The highlights of the first day of ToC included Margaret Atwood, Indie booksellers speaking confidently and knowledgeably about building community, and two days of hot lunch. I love hot lunches like you have no idea.
The opening keynotes of ToC were rather awesome, mostly. First was Theodore Gray, who discussed the creation of his periodic table table, and the book and then the iPad app that were inspired by his strange collection.
The ipad app is jaw dropping – then comes the Outer Space one, and I about leapt off my chair to go home and get my iPad so I could buy it for my sons. It’s beautiful – it’s the kind of thing where it is so beautiful you want to touch it, and then when you touch it, it DOES stuff. Not every book needs visual spinny touchable enhancements, but when they can illuminate the text and the subject in a way that makes you want to explore, the possibilities make your corneas hop. Ok, they make my corneas hop. Hop hop hop.
Apps and books like that make me think about useful enhancements for books. For example, I haven’t really seen a romance novel ebook with outstanding enhancements within the text – but what about a historical romance guide, with book excerpts, fashion samples, museum exhibit photos and maps to go see art or furniture exhibits from the period, that sort of thing? I’d be all over that as a research and supplement tool. But a video in the middle of a romance? That doesn’t really do it for me.
Then came a very slick and very-reliant-on-anecdata-and-urban-myth presentation from Ingram, and I can sum it up here: change is coming. There’s change, it’s coming, and change is endless. Someone on twitter said “Change is very change-y.” Yes, it’s changeful and changealicious. And there were dubious stories about Muhammad Ali and Norman Schwartzkopf, too. I was sold the whole seat but someone only wanted me to use the edge.
Then came awesomesauce: Margaret Atwood’s keynote. T-shirts should be made of her illustrations, which were drawn on paper with markers and pencils then photographed on a table. I didn’t agree with all the points she made but her manner of presenting the author’s perspective was illuminating in part because she herself was quiet, dignified, hilarious, and low key – a wonderful contrast to the loud snowstorm of Ingram.
You can watch a video of her presentation here. My favorite point was that a dead moose can feed many, many species of the environmental ecosystem, and so can an author, even a dead one. Her point: all content starts with the author, and that development of content can’t begin without her.
What made her presentation so interesting from a production standpoint is that her slides were handmade on paper, and at the end she questioned the worth of the illustrations. She questioned whether as online digital images her illustrations were worth much compared to printed and signed on paper. While I see her point of the unique quality of the signed original, I also think that the digital product can have value, too.
Then – it was Session Time! Ooooh, get excited. Or alarmed because you know at the end of it, your brain will be exploded.
The first session I attended was a panel of Chief Technology Officers – Abe Murray from Google moderated Bill Godfrey from Elsevier, Rich Rothstein from Harper Collins, and Andrew Savikas from O’Reilly Media. The panel’s listing on the TOC site shows a user rating of 2 stars, and that’s about what I’d give it, too. They didn’t really discuss in any depth the topics described in the summary. Savikas had a few comments about innovation and alternative models of security, but really, the questions (“What would you wish for?”) were weak and didn’t explore anything that a CTO might have been able to say to an audience of avid, eager bookfolk.
As Howard Cornett commented, “I wish that there had been more of a focus on the user and their desires. The panel seemed to be more focused on their own issues rather than those of their customers.” Yes. That.
That’ll be a repeated theme, here. Stay tuned.
Next was a panel about user-data-driven programming from the academic publishing perspective. Brett Sandusky and Emily Sawtell discussed using data and analysis to constantly create opportunities to create, from asking how students study and how to create an environment for them to use their notes collaboratively, thereby satisfying student desire for reinforcement and support, to developing marketing plans based on user experiences, and analyzing how past campaigns fell short to create better ones. Sawtell also mentioned a key point: that from her company’s perspective, the institutions are the paying customers – but the students, who don’t usually pay for their software and programs, are also their customers, and it’s the non-paying students whose needs they most directly serve. So it’s not a question of satisfying the paying customer, but the non-paying one.
Stay tuned – that will also become a repeated theme.
This led to a very fascinating discussion with different readers on Twitter about market research and how publishers can use it. I know that Penguin and Harlequin do focus groups – do other publishers? Do genre fiction focus groups of consumers seem like a good idea?
After lunch of awesomeness, I attended the Bookselling in the 21st Century panel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Kassia Krozser from Booksquare moderated a panel with Lori James (All Romance/OmniLit/ARe Cafe), Jenn Northington (WORD), Kevin Smokler (Booktour.com), Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo (Greenlight Bookstore), and Malle Vallik (Harlequin Enterprises Ltd). The key points I took away from this discussion:
- Booksellers, particularly independent booksellers, need to think about what they offer BEYOND just selling books. Just selling books doesn’t make a bookstore special. The biggest online retailers sell books and a whole lot of other things too – what makes a particular indie special? To quote Kevin Smokler, is it a special chocolate bar developed by the candy store down the street exclusively for the bookshop? Is it a supremely curious and knowledgeable staff eager to branch out and stock romances and genre fiction – something Indies have not always been welcoming about? What makes your indie bookstore special?
- Developing community happens online and off. Online community gathering tools can reach into the offline world, such as offering a special giveaway for store pickup only – but online customers who are far, far away will develop a loyalty to a store they feel meets their needs, even if there’s a big box bookstore next door. Both Jenn from WORD Brooklyn and Jessica from Greenlight Books had very cool ideas that worked for their stores, all focused on identifying customers and connecting with them online and off.
- One thing that Mr. Smokler said that really gave me the skeeves – and it’s possible that I misunderstood what he was saying here – was that there were customers leaving information about their bookbuying and book reading habits all over the internet, from Facebook to Goodreads. Why not look to see what your customers are placing on their TBR or wishlists and then ask if they’d like you to order it to the store? That’s the part I found skeevy – that a bookstore would be following my Goodreads account – but like I said, I could have misunderstood what he was saying. Mr. Smokler, it must be said, asked some very pointed, and thought provoking questions, even though at times the booksellers on the panel had to add a powershot of reality to his suggestions.
- The demise of so many Borders stores creates an opportunity for Indie bookshops to do what they do – only better than before. For that reason I’m totally blown away and so proud of this list by Ed Champion of Independent bookstore alternatives to closing Borders outlets. May none of them sniff at the romance, is my fervent hope.
Wednesday, I spent a lot of time getting ready for my own presentation with Jane Litte that was scheduled for 2:30pm, so I only attended two sessions. One presentation that I recommend you view the slides for is What Do eReading Customers Really, Really Want? An In-depth, Research, and Data-driven Exploration of Reading Behavior, Content Consumption, and Consumer Attitudes Toward eReaders and Multifunction Devices (see what I mean about the theme, there?). The slides should be available here soon.
Michael Tamblyn’s presentation about the data on reader behavior gathered from the Kobo app literally made my scalp tingle with the freshy-freshy brilliance. Seriously, his data was so good, it could have been hooch. Among the highlights:
- More people read on their commute than in bed (despite popular wisdom that we’re all reading in bed. It seems we are doing OTHER THINGS.)
- More people buy books between 8pm and midnight – but that’s not the reading time. Reading time is the following morning – which makes me think that people are buying books for their morning commute, or finishing books late at night and then starting a new one before going to sleep, then reading more while they go to work.
- People who have signed up for Kobo accounts recently buy a LOT MORE in their initial months of purchase than those who joined a year or more ago. This suggests that the trial transition to digital has already occurred. People who are ready to buy digital are ready to BUY A LOT, because they are committed to the change. In other words, it’s not a fad.
- The people who download a lot of free books (called “freegans” by Tamblyn) are “remarkably resistant to marketing” and don’t often become users who buy books – or “pay-gans.” There are folks who have one free book (usually for test driving the reading experience), two or three free books (usually all one author, or, as Tamblyn put it, “I *heart* Jane Austen” readers), and then there are the freegans who have 10+ free books and love experimenting with free books. They are reading a LOT of free books.
This last point was part of a larger message Tamblyn recommended: publishers should pay attention to READER behavior, not CUSTOMER behavior. There is value in examining what people do with books they didn’t pay for. The reader’s behavior – in addition to the paying customer’s behavior – can be tremendously revealing as to when, how, and what people read – all of which is terribly valuable information for anyone in the business of selling books.
Moreover, Tamblyn was surprised by a number of factors in his own data, particularly what was revealed when they looked at the number of books that were read as opposed to books that were bought. Plus, when readers connected to Facebook inside the Kobo app, their reading time within the app went up considerably – suggesting that we sure like to talk about what we’re reading while we’re reading it.
I attended the session on librarians and reading which was most entertaining when Katie Dunneback ran a slideshow of the 21 steps a library patron must go through to check out one digital library book using Adobe Digital Editions. Extra more funny part: Brian Sawyer tweeted back to Angela James as she recounted the many, many steps that he was sitting next to the user experience developer for Adobe Digital Editions and that the moment was a bit “awkward.”
Then, at 2:30, Jane and I presented on Digital Readers from the eReader’s Perspective, examining the hardware, software, and customer support behind varying reading devices, and what a prospective buyer and current owner notices about each device, from the placement of the page turn to the presence of 24/7 customer support help.
As I mentioned, the continuing theme for me this year is consumer data, consumer response, consumer reaction, and more data. There were a number of sessions on apps, the cloud, and programming options, but it seemed to me that the sessions I went to, even when I didn’t expect it, I heard about user data, consumers, customers, and readers. We have all these reading options! There’s a million-billion different formats and options and whatnot – so what are people doing with their books? It made for fascinating panels, whether they were from the marketing perspective or the developer’s point of view.
Last year, the focus of the Tools of Change was on the cloud, the devices and all the many, many changes that were imminent. If you look at the drinking game from last year, there are terms about boundaries blurring, paradigms shifting (oh noes!) and repeated iterations of the world “value.”
But this year, the subtext, the theme that kept popping up was the reader – the person, the consumer, the book-lover – not the device. Whether they were called “consumers,” “readers,” “customers” or “patrons,” it seemed to me like the collective attention of the people at ToC11 was being turned toward the reader. Whether it was looking at consumer data from an academic perspective and realizing students are customers as WELL as the paying institutions, or looking at how and when your readers use your app when they become Kobo customers, there’s a lot to be learned about how readers read, and what they read, and when, and why. Examining those questions – and doing as Sandusky and Sawtell stated, namely not building anything before allowing the consumer to try it – could make for a tremendously hopeful and exciting future for book publishing and book selling.
My favorite part of Tools of Change is that, yet again, it is brain-full, and this year, despite really bad news about Borders right in the middle I feel hopeful – because there are readers. And we’re buying books. We’re buying digital books and print books and we want to consume more information in various forms. If readers are as enthusiastic and curious and forward thinking as the people I met who want to create innovations in publishing, and I believe that we are, the changes may be change-y and painful, but they will be – and already are – worth it… so long as the customer in all her varying habits and reading methods is increasingly recognized and listened to.