Publishers Corner: The Disruptive Technology of e-Publishing

Guest post by Chris Schoebinger, Product Director/Creative Director at Deseret Book

For Christmas my wife and I decided to get my 68-year-old mother an e-Reader. However, we were unsure about her reaction. She’s a voracious reader, but she’s never read an e-Book. When she opened her gift and realized what she’d received, thankfully, she was ecstatic! She said she had been very curious about e-Readers. Last week she called me and said that her e-Reader was the best Christmas present she’d ever received. She’s already ordered dozens of e-Books and loves the idea of “carrying” a library with her. Welcome to the world of e-publishing, mom!

Neilson reports that there are approximately 45M-50M iPads in market at the end of 2011. Amazon is trending to sell 15 million Kindle Fires by 2013. One in six Americans now use e-Readers, with one in six likely to purchase in the next six months. The good news is that many surveys show that e-Reader users are more likely to read and purchase more books than non-users.

Of course, the LDS publishing world is not exempt from what is happening in e-Publishing. One of the ways that Deseret Book publishing has responded is by launching the Deseret Bookshelf app. As of January 2012, this relatively new app has more than 100,000 installs (downloaded copies of Bookshelf) with more than 1,400 titles. With each traditional book that Deseret Book publishes, an e-Book is released at the same time for Bookshelf users and soon after through Amazon. Deseret Bookshelf also uniquely offers enhanced e-Books that include embedded videos within the book itself. For example, the new enhanced e-Book by Elder David A. Bednar, INCREASE IN LEARNING, includes embedded videos featuring Elder Bednar teaching principles from within the book.  In addition, this coming year look for new and interactive children’s e-Books from Deseret Book e-Publishing featuring the bells and whistles that only a digital book can offer.

Whenever I meet with authors who are in the writing process, I ask them, “What are your thoughts about a digital book or enhanced e-Book?” In other words, think about how you might use digital elements or video to enhance the written word. The way we read books is changing. The way we consume literature is evolving. It’s becoming a multi-sensory experience. Authors who can think along these lines will be that much farther ahead and better prepared to help their publisher in a digital revolution.

Certainly, e-Publishing will make it easier for anyone to get a book published. However, I believe this will make branded e-Publishers a trusted source. Publishers and imprints should become more important as consumers check to see if they are purchasing an e-Book from a reliable and notable source, particularly if it’s a brand-new author.

Traditional publishing will still be around (at least for a while), but publishers who aren’t responding to the disruptive technology of e-Publishing could very well be writing their final chapter.

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24 Responses to Publishers Corner: The Disruptive Technology of e-Publishing

  1. Scott Parkin says:

    A somewhat-longer-than-intended thought…

    One of the things I find interesting is that when interactive CD-ROMs first made their appearance more than twenty years ago, interactive books for young readers were a significant percentage of early interactive CDs (so-called edutainment). The ability to take existing illustrated childrens’ books (Beatrix Potter, et al), add simple animations, and provide word-by-word highlights that mirrored the spoken voice were a natural for the medium, and provided a valuable learning aid for young readers.

    What’s interesting, is that far from cannibalizing book sales, these interactive books actually created a greater interest and market for traditional publishing. In other words, the total market expanded by appealing to those who were not previously seen as book buyers.

    But more interesting to me is that we’ve all been reading interactive books for years. This blog is arguably an enhanced ebook medium, as is every Web site ever posted. Hypertext with links to streaming audio, video, imagery, or supplementary text information has been in the public domain since the World Wide Web debuted. All that’s changed is how the hypertext is delivered and monetized.

    At the risk of being a wonk, hypertext stopped being a disruptive technology in the late 1980s. The disruption is not the ebook or the idea of enhanced content, but the easy ability of authors to self-publish and gain instant international distribution while bypassing the traditional mechanisms (and gatekeepers) of print technology.

    The disruption here is more in the business model and role of publishers. For centuries the publisher bore the cost of (and thus exercised strict control over) an expensive manuscript preparation, printing/binding, and distribution infrastructure that represented a significant barrier to entry and success in publishing. E-media eliminates the need for most of that—no sunk costs in physical printing and inventory; no logistical limits to massive international distribution; simple accounting and financial management.

    Where the traditional publisher is no longer strictly required to manage the complex and expensive process of getting books in front of eyes, that publisher’s role necessarily changes only in emphasis, not function. Editorial oversight, manuscript selection (and rejection), and content refinement are every bit as valuable as before, and mark the difference between a juried (quality controlled) title and the old blue-mimeograph-and-staples crowd of the self-published. The old traditional markers of amateur vs. professional publishing are largely removed in the modern ebook market.

    But that publisher’s logo should still have real meaning as arbiter of quality.

    To readers it means a (generally) more refined, higher quality title. Of course gems will come through self-publishing, but they remain every bit as rare now as before. The massive increase in available titles means it’s harder to find trustworthy titles; the signal to noise ratio has increased radically. A reputable publisher’s logo remains a powerful symbol of quality control—and as such, demands a somewhat higher price.

    To authors it means a couple of things. First, a professional editorial staff and content development shop can help create supplementary content beyond the skills (or interests) of many authors. Core content remains king, but extended content can make the difference between a good and a great seller. That assistance enables the author to focus on the core while still gaining the benefits of extended content development.

    Second (and I believe, most importantly), publishers remain a powerful force in marketing and audience development. Simply getting your book online has never been enough; a professional marketing staff alerts people to the seek the book and gives them reasons to do so. It reaches into a variety of reader communities and educates the public on the author’s behalf so the author can get to work on the next title. It creates both interest and anticipation.

    Authors can certainly do all of this work for themselves, but the result will be that the most successful authors are those with superior marketing skills—not necessarily those with superior creative skills. In the modern market the author has a higher public profile than ever before, and must actively communicate (blog, tweet, FB, podcast, etc.) with their own face and voice. Still, if the author can offload (most, but not all of) the marketing tasks to a professional publisher, each side of the equation can focus on what they do best, and the reader wins.

    The disruption here has more to do with traditional distribution and warehousing than with title/content development. Enhanced content expands a title’s appeal to marginal readers, but remains a secondary concern to a solid foundation in the core text (as demonstrated by nearly 35 years of experience with the World Wide Web that failed to damage the print industry in any meaningful way).

    E-publication increases the variety and types of books that can be published and radically simplifies the distribution chain, but the fundamental work of ideation, manuscript development, production, and marketing remains essentially unchanged.

    Enhanced ebook content is necessary to justify the price of an ebook that has none of the sunk costs of physical production. Print publishers afraid of cannibalizing their print sales post ebooks at the same price as a printed book, then seem surprised that ebook sales are not more brisk. Enhanced content justifies that price, not the book itself; sort of like the premium paid for hardcover vs. paperback—a paperback sold at the same price as a hardcover better have something additional to justify its price (color photo inserts—aka, multimedia—might be enough).

    I agree that the day of the massive publisher focused on physical production and distribution may be nearing its end. But the publisher focused on finding and developing titles using most of the same tools and techniques of content refinement created hundreds of years ago—and taking advantage of newer (and cheaper) means of bringing those titles to market—should see only marginal disruption if they understand the relative strengths of each medium, and account for it in pricing/packaging. The core business doesn’t really change; only where the profit comes from.

    Or so it seems to me.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      Scott,

      A good analysis (at least, from my largely uninformed perspective). The only nit I want to pick is with your statement that high-quality books from self-publishing “remain every bit as rare now as before.” It seems to me that the fact that authors *can* more easily self-publish means that more authors are now choosing to self-publish — including some who *could* go with traditional publishers, but have decided they prefer to have more direct control.

      Certainly this seems to be true in limited and marginally profitable markets such as LDS fiction. Several Whitney Award winners have been self-published, including Dave Farland’s In the Company of Angels. I’m sure Dave could have self-published with someplace like Zarahemla, but given his personal contacts with in the LDS market, he clearly felt that Zarahemla couldn’t give him anything he couldn’t do on his own.

      • Scott Parkin says:

        I have nothing at all against self-publishing; I just resist the idea that self-publishing will lead to the imminent demise of traditional publishers—as long as those publishers switch from physical production and distribution to marketing and title development as their primary focus. If all the publisher does is release an ebook with no marketing, authors are better off to do it themselves.

        In fact, after years of resisting the idea I will be releasing a series of ebook short story anthologies (of my own short fiction) some time in the next month or so—a project that I would have difficulty selling to a traditional publisher, but that still has strong marginal utility for me as an unknown author.

        We shall see.

      • Scott Parkin says:

        On gems and self-publishing…

        You’re right, of course, that some books that might have gone through traditional publishers will now come out as self-published titles. Still, I think the total number of gems published (through all sources) will tend to remain essentially the same, while the total number of titles from easier self-publication will increase substantially—making it harder to actually find those gems. Those with superior marketing skills (independent of creative talent) will (by and large) tend to succeed more effectively at self-publishing, whereas a traditional publisher can help put a good author over the top despite that author’s relative weakness as a marketer.

        It’s a shift that will be felt in the marketplace. As I suggested in an earlier post, it makes discussions like this and those at places like AMV even more important as community filters that can help unearth titles of interest.

        I suspect quite a few well-established authors (like David Farland) will tend to self-publish ebooks now because they already have a captured audience and a fairly well-developed marketing/communication channel. Their established brand name makes it possible to sell directly, whereas new authors like me have to work harder to get notice. Right now we’re seeing a fair avalanche of established authors (like Farland) re-issuing older works (whose rights have reverted) as ebooks, with those titles functioning both as opportunity cash and as a guerrilla marketing effort to keep their names in front of readers. Relatively low-effort work that has significant upside.

        A fun, strange new world that opens up different avenues to success for those willing (and able) to adapt.

        • D. Michael Martindale says:

          I still question this. In the end, publishers don’t really know which books will become susccessful and which won’t. They can make educated guesses, but nobody really knows until the book hits the stands.

          What e-publishing does is lower the risk factor substantially in producing books. Publishers can take more risks with titles because the cost of producing them is so much lower.

          I have to think this will increase the number of gems that can get out there, either through publishers or through self-publishing, since more risks can be taken and more niche books can profitably be produced.

          The entire midlist tier of authors can be resurrected. That has to count for something.

        • Moriah Jovan says:

          Publishers can take more risks with titles because the cost of producing them is so much lower.

          This made me think of something.

          In the early days of romance digital-first publishing, they published a lot of really out-there stuff that was well written and had oddball concepts. People ate it up.

          Now, umpity-umpteen internet years later, they’re publishing the same-old same-old everyone else was publishing way back in the day and are still. It’s kind of discouraging, really, to watch that progression.

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    Chris (and everyone else),

    Thanks for your thoughts. As a writer working on what will (hopefully) be my first published YA science fiction novel — what kinds of electronic enhancements could an author offer for a fiction story, that would (a) increase the reader’s involvement and enjoyment, while (b) not doubling (or more) the author’s time and/or monetary commitment? Supporting materials, timelines, etc.? Author interviews? Cut scenes? Are there items that the writer should be thinking about, during the initial writing, for an eventual electronic version?

    • D. Michael Martindale says:

      Sounds to me like enhanced material is not that important, except to justify a high price tag. I’d rather just produce a traditional book in e-book format and offer a lower price so lots more people will give it a chance.

      • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

        I hear this “enhanced” stuff and groan. I want to read a freakin’ book, not feel like I’m watching a conference video on my e-reader.

        For fiction? Oh please. Can’t we just keep the power of words the focus? To me it just sounds like another gimmicky chipping away at the act of reading, not an enhancement. Enhancement? Boy, I question that word. Forgive me, but DB has gone so trinkety its the last place I look for a book. Now my ebooks have to have trinkets embedded too? I’m just not feeling this.

        • Wm Morris says:

          I think enhancement is the wrong word as that it suggests it’s improving upon the text, making the reading experience somehow better, which, of course, it really isn’t because nothing is more immersive than the flow of text (if the reader is engaged by the story, of course). I think the better branding (and format) is “extras”.

  3. Joe Vasicek says:

    I don’t know. While a few readers might pay attention to things like publisher imprints, the vast majority (including myself, before I became a writer) do not. Even with all the self/indie published work flooding the market, I’m not convinced that readers will turn to imprints for quality control; this strikes me as wishful thinking on the part of those whose jobs are threatened. Instead, I think it’s much more likely that readers will turn to friends, book bloggers, and book-centered social networks like Goodreads for recommendations on what to read.

    I’m also skeptical about enhanced ebooks in general. The act of reading a book is fundamentally different from the act of listening to music or watching a movie, so that all these peripheral extras do little to enhance a work and more to get in the way. Certainly, the visual and tactile experience of reading itself is changing, but I’m not convinced that readers will spring for all this extra content unless they’ve read the story first and already love it. Perhaps, then, the value lies not in bundling all this stuff into one package, but selling it separately but alongside the print/electronic book.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      No real arguments; I just tend to believe it’s a blend rather than a hard shift to one side or the other. Quite a few people still trust publishers and look to trusted imprints as a qualifier; others go more for the Goodreads approach to sifting the vast stew of new titles. In either case, I think there’s still room for traditional publishers and juried selection in the world of epubs; the role just changes a bit.

      (I offered a similar thought in a post on this blog back in September. The role of communities who sift titles is more important than ever before, imo.)

    • Moriah Jovan says:

      Even with all the self/indie published work flooding the market, I’m not convinced that readers will turn to imprints for quality control; this strikes me as wishful thinking on the part of those whose jobs are threatened.

      I agree. In my genre milieu, the only reason anybody started paying any attention to imprints was when digital-first publishers came on the scene, the quality of traditional publishers’ books was noticeably getting worse and/or too homogenized, and agency pricing came into effect for digital books.

      Re enhanced ebooks: I agree with you there too. I used to think I could do all these nifty little things with my ebooks and that the only thing holding me back was money because I’d have to buy licenses for music and video and images and such, but reading a novel is an immersive experience, IMO. Also, I realized that some people really don’t want to listen to what I think they should listen to when reading a book and they don’t want to see the people I based my characters on.

      “Enhanced ebooks” exist in droves. They’re called apps.

    • Wm Morris says:

      A sidenote: Chris’s examples focused more on nonfiction. I think that with the whole enhanced ebook discussion we need to make sure which publishing category we’re talking about because the value-added of enhancements to readers are going to vary widely based on what kind of book it is.

      Also: 100,000 installs is awesome. One caveat, though, is that apps are installed at a vastly higher rate than they are used. A better metric would be ebook sales and then the number of DB ebooks sold that are loaded into the app**.

      **You can’t actually just report ebooks bought via the iOS*** version app (which would be the most obvious, best report) because because Apple doesn’t allow in-app sales, although depending on how the tracking code is set up, there could be tracking of sales that are bought as the result of clicking the link in the app to the catalog (which opens up in Safari).

      ***There’s also an Android version of the app, but at the moment iOS is still dominant.

  4. I am an LDS author writing and editing in the mainstream electronic publishing market. Having freelanced and written online since the 90′s, I’m thrilled with the progress of ebooks and eReaders. Because I don’t write LDS fiction per se, I don’t have exposure in the LDS market. Clean fiction is a hard sell in today’s world. I look forward to seeing LDS publishing companies, big and small, embrace the electronic medium and more genres.

    Danielle Thorne
    http://www.daniellethorne.com

  5. I agree with Lisa. I groan too. Back during the 1990s, the multimedia CD-ROM was an early tech bubble. A lot of money got thrown at titles that never earned back their investments. I worked for a company that published several successful edutainment titles in Japan.

    We did good work and I wish we could have developed the technology further, but our Japanese partner went out of business after investing heavily in a separate CD-ROM project that failed badly. Even so, I’m longer convinced of the pedagogical value of what we did.

    Simple stuff like pop-up dictionaries and the ability hyperlink to footnotes is where the real added value is. The rest is still about the text, not movies or games in disguise. The only exception I can think of is the “visual novel,” but it never took off outside Japan.

    • Wm Morris says:

      Tablets have been huge for comics. Although for now it may just be keeping their current audience from eroding as well as selling a few more titles per fan.

  6. Personally, I really dislike “enhancements” and “extras” on things like movie DVDs, music CDs, and e-books. The reason is not that these things are uninteresting. It’s that I am already setting aside a lot of time to take in the primary media, and I find it presumptive for someone to think I want to double or triple the time I spend with their thing when there are so many other things I want to read, watch, or listen to. I consider this part of the bigger trend of information overload. Maybe I will feel differently someday if my life gets less busy and I have all the time I want for media consumption…

    • Wm Morris says:

      The extras are for the super fans not the media omnivores like you, Chris.

      • Christopher Bigelow says:

        Yeah, and if it makes extra money and gives pleasure, there’s no stopping it. But it still bugs me that something that used to demand only X amount of someone’s time is now demanding X times 2 or 3, which leaves less time for the fan to discover and support many other worthwhile things. It contributes to all the distraction and fragmentation we’re seeing today in audiences and individuals–there’s a limited pie, and some forms of media are taking more than their share. It’s often just overkill, in my opinion. It’s like someone at a party who just wants to talk about themselves the whole time. That’s my emotional feeling about this trend, anyway.

  7. Jen Pocock says:

    In my mind the enhance e book is similar to a blog post in that hyperlinks are created and you’re able to access additional info if you’d like, but you aren’t forced into it. Resisting enhancements seems like a knee jerk reaction to something “different.”

    This could be a great thing for literature. Imagine linking to a full sonnet when you’ve just quoted one line of Shakespeare. Or for a YA or juvenile book linking definitions to difficult words to increase vocabulary in readers. How about a frame/page decoration of a sunny beach when your character is lounging in Bermuda? It has a wonderful potential for educating readers and connecting with them to stories, characters, locations, and ideas on a greater level, when they choose to.

    I just finished a print copy of Christy, it was a special edition that included photos of the people that the book was based on, locations, letters from her editor and notes the author took while writing. At first it bugged me, but then as I got into the story I appreciated them, especially after finishing the book- it extended my experience. As a writer I appreciated a glimpse behind the scenes.

    If nothing else, enhancements could create a greater bond between author and reader, leading your readers to pick up your next book.

  8. Lee Allred says:

    Great post, Chris. It sounds as if Deseret Book has come to some of the same conclusions and stategies as some of the big national market publishers. In many respects, Chris’ post is almost a word-for-word echo of a recent statement by Penguin UK on “enhanced” books.

    And it’s been an even greater discussion! (I’ll thrilled to hear Scott Parkin will be releasing Scott Parkin eBooks. Go, Scott, go!)

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