Category: Views

Why publishers should be like Bond (James Bond)

Last week I gave a talk at the CoreSource user group on success and agility. Ingram Content Group itself exemplifies both: over the last 20 years it’s reinvented itself by a steady process of acquisition, reorganization and diversification, from its early days distributing microfiche readers in Nashville to an international group offering solutions to publishers and authors at every stage of the print and digital workflow. (So, no pressure, then.)

The theme of the day was ‘Secrets and Spies’. I began by asking: What is James Bond’s most effective weapon?

Could it be the Beretta 418, the gun featured in the original Casino Royale? Or the Walther PPK that replaced it? The improved flamethrower from Live and Let Die? Or maybe the remote controlled BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies, with its sunroof missiles and the wire cutter hidden in the logo?

It’s none of these, of course. Bond’s most effective weapon is his ability to adapt. He is the ultimate survivor – not just because he’s handy with a semi-automatic, but because he constantly changes, evolves, reinvents himself. Bond is agile, in every sense of the word.

I’ve been in publishing for 25 years now, and in digital publishing for most of those years, and for pretty much all that time publishing has been ‘in crisis’ somehow or other, there’s been one villain after another threatening to take over our world.

First there was ‘the threat of digital’, ‘the death of print’, closely linked to the hysteria over piracy. We’re navigating the transition and actually it’s been kind of fun – but costs generally went up and revenues generally went down.

Then there was Amazon, disrupting the established bookselling industry, driving down prices, keeping its data on ebook sales to itself and leaving us guessing at the true size of the market.

More recently there’s been ‘the threat of self-publishing’, and the rush of publishers to justify their existence, the fear of being disintermediated. Turns out there’s still room for traditional publishers, but because authors now have options, the terms for authors had to become more favourable, which erodes publishers’ profits, and the overall market share of the traditional publishing sector went down.

Now it’s ‘the sharing economy’, fuelled by cocreation and collaboration, its core values open access and connection and access rather than ownership and loads of stuff that runs directly counter to the traditional publishing model of selling discrete units of content to people for money.

So where does all this leave us? Each wave of disruption has tended to chip away at profits and add to costs. It feels uncomfortably like the laser is getting every closer to our critical bits.

But of course disruption is just another word for opportunity. The reality is that for those with the imagination and the will to make the leap, there are more opportunities out there than ever before for publishers to make money. Content is the currency of our age, and we are experts on content. Everyone now needs the skills we have.

But publishers who are still exclusively focused on picking one course through this explosion of possibilities, still wedded to the traditional model of selling content in books to consumers through shops to make a profit, are missing out on potential revenue today and I suggest may also  be writing their death warrant for tomorrow.

Like Bond, and indeed like Ingram, successful and agile companies select and seize opportunities – and the best opportunities will be different for each – build on what’s there already to add new revenue streams in growth markets to supplement declining revenues in old markets.

So what are YOUR weapons? What do you do best? How can you exploit that in new ways?

Don’t forget that Bond didn’t operate alone. You can innovate faster and smarter if you collaborate with the right partners. Take a long hard look at your existing partners – are you making the most of the opportunities that they’re creating? And if they’re not creating opportunities for you, consider making some new partners with the right tools and skills to help your achieve your mission. After all, where would Bond be without Q?

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

Smart phones: Changing the rules of the game

Jacob CockcroftJacob Cockcroft is Co-Founder and CEO of The Pigeonhole, a made-for-mobile digital book club, serialising their books in installments delivered straight to a reader’s virtual bookshelf on the iOS app or website. Here he writes on mobile reading and making digital work for your company.

E-books are on the decline. Digital reading is only for romance novels. Waterstone’s no longer sells Kindle eReaders. Excellent, publishers can go back to business as usual. The physical book has prevailed.

Well, OK, if you want to misread the tea leaves. The inescapable truth is that there will be 2.5 billion smart phone users by 2019, all potential readers. The largest industry oversight is a distinct separation between physical and digital reading, with digital being the cheaper, dirty cousin. There is a tally for physical sales and a tally for digital sales, count up the points and see who wins.

This simplicity fails to understand how mobile phones are hard coded into people’s daily routine, behavior and psychology. They are the single most important discovery tool for anything: holidays, clothes, kettles, and of course books, but this discovery tool could be so much more efficient, if used properly. The art is to exploit the opportunities smart phones provide and, most importantly, to use data driven analytics to hone the message. This is something physical books simply can’t offer (in much the same way that digital books can’t bring the touch, feel and smell of a physical book).

Interaction, sociability, discoverability, immediacy, pinpoint targeting, measurable ROI. View digital reading through a marketing lens and it can bring you all these things. But it has to be fun; it has to compete with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat on the home screen of every IOS or Android device. This is the business of habit-forming products, of providing that 10-15 minute hit of endorphins as someone breastfeeds, or waits for the tube, or a friend to turn up in a bar.

This is the battle that we wage at the Pigeonhole. We are building dynamic reading experiences, something to take part in, to feel as though you are on a collective journey with others, discovering the most exciting books of the moment. It’s not enough to just pipe content onto a phone and expect people to churn through hours of turgid reading, the temptations of the other apps are just too great, even for those with the best intentions. There is no great mystery as to why digital completion rates for traditional reading apps are so low.

You have to make it FUN. Satisfying. Exciting. Challenging. This is all possible, more than possible, it’s real. All of our publishing partners have given their experience the thumbs up, and over half who respond to our surveys would actively recommend the Pigeon to fellow readers. It is still early days (we have a community of over 12,000 users and our Android app is coming in September) but we are getting closer and closer to perfecting the experience.

And it is the author who benefits from us more then anyone. Many publishers are acutely aware that they aren’t delivering for their authors on the marketing front; they just don’t have the bandwidth. Our partnerships solve this, giving the author a direct line to their readers, creating genuine buzz around the book across social media, and facilitating those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to boost the all-important algorithms. In turn, this drives the sales of physical books through direct click-throughs from our site to Amazon and both online and offline word of mouth.

We are the ultimate content marketing platform, using the most powerful thing you can – the book itself. Our serialisations allow any book to fit into any life, whilst offering a structured framework for conversations to play out through between the author and their readers

In this way, digital becomes part of an integrated strategy for the promotion of a book, driving discoverability, author profiles, digital sales and physical sales. Posters on the tube are great, but pound for pound, displays in the Facebook newsfeed of keen readers can be much more powerful. With a holistic strategy like this you really can fulfill the potential digital reading provides.

So my message: Don’t be scared of digital and don’t turn your back on it. You just need to be smarter, more creative and ambitious with it.

IPG

It pays to work in independent publishing

Ahead of BookMachine’s event on pay and working conditions in publishing, the Independent Publishers Guild’s chief executive Bridget Shine looks at working life in the indie sector. 

In independent publishing, people really matter. At the IPG, we talk regularly to members about pay and conditions, and are often struck by just how much they value their staff.

That’s because in the relatively small teams of many IPG members, the contribution of every member is vital. When we undertook our biggest ever survey of members for our first Independent Publishing Report late last year, we found they employ an average of 9.3 staff—so each of them is valuable and valued. The report also showed the importance that our members place on training, and we have responded to that by increasing the learning opportunities that we offer as part of membership, including new online training packages and bursaries for those who want to improve specific skills.

We get more insights into conditions in independent publishing through our salary surveys, the most recent of which suggested that pay at all levels of publishing was increasing steadily if modestly, despite all the challenges and uncertainty in the market. It showed too how independent publishers make good use of perks and incentives to reward staff. Bonus schemes, linked to either company-wide or individual performances, and sometimes including share options, are becoming more popular. When small teams need to pull together and chip in to a multitude of tasks, these schemes can be excellent incentives.

Publishers supplement pay in lots more ways. Our salary survey found that four in five offer flexible working, for example—something that is really appreciated by staff who want to balance work and family life. Other perks include private health or life insurance, enhanced maternity pay, season ticket loans and study leave.

The IPG has a huge range of members, from big international operators down to tiny start-ups, and the scale of pay and benefits naturally varies enormously. But what companies have in common is the awareness that great staff are absolutely pivotal to their success, and an eagerness to recognize and reward good performance.

It is pleasing to note that this loyalty is reciprocated. Staff in independent publishing—and first or second jobbers in particular—tell us that their companies offer responsibilities and opportunities for progression that can be harder to come by at larger companies. “When you work in a small team you take on more responsibility to cover the workload, so you develop your skills and knowledge a lot faster,” Carcanet’s Katie Caunt said in our ‘Me and My Job’ series recently. “I’ve always enjoyed trying to see the whole machine… In a small independent you can really immerse yourself in every part,” said Salt’s Chris Hamilton-Emery. Working for conglomerates can be rewarding too, but IPG members offer some terrific and unique experiences and opportunities. They are great places to start and build careers.

skills for publishing

Why publishers must love and understand their customer

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He has been shortlisted and longlisted for various awards, is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, and regularly speaks on publishing and business.

The first question to any business, business idea or concept is who is the customer? No customer, no business appears is a true and you would think obvious statement. But ask a publisher who their customer is and in most cases you will not receive a clear and focused answer.

One of the issues is the make-up of the supply chain. Publishers spend a large amount of time selling to buyers at retail outlets, or wholesalers, who may or may not be well-aligned with the decision making process of the actual book buyer. You could argue the retailer is the customer, but for businesses the customer should be the end point and, in particular with the shadow of sale-or-return terms, if the book buyer doesn’t buy your products, you don’t have a book publishing business.

So, the person on the street (or in today’s market as likely to be at their computer) is the most important person for a publisher to understand. But all too often those in publishing aren’t even at the understanding stage because before that must be respect and appreciation.

I’ve heard many conversations and read many articles from publishers slamming customers today – want everything for free, just interesting in celebrities/trash, no taste etc. To a publisher the book buyer must be the single most important person to their business and if you aren’t able to respect and make the customer central to everything you do, then frankly you’re taking up a job that could go to someone better.

So having made them central to a publisher’s business, how well are they understood? Some publishers who have successfully found a niche area understand their customer very well and benefit greatly from this. But in the general trade, there is huge and important ground to cover.

Hopefully we are already moving away from ‘will appeal to everyone from 8 to 80’, ‘will appeal to both men and women’ (who else is there…) but most publishers are at the starting point of understanding their customers. Publishers aren’t now competing against other books but just for the customer’s brief attention and therefore against many different forms of entertainment, social media, dating sites and the list goes on and on.

So how to better understand your customer from a standing start? Too much to fit into one blog, but data is vital, with detailed categorisation, data capture, pre and post sales information, focus groups, tailored information being sent, events, partnerships and advanced and trackable discoverability.

All this would be a start, but the message I want to get across is that if a publisher doesn’t currently have a strategy to better understand their customer they are going to be left behind. Publishers cannot now just get books into bookshops and hope for the best; they need multi-layered selling routes knowing exactly whom they are aiming at.

Again, the battle today for any book publisher is to get the customer’s attention. And that can only work if they know exactly whose attention they are trying to capture.

Authors marketing

Four players in the book business with the power to rewrite some of the rules

The news came recently that ReaderLink has purchased Anderson News. Those two companies have been the leading suppliers of books to the mass merchandisers: primarily Wal-mart, Target, and Sam’s Club. There are other players selling books in the space, including Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and smaller distributors like the less-well-known American West. But most of the books going to most of the mass merchant accounts have gotten there through what will now be one company supplying them: ReaderLink.

By my count, that puts four companies in the book business who have extraordinarily powerful holds on their space. They are ReaderLink (in the supply of books to mass merchants), Amazon (as an online retailer), Barnes & Noble (as a bricks-and-mortar retailer) and Penguin Random House (as a commercial trade publisher).

ReaderLink, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble now have extraordinarily powerful positions from which to demand better terms from their publisher-suppliers. In all three cases, they have customer bases which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a competitor to take away from them.

Amazon

Amazon has pretty much owned the online book customer since the year they opened for business in 1995. There is a faint hope that fragmentation of the online marketplace and the placement of commerce in the social stream, such as is enabled by Ingram’s Aer.io technology, could wrest some of their share. Perhaps, over time, that will happen. But they keep pulling further ahead of their only real competition, BN.com, and I am not aware of even one single reporting period when Amazon’s share of the online book market hasn’t grown. It is simply not an option for a publisher who wants to sell to consumers to avoid Amazon. (The only way a publisher could conceivably do that is if their customer base is reached entirely by direct sales or through intermediaries outside the book business.)

Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble may be losing brick-and-mortar market share to independents, but they remain by far the leading bookstore chain. If a publisher wants books in the retail marketplace, Barnes & Noble has been, since the demise of Borders five years ago, the only one-stop way to get national coverage. In fact, they almost certainly control the majority of bookstore shelf space in the country, and their single biggest competitor, Books-a-Million, has fewer than half as many stores. And B-a-M’s stores are smaller.

ReaderLink

ReaderLink is now in a similar position vis a vis the mass merchants. These stores constitute the other big component of the store retailing system and they are critical for bestsellers, mass-market paperbacks, and “merchandise” like adult coloring books and kids books. In fact, ReaderLink and Anderson lived with what was a “managed competition” controlled by their accounts; they each had stores assigned to them by their mass merchant customers. Publishers have always had to deal with both of them in order to place their books in the mass accounts. And, indeed, it could be that there will be efficiencies to this consolidation that will be beneficial for the publishers. But, if there are, it is also quite likely that ReaderLink will find ways to adjust their terms to take at least some of the benefits back and they are likely to be successful persuading publishers to allow that. (They have also manifestly strengthened their negotiating position with those accounts that are committed to stocking books.)

Penguin Random House

There is a fourth powerful player: Penguin Random House. PRH is almost (but not quite) the size of the other four members of the Big Five combined. As such, they are in a position to do things in the marketplace that no other publisher could contemplate. Since the merger of Penguin and Random House, I’ve written about what they uniquely could do with their marketplace power. The two key suggestions, neither of which has drawn any evident interest from the management at PRH, were a program to supply non-bookstores with vendor-managed inventory (creating store retail accounts nobody else would have) and to create their own ebook subscription service. (That would also create unique distribution.)

Mass-merchant supply

The new combination in mass-merchant supply could suggest another such opportunity. Perhaps this one will be more compelling.

The supply of books to mass merchants, as to any account that is not primarily in the book business and comfortable with both the logistical challenges and relatively low profit potential in books, is complicated, expensive, and usually inefficient. The number of titles that actually make it into these stores is a paltry percentage of the industry’s output. Only the biggest publishers have enough of the right books to really play.

And then the publisher has to cover both the retail accounts that will ultimately sell their books and the distributor-intermediary that supplies them. It will be a bit easier for the big publishers selling books to Wal-mart and Target to manage the business through one big account rather than two (one fewer account to deal with), but it is still a frustratingly inefficient segment of the business. (The one fewer account aspect of this is bound to be causing some nervousness right now in the sales departments of some publishers.) Visibility into inventory status is, relative to the store-level view available at Barnes & Noble, klunky. Returns are high. Responsiveness to breaking events is slow. And the margins are worse than for any other part of the domestic business.

But part of the reason for that is that delivering on the service requirements for these accounts is expensive. One sales executive I spoke to estimated that ReaderLink has more than 2500 detail people calling on the outlets of the mass merchants: checking stock, tidying fixtures, and replacing sold books. No wonder these distributors need hefty margins to do this work. And this also explains why Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who, of course, carry all the titles these merchants would ever need, don’t appear to move aggressively to take this business away from the incumbent(s).

To picture the Penguin Random House options, I try to view this from the perspective of one publisher with about half the books that these mass merchant accounts need. I’m giving away margin to a middle player that adds a layer of inefficiency and cost in order to be an effective aggregator. Obviously, the accounts want that aggregator. They don’t want to deal with hundreds of publishers individually, or even with just each of the Big Five. It would be a non-starter for a publisher supplying five or ten or even twenty percent of their books to say: “can we work out a way to do this directly?” So just about everybody has to accept the inefficiency.

An alternative model

But what about if it were a supplier that provided half the books? And what if that supplier offered, as an opening gambit, to share some of the margin that now goes to the middle player directly with the account? And what if that effectively became the account’s only way to get those books, because the powerful publisher was no longer willing to play ball with the high discounts and high returns that the current system entails?

Only Penguin Random House is in a position to take this approach. And it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do. They’d have to create a VMI system. They’d have to organize a detailing army quite different from the sales force(s) they have created and managed historically. They’d have to either gear themselves up to execute more smaller shipments or form alliances that would make that possible. But the payoffs would also be substantial. And PRH has a much bigger margin share to support their efforts than ReaderLink, or any other wholesaler or distributor, would have.

Sales would go up. Returns would go down. Margins would improve. Their competitors would be weakened. In fact, it is conceivable that, over time, a PRH direct-supply operation could morph into a ReaderLink service that was available to other publishers as well. (All big publishers, including PRH, already offer their core distribution services to competitors. This would be a variation on that theme.)

Perhaps Penguin Random House will never behave in a qualitatively different way than the other Big Five houses, exercising power that they uniquely have. They certainly haven’t so far. On the other hand, it was pointed out to me recently that the integration of what were the two biggest publishers among the Big Six when Random House and Penguin combined four years ago is, even today, not yet complete. Rationalization has occurred in the “back end”, with the consequent job losses which are part of the payoff for the owners in any big merger of this kind. But more consolidation is still in front of them, and perhaps the radical paradigm-shifting initiatives need to wait until that job is really done.

And perhaps Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and now ReaderLink are wary of poking the bear, and are less demanding that PRH honor their primacy with margin than they are of PRH’s competitors. In fact, the CEO of one of their Big Five competitors told me a year or two ago that he liked having a competitor of PRH’s size on the publisher side because this executive felt it kept the overall industry terms under control. The belief on this CEO’s part was that PRH’s size restrained the big accounts to the benefit of all the big players.

But unlike Amazon or Barnes & Noble, whose businesses can not be efficiently replaced by any direct effort, the supply of mass merchant accounts is something PRH could conceivably do better on their own. Whether the acquisition of Anderson by ReaderLink provides the catalyst to get them to try it is something it will probably take a couple of years to find out.

Although Ingram occupies a unique position in the global book supply chain and, indeed, might be the single most important player, they aren’t in the position of these other four to exercise power. In wholesaling, they have always had a powerful national competitor, Baker & Taylor, which is now even more financially stable having itself been acquired by Follett. Even in smaller-publisher distribution, where Ingram grew dramatically by acquiring Perseus, they will always have all the big publishers and a host of smaller distributors as alternatives for those considering their services. Indeed, Ingram could try to compete with ReaderLink for the mass merchant accounts, but they’d have to support the substantial systems and staff investments on a distribution margin, which is a much more challenging proposition than it would be for PRH with the publisher’s margin.

Mike Shatzkin has been in publishing since 1962. Since 1979, Mike has been an independent consultant (The Idea Logical Company) with clients that have included most major publishers in the US and UK, retailers including Barnes & Noble and Borders, wholesalers including Ingram, and a host of tech startups. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeShatzkin. This post was originally posted on The Idea Logical Company blog in May 2016.

Self-employed in publishing

Are yEUr rights protected? Workers’ rights and the EU

Following the EU referendum and ahead of our July event with Unite the Union, ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘, Jasmin Kirkbride summarises current workers’ rights and how they may be affected if the UK votes Leave. 

It has become fashionable to grumble about ‘EU Red Tape’. However, on closer inspection, these laws that we so easily complain about offer huge protection for workers across the UK.

Rights the EU enforces and protects

Amongst other things, EU law ensures that our government must give workers paid holidays, rights for new mothers, 18 weeks of parental leave, limits on how long we can be forced to work, protection from discrimination against religion, belief, gender assignment, sexuality, age and race.

Certain rights that seem like no-brainers now were only put in place because of the EU: for example, the law saying that if your company is sold, you are entitled to the same pay and conditions as before. The EU also ensures that if any major changes are coming up in a company, union representatives and employee forums must be informed.

Some of these laws look after us day-to-day, others you might not necessarily notice until the going gets tough. But they are there to protect us hail, rain or shine.

How leaving affects the law

The Leave camp has argued many times that these laws will continue to exist if Britain leaves the EU. While this may be true in the short term, and our rights would not disappear overnight, the future is less certain.

The UK government has not always welcomed EU directives protecting the worker. There were bitter complaints against the law stating that part-time workers should have the same rights as full-time workers, for instance. If we left the EU, the government could very easily chip away at or scrap laws like these that are currently crucial to the worker. You may think this seems unlikely but, outside the EU, governments regularly curtail workers’ rights: in America for example, workers are legally entitled to no annual leave at all.

Already, the UK government is not exceptionally benevolent to workers, particularly not under Conservative leadership. Conservative minister Michael Gove has said, “membership of the EU prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law” as a reason to leave. The idea that these changes would not include workers’ rights is naïve at best. Worse, current government estimates say that around 820,000 jobs are likely to be lost in the UK if we leave the EU: not a good start to renegotiations.

Other Leave camp arguments have included the idea that the EU no longer has anything to offer the worker in terms of employment rights. However this seems to be untrue as, amongst other items on the agenda, campaigners from the EU are currently trying to tackle the dreaded zero-hours contract.

Who do you trust?

Ultimately, the decision is based on who you trust to look after your rights as a worker.

With controversial issues like TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) coming to the fore, we cannot pretend that the EU is not in need of reform. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that remaining in the EU will automatically protect our rights and our future.

But over the years, the EU has proven to offer a strong, consistent layer of protection from the whims of UK governments on a four-year turnover. That protection is something we should not overlook.

Join us for United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘ on the 14th July. Early bird ticket sales end 30th June (£8, instead of £15).

bestseller

What makes a bestseller?

Jonny Geller is a literary agent and joint CEO of Curtis Brown. Here he follows up with some thoughts following a recent Tedx talk he gave, ‘What Makes a Bestseller?’.

Print sales are up. Independent publishers are scooping major literary prizes on a regular basis. Attendance figures to The London Book Fair are up. The Creative Industries are worth a staggering £84billion and publishing takes a proud £10bn of it.

What’s not to like?

Except, we are in danger of throwing much of it away.

I recently gave a Tedx talk at Tedx Oxford on “What Makes a Bestseller?” – take a look if you have spare 15 minutes. I talked about the mysterious combination of factors that conspire to hit the zeitgeist and make books pop and hit the mainstream, but it did make me think about how literary agents are in danger of becoming risk averse. The funnel to publication seems to be getting ever narrower.

What I didn’t say in my talk was how publishing can sometimes get in the way of books. We all say we look for new, exciting voices that will enlighten and inspire a new generation of readers and yet we find ourselves all racing for the middle, veering towards the same vanilla, reading group friendly fiction.

Why?

The agent blames the publishers for excessive caution. The publishers blame the booksellers for second guessing what they think their customers want. The reviewers – well they just keep getting sacked.

Let’s face it. If the publishing industry closed tomorrow and did not produce another new book for a whole year, there would still be too many books for us to buy, read or sell.

Publishing is breathing its own ecosystem of books that publishers and agents want to see and read, but are we forgetting about the reader? Are we supplying books readers want to read?

Last year, when I read The Martian and saw Dr Foster on BBC, I began to worry about this issue. I enjoyed both, but guiltily. I had a creeping unease that had either project come into my office, I would have asked for edits to “clean them up” a bit. And I would have probably ruined both. People were talking about Doctor Foster at the water cooler because of its uneven and contradictory moments. But that is exactly what made this familiar story of adultery, different. Would we have edited out the very thing that made these stories stand out? Sometimes, books come to the reader directly from self-publishing because we in publishing do not think they work to our criteria.

Editorial taste is, rightly, a highly prized commodity in publishing – the battle between sales/marketing versus editorial vision is often talked about. What we in the publishing industry need to think about is: why we are so reactive? Are we listening to what readers want – originality, difference, dare I say, diverse voices? The bigger the publishers get, the more likely decisions become “corporate” and “strategic”.

The only “strategy” a publisher needs is to publish good books better.

The rise of the self-publishing phenomenon has resulted in, counter-intuitively, caution. The thinking is, I suppose, that these books will come to the big publishers eventually. Publishing is about sticking your neck out and daring people to buy the book you invested in.

Of course we all want dead certs based on what has sold before, but if we are not selling original material that only could have come from this country at this moment of time, and all agree to give it a chance, we won’t have much of an industry to boast about in years to come.

George Walkley

Looking foreword: The next 5 years of publishing

Here’s George Walkley’s foreword to the latest BookMachine book (published Spring 2016) and a taster of what’s to come:

Much of the debate about the future of publishing has concentrated on the print versus ebook dynamic. That is unsurprising, at least in as much as ebooks represent one of the most important commercial developments or our industry in recent years. In particular, they have allowed many authors to successfully publish themselves, reading to a parallel set of conversations about traditional versus self-publishing.

If only the world were so simple, and could be reduced to these sort of binary variables.

Print, ebooks, traditional publishers (large and small) and self-published authors will all coexist, as part of a future that is more messy and fragmented than the industry we know today.

As publishers, we’ve innovated around business models and delivery formats, but barely begun to realise the potential of genuine innovation around how we entertain and educate readers. In future, authors and publishers will offer a broader range of books and other media, products and services, print and digital, narrative text and non-linear content. Those will be delivered to readers via an increasing range of stores, platforms and devices, and sold according to multiple commercial models. They will face ever greater competition from a broad range of media, especially when consumed on a smartphone or tablet which also affords access to every other form of content. Some of the intermediaries and businesses in those processes will be long established in the world of books. Some of them won’t exist today and will emerge from the next decade.

The greatest challenge for publishers will be managing the range of processes and outcomes implied by these variables: structures, resources and capabilities established over many years may still be relevant for parts of the book market, but will seem, at best, situationally appropriate. Any publisher with scale and breadth of output will find itself having to manage multiple new processes alongside their existing business – and those who avoid that challenge by electing to specialise in particular niches may find their market smaller and returns diminishing.

In that context, the fundamental skills for publishers will be agility and learning. I believe that the publishers who are alive to creative, technological and commercial possibilities – those in fact who have the sort of professional curiosity and drive on display in this volume – will be the people who create the future of this industry.

George Walkley is Head of Digital for the Hachette UK Group with responsibility for enabling and driving implementation of digital initiatives and strategy across the group, including ebooks and apps. Since 2005 he has held various positions in marketing, business management and digital strategy at Time Warner Book Group and latterly Little, Brown Book Group.

marketing skills

Top 5 skills you need in marketing

Rosie Henry works as a Marketing Executive at Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers. She has previously interned for the editorial department at Yellow Kite, Hodder & Stoughton, and studied for an MA in Publishing at City University London.

1) Passion

I’ve been observing marketing campaigns and marketers my whole life, and one thing I’ve learnt is that you need to be passionate to succeed. Personally, I have never met a top-notch marketer who wasn’t passionate about their product or brand, and believe that if you love what you do, then this will channel directly through the brand and into the customer’s hands – hopefully along with the book you’re marketing!

I love working with Singing Dragon books because I get to work with such a variety of interesting topics every day: alternative health; martial arts; yoga; aromatherapy – and the list goes on. But what I’m really passionate about is finding out where all of these audiences are, who they are and how I can make them aware of the book.

2) Research

I believe that research is the backbone of an effective marketing campaign. The best marketers I’ve seen are the ones who know their target market inside out – they know where they communicate, where they shop and how they behave.

For each book I look after, I make sure to put aside some time to research the target market. This might involve finding out which social media platforms they’re using, what they’re talking about, which hashtags they’re using, which publications they’re reading, and so on. In fact, I would say that this is the most exciting part of my job because it’s a bit like detective work, and I always learn something new along the way.

3) Communication

Marketing often involves liaising with different departments, authors, and external organisations, so I think it’s really important that you’re able to communicate effectively. I find communication skills are especially important when it comes to dealing with publications and bloggers because not only do you often have to negotiate terms with them, but there is also a relationship to maintain.

I’ve especially loved communicating with the market recently, as it’s been really rewarding to see how responsive customers have been to us winning the ‘Independent Academic, Educational and Professional Publisher of the Year’ award at the British Book Industry Awards!

4) Analytics

Whilst you don’t need to be a data scientist, I think it’s really important to be able to handle data and statistics to measure the effectiveness of marketing and social media campaigns. I didn’t have too much experience with analytics before working in marketing, but I think it would have been really beneficial if I did. Having said that, it was relatively easy to get started, especially with user-friendly tools like Google Analytics. I think what’s most important is that you’re able to use the insights from the analytics to better understand your market and to develop more effective marketing campaigns.

5) Bravery

Marketing has changed so much in recent years (understatement of the year!), and it seems as soon as you think you find something that works well, it all changes again. That’s why I think it’s really important to be brave and take calculated risks when it comes to marketing, especially digital marketing.

My favourite marketing campaigns are all ones that have taken risks. For example, Penguin launched a whole new website for their Little Black Classics collection, which was not only met with huge success but went on to win ‘Marketing Strategy of the Year’ a few days ago at the British Book Industry Awards – well done Penguin!

Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 

Authors marketing

When it comes to supporting authors in marketing efforts, no publisher has it right yet

It is my firm conviction that the biggest shortcoming of traditional publishers these days is their failure to help authors help themselves with digital marketing. In my opening remarks at Digital Book World earlier this month, I said this:

At the very least, every house should do a “digital audit” for every author they sign that includes concrete suggestions for filling in gaps and improving discoverability and engagement. To my knowledge, not one does.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that there are people in big houses, even some who view things from a high perch, who emphatically don’t agree with me. One senior executive told me I was “completely wrong”, and said their editors were very much up to speed with what authors do on social media. Another, a publisher from a different house, asked me if I really believed “landing pages were important”. Of course, if you don’t see the pay-off from creating and managing landing pages on an author’s website (or the publisher’s own!), you might make the mistake of thinking a robust social media presence obviates the need for an author website.

That is a mistake. And it is an increasingly common one.

Where publishers are going wrong

Citing the expertise of editors as the lead claim for a house’s expertise is a tip-off. I have never seen the publishing house where editors were more expert in digital marketing than marketers are. Most author websites are sub-standard but most editors don’t have the knowledge to know that. And, on top of that, neither editors nor authors fully understand the different roles of websites and social media in the marketing effort for a book and author.

If the feedback from these two executives were exceptional or unusual, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. But it is typical. And both of these houses are making substantial investments to upgrade their digital understanding and performance. They don’t have their heads in the sand.

It isn’t just my imagination that there is a disconnect between big publishers and their authors on the digital marketing front. This shortcoming is real and it is going to really hurt the big publishers, far beyond the sales they’re losing, if they don’t fix it.

I recently tested this idea with one of the most digitally-ept literary agents. I asked him whether he agreed that publishers are failing in this regard. He did. Completely.

A gap to fill

If there’s a gap here, somebody is going to fill it. Just this week, the relatively-new Diversion Books announced a new initiative called Radius, a “full-service publishing services division” with distribution through their affiliation with Ingram. They are targeting “non-fiction authors with very specific and known audiences (consultants, experts in a field)” looking for help “with various aspects of the process–editorial, cover, production, marketing and publicity etc.”

In other words, they would like to partner with perhaps the most desirable category of non-fiction authors: those with a real marketing platform independent of any book publishing activities. Those authors often have pretty decent personal marketing already set up; if they don’t, they are delighted to have professional feedback about how to improve it. Radius will provide a powerful reason for those self-promoting authors to work with them rather than with an older and more established house.

It is worth noting that Diversion was founded by a literary agent, so it is highly sensitive to the author perspective. What they have built is essentially a customized front end to industrial-strength services provided by Ingram, with easy access even for individual authors through what is called Ingram Spark. Diversion is a new-era publisher. They created a service arm and community called EverAfter to serve romance authors; Radius will primarily serve non-fiction authors who have already built audiences. Undoubtedly, other entrepreneurs will build on-ramps to these Ingram capabilities for other segments of the author community.

Should publishers worry about this? Well, the ones who depend on authors can expect more and more services and fledgling publishers trying to make a more appealing offer to them. (And those that don’t depend on authors exist, but they are the exception, not the rule.)

Who should do what

The author platform question is further vexed by the way publishers are organized. Editors “own” the author and agent relationships. Marketers and/or sales departments “own” the marketing resources. To be good at their jobs, editors need to recognize commercial content, negotiate the many moving parts of a book deal, and help the author craft the most salable possible book. Knowing digital marketing or best practices for search engine optimization are not what editors are hired or trained for. Those are the bailiwick of marketers who are explicitly (in most houses) excluded from direct author contact.

Beyond that, there is the confusion in publishing houses, reflected in the question I got about landing pages, about what’s important and what’s not. I can’t tell how widespread this is, but I have heard too often for comfort that “author websites are a waste of time”, that social is more important, and that working Facebook effectively obviates the need for a web presence.

In fact, “search” is still the single most important component of discovery and author websites are crucial for Google to “know” who the author is and to have a contextual understanding of their expertise and their audience. Precisely how the website provides value depends on the author. For a non-fiction author, it can establish topic authority. For a multiple-title fiction author, it can provide definitive information for the order of books in a series or for the back story on the author’s characters (whose names, of course, can be important search terms for the book).

But what is always true is that the website is the one piece of digital real estate the author can actually own, which is not subject to some change in rules or process that will affect its discovery in search or the ability to use it for any purpose of the author’s choosing. Ideally, a publishing house will evaluate an author’s own website as part of an overall digital audit and make constructive suggestions for improving it. If the author doesn’t have one, the house should provide a simple placeholder site that gives fans a place to land or link and can be the ultimate authority of facts about the author and the book.

And only by controlling a website can an author or publisher control the single most powerful tool there is to promote an author through search: landing pages. Best practice is to optimize a landing page on the author’s site for each of the most commonly-searched terms that could lead to real interest or the sale of a book. Anybody who really knows SEO knows that. That’s why the failure to grasp the significance of landing pages high up in a big publishing house is so disturbing.

Collaborating with authors

It really is terrific that so many publishers these days have a high-level executive with the word “audience” in their title and job description. It is a sign of real progress that many of the big houses have invested in vertical sites to build audiences they can tap at any time.

But they’re still missing the most important boat. The real focus needs to be on marketing collaboration with authors and giving them the support they need to maximize their effectiveness. Doing that requires tackling a lot of tricky questions because authors own their names and careers and publishers, at best, have a long lease on one or more specific books they’ve written. But both book sales and author retention depend on publishers taking on this challenge as an essential component of their offering.

I did a post for BookMachine some months ago spelling out a strategy for authors who were marketing themselves.

The author marketing checklist

  • Here’s a quick checklist of what a useful publisher audit of an author’s digital footprint might be looking for:
  • A robust author website to anchor an author’s complete digital presence and act as the central hub and source of authoritative information on everything about the author, her books, her work, and life
  • Complete author and book information at book cataloging and community sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing, as well as at all online retailers (especially an Amazon Author Central page)
  • Google+ to signal to Google who an author is, what she writes about, and all of the things connected to her
  • The right social media mix, which can vary — and evolve — depending on the author, the type of books she writes, and the interests and demographics of her audiences
  • Mechanisms to collect, manage, and effectively use email addresses
  • Ongoing efforts to maintain accuracy and relevance across all of these
  • Effective cross-promotion (across titles and authors)

Mike Shatzkin has been in publishing since 1962. Since 1979, Mike has been an independent consultant (The Idea Logical Company) with clients that have included most major publishers in the US and UK, retailers including Barnes & Noble and Borders, wholesalers including Ingram, and a host of tech startups. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeShatzkin. This post was originally posted on The Idea Logical Company blog in March 2016.

text-to-speech

Why is text-to-speech only an afterthought?

I spend a lot of time commuting to and from work in my car and I try to use the time wisely. I cycle through a playlist of podcasts every week but I feel like I’m missing out on other types of content. Regardless of your daily commute, I’ll bet you’d feel the same way if you’d stop to consider the possibilities.

I’m thinking mostly about short-form content such as website articles, whitepapers and other documents. If someone sends me a link or I discover an interesting article online it’s highly likely I won’t have time to read it immediately. That’s why I typically save it in Instapaper or Evernote.

This approach has turned me into an article hoarder as I have countless unread articles in both Instapaper and Evernote. So while I thought my problem was a lack of time at that moment, the truth is I rarely have time to read many of these things later either.

To its credit, the Instapaper app for Android has a text-to-speech feature built in. But the way it’s implemented tells me it was added as an afterthought. Sure, I can tap the “Speak” button and sit back and listen, but how useful is that when you’ve got a bunch of 2-4 minute articles stacked up and you’re trying to go hands-free while driving along the highway (or taking a walk, or running on a treadmill, etc.)?

Publishers sometimes talk of engaging with the consumer who’s reading their content while standing in the proverbial grocery store check-out line. Next time you’re in line at the grocery store look around. Nobody reads like that. Some people have their phones out but they’re probably scanning Facebook or sending a text message. Rather than heads-down reading you’re more likely to see people with ear buds in, listening to music while they shop or wait in line. And let’s face it: nobody reads while they’re running or doing other strenuous activities.

So along with all those “send to” buttons for various social and “read later” services, why isn’t there one built exclusively for text-to-speech conversions that open up all sorts of new use-cases for content consumption?

The service has to do much more than just transform text to audio though. There’s an important UI component that needs to be considered. The entire platform has to be audio-based, including voice commands. Picture an app on your phone that has all the voice command capabilities of Siri or Alexa, for example. Whether you’re driving or running, all you’d have to do is say things like “skip”, “next article”, “archive”, “annotate”, etc. The user should be able to manually create playlists and the service should offer the option of automatically detecting topics and placing each article in a relevant folder (e.g., sports, business, DIY, etc.).

Don’t forget the social aspect and opportunities here. Using voice commands I should be able to quickly and easily share an interesting article via email, Twitter, etc. Let me also keep track of the most popular articles other users are listening to so I don’t miss anything that might be gaining momentum.

One business model option is probably quite obvious: insert short audio ads at the start of each article, similar to the plugs I’m hearing more frequently in podcasts. And since the article topic and keywords can be identified before streaming it’s easy to serve highly relevant ads that are closely aligned with the articles themselves; think Google AdSense for audio. Give publishers an incentive to feature new “send to audio” buttons on their articles by sharing that well-targeted ad income with them.

Doesn’t this seem like it’s right in Google’s wheelhouse? I suppose they’ve got bigger fish to fry but this looks like an existing marketplace gap that’s just waiting to be filled.

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.

pay rise

How to negotiate a pay rise (if you’re a woman)

This is a guest post by blogger Maura Quint, and originally published by McSweeney’s. For an industry dominated by women, this is not quite as relevant to publishing as most sectors, but we loved it and wanted to share. 

First, as you are a woman, stop crying.

Before you meet with your boss, put together a list of your accomplishments. This should include some of the proposals your boss ultimately took credit for, but not so many that it seems you’re trying to prove a passive-aggressive point. Also, don’t include too many of the group projects you initiated that were handed to your male coworkers to run, as this will only prove what everyone keeps saying about you not being a team-player.

Prepare in advance what the lowest number is that you will accept. While determining this figure, take into account the amount of years you’ve worked there, if/and by how much you’ve increased the company’s profitability and what that guy Ryan who got hired at the same time as you but with an inexplicably higher salary based on nebulous prior experience makes. Be careful not to ask for more than Ryan. They’ve made it very clear in previous conversations that they can’t go paying one employee more than another for the same job.

Schedule a meeting with your boss. Many people make the mistake of “popping-in” to ask for a raise unexpectedly. Women especially are prone to err in this way as they are impulsive and flighty. Don’t follow your boss into his/her/but-probably-his office like a puppy chasing a squirrel. Also be sure not to initiate a conversation when you run into each other in the parking lot during lunch when you’re on your cell again arguing with your mom about why you never call Make sure to make an appointment in your boss’ calendar so he’s prepared to meet with you while subtly being made aware that you’re capable of telling time and know what a calendar is.

Don’t ask your boyfriend or husband to negotiate for you, no matter how many times he tells you he could if you wanted.

Prior to your negotiation meeting, find a good place in the building to prepare yourself. Bathrooms work well as your nervous female energy will make you likely to start to cry and/or it’s possible you have not yet stopped crying all day/week/month. Splashing water in your face will help; staring at yourself in the mirror wondering where that grey hair came from and how you got stuck in a position with seemingly no room for advancement as your life slips away will not. Schedule enough time to return to the bathroom again when you inevitably start crying in the hallway on your way out. Add eight extra minutes to allow yourself to spiral into questioning why you can never just get it together and how this is just that 10th grade frog dissection disaster all over again.

During the conversation, maintain eye contact and smile, but not too much of either so as not to appear bitchy nor ditzy. Remember that men are often confused by straightforward expressions of composure and will decide you are “cold,” a particularly damning determination from which there is little hope of return. Alternate eye contact and smiling at eight-second intervals to properly position yourself as somehow miraculously both a woman and a capable employee. Do not wear too much makeup as this will make you look “cheap and unprofessional” nor should you avoid makeup as you will look “old and tired” and therefore more invisible than Wonder Woman’s plane. Question how Wonder Woman was able to afford that plane given the wage gap. Look into government grants.

Speak clearly and firmly. Women say “sorry” too much and should refrain from using it. If you knock over your boss’s coffee or accidentally set fire to his desk, lock eyes and nod slowly. Refrain from common female speech traps like uptalk, vocal fry or using the word “like.” In fact, avoid similes altogether. Employ metaphors if you absolutely must, but only those that reference sports or vaguely allude to penises. Never ever allude to vaginas.

Focus not just on your past accomplishments but also on your future plans for your position. This IS a good time to discuss a new account you will be landing. It is NOT a good time to discuss how you’re the reason everyone had to go to sexual harassment training after the boss’ nephew made a comment about your ass again.

Don’t go negative. No one wants to hear how you haven’t had a raise in years or that you never complain about how cold the office is even though it’s so cold, holy fuck, why do they keep it so cold are they chilling champagne to toast all the men who keep getting promoted above you? Your boss wants to hear about what you can and will do, not whining. Remember that all negative statements from a woman are irrational emotional over-reactions.

Have a plan in case your boss says no. If you brought a pint of just-in-case-of-sadness-ice-cream into the meeting, offer your boss at least one bite before crying into the rest of it. This will build future good will so that the next time you ask for a raise maybe you won’t be such a big failure, like you always are. Be careful not to be visually disappointed with friends and family for more than two and a half minutes, lest anyone accuse you of being dramatic. Read empowering female writing to remind yourself that women can do anything they want and use that as an excuse to order both Chinese and Mexican for dinner. Update your resume and reach out to people to network with while recognizing that the men will ignore your professional inquiry and only think you want to sleep with them. Make more female friends. Talk to them about the discrimination and obstacles both subtle and overt they’ve faced throughout their careers. Start companies with them. Hire other women, shift cultural norms and change the world.

But first, stop crying.

For more witty insights, follow Maura on Twitter of visit her blog.

What’s the missing ingredient for unlimited reading services?

I’ve been a fan of unlimited e-reading services for at least a couple of years now. When Oyster Books went under I shifted to Kindle Unlimited. For short-form magazine content I use Texture, the offering formerly known as Next Issue.

Prices for these services are typically in the $10-15/month range and, for the most part, I think they’re worth it. Even though I refer to them as ‘unlimited’ one key shortcoming is what’s not available in the all-you-can-read platforms. You’ll rarely find the bestselling books in an unlimited reading service, for example. Just because the catalog offered contains hundreds of thousands of titles doesn’t mean you’re likely to find the next great read there.

Lately I’m realizing that I’m not getting much use out of my Texture subscription. The issue isn’t so much that it lacks titles. In fact, now that Texture includes access to almost 200 magazines it’s hard to find ones that aren’t included, and that’s the problem.

The value proposition for these unlimited services has always been based up on overwhelming you with content. What I really want them to offer now is a curated experience.

Texture knows that I enjoy reading BusinessWeek and Sports Illustrated, for example. Why not let me configure my Texture subscription to ensure I never miss articles about my favorite teams and industries/companies I want to follow? Then use that information to help me continue expanding my horizons, presenting me with content on adjacent businesses, for example.

Put all that material together in a custom magazine, made just for me every week (or whatever frequency I prefer). Let me vote up/down on articles so the system can better determine what I really like (e.g., certain writers, themes, styles, etc.) How about letting me share my custom magazines with other Texture subscribers, and vice versa?

Curation of unlimited book subscriptions is a bit trickier. But how about starting by sending excerpts from newly added titles I might enjoy, based on my reading habits to date? It often feels like I’m searching for that needle in a haystack when I try to figure out what book I should read next. There have got to be ways to simplify and help me narrow things down as well as ensure I don’t overlook an obvious winner.

I’m not looking for a million books or hundreds of magazines. I want what most interests me and I’d like to see the subscription services figure that out. Don’t make me just come to you and open your app. Communicate with me via email and/or text messages if I prefer. Surprise and delight me rather than simply expecting me to be wowed by the overwhelming amount of content offered.

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.

language

Every boy needs his dog: The importance of inclusive language

When I was about eight years old, I read everything I could get my hands on. I read kids’ books and grownup books, and learned that the grownup books weren’t always talking to me.

But I still remember the first time a text made me feel excluded. I don’t remember what book it was, but I remember the sentence:

Every boy needs his dog.

Continue reading

indexes

The lost art of indexes in ebooks

When was the last time you used an index in an ebook? Maybe the better question is this: Have you ever used an index in an ebook? One of the challenges here is that most ebooks don’t have indexes, the result of the misguided notion that text search is a better solution.

Every so often I come across an ebook with an index. More often than not it’s just the print index at the end of the book, sometimes with nothing more than the physical page references that offer almost no value in a reflowable e-format.

Fiction represents a large chunk of ebook sales and those books generally don’t benefit from an index. The same is true for some types of non-fiction books. But for pure reference guides, in-depth how-to’s and other works, an index can be pretty useful.

If you’re relying exclusively on text search in an ebook you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. More importantly, why do we settle for such a lame text search solution when we’re spoiled every day with powerful, relevance-ranked search tools like Google?

When you search for a phrase in an ebook the results are shown in chronological order. You see all the occurrences from the beginning of the book to the end. Imagine if Google worked that way. So when you type in a phrase Google tells you the first (oldest) site to use that phrase, then the next oldest site that used it, etc. Users would laugh and reject it, yet that’s exactly what we’re forced to accept in ebook search.

What I really want is relevance-based results. Show me the location in the book with the highest density of that phrase and prioritize occurrences of it in a heading over occurrences in body text. I’m sure there are other attributes that could be rolled into an effective ebook search algorithm but I’ll take just those two features for starters.

The other problem with relying on search instead of an index is that you lose the benefit of synonyms and related terms. An indexer takes all that into consideration so you’re much more likely to find everything you’re looking for with a good index than a simple text search.

I’m not lobbying for back-of-book indexes in ebooks like they appear in print books. That’s another aspect that needs to change when you go digital. I want to see index functionality right there on the page I’m reading. The trick here is to offer it in a manner that’s not disruptive for the reader.

Remember that article I wrote a few weeks ago with the video showing a vision for auto-enriched ebooks? The same UI approach described there could be used here. The content is initially presented in as clean a manner as ebooks are today. But when you tap the screen on your tablet all the phrases that are indexed magically change colour or are denoted with some other UI effect (e.g., underline). Just tap the phrase you’re interested in and a pop-up appears with relevance-ranked index results. These would be presented in a scrollable list with each entry having a preview of the text from that location in the ebook. Make it easy for me to bookmark those entries right in the pop-up. The net result is a way to quickly and easily access a smarter index without having to leave your current location.

This feature doesn’t exist today because we’re still stuck in the print-under-glass era of ebooks. I’m optimistic that one or two of the popular reading applications will eventually add such a capability though and help us get beyond today’s model where we’re consuming so much dumb content on all these smart devices.

 

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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