Transcript: Digital Book World E-book Best-Seller Launches

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Digital Book World E-book Best-Seller Launches
interview with Jeremy Greenfield, editorial director, Digital Book World

for podcast release Monday, August 20, 2012

KENNEALLY: Over the years, the book industry’s best-seller lists have multiplied and grown to include emerging formats from paperback and mass-market to today’s e-books. But a new best-seller list will take an innovative approach to ranking digital titles that accounts for pricing and category differences. Welcome, everyone, to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. My name is Christopher Kenneally, host of Beyond the Book. On Monday, August 20, the Digital Book World E-Book Best-Seller List makes its debut. And joining me with the details is Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director of Digital Book World. Welcome back to Beyond the Book, Jeremy.

GREENFIELD: Thanks for having me, Chris.

KENNEALLY: Well, that’s a mouthful. Digital Book World E-Book Best-Seller List. But within all of that we’ve got some really important news here for the book industry as a business, but also for the concerns that so many people who touch that business have about where the business is going in the e-book era. So tell us first of all how this list was developed, what’s different about it?

GREENFIELD: So we decided that we wanted to do our own e-book best-seller list, because we looked at all of the lists out there – and the best lists I think to look at outside of our list is – The New York Times has a good list, Amazon’s list is obviously very important. But we thought we wanted a list that was better than those lists, and different in some important ways. So first of all, if you look at The New York Times’ list, they say that they get information from booksellers, but there’s no real explanation about where the information comes from and how it’s developed. And if you’re a publisher and your book’s at number three but you feel like it should be at number two, or you feel like you’re having a huge seller and it’s not even on the list, there’s really no way to say, hey, where are you getting this information and how is this actually working? And it’s just not very transparent.

In an age where information is so widely and freely available, I think it’s important that we be as transparent as possible as to where we get our data. With the Amazon list, and that’s another really powerful and really good list, you’re only getting books that are sold through Kindle. And that’s not really complete in a lot of ways. And in fact, it’s somewhat misleading in a lot of ways, because if you are a Kindle Direct book, you’re only going to be sold on Kindle. And while you might jump up the best-seller list, you’re not being sold on all of the other important platforms that sell e-books. And so if you’re a publisher and you want to know what’s really being sold throughout the entire marketplace, you need more than just one list like that.

KENNEALLY: If I can say Jeremy, that’s two really important points. One is transparency and the other is what I’m going to call equivalency. We want to be able to compare apples to apples.

GREENFIELD: Absolutely. And we want as wide a view of the market as possible. So what we do with our list is first of all we take the best-seller lists from five different booksellers, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Google, and we basically create a power ranking or popularity ranking based on those best-seller lists. And we blend them and account for perceived market share of each of the booksellers, as well as the logarithmic nature of best-seller lists, as well as a couple of other little factors that are all explained in our methodology of how we come up with our list.

And what we believe it gives publishers is a really good, well-rounded view of what is really selling, what’s really working, and here’s the key, at what price points.

KENNEALLY: Right. And tell us who’s been involved in the development of the Digital Book World E-Book Best-Seller List.

GREENFIELD: We’re partnering with Iobyte Solutions – and Dan Lubart is the principal there. And they do a tremendous amount of really great work with data, of how books are being sold, and where they’re being sold. And really this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the data that we have access to through Iobyte, and it’s really probably the first of many products that we’ll release that will begin to reveal what’s really going on in the e-book market.

Speaking of what’s really going on, you see if you go to, say, the Kindle lists or any daily look at the e-book market, that you’ll see a lot of self-published titles, and a lot of titles that rise up the rankings at 99 cents or even free. In our lists, you don’t see a lot of those. Because we also look at the best-sellers across an entire week. And what that does is it serves to smooth out some of those one-hit wonders and daily deals, which they’re very important to follow, but if you’re a publisher and you’re thinking, what’s really working long-term, what are the sustained best-sellers, the really popular books that people are downloading? Our list is really the one to look at.

KENNEALLY: Right. It seems to me that that’s important because people have had some concerns about the pricing of e-books, and I think that’s also important not only to publishers, Jeremy Greenfield, but to authors and their agents as well. You get to see a picture of the business that’s I think broader, deeper than the one that’s just day to day, minute to minute.

GREENFIELD: Yeah, if you look at our lists, this is good news for publishers, really, I would think, it’s dominated by higher-priced e-books. And when I say higher-priced, I’m talking around $10. So the $8 to $12 range really just absolutely dominates our e-book best-seller list. In fact, we’ve been doing this list for months now in preparation for the launch, and in the latest version before the launch, there was only one book that was under $8 I believe in the top 20. The other bit of news in terms of how the list is made up is that big publishers really dominate the lists.

So in the e-book era, publishers like Random House and Penguin and Scholastic and Macmillan and Hachette, all the big publishers, are really doing very well at selling a huge amount of books. And even though self-published authors and smaller publishers are definitely making inroads, in terms of all e-books that are sold across all the major platforms, the big publishers are absolutely dominating.

KENNEALLY: Right. But also in that group of people who have been helping you develop this new e-book best-seller list, you mentioned Iobyte Solutions, but you’ve got some industry insiders, well-regarded people, Simon Lipskar from New York-based literary agency Writers House, for example, has offered some suggestions and thoughts. And tell us why agents, and as I mentioned before I think this is a helpful list for authors, but why would that side of the equation care particularly about a list like this, do you think?

GREENFIELD: Well we all want to know how we’re doing. And by knowing how you’re doing, it’s how you make business decisions, it’s how you make any decision, really. And the tools that agents have and the tools that authors have and the tools that publishers have to determine how they’re doing, are limited. They’re unfortunately limited in an era when so many pieces of data are so widely available. So for agents this list gives them a better idea of how various different kinds of books are doing at different price points.

It’s probably a good idea to mention here that every Monday we’ll be publishing five separate lists. One of the top 25 e-books, and then four more that divide the list into different price areas. So the $0 to $3 e-books, the $3 to $8 e-books, the $8 to $10 e-books, and then the $10 and above e-books.

So if you’re an agent that is focused on middle-market type stuff, you really want to look at that $3 to $8 list and see what’s working, see what’s doing really well, see what the trends are. If you’re an agent that works just with agency publishers, then you want to focus on that high end of the list and see what’s going on there. If you’re an agent looking at picking up some self-published authors, and seeing what’s working at the bottom of the market, you really want to pay attention to that $0 to $3 list. So I think for agents it gives them a really good idea of what’s happening in the marketplace and how they can make the best decisions, based on that information, for their clients.

KENNEALLY: If I can use an analogy appropriate to the time of year, it’s a bit like watching the results in some of the minor league baseball teams to see who’s doing well and maybe where you want to go to pick up some of the better players.

GREENFIELD: Absolutely. And of course if you’re an agent that has a big book that’s on the list, you want to see how it’s really doing. And if you are hitting The New York Times list here and there but you don’t understand why you are where you are in the ranking, it’s probably very refreshing to have a list that is very, very clear about how it’s generated and has a very solid methodology behind it. The methodology, by the way, that wasn’t just developed by us at Digital Book World and by Iobyte Solutions, but also as you mentioned was informed by Simon Lipskar at Writers House, who’s a very high-profile agent, especially when it comes to e-books, by Mike Shatzkin, who is a well-regarded publishing consultant, and also a Digital Book World partner, in our very successful conferences. He had a lot to do with how we developed this list. As well as Len Vlahos at the Book Industry Study Group helped inform our methodology. And Kelly Gallagher at Bowker. And these are all, if you’re an e-book observer, big names in the e-book world in terms of thinking about how we think about e-books.

KENNEALLY: Right. We are talking with Jeremy Greenfield, the Editorial Director of Digital Book World, about the just-launched Digital Book World E-Book Best-Seller List, which is available beginning today, August 20. And Jeremy, I want to ask you about some observations about the kinds of books that are doing well across the various price spans. E-book consumption, predominantly on the fiction side of things, but any other early points to notice?

GREENFIELD: I think that fiction is very, very popular. And I think what you’re going to see this year as one of the big stories is that for books that people would read on the beach or for books that are I wouldn’t say disposable but they read them very quickly, like romance and crime novels and genre novels, you’re going to continue to see those grow on the e-book side. Some of those books will hit our list. I believe that in last week’s list, our preliminary list for the week before launch, a harlequin book made the top 25.

In terms of different genres, we have that information of what are the most popular genres and what they’re doing, but that’s not going to be part of our initial launch. What we’re really focused on initially is price and the publishers that are doing really well. So what people will see when they go to digitalbookworld.com today is that there’s a listing of the price of each book as well as the publisher. And they’ll see that some of the larger publishers are really just all over the list.

KENNEALLY: And you mentioned at the beginning here that the data is being collected from the major e-book sellers, Amazon, Barnes & Noble Nook, Google, Kobo, and Sony, and getting that data from them and sort of combining it in this way, that’s again something that has never been done before.

GREENFIELD: That’s right. This is a pretty unique approach to looking at this data. I think the important thing to think about is that there are these very large ecosystems out there for e-books, Kindle, the Nook, the Sony ecosystem, the Kobo ecosystem and so on, that readers are playing in and they’re largely gated in those communities. And so if you have a really good idea of what’s going on in the Kindle ecosystem, that can be really valuable for your business. But it’s only one ecosystem. So Kindle has its own way of promoting books, and Kindle has its own different ways in which it gets people to buy and read books, so you really need a good idea of what’s going on across all of the ecosystems.

I think a good analogy would be if you look at BookScan data, it’s really good to get what’s happening at the major retailers, but you probably also want to know what’s happening at Walmart in terms of book sales, because they sell a tremendous amount of books. We try to get as many as possible and we believe that we’re capturing about 90% of the market.

KENNEALLY: Well Jeremy Greenfield, the Editorial Director of Digital Book World, here today on Beyond the Book to tell us about the very new, just launched today Digital Book World E-Book Best-Seller list, Jeremy Greenfield, thank you for joining us.

GREENFIELD: Thank you so much, Chris. I hope people tune in to the list and let us know what they think about it and where we got things right and where we got things wrong. And check out what happens every single Monday at digitalbookworld.com.

KENNEALLY: And I know you’re looking for feedback on the list, so how can they contact you?

GREENFIELD: Jeremy.Greenfield@fwmedia.com or you can tweet at us at @digibookworld. And come to the website and leave comments about the list.

KENNEALLY: Wonderful. Again, thank you so much, Jeremy Greenfield, the Editorial Director of Digital Book World. Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as now images, movies, and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, like Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes, or at our website, copyright.com/beyondthebook. Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.