The last day of this year's Digital Book World wrapped up with a panel of publishers pondering (and fretting about) sometimes estranged relationships with their authors, a look at efforts to create a new retail channels for book content and efforts to defuse the smoldering war between public libraries and publishers over e-book lending. The day ended with a panel of publishing excutives who touched on a variety of topics including the long sought ability to bundle e-books and print.

All the talk and media attention given to self-publishing as an alternative to legacy publishers seems to be having some impact. A panel featuring executives form S&S, Random House, Little Brown, HarperCollins and Perseus, spent the morning issuing mea culpas (and highlighting current and planned correctives) over past “paternalistic” practices in dealing with their authors. Indeed there was a fair amount of discussion about whether authors should be called “partners,” “customers,” or “clients,” in an era when veteran authors and even emerging writers have viable alternatives to the traditional publishing contract.

The moderator, agent Simon Lipskar noted problems like asking authors for cover art approval when its too late in the process to change anything. All the publishers regretfully agreed this kind of stuff happens all the time. “Publishers must treat authors as equal partners,” said Little, Brown’s Michael Pietsch, “We are offering a service to authors,” as the panelists also emphasized that it’s not always clear to authors, just what publishers do for them. “If authors are confused about what we do, we need to make it clear,” said Random House’s Madeleine MacIntosh. Joe Mangan of Perseus agreed, “communication is the key.” Pietsch said he was chastened when a longtime and distinguished Little, Brown author once told him that publishing with Little, Brown, made him feel “like Spider-man scaling the side of an opaque black glass skyscraper.”

All of this handwringing is leading to new services aimed at reminding authors of just what publishers do for them, including the recent debut at the big houses of online author portals where they can access up to the minute data on sales of their book, royalty, analytics and other market info; in-house workshops on social media, and more frequent updates about the process of publishing their books. “Authors can can look at their sales results at 2 am in the morning if they want too,” said MacIntosh. Mangan even said that self-publishing, “is good for publishers, it confirms to authors just what we do.” MacIntosh said, “We’re data driven but we also offer human sales experts with grassroots connections to retailers and publicists with media credibility that can get the press to answer their calls.

In a competitive device marketplace where device manufacturers like Toshiba and Dell are looking for ways to distinguish their tablets and laptops from others, “content has become key,” said B&T group president Bob Nelson on the “Breaking out of the Box,” panel. Nelson was joined by Google eBooks Tom Turvey, F+W Media’s Sara Domville and Ingram’s Phil Ollilia to discuss new ways to sell books in an era of declining shelfspace in the traditional bookstore marketplace. Since the end of last year, B&T has been signing agreements with manufacturers like Toshiba and most recently Intel, to bundle software on their devices that give consumers immediate online access to “fully merchandised,” physical and ebooks purchases on their newly purchased devices. B&T is bundling the multimedia ereader Blio on the devices as well providing access to both Blio e-bookstore and as well as to physical book purchases. The software will eventually be bundled on 700 to 800 million new devices around the world offering access to localized content in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Mexico. Nelson said B&T provides the manufacturers with marketing materials and they’re starting to promote the retail sites but its too early to cite results, “But we’re seeing tractin, we’re seeing some marketing and people are creating accounts.” He emphasized that intel is spending $300 million to market its new Ultrabooks, super thin, super light laptops, bundled with the software and these devices will enter the market by Q2.

Ollila discussed Ingrams ability to offer over a million new e-book and POD titles to Australian readers, retailers and libraries. While Domville discussed F+W Media's digital-first focus and its network of 22 online bookstores organized around a broad range of F+W’s hobbyist and speciality interest online communities and their more than 3 million members. The stores, she said, are focused on “ curating and selling content back to those communities.” Turvey spoke about Google eBooks ability to allow indie bookstores to easily sell ebook downloads and said about 200 stores were participating. But when asked about the general lack of knowledge about the service among consumers, Turvey emphasized that marketing and promoting Google eBooks' indie bookstores services, “is not our responsibility. It’s up to local stores to do the marketing in their communities.”

Moderating the panel, “New Models for Library Sales,” Library Journal’s Barbara Genco said, “publishers are completely befuddled about libraries and the new world of e-books,” joking that publishers think librarians are “sluts” because they “give it away,” or, she said, “they think we’re pirates.” Nevertheless the panel showed off some new models for e-book lending that feature a book purchasing component as well as efforts lead by library e-book distributor OverDrive to generate research that can be used to convince publishers that library borrowing leads directly to book buying. The panel featured librarian Monique Sendze of the Douglas County Public Library, who has built a digital platform that integrates e-books into the library online catalog and allows patrons to not only borrow e-books form the library but to buy them if they want to avoid the wait. “3 clicks to buy, no more,” she’s said, “We try to make it easy to borrow Library e-books,” Sendze said noting that “20,000 people clicked on the buy buttons,” during three weeks in January.

Indeed, Sendze said that her library has a budget of $850,000 to buy e-books, “but we can’t find enough e-books to buy, because publishers won’t sell them to us.” OverDrive’s Steve Potash as well as copanelists Rich Freese of Recorded Books and Tom Mercer of 3M Library Systems, also noted that they offer buy buttons on their catalogs and emphasized that library borrowing doesnot undermine book purchasing. Indeed Potash announced plans to “aggregate data from libraries about who is looking at publishers books. We’ll finally be able to make the case that publishers benefit from library borrowing.”

DBW organizers Mike Shatzkin and Publishers Lunch publisher Michael Cader ended this year’s DBW with a wide ranging conversation between Bloomsbury managing director Evan Schnittman, Clare Peeters, Perseus Book Group v-p, and Wiley sr. v-p Mark Allin, that touched on 2011 e-book sales, which showed some “flattening out in the aggregate,” Schnittman said, blamed partly on the Apple’s removal of buy buttons from competing retailer apps like Amazon, B&N, Kobo and anyone else trying to sell on Apple devices. Schnittman said that while Bloomsbury’s “gross sales were down, net sales were up,” and credited that to, “retailers being more disciplined. Retailers are stocking fewer books but they’re getting better at selling them.” The panel responded to B&N’s Jim Hilt’s presentation on Tuesday that called on online retailers to share more data on consumer buying habits with the rest of the industry.

“I’ve heard this before,” said Peeters, who along with her copanelists welcomed the effort but said, “getting data is one thing but how do you use it?” And there was a muted response to Amazon’s presentation on Wednesday claiming that its controversial lending program was essentially “sampling” and helping to sell books. Schnittman said, “We do sampling ourselves with series. We know it works for series, but does it work for one-offs?," before making a face when Bloomsbury’s involvement in the program was characterized as a “choice.” Schnittman also said he was involved in working on efforts to enable bundling, or the ability for a consumer to buy print and e-book versions of a title simultaneously. Schnittman said he has made an effort to discusss the issue with retailers, but when asked about progress toward the goal, Schnittmen offered only another enigmatic smile and let the question hang in the air as this years Digital Book World came to an end.