DBW 14 Publishing Publishers ePublishing EbooksThis week, the publishing industry came together at Digital Book World 2014—described as a reflection of the current state of the publishing industry and the changes it has experienced—to tackle discussions such as “change management, technology and start-ups, data-driven decision making, cutting-edge tools for ebook production, and much more.”

Here are some key highlights from Digital Book World 2014 panels that sum up the publishing industry’s current landscape:

Amazon’s “Cheetah” to Publishing’s “Gazelle”

Brad Stone, author of  The Everything Store, spoke at Digital Book World 2014 and immediately addressed the elephant in the room by telling a story from his book about Jeff Bezos instructing Amazon staff to go after publishers with bloodlust, the way a cheetah would hunt a sickly gazelle. This thinking tends to result in publishers’ books being pulled or buying options skewered until publishers eventually cave to Amazon’s passive aggressive business tactics.

Stone went on to warn publishers to be more alert than ever, taking care not to underestimate Bezos in the wake of reported declining ebook sales.

“Jeff Bezos and his colleagues do not believe that the pace of change in any media business is stagnating,” said Stone. “If ebook sales are flattening, Amazon will find a way to spark them.”

Publishers need to be innovative, eliminate DRM, build direct sales channels, and collaborate with this new sea of authors to reclaim the reader relationship.

Traditional Publishing is Still Alive…and Nearly Kicking

In a Digital Book World 2014 full report, titled What Advantages Do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors, by Dana Beth Weinberg and Jeremy Greenfield, a survey is included of over 9,200 aspiring self-published, traditionally published, and hybrid authors that sought to answer the golden question of the hour: traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?

Out of the nearly 10,000 authors surveyed, 76.8 percent of yet-to-be published authors preferred the traditional publishing route to the self-publishing route as their intended course of action in the future. More than half of authors who already were self-published, as well as hybrid authors, were hoping to publish with traditional publishers, at 53.5 percent and 57.8 percent, respectively. And 87.2 percent of authors who were already traditionally published intended to stick with traditional publishing rather than switching teams.

This shows that if publishers can learn to collaborate with authors more and adapt to the rapidly-changing industry with innovation and forward-thinking mindsets, they can turn this ship around to sail in smoother waters. Especially if they utilize the technology and data at hand to grow reader communities, market to adjacent customers, and engage them on a high-impact level.

Direct Sales Channels Equals Excellent Customer Experiences

Speaking of direct sales channels, several big names in the publishing industry spoke at Digital Book World 2014 about direct-to-consumer retail options and how the technology we have at our fingertips, which continues to expand every day, can help publishers become more innovative and create an excellent customer experience.

Sameer Shariff, founder and CEO of Impelsys Inc., Ted Hill, president of THA Consulting, Doug Lessing, President of Firebrand Technologies, Micah Bowers, Founder and CEO of Bluefire Productions and Marc Boutet, co-founder and CEO of DeMarque, discussed five key types of direct sales relationships for book publishers to look to:

  • Platform building, maintenance, and support. These backend services can streamline both sides of the publishing coin—lending author support as well as creating an easy-to-engage hub for readers to come to.
  • End-to-end e-commerce ecosystem. Digital technology allows publishers and authors to engage directly with readers. Offering an e-commerce ecosystem that spans the reader experience
  • A la carte retail services and functions. Lessing mentions fully comprehensive websites and other services and functions, such as ones Pubsoft offers, that integrate seamlessly with publishers’ existing systems.
  • Deluxe customer experience and customer service. Boutet discusses DeMarque’s desire to offer a concierge experience for customers and publishing clients alike. Catering to customers through innovative experiences, quality customer service, and investment in relationship-building is key to continued engagement and loyalty from readers.
  • E-commerce strategies based on consumer behavior. Bowers believes that analytics are valuable but enforces the need to continue learning and adapting to change as needed.

Discoverability, Disappearing Bookshelf Space, and Publishing’s Pace of Change

One particular hot topic at Digital Book World 2014 was the three big problems facing book publishers today: the lack of bookshelf space at bookstores, how readers will discover new authors and books, and the rapid changing pace in the publishing industry.

The decline of brick and mortar bookstores—independent stores as well as major bookstore chains—leaves publishers wondering how emerging authors and their books will be discovered by new readers.

Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media, believes that authors themselves are the most important part of a book’s marketing strategy, especially with the rise of social media. But as Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy points out, many authors may be effective in finding new marketing techniques, but they don’t want to spend time promoting themselves when they could be focused on writing.

Another recurring issue mentioned at Digital Book World 2014 was the fast pace of change in the publishing industry.

As Reidy said, “We’re competing against all other media, and that’s always been a challenge, but it’s now an easier challenge for other media.”

It’s imperative that book publishers strengthen the foothold books have in the media landscape, especially since advancing digital technology allows for direct competition in the media business. And the rapid pace of change makes it difficult to make decisions that are well-informed.

This is why traditional publishers need to be open to change and seeking to digitally disrupt their own industry. As Reidy said, authors still need publishers. If publishers can utilize the ever-expanding technology and data capabilities out there to enhance their core competencies, at a pace that appeases the new gatekeepers (readers), a new kind of publishing company can sprout from the soil in this wicked garden.