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There are pretty tried and true methods of getting a publisher to look at your book manuscript. There are only so many pathways. You write a manuscript and either take your chances in the slush, find yourself an agent, or more rarely, leverage a contact or referral that gets your manuscript in front of someone who can do something with it. Regardless of which pathway you find yourself on, the method of presentation doesn’t change much. A pitch or synopsis and some sample chapters for a novel. A proposal or outline for non-fiction.

What about digital? If you’re a savvy author with a great pitch for a digital publishing project, how do you talk to a publisher about it? Who’s even listening? Can innovative digital projects only be conceived and driven by publishers or specialist companies like 4th Story Media which is doing The Amanda Project, or are publishers interested in hearing ideas from authors themselves?

Quite a few authors I talk to these days are already thinking ahead to digital channels as they develop their manuscripts. For some, this is marketing oriented and they make plans for promoting the book in various online platforms. But for others, their story is digital native and the online channels are integral to the telling of the narrative.

We need new protocols that assist authors to start the conversation with foreward-thinking publishers who are interested in input from all kinds of places.

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The third thought is about rights, yep, that old nugget again. If I sound like I’m harping on this topic it’s because I’m coming at these issues mostly from an author’s perspective and the rights are the basic unit of tradable property from which authors’ incomes derive.

The current rights debates do not stop publishers digitising their processes they merely stop them being able to realise all the possible opportunities. However, at a time when the digital market is not established, for many, this may be a huge leap into the dark.
Link to Martyn’s original post.

The point about realising the opportunities is the key for authors here. Has it occurred to publishers that the ability to digitise in order to realise commercial opportunities is one of the services they have to offer authors who retain digital rights? If publishers move toward fully digitising their pre-press processes, as Daniels suggests, and can create format neutral content, then they could sell these formats back to authors as a service. When put next to their ability to provide marketing and branding oomph to the ‘author as brand’, it reinforces the idea that publishers, as intermediaries between author and reader, could be reconfigured to be author-oriented services companies rather than content producers.

The second thought is really a looking-at-it-backwards inversion of one Martyn’s comments in his blog post Create Digital First:

…we are the start of a digital consumer offer but it is…based on yesterday’s physical cost model, processes and perceptions. Merely taking the finished book and generating a digital rendition that mirrors the physical one is what music did with CDs. Is it logical to merely replicate the book and create just another rendition? We don’t envisage the same demand change as music experienced in selling just fragments (tracks), but it is possible to see the selling of instalments or part works, where all the complete ‘book’ may not be bought.

Or looking at this another way, couldn’t the book be the fragment? I wrote a little while ago about the idea of extensibility, that books could be surrounded by, in William Gibson’s words, a ‘quasi-spectral hypertext’ that extends the frame of the text beyond the information contained only on the page. This is the kind of thing Harlequin are beginning to explore with their Enriched Editions.

So if consumers are open to new pricing models and new ways of configuring book content, especially fragments and parts of works, doesn’t it also stand to reason that the basic text of a book could be the fragment, and consumers pay a premium for enriched versions that have value-adds? This would bring it more into line with the DVD retail model of included special extras in limited editions. It would also help publishers to differentiate between general retail audiences and niche fan audiences.

Whoa, lots of thoughts and ideas prompted by Martyn Daniels’ blog post Create Digital First.

Martyn Daniels

Martyn Daniels

It’s the consumer perception that really counts; after all they pay at the end of the day. Do we know or understand their perceptions on digital pricing, or do we assume we know their views? The UK’s Book Marketing company, have stared to extend their highly respected services to cover digital consumer trends, but is it enough, and are we all contributing, listening and responding to any findings?

First thought is that if an Australian digital publishing taskforce is looking for project to take on this would be one of them. It was pretty clear from our first meeting that publishers are a competitive lot (as they should be) and keep their projects and intel under tight wraps until they’re ready to go public. But market research about consumer perceptions and expectations is data from which we can all benefit. It would be an expensive burden on any one company but might go better as a shared resource.

So yesterday I attended a meeting in Melbourne of various industry types to discuss the need for/benefits of an Australian industry-led taskforce for digital publishing. It was interesting.

First up, it’s worth noting the breakdown of attendees. The meeting was jointly hosted by the federal government arts agency Australia Council for the Arts (Ozco) and Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), which for our international readers, is the Australian collecting organisation for copyright licence fees. Prior to this meeting they had jointly funded research into Australian publishers’ attitudes and perceived information needs in relation to digital publishing. (Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find this report published online yet, I hope it will be at least included in Ozco’s new online research hub which is being released soon) Of the 17 people who were there, Ozco and CAL were more than 30% of the group.

The next biggest group was publishers, with four publishers plus the head of the Australian Publishers Association. The spread of publishers was really good. There was one large trade publisher, Macmillan, plus three independents – Spinifex, MUP and Sleepers, with Zoe from Sleepers also representing the Small Press Underground Collective (SPUNC). From retail, there was an independent bookseller, a representative of the Australian Campus Booksellers Association and the CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association. Bringing up the rear were authors with just myself and a representative of the Australian Society of Authors. I was not initially invited to this meeting, but requested to be included when I read about it in Weekly Book Newsletter. I found this distribution particularly odd after the Director of the Literature Board of the Australia Council had declared that she sees this as the writing industry not the publishing or book industry, and that everything stems from the writing. One would perhaps have expected to see more writers in the room. Notable absences were libraries and at least one representative of the Australian Literary Agents Association. I’m unsure if that’s because they weren’t invited or were unable to attend.

Okay, so now you’ve met the players in our little drama, here’s how it unfolded. Ross McCall from CAL outlined the background to the meeting, and an Ozco representative gave a summary of the ‘desktop research’ they’d done into the digital publishing scene so far. We then broke into groups to discuss the opportunities, threats and questions of setting up an industry-led taskforce to support and drive knowledge transfer, new digital publishing initiatives and collective efforts to fund innovation.

The discussion was robust and I think there was a healthy level of honesty in the room, but that left me feeling a little depressed also because some of the ‘honesty’ delivered aloud was an observation of the lack of trust and openness in the Australian publishing industry.  Everyone agreed that digital is huge and most publishers seem to be tackling it on their own terms, which I felt kind of missed the point of us all being in a room together. The booksellers seemed a bit down about the prospects for their part of the supply chain. And I sense I made a thorough nuisance of myself by being bolshie on behalf of authors. One of the best points was made when it was noted there is little if any collaboration or discussion between publishing industry organisations and other digital media companies, such as games developers, telcos and mobile content publishers.

Overall, I think we got to a positive endpoint, which was an agreement that there is scope for more cooperation at a national industry level and that the next step is to have a “blue sky” discussion about what’s possible and desirable, before narrowing down to what we’re committed to achieving. There’s a ways to go, but for a first meeting I’m optimistic we could eventually achieve something relevant and meaningful.

Do I have any concerns? Yes. I am a little worried about an entrenched culture of “everyone in their foxholes” undermining the process and I was guilty of this too. I boldly claimed that publishers aren’t talking to authors about what they’re doing with digital, and was roundly disabused of this notion by the publishers in the room. Yet my scepticism remains because, while publishers may be having these discussions on an individual basis with authors, especially when it comes time to negotiate rights and contracts, I don’t believe there is a general awareness among Australian writers about the digital innovations publishers are planning.

That could be a problem for publishers long term in a number of ways. First, it makes it harder for authors to get excited about assigning their digital rights, because they don’t have information about the creative ways publishers may want to commercialise them. I think publishers will have to compete for authors’ digital rights in future, and I would think you’d have a competitive advantage by demonstrating what you know and what you can do, the way Penguin UK has been doing for examaple. Second, it means they could be missing the writers who are producing the most innovative content which will help them succeed, who are very likely not to be book authors. Finally, I think writers are capable of innovating and commercialising on their own and have a lot to offer publishers if there’s a collaborative and sincere way of working together for the profitability of both.

But of course, these are the questions that a taskforce can address. Perhaps it can’t pose definitive answers but it can certainly prod, educate, nurture and moderate. Bring on the next step!

Hey neato! I was just on the Tools of Change blog and realised that they’ve now released a series of DVDs aimed at publishers needing to develop knoweldge and understanding of the future of publishing.

The set includes four DVDs covering:

  • digitising your backlist
  • making mobile work
  • XML for publishers
  • search engine optimisation for publishers

They’re a little pricey for me to get the whole set but then I’m not really the target audience. However, I’d love to see some additional topics covered, particularly marketing and promotion (the DVD on search would delve into this a little bit). I also wonder how a similar offering might be targeted at authors and self-publishers.

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.

    Sebastian Mary has posted a thoughtful essayon if:book, the blog of the Institute for the Future of the Book, unpacking the debate around the ideology of ‘literary’ and its relationship to the web.

    This isn’t to suggest that there’s no room for ‘the literary’ online. Finding new writers; building a community to peer-review drafts; promoting work; pushing out content to draw people back to a publisher’s site to buy books. All these make sense, and present huge opportunities for savvy players. But – and here I realise that this all may be just a (rather lengthy) footnote to Ben’s recent piece on Hypertextopia – to attempt to transplant the ideology of the literary onto the Web will fail unless it is done with reference to the print culture that produced it. Otherwise the work will, by literary standards, be judged second-rate, while by geek standards it’ll seem top-down, limited and static. Or just boring.

    I’m particularly interested in his assertion that the notion of literature is inseparable from print. It tallies with my experience of how authors and publishers they think about how digital media relates to their industry. The discussions I most frequently hear are centred on the web as a means for promotion, distribution, building and connecting with communities etc. In my professional role at QWC, I almost never encounter practitioners actually producing collaborative writing, alternative reality games, hypertext etc, and perhaps this is because these activities are not regarded as ‘literary’.

    I need to ponder this a while longer.

    Cory Doctorow has an excellent column at Locus Online about the economic conundrum of e-book readers.

    Frankly, book reading just isn’t important enough to qualify for priority treatment in that marketplace. E-book readers to date have been either badly made, expensive, out-of-stock or some combination of all three. No one’s making dedicated e-book readers in such quantity that the price drops to the cost of a paperback — the cost at which the average occasional reader may be tempted to take a flutter on one. Certainly, these things aren’t being made in such quantity that they’re being folded in as freebies with the Sunday paper or given away at the turnstiles at a ballgame to the majority of people who are non-book-readers.

    Meanwhile, handheld game consoles, phones, and other multipurpose devices have found their way into the hands of people from every walk of life. In some countries, mobile phone penetration is above 100 percent — that is, a significant proportion of the population maintain more than one phone, for example, a work cellular and a home cellular.

    This dovetails with what I was saying about convergence the other day, and my firm belief that it’s not going to be a device that tips e-books. When next generation mobile phones are ubiquitous, and can play my music, videos, games, deliver my emails and texts, display my photos, store my documents and provide internet searches (oh, and make phone calls), why would I want to pay US$300 for something that only reads books? In Australia, it’s even more daunting than that – Dymocks wants me to pay a whopping AUD$900 for an iLiad. I both understand and applaud their push into the e-book space, and let’s face it, without publisher and retailer support, it’s hard to see consumer take-up of e-books at all. But to me, convenient, affordable and easy access to content (masses of content) will attract me faster if I don’t also have to purchase, configure and get comfortable with yet another gadget.