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Audiobooks are on the rise, particularly in retail. This is the ideal time for you to reconsider audio publishing. W.F. Howes Ltd’s Acquisitions Editor, Rachel Gregory, looks at how you can get involved.

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Digital reading platform The Pigeonhole have launched a competition with Pan Macmillan, giving 500 winners early access to a serialized exclusive of Ken Follett’s latest blockbusting novel, A Column of Fire (see below for more info). Ahead of this, The Pigeonhole’s Laurence Kilpatrick shares his top tips for pre-launch publicity.

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As I’ve said before, the publishing industry needs to get beyond the current “print or digital” mindset and instead explore ways for one to complement the other. Plenty of industry stats show that most readers are comfortable with either format and many prefer the convenience of switching between the two (e.g., reading the news digital but mostly sticking with print books).

After several years of going exclusively digital with books I have to admit I’ve been reading a few more print books lately as well. Sometimes it’s because the book was given to me and other times I simply opted for the format that was right in front of me at the store.

What I’m finding though is that the reading experience would be better if we could narrow the gap between print and digital. Here’s a great example: As I continue reading The Content Trap I’m highlighting more and more passages. When I do that with an ebook I can quickly search and retrieve those highlights using my phone, my iPad or whatever device is handy. With print books, those highlights and notes are only accessible if the physical book is nearby.

I’d love to see someone develop a service where I can take pictures of the print pages with my yellow highlights and allow me to upload them to a cloud service where they’ll be converted to a digital format. Since I’ve now got a nice library of both Kindle and Google Play ebooks, it would be even better if I could add those print highlights to my existing bookshelves.

Oddly enough though, the Kindle platform doesn’t even allow me to do a full text search across my entire ebook library. The magnifying glass tool in the Kindle app merely searches titles and author names, not the book contents. Imagine how nice it would be if you could search the contents of your entire ebook library and, that same search could also include the highlights from the print books you’ve read?

There would obviously have to be limits to the amount of highlighted or excerpted content you could convert with this type of service. Google, Amazon and Apple are uniquely positioned to offer that print-highlight-to-digital conversion since they already have all the content in their content management systems. As you upload those pictures of print pages with highlights they could quickly identify the source title, automatically adding the cover and metadata to the converted results. A social element could be integrated, enabling you to share some number of highlights with your friends and followers, powering better digital discovery of print content.

How cool would that be? Your print reading experience could finally entire the digital and social worlds.

Greedy publishers could quickly kill this concept, insisting on some sort of monthly fee or other upcharge for their content to be part of this solution. They’d probably argue that if a reader wants to create digital highlights they should buy the ebook as well as the print book. Good luck with that approach.

I hope one or more of the major e-reading platforms offers this type of service soon. I’d lobby pretty hard to get the entire OSV library included in it, free for users, resulting in better discovery and incremental sales from reader friends and followers.

Joe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

The answer might surprise you…

Amazon’s Kindle format dominates the ebook market today and it’s easy to assume that will remain the case going forward. Despite that fact, I see a number of trends indicating the digital book space could be ripe for disruption.

Notice I use the term “digital book”, not “ebook.” That’s because the digital format with the most upside isn’t MOBI or EPUB. It’s audio.

Audiobooks

Amazon also dominates the audio book space, of course, thanks to their ownership of both Audible and Brilliance Audio. Amazon’s audio book subsidiaries are built around yesterday’s business model though, and I believe technology and consumer habits have evolved to the point where a new business model will emerge.

Have you ever priced an audio book? Let’s use George Orwell’s 1984 as an example. Audible currently offers the audio version for $20.97 while Amazon sells the paperback for $11.42 and the Kindle edition for $9.99. There are exceptions, of course, but the audio format is typically the most expensive option.

What might happen if audio editions were priced at or below the print or Kindle editions? The recent trends in ebook sales might be a good indicator here. As ebook prices have increased over time (thank you, agency model), print has experienced a resurgence and ebook sales have flattened and even declined for some genres.

Podcasts

Next, consider the growing interest in podcasts, as described here. Two factors drive this trend shown above: convenience and laziness. Low-production YouTube videos have replaced how-to books on a variety of topics. It’s also a lot easier to watch or listen than read. I’m sure that last statement made quite a few of you bristle, but it’s true. Reading isn’t going away, but overall consumption could be dramatically increased if it weren’t for the painfully high price of your typical audiobook.

Pricing

Why are prices so high? The obvious culprit tends to be the professional talent (and additional time) required to create the audio format. But is it really critical to limit recordings to either the author or voice professionals? If you want to continue charging those high prices the answer is probably “yes.”

If you’re open to exploring other pricing models though, you’ll be inspired by the approach used by The Week. I recommend you subscribe or at least listen to a few of the podcasts created by The Week. You’ll quickly discover their editors and other staff members are the voice talent. The voices are clean and crisp, not robotic, and the finished product is terrific. Yes, these are free streams, but they give you a sense of what’s possible with a much lower investment.

Technology is opening new doors here as well. Remember the monotone, computer-generated audio of the 90’s? Text-to-speech has improved quite a bit over the years and will only get better over time. If you’re still not convinced, scan this related article and be sure to listen to some of the audio samples; it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the human-generated segments from the computer-generated ones.

Opportunities

Despite all this, why would publishers have any interest in seeing lower prices for audio formats? Because it represents an enormous opportunity to break the stranglehold Amazon currently has on all digital formats.

Imagine a world where publishers could establish a strong, direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel featuring audio. The D2C audio edition of 1984 could be computer-generated and sell for $9.99, the same price as the Kindle edition; but in this case, the publisher keeps 100% of the selling price, not whatever percentage they’re receiving from Amazon for the Kindle edition.

Are you worried that consumers will buy one audio copy and share it with all their friends? If so, please don’t fall back into that digital rights management (DRM) trap that only reinforces Amazon’s dominance. Rather, create a simple mobile app where all the purchased audio files live. Most publishers don’t realize it, but the fact that a reader’s Kindle files are buried in their app is more of a file-sharing deterrent than DRM itself. If you don’t believe me, ask a few of your friends if they even know how to retrieve their ebook files from their Kindle app, for example.

The opportunity here is huge, and not just for selling audio books directly. It’s a chance for publishers to forge a more meaningful, ongoing relationship with their customers. I’ve grown to love history books over the years, mostly ones about WWII and the civil war. I subscribe to a few publisher newsletters but I still sometimes overlook interesting new publications. Wouldn’t it be cool if audio samples of those new books could be sent directly to the app on my phone? I just set a few preferences and I’ll never miss another new title.

Today most publishers sell transactionally, one book at a time, to nameless/faceless consumers. The model I’m describing isn’t ideal for all publishers, but for ones with genre depth it represents a new approach where they could better serve their customers as well as take more control over their own destiny.

Joe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

Richard Brooks is a Researcher at Coventry University and the Project Manager of the Arts and Humanity Research Council project ‘Hidden Story’.

At the recent FutureBook conference in London the ‘Audiobook Revolution’ was hailed as offering opportunities for publishers to reach a new demographic keen to listen to drama on the move.

Yet audiobooks in their current form – as a single-narrator, spoken alternative to the print book – seems at odds with the drive towards convergence and experimentation in digital media.

Audio fiction has long been a passion of mine. As a child, I remember earnestly taping Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy off the radio and chuckling to myself as I walked to school much to the bemusement of my friends.

One of the joys of audio fiction it is the only media that can be (safely!) enjoyed whilst doing something else. It is this reason that has lead to the rediscovering of the medium by a younger generation; as bundles of CDs are exchanged for smartphones and streaming services there is now no need to put down a good book whilst rushing from home to office.

Yet in the digital age, the distinction between audiobooks, as associated with published books and full-cast dramas aired on public broadcast radio – looks odd, especially when both now sit on your smartphone.

Audible is perhaps the most notable example of where convergence across the divide is occurring. Exploiting its strong position in audiobook production and retailing it has moved into commissioning ambitious full-cast dramas creating a rush of excitement amongst independent producers.

The expansion of channels to listeners has also enabled experimentation. Full-cast dramas are expensive and complex to produce, but independent producers like Big Finish have demonstrated that a compelling soundscape and readings from a number of narrators can be an attractive middle ground.

A more explicit challenge to audiobook growth comes from the surge in high-quality free-to-air audio fiction available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Spotify. Often produced in serial form, dramas like We’re Alive (2009) and Welcome to Night Vale (2010) have attracted downloads in the tens of millions and benefit from alternative funding models such as crowd-funding and advertising.

Podcast downloads compete for the same ears as audiobooks and may be faster to market, as seen with the release of Terms (2016), from the Wondery Network, a story about a maverick US president who wins a controversial US election. Yet podcasting is a crowded market and there remains untapped potential for the licensing of content to podcasters from the publishers of more recognisable authors. It should be no surprise that in a bid to compete in this market, BBC Radio has produced a series of high-profile Neil Gaiman titles including the much lauded ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Stardust’ that aired this Christmas.

Alongside licensing, there must surely be opportunities for publishers to use loyal podcast audiences for advertising. Audible has seized on this opportunity to promote its subscription services to the free-to-air market and podcasters would surely welcome the opportunity to promote books that match their content.

The prevalence of smartphones and tablets also makes convergence with other media possible. BBC Radio and Owlfield have led the way with linking audio fiction with interactive media. Yet a perhaps more exciting avenue has been highlighted by the Six Conversations project which highlights how smartphones enable printed books to become platforms for other media such as audio. In this context its a short-step to then consider the market opportunity for ‘expanded edition’ books that come with soundscapes, music or character asides – perhaps as a way of refreshing Classics.

One recent example that highlighted the potential to me, is the ‘The Dark Tome’ podcast. A story about a magical book that transports the young heroine to fantastical worlds, it is a serial drama that weaves together published short-stories into a mix of full-cast and narrated audio fiction. Now, just imagine for a moment if this had been published as an actual print book and where the magic of its stories were brought to life through links to audio dramas that could be change and be added to. For me at least, that would be a real audiobook revolution.

Did you make the same mistake I did and assume podcasts are yesterday’s platform, that interest in them has plateaued (at best) and they’re not worth thinking about today? If so, here’s a short article that might help you re-think your stance. If you’re still not convinced have a look at the infographic in this article, paying close attention to the chart showing how podcast listening is on the rise.

What seemed like a fad that’s dying off is actually showing nice growth. I’m contributing to that growth as I now listen to a variety of podcasts during my daily work commute. As I leverage this medium I’m realising it offers some very important lessons for book publishers:

1) Simple, easy subscriptions

When I discover a new podcast I’m interested in I literally click once to subscribe and the content stream comes to me. What could be easier? More importantly, what’s the analogy in the book publishing world? How do I “subscribe” to an author, series or topic? We all have our favorite authors. Wouldn’t it be terrific if a single click could initiate a subscription to everything they write in the future? That includes having samples of their new books delivered automatically to your preferred reading app/device.

2) Steady rhythm

Your favorite podcasts are usually delivered on a predictable schedule. Some are daily while others are weekly. This rhythm leads to anticipation, knowing that today’s edition will be loaded on your device at the usual time. This is another concept that’s totally foreign to book publishers. Books are released according to seemingly random schedules and some publishers are still even locked into the old “season” model. If you’re going to enable readers to subscribe to an author or topic as described above, be sure to produce a steady, engaging stream of valuable content for your audience.

3) Discovery

This remains one of the hot topics, always on the minds of book publishers. If you’re focused on discovery think about this question: How well do each of your products enable discovery of your other, related products? Some publishers still rely on back-of-book ads, even in ebooks. How about automatically delivering other, related content to your audience? A good example is how NPR promotes new podcasts. Yes, they advertise by plugging new ones in old, established podcasts. But recently I noticed they took the bold step of automatically downloading the first segment of a new podcast onto my device. I don’t recall opting in to that and it might irritate anyone keeping a close eye on their data plans but it’s a novel concept. I wasn’t going to seek that new podcast out and now all I have to do is click “play” to try it out, yet another example of one-click access and engagement.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the podcast marketplace it’s time to take a closer look. Subscribe to two or three that look interesting and see what other lessons can be learned.

Joe WikertJoe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

 

Louise Newton is an Audio Assistant at Little, Brown Book Group, and works across all imprints at Little, Brown on fiction and non-fiction titles. Louise is London Chair for the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and assists the Royal Society of Literature at their events.

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It’s entirely possible that you won’t have heard of Calibre and yet this organisation is a key part of the publishing supply chain for thousands of adults and children in the UK and EU.

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Sweek, a platform for free reading and writing, welcomed its 100,000th user last week, since the official launch at the Frankfurt Book Fair seven months ago. Sweek brings together the author and the reader. Readers can follow and like stories, and share them via social media channels, while creating a tight reading community. They can also give direct feedback to the author. With one click, authors can directly reach their followers.

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Jef Van der Avoort is co-founder of Squirl, the first location-based book discovery app. Previously he helped brands like LEGO, Philips and Hasbro to create engaging experiences on the border between the analog and digital world.

1) What exactly is Squirl?

Squirl is a location-based book discovery app that lets you bump into the real-world settings from books (e.g. The Plaza Hotel in the Great Gatsby). You can read the excerpt that takes place right where you are standing and check in to the literary location. You may also click through to buy the book. In essence, we are building an augmented story layer on top of the world.

2) What problem does it solve?

Book discovery is the number one issue for authors and publishers. We want to level the playing field by turning the whole world into a bookstore. The places you pass by become portals into different worlds, no matter if it is from a book by a first-time indie author or a bestselling superstar. It is a new, engaging and serendipitous way to discover your next read.

3) Who is your target market?

The casual reader is very important to us. These are people who read 2 or 3 books a year and are mostly overlooked when it comes to publishing tech. Discovering new books is not on top of their list, but they are interested in stories that are relevant to them. Through this geographic relevance we can excite these readers to buy a book they might not have discovered in any other way.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

Our first tangible goal is to see a book rise to the New York Times bestseller list because it was discovered through Squirl. On a more macro-level, we would like authors and publishers to see Squirl next to social marketing platforms like Twitter and Goodreads.

5) What will be next for Squirl?

We are very excited with the positive reception we are receiving and we already have some Squirl fans. We are currently raising a seed round to build some great features and advance Squirl to continue to enhance the experience for both readers and authors.

Abbie Headon is Commissioning and Digital Development Editor at Summersdale Publishers, and a BookMachine Board Member (representing the Editorial Channel).

I was lucky enough last week to go to my first official publishing event wearing my BookMachine hat, as I wended my way to The Caledonian Club in the heart of London for the catchily-titled ‘Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar: Book publishing and the wider creative market – cross-sector collaboration, copyright and new avenues for growth’.

Despite having a total inability to remember the name of this event, I was excited to hear a panel of experts from across our industry discussing the issues of the day, including the likely impact of Brexit, the relationship between publishers and authors, the importance of technology and innovation, and the lack of diversity in publishing.

A force for good

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association, introduced the event with a summary of the main issues to be discussed – Brexit, copyright and diversity – but what really struck me was his statement that ‘Book publishing is a profound force for good, and one that we should cherish.’ In an era that sees Simon & Schuster USA’s Threshold Editions paying $250,000 to bring us the collected thoughts of Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s a useful reminder of our duty to publish books we can truly be proud of.

Brexit

Paul Herbert, a partner at Goodman Derrick LLP, gave us a rundown of the specific ways that changes to the EU copyright framework may affect us as UK publishers. In summary, we won’t be facing a full-scale rewrite of our copyright laws, but rather a set of tweaks at the margins.

After taking us through all the details of the likely changes, Herbert explained that, as the new framework will be an EU directive, it will not be legally binding unless enacted by the UK parliament in legislation – so whether we press on with Brexit or not, we will still be able to choose whether to exist in harmony with our EU neighbours.

Working with authors

It says a lot about the publishing industry that authors are seen relatively rarely at publishing conferences. Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, presented us with a list of concerns she has for her members, including the need for a strong copyright framework, for all work by authors, illustrators, photographers and translators to be credited, and for freedom of movement of creators in and out of the UK to be maintained.

Solomon called for accounting clauses to show authors not only how many books a publisher has sold, but also who has sold them down the line, and for authors to be rescued from a ‘triple tax whammy’. Touching on an issue that has flared up frequently on social media over recent months, she also supported the need for more diverse voices to be published, but pushed back on authors’ right to create characters beyond their own identities, saying, ‘Please don’t troll our authors for cultural appropriation every time they put a black face in their book if they’re not black.’

Cross-platform storytelling

Many of the speakers mentioned the competition that books now face as a category, as our attention is distracted by Netflix, online gaming, 24-hour news, social media and more. Crystal Mahey-Morgan described her strategy of reaching a wide audience through cross-platform publishing: her company OWN IT’s first product, Don’t Be Alien, exists as an animated video, a book and a song, and as six-word stories that can be bought as designed t-shirts and jumpers. People can enter the world of this story through any of these products, ranging from a 99p song to a £30 t-shirt.

Another way of looking beyond the book came from Rosamund de la Hay, President of the Booksellers Association and owner of The Mainstreet Trading Company. She pointed out that bookshops are a vital ‘third place’ in our communities: ‘not home, not school, but familiar and safe.’ Her bookshop in the Scottish Borders also has an antiques concession, a deli and a café, and they cross-promote books across the entire shop. Books are displayed with relevant products (just as shops like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are doing), and the café produces food from specific cookbooks. These strategies, combined with festivals and other events, demonstrate how a book can be far more than just a book.

Another advocate for reaching broad audiences is Sam Missingham of Harper Collins, who described the way that fan communities congregate in different spaces, such as Wattpad for sci-fi lovers. Her BFI Lovefest last year was a virtual book festival delivered via Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts, with a live film screening at the BFI itself. The broad range of events combined with the massive reach of the BFI’s social media following provided a huge audience of people who might not see themselves as natural literary-festival-goers.

Technology and innovation

Justine Solomons, founder of Byte the Book, took us on a tour of innovation in publishing. Her own quest to bring tech companies, authors and publishers together began when she was reading a fellow student’s typescript on a Kindle six years ago and wondered, ‘Why can’t I buy this directly from the author?’

Although self-publishing can seem to be a modern phenomenon, it has a long history, reaching back to Jane Austen, Ezra Pound and Virginia Woolf, and even including J. K. Rowling, the founder of the Pottermore website. Indeed, Solomons argued, traditional publishing can even be regarded as a form of vanity publishing, because it shows that as an author, you need somebody to validate you. She highlighted Unbound and OWN IT! as innovative publishing companies, and Mark Edwards and Mark Dawson as impressive examples of self-published authors.

Oli Christie of Neon Play shared his tips on what the book industry can learn from the world of gaming. His first piece of advice was to be agile and prepared to pivot: bring out products quickly and be willing to change them if they’re not working. Next he stressed the importance of analytics: examining user data and trying A/B testing to find the most successful types of plot and character. Finally, use brand partnerships to extend your reach to much bigger audiences.

Diversity

This was a constant theme throughout the conference, and it’s one that none of us can ignore any longer. Sarah Shaffi of The Bookseller explained that it’s not just the wealth of competing distractions that turns people away from books; she said that many readers feel the publishing industry ‘isn’t speaking to them in their language or in the spaces that they occupy.’

Shaffi reminded us of the troubling fact that of the thousands and thousands of books published in the UK in 2016, less than one hundred were written by non-white British authors. She also gave an impressive range of statistics showing that film and TV adaptations, which demonstrably boost book sales, are nearly always based on books written by white people and feature non-diverse casts. This is an area where so much more needs to be done, and as Shaffi pointed out, the argument of ‘but we need to be commercial’ just doesn’t hold water: the book on which the musical Hamilton is based saw a 16,000% sales increase in two years, something any publisher would welcome heartily.

Crystal Mahey-Morgan made the ultimate point to close down any argument that diverse publishing is bad for business. In 2016, she published Mama Can’t Raise No Man, by Robyn Travis, which according to reports was the only novel published by a black British man in the entire year. (Take a moment for that to sink in.) The launch event, featuring a gospel choir along with poets and other performers, sold out the Hackney Empire, with tickets priced at £7-£10. So not only is it the morally correct thing for us to do as publishers in opening up our lists to diverse authors; it makes financial sense too. And in this era of constant change, that sounds like exactly what we need.

For more information, check out the Westminster Media Forum website and the Twitter stream from the event at #WMFEvents.

Long considered nothing more than a gimmicky fad, it turns out that augmented reality (AR) is actually alive and well. At least that’s the case when it’s associated with a brand as large as Pokemon.

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard all the Pokemon Go stories and maybe you’ve even dodged a player or two, overly-focused on their phone while embarking on a virtual hunting expedition. On the surface it’s nothing more than another time-wasting game but I believe it offers some very important lessons for publishers.

Let’s start with the hybrid, print-plus-digital opportunity. Recent reports indicate ebook sales have plateaued and growth has shifted back to the print format. There are a number of underlying reasons for these trends including higher ebook prices as well as the adult coloring book phenomenon. But as I’ve said before, publishers need to stop thinking about print and digital as an either/or proposition. Some customers prefer print while others lean towards digital. Many readers are in both camps, switching between print and digital based on genre, pricing, convenience, etc.

Most publishers overlook the fact that digital can be used to complement and enhance print. Skeptical? Have a look at a few of the demos Layar offers on this page.

Stop and think about how something like Layar could be used to bring your static pages to life. Maybe you publish how-to guides, print is your dominant format and you’ve always wondered how you could integrate videos with the text. You’ve tried inserting urls but very few readers bother typing them in. QR codes are an option but they’re clunky and take up precious space on the page. Why not use AR to virtually overlay those videos on the page without having to dump in a bunch of cryptic-looking urls or QR codes?

Are you looking to engage your readers in the book’s/author’s social stream? Here’s your chance to integrate them virtually using a platform like Layar.

Better yet… have you always wanted to know who all those nameless, faceless consumers are who bought your print book from third-party retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble? Here’s an opportunity as a publisher or author to initiate a conversation directly with your readers. Add an Easter egg to the print edition where readers can receive a reward via an AR-powered offer; you will, of course, ask for each reader’s name and email address before handing out those rewards.

This approach to marrying digital to print is totally unobtrusive. Print readers who don’t want to bother with their phones can continue reading the book without interruption. Those customers interested in learning more, interacting with authors or uncovering special publisher offers will likely see the value of connecting their phones with the printed page.

The possibilities are endless. So the next time you see a Pokemon Go player wandering aimlessly be sure to thank them for helping identify new ways of distributing, promoting and enriching content.

Joe WikertJoe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

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