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July 31 2012

Publishing times, they are a-changin’

The NYC Publishing Innovators Meetup group held its inaugural roundtable in its quarterly speaker series in July. Panelists, led by Kat Meyer as moderator, included: Ned Lomigora, co-founder of; Diane Gedymin, executive editor at Turner Publishing; Peter Balis, director of online sales, John Wiley & Sons; Linda Holliday, CEO of Semi-Linear; Jesse Potash, founder, PubSlush, and; Michelle Toth, founder, 617Books. The thesis was: “What role can publishers play in supporting a direct relationship between readers and authors?” The discussion was energetic, but everyone agreed on one thing: the times, they are a-changin’.

Key points from the full discussion include:

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way — Utilizing technology, authors with the time and will to publish and market their books can bypass traditional publishers. Technology “is the great enabler and democratizer.” [Begins at the 13:20 mark.]
  • Is it good? — Quality content matters; curation is a valuable role for professionals, from freelancers to traditional publishers, but a panelist postulates that an alternate path can be found in the tools available to authors who self-publish, including community. [Begins at 24:05.]
  • Should publishers worry about losing big authors to self-publishing? — If traditional publishers are going to continue to add marketing value, they need to master the new technology toolset and grow it. Publishers lag behind other industry leaders as to what they do online. [Begins at 34:19.]
  • The distance between readers and writers is shrinking — Whoever owns the sale owns the relationship with readers, and effective marketing is key to establishing that relationship. [Begins at 38:05.]
  • What is distribution in today’s world? — A spirited discussion begins with the declaration that you can’t distribute a book “with the push of a button.” Publishers create books in multiple formats sent to multiple vendors for sale via multiple channels, with metadata included for discovery purposes. [Begins at 47:02.]
  • Transparency in e-publishing — Peter Balis talks about the complex process of publishing in various formats, information that should be shared with aspiring authors who want to self-publish and self-distribute. [Begins at 56:00 with insightful follow-up comments starting at 1:05:40.]
  • Our understanding of what a publisher is is changing — Jesse Potash addresses changing roles and perceptions, and how experts can potentially replace certain roles publishers currently fill. [Begins at 1:00:25.]
  • Branding — A great discussion about the role branding is playing in today’s world starts with a question from the audience. [Begins at 1:25:21.]

You can view the entire roundtable in the following video:


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.

Register to attend TOC 2012


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

  • February 24 2011

    For booksellers, the future is brighter than it seems

    Brick-and-mortar bookstores may look like they're in trouble, and the Borders bankruptcy certainly doesn't help. But Kassia Krozser, owner of, says that amidst all this upheaval, we're actually in a golden age of publishing. People are discovering and reading content all the time, and the very definition of "publisher" is expanding.

    This golden age extends to brick and mortar booksellers as well. During a recent interview, Krozser said traditional retailers that can accept and adapt to digital realities will survive this transition:

    Booksellers have to accept that digital publishing exists, because that is what your customers want. They want a digital book in certain instances, they want a print book in certain instances — they want to buy a combination of those books. They want to be able to buy a book in the middle of the night.

    Krozser also pointed out that offering digital options isn't enough — booksellers need to learn how all the various technology works so they can pass that information on to their customers.

    You can't just sell an ebook. You have know how to download it because that's what your customer is going to ask you. You have to know how it works and what the file formats are. The retailers who actually spend time learning the technology, integrating it and accepting that it's out there are the ones who will succeed.

    For more of Krozser's thoughts on the future of booksellers, check out the full interview in the following video:

    December 17 2010

    The future of publishing is writeable

    TOC 2011Publication of information obviously includes traditional media, such as books, newspapers, magazines, music, and video. But we can generalize considerably to include blogs, tagging (e.g., Delicious, Flickr), commenting systems, Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace.

    From a biological point of view, publishing can expand to encompass all of human social signaling -- both verbal and non-verbal -- and include the myriad little acts of information production and consumption we all engage in.

    Even seen from this outer limit of generality, it's clear that digital is ushering in a rapid convergence in publishing. While some forms are born digital and online, others are being reinvented there as technological advance sets old media free. There is massive disruption -- both behind and ahead of us -- as the convergence continues.

    Three convergence trends: smaller, easier, more personal

    There are three convergence trends in publishing that are already apparent.

    One clear long-term trend is that smaller pieces of information are being published. Considering just modern digital forms of publishing, there is a roughly chronological progression toward smaller publications: emails, Usenet postings, web pages, blog posts, blog comments, tweets, tags.

    Traditional media are also being fractured into smaller pieces, particularly where the media packaging existed only to address physical quirks of the media or the act of publishing. To give one example: Popular music publishing centered on delivering albums. This was a by-product of physical equipment -- LPs, CDs, and their players -- which did not align particularly well with the more natural unit of popular musical output, the song. Given low-cost flexible alternatives, it's no wonder that these forms of content are now jumping the packaging ship and going directly digital in pieces that make more sense. This leaves traditional publishers scratching their heads and clinging to increasingly irrelevant and anachronistic packaging methodologies -- newspapers being another example -- with attendant declining advertising possibilities. Clay Shirky has written and spoken with insight and eloquence on these changes (see here and here).

    A second trend is a reduction in friction. As access to easy-to-use and inexpensive publishing technology increases, it becomes economically feasible to publish smaller and less valuable pieces of content. We have reached the point where anyone with access to the Internet can easily and cheaply publish trivial, tiny pieces of information -- even single words.

    The third trend is the rise of publishing personal information. Our inescapable sociability is driving us to shape the Internet into a mechanism for publishing information about ourselves.

    These three trends -- smaller, easier, more personal -- provide a framework to examine the development of online information publishing.

    The three trends and the future of books

    Over the last few months, interesting discussion has arisen about the future of books and publishing. One provocative example is Hugh McGuire's post "The line between book and Internet will disappear." Let's consider what the trends of smaller, easier, and more personal might tell us about Hugh's topic: the future of books.

    First, these trends reinforce Hugh's claim that the line between book
    and Internet will disappear. The forces of convergence in publishing
    are surely strong enough to drag the book across that line. But more
    specifically, which of these trends will books succumb to? Which will
    books resist?

    Books typically have an internal coherence that may prevent their traditional packaging from fracturing along more natural fault lines the way it does with newspapers, magazines and albums. But as the difficulties and costs of publishing continue to fall, and as methods for online billing evolve, publishers or authors may themselves opt to fracture book packaging for economic reasons. It was not long ago that novels were routinely published in serialized form. If it's all digital, why not?

    Because modern forms of publishing are giving end users a voice, it seems a safe bet that books will become living digital objects and that the traditional distinctions between author and reader, and between publisher and consumer, will blur considerably.

    Conceptually, though perhaps not technologically, there's a long way to go. Even the most avant-garde online services are only now contemplating this kind of future. I'm willing to bet that Hugh is also right that publishers' products will have APIs. The API, provided that it allows users and applications to write, can be the vehicle by which a book is alive on the Internet, in the sense that it will allow the contribution of information to books, and make that information actionable.

    Terry Jones will discuss the writeable future of publishing at the next Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (Feb. 14-16, 2011). Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD.

    A world of writeable containers

    Looking at publishing from the broad perspective outlined above, with its clear general convergence and specific trends, I consider it inevitable that books and their publishers will be drawn into a digital future along the lines that Hugh predicts.

    You can look at this more widely, though. Publishing will converge on the usage of underlying information storage that provides for a world of openly writeable containers. You could, for example, build a Twitter-like system on such a basis, providing seamlessly for user annotations. At the other end of the spectrum, you could use this type of writeable system to publish customizable living digital objects -- writeable containers -- representing books (or anything else). VC Fred Wilson lends weight to the claim of convergence toward a more openly writeable world in his blog post, "Giving every person a voice":

    If I look back at my core investment thesis over the past five years, it is this single idea, that everyone has a voice on the Internet, that is central to it. And as Ev [Williams] said, society has not fully realized what this means. But it's getting there, quickly.

    As Brian O'Leary noted in "Context first", mental models and mindset changes are required. Shifting people from read-only thinking to imagining a computational world that is by-default writeable is something I've been trying to pull off for years. (FluidDB, a database we're building at Fluidinfo, is meant to explicitly prepare for the type of future Hugh envisions. Everything in FluidDB can be added to -- tagged -- by anyone or any application. )

    Read-only containers of content are an inherently limiting form of media, whether physical or digital. APIs that provide controlled access to information are similarly limited. They prevent the accumulation of unanticipated or personalized contextual information.

    From one perspective, arguing that this kind of convergence is inevitable may seem like a radical oversimplification or wishful thinking, but from another it seems deadly simple and obvious. In plainest terms, I believe the future of publishing is a writeable one. One in which we step beyond the default of read-only publishing via traditional containers and APIs, to something that's both natural and empowering: a world in which data itself becomes social, and in which we can personalize arbitrarily. In other words, a world in which we always have write permission.


    November 05 2010

    TOC 2011 preliminary program announced

    TOC 2011The preliminary program for Tools of Change 2011 is now online.

    In addition to traditional book publishers discussing their experiences from the trenches of change, TOC also brings in ideas from the wider global ecosystem.

    Breakout sessions include:

    • Is There Such a Thing as a Good Business Model for Publishing These Days?
    • eTextbooks in Higher Education: Practical Findings to Guide the Industry
    • Can you Afford not to Consider Accessible Publishing Practices?
    • Data-driven Marketing and Product Development
    • Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, and Licensing Issues in the Digital Era
    • Build a Book API in an Afternoon, Using FluidDB
    • Improving Your Publishing Metadata and Delivery
    • See the rest of the preliminary lineup

    Featured speakers

    • Ben Huh, I Can Has Cheezburger
    • Margaret Atwood, author and CEO of Syngrafii
    • Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired and author of "What Technology Wants"
    • See the full list of speakers

    Save 15% on TOC 2011 registration with the code "TOC11RAD"

    Thank you

    Our gratitude goes out to the following people who helped review the 200+ proposals, and offered much-appreciated advice on shaping the content for TOC 2011:

    • Patricia Arancibia
    • Mark Bertils
    • Peter Brantley
    • Liza Daly
    • Kate Eltham
    • Dedi Felman
    • José Afonso Furtado
    • Heather McCormack
    • Kevin Shockey
    • Sarah Weinman
    • Sarah Wendell

    We hope to see you in February

    O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference
    February 14-16, 2011
    Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers
    New York, NY

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