Posted on January 23, 2014 in Archive

Some tidbits from the 2014 DBW conference


The 2014 DBW conference (Digital Book World) was held in New York last week. Usually, this conference takes great care to set out the trends of hot topics in digital and traditional publishing for the coming year, but strangely, apart from the usual attempts to redefine the word ‘book’, there weren’t many groundbreaking or revolutionary topics up for discussion by the various key speakers. Nothing that will shatter the whole fabric upon which digital publishing rests (thankfully). There was still plenty of interesting tidbits though, and here they are.

Teenagers and books 
An alarming figure that was apparently repeatedly discussed, was a survey conducted by Nielsen Books in April 2013. Apparently 41% of teenagers living in the U.S., aged between 13 and 17, never read books for fun in either format. That’s up 20% in just two years. Perhaps games, tablets, television or the outside world hold more appeal to the American teenagers of today, but that is potentially a very troubling future market for publishers to try and appeal to. If nearly half of this generation don’t take any pleasure from reading, publishers could be in for a bad time.

Book discovery
This was another interesting topic, presented in a speech by Tim O’Reilly (CEO of O’Reilly Media). He said that a sense of community surrounding an author or book series is still one of the largest factors around successful book promotion. He used John Green as an example, who uses active engagement with fans and Youtube to stay connected with his fans. “John Green is doing what we all need to be doing,” according to O’Reilly. Creating better methods of encouraging vertical discovery would be another good way to achieve this.

Subscription services
With the rise of services like Scribd and Oyster, this was bound to come up this year. A panel made up of CEO’s had mixed opinions about the topic overall. Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, offered that the jury was (or maybe should be?) still out on the issue.

“Is it sustainable, does it cannabalise or destabilise sales? There are no answers yet.” Carolyn Reidy

Meanwhile, other publishers who have been involved in similar subscription schemes think that it’s better to be the owner, or in charge of, of a subscription service rather than just a company who agrees to take part in such a service. It seems to be an option for readers that won’t be going away anytime soon though, so perhaps publishers like Simon & Schuster will have to take a deep breath and try to embrace ereading subscriptions, and make it work for them.

Liquid State - 2014 DBW conference

Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, who spoke at the DBW.

Direct-to-consumer sales
This was something of a head-scratcher. Many publishers seem to be keen to cut out booksellers (everyone seems to be out for booksellers these days), but most consumers won’t take the time to memorise who published the paperback they are after, never mind the author or even the full title. (Hint: this is where the above section on book discovery becomes especially relevant).

Amazon (but what else is new)
Amazon’s ‘black hole’ of information in regards to academic publishing was the subject of a talk by Joe Esposito, who made his name as CEO of Encyclopedia Britannica (or as I like to call it, ‘the old Google’). Amazon is apparently slowly and stealthily grabbing a large portion of the international academic works market from long-established distributor Baker & Taylor. The rumour of Amazon employing drones to fulfil same-day deliveries in North America was also a popular topic; one panellist (jokingly) suggested to combat this by equipping a bicycle in every single bookstore on the continent. Sounds logical.

And finally, some Mike Shatzkin quotes
About today’s book market:
“Are the publishers of novels in the same business as publishers of art books or kid books?”

About Amazon’s market share:
“[It] continues to grow and there are more players to tempt authors to switch to self-publishing.”

When looking back at the industry comparatively with today’s constant quest to define the book:
“There was no question about what a book was.”

So there you have it. All credit to DBW, from what I’ve seen in recent posts from publishing-related website, they seem to be dead on with the issues for 2014 (it’s almost as if they do it for a living or something). It’s still an exciting time to be in publishing, and there is still plenty of work to be done.