Tools of Change

The book world keeps changing, so Digital Book World has to change too


This post invites you to help us shape the agenda for Digital Book World 2015.

It was five years ago this summer that David Nussbaum and Sara Domville of F+W Media took me out to lunch and said they thought the book business could have a more useful digital conference — one, in their words, that would give you things you could go back to the office and use — than the existing set of conclaves, led by Tools of Change, then provided. And they flattered me and provoked my imagination by saying “we think you’re the guy to program it”.

At the time, I was in a partnership with O’Reilly Media, the owners of Tools of Change, working on an initiative called “StartWithXML”. We had a conference in London coming up as part of our team effort that was only a few weeks away. I wasn’t looking for a way to compete with them.

But, when I thought about it, I realized that by changing the focus of our conference from “technology and publishing” (which was theirs) to “the business challenges created by technology for trade publishers”, we would be able to do something quite different than they had. Agents would be included, and, this being long before the agents were hiring people with digital publishing expertise to help their authors, they weren’t invited to be part of Tools of Change. I knew their voices were important when you talked about how the business of publishing would be affected by digital. And real challenges around resource deployment and marketing, which weren’t strictly-speaking about technology but which were top of mind for trade publishers, would make our agenda when we framed it this way as well.

They named the new conference Digital Book World.

This recommendation really just followed my own advice. I had been observing that book publishers needed to become more “vertical”, by which I meant “audience-specific”, in their thinking. Tools of Change was horizontal; it was about all publishing and technology. We’d focus Digital Book World on a particular segment of publishers and therefore be able to make it more meaningful for them.

Now we are planning our sixth Digital Book World conference for January, 2015. A lot has changed. Tools of Change shut down in 2013. Perhaps partially aided by the disappearance of its biggest competitor, Digital Book World has continued to grow, with more than 25 percent growth in 2014 over the year before.

But a big part of the distinction that guided us as we built DBW, the emphasis on trade publishing, is eroding in importance as the trade itself — which means the bookstores and libraries and the wholesalers that serve them — become less robust paths to the consumer. The challenges for an industry beginning to move from physical goods in stores to virtual goods online are different as the new paradigm becomes the dominant paradigm.

Except for self-published genre fiction (and perhaps even for publisher-issued genre fiction too), that paradigm shift hasn’t really happened yet, but the day when it will is in sight. At some future Digital Book World — not 2015, but maybe 2016 and almost certainly before 2020 — we will be looking at a “trade” book industry which does most of its business online, not through brick-and-mortar stores.

(In fact, the world has changed so much that one thing on my list to discuss is a DBW 2015 panel that would reconsider the whole StartwithXML premise. When we were thinking about this in 2009, we figured the biggest payoff from going through what could be a painful workflow change was that you’d be able to make ebooks of complex books much more efficiently. That’s probably still true, but the ebooks for complex books also haven’t sold very well and their future is a bit cloudy. Knowing that, how important was that change to make, really? We’ll ask some publishers who have gone through it and, depending on what reports we get, perhaps put it on the program for discussion in January.)

All of this not only means that what we have called trade publishers may be renamed, they will also find themselves with new channels to consumers and a new set of competitors. The prospective new landscape will get a great deal of attention from us next January and we are beginning to interact with players that wouldn’t really have belonged at DBW in 2010 or 2011 but who might be smack in the middle of our business by 2017 or 2018.

Who are they? They are educational publishers, both K-12 and college. They are newspapers, magazines, and advertising agencies. And they are digital-first publishers, coming out of web sites and other content creators and brands, who see the opportunity to reach audiences efficiently through a book business that no longer requires a big investment in printed inventory and an organization reaching thousands of small sales outlets for meaningful participation. And they are start-ups and technology companies too.

We are going to start this year by looking for the Venn diagram “overlap” between these new audiences and the trade publishing audience we’ve served for half a decade.

For newspapers, magazines, and advertising agencies, that means we’ll be looking for the players who have already found opportunity in the book publishing ecosystem. Although for all of them ebooks are really a highly complementary opportunity, it looks like newspapers have made that discovery more rapidly than the others. Newspapers and magazines, particularly, have content and consumer-facing brands that create a natural fit for ebook creation and marketing. For advertising, the stretch is a little greater and, frankly, we’ll be looking for pioneers that see the opportunity to promote their clients’ wares using ebook discovery and word-of-mouth as tools. It is inevitable that they will but finding the early visionaries will be the first challenge.

There is a new component of the advertising business called “content marketing” which also, ultimately, seems like a fit for the ebook business. What it means today is that a digital ad agency creates content which promotes a client or product; content which is meant to be found online and delivered for free.

There are two ways that book publishing could — and almost certainly will — be part of this new component, although neither seems to have happened with any regularity yet. One is that the agency-created content could be delivered as an ebook, not just as discoverable web content. This has probably not been the first instinct of the agencies for two reasons. One is that they figure that nobody would “buy” what they’re willing to give away for free. The other is that there’s a bit of a learning curve about how to process content into an ebook and put it into distribution. (Frankly, if you’re willing to live with the ebook being made available only through Kindle — which gets you much more than half the market — the learning “curve” is just about a straight line. Amazon makes it pretty damn simple.)

My niece, Kailey Moran, writes a blog about cars for women for a marketing company called Reynolds and Reynolds. It seems to me like a short step for her to put together an ebook for the same audience on the same subject. Her company isn’t doing that yet. I’m betting that within the next couple of years, they will.

There will also be new interactions occurring between college textbook and school publishers and their counterparts in trade. The educational publishers are moving from being primarily creators and distributors of “textbooks” to becoming creators and managers of “learning platforms”. These not only attempt to contain the syllabus and pedagogy that was in the textbooks, they also provide teachers with monitoring and assessment capabilities. And they will also be the environment in which the required and supplementary reading — often of trade-published books — will take place.

That will increasingly put the educational publishers in the role of aggregators for their institutional customers. This is likely to be a difficult and contentious area for the next several years because trade publishers will have to be satisfied with a new business model. They have historically sold printed books either to institutions (the normal way things happen with public schools) or to the student end-users (the normal way things happen in private schools and colleges). In the latter case, they often are able to make a sale for every user. Doing so is an artifact of the physical world and will get increasingly difficult to do, but trade publishers are understandably reluctant to move quickly to models that pay them less for each use, even if they already sell one printed book for multiple users (over time, because the books don’t wear out) in school situations now.

So the school and college publishers and trade publishers are going to have to talk and I think interaction at Digital Book World could jump-start some conversations.

We are guided in our programming at DBW by our Conference Council, a group of leading industry thinkers — some independent but most of them executives within the industry — who meet with us to discuss the program and then provide suggestions on an ongoing basis for speakers and topics. To prepare for the meeting we schedule to discuss the agenda, we offer our Council the opportunity to offer their opinions about each of the sub-topics we’ve identified under the major headings. (It’s a 2-hour meeting with 30 people or so; we can’t discuss everything and I need the guidance to put things in priority order for time allocation.) This year, for the first time, we are seeking that same input from readers of The Shatzkin Files.

We will be looking to create good programming under seven major themes:

Publishing in a global economy
The changing publishing ecosystem (roles and relationships)
Data-driven publishing
Rethinking marketing
Developing business models
Technology and living on the cutting edge
Education and book publishing are developing a new relationship

If you want to help us decide what are the most important sub-topics under these headings, you can see how we break them down and register your opinion about them on our survey monkey poll. When our Conference Council meets, we will make them aware of the results of this voting, as well as the separate tally we’re keeping of the vote by the Conference Council itself.

And an extra robust thank-you for anybody who can suggest a sub-topic that should have made the list and didn’t.

We don’t really understand the ways of Feedburner, our current (but soon to be past) distributor of the email version of this blog, but it didn’t distribute my last post about when an author should self-publish. So if you’re getting this one by email and didn’t get the last one, we’re trying to make it easy for you to read it now by clicking this link. We will soon be moving over to Mail Chimp so these problems will be in the rear view mirror.

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Ideas about the future of bookselling


There is a vision of online bookselling, which I share, which is that it will become increasingly atomized. Books (and, ultimately, other content too) will be merchandised in unique ways across countless web sites curating and presenting content choices for their own communities and audiences. One early prototype of how this might work is the Random House initiative powering “bookstores” for Politico and Publishers Lunch’s Bookateria.

This is not a new idea. I remember a meeting more than five years ago hosted by O’Reilly Media in New York City to plan the first Tools of Change conference at which Brian Murray of HarperCollins, not yet their CEO, talked about how a way should be found to merchandise books on current affairs topics around and adjacent to today’s news stories that were relevant. The Random House capability, among many other things it can do, readily enables just that.

This is not necessarily bad news for the biggest online retailers like Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Kobo. The Random House execution delivers “their” customers to one of the others to consummate the sale and they’re rewarded for having pushed the “discovery” by collecting referral fees from the etailer  which processes the sale. (How the revenue is split between Random House and the web site providing the screen real estate is not known to me, and presumably only one of a number of moving parts in the negotiations between them.) Doing things this way allows both Random House and their clients to avoid the two biggest (and closely-related) headaches of online bookselling: managing DRM and customer service. In addition, the costs for what is called “card and cart”  — handling credit cards and providing shopping cart technology — are also avoided by handing off the actual transactions.

Bookish, the new discovery engine and bookseller which was financed by three of the Big Six, also offers referrals in addition to their own fulfillment (which is provided by Baker & Taylor).

Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex, our go-to guy for understanding the concept of “discovery”, says that bookstores offer discovery combined with availability, a “twofer”. In effect, web sites offering ebooks (and possibly print too) alongside their information and conversation are doing the same thing.

In fact, the same approach makes sense in the brick-and-mortar world, but it is a lot harder to do.

Merchandising is the bottleneck for any retailer, online or in stores, trying to sell books. Which books do you offer? Which books do you feature? What do you discount? This is a challenge online, which is why Random House believes it can build a business helping web sites do it. But it is even more challenging in a physical environment, which requires actual printed books to be displayed, sometimes to be sold and sometimes to be returned.

But smaller and more targeted displays of print books in stores — whether a general selection or one targeted to store’s other customers — also make more sense than big book superstores in the digital era. Physical bookselling locations can offer consumers convenience and speed. If you’re shopping, you can see more titles faster than you can online and you can walk away with your purchase rather than waiting for delivery.

Publishers gain access to their audience through retailers. Non-book retailers, just like web sites, are specialized in some way and they both attract and serve customers if they offer appropriate books.

The challenge for non-book retailers who would like to carry books is stocking them. Almost no matter what a store sells, from clothes to hardware to specialty food, there would be a selection of books that would please their customers and perhaps increase their sales of core items. This is obvious in, say, a crafts store or hardware store where just about everything that’s sold is part of a project (selections of which and instructions for which are often found in books) and could require instruction about how to use it most effectively (also content well suited to books).

Picking the right books is hard work. If the retailer buys them from publishers (whose sales representatives would know their content and could actually guide one to the best title choices for one’s audience), it is a hopelessly fragmented challenge. In many areas, you might find 25 good books that could require you to buy from 10 or more different publishers. The publishers’ sales terms will be one problem (minimum order sizes) and the administrative costs would be far too big to justify considering the small sales the store would get from ancillary merchandise like this. Wholesalers have the books of many publishers, but their teams don’t have the kind of title-level knowledge the store needs to make the selections.

Meanwhile, bookstores labor under a similar constraint. We pointed out in our recent B&N analysis that the cost of their supply chain gets harder to bear as sales of books diminish. Independent bookstores have also always been constrained by the cost of buying, although they don’t really see it that way because it is part of the landscape.

The core point is this: the responsibility for getting the right books onto retail shelves is one that has always belonged to the retailer. That reality encouraged, even required, large book retailing operations: big independent stores and large chains could amortize that cost across far more sales than a small bookstore or a little book department in another retailer.

There is one established way to reduce those costs: vendor-managed inventory. With VMI, the cost of negotiation — of conversation between a “buyer” and a “sales rep” — plummets. In addition, it is actually easier to stock the right books at the right time. A key component of making better decisions is making more decisions that cover shorter prediction times. Ordering more frequently makes it much easier to avoid over-ordering as a protection against going out of stock. That increases stock turn (the key to bookstore profitability) and reduces the need for returns (leaving more margin for both the retailer and the publisher).

As I’ve written previously, a long-standing client of mine called West Broadway Book Distribution has been operating a VMI system in a small number of non-book retailers for a decade. They have a system which interprets the sales reporting and makes restocking decisions based on them automatically. They also have a system to test new titles in a sample of a chain’s outlets to decide whether or not to roll them out. Their automation has enabled them to manage a lot of granularity — thousands of potential titles in more than a thousand stores with the books coming from more than a hundred publishers — profitably and with workable margins for both the retailers and the book-providing publishers.

West Broadway started because its owner had a few books of their own that they wanted to sell to a couple of “women’s hobby” accounts where they already had relationships. We encouraged them to be more ambitious and they were willing to try. So they aggregated the books from many of their competitors, larger and smaller, to add to their own and invested in the VMI system (which they might not have needed to make sales of their own books alone).

That’s a path we should expect to see other specialty publishers taking in the future. Subject-specific knowledge is helpful in doing that (although it can be done successfully without it).

Stocking a general interest store with VMI is much more complicated and will take more time to evolve. But bookstores can take steps in the right direction by consolidating their buying to a smaller number of suppliers and pushing all their really small vendor ordering to a wholesaler (or two) to gain efficiencies from managing fewer vendors.

Remember that one of the keys to efficient stocking is frequent ordering. Bookstores mostly understand that and order from wholesalers every day. But they probably also order directly from dozens of publishers. They do that to gain a little bit of additional margin and, perhaps, to reward the sales rep that calls on them to present the list.

I’m going to say flatly that the margin differential is almost certainly not worth pursuing for what it costs in stock turn (capital tied up) and risk (returns because people buy more copies when they’re tempted by the higher margin order). My father made that clear in numerous examples in his monograph, The Mathematics of Bookselling.

The rep reward is a little more complicated but most publishers these days figure out how to pay their reps for sales that go through the wholesalers.

Any store routinely dealing directly with more than 20 publishers and distributors will almost certainly improve their financial performance by cutting that back and consolidating. They might  lose a little margin; they might miss a couple of smaller-potential titles (but not big ones), but their lives will be simplified and that will save a lot of money.

And with daily ordering from wholesalers, which just about all stores do, it becomes unnecessary to carry more than a copy or two of most books, except for the purpose of display prominence.

Once a bookstore has taken those steps, it is in a position to start demanding some VMI help, even if just from the sales reps. This was an idea that was pioneered in around 1980-81 by an indie in Shaker Heights, OH, called Under Cover Books in a project on which I consulted.

We were too far ahead of our time (the computers were too klunky), but the idea was that we gave the reps reports of how their titles were performing: on-hand, shipments in, and sales. Then they had an inventory ceiling stipulated and were free to order more books, of their choosing, up to the inventory ceiling. We then calculated the inventory’s performance (beyond the scope of this piece to get into that particular detail, but essentially combined the impacts of discount and turn) and raised the inventory level for the most profitable publishers and reduced it for the less profitable.

What defeated us was the complexity of administration. Part of that was because there were so many more smaller publishers then. Part of it was that the only way to communicate the inventory data was by shipping spreadsheets by snail mail (slow and not cheap).

This would be infinitely easier to do today, and the ease would be multiplied if you were only trying to do it with a handful of big suppliers.

I am only aware of one publisher today that has worked corporately on a VMI system for books, and that’s Random House. I believe they initially developed the capability and implemented it for chains: first for Barnes & Noble and more recently for Books-a-Million. But they also seem already to be prepared to offer the service to independents. Since, when the Penguin merger is complete in a few months, stores will be able to get damn near half the most commercial books from Penguin Random House, having “just” them operating VMI would constitute a sharp reduction of the store’s operational demands.

Whether or not this is what they’re thinking at the moment, the new Penguin Random House is bound to find it sensible to employ its VMI capabilities in self-defense to open retail print book outlets in places that are bereft of bookstores in the years to come. Those outlets will have space for shelves, customers and cash registers, but no ability to discern what books they ought to stock or what the timing should be of ordering. They’ll be sought out as necessary because bookstores, which are carrying the requirement of making these stocking decisions, will have increasingly become uneconomic (and therefore defunct).

This vision of the future is of books being sold mostly in stores that aren’t bookstores, enabled by VMI systems that largely don’t exist yet. It would be even better if the VMI vision took hold in time to save some of the bookstores that exist today to survive to that future time when the demands on them to manage inventory will have been ameliorated by necessity.

In my last post, I cited a bunch of suggestions pulled together by Philip Jones for how publishers could help bookstores survive and promised to review them. This post was intended to get to that, but I couldn’t get there within a reasonable number of words. Next time.

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A debate across panels is coming at our London show on June 21


It looks like we’re going to have a bit of an unintended debate stretching across several of our panels at the Publishers Launch show in London. Since I’m the guy who put the show together, I can speak with authority to the fact that it was really unintended. But I consider it serendipitous and proof of Branch Rickey’s axiom that “luck is the residue of design”.

I first started probing the question of new business models for agents two years ago when I was organizing the first Digital Book World conference. I had been asked by F+W Media to create a program that would be (in their words) “more practical” than they found Tools of Change to be. I was in partnership with O’Reilly at that time working on a “StartWithXML” show to take place in London. I wasn’t really looking for a reason to compete with them; we were collaborators.

But as I thought about what they did (which I like) and what I might do, I realized that our approaches would be different and our shows would be different. In my mind, the clearest delineation of the difference was that I put agents squarely into the middle of our show planning. This move is a bit counterintuitive in the conference business since agents have never been big ticket-buyers for the industry’s digital education events. But I thought then — and events have subsequently confirmed — that agents were key actors in the digital transition. You can explore the tech challenges of digital change without them, but you can’t really think about the changing economics of trade publishing without bringing them into the conversation.

What seemed logical then — also confirmed by subsequent events — is that agents might become ebook publishers. This had actually happened a decade before, when agent Richard Curtis set up his E-Reads business at a time when most publishers just wouldn’t do ebooks for most titles, if at all. Richard had run into political problems with the agents’ association (AAR) which I believe he headed at the time. They have a code of ethics which could be interpreted to prohibit an agent-publisher such as he had become. In fact, I was a bit surprised (but definitely sensitized and enlightened) when a good friend of mine who is a successful and highly ethical agent told me she couldn’t possibly participate in a conversation that might be seen to endorse the idea of agents becoming publishers.

We put together a panel on “new models” for agents at DBW 2010. We repeated it last year (even though there’s a natural reluctance to repeat things year to year), and we surely are going to include the topic at DBW 2012 next January.

And that brings us to what is going to happen in London on June 21.

We have four prominent agents speaking on different panels on the program. At least three of them are likely to renew the conversation about whether an agent can become a publisher and still be a credible representative for an author.

One of the panels I’m most looking forward to on that day is called “An Emerging Opportunity: Selling into the US”. Charlie Campbell, an agent at Ed Victor Ltd., will participate on that one. We wanted Charlie on the panel based on a conversation we had with him a few months ago about the possibilities he saw for his office’s clients to capture sales in the US through ebooks. When Victor’s office announced the creation of a new publishing operation to handle their own authors’ books, our interest heightened. So Charlie will be explaining how that publishing operation will work and how it benefits the authors in their stable within the context of capturing US sales from a UK or Ireland base. His fellow panelists will be publishers.

Our last panel of the day has Michael Cader and me interviewing four leading luminaries of UK publishing. Three of them are publishers, but the fourth is the agent Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown. Curtis Brown is frequently rumored to be about to start an operation similar to what Victor has announced. (In the US, by the way, agent Scott Waxman — a member of the DBW Conference Council and one of the original participants in our conversations about this — has created a publishing adjunct to his business called Diversion.) Our focus in that panel was not intended to be on the ethics of agents starting publishing companies, but now I think the topic is likely to arise.

Why? Because a third agent on the program that day, Peter Cox of Redhammer, has placed it front and center with a post he published yesterday called “Your Agent Should Not Be Your Publisher”. Peter is on a panel about “Innovation in Marketing and Business Practice.” He caught our attention because he’s been training his authors in digital marketing for years and because he told us he was thinking that the agent’s model had to change to handle fewer clients for a higher-than-standard percentage of the revenue. We didn’t ask Peter at the time how he felt about agents becoming publishers.

It turns out he is very firmly against it and is very clear and articulate about why he thinks that. The moderator of that panel is Richard Mollet of the Publishers Association. I’m sure his membership will very much want him to invite Cox to expand on his ideas. Cox’s panel takes place after Campbell’s but before Geller’s. The juxtaposition of the commentary across the panels will probably be of great interest to the audience and should make for some very interesting tweeting. Maybe we’ll need a special hashtag just for #agentsaspubs!

It was the fourth agent on the program that we thought was going to have the trickiest assignment. David Miller of Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd. will be discussing “Territorial Rights and Open Markets” with Richard Charkin and Toby Mundy. Since the future of both practices depends very largely on what agents will agree to as the publishing landscape changes, I had thought David had the most politically challenging conversation of the group. It turns out that he’s excused from what will certainly be one of the most controversial aspects of the day’s discussions, although in our very open format, everybody’s free to say pretty much what they want. Perhaps Philip Jones, the moderator of that panel, will want to touch on this question with his panel as well.

It might be that at Publishers Launch Frankfurt we’ll stage this more directly as a debate (but that’s a crowded program and it might be hard to fit it in). You can bet it will be aired thoroughly at Digital Book World next January. And you can be pretty damn sure we’ll be generating some news on this topic (and others too, I’m sure) out of “A Global View of Digital Change”. If you’re in (London) town on June 21, you ought to be there.

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“A Global Perspective on Digital Change” will be our first show in London


The first Publishers Launch Conferences show outside the United States, “A Global Perspective on Digital Change”, will be at the Congress Centre in central London on June 21, with the Publishers Association serving as our partners in putting on the event. We also owe special thanks to the PA’s group of Digital Directors, who were extremely generous with their time and insight. If you can be in London that day, you couldn’t find a better way to spend it than with us.

We’re still putting the finishing touches on what will be a one-day conference packed with illuminating conversation, but we can tell you quite a bit about it already. We aim to deliver strategic, practical, and focused discussion of near-term issues and opportunities. This won’t be a showcase for cool products or a venue to debate what the future might look like some day. We’re examining essential issues — ebook “export” opportunities; what happens to territorial rights; hiring and retraining to meet today’s challenges; revamping publishing systems for a dual print and digital paradigm; getting “found” on digital shelves — that publishing professionals should focus on now to thrive in the days to come.

The UK market is in between the US and the rest of the world in its migration from print to digital reading. Kindle and iPad sales really took off last Christmas and, while ebook penetration may be a fourth or less of what it is in the US, it has grown enough to be disruptive and to generate a consensus acceptance that very substantial change in the industry is inevitable.

On the one hand, my PLC partner Michael Cader and I have followed the developments in the US very closely so we have some firsthand experience with some aspects of what the UK trade is going through. On the other hand, we know history won’t repeat itself precisely. There are important differences in the markets and there is a substantial group of companies with experience and capabilities developed in the North American market that can hit the ground running in Britain or anywhere else in the world. That alone will make everybody else’s experience different than what happened in the US.

In order to be sure we were talking with the UK industry, not at it, we took some preparatory steps. In February, we put a large number of ideas for panels and topics up on Survey Monkey and invited 70 players in the UK book trade to express their opinions on them. In five days, 40 of the people responded.

Then we followed up by spending three days in London meeting with about 50 people to discuss our ideas and theirs. Our partners at the PA provided invaluable assistance, hosting our conversations and inviting us to join a regular meeting of the Digital Directors to get the insights of the most knowledgable people in the UK market. Those conversations were crucial in helping us focus properly on topics and in locating some key sources of insight. Frankly, despite our long experience working with the British publishing community (I have visited London on business three or four times a year for 35 years), putting this conference together would have been impossible without the help we got.

But because of that help, I think we’ll be presenting the UK publishing community with a lot of very useful discussion that hasn’t taken place at the many prior gatherings that have discussed book publishers and digital change.

One topic that we identified very early is the opportunity we see for publishers in Britain and Ireland to sell into the US market now without payng for a distributor infrastructure or taking an inventory risk. When we started to explore this topic, we learned that, of course, people are definitely starting to plan for it. Some are starting to exploit it. This was something we thought should be happening below the radar, and it is.

This is a peculiar opportunity, because it might be more important for independent UK publishers large and small than it is for the biggest global players. We’re still filling out the panel for this one, but we have Helen Kogan of Kogan Page, an independent whose company was already working in the US market (and therefore has some helpful experience to pass along) but who is seeing the expanded opportunity presented by digital, and Jean Harrington of Maverick House Publishers in Dublin. Jean is also President of Publishing Ireland and we invited her to join this particular conversation for a reason. The Irish diaspora in the US has a particularly strong identity with the old country and we expect books of Irish history and Irish fiction will find a substantial additional market through ebook sales in America.

We’re working on adding another British publisher and an agent to that dialogue.

Another topic arose out of a conversation that longtime UK consultant Mark Bide and I had while we were at Tools of Change in New York in February. How long will it be, I wondered, before half of UK sales are digital? Mark said he wasn’t sure about the timing, but he was sure that the publishers’ systems, overhead allocations, staffing, and infrastructure would require a lot of adjustment to be ready for that day. That’s a good conference topic, we thought.

Then, in our conversations at the PA 10 weeks ago, Anthony Forbes Watson, the MD of Pan Macmillan, told us he had charged his team with thinking through the question exactly as we had defined it. Anthony wants to know “what does 50% ebooks look like? What do we have to do to be ready for it?” The next day we talked to James Long of Pan Mac who told us that, yes, he was actually the person in the company with the primary responsibility for thinking this question through.

We decided the best frame for this conversation was “thinking about the future.” James, as he will tell us on June 21, is largely focused on what Pan Mac needs to do in systems development and integration, workflow changes, and skills development to be ready for a 50% digital world.

But there are two other aspects of preparing for the future we felt could be illuminated by other panelists we recruited.

Perseus, a US company whose Constellation division that provides digital services to smaller publishers is a global sponsor of Publishers Launch Conferences, is one of several companies in the world (Ingram in the US is another; so might Random House be in the US and the UK) that are investing in warehouses and print book distribution capabilities at precisely the time many publishers are disinvesting in them, precisely because they know that most publishers will have to disinvest in them. They’re trying to be there for publishers who want to dispose of fixed cost overheads for the shrinking print book market. We put Rick Joyce of Perseus into this conversation to cover the sensitive topic of consolidation on the physical side (a subject that Dominic Myers, the MD of Waterstone’s, famously put on the UK publishing community’s agenda a couple of months ago.)

Copyright Clearance Center, the US RRO which is also a global sponsor of Publishers Launch Conferences, has steadily called our attention to another industry-wide challenge: the need to manage rights more effectively and on a more granular level to take advantage of emerging opportunities to license chunks and fragments for apps, ebooks, and web sites. We thought that the voice for this topic in London should be local, and we were pleased that Sara Faulder, head of the Publishers Licensing Society, agreed to join this conversation.

Mark Bide has agreed to moderate this group in what I think will be a dialogue about publishers and the digital future unlike any the audience will have heard before. (Except, that is, if they are at our Publishers Launch BEA show on May 25, where we’ll have a different version of this conversation, one more focused on export and rights sales than infrastructure, but also covering the change we’ll see to selling more and more fragments.)

We’re not above stealing our own ideas and giving them a local spin. One panel that was extraordinarily successful at Digital Book World last January was one we describe in shorthand as “new skill sets”. It’s about capabilities publishers need to get that they don’t have and it is about process and workflow changes and the use of cross-functional teams as well as hiring in or training people with new skills. Charlie Redmayne of HarperCollins did that panel for us in New York in January and is reprising it at our BEA show. In London, he’ll be joined by Juan Lopez-Valcarel of Pearson and Jacks Thomas, the CEO of Midas Public Relations, on a panel moderated by Jo Howard of Mosaic Search & Selection Ltd. One of the key elements in the New York discussion of this, which we expect will arise again in London, is “when is it best to hire in the skills and when is it better to retrain the people I already have?” This is a subject every publisher needs to be thinking about that isn’t discussed in public very often.

We’ll have three of the top digital leaders of UK houses — George Walkley of Hachette, David Roth-ey of HarperCollins, and Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan — joining Michael and me for a dialogue about the big companies who have cut their teeth on the US market and are now taking their capabilities worldwide, starting in the UK. We’ll be talking about Amazon, Apple, Google, Kobo, Ingram, and Overdrive (the six clearly-declared and clearly-capable global ebook players) as well as Sony, aspirants like Copia and Blio, and US titan Barnes & Noble (which has shown no clear signs of global interest yet.) It looks to us like there is only one UK player with a global perspective, still-tiny cell phone provider Mobcast, but we’ll be learning from our panelists whether there are others we should be considering. And our audience will learn more about the North American companies which are bound to be a big part of the local market’s ebook life in the years to come.

We’ve reached a time when “metadata” is an important subject to discuss, no matter how dry or back room it has seemed. We were fortunate to get Graham Bell of EDItEUR to moderate a dialogue about this for us. He’s recruited Jon Windus of Nielsen and Karina Luke of Penguin to discuss it with him. We’re now looking for a retailer to join them. The condition of metadata in the marketplace is not good enough in enough places yet. This is costing publishers sales. This panel will explain why that is and what every publisher should do to make sure this isn’t a huge hole in the side of their boat as online sales, print and digital, grow and the impact of metadata grows right along with them.

We are also going to have a discussion of the future of territorial rights. Richard Charkin of Bloomsbury, a well-known skeptic about them, and David Miller, an agent with Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd., have agreed to participate. We’re looking for a full-throated defender of the current territorial regime to join them in what will be more of a conversation than a debate. We wonder whether territorial rights make as much sense in a 50% ebook world as they do in the 5% ebook world we might now be in. The agent’s voice in this conversation might be the most important one because, after all, they decide whether the deals are acceptable or not.

One thing that the territorial rights dialogue will certainly entertain is what we should expect to see in terms of author initiatives. That topic is bound to come up in two other discussions as well. There’s one we’re now calling “experiments, best practices, and out of the box thinking” which is really about innovation. But we are going to focus on innovation in business models and practices and innovation in marketing, not on product innovation. We are still working on putting this group together, but we were very impressed with our preliminary conversations with two of the panelists.

Marc Gascoigne is at Angry Robot, a sci-fi imprint started by HarperCollins and then bought by Osprey. Angry Robot’s better mousetrap is its community focus; Gascoigne will make the case that doing that right (which many publishers say they want to do) requires that everybody, and that means every editor and everybody else, communicate directly with the audience. It is hard to see putting that across in many established trade houses.

Richard Mollet of the PA will moderate the conversation with the innovators.

Also on that panel will be Peter Cox, an agent with Redhammer. Cox is changing his own business model (providing more in the way of services to his authors, but charging them more for it and looking to represent fewer authors, not more) but he’s effectively changing the author-publisher relationship as well by making the author an active marketer and community gatherer. He’ll have examples and he’ll have ideas that will challenge the thinking of many publishers and agents in the audience.

The last panel of our day is intended as a Grand Finale. Michael Cader and I will sit with Stephen Page of Faber, Rebecca Smart of Osprey, John Makinson of Penguin, and agent Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown. We’ll get their take on the speed of the ebook takeup and its consequences.

How will British publishers cope in a market that may soon have no full-line bookstore chain? How will the industry cope with the rise of self-publishing? Is there any real danger of a consolidated English-language world in which London becomes subsidiary to New York? Or, in some companies, might it be vice-versa? Will both agents and publishers be changing the core business models which have prevailed for the past century over the next few years?

What excites me about the last panel — aside from the sheer smarts and savvy of the people we got to join us — is the diversity of their perspectives. The publishers run companies of different sizes and with very different approaches to building their publishing lists. The agent joining us has gained a reputation as one of the most digitally savvy players in the UK market. Michael and I thrive on spirited conversations with very smart people; we think we’re going to finish the day very stimulated and with big smiles on our faces.

And we think our audience will too.

Of course, before we get to London, we’ll be running our “eBooks Go Global” show aimed at international visitors and their trading partners at BEA. At that show, we’re particularly excited about two panels we won’t be doing in London. One is with a few booksellers already working with the new Google Ebooks capability reporting on how it is functioning for them. The other takes a slightly different approach to the “selling in the US” opportunity. Patricia Arancibia of Barnes & Noble, which has aggregated about ten times as many ebooks in Spanish as most people in Spanish markets will tell you exists, will open a lot of foreign publishers’ eyes to the possibilities that exist for them in the US market. We’ll also have a chat with Barry Eisler, the author who turned down half-a-million bucks to self-publish. And that’s not all. Tickets still available… And tickets still available for London as well.

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Publishers Launch Conferences: a new partnership with Michael Cader


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introducing the North American Big Six


There’s a new Big Six in town. Or maybe not “in town.” But “on the planet.”

The Big Six is a term commonly used to collectively designate the behemoths of US trade publishing: Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan. Although there are other large players, some of whom occasionally can compete with these companies for seven-figure authors, the lion’s share of the biggest author brands are published by one of these six houses.

But from the perspective of publishers or booksellers outside the United States, there is a new North American Big Six. These are the companies that have direct relationships with publishers — all of them that matter in the US (with one noteworthy exception) and, increasingly, those that matter overseas as well — to secure the rights to distribute ebook files wherever in the world the publishers have rights.

Why does this Big Six matter so much? Because as dedicated ereaders and tablets and smartphones that can effectively serve as ereaders gain increased market penetration anywhere, the appetite for ebook content will grow proportionately. In languages other than English, the number of published books currently in epub — and therefore deliverable as reflowable ebooks — is paltry compared to what we have. It will take a long time for the publishers in most countries to make enough content ready to satisfy that growing hunger in their local markets.

And the Big Six companies have the infrastructure, and, most importantly, the rights, to satisfy that appetite everywhere.

Three of the North American Big Six are well known and would be immediately identified just about anywhere. Although Amazon, Apple, and Google have not yet opened their ebook “stores” in every country in the world that can buy ebooks, it won’t be long before they will. These three global giants all derive more revenue from outside the book business than they do from ebooks (and only Amazon, of the three, has any commercial interest in selling books except for ebooks.) But they are past (Amazon), present (Apple), and future (Google) game-changers: companies that have such an enormous presence that their entry into any area, certanly including ebooks, causes every other player in the market to sit up and take notice.

There is a fourth player like them, relatively tiny Kobo,.Kobo is also an ebook retailer. Over the past two years, they have been extraordinarily successful at getting publishers to establish direct relationships with them. (I didn’t track this with great precision, but I believe Kobo was the only company besides Amazon to have all the agency publishers on board the day agency selling started last April.) Kobo has “white-labeled”, or powered, an ebook store for Borders in the US and Red Group in Australia (two booksellers who, coincidentally or not, have just filed for bankruptcy protection). Kobo also has, according to their executive, Michael Tamblyn, at Tools of Change, “more than two million registered users.”

All four of these companies will be competing as ebook retailers in every market in the world and in every language in the world. They all start out with a robust aggregation of US-published ebooks. Apple is the laggard here. They don’t carry Random House books yet — the “noteworthy exception” referred to in the third paragraph above — and they have fewer available titles than any of the other three. But Apple comes with its own significant advantages in the form of the wildly popular iPhone and iPad. These devices assure a certain minimum amount of traffic to their iBookstore, even if Apple doesn’t move ahead with in books with the power play they’ve just exercised over subscription sellers of magazines and newspapers. (And so far we have only rumors and stretched intepretations of what they’ve said and done to suggest that they will do that anytime soon.)

Because American hegemony is resented in much of the world, Kobo may have a built-in advantage in international competition against the other three. Kobo is a Canadian company. They are also not disrupting people’s lives or terrifying them by monopolizing online print sales in any market (like Amazon), or by delivering devices designed to capture audiences and wall them off from competitors (like Apple), or by digitizing first and asking permission later (like Google.) All three of the Biggest Three (of the Big Six) have enemies and detractors. Kobo doesn’t.

Kobo doesn’t have their effectively unlimited resourcces either.

There are already retailers active in every country in the world, operating in the local language, who want to be the ebook resellers of choice in their own countries. For them, the other two members of the North American Big Six are potentially critical resources: Ingram and Overdrive.

Ingram is well known throughout the book business worldwide (and is sometimes, and currently, a client of ours.) As the biggest and most innovative wholesaler in the US for four decades, they have built both a customer base and a supplier base all over the world. They’ve been the principal wholesaler of ebooks to US independent ebook retailers since the begining of ebook time. They have deep and strong relationships with every US publisher of any size, rooted in their wholesaling business. They can set any retailer up with a wide selection of US ebook titles.

Ingram’s competitor for the role of delivering English-language (and, ultimately, all non-local language) ebooks to resellers all over the world is Overdrive. Overdrive has been in the digital content business since the 1980s and pioneered ebook distribution to libraries from the dawn of the current ebook era in the late 1990s. They also have a very broad base of publisher suppliers and can, like Ingram, provide an ebook reseller local to any country with a robust selection of other-language ebooks to vend, with an emphasis on those provided by American publishers.

Could any upstarts join the Big Six as credible providers for local competitors to the four global ebook retailers? I see three possibilities.

Barnes & Noble certainly has the relationships with publishers globally to assemble an ebook title selection that can rival anyone’s (and they’ve done it.) They are already the number two ebook reseller in the US market, miles ahead of Apple and Google and Kobo. But, so far, they have continued their brick-and-mortar strategy of sticking to the US market. It seems to me that the economics of their successful Nook family of devices and the ebook store they run would benefit from extending to a global base. But every company has to make choices about resource allocation and focus, and it is hard to quarrel with the success B&N has had competing with Kindle and iPad considering their prior experience with hardware (none). They’ve leveraged their retail presence to do it and they don’t have that resource to employ outside the US.

Copia and Blio are upstart ebook platforms. The independently-owned Copia has its social component as a unique feature (although Kobo has some pretty cool social stuff and there’s an upstart called Rethink Books with some technology that provides social capabilities around books independent of the ebook platform.) When Blio started, they seemed to offer an opportunity for publishers to enhance their ebooks readily. But the tool set that would enable hasn’t been delivered. Both of these offerings have a distance to travel to catch up with the Big Six, all of which have been in the game a long time and built up a network of suppliers and customers that it is not a trivial challenge to duplicate.

If there’s going to be a Big Seven, my bet would be on B&N.

Right now, publishers and retailers seeing the book tsunami coming closer to their shores will want to focus on the North American Big Six. If I were a publisher in any language, I’d be sure they all had my books. If I were a retailer in any country, I’d be looking at them as possible competitors or collaborators. Understanding who these companies are, what they have to offer, and what they have in mind is going to be an important component of every publisher’s and retailer’s strategic thinking for the foreseeable future.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We lean heavily on expertise that we know and trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What will be the big digital issues in January 2011?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What does a consultant do at the London Book Fair?


I spent a chunk of yesterday working on this post while, with one eye, I was watching the news about the volcanic eruption in Iceland that shut UK air traffic. As I post this on Friday morning with a flight scheduled to leave tomorrow night near midnight, I’d guess the chances of actually getting there might be as low as 50-50. In fact, the post has already been edited because two people from one client I was going to work with there — Copyright Clearance Center — already had to cancel because of the air travel disruption. I hope the post will be of interest no matter how this turns out.

It’s been a running joke between me and my oldest friends (none of whom are in the book business or digital space or anywhere near it, having chosen careers long ago as teachers, lawyers, engineers, TV directors, and other “normal” comprehensible things) that all of them wonder “what the hell does Mike do?”

It has occurred to me that readers of The Shatzkin Files might wonder very much the same thing. So while I’m thinking through my planning for what promises to be a very busy time next week at the London Book Fair, it seemed to me that writing about it would both help me think and spell out a bit about how a book business consultant adds some value and earns a living. And hey, maybe we’ll promote some clients and some of these activities of mine at the same time!

My principal mission next week is to talk to UK publishers, mostly to the digital strategists but also to some senior management, about the following initiatives:

1. I am just starting to organize the program for the second annual Digital Book World conference, which will take place in New York in January, 2011. I’ll be doing a post here sometime after London to enlist the help of all my readers in brainstorming and planning this, but what I’m going to do next week is tell publishers what I have in mind and get feedback and suggestions. It is an article of faith among the US publishing community that we’re “way ahead of them” and, indeed, I am not aware of conferences dedicated to publishers in the UK that are comparable to Digital Book World, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change, or the Book Business Conference and Expo. (There is London Online, but that is not a conference focused on book publishing.) Since it would seem that the world of digital would bring publishers of different nationalities closer together, not further apart, I’ll be looking for possible speakers as well as ideas, and probing whether it makes sense for our partners at F+W to really market our conference in the UK to look for paid attendees as well.

2. We’re also on the verge of formally announcing a new program in partnership with F+W Media: E2BU, Enhanced Ebook University. The White Paper, being written by Pete Meyers, is expected to go out for “peer review” next week. Kirk Biglione of Oxford Media Works, our CTO, has been leading our effort to craft a multi-track webinar program that will also be part of the initial E2BU offering. Since this effort is all virtual, we’ll definitely want to market it in the UK. I’m expecting UK participants in our webinar sessions (as “faculty”) and we’re recruiting peer reviewers from the UK for the White Paper as well.

3. As readers of this blog know, we’ve been working with Copia, a new ebook platform with social networking integrated in (and six ebook reader hardware offerings as well). Copia offers some unique marketing opportunities to publishers that are simply not a part of any competitive platform. So we’ll be using the London Book Fair to meet with the digital heads of UK houses to jump-start the awareness of this new platform and sales channel among non-US publishers. The response to the Copia presentation among publishers and agents in New York has been unanimously enthusiastic. Meanwhile, from the Copia side, we’ve been seeing that we need to engage with publishers well beyond their ebook departments; really taking advantage of Copia will require the involvement and creativity of editors and marketers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the UK publishers react to the opportunity.

4. London Book Fair ends this coming Wednesday, April 21. Exactly one week later, I’ll be addressing the AGM of the PA (which everybody in the UK knows is the “annual general meeting of the Publishers Association.”) My remarks are already thoroughly planned, of course. I’ll be talking about where the world of content and publishing will be in 20 years, predicting a world where owning IP won’t be of nearly as much commercial value as owning eyeballs. And I’ll be talking about a couple of publishers who are already getting ahead of that change. Then I’ll discuss where the US book marketplace is going in the next three years, which I think has very significant implications for UK publishers thinking about territoriality and global markets. But I’ll be using the book fair to get somewhat more acquainted with how UK publishers see their market today, hoping to find additional bits of relevant information to sprinkle into the talk.

The London Book Fair is not just about meeting publishers and publishing operatives from “across the pond” or around the world. Sometimes it is presenting an opportunity for us to work in person with US clients who are not based in New York, or to introduce clients to US publishers who are not based in New York, as with these:

5. I have also written on the blog about our “freight forwarder” client, SBS Worldwide and their eDC supply chain solution. Steve Walker, the Chairman of SBS, is speaking at the BIC (that’s Britain’s Book Industry Communication, their rough equivalent to our BISG) Supply Chain Meeting, an annual London Book Fair event. So, of course I’ll go see that. In addition, we’re using the London Book Fair to introduce Steve and eDC to a couple of US publishers from outside NYC.

6. In the same vein, we’ll use London Book Fair to meet with our clients at Bookmasters. They have a very broad suite of author- and publisher-support services, which have grown organically from their roots as a short-run printer. The range of their services really extends across the entire publishing value chain: literally from getting the book written (if necessary), getting it set up for printing or digital distribution with an XML workflow, content conversion, printing (POD, short run digital, or offset), and all sales and distribution services up to and including a toll-free number to take orders. And, unlike others that approach that range of services, they’re a willing on-ramp to publishing for individual authors and tiny publishers. Bookmasters is based in Ashland, OH and they’ve just created a new position called Business Development Manager for Integrated Solutions and put a new executive named Bob Kasher in place who is making their very complex set of solutions accessible to potential customers. LBF gives us a chance to meet and refine the way the propositions are being presented in light of real customer reactions and responses.

Oh, that’s not all, of course. I’ve been invited to speak in Ljubljana at a digital publishing event next year and the person who invited me will be available for a chat in London. I’m having dinner with the head of one of the big DADs (digital asset distributors) that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to know personally. I’m seeing a Boston-based publisher with which I’ve had some conversations about digital change to see if there’s a potential engagement. I’m meeting with an Irish publisher to be interviewed for a thesis he’s writing. And I’m seeing lots of old friends before my wife comes in and we head off with two of those old friends (and their dog) to spend a weekend seeing Scotland from our base at The Pineapple in Dunmore.

I certainly won’t be bored at the London Book Fair and now you know why new posts from me might be sparse until I get back to the States on April 29.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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