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March 13 2012

Everyone has a stake in the digital reading experience

In a recent interview with O'Reilly online managing editor Mac Slocum, Louis Rosenfeld (@louisrosenfeld), publisher at Rosenfeld Media, LLC, said there's a collective responsibility for a good user experience:

"There are three or four parties that should be sharing ownership of user experience — the author, the community of readers, the publisher, and the device makers. I think the lines are going to necessarily be blurry; I'm not sure they're ever really going to stabilize. The bigger issue is people — all four of those groups — basically acknowledging they have some ownership ... but also acknowledging that their role is going to be shifting." [Discussed at 1:13.]

Rosenfeld also said, a bit surprisingly given all the focus on digital these days, that his preferred reading "device" is still print [discussed at 3:22].

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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February 28 2012

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February 24 2012

Practical applications of data in publishing

At TOC, you're as likely to run into media professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as you are publishers, booksellers and others working in traditional publishing. This, in turn, makes the underlying themes as varying and diverse as the attendees. This is the second in a series, taking a look at five themes that permeated interviews, sessions and/or keynotes at this year's show. The complete series will be posted here.

As the world — and publishing — becomes more and more digital, more and more data is produced and, ideally, collected. Knowing what kinds of data can be useful and how data analytics can be applied to inform publishing decisions is on the minds of many publishing professionals. Data was one of the overriding themes at this year's Tools of Change for Publishing conference, including discussions on how publishers can benefit from real-time data, practical applications of data and analytics, and how data can not only inform publishing decisions, but can actually aid in content creation.

In a keynote address, Roger Magoulas, director of market research at O'Reilly Media, talked about data research and the view of the data space at O'Reilly. He offered practical suggestions on how to incorporate data and addressed some of the reasons behind the buzz going on in the data space:


Machine learning and natural language processing, for instance, have become mainstream tools. Magoulas said the tools for making use of big data have kept pace with the increasing amounts of data produced, allowing a small team like his — just three people — to do everything.

When incorporating data to inform business decisions or to analyze business scenarios, Magoulas said data alone isn't enough — the data needs a narrative; the numbers alone won't tell the story. He addressed the area of data science from a functional viewpoint:

"On the one side, you manage data — you've got to acquire it; you might have to clean it up; you've got to organize it. On the other side, you're trying to make sense of it; you're trying to gather insights."

Magoulas said those are the two key parts, but that the most important part probably is having or cultivating a culture that can accommodate the data: "People need to understand the message that you're giving ... and how to value the input ... People need to be able to think in an experimental way and to stay curious."

When offering practical suggestions on incorporating data into a business, Magoulas stressed that becoming data savvy is important; "you can't just go buy big data and expect to know what you're doing." He also said keeping the data close to the analysis is important:

"You want to be agile, and if you separate it out and have a data group, an analytics group, and a design group, everyone is going to be waiting for someone else. Integration is really important."

You can view Magoulas' keynote in the following video (and you can find his slides here):

The data discussion turned real-time and academic in the "Mendeley Case Study: How The World's Largest Crowdsourced Academic Database Is Changing Academic Publishing" session, hosted by Jan Reichelt, director and co-founder of Mendeley Ltd. Reichelt shared some lessons learned at Mendeley and talked about how real-time data on content usage provides important insights into how academics interact with research. He stressed the increasing importance of social and community-collaborated content:



In addition to insights gleaned from the data around content usage, data around content production also was telling. Similar to other areas of the publishing industry — journalism, self-publishing — Reichelt highlighted the blurring lines between types of content producers and the types of content produced in academic publishing:


Reichelt's presentation slides can be found here.

Peter Collingridge (@gunzalis), co-founder of Enhanced Editions, talked about how publishers can benefit from real-time data and analytics in terms of marketing. In an interview, he said data can inform answers to vital questions:

"When you're in a much faster-paced world, with the industry moving toward being consumer- rather than trade-facing, and with a fragmented retail and media landscape, you need to make decisions based on fact: What is the ROI on a £50,000 marketing campaign? Where do my banner ads have the best CTR? Who are the key influencers here — are they bloggers, mainstream media, or somewhere else? How many of our Twitter followers actually engage? When should we publish, in what format, and at what price?

Data should absolutely inform the answers to these questions ... Over time, you build up a picture of which tactics work best and which don't. And immediate feedback allows you to hone your activities in real-time to what works best (particularly if you are A/B testing different approaches), or from a more strategic perspective, to plan out campaigns that have historically worked best for comparable titles."

As the data deluge grows in the digital age, it not only is useful for analysis and informing decisions, it also can be used to create content. In a video interview, Robbie Allen, founder and CEO of Automated Insights, a company that produces narrative content from raw data, addressed this topic. He said for now, quantitative content created from structured data — think sports stories, financial reports — is best suited for automation, but that creating content from unstructured data isn't out of the question:

"In the unstructured world, we still can access what I call 'consistent unstructured data.' If there's patterns to data, we can still pull out data from that and make it structured. So, ultimately, we start with structured, then we go to consistent unstructured, and eventually, we'll even be able to pull data out of completely unstructured."

Allen's full interview can be viewed in the following video:

If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


February 23 2012

Agile for real-world publishing

At TOC, you're as likely to run into media professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as you are publishers, booksellers and others working in traditional publishing. This, in turn, makes the underlying themes as varying and diverse as the attendees. This is the first in a series, taking a look at five themes that permeated interviews, sessions and/or keynotes at this year's show. The complete series will be posted here.

Agile publishing, in terms of workflow, work environment as well as practical publishing applications was one of the overriding themes at this year's TOC.

Kristen McLean (@ABCKristen), founder and CEO of Bookigee, addressed agile in her session Hippo In Ballet Shoes, Or Greyhound On The Track? Applying Agile Methodologies To Traditional Publishing. She talked about how agile is a workflow strategy and cited "The Agile Manifesto":


She also discussed what the agile environment looks like in real-world publishing. Some highlights from her discussion include:

  • Self-organizing teams with flexible skills — get highly talented and interdisciplinary individuals
  • Accountability & empowerment — Give them what they need and trust them to get the work done.
  • Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace — each person should be able to commit only to what they can do in a day, a week, or a production cycle. Cut back features in order to deliver on time.
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location) — put the entire team in one place.
  • Completed tasks are delivered frequently — weeks rather than months
  • Completed tasks are the principal measure of progress — focus on real stuff, not on rituals, documentation, or other internal benchmarks that do nothing for your customer.

McLean's presentation slides can be found here, and an interview with McLean on some of the finer points of agile can be found here.

Firebrand Technologies' communications chief Laura Dawson (@ljndawson) held a session on metadata, Metadata is Not a Thing, that reinforced some of these ideas, in that an agile publishing environment requires solid metadata through every phase of the publishing process. Dawson talked more about metadata and workflows in a video interview:

The agile theme flowed in a practical direction in the Real World Agile Publishing session with Joe Wikert (@jwikert) of O'Reilly Media and Dominique Raccah (@draccah) of Sourcebooks, and moderator Brett Sandusky (@bsandusky) of Macmillan New Ventures.

Wikert talked about a variety of agile publishing projects at O'Reilly, including current book projects such as Todd Sattersten's "Every Book Is a Startup," which is based on a model of frequent updates to build content and dynamic pricing, and Peter Meyers' Breaking the Page, which is based on a freemium model. He also addressed other styles of agile publishing O'Reilly has experimented with, including early release projects and rough cuts, which offer early digital access and flat pricing. Wikert touched on short form content publishing as well, which he said allows for a quick turnaround to publish minimum viable products on cutting-edge topics.

Raccah announced that Sourcebooks would be using an agile publishing model to publish an upcoming book, "Entering the Shift Age," by David Houle. She outlined three goals for the model — more efficient product development, a better author experience, and more timely/updated books — and listed six guiding principles of agile publishing:


Wikert's presentation slides can be viewed here, and Raccah's can be viewed here.

In a separate video interview, Sandusky addressed a question about whether agile applies universally to all types of books:

"'Books' is the part that I have a little bit of a problem with — I think agile applies universally to all kinds of digital product development. That could include books; that could include traditional print books with a POD component; that could include many different types of digital products. 'Books,' in terms of the traditional model of 'build a print book, take it to manufacturing, and then take it to launch' is not an agile process. But if your workflow is more digitally focused, then I think it applies to all digital products overall."

Also in a video interview, Todd Sattersten (@toddsattersten), author of "Every Book is a Startup" and founder of BizBookLab, addressed a question about how publishers can apply agile development methods:

"I'm interested in how we take the concept of a minimum viable product and apply it to how we develop content. The problem with books is that we tend to believe they have to be big and long and carefully constructed. With minimum viable product, it's really the exact opposite — what is the smallest amount that we have to do? It could be just putting up a splash page and saying, "Are you interested enough in this idea to share an address?" We're very familiar in book publishing with the idea of pre-sales — why not sell a book before we actually invest a whole bunch of money in producing the book?"

If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


Reposted byRKvitaminb

January 25 2012

In the case of interactivity, we're still at the phase of irrational enthusiasm

When it comes to including interactive features in books, "just because you can doesn't mean you should" may be your best rule of thumb. Wolfram Research, Inc., co-founder and author of "The Elements" Theodore Gray will address the finer points of interactive features in his keynote address, "Meaningful Interactivity In A Mobile World," at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

In the following interview, Gray offers some insight into the interactivity issue. He says, "Interactivity for its own sake is a bad thing: It should always be serving communication." Gray also says that static ebooks haven't fundamentally changed the dynamics of publishing, but that super-enhanced ebooks are staking out new territory.

Where do you draw the line between meaningful and gimmicky interactivity?

Theodore_Gray_Mug.jpgTheodore Gray: It's all about communication. If an interactive feature helps communicate an idea, helps the reader understand a complicated concept, or in some way makes the material easier to navigate, search, organize, or visualize, then it's probably a good feature. If it's just cool but tends to distract from the material, then maybe it's a good idea for a game but not as an interactive element in a book.

Very much the same principle applies to film editing, where one must always be willing to throw out one's favorite scene because, however cool it is, it does not contribute to the story. In fact, the more cool and amazing a scene or feature is, the more on guard you have to be that perhaps the only reason you like it is because it's cool, not because it has earned a proper place in the film or book you're working on.

It's hard to be more specific because every situation is so different, but in general, I believe in the principles of minimalism expounded by the likes of Edward Tufte and Apple. If you've got pixels on the screen occupied by something that is not directly contributing to communication, then they had better be prepared to justify their existence in front of a skeptical committee. Not that you can never have pure adornment, you'd just better have a really good reason for it.

Are there times when interactivity is detrimental and should be avoided?

Theodore Gray: There are certainly some kinds of activity on the screen that are purely bad — for example, animated images that keep playing while you're trying to read. On the web, people learned years ago how incredibly annoying this is, but the allure to designers is so strong that it seems we need to learn the lesson all over again. A quick movement as an image comes on screen is fine, but if there is body text meant to be read on a page, then the images had better stop moving within a second or less. I think continuous animation is fine on a menu or title page where the focus should actually be on the moving images, but not on a body text page where it is a pure distraction.

I don't want to name names out of deference to the well-intended atrocities committed by some ebooks, but there are a number of examples out there where people obviously felt that their book would benefit from some kind of interactivity, but they didn't have any good ideas for interactivity that would communicate new information or clarify important ideas. So, they just threw in gratuitous things that flip when you touch them and the like. This might be okay in something meant for very small children, but even there I think it's a cop out. Doing good interactivity is very hard, and it's even harder to admit when you don't have a good enough idea and should just stick with plain text.

How have mobile platforms changed the publishing landscape?

Theodore Gray: The large-scale switch to conventional, static ebooks for trade books and scholarly monographs is clearly under full steam, and while print books are here for a very long time, the center of gravity is clearly shifting to ebooks. But this hasn't really fundamentally changed the dynamics of publishing. Yes, there are power struggles between publishers and retailers over price points, margins, etc., but that's nothing new. Publishers have been fighting with retailers for a generation, and I think the introduction of static ebooks is part of a continuous evolution in these power relationships, not, at this point, a fundamentally new thing.

Super-enhanced ebooks like Touch Press publishes are a bit further out of bounds, in that they stake out a new territory somewhere between book publishing, game development, and movie/television production. If they turn out to be an important segment of the book market, then they change the kinds of talent and skills publishers need to be competitive. Whether they will also stake out new territory in distribution models or power relationships between authors, agents, publishers, and retailers/distributors remains to be seen.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

What kinds of tools do authors need to create interactive content, and what new skills might they need to develop?

Theodore Gray: Good interactivity is hard. Fundamentally, it's the same skill set needed for any kind of software development, which means hard-core programming talent, interactive/game design skill, and visual design skill. There are some tools that can make interactivity much easier within limited domains, but most of these result in shallow — which is to say bad — interactivity.

For highly technical kinds of interactivity, Wolfram|Alpha and Wolfram's Computational Document Format are attractive tools, in that they allow very deep computation and data-based interactivity with minimal software development. But for more visual/graphical or game-like interactivity, there are no shortcuts.

What are some guidelines authors should follow when considering interactive features for content?

Theodore Gray: You have to be ruthless in assessing what kinds of interactivity, if any, are appropriate. Back when computers were first able to print with a range of different fonts, people started producing documents littered with dozens of different fonts and faces. It's a natural response, but it's also a passing phase. Today, it's not so important to have rules like "no more than three fonts on a page" because people are no longer excited about this capability, and they naturally tend toward more reasonable font choices.

In the case of interactivity, we're still at the phase of irrational enthusiasm for littering every page with six different interactive things, whether they make any sense or not. Interactivity for its own sake is a bad thing: It should always be serving communication.

How should one decide between building an ebook and building an app? Is there a tipping point?

Theodore Gray: The tipping point is when there is important, meaningful, useful interactivity you want to have in your book, but it isn't supported by the ebook format you have available. This is a shifting ground, as ebook formats continue to evolve to support more kinds of interactivity. For Touch Press, what we do is so far beyond what anything like EPUB can do that there's no question about it — we have to make apps. For a mystery novel, it might be equally obvious that it should be a static ebook.

The important point that some people seem to miss is that the only difference between an "ebook" and an "ebook app" is technical. An ebook app should still be a book and have all the same characteristics of readability — good writing, user-driven pacing, calm presentation, etc. — as a static ebook does.

I think it's a failing of the current distribution models that there is such a hard line between ebooks and apps. The fact that there is a "Books" category in the Apple App Store as well as an iBooks store is very un-Apple-like in the confusion it creates. There should just be a bookstore that contains books. Some of those books might be EPUB-format static ebooks with limited interactivity, some of them might be more highly interactive books that are implemented with their own custom C-code (i.e. they are apps), but either way, they are books in a bookstore.

This interview was edited and condensed.


January 24 2012

The five things you need to pay attention to at TOC 2012

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

The 2012 edition of the Tools of Change for Publishing conference will open its doors on February 13 in New York City.

Since we're in the home stretch, I rounded up TOC chairs Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert to discuss the major publishing trends and developments that are shaping the conference. Below, you'll find the five biggest takeaways from our chat. The associated audio podcast contains the full conversation.

1. Publishing is rife with startups

The publishing world is no longer solely the domain of big old organizations. There's a whole bunch of startups engaged in a variety of publishing experiments. TOC 2012 will feature notable upstarts in the Startup Showcase and throughout the conference program.

2. You've got the data, now what do you do with it?

Digital and data go hand-in-hand, and that means publishers — whether they know it or not — are running data-driven businesses. They need to learn how to gather, mine and use all those datasets to their advantage. The practical application of data will be an important theme at the conference.

3. No more ugly ebooks

Those quick and dirty digital conversions won't cut it anymore. Readers are committing to digital, and now they're rightfully demanding top-notch ebook / app experiences. It's time for publishers to meet that demand.

4. Publishing is bigger than books

Book people have something to learn from media people, and media people can learn from book people. Toss in film and music folks, and you've got a huge digital knowledge base that can be drawn from and adapted. This year at TOC, there's a concerted effort to expand "publishing" beyond its narrow and traditional definition.

5. "Change/Forward/Fast" isn't just a catchy tagline

Agile development began in the software world, but its core attributes of iteration and feedback also apply to publishing. Agile methodologies and applications will be discussed in a variety of TOC sessions.

Again, those are just the takeaways from the interview. The podcast has much more on TOC's major themes and what you can expect to see. It also includes a "bold prediction" from Joe that, if realized, could completely change the way publishers handle mobile apps and ebooks.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012


January 20 2012

January 19 2012

Getting the content out there isn't enough anymore

Content is still king, but now it has to share its crown. Justo Hidalgo (@justohidalgo), co-founder of 24symbols and a panelist in the "New Ways to Sell" session at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, believes added value and personalized services are just as important as the content itself. He explains why in the following interview.

In what contexts does content aggregation create the most value?

JustoHidalgoMug.pngJusto Hidalgo: Companies that take content and contribute added value for readers are generally better positioned to succeed. Specifically, I believe content aggregation is useful in the following contexts:

  • Hubs — Why did The Huffington Post gain so much success? Why is Spotify increasing its number of users constantly? And why is Netflix in trouble? There are of course many reasons, but one is particularly clear: Users want hubs where they can find most, if not all, of the content they want. Content aggregation enables just that. While creating silos of information can be valuable in specific niche markets, it does not work in mass markets unless your brand recognition is immensely high.
  • Value addition — Social recommendation is a typical yet good example of value addition to content, as is adding information about a title's author and surrounding context. This meta-information can be manually or automatically added. I believe in the power of machine learning and data mining technologies applied to this area, along with human expertise.
  • Discovery — While having thousands or millions of books complicates a search, it also creates an impressive opportunity: There are more relevant datasets to match recommendations and tastes as well as to facilitate serendipitous discovery.

How about paywalls — is anyone doing this properly? What is the best way to make this model work?

Justo Hidalgo: Paywall models only work if what you offer is extremely exclusive. Maybe the New York Times or the Financial Times can succeed at offering paywall content, but in a digital world absolutely nothing can be prevented from being copied and propagated. So the key is not the content itself, but the value-added service offered on top of it. Only a mixture of high-quality content and a great service will be compelling enough to make users pay.

In general, the content — and the service that contains it — needs to be testable, and models like freemium, whether "free" is forever or for a limited time, are critical in the digital content world. Spotify is creating a massive user base with this model, even now that its free offering is not as compelling as before. The New York Times is also using a freemium approach, letting its users read a few articles per month for free before the paywall kicks in.

The challenge of paywalls in this context is that high quality is not only expected, but required. With so many good free sources of information available, if I am to pay for it, I expect it to be impressive — not only in terms of pure content, but also in terms of the benefits the service provides in a personalized way.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

24Symbols is based on a subscription model. Since your launch, have you had to change the model to make it work?

Justo Hidalgo: Pivoting is inherent to any startup. We made some changes to our product strategy, like focusing on the HTML5 version before the native apps for iOS and Android.

In terms of the model, the basics are the same. We believe a cloud-based social reader with a freemium subscription model is key for the future of publishing. And we recently branched out to license our technology to companies and institutions that want to offer a cloud reader to their customers or employees. This was in our minds from the start, but we wanted to focus on the consumer offering first and create a top-class platform.

This interview was edited and condensed.


Reposted byRK RK

January 10 2012

How agile methodologies can help publishers

Agile methodologies originated in the software space, but Bookigee CEO Kristen McLean (@ABCKristen) believes many of the same techniques can also be applied to content development and publishing workflows. She explains why in the following interview.

McLean will further explore this topic during her agile methodologies presentation at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York.

What is an agile methodology?

KristenMcLean.jpgKristen McLean: An agile methodology is a series of strategies for managing projects and processes that emphasize quick creative cycles, flat self-organizing working groups, the breaking down of complex tasks into smaller achievable goals, and the presumption that you don't always know what the finished product will be when you begin the process.

These types of methodologies work particularly well in any situation where you are trying to produce a creative product to meet a market that is evolving — like a new piece of software when the core concept needs proof from the user to evolve — or where there needs to be a very direct and engaged relationship between the producers and users of a particular product or service.

Agile methodologies emerged out of the software development community in the 1970s, but began to really codify in the 1990s with the rise of several types of "lightweight" methods such as SCRUM, Extreme Programming, and Adaptive Software Development. These were all rolled up under the umbrella of agile in 2001, when a group of developers came together to create the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which set the core principles for this type of working philosophy.

Since then, agile has been applied outside of software development to many different kinds of systems management. Most promote development, teamwork, collaboration, and process adaptability throughout the life-cycle of the project. At the end of the day, it's about getting something out there that we can test and learn from.

How do agile methodologies apply to publishing?

Kristen McLean: In relation to publishing, we're really talking about two things: agile content development and agile workflow.

Agile content development is the idea that we may be able to apply these methodologies to creating content in a very different way than we are traditionally used to. This could mean anything from serialized book content to frequent releases of digital content, like book-related websites, apps, games and more. The discussion of how agile might be applied to traditional book content is just beginning, and I think there's an open-ended question about how it might intersect with the deeply personal — and not always quick — process of writing a book.

I don't believe some of our greatest works could have been written in an agile framework (think Hemingway, Roth, or Franzen), but I also believe agile might lend itself to certain kinds of book content, like serial fiction (romance, YA, mystery) and some kinds of non-fiction. The real question has to do with what exactly a "book" is and understanding the leading edge between knowing your audience and crowdsourcing your material.

Publishing houses have been inherently hierarchical because they've been organized around a manufacturing process wherein a book's creation has been treated as though it's on an assembly line. The publisher and editor have typically been the arbiters of content, and as a whole, publishers have not really cultivated a direct relationship with end users. Publishers make. Users buy/read/share, etc.

Publishers need to adapt to a radically different way of working. For example, here's a few ways agile strategies could help with the adaptation of a publishing workflow:

  • Create flat, flexible teams of four to five super-talented individuals with a collective skill set — including editorial, marketing, publicity, production, digital/design, and business — all working together from the moment of acquisition (or maybe before). These teams would need to be completely fluent in XHTML and would work under the supervision of a managing publisher whose job would be to create the proper environment and remove impediments so the team could do its job.
  • An original creative voice and unique point of view will always be important in great writing, but those of us who produce books as trade objects (and package the content in them) have to stop assuming we know what the market wants and start talking to the market as frequently as possible.

  • Use forward-facing data and feedback to project future sales. Stop using past sales as the exclusive way to project future sales. The market is moving too fast for that, and we all know there is a diminishing return for the same old, same old.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

This interview was edited and condensed.

Associated photo on home and category pages adapted from: Agile-Software-Development-Poster-En.pdf by Dbenson and VersionOne, Inc., on Wikimedia Commons


November 07 2011

Do agent-publishers carry a conflict of interest?

The shift in the digital publishing landscape is changing more than formats and production processes — it's bringing new positions with it, too. One of the most noteworthy new jobs — and perhaps most controversial and contentious — is the emerging agent-publisher role.

To find out more about what agent-publishers mean for established publishers, authors, and agents, I turned to Booksquare's Kassia Krozser (@booksquare). She says the agent-publisher position rose out of the refusal of traditional publishers to adjust their business models. "Traditional publishers need to not only rethink how they sell their value to authors and agents," Krozser says, "but they also need to rethink the economic structure of their deals."

The agent-publisher isn't a squeaky-clean solution for authors, however. Krozser is concerned the position might come with an inherent conflict of interest.

Our interview follows.

What is an agent-publisher, and why is this new position emerging?

Kassia_KrozserKassia Krozser: The first part of the question is fairly simple: an agent-publisher is someone who fulfills both roles. The second is even easier. Agent-publishers are emerging because, well, traditional publishers couldn't or wouldn't twist their business models to meet the market realities. Agents, smartly, saw a business opportunity in the desire of authors to make reasonably good money from self-publishing. Agents also recognized that authors do not necessarily possess — nor necessarily want to assume — the functions publishers fulfill.

Traditional publishers try to coax these same authors into their existing structures. This, I think, is a mistake on the part of traditional publishers because they're having a difficult time articulating the value proposition to these authors. Think about the choice authors are making: 70% royalty for self-publishing, 25% royalty for going with a traditional publisher. Then add in agents who realize they can offer a suite of services while still allowing authors to do better than they would with a traditional publishing house, for a 15% fee.

I should note that this phenomenon is mostly geared toward backlist titles, though some digital originals are emerging. And because it's backlist, the economics weighed by the authors — and the benefits — are very much skewed toward self-publishing or going agent-publisher.

It's not like the distribution and marketing are all that different.

How are agent-publishers disruptive to the publishing ecosystem?

Kassia Krozser: It's disruptive because backlist is incredibly lucrative, and backlist for digital means additive sales, in the sense that readers are buying favorites from their existing print libraries in digital. Publishers don't want to lose control of the digital backlist. These are titles that have (likely) earned out, so the investment in converting to digital, for a traditional publisher, is peanuts. The potential profitability of the book is quite nice because, in digital, books remain on the shelf forever — which isn't great for the authors if the royalties are low.

So, if authors or their agents take these properties and exploit them, then there goes a steady, predictable, and profitable revenue stream for publishers. As readers shift from print to digital, the shift of these sales from publisher to author/agent — I am using some terms interchangeably — is profound.

This will increase a prime tension: publishers want to acquire as many rights as possible, for as long as possible; agents want to retain as many rights as possible while licensing other rights for as short as possible. What to watch for in the near future is how the balance of power shifts.

In my opinion, traditional publishers need to not only rethink how they sell their value to authors and agents, but they also need to rethink the economic structure of their deals.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Is the agent-publisher arrangement a viable service model?

Kassia Krozser: I'm torn on this point. I completely understand why agents are moving into this marketplace. I am also concerned about conflicts of interest. If I'm an author and my agent is selling to traditional publishers while also creating a profit center around digital publishing, can I be certain my best interests are being considered?

On the other hand, it is currently the case that traditional publishers are not willing or able to pay market value for these backlist books. And it is very hard for authors/agents/innocent bystanders to discern what value is added by these publishers. The quality of ebooks from traditional publishers is sub-par — oh yes, I can point you to examples — marketing is negligible, and cost of conversion is minor (I am assuming the books the traditional publishers care about have earned out and then some).

So, authors have three choices: DIY, agent-publisher, or traditional publishers. DIY means the author has to employ a lot of new/uncomfortable skills (please authors, you are not as good at conversion as you think you are). Agent-publisher means you have someone doing those jobs for you at a 15% rate, plus, possibly, expenses. Traditional means you have someone doing that work at a 75% rate.

So, yeah, agent-publisher is a viable business model. But it's also an opportunity for others to move into the space — non-agent publishers who can offer rates and services on par with agents. For example, I am seeing small, and growing, author collectives springing up. In these, each author is his/her own entity, handling conversion, formatting, and proofing on his/her own. But the group markets collectively and has a single point of sale, with, presumably, someone managing the distribution of monies. While this creates work for these authors, they also don't have to pay the agent a fee. More of these sorts of arrangements would help me get past my conflict of interest issues.

This interview was edited and condensed.


October 27 2011

Publishing's tech and edit worlds converge

BooksInBrowsersThe Books in Browsers conference got underway this morning. For those who aren't able to attend, the event is being livestreamed. A couple of highlights from this morning's opening speakers include:

  • Bill McCoy (@billmccoy), executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum, talked about some fundamental business issues of EPUB3. He said there's no intrinsic value to standards — their only purpose is to improve the efficiency of the solutions that use them; they're a way to make things faster, cheaper, better — the value lies in the application of the standards. McCoy highlighted several ways that EPUB3 addresses these efficiencies and solutions and how the EPUB3 publishing standard is a strategic weapon for publishers.
  • Freelance programmer Blaine Cook (@blaine) and author Maureen Evans (@maureen) talked about projects on the leading edge of the digital change. Evans' book Eat Tweet, for instance, started as a twitter stream: @cookbook. Cook talked about the fluid process and the dynamic publishing environment of Newspaper Club and said the people who are building the cool new things in publishing are actually web developers. He talked about writing collaboratively with GIT and used the SXSW fieldguide he developed as a forkable guidebook on GIT Hub as an example how coding books in HTML is a much more open, accessible format.

This afternoon's lineup includes sessions by author Peter Meyers (@petermeyers), Flipboard designer and publisher Craig Mod (@craigmod), and Threepress's Liza Daly (@liza). The conference — and livestreaming — continues tomorrow and opens at 11:30 a.m. EDT with Wired's Kevin Kelly speaking about networked books and networked reading.

Watch live streaming video from oreillyconfs at

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

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October 10 2011

TOC Frankfurt launches with a global ebook market survey

The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future ProjectionsTools of Change (TOC) and O'Reilly Media have released a new white paper, "The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future Projections." Using the United States and United Kingdom as benchmarks, the study, commissioned through Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting, provides a broad survey of emerging ebook markets across Europe, Brazil and China.

Using actual data rather than forecasts, the study examines how the main drivers of digital change in the publishing industry impact those markets, taking into account local factors and the unique defining traits of each market — from market sizes to tax and pricing regimes to cultural choices.

Highlights from the study results include:

Ebook pricing — In most of Europe, ebook pricing is fixed. "Publishers usually set the retail price, and competition in books is not driven by pricing." Taking a look at average pricing shows a clear discrepancy between the US/UK and France/Germany:

Ebook Pricing Table
Average prices, in euros, for the top 10 fiction bestsellers in the US, first week of September 2011. (Sources: Publishers Weekly, The Bookseller/Nielsen, Livres Hebdo/Ipsos, and Der Spiegel/buchreport.)

The study says pressure on average pricing is bound to increase "as books are currently migrating beyond the traditional book trade to general retail channels, for example, those rooted in electronics and entertainment, like Redcoon, and as nontraditional business models arise, like subscription models or Amazon's alleged rental model."

Perceptions of digital — Google's efforts to scan and digitize copyrighted works "has resulted in the identification of the digitization of books, most broadly, as an assault on book culture and on fair compensation for intellectual property." Moreover, "'Digital' has been broadly identified with 'illegal' or at least 'unfair' use of the cultural stock, first in Germany and France, and then over time in many parts of continental Europe. In the context of an ever broader concern about digital information technologies, surveillance, and the loss of privacy, ebooks hit continental Europe at a moment when 'digital' or 'e' reading is considered to be a threat to citizens' freedom and Europe's difficult stand in a globalizing world."

Products versus license — Legal issues and regulations factor strongly in ebook market conditions. The value-added tax (VAT) in Europe is a good example. "In several European countries, book prices are regulated and are subject to reduced VAT, yet these regulations do not automatically apply to ebooks ... The problem with the VAT is that, according to the European Commission, books are considered to be products, but in the case of ebooks, the consumer is acquiring a license. This difference results in significant surcharges for ebooks and discrimination of ebooks versus printed books."

Expected growth versus perceived impact — "In 2015 in Germany, ebook penetration of between 10 and 15% of the book market is conceivable; this number is considerably lower — around 8 to 10% — for Italy or Spain ... Interestingly, when asked [in a questionnaire] if ebooks will have a relevant impact on retailers and publishers by 2015, a much broader consensus is expressed that this is most likely; hence, this anticipation is seen independent from the actual market share of ebooks."

Download "The Global eBook Market" report for free here.

September 22 2011

Textbooks should not be consumed in isolation

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months.

Textbook publisher Inkling recently published its 51st textbook for the iPad. Company founder and CEO Matt MacInnis (@stanine) recently sat down with O'Reilly's Joe Wikert to talk about the company and how its goals go way beyond traditional textbook education.

Highlights from the interview include:

  • Textbook design is going to change — "We don't think the products people pay for a few years from now are going to be as distinct as the textbook is today from other print products ... when you think about learning about cellular biology or something medical, or you think about learning how to crochet or cook or travel — a lot of those products are going to start to look much more similar. They're going to be more modular or they're going to be more hierarchical — they're going to be more interactive. Although our focus today is most certainly on the textbook, there's a whole world of opportunity for this kind of technology." [Discussed at the 1:51 mark.]
  • The way textbooks are consumed is going to change — "When you think about the chapter, it is a division of content that's really rooted in the structure of the book ... [We think that as we work with publishers] to build natively digital content, you won't have a chapter. You'll actually have an object or you'll have something that is learning- and outcome-focused that you'll pay for as a modular bit of content." [Discussed at 4:13.]
  • Social features work particularly well with textbooks — "Human beings are wired to learn from one another. The textbook is a fundamentally isolating experience, and sometimes that's good ... but with a textbook it's not such a great thing to be totally isolated from the world around you. It's okay to focus, but you also need to bounce ideas off people and ask questions and have people show you things you don't understand. Our goal is to bring the community of learners around you into the textbook experience so that the content is one of the ways you learn when you're using Inkling." [Discussed at 7:30.]

For more on Inkling check out the full discussion in the following video:

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


  • TOC Preview: The Future of Digital Textbooks
  • The time is now for digital textbooks
  • More TOC Podcasts
  • September 21 2011

    Papercut has designs on a new storytelling genre

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months.

    Papercut, a new iPad publishing platform developed by ustwo, is scheduled for release in late September. Jonas Lennermo, head of publishing at ustwo, recently sat down with O'Reilly's Joe Wikert to talk about the new platform. Highlights from their interview include:

    • A Papercut overview — "You could say Papercut is three things: it's a publishing platform; it could work as a storefront; and first and foremost, it's a new genre — it's a storytelling experiment." [Discussed at the 0:53 mark]
    • It's also a multi-sensory experience — "The concept is quite straightforward: you have a small, scrollable reading window, and because of the reading window, we know where the reader is in the story and we can trigger events based on what's happening in the story." Readers can hear doors close, the wind blowing, and visuals can be included as well. [Discussed at 1:33]
    • The issue of development scalability — "I think it's a hard balance because we are really keen on creating a platform so we can create these stories quite cheap and quite fast, but we don't want to be locked in to only do one thing. We still want to experiment, but mainly we want to experiment with storytelling. It's a fine balance between creating a one-off — to explore and do something brand new — but also at the same time be strategic and create a platform that you can reuse." [Discussed at 7:23]

    The full discussion is available in the following video. Lennermo will talk more about ustwo and PaperCut at next month's TOC Frankfurt.

    TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

    Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


    September 14 2011

    Promoting free downloads to increase revenue

    This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months.

    In a recent interview with O'Reilly publisher Joe Wikert, Nelson Saba, CEO of Immersion Digital, talked about his company's Glo Bible app. The app has a free version and a $49.99 upgrade to a premium version. Saba said he was pleasantly surprised at the upgrade conversion success, saying that they experience a 7 to 13% conversion rate, and that the freemium model isn't as much of a struggle as publishers might think.

    When you get very good conversion ratios, all of a sudden you find yourself in the business of promoting free downloads, which is much easier than selling a product ... Conversion ratios are a function of platform, country, price point — for each country in a certain platform, by adjusting the price you can get good conversion ratios ... you also should have multiple in-app upgrades because different upgrades will resonate more with different platforms. Once you hit a conversion ratio that you like, you can bet that that's going to stay steady despite the volume of downloads ... but it varies a lot from platform to platform. [Discussed at the 6:10 mark.]

    For more on the success of the Glo Bible app and how modern technology can be used to enhance even timeless content, you can view the interview below.

    TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

    Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


  • What ebook designers can learn from Bible-reading software
  • The iPad's ripple effect
  • What publishing can learn from tech startups

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