Yale University Press

Seven-and-a-half days of conference programming coming up during 4 days in January

Blog posts have been scarcer for the past couple of months because I’ve been so engaged with a major responsibility: putting together what amounts to 7-1/2 days of conference programming that will be presented on four days next month in New York City.

As most readers of this blog probably know, we’re responsible for the programming of the two-day extravaganza that is Digital Book World. DBW 2013 — taking place on January 16 and 17 at the Hilton New York Hotel — will be the fourth iteration of the event, which aims to explore the commercial challenges facing trade publishing in the digital transition. DBW is not about technology per se; it is about the business problems publishers must cope with in an age of technological change.

DBW’s main two days are divided between morning plenary programming — all 1500+ people in one big room — and afternoon breakouts. We’ll have up to five simultaneous breakout sessions in each of three slots each day. So we have what amounts to 4-1/2 days of programming in the breakouts plus one on the main stage.

Because people really do come from all over the world to attend DBW, we were delighted to agree when they asked us at Publishers Launch Conferences (the conference business I own with Michael Cader) to add a show on each side of theirs to build out a week of programming. (The team at DBW itself are also putting together some pre-conference workshops that will run on Tuesday.)

So on Tuesday, January 15, we’ll do our second annual “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” conference at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium (put together with the invaluable assistance of our Conference Chair and close friend, Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners). And on Friday, January 18, we’re presenting (in conjunction with the DBW team) a new program called “Authors Launch“, a full day of marketing advice for publisher-published authors. (Self-published authors are welcome and will learn a lot, but the program is framed for authors who are working with publishers, not looking for ways to avoid them.)

Programming the “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” show revealed what we think will be the most important theme in the children’s book space for the next few years: the development of  digital “platforms” that, like subscription offerings (which some, but not all of them, clearly are), will “capture” consumers and make them much less likely to get ebooks and other digital media from outside of it. The list of platform aspirants in this space is long and varied: Storia from Scholastic; RRKidz from Reading Rainbow (the TV show brand); Poptropica from Pearson (which launched Wimpy Kid before it was a book); Magic Town; Disney; Capstone; and Brain Hive. All of them are presenting, as well as NOOK, which, like Amazon Kindle, has announced parental controls on its platform that encourage parents to manage their kids’ reading experience there.

There are other big issues in children’s publishing, particularly the creation of original IP by publishers so they can better exploit the licensing opportunities that follow in the wake of successful kids’ books. We’ll have data presentations from Bowker and from Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex to help our audience understand how kids books are found and selected outside the bookstore in today’s environment.

But we know that the digital discovery and purchase routines will be markedly affected by the platforms as they establish themselves. Publishers are faced with an interesting conundrum. They can’t reach the audiences that are loyal to a platform without going through the platform. But it is the presence of many publishers’ books that strengthens the attraction of the platform and, once it gains critical mass, the value of the content to it (and probably what it will be willing to pay for the content) is reduced. So publishers licensing content to these platforms may be strengthening beasts that will ultimately eat them. I think the roundtable conversation Lorraine and I will lead at the end of the day, which will include publishers Karen Lotz of Candlewick, Barbara Marcus of Random House, and Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, will have interesting things to say about that paradox.

We’ve developed some “traditions” in the four years we’ve been doing Digital Book World. As we’ve done the past two years, the plenary sessions will open on Tuesday with the “CEOs’ view of the future” panel organized and moderated by David Nussbaum, the CEO of DBW’s owner F+W Media and the man who really dreamed up the idea of this conference. David will be joined this year by Marcus Leaver of Quarto, Karen Lotz of Candlewick, and Gary Gentel of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And Michael Cader and I will — as we have every year at DBW — moderate a panel to close the plenaries, “looking back and looking forward” with agent Simon Lipskar of Writers House; Harper’s new Chief Digital Officer, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, and Osprey CEO Rebecca Smart.

Among the presenters on the main stage who will be unlike what our audiences usually hear at a digital publishing conference will be Teddy Goff, the digital director for the Obama campaign, who will talk about targeting and marketing techniques that might serve us well in the publishing world; Ben Evans of Enders Analysis in London, who will tell us how publishing fits into the strategies of the big tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) that he tracks regularly*; ex-Macmillan president and now private equity investor Brian Napack, talking with Michael Cader about the investment climate in publishing; and Michael D. Smith, Professor of Information Technology and Marketing from Carnegie-Mellon, talking about a study he and his colleagues have done on the real commercial impact of piracy.

(We’ve also scheduled a breakout session for Teddy Goff so he can talk more about the Obama campaign for those in attendance who want to learn more of its lessons to apply.)

We’re also delighted to have gotten Robert Oeste, Senior Programmer and Analyst from Johns Hopkins University Press, to deliver his wonderfully insightful, entertaining, and informative presentation on XML, the subject so many of us in publishing need to understand better than we do. And we will after he’s done. (We’re also giving Oeste a break-out slot to talk about metadata which I’ll bet a lot of our audience will choose to attend after they’ve heard him on XML.)

(*Late edit: Ben Evans had to cancel.)

Some authors have had remarkable success without help from publishers in the past year, but few or none more than Hugh Howey, the author of “Wool”, who has just signed a groundbreaking print-only deal for the US with Simon & Schuster. His dystopian futurist novel has sold hundreds of thousands of self-published ebook copies and rights all over the world and to Hollywood. We’ll have a chat with Howey about how he did it and we’ll be joined by his agent, Kristin Nelson, for that dialogue. Kristin will stick around to join a panel of other agents (Jay Mandel of William Morris Endeavor, Steve Axelrod, and Jane Dystel from Dystel & Goderich) to talk about “Straddling the Models”: authors who work with publishers but are also doing some things on their own.

We will have several panels addressing the challenges of discovery and discoverability from different angles. One called “Closing the New Book Discovery Gap” teams Patrick Brown of Goodreads with three publishing marketers — Matt Baldacci of Macmillan, Angela Tribelli of HarperCollins, and Rachel Chou of Open Road — and is chaired by Peter Hildick-Smith. That will focus on what publishers can do with metadata and digital marketing to make it more likely their titles will get “found”. Barbara Genco of Library Journal will share data on library patron behaviors and then helm a panel discussion with Baker & Taylor, 3M, Darien Public Library, and Random House exploring the role of libraries in driving book discovery and sales. Another session called “Making Content Searchable, Findable, and Shareable” introduces three new propositions from Matt MacInnis of Inkling, Linda Holliday of Citia, and Patricia Payton of Bowker, along with SEO expert Gary Price of INFODocket. Publishing veteran Neal Goff (who is also the proud father of Obama’s digital director) will moderate that one. MacInnis, Holliday, and Payton offer services that will help publishers improve the search for their books. Price will talk knowledgeably about how the search engines will react to these stimuli.

We’re covering new business model experimentation (with Evan Ratliff of The Atavist, Brendan Cahill of Nature Share, Todd McGarity of Hachette, and Chris Bauerle of Sourcebooks) where publishers discuss ways to generate revenue that are not the old-fashioned ones. We’ll underscore the point that we’re about changes caused by technology rather than being about technology with our “Changing Retail Marketplace” panel, featuring publishers and wholesalers talking about the growth of special sales (through retailers that aren’t bookstores and other non-retail channels).

The future for illustrated books will be discussed by a panel with a big stake in how it goes: John Donatich of Yale University Press, Michael Jacobs of Abrams, Marcus Leaver of Quarto, and JP Leventhal of Black Dog & Leventhal. Two publishers who have invested in Hollywood — Brendan Dineen of Macmillan and Pete Harris of Penguin — will talk about the synergies between publishing and the movies with consultant Swanna McNair of Creative Conduit.

We will have major US publishers and Ingram talking about exports: developments in the export market for books — print and digital. And we’ll have some non-US publishers joining Tina Pohlman of Open Road and Patricia Arancibia of Barnes & Noble talking about imports: non-US publishers using the digital transition to get a foothold in the US market.

One session I think has been needed but never done before is called “Clearing the Path” and it is about eliminating the obstacles to global ebook sales. That one will start with a presentation by Nathan Maharaj and Ashleigh Gardner of Kobo where they will enumerate all the contractual and procedural reasons why ebooks are just not available for sale in markets they could reach. And then Kobo will join a panel conversation with Joe Mangan of Perseus and agent Brian Defiore to talk about why those barriers exist and what might be done in the future to remove them.

Oh, yes, there’s much much more: audience-centric (what I call “vertical”) publishing; the changing role of editors; the evolving author-publisher relationship; and a conversation about the “gamification” of children’s books. David Houle, the futurist and Sourcebook author who wowed the DBW 2012 audience, will return with his Sourcebooks editor, Stephanie Bowen, to discuss their version of “agile” publishing: getting audience feedback to chunks before publishing a whole book.

We will also do some stuff that is more purely “tech”. We have a panel on “Evolving Standards and Formats” discussing the costs and benefits of EPUB3 adoption, which will be moderated by Bill McCoy of IDPF. Our frequent collaborator Ted Hill will lead a discussion about “The New Publishing IT Department”. Bill Kasdorf of Apex will moderate a discussion about “Cross-Platform Challenges and Opportunities” which is about delivering content to new channels.

But purely tech is the exception at Digital Book World, not the rule.

And purely tech won’t show up at all at Authors Launch on Friday, January 18, the day after Digital Book World.

Authors Launch is what we think is the first all-day marketing seminar aimed squarely at authors with a publisher, not authors trying to work without one. It is pretty universally taken as a given that authors can do more than they ever have before to promote themselves and their books and that publishers should expect and encourage them to do that. But, beyond that, there is very little consensus. What should the publisher do and what should the author do? That question is going to be addressed, in many different ways, throughout the day.

The Authors Launch program covers developing an author brand, author involvement and support for their book’s launch, basic information about keyword search and SEO, use of metrics and analysis, a primer on media training, when and how to hire a publicist or other help, and a special session on making the best use of Goodreads. We’ll cover “audience-centric” marketing, teaching authors to think about their “vertical” — their market — and understand it.

The faculty for Authors Launch includes the most talented marketers and publicists helping authors today: Dan Blank, co-authors MJ Rose and Randy Susan Meyers, journalist Porter Anderson, David Wilk, Meryl Moss, Lucinda Blumenfeld, agent Jason Allen Ashlock, and former Random House digital marketer Pete McCarthy.

We have assembled a group of publishers and an agent to discuss how an author should select the best places to invest their time from the staggering array of choices. (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etcetera.) That panel will include agent Jennifer Weltz of The Naggar Agency as well as Matt Baldacci of Macmillan, Rachel Chou of Open Road, Rick Joyce of Perseus, and Kate Stark of Penguin. Matt Schwartz, VP, Director of Digital Marketing and Strategy for the Random House Publishing Group, will conduct the session on metrics.

A feature of both our Kids show on Tuesday and the Author show on Friday are opportunities for the audience to interact with the presenters in smaller groups so each person can get his or her own questions answered. At Kids we’ll do that at lunchtime, seating many of our presenters at tables with a sign carrying their name so our attendees can sit with them and engage. At Authors Launch, we’ll be conducting rounds of workshops, crafted so that the authors can get help in their own vertical (genre fiction, literary fiction, topical non-fiction, juvies, and so forth), and on the topics of greatest need for them.

We are sure the week of January 15-18 will prove to be an energizing and stimulating one for all of us living in the book publishing world. We hope you’ll join us.

Digital Book World Week | January 15-18, 2013

Children’s Publishing Goes Digital | Tuesday, January 15, McGraw-Hill Auditorium
DBW Pre-Conference Workshops | Tuesday, January 15, Hilton New York Hotel
Digital Book World Conference + Expo | January 16-17, Hilton New York Hotel
Authors Launch | Friday, January 18, Hilton New York Hotel


Supply chain analysis could get even more important as store sales diminish

The necessity for publishers to reduce their hard-copy operating costs, the reality that smaller as well as fewer bookstores are inevitable, and the overall question of shrinking shelf space are topics we have explored before.  But it is intrinsically difficult for those of us who have been in the book business for decades to envision life without a robust bookstore channel. The current unfortunate news about Borders suggests that it won’t require a great imagination for very much longer.

One thing that has changed considerably in the last 20 years is the huge increase in information available to publishers about what is going on in the supply chain: that is, they can track the books between their own warehouse and the end consumer purchase. The Big Kahuna of information, of course, is provided by BookScan, based on cash register capture of data as books are sold at outlets all over the country. BookScan not only lets its subscribers see the activity on their own books; it gives everybody a view of every book in the industry.

But as valuable as the BookScan data can be to discern trends and the performance of competiton and potential competion in the marketplace, it has real limitations as well. Knowing the sales without knowing the inventory is like knowing the number of hits a batter had without knowing how many times the batter came to the plate or knowing how many games a team won but not knowing how many games they played. Some books that are scoring low in BookScan’s data never had a chance: there weren’t enough copies in stores to enable a robust sale. And some books that are scoring high in Bookscan’s data are not going to be profitable because the number of distributed copies that won’t sell (and which will end up back in the publisher’s possession) is higher than the number that do.

Over a decade ago, pioneered by Barnes & Noble and Ingram, the biggest retailers and wholesalers started to provide publishers with data about how their inventory was performing for that trading partner. This data had the advantage of being far more complete and analyzable, but a publisher could only look at their own books’ performance. Because BookScan presented summary global sales numbers and everybody’s books, the BookScan reporting was what tended to be of interest across a company: to editors and marketers and top executives. But the more granular view of a company’s own inventory provided by the individual account reports was pure gold for the sales department and for the then-emerging supply chain management function.

When we first started helping publishers mine these reports in the early part of the decade, the practice at most publishing houses was for somebody in the sales department to look at the weekly spreadsheets, extract whatever insight they could, and then throw them out when the next week’s reports arrived. We were handed an assignment by our friend Charlie Nurnberg, then VP and Director of Sales at then-independent publisher Sterling. (It is a pure coincidence that Charlie’s name never appeared in the blog until my last post and now he’s in two consecutive ones!)

Charlie said, “for years we had 1000 titles on our backlist. I got the B&N green bar report (there was a time when all computer reports were green bar reports) each week and went over it with a fine-tooth comb and I knew everything that was going on. Now we have 5000 titles on the backlist, I have delegated the coverage of B&N to two people, and I know things are falling between cracks. Can you help me get a handle on it?”

To respond to this request, we did two simple things. First we databased the reports, so we could look at data across a longer period than one week at a time. (For fast-moving titles, a week in a chain can tell you a lot, although it certainly can’t give you trending insight that multiple weeks give. For slower-moving titles, a week’s sales might tell you almost nothing at all.)

The second thing we did was to contruct some simple metrics, so we could sort the reports by something other than the total inventory and total sales for stores and distribution centers that B&N provided. There were two key things we looked at right off the bat: the percentage of the week’s store-on-sale inventory that had sold and the percentage of the book’s stock that was kept in the distribution center. The first trick was to look for books that had a high percentage sellthrough but a relatively low number of copies on sale in stores. Presumably putting more copies out in stores would increase sales to everybody’s advantage. The second trick was to find the books which had a high percentage of inventory in the distribution center. Those books, we felt, were in greater danger of being returned. In general, publishers prefer to keep excess inventory in their warehouse.

These weekly Flash Reports quickly proved to be very valuable. The first day I showed them to Charlie and his team, we sorted the warehouse percentage in descending order. The two books at the top had 5000 copies each in stock, all of them in the warehouse! It turns out those books had been there for three months. There was a flaw in the B&N system — repaired almost immediately as a result of this discovery — that allowed a bulk purchase to be made by a buyer but didn’t require a distribution plan for the books. Sales management at the publishers, focused on looking at books in descending order of sales (which is what Sterling and just about everybody else did with those reports), might never notice that books sitting in the warehouse and not distributed to stores were also reported in the same spreadsheet.

This tool for discovery was well-received by Sterling, but it was also well-received by B&N. Their very enlightened inventory management team understood that having publishers doing sound analysis of the data they provided could be helpful to them. After all, the books sitting in the warehouse were painful to B&N as well to Sterling; that inventory investment was on their balance sheet (and, as it turned out, these particular books had been purchased on a “no returns” basis!)

In time, the business of doing sales data analysis grew for us. In addition to the weekly Flash Reports, we designed Stock Turn Reports to enable meaningful analysis of slower-moving backlist. We started computing the overall stock turn for a publishers’ books by store section, which was necessary to really decide whether a title’s stock turn was good or bad. Turning 1.3 might be nowhere good enough in fiction, but it might be heroic in philosophy or poetry. All of this analysis began to demonstrate the realities of bookstore economics to the sales reps and it got them thinking the way the store buyers do, where stock turn is a critical metric.

It wasn’t long before other publishers were using what we called the Supply Chain Tracker service and asking us to provide the same insight from the data provided by other accounts. Soon we were doing similar analysis for data from Borders, Books-A-Million, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Amazon. For publishers using us across accounts, we were also able to provide a much wider view of how their inventory was performing. We built spreadsheets showing what the percentage sellthrough was across retailers and across wholesalers and distribution centers. This information helped our clients match the growth and shrinkage of inventory across all accounts to respond to rising, and then usually declining, sales of a title.

We discovered a great opportunity in cross-account exception reporting. We’d look for the books that sold well in Borders but were under-represented at B&N and, of course, the larger number of titles that were the opposite: selling well in B&N but not well represented at Borders. That, and the stark differences in stock turn and percentage sellthrough between the two chains, would have told a perceptive sales director many years ago to expect the problems the Borders chain faces today.

At its peak, about four or five years ago, we were delivering Supply Chain Tracker reports to quite a few publishers, including Hachette, Harcourt, Chronicle, and Motorbooks. We did tutorials on our techniques for several major publishers, among them S&S, HarperCollins, Penguin, Perseus, and Scholastic. And B&N supported our efforts to teach the analytical techniques to university presses, including Harvard, Yale, California, and Chicago.

David Young learned what we were doing when he was running Little Brown UK and soon we found ourselves applying our techniques to data provided to them by Waterstone’s. When TimeWarner was sold to Hachette, our efforts were spread further around the Hachette UK companies and, at one time, we were doing Waterstone’s reports for four different Hachette divisions in London.

But, over time, big companies saw the importance of this kind of supply chain analysis and they brought it inhouse and, in many cases, extended it. That wasn’t good for Supply Chain Tracker, but it was the right thing for those companies to do for themselves. We stopped doing this work for US clients two years ago; we’ve just had our last two British clients take the function in-house. So for the first time in eight years, sales data analysis is no longer part of what we do.

The level of sophistication of inventory management in the supply chain by big publishers has taken a huge leap in the time since we started doing this work. I think we provided some impetus for that leap. This analysis will, paradoxically, be of increasing commercial value as brick-and-mortar sales decline in the years to come. Getting inventory levels right in years of relatively stable print sales was a key to profitability. Getting inventories and printings right in the period of print sales decline we face for the forseeable future will be a key to survival.

I wear with pride the fact that nobody else programming a conference on “digital change in publishing” has chosen to feature agents — both their challenges and their opinions —  the way we do on the program at Digital Book World. But we’re also covering the topic of this post. We’ve put together a panel of very experienced sales executives (Jaci Updike from Random House, Michael Selleck from Simon & Schuster, Alison Lazarus from Macmillan, and Rich Freese from National Book Network and moderated by David Wilk, who has years of trade sales experience) to talk about the evolution of the sales department. Find that on somebody else’s digital change program! And good luck to the trade publisher who rides into the future without agents and managing down the print and physical supply chain top of mind.