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IBPA Roundtable: Navigating the Digital Revolution

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PUBLISHED JUNE 2016

by Lynn Rosen, IBPA Independent staff reporter


In this edition of IBPA’s monthly Roundtable, Leaders from the digital publishing realm share their insights. Enjoy!


The Idea Logical Company
Mike Shatzkin Founder and CEO

Mike Shatzkin
Founder and CEO

What is your role in the digital publishing segment of the industry?
Observer and forecaster.

What issue related to digital publishing do you think is the most important thing that publishers should be considering now?
How to help and collaborate with authors on digital marketing.

What are the benefits of digital publishing?
For the reader: convenience and accessibility. For the publisher: lower capital and organizational requirements.

What are the liabilities and challenges of digital publishing?
Primarily getting found. Being discovered.

Recent statistics indicate that e-book sales are flat of late, or possibly even declining. What is your prediction for the future trajectory of e-book sales?
Inexorable but slow increases. This may not show up immediately in big publisher sales because so many e-books are indie-published.

Read more at idealog.com.


The Future of Publishing
Thad McIlroy Principal

Thad McIlroy
Principal

What is your role in the digital publishing segment of the industry?
I’m a consultant to book publishers, very specifically on topics related to digital publishing, from broad strategies to very specific technologies.

What issue related to digital publishing do you think is the most important thing that publishers should be considering now?
Publishers are grossly underestimating the impact of metadata. Most see it as a clerical challenge: make sure everything is spelled correctly and the ISBN is accurate. I argue that as sales continue to move from physical to online, metadata is a proxy for the actual book. Metadata should express everything that the author and publisher want to communicate, be it an author Q&A or a semantic abstraction of the text. Publishers should be paying far closer attention to metadata’s power.

What are the liabilities and challenges of digital publishing?
The biggest problem in digital publishing is e-book formats. Amazon’s ever-tightening stranglehold on the industry gives it enormous power to push its proprietary format, MOBI. The rest of the industry converges on EPUB. And then, each reseller has its own digital-rights scheme. Consumers are greeted with confusion, and nothing is interoperable. This is a major reason that e-book sales have stalled for print publishers.

What recent developments have you seen or participated in that excite you most?
Google continues to give publishers both the tips and the tools to make sure their content comes out near the top in search results. More than anything, Google favors high-quality content. Publishers have an unquestionable advantage as purveyors of the most in-depth, high-quality content. It’s an advantage they must further exploit.

Recent statistics have indicated that e-book sales are flat of late, or possibly even declining. What is your prediction for the future trajectory of e-book sales?
As Richard Nash says, the main reason e-book sales are in decline is that they don’t offer much to consumers beyond convenience. I believe that the largest publishers are propping up declining print sales by deliberately overpricing e-books. They’re playing loose in a high-stakes game, abandoning the e-book marketplace to self-published authors (whose e-book sales are still growing).

Other than e-books, in what other interesting electronic “containers” are you seeing content being delivered?
Mobile is the fastest-growing platform for digital delivery. It works well for e-books, but even better for super-short-form content: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, et al. At this juncture, the only growth in content consumption comes from these apps on mobile. It’s a real challenge to book publishers to figure out how to play this game.

Read more at thefutureofpublishing.com.


Strategic Communications Consultant
Charlotte Abbott Strategic Communications Consultant

Charlotte Abbott
Strategic Communications Consultant

What is your role in the digital publishing segment of the industry?
More than anything, I’m a dedicated networker, community builder, and mentor. The digital revolution has amplified the power of strong personal relationships in every aspect of publishing, which is why I cofounded an organization for digital book women with Anne Kubek of INscribe Digital and Robin Seaman of Benetech in 2012, and have continued to build it on my regular visits to the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m also active with the Women’s Media Group in New York City, where I live.

At Abbott Communications, I help forward-thinking companies maximize the visibility and revenue of their digital content, products, and services by engaging key publishing industry, media, and consumer audiences. Our marketing campaigns deliver inspiring and actionable content, both in person and online, making full use of new tools to track performance and building systematically on results. We’ve honed our strategies over seven years of working with startups INscribe Digital and NetGalley, as well as National Public Radio and Daedalus Books and Music, among others. Specialties include developing creative conference presentations and cutting-edge written content for online and email campaigns, and attentively developing relationships with media, industry, and other partners.

What issue related to digital publishing do you think is the most important thing that publishers should be considering now?
Understanding how the right keywords can attract the right audience and drive book sales is crucial, now that most print and e-books are sold online, and retailers increasingly rely on algorithms for their marketing recommendations. Using trending keywords to refresh a book’s subtitle, descriptive copy, and author bio can increase sales as much as 55 percent, according to a 2012 Nielsen report. But for many publishers, this entails a sea-change in job descriptions and workflow. Editors as well as marketers need to experiment with the keyword search tools on sites like Google Trends, Google AdWords, and Amazon—and both need to work together to update book subtitles, descriptions, and categories over the life of a book.

What recent developments have you seen or participated in that excite you most?
The power of digital tools to create and strengthen visible networks based on shared interests, and to facilitate meaningful dialogue on a large scale, remains exciting to me. However, it’s crucial to have a good moderator, to amplify good thinking and fresh voices, and to make sure the media are listening. I’ve been quite inspired by the vigorous, data-driven discussions in the United States and United Kingdom about racial and gender diversity in publishing houses and review publications, and how they correlate to pronounced racial and gender imbalances in the books that are published and the audiences reached. So far, the discussion has arguably had wider impact in the United Kingdom, because discussion about books is more visible in the general media there. But the U.S. conversation on social media has been substantial, and is still deepening within the publishing, library, and educational worlds.

Read more at linkedin.com/in/charlotteabbottnyc.


INscribe Digital
Anne Kubek EVP/General Manager

Anne Kubek
EVP/General Manager

What is your role in the digital publishing segment of the industry?
I’m the EVP and general manager at INscribe Digital, which is a one-stop solution for small and midsize publishers who want to distribute digital content and maximize sales in the global market. I’m focused on developing an increasingly flexible system that allows publishers to manage and track the performance of their titles, and to increase sales with strategic marketing guidance from our team, which has extensive bookselling and publishing industry experience. We manage file conversions for our clients, help with metadata management and pricing, and leverage our relationships with key retailers on their behalf. We also deliver detailed trend and sales reporting, with a consolidated monthly payment back from all retailers. We are always exploring new service solutions—such as our marketplace monitoring tool that provides data on live status at key retailers as well as rankings, ratings, and reviews.

What issue related to digital publishing do you think is the most important thing that publishers should be considering now?
Metadata is more crucial than ever to book discovery, sales, and marketing, and needs to play a more central role in publishers’ internal workflows. Too often, publishers treat metadata as basic title information they can “set and forget,” without fully understanding how accurate, up-to-date metadata ensures that books will be visible at the online retailers, and how much it can drive sales and their marketing now that so many retailer sites depend on algorithms. Publishers should regularly review frontlist and backlist titles, and update keywords to reflect awards, new releases by the author, and/or new BISAC codes to help ensure perennial sales.

Preparing for the move to ONIX 3.0 will also ensure that both physical and e-books move seamlessly from publisher to retailer. INscribe Digital recently published a white paper on “Five Ways to Optimize Your Metadata,” (inscribedigital.com/white-paper-metadata-best-practices-2016) that offers more details and actionable tips. I also recently offered some leadership guidelines for publishing executives in “Five Questions Publishing Leaders Need to Ask About Metadata” (inscribedigital.com/five-questions-publishing-leaders-need-to-ask-about-metadata).

What are the benefits of digital publishing?
We work with a lot of creative publishers, some digital only or digital first, who do an inspiring job with all that the digital marketplace offers. They are able to get their content into global markets quickly, as well as any updates, changes, and additions, by taking advantage of a level of automation that comes with a strong digital distribution infrastructure. They are also able to maximize preorders. For example, some of our publishers will use the first book in a series to promote preorders for the second book, by placing retailer-specific buy links in the back of book one. This can result in increases in sales of 40 percent between the first and second books. In general, we see digital publishers as being flexible and creative in testing and learning in the marketplace, which can lead to improved results with each new publication cycle.

What recent developments have you seen or participated in that excite you most?
We see the next significant change to the industry happening in the realm of data—and our role as helping publishers capture it, understand it, and act on it. Operational data about title distribution, marketing data (SEO), pricing data, sales by territory, and consumer data are just a few points of information that can quickly overwhelm a small or midsize publisher, but that can also help them make better decisions about content acquisition and development, and even improvements in cover art.

Read more at inscribedigital.


Author Marketing Specialist
Cynthia Shannon Author Marketing Specialist

Cynthia Shannon
Author Marketing Specialist

What is your role in the digital publishing segment of the industry?
I help authors and publishers understand how to use Goodreads effectively in their online marketing campaigns to drive book discovery.

What issue related to digital publishing do you think is the most important thing that publishers should be considering now?
The goal in digital publishing is to get as many people as possible to read your books. The number-one challenge to achieving that goal hasn’t changed: discoverability. However, discoverability is now harder than ever before. Readers have more books (and other apps!) than ever competing for their time. But the basics haven’t changed. Helping a book break out is the culmination of a series of many small things that create momentum around a title. Those overnight bestseller success stories you read about are actually the result of many months of work.

The good news is interest in books is still incredibly high. That’s sometimes hard to see as mainstream media has pulled back from book coverage. People are still hungry for good book recommendations and they are increasingly finding them from other readers—including notable influencers—online. Think about how many people talk about the books Bill Gates is reading. Or the excitement generated when Emma Watson started her feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf, on Goodreads. We also see the impact of a trusted book recommendation at a smaller scale, where one person on Goodreads writing a review will result in five, or 10, or even 100 of their friends adding that book to their Want to Read shelves.

So, discovery is much harder work today, but we have more and more interesting ways to help readers discover their next favorite book.

What recent developments have you seen or participated in that excite you most?
One of my favorite things we’ve worked on recently at Goodreads is a new feature on Kindle e-readers where we show you a list of books your Goodreads friends are reading. The publishing world has long known that word of mouth is the holy grail of book discovery. Part of word of mouth is knowing which books are popular in your social circles. We’re all interested in what our friends are reading. Now we show you on your Kindle e-reader home page a list of books with small photos of the friends who are reading them. If I see that two of my friends are reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi, then that bumps the book up my Want to Read list. I want to start reading it too so I can be part of the conversation. It’s another example of showing the power of social in book discovery.

What have we forgotten to ask that you would like to address?
Both the opportunity and the challenge for publishers and authors today is that there are so many different ways to reach readers. There’s the ability to get really precise and talk to readers who are most likely to be interested in a book. The downside is that to do this takes research and time. Independent publishers have a lot more flexibility to experiment with online marketing. Even better, this kind of marketing helps launch new books and can also breathe new life into backlist books.

I also think authors are not taking enough advantage of their role as a trusted source of book recommendations. Fans of an author really love it when the author introduces them to books by other authors. We’ve seen Lauren Oliver and Chris Bohjalian really embrace this idea to stay front of mind with their fans and build an ongoing relationship. I’d love to see more authors realize that fans are looking to their favorite authors to be thought leaders in their genre.

Read more at goodreads.com.


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.Lynn is the author of Elements of the Table: A Simple Guide for Hosts and Guests and currently serves as editorial consultant for IBPA Independent.

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