In these challenging times, it is not often that we hear about a sell-out conference in our industry, but O'Reilly Media did just that with its 2010 Tools of Change (TOC) for Publishing conference, Feb. 22-24 in New York. A record 1,250 people attended, representing an increase of 1,000 from last year. And the TOC covered a full range of timely topics for the information industry.
Since ebooks appeared a decade ago, they have primarily been featured as simply book text on a screen. But since the industry has focused on developing reading devices with the arrival of the iPhone and similar platforms, today's ebooks are likely to be old news in a few years.
From the opening keynote to O'Reilly's end note, ebook-related themes resounded. Enhanced Editions CEO Peter Collingridge says ebooks are ready to become a premium product and to take advantage of new technologies. For example, the skills required to bring content to market using social networking are not those that publishers traditionally use.
David "Skip" Prichard, CEO of Ingram Content Group, notes that changing media habits are redefining publishing, resulting in an increasing rate of change, disappearing book revenues, routine staff cuts, and price wars. He identified three major drivers: growth of online retail sales, speed of innovation, and generational shifts in media consumption. Since the line between print and digital is blurring, we can no longer think of them separately. Prichard suggested the following three-step response for publishers:
* Simplify. Know your mission, define your business, and focus on being a true cross-media publishing company.
* Connect. Know your customers. They control your destiny, so focus on their needs but watch what is happening on the periphery.
* Conquer. Don't be hindered by self-imposed limitations. Test the boundaries.
Michael Mace of Rubicon Consulting cautions that ebooks are not at a critical mass yet, and they will not reach that point until about 25% of today's readers have ebook reading devices. The competition between Amazon and Apple is bringing that tipping point closer.
Beyond the Book
Since books are far from just words on a page, they can be used to start conversations and create communities. For Arianna Huffington, editor of The Huffington Post, we are in the age of engagement, and the more we try to resist change, the more we are missing the mark. Readers want to engage in conversation, and publishers need to provide social media platforms for their customers to use. Some publishers have launched blogs for their authors, others have used Twitter or Facebook to host online discussions, and still others have made manuscripts available to readers online to generate comments on the text that can be incorporated into marketing campaigns. Some even crowdsource opinions about cover images.
Books can also become "citizens of the net," so when readers access them, they point to additional information outside the story. For example, if a book is part of a series, the reader could be linked to the sequel or given an opportunity to engage in a conversation with the author, such as the Ibis Reader (http://ibisreader.com).
Dominique Raccah, founder of Sourcebooks, Inc., says publishers need to judge users' interest in their products and find strategic opportunities to provide new types of content. For example, she found that webinars about books have a sizable impact on sales. Sourcebooks has even turned book applications that were created for the iPhone into gamelike applications through audio.
Raccah says that although new technology may lead to unprecedented opportunities in the publishing industry, the mass market still takes a long time to eliminate old platforms. Publishers will have to compete in print and digital for some time.
Ebook User Opinions
Fulfilling users' expectations is easy to say but much harder to do. …