Tools of Change 2011

imageThe 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.”

Heh.

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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Chicklet says:

    It sounds like *some* people in *some* areas of the publishing world are finally realizing that their customer is the reader, not the retailer. Hallelujah!

  2. 2
    Gwen Roman says:

    Excellent, excellent summary! Thanks for putting it all together!
    I’m happy to hear that (finally?) those in the know are looking to the reader/consumer to inform their upcoming decisions. It would be so nice if the focus of publishing in all its many forms turned back to what the reader wants/appreciates/uses. And yes, if we could just get the indies to carry romance instead of turning their nose up at it—what a wonderful world it might be!

  3. 3
    Kristin says:

    You make me want to be there.

  4. 4
    Laura Ruby says:

    Thanks so much for this.  I’d heard so much about Margaret Atwood’s presentation and just watched it—she was awesome.  I’d LOVE to have some of those drawings. 

    I did wonder which points you didn’t necessarily agree with…

    —Laura

  5. 5
    TaraL says:

    - 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.”

    That seems a little hard to believe. I download a lot of free books, more than I’ll ever be able to read. And many are deleted after I read 1 or 2 chapters. But I also buy quite a few books. Surely I’m not the only person who does both.

    - 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.)

    Crap! I’m reading a lot in bed…

  6. 6
    Ros says:

    The highlights of the first day include two days of lunch?  That’s the kind of conference I want to go to!

  7. 7
    Nurse Edna says:

    I guess I’m a freegan for the most part for now. But that’s mostly because I’m in a strange in-between state when it comes to paper vs. digital. I love my nook. I’d do all my reading on it if I could. I wish I had every book I own on it. But I can’t bring myself to pay the higher ebook prices (anything over $8.00), I’m old fashioned enough to want a physical copy if I’m paying physical copy prices. I wish booksellers would do what a lot of musicians do now, and bundle a free digital copy with the purchase of a physical copy. I would feel I got my money’s worth, and I’d be able to read it in the format I choose.

  8. 8
    Lil' Deviant says:

    *snort*
    I’m a freegan!
    I agree with nurse Edna.  I don’t want to pay regular price for a book and it be obsolete in a year or two.  I am very torn with which direction to go.  Paper? Digital? PDF? EPub?  What do I buy?
    Right now I am playing with several.  But my over all favorite has been the Overdrive app and downloading the books directly from the library.  Love the format.  Love how I can change the fonts and size.  It has been the most convenient.

  9. 9
    becca says:

    so, Sarah – what did you do with all our comments about wanting no DRM anymore? did anyone listen?

  10. 10
    Lisa J says:

    What TaraL said.  I download a lot of free books, but I also buy a lot of books.  The free books are a great way to try a new to me author and have lead to backlist mania.

    I definitely bought more books when I first got my e-reader, but now with agency pricing I know I buy less from the big publishing houses and more directly from e-publishers.  Did anyone take that into consideration about book buying?

    Oh crap, I read a lot in bed, too.  I can’t read during my commute because the police frown on that when I’m driving.

  11. 11

    I totally dig Ed Champions fancy list of indie bookstores to shop at instead of the borders. Sadly, I’ve been to the indie’s listed in my area, and they don’t stock any romance. How frustrating!

  12. 12
    library addict says:

    Thanks for the round-up and links.

    Will your presentation with Jane be on-line?  If not, can we get a summary somehow?

  13. 13
    Suze says:

    I definitely bought more books when I first got my e-reader, but now with agency pricing I know I buy less from the big publishing houses and more directly from e-publishers.  Did anyone take that into consideration about book buying?

    THIS!  I just found out that a new book in a fave series has been out for over a month.  I had no idea, because it’s not for sale at the non-agency booksellers I shop at, and I don’t spend much time in the only, somewhat lame bookstore in my town.  And it’s not in the grocery stores.

    I don’t like Kobo.  It seems to be the only place I can get the agency books in Canada, but I don’t like that they store my credit card info (there was NO OPTION to just input it every time, which is my preference), and I don’t like that I have to buy each book individually.  I shop in bulk.  I would shop in bulk from them if they’d let me, and if their selection wasn’t so limited.

    It sounds like the conference was a much less frustrating experience this year than last.  Thanks for reporting.

  14. 14

    Sarah: Thanks so much for the Tools of Change report and for the kind shoutout.  I wanted to respond to your remarks concerning Kevin Smokler.  There is a bodega in my neighborhood that I have avoided, precisely because there was a period in which I was purchasing a bottle of beer every time I came in and they started keeping tabs on the specific brand.  This creeped me out quite a bit.  I had no problem being pegged as the guy who bought beer.  But when the brand was remarked upon, I felt as if the trust between the bodega operator and I had been violated.  There had, after all, been a silent understanding about the beer.  The bodega owner clearly saw nothing wrong about remarking upon it.  But I, not remarking upon my discomfort, thought that it was incumbent upon the bodega owner to understand that different people have different feelings about their regular purchases being remarked upon.

    I could tell you stories of snobby video stores who kept notes in the computer on specific customers and passed these along to other retail workers.  But rather than ramble at length, I’ll simply say that those who work retail DO keep tabs on your purchases.  They do know that you’re the romance reader or the person who spends an hour browsing the mystery section before buying three nonfiction books and getting out there in flash.  But the RIGHT bookseller will respect the customer’s right to privacy, and do whatever it takes to cultivate a relationship.  (There’s one bookseller I know, very old school, who has a pretty hilarious habit of planting seeds with certain customers over subsequent visits.  In other words, he’s thinking long-term baseball.  Bullshit with the regulars, work on them gradually, and cultivate relationships that don’t make a purchase a pressured situation, but one in which the customer could go about fifty different ways.  And if the customer doesn’t buy anything, that’s cool too.)

    The problem with conferences like Tools of Change is that they are often run by people who are socially clueless and extraordinarily rigid in their thinking.  Real world pragmatism is going to be what separates the successful bookstores from the Black Books types that vanish in the next year.

    All this is a rather rambling way of saying that Kevin Smokler means well, but your feelings are perfectly valid.  The collision of commerce-driven, socially clueless geeks with booksellers who comprehend social intricacies can often lead to regrettable results.  And I suspect that the solution will probably involve a new panel called Humanity 1.0: Rediscovering Vital Social Values Practiced by 90% of the Human Population (Who Also Don’t Own E-Readers).

  15. 15
    Thalia says:

    Which Outer Space one?  You can’t just say it’s fabulous and then not tell us any more about it!  I just downloaded Elements.

    I’m mostly a freegan, but I buy books occasionally (and I buy a lot of books in paper).  I don’t have a dedicated reader, just a shared family iPad and the iPhone.  On those, I mostly read free or heavily discounted books (intro at 99cents?  I’m there if the author has been recommended.)  I’m also one of the folks leaving snarky reviews on some of the free books (especially the Christian romance that never says it’s all about Jesus, so you don’t figure it out until Chapter 3, that pisses me off.)

  16. 16
    Stephanie TD says:

    Hi, One thing – unless there is a glossary somewhere your blog has a lot of acronyms, and abbreviations that I don’t get. I am wondering about how that could change.

    You mention being skeeved by companies knowing your habits. They do now through cookie tracking, but whether they look for and analyze the info correctly is another question. Companies will develop better and better information gathering techniques. Probably to the point where what we want arrives on the doorstep before we even know we want it. On the other hand, the more numerical the information becomes, it will be less personal I think. More tailored but less personal.

    The workshops sound fascinating and the whole conference very worthwhile. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  17. 17
    SB Sarah says:

    One thing – unless there is a glossary somewhere your blog has a lot of acronyms, and abbreviations that I don’t get. I am wondering about how that could change.

    Working on that – thanks for reminding me! What acronym did you not catch?

  18. 18
    GrowlyCub says:

    No comments on how your and Jane’s session was received, how many ppl attended, if you felt you reached your audience, was anybody listening?

  19. 19
    MsCrankyP says:

    Purchase tracking is done all the time by physical retailers, and online. Rewards program physical or online such as Amazon, Borders, Barnes, Best Buy, CVS, your neighborhood grocery store, shoe store, indie booksellers, well, you get the picture, track your purchases and tailor recommendations and send coupons accordingly.  snailmail or email coupons or recs based on prior purchases. Amazon is the biggest baiter followed by BN when shopping on the NookColor. I don’t shop on my kindle, so I can’t say.
    Didn’t some retailers get in trouble over the “what is your zip code” during checkout? They used it to track purchases and your location and whatever else. Why does a brick & mortar store get it’s hand slapped while online stores don’t?

    I’m not freaked out over the tracking. This has been going on for years. I don’t see it ever being curtailed. Google does it each time you search. Haven’t you ever wondered why your local stores with driving directions, has a ad popup when you do a search.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  20. 20
    MsCrankyP says:

    Purchase tracking is done all the time by physical retailers, and online. Rewards program physical or online such as Amazon, Borders, Barnes, Best Buy, CVS, your neighborhood grocery store, shoe store, indie booksellers, well, you get the picture, track your purchases and tailor recommendations and send coupons accordingly.  snailmail or email coupons or recs based on prior purchases or browsing.  Amazon is the biggest baiter in browser. BN does it on NookColor. I don’t shop on my kindle, so I can’t say.
    Didn’t some retailers get in trouble over the “what is your zip code” during checkout?

    I’m not freaked out over the tracking. This has been going on for years. I don’t see it being curtailed. Google does it each time you search catering it’s results to your location and thing you’re searching for.

    Looking forward to your next post. I could use a glossary too.

  21. 21

    Darling Smart Bitches! It was such fun meeting you! You are very funny. I was reading bodice-rippers and Italian photoromanzi when you were in the heart-ornamented cradles that I hope were bestowed upon you; I was the Good Fairy who sprinkled you with snark dust, which you have to admit has served you well; and I have been following the fortunes of the Daughters of Pride and Prejudice (Harlequins) and the Daughters of Wuthering Heights (rippers with cloaks) and the Daughters of Aurora Leigh (a wounded man is more controllable) off and on ever since. In Lady Oracle, the secret life of the hapless protagonist is as a romance writer…
    I will send you my shortie, “Women’s Novels,” if you like. (Inspired by my sister-in- law asking me why I didn’t write them, or at least something with white sharks in it.) Or you can find it in the (cough, ahem) book, Good Bones and Simple Murders… if, that is, you can find the book…
    —Margaret Atwood

  22. 22
    becca says:

    any idea of where I can get the slides of the 21 steps to downloading a library book? I really need that information!

  23. 23
    Suzannah says:

    That’s an interesting point about the freegan vs paygan, but I have quite a few free books and have also found that I’m buying more than ever before.  That’s partly because I’m often checking the amazon site for what’s free, so I see a lot of new things that perhaps I wouldn’t otherwise.  I’m not necessarily buying the books that are promoted on the amazon site, or recommended for me, but I quite often have a look through their bestseller list, and I’ll buy something for £2.74 (typical UK bestseller price, although it does vary) that I wouldn’t for £6.99.  I used to get nearly everything from the library, but I’m spending more on books than I ever have.  And I’d spend even more if only some of the spectacular HaBO old-skool books were available on Kindle here ;-)

    Spam word – ready49.  I am ready to buy 49 classic bodice-rippers if only they would sell them to me.

  24. 24

    OMG Margaret Atwood was here.

    Thank you for among other things, linking to her inspirational, funny and fascinating speech. And for a really coherent and thorough round up of a conference at which speakers say real stuff and explore real ideas. Brilliant and full of insight.

    Thanks.

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    @MargaretAtwood: bring it on! Especially the snark fairy dust. That stuff is AWESOME!

  26. 26
    orangehands says:

    Thanks for the write-up. I’ll have to finish looking at the links when I’m not at work.

    I especially liked seeing the things on Michael Tamblyn’s presentation about reader behavior. (Really, mornings?) It definitely opens up marketing possibilities.

    Yeah, your purchase choices are being tracked. As are a lot of other things. All those cute little quizzes on, say, facebook? Your likes and dislikes, your comments, your store browsing, your purchases…Not to sound all conspiracy-like, but Big Brother is totally watching you. And figuring out how to sell to you.

  27. 27
    SB Sarah says:

    No comments on how your and Jane’s session was received, how many ppl attended, if you felt you reached your audience, was anybody listening?

    I think it was well-received. The room was small but standing-room-only, and there were a lot of good questions, including perspective and disagreement from people who didn’t share our pov on DRM and the like – yes, we absolutely brought up DRM!! I do think people were listening, yes. But we may also have been preaching to much of the choir. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

  28. 28
    Katie D. says:

    Well, technically not quite 21 steps, it was 21 slides detailing the process, but close enough :D And really, that amount of work is only what a very first time user encounters. Only slightly less if you’ve done it before. Moving on, the presentation is available on Slideshare now: http://www.slideshare.net/KMDunneback/where-in-the-publishing-world-are-libraries I rea.lly need to write up the experience for my own blog in the next few days.

  29. 29
    AgTigress says:

    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.

    Lovely idea.

  30. 30
    thiruppathyraja says:

    SB Sarah presentation is very impressive. Darling Smart Bitches
    is good heading.

    Software Product Development

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