Teddy Goff

Is trade publishing’s situation more like the newspapers or more like the advertisers?


It has been an important tenet of my thinking about digital change in the book business to understand that books are different from other media — music, TV, movies, newspapers, magazines — as we try to anticipate the future.

I’ve long recognized two big structural distinctions: the “unit of appreciation, unit of sale” paradigm and the dependence of some of the other media on advertising. (Movies are the least different from books in these ways. The biggest difference between books and movies is the much larger number of people and dollars necessary to deliver most movies than to deliver most books.)

I have just seen a 3-part series (number one; number two; and number three) by a digital thinker named Steve Gray — the Director of Strategy and Innovation for Morris Communications Company — that, although it is newspaper-centric (as Gray’s background and employer are), contains insight that is useful across media, including books. But the more I think about the very smart things in Gray’s posts, the more it reinforces that the lessons of digital change are not necessarily the same for general trade books as they are for other media.

The history that Gray reviews is familiar to most of us. But while book publishing people tend to focus on the changes enabled by Gutenberg, Gray’s newspaper-centric view makes the high-speed rotary press, which enabled publications cheap enough to be daily purchases by masses of people, the seminal moment.

High-speed presses made all print cheap for the incremental copy. In the case of radio and televison, of course, the incremental copy is free. So all these media, as well as movies, which used scale in a slightly different way, were about amortizing the costs of content creation across “mass market” consumption.

If Karl Marx had been writing a bit later than he did, he might have seen that controlling the “means of distribution” had become as important as he saw controlling the “means of production” to be.

For newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, the ability to deliver expensive-to-produce content to mass audiences that really craved it created huge advertising revenues. As Gray documents, this led to the aggregating, the bundling, the combining of material into packages that were efficient for the advertising medium to distribute. This was a “unit of sale” that was the most efficient that could be delivered for a period of about 150 years, from the 1850s until just a few years ago.

And that’s what the Internet has blown up. Because now the distribution mechanism for expensive-to-create content is precisely the same as the distribution mechanism for any content. In the book business, we’ve been tracking that as “purchased in stores” (which is, in itself, expensive and pretty much restricted to expensive-to-create content) as opposed to “purchased online” (which is a channel open to all of us).

Gray calls this a change from the “mass media era” to the “infinite media era”.

But as Gray continues his analysis, he comes up with what looks at first glance to me like a contradiction to the proposition that audiences are splintering, visible in the charts he presents of where web traffic goes. In fact, at the domain level, the tendency to concentration shows no signs of abating. In a pie chart Gray shows from one of the markets in which his company has a newspaper, he shows how the visits divide among the top 70% of the traffic, before you hit the “long tail”. Well more than half the site visits in the top 70% are to three domains: Facebook, Google, and YouTube. Add in Yahoo, Yahoo Search, and Bing and you’ve covered over 75% of that traffic.

Obviously, the local newspaper’s share is tiny.

Within the aggregated traffic of the big domains, of course, the apparent anomaly gives way and interests splinter (and, in fact, a newspaper might have some of the traffic that is called “Facebook”, although it wouldn’t have much power to monetize it). Many of, let’s say, ten thousand people on the web site of the NY Times will view the same content. Ten thousand people on Facebook might not overlap at all; ten thousand people searching Google or YouTube might not contain repeats either. These sites have figured out how to aggregate and display a vast amount of (user- or algorithm-generated) content. Curated aggregators like newspapers or radio stations simply can’t compete.

As Gray points out, the tendency of the curated aggregation sites is to compare themselves to each other. If the newspaper in a town is generating more traffic than the biggest radio station, they might declare victory. And if that really defined their competitors for audience or advertising dollars, that comparison would be sufficient and valid.

But Gray also makes it clear that the advertisers the newspaper or radio station might pursue are going to increasingly find locally-effective alternatives from the global domains. And the great hope that local news can be the killer content that keeps people loyal to their legacy providers doesn’t get much support from Gray. What he sees in the stats is that people find “news” of their social circle, which is what they get from Facebook, is far more compelling than “news” of their local area, which is what they get from their local paper. And the former can lead to the latter but rarely vice-versa.

It is interesting, though, that Gray’s punch line, which (if true) is a knockout blow to newspapers, actually contains some rays of hope for big book publishers that can operate at scale.

He sees five key points to consider:

1. The mass media’s digital advertising must compete with vast inventories of low-priced space on millions of websites.

2. Mass media content is now just a drop in an infinite ocean.

3. Digital audiences for local mass media websites are dwarfed by those of national digital players that meet more individualized needs and interests.

4. Social media are unlocking an incredibly vast desire and capacity among humans to get and give personally relevant information.

5. Digital targeting is providing the tools to reach people across thousands of websites and billions of small networks.

Gray warns radio and TV broadcast media not to be smug about what has happened to newspapers, because the digital tools keep getting better and they’ll be disrupted too.

(Personally, I just ordered my first “Internet TV”, which will put YouTube or Netflix on 52 diagonal inches of real estate just as easily as CBS or MTV. I can’t believe that will increase my time spent with broadcast or cable media. And it is just as obvious that TV that can get lots of programming from a Wifi connection is going to be attractive to consumers and threatening to Cable TV economics. This will become standard.)

But that micro-targeting might affect newspapers and magazines and radio and TV stations far differently than it affects book publishers. And that’s because, when it comes to advertising, book publishers are, in a way, on the opposite side of the fence from these other media.

Those media don’t build an audience uniquely for every issue the way book publishers do for every new book (and that’s somewhat true even for vertical publishers). They’re trying to sell captive audiences; we in book publishing are trying to corral disparate audiences. That makes us more like the newspapers’ advertisers than like the newspapers themselves.

When I had the chance to bring Obama’s digital director, Teddy Goff, to the stage at Digital Book World, I did it because I thought the micro-targeting techniques they practiced during the presidential campaign had something to teach us. He made a strong impression on me, and probably on many in the DBW audience, when he spelled out that the Obama team figured out very early that they could reach every voter they needed to target in America through the people on Facebook who were already in their camp.

Not only were the friends of their supporters including all the targets, many of them couldn’t be reached effectively through any other means.

As the digital revolution proceeds, we each build out our social graphs. We show up on different sites making our interests public. Whether we sign up for alerts from a publisher or not, aggregating data from Facebook and way beyond (certainly including GoodReads, which for many publishers might be as rich a lode of targeting information as the much bigger Facebook or LinkedIn are) will build databases of cataloged consumers (that’s us) that Steve Gray sees advertisers using as a much cheaper substitute to paying for real estate on a newspaper’s web site.

That’s an existential threat to ad-supported media of any kind.

But it might be the salvation of general trade publishing, if one or more of the players can master the skills and build the information repository and tools fast enough.

But there’s still that very pesky “infinite” competition from smaller players — authors and publishers — that will peel off some book readers whether they have effective techniques to build large audiences or not. Of course, that hazard could also become opportunity. If one or two (I doubt five or six) big publishers develop these scale capabilities, they might have a compelling case to make to the owners of the smaller- or self-published titles even when the current compelling case — we can put you into bookstores — loses its appeal.

Where general trade publishing will be in another five or ten years is anything but clear.

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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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