Digital Book World 2013: Change and Cooperation

NYU M.S. in Publishing students David Stuzin, Nicole Estrin, Michelle Cashman, Pam Majumdar, and Lorna Field volunteer at Digital Book World.
NYU M.S. in Publishing students David Stuzin, Nicole Estrin, Michelle Cashman, Pam Majumdar, and Lorna Field volunteer at Digital Book World.

During a Digital Book World 2013 panel discussion so crowded that some attendees sat on the floor, Matt MacInnis, Founder and CEO of the interactive book company Inkling, made a particularly perceptive comment: “It’s a miracle that the book was a thing the whole world agreed on.” That is, up until recently, it is fair to say that “the book” as we know it has retained the same static, linear structure across various nations and fields of study since the invention of the printing press 500 years ago. Going forward, MacInnis continued, “It’s not gonna be one monolithic thing serving the med. school book and serving the novel.”

While it’s easy at a massive conference like Digital Book World to get mired in all the technical and structural discussions about the changing nature of the publishing industry, the Inkling CEO’s comments for me, at least, put the whole event into perspective: what was at stake during DBW ‘13 wasn’t just the future of the publishing industry, but the entire idea of the book and everything related to it.

Excitement about the disruptive changes overwhelming the industry was clear in all the presentations. My colleagues and I—NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital & Print Media students selected to volunteer at the conference—were fortunate enough to listen in on many of these transformational conversations. From technical talks about the merits of EPUB3 to heated debates over DRM (or doing away with it!), NYU publishing students were given access to expert opinions on practically everything concerning the future of book publishing. “A lot of the information was fascinating…it really supplemented everything we’ve been learning in class,” remarked my fellow student Lorna Field, one of the volunteers.

The conference began last Wednesday morning with a discussion of the overall state of the publishing industry. James McQuivey, Vice President of Forrester Research, presented a survey of consumer and executive perceptions on the industry. The data showed that compared with 2011, when executives expected digital to replace print publishing on a rapid schedule, publishers now feel that the transformation will occur much more slowly, allowing for new opportunities in bundling digital and print media. The following panel confirmed and expanded on these findings as four high-level executives, David Nussbaum, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of F+W Media, Marcus Leaver, CEO of The Quarto Group, Karen Lotz, CEO of Candlewick Press, and Gary Gentel, President of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, discussed their opinions on the future of the industry; they particularly emphasized the opportunities for growth, specifically in mobile and international business development. “Personally, I got the impression that, compared to the apocalyptic view about print that has prevailed for the past 4 years, the morning session was fairly positive,” said NYU volunteer Sergio Peralta. “It focused on the new opportunities and exciting things for publishing.”

In addition to the large plenary sessions, there were a series of panel discussions focused on topics like leveraging digital technologies for innovation, growth, and efficiency. For example, a panel entitled “New Tools & Technologies for Small- to Mid-Sized Publishers” stressed the importance of digital technologies in allowing smaller firms to compete effectively in publishing. “This is the best time to be a small publisher,” said Andrea Fleck-Nisbet, Executive Director of Digital Publishing at Workman Publishing, remarking on the ability of small publishers to adapt more easily to new technologies due to their size and ease of cross-company communication.

It was great to see so many of our M.S. in Publishing: Digital & Print Media faculty on various panels throughout the two-day conference. Here are some familiar faces:

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(1) St. Martin’s Press’ Matthew Baldacci, who teaches Introduction to Marketing & Branding and the Book Marketing & Branding advanced seminar; (2, 3) HarperCollins’ Carolyn Pittis and Hyperion’s Mindy Stockfield, who teach Introduction to Interactive Media; (4) Wiley’s Peter Balis, who teaches New Media Technology: From Mobile to E-Books 

Other highlights of the conference included conversations about self publishing and important questions on digital rights and royalties. Phil Sexton, Publisher and Community Leader at Writer’s Digest, presented a survey of over 500 authors who were either self-published, traditionally published, or some hybrid of the two. What emerged from the data were profiles of the three types of authors, with specific emphasis on the emerging success of the hybrid author. “Hybrid authors believe more than any other group that publishers move too slowly and take too much money,” Mr. Sexton said. However, he went on to talk about how these authors recognize the need for the distribution and marketing that publishing houses provide authors, which underscores the benefits of an author-publisher relationship.

In fact, a theme of cooperation prevailed as the conference wound to a close. In a panel on agile publishing, Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, noted: “One of the things I believe about the future of publishing is that it’s going to be collaborative.” Nicole Estrin, an NYU student volunteer, came away with a similar thought after attending a session about the role of libraries in publishing. “They found a major correlation between the ‘holds’ list at libraries and the bestsellers list,” she said, commenting on the way libraries are collaborating with publishers to boost the discoverability of bestselling titles.

While many things about the future of publishing still remain hazy, what Digital Book World 2013 made abundantly clear was that every aspect of the book—from creation to distribution—is changing. Going forward in this industry means seizing new opportunities for growth and collaboration to deliver information in new and innovative ways.

by David Stuzin

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