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I had fully intended to live blog the CCI interational conference Creating Value: Between Commerce and Commons. But it turns out the wireless access at the Brisbane Convention Centre, while pervasive, is not exactly inexpensive. So instead I’ll be playing catch up over the weekend and posting my notes and thoughts on the keynotes and panels.
So far it’s an excellent conference. Today I sat in on fantastic keynotes about creative brian development by Baroness Susan Greenfield and developing open access government data by Richard Allan. There’ve also been great papers in the panel sessions. But the big carrot, tomorrow, is Henry Jenkins‘ keynote. I’m very excited. Henry Jenkins is the reason I registered for this conference. I really enjoyed Convergence Cultures and Fans, Blogger and Gamers and have long admired his work. Needless to say, looking forward to his presentation.
More from HarperCollins, this time some sweet data on the results of their recent experiements with “free”.
Publishers Weekly reported that at recent panels at BEA and the IDPF Digital Book conference HarperCollins shared the results of digital giveaway campaigns they did with books by Neil Gaiman, Erin Hunter and Robin Hobb.
Here’s the skinny:
Promotion for: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
- Content given away: Full access to the book, through the company’s Browse Inside feature
- Number of page views generated: 3,827,306
- Average page views per visit: 46
- Number of clicks on a buy link: 1,177
- Result: Promotion bumped weekly sales of the title at bricks-and-mortar locations by 250%.
Promotion for: Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things
- Content given away: DRM-free audio download of Gaiman’s short story “A Study in Emerald” to promote the collection Fragile Things
- Result: Promotion didn’t drive registration and, according to Harper, “readers bypassed our up-sell efforts” because content was “too easy to take and run.”
Promotion for: Erin Hunter’s Warriors, Volume 3
- Content given away: Browse Inside preview of 20% of the book
- Result: Preorders of the book increased 30%.
Promotion for: Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing
- Content given away: Full e-book (downloadable with DRM and registration)
- Result: Same-title and backlist sales of Hobb’s e-books increased.
The results are interesting and certainly seem to indicate the value of offering free open-access trials of content to entice people to buy the book. I hope more publishers will be willing to share data for the benefit of the industry.
I interviewed Cory Doctorow a couple of years back. I asked him if film companies had the right to protect their multi-million dollar investment in a film by trying to stop online sharing of movies.
He said: “That’s kind of like saying the Catholic church invests three generations of labour into the construction of a cathedral, how will religion continue after this Protestant Reformation of yours, right? Well, I don’t think the important thing is cathedrals.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/arts/articulate/200604/s1616706.htm
Same goes for books. I think once someone comes up with a user-friendly, cheap, eye-friendly and nice-to-use ebook reader, it’s game over.
I like books. I like to buy Stephen King books, because I’m a fan. I think I would do this regardless of ebooks. BUT, a lot of books I read, I’m kinda *meh*.
So basically, I think a lot of people will buy most of their books in electronic format then, if they really like the book, may go out and buy the dead tree version.
Yeah it’s a good observation, Gary, and Cory Doctorow is certainly the poster child for free e-book distribution. If I was ever in a position of negotiating with a book publisher about digital rights I’d be arguing pretty hard to implement some of his strategies.
But for me, this whole topic is not really about e-books. Sure, e-books are coming and they are part of the digital transformation that is overtaking traditional publishing. But I think too many people get side-tracked by the e-book debate (will it be a format or a device? When will it tip? etc) and forget that there are other ways that technology can change or threaten your business.
Amazon is already proving it with their moves to form a vertically integrated supply chain from POD publishing to direct-to-consumer book sales. Given that POD is now cheaper than traditional print for runs under 1,200 copies I would think this is a far bigger threat to publishers NOW than e-books are likely to be even in the near-future. It should be of interest to Australian publishers especially since print runs are smaller here.
Some bricks-and-mortar booksellers, like Borders US, are moving to establish POD centres inside their bookstores, and offering author services to along with it, such as in-store events and distribution within their retail chain. They also promise new special areas of their stores which will give such titles physicla shelf-space. With retailer-supported distribution, this takes self-publishing to a whole new level and is encroaching on some pretty significant areas of publishing that used to be solely the province of trade publishers.
I also think some populous nations will jump right over the e-book device debate altogether. In fact, they already have. Phone manufacturers have already stopped shipping 2G phones to Japan. You can only buy 3G there now. And mobile phone penetration in Japan is higher than 100%. So when there are more phone subscriptions than there are people in the country, and those phones are also high-speed internet browsers, integrated media centres with increasing memory capacity, why would a device that only reads book be of any interest? This is the same country, by the way, that last year shot five novels written on mobile phones into the top ten bestselling books list. Those readers didn’t need an e-book device to become fans of the books and turn them into hits.
The thing about structural changes in markets, though, is that they always create new business models and lucrative opportunities for those who can be the first to work out how to exploit them. So the thing I don’t understand is why every publisher isn’t experimenting like crazy to to find those opportunities. (Of course, some are experimenting, and I’m very happy about that and keen to point it out wherever I can)
The biggest opportunities may not be in e-books at all, but it in cheaper, more effective ways for publishers to connect with communities of readers, to brand and market their authors and to wring more long-tail sales from their backlist.
I read blogs daily that cover the ongoing changes in publishing, especially in digital channels. Through my little pipeline of RSS feeds, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and assume that, because the publishers I’m reading about are diving in to digital experimentation and thinking about new ways of doing business, that all publishers are doing so. In a few chats I’ve had recently with Australian publishers, agents and staff at writers centres, it’s clear this is not true.
Even The Economist, a conservative journal better known for its coverage of international trade and politics than the publishing industry, is observing the ways technology is changing publishing.
Publishing has only two indispensable participants: authors and readers. As with music, any technology that brings these two groups closer makes the whole industry more efficient—but hurts those who benefit from the distance between them.
When The Economist starts calling the race it’s time for publishers still in a default mode of ”wait and see” to move to “evolve or die”.
[Image Source: libraryman, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0]
Apropos of a conversation I had with an industry pro on Friday, this nifty little comment from Galleycat:
…with the industry in as much flux as it is right now, it’s better to experiment and risk failure than to sit on the sidelines and then try to learn how to do what works after somebody else figures it out.
GalleyCat was referring to online promotion in the book industry, a panel he was on at BookExpo America (BEA). It’s an important observation in the context of book and author marketing, but I think it can also be applied across the whole digital publishing spectrum. If publishers adopt a “wait and see” attitude, they cede the market advantage. They may be worried about risk, or they may wonder who, among their industry rivals, will be the first to really seize the opportunity. However, are they sufficiently worried about people from outside publishing who are encroaching on their space – Amazon, Google and, before long I’d wager, Apple? Because when one or all of these behemoths turn their eye to a market, they colonise it. Seems like better sense to dive in, even if you’re not sure whether the water’s warm.
By the way, GalleyCat’s notes about online promotion from that BEA panel are fantastic. Go read them here.
I am in Darwin for the annual get-together of state writers centre directors. Here it is warm and humid (which means my hair is annoyingly frizzy) and the ocean is blue. Not wussy sea green-blue, but Gold Coast motel artwork aquamarine blue. Since I’m spending more time looking around than reading feeds, I’m trusting youse all to be satisfied with a few nifty links:
- Guys Lit Wire: Fabbo new blog aimed at hooking teenage boys on great reads (and, frankly, I’m hooked as well)
- YA Mansion: Where all young adult writers live together in a mansion in New York City… apparently! But for those who are just visiting, you’ll find YA reviews, news, interviews and (and other things that rhyme with ewes)
- The Living: A ‘wovel’ (web-based novel) where you get to vote on the storyline. Thanks to the talented and extremely lovely Gary Kemble at articulate for the heads up!