Digital Book World 2012: Changes and Challenges Ahead

A gathering of NYU Publishing student volunteers: Amy Goppert, Amelia Spriggs, Joana Costa Knufinke and Jaime Bode at Digital Book World

This year, M.S. in Publishing: Digital & Print Media students at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies were once again provided with the fantastic opportunity to volunteer at the annual Digital Book World conference. Between making sure that everyone entering the conference rooms was wearing a badge and helping to direct the 600 attendees to different breakout rooms, we volunteers were able to listen to the informative discussions about the deep changes that our industry is undergoing. On Tuesday morning, Mike Shatzkin, the respected blogger of The Shatzkin Files and DBW co-organizer (along with Publishers Marketplace founder Michael Cader) summarized the general goals for publishers this year, followed by a panel of CEOs from Hyperion, Yale University Press, Ingram Content Group, and Sourcebooks. Ellen Archer, President and Publisher of Hyperion (a Disney Company) and an NYU Center for Publishing Advisory Board member, stressed that publishers need to be open-minded to apply new strategies: “Books are elastic and dynamic,” she said. “Books can live in so many ways.” She mentioned Hyperion’s strategy of releasing mystery books based on the ABC TV show Castle in digital format. The third tie-in, Heat Rises, shot to #1. “Be really open-minded to doing things differently, and it can pay off,” she advised.

A major discussion that morning focused on the new quantitative industry research that proves once again the growing importance of the eBook industry. According to James McQuivey of Forrester Research, 25 million people now own an eReader and 61 million are projected to have one by the end of this year. The ongoing study by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) on Consumer Attitudes Toward eBook Reading reported that an estimated 17% of book buyers purchased an eBook in December 2011. The number was 9% in December 2010 and 3% in January of the same year. This growing trend has also taken place among teens, who “report tripling their reading rate of eBooks.” The genres more likely to be bought electronically are mystery (22.9% of the market share) and romance (20.9%). Apple is, for young people and adults, the favorite reading device manufacturer. According to other research carried out by VERSO, the adoption curve of reading devices is now reaching “late majority.” However, 50% of the reading population is still very reluctant to purchase any type of reading device.

The morning sessions ended with a panel on the digital evolution of romance publishing. What was particularly interesting in this discussion was the talk about DRM (digital rights management) and the fact that romance publishers frequently omit it from their books. According to a survey of more than 6,000 users, carried out by All Romance eBooks (a specialized romance eBook retailer), 96% of the romance books sold through their platform do not have DRM, even if 91% of the total books on sale are protected by DRM.

In the afternoon, attendees could choose between four different panels that tackled issues such as marketing, design and/or social media strategies, among other topics. The second day included a presentation by Caroline Marks, CEO of Bookish, who explained more of the plans of this online digital platform for readers backed by Penguin, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster, launching next fall. Marks noted that Bookish will focus on ways to have “books find you, instead of you find books.” Overall at the conference, the push to increase discoverability was a very hot topic. Other key ideas that speakers emphasized throughout the two days were the role of Amazon as a “frenemy” of traditional publishers (who are now competing with their biggest retail customer); the difficult pricing strategies of eBooks and the impact of the agency model; the best cloud-based publishing infrastructures; the growing importance of self-publishing (now a real trend); the imperative that publishers need to know their audiences better to serve them targeted products; and the possibilities for international expansion of English eBook catalogues (either in English or in its translated versions).

In the exhibit hall, where tea and coffee were served twice a day, many publishing vendors presented their services to publishers. Miral Sattar, a graduate of the M.S. in Publishing program, presented her start-up company BiblioCrunch, a digital community where writers can write, read, and distribute their digital books into any format to any eReader. “One thing I learned,” said Miral, “was that being able to demonstrate your product live, one-on-one is very powerful.”

All in all, Digital Book World 2012 was proof of this very challenging and changing moment in the billion-dollar (and growing) U.S. eBook industry. I think DBW is an appointment no one will want to miss next year!

by Joana Costa Knufinke

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