Feb 20 2011
This past week I attended the Tools of Change conference in New York City. The conference is about the cutting edge of publishing, whether it is publishing Apps (very popular), enhanced content, or just conquering the digital workflow. The highlight of the conference for many people was the dry witted Margaret Atwood keynote who reminded everyone that authors are like the dead moose. The dead moose, you see, feeds an entire ecosystem much like the author feeds the ecosystem of publishing.
I love this conference because I go in knowing next to nothing and come out the other end just a tiny bit more knowledgeable. The people who run Tools of Change like Kat Meyer, Shirley Bailes, Andrew Savikas, are amazing people. The attendees are just as amazing and no one I’ve encountered has been unwilling to share their wisdom with others. I got to have a short chat with Mark Coker of Smashwords and he is what I would call a true believer. He believes in spreading knowledge to others. He believes that he should not earn a penny unless those that use his service earn money. He believes that every person he encounters has knowledge he could learn from. I found him inspiring. We met up with the Harlequin Digital team and the Kobo book team and they all have such tremendous energy and excitement about the future. Yeah reading is the clarion call of all these people. (I have to talk about Book Camp at some time in the future). But on to the sessions at Tools of Change:
I attended these sessions:
Going Digital: Launching a Digital-First Business from within a Traditional Publisher with Angela James (Carina Press), Jenny Bullough (Harlequin Enterprises Limited)
Summary: Holy crap, digital publishing is tough. Angie James and Jenny Bullough led us through a number of decisions that they had to make to get Carina up and running and to keep it going. They looked at their competitors in the market to determine contract issues such as options and royalties. They looked at all digital books in the genre to determine price. The range was $.99 to $12.99 (I think that was the top end) and priced their books at $2.99 to $6.99. After analyzing the data, they determined that $6.99 books were not selling and they dropped their high end price to $5.99. It didn’t make any sense for them to keep the top end because no one was buying at that price.
James spoke about the acquisition team (made up of editorial, marketing, sales) and how editors would bring their proposals to the acquisition team. She spoke about how Carina Press has to compete with self publishing and encourages the publishers to have conversations with their authors about why a publishing option might be better than self publishing. James acknowledged some authors will be well suited to self publishing but not all authors are. She told us they just signed an author who has 90 books under her belt because the author believed that “this digital thing was going to take off and she wanted to be one of the first and not one of the last in.”
Bullough spoke about the more technical aspects of digital publishing, the extensive workflow that Carina Press has to provide quality books to customers. There are challenges that Carina Press has had to face because the existing print systems aren’t designed for digital publishing particularly because the goal of digital publishing is being quick to market. The time from acquisition to publication is nine months. Bullough pointed out that retailer systems aren’t quite set up to meet their types of books. Because they sell without DRM, retailer systems often reject the books as having errors (hah!). Another example is that BISAC, the book organization/identification organization, does not have enough BISAC codes to meet the types of books Carina Press is publishing so in the metadata of a Steampunk book, for example, they have to put Science Fiction and Fantasy because BISAC does not have a steampunk code. Fortunately for readers who want to find steampunk, Bullough won an argument with BISAC and there will be a steampunk code in the fall.
Publisher CTO Panel: The Future of eBooks Technology, Moderated by: Abe Murray (Google, Inc. )
Panelists: Bill Godfrey (Elsevier), Rich Rothstein (HarperCollins Publishers), Andrew Savikas (O’Reilly Media, Inc.)
Summary: This was kind of the HarperCollins and Elsevier show against O’Reilly Media. I don’t think that Saviskas agreed with anything said by either Godfrey and Rothstein.
The first question by Abe Murray was what was the one thing each executive would wish for. Savikas wants Amazon to adopt ePub (please God). Godfrey wants to stop worrying about how content renders differently on every device. This can be costly for publishers, to ensure that each published book looks good on every device out there. Godfrey says that there needs to be one open standard. Rothstein wishes for one feed to populate the multiple retail channels. I learned from Mark Coker from Smashwords that each retailer has a different way to upload content and it can be confusing for a new person.
The next question was how was digital publishing changed. Savikas said that there were many other viable markets for content (I think he meant internationally) and standards were becoming more important. Rothstein says that the devices have changed and Godfrey jumped in to say that the consumer is more tech savvy these days and the devices do more. (which I took to mean that consumers expect the published product). This led to talk about enhanced content. Rothsten and Godfrey are both big proponents of enhanced content. Me? I would love it if the publishers would work on perfecting the ebook before they throw in a few videos and slap a 50% upcharge on the book. I kept wondering whether we would be stuck with ebooks that had no cover but video inside the book.
Rothstein said that the enhanced content would be curtain like. The curtains would open and close on the content, allowing the reader to see what she wanted, when she wanted. Rothstein said that they were attempting to talk to the authors to assist in creating the enhanced content but that they didn’t want to be disruptive. (Does that mean that it takes time away from writing? Wasn’t sure).
The discussion about enhanced books rolls around to Savikas and he says that enhanced ebooks come from the publishers and not from readers because it is a way to put on a higher pricetag.
Godfrey then indicated that the future of money making in publishing was advertising because it would be the only way to reach more people at lower price points. You get margin benefits through scale. Savikas disagreed because he said that online advertising is ruthlessly efficient and you couldn’t maintain that type of efficiency in digital books.
Godfrey did believe that DRM was going away and suggested that the future was in the cloud. This wasn’t the first that I heard of this and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m not a huge fan of having only cloud access to books but if I paid only a monthly fee for access to a huge database of titles from a variety of publishers then perhaps I would reconsider. I’ll write up a post on how cloud access could, in theory, vest first sale rights to readers, reduce piracy, and get rid of interoperability problems for next week. (I couldn’t fit everything in this post. Seriously it is long enough as it is).
The one good thing I think readers will be glad to hear is that time and again people said that geographical restrictions made no sense in today’s book market. I definitely think that those will be a thing of the past in a few years.
Data-driven Marketing and Product Development with Emily Sawtell (McGraw-Hill International Publishing Group), Brett Sandusky (Kaplan Publishing)
Summary: I wasn’t originally going to attend this session even though there are few people cooler than Brett Sandusky. And Emily is from the UK and has a marvelous accent. But I’m not a student anymore so could this be instructive? Heck yes.
Basically Kaplan and McGraw-Hill are examining their customers and producing content based on that research. Brett Sandusky spoke about the Kaplan publishing giveaways. In two consecutive years, Kaplan has given away over 100 different titles during the space of a few weeks. This data has allowed Kaplan to learn more about their readers and encouraged the readers to learn how to download and interact with the digital content. (This is important only if you want to encourage digital adoption).
McGraw-Hill has been studying students by sending them video cameras and encouraging the students to video tape themselves studying and describe their process to the the camera (think alouds). Students were encouraged to keep journals. McGraw-Hill employees went to campuses and just watched students as well as conducting focus groups. What they learned was that students looked to their peers for everything from studying advice to emotional support and so McGraw-Hill is developing and has developed study guides created by students for students.
Both Kaplan and McGraw-Hill view every reader, every end user as a customer regardless of whether they pay. I heard this from Michael Tamblyn from KoboBooks and Mark Coker of Smashwords (in a little different way, Mark said to me that every complaint has a kernel of truth and provides something for Smashwords to aspire to. Such a great outlook on life).
I think this is challenging for authors to think about because many authors say that they write for themselves and thus learning about the reader and what the reader is looking for may impede their creative process. Some authors also write for the market, to sell. Neither author is “better” than the other. I expect authors who want to write for a living to comport themselves as a business and thus wanting to write to sell is just as worthy as writing the “book of your heart.”
Bookselling in the 21st Century, Moderated by: Kassia Krozser (Booksquare.com)
Panelists: Lori James (All Romance/OmniLit/ARe Cafe), Jenn Northington (WORD), Kevin Smokler (Booktour.com), Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo (Greenlight Bookstore), Malle Vallik (Harlequin Enterprises Ltd)
Summary: Actually I have very few notes of this session. I remember Malle Vallik saying that the others weren’t thinking big enough. Jenn Northington and Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo are both independent booksellers. Jenn from WORD Brooklyn is very romance friendly. All the booksellers spoke of building community events. Greenlight bookstore has a basketball league. WORD Brooklyn is doing readings and signings. ARe is launching (soon) ARe Cafe which will be a social networking site for readers and customers of ARe. These places are not trying to compete with Amazon but attract a different buyer. (ARe is particularly a good place to buy Ellora’s Cave books as ARe gives you a 40-50% rebate on those books and you aren’t then forced to buy direct from EC).
eReading Survey Findings and Research: A Look behind the Numbers, Moderated by: Sarah Weinman (Publishers Marketplace)
Panelists: Matthew Bernius (Open Publishing Lab at the Rochester Institute of Technology), Kelly Gallagher (RR Bowker), Peter Hildick-Smith (Codex-Group LLC), Jennifer Manning (Nielsen)
Summary: Hildick-Smith said that their projected sales of Kindles were about the same as actual sales but that a number of people who said that they were going to buy an iPad did not. The market changes so fast that in six months your predictions will be old news. Problematically 30% of book discovery comes from bookstores. Gallagher of Bowker said the heavy book buyer represents about 18% of the book buying public but drives 45% of print sales. The heavy book buyer represents about 18% of the book buying public but drives 60% of the ebook sales. (yes, romance readers, that is us. LOL). For internet surveys, though, the over 65 reader is underrepresented and the female reader is overrepresented.
What Do eReading Customers Really, Really Want? An In-depth, Research, and Data-driven Exploration of Reading Behavior, Content Consumption, and Consumer Attitudes Toward eReaders and Multifunction Devices with Cheryl Goodman (Qualcomm MEMS Technologies, Inc ), Michael Tamblyn (Kobo)
You can see Michael Tamblyn’s slides in full here. Tamblyn says that Kobo data shows four types of readers. The eink Reading Machine buys $25 books per month at about 7 orders per month and purchase frequency is increasing. Mostly likely using a Kobo eReading device and buying fiction and YA. The Small screen reader is the largest segment of purchasers and averages 1 order per month at approximately $11 per order. The Small screen reader is buying a lot of romance. The iPad Socialite isn’t as good a customer as the eink Reading Machine but still great. Averages about $16 per month and orders about 4.5 times per month. Freegan doesn’t buy anything but downloads a lot. Freegans are “shockingly insensitive to marketing.” (tongue in cheek). The Small screen reader is most price intolerant.
Some other interesting stats include that most book buying is done between 8 and midnight but most reading takes place during the morning hours which Kobo calls “Kill the commute” v. the “Good in Bed” hours which Kobo thought would be the most hours spent reading. Interestingly, more people are reading at night, but not for as long as in the morning.
Cheryl Goodman from Qualcomm presented statistics from the Harris study which you can see here online (or highlights of the study). Goodman says we are in a technology and consumer driven revolution. Content creators will have to keep up. There are over 80 ereading devices on the market (including multifunction tablets). Every device should be a connected device according to Goodman. Technology can force change on content creators. (think iPad). Consumers are enthusiastic but their enthusiasm doesn’t match their satisfaction in that the tablet isn’t meeting their expectations. (This is because the tablet sucks at actually doing things but is great for receiving content and viewing it). 80% of people who buy the physical copy believe that they should have access to the online content for free. 75% of consumers believe that their content should be available to them on all devices.
The keynote speeches were livestreamed via Tools of Change. I recommend watching
- Margaret Atwood (The Last of the Mohicans. I kid. She’s priceless)
- Brian O’Leary Forget the container. Think content first)
- Jim Fruchterman from Benetech.
A few notes on the Benetech presentation. Benetech provides books to those in our US population that are severely disabled which is about 1% of the population. However, there are thousands, maybe millions, of people who could benefit from accessible books and would be willing to buy the product. Publishers aren’t providing accessible books, however, because of the fight against piracy. So there is no text to speech even though about 2 people out of 1,000 is visually impaired, 1 in 1000 are physically disabled, and 10 in 1000 are severely dyslexic. Fruchterman was encouraging publishers to make books accessible to more of the disabled so as to increase the ability of those to read, learn, and gain respect for themselves and from others.
Finally, Sarah Wendell and I gave a 45 seminar on digital reading from an ereader perspective. It’s nothing you guys haven’t heard before. We urged the folks there to pay attention to three things: one handed reading, customer service, giving control over to the reader. I love giving presentations with Sarah because she is so entertaining. Sarah spoke about the importance of 24/7 customer service and how bad customer service leads to bad word of mouth. She spoke on paying attention to the environment of readers and the desire of readers to take control over their reading experience.
At the end of the session, (after I had said that readers don’t really care about rights but just want the ability to buy the digital book regardless of what device they use and where they live) someone asked me about the publisher’s ability to protect themselves and their authors from people would steal content. I urged the person to provide an ecosystem that would allow readers rights similar to what they had with physical books instead of forcing them to find work arounds. I hoped that we could act as partners instead of enemies and proffered social DRM as one way to place checks on the system of sharing.
I ended with the Neil Gaiman example by asking the room to raise their hands if they had a favorite author. Then they were asked to raise their hand if they found their favorite author by a book that was lent to them, given to them, or borrowed from the library. Most raised their hand. I asked how many have found their favorite author by going into a bookstore and buying a book. Only 5 people raised their hands.
The truth is that readers support the authors that they love by buying every new book on the release date, owning multiple copies of the same book; making gift packages of those books for other readers. A book lover loves nothing better than to seed the same love for a book to another person. To make another person a fan. Empower us readers to go forth and evangelize and spread the love of our favorites to others. I’ve got some thoughts on readers, authors, and discoverability of books that I am going to share on Tuesday.