Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Digital Book World: Day One in The House


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Following the introduction by Conference Chairman, Mike Shatzkin of The Idealogical Company, Shiv Singh, VP at Global Social Media Lead, Razorfish delivered the keynote speech. We have become pretty familiar with the mantra of publishers needing to step beyond the confines of the models which have pre-existed for years in the industry. Singh, from his experience of social media, emphasised the importance of branding—something I spoke about in some detail here and over on selfpublishingreview.com earlier this month in relation to authors needing to discover their brand and identity before they could so much as contemplate putting together a competent marking strategy for their books.

“Today, publishers are looking more to cut back on the amount of titles they release and focus their marketing clout and expenditure on extracting as much as possible from the branding of high-end authors. That doesn’t mean mainstream publishing editors aren’t open to new authors with an original book or voice. It just means the playing field is getting a little less hospitable. There seems to be a lot less players on the playing field and the substitution bench is getting crowded and our publishing managers are getting ever-more conservative, unwilling to risk a late substitution from an unproven player in an effort to hold out and still win the game. Author solutions services will often use this argument to hook you into their services. Consider that almost all writers you read started out as unknowns, published a first book, broke the so-called mould, achieved what you might consider impossible or hopeless, but remember, they almost all did it by pursuing the commercial route, either directly, or via a literary agent. They, and the people who represented them, read their first book, believed in their brand, and managed to connect and sell it to readers.”

Branding and Publishing Strategies – Mick Rooney

Singh spoke in terms of publishers and the need for them to extend and identify their brand as well as the brand of the author. Publishers must become much more involved with their listed authors to create and drive fanzines and blogs and not relinquish control of the creator of the content they are publishing. Singh also looked at the relevance of book reviews and the work publishers need to do to ascertain whether they have a true value to make a purchase.

He suggested publishers needed to look beyond the book as the sole product, but rather see it in the light of the author within their community. There is no doubt authors in the midst of the digital revolution should never forget what really sells books. I think this is what Singh was getting at—that publishers should never forget the humble book club, local or community, and that in spite of the millions spent on advertising products in the world—word of mouth is still the most powerful medium to sell books. Singh suggested we are becoming less individual – more community.

In a newer model of publishing, both readers and author need to be involved in the development of a book, and that means publishers engaging on a new level with the reading community to achieve this. Singh pointed out the modern reader has little involvement in the traditional publishing process and both author and reader are segregated from the ‘front end’. Social media has its place to guide publishers towards what readers want and how books should be put together. Singh rightly noted that authors are ahead of publishers in realising this.

Publishers spend great amounts of money on marketing and advertising books, yet, readers listen and are far more influenced by peers and friends in making a decision to purchase. In short, Singh proclaimed that publishers and authors already have the tools to hand to explore a new model of publishing.

Amanda Edmonds, Google’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, stressed the importance of iphones and highly portable notebooks—reminding us that we need to think carefully about dedicated devices like e-readers. I think this was one of the most fundamental points made all day and one we would return to in greater depth in the afternoon.

She expressed the vision that Google saw a future where the consumer wanted the tools of methods of entry to be simplified. She reminded us that the work of Google is to place a focus and serve the need consumers have to access back catalogue material.

Google’s ideology and strategy is the fact that the consumer wants to access, purchase and share what they find.

Over lunch at the conference, Jack McKeown, Business Development director at Verso Digital, shared the results of analysing 110 million Internet users and their varying reading habits. You might think this poor fair for lunch with a roll and soup. Actually, it was perfect, and set the tone among delegates for the rest of the day.

The Survey told us:

E-readers are currently used as a supplement to gaining information and reading – not a replacement. (There is a definite theme here on day one!) How ultimately the percentages on e-book and print purchases pans out remains conjecture, but print publishers shouldn’t pack their bags and leave the Sheraton Hotel too suddenly!

Publishers have a real challenge on their hands. How do you satisfy the new young reader, comfortable with iphones and e-readers and the purchasing of content as download, and placate the traditional reader, open to a degree of change, but not entirely willing to embrace every aspect of the new content mediums.

Holy Shit! Pricing! We knew this was coming. Maybe Amazon got it right. Those dang stuck-in-the-mud avid readers (28%) might shift, but not for anything more than $10. Another 37% said, well, ‘Maybe a little more, but impress us, entertain us first’. They’re obviously the percentage some large publishers are after with their new fangled all-sing, all-dancing, ‘enhanced e-books’, where the latest feature available is to have your e-book edition make you coffee while you read.

E-book readers also say in the survey that they hold the moral ground and wouldn’t indulge in piracy...honest. Didn’t we hear the say chime ringing when DVD recording reached the masses?

E-book share could rise to 12-15% in the next two years.

There remains a considerable resistance to e-books in the 45+ age bracket.

There was some degree of discussion in the afternoon about optimising e-books and making them better. It must have been the soup and roll at lunch and crunching those survey figures. Here is the person who should have been at the ‘optimising e-books’ session; she wrote sharply and accurately on the subject here – Kassia Krozser over on Publishing Perspectives.


The most pointed discussion of the day—New Business Models, and one that helped to pull some common themes together for the whole day.

Richard Nash, Cursor;
Eoin Purcell, Green Lamp Media;
Chris Morrow, Northshire Books;
Angela James, Carina Press;

This is purely an analysis of the business models presented by each participant involved:

Northshire Books

Importance on physical bookstore placement and sales.
Print on demand provide to retail bookstores
Using Espresso Book Machine

Carina Press

Digital e-book publisher
Harlequin first digital division
May expand beyond romance genre
No advance
Higher royalty
Rights for only 7 years
No DRM

Cursor
Based on Softskull Press model
Cursor is a portfolio of branded publishers
First imprint will be Red Lemonade and then two to four a year
$8 and $30
Editions - Not just volume
Priced from $0.99 to $10
Three year licenses
No use of law to demand control over author’s output

Green Light Books
Hybrid, experimental publisher
Part-traditional model
Will do print, but differently
No advances
Shorter licenses, higher royalties for digital content
Print for domestic market, online for overseas
Not big believer in ebook
POD. Digital and POD titles offered to authors’ not first tier
Will probably start a subscription model
Doesn’t see ebooks as viable long term prospect


A very long day and lots and lots of material and conversation you know doubt we see on blogs over the coming week. It’s like an open workshop with an audience of a thousand an each person a single good thought or idea. You try to get it all down on the whiteboard, and you’re doing well if you go away with ten good inspirational things through debate, email, resource and your own insight...

I’m going to bed to rest my weary head...

[excuse the lack of links, I’m sure they will come here and elsewhere over the coming days as we do a collective meditate!]
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