Tools of Change

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Tim O’Reilly announced today that the annual conference will be suspended and the company will no longer run its digital publishing conference in New York.

Since 2007, the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference has been the seminal event for professionals and companies engaged with the challenges and opportunities of new publishing technologies and business models. The company had engaging speakers and was often one of the best breeding grounds for new ideas and for industry professionals to meet up and chat about the current state of affairs. Tim mentioned in a statement today, “The decision to discontinue a popular conference was not one we made lightly. But after TOC 2013, we realized that a conference was no longer the best vehicle for us to contribute to publishing’s forward movement.”

O’Reilly seems to be doing away with conferences and focusing more on its tools group. It seems as though the company has all of the intelligence it needs and a better understanding of the industry to push out a series of digital publishing tools that it will market online and offline.  The new project is called ‘Atlas’ and is a work in progress.

Tim wrapped up a digital publishing legacy by saying, “TOC was a great ride, and we’ll miss many things about that annual gathering of the future-positive publishing community. Ideas and connections from TOC will continue to inform our work and, we hope, yours. I especially want to thank TOC program chairs Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert for the passion, creativity, and commitment they brought to their work. I wish them well, and am confident that they’ll continue to help shape the publishing industry’s future.”

 

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Photo courtesy of cmispeakers.com

Photo courtesy of cmispeakers.com


There’s no doubt that the face of the publishing industry is changing, and quite possibly that it has changed more in the last five years than over the entire course of its history. As digital publishing and self-publishing became more the norm rather than an arena relegated to tech geeks or authors who couldn’t find publishing deals, the industry in every facet has had to race to keep up.

But just when the industry finally seemed to settle into a comfortable relationship between traditional print publishing and self- and digital publishing, a whole new model has come along, turning it on its head once more. Net Minds, founded by bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive Tim Sanders, has created a whole new model in which authors have even more control over the process by negotiating for some of the best talent in the book publishing industry to help bring their creations to market.

“We empower authors to meet publishing professionals, create relationships, share royalties, and build great teams that run like start ups,” explained Sanders in an interview with GoodEReader at Tools of Change this week. “Everybody has an incentive beyond the fee and is highly engaged and entrepreneurial with their work.”

Sanders took the concept of solving a problem with a minimum viable model in order to achieve the greatest reach with the least amount of inefficiency, a problem that is prevalent in the publishing industry, especially from the first very stage of acquiring content. This model will have its first real test when Net Minds releases its first title next month, Finding the Next Steve Jobs, by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

“The window for success has shortened dramatically,” Sanders said. “”It impacted the ability for me to be a bestseller.”

The process for Net Minds to build a joint venture mission and to work on a model more along the lines of how films are optioned and produced, which allows those involved in the project to earn a portion of their standard fee up front along with a portion of royalties for the life of the project.

“You don’t have to choose between the tyranny of traditional and the anarchy of self-publishing. In the future, they won’t even call it traditional versus self, they’ll call it corporate versus alternative. Our vision is that the author doesn’t have to choose between quality and freedom.”

In order to achieve this goal, Net Minds works with its own vetted list of professionals to assign talent to project teams. While the author is still hiring these professionals for various aspects of book publishing–such as editing, marketing, or cover design, to name a few–the cost to hire these professionals is smaller because they will later earn a portion of the royalties.

Obviously, this model has had its critics. Questions about being picked up by a major traditional publishing house, leaving those professionals without their royalties, have been raised, along with veiled concerns that this is nothing more than a carefully screened list of names that the author must still hire up front.

However the model turns out in the end, it is refreshing that innovators aren’t content to let the digital publishing revolution become stagnant. Events like TOC and start ups like Net Minds will serve to ensure that options are always open for books.

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Mark Wald of Thrillbent participated in the closing keynote speech of the Tools of Change conference in New York. He said that “Comics have a problem in the digital space because they are in portrait format almost exclusively. They tend not to work well in landscape mode, which is how they are displayed on tablets and laptops.  Many comic pages are too large and dense to display well on current readers.  We tried to solve this with something called motion comics, which has a few effects and are a bit livelier on the page.”

Wald founded a site call Thrillbent which is designed to display comics in a way that they can be appreciated on current readers.  All the comics are free at this point. Mark gives a demonstration that is completely visual and can’t really be described.  Instead of “turning pages” images are added and subtracted to continue the story.  It’s very hard for comics to deal with exposition.  It’s a terrible use of comic real estate. His model makes necessary exposition much more interesting.  It takes advantage of what digital does.  Panels load dynamically, no page reloading, with optimized fonts and responsive movement.

Comics are doing well as a medium, but he wanted to take advantage of what technology can do now.  Nowadays, the most expensive part of a comic is printing.  For a $4 comic he gets about $1.60 back and $1 of that goes to printing. Add another 50 cents for other expenses and not a lot is left. The company decided to go digital first; do each installment weekly, add some other material, and then sell through Comixology. This way Thrillbent can recover the production costs. A lot of other models are available that they haven’t tried yet. An iPad app will be coming out soon. And the whole process is done by three people in their spare time.

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Even though ebooks and digital publishing are a relatively new concept to most consumers and in its current form has only celebrated a few birthdays, digital publishing on the web is actually a concept nearly as old as the internet itself. It is the companies who not only had a strong adoption of early digital publishing and managed to adapt to the current models who have withstood.

Web-based publishing company Tizra, which began in online content in the early 1990s but moved to its current model in 2006, was founded by someone who began in the original XML standard for document engineering.

“Tizra has a culture of combining a deep, profound understanding from a computer science perspective with a real interest and enthusiasm for reaching an audience with what people care about,” says Abe Dane, president and chief operating office of Tizra. “That goes all the way back to that newsstand experience in trying to get people’s attention along with getting people to renew or subscribe.”

Tizra combines that technological understanding and experience with a drive to enable publishers to become reader-centered. They are also interested in fostering open standards in order to best reach customers.

“We’re all about open standards and allowing people to use the content formats that they have, and allowing readers to use the tools that they are accustomed to. It’s really taking advantage of what’s there already. People know how to use a browser.

“We give publishers all the tools they need to present, sell, and deliver digital content directly to their users. It’s all web-based, the control panels and the administrative tools, and they’re really designed to be easy to use so that the capabilities can be diffused within the publishing organization.”

This diffusion allows different departments within a publishing house can each work on their areas of expertise without relying on IT or developer support to implement the idea. Tizra’s standardized platform allows all members of the publishing team to enact their input in a seamless way.

“You’re not locked into anyone’s infrastructure,” continued Dane, “it’s the open web.”

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Bill McCoy of the IDPF and Sanders Kleinfeld of O’Reilly discussed whether web apps or an ebook format was better for publishers.  McCoy pointed out that publishers needed to scale and they were in the business of making multiple titles.  Because of this they need tools that will scale with the enterprise.  On the whole, he said, design and content are best handled by designers and authors and not by programmers.  Programmers should be used to develop tools and it doesn’t scale to hire a lot of programmers to develop web apps for multiple projects.  Further, he said that HTML 5 is capable of developing ebooks, websites, and apps and this leads to a a consistency across titles. Companies should not think of building each title as a piece of software.

Kleinfeld felt that apps are the future of digital publishing. e-Readers don’t support a lot of the things that can be done with HTML5. By doing a web app, one can avoid the compatibility problems that the readers present. Web apps are useful because they are online and can be social and the way they are developed makes sharing and discovery very easy.  Web apps can be done now and don’t have to wait for various e-readers to catch up. eBooks are software and whether you like it or not if you do ebooks you are a software developer.

Both agree that dedicated ereaders are on the way out and will be replaced by phones and tablets.

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Feb
14

The Elusive “Netfix of eBooks”

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Travis Alber of Read Social moderated a session on ebook subscription services.  Included were Christian Damke of the German company Skoobe, Justo Hidalgo of the Spanish company 24Symbols, and Liza Daly of Safari Online.

All three said there is a definite market for a “Netflix” of books and consumers are more than willing to pay for the ability to rent a book online.  Skoobe’s customers start at age 30 and go to age 88.  Skoobe has found that people will buy in parallel.  They will buy the hardcover for use at home and then rent a version to read on their phone while they commute.  18% of their customers tried the book on Skoobe and then bought the book and 11% will buy the ebook even though they have the ability to read it on Skoobe. Users tell them that they usually read more after they become a subscriber and they take their reading time from watching tv and sleeping.

24Symbols reported that about 45% of their subscribers read their books directly on the web and the next largest number use the iPad. Both agreed that DRM is not an issue with their readers, but it is with the publishers, because the readers don’t own the books and so aren’t concerned about it.  Safari Online does not use DRM, but this is not an issue because all of their content is streaming.  A bigger issue for them is people sharing their accounts with others and they monitor this.  However, this type of abuse has dropped considerably.  All parties do not share individual reading data with publishers, but they do provide aggregated data. In terms of privacy, 24Symbols said that they started with a login through Facebook, but people strongly objected to this and they had to provide an alternate login method.

Both 24Symbols and Skoobe said that they wished publishers were willing to experiment more and be more willing to try out new methods of distribution and sales.  24Symbols pointed out the the subscription model worked well because if the customers like the service they tend to forget about how much it is costing them and this takes pricing out of the equation.  In one interesting question from the floor an author who has one of her books listed at one of the services mentioned that she gets $6-8K/month on royalties from her book, but only pennies from the service.  It was pointed out that royalties are completely between the author and the publisher and the subscription service has no control over this.  Also, the European services are quite new and they are expecting to grow in the future.

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Feb
14

Publishers as Booksellers?

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At any event in publishing, there are commonalities or themes to the discussions and panel presentations. Sometimes the themes are outright and printed in the program, but other times they are nothing more than running commentary or buzz generated by attendees throughout the event.

One of the often-discussed topics among exhibitors at this year’s TOC is the concept of publishers forgoing their relationships with the major online retailers and opting to open their own ebook marketplaces under their own brands. No less than three of the companies exhibiting at this year’s Tools of Change conference serve only to help publishers of any size distribute their digital content and sell it under their own online ebook shops.

iPublish, under the company Impelsys, is one such company that works to help publishers sell their content and gave a breakdown of the reasoning for this in an interview with GoodEReader.

“People are nervous about Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and they’re worried about putting your content out there with someone who could own 51% of your revenue,” said a spokesman for iPublish. “What we want to do is keep publishers in control of their options in respect to ebooks by creating their own branded sites and use our tools and features.”

One of the issues that comes up with publishers selling their content through distributors is the faceless nature of their reading customers. Publishers receive a quarterly sales report, and little else. With a customized retail website, publishers can instead get to know the customers who buy their books and can tailor their content to what their customers gravitate towards.

“Some publishers have used our services to create websites for their franchise books,” which means those titles that are already highly-searchable and marketable because people have come to know them.

That discoverability is one of the issues that publishers and authors will face when deciding whether to stay with retailers or develop their own online sales presence. While many of these publisher-specific websites can be linked to their existing sales channels for print, book discovery is always an issue that consumers and creators will face.

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Everything about Tools of Change focuses on looking ahead to the future, in this case, the future of publishing. The TOC conference is a place for forward-thinking entities involved in some arm of publishing to not only showcase what they can do, but to also highlight where they plan to take the future of books.

One of the futures that has long been anticipated for digital publishing is an increased accessibility for visually impaired, learning disabled, or low-literacy level individuals, but that future has been slow to become a reality. Many companies work diligently on the technology behind greater access to printed or digitally formatted words, and are spreading the adoption of this technology every day.

Holland-based ReadSpeaker is a text-to-speech service provider that publishers can subscribe to that will enable readers to simply click a button to listen to the content. The publishers who subscribe are from various fields, including reference articles from around the world, news features, and ebooks.

“This has become so easy for everyone to use,” said ReadSpeaker’s Joop Heijenrath in an interview with GoodEReader at TOC, “not just blind people, but all the segments in the market who want to use this service, it means about 15 to 20 percent of readers in the Western world.”

One of the potentially overlooked benefits to using a seamless tool like ReadSpeaker’s is to be found in the educational setting. Not only can the visually and learning impaired students benefit from the read-aloud feature in textbooks and reference materials, it also fosters a bimodal learning experience for any learner. Listening to the text while watching the highlighted feature on the screen allows learners to engage more strongly with the material and utilize two of their four learning styles at the same time.

The days of opening every page of material on the web or tapping a button on the screen of any ebook and hearing the text are not here, but as more users and publishers take advantage of the obvious benefits, the reach of text-to-speech capabilities will continue to grow.

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Oren Teicher, American Booksellers Association.
Booksellers represent a combination of the old and the new. ABA is the trade association of the independent bookstores and was founded in 1900. Independent bookselling has changed a lot in 15 years and is seeing a reniassance in the US with an 8% sales growth in 2012 as compared to 2011 (in book unit sales). For most of 2012, we were seeing double digit increases over 2011. For ABA online sales, there was a 28% increase over 2011 and a much greater increase from 2010. Web sales are becoming an important revenue stream for independent booksellers. For the third year in a row ABA membership has grown and more independent bookstores are opening. 43 stores opened in 2012 and one even raised money by crowd-funding site Indiegogo in order to open the store.

One key factor in the increase in sales is that independent bookstores are actively implementing technology.  They can offer an online commerce experience through the ABA site, with each company having a fully customizable site.  The debate about whether an independent bookstore should be online is long over. ABA partnered with Kobo to offer ebooks, but earlier partnerships, such as that with Google, provided an unsatisfying experience for customers. Through the holiday season, about 400 stores signed up for the Kobo plan. They like the fact that Kobo uses recognized standards and so their readers are not locked into a particular device. Independent bookstores are now outperforming earlier attempts to do this and revenue is increasing. Since the costs of this type of technology has come way down, independent bookstores can now afford to do a lot of stuff they couldn’t before. About 15 ABA stores have print on demand with the Espresso Machine and rather than buying books through the machines it has turned out that the major revenue from the machines comes from the self-publishing business of their customers’ books.

ABA believes that the publishers steps with regard to ebook agency pricing benefited readers and publishers and they feel, despite the DoJ, that agency pricing actually resulted in lower prices.  They feel that the DoJ settlement does nothing but increase prices and help give monopoly power to Amazon.  The ABA feels that the settlement will be destructive to book selling.

Independent bookstores are benefiting from the general localization movement in the United States.  The move of consumers to independent local stores is an encouraging trend for all independent businesses.  The “Buy Local” movement is a success and in five years of surveys they show that indie businesses are growing.   The localization movement has reached a tipping point and bookstores have been in the forefront of this for years.

There is no substitute for the importance of indie bookstores in book discovery and the numbers show that this is the case.  Indie bookstores perform a showrooming experience for purchasers who may decide to make their purchases elsewhere.  Publishers are beginning to recognize this and a number of new initiatives are under way. One example of this is that Amazon had to release the Kindle to stores because they found that discovery of the unit on the Amazon site was not good enough to get them the sales figures they wanted.

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Flipick, part of the Mediawide group of companies, allows publishers to create fixed layout ebooks directly from InDesign in the ePub3 standard. Those InDesign files can incorporate interactivity for publication that are embedded in the ebook.

“The software is in a beta stage,” said Flipick‘s representative at this year’s Tools of Change conference when talking to GoodEReader, “so we’re offering the software free of charge on the flipick.com website.”

This platform is not audience specific, so not targeted to any one demographic of publishers or size. At the expected price of $50 to $100 per book it seems to be priced for a broad range of users, while keeping in mind that it requires the publisher or author to use InDesign first, which can be an option that is out of many self-published, single-title authors’ price range.

Since Flipick’s software launch at last month’s Digital Book World event, it has remained in its free beta period, but it’s anticipated that the service will be provided on a pay-per-title basis. Interested users can sign up at flipick.com.

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Before ebooks emerged on the reading scene in such a big way, publishers had to rely on mailing out print editions of advanced reader copies of their buzz-worthy titles to book reviewers, hoping to generate consumer interest in upcoming books. Printing and shipping these ARCs proved costly and sometimes fruitless.

Just as digital publishing has had a major impact on the way consumers read, so too has it impacted how publishers and authors generate this important discussion among advanced readers. As Goodreads‘ information at today’s Tools of Change event showed, the largest source of book discovery is through friend communication. Together, ebook ARC company NetGalley and its core reader base of over 100,000 users are streamlining that discoverability.

Publishers and authors of any catalog size can submit titles to NetGalley for distribution to its network of book reviewers, ranging from some of the more long-standing trusted names in book reviews, down to a local book blogger. By paying by either a subscriptions to submit a larger catalog of titles or by paying individually to submit one book, rights’ holders have the option to put their titles into reviewers’ hands prior to publication without suffering through the printing and shipping process of a bygone publishing era.

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Jeff Jaffe, CEO of WC3 spoke today at the Tools of Change conference in New York.  His main point that he tried to get across during his keynote was “that publishing = web and web = publishing.”  Web people tend to understand this concept, but many people in the publishing industry do not.  20 years ago the web came into being and became an additional form of publishing, but no substitution for print. Eventually tools came out, such as blogging platforms, that turned everyone into a publisher. Now, a lot of core technology changes have made the web a rich place for publishing.

What is the future?  The impact of the web will continue and intensify. Screens, typography, and layout will get better and better.  Links will raise asset value exponentially and rich media will enhance ebooks.  The web’s impact on publishing will probably be greater that the impact on other industries. TV and entertainment are moving to the web and away from the television set.  But what publishing is trying to do with the web is different from what other industries are doing. Other industries are using the web as a delivery mechanism, but the web is more intrinsically tied to the purposes of publishing. For some parts of the industry this is easy to see, such as magazines, but it is harder for book publishers to see. In the future, publishing will be the web. HTML5 and CSS3 provides cross-browser interoperability and rich content management. Just about everyone is moving to this technology. It’s easy to say this, but its hard to do because the web community and the publishing technical community have not been talking to each other. This is causing a lot of sub-optimization. WC3 will be trying actively to encourage a dialog and want to address: matching current publishing practices, leveraging value-add of the web, supporting diverse business and distribution models, and satisfying diverse consumer behaviors.

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One of the most pressing obstacles for authors, publishers, book sellers, and industry watchers is that of book discovery. With so much content on the market, both from traditional and self-publishers, how are readers expected to connect with great content and more importantly, continue to be consumers?

Otis Chandler, founder and CEO of Goodreads, spoke at a presentation on book discovery at the Tools of Change event today in New York. His information took a look at how exactly readers find out about content, specifically concerning a Goodreads survey that asked users to share information about two titles, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

The survey results demonstrated that the overwhelmingly clear source for customer book selection was a friend’s recommendation, for both of the titles, followed closely behind media buzz of the book, at least in the case of the newer title, Gone Girl. Goodreads came in second place for The Night Circus and third place for Gone Girl in terms of how survey respondents claim to have heard about the book. Interestingly, book stores were cited as a clear source of viable interest for both books, but more so for Morgenstern’s title; alternately, Twitter was one of the least viable resources for book discovery, despite the annoyance of many authors who spend hours tweeting sample lines and book plugs for their titles.

“Twitter and Facebook do not score highly for book discovery, but they score well for book discussion,” stated Chandler. “Paperback scored very well over hardback for bookstore discovery, and I think what’s happened here is people were hearing about Gone Girl and going into the bookstore without having to discover it.”

Chandler’s presentation cited a number of factors in how books are found by readers, specifically based on genre and category. Also important were promotions of certain titles, such as the Goodreads awards that generate buzz.