Home » Big Publishing, Ebooks » We now have a holistic checklist for e-books

We now have a holistic checklist for e-books

23 March 2012

From an interview with Simon & Schuster’s “Chief Digital Officer” in Digital Book World:

Jeremy Greenfield: You told me that digital revenues at Simon & Schuster were 17% of the total in 2011 and you wouldn’t be surprised if that number doubled in 2012. What about by 2015?

Ellie Hirschhorn: I’ll hazard a guess, and it’s obviously a bit of a crap-shoot: I’d go a little higher than 50%. I think a lot of it will have to do with technology innovations and the ability of e-tailers to merchandise and promote discovery better.

JG: Simon & Schuster, along with Penguin and Hachette, is one of three big-six publishers that is backing Bookish (a book discovery and sales site). Why do you think Bookish will succeed?

EH: There is still room in the marketplace for a one-stop shop that promotes discovery of books from the best-seller list, the mid-list and the back-list.

There are a lot of interesting ways to promote browsing and discovery that will lead to e-commerce borrowing what’s happening in TV, film and music – in terms of lists and packaging of content.

There are great sites for commerce, great sites for reviews, great sites for community, but there is opportunity for a rolled-up, once-stop shop to integrate all these pieces, and to do it for both mobile and the Web and to be device-agnostic.

. . . .

JG: We did a survey last year with Forrester among publishers who said they would be spending more resources on developing those kinds of databases. James McQuivey of Forrester made a distinction for usbetween an email list and a true customer database with rich information that can be used to sell to a consumer. Which is yours?

EH: We have both email lists and customer databases. The easier thing to amass is limited information like your email. But we can also track your on-site behavior, your clicks on discrete pieces and assets in a newsletter. But the less information you ask of people, the higher your subscriber database will be.

Our database is comprised of people who subscribe to 13 different consumer newsletters and one that is based on format – you can choose between 20 different parameters and you get a customized newsletters with books for you.

The place that everyone wants to get to is a behavioral database where you can really dig deep. We have a number of online book clubs, one targeted to teens, one targeted at romance, and there they have to give us more information to be a member of these communities and to get samples and sneak peaks at content. The more you give the consumer as a reward for their information, the more rich data you’ll get.

Those 750,000 names, we know a fair amount about them. We’re able to send them messages that will be really targeted to their preferences. The more we’re on target, the more we’ll really engage with them.

. . . .

JG: We’ve talked a lot about marketing, sales and discoverability. Changing subjects, what is Simon & Schuster doing about e-books, enhanced e-books, apps, etc?

EH: We digitized the bulk of our back-list and have for four years now digitized all of our front-list [with some exceptions, like highly designed books]. That process started in [a centralized] digital group to get it off the ground, to get the kinks out. Once we got that stabilized, we transferred that into our regular production group. Now, having an e-book is part and parcel of the production process. It’s a department within production. We now have a holistic checklist for e-books as well as for print books and audio books.

. . . .

JG: Give me your crystal-ball view of the future for devices. What’s new and hot?

More, better and more affordable tablets is a big plus for the industry because it just means we’ve passed the early adapter stage and we’re into mainstream. Many of these tablets are being purchased for gaming and for videos and for web-browsing and that will help the entire marketplace grow as distribution expands.

On the horizon, there’s a second class of [book] e-tailers that are going to enter from software companies, OEMs [original equipment manufacturers like Samsung and HTC], and other categories of sellers and agents.

JG: Verizon will sell books?

Yes, and maybe the hardware manufacturers will also sell books. One of Bookish’s priorities will be to be device agnostic.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Passive Guy is exceptionally underwhelmed by the ideas Ellie shared.

Read the whole thing to see if PG is wrong, but this all feels like a wheels and cogs in a big old-fashioned corporation to him. Samsung and Verizon selling books is worst idea he’s heard all week. He sees zero chance of these folks giving Amazon a run for its money.

Big Publishing, Ebooks

25 Comments to “We now have a holistic checklist for e-books”

  1. For some reason, I don’t object to Amazon knowing my preferences. I sure don’t want Simon & Schuster knowing anything about me. They get short of funds, and they sell your data to a third party. Pretty soon you’re getting ads for prescription meds off-shore and an email from PayPal saying someone ran up a debt of $2500 at a casino site on your account. And I want to buy my books from the 7-11, too.

    • Yep, there’ll be a “We only share your date with select business partners” clause in the privacy policy that will end up biting you in the rear. Or other subsidiaries of the parent conglomerate.

    • I don’t mind Amazon knowing my preferences because I know they treat that information like the crown jewels, and don’t want to share it with anybody, even partners. This makes their partners unhappy, but makes me very happy.

  2. I see no reason why I should use a publisher’s platform when something like Amazon is available. There’s no comparison between selection, and I doubt a publisher could compete with Amazon on personal service.

    • Exactly. I think when people like this say they want to “improve discoverability” and that we haven’t replicated the handselling from physical bookstores online, they really mean:

      We need a store that doesn’t recommend books from small publishers and self-publishers. Like Barnes & Noble.

      • My thoughts as well. How much of a walled garden is Bookish going to be? And, gee, will the corporate sponsors get more ‘push’ I wonder? (blink, blink)

    • You’re correct, Keith. In order to compete with Amazon a publisher-sponsored bookstore will have to provide at least the same level of service that Amazon does.

      It has cost Amazon a lot of money and a lot of time to build its overall electronic and physical infrastructure and it spreads the cost over all the different products it sells. No bookstore starting right now can cost-justify that level of expenditure just to sell books.

      Even trying to copy Amazon (while avoiding Amazon patents) will be very hard because there are a million little refinements Amazon has developed to improve customer experience over the years (and many don’t show up on the screen).

      It’s all fine and good to be platform agnostic, but what’s the typical customer’s experience going to be like when he/she buys a book from S&S to read on their Kindle? As easy as buying it from Amazon? I don’t think so.

  3. Why do you think Verizon/Samsung couldn’t work as booksellers? I could see them bundling something with a phone.

    • I don’t see either company as a terrific consumer marketer, Livia. Certainly not at the level Amazon is.

      • I think Camille had some good points in her comment — the point is not to be Amazon, but there might be some niche markets. I’m thinking, as an analogy, how Starbucks sells only 3-4 books, but sells them very well.

  4. Thanks Ellie for your thoughts.

    Note to self: call broker and buy put options to sell this stock to future shareholders trying to unload it fast in anticipation of bankruptcy filing.

  5. ” There is still room in the marketplace for a one-stop shop that promotes discovery of books from the best-seller list, the mid-list and the back-list.”

    Wait, don’t we have that now? I think it is called Amazon.

    • “” There is still room in the marketplace for a one-stop shop that promotes discovery of books from the best-seller list, the mid-list and the back-list.”

      Wait, don’t we have that now? I think it is called Amazon.”

      My thoughts exactly.

  6. Stepping aside from the obvious snark targets (that is, if you acknowledge that the suits are idiots and you filter for that) there are some nuggets of truth (or possible truths) buried here.

    For instance, they will never compete with Amazon on data, but smaller, specialized “discovery” sites and features do have a place. This is an opportunity for publishers (as well as for writers – indie or not): make your site a delightful place to visit. Make it a joy to use.

    A publisher is in a better position to create a “fan site” for its authors, for instance. Do what Amazon wants to do with Shelfari, but do it in spades —just for your list. Some publishers actually already do some of this. Certainly magazines do. (A publisher could do worse than creating online “magazines” with short fiction, interviews, articles, puzzles, and cartoons and art. Fan related things. Everything a magazine or newspaper used to do.)

    Instead of competing with Amazon, what they really need to do is make their site a destination. Be frickin’ publishers for goodness sakes. And every mention of a book links to the book’s info page, which in turn allows you to either buy on the site, or links to every single vendor you can link to — including Amazon — so that if the reader prefers to buy somewhere else, it’s still easy.

    • *nod* Yes, I agree. Open Road seems to be attempting to do at least some of that. They’re helping wrangle FaceBook fan pages, for instance, for at least one author. (I’m not on FaceBook, so I can’t check all their authors easily.) I also agree that publishers — and I’m including Open Road here, since I don’t think they do this yet — should offer the books on their own sites as well. (I don’t know why tradpublishers don’t do this; they could get 100% that way! And probably figure out a way to continue to give the author the same few cents…)

  7. There is really one key feature that the publishers should be implementing if they really want to dethrone Amazon. The thing you have to understand is that device agnostic is the stupidest idea ever. Device agnostic = works poorly on all devices. Device agnostic = we hate consumers. Device agnostic = we have no clue about how the tech world works. Amazon figured out a long time ago that the right strategy is optimize for a device platform and make the readers library available everywhere else with an app.

    The key feature is the ability to automagically transfer your ebook library from the Kindle (and Nook) to the new whiz-bang device that you support. If you don’t have that, your strategy is dead on arrival. Sure, that will take some creativity with technology and licensing, but it is the only way to succeed.

    The early adopters and opinion leaders have already committed to a platform. Unless you want to depend on Amazon making an unforced unrecoverable error, you have to win those folks over. When Joe Sixpack decides it is time to do the ebook thing, he asks the family techie what to buy. The family techie is going to recommend the Kindle. Every time*. The only way to change that dynamic is to offer the early adopters a better platform and the option to bring all their books with them. Until somebody in the publishing industry figures that out, they are doomed.

    Here’s a simple test. The first time James Fallows, who blogs at the Atlantic Monthly, mentions he is moving to new ereader, Amazon is in trouble.

    *Unless Joe Sixpack is really Joseph $300WineBottle IV, in which case the recommendation will be for an eInk Kindle and the newest iPad with the Kindle App. Gotta have something to read on the cruise ship deck.

    • Sure, that will take some creativity with technology and licensing, but it is the only way to succeed.

      I don’t think that’s going to be possible. Amazon — and Nook — don’t want you to be able to transport your library to anything but a Kindle/Nook or app thereof. They want you locked into their book garden. (I don’t think Apple much cares, book-wise, but handed Walled Book Garden to the publishers to get them on-board, because, hey, they needed books and the publishers were all whinypants about DRM. If the publishers wanted DRM-free books, they’d do it.)

      Smashwords is device agnostic, and I don’t think it’s failing because of that. (Though I do think it should acquire the Stanza app from Amazon and keep it alive. Best. Power-reader. App. Ever.) Calibre allows people’s libraries to be device-agnostic, and I hear only good things about that app.

      • It is possible in any number of ways. I can do it today, but I an not sure that the easy way is always legal. Remember that you do not really buy an ebook, you buy a license to the content. Think of the way Kindle apps and their cloud reader work. If I have a right to view the content on all those devices, surely I have the right to display the content on my BigSix3000 ereader. If you have the right to distribute an ebook, you don’t even have to worry about DRM. You just install a new copy on the new device.

        If the big publishers were serious about taking on Amazon, they would be doing things completely differently. If they wanted to get people into bookstore, they would be doing free ebook giveaways in bookstores. They would be digitizing their backlist and giving away ebooks to anyone who brought in a paper copy of the book (and then donating that book to a library or reading charity). They would be strengthening their partners instead of undercutting them at every turn.

        • The reasonableness of the suggestions in your second paragraph is mind-numbing, William. Which is why it will probably never happen, more’s the pity.

        • Well, I quoted that text for a reason. I don’t think it’s possible to do with licensing.

          If you want to just break the crypto, that’s easy. I could probably find how to break B&N and Amazon DRM easy-peasy, with just a short search. And I hear Apple DRM’s been broken, too. Legal? No. Easy? Yes. Done commonly? For some value of “common,” I ‘spect; normally law-abiding people often have this funny idea that, so long as they don’t distribute the thing far and wide, they should be able to own the pixels they’ve paid for.

          Kindle and B&N, natch, disagree. (Apple… I dunno. They had rather a few ways to get ’round their very own DRM in music. One got the impression they only had DRM at all because the music companies were all whinypants about it.)

          I don’t think that the “free ebook in bookstores” would be as much a draw as all that — look at all the free books that can be gotten without leaving the house! — unless there was also a Nice Place To Read… Oh, wait, B&N tried that. Used to be, much of the space now taken up with flavor-of-the-week book displays and knickknacks used to have comfy chairs. “Come sit down and read!” was the slogan. Buy something at the integral starbucks-like cafe, read your paper, magazine, or book… Use their free WiFi to download things from their online bookstore…

          (The cafe is still there, but I detect no free WiFi with my iPad, and no comfy chairs. Just the cafe chairs and a few benches.)

          Not to mention that giving away a free ebook with every physbook… would probably make some number of authors scream for lost royalties. It’s also unclear how well this would work for the authors; CryoBurn (by Bujold) had a hardback with a disc that had all her other books in that series, as well. …except one, by accident. That one, however, has been selling better than all the others. It may be that while once an ebook was a value-added that didn’t support itself alone, now it’s Good Enough, and giving it away free too easily… Could backfire.

          Now, being able to take a book to the front of the store and buy that physbook and have it listed as on your account, so you could unlock the ebook for some nominal fee? That might be interesting. B&N should, theoretically, be able to pull that stunt — they have membership cards, so they should be able to track people’s purchases. (And buying patterns…)

          If the publishers want to risk getting further into bed with B&N (and they might, forgetting that B&N was once the Evil Empire that threw its weight around), they could try to buy access to that “Member X bought books Y, Z, and XXX” data and they could offer the ebooks for that nominal fee to Member X. (Log into Publisher Site with B&N-style OpenID!) Publishers could even make their imprints relevant to customers by offering different deals — do you like Publisher X’s Weekly Discount better than Publisher Y’s Always Low Prices? Maybe it would make a difference between two books you’re looking at which are otherwise of equal temptation.

          Owning the customer with carrots (or, ha, apples) works better, long run, than trying to own them with sticks, I think.

  8. Can’t say that Hirschhorn said anything wrong per se, just that it comes across as “We’re going to build our own Amazon for our books.” I don’t think attempting to replicate the system will do it for them. The community of customers evaluating products and generating shopping data is what makes Amazon what it is. The big questions are, what will Bookish do to create that kind of community? How will they compete with the volume, price points, and diversity of Amazon’s selection? How will they compete with the company they are copying when they are several years behind?

    I’ll refrain from pointing out how this all looks alongside the legal charges of collusion.

  9. I’m getting the impression that the trad publishing houses are desperate to master “discoverability” on their terms, e.g. to close the corral gates as fast as possible and direct readers away from the big Amazon tent/undifferentiated Smashwords tent back to controlled lists of trad product/branded authors only. If they can get one big search platform up and running that merges the old trusted school of reviewers/categories/bestsellers they’ll put all their energy behind gradually persuading readers that by searching this “establishment” platform instead of the free-for-alls like Goodreads and Amazon, they’ll avoid a lot of under-edited dreck.
    The irony is that I just took a “Look Inside” a trad e-book of a favorite mystery author and saw at least three typo/italic problems with their digitalization.

    • Good point, D.L. Readers are only supposed to discover certain books, not those nasty indie ebooks.

      • Great line!

        “Quality Editing” is the grail that eludes readers in both the legacy(or “new vanity”) publishers and indies.

        Does anyone know a list of ‘superstar editors’? Obviously names will be known by those working at the publishers and major reviewers. There’s no public list. Any guesses at the top three or five individuals?

        Which books did the ‘superstars’ work on?

        Any lists of the ‘best edited’ books?

        How does one tell if a book has quality editing — how to measure Quality? This is a deeper question because it could be taste/opinion “I know it when I see it” or measurable “this book with three typos in 100,000 words equals 30 parts-per-million and the best books are only 10ppm” or style changes that reworked writer drivel into artful sentences.

      • Irony time….

        Yes, that’s what the trad publishers have to do — build a “discovery” site that allows people to find their books, and not anybody else’s.

        The way to do this is to create a site which attracts customers on it’s own merits — and the one asset big old publishers have which can attract readers? Authors.

        You know, those folks you treat badly. The ones you started dropping after 2-3 books (or forced them to change their names to keep going) so that they never became that long-term branded asset you need to attract readers to your brand.

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