On Tuesday, June 21, the latest in the Digital Book World/Publishers Weekly Webcast series featured a discussion about e-book distribution for small publishers. The panelists were John Oakes, cofounder of the digital-first startup OR Books; Tom Woll, president of Cross River Publishing Consultants, Inc.; and Adam Salomone, associate publisher of The Harvard Common Press. Matthew Mullin of DBW moderated.

The first part of the discussion was about digitization, and Salomone started by recommending a conversion partner for small publishers when developing digital content. Salomone explained that your partner should be familiar with your product. At Harvard Common Press, for example, cookbooks are its primary titles, so they chose a partner that was familiar with digitizing cookbooks. Salomone continued by saying that it’s crucial for small publishers to ask their conversion partner for conversion samples, and that to expect at least two back-and-forths and a four week timeline for the process.

For price quoting on digitization, publishers must first know how complex their conversion will be. For cookbooks or other titles considered “complex conversions”, publishers can expect 50 cents to 65 cents average per page for an ePub file. More simple conversions, such as a standard fiction two-page layout, will be lower.

In the distribution topic of the panel, Woll stressed the importance of accurate metadata. Using services like Firebrand Eloquence, which transmits metadata to distributors, can significantly help publishers supply the correct information. Publishers can expect a digital distributor to take 20% of the overall net receipts for a title, Woll said. In addition to typical distribution services, a distributing partner will apply DRM if requested.

The price model for e-books was the subject of debate. Oakes supported a lower price point, stating that an e-book should never go over $10. Salomone cautioned against the tendency for publishers to slip into a 99 cents price model, stating that it’s crucial not to dig a hole for an unsustainable model publishers won’t be able to get out of down the line. It was generally agreed that the price of an e-book should be equal (or perhaps less) than the price of the lowest-priced print format.

Oakes, in talking about digital opportunities, stated there is no reason not to do Print-on-Demand, citing drastically lower inventory costs for publishers. His company, OR Books, has also been known for their headway in “bundling,” in which OR packages a book in multiple formats for a slightly higher price point. Oakes said OR Books has received a large number of compliments from customers for this.

The point all three panelists all agreed with was the importance of a small publisher to have someone permanently on staff to oversee all digital initiatives. Quality assurance should be a key aspect of this position, and the panelists expressed their concern that aspects like QA would be neglected without at least one person to manage all the digital projects of a publisher.

For anyone who missed the Webcast, PW and DBW are making it available for free for one week at the following link