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Here’s another way digital could complement print

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.

Roundup of the Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar

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.

Here’s where innovative publishers need to focus

There are a number of key attributes successful publishers will be known for in the future. These core capabilities will be very different from the ones that have led to the modern empires of the Big Five.

Some attributes will remain the same, of course. For example, it will always be crucial for publishers to acquire, develop and produce excellent content. But the services and capabilities that surround and complement the acquire/develop/produce core are what will matter most.

With that in mind, here’s my short list of what will separate tomorrow’s publishing leaders from all the rest:

1) Being data-driven

Remember the old days when Ingram data was the only source of industry-wide sell-through information? Then Bookscan hit the scene and it felt like we moved from the Stone Age to the Information Age. I’m not talking about this kind of data. Bookscan and other retailer sell-through numbers are lagging indicators. They represent what happened yesterday, last week or last month. The successful publisher of tomorrow wants to know what’s happening right now and where the trends are leading. Real-time website analytics, heat maps, email open/click-thru rates…that’s where the actionable data can be found today but most book publishers treat them as secondary information sources at best. A publisher who thinks they’re data-driven today might adjust plans for a book scheduled to publish six months from now based on sell-through data they studied from last month. Tomorrow’s data-driven publisher will alter the free content on their website this afternoon based on information they gathered this morning.

2) Breaking free of containers

Why are publishers focused on lagging indicators? Because they’re stuck in the era of containers. They’re producing books, magazines or newspapers and they measure everything based on those containers. It may not be obvious but the container model is slowly fading away. Please don’t misinterpret this. I’m not saying books are going away. Print books will still be produced for a long, long time. But the way content is being consumed is shifting to a more digital, container-less model. Think about that last bit of content you read on your phone. Did you care whether it was originally produced for a newspaper, a magazine, a blog, a website or a newsletter? Probably not. What mattered most is that the content covered a topic that matters to you. Innovative publishers need to think more about highly relevant content streams rather than content containers.

3) Direct-to-consumer (D2C)

I vividly recall talking five years ago with a Big Six executive about the importance of creating a vibrant direct-to-consumer channel. She rolled her eyes and said they’d never do that because they prefer to let their retail partners handle the consumer connection. I feel somewhat validated now as I see that same publisher experimenting more and more with D2C. It’s not just about capturing all the revenue. The data and resulting opportunities to do some very powerful things with that data are what make D2C such an important model. That, and the fact that you become less reliant on middlemen who control your destiny, ought to be reason enough to focus on D2C.

4) Owning and leveraging the list

The most important piece of data every publisher should own is the customer name and email address. This is what makes D2C so special. Securing names and emails isn’t as easy as simply making a sale. You’ve got to earn the consumer’s trust by having them opt in to your future marketing campaigns. Too many publishers who have built a D2C channel simply become data hoarders, gathering names and emails but never doing much with them.

5) Building the funnel

One of the biggest reasons publishers don’t go direct is that they feel they’re unable to attract enough traffic to make it worthwhile. That’s because they’re not applying the funnel model. You start by offering plenty of outstanding free content on your site. Once visitors arrive and they like what they read you have the opportunity to connect with them via free newsletters, for example; rather than waiting and hoping they come back, offer to continue sending outstanding content right to their email inbox. Part of this step includes asking them to opt in for other offers and information from you. As the funnel narrows from top to bottom, you’re leading these consumers along a path loaded with all your terrific content, some of it free and some of it paid.

This isn’t for everyone. For example, the Big Five are simply too reliant on the existing ecosystem, unwilling to risk alienating certain channel partners and built upon a very rigid container-based creation and distribution model. The Big Five will remain large, just like B&N and Borders did for many years after Amazon arrived. But then Borders went away and in order to survive B&N evolved from a bookstore to a gift shop.

The smaller players though, the ones who focus on a particular topic, vertical or audience are the publishers who are best positioned to embrace the attributes described above. And as they do they’ll find themselves in a far better world with a direct connection to customers and the ability to serve those customers with more than just one or two types of container-driven 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.

crowdfunding

It’s all gone a bit dead: 6 steps for reviving a stalled crowdfunding campaign

Jimmy Leach is, amongst other things, head of crowdfunding at Unbound. Here are his 6 steps for reevaluating and reviving a crowdfunding campaign.

It happens to everyone, to some degree. All crowdfunding campaigns – for books, apps, watches, whatever – all follow the same kind of pattern. A spike at launch, a spike at the end which gets them over the line – and, at some point, a plateau in the middle. But what to do when the campaign never gets off the plateau, when the whole project becomes marooned?

Obviously, the first point to make is that a lengthy fallow period can be avoided. There is no magic bullet to any crowdfunding campaign, other than the fact that activity begets pledges. In other words – if you stop, so will the pledges.

But let’s say, that you’re doing plenty and still the pledges have dried up. What next?

1) Look at your messages

What are you saying to people? Are you getting the tone wrong, too blatantly asking for money? Are you explaining the project badly? Many a good project has stalled due to bad communications. Get someone you trust, someone who can be honest with you, to check over the messages you’re sending and see if they ‘feel’ right.

Next: Look at what you saying to people and get a second opinion – then re-write.

2) Look at your platforms

Where are you asking for support? In email? On social media? With a quill on vellum? The best campaigns are a mix of media and platforms, but they often concentrate more on one-to-one communication (usually via email) than the one-to-many of, say, Twitter. When I see a failing campaign, I often see a project reliant on a few tweets here and there – and that only gets you so far.

Next: Make sure you’re on the platforms which suit your readers, rather than suits you. And, almost certainly, make personalise emails a bigger part of the mix.

3) Look at your audiences

Are you targeting the right people? Most books have two audiences – people who want to support the author and people who want to read about the topic (which can make some fiction harder to fund). Many authors are too reticent about asking their personal networks and not sure where the subject networks are. The first needs chutzpah, the second needs research.

Next: Shamelessly dig deep on the the audience of people you know, and put the work in to find the people you don’t.

4) Look at your energy levels

I’m a big fan of the elastoplast model for funding. A short, sharp burst of frenzied activity is better than dragging it out for months. To get a book funded, you should schedule some time every day, be contacting a good number of people each time to make sure those numbers keep ticking over.

Next: Remember when you used to schedule your revision and teachers would tell you to ‘make sure you do something every day’? That.

5) Engage

Reticence is a big problem with crowdfunding. Now is the time, as one author put it to me, to ‘unleash your inner American’. That means emailing people you haven’t spoken to in a while, replying to Twitter replies and Facebook posts. The more you talk to people, the more they become involved in the project. Blog about your book and the processes behind producing it. Without being too cheesy, take people on your journey. The people who read that will become your advocates.

Next: While writing is a solitary experience, crowdfunding isn’t. Gird your loins and get sociable.

6) Monitor

Observe what’s working – and repeat it. Watch what doesn’t work – and stop doing it. It sounds obvious, but so many authors blithely assume they know what works, and are shocked when the data comes in.

Next: Look at the data on your project page (any decent platform will show that to project owners), and learn from it.

In short, if your campaign is flagging, it’s time for some honesty as to what is not quite working. Take the time to take your campaign apart a little, examine the parts and shine them up a  bit. Then re-assemble on your way to 100%…

Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 

business

The business of books: 3 publishing trends

rachel bridge businessThis week’s guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast was Rachel Bridge, journalist, speaker and author of Ambition: Why It’s Good to Want More and How to Get It (Capstone, 2016).

From our discussion I drew out three interesting observations about business book publishing in the 21st century.

1) It’s social

Rachel and I hooked up in the first place simply because I bought her book on one of our ritual family trips to Waterstones in Basingstoke: once a month or so I take the kids in, we all choose a book, and then we head upstairs to Café Nero and ignore each other happily for an hour or so, each immersed in our chosen world.* Rachel’s was the book I bought – I loved the stark challenge of the title, that ambivalent word, which feels simultaneously stirring and disturbing, and particularly intriguing because written by a woman. (We talk more about this in the podcast.) I took a picture of the book beside my skinny cappuccino and was about to tweet it when, on a whim, I searched for Rachel on Twitter. I found her, tagged her in the tweet, and settled down to read. Within a few minutes the response came back, and within an hour we had an interview set up. Boom.

2) It’s secondary

Rachel articulated perfectly the attitude that most business writers have towards books: ‘There isn’t any money in books unless you happen to be Malcolm Gladwell… it’s not about making lots of money.’ Not every author can afford to be so phlegmatic, of course, but when you’re writing a book to support your main revenue-generating business (speaking, in Rachel’s case) your concerns go beyond a simple focus on the royalty rate to questions of control and collaboration. Business authors need to be sure that the publisher will be a good partner as they build their wider brand, that they’ll have their say on questions of design, timing, publicity and so on. Book people love books and we can tend to have an over-inflated view of them as ends in their own right: it’s salutary for us to realise that for many authors they’re simply (beautiful) means to other ends.  Which leads me neatly to…

3) It’s multiplatform

I believe passionately that books are the jewels in the crown of your content strategy, but they’re not the whole crown. I help my authors identify the best mix of content and channels for their market and their message – podcasts, vlogs, blogs, online courses, guest articles, infographics, webinars, talks, workshops… you get the idea. But Rachel has taken this to a whole new level: prepare for Ambition: The One-Woman Show at the Gilded Balloon this Edinburgh Fringe. Because why not? When you have a powerful idea a book is a great tool for communicating it, but it’s certainly not the only one. The beautiful thing about a book, though, is the way it complements other platforms: I’ve no doubt Rachel will sell copies of the book at the show, just as my authors sell copies from the back of the room when they speak at a conference. Publishers like Canongate and Faber do this blending of online and off, book and other platform particularly well, but it’s one reason authors choose to self-publish, to retain unfettered rights and create campaigns that include the book but aren’t necessarily focused on it.

Three trends that open up incredible opportunities for publishers with ambition enough to follow Rachel’s advice to us all: ‘do and be more’.

*One of my favourite book-y quotes, by Neil Gaiman: “Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”

future of the bookAlison 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. 

The Pigeonhole: Serialised, sociable and gamified reading

The Pigeonhole provides readers with serialised, sociable and gamified content. They can join public reading groups or create their own private ones, and save, highlight and comment on their favourite bits. Publishers are able create a buzz around new titles ahead of launch using serialisation, enhance reading experiences with multimedia, test out new products on curated closed reading groups and have access to usage data. Here The Pigeonhole’s Paul French tells us more.

One of the great puzzles in Berlin’s startup scene is its determination to build beautiful products, often at the expense of distribution. ‘Build it and they will come’ is the most foolish thing a startup can tell itself; an engineering bias that sees so many young companies fall apart. The best product doesn’t always win, which is why, as we iterate and improve, I’m fully absorbed in the challenge of marketing The Pigeonhole’s new reading experience.

The challenge is threefold.

Our team has built a boutique online space for savvy digital readers to hang out, a new platform for pioneering authors and a risk-free technology for traditional publishers to experiment with. This trio – and what differentiates digital from traditional publishing – means that my job is not just to sell books. On any given day, we could be testing a new social or gamification product feature, launching a serialisation or drilling into analytical learnings from our new app.

The parade of technologies being created to claim the hearts of mobile readers (for that is what they are) is representative of the current climate: a digital gold rush. And who are readers if not writers? Who are writers if not publishers? We’re embracing the challenge of meeting all three in one place.

In an on-demand culture, more does not equal more. It’s important for us to curate a bespoke book-browsing experience and to make launching books exciting again. Our readers are enjoying a renaissance of Dickensian serialisation and, as we iterate, the first glimpses of what global transmedia storytelling will look like. We want to bring as many people as possible along for the journey. Reading empowers, but sociable reading can bring deep empathy and develop emotional intelligence. It’s also fun.

But the task ahead of us is perilous. There have already been plenty of digital publishing casualties in recent years – months, even. All of which are instructive. The question I love to ask hesitant publishers for Kindle-cradling readers is: “Could you complete this sentence: I would collaborate with The Pigeonhole if…” The answers give me great hope that the future is far from a closed book.

 

the pigeonholePaul French runs The Pigeonhole’s marketing from Berlin. In the comments, please complete the sentence: “I would collaborate with The Pigeonhole if…”

The next 5 years of publishing: on connecting audiences to stories [OPINION]

In the run up to tonight’s event, Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine has been featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Nicola Borasinski. Nicky is the Digital Development Assistant at Penguin Random House. She is a former MA student at Queen Mary University of London. During her MA she focused her research on the relationship children have with print and digital media and is currently working on digital products for amazing brands like Peppa Pig and Roald Dahl. 

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