Day 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.”