Once again the masterminds at BookNet Canada kept it seriously real at their annual conference, BNC Tech Forum. Overall, the team really got it right this year; the event boasted great speakers, timely information, new, sustainable business models and a general rethinking of the shape of the book business. The theme of the day was ‘calculated risk,’ and the speakers covered both sides of that coin, candidly discussing both the failures and successes related to taking risks in publishing. The highlight of the day, for me at least, was imagining the simultaneous chest-heave of the publishers in the room when, after being asked whether community building was a marketing strategy or a publishing strategy, Richard Nash responded with “brand owners will use publishing as a marketing strategy.” I know it’s scary guys, but it will be ok.
1) Can this business be saved? Bob Miller, Workman Publishing
Bob gave a general discussion about his experience working with HarperStudio, focusing on the risks the firm took to move publishing into a new, return-free direction. He made a lot of really interesting points, but I’m not sure how much independent publishers will be able to take home; I’m not sure how applicable HarperStudio’s profit-sharing model for authors who don’t really need the money of an advance is to proprietors of smaller literary presses but nonetheless, interesting things were said:
- data is going to be a lot of the solution to supply chain issues, not eliminating returns
- format building for online sales in the music business – combining physical and digital shopping carts
- importance of investing in books after they’re published
- need for author / publisher collaboration
If you came from another planet and looked at this business you’d think, this can’t work. It’s a financial and environmental disaster.
2) Publishing 3.0 Richard Nash, Cursor Publishing
I am now an official Richard Nash True Believer. If life in publishing were an episode of Lost, I would trust Richard to be my Jacob. I think he scared the poop out of a lot of people, but I really appreciate the way he approaches radical change to publishing business practice with a combination of drama and compassion:
- content has become infinite: our focus on supply has to change to management of demand
- content doesn’t need to be downloadable – ‘just make a website’
- if you’re in the demand market, you have to own a community
- throw off the shackles of the supply chain and understand that books are part of a larger social experience
- the physical object of the book is no more cultural than a t-shirt
It is too risky not to completely rethink our business.
3) Breaking ground Dominique Raccah, Sourcebooks
Dominique gave an overview of the risks involved with creating her independent publishing house and multiple innovative marketing and community building techniques. The highlight for me was poetry speaks, a poetry website I might actually visit.
- importance of defining narrow verticals / monetizing your expertise
- digital is more than just text transfer
- ways to explore digital business through publishing
- innovation is iteration – keep trying
Of all the things I can tell you about, many of them will not have worked.
4) Lessons learned Michael Tamblyn, Kobo
After a heartwarming tech forum reunion between founding and present BNC CEO’s (aww!) Mr. T launched into one of his signature uber-slick PowerPoint presentations outlining Shortcovers / Kobo’s successes and failures (they only had two!) over the last year. The presentation included but was not limited to the following:
- short content was a huge mistake; people are interested in long-form books on devices
- Kobo loves user analytics – knowing your market is the key to success
- ebooks are a new-release market and require a data-rich purchasing environment
- Kobo is the Trinidadian word for vulture
- introduction of the Kobo reader, a stand alone reading device for people who love books more than technology; an implementation of the Kobo app, can be embedded on any device
Make mistakes, adjust, move on, and do it as fast as humanly possible.
5) The afternoon broke into two tracks, of which I attended the second. Speakers from Symtext, BookRiff, Book Oven, Titles Book Store (Espresso book machine), Smashwords and IndieBound talked about innovations in publishing from the point of view of their businesses. I felt these sessions were useful in that they showcased a lot of different business models in a short period of time, but it did feel a little bit pitchy.
6) Has content outgrown its covers Deanna McFadden, HarperCollins Canada
It is now my secret hope to make Deanna McFadden my BFF. (I know, it’s not secret if you write it in a blog post, see what I did there?) With empathy and intelligence, Deanna presented a top ten list of things to do – and not to do – as we usher in this new digital era. It was a lot like listening to my yoga instructor tell me “it’s hard, I know” during an extra-long banarasana:
- enhanced ebooks can be cool, really
- users are treating websites like books
- everything you put on the web has the power to convert someone into a buyer
- static websites suck, please stop making them
People don’t always have to be in competition with each other.(HALLELUJAH!)
Then there was a lightning round that I’m not going to talk about, then some other stuff happened – Noah gave away a Kobo reader disguised as a piece of paper and a Sony reader (with a bow!), Sachiko broke a glass, and the intern rang a bell. Thanks to the BNC gang for a great day that made a future in publishing a little less scary. And big ups to new mom Morgan Cowie, I know she poured a lot of work into planning the event. See you next year!