Recorded May 31 at BookExpo America 2013
For podcast release Monday, June 24, 2013
As James McQuivey, the highly-regarded Forrester Research analyst and author of Digital Disruption, notes, competitors in publishing and across all industries are taking advantage of innovative technologies to undercut competitors, get closer to customers, and disrupt the usual ways of doing business.
Recorded at BookExpo America on May 31 (and carried “live” on C-SPAN2), McQuivey – along with Keith Ogorek of Author Solutions and Angela James from Carina Press – looked at the disruptive effects that the growth of “self-publishing” are having on traditional book industry players. With CCC’s Chris Kenneally as moderator, panelists also considered how authors and publishers can best follow McQuivey’s key advice: “Disrupt yourself.”
KENNEALLY: And welcome, everyone, to BookExpo America 2013 to a program we call Self-Publishing: Disruptor or Defender of the Book Business? Good afternoon. My name is Chris Kenneally. I’m business development director for Copyright Clearance Center based in Boston, Massachusetts. I’m very happy to have you join us for this special program live on C-SPAN2.
We’re going to look at the way that self-publishing is driving itself into the traditional publishing business, and I’d like to start by asking you if you’ve read the latest report on the book publishing industry. The headline reads – well, it always reads – Upheaval Predicted.
According to Bowker, self-publishing is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the publishing industry that is under such upheaval. With 211,000 self-published titles released in 2011, the most recent figures, that’s a figure up more than 60 percent from only 133,000 titles in 2010. So in the hour ahead, roughly more than two dozen new books will appear in the marketplace.
And as I contemplate figures of that kind, I think of Mae West, but not for the reason you’re thinking. Not for the hourglass figure, but for something she said. She was, besides a fine actress, a really great author and had some wonderful lines, and one of the things she said was, too much of a good thing is simply wonderful.
I have to ask a question. When it comes to self-publishing and its effects on all of us, the ability that it gives us to express ourselves, is there really too much free speech? Can we ever have anything like that? It’s a question I think we need to ask ourselves.
And to help us answer that, we’ve got quite a panel. I’ll start on the end with James McQuivey. James, welcome.
McQUIVEY: Thank you.
KENNEALLY: James is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is the foremost analyst tracking and defining the power and impact of digital disruption on traditional businesses, and he is also author of Digital Disruption, which is out just now this spring from Amazon Publishing, Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation. He published it himself in February.
To James’ right is Angela James. Angela James, welcome.
JAMES: Thank you, Chris.
KENNEALLY: Angela is executive director of Carina Press, Harlequin’s digital-first imprint, where, as its motto proclaims, no great story goes untold. Founded in 2009, Carina Press releases e-books weekly in a number of fiction genres including romance, steampunk, gay-lesbian fiction, and science fiction.
And finally, to my left, Keith Ogorek. Keith, welcome.
OGOREK: Thank you.
KENNEALLY: Keith is senior vice president of marketing for the Indianapolis-based Author Solutions, which Penguin acquired in July, 2012. ASI’s self-publishing imprints include AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, and Xlibris. The company also has strategic alliances with leading trade publishers such as Thomas Nelson and Hay House, as well as self-publishing imprints in the U.K., Spain, Australia, New Zeeland, and Singapore.
So really a well-qualified panel to talk about this issue, and I want to start with James McQuivey. I suppose the advice you would give to book publishers today is, disrupt thyself.
McQUIVEY: Absolutely it is. In fact, you opened this session by asking the question whether or not self-publishing was the disruptor or the defender of publishing, and I would actually contest the idea that it’s either/or. I actually think disruption is the best defense for publishing, and self-publishing is turning out to be a potential boon for publishers, because you can sit there and watch people market themselves, share their ideas, see which things gather any kind of momentum in the marketplace, and then make your offer.
At that point, where a lot of the risk is taken out, a lot of the market has already been built, the market that you’re probably not going to have much money to spend to build anyway as a publisher in the modern world. So in fact, this is part of the best defense of the publishing world, to my mind, than all the industries that I work with. Turns out that digital disruption turns out to be a better friend than foe, when all is said and done.
KENNEALLY: It may not feel that way to a lot of people in publishing right now, so perhaps we should go into some of the definitions and to explain why that would be the case. What is there to make friends with? First of all, define this digital disruption. We’ve had disruptive changes in economies in the past, but this is something very special.
McQUIVEY: It is very special in that it’s affecting every single part of the business, and this is true outside of publishing as well. If you think about what an industry has to do, it has to create from some raw material some finished good, and that can be a service, it can be a product, whatever it is. It then has to distribute and market that, and then it has to support the customer.
What digital has done is created an infrastructure that makes every single one of those steps easier and faster and cheaper. And this is true across the board whether you’re Citibank or Random House. And it turns out that the consumer is ready for it. Let me give you an example of how ready.
Go back to 2003, the two-year mark for the iPod. At that point, the iPod had sold, after two years, one million units. Now, back then, that was a big deal and it was, oh, Apple has really changed the music business.
Fast forward to the iPad. We’re talking about a device that has sold 80 million units in its first two years and has gone on since then to now after just over three years to sell 140 million units. That’s not just because Apple is a really good marketer. That’s because consumers like the fact that a digitally disrupted economy gives them more stuff, more options, more choice, more benefits more easily than before. That’s why this is special.
KENNEALLY: Right. And that speaks to the point as to why digital disruption has to happen in publishing, because it’s happening everywhere else.
McQUIVEY: You don’t really have a choice. The consumer wants a digitally disrupted life, and they’ll go wherever someone gives it to them, as Amazon well knows.
KENNEALLY: Right. You meet with a lot of companies, James, and help them evaluate their product lines and think about the future. How would you look at the book as a product today, and what are some questions you would ask if you were having a meeting at a publishing house?
McQUIVEY: The book itself is a concept, not a thing, and this is a hard thing for anyone. You talk about branch banking, you talk about what is a retail store. It’s hard to rethink those words, because they are in such common use. Books have been around now for half a millennium in terms of their printed ability, and they’ve gone far beyond that before mass printing was possible, so the idea of a book is fairly ingrained in who we are, especially those of us here in this room.
But does it need to be? Can we rethink what a book is as we’re rethinking what an author is, as we’re rethinking what a publisher is? The answer is yes, we can, and yes, we should. But here’s the idea.
It’s not just that we change. We take a book and we get rid of it and we replace it with an app or something like that. It’s that we expand the notion of a book, make it include more concepts, more ideas, more processes and ultimately, outcomes. That’s where we have to start. It’s that fundamental a change.
KENNEALLY: Keith Ogorek with Author Solutions. I read on your blog, Indie Writers, that you recently attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, and you blogged about this second Gutenberg revolution. James alluded to the fact that the book’s been around with us for 500 years and perhaps longer in other forms. Why do you feel that this revolution and this particular moment in book publishing is as revolutionary as when Gutenberg created the printing press?
OGOREK: Actually, the title of the address I gave at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference was The Second Gutenberg Effect, and the premise I set forth was that there was a shift in the authority and the ability of people to share ideas and impact other people with their content when Gutenberg first came out with his printing press. It had been restricted to at that time the institution and limited by the hand of scribes to actually share content.
If you go back and you just look from a historical perspective, Gutenberg saw his printing press as a way to not just expand what he saw as a Christian mission, but also just education in the middle class as a whole, and I think historians would agree with that. There was a power shift, an authority shift, of who could do that.
There’s a phrase that he said in one of his quotes that the words are no longer restricted by the – and I think he used the phrase the palsied hand who grows tired, but now are set free by an untiring machine. So that change in authority from institution to what became a publisher then set forth just a tremendous impact in culture.
I would set forth that right now, self-publishing has shifted the authority once again from the publisher to the author. Now, that has both, as in all democracies, good things and bad things have come about, but that’s why I’ve called self-publishing as the second Gutenberg effect, and the statement I made is that I think in time, self-publishing will have as profound an impact on writing and authors and sharing of content as did Gutenberg’s first printing press. But ironically, not much had changed in 500 years up until that point.
KENNEALLY: Right. And one of the other shifts that I’ve heard of as far as Gutenberg goes was it shifted money out of his pocket into the pockets of others, because he died a bankrupt man, and I think it’s an interesting lesson that while the printing press was invented at that point, we didn’t really have a publishing business for nearly 150 years after that.
OGOREK: Yes. He apparently wasn’t a very good marketer himself. He should have protected Gutenberg as a name. But that’s another panel, I think.
KENNEALLY: That’s often the case, though. And what’s interesting is that while this revolution is happening, Author Solutions, Author House and the other imprints you’ve had began to lead it going back more than 10 years, but you were acquired just last summer by Penguin Group. Why would Penguin want to acquire a self-publishing imprint?
OGOREK: If I could go back to 2009, we set forth – and I think this echoes a little bit of what James was saying. We set forth the idea of what was taking place in publishing was the next indie revolution, that we had seen similar content explosions in both film and then music, and now following, in intellectual property that was written and produced as a book. So, that, I think, is what we’re seeing in publishing, we’ve already seen, and if you go back and you look at the statistics, the number of films that have been made and the amount of music that’s been published through like Grace Notes, after those revolutions, we saw a similar explosion.
I can’t speak to all of Penguin’s investment premise, but I think if you go back and you look at the press releases, there are some key things. Number one, Penguin as a company has always had a history of innovation. If you go back and you look at their start, they always were disruptive, actually, in the publishing industry.
KENNEALLY: You’re thinking of the paperback, for example.
OGOREK: Exactly. And I love that story. If you have a change to read The Book of Penguin, it’s a wonderful story of how the founder just had a very different idea about how to put content into the hands of people. And we said this at the time of the acquisition. Penguin really started with the democratization of reading, and we feel like self-publishing was democratizing publishing.
The other thing is, Penguin’s always been a real leader in international expansion, and we have seen self-publishing take off in the U.S., but I will tell you that it’s exploding outside of the U.S. for publishing services companies like ourselves, plus other people as well, too, so I think that was part of the premise.
And third, self-publishing clearly was something that all publishers, including the Big Six, had to figure out how to be a player in because it’s clearly something that has started, was maybe dismissed at its outset, but now has become an accelerating force in the industry and made it, in our opinion, the best time in history to be an author.
KENNEALLY: Right. And one of the other things that’s interesting is the approach that Author Solutions has taken to selling its product. You sell direct to the consumer, which is a model that’s still coming into effect in the trade book publishing world, and that probably mattered to Penguin as well, having that ability to understand the consumer, in this case, the consumer the author.
OGOREK: Yes, I definitely think that was part of it. Our core has always been to work directly with the consumer being the author, and directly with the consumer being booksellers, and certainly, publishers are trying to figure that out, so we think we can bring some value there as well, too.
KENNEALLY: Right. I want to bring Angela James into the discussion here. Angela is executive editor at Carina Press. Angela, you describe yourself as a personal disruptor, so you’re familiar with disruption when it comes to publishing. And Carina Press is unique at least at Harlequin in that it’s digital-first. But how did you approach the launch of Carina Press? What were the kinds of things you had to disrupt inside Harlequin to get them to understand the approach?
JAMES: Harlequin has always been a very digitally based publisher. They’ve always been very forward-thinking, so they brought me in to disrupt the business. In fact, we were having this conversation last night, and they said positive disruptor, going back to what you were saying is that disruption doesn’t have to be a negative thing.
So Carina was the first traditional, digital-first publisher within a large house, and we had to approach it in a number of ways looking from the systems to the personnel to the resources. So it was basically from the bottom up that we were disrupting.
We used different resources. We approached the authors in a different way. We looked at contracts differently. We disrupted in the finance model, because we didn’t use the advance model. We used a higher royalty. We were bringing authors in and letting them have even more control over covers and more say.
We disrupted at the production level, because we had to go in a quicker speed to market, so we wanted things done much, much more quickly. Where people were planning ahead two years, we were planning ahead six months.
So we were disrupting at every level, and that’s something that Harlequin really embraced when they brought us on, so we had to look at every level of our processes and say, how can we disrupt them and make a positive impact?
KENNEALLY: And I know some of that disruption was what you had learned at smaller publishers and what you’d see smaller publishers doing, and I wonder whether now you’re watching the independent publishing world, the self-publishing world, for the same kinds of cues for new directions.
JAMES: It’s interesting, because I was thinking about self-publishing as a disruptor and as a defender and where I fell, and I thought, oh, as a publisher, sometimes I think self-publishing is driving prices down and I have to look at my pricing differently. But as a reader, I think oh yay! Self-publishing is driving prices down. So I’m looking at pricing from the publisher point of view.
KENNEALLY: Are you with the Department of Justice? It sounds like you could be.
JAMES: No, and I don’t have a law degree either.
So I’m looking at self-publishing, particularly in the form of pricing, but also really from a very editorial point of view, looking at self-publishing and saying, what’s working in self-publishing? Because this is what the readers are demanding.
I was going to go back to something that actually Keith said. He talked about the shift in authority and talked about a shift to author. I would actually take it one step further and say there’s been a shift to consumer and to the reader, because they are saying, this is what I want to read, and the authors and the publishers are responding to that because of digital, because of self-publishing.
So we very much look to self-publishing to help us kind of see. New adult. If you have heard of the new genre that we’re all talking about, new adult. I think that’s an excellent example.
KENNEALLY: Give us a definition for those who don’t.
JAMES: New adult falls between adult contemporary fiction and YA fiction. It’s 18- to 25-year-old protagonists. It has a bit of the feel of young adult because it’s got that very high intensity feeling in the conflict, but it’s not quite adult because we’re dealing with the new adult coming out of college, being in college, all of the issues that you dealt with then.
This was a very hard genre to place two years ago. Nobody knows how to shelve it. Nobody knew who the market was. And even though it existed, nobody was sure if it was going to be a thing, and in the last year, we’ve really seen new adult explode, thanks to self-publishing, because the author said, this is what I want to write, and the reader said, this is what I want to read.
KENNEALLY: I was going to make that point, because self-publishing has been particularly successful in some of the genres that you’re very familiar with, romance, for example. And when you look back, for Harlequin, its early involvement in e-book publishing and many of the first e-books, M.J. Rose, for example, going back more than 10 years, RocketReaders and all of that, that particular community, the genre fiction fan community, has really driven a lot of this disruption. So that makes your point that it’s as much coming from inside publishing as outside.
JAMES: That’s exactly right. The romance community were early adopters of digital 10 years ago, particularly because of erotic romance. We all talk about Fifty Shades of Grey now in the last year to 18 months, but 10 years ago, we were talking about erotic romance in terms of digital because that’s what the romance community was turning towards, and that’s why we had so many small presses and independent presses popping up digital-first to publish erotic romance, primarily starting with Ellora’s Cave. They were very much pioneers in this digital space.
And because of that, romance readers really flocked to digital, and when you look at the numbers, you will see that along the last decade, romance has really been there kind of driving the masses.
KENNEALLY: And James, I know your point in the book Digital Disruption is that it’s not about technology. Explain that point.
McQUIVEY: No. In fact, this is a perfect example of what it is about. It’s about the customer. It’s just that the technology now has gotten to the point where it’s so much easier to not only deliver things to the customer, but to then learn back from the customer what they really want. In the old days, they voted with their dollars, but they were voting from a very narrow set of preselected things available at the book store.
Now they have more to choose from, so their actions have a direct impact. You can measure them immediately, which is not something that publishers have a mindset of trying to do. They think in terms of, as you say, two-year lifecycles as opposed to how did we sell today, which is the way digital can give you feedback. Not to mention how was it tweeting? How was it posted on Facebook? How was it blogged about and reviewed on Goodreads?
That kind of digital feedback is just cheap and easy now. You get insights that you would never have had before, and so you turn around in this environment and use that technology right back at that consumer and offer them the product that they want.
KENNEALLY: So now that E.L. James has sold 50 million books and now that Penguin’s bought Author Solutions, the disruption in publishing is over, right?
OGOREK: No. If I could just add one thing –
KENNEALLY: I think that was unanimous. Definitely not.
OGOREK: If we were playing a game show, I’m not sure who would have hit the button first. It would have been a tie.
And I agree with the clarification. The shift in authority from publisher to author is really a shift to consumer. Another way I’ve thought about it and we’ve framed it is that the publishing business used to be more of a wholesale model where I had to sell a wholesaler who then had to figure out how to sell it to the consumer.
The shift that’s taken place, which is very dramatic, is publishing itself has gone from a wholesale model to a direct-to-consumer model, and if you take advantage of data, whether you’re an individual author or whether you’re a publishing company, you can know things about your consumer very quickly. So it’s accelerated everything in the process. It’s accelerated the ability to get content out. It’s accelerated what cover you want to use. Some of the smartest authors are putting three covers up and letting their readers vote, or vote on titles. There’s just some really creative ways of doing that.
But I agree, and I’ll suggest that one of the things that I think has happened, I don’t think the disruption is over. I think if you look at the two big things that self-publishing disrupted, apart from the technology, is one, distribution was a big thing that was a limiting factor. I could write something –
KENNEALLY: You had to get a book into a store.
OGOREK: I couldn’t get it into a store, I couldn’t get it – well, between all the digital readers that have come out and then online retailers, I’ve now taken down that wall that used to keep me from getting to my consumers.
The one thing that I believe traditional publishing houses brought to an author was the collaborative effort to make that book as good as it could be. And I think what happened is there was a lot of self-published books initially stepped past that step and thought if I have distribution, I can just put it out there. Hence, there was a lot of criticism initially, and rightfully often leveled at some of these manuscripts that were out there.
I always got nervous when I heard two phrases from an author. They thought they were a one-draft wonder, and the other phrase that would make me nervous is when they said, my daughter was an artist, because it probably meant that the cover was going to be not that good. I hope no one here has a daughter who’s an artist. I’m not speaking of them.
My point is, now I think what you’re seeing is the self-publishing industry – and it’s hard to say this after, what, five years? – is actually maturing and that the best authors are realizing they need to collaborate. They need to collaborate with people who are good at editing, are excellent at editing, and who understand how to build a platform and how to do a good cover and how to make the format of their e-book look as good on a MOBI file as it does on an EPUB file.
And so the product that’s being put out as a self-published author and a hybrid author, or however you want to define it, is getting much better. So that’s how I think that sort of the next phase is if there is something as self-publishing 2.0.
JAMES: Do you think that the product is getting better or do you think that there’s so much out there that there’s just that –
McQUIVEY: Statistically speaking, we’re going to get to some really good things in there.
OGOREK: Sure. I think it’s probably both. I think people are realizing they have to do better, but I also think it’s – there was the book The Long Tail. I think it’s really now the book should be The Wide Runway, right? There’s just so much more out there that people can get, so just the law of large numbers is there’s going to be better content in there. But I also think there’s also a recognition from authors that they have to put out a good product.
McQUIVEY: The very large number of competing ideas now is going to push authors to say, I better make mine as good as possible, and I think that’s all a plus.
KENNEALLY: James, though, to get back to the question of just how long this disruption is going to go on for and how we can get used to it, if you can get used to disruption. What are some tips you can give the publishers in the room as sort of ways to approach all of this? Is there a way of thinking about the business that other businesses have done that you’ve learned from you can share with them?
McQUIVEY: First of all, get ready for a very, very long transition. I could use a baseball metaphor, but how about I do this. Let’s say we’re in chapter one, maybe chapter two of a Dan Brown novel. So there’s 49 more chapters to come. They might all be four pages long, but –
McQUIVEY: We’re only in the beginning of redefining the book, the author, all of those things that we talked about needing to be juggled a little bit. And as a result, it’s impossible for a publisher to say in three years, we will have figured this out, we will have adapted, and that will be the new model.
There’s not a single digital or digitized business that I work with that has ever gotten to a resting point. Turbulence is the new resting point. You just have to get used to it. And so you change the skill set. Instead of having a skill set inside the company that focuses on preserving the business model, you just have a skill set that focuses on adapting in pursuit of that consumer as the consumer evolves. That means big data is going to be part of publishing from now on, not as a transitional phase. There’s so many changes that have to occur in just the way we think about what we do in publishing.
KENNEALLY: Right. We are talking right now about self-publishing disruptor, a defender of the book business. Angela James, you’ve been hearing Keith and James talk about all of this and that point of acceleration and this accelerating disruption. How does that feel inside Carina Press right now? Have people gotten used to that speed?
JAMES: Do you want me to do an interpretive dance to show you how that feels?
McQUIVEY: Yes, I would like that.
JAMES: It can be very overwhelming, but I have worked in digital for a decade. That’s my history in publishing, and I have always seen acceleration. Everything has always been changing in my business. So it can be nerve wracking and obviously, we all know that.
But it is also really exciting because it provides opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have even several years ago with content and with pricing and reaching out to the consumer and doing things with authors and projects and changing the way the book looks and how I market the authors. So there are a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have before that I found myself wishing for, although I didn’t know quite what I was wishing for. So, yes.
KENNEALLY: And the approach that Carina takes with its authors is different from traditional publishers. Perhaps you can explain a little bit more about that model, and that brings you in contact with a different set of authors, doesn’t it?
JAMES: As I mentioned earlier, we do a different business model, so we don’t offer an advance. We use a royalty-based. We pay a bit more frequently. We work very closely with the author. We try to essentially create a small press feel within the larger press, and we’ve also brought them quite intimately into the process, so not cover approval, but a lot of cover consultation, back cover copy consultation, working with them very closely in the marketing, and utilizing the author to help us build our brand.
In the past, it’s always been the publisher building the author brand, but we have now collaborated with the author to also have them assist in building the brand of Carina Press and of Harlequin. I think it’s a much more collaborative process than it ever used to be.
KENNEALLY: But you’re competing now against that self-publishing model that potentially is more lucrative for authors. How do you explain to them the advantages, and what do you think about the notion I think that many self-published authors considering publishing a book believe they have to start with self-publishing now?
JAMES: That is a really great question. I do get that question a lot of authors saying, should I go to self-publishing and test the market and be a proven market? The answer is, yes, you can do that, but what happens if your test doesn’t work out the way you were hoping it was going to because you didn’t know how the business worked or you didn’t understand how to, as you said, collaborate with somebody, how to find the right partner or the right collaborator?
I firmly believe that some authors do an excellent job of self-publishing and they should self-publish, but I also talk with authors who don’t know where to start. So when I talk to authors, I say, you have multiple choices. If you’re going to self-publish, then you have to understand all the aspects of the business.
If to start, you want to write your book and market your book and have somebody help you learn the business, then working with a publisher does make sense, and you get that collaboration. You don’t have to go looking for an excellent editor or an excellent – you don’t have to turn to your daughter to do cover art. My daughter does not work for Harlequin. She’s 8. She doesn’t do our cover art. So as an author, you don’t have to go looking for those resources. We will bring the resources to you, help you build your platform, and then perhaps you’re going to do both. You work with a publisher and self-publishing.
McQUIVEY: Angela, what you’re talking about though is options.
JAMES: Yes, absolutely.
McQUIVEY: You’re giving people options. You’re expanding their options, and that can only be good.
KENNEALLY: And it can only be a defender, a strengthening of the business.
McQUIVEY: Exactly, because if everyone has more options, then everyone has more information about how using their options yielded for them or resulted for them as a result, they can then say, oh, now in the future, I can make even better decisions. And you go through multiple iterations.
I’ll just share with you, I helped Digital Book World late last year conduct a survey of 4,000 writers. Two thousand of them were aspiring authors, but about 2,000 of them were either published traditionally, self-published, or one category that we labeled hybrid authors had done both.
And I’ll tell you, the hybrid authors were the smartest. They knew the most about the business, they understood the most about their options, they were the most particular about what they were looking for in a publishing relationship, they knew the most about what royalties should look like, how they should get paid.
And I thought, that makes a lot of sense. They’ve played both sides. They’re actually blurring the middle, so that there isn’t two sides anymore from their perspective, so that they can get what they need in each choice that they’re making. And then that kind of information and asymmetry now giving authors that kind of power is exciting to me.
KENNEALLY: Right. And there was even some new data following on that that came out of IDPF earlier this week here at BookExpo that talked about maybe not only are they smarter, but they’re happier. They’re more content with their writing career, these hybrid authors.
McQUIVEY: And actually, in our study, they actually make more money on average, too.
KENNEALLY: That probably is part of the reason.
McQUIVEY: That’s one of the reasons.
OGOREK: Chris, if I could just build on some of those thoughts.
OGOREK: I think if you look at just consumerism as a general statement, when you have more choice, it creates more opportunity, but it also can create more confusion, and I think that’s the place where we’re at right now, not necessarily for readers, but for authors.
I remember sitting on a panel back in October and an author stood up during the Q&A and just was a bit exasperated. She goes, what am I missing? In other words, she had this huge checklist of everything she should be doing, and she just was sure that she had forgotten something. So here was this woman who thought she just needed to focus on writing and now she had to do all this other stuff and she just wasn’t sure.
That’s why back at the turn of the year, we put out a white paper that identified what we think are now the four paths for publishing, a DIY path, a general contractor path, a publishing package path, and a traditional publishing path. Now, each of those has probably a little bridge off of them, but I think those are four primary ways, and that’s found to be very helpful for authors to decide.
The other thing that I think is interesting, as James referenced, the hybrid author, is it depends on what book you have and what project you have as to which path is best for you. That’s the absolute beauty of being an author right now. In some cases, it may be best for you to work with a traditional publisher, but you may have a book that’s just self-published.
There’s an author that I’m aware of that works with one of our imprints. She’s very successful in a women’s fiction space and has contracts and does traditional deals, but she speaks at a lot of conferences about writing and writing methods, and so she wanted to publish a book on writing methods because she thought she could sell some. Our agent didn’t represent it, so she just self-published it, and she gets a decent little check every time she goes out and speaks and has this little method.
I just think that’s beautiful as an author. So she has her contracts, she’s focusing on her core, but she feels like she’s really impacting people through self-publishing, and that’s what authors have as available today.
KENNEALLY: And this blending of options, it’s also part of this digital disruption, James, because it brings into play forces and players that you wouldn’t have thought were part of your world in the past.
McQUIVEY: That is actually a key in digital disruption, as the Delta Airlines forever has thought that they were competing with American. And of course they are, but now they’re competing with apps like TripIt, and if you’re a business traveler, you use TripIt more religiously than you ever used an app from an airline themselves. So it expands the ways that people can meet your needs, including people that were nontraditional competitors before.
What we’re seeing is the expansion of options through technology that are available to authors, and of course, to readers, is the whole point of this. It’s expansion. This is all goodness, even though it hurts.
KENNEALLY: And one of the places it hurts is coming from Amazon. There was an interesting quote. Brian Napack, formerly with Macmillan, now on his own as a venture capitalist, said earlier this week at BookExpo that Amazon is essentially a customer relationship management company and that book publishers are author relationship management companies, and inevitably, they are going to clash. I wonder if you could react to that, James.
McQUIVEY: First of all, that’s 100 percent correct. Digital customer relationship is the most important thing any company has, the most important asset that companies are building. Every company I’m working with, we’re looking at how do you strengthen that digital customer relationship, how do you make it deliver data to you so you know more about your customer, and then how do you act on that information to give them more value through that digital bridge that you’re building. And Amazon is a company that knows that. It’s in the DNA of the company.
Whereas, as Keith said, we’re talking about a wholesale model in the history of publishing, and I’ve sat with publishing executives who are conscious of this. They say, our customer used to be the book buyer at Barnes and Noble first and then everybody else second. Well, Barnes and Noble and Borders back in the day, and then everyone else second and third. And now our customer is Jane and Jose and whoever is actually reading the book, and they just don’t know where to start.
KENNEALLY: And it’s very disrupting, very threatening, then, when publishers consider Amazon, as Brian Napack put it, in going after customers, in doing the things that it needs to do for customers, Amazon seems to be going after the book business.
McQUIVEY: I think if I were in those shoes, I would too. I know these customers. I know what they want. They’re getting into the film and television production business, too, because they know what people watch. They see it every day. They know how many times you’re there or they know which things –
KENNEALLY: They let the audience vote as to what’s going to be produced.
McQUIVEY: Absolutely. So I think they’re just looking at all the easy ways to expand their relationship with their customer, and as you look at it, in every industry, we see it at Spotify, for example or Ardio, the music site that’s getting into videos. Spotify is rumored to do more media, as well.
Starting with cross-media customer experiences is an easy, obvious thing to do. Google Play does music, does books under Google Books. Not the strongest play necessarily, but TV. I can go down the list. Everything you want to do that’s a digital media experience, they’ve got.
What’s next? Well, look at Amazon. They have how many categories of product do they sell? And you might think, well, a publishing business is special. We don’t want that to get lumped in with your summer sandals. But from the consumer’s perspective, that sure is convenient to get your summer sandals and your summer reading all in one shot.
KENNEALLY: Angela James, one of the things that Amazon has done recently is make a really aggressive play for the publishing business. They want to become a publisher themselves, and there was an announcement earlier this week that I thought I’d get your comment on, which is that they’re going to be creating a platform for fan fiction, licensing various types of titles – Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries and so forth – giving those in the writing community who like to write fan fiction an opportunity maybe to sell their work. Talk about your reaction to that. What do you think?
JAMES: This is very, very smart, and I wish I would have thought of it first. Fan fiction, as many of us in the publishing industry, particularly in genre fiction, know, fan fiction is a huge community and one that has built its own fan base, its own rules, but has also been sometimes difficult to navigate, for much the same reason that sometimes self-publishing can be hard to navigate, because you have to wade through a lot of not-so-great stuff to get to the better stuff.
I think that Amazon is very smart to one, partner with somebody to give permission, because fan fiction authors have often felt a little bit like marginalized, first of all, and also sometimes that they might be on the fringe of legalities, not always being sure how legal what they’re doing is, especially if they turn to monetizing it. And now Amazon has given them an avenue to monetize something they are already doing.
This is brilliant from the author point of view. From the consumer point of view, I’ve heard people say, well, why would I go and buy something that I can get for free? These are people who don’t actually read fan fiction, and my answer is, because there’s somebody gatekeeping for you now and it’s going to be easier to find. And it goes back to what James was saying. It’s all right there on Amazon. You can get your sandals, you can get your self-published books, you can get your Harlequin books, and now you can get your fan fiction needs met as well. It’s a very smart move.
OGOREK: One thing that I think is really interesting that publishing should look at is Netflix recently came out with original programming, and I have to confess that the name of the show escapes me right now.
KENNEALLY: Arrested Development.
OGOREK: No, it’s not Arrested Development.
JAMES: Hemlock. Hemlock Grove.
OGOREK: Hemlock. Hemlock Grove. That’s right. If you understand how they developed that, they have enormous amounts of data about what kind of movies people like, so there’s some kind of supernatural aspect to it, some kind of romance, some kind of criminal, and I can’t remember what all.
KENNEALLY: There might be a vampire in there, as well.
OGOREK: There’s probably a vampire in it. They took that data, and fortunately at Author Solutions, we have a lot of relationships with Hollywood right now, because even though right now if you go to the movie theaters, you’ll either see end of the world or superheroes, they’re actually still looking for really good ideas. And we have a lot of them because of the number of authors we have.
I’ve had some conversations with producers out there and they said what was brilliant about what Netflix did and which is scary for them and for anyone who’s dealing in intellectually content is they just said, what do the consumers want, and they gave those concepts to production groups and said, come up with a series that has those elements in it and we’ll produce that. And that’s what they did.
They took their data, which was digital. They went direct to consumer and then they created some intellectual property that, from what I’ve heard, is getting a really good traction and actually really good reviews.
KENNEALLY: Keith, if I can just follow up quickly on that. So data is important to the big players, for the publishers in the room, but data is also important to the authors, to the self-published authors. How can they gather that data and glean information from it that will help their career?
OGOREK: I’ll let others answer as well, but Google Analytics can give you amazing information about where you’re getting people from. If you have a blog – which I would advocate highly, that you do that. WordPress is a great platform – it’ll tell you your key words, what people are searching from.
For example, I have a blog, indiebookwriters.com. I’ve been fascinated. I wrote a really simple blog post a couple years ago even, maybe, called The Five Essential Elements of a Great Story. Every week, it’s the most highly trafficked blog post that I have. I’ve looked to see where all the links are coming from. What that does to me is I think I should write more blog posts with great story in it. So if you use that data, it’s out there.
And the other thing you should do is you can capture email addresses and build an email list that you can market to.
Those are just three that come to mind. I’m sure there are other, more sophisticated ones, but just those two can tell you so much about your readers.
McQUIVEY: I would say don’t try to be more sophisticated than that. You’ll overwhelm yourself as an author. You’ll think there’s some magic or science to this. Just paying close attention to those easily available data sources that you have is a plenty good start.
JAMES: I actually think there is one other data source that you can use, though, especially in the fiction community, and that’s Goodreads, because there is such a wealth of information that readers are putting on Goodreads about the books. And it’s not just the reviews. It’s actually the shelves that readers are creating and the tags on those lists, and you could see how your book falls in there and what other people are reading, what they’re tagging it.
Your book might be shelved under alpha heroes and vampires and werewolves and then something really bizarre like werehamsters. And then you go, oh, 20 people have listed it or they have shelves like this, and there’s a lot of metadata that authors can actually farm from Goodreads. I actually think it’s a really good tool.
McQUIVEY: I want to go back to the Netflix point, because it’s related. The thing that Netflix did in creating the ideal programming was yes, learn from the data, but remember, they also then have your name. They know which of their millions of customers – now 30 million – want to watch that show, and they can put it right in front of them the next time they log in. Oh, you’re going to like this show.
So yes, authors can and should learn from these things that are happening in their environment, but I like your point, Keith. Start collecting emails from people who follow you if you’re an author, because then you can go right back to them and say, hey, you told me that you liked what I’m doing. Well, I’m doing some more of it and here it is. You’re much more likely to strike a chord with them that way.
OGOREK: Yes. Some of the smartest self-published authors that I know – there’s a gentleman that writes historical fiction. He does a lot of research to make sure it’s accurate, but as he has developed a fan following – he’s now I think done five or six books – he’ll put three covers up or three titles up before his next book is out and let them vote. But to vote, you’ve got to give him your email. So he pre-sells books. But he’s been doing this for five or six years, and the first time I heard it, I thought it was smart. So there’s things that you can do to really connect with your consumer.
One other thing, if I could just make one other comment. I think the thing that sometimes gets lost in all this disruption discussion is I think the book is still a great thing in culture and will continue to be, and even though there’s blogs and Facebook and all these things, there’s something in our humanity that wants us to establish something permanent. I go back to even the cave drawings and say, why didn’t they just draw in the sand? There was something in their human nature that said, I need to put this and leave this permanently.
A book, no matter what you do with it, whether you add video or whether you do something, there’s something in us that wants something that is permanent. That’s why I think the book business still has a great future, even though it’s being disrupted.
KENNEALLY: What interests me as I’m listening to you speak is there was a point, at least among my author friends, where if you scratched one of them, they had a problem with their publisher. There was always complaining about something the publisher didn’t do for them or they didn’t do enough for them. What I’m hearing you three say is that authors and publishers now have more in common than ever before, and that survival means banding together. Is that too optimistic, or what do you think?
McQUIVEY: I’m not going to say banding together, because at any moment, it might be in the best interest of the author to say, OK, I’m done with you.
KENNEALLY: Fly off.
McQUIVEY: Yes. And that’s OK. In digital, we have this concept we call promiscuous partnership.
OGOREK: Change the name of that.
McQUIVEY: Fifty shades of partnership? I don’t know.
OGOREK: Not any better.
McQUIVEY: The point is that people like Amazon and Apple work together even though they’d much rather see the other one die completely. And that’s OK.
KENNEALLY: That’s sort of all being in the same boat and no place to go.
McQUIVEY: Well, no. I think it’s not that. It’s that I see things you can do for me, and I want those things, and so I will get them while I can. But I’m going to very, very aggressively pursue things that I can get without you as well. That’s not the way partnership was done in the past. It’s certainly not the way authors were brought –
Remember back in the day when you could only submit a manuscript to one publisher at a time and then you had to wait while they put it in their black hole for six months, and then you had to say, by the time you’re done and you tell me it’s not appropriate for your readers, I then have to try someone else for another six months? Remember that?
That’s ridiculous. That’s about loyalty and faithfulness to a certain set of patterns. No. Right now, we’re going to expand the world of publishing. We’re going to expand everybody’s options, and if that means we work together for a while, great.
KENNEALLY: Well, let’s expand everybody’s options here in this room and give people in the audience a chance to ask our panelists some questions. We have about five minutes left, and I think we have a mic that can come around to anyone. So we have a question from there. Just a moment. If you can, tell us who you are.
F: I have a question specifically for Keith. What does the merger (inaudible) what is the disruption and where is the opportunity for (inaudible)?
OGOREK: You’re speaking specifically with the Penguin-Random House merger? I really don’t know at this point, because the deal has not been consummated. I can speak to what it’s been for us with Penguin, but I don’t know yet what it will be for –
F: (inaudible) Penguin?
OGOREK: I think one of the best things is it’s created some collaborative opportunities for us with Penguin. The one that was probably the most recent one was we launched a self-publishing imprint in India in conjunction with Penguin called Partridge, and we’re looking at expanding that into other international markets.
Plus there’s just a lot of other things that are under way that we’ll have some announcements later in June and later in July, and plus they’ve been able to speak into some of the things that we’ve been doing from book design and cover design and things like that to continue to make the product that gets out into the market better.
KENNEALLY: And to James’ point about promiscuous partnerships, you’ve signed one with Simon and Schuster along with doing all the rest with Penguin.
OGOREK: Again, I’ll resist that title, but yes. But I think Simon and Schuster decided they wanted to get into self-publishing, and through their due diligence, they decided that we were the best partner with them, so we work collaboratively with them and they’ve been a great partner as well, too.
KENNEALLY: We have a question in the back of the room there. Hang on. Wait for –
F: What would you say is the best publicity options (inaudible)?
KENNEALLY: Publicity options. Would you say that social media is the best place to start? You mentioned blogging, Keith. Angela (inaudible).
JAMES: Actually, there is something that Keith said and James said when they were talking about collecting emails. I would take that idea, but even say communicating with your readers. We have found a lot of self-published authors. I’ve heard Bella Andre, for instance, speak to this, and also Marie Forrest, who’s very successful in self-publishing, talk about just the idea of responding to every reader correspondence, being out where the readers are.
I see Colleen Lindsay from Penguin practically shaking her head off – totally agree with me. Being where your readers are and talking to them and responding to them is actually your best publicity, more than an advertisement, more than just blasting on social media. It’s actually communicating with your readers and fostering a relationship, because they will become – I don’t like to use this term, but your street team, basically, and they will do your publicity for you.
OGOREK: The thing that I think is most important is to understand who your audience is. That’s what I tell self-published authors all the time. The scariest thing I hear from authors is when I ask them who’s their audience and they say, every man, woman, and child on this planet. So know who your audience is.
And then the other thing too is don’t try and do 10 things. Pick three things or two things and do them well. If it’s Facebook, live on Facebook. If it’s Twitter, live on Twitter. I think authors get overwhelmed and say, I’ve got to do 10 things, and you’re better off finding that core group of audience and really working with them, whether it be a blog or Facebook or whatever.
KENNEALLY: We have time for maybe one last quick question here in the front, please.
F: This is a question for Harlequin and for Penguin. (inaudible) large companies to bring (inaudible) successful (inaudible) into the (inaudible) of mainstream publishing (inaudible)?
JAMES: I’m not sure if you all heard the question, but the question was if the hope of large publishers was to bring the cream-of-the-crop self-published authors into mainstream publishing deals. That’s an excellent question. It’s actually something that Chris and I did discuss earlier, and it’s a difficult question.
Over the past year, we have seen a tremendous amount of very large deals done for successful self-published authors. James talked earlier, again, about using self-publishing as a testing ground. That is going to work to a certain extent, and publishers are certainly obviously watching that very closely.
But what we are finding right now is that a lot of the successful self-published authors are hitting success at a very low price point, and it is not clear whether or not traditional publishers, big publishers, can actually replicate that in a way that will make the authors as successful, because selling and hitting NYT at 99 cents, it’s much harder to sell and hit at the $5.99 to $7.99 or a hardcover or a trade or those prices.
I think there is still a lot to be learned there, and we’re watching a lot of the deals that we have done over the past year to see, but I think that there is a lot to be said for a testing ground and wanting to work with those authors who have fostered a relationship. Not the ones who have done one book and hit the NYT, but those who are doing a series and showing growth and showing a growing audience and a growing readership. It is only natural for a publisher to want to bring that readership in with that author.
KENNEALLY: And with that, we’re going to have to say goodbye to our C-SPAN2 audience. I want to thank our panel today, James McQuivey, author of Digital Disruption and vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, Angela James, executive editor of Carina Press, and Keith Ogorek Sr., vice president for marketing at Author Solutions.
I want to leave you with a thought. You may want to tweet this. Not everybody thinks that self-publishing is a good thing, or writing in fact, or being an author is a good thing. Someone once said, times today are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. Cicero said that in the first century.
KENNEALLY: My name is Chris Kenneally. Thank you all.