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‘Transformation’ at Digital Book World: Wide-Eyed and Learning

9 March 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

Almost a bit shell-shocked, the tone of this year’s Digital Book World Conference + Expo (DBW) in New York City has an air both of resignation and of bafflement to it.

That’s not to say that the official two days  of the event haven’t opened with plenty of expertise onstage and in the audience, far from it. As ever, the grand ballroom at the Midtown Hilton is busy with key players, promising startup entrepreneurs, observant media watchers, and resilient business people.

But conference director Mike Shatzkin’s theme of “transformation”—of an industry now long upended by the digital dynamic—is apt in a curiously palpable sense. Brightly lit glowing panels form the stage backdrop this year, placing speakers in a considerably lower light and immersing the program in a gleaming, backlit conference aquarium.

. . . .

“This is a conference that’s not just about digital books, but about how our entire industry is interacting with a digital world.”

. . . .

It’s worth listing some of his inflection points in a fast constellation of change. Since 2010, Shatzkin told the audience:

  • Borders has closed
  • Barnes & Noble has fewer stores, fewer books
  • Half of bookstore shelf space is gone
  • Apple has launched the iBookstore
  • We’ve seen the start of “agency pricing”
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook has gained market share
  • The DoJ has intervened
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook has lost market share
  • Amazon’s Kindle has lost share, and then has come back

By contrast, some of the current market’s highlights Shatzkin pointed to include:

  • A massive indie writer community exists, perhaps hundreds making a living [at writing]
  • Possibly half of ebooks are indie
  • Indie prices are inching up, but still push overall prices downward
  • Publishers are trying to push ebook prices up
  • The erosion of print sales appears to have slowed
  • Big publishers’ ebook sales have declined; but overall ebooks are up

. . . .

We paddled on to the challenges that Shatzkin tells us are facing the industry now:

  • Publishers need to create platforms for engagement
  • Author brands need more publisher collaboration efforts
  • Will any publisher ever routinely offer a “digital audit”?
  • Do publishers have the “complete” list of marketing opportunities?
  • A need to understand the indie author sales profile and share
  • Developing sophisticated email marketing
  • Grasping strategies of The Four Horsemen
  • Can anti-trust “save” publishers from big players?

. . . .

Rodale’s Naples was there to recommend that publishers embrace failure for what they can learn from it . . . try, try again, adding:

“I’ve been shocked at how little has changed over the years inside a publishing house…One thing that shocked me when I worked with a startup was the culture…20 times faster than in publishing.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Dana for the tip.

Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation

28 Comments to “‘Transformation’ at Digital Book World: Wide-Eyed and Learning”

  1. Of the things listed as challenges to the industry, none have ‘readers’ or their needs in them.

  2. “A massive indie writer community exists, perhaps hundreds making a living [at writing]”

    Damn Mikey, you lose a zero or ‘perhaps’ more than a zero there?

    “Possibly half of ebooks are indie”

    Only ‘possibly? Go look on Amazon Mikey …

    “Indie prices are inching up, but still push overall prices downward”

    Priced to sell, not priced to prop up paper sales, trad-pub might learn something from indies.

    “Publishers are trying to push ebook prices up”

    Yeah, how’s that working out for them again? Oh yeah: “Big publishers’ ebook sales have declined; but overall ebooks are up”

    “The erosion of print sales appears to have slowed”

    Thank god for adult coloring books!

    I am impressed though, no one can bullsh**ing quite like Mike Shatzkin …

  3. Wide-eyed and learning?
    Some of the reports out of there sound more like “blindfolded and ranting”.

  4. I was struck by this bit.

    “Failure + Learning x Time,” Fishkin told the audience. “That’s how we find success.

    The math pedant in me, recalling order of operation, wonders if he should have had parentheses around “Failure + Learning,” because the way he talks about it there suggests that it’s one big failure, plus the results of learning over time, and I’m not sure that’s what he meant.

  5. “Barnes & Noble’s Nook has gained market share” — since that’s true, why are they abandoning the UK market? Check again.

    “A need to understand the indie author sales profile and share” — go look at Author Earnings. Look and learn. There, got that sorted for ya.

    “Can anti-trust ‘save’ publishers from big players?” Question, so no. And why should they? As we’ve learned from the cogent legal minds here on TPV, anti-trust isn’t about the fact that BPH needs to be saved from competition.

    The attendees at this conference could’ve saved big bucks by signing on here and sending ME half the money. Oh well. Opportunity lost.

    • The list is sequential from 2010 to today, not cumulative.
      So yes, B&N gained a *lot* of share in 2010 before Agency kicked in. They’ve been losing it ever since.

      Still if you baseline it to 2009 B&N *has* gained share: they’ve gone from nothing to almost nothing. They’re still ahead. 😉

      • Heh, he had to. If he’d given them just the last 2-3 years to think on it’d have been all downhill/doom and gloom …

  6. “A massive indie writer community exists, perhaps hundreds making a living [at writing]”

    I think we need to stage a march… or a read-in, or something. Those of us making a living at writing need to show up in Shatzkin’s front yard and stage a barbecue. So he sees how many of us there are. I hope he has a big yard.

    Aha! We’ll call it a Shatzk-in.

  7. The biggest thing in ebook right now is subscription and how big fast it is growing. Ignore it at your own peril because it will be a game changer for ebooks in the coming years:

    For example, Kindle Unlimited payout in 2016 might be as much as $450 million.

    1/2 of that to indie ($225 million)
    1/2 of that to small/medium publishers and Amazon imprints ($225 million)

    2014 payout to self-publishers who enrolled:

    July was $2.785 million
    August was $4.7 million
    September was $5 million
    October was $5.5 million
    November was $6.5 million
    December was $7.25 million

    2015 payout to self-publishers who enrolled:

    January was $8.50 million
    February was $8.00 million
    March was $9.30 million
    April was $9.80 million
    May was $10.8 million
    June was $11.3 million
    July was $11.5 million
    August was $11.8 million
    September was $12.0 million
    October was $12.4 million
    November was $12.7 million
    December was $13.5 million

    2016 payout to self-publishers who enrolled:

    January was $15.0 million

    There is also the monthly $1.164 million All-Star bonuses to get the top self-published authors to enroll with Amazon.

  8. Pundits reporting on pundits.

    Looking forward to hearing about Data Guy’s presentation.

  9. What is a platform for engagement?

  10. Yanno. That little curb thing he kneels on when he proposes. If he’s savvy, he’ll have the ring and everything (my DH didn’t, but that was 29 years ago and I’m chill now).

  11. PG on my ipad and my desktop, all the “i”s in the comments on this post are gone. Is it just me?

    EDIT. Just in case that doesn’t show up, I mean the letter “eye” doesn’t show on my screen in any of the comments on this post.

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