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BK Goes to DBW Conference

Charlotte Ashlock Posted by Charlotte Ashlock, Executive Editor, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Charlotte Ashlock is a crazy idealist trying to make the world a better place! 


BK Goes to DBW Conference

David Marshall, Vice President of Editorial and Digital at Berrett-Koehler, attended the Digital Book World conference (DBW) in New York City on January 14-15, 2014. For all of you bookworms interested in the future of published literature, here are my takeaways from David’s conference notes.

Amazon’s World Domination

One of the keynote speakers, Brad Stone, a Business Weekly journalist, discussed the future of Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos. Based on interviews with Bezos, Stone believes that Amazon is working to increase digital e-book sales for all Amazon users, spreading its domain from print books to the digital world. As Amazon’s web services and influence increase, some speculate that technology companies such as Microsoft and Google will step into the book-publishing world to compete. There was also speculation that rather than ordering wholesale from book publishers, Amazon would order production files and print the books themselves, cutting the involvement of the publishing house in the distribution process. Looking at Amazon’s domination in the investment markets, Jim Cramer, the host of Mad Money , regards Amazon as “a cult, but one we should all join.” In competition with Amazon, there is news that Penguin Random House intends to open its own e-commerce store, as it represents half of all books sold by U.S. publishers.

Complex Products Are a Big Deal

There was a lot of discussion regarding the importance of enhanced ebooks , which are essentially ebooks with fancy multimedia capabilities, like videos and animation embedded into the book. Enhanced ebooks are technically referred to as “complex products”. Penguin Random House put out 1,400 complex products last year, 35% of their total published works. The publishing world seems abuzz with the importance of complex products, which currently represent about 20% of BK’s published works.

Apps May or May Not Be a Big Deal

While the increased significance of complex products seems certain, the jury is still out on the place of apps in the publishing world. While currently most publishing houses are not investing a significant amount of resources in app development, they are a useful way for companies to collect information about their customers that is not necessarily available in other complex products. For example, a lot of BK’s complex products are e-books with a self-assessment component, like a quiz that tells you how well you’re doing with the lessons in the book. An app with the self-assessment could send the results back to BK, while a different complex products would not.

Inkling Hopes to Be a Big Deal

With a big presence at DBW, Inkling is a company that produces a publishing platform called Inkling Habitat as well as interactive e-books and other digital content. The publishing platform, Inkling Habitat produces media such as videos, text and interactive content that are available for use on a variety of devices. (If you sign up, you can see some of their cool sample chapters for free!) Inkling is trying to become the standard for this technology, just as Microsoft became the standard operating system for personal computers in the 1980s. CEO Matt MacInnis hopes smaller publishers will partner with Inkling to produce complex products in the future. For publishers currently looking to outsource the creation of complex products, there are alternatives to Inkling, including platforms created and offered by other publishing companies.

Netflix for the Book World?

Besides the buzz about complex products, the topic of the subscription model of business kept popping up. With the obvious success in the movie industry of companies like Netflix that offer monthly subscriptions for unlimited movie access, many think this model will likewise be adopted by the book industry. Amazon currently offers a subscription service for its children’s books , and some speculated that this service could extend to adult books as well. Others were more suspicious of the model, but nonetheless it is something to watch for as the publishing industry adapts to the times. What do you think? Would monthly subscriptions work for books?

Social Media Extravaganza

Experts from new media houses discussed the success of using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Google+ to promote their products. As of April 2014, Facebook will no longer support advertising, which has been an excellent source of business for many companies. However the panelists highlighted the ease of building an audience through Google+ and Google Hangouts, which could prove advantageous for publishing houses and authors trying to reach new audiences. Kristen Fassler of Penguin Random House also mentioned the usefulness of internally generated e-newsletters, akin to BK’s Communique. The Communique is an e-newsletter sent out biweekly by BK’s own Jeevan Sivasubramaniam to keep the community updated on free e-books, the latest and greatest in news, and fun extras that are actually fun. Click here to sign up!

Our society as a whole is changing the way we read: the shorter-is-better, media-packed text that seems pretty mainstream is a huge leap from, let’s just say, your average Victorian novel. But even in this cultural setting, at least DBW showed us that publishing hasn’t become obsolete quite yet. I hope you learned a thing or two from David’s adventures about the future of publishing.

If you’re hungry for more, read David’s full notes here .