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At Mediabistro’s eBook Summit

Yesterday I was at Mediabistro’s eBook Summit, an event that actually spans two days (but I had to take one day to get this newsletter out, so there you go). They opened with a session on Open Road, the company founded by Jane Friedman and Jeffrey Sharp.

Jane and Jeff were interviewed by Carmen Scheidel of Mediabistro, who gave Jane and Jeff a chance to explain exactly what Open Road is, and what it intends to do.

Apparently they are looking at backlist titles with an eye towards both ebook and movie products. Their example was William Styron, whose books make good movies ("Sophie’s Choice"); there is also some extant footage of Styron himself that’s never been widely available. And it’s high time his books were available as ebooks.

Additionally, they are publishing what Jane calls "E-riginals", which are ebooks native to Open Road.

When Carmen brought up the memo from Markus Dohle at Random House regarding digital rights (and many of the books Jane would like to publish are, in fact, Random House books), Jane very carefully stated: "We are only working with people who represent that they have those rights to sell to us." This she repeated a couple of times.

Open Road is also working with universities, which of course are great repositories of authors’ papers. And they are developing apps – Jeff cited an app that would lead tourists around Charleston, highlighting Pat Conroy’s haunts.

Some discussion from the Q&A – all answers are Jane’s:

What will it take for traditional publishers to thrive once again? "I think there will always be physical books, and it’s essential that we keep them. But some of the issues of traditional publishing have to change. Advances are difficult, The idea of chasing the bestseller is very very difficult. Most of the time if you chase the bestsellers, you don’t make money. We are in a secular change – meaning we are not going to go back. Publishers will get smaller, advances will go down, and nonreturnability of books is essential. Each publisher will find his or her way; it’s going to be a tough decade, and the balance between e-publishing and physical publishing, the e-world is going to get pretty close to representing 50% of the publishing business."

How will readers purchase your ebooks? At what price? "At this point we are thinking of standard list price as around $14. But again, nothing’s definite. We have to see what the audience will bear. All of the marketing that we are doing will live on OpenRoadMedia.com. Pieces will be pushed out everywhere else. But we are not selling books from our website. We are auditioning distributors. We are agnostic – we will be on whatever device exists. We will distribute and have our books sold everywhere ebooks are sold."

Could you talk about the kinds of deals you’re making with authors for backlist and e-riginals? "We are in 50-50 partnership. Our intention is to be a 50-50 partner with a content owner."

Are you encountering resistance from traditional authors that ebooks will erode print sales, and how do you mollify those concerns? "Number one, we have to respect the author. If Sherman Alexie doesn’t want his books on e-, that’s okay. The issue of erosion is like the issue of price. We need every possible consumer and every possible purchase we can get. We cannot turn away a customer. I do not believe that the publishing on e- should be delayed. That’s TODAY. I cannot be dogmatic. Do I think there will be some cannibalization? Yes, but we are building a new audience and we have to satisfy that audience. It’s extremely important for us to face this head-on – perhaps we will increase the reading audience rather than cannibalize the audience. Traditional publishers have very big nuts – their overheads are beyond anything that’s understandable by people who don’t work in a big company, and the erosion of hardcover sales WILL hurt their bottom line."

How do authors reach you? "We say that we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. If it’s agented or with a lawyer, we will accept solicitations."

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Survey Says!

Recently I got into a discussion about how midsized publishers were managing their digital assets, and all parties in that discussion (who shall remain nameless) realized that we had NO IDEA how midsized publishers were handling increased digitization and proliferation of book formats.

So I decided to find out! And share! Because that is what we do here.

I devised a questionnaire that takes a reading on several departments within a publishing house: IT, Editorial/Production, and Marketing. These are the most likely departments to interact with a DAM system, to be experiencing pain points with insufficient digital asset management, and to appreciate good asset management in an agile content delivery framework.

I queried and submitted the survey to 50 publishers. Of those 50, 8 publishers flatly declined to participate (you know who you are). An additional 20 did not respond by the requested deadline. Or the grace period. Or the grace period after that. Eventually I had to close the door just for the sake of getting on with things. (Not that they noticed. I don’t think.)

So my results focus on the 22 publishers who did respond. Who have also asked for anonymity, but I want to extend my gratitude for quick turnaround and great information!

Some general trends in IT:

Most publishers surveyed use a mix of Macs and PCs. And most of these publishers either use Adobe InDesign or a mix of Adobe and Quark. No publishers surveyed use Linux or Sun. Most of the respondents have a mix of database platforms: Microsoft SQL, MySQL and Oracle.

As far as managing digital assets is concerned, the answers seem fairly evenly divided. Eight publishers feel they have this under control; five feel it’s not an overwhelming concern; six know that this is a problem they have to solve; and two are experiencing pain on this issue.

Most of the publishers surveyed store their digital assets on a central server, using filename conventions to keep them organized. Three also use physical media to store assets. Six publishers use an external service (such as their printer’s) to store digital assets. And one publisher stores digital assets on a central server, on physical media, externally, and in a DAM (which would seem to indicate that their DAM is not sufficient for their needs).

The bulk of publishers in this survey either adapt well to change, or note that a new implementation and rollout can be disruptive, but ultimately worth it. Two publishers state that they do not handle disruption well.

Most publishers have internal IT departments, or outsource specific IT functions while keeping a “base camp” of IT staff in-house. Only two publishers completely outsource their IT.

Some trends in Editorial/Production:

Overwhelmingly, most publishers plan for more than one edition of a book. Only one publisher claimed they do not – which was proven incorrect by a glance at their website, where there are simultaneous publications of hardcover and paperback. About half of publishers report that producing more than one edition of a title is part of their regular workflow and not much work.

Publishers seem to need to re-use digital files “frequently” or “about half the time”, in most cases. These publishers are fairly evenly divided in terms of how easy it is to retrieve files. About half say that it’s easy, and about half say that it’s a project to get them. No publishers reported severe pain in file retrieval. (Which is good!)

Publishers are, as we know, wedded to workflow and this survey bears that out. Most publishers surveyed claim their manual workflow works, although some changes could conceivably make it better. Six publishers say that their workflow exists for certain purposes and changing it would be a challenge. Two publishers are in active pain around workflow.

The publishers surveyed are moving towards making more ebooks available. About a third release an ebook for every print version; slightly more are making some of their titles available digitally. Two publishers are not planning on creating any ebooks at all.

Some trends in Marketing:

Overwhelmingly publishers report using digital assets from books for web or print promotions “all the time”. Only three report doing this “sometimes.”

Artwork requests from the media are, by and large, handled manually (presumably someone emailing a cover image to a book reviewer). Five publishers have an automated process to handle this; two publishers report having to scramble. And three publishers report significant pain in print to web processes. Half of the publishers report a “fairly smooth” process with a few glitches, while six publishers report that they have automated their print to web process.


According to our survey results, about 50% of publishers are repurposing digital assets frequently, and about 30% are doing this half the time.

The primary workflow concerns among these publishers are integrating freelancer or outside author content using internal tools; building an XML workflow; and increasing the number of digital titles available.

45% of publishers surveyed are just beginning to implement an XML workflow. Only 18% of publishers have fully committed to an XML workflow; 36% are either just starting to consider it, or have not given it much thought.

In terms of tolerance for change, 55% of the publishers surveyed say disruptions could possibly be worth it, although those disruptions would not necessarily be welcome. About 35% say they are flexible and open to change. And about 10% say that change is difficult.

If any other midsize publishers want to contribute to this pool of data, I’d certainly welcome it! for a questionnaire (and expect to get hectored and pestered for results). 

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