E-Book Evolution

April Osborn, Jessica Wells, Hanna Oswald, Naomi Kennedy and Cindy Peng volunteer at Digital Book World

At the recent Digital Book World conference, one of the finest moments was the sight of New York’ s top book publishing executives clustered around TV screens and netbooks watching Steve Jobs demonstrate the wonders of the iPad. For months, publishers had clung to every nuance, every rumor about the mysterious Apple tablet, so there was a certain poetic justice in Job’s decision to announce the launch in the middle of the first-ever conference devoted to the radically changing way readers consume books.

Until the iPad stole the show, conference organizers did an excellent job of bringing together senior management, product developers, strategists, editors, agents, marketers, and what they called “digital change professionals” for two days of lectures and panel discussions about how e-books will revolutionize publishing.

Students from NYU’s Master of Science in Publishing program were given a unique opportunity to attend this major event as goodwill ambassadors and volunteers, welcoming guests, passing out materials and helping with Q&A sessions. They were invited to attend discussions about new publishing business models, the upcoming Google Editions (the company’s new online bookstore), piracy, e-Book pricing, empowering authors to market themselves, and much more. As Mike Shatzkin, Founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Company and the program’s chair, noted about the complex issues facing the e-Book industry: “There’s a lot we don’t know: where we are going and where we are. The time-honored ways of trade book publishing are becoming rapidly obsolete.”

During the two-day conference, presenters worked hard to show how e-Books and e-Readers will transform the industry. Keynote speaker Shiv Singh, VP and Global Social Media Lead at Razorfish and author of the book “Social Media Marketing for Dummies,” urged the audience to market more to online communities than to individual customers. Seek out book clubs and social networking groups, he told the crowd of 600, and test book titles the way the Huffington Post evaluates story headlines: the most clicks win. Another major topic of conversation was “optimized” e-books, with companies like Zinio, ScrollMotion and Vook demonstrating nifty ways to embed video and other multimedia.

The iPad aside, the hottest topic at the conference was piracy. Brian Napack, President of Macmillan Publishing, took a hard line on what he called “the cheery, happy topic of people stealing your stuff.” He pointed out that someone had put all of bestselling author Janet Evanovich’s books on a CD and sold that on eBay for $10.99. In researching pirated copies of another Macmillan author, Sherrilyn Kenyon, his company discovered that a clever app called Vuze is able to identify all sites selling her books for free. In fact, Macmillan was so outraged by these and other examples of piracy that in the last six months the company has issued 12,000 take down orders on 297 titles and has hired a dedicated anti-piracy staff to monitor the Web. “The success of the Kindle,” Napack said, “shows that people are willing to pay for digital content.”  But not everyone agreed. Within minutes, Twitter was filled with protests about why people pirate: love of books and perceived high prices were some of the reasons. My favorite tweet: “All those males between 18-24 who are downloading illegal e-books? HOW COME U R NOT MARKETING 2 THEM???”

All in all, Digital Book World accomplished what it set out to do. It sparked debate and established e-Books and e-Readers as central enough to the public consciousness and publishing purse strings to warrant a conference. And it serendipitously put all the major e-Book players in one place at one pivotal time to collectively comment on the hot new gizmo that will (or won’t) be the silver (touch-screen) bullet the industry longs for.

by Andrea Chambers

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