Digital Book World: Part 2

Today we’re back with more thoughts on a few of the sessions we attended at Digital Book World.

Sleeping Through a Revolution and The Four Horsemen

Speakers: Jonathan Taplin, Director, USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and Scott Galloway, Clinical Professor of Marketing, NYU Sterns School of Business

Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are familiar territory for publishers. Indeed each of these companies have had a profound impact on our industry, despite the fact that most are not publishers themselves. Each one presents us with unique opportunities and challenges, all of which speak to the constantly shifting reality that is the business of publishing books in the 21st century.

These corporations formed the subject of two of the keynote addresses at Digital Book World. Both Jonathan Taplin and Scott Galloway spoke about the vast monopolies held by these key organizations, and their effects on not only the publishing industry, but on our society as a whole.  Both speakers stressed the fact that these companies have so much money that they are often able to operate outside of the limitations of the law. Galloway stated that their reach is so all-encompassing that everything we do online circles back to one of these four companies, in one way or another. In November and December alone, 43% of e-commerce sales in the US were done by Amazon, according to Galloway. That’s more than double the share of the next 10 e-commerce players combined! In fact, he went on to say that the combined value of these companies today is so vast that it is as large as the entire GDP of Canada. In summary: They have redefined the game of what it means to be successful.

Both Taplin and Galloway cautioned about the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in today—where corporations wield such extraordinary powers. Taplin challenged us to wonder what would happen if one of these companies were to all of a sudden become antagonistic towards a state or certain industry. With few systems in place to hold them in check—and so many technologies that monitor our activities, from purchases, to hobbies, to friendships and “likes,”—the possibilities for surveillance are daunting to consider. The fallout, even more so.

Both Taplin and Galloway pointed out that the smartphone defines our age. And while it is true that Apple holds the biggest portion of that market, Taplin argued that also gives the mobile platform extraordinary power. He anticipates that there will be 5 billion smartphones in the world by 2020, so why not use that power for good? In an age where content is perhaps more valuable than ever before, Taplin urged us to use it to construct a digital renaissance and return to the original promise of the internet—as a great equalizer where content and extraordinary artistry can be shared by all.

While Galloway and Taplin certainly had different thoughts about where the future will take us, both presentations provided food for thought, and provided a platform for candid discussions on the roles of these key corporate in the global content market.

Applying SEO and Startup Tactics to Book Marketing

Speaker: Rand Fishkin, Founder, Moz

SEO has become a key element for successful book marketing, and yet it’s an area that still presents a challenge for many publishers. Digital Book World calls Moz “perhaps the most useful SEO tool on the planet” and so it was a pleasure to hear from Rand Fishkin about his tips for effective SEO. With more than 50% of book sales happening online (according to data sourced from DBW and Bowker), and many offline purchases influenced by online exposure, search is more important than ever before.

Rand Fishkin suggested the startup marketing model as a base for developing search. One of the key elements of any marketing campaign is identifying the right customers. As detailed in our last blog post where we discussed Peter McCarthy’s DBW masterclass “Audience Research: Tools, Tactics and Techniques,” there are dozens of tools available to help publishers identify and segment their audience. Fishkin suggested the best practice was to try a few, finding a handful of marketing outlets that you like, then trying to clone them. Chances are that the customers you want to reach are already spending time on these platforms, so once that is done it’s just a question of finding ways to reach them.

The core of good marketing is good content, says Fishkin. Content is the backbone of what gets shared on the web—but content only matters when it’s seen. And more often than not, it’s just as much work to create content that no one cares about and no one sees, as it is to make content that people love and share.

So, what’s the key to making sure your content is as successful as possible? Fishkin says to start by asking yourself “who will amplify this and why?” Before you even get started, your audience needs to be specific. General answers such as “I’m targeting museum goers” is not a good one—instead, he recommends having specific people in mind, such as individuals and tastemakers in the realm.

Once you know your audience, you need to build a platform that constantly draws them back. Fishkin suggested the following model, which takes the form of a cyclical wheel: Publish content on the web → Amplify the content (share via email, newsletter, blog, social media) → Grow your network (earn shares and retweets to attain a broader audience) → Increase brand recognition → Learn and iterate on amplification tactics → Use these and increase your ability to rank well on search engines (your website will rank higher as more people pay attention and there is more interaction) → Earn ongoing search traffic → Publish new content, and the whole cycle starts again.

The bottom line? Your content needs to earn the right to be shared. It needs to be good, and you will need to work hard to make sure it gets into the right hands, or else it risks falling between the cracks. With so much stuff online, we are constantly needing to prove our worth and earn our space.

Fishkin ended his talk with an equation: Failure + Learning x Time = Success. Try different approaches, learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up and try again. Eventually, you will succeed.

Elastic Ebook Pricing: Pricing in a Changing Ebook Marketplace

Speakers: Nathan Maharaj, Director of Merchandising, Kobo, and Phil Ollila, Chief Content Officer, Ingram Content Group

Moderator: Dan Lubart, SVP of Strategy and Publishing Operations, Hachette Book Group

The theme of experimentation was one of the key elements discussed at Digital Book World. One of the most enlightening discussions came from a panel on elastic ebook pricing. Ebook pricing is a subject we get a lot of questions about, and it was great to see it addressed so candidly and openly at DBW. Here are a few key points and best practices that emerged from the discussion:

  • Smaller publishers are more likely to experiment with ebook pricing than large publishers.
  • Experimentation is the key to success. If you change the price, then you learn something, even if it fails. You can always go back to the original price, but if you don’t try then you have nothing to gain from the experience.
  • Not every ebook is going to break out because of price experimentation, but when they do there are huge opportunities and tangible results.
  • Some publishers have institutional habits when it comes to pricing. This carries over from the print book mindset, since it is very challenging to change the price of a print book once it is out in the market. This same rule doesn’t (and shouldn’t) apply to ebooks. You can (and should!) change the price on ebooks according to demand. It’s important to be elastic in order to make the most of this platform.
  • Anybody with a pen and paper and the ability to change price online can be a statistician. It’s not hard to change the price and analyze the results. Capture the data, analyze it, and act accordingly.

04/26/2016 | Digital, Events