There are more electronic reading devices, some 60 million e-readers and tablets, in the hands of consumer and there are more ways to buy books, read them and talk about them, than ever before.“Books today are elastic and dynamic,” said Hyperion president Ellen Archer on the CEO panel at Digital Book World Tuesday morning. “No more just hardcover and softcover,” she said, “there are new ways to enhance books.”
Indeed the industry has more data, more “analytics” about reading and buying books, and the need for transparency and the need to share that information in order to grow the entire book and related content market is more important than ever before, according Barnes & Noble’s Jim Hilt in his presentation yesterday. “Analytics is helping us and the use of data must be more open to help consumers. We need to be more open than retailers have been,” said Hilt in a presentation on the digital transition as seen through B&Ns digital storefront and devices. “Information helps us all,” he said, pointing out how devices can now pinpoint, say, a section in a book where readers tend to stop, and offer ways to inform authors and publishers about reader behaviors.
Despite the constant economic pressures on a book publishing industry in the midst of change, Digital Book World offered a snap shot of a range of industry positions and best practices as it comes to grips with digital delivery. Whether its taking a look at the innovations driven by romance publishing, a pioneering section of the book publishing industry that embraced digital delivery very early; or listening to a panel of agents recalculate their business models in the wake of the growth of self-publishing, the book industry is indeed reinventing itself on a daily basis.
The panel on short fiction and nonfiction, offered a look at book industry experimentalism in progress. Evan Ratliff, founder of the Atavist, an early online venture that commissions original serious journalism (up to 35,000 words) for publication via devices, has sold more than 100,000 copies of10 of its titles (at $1.99 and $2.99) , although he acknowledged, “it’s a much more crowded marketplace now that when we started.” He was joined on the panel by Random House executive editor Jon Meacham, who is collaborating with Politico, the online Washington political publication, to create four short e-books (at $2.99) covering the presidential primary, essentially in real time. Meacham and others pointed out the value that consumers put on the book itself. He said its likely that this format is the future of journalism, noting that it “empowers consumers,” removes the “paywall question,” and essentially relabels daily journalism--which no one seems to want to pay for—now calling the content “a book, so you can get a little money for it.”
Data and information from consumers figured in everyone’s presentation. “Data from these new device sources is fundamentally changing the business,” Hilt said in his presentation on B&N data. “We’re not competing with independent retailers,” he said, “we need to work together.” Not surprisingly, in an era when physical stores are under tough economic pressure to compete, Hilt made the case that both devices and physical stores are important in what is a “multi-channel’ retail environment, highlighting the need for both physical bookstores and library spaces. Hilt said that after filling up their devices with content, B&N data shows that digital readers “realize they want to go and hold a book in a store or in a library. It’s a myth that digital consumers stop buying the print book."
“There was a renaissance in the book in 2011,” said Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah, “books are everywhere. E-books and digital are influencing everything.” And it was pretty much all on display at DBW. While Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey outlined the ever-growing market of device-weilding readers (25 million e-readers, 34 million tablets users), publishers and other industry professionals outlined just how they’re responding to a new and dynamic reading marketplace.
On the CEO panel Raccah outlined a set of principles rules for publishers, stuff they “need to do” such as focusing on being “customer centric, craft immersive storytelling, offer authors branding and marketing services that writer’s can’t do themselves and build platforms where authors can interact with their readers.” And throughout the day, panelists from one section of the business to another, all advocated the critical importance of initiating and maintaining some kind of direct relationship with consumers in the new digital publishing world.
That kind of direct relationship to consumers was on display during the panel on romance publishing, a section of the business that has changed dramatically. While the business may be best known for its classic book covers, the days of the old fashioned bodice ripper are over, said Lori James, founder of the online e-book retailer, All Romance (its customers are 90% female), who outlined the popularity of sub genres in the category that ranged from Girl Meets Werewolf, to erotic romance, to male on male, paranormal and more. She said there were more than 40 subgenres on the site. She also outlined a publishing strategy for the romance reader that she characterized as “harder, faster, deeper” —to much laughter from the women in the audience. In other words, she said, publishers need to focus on quality (“harder”), production workflow and strategy for taking books to market (“faster”) and on capturing data from direct interaction with the community of readers (“deeper”).
Probably one of the more fascinating panels was “Agents Evolving: New Developments in Business Models and Publisher Relations,” a look at the role of the agent in an era when publishing oneself is now a powerful option for writers. Agent Liza Dawson outlined a contemporary publishing environment where veteran authors with a backlist find that self-publishing these titles is either their best option or very likely a useful strategy to promote their frontlist. She called it “situational publishing, using e-books to promote my authors,” noting how it taught a lot about what goes on on the publishing side. Most of agents said integrating self-publishing into their business model was on a case by case basis and dictated by today’s marketplace. Agents make it clear that while they find they must assist some of their authors to self-publish, they are not the publisher. "The author is,” said agent Ginger Clark, who noted that AAR ethical guidelines for agents in these situations dictate that, “agents keep client interests at the forefront, not your own.”
Although the agents cautioned that while successful self-publishers like Amanda Hocking tend to be “very good at self-promotion,” self-publishing can also sometimes offer an advantage in negotiations with publishers, according to Jay Mandel. He said that publishers were often willing to “overpay on advances, in my opinion,” paying bigger money upfront in an effort to sway authors away from the bigger royalty splits offered by self-publishing services. “Saying we’ll publish ourselves has leverage,” said Mandel. Indeed self-publication may even eventually lead to an increase in the e-book royalty rate—currently 25% of net—long a sore point with agents and authors who believe that publishers should at least offer an “escalator,” if a title becomes a hit. Agent Brian DeFiore said it might take until total industry book sales reach the 50% e-book point for publishers to address the royalty issue. “Publishers will change the royalty rate when they reach that point, in order to compete with self-publishers,” he said.
According to agent/e-book publisher Richard Curtis, we’re living in a time when print publishing has become optional for everyone except big legacy publishers. Curtis, who spokeon the Digital Shorts panel, characterized Print-On-Demand publishing as a form of digital book, noting that in today’s world, “Traditional publishers can’t really abandon print,” he said, “but print is optional in today’s publishing world. That’s a big difference today.”