The question asked on an email list of digerati-types was:
“On the trade side of the business, what are some of the unmet challenges, the unsolved conundrums, at the intersection of books & technology? If you could fix something, what would you fix?”
1. Enhanced ebooks. Nobody seems to have developed a standardized way to involve authors and editors in creating “Directors Cut” type ebooks. This is not about being exotic; it is about being practical and using the elasticity of the medium to deliver more content than in the book. Only Penguin with Classics has even suggested they are thinking of this systematically, to my knowledge. All the other enhanced ebook efforts seem to be 1-offs, which is only going to be supported for the top tier of titles by the sales levels we can expect for the next couple of years, at least. If you follow this blog you know I’ve been writing about this subject in more detail. Twice so far.
2. A new approach to launching new titles. It takes too long; it’s much too cumbersome. Seasons have to go. Sales conferences and catalogs have to go. A more continuous approach to move content to market is much more compatible with the digital times. Houses have taken steps in this direction, but we’re still basically organized to sell the way no major account buys.
2A. Every house should have a strategy and clear objectives to reduce the amount of print collateral: catalogs and anything else being produced, year by year. To do that would first require that each house calculate what is being spent today in total on print catalogs and collateral.
3. Publishers need to better understand what constitutes good consumer branding practice. We’ll know they’ve figured it out when they stop thinking their name is a consumer brand — unless they are a single-niche publisher like Harlequin or O’Reilly. Touched on that recently too.
4. Publishers need email-list-management strategies. (Does any large publisher have one?) Every publisher has a large and diverse set of opportunities to harvest and utilize email addresses. Maximizing that opportunity requires a considered and adequately resourced strategy. What permissions do you need with each address to use it most effectively? How do your targeted emailing capabilities tie in to every book launch and marketing campaign you do? When should you buy lists? What lists might you have to sell? What set of rules should each marketer, salesperson, editor, and author apply to the email names they can capture? And the big one, which I think is so far untouched: what kinds of reciprocal list-sharing arrangements are possible with authors and retailers?
5. A production process that makes a) putting the ebook on sale a week BEFORE the printed book and b) setting a large-print edition up on POD simultaneously with the regular edition the standard practice. This is about embracing a StartWithXML workflow. It is absolutely less expensive if you have a production process that would deliver you a great ebook file at the same time you have the PDF for the printer than it is to have one that can’t. Printing and binding takes time. Putting the book on sale as quickly as possible would make the ebook available 2-to-4 weeks (at least) before the printed book. One of publishers’ biggest problems today is the shortening of the marketing runway (less time to build a book.) Any buzz that was created by ebook sales taking place before the printed book was out would both boost awareness of ebooks and build interest in the book before copies hit the stores. Same thing’s true of the large-print POD: the file is free with a StartWithXML workflow and every book could be available that way right at publication. It is less expensive, but it requires an investment in planning and change.