< back to full list of articles
Blazing Trails

or Article Tags

PUBLISHED AUGUST 2016

by Lynn Rosen, IBPA Independent contributing editor


Lynn Rosen

IBPA Independent’s consulting editor, Lynn Rosen, asked nine people in the publishing world about the ideas exciting them and the innovations they’ve been able to put into action. See their responses below.


Brian O’Leary

Brian O’Leary
Principal, Magellan Media Consulting

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

I like tools like PressBooks, which helps authors create distribution-ready content without relying on conversion houses or EPUB specialists. I also like platforms like Wattpad, which connects authors and readers in a way that emphasizes community. These use technology to change the way that authors work.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

The supply chain is still governed largely by the same product metaphor that governed standards and solutions in the second half of the 20th century. We still need ISBNs, which is the primary identifier in the physical book supply chain, but for digital content we also need to identify, track, and monetize smaller components, including chapters, sections, and even pages. Safari Books Online has been working on this for a while, and Amazon pays some authors for the number of pages read. Individual vendors are solving this problem for themselves, but we need an industry-wide answer to offering content that is structured as a traditional “book” package.

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

A story of failure might be more instructive. In the early 1980s, I was working for TIME magazine. Every Friday, we faxed dozens of pages of printing and distribution instructions to nine locations around the US. Fax speeds were low so it took hours, and one person had to monitor the process to make sure there were no jams, missed pages, or lost connections.

I had this idea to convert all the paperwork to digital formats using software such as Lotus 123. We got it to work perfectly in our offices and decided to roll it out “live” the next Friday. All the people who received the paperwork had not been part of our tests, and the launch fell apart pretty quickly.

We regrouped, organized a number of conversations with people around the country, and tried again several weeks later. There were more glitches, and we worked through them. Within a couple of years, digital distribution of the weekly instructions was common practice, and the bank of fax machines was retired.


Johanna Vondeling

Johanna Vondeling
Vice President, International Sales and Business Development, Berrett-Koehler Publishers

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

At BK, we have been very impressed by what we see Hay House and Sounds True doing with their online summits, which have been attracting hundreds of thousands of participants. These companies are leveraging their brands and their relationships with authors and other content experts to deliver appealing programming—and they’re creating and refining a very profitable business model in the process. The summits are free while they’re live; Hay House and Sounds True monetize them by selling recordings and other products (including books!) to attendees after the event is over. It’s particularly exciting to see these publishers executing content marketing to attract customers in such thoughtful and systematic ways. For years, we’ve been hearing hype about the critical importance of content marketing, but I haven’t seen such a powerful and profitable use of it by a publisher before now.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

I’m sure every company has its own unique innovation pain points, which makes it hard to generalize. Innovation would be most helped by an industry-wide embrace of greater diversity and inclusion. Numerous studies show that more diverse organizations are better able to adapt to change and more likely to foster innovation.

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

Under the leadership of our rights director, Maria Jesus Aguilo, BK recently transitioned to publishing audiobooks in-house. We previously licensed rights to audiobook publishers, who were understandably picky about which titles they selected to publish. But with the rise of digital formats, Maria Jesus realized we have the capability to produce and distribute audio ourselves, just as we do with our e-book content. She methodically cultivated a network of professional narrators who deliver high-quality, market-ready recordings at a viable price. Now, all our titles are simultaneously published in print, e-book, and audiobook formats. Our path to audiobook publishing was helped by the fact that we had already built up a portfolio of more than 75 digital distribution partners for e-books.


Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally
Director, Business Development, Copyright Clearance Center; Host, “Beyond the Book” podcast series

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

The rise of mobile media devices—smartphones and tablets— presents a fascinating, perplexing challenge for book publishers. The digitization of media transports the book from the printed page to a screen, placing it adjacent to every and all other media. How well the book can get along with its new neighbors is an important question. We can view digital media as competition—adversaries in a battle for reader mindshare—or we can view them as partners in the project of telling stories, educating readers, and engaging the imagination.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

Publishing today depends on technology, and technology is pressing copyright in ways never imagined in the days of printing presses. Copyright holders in the digital age are under challenge—and not only from wide-ranging infringement. Nearly every month, another government around the world launches a review of its intellectual property framework or announces new measures to deal with “the copyright problem.” Authors and publishers should make the case that copyright is hardly the problem; indeed, copyright plays an essential and vital role in driving the new “information economy.”

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

Copyright Clearance Center launched “Beyond the Book” as a podcast series 10 years ago, in September 2006. At the time, podcasts were just breaking on the technology scene, but as a former broadcast journalist, I recognized that this was just a new wrinkle on a well-loved media format: the radio chat show. In the time since, “Beyond the Book” has seen over 1.5 million downloads and welcomed hundreds of special guests from every corner of publishing. It’s a kick to hear from listeners who say they catch up on the latest book business news with us—whether they’re listening in the subway in New York, or walking along a canal in Amsterdam.


Sally Dedecker

Sally Dedecker
Owner, Sally Dedecker Enterprises; Education Director, BookExpo America

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

For a while now, many content creators have been working on 3-D interactive book apps. As technology quickly advances and the creative mind starts imagining, we are seeing some fabulous interactive stories for children. I think this will continue as authors and publishers reimagine ways to engage readers and tell a memorable story. I am anticipating that this holiday time, there will be some wonderful interactive stories to engage children.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

The discovery of books is still an area that needs support. Authors and publishers need to have new efforts/innovative ways to get their books in front of readers. The consumer is overwhelmed with entertainment choices, and to put books and reading at the top of that list, we, as an industry, need to look at how we can innovate the discovery process.

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

Innovation is not just about new. Some of the things I am seeing and working on include better solutions to driving parts of the business and looking at new ways to meet corporate goals. Recently, we worked with a publisher to analyze workflow charts. We looked at ways to incorporate new opportunities, and we configured the workflow in key areas, allowing team members to share more information and reduce steps along the way. Projects that are focused on helping publishers to transition to new ways to tackle distribution are also finding their way to my office.


Hugh McGuire

Hugh McGuire
Founder, LibriVox, LibriVox.org; Founder, Pressbooks, Pressbooks.com, Cofounder REBUS Foundation, rebus.foundation

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

It remains to be seen if the innovation “sticks,” but I think the merging of the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) into the W3C (World Wide Web consortium) has the potential to be a huge force for innovation. The IDPF is the standards organization for digital publishing and the EPUB standard; the W3C is the standards organization that governs the web. Bringing these two groups together is exciting.

I think unless the book publishing industry embraces the web fully, innovation in the sector will continue to be minimal. Of course, there is always a tension between innovation and existing business models, but the formal recognition that we need to think about e-books as part of the ecosystem of the web is a huge and welcome change. Again, what actually happens with this proposed merger and the direction digital books take is uncertain, but the seeds are there for big changes.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

At the CEO/C-suite level. Absent full-hearted commitment from top-level decision makers, innovation happens very little in the book publishing industry. There are fundamental decisions to be made about whether the industry wants to create new products and grow audiences digitally (on the platform of the web), or maintain an existing print and closed digital ecosystem (what we currently have). The current model is working okay for now, so perhaps there isn’t enough incentive for big changes and big innovation. We shall see. But, clearly, without CEOs who make decisions for real change, everything will be tweaks.

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

LibriVox.org is the most successful innovation I’ve been involved with. With (literally) no money, we built a platform for a global community of volunteer audiobook creators who have produced and published 9,500 free public domain audiobooks. Our audiobooks have been downloaded some 500 million times.


Laura Dawson

Laura Dawson
CEO, Numerical Gurus LLC

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

Data mining in books. Organizations like Unbound and Authors.me are doing what Booklamp used to do before it was acquired by Apple. This leads to some interesting insights.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

My own philosophy has always been “invest in infrastructure and you’ll be ready for whatever pivots you need to make.” But, of course, that’s not terribly sexy. Truth be told, if you pay attention to your metadata, the code behind your platforms, and your workflows—as unsexy as that is—you’re better positioned to handle whatever disruption comes your way.

What is something innovative that you have done that worked out well?

Starting #ISBNhour on Twitter, a weekly conversation about metadata and identifiers in the book/media supply chain. It was inspired by people’s misconceptions about ISBN usage, but it led to seriously interesting conversations about other issues as well. Was it hard to get it done? Initially, no; but as time went on and Twitter grew/evolved, I eventually had to stop in 2013 (largely due to Twitter responses to mass shootings, which overwhelmed any other conversations and made #ISBNhour seem trivial). Since then, I’ve re-started it because Twitter has again evolved and can handle the load of multiple conversations simultaneously. Additionally, as these tragedies continue, people seem to want a safe space to talk about something that isn’t tragic, but productive and hopeful.


Fran Toolan

Fran Toolan
CEO, Firebrand Technologies

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

There are several of them, and they are happening at all levels of the business. In general, I believe them to be happening in the areas of personalization and machine learning. Sourcebooks’ “Put Me in the Story” franchise is showing us all how personalized books and products are highly in-demand and can be very successful. Games such as Pokémon Go! are very innovative because they are marrying technology with physical places. Machine-learning tools, such as those built by Kadaxis, can really help smaller publishers determine the best ways to position their titles for online search and discovery. We are just about to enter a whole new phase of innovation in the industry, one where the lines between different mediums start to break down.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

In order to be innovative in publishing, we need to open our ecosystem and include other media partners. Consumers spend more and more time behind screens, and their mind-share time for reading is more fractured than it has been in the past. Until we break down the walls that say we are only “book people,” we are doomed to a continued contraction of our market and mind share.

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

As a company, Firebrand is always looking to innovate small things—saving time and energy on day-to-day tasks faced by publishers. I believe we’ve been successful in many of these endeavors, such as metadata distribution, digital galley management, or tools that give our publishing clients insight into their lists. These ideas are often inspired by what we call “friction.” Wherever there is a business process that has a breakdown, or involves technologies that the average person can’t understand, that is friction. Our aim, as a company, is to take friction out of normal business processes. It is almost always easy to identify the problem to be solved, but, just as often, it requires some hard work and planning to develop a solution that is accepted by the marketplace. Innovation is never easy, as not everyone is willing to adopt the innovation at the same time.


Mark Coker

Mark Coker
Founder and CEO, Smashwords

What is the most innovative thing happening in the book publishing industry today?

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited e-book subscription service. While large publishers celebrate their ability to set their own high retail prices with agency pricing, Amazon is using Kindle Unlimited to offer readers unlimited reading for only $9.99 per month. Already, the service is undermining single-copy e-book sales, and over the long run it will lead to greater commoditization and devaluation of books and will cause publishers and retailers alike to go out of business. The catalog is almost entirely supplied by self-published e-books. In my opinion, Kindle Unlimited is toxic to the long-term health of the industry and must be countered, but I can’t help but admire the genius behind it.

Where do you think innovation is most needed (e.g., in what system, what part of the industry)?

More innovation is needed within e-book retailing. Over the next few years, we face the very real prospect that over 90 percent of e-book retailing could consolidate around two or three retail platforms. With such loss of diversity and competition, it’s a recipe for industry stagnation and decline.

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

I founded Smashwords eight years ago to democratize publishing so that writers everywhere could have the freedom to publish directly to readers. Although publishing e-books is now much easier, reaching readers is always difficult. In recent years, we’ve worked to introduce sophisticated publishing and marketing tools that help authors and publishers reach more readers. Last year, after nearly two years of research and development, we introduced a new tool we call Assetless Preorders, aka “meta-only” preorders. This tool enables authors and publishers to establish e-book preorder listings up to one year in advance at major retailers even before the book is completed. In the time since, we’ve proven that e-books born as preorders sell dramatically more copies on average than e-books simply uploaded the day of release. This was our most ambitious development project since the original launch of Smashwords in 2008, and it’s also been our most successful.


Corey Pressman

Corey Pressman
Director of Experience Strategy, Neologic

What is something innovative you have done that worked out well?

I think the most exciting innovations in media right now are around what we call “situated media.” Situated media is defined as an experience in which content is delivered to users based on their specific location or other triggers such as time, weather, or user heart rate.

A great example is the user-generated field note feature found in Sudden Oak’s Silent History storytelling app. Here, users create side stories of their own that are published to specific locations; these stories can only be read at the locations where they are published.

Last year, Neologic launched the Cornbread iOS app, a situated media app that allows users to create messages made up of text, video, pictures, and audio, and to then publish these messages to specific locations. The messages, or “crumbs,” are only findable and able to be experienced at those specific locations. Right now, we are working on the 2.0 version, which will allow for trails of related crumbs and crumb viewing factors other than location such as user biometrics, time, and weather.

We are now starting a Cornbread-based storytelling project, partnering with a major university and a popular science fiction author (names to be announced) to craft a story experience that relies in part on situated media. Situated storytelling is a new frontier.


Lynn Rosen is co-owner of the indie Open Book Bookstore in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Rosen was previously editorial director of Book Business magazine and director of Graduate Publishing Programs at Rosemont College. She is the author of ELEMENTS OF THE TABLE: A SIMPLE GUIDE FOR HOSTS AND GUESTS and currently serves as editorial consultant for the IBPA INDEPENDNET.

Connect With Us

1020 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Suite 204 Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
P: 310-546-1818 F: 310-546-3939 E: info@IBPA-online.org
©2016 Independent Book Publishers Association

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On LinkedinCheck Our Feed