Notes from A Brave New Future For Book Publishing from SXSWi

Given that this panel was pitched as a followup to the missed opportunity from last year's "New Think for Old Publishers", I was expecting more out of it. It still felt a little light, and somehow missed the energy of last year's panel. -- Will

A Brave New Future For Book Publishing
#futurebook
Kevin Smokler @weegee
Kassia Krozer @booksquare
Pablo Defendini @pablod, Tor.com/Macmillan (Cory Doctorow’s publisher)
Matthew Cavnar @vooktv Sr. Director of Content, Vook
Debbie Stier @debbiestier (Sr. VP. Associate Publisher HarperStudio, Director of Digital Marketing, Harper Collins)
  • 80% of books published do not make the money back that was spent on them
  • 40% of books shipped are returned unsold
  • Borders may go under, and if they do X% of retail establishments in the U.S. will be gone.
  • Is the iPad game-changing?
    • iPad will be entry point for casual ereader use, people who don’t own ereaders. they will get comfortable with it.
    • Vook: it’s going to allow us to combine video plus a book, and that is going to be very, very compelling
    • Any device that gets book to the reader in the most frictionless way possible is going to be good. 
    • Talk about typical customer: mom, very busy, wants one device, wants it to be easy.
  • Kindle set prices at $9.99. If you buy from an independent store, it’s the same price as a hardcover - $28.99. How can an ebook cost the same as a hardcover?
    • Regardless of what the price is, it should be set by the market, not set artificially. If you put the price control with the publisher, they can experiment to see what makes the book sell.
    • What the market will bear is what the price should be, and it should vary by book. but we think to think about alternate ways about how to bring revenue and profit to the author and publisher. Don’t be locked in by the old model which is out of sync with the world today.
    • The author, the publisher, and the reader all have different valuations of a book. Sometimes even after you read it the value changes...
      • (Will: make it easy to donate to author after reading?)
  • What about the book as just the mothership for a community around the book/author?
    • If you separate the content from the vessel (e.g. memoir vs. published book), then you can figure out the best vessel for the content. Is a book always the right thing? Why is a book publisher any different than a movie studio or a music producer, why isn’t it all just a media business?
    • Movie studios have figured this out. They don’t just make a movie. They make a brand, that has spinoffs, and related products, and toys, and characters.
    • Example book: Breakaway Japanese Cooking: i’m getting some narrative, i’m getting some recipes, and i’m getting some video all from the author. The role of the publisher must change to use all the assets.
  • A New Kind of Author...
    • The Happiness Project: had a huge following, big community even before they wrote the book. 
      • The publisher always wants to know “What’s your platform?” -- it used to be where did you speak, what have you published, and now it is “how many twitter followers do you have, friends on facebook, what’s your blog readership.”
    • The Pioneer Woman
    • Certain kinds of authors have the infrastructure in place to do so much on their own. So they can go to a publisher and say “what can you do for me?”, and the publisher has to show their worth.
  • Books as Art Object
    • (photo shown) beautiful editions of previously published books
    • doing ebooks would allow publishers to do more with low print run / high value editions.
    • these special books have value beyond just a vessel for reading.
  • Can anyone compete with traditional publishers...
    • Yes, because anyone could build an empire on their own like Gary V.
    • Yes, and no. Because we could be collaborators. 
    • It would take a lot of blood and sweat.
    • But someone could easily do that on their own.
    • Defendini, who runs a science fiction site, is asked if io9 is his competition. No, they are my colleagues.
    • In the same way that blogging is very accessible to soccer moms today, in five years from now, Adobe will make it just as easy to publish a book
  • Is a book becoming more like software?
    • Yes, it is becoming more of an iterative process. Like a wiki or blog, you can iterate and add to it over time. Editors and publishers need to integrate this... Yes, we took this gold master to press, but we need to keep taking new related content.
  • Questions...
      • Will print on demand really become part of the industry?
        • Yes, absolutely. 
        • Espresso Book Machine: Put in a PDF, and out comes a trade book 5 minutes later. As the price goes down, why not put that into every bookstore?
        • The bookstore of the future will be a coffee, a staff recommendations shelves, and an Espresso Book Machine. You’ll get any book you want.
      • Is the hardcover/software model broken? Don’t the $5 firesale hardcovers eat into the soft cover sale?
        • Some problems.
        • Hard cover sales are very important. When a publisher recoups cost, it usually comes from hardcover sales.
        • Hardcovers do get more credibility for reviewers, even though that is outdated.
      • Transmedia Storytelling... hard to find people in book publishing who is doing it. Hollywood is doing it. Why aren’t publishers doing it more? Random House is doing it a little. There is a transmedia hollywood.
        • It’s a little complicated from a rights perspective. Book rights are very distributed. 
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