Lessons Learned at the Publishing Business Conference 2013
The Publishing Business Conference & Expo came and went last week, and despite feeling dead on my feet, my mind is still buzzing with ideas shared from speakers representing all sections of the magazine, book and STM industries. Whether I was learning how to build a brand from marketing gurus Jeffrey Lependorf and Miriam Parker (of CLMP and Little Brown, respectively) or all about metadata and how we can improve it from Len Vlahos of BISG, I realized that there is plenty more going on in the publishing industry besides print vs. digital (sorry Bo and Samir!).
Many of the stories I heard last week stirred new hope for the industry, much of which had to do with reaching audience on new, engaging platforms. One attendee, a self-published author building her own brand, was so enthused about her success with inexpensive video marketing that she admonished a speaker at the mere mention of book trailers costing $25,000. Her webcam videos sold books just fine.
New revenue models are also expanding publishers' reach. Laura Friedman, along with several of her panelists in "Subscription Revenue Strategies," found success in the subscription model. A publisher at McGraw-Hill, Friedman adapted a portion of an educational CD, which supplements a textbook on x-ray certification, into a subscription service that provides regular practice exams. By simply placing an ad for the digital product in her textbook, Friedman now accrues 11,000 book sales and 8,000 subscriptions annually for this single product.
Of course, there were words of caution at the conference as well.
These things we know well–book publishers don't cater to the reader, data collection is porous, and copyright law is a growing, complicated mess–and many in the industry are working to correct them, but research presented by Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba Information caught me by surprise. In his session "Books Through the Lens of Tablet Owners," he warned: "Publishers have tricked themselves into believing they have a closer relationship with readers than they actually do."
According to Norris's latest research, publishers have overestimated the value of tablets, thinking that as long as their ebook was accessible on all platforms, tablet users would read it and read voraciously. As it turns out, this is not the case. Tablet usage has jumped in the last year, but reading frequency on those devices has dropped.
"The biggest mistake publishers have made is let passionate booksellers go out of business," said Norris, ". . . In a bookstore, the future of the store depends on the book. In a non-bookstore [ie. tablets that offer the full gamut of entertainment] the future of the store depends on the store."
We are learning, we are adapting, but with Norris's words in mind, book publishers need to envision the industry beyond popular technology over which they have little influence. These will not save the book.