BEA Show Notes: idpf's Digital Book 2012 Monday Recap: DRM, Digital Revenue and Data (oh, my!)
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One of the concurrent conferences under the BookExpo America umbrella, the International Digital Publishing Forum's (idpf) sold-out Digital Book 2012 has, for the last two days, tackled the digital reading from a multitude of angles, and with specific emphasis on Business & Marketing, Technology & Production, and Education & Professional.
As we eagerly anticipate Book Business blogger extraordinaire and general man-on-the-scene Eugene G. Schwartz to weigh in with his detailed conference recap and analysis, we'll provide some quick takes from day one of the two-day conference.
Monday kicked off with a morning of keynotes beginning with the inimitable Seth Godin (we hear he was good; we missed all but his adieu thanks to some confusion at registration).
Following Godin, Ernie Sander, Executive Director of GigaOm and PaidContent.org, addressed the breakfast crowd on the topic of "Emerging Models for Content Monetization." Sander highlighted the New York Times' impressive advances in acquiring digital subscriptions, noting that in just one and a half years since instituting a pay wall, the Grey Lady has amassed 450,000 digital subscribers, or more than one third of its print total. He also noted how digital has spurred print growth, as a bundled pricing plan for digital plus the Sunday print edition has Sunday circulation growing again. He noted that the strategy seems to be to keep print alive as long as it can and build up digital in the meantime.
Next, a publishers' roundtable moderated by the IDPF's Bill McCoy and consisting of Bloomsbury's Richard Charkin, Random House's Madeline McIntosh and Open Road's Jane Friedman addressed the ways ebooks are changing the business. Topics bandied included:
-Branding in the Ebook Era: Friedman noted that since publishers have long considered authors and not the publisher to be the brand, her Open Road Integrated Media considers itself more of a digital marketing company than a publisher. McIntosh, specifically addressing ebook originals, noted that she did not believe that the absence of a physical artifact equated with diminished value.
-Self Publishing: McIntosh noted that it's allowed many more voices to enter the fray and be discovered both by readers and by publishers
-DRM: McIntosh called it a "red herring," noting that she's neither for nor against DRM and believes it "has virtually no impact on anything." Friedman noted that she's "leaning toward no DRM," adding that she's experienced more piracy of print than electronic books, and that if a publisher removes DRM and feels it made a mistake, it can always reinstate it.
-Shifting sales paradigms: Charkin recounted the story of a colleague who worried print sales might cannibalize ebook sales for a particular title
-Globalization: Charkin noted that the opportunities to sell ebooks to previously unreachable regions, and in native languages, was "fantastic." Friedman noted that India and China were of particular interest to Open Road: "We can reach them fast and we can reach them efficiently."
-and Ebooks in Libraries: Friedman noted that libraries are as important today as they've always been and she hopes all publishers will find a workable system for making their content available to them. McIntosh said publishers need to make sure the library ecosystem continues to support authors and retailers.
Richard Eoin Nash of Small Demons wrapped up the morning keynotes, urging publishers to stop thinking of themselves as sellers of commodity products and rather providers of services. "Selling products is a lottery," he said. "For every Fifty Shades of Grey there are 5 million shades of losing money."
He also pointed out that publishing has always been at the vanguard of technology, and that its failure has not been a failure to adopt ebook technology, but a failure of making the business model work.
He concluded with the idea that "The time for little experiments is over," referring to the popular conception that digital delivery enables endless experimentation. "It's time we think more largely about the experiments conducted over the last five years," he continued, urging publishers to make some definitive conclusion based upon those experiments.
In a late morning session titled "Why Publishers Need Data," SourceBooks' Dominique Raccah laid out the case for why "data is better than your gut," discussing many of her data-driven decision processes, from testing titles, covers (they produce as many as 17 per title before they decide), to advance selling using different cover versions.
She explained that data-driven publishing is a new skill for book publishers, but that it's an evolution from the existing agile model of Build, Measure, Learn. She noted that the experiments at SourceBooks don't require on a lot of infrastructure or an expensive CRM system, and that "I regularly try stuff that doesn't work. We believe in experimentation."
Related story: Publishers Launch: DRM is Genre Fiction Poison