Posts Tagged ‘Readers’

eReader Frenzy Continues

Last week, Publishing Perspectives’ editor Edward Nawotka stirred up some controversy with his opinion that the current breed of eReaders were good enough, noting, “My septuagenarian mother is delighted with her first-generation Kindle.”

Yesterday, Brian O’Leary, Founder and Principal of Magellan Media, offered his own take on the frenzied buzz coming out of CES in a post, “Reader madness“, that he’s allowed us to repost here in its entirety:

A range of digital reading devices debuted (or hinted at debuting) at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, and the resulting hype convinced me that I should be the last person posting about them.

Then, a friend tweeted a link to a half-day e-reading conference (yes, another one).  The folks behind this conference had crunched the numbers and decided that by 2020, annual demand for e-ink readers would total 446 million units – about $25 billion in sales.  Not “total over ten years”, not “in use”: someone out there (with a straight face) wants me to spend $195 to entertain a claim that nearly half a billion e-readers will be sold in 2020.

No thanks.

There are lots of good things to say about current and possible e-reading solutions, to the extent that they are solutions and not just devices.  To hear those things, we need to stop gasping every time something new and shiny (or black) comes our way.

Matthew Bernius (a graduate student at Rochester Institute of Technology and co-director of the school’s Open Publishing Lab) offers a level-headed view of where e-reading may be headed.  With somewhat less analysis, Bonnier’s Sara Öhrvall offers her on-the-floor perspective, sparing us a breathless talk on the Coming Age of E-Books.

Similarly, Kirk Biglione offers a nuanced assessment of how the mythical Apple Tablet might well aid Amazon in the digital reading market.  It’s not always apparent where we’ll end up, or when we’ll get there.

To be clear, I do believe digital content consumption will grow, and the relative share of print-based content provision will fall.  I’m just not a fan of conclusions without data and predictions for the sake of having said it first.  It was a bad week for both, I am afraid.

Two weeks from now at Digital Book World, the Book Industry Study Group will offer the first look at data from their ongoing research project, “Consumer Attitudes toward eBook Reading”. The study is evaluating readers’ actual interest in and preferences for digital content, and the factors that influence their reading habits and purchasing decisions, and they will be presenting a selection of actionable data points from this pioneering research.

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by Susan Ruszala, Director of Marketing, NetGalley

Since NetGalley’s introduction nearly four years ago, there has been a distinct shift in the tenor and orientation of dialogues about digital galleys—not if, but when; not why, but how.

That’s good news.

Despite this shift, though, one of the major hurdles still ahead is the acceptance of digital galleys by professional readers and publishers.

Note: “Professional reader” signifies anyone who influences purchases by reading and recommending upcoming titles. This certainly includes traditional book reviewers, but also book and enthusiast bloggers, off-the-book page media (print, TV and radio), booksellers, librarians, and professors who request desk copies.

On the face of it, supporting both a print and digital galley process seems redundant. In our conversations with publishers, however, we often hear that print galley quantities are determined more by budget than by need; entire segments, such as the library or bookselling community — both avid recommenders within their own geographic area as well as more broadly online — cannot be served by the number of print galleys available to shrinking budgets. For illustrated titles, the need is even more acute as costs are higher.

Without question, print galleys will rightfully live on, but the digital galley can go further, faster, at less cost, and bulging with supporting materials that would be cost-prohibitive in print. Adopting digital galleys isn’t a one-for-one swap, then; it requires a shift in strategy and tactics. Print budgets will not be eliminated but they will change; and the use of the galley within the publishing house will have to change, too.

One way that change will manifest itself is by stretching the use of the galley across the company. Publishers will succeed when any activity that can result in a galley request—from librarians to trade advertising to traditional reviewers to electronic catalogs to international rights—can be fulfilled with a digital galley. If multiple groups in an organization can use the digital galley, costs are spread across the organization, too.

Digital galleys are not intended as a replacement for the print galley; in many cases digital will supplement and promote print. (Michael Cairns of Personanondata recently blogged about a JISC study which supports this claim.)

Think back to when company websites first became standard practice.

Before there was the corporate website, there was the corporate brochure. Carefully crafted, reflective of its values, glossy, and artistic — and also extraordinarily constrained, expensive to produce, and quickly outdated. Today my safe guess is that there are very few corporate brochures produced solely to deliver information about a company. They are marketing pieces designed to impress; more experiential than informational.

A website, on the other hand, delivers both a visual impression and deep information about a company; it is only limited by how easy it is for visitors to navigate the site.

This is exactly where we are with digital galleys.

The digital galley ostensibly delivers the “same” content to your contacts, but just as visitors to your website navigate your pages according to their specific needs, professional readers will do the same with your digital galleys. The digital galley isn’t limited to what you can afford to print, or are inclined to stuff in your jiffy bag. Off-the-book page media covering the subject of your book can browse and search; broadcast media can access previous author interviews; bookstores can view the author tour schedule; professors can preview a companion teacher’s guide.

Other areas of the publisher’s front office are already making the shift to digital in earnest. Many publishers have introduced digital catalogs to replace the printed tome that once hailed a new season, using solutions like Edelweiss, or by building their own digital catalogs.

Why not include the capability to browse the full-text galley from within that catalog? This is exactly what NetGalley will soon be doing with Edelweiss, as announced a few weeks ago.

The digital galley has a variety of tricks up its sleeve, for sure; but are the readers ready? Some publishers have said to us, “I’ve asked my contacts if they would prefer digital galleys, and they say no.”

So your contacts prefer print galleys. Of course they do! As a publicist charged with pitching a particular book for a particular season, I’d ferociously resist any tactic that might jeopardize an opportunity for coverage. Like the corporate brochure, the print galley represents the traditional and comfortable way to introduce your contacts to new content.

This is why limited experiments for a few titles have limited success. Besides fostering confusion (why can I get this title but not this one?), too small of an experiment won’t support the effort required to convert your contacts to a new concept. The use of digital galleys must be accompanied by internal evangelization and external communication, a responsibility that we at NetGalley share with the publishing community.

User confusion is also cited in the JISC study, and informally on blogs and social networks which note that navigation, user experience, digital rights management and reading devices can all be barriers to adopting digital galleys. Offering your contacts a consistent and user-oriented experience where they can get many titles the same way will only help speed adoption rates. This is true internally, too; the goal is for staff not to focus on the tricky terrain of security and multiple formats, but instead on offering the digital galley as easily as possible.

Savvy publishers are already using digital galleys creatively in their marketing, publicity and sales efforts, a groundswell that is really just beginning. We’re looking forward to sharing ideas with you on this topic at Digital Book World during the session, Digital Tools: How the Sales and Marketing Process is Changing.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Question: Is Twitter a great tool to engage directly with readers, or is it just an echo chamber?

It’s a trick question, of course, but if response to Electric Literature’s experiment with Rick Moody is an indicator, the answer might not be one social marketing evangelists want to hear.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog picked up on the negative reactions to the initiative yesterday, noting “Rick Moody’s Twitter Short Story Draws Long List of Complaints“:

Titled “Some Contemporary Characters,” the story revolves around a man and a woman who meet through an on-line dating site. The criticisms of the piece are less with content than distribution. In addition to Electric Literature’s Twitter feed, several partners agreed to co-publish the story, like Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. As the L.A. Times’ Jacket Copy blog points out, these feeds tend to share followers, so some Twitter users have been inundated with repeat tweets of Moody’s story. One bookseller wrote “Please, please stop the madness.”

The decision of some co-publishers to publish Moody’s story while continuing their normal tweet flow also means the narrative is continually being disrupted by unrelated tweets – the Web equivalent of an audience  standing up during a speech and carrying on cross-conversations while the speaker continues to talk. Michael Cader wrote a piece for Publishers Marketplace outlining these issues with the subtitle “Moody’s Twitter Story Backfires.” He said the criticism “underscores how extremely sensitive audiences are — especially on social networking sites, where communication feels very personal and is always immediate.”

One of the story’s co-publishers was the California independent bookseller, Vroman’s, who abruptly ended the tweets mid-story, shortly after the Speakeasy post. Today, Vroman’s webmaster Patrick Brown had an insightful post asking, “The Rick Moody Twitter Saga: What Are We All Doing Here?

The Moody Twitter experiment (and Moody wasn’t to blame for its failure, though I’m sure the first couple comments will be “ZOMG!1! Rick Moody is teh suck!1!!1″) depressed me for a number of reasons.  First, it made me wonder what we’re all doing on Twitter.  If so many of my followers are book industry people, am I wasting my time with it?  All this time, I’d hoped I was reaching customers.  To be sure, Twitter is useful for talking to colleagues in the book industry, and I’ll continue to use it for that purpose, but if it doesn’t have a reach beyond that, I’m not sure what the point is.  So much of the dialog that happens on Twitter and on the literary blogs feels masturbatory to me.  It’s the same couple hundred people talking about the same issues to the same audience.  Is that what I’ve been doing these past few years?  Is that what the book business is at this point?  If it is, then to quote the modern day philosopher Bunk Moreland “We ain’t about much.”

The book business is in major decline, and while we can all howl about the reasons why, the main one, it seems to me, is that not enough people read (and those who do, read less than they used to).  There are more ways than ever to get your entertainment and information, and books are having a lot of trouble keeping up.  Those of us who rely on selling books for a living need to devote a lot of time to finding people who are not readers.  We have to grow our market, or we are in for a very dark future indeed.   The reaction to this Twitter experiment seems to indicate to me that we’re not all that interested in doing it.  Or maybe we are, as long as it doesn’t interrupt our conversations about ebook formatting and the National Book Awards.

The comments to the post (as of 5:30pm EST) make for interesting reading and together raise a number of interesting questions for publishers and booksellers alike:

  1. Is Twitter a great tool to engage directly with readers, or is it just an echo chamber?
  2. Was Electric Literature’s experiment an epic failure; an innovative idea lacking on execution; or  a successful publicity stunt?
  3. How can publishers and booksellers engage casual and non-readers effectively in an age where response comes in real-time and criticism flows more freely than praise?

That last question is one we’ll address next week in Indie Booksellers and the Digital Transition: Opportunity Knocks?, a FREE webinar that will discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for independent booksellers, and what a digital future means for them.

Debbie Stier, SVP/Associate Publisher for HarperStudio and Director of Digital Marketing for HarperCollins will moderate a lively conversation with our panel of veteran independent booksellers: Stephanie Anderson, WORD (Brooklyn), Patrick Brown, Vromans (Pasadena, CA), and Bridget Warren, Vertigo Books (College Park, MD).

Feel free to leave questions here that you’d like the panel to consider and we’ll make sure they see them.

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Rick Moody’s Twitter Short Story Draws Long List of Complaints

eBooks: The False Dilemma

By Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Director of Audience Development, Digital Book World

People will continue to read printed books for a long time, just as some people still watch movies on VHS. But the printed book will be “dead” in a few short years in the sense that the bulk of the adoption curve, the pragmatic majority, will have moved on.

–Arvind Narayanan, “The death of the printed book is closer than you think

Narayanan’s post is the latest addition to the tiresome “print is dead” meme, and like the vast majority of digital evangelists, he presents a false dilemma, posits a zero-sum scenario, and evokes the tired and largely irrelevant example of Radiohead to make his point. By his “logic”, it could be argued that POD and podcasting should have already killed the publishing industry, and eBooks are simply dancing on its grave.

Ryan Chapman offered a much more pragmatic and realistic take on where the current eBook format fits in the big picture in his post for Digital Book World — A Brand, A Plan, A Channel: eBooks and Mass Market — noting: “After the digital transition, we’ll find that certain books fit an eBook audience, while others are meant for print.”

It really is THAT simple, and all else is linkbait blather and much punditry about nothing.

My two cents? Books are not LPs or CDs, and eReaders are not (and will never be) iPods. No one is ripping and sharing copies of Chapter 16 of The Lost Symbol, and the appeal of carrying more than 3 books around at once is limited to a niche audience of gadget freaks and heavy travelers.

If anything, eBooks are a great opportunity to expand the market, especially for novellas, short stories and anthologies of all kinds, as well as custom publishing of textbooks and how-to content, both of which several publishers are already experimenting with successfully, including Pearson and F+W Media (my employer [and DBW’s corporate parent]). Plus, the same way TV evolved past televising radio broadcasts into its own unique format, there’s huge potential for digital books and mobile apps that incorporate audio, video, kinetic typography, geolocation, databases, etc. — formats that can no longer appropriately be referred to as “books”.

Like the majority of readers, I’m neither a Luddite nor an early adopter; I love books and will likely always prefer the printed “artifact” over the “digital manifestation”, but with the right user experience– from discovery, to purchase, to formatting and shareability — I can see myself fully embracing eBooks for certain types of content.

The fact of the matter, though, hype aside, is that eBooks and eReaders simply aren’t ready for primetime.

Yet.

[This post was excerpted from eBooks: The False Dilemma at loudpoet.com]

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By Ryan Chapman, Internet Marketing Manager, Macmillan

A lot of the discussion about eBooks tends to frame the format in absolutist and misleading terms.

“It will destroy print.”

“It will devalue the book.”

We shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming a growing new format will upend the entire industry (remember the fear concerning audiobooks?). The format will dictate the content and this makes for one of the most exciting shifts in the industry since the rise of mass-market paperbacks.

I bring up mass-markets as an analogy and a precedent. Could you imagine pitching the concept to publishers? “It’s a smaller trim size, printed on cheap paper, and we’ll charge a third of the hardcover price. Yes, hardcovers are beautiful objects, but we think there’s a big opportunity here in treating our books as disposable commodities.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if industry pessimists back then expressed the same fears of cannibalized sales and devalued content that they do now regarding eBooks.

Mass-markets defined their own readership (at airports and supermarkets) and genres (commercial and genre fiction); you don’t see biographies or political nonfiction in this format. Of the current top 20 bestsellers on the New York TimesPaperback Mass-Market Fiction list, 8 have never been published in hardcover (disregarding the large-print hardcovers for Snow Angels and Hot on Her Heels).

The eBook format is no different. After the digital transition, we’ll find that certain books fit an eBook audience, while others are meant for print. Personally, this year I purchased hardcovers that I would never buy as an eBook (Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice), and vice versa (Steve Knopper’s Appetite for Self-Destruction).

Of course there will be overlap. Of course there will be outliers. It’s foolish to think this will be cut and dry on either side.

Thankfully, the publishing industry will be able to weather this transition with greater ease than at previous inflection points. Returning to our analogy, a mass-market pilot program for a major publisher would have required a significant amount of capital for market research and R&D. Not anymore. A lot of traditional market research tools have become affordable (if not free) in their digital forms. Creating consumer surveys, testing book covers, sampling book fairs (for the YA market), etc. Publishers leveraging their direct-to-consumer channels will gain unprecedented reader data at much less cost than in the past.

In the digital transition, we’ll stumble and fall more than once. Harlequin felt this recently with the warm reception for their Carina Press announcement, and the cold shoulder Harlequin Horizons received a week later. But now we can “fail fast forward,” informed with real-time reader response to determine what readers want and in which formats.

The data will most certainly run counter to our guesswork and opinions.

Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher has noted eBook consumption favors fiction over nonfiction at a rate disproportionate to print. (We’ll learn more during his Digital Book World presentation, “Today’s eBook Consumer: A Look at First-Round Data from BISG’s On-Going Survey of Consumer Attitudes Toward eBook Reading.”) Is this significant of eBook habits overall, or merely the behavior of the early adopter community? How much of this is determined by the device?

Reading on a dedicated ereader is different than reading on the iPhone or PC; this too will determine purchasing behavior in the coming year. e.g.: I can embed links to YouTube videos and relevant URLs in my ePub, which, for the right title, makes it a more attractive media property on the iPhone than the Kindle.

Just as 40% of New York Times mass-market bestsellers have never seen the traditional hardcover format, I predict that by this time next year we’ll see a trade title flourish as an eBook, with little or no print support. I’m not talking about Stephenie Meyer selling 10K copies of the Twilight iPhone app, but a word-of-mouth hit operating solely within this new market. Maybe it’ll be a thriller encouraging readers to seek out YouTube content; or an extremely topical work of satire pushed to market at twice the speed a printed book can be crashed.

We know all change is disruptive, and in an industry with thin profit margins that can be scary as hell. It may get worse before it gets better.

Whatever happens, though, I find it’s a thrilling time to be in publishing.

Ryan Chapman works for Macmillan as an internet marketing manager. In January he’ll transition to working exclusively with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. You can follow him on Twitter at @chapmanchapman or on his blog.

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