. Since ebooks in the academic space are considered primarily library items, and because they have often become part of larger searchable databases, the academic publishers would set their ebook prices based on the hardcover, the more expensive print book available. He also said that sometimes they are even more expensive than the hardcover, because of the additional functionality they have, like links and embedded video.

This was important information for our client, who works across publishing segments. But if presented without a clear contextual frame, it could well be confusing information to a consumer trade publisher (or an academic publisher) trying to figure out a pricing strategy. Because we are tightly focused on consumer trade publishing, our panel(s) at DBW might not mention a tie-to-hardcover pricing, but if we did, we’d pose the model and talk about why it made sense in some other context, but not in ours. We’ll be talking about lots of other things that affect price: discounts, retailer strategies and control, the impact of the publisher selling direct to the consumer, and the extent to which there is enrichment or enhancement, for example. All of those things, as well, are somewhat different in the consumer space than in the others, where aggregation and value-added capabilities are critical components of ebook development.

Now that DBW has been announced, we’re engaged in conversations to refine the topics list and speaker suggestions we’ve gotten from our Advisory Board. We’ll be announcing speakers and panels as they are nailed down. We’re striving for a show that will scream “this is for me!” to consumer trade publishers. While we’re not doing a “call” for topics and panels (we did that ourselves, internally and with our Advisory Board, already), we certainly will happily entertain suggestions. If you have any you want us to consider, better to email my colleague Sophie Shepherd (at [email protected]) than to post them here (though you can also do both.)

This post and my last post last week and many you will see in the weeks to come will be making the distinction between “general trade publishing” and other book publishing. That distinction is a remarkably important one, but it is also going to be a disappearing one. In fact, the distinction between “book publishing” and “publishing” is going to be a disappearing one over the next couple of decades; we have talked before about the fact that format-agnosticism will increasingly characterize all media, not just publishing, as will verticality. While that means that there is a real need for Digital Book World, which emphasizes that distinction, it also means there is a place and need for the more tech-centric and publishing-type-agnostic program presented at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change. Personally, I’m planning to attend both.