TOC2009: A Book Is A...

This year’s Tools of Change conference contained similar themes to last year, but the difference is the level of adoption, or perceived adoption, and ubqiuity of devices that can take the electronic content that publishers have and provide a transportable, light-weight, library of books to readers that they can carry in their pockets.

Everyone agreed that the rate of adoption and rapidity with which people are consuming book content on a device is mind-blowing.

Realize that you provide a non-DRMed copy of your content in every printed book you release into the market. These can be lent, resold, and copied offline. But, enough people also pay for their own copy. Mirroring this offline experience online for your readers is critical.

Following on from Tim, here is a collection of ideas and information shared at the conference.

Big Ideas: Keynotes

  • Books are not just books anymore. Both Bob Stein from the Institute for the Future of the Book and Peter Brantley from the Digital Library Federation put this idea forward. A book can be a collection of experiences with the text. Maybe a bit flaky since everyone agrees there is a curatorial role for the publisher in producing the object we know as “Book”. And the fact of the matter is, the devices are just not there yet to match the production value in a well-produced book. However, publishers must consider what links into a book will enhance a reader’s experience of it.
  • Books are social objects already, but need to think about them as communities, places with shared experiences. This is what the Web is good atconnecting people with others who have the same interests. That does not just mean creating a blog for a book or blogging about a book. Take the same consideration in what you produce as part of the online experience as you would as laying out a page. It still does not need to cost a lot, but it needs to be the right expression for the content.
  • Nick Bilton gave an interesting keynote called The Narrative is Changing in which he discussed building additional content around a book. The NYTimes R&D lab created a site based on errata that David Carr has accumulated while writing his book, The Night of the Gun. This included video interviews with David Carr, his friends and family, photos pre and post his life as a crackhead, police reports from arrests, etc. The result was an interactive site that did not supplant the book’s content, but provided a rich media experience to accompany the book, and add depth to the reading experience. The NYT linked both products to each other, but each could be consumed and enjoyed independently of the other. Acknowledging that one would not do this for every book, Nick Bilton was encouraging Publishers to support Authors in this way when viable for two key reasons: 1) Authors will do this independently of you and disintermediate the publisher from partaking of the success, and 2) the potential marketing benefits for the publisher whose imprint is coming to mean less, but who have invested heavily in websites is potentially considerable.
  • Viable pricing modelsno one has the answer to this issue. For Tim O’Reilly, bundling print with electronic content has not been a home run in terms of a business model. For digital content, everyone is experimenting with price with consensus being that it is content-dependent. OReilly tried raising an online price and saw sales fall off dramatically.

eBook Readers and Standards

  • 2008 will be seen as the inflection point for eBooksheard this alot from several speakersJoe Wikert at OReilly, Neelan Choksi from Lexcycle (Stanza), and Tim O’Reilly.
  • ePub, ePub, ePub! Not to get too LOTR, but one file to rule them all! Platforms are fractured so get behind a standard that will make your life easier and demand your retailers and device vendors support that standard. You are the rights holder to the content they want to sellthat is powerful.
  • 2.0 devices are getting closer but no one is really there yet. The single-use devices have greatly improved the quality of the reading experience, but have challenges. General consensus in the rooms was that the real breakthrough device will arrive on the scene in the next 5 years. It must be OTA, it must be lightthis statement came up over and againlight in terms of physical weight, but also light in terms of ease of use and it must be multiuse.
  • Lexcycle Stanza is the rock star in the crowd with downloads topping 1.5 million, a 50% increase over the single-use device sales. Ubiquity of Apple’s devices affords a rapid market penetration that is hard to match. Lexcycle is hoping to make Stanza available to other smart phones soonno timeline but it is on the radar and coming.
  • DRMCory Doctorow described DRM as futile and was bewildered that publishers are allowing vendors to drive this aspect of the business. He even proposed what he hoped would be a new physical law for it:
    Doctorow’s Law: anytime anyone puts a lock on something you own and does not give you the key, they are not doing it for your benefit.
  • If the content that you are producing is worthwhile and it is easy to search for, purchase and read on these devices, enough readers will pay.
  • Black and whitenothing is black and white anymore, especially when it comes to display. There is so much content that does not look good in grayscale, even the improved 16-bit grayscale that Colour with a capital C will be the game changer. It is what is helping to propel downloads of the free Stanza reader and purchases through FictionWise.
  • The toolset needs to be expanded. Conversion from one standard to another can be done and should be explored. DJ Denison gave the example of converting from DocBook to ePub, an experience that was made easy because of their common XML markup, and how vendors of other formats need to think about tools to help publishers convert their existing digital content

Social Networking and Community Building

  • Nick Bilton and Tim O’Reilly talked about how critical collaboration is; how there is a need for a “swarm intelligence” to consume and create content today because the source material for ideas is so vast
  • Harness the energy of your community, their enthusiasm for your books by inviting them in and innovating on how you reward them for their buzz-generating abilities
    • e.g. Chelsea Green picks a tweet of the week to reward with a physical copy of a book
    • e.g. Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt rewards bloggers, anyone with a blog, with review copies if they will write a review
    • Gamer Theory and The Golden Notebook Project are examples of asynchronous reading clubs that share a common experience and expression via a website built around a book. Ben Vershbow presented on CommonType and the book Gamer Theory at last year’s Book Summit in Toronto. Bob Stein stated that CommentPress will be available for commercial use in the near futurestay tuned.

    Google Book Search

    • Publishers would do well to look to game designers like the folks at Blizzard on how to build community into a book experience; that is not to say design books as games (unless that works for your book), but learn from the experience and popularity of that industry on how they communicate with people who buy their products and facilitate and then get out of the way of their online community
    • Conversion rates from Google Book Search results have been great for their partner publishers, mostly in the Textbook, Reference and STM channels, particularly in the shallow backlist (2003-2005 pubdates) with the highest Buy the Book clickthrus on 2004 titles. For some publishers, conversion to buy is as high as 89% for the titles they have made available.
    • 30% of viewers looked at 10 or more pages when viewing the content of the book to make a buy decision
    • The future is analytics! Google is thinking about what data they can pull out of their logs and provide anonymous aggregate data around consumer behaviour like what books were purchased that were like this one, search terms used most often for a category, most effective discounts, most effective referral sites etc.

    Author! Author!

    • Known authors can leverage their brands online, with or without a publisher. Publishers have an important curatorial role, but should not mistake that role with profile. There is evidence to support the idea that the imprint is dead and most readers do not know or care about who publishes the book. One of the more powerful panels talked about the experience of a house that consolidated its imprints from many to one and how it simplified all their efforts online and off and resulted in a stronger brand identity for the house.
    • Indie publishing popularity was so strong as to cause Tim O’Reilly to say they and other publishers are considering incubating indie authors and affording them assistance in getting their books out. The details were sketchy, but O’Reilly likened it to developing a “farm team”

    Better Luck Next Time

    • Retailers were few and far between as presenters. What does that mean? There were lots of references to buying, but lots of critiques about the Amazon Kindle, their DRM mandate, and their lack of support for the ePub standard. Critiques also for Sony for their own proprietary format and lack of WiFi to get online and buy books, and the difficulty of making a purchase through their own online store. It would be nice to have some retailers there to defend their decisions and talk about their own challenges next time.
    • More researchSaw some good presentations with quantifiable research includedBrian O’Leary from Magellan, Joe Orwent from Google, and Neelan Choksi from Lexcycle were some of the few presenters who were able to quantify in any way what is going on in the marketplace. We need morehere are some thoughts:
      • eReader adoption rates in different markets
      • Consumer behaviour
      • ROI for social networking experiments
      • New format experimentation, like the new v-book idea
      • More case studies from experiences by publishers in different channels. STM and Reference were willing to share some detail, but Trade is still remarkably quiet.