Innovation means more than doing something new. It means testing boundaries and questioning the status quo. It means looking beyond the industry for inspiration. And sometimes, it simply means doing what makes sense given the tools that are available. In the book industry, innovation means all of these things, and in particular, it means embracing the new digital landscape and the opportunities that come with it. All of the innovators interviewed in this section, whether from trade, academic, or independent publishing, have joined the digital revolution and are pushing the industry into a sustainable future, exploring new products and services, and adapting to disruption.
Co-Founder and Publisher, Stonefly Press
The Stonefly Experience
Robert Clouse, an industry veteran of 20-plus years, has always focused on building author-reader relationships and creating experiences that go beyond the books. He learned the value of that first-hand while working in business book publishing.The segment took a significant hit during the 2008 economic downturn, yet the event aspect of the business—sending authors to speak at business conferences and seminars—never lost its appeal. Readers wanted an opportunity to interact with the author, and to experience publisher content in a unique way.
"People still wanted the personal experience," says Clouse. "I witnessed that for eight or ten years, so I knew by the time I was ready to launch Stonefly that we had to make this an experience and not just about books."
Propelled by that insight, Clouse has left traditional publishing behind and launched a startup press dedicated to his other lifelong passion: fly fishing. In 2012 Clouse launched Stonefly Press with a handful of equity partners and a desire to make his authors the center of the fly-fishing community.
The young press has made a huge impact within its vertical, not only offering quality fly-fishing books, but also author-guided fishing trips and author speaking engagements. The multi-channel, community approach is a proven success, as three of Stonefly's four titles (all launched in 2013) are generating profits.
In this innovator interview, Clouse discusses the importance of creating an author-centric experience for readers—an approach he expects to be increasingly important to book publishers.
What were you trying to accomplish with the launch of Stonefly Press?
While I have always come at Stonefly Press from a book perspective, it's really more of an intellectual property perspective. How do I circulate that property? In my previous careers, I knew that author speaking engagements were very lucrative. But we want to do more than that.
So we looked at the [fly-fishing] industry and asked, "How do we create a whole community rather than focusing on one piece of it?" There are companies in fly fishing that do nothing but exotic fishing travel. Some are book publishers and do nothing but publish books. And there are others that are heavily into social media as the circulation of their model, and they have created enormous followings. We wanted to bring all of these together into one community.
Our revenue streams are threefold: publishing, exotic travel, and the three-day events with authors. Because I come from book publishing, all of those events are tied into authors. For example, when we do an exotic trip to the Madison River, which is a tailwater, we're going to take the author of our tailwater book. It's not just about going out with a guide and fishing for the day; it's about the entire Stonefly experience.
What has the reception been?
We targeted the best authors in the field, because the authors have to be gifted to do keynotes and events. These authors also happened to be the people everyone already knew. So when we started the launch, there was quite a bit of a buzz.
We made an appearance at the American Fly Fishing Trade Association three years ago. We were just on the floor—no exhibits—but we made sure we were making connections. Two years ago we went to the same show. That time we exhibited, and we had ESPN radio come in and interview our authors. It had a significant impact. I think everyone at some point stopped by our booth to see who we were. It moved us into the market pretty quickly.
Are you focused on direct sales as well?
It's part of the business plan. We're a virtual company. We don't have a central office. So we knew social media had to be a huge part of building the community model and creating that type of buzz. When you do that, the goal is to drive people to you, which diverts them from the wholesalers. We spent a lot of time creating that community buzz, giving discounts, and bringing people to the site. Then they notice any new products.
Starting out, we relied heavily on direct sales, but it is subsiding. I would say the majority of our sales are to our wholesalers and distributors. But we often see a big bump [in direct sales] early, which of course is good for the bottom line.
How are you boosting discoverability?
Social media for us has been the best, and it is very intentional. It's a condition of being a startup, keeping costs as low as we can. We work heavily on LinkedIn and Facebook and to a lesser degree on Twitter. They help us build a database of customers, especially LinkedIn.
I have 6,000 or 7,000 people that I'm connected to on LinkedIn. That's an immediate mailing list for me. We use social media not only to build a presence and a brand but also to drive the direct mail side. At this point, our mailing list is probably 35,000 names.
Are you planning to move into film?
Yes, one of our partners is our integrated design officer. He is a techie and a film guy. He is chomping at the bit to move us into that segment. We will certainly go there. Another one of our partners is pitching a TV series. It is a reality show based on the life of fly-fishing guides that we would produce and sponsor. We're not there yet, but there is no question we have to move into that segment.
Chief Digital Officer, HarperCollins
Having witnessed first-hand the upheaval of the music industry and dissolution of former employer EMI, HarperCollins chief digital officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi knows that an unwillingness to adapt to the digital landscape can prove fatal. She doesn't intend for HarperCollins to make that mistake.
Despite not having deep roots in the book publishing industry, Restivo-Alessi has a diverse media background. She's had stints in advertising, consulting, and investment banking, where she worked extensively with media companies. But it was Restivo-Alessi's experience in the music industry that has been the most instructive for her current role. Joining HarperCollins in May of 2012, Restivo-Alessi recognized disturbing parallels between the music and publishing industries—mainly a reticence toward new distribution platforms and technologies. In spite of this wariness, Restivo-Alessi helped orchestrate HarperCollins' partnership with three ebook subscription sites: Scribd, Oyster, and Entitle. HarperCollins was the first of the Big Five to make its backlist available on these platforms and its titles are enjoying increased visibility as a result.
Restivo-Alessi pushed these partnerships because she understood that content consumption is changing, especially among younger readers. Ideas of ownership have shifted, says Restivo-Alessi, who acknowledges that young people tend to value access to content over ownership.
Here Restivo-Alessi describes her latest projects and predictions for the industry’s future.
What makes HarperCollins an innovative publisher?
I can say that there is a culture and willingness to experiment. One of the most recent examples is our endorsement of the subscription model [by partnering] with startups. That is really in the spirit of exploring additional channels to market our content, supporting startups, and also making sure that the value of our content is recognized.
It is also an opportunity for us to see and learn early on what may work differently in new types of channels. As an example, it's been only a few months [since making our backlist available on Scribd, Oyster, and Entitle], but a huge part of our backlist has been touched by consumers at least once. So the data so far confirms our assumption that our visibility is increased by offering consumers different ways of accessing content. And that visibility means increased sales.
You also partnered with Accenture to work on a direct sales project. Could you tell us about that?
That's another way of trying to offer services to authors as much as it is to reach the consumers where they are. With Accenture, and with a couple other third parties, we've created two websites, one for C.S. Lewis and one for Narnia. Accenture, Digital River, Bluefire, and Supadu provided the technology so the C.S. Lewis estate has the ability of selling direct to consumers. In that process we're also seeing what works and what doesn't.
How are consumers responding to direct sale offers?
They are responding well, but I think it is still early days. What we're learning is how receptive readers are to different opportunities. When we launched these websites, we had an exclusive piece of content as part of our HarperCollins Reader App, [Beyond the Wardrobe: The Official Guide to Narnia], and that was very welcome. We've also had price promotions since and they were not particularly well received. We are learning how consumers in different environments react to different things in terms of value. Price promotions might be more appropriate within our traditional retail channel whereas a unique piece of content might be more appropriate on an author's site.
How has your background affected how you view the book industry?
My career has sort of been all over the place, starting with consulting, into music, advertising, and investment banking. I think each one of these experiences has opened up my mind to the possibilities of media. In investment banking you could look at media across different verticals. You could actually spend one day talking to a client that was focused on education and the next day you would talk to someone who was in the TV business. You start drawing parallels. You start seeing how different businesses adapt, and you can learn from each one of those businesses.
What did you learn from working in the music industry?
I think the music industry was most instructive out of all my experiences. When I was in music, it was the early days of digital. I think one of the key lessons—which is what I'm trying to bring to HarperCollins in the case of subscription—is that younger consumers have a different perception of content and of ownership of that content. Their mentality is more about access and utility rather than ownership.
At the time, one of the things that the industry tried to do a lot was protect the content to the detriment of actually supporting business models that might have been better for them. They spent their time not allowing access to content, which resulted in high piracy levels. You have to actually try to support, participate, and learn, rather than sitting on the fence. Only by participating do you have a chance of actually getting your content recognized.
What is HarperCollins' approach with ebooks? Is there a focus on social, rich media, and gamification elements?
I don't think we've cracked that nut yet. We've done a lot of different things from enhanced ebooks to apps to gaming platforms.
We have an app that was received really well—Wonders of the Universe—and we're now developing a second brand, which has just launched, Wonders of Life. That was an example where the first product did well, so we created a similar kind of content on a similar platform so that we can continue to learn and leverage the consumer base that we acquired from the first app. It is important to think of the platform rather than the individual product. How much are we building something that we can repeat and use that platform for continued content feeds?
What are some of the biggest challenges that trade publishers are facing right now?
I think the biggest challenge is really continuing to articulate to authors where we have value. I don't think that the industry is good at articulating where that value is being created. Just in my role, we have people who do deals across multiple countries, multiple business models, trying to generate income and opportunities for our authors. If an author was to focus on that, I don't know when he would find the time to write.
Another business area [authors can benefit from] is consumer insights. I don't think if you are an individual author, no matter how great your traction pool is, you can actually raise a volume of data that a publisher at scale can do. The knowledge that you have will always be more limited and more narrowly focused than what someone with a broader reach can give you.
The analogy I draw is with my agency world. The agencies were meant to be the intermediary. When Google appeared, people thought all advertising would go direct to Google. The reality is Google tried, and it didn't work, and PNG still goes to an agency first because what the agency provides is so much more complicated. Google is only one channel; search is only one channel. And you have so many different elements of what it means to work in the digital world.
I think the same analogy applies to an author. They are our clients. We can offer the service and we can offer the skill, the two things are not necessarily conflicted.
Luke Parker Bowles
EVP of Production, Open Road Integrated Media
Authors, Center Stage
Luke Parker Bowles is sick of book trailers. The EVP of production at Open Road thinks they miss the mark completely when it comes and effective marketing. "To think that in a two-minute video you can convey to me even the slightest element of the book experience, you've failed before you've even started."
In his short videos Parker Bowles isn't focused on the book that's about to launch, but rather the author's personal story. As a result, readers have the chance to get to know their favorite authors and form a relationship with that author's brand.
Although many publishers are realizing the selling power of the branded author, few are leveraging that power through video as vigorously as Parker Bowles and Open Road. Video is the foundation of Open Road's marketing strategy, and Parker Bowles expects that such a strategy will eventually proliferate throughout the industry.
What is it about Open Road's video division that is different from other publishers working with video?
I think it is the mantra that we follow. To us the author is the brand. The title is not the brand. We're not here to do book trailers. When you have this amazing author in front of you who has all of these amazing stories to tell, why not go to the author instead of the book? I never really understood it.
So when I started Open Road's video element, I was very clear that we were going to look at the authors' lives and allow our audience to connect and get to know these authors. [Typically, authors] are taken on a book tour, they get asked ridiculous questions that they aren't prepared for, and the video resulting is unusable. In this day and age, people expect a lot from video. It needs to be well produced. It needs to be interesting, and that is where—and this is going to sound a bit bold and arrogant—we are different from a lot of the stuff out there.
How do you make that model profitable?
I am able to do these very inexpensively. Part of it is because equipment these days, like the Canon 5D, shoots the most incredible footage. Secondly, I have about 30 producers throughout the world who work for me at a very reasonable rate because they love publishing, and they love authors. The profitability comes from the fact that we sell more books because people see these videos and click through them to buy the books.
How do these videos help discoverability?
One of the big things we work on are mashups. We have about 1000 gigs of footage of our authors. We can pull from those clips of our authors all talking about the same subject—bullying, for example. We can do this because when we go into these interviews we ask authors about their loves, their fears, but then half of the interview we will also focus on marketing milestones. We have questions in there that are about Black History Month, about Teacher Appreciation Day, about a host of things that are mapped out to days in the year. When it's, say, Bring Your Child to Work Day, and we want to put a piece together, we can do that in five minutes. We just have to choose what authors to include in the mashup.
The mashups are carefully thought through so that they feature similar authors and similar genres. That is how we promote discoverability. The people who are already reading Octavia Butler are watching a video and they suddenly see the work of Samuel Delaney.
How do you distribute your videos?
[We have] dozens of marketing leads that have relationships with the Daily Beast, who we work with a lot, Huffington Post, and we sometimes go through smaller, niche sites. Social networks are obviously important. We send out video through Facebook and Twitter. We also have videos on Youtube and Vimeo.
Do you have freedom to experiment in ways other publishers don't?
Absolutely. For certain authors, we do have complete free reign. We have the ability to do some really fun stuff. A lot of that comes from having close relationships with all of our authors. We do our research. We have an amazing researcher, Galen Glaze, who creates a document called "the Bible," which provides everything you need to know about the author. It is that level of detail that creates connections with the authors.
Some of them share their deepest secrets. Some of them want to shake it up. One of our children's authors suggested, "Let's go and get a kid's bike and I'll go and ride around while you interview me." It's just fun little things. We always stick to it being truthful and from the author.
Director, MIT Press
Exploring Open Access
Aside from leading the way in delivering enhanced texts and digital academic research, MIT Press is also a strong proponent of open access, the growing movement to provide scholarly works for free and typically shares those papers online. MIT Press, led by director Ellen Faran, published its first OA journal in 2006 and is experimenting with different ways to create viable OA strategies. From freemium models to payment opt-ins, Faran strives to make quality research more widely available to researchers while maintaining her bottom line.
Faran examines the difficulties that come with OA publishing and the strategies she's pursued to make it sustainable. This includes the recently launched web platform educationXpress, which provides OA journals on digital education topics to a community of researchers and professors.
What open access projects is the press currently working on?
We publish two open access journals and a number of individual book titles that are openly available in both print and ebook editions.
A major project that we are launching in March 2014 is a new platform for the study of open and blended education: educationXpress. At the moment, all content on this platform is openly available.
What are some strategies publishers can use to make OA work for them?
Open access is not a single model, so its strategies must be informed by the specific method for covering the costs by the quality of the online experience and by the goal for reaching the audience. In certain cases, we have found a sweet spot wherein open and paid editions are sufficiently complementary that we do not need a subsidy.
Freemium models can deliver real value, offering readers a choice of formats (including open formats) and content while generating some revenue. Most often, however, a subsidy is required to support the open edition of the work and the strategic concern is its sustainability.
OA requires new publishing practices by the publisher. Tracking and analysis of usage statistics add to the growing complexity of our new digital world. Our outreach to potential readers (traditionally, marketing) in scholarly publishing has long been a partnership between the author and the publisher. For open access publications, this becomes especially important.
We believe that open access is the most successful when integrated with traditional publishing: When the OA readers may discover paid titles in the same field and when the full discovery tools of the publisher are employed.
What opportunities do you see for university presses in 2014?
This is an exciting time because university presses are being recognized by their partners in scholarly communication as dynamic and forward-thinking. University presses have always played a vital role in making high quality scholarship broadly accessible. At the MIT Press we take this very seriously. Our selection process, editorial development, pricing, marketing, and global distribution systems all work toward the goal of bringing the best research and ideas to bear on problems, policies, and debates in the wider world.
You also publish over 200 titles each year, many of which are ebooks. How are ebooks developing in the academic world? Do you see them becoming more gamified, social, interactive, cross-referential, service-oriented?
All of the above. Our readers want the ability to interact with books, to share them, and to use them in their own work. Our publishing models are evolving to recognize these needs as fundamental. Social and game-inspired reading platforms show tremendous promise for teaching and learning at all levels; they are being explored by our own authors as well as by innovators whose work we follow closely.
The next step for books is to be more closely woven into the fabric of online experience while at the same time preserving their offline integrity. We now understand that online reading is a very different experience from offline reading, and that both experiences are valuable and necessary. Each has its place in scholarship, in education, and in the lifelong learning that university presses support.
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