Digital Book 2009: A Recap

cybookWhat with Bosoms travel and conferences this year, my vacation days from Ye Olde Day Job are limited in number. Alas, therefore, I attended the 2009 IDPF Digital Book conference on Tuesday 12 May for the afternoon, and relied on the the power of Twitter for news and information from the morning sessions. Even with the 140 character limit, I was getting a pretty accurate snap shot of the proceedings:

- Steve Potash, Timekeeper and President of OverDrive, is not to be messed with. Fear ye, all who do not prepare your PowerPoint or go beyond the 10 minute time limit. The Potash, he is to be feared.

- There were many PowerPoint presentations with graphs and numbers, and also, monotones.

- Digital publishing has high points and areas of contention. Sales are up, but questions are constant, too: how to reach consumers, how to engage publishing to see digital publishing as a new method of content delivery and not a competition to print sales, how to figure out the sticky issue of DRM, and how to use Powerpoint (well, that last one was me).

- When Jane and I both asked Angie via Twitter to query whether it would be possible to unify publishers to get behind the .epub format to potentially push back against the market dominance of Amazon, she was informed by Potash that her question was inappropriate for the forum—even though one of the presenters had discussed in detail the potential of the .epub format. To which Jane, Angie, and I all said, “…the hell?”

- The venue was standing room only and the connectivity was giving people fits.

When I arrived, there was lunch (boy howdy was there lunch). There were somewhat cushy chairs in the amphitheater, a stage with a big ol’ screen for the PowerPoint-0-Rama… and about 3 outlets. And barely 2 wifi networks that repeatedly crashed. My iPhone couldn’t maintain a signal, and my AT&T wireless broadband modem couldn’t find a sustained connection either—despite my position near a window. It was, in wifi terms, a completely frustrating afternoon. The network couldn’t handle that many connections, I gathered, and as the afternoon wore on and more people hopped on, the slower and less responsive it became. Even with two backup plans, my ability to cover the event via Twitter was barely successful.

I recall many a complaint at the Making Information Pay conference last week, too, which was held in the same location. So if you’re thinking of hosting an event in the McGraw Hill Auditorium, and you want real-time coverage from attendees via Twitter or blogs, this venue doesn’t offer sustained and effective wifi connectivity for your needs.

The presentations during the afternoon were excellent. Angie James from Sam Hain (not related to Sam Bucca, despite my earlier claims) presented a visually entertaining and clear message: DRM gets in the way of readers and doesn’t stop piracy. When you buy a book from Sam Hain, you get the Book. Not a format. In the beginning, Sam Hain sold books without DRM because they didn’t know any better. Now it’s a conscious decision because they do know better: DRM doesn’t work.

Angie’s presentation was kick ass – and yes, I’m biased because we helped each other in developing our presentations and commiserated over our respective nervousness about the venue. She had her facts in order, her slides were multifaceted, she illustrated points with visual images or clear statistics, and switched between methods of conveyance so that the end result was entertaining, informative, clear, and thought provoking. She could have taught a lesson on presentation skills. Funk and noise were brought in, and Angie got game.

Then there was a keynote from Sony with Robert Nell, Director of Business Development, discussing the current position of the Sony reader, and describing their outreach campaign – one of which involved thousands of Reader evangelists openly inviting passersby to try out the device in cities all over the country. There was not much of a discussion of upcoming devices, though, and I wished that Nell had taken a moment to describe in detail the projects they were working on.

Because he didn’t, the interesting part started afterward: Nell was asked by Ron Hogan why Sony hasn’t solved the problem of incompatability with Mac computers, considering that Mac users are technologically curious and tend to own multiple devices. Nell’s answer: “We’re working on it.” This is nearly identical to the answer he gave when asked when Sony would have on-board Wifi, prompting me to wonder if his PR responses emerge from the Chicago Cubs’ early-90’s television ad campaign, “Cubs. We’re Working on It.” That campaign was an admission that yeah, the Cubs sucked. But they’re working on it. (Note to self: suggest this slogan to Pittsburgh Pirates?)

Question: do you really want to align yourself with a public statement that says, “Yeah, we’re trying to catch up”? Surely you can say more than that, right? I love the Sony device and it’s flexibility, but on-board wifi? Key element to versatile, flexible book reading. Cross-platform compatibility? Word. There had to be better ways in which to answer those very obvious, very important questions.

There were some fascinating presentations as well, especially Andrew Savikas, VP of Digital Initiatives at O’Reilly Media. His talk preceded Angie’s, and it was, in a word, enlightening. O’Reilly titles are released without DRM, and O’Reilly folks were greeted with some shock when they asked vendors who sell their titles to do so without DRM in their stores.

Additionally, O’Reilly books include lifetime free updates of the purchased material when purchased through the O’Reilly bookstore. In answer to the question as to whether print sales “cannibalized” digital sales, he pointed out that the digital release of iPhone: The Missing Manual encouraged print sales of the same title.

Moreover, looking at the Twitter Book page on their website, if you order the digital book and the paper copy for $21.99 (vs. $15.99 for the ecopy or $19.99 for the print) you’ll get a signed paper copy when it’s released on 20 May. Bundles are cool – bundling digital and paper into one package seems to make a lot of sense for technical instruction books.

Savikas pointed out that people will pay for packaging and convenience as well as for content—like bottled water. It’s cheap to receive running water in your house but if you’re not home, you’ll pay for water in a bottle, sometimes exorbitant amounts for it, too.

Savikas’ presentation was what I call toothy – it gave me a lot to think about, and I’m still chewing on it. I have lines of notes that I wish I’d been able to Twitter during his talk, because his comments about book sales, customer relations and DRM were damn savvy.

Then came my panel, Confessions of an eReadaholic- What Consumers Really Want. My stomach looked like a balloon poodle, I was so nervous.

Michael Santangelo, Electronic Resources Specialist at the Brooklyn Public Library, started off the panel and holy crap. He rocked. Important points:

- To a librarian, digital books are one more format to offer the patron. From paper to audio to large print to digital, having as many options is important for them as a public source for and collection of information.

- Libraries are not enemies of publishing. He pointed out the very close relationship between children’s librarians and children’s book publishers, and wished that digital publishers and librarians like him could have an equally supportive and eagerly cultivated relationship.

- Libraries do not steal sales through book lending, and he’s proud of how many ways a single book, whether it’s a children’s title or a book on job searching, can be offered to the Brooklyn public.

Also, it is so worth pointing out: the Brooklyn Public Library website is a beautiful, beautiful thing, with two options for downloadable media.

Then it was my turn. My key points were:

1. Women readers, specifically romance readers, buy more fiction, spend more on electronics, and read more books than most demographic groups. Ergo: we are the readers they are looking for.

2. The essential components of the ideal device, ebook, and bookstore are the same: durability, flexibility, accessibility, and affordability.

3. The process of using an ebook should never get in the way of READING an ebook. Stop putting obstacles between me and my book.

Despite having a timer and practicing the whole shebang, I still ran long and had to hurry through my discussion of the ideal digital bookstore to get to the part where I asked that as digital reading initiatives are developed, the voice and the opinion of the reader should be included in the discussion, because we want to be equally invested in the success of digital publishing. And there were LOLcats as punctuation within the presentation. LOLCats should also be included as part of the digital development. My presentation wouldn’t have been possible without Kassia Krozser and Jane from Dear Author, and I owe a lot to them both. Like, a kidney or something.

After me came Malle, who, as the Oracle of eBooks, pretty much delivered the awesome with flair and panache. She renamed key participants with Harlequin Presents titles – including Lexcycle’s Neelan Choksi, Adam Smith from Google, and Steve Potash – which totally cracked everyone up. She followed up the silly humor with the impressive statistics of Harlequin’s digital publishing program. They publish more digital titles than print, and have learned key lessons about customer expectations, again underscoring the importance of listening to the reader. We readers want backlist, we want accessible titles, and we want ease of use.

Malle was questioned about DRM, and said that Harlequin does use it, prompting me to put my head down on the table and mock-sob—a moment commented upon in Calvin Reid’s excellent write up of the conference for Publisher’s Weekly.

Reid left the conference with the same perception I did: that the obstacles were the most important thing to be discussed in terms of fueling the continued success of the digital marketplace. Those obstacles take many forms: DRM, for one, and attitude and perception—really, presuming motivation— for another. I mentioned in my presentation that “sharing” is not a bad word. And while “file sharing” may bring fear and tremors to the bottom line of a publishing house, the idea of sharing a book is not inherently bad, nor should that right to market a book among my friends be taken away from me merely because I might prefer that book in a digital format.

Savikas, as Reid quoted in PW, said that “we have to change the perception that a pirated e-book means a lost sale.” Angela James pointed out that DRM is not “customer service” but more of a discouragement to readers curious about ebooks. DRM (which I call “Driving Readers Mad”) “protection” drives customers away.

One of my favorite parts, though, was the dinner on Monday night for the conference speakers. I learned that Bob LiVolsi, CEO of Books on Board, is a Steeler fan, and from Pittsburgh – which makes him impeccably awesome. And he’s fun to talk to, too. I met Laurent Picard and Michaël Dahan from Bookeen, who announced that the Bookeen device will be sold in the US in June, and who allowed both Angie and me to play with the Bookeen device prototypes while we waited for dinner to be served. It was a lot like putting a group of romance readers in a bar together, only with more men and more digital discussion – a lot of talk about books, and digital devices, and who likes eInk vs. who thinks a LCD screen on a PC is better (Frank from Overdrive and Nathaniel from Mobileread for two).

After talking for 10 minutes about the digital reader’s wishlist, I have one more item to add: I wish that it were more feasible for folks like me, who are independent unaffiliated entities with limited revenue, to join and participate in organizations like the IDPF. The conference was mind-opening and collectively incredible, and I was honored to be a part of it.

The image above is of the Cybook by Bookeen, photo by Herbi Ditl.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Paul Biba says:

    Great coverage!  I did an excerpt on TeleRead.


  2. 2
    Jan says:

    Sounds like a great conference. Thanks so much for your coverage of something we’d otherwise never hear about – and isn’t that too bad. Happy Friday!

  3. 3
    ev says:

    So how did you like the bookeen?

    (thanks for the blog update. I got lost on some of the twits you were sending!)

  4. 4
    library addict says:

    Thanks for the overview. 

    Do you know if/when the presentations from this year’s conference will be available on the IDPF website?  I know they don’t come with audio, but at least we could see your LOLCats :)

  5. 5
    Claudia says:

    Thanks for the link to the Bookeen website!  I’ve been considering purchasing an ereader because I’m going abroad for a year in late summer, and right now all I know is that I refuse to buy a Kindle…

  6. 6
    Ron Hogan says:

    “O’Reilly folks were greeted with some shock when they asked vendors who sell their titles to do so without DRM in their stores.”

    My favorite part of the afternoon, apart from the presentations that you and Angela did, was when Andy Savikas led the audience interrogation of Robert Nell on precisely that point.

  7. 7
    DT says:

    I’m really interested in buying an e-reader (likely a Sony- no Kindle in Canada), but can someone fill me in on what DRM is? Feeling like I’m missing some vital piece of information here.
    Thanks :)

  8. 8
    Trix says:

    @DT – DRM stands for “Digital Rights Management”, and is a way of “encrypting” an ebook (or any other digital media, like music) so that it can only be opened/played by specified devices. For example, with DRM’d Microsoft Reader files, you can only open them on 3 devices (or maybe a couple more). Too bad if you have a copy on your machine at home and your PDA, and then upgrade your home machine, and then want to upgrade your PDA. Too bad if any of those devices break and you’ve used up all your licences. Too bad if you bought music from MSN Music and you want to transfer it to another machine now that they’ve turned off their licensing server. The music you paid good money for is now useless. Too bad if you bought books from Amazon for your Kindle, and Amazon suspends your account because you piss them off, thus rending the ebooks that you purchased inaccessible.

    You’re not “buying a book” when you buy DRM’d ebooks, you’re only buying a licence to play for as long as they see fit to let you.

    The idea is to stop people from pirating media and distributing it for free. The trouble is, it doesn’t work. You can download pretty much any music and any movie and plenty of books DRM-free from the pirates. All it does is place impediments on honest people like you and me paying a reasonable sum to purchase something we can keep and read in any device we choose to.

    So, no, you couldn’t pay me to have a Kindle. I think I’ll get a BeBook (supports pretty much any format you can think of) or maybe a Bookeen (probably not the latter, since I don’t really care about Wifi for a book reader and it’s more expensive).

  9. 9
    LizzieBee says:

    Thanks for the coverage :) Great to read :)

    What I find frustrating with the eBook reader market at the moment is that I am not taken seriously as a market, being in Australia. I can not buy either the Kindle or the Sony eReader, and it appears that I will never be able to do so! I am also quite disgruntled at Sony’s response to the compatibility of the eReader with Mac (although I don’t know how incompatible is it, as I have a friend that has a Sony eReader and a Macbook, and traveled with both last year) and also the wifi issue. I would love to own a bigger eBook reading device, but think that an iPod-Touch will simply be the best all-round device for me, on which I will be able to download Stanza.

    DRM is also an old fashioned idea. Sony (Sony boss Howard Stringer) itself has just admitted this, in a press release this last week (admittedly in regards to music, but it’s applicable to eBooks too Limiting purchased media through DRM is only going to make people work harder to get around it, so they can break the DRM on their own purchases, for when they need to upload to a new device that goes beyond their limited capabilities. Publishers need to understand that there will be people that share their books, the same way we share music, either on tapes or CD’s as a mix-tape to friends, or by lending out our paperback books: but people are just doing it electronically now.

  10. 10
    Kat says:

    LizzieBee, you can’t get Kindle or Sony here, but there are other ebook readers in the market. Dymocks sells the Iliad and the Cybook (link), DA Direct (Melbourne) sells the Iliad, DR1000S, Cybook and Hanlin/BeBook (link), and you can order the BeBook online (link). For me, the cost of the device is the biggest stumbling block.

  11. 11
    JoanneL says:

    Ze ebook reader is in ze corner with ze dust bunnies.

    I have given up, it is too much work. Some dummy (me) cleaned out all the downloads I needed for all the platforms and oh, shit, I can’t go through all that again.

    Yea technology and yea the pioneers of said tech-stuff but for me I spent too much time trying to find, open, get back or locate the ebooks.  I have been buying ebooks forever and will continue—-but pretty, new, inexpensive Little lap top, here comes I to buy you.

    (The flashing page changes on the Bookeen would give me seizures), my ereader doesn’t have that and that’s one of the reasons I loved it so much—- in the beginning.
    We haz broken up.
    Irreconcilable differences.

    AND HOLY SHIT SARAH: Smart Bitches got 9 million pages views in April?!!!

  12. 12
    Karen S. says:

    Thakns for the outline of the conference, Sarah!  As someone with a love of reading and no shelfspace, ebooks are looking more and more attractive, though at the moment the initial cost is pretty prohibitive.

    Now when knitting book publishers get their acts together and make digital copies of their books?  I will be all over that. (Come on, guys!  It’s the perfect format for pattern books!  No more photocopying a pattern so you don’t have to lug the book around!)

  13. 13
    Jessica G. says:

    Karen, I actually find patterns online and then turn them into ebooks. It’s extremely easy.

  14. 14
    DT says:

    You’re not “buying a book” when you buy DRM’d ebooks, you’re only buying a licence to play for as long as they see fit to let you.

    Thanks Trix!
    I’m absolutely floored. I may have to rethink buying an ebook reader. As far as I’m concerned if I pay for a book, I own my copy. I don;t like thinking that if something happens that I won’t be able to access a copy of something I own.


  15. 15
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I LOVE my CyBook (aka Bookeen). I’m always bummed that it never gets a shout out when my favorite blogs do eReader reviews.

  16. 16

    Thank you for this. I was recently offered an e-publishing contract for my romance novel…..I really appreciate this insight!!

  17. 17
    therapist says:

    Really nice post and i sincerely thank you for this.

  18. 18
    Trix says:

    @DT – well, don’t let me put you off entirely. Plenty of epubs like Samhain don’t use DRM, and I suspect as time moves on, DRM will die a lonely and miserable death. I hope.

    Also, some DRM is less bad than others (relatively speaking). For example, I don’t mind buying Mobipocket books so much because they don’t restrict the number or kind of devices you can put your books on, you can download them again as much after you’ve paid for them, and they haven’t played any tricks like Amazon have with yanking licences. So, it’s not ideal, but it’s certainly much better.

  19. 19
    library addict says:

    The presentations are now up on their website.

    Loved your LOL cats and the DRM = driving readers mad.

  20. 20

    I love my Sony, bought the first generation PRS-500 within 2 weeks of it being released.  I literally wore the poor thing out, and moved to the second generation, the PRS-505.  I’m not as enamored with the PRS-700, a few too many bells and whistles that I frankly don’t need.

    I looked at the Kindle, but quickly discarded it as a possibility.  Too bulky, not comfortable to hold.  And the newest version doesn’t take a memory card.

    What don’t I like about Sony’s product, beside the price?  I think it would be the fact that most of the places that I could go to download books for cheaper than through the eConnect booksite, don’t really play nice with the Reader.  Yes, it will take Adobe Reader files, but the formatting gets really funky, which can get very annoying.

    The best download place, to my mind, is Baen Books.  They have RTF which reads like a dream on my Sony.

  21. 21
    ev says:

    Lizabeth- The program Calibre has helped me a great deal with that little problem of formatting from other sites.

    Even I have been able to figure it out- and I am not that tech savvy.

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