Another great DBW digital publishing conference is behind us, and once again the future looks good for books. Digital books, print books, subscribed books, enhanced books…the industry, the authors, and the consumers are on fire for them, regardless of the format they choose to work in.
The buzzwords this year were direct-to-consumer book sales, ebook subscriptions, and marketing and discovery. Whereas D2C was a large focus at last year’s Digital Book World Conference as well, the process then seemed to be to get publishers to create their own branded webstores to sell their titles; it didn’t take off, largely because getting readers to remember at least the title and author is enough, but asking them to remember the publisher in order to buy directly was a little too much. eBook subscriptions were a major discussion point this year, especially with the growth of Oyster and Scribd, but the inherent problems with the model came up a lot, namely that libraries are already offering ebook lending without the monthly fee. Finally, the ever-important book discovery was another often discussed topic, with very interesting data points presented in a number of panels.
Good e-Reader sat down with Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly media, to ask his thoughts on some of these buzzwords. Given his experience with subscription ebooks through Safari Books, O’Reilly explained where some of the reluctance to adopt even the current models comes from.
“One reason they didn’t pick up, I think, was people couldn’t figure out if the math word work, the math on revenue. The way we do it on Safari is we take your subscription and say, ‘What books did you read?’ We’ve gone to a very extensive percent-based model, times the price. If you consumed one book and you paid us for the month, all of the revenue gets attributed to that one book. If you read a hundred books, that revenue gets spread [to the publishers] across those one hundred books. Each one will get one percent of the revenue.
“What we’ve found in general is that the revenue per book from Safari is actually comparable or higher than the revenue of an actual sale. One of the things that’s also true about pricing of books is that people buy more than they read. Isn’t that true of print too? How many books do you buy and never read, or buy them and read a little bit. If we held print to the same standards that we hold digital to, getting trust in the math is the biggest thing that holds people back from the model.”
O’Reilly also presented a keynote earlier in the conference on book discovery, and he holds that one of the largest factors in book promotion is still the sense of community that readers have around a particular title or author. He explained in the interview, referencing his keynote, that author John Green has an incredible community of fans because he’s actively engaged not only with his own readers, but with other authors, in a similar way as his YouTube channels has helped launch other YouTube channels through support and features.
“John Green is doing what we all need to be doing,” O’Reilly said.
Overall, the energy that events like this bring forward into publishing make this yet again an exciting time to be in the book business. The consensus–stated repeatedly–was that the ebook revolution has only just begun, and that the rate of change taking place is faster than it ever has been.
“There’s a lot to learn, a lot to experiment with.”