What was the most important thing you learned about digital and books in 2010?
As is natural going into a new year, I did a little reflection on 2010, the year that was. And it was really such an extraordinary year.
For me, 2010 was the year my role as CEO and Publisher became mostly about planning the digital future.
In fact, 2010 was the year in which we all started to pay a lot more attention to digital. And there was news – often the lead stories - every day about digital developments. Who would have predicted that the book (and particularly ebooks) would be so central to the development of the web?
So I started to think about what was the biggest thing that I learned this year, what really changed in my thinking, and I think it was this:
We are entering a new age of what a publisher can be and what a publisher can do. It is (I believe) a new era of creative partnership in which a publisher may look a lot more like a film director for any individual project; an era in which the boundaries on what we can create with our authors and our digital partners is limited only by our imagination, vision and understanding of the needs of our customers.
It is both exhilarating and frankly terrifying.
And I believe this: There has never been more opportunity for books than there is today. We may be surprised to experience an explosion in readership. While some will read less (yes, distraction really is a problem), the very fact of making books so much more readily accessible will, I believe, significantly increase the number of books bought or read because so many more people will be easily able to buy books. Providing easy and relatively inexpensive access might actually create more book readers. Wouldn’t that be amazing!
I think we will look back on 2010 as the year when everything changed for our industry. It will be historic, it will be a year that we talk about and remember: we lived through it, we did this, we were part of this...we were part of the transformation of the book.
We are each grappling with a rapidly changing world -- facing challenges for which there was no training and that none of us could be fully prepared for. The entire book infrastructure is being re-conceptualized and rebuilt. The possibilities for us all -- everyone in the supply chain that runs from author to reader -- are enormous and at times overwhelming. And the thing that made me happiest this year was watching my friends, peers, customers and company step up and take it on. 2010 saw real progress on behalf of authors and readers made by so many (and yes, there’s always more to do). And as we go into another transformative year, we should celebrate the progress, the successes and even the failures of 2010.
So that's what really struck me about 2010 (and I guess it’s more than one thing).
What stood out for you? I thought we could compile into a list: #whatilearned2010. Feel free to post and tweet. Just send me links or post in comments below. I'll try to pull all the responses together into a single area so everybody can see them.
2011 promises to be extraordinary as well, the kind of experience and opportunity that will only happen once in our lifetime.
Happy New Year!
@draccah on Twitter
So we had a good idea, perhaps you heard about it.
December 16 is Jane Austen's birthday and we thought to celebrate by giving away free ebooks of a number of our bestselling Jane Austen-inspired works, plus special ebook editions of Austen's 6 novels including the famous Brock brothers' illustrations. The goal? A one-day only extravaganza giveaway just for her birthday, and we'd offer it everywhere ebooks are sold.
One of the things we're trying to do on the Sourcebooks Next blog is talk about digital experiments from the point of view of those actually doing the work. So this is the short story of our Jane Austen promotion - and how it went wrong.
Let me start by explaining what went wrong: simply put, on the morning of December 16, the books in the promotion were not free. And people noticed of course – everyone who'd so graciously spread the word of the promo was now justifiably taking us to task.
So what happened? Here are the challenges we faced, whether we knew them or not (and in a number of cases, we just didn't know).
Challenge #1: Not Enough Time
For starters, we came up with the idea for the entire promotion on December 3, less than two weeks before the date. Within days we had announced the program internally, drafted our releases, and begun the gears turning. It turns out, though, that when we run promotions across multiple etailers, they need at least two weeks to ensure proper setup and we've found it's usually best to have about six to eight weeks of total processing time (and cushion) to ensure that all our external retailers can process the information and set it up to happen at the same time. Is digital retailing and cataloguing instantaneous? No, it's not.
Challenge #2: Multiple External Systems
Every one of our external vendors has a different system and schedule, so we work individually with the iBookstore, Google, Nook, Kindle, and everyone else. Each of our etailers has a different timeline and process for implementing promotions. We have a mix where we manually adjust prices at some accounts and we submit price changes via spreadsheet to other accounts. We generally cannot specify an exact time for these promotions to take effect, though most of our accounts let us specify the day. So it's more complicated than you (or I obviously) would expect.
Challenge #3: "Available Everywhere Ebooks Are Sold"
This would've all been easier if we'd just done something like offer the files on a designated landing page on our website, right? Certainly, it would've been easier for us, but what reader wants that kind of restriction? With some devices, we know you're restricted to where you can get your ebooks. So we were going for ultimate ease – no extra clicks, syncs, or heaven-knows-what workaround to try getting these ebooks on your device. Turns out that goal complicated things.
Challenge #4: "One Day Only!"
We've run countless ebook promotions with our ebook partners, but I don't think we'd ever tried a one-day-only promotion. Usually a special offer runs a week, two weeks, a month. A day? Didn't know if we could do it. And the answer is yes, many of our partners can run one-day offers. But not all of them. A few places can't or don't run one-day offers. Well, we didn't know that at the beginning of this process.
Challenge #5: Territory Restrictions
Here's one that frankly didn't occur to us. If you wanted to download an ebook from the promotion and you were in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere, could you get it? The answer was sometimes no. In some cases underlying territory restrictions on the publishing rights side may have gotten in the way, and in some cases the territory restrictions may have come from your account at an etailer. This too was a result of our attempt to have the books available with each retail partner. And what happened with those partners when some of the books were available but some were not? Well, that turned out to be new learning too.
So what did we learn?
Well, as with so many things, your results are often determined by communication, time, and raw effort. Our lack of time probably knocked down what we could accomplish with the other two. And I really have to give kudos to our etailing partners, many of whom scrambled to help us through these unforeseen problems. Indeed, as the morning of December 16 ticked along, the promotion went live at store after store. And we quickly chose to extend the promotion an extra day to make up for the awkward start.
In close, we first and foremost offer our apologies – we tried, we screwed up, we're sorry. We hope those who wanted the books were able to get them, and that readers have been able to discover the work of these wonderful authors. We believe that all the stores now have them free except Sony (who will shortly). And we've added one more day as a Bonus Jane Austen Birthday Celebration!
Feel free to tell us what you think. It's been an exciting day. And did I mention, we launched a new website (the new sourcebooks.com) and an incredible new initiative, Books Change Lives in conjunction with awesome partners Friday Reads and Shelf Unbound today too! Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Thanks to everyone who participated!
With this new generation of our website, we're trying something a little bit different. And it speaks very much to the company we're becoming.
We developed the underlying concepts for this website by asking: Who is coming to the sourcebooks.com web site? What do they expect to see? What do they want to do?
As a result, our site has moved from being a purely catalog site. You can still find our books—in fact, our search functionality has been seriously improved—but the site’s much more about the people with whom we work. And that turns out to be authors, readers and other people interested in the transformation/digital development of the book.
We believe that publishers are in the business of making authors known (to make public=to publish). In fact, for a very forward-thinking publisher, Sourcebooks has some old-fashioned ideas about what it is that makes a “publisher.” So we set up a whole section of the website aimed at authors. Part of that section explains who we are, for example:
We publish authors not books.
We invest in authors and their careers — and help our authors to build long-term, meaningful relationships with their readers. The fact that year after year our authors return to publish their new books with Sourcebooks is one of our greatest joys.
The Buzz @ Sourcebooks explains just some of what we do for our authors. In fact, I was tempted to call that section “what we’re doing for our authors TODAY.” It’s where you’ll see some of what our publicity and marketing people are doing for the books and authors we’re publishing.
The Authors section is also where you’ll find our submission guidelines and an explanation of what we’re interested in publishing.
By far the most comments that we get on the sourcebooks.com site has to do with the books and authors we publish, and they’re from Readers. When are you publishing this author’s next book? What’s the right order in which to read this author’s books? Do you have a reading group guide for this book? This is where we aim to answer the very practical questions you have about the authors you know and love.
Beyond that, we’re also going try some broader experiments. So the Readers section of sourcebooks.com is all about helping or supporting discovery or as we think about it:
Helping you discover your next great read.
We have some tools that we’ll be introducing down the road for Readers because it’s clear that there are lots and lots of ways to discover great books (and not just the books that we, Sourcebooks, publish).
Sourcebooks Next represents the future that we're working on. We hope to show you what we learn as we learn it (or a bit later depending on how busy we get...). It’s where we’ll post our new apps or web apps or our new community sites. And we’ll talk about what we’re seeing in the industry. Again, not just what we’re working on, but what others are doing as well.
The book publishing industry is in transformation, and we believe that transformation could be great for books and authors. The initiatives you’ll see here are focused on the same goal:
Unleashing the power of books and authors
This is the heart of Sourcebooks Next.
One last note: we plan for this site to be perpetually in development. So expect to see changes, from tweaks to major redesigns. We would of course appreciate your help and input. Please tell us about problems or annoyances and share any ideas for new sections or redesigns.
And obviously, we’re launching with the expectation that we will have loads of changes immediately. Any recommendations (either short- or long-term)? That’s what comments are for. Just let us know.
Looking forward to our conversation,
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