Day 1: Let’s Get Digital
On September 20th, publishing professionals became students at the new NYU Advanced Publishing Institute (NYU API) sponsored by the NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing. This two-day executive education program, titled “Studies in Digital Book Strategy,” was jam-packed with fantastic sessions—and people! Best of all, NYU API offered attendees (mid- to senior-level publishing professionals) a hands-on classroom and computer-lab based learning experience designed to help them expand their digital knowledge and better manage digital teams. As Andrea Chambers, Director of the NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing, noted at the outset: this was a course, not a conference. On the first day, discussions kicked off with a riveting keynote presentation from J. P. Eggers, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Though Eggers is a publishing outsider (and that was just what the program organizers said they wanted for the keynote), his business insights were spot on. After talking strategy and structure, he recommended that publishers ask, “What is the potential cost of doing nothing?” Publishers should take risks and embrace the opportunities provided by the new medium. Throughout the following sessions and workshops, NYU API attendees learned some ways to do just that.
The next session, “From Transition to Transformation,” led by Peter Balis and Carolyn Pittis—who, like many of the lecturers, also teach in the M.S. in Publishing: Digital & Print Media program at NYU-SCPS—delved deeply into strategic thinking and new digital developments. Pittis, Senior Vice President of Publishing Transformation at HarperCollins, noted, “Unprecedented change calls for unprecedented response.” When publishers are determining their response, they can use some of the tools that Balis, Director of Digital Business Development at John Wiley & Sons, suggests, such as the Ansoff Matrix and SWOT or PEST (Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors influencing change) analyses. NYU API attendees put these tools to use right away in one of three fictional scenario-planning exercises about some things that could come up any day now. (Think about a bestselling author deciding to self-publish; a major social media site buying one of the big six; or a big six publisher doing away with Digital Rights Management software.) Participants shared ideas on these scenarios in spirited discussions.
A session about Formats and Functionality, facilitated by Ana Maria Allessi, Vice President and Publisher, Harper Media, HarperCollins, and Liisa McCloy-Kelley, Vice President and Director of Ebook Production Strategy and Operations, Random House, got the room thinking about the when, why, and how of digital products and production. The upcoming holiday season will be all about new devices in various sizes, which presents challenges for publishers, such as the need for multiple versions of an ebook. But there’s nothing to fear, advised McCloy-Kelley: start with the content, and keep in mind that “EPUB isn’t magic—it’s HTML.”
After lunch, NYU API attendees heard about how digital can help them work with booksellers in a moderated talk led by Michael Selleck, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Simon & Schuster, with Roberta Rubin, owner of The Book Stall in Winnetka, Ill., and Bob Wietrak, Publisher Relations Manager for Bookish. Professionals then got their opportunity to get hands-on with the technology they’d been thinking about all day in their choice of three computer workshops: Introduction to EPUB Production, Web Analytics, and Social Media Strategies.
The social media labs were taught by Mindy Stockfield, Vice President of Digital Publishing at Hyperion; Miriam Parker, Online Marketing Director, Little, Brown and Company at Hachette Book Group USA; and Jeff Gomez, Vice President, Online Consumer Sales and Marketing, Penguin Group (USA), Inc. These sessions were designed to help busy executives not only brush up on their social media skills and learn the latest tactics to measure social media success, but also to understand how to best direct digital teams. In EPUB workshops run by Liisa McCloy-Kelley and Dave Cramer, Content Workflow Specialist at Hachette Book Group, API attendees discussed the technical side of making an ebook and worked with some of the tools to create their own, right in class! Participants were asked in advance to bring photos and a Word document they could turn into an ebook, and so they did. How cool is that? Over in the Web Analytics lab led by Dan Blank, Founder of We Grow Media, API attendees learned about the various free and paid analytics tools available to them, as well as how to put those tools to use. Blank showed students how to review and measure live analytics from the site of a small publisher and urged them not only to put data in context (rather than just showing numbers), but to set goals.
After day one of NYU API, I’d say we were all excited about the possibilities lying ahead in the digital world and prepared to reach consumers on new levels.
Day 2: Conversion
It’s usually hard to pay attention to work on a Friday. Who isn’t antsy to get out of the office after a long week? While the second day of the NYU Advanced Publishing Institute fell on a Friday, everyone was paying rapt attention to the faculty members, whose insights left attendees jazzed about digital media.
The morning began with a look at marketing case studies led by Matt Baldacci, Vice President and Associate Publisher, St. Martin’s Press at Macmillan, and Chelsea Vaughn, Vice President of Marketing Operations at Random House. They shared a host of available social listening, marketing, and media planning tools, such as CoverCake and Colligent. Even though publishers have a ton of tools at their disposal, Baldacci noted, “Don’t use tools just because you can. Tactics must support your objectives.”
The room was buzzing as the metadata workshop, led by Brett Sandusky, Product Manager of Macmillan New Ventures, began. Before NYU API, metadata seemed like an industry catchphrase that we all knew was important but weren’t sure how to implement into production workflow. Sandusky explained to participants how everyone in the production process can build on the metadata to make it richer. They were advised to pay attention to user-generated content, since it can help publishers produce more keywords. The presentation was so thorough that even those who work directly in this field said they learned new ways of using metadata to improve sales and discoverability.
Digital rights and permissions is another hot topic on the publishing landscape, with more questions than answers. NYU API wouldn’t have been complete without a discussion on this topic, and boy, was it lively! Simon Lipskar, President of Writers House, and Katherine Trager, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Random House, gave a fascinating and entertaining talk about the various ways some content-related legal terms can be interpreted and the importance of specificity in contracts. The two didn’t see eye-to-eye on every topic, which led to good-natured debate worthy of a talk show. They shared some sample contractual provisions and case studies, reminding publishers that “when you’re not specific, you open yourself up to ambiguities.” As one of the participants commented afterward, “OMG, this was perfect!” Added another, “Wow! Loved it. And it was rights!”
In the following session, a presentation by Peter Hildick-Smith, Founder and CEO of The Codex Group, NYU API attendees learned how better data and creativity can lead to better conversion to sales. Attendees took a fun book cover IQ test, with surprising results. Cover design matters, but so does the title; Hildick-Smith said, “Titles are the engine that drive book conversion. We’re dealing with word lovers.”
In the late afternoon, NYU API participants once again attended those hands-on computer workshops. They were invited to one of the sessions they did not attend the day before so that they could again expand their digital skills and learn how to better work with their teams back at the office. The day was then capped off by wine and refreshments. After all, this is publishing!
NYU API attendees were also rewarded for their efforts with a certificate of completion. But the true reward of this program was the wealth of actionable, prescriptive information relayed, as well as the hands-on experience. Participants received a crash course in digital book strategy, and will head back to their companies ready to do their jobs better and take advantage of all the opportunities digital media provides.
by Jaime McNutt Bode