The opportunities and mysteries of digital were at the center of the discussion of the panel, “Secrets from the Other Side: Lessons Learned from People Who Have Worked for Both Print and Digital Companies,” held June 5 at BookExpo America.
The panel, moderated by JVNLA, Inc. v-p Jennifer Weltz, covered a multitude of areas affected by digital, from distribution to data to pricing—not to mention the companies born from digital’s new opportunities.“We are all about marketing,” said Tina Pohlman, publisher of Open Road, a company that builds its marketing strategy around milestones like holidays and anniversaries, which in turn dictate what content is fed to which audience at what time. Byliner, another digital publisher represented at the panel by its editor-in-chief and co-founder Mark Bryant, has a strategy designed “to eliminate as many layers [between the author and reader] as possible.” Digital, among many other facets, has affected timing, and Bryant said that they were making last minute changes to their first release, “Three Cups of Deceit” by Jon Krakauer, about six hours before its release.
Digital has also changed selection. Whereas retailers once distinguished themselves by their different selections, now they want everything—not only every title, but every title in every possible format. And the retailers’ expectations for more have only increased because of the increased expectations on the part of consumers. “You have to give the customer the choice,” said Steve Kasdin, Curtis Brown’s director of digital strategy. Kasdin stated that we need to stop thinking in “versus,” i.e. “print vs. digital vs. audio,” and instead need to look at the different formats as different forms of a common product, because different consumers have different preferences and expect to have the choice.
Data has also become essential because of today’s digital influence, with metadata as the gateways for a publisher to unlock streamlined information. Larry Norton, senior v-p of business for Inscribe, said that while data isn’t new, the various types and the speed of data are. “The sources are beginning to explode,” he said, pointing to social media data and hourly updated Amazon rankings. And getting at the speed of today’s digital publishing world, Kasdin added that data from six months ago is “Jurassic.”
The main takeaway: digital has allowed for unprecedented freedom in an astounding number of areas in publishing. Digital backlist has unlocked older content for a whole new generation of readers; digital pricing has allowed publishers and authors to play around with different price points and adjust on the fly. And if an author wanted to experiment and branch out into a new genre altogether, the time and cost are no longer prohibitive.
Ultimately, all the panelists agreed that digital has affected everything except publishing’s end points: concept and words read on a page. Everything in between is fluid.