February Event Notes: Tools of Change Wrap Up 2011

By Janice Rutledge

“One thing we have to realize more and more is that everything is online. Print is not very important any longer when it comes to discoverability and marketing.” – Allen Noren, O’Reilly Media

If you know anything about O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (TOC) that took place in New York, February 14-16, then you know what an extraordinary learning experience it was for anyone even remotely leaning toward digital publishing. The TOC conferences are phenomenal, having sold out four consecutive years. Incredibly, on February 28, NCBPMA brought a powerful expert panel to San Francisco to share some of the knowledge presented.

NCBPMA’s special guests were Allen Noren, O’Reilly Media’s VP of Online and Digital Initiatives, David Marshall, Berrett-Koehler Publishers’ VP of Editorial and Digital, and moderator Jackie Thompson, Nolo’s VP of Trade Sales and Marketing. This panel’s deep book publishing experience and long line of successful digital exploits provided a wealth of valuable insights and wisdom for luncheon attendees.

To Go Digital or Not to Go Digital
No matter how we feel about it, digital books are not going away. On the other hand, neither are print books, at least not for a long time. The demand and the technology for digital will continue to increase, whether by PDF, e-pub or DRM file, a trendy app, or some new platform. According to David Marshall, “Non-fiction publishers, like Berrett-Koehler, are only seeing 10 percent or less of digital; 90 percent is still print. We probably won’t go over 50 percent for four or five more years.” He recaps that some publishers, like Sourcebooks, are very recently producing up to 80 percent of fiction e-books.

These statistics solidify the fact that the experience of reading has changed. People now expect to absorb a great deal of information from a screened technology; whether a computer, cell phone, e-reader, iPad tablet, or TV screen. Video for books and scrolling text for television, people are watching books and reading TV. The e-pub standard provides readers the ability to manage how they view their content by setting the text or changing the font and background-and it’s all on a screen.

As technology and our creativity leaps forward, giving us new ways to publish the messages we so respectfully and adoringly call books—even when it’s apart from the sacred paper —we may have to reconsider the reference. It’s now digital content; deliverable in a variety of formats for optimal marketability and discoverability.

It’s Beyond Text
Can we create a better mousetrap? Creating a better, more enhanced, e-book is more than just adding video or sound. It’s about creating value above just the text. According to Kevin Kelly, publishers must add new dimensions to the product: immediacy, personalization, authentication, findability, embodiment, interpretation, accessibility, and attention.

Discovering Buried Treasure, Arrr!
How are people finding your content? You’ve got great book or video content but not even a pirate can discover it because it’s locked between the covers of the book or e-book files. Allen Noren reveals that increasingly people are finding book content online while searching. “And what they’re looking for is not in the title or subtitle, but somewhere deeper, down inside the book.” O’Reilly found that content discoverability was more important than offering free content.

If it’s seen as valuable people will want to find it, use it, and recommend it to others. Yes, some may pirate it, but that will only reveal its worth. Noren says, “Having your content online and available to find is super, super important…”

The Strategy of Free and Almost Free
Offering free digital content is good, when you have the right strategy. Maybe your brand of books or your financial structure doesn’t easily lend itself to furious conversions to digital format or offering tons of it free like O’Reilly does. Jackie Thompson tells us to take a narrower approach according to our business model. Limited amounts of free digital content can be used on the website or with subscription programs to build the revenue generating side of the business. Free content on your website and on the sites of syndication partners will introduce your content where people are.

With less time than ever for reading, some customers want only the heart…. Mini-documents of five or ten pages with low pricing may fit into your overall strategy. Berrett-Koehler provides digital white papers for as low as $1.95. However, balance your strategy. Noren warns, “You can’t get fat off of bird seed.”

For more TOC wrap up information and to enjoy slides and videos of referenced speakers go to http://www.toccon.com/toc2011 . Referenced speakers were Kevin Kelly, Brian O’Leary, Theodore Gray, and Margaret Atwood.

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