Last week, hundreds of publishing professionals attended the annual BookNet Canada Tech Forum in downtown Toronto. At the event, speakers addressed various aspects of digital development in book publishing, from e-book pricing and reader engagement to e-book bundling and literary podcasts.

Nathan Maharaj, Kobo’s director of merchandising, analyzed the data the Canadian e-reading company has access to, and discussed how e-book pricing affects reader engagement. He found that readers who buy heavily discounted e-books, for less than C$5.00, are less likely to open the e-book at all, compared to those who pay the more typical C$8 –$15. However, there are still people who pay full price for an e-book and never open it. Maharaj thinks publishers are unlikely to ever see 100% engagement from readers.

“People have books and they don't read them,” said Maharaj. “This is true of print, and it's still true of digital. The notion of acquiring for your future self, who has more leisure time than your present self, that hasn't gone away.”

In terms of content marketing for book publishers, Brian O’Leary, founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, detailed some of the new ways publishers are attracting and retaining readers online. “The growth of subscription services such as 24symbols, Scribd, Oyster, and series-specific sites such as [J.K. Rowling’s] Pottermore illustrate ways in which conversion architectures are starting to affect how publishers approach their businesses,” said O’Leary.

He emphasized that publishers sometimes have to give away their books (ARCs to media and bloggers) to build buzz in order to sell more books, but a newer way of using the book itself to sell the book is through Amazon’s “Search Inside This Book” feature. However, publishers do not currently have access to the conversion stats (browser to buyer) from this method. “As with the decisions we’ve made about what books to publish, the measurement might not be precise, but we recognize the value in building awareness of a book by using the content of the book itself,” O’Leary said.

Another way that publishers are engaging readers is through ebook bundling, which Mary Alice Elcock, vice-president of marketing & publisher relations at BitLit, praises as an effective way of connecting with readers. Elcock says publishers shouldn’t be afraid of ebooks replacing print books, as digital-only readers are still the vast minority.

“Although every report I see tells me that on both sides of the border (in Canada and the U.S.), the purchase of ereaders and tablets is on the rise, the fact is that only 4% of readers are digital only,” said Elcock. “What that means is that we now publish in the age of a hybrid reader, so people like myself and maybe like you, who read books both in print and digitally.”