My Day at Digital Book World

imageDay one of the Digital Book World conference was a mix of panels that were so great with the amazing awesome brilliance of the panelists the top of my head nearly blew off, and panels that were so infuriating the top of my head nearly blew off.

Let’s start with the CEO panel, since that was in the morning. Brian Napack, President of Macmillan, Jane Friedman, CEO of Open Road Integrated Media, David Steinberger, CEO of Perseus, and Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, were joined by David Nussbam, CEO of F+W Media, to talk around and about digital book publishing.

I had the hardest time parsing the CEO panel. It was platitudes and pronouncements of sea changes and tsunamis and weather patterns that some proclaimed they were completely comfortable with, ready to accept changes in skill set but optimistic about the future of digital books.

The CEO panel came after a survey results seminar from James McQuivey, PhD, from Forrester, who revealed that, among other re-tweeted statistics, digital books count for $1.3 billion in sales, and that “publishing execs” who, according to one slide, were “rocking,” believe that digital books will account for half of all book sales by 2014 (though their books would be by 2015). So following these very interesting and somewhat energizing numbers came a panel of CEOs ready to embrace all the good things about those figures and project positive competence and enthusiasm about digital books.

So when the question and answer portion started, I asked Brian Napack the question that has been troubling me for months now: Macmillan books are not available for digital lending in libraries. After making pronouncements about a publishers job being to unite the creators with their audience, and the importance of building a community, how can either of those things happen without library lending? I want to borrow Macmillan digital books in libraries, and I can’t – why not?

I was not expecting this question to be newsworthy, but Napack’s non-answer about how they’re still working on making library borrowing a possible business model for them, coupled with Jane Friedman’s comment that she most heartily disagreed with their decision and saw library lenders as potential customers, made a few news articles, including at Library Journal, GalleyCat, and EBookNewser, and Publisher’s Lunch Deluxe (registration required).

I appreciated that Friedman disagreed with Napack’s answer, and the position that Macmillan ebooks are not available for lending, and the fact that several authors and readers on Twitter also expressed their disagreement with their position. I find the idea of struggling with the question of a library business model absolutely barmy, because it demonstrates a lack of understanding about how libraries serve as a gateway to readers, to potential word-of-mouth sales, and to more book purchases by individuals who must own copies of books they loved. NOT having books available in the libraries for digital lending is a loss and a bad business model. Yet I don’t see Macmillan changing their position on this one.

Other highlights of the day:

- Only 15 minutes was devoted to ebooks in Europe, with Mike Shatzkin and Cristina Mussinelli from Associazione Italiana Editori discussing … well, barely anything of real weight or import. It was only 15 minutes. Next year I suppose ebooks in South America will be wrapped up in 6 minutes. China and Japan: you’ve got 30 seconds.

Really, why not just have a 15 minute break?

- Google Books had “10 Fun Facts Now That We’re an eBook Retailer and Wholesaler” with Abe Murray, and really, it was a giant infomercially Google wankfest. The Google Books team is excited! They want millions of books on millions of devices because people want to read wherever they want to read because they want to read.

What dropped my jaw and made an entire table of editors and staff from Harlequin and Carina snort audibly: a slide showing the top selling genres in Google Books, with romance listed at the top. Murray: “Much to our surprise, romance is our top seller!”


Some folks tried to tell me via Twitter that he was being facetious, but it honestly didn’t come across that way to me, and not to anyone else I spoke with in the ballroom.

- Sarah Weinman moderated a panel of financial analysts who follow Amazon, Google, and BN. Marianne Wolk covers Amazon for SIG, Matt Fassler covers Barnes & Noble for Goldman, and covered Borders until 2009.

I had a very hard time seeing who was speaking from where I was sitting, so I can’t always attribute these comments to the correct speaker – I’m sorry about that. But I wanted to share the comments.

“Amazon’s main goal is not necessarily to make a lot of money in ebooks. It’s their goal to gain a bigger market share.” – Marianne Wolk

“Big box bookstores are not a good form of business. Great for consumers, but with size of store, inventory, and physical plant, that model is tilted toward the consumer as opposed to the shareholder. Returns on capital that bookstore retailers generated did not compare to other big box retailers like Wal Mart or Best Buy.

Can big box bookstores repurpose their square footage for something else? E-readers? Yes, they can repurpose, though it is a tall task. (I add: I have already noticed my local BN is nearly a third devoted to toys and ereader accessories. And that BN is a cavern of space.)

Amazon has said 80% of their titles sell for less than $9.99, for break even or less. They’ve been aggressive in pricing to undercut others, forcing other stores to match prices, include Google. Amazon has an extremely profitable growing cloud computing business, using it to support aggressive stance in market share acquisition.

They tend to provide tidbits of data with no context. “We sold three times as many books this year-” with no mention of the previous year’s figures. They don’t often provide information to analysts, and there are no meetings with management. They play it close to the vest and they will continue to do so, says Marianne Wolk.

By far the best panel I attended to day was entitled, “Indie Bookstores Still Count: What We Can Do For Publishers, and What Publishers Can Do For Us.” Seriously,

Andy Laties, of the Eric Carl Museum Bookshop, advocates working with publishers, with book buyers, and also with a non profit as part of his business model for successful indie bookstore. He’s primarily a children’s book seller, and reaches out the hospitals, schools, museums, and other not for profits specifically meant for children. His biggest opportunities come from targeting specific demographic associated with a nonprofit in a high traffic area where books can be sold – i.e. a museum bookshop. Individuals make a donation when making a sale – the customer knows that and will elect to buy at that location instead of ordering the same book online.

WORD Brooklyn has “pick up in store” option for website for online purchases. It’s been a great success – the convenience of all books that wouldn’t fit in store plus local indie bookstore experience.

Signed copies are also a big deal for Indies, because they allow readers to purchase a book they can’t find anywhere else, because it is signed and signed personally. Bigger authors often partner with indie bookstores. Bookstores are set up for taking signing orders online, they make the arrangements with the author to do the signing, and then the store handles arranging the signature AND the shipping part.

Google eBooks for Indies: third biggest element to WORD’s success. They’ve been encouraged by the response they’ve gotten: “I’ve been wanting to buy eBooks from you!”

“All the people who talk about direct to consumers should spend a week in my store to decide if they really want to work with consumers. There’s a reason we’re here to be in the middle between you.” Stephanie Anderson, WORD Brooklyn.

Stephanie also brought up the Simon & Schuster Groupon fiasco: Groupon terms, which were $40 for $20, were better than the bookseller’s terms, and they were NOT happy. They joked about buying Groupons and attaching to their invoices.

I am personally sad and happy to say that I didn’t get a single term for the Digital Book World Drinking Game from the Indie panel. They were too smart and relevant, with no buzzwords or jargon. Well done, Indies! It was a panel that rocked my socks, because of the energy and creativity in the panelists’ ideas, and in their sense of collaboration. I’m told the many indie bookstore employees are like this at conferences, and librarians, too: they support one another and help each other as much as possible because they aren’t necessarily in competition with one another.

Finally, I attended the Author Branding conference which was also most excellent. Agent Steve Axelrod singled out his clients Jayne Ann Krentz, J.R. Ward, Diana Gabaldon, and Suzanne Brockmann for their intelligent and savvy efforts at branding, including social media strategy and involvement, and making a personal connection with readers. He really went out of his way to distinguish the romance writer community as particularly cognizant of the importance of branding, and I think both the attendees in the room and those following the #dbwbrands hashtag on Twitter had a full hour of information that was worth their time.

Tomorrow brings the results of a lot of different behavior studies, including book buying, reading, and multi-function device usage. I’m particularly looking forward to the session on consumer sales data, and hearing what publishers think of that data. And of course, I’m still working on the drinking game, which includes things like “cloud,” “soup to nuts,” “content is king,” and “ecosystem.”

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    So, Amazon is underpricing books in order to grab market share and put other booksellers out of business. Surprise.

    But what then?

    I’m rooting for the indies, but more of them need to figure out that they need to stop turning up their nose to romance. (Yes, I’m talking about you, local indie store.)

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    I know some indie bookstores are very curious about how to serve the romance readership, and folks like Stephanie from WORD Brooklyn are truly romance-positive. I want to try to find more indie booksellers to find ways to pair more romance fans.

  3. 3

    This was an excellent round-up. For someone not able to attend the conference, these vicarious Cliff Notes are great.

    Seattle indie bookstore by large treat romance like it’s the plague.

  4. 4
    Ken Houghton says:

    Andy Laties, of the Eric Carl Museum Bookshop

    Quibble: “Eric Carle.”

    Keira – Indie bookstores know the great secret: when Wal-Mart is selling this month’s Romance of the Month for $4.19, it’s difficult to sell copies for the $5.99 cover price.

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    Oh! Typo! My bad – will fix!

  6. 6
    KimberlyR says:

    What does “soup to nuts” even MEAN???

  7. 7
    Laura (in PA) says:

    I believe it originally referred to the courses of a many-course dinner.

    Great notes, Sarah. I love hearing about the discussions and your insights. And yay, you for asking a question which generated a buzz-worthy answer! (or, non-answer)

    wv: book23 – er, no, I have a LOT more than that…

  8. 8
    Danielle (no, not that Danielle, the other one) says:

    THANK YOU, Sarah, for asking that question, and a big fat raspberry to Napack for that sack of BS. The “library business model” exists & it works just fine for other publishers – Macmillan simply doesn’t want to sell to us.

    And a smaller pfff to Friedman for repeating the old myth about library users not buying books.

  9. 9
    Patrice says:

    Soup to Nuts means from begining to end.

    Indie bookstores need to realize that for every 4.19 romance a reader buys, she’s likely to pick up another one (or two or six) regularly priced books. Personally I’d like to find a romance I’d want to buy for 4.19! And when I go to my indie bookstore to find my latest “must have” I normally leave with that plus the book my hubby wanted and one I saw that looked interesting, plus one my girlfriend will like that I can read before I give it to her. LOL That’s the typical romance buyer – actually I may be more frugal than most. :) My indie bookstore is good at getting authors in for booksignings, too. I fully support them even though I have been buying/reading ebooks for at least six years now.

    Thanks for sharing your impressions Sarah! It’s really interesting.

  10. 10

    Thanks for the notes!
    One thing raised my brows a little – Suz Brockmann as a great branding example?  Now don’t get me wrong, I adore her books, and have every Team Ten and Troubleshooters to date, but have you seen her website? It is, seriously, one of the worst author websites I’ve ever seen.

  11. 11
    cate says:

    I would KILL to find a decent indie bookshop that gave romance readers a fair crack of the whip, instead of the usual Booker heavy stock list.
    And @ Lynne Connelly, I love La Brockmann too – but I avoid her website like the plague, it’s truly grim .

  12. 12
    MarieC says:

    Thank you Sarah for such great notes! Library business model?!? WTH?! If I borrow a book I adore, I often buy that same for myself and any subsequent books from that series/author. 

    I LOVE MY KINDLE, but I’ll be honest in saying that I have a big knot in my panties with agency pricing. That is why I will always support my local UBS/indie bookseller.

  13. 13
    Lyssa says:

    Thank you for the wonderful update on what is happening in the digital world. 

    @lynne Connolly, I think Suz Brockmann is using facebook well. Casual mentions of what she is writing. The other authors I have seen using it well (that I liked): Ilona Andrews, (Two great Blogs with little extras for those who follow them. And daily commentary of a non-writing nature by Gordon.), Nalini Singh does a friday “book club’ which asks ‘what have you been reading” as well as co-blogging with Ilona (and others) over at Odd shots.

  14. 14
    Kate Pearce says:

    I’d love to support my local indie bookstores, (one of which just closed after only a year in business), but unfortunately, they don’t support me and don’t seem to realize how a romance reader buying 4 of her favorite books at their store might also stop and buy others, so everyone wins.

  15. 15
    Carahe says:

    Indie bookstores know the great secret: when Wal-Mart is selling this month’s Romance of the Month for $4.19, it’s difficult to sell copies for the $5.99 cover price.

    This is a genuine question for me: how much do readers who shop brick and mortar price compare on books?  On ebooks/online paper books, yeah, probably, but although I will go into a bookstore with a specific book purchase in mind, I have never gone into Target on the day a new Julia Quinn is released thinking that I’m going to save money by shopping there.  Admittedly, I might pick up an impulse book while at Target (just as I pick up about 3 impulse books for every 1 intentional book in a brick and mortar bookstore), but this will almost universally never be the book that I would have specifically gone to the brick and mortar bookstore to purchase. 

    Does that make sense?  Do people usually price comparison shop for paperback books, and I’m just freer with my book-buying budget?

  16. 16
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    It seems to me that agency pricing would keep Amazon from undercutting other sellers on those books to which is applies, or at least keep them from undercutting as much. Is that true?

  17. 17
    Donna says:

    Library users don’t buy books? So with 12 library books on the floor next to my bed as we speak the three hot off the presses lunch hour purchases on the front seat of my car must be some sort of abberation. I use the library to try out new authors, but authors I adore get my hard earned bucks. And I adore a lot of authors.
    Keep ‘em on the ropes Sarah!

  18. 18
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I love it when Sarah goes to conferences; her notes are the next best thing to being there. It’s nice to be in the loop about this shiz.

    Sidenote rant: I hate that ebooks cost the same as paperbacks. Seriously. Ebooks cost less to produce; that lowered cost should be reflected in the price. Grr. Argh.

  19. 19
    Kirsten says:


    I know you are a big fan of the Kindle.

    Libraries cannot lend Kindle books. The Kindle is the ONLY ereader for which this is the case, and that’s because it uses a proprietary format.

    It is a shame that Macmillan books aren’t available for lending in libraries. But neither are Kindle books. If you do your reading on a Kindle, that’s going to affect you a lot more than whether Macmillan lends in libraries, because you won’t be able to borrow ANY digital books with your Kindle.  Perhaps you could ask some hard questions to Amazon as well.

    I am glad you asked the question.

  20. 20
    Joy says:

    @Carage: People who read category romances often know to the day when the new releases appear on Target, Walmart, etc. shelves.  That $1.80 means that they can buy more books and they do compare prices when new chain stores open or if they get a coupon.  And, its a good deal for the store since folks seldom leave with an empty cart—a bag of chips, juice drinks for lunch bags, cookies, some cokes, laundry detergent, a nice deal on new towels, a new blouse for your daughter—pretty soon the cart is full. And while they are at the book display, they pick up the latest book by one of their romance or mystery authors.  Hey, if you’re going to be shopping at the store anyway, arrange your visit to get your reading fix at a cheaper price.

  21. 21
    Kaye says:

    You Go Girl !!!  Thanks for the report and the pertinent library question.  It seems as if the publishers are defending a losing position in not considering readers as buyers.  Who do they think are buying books?  The brick and morter stores are crumbling under the weight of the publishers skewed vision of reader/buyer dynamics.  We’re readers, for God’s sake, we’ll read, buy, borrow or download to get our books.

  22. 22
    SB Sarah says:

    Perhaps you could ask some hard questions to Amazon as well.

    Hey Kirsten: Amazon was here for a 15 minute presentation that wasn’t so earth shattering, and didn’t have a single opportunity for Q&A. I probably would have been crushed by going to the microphone with all the people stampeding to asking questions!

    As for my using a Kindle, I do indeed. The funny thing is, I don’t often shop at Amazon! I get a lot of manuscripts and digital galleys, and it’s easier for me to email them to the Kindle than to constantly hook up a device and load it that way as I would with a Sony. BN has such horrible customer service I’m not interested, so for now, Kindle is the best device for me. It’s definitely not the best device for everyone, but the way I interact with my books works best with the Kindle for now.

    Between you and me and the rest of the internet, I think library lending will ultimately come to the Kindle. I don’t know how, but I’d bet $1 that it will.

    As for asking Macmillan’s President Brian Napack about library lending, Napack made a point of saying how important it was to build community by uniting the creator with her audience. Not being present in libraries is at complete odds with that statement, and I wanted to know why uniting and community building are important for everyone but library borrowers – and there are a lot of romance readers in that group. Just because I use a Kindle doesn’t mean that I don’t borrow digital books from the library and read them on my phone, or, more importantly, that digital lending isn’t important to romance readers like me, and the other folks who read this site. Just because I use a Kindle doesn’t exclude from caring that romance readers are excluded from Macmillan digital books at the library.

  23. 23
    Kirsten says:

    Whoa, there. I don’t have a problem with anyone who uses a Kindle. I think it’s pretty clear you care about romance readers and creating community, something I am quite grateful for.  I’m glad the Kindle works for your needs.  I’ve just been given a first generation Kindle, and it is very convenient. But I find this particular aspect frustrating and it’s a major reason why I didn’t go out and buy one for myself, because I am a huge library user and Amazon has been unfriendly to libraries.

    I was at an event for library donors at my local library and my dad, a rabid fan of the Kindle (and one who isn’t really up on library issues) suggested to the director that the library offer Kindle books. She responded that the library did offer ebooks, but couldn’t offer Kindle books because of the proprietary format. He was totally surprised. Here is a major library donor who now reads almost all of his books on the Kindle and he can’t borrow them from the library. I imagine that he could read on a smartphone, but he’s not going to. I probably won’t either- I have a phone for making calls, not reading books. See, I think it’s BECAUSE digital lending is important that I get cranky about Amazon.

    I’m not saying that since you own a Kindle that means you don’t, or shouldn’t care about the effect Macmillan’s policy is having on readers.  I think it’s great that you asked the question, and I said that. I’m in favor of advocacy for libraries and readers.  I even help run a website that does its best to do exactly that.  You brought notice to an issue that really should be talked about, and now people are sitting up and taking notice. Who knows, maybe things will change, although the wheels seem to grind exceeding slow sometimes in the publishing industry. All I’m saying is that Macmillan isn’t the only, or the biggest offender. And, while the Kindle can be a lovely ereader, it does prevent libraries from lending ebooks to many people who bought one.

    I hope I’ve been a little more coherent this time.

  24. 24

    I thought that the way to compete with Walmart was to have an intelligently curated section with smart recommendations. You can buy the latest Julia Quinn at Walmart. You cannot buy “The Duke and I.”

    You don’t need a massive romance section as an indie to pull readers in, but you do need to outdo Walmart in terms of depth of selection for the authors you carry.

  25. 25
    Scrin says:

    Hey, I support the indie bookstore by my workplace. I do the majority of my buying through them, even if I have to order it.

    They don’t have much of a romance section, but their SF/Fantasy/Horror section is -rockin-.

    Note for all the indie store owners: Get some ambience going. Random art and nice music is a plus. But that’s secondary to customer service. By now, they know the series I like so keep an eye out for the new releases for me.

  26. 26
    willem says:

    From a business point of view I see nothing wrong with the decision from Macmillan. Is there actually any studies done to show that library use stimulate sales, or is at least not a net negative? Above all for digital goods?

    I’ve read some of the tweets from DBW and the arguments offered do not impress. Other than personal anecdotes there is a confusion of correlation with causation. The fact that there is some overlap of heavy book buyers that are library users does not establish what library defenders seem to think. It is the same confusion evident with some defenders of the ‘piracy is a net positive’ argument.

    Then there is Amazon’s seeming total lack of interest in library lending. The one thing Amazon does not lack is a nose for business. Perhaps they do not appear to hold the view that libraries are much good for stimulating sales? I would not hold my breath for them offering library support any time soon, see:
    choice excerpt:’  Do you feel there is any hope at all that Kindle will ever allow library books?’
    The quick answer would be – No, not really. Not unless Amazon loses its head. Not unless another company starts beating it on the basis of library book support. Not unless there’s a gun put to its head.

  27. 27
    LeeAnn Le says:

    Thanks for the information about this event. Ebooks itself might have been here for a while, but they are truly taking off now. Its interesting to hear what everyone in the industry has to say.

  28. 28

    Don’t you kind of think this digital publishing thing is like “Gutenburg” (sp?)  (not Steve) in proportion? I think it’s Sandra Brown that was the first to go over a million dollars in digital sales.  Or maybe it was not dollars, just sales.  I find it very interesting, but so far don’t trust it as far as locating a publisher. Kindle press will print anyone. Might have to pay.  Don’t know.  But know someone they printed.  “Printed”?

    On another point:  someone opened a book store in our neighborhood, selling ONLY Romance novels,  with good parking and a high traffic location, but she tanked.  It was really attractive but ultimately had only a dedicated clientele.  Like a high rent book club.

  29. 29
    DS says:

    We haven’t had an indie bookstore in about 10 years.  The last one was in a very nice space but I knew it was doomed when I was having a drink with one of the owners and he was ranting because the price was printed on the cover or dj so he couldn’t price books higher.  I was surprised it limped along for a couple of years.

  30. 30
    emily says:

    at SB Sarah I find this fascinating even if sometimes its bit over my head, especially some of the posts.
    I particularly liked the note from Courtney Milan who said that Indie bookstores need to carry older romances in order to balance out walmarts. I was dismayed when the nearest Indie near me (not exactly near either) had only the latest romances and no previous books or books from the other I wanted. (no quinn, james, heyer,chase, etc.)
    Also on other sections the place was filled with recommendations none from rommance. (Their children’s section was lacking as well.)

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