Pete Harris

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


Talking to Hollywood folks about publishing

I spent an enlightening few days in Los Angeles last week doing some networking and research ahead of our “Movie/TV-to-book” conference, which will take place on October 22 in Hollywood. The premise of our event is that “everybody in Hollywood needs an ebook strategy” and it was definitely encouraging to have had that idea endorsed by every person I talked to.

We got help with introductions to the local community from our friends at the Intellectual Property Group, an agency. Larry Becsey, who has the corner office there, is an old friend of mine. I was introduced to Larry in the early 1970s by Harry Sloan, who had been a classmate at UCLA. Harry went on to a very successful career that included being head of Filmways and MGM Studios.  At the time Becsey and I met, Harry was Ron Howard’s lawyer and Larry was Ron Howard’s agent.I don’t think I’ve seen Harry since but Larry and I have stayed friends for four decades.

So Larry and his partner, agent Joel Gotler, made a few calls and circulated my blogpost on this subject to a few friends and the meetings I had materialized as a result of their efforts. Here are some examples of what I learned through these conversations about the new mutual opportunities for Hollywood to connect with the publishing world.

There are two entities I spoke with that are off the track a little bit for the Hollywood conference but which have serious marketing propositions for the publishing community.

The Baby-First Network, in the words of its founder, Guy Oranim, was visualized as a combination between Baby Einstein and Sesame Street. I admit I would never have imagined that a TV network for infants would make any sense, but they’re gaining audience steadily and, as they knew they would, have the moms watching along with their wee ones.

That is opening up some fabulous marketing opportunities which they’re going to exploit by making their prime-time programming parenting-centric, rather than infant-centric. Baby-First already did a multiple-book deal for infant books with Readers Digest; I think they’ll both be able to publish parenting and collaborate with one or more publishers who do, delivering unique new market reach that any book publisher would love to have.

The other marketing discovery for publishers was from Insight Entertainment where Matt Lesher, with whom I met, has collaborated with former MTV anchor Adam Curry on an author-interview program. They do it once or twice a week, primarily distributed through iOS and Android apps. Curry’s based in Austin and he does the interviews by Skype from wherever the author is. Lesher reports to me that they count sales of between 750 and 7500 copies of every book they cover. They know because their business model is to get paid with the referral income; of course there are other sales they generate but can’t see or count.

Do publishers know about this yet? Not so much, reports Lesher. I don’t know whether this works for our Hollywood conference, but it surely is something to put on stage at Digital Book World! (And any publisher who wants to can go ahead and pitch an author now: send a note to [email protected])

Part of the payoff for going to LA for these meetings was becoming aware of things going in what is already our business that hadn’t registered with me. I met with lawyer Wayne Alexander, who with Kassie Evashevsky at UTA represents the movie/TV interests for author Hugh Howey. Howey has a string of successful futurist novella which due to reader demand was expanded via several installments into a long novel under the general label of “Wool”. (Five installments have been assembled into a single novel: the “Wool” omnibus edition.)

Howey is doing so well selling his ebooks through ebook stores that even very big deals brought in by his agent, Denver-based Kristin Nelson, couldn’t entice him to trade in his self-publishing career for all that a big US publisher could offer. Meanwhile, his team has sold his book in the UK and Brazil the movie rights to 20th Century Fox. I found this story interesting on many levels, including that fans of a novella could encourage extending the story to full-length.

I don’t know what Howey had working for him besides the strength of his story (I’m trying to find out) but his commercial tale will definitely interest Hollywood because it proves that something can become a success through ebooks alone. One thing that distinguishes Hollywood-originated “self-publishing” stories from all others, probably including Howey’s, is that everybody who might publish in Hollywood has five friends who, among them, have half-a-million Twitter followers. He got his ball rolling, but imagine how much easier it would be for a Hollywood entity to do that.

Another publishing-centric discovery I made last week was the Hollywood development arm of Penguin, run by Pete Harris. Called the Penguin Development Group, it is an in-house team assigned to identify and generate originals ideas and opportunities for books and series to be published in imprints across the house. Penguin expects many of the books from this source will be developed commercially into feature films, original television and video games.

When I was (successfully) recruiting Peter Gethers, the head of Random House Studio, for the Hollywood conference, he talked about their recent movie-based-on-their-book, “One Day.” According to Peter, the movie was moderately successful financially, but the book sales skyrocketed (in Germany and the US, where they were Random House, Inc. publications) bringing the company substantial profits. And, as he points out, they’ve also established an author who will produce other successful books for them in the future.

I spoke to trans-media producer Zak Kadison both before I went out there and after I got back. Zak is a big believer in the value of self-publishing. He is developing a project with multiple components and was deep into a publishing deal for it when the major house he was negotiating with started to demand contract terms he couldn’t live with. He walked away, confident that he can self-publish the book he wants out to spearhead the project even if he doesn’t succeed in engaging another publisher. Of course, he’d like the big advance and the clout of a big house, but only if the tradeoffs aren’t onerous. Self-publishing is an acceptable alternative.

A central point to the conference is to show Hollywood what becomes possible in a digital book world that wasn’t possible before. I found a very unusual example of that in a meeting with Trond Knutsen of L.A. Theatre Works. L.A. Theatre Works produces audios of plays with a very unusual model. They “stage” performances (with scripts, without sets or costumes) of plays which is repeated five times in front of an audience of about 300 people. Then they edit the recording and deliver the output as a show on public radio, a podcast, and an audiobook.

Because of their 25-year reputation for quality, they get professional actors to do these readings for compensation they’d find unacceptable anywhere else. (Recently, they had Calista Flockhart in their version of Romeo and Juliet.)

When I met with Trond, I asked him “why not put the audio together with the script as an enhanced ebook.” Turns out that’s exactly their intention. They have already launched a series of these for plays for which rights either weren’t an issue or were a resolvable one (several plays by Shakespeare, Importance of Being Earnest, She Stoops to Conquer). In other cases, they’ve worked with a summary of the scenes rather than the scripts (The Crucible).

I told Trond I loved this as an example of what could be done: they’ve leveraged their core competency (producing these audios). It turns out there’s another reason for L.A. Theatre Works to be on our program. Trond believes that same core competency can be leveraged on behalf of other ebook producers who might have scripts they want to present with audio themselves. They now do about 10 of these productions a year, but they could do 20 or even 30 if there were “call” to do so. That makes them an even better presentation for our audience because they’re not just showing “what can be done” but offering a resource to help others do it.

Part of why I went to LA and had all these conversations was to learn how Hollywood thinks about these issues and how I should frame them so that our potential audience will know what we’re talking about. I got two great suggestions in that regard.

One is to say “now everybody can pursue an Alloy Entertainment strategy.” Alloy is the bi-coastal media company (The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) that packages books to get projects rolling as a core strategy. Alloy sells them to publishers, which requires proprietary expertise and contacts that are not broadly distributed. But the core concept of establishing a project as a book so the IP can be controlled for movies, TV, or games is one they’re identified with that everybody in Hollywood understands.

The other phrase I was instructed to use was “development Hell”. That describes the projects that have made the rounds and show no signs of getting made (or “greenlighted”, in Hollywood jargon.) These can be in various stages of development — treatment or screenplay, optioned or even bought — but, from the producer’s point of view, they look like write-offs at the moment.

Projects in development Hell could well be rescucitated by being novelized and launched as a book. All of these projects are stories that a producer once fervently believed in and invested in. Often that won’t have changed. A book could provide a new path to success. And, as publishing is now, a book can be developed and launched for what in Hollywood terms is a minimal incremental investment.

Hollywood is a town full of creative people. They have stories; they have writers with time on their hands; and they have more local people who can reach the public on a per-capita basis than anyplace else on earth. Once the creative executives there wrap their minds around the opportunities offered by digital publishing, I think we’ll see many bestsellers coming from them.

Tony Schulte, one of the kindest and most decent people I ever met during my life in publishing, died this past weekend at the age of 82. When I met Tony he was second in command at Random House. That followed his long stint at Simon & Schuster and preceded his time as a banker, consultant, and executive recruiter. He had been in the business for about 60 years and he kept meeting people until the very end. Everybody who knew him will feel some pain at his passing. Somebody’s going to have to find a pretty large hall to accommodate all of us who will want to attend his memorial, which it is said will take place in September. It is safe to say that Tony’s friends-to-enemies ratio would put him in the Hall of Fame. It approached infinity.