So Are Publishers Making Any Money with this Ebook Thing?

The session in which three publishers talked about process, discipline, waltzing and the vise. (Not vice)

Liisa McCloy Kelly from Random House said that making an EPUB before EPUB 3 was “like waltzing with both hands tied behind your back and a weight on one foot.” (I think of it more as Tarantella in the dark while the stage shifts constantly underfoot) She said that Random House has 5 different eBook processes, the most complex of which requires teams of product managers, HTML coders, designers, R&D and testing. She recommends encouraging designers to keep an eye on digital conversion, to think about variable sizes.

Bob Young of Lulu stated that the core value of the internet is that it connects everyone of us to everyone else. (Mostly true, but I worry about the digital divide. More tech in libraries!) The role of publishers, he went on to say, is to match people with something interesting to say with people who want to hear it.

Ken Brooks of Cengage Learning was all business. Publishers are caught in a vise, as less cash for operations meets lower profits from products. Efficiently managing process, vendors, and technology is key. If each new project requires a different flow of process, you’re dying the death of a thousand cuts. It’s better to determine one or two ways to work, and have the discipline to stick to them, “ruthless management of complexity and standards is more efficient.”

How do you determine which projects to tackle? You aim for projects that are low in complexity and costs and high in payback, and he put up a great chart:

How to Determine Which Projects to Pursue

A loose interpretation

This is a good way to visualize this common sense approach. But in this new and rapidly evolving marketplace, where do you get the data? Perhaps the scarcity of data prompted these pieces of advice also:

-Brooks recommends that we start with the end in mind, and work incrementally rather than wholesale.
-And stick to standards. “Standards represent our collective experience, you might as well benefit from what other people know.

It was kind of pointed for a roundtable

A discussion to which Richard Nash (Red Lemonade) was late, snarky, and eventually won me over.

It was billed as “Publishers’ Roundtable: Execs discuss agency and other recent events” on Monday at the Digital Book 2011 Conference put on by the <IDPF>.

Dominique Raccah, of SourceBooks started the discussion with some facts, 42% of books sold are Adult, 25% are Juvenile. (The remainder would be YA, Textbooks? I’m not sure I got the numbers right). How fast, she wondered, can we find a platform for juvi? As pictures and pedagogic tools become part of the platform, we will see more [juvi] integration.

Richard Nash piped up with “Don’t look too hard at the data—in 3 years we’ll see the end of the eBook as a product.” Hmm.

DR: Its about the experience—and we haven’t found a way to enhance the experience—we keep taking readers out of stories, not immersing them.

RN: Enhanced eBooks are a price-protection scheme. We are left with publishers aping video game designers.

DR: Richard, we didn’t do it for that—we are in an exploratory space—we need to blow up the book.

Dominique went on to say that the average POD title sells 200 copies. She expects the next conversation to be “How do self-publishers get what they need?” She explained that artists require fans, people who will evangelize their work and spread the word.

Apps, she said, are a transitional form non-fiction. I cling to this.

Richard Nash’s rallying cry was libraries: “For the 18 million Americans engaged in creative writing each year, libraries can become community centers for discovering tools to connect writers to readers.”  I applauded. So did one other brave soul.

Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury made a good point about piracy: “Cloud solutions eliminate 90% of the casual piracy—its a good business model. Let’s not punish consumers for us not giving them reasonable ways to access their material.”

Digital Book 2011-the first session

The week in which, despite predictions, the world didn’t end, so we figured we’d keep making eBooks.

I was lucky enough to attend International Digital Publishers Association <IDPF> conference, Digital Book 2011. The next few blog entries are based on copious notes fueled by atrocious coffee served by some very nice people at the Javitz Center in Manhattan.

Kobo announced a snazzy looking new e-Ink device. Michael Tamblyn of Kobo Books gave us facts and figures: book sales saw an 8% growth last year, 15-22% growth in digital book sales. Common price points for non-agency books were $9.99 for best-sellers, $7.99 for mass market, and new sales were coming in a $2.99, $3.99, even $.99. (Not sure I get the agency model, more here: ebookreadersresource.com)

Self-publishing grew, 7% of the total unit sales.

And tablets didn’t kill e-Ink devices. It turns out that at this time, the e-Ink customer is worth more, as they purchase 15% more books than tablet owners, giving them a greater lifetime value of 66-126%.

These trends are global.

He identified 2010 as the year we got the reading experience right (easy for you to say, try making a cross-platform EPUB with no errors) and in 2011, we will go on to create the ultimate reader experience. On that hopeful note, he showed us a demo of “Reading Life,” Kobo’s answer to social reading.  I’d love to try this.

Abe Murray from Google Books described reading platform statistics for their customers in a mathematically challenging way:

1/4 read on the web
1 in 4 read on phones
1 in 5 use eReaders
the rest use tablets

Best I can figure, that makes 25% web, 25% phones, 20% eReaders and 30% tablets.  Was he trying to avoid saying the 30% tablet part? I know Google folks are way smarter than me, so I keep going over the math in my head . . .

Lastly, Yoshinobu Noma, of The Electronic Book Producers of Japan, showed slides of a beautiful eBook of haunting photos, donated by the artists, showing the devastation in Japan. I think the English title is 3/11.

Mr. Noma said “We don’t have to make a choice between electronic and print books,” and said that EBPAJ strives to cultivate both.