Neal Goff

The Digital Book World program this year covers the waterfront of the digital transition for book publishing


(This is a longer-than-usual Shatzkin Files post reviewing the topics and speakers for the 26 breakout sessions at DBW 2015. It serves as a checklist of “things to think about right now” for book publishers living through the experience of digital change. The entire program is here. We decided not to link to each and every speaker.)

The main stage speakers get most of the promotional attention leading up to Digital Book World. That’s just good marketing because there are many important names. Some have written big books (in addition to many other things they’ve done) like Ken Auletta, Seth Godin, and Walter Isaacson. We have a number of CEOs on the main stage as well, including Brian Murray of HarperCollins, who has just been named PW’s “Person of the Year”.

But half of Digital Book World is the six breakout session slots, at which attendees select from several choices. I take some pride in saying that we’re requiring some of the toughest decisions our attendees will have to make in 2015 very early in the year when they decide for each slot which session to attend and which ones they have to skip.

What we tried to do was to schedule things so that our “tracks” — two or more sessions on marketing, data, global, transformation, kids/education, technology, and new business models — are set up to allow people to attend all the sessions in that track. But there is overlap, of course.

“Marketing” is definitely the marquee subject for DBW 2015. We have seven sessions under that heading. On the first day we have a conversation about the skill sets required for marketing today, chaired by my Logical Marketing partner Pete McCarthy and featuring Jeff Dodes of Macmillan, Angela Tribelli of HarperCollins, Rick Joyce of Perseus, and Hannah Harlow of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Since two of the panelists are recent imports from outside publishing, presumably hired precisely because they had skill sets that publishing training wouldn’t have produced, this group is bound to help all publishing marketers identify what they need to bring on board.

That will be followed by a session on Smarter Video Marketing, which will be chaired by Intelligent Television founder Peter Kaufman, leading a discussion among video marketers Scott Mebus of Fast Company, Sue Fleming of Simon & Schuster,  Heidi Vincent of National Geographic Books, and John Clinton of Penguin Random House. In a world where authors are making their own videos and YouTube is the second leading search engine, this is a topic that suddenly needs to be on everybody’s radar.

The third marketing track session on Day One is on mobile marketing. Since tracking data is now showing that people now do more searching on mobile devices than on PCs, making sure books are optimized for mobile discovery has rapidly become essential. Thad McIlroy, a consultant with a long history in publishing, did a report on mobile for Digital Book World and will present some of his findings to kick off the session. Then he will lead a discussion including Nathan Maharaj of Kobo, Kristin Fassler of Penguin Random House, and CJ Alvarado of Snippet, a reading app that has been specializing in creating mobile reading experiences for branded authors/musicians /personalities, to detail how publishers and retailers are responding to this new reality.

Also related to marketing and also running on Monday, we’ve set up a break-out session for Joe Pulizzi, head of the Content Marketing Institute, who will have done a presentation on the main stage. Content marketing is something publishers need to learn from. Certainly all the techniques that are employed by non-publishers to market themselves with content created for a marketing purpose should be employed by publishers who have tons of content available for marketing. Pulizzi knows all the tricks and will have talked about many of them from the main stage. The breakout session will give attendees that want to learn more, and ask questions, an opportunity to do that.

The marketing track continues on DBW’s second day. One session, being moderated by my Idea Logical colleague, Jess Johns, will examine case studies of successful marketing campaigns. We’re featuring representatives from two of the platforms publishers can work with for marketing: Ashleigh Gardner of content platform Wattpad and Alex White from marketing data aggregator Next Big Book. They’ll each be joined by a publisher who has worked with them (about to be announced). Wattpad and Next Big Book, along with their publisher partner, will walk through what they’ve done in marketing that would have been impossible to imagine a couple of years ago.

Also on Day 2, we’ll be examining the new world of digital paid media. This has been a big challenge for publishers. Digital media is apparently cheap; you can do marketing that matters for hundreds of dollars in “media” cost, it doesn’t require thousands. But there’s also a lot of work and management involved to using digital media right. We were glad to get digital marketers from three leading publishers, Alyson Forbes from Hachette, Caitlin Friedman from Scholastic and Christine Hung from Penguin Random House as well as Tom Thompson from Verso Advertising. This session will be moderated by Heather Myers of Spark No. 9.

A marketing topic that has become top-of-mind for many publishing marketers is “price promotion”. A business has been built around it for the ebook business called BookBub, and its founder and CEO Josh Schanker will be on our panel discussing it. He’ll be joined by Matthew Cavnar of Vook, Rachel Chou of Open Road, and Nathan Maharaj of Kobo. We went for three retailers and service providers here because publisher experience with price promotion is still pretty limited, although the ebook pioneers at Open Road are an exception. Laura Hazard Owen of GigaOm will moderate this session.

Our data conversation begins on the main stage on the second morning of DBW with data scientist Hilary Mason, the CEO and Founder of Fast Forward labs. She started looking at Big Data at Bit.ly, the link-shortening and -tracking service. Mason is going to look at data across a content set that is the only one more granular than books: the content on the web. Her presentation will help us all understand how to interpret audiences for very small portions of the available content. Because we expect her presentation, like Pulizzi’s on Day One, to generate lots of questions, we also gave her a breakout session to facilitate questions and further explanations. DBW sponsor LibreDigital, which has a new offering to help their client publishers turn data into business intelligence, will help Hilary manage the Q&A.

Our panel on “Authors Facing the Industry” will be prefaced by two presentations.. Judith Curr, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster’s Atria Publishing Group, will have done a main stage presentation on the choice “self-publish or be published” that authors face. Then the breakout session will begin with a short presentation from Queens College Professor Dana Beth Weinberg of DBW’s annual “author survey”, giving a data-grounded underpinning to the panel discussion that will follow. Bianca D’Arc, an extremely successful writer of paranormal sci-fi and fantasy romance (and a former chemist), will be joined by two non-fiction writers for this conversation. Both David Vinjamuri, a marketing professor, and Rick Chapman, a computer programmer, have marketed their books themselves because they make more money doing it that way to their highly-targeted audiences. The panel will be moderated by Jane Friedman, one of the industry’s thought leaders about self-publishing.

The data we’ve never had before that is just beginning to be appreciated is the subject of our “How People Read” panel. It has become obvious that the platform owners know more about how consumers “behave in the wild” around reading than publishers do. Multiple device use, response to free samples, whether people read more than one book at a time, and how fast they read various books are all clear to those who serve up the ebooks, as well as differences in behavior that are geographically based, including uptake of English-language ebook reading. In a panel which will be moderated by Chris Kennealley of Copyright Clearance Center, Micah Bowers of Bluefire, Michael Tamblyn of Kobo, Jared Friedman of Scribd, and David Burleigh of Overdrive will share data insights their companies have gained by seeing many consumers of many genres in many contexts. Evan Schnittman, who had senior executive positions with Oxford and Bloomsbury and most recently with Hachette, will be moderating.

Of course, that last session is not just about “data”, it is also about “global”, which is another track at DBW 2015 with two sessions on Day Two.

The first of these, moderated by BISG Executive Director Len Vlahos, is on “Global Publishing Tactics”, designed to help publishers know what to do to sell outside their home territory. Speakers from three companies that provide global ebook distribution — Gareth Cuddy of ePub Direct, Marcus Woodburn of Ingram, and Amanda Edmonds of Google — will talk about what it takes to make your ebooks discoverable and get them purchased outside your home market. All of these entities distribute to just about every market in the world on behalf of a wide variety of publishers large and small. They see what works in metadata, pricing, and marketing, and they know what doesn’t. They are in a unique position to help publishers hoping to expand their global sales know what it will take to do that.

Our other dedicated global track session is the “Global Market Spotlight”, which will help our US- and English-centric audience understand the opportunities in four of the biggest emerging digital markets. It will feature local experts Carlo Carrenho from Brazil, Thomas Minkus of the Frankfurt Book Fair speaking about Germany, Marcello Vena from Italy, and Simon Dunlop of Bookmate, the ebook subscription service from Russia. Following a general introduction about how to look at new markets from Gareth Cuddy of ePub Direct, each of them will talk about how both online and ebooks are taking hold in their market, what local competitors are doing (and there is a very interesting ebook competitor coming from Germany), and what the prospects are for English-language sales in their market. This session will give very directed advice to publishers trying to get sales in four of the most promising new digital territories in the world.

Education is a subject on the agenda for trade publishers because how their books will get to students is undergoing dramatic change they’ll need to understand.

College textbook publishing has been remade in the past decade. In a panel moderated by veteran industry executive Joe Esposito, we will have the four giants of college textbook publishing talk about what that has meant in each of their shops. Simon Allen of Macmillan, Ken Brooks of McGraw-Hill, Clancy Marshall of Pearson, and Paul Labay of Wiley will discuss how their businesses have changed over the past few years, and why. Each of the biggest college publishers has changed their organizational structure, their workflows, and even their products themselves in the past decade, sometimes responding to and sometimes anticipating the changes taking place in the market. All of them have essentially switched from selling textbooks to selling learning platforms. Publishers that sell content into the college market will want to understand the new platforms these players have created and how outside content will now make its way to this market.

The school market is also undergoing extreme change. Partly spurred by the new Common Core standards but also by the fact that digital devices are increasingly integrated into the lives of today’s youth, the classroom experience is being changed dramatically. Neal Goff, who has had senior executive positions in several companies, most recently My Weekly Reader, and who is currently consulting with Highlights, will moderate the discussion about the changing K-12 environment. Three companies with very different perspectives on the market will participate. Chris Palma of Google will describe the operating system that works on the district, building, and classroom level that Google is making available free to school systems, achieving remarkable penetration very quickly. Of course, Google also provides hardware (Chromebooks) and content (through Google Play). Neil Jaffe is the CEO of Booksource, which has been providing print and digital content to schools for many years and sees a continuing need to provide both in the future. And Erica Lazzaro speaks for Overdrive, the company that has dominated the ebook library lending business and is making its way in the school market through its penetration of school libraries. They each have a unique view of how this market is changing. Publishers who sell books read by K-12 students will find this session invaluable.

It is becoming increasingly understood that “gamification” is a way to engage a lot of people who might choose non-reading content, particularly potential readers among the young. Our panel on this subject includes two publishers that are using gamifying to create more engaged “readers”. Keith Fretz will speak for Scholastic, which has made this work more than once already, most notably with “39 Clues”. He is being joined by Greg Ferguson of Full Fathom Five, a collaboration created by James Frey among HarperCollins, Fox, and Google’s Niantic Labs. Another way to employ gamification to engage younger readers is being employed by panelist Thomas Leliveld of Blloon, a subscription ebook service that uses “virtual money” both to reward its users and for them to use to pay for what they read. Also on the panel will be Sara Ittelson, Director of Business Development at Knewton, an adaptive learning company that has developed a platform to personalize educational content and which has lots of data showing how students engage with educational content across ages. This session is moderated by publishing attorney Dev Chatillon.

You could call it “education” or you could call it “tech” (another one of our tracks), but either way DBW attendees will learn about some important new propositions on our Publishers Launchpad session on ed-tech. Our Launchpad sessions are moderated by Robin Warner, a tech investor through her role as Managing Director of Dasilva & Phillips. Launchpad seeks to feature companies that many won’t yet have heard about, but we think they should. Johnjoe Farragher, CEO and Founder of Defined Learning has a new approach to mapping skills to curriculum for the K-12 market. Neal Shenoy, CEO of Speakaboos, will explain his subscription platform for digital picture books which is pedagogically designed to promote education. And Jason Singer, CEO of Curriculet, will explain how his company provides a rental model combined with enabling teachers to annotate and structure the student experience. All of these companies effectively become “gatekeepers” for trade content in schools, making their models very important for publishers who want their books delivered to K-12 students to understand.

The other Launchpad session, also moderated by Robin Warner, is more clearly “tech”-centric. Kevin Franco, the CEO of Enthrill, will talk about how his company “makes ebooks physical” by the use of cards with codes, which is now being trialed in Wal-mart in Canada. Peter Hudson of BitLit enables publishers to provide a free or discounted ebook to people who own a print copy and, along the way, has also developed a really nifty technology that will identify the books on anybody’s shelf from a picture (which they call a “shelfie”). Andrew Dorward of BookGenie451, will explain how his company uses semantic search to make books more discoverable. Beni Rachmanov of DBW sponsor iShook, which has a social ebook reading platform for readers, authors, and publishers, will also present at this session.

Following the Launchpad session, we have our techiest session, moderated by my personal “go-to” guy for understanding tech development in book publishing, Bill Kasdorf, Vice-President at Apex Content Solutions. Bill’s panel’s topic is what might be thought of publishing tech’s “magic bullet”: HTML 5, a format that enables the nirvana of “write-once, use-many-ways” content creation. With the need to manage both print and digital formats and with digital now being rendered on what seems like an infinite variety of screens, the need for publishers to make use of this technology has never been greater. The panelists will include Bill McCoy, head of the International Digital Publishing Forum, and publisher practitioners Phil Madans and Dave Cramer of Hachette Book Group USA, Paul Belfanti of Pearson, and Sanders Kleinfeld of O’Reilly.

Because DBW is relentlessly “practical”, we don’t program much that is far from the current commercial mainstream. An exception this year is our “Blue Sky in the eBook World” panel, which will feature three perspectives that are clearly pushing the envelope beyond where we are today. Chris Kubica and Ashley Gordon have been convening a lot of industry thinkers around the invention of a new kind of bookstore, the publishers’ “dream” to compete with Amazon. They’ll be describing what they and their co-brainstormers have come up with. Peter Meyers, until recently at Citia, is author of “Breaking the Page” and the industry’s leading thinker about how straight-text ebooks can be improved. He’ll put forth his thoughts on that. Paul Cameron is the CEO of Booktracks, a company which puts sound tracks to ebooks and has evidence that the music along with the text improves recall and comprehension. All of these propositions are not (yet) commercially employed, but for DBW attendees who might be looking for the big things AFTER the next big thing, this is the session that will talk about those possibilities. This session is moderated by Professor John B. Thompson, author of “Books in the Digital Age” and “Merchants of Culture”.

Although what the educational publishers are doing might also qualify, we have a track dedicated to “transformation” that has three distinct groups of panelists, each demonstrating how radical change can occur in different ways.

The session on “building the trade publisher of the future” focuses on companies that are remaking themselves from what they were before. Carolyn Pittis, now Managing Director of Welman Digital and formerly on the cutting edge of change management with HarperCollins for over two decades, will moderate. We are proud to be the first industry event to host Daniel Houghton, the new CEO of Lonely Planet, a several-decades old travel book publisher, founded as an upstart, and now rethinking its publishing role in a very challenging travel book market. Lucas Wittman is at ReganArts, Judith Regan’s start-up venture which has an entirely different literary character than the art book publisher she’s working within, Phaidon. Andrea Fleck-Nisbet of Workman is in a company that has just reorganized to be better positioned for change. And Sara Domville, President of F+W (owners of Digital Book World), will describe the experience of turning a “book and magazine publisher” into a “content and commerce company” with a diminishing footprint in print and a growing dependence on ecommerce.

We aren’t neglecting publishing start-ups that are really entirely new propositions as well. Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners will moderate a session bringing together a few of them. Liz Pelletier is the publisher of Entangled, a publisher with new economics that rewards the service providers that support authors as partners in the projects they work on. Georgia McBride is the proprietor of Georgia McBride Media Group, a lean publishing start-up that is developing its properties for multiple media, not just books, taking advantage of her background in music and Hollywood. Jason Pinter of Polis Books is a bestselling thriller writer and has worked for a number of publishers (St. Martin’s, RH, Grove Atlantic, Warner Books) before he founded this digital-first genre book publisher with high author royalties (beginning at 40% of net) against advances. And Atria executive Peter Borland heads up an in-house start-up, Keywords Press, which seeks to leverage YouTube fame into bestsellers with the nurturing of an experienced publishing team.

But it isn’t just book publishers and entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on the digital transition. Former DBW.com editor Jeremy Greenfield, now with The Street, will moderate a session of media companies using digital as an opportunity to change their business models. Sometimes ebooks are very important to this effort and sometimes not so much so. The speakers in this session are Mike Perlis, the President of Forbes, Lynda Hammes, the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine, Jay Lauf, President and Publisher, Quartz (The Atlantic), and Kerry Dyer, Publisher and Chief Advertising Officer of U.S. News & World Report. The tactics being employed by these three media companies to take advantage of their content and their audiences are harbingers of what all non-book media will be thinking about and doing in the years to come. Publishers can find new collaborators in their ranks, or they’ll be facing these entities as new competitors.

The sessions in the track we call “transformation” are also really about “new business models”. But we have two sessions that are more strictly about publishers exploring new business models.

One of these is on “publishers selling direct”, something that made very little sense for any but the nichiest publishers before the digital era. Dominique Raccah, the founder and CEO of Sourcebooks, pointed out to me that I needed that session (she surely was right!) and will appear on it. She’ll be joined by Eve Bridge from F+W Media, Mary Cummings of Diversion, and Chantal Restivo-Alessi of HarperCollins, the biggest of the publishers to aggressively pursue the direct sales option. The panel will be moderated by industry consultant David Wilk.

Publishers are also exploring new business models with their attention to “verticals”, audience-centric marketing that sticks to a topic in ways that might ultimately allow selling things other than books. This is also a big subject for DBW’s owner, F+W Media, and Phil Sexton, who runs their Writer’s Digest community, will speak about it. Mary Ann Naples, SVP and Publisher at Rodale, Adrian Norman, VP Marketing and New Products at Simon & Schuster, and Eric Shanfelt, Senior VP, eMedia, of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, show us that both specialist and general trade publishers are investing in building these enduring audience connections. Ed Nowatka of Publishing Perspectives moderates this conversation.

There are two panels that will be among the best-attended of all, but which don’t fit comfortably under any of the track headings.

Probably the two most-discussed digital change issues in 2014 have been subscriptions for ebooks and Amazon. We’re pleased to have breakout sessions on each that should really shed some new light on topics that have already been the subject of much conversation.

The subscription conversation will be moderated by Ted Hill, who co-authored a White Paper on subscription for Book Industry Study Group early in 2014 which has looked increasingly prescient as the year has gone along. The session will begin with a brief presentation by Jonathan Stolper of Nielsen Bookscan, who will deliver data from Nielsen’s recent research into subscription sales. Hill will be joined by the two biggest players in ebook subscription, Matt Shatz of Oyster and Andrew Weinstein of Scribd, to describe how their companies have fared building this new model in 2014. He will also have two publishers with books in those services, Doug Stambaugh of Simon & Schuster and Steve Zacharius of Kensington, to talk about how it is going from the publishers’ point of view. As a bonus, Zacharius also has real sales experience with Amazon’s new subscription service, Kindle Unlimited. This will be most people’s first opportunity to get a wide-ranging view of how the subscription model is really working in the marketplace for the subscription services and the publishers themselves.

And, finally, we’ll have an Amazon conversation that is extremely timely against the backdrop of a year when contentious relationships between Amazon and their publisher-suppliers became a matter of public record. Our discussion is on the subject “Can Amazon Be Constrained? And Should They Be?” and it is moderated by Ken Auletta of The New Yorker, a journalist with several decades of experience tracking both media and tech. (Auletta will be appearing earlier that day on the main stage.) He will be talking with Barry Lynn, a scholar at the New America Foundation, who has recently proposed that Amazon be investigated for anti-trust; journalist Annie Lowrey of New York Magazine, who has expressed skepticism about whether the anti-trust rubric fits; and Amazon and indie author Barry Eisler, who has been a full-throated supporter of Amazon’s position against the major publishers. No conference has ever presented such a balanced and provocative conversation about Amazon before; we’re proud it is taking place on the DBW stage.

So there’s a lot to choose from at DBW 2015. We probably won’t settle all the questions around where book publishing is going in the future, but we’re certainly providing engaged conversation about the issues that matter most. And remember after you read this: the highest-profile speakers are mostly not mentioned. We’ll talk about them in a later post about what’s taking place on the main stage.

PS: The last Early Bird discount for Digital Book World expires on Monday, December 15. Save money by registering now!

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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

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Publishers better start using their scale to price better, and soon!


It was just about two years ago that I appeared on a panel at a meeting of agents with, among others, Macmillan CEO John Sargent and Sargent made the point that maintaining ebook pricing and margins was one of the critical challenges facing publishers. Ebook sales were still hovering around one percent of the business. Or maybe two. Nowhere near five. Sargent was prescient.

It was about six months ago that I did a couple of posts on direct marketing techniques. I engaged a publishing friend named Neal Goff, whose background is mostly outside of trade books, to help me with those. I had him walk me through some fundamentals because I didn’t know them and, I feared, neither did the trade houses that were now — because of agency — required to set prices on their own books without the requisite expertise.

It was only last week that Random House announced it was shifting to agency pricing and I said I hoped they would be more ambitious about experimentation with price than their competitors in the arena had been.

All of these thoughts came together for me when I read this post on CNET that has two real wake-up calls in it for the big publishers.

One they are increasingly aware of: very cheap ebooks are selling very well and, with at least two major bestseller lists (The New York Times and USA Today) now counting ebook sales in units for their rankings, there is a real threat that the established business at established price points could be chased from the biggest market-maker there is. (It is important to note that the Times and USA Today methodologies are still a bit opaque and it is not clear how lower-price books are weighted. Some clear successes in the low-price realm haven’t shown up yet.)

The other point is more subtle. Individuals and little publishers are fiddling with price in ways to maximize bestseller positioning and revenues. The rules are complicated. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have programs that reward pricing above $2.99 by paying higher royalties. But it would certainly appear that there are many consumers who are limiting their shopping for ebooks to those that cost 99 cents or below. So some authors have learned that cutting their price increases unit sales to put them on a bestseller list, then raising their price results in more revenue. Apparently one very useful strategy for revenue maximization is to shuttle between prices.

The point that “cutting price boosts sales” isn’t exactly surprising, and it also isn’t exactly news. J.A. Konrath, perhaps the first established author to really start raking in shekels self-publishing through Amazon, has been experimenting with pricing and proving this point for a long time. Konrath’s data was charted for clarity by blogger Dave Slusher a few months ago. Konrath’s work and Slusher’s analysis of it further emphasizes the central point Neal Goff made to us. Experimentation matters. (Neal called it “testing.”)

Another author has demonstrated that cutting price is important, and promoting lower prices is also important.

Although I have heard one major publishing CEO suggest that the house is doing some fiddling with pricing, there was no suggestion there of controlled and monitored experimentation. And I believe it is safe to say, without doing any research, that no major publisher is doing that on a consistent and persistent basis, let alone algorithmically-programmed price management such as the major ebook retailers almost certainly do.

There is another hugely ironic point buried in the CNET story. It is built around the work of an author named Christopher Smith, who has mastered the shuttle-pricing technique. Turns out Smith has a new fan named Stephen King. King, of course, has not only published successfully with major houses for decades, he was one of the first great ebook experimenters around the turn of the century when he tried to do author-direct publishing of ebooks before there was a market. King’s blurb for Smith has been very helpful to the lesser-known, lower-priced author.

Might Smith return the favor for King by teaching him the revenue-maximization techniques he’s developed so King can get back into the self-publishing experimentation game? I think that possibility encapsulates the major publishers’ biggest nightmare. Publishers are going to have a devil of a time defending their 25% royalty rate into the future, which just feels intuitively unfair to authors. They can get away with it for the time being because print sales still matter. But they won’t for long and if publishers don’t use their scale to do a better job managing dynamic pricing to extract the maximum revenue from ebook sales than an author might do on his or her own, the challenge of retaining their top talent will become even more difficult.

There is a reasonable suggestion that publishers should be making in a hurry about bestseller lists in the ebook era. In print, books are separated by format (hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market) by The Times and identified by format by USA Today  so that apples-to-apples comparisons are possible for consumers. It is really a stacked deck to rank on unit sales alone any book at 99 cents and Ken Follett’s bestseller “Fall of Giants”  at $19.99. Format in print creates a reasonable proxy for price. I think price-tiered bestseller lists would be a stretch, but going to the movie studio “box office” concept would not. Publishers, while they still have clout as advertisers in media that promote bestseller lists, should suggest a “units times price” ranking as one that provides a more useful comparison for many consumers.

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More about direct response basics: testing, testing, testing


This is the second post based on our recent conversation with Neal Goff, a longtime publishing executive with extensive experience with direct response who is now consulting to publishers through his firm, Egremont Associates. Because we believe that trade publishers have to become B2C marketers like they have never been before, we think it is important to take on board the fundamentals of managing contact with consumers. Neal is explaining them to us, and we’re trying to pass that understanding along.

In the first post, we wrote about the importance of name gathering, the data that should be captured (recency, frequency, monetization, and affinity) and the challenges publishers might expect to face putting their marketing database together. In this one we’re going to say more about what seems to be Neal’s favorite subject: testing.

By the simple device of changing one element of an emailing effort, one can learn which choice of that element produces a better result. But you must change one element, not more than one. If you change more than one, you wouldn’t know to which element to attribute any noticeable change.

There are three major components of any mailing that can be tested: the list, the “creative”, and the “offer.”

The list is the names you choose to mail to, which is comprised of the group you selected from (recent purchasers, or recent purchasers of a particular book, or people who said “send me material about this author”) and the selection criteria you used to pull the names from that list (males, or people in urban zip codes, or people who had spent more than $100 in the past year.)

The “creative” is the emailing itself. In the old days, that would include the envelope (windowed or solid, red or blue); in the email world it certainly includes the “subject line” of the email. Of course, it also includes the wording of the email and its presentation: headlines, graphics, etc. It includes the “from line”: does the email come from a person or the company? (Neal says it’s generally more effective if the email is signed by a person at the bottom, but that’s not necessarily what you want to show to get the email opened.) You can test a short email against a long one. And you can test the impact of HTML email against plain text.

The “offer” is what you are putting forward to the customer for an action. Historically, the action being sought was a purchase, and the offer might include a sweetener — a discount, for example. In an online context, it might be something else, like suggesting that the recipient come back with a request for a free chapter, or that the recipient offer their testimonial for the author or the book, or that the recipient register at a web site to stay in touch with the author or the publisher or the subject.

Neal argued strenuously that there should be a testing component to every mailing. He gave us a history lesson that dramatically underscored the advantages of the new email world. When direct response mailings were packages in envelopes, there was, of course, a significant cost for each piece dropped. Mailings would cost often 35 to 75 cents each — or, in marketing parlance, $350 to $750 per thousand pieces mailed — including the unavoidable cost of postage. For reasons that direct marketers could only hypothesize about but were borne out by experience, mailings tended to be most effective in January and July, with less activity occurring in between. And because the cost of mailing was so high, lists were rigorously “tested” before being “rolled out.”

But the process of mailing, getting response, and analyzing response was quite time-consuming. It took a minimum of weeks; sometimes it took months. Incorporating the results of the testing —  to change the list, creative, or offer — would then occur six or 12 months later.

Emailings deliver results within days, if not hours. Reflecting what is learned from a mailing in a new mailing takes days, not weeks or months. That’s why Neal believes that the testing regime should be continuous.

Neal also taught us an old direct mail principle: TIOLI. That’s “take it or leave it” and it refers to the belief that there should always be a simple offer with one choice: usually buy or not. Now, this violated one of Shatzkin’s First Laws of sales, which is “always give the customer a choice of answers, one of which is not ‘no'”. “Red or green?” “One dozen or two dozen?” Of course, this law was formulated for a face-to-face selling situation (the kind I’m more familiar with). Neal saw the logic of that and agreed that direct response in the email world might enable a back-and-forth that would have been impossible in the snail mail world. His response was predictable.

“It’s testable,” he said.

Neal also wanted to make the point that just because emailing doesn’t cost any cash, that doesn’t mean that mailings are “free.” They’re not, because every emailing will result in some number of your names “unsubscribing”, or revoking the permission they had granted for you to mail to them. (We see this at The Shatzkin Files. Most of our posts result in some “unsubscribes” from our mailing list, although there are always more new subscribers than unsubscribes.) As Neal pointed out, all your names have a “lifetime value”: the average number of dollars you’d expect to get out of them in the fullness of time. If you mail to 100,000 names and 2% unsubscribe, you’ve lost their lifetime value. If they each had a lifetime value of $25, you’re losing 2% of that, or 50 cents per person on your list. That’s a “cost” of $500 per 1000 mailed!

In other words, don’t casually spam your lists! And rigorously measure the cost of your unsubscribes.

These two posts are really surface-scratchers, but they spell out the basics every publisher should take on board today. If a publisher isn’t already pulling together the names it has into a marketing database, creating a way to capture responses and sales information and tie them to the names, building their list of names creatively and aggressively every way they can, and beginning a program of rigorously-monitored communication with those names, they’re behind where they should be. They need a dedicated and focused effort monitored by top management.

These posts have not touched on many complex subjects publishers will face once they start this effort. As one of the comments on the first post has already said, Amazon has more consumer names, and more information about the books they want, than anybody. All of the other online booksellers will have theirs too. Authors are aware that they should own names and many big authors already have a lot of them. There are complex negotiations in everybody’s future about how those names can be used and shared to everybody’s advantage. A publisher will only be a factor in that conversation if it has its own well-structured and robust marketing database.

Bookstore shelfspace will continue to reduce. Publishers can’t stop that. Amazon will continue to dominate the business of selling books online to consumers and publishers can’t stop that. But publishers can stop the sheer waste of customer contact and outreach, which includes placing into many hands printed books that could carry URLs and mailing list solicitations and offers on them. It is past time to start building equity with what has always been thrown away.

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Learning what every publisher needs to know these days about direct response


Until his knee gave out a couple of years ago, I used to run regularly with a Big Six C-level executive. In about 2007 I told him I thought all the big publishers needed, but lacked, a complete and thought-through email list compilation and marketing strategy and policy. I suggested we could help his company by looking into that and designing one. (Consultants dream up ideas like this that require both outside expertise and extra hands and feet because that’s how we get work.)

My pitch got me nowhere.

In the intervening years I have become increasingly convinced that collecting names and using them right is now mission-critical for all publishers and most critical, and most difficult, for general trade publishers. And from what I can see, it isn’t getting the attention it should from anybody. (I’ll be delighted to get comments telling me I’m wrong, but I’ll bet they come only from very small publishers or thoroughly vertical ones.)

This is not my field. I know a lot about the traditional book supply chain, with first-hand experience dealing with every part of it. But my knowledge of direct response principles, starting with list-building and maintenance, is mid-level amateur. So I did what I would have done if my running buddy had responded positively to my suggestion that we help: I engaged a very smart person I know is a real expert on direct response to help me learn and think through what publishers need to learn and do. This post and at least one more will share that knowledge.

The smart person is Neal Goff, owner of Egremont Associates, most recently the CEO of My Weekly Reader Publishing. Neal has been applying direct marketing expertise in executive positions at Book-of-the-Month Club, Time-Life Books, Prentice Hall Direct, and Scholastic Library (formerly Grolier) Publishing for large chunks of the past three decades.

I started out with Neal declaring my assumption that publishers can make use of names they gather in at least three ways:

1. They can sell books to them.

2. They can use them for marketing, to spread the word about a book.

3. They can enlist them to be part of a community, interacting with you and others you gather, for the collective value (informational, monetary, curative, content-generating) the community can provide.

For openers, I asked Neal: if we want to help a publisher, where would we start?

Before he would tackle that question, Neal wanted me to understand a couple of very basic things about what is needed in a marketing database.

Obviously, we want to build a database that has all the consumers (millions, so the database has to be able to handle lots of them) we’ll be tracking and all the information about them by which we will ultimately want to “select” their names in the future. Neal emphasized that the most valuable information about them will be derived from their “actions” (when they click or buy or request information), much more than from our own (when we mail or post or offer.) And what we most want to know about those actions is summarized as “RFM” — recency, frequency, and monetary value — plus affinity, which is the similarity between what we’re selling and what they’ve bought before.

Recency refers to “the last time they did something.”

Frequency refers to “how often they’ve done something” (particularly when they do something positive, like buy a book from us).

Monetary value refers to “how much they’ve spent with us.”

Tracking affinity may require some work. Our fulfillment system knows exactly what they’ve bought from us title by title, but this information won’t be terribly useful if, every time we do a promotion, we have to go into our database and select the names of our book-buyers, one title at a time. That information has great value, though, if we aggregate our customers into meaningful groups, like those who bought a photography book or a military history title or a romance novel.

This means that transactiondata is critical. Neal explained that most publishers, particularly trade publishers, don’t necessarily have easy ways to capture individual customer transaction data in a marketing database. That may require a bridge of some sort to be built between your fulfillment systems, which capture the data necessary to complete transactions, and your marketing database, in which you want to aggregate fulfillment data in order to make it more useful selecting names for future outreach. That includes the affinity grouping described above and also such information as how much a customer has spent with you in the last six months.

Knowing that, one is equipped to start thinking about gathering names.The first step is to round up all the names you already have and put them together in one database, capturing the data you have about them in a consistent way. The next step is to establish procedures for collecting more names. All of this should be done with future selection criteria in mind which requires you to start thinking immediately about what the meaningful segments within your customer base are likely to be.

Every publisher already has a lot of names. People who have purchased from the publisher previously will have provided contact information, for confirmation purposes at least. People will have contacted the publisher for customer service, inquiries, or to sign up for newsletters or alerts.

But, often, the publisher will not have requested the necessary “permission” from the consumer to use their name for email marketing contact. (Seth Godin has been making this point for a very long time. He invented the term “permission marketing.”) The task of collecting and collating the names that are already in the house’s possession will provide a painful lesson in how much good customer information has been wasted because permission to contact was not secured when the name was collected. That lesson needs to be applied to the publisher’s future efforts.

Neal explained that you want to set yourself up to get permission from people as early as possible. On all purchase and customer service forms, when you collect email addresses, you have to include the option for people to choose to stay connected to you. You invite your contacts to check a box saying “keep me informed of other books you publish ‘on this subject’ or ‘by this author’ or ‘which will be of interest to me.'” You want to word your permission statement so that it doesn’t scare your customers into thinking you’ll be spamming them all the time, while at the same time keeping the wording broad enough that you don’t unwittingly cut yourself off from future marketing opportunities.

He also pointed out a paradox. The higher you set the permission hurdle, the fewer people you’ll get to give you permission but the higher the quality of that group will be. So if you make people “uncheck” a box to prevent permission, you’ll get more permissions. But if you make people “check” a box to grant permission, you’ll probably be more successful engaging the ones who grant it.

This took me back to a belief I held even before Neal started explaining the basics. Most publishers’ efforts to harvest email addresses have been weak and underthought (which isn’t surprising if there is no active plan to use the names). Can publishers create better reasons for the book’s consumer to engage the publisher? Can the publisher offer free additional content, for example, or notifications of updates (most likely to apply to non-fiction, of course), or a web site that offers additional value at which registration might be captured? Capturing the name and email address of somebody inquiring about a book or even one purchasing a book is all well and good, but wouldn’t those who signed up after already owning the book be that much more likely to be candidates for future engagement?

So where a publisher has to begin is to gather the names they already have, which are buried in nooks and silos around the company, tag them for where they came from and by the kind of “permission” to use them that exists, and work out how to add the additional contacts made with those people, especially including all transaction data, to the database.

In the next post based on Neal Goff’s direct response knowledge, we’ll talk about using the names, including how to act on Neal’s point that many things are “testable”, and that every customer outreach presents a valuable opportunity to test something. And we’ll explain why even though sending email is “free”, mailing to your free list too often or with bad execution can actually cost you money.

Here’s an unrelated postscript. We’re putting together a database of enhanced ebooks because we think the world needs one (at least temporarily.) Our newest teammate, Chesalon Piccione, has been doing the work on this and has posted on the E2BU blog about her efforts and what she’s learning by looking at the aggregation. It will take us a little while to wrestle the database itself into something postable, but we’re working on it. In the meantime, if you’ve got an enhanced ebook project, send Chess an email ([email protected]) and let her know so she can include it. A list of the data points we need is in the linked post.

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