Several industry experts were invited to a closed event at BookExpo to meet with Amazon executives about the state of self-publishing. Three notable self-published authors were there, including Stephanie Bond, CJ Lyons, and Hugh Howey. Along with GoodEReader, several other well-known contributors to digital publishing participated: Jane Friedman from Writer's Digest, IndieReader.com president Amy Edelman, Justin Boog from GalleyCat, Jane Litte of Dear Author, David Vandagriff of The Passive Guy, Len Edgerly of Kindle Chronicles, and Porter Anderson of Publishing Perspectives. Amazon's Nader Kabbani and Libby Johnson McKee hosted the event to gain insight into what authors and readers have to say about digital publishing and self-publishing.
Litte started the discussion with a question about readers' perceived value in both pricing of ebooks, and how an ebook fares when a print book is available as well. That quickly turned the discussion to how readers perceive the work of self-published authors.
Lyons and Bond both spoke about their past experiences with traditional publishing, and both seemed to feel that the largest criticism for the industry is the snail's pace of publication. Both recounted how their fans regularly reach out to them demanding more content, sometimes only a matter of months after a new book was released.
For his part, Howey spoke from the perspective of not having been traditionally published, but having to make a key decision about relinquishing control and a significant portion of the royalties in order to accept a contract. Rather than focusing on wider reach to a broader audience or how the contract can be beneficial to him, several publishers were too focused on the advance and royalties.
"How much are you going to pay me for saying I'm published with your company?" Howey asked in jest.
From a reader standpoint, the participants weighed in on compatibility issues and piracy concerns. While most felt that piracy was not a huge issue, what was important was the ability for readers to find indie authors' works and be able to read them without a lot of hassle or hoop jumping, as well as how to make it possible for readers to choose to read on a variety of devices—even those from different retailers—without sacrificing their existing ebook libraries.
Edelman highlighted an interesting perspective on the self-vs-traditional status of authors, in terms of saying that readers enjoy the knowledge that they helped an unknown author get discovered.
"When people first started talking about Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, my readers were saying, 'Please, I read that six months ago.'"
Both Lyons and Howey added to that awareness on the part of readers with fans who would reach out to them to ask where they should buy the next book, meaning, "Where will my purchase get you the highest royalty?" That discussion demonstrated that readers are actually quite aware of the finer points of the publishing industry in terms of how authors get paid.
While there was never a feeling that either the self-publishing or the traditional models will die away any time soon, Anderson made a vital statement about the status of authors: "The slush pile is visible now and the best rise to the top." That sentiment, echoed by others in attendance, makes it clear that the readers now have more control than ever before over what books get taken farther, and it is quality and value that will get them there.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
GoodEReader sat down with Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, and Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, at this week's BookExpo America event to talk about the early results of their joint experiment in ebook lending, the Big Library Read. This experiment made one Sourcebooks title, The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone, available simultaneously to all patrons of over 3,500 OverDrive partner libraries.
"OverDrive has been working with a lot of very forward-looking publishers and for many years has appreciated the important role of the public library with connecting readers with books and authors," explained Potash. "We've had a few major trade houses that claimed there wasn't good information, there wasn't enough experience, and I felt for many years that was wrong. It's been now ten years that public libraries have been lending ebooks from HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, Harlequin, and Sourcebooks.
"There are a lot of so-called industry experts who don't know the library market and don't the value that libraries bring to authors. I said 'Let's try an experiment.' I naturally called Dominique, who is an entrepreneur on 360-sides of this book business. I came up with a check list to demonstrate very quickly how libraries are helping readers connect with authors and get authors discovered."
There were some key considerations for the Big Library Read. Potash approached Raccah for an author who had an established book, who had other titles available, and for whom Sourcebooks had worldwide rights. It also depended on finding an author who was willing to give up a lot of potential income from letting so many readers access his work at once. Potash believes that Sourcebooks' involvement in this experiment was akin to a donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Tens of thousands of people have read this book, and the libraries and patrons got it at no cost, thanks to Michael Malone and Sourcebooks," said Potash.
"Michael did an incredible job," said Raccah. "He's a remarkable guy. Michael really got it."
Raccah pointed out that the speed of developing the project ended up hurting the participation in the project, estimating that only roughly one third of the libraries invited to participate actually did so. But from OverDrive's perspective, that only added to the value of the data.
"Not every library book is going to get a two-month pre-release marketing campaign with press releases and posters," said Potash. "This book just showed up, and I'm trying to show that just by being there and being merchandised on the libraries' home pages that this book got over seven million cover impressions (views), and from that we're getting over ten thousand people a day looking at the title detail page and the description. We're getting thousands of people looking at the free sample. Even people who don't have a library card."
That last consideration is vital in this experiment. Not only did patrons discover an author through the Big Library Read, individuals who found the title online due to increased traffic and sharing went to their local libraries and requested cards, increasing overall library traffic.
Was the project a success? With over 40,000 public library patrons currently reading the title, it would seem so. Libraries are already ordering a copy of all of Malone's other works, but Potash predicts that sales to libraries are going to take off.
"I want to be very clear," said Raccah. "Fundamentally, you're not going to see an uptick right away. If you see one, it will be after the promotion. We're already seeing an increase in sales, but the big increases are from a very small base. I'm more interested in seeing what happens at the end of the promo, and what happens in an on-going basis. That's what we're looking for."
For now, a few things are fact. This title had modest weekly sales before the promotion, and its ranking on Amazon has gone up due to patrons purchasing the book or sharing the information about the book. The author, who had a very limited social media presence, has seen a significant increase in fans. Most importantly, the libraries who participated are all now being invited to participate in future projects of this kind and to serve on advisory panels for how lending needs to extend its reach.
The Kobo Aura HD is the most recent e-Reader the Toronto based company has produced. It certainly buckles the trend of the standard six inch device that seems to be the industry standard. In a very short period of time, the Aura now accounts for over 25% of the companies overall hardware sales, and is poised grow even more, as the availability in international markets starts to increase.
Sameer Hasan, head project manager of the entire hardware device line gushed about the severe departure from the standard design Kobo employed with the Aura. He mentioned “if the Kobo Glo was compared to a paperback novel, the Aura is much akin to a hardcover. Customers seem to identify with this larger display, and despite the premium price, it is selling very well.” One of the things that makes the Aura HD unique is the back of the case. In the first few generations of the Kobo line of e-Readers they used to do most of the design in-house, and now they have started to sub-contract it to an American company. The Aura, certainly bears no resemblance to previous iterations of hardware, that all used a quilted back. Sameer mentioned “the design we were going for in the Aura, was pages of a book, if you look at the way it flows, its very much like paper.”
Kobo has consistently stayed in the media limelight due to its aggressive strategy of international expansion. Michael Tamblyn, the Chief Content Officer at Kobo explained their strategy. “Normally when we enter a new market, we start off with the local publishers, small presses and top publishers that market eBooks in that country. We then send over key personal that have at least 20 years experience in book rights and have a well established connection base to tap into. Once we have publishers on-board that offer eBooks in whatever local language we are going after, we go where the book buyers are. It does not make sense to offer our hardware in tech electronic stores, because our base of customers are book buyers. I would much rather sell 1 e-Reader to a book lover, than 3 to a tech enthusiast. This is why we normally partner with bookstores, and put our e-Readers side by side with physical books.”
Shortcovers was the digital book ecosystem that was apart of the Indigo organization around five years ago. It was established to give the bookstore chain a viable entry point to start selling eBooks. The company transformed into Kobo and had millions of dollars invested into them by Indigo and a few other partners. Last year, the Company was picked up by Japanese e-commerce website Rakuten. How much say does Rakuten have in the business practices of Kobo? Michael explained “the main reason why the Rakuten deal made sense is because our vision of the company fell in line with theirs. We don’t receive mandates from them and they mainly let our business run autonomously. One of the ways we benefit is the sharing of technology to really allows us to grow up fast. They have poured millions of dollars into features like Search, and various databases that really help us manage our company more effectively.” Kobo has since expanded their Toronto headquarters and now has close to 500 employees.
There are a few big markets that Kobo is very interested in expanding into next, but present a myriad of challenges. India, is one big market they are trying to break into, but the publishing market has not embraced digital yet. This challenges Kobo to educate the publishing community on the merits of digital and uses their own metrics and statistics on how similar markets have blossomed by embracing eBooks. The bigger the market, like India and China, the longer it takes to break into.
Kobo certainly has the eBook ecosystem nailed down, with over three million titles and thousands of graphic novels, comic books and manga. The obvious next step is digital magazines and kids books. Many people use the Kobo ARC, the companies second iteration Android tablet, but many more use the Kobo app for iOS, Blackberry and Android. This gives the company an established base of people who use a full color screen, which makes the prospect of magazines extremely viable. This is a new market for Kobo, and presents challenges in talking to a new segment of the industry, but by this summer we should expect a new section of magazines in the Kobo bookstore.