Wi5 Day One

My first day at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute in San Jose was amazing. The conference has attracted over 500 attendees, all of whom are extremely enthusiastic, informed and hungry for more information. The passion everyone has for books, bookselling and the whole industry is intense and the whole atmosphere is completely infectious.

There have been a whole mix of sessions today ranging from big sessions with all the delegates to small, concurrent sessions on specific topics. The day started with an address from the president of the US Booksellers Association, Michael Tucker which included a standing ovation from the audience for Macmillan’s stand against Amazon.

The keynote address was from Andrew Weinstein, vice president and general manager, retail development, and vice president, business development, for Ingram Content Group. His talk was primarily about the transition from physical media to digital media. He made some interesting comparisons with the music industry concerning Digital Rights Management (DRM). While the book industry is grappling with all the intricacies of DRM, the music industry is moving away from it. Initially when you purchased music from iTunes you could only transfer the music file to your iPod. Now Apple are relaxing the restrictions. There seems to be a transition period for digital media where there is heavy DRM early as the market adjusts to the new changes and once these changes are settled DRM becomes more relaxed or even free. The key for DRM is to make it a positive or neutral experience for the consumer not a negative experience.

Another issue he addressed was that most eBooks and digital content coming onto the market is static. There is no discernable difference between an eBook file you purchase from Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Nobel or Apple, so the point of difference has become price. The key is to create dynamic content and it doesn’t have to be digital. A signed physical book is a great example of this or e-books that can be enhanced, updated or upgraded. The key is to find something that others are not doing for free and charge for it.

Ingrams sales of eBooks in November were 200% up on the previous year. To date Amazon is estimated to have sold over 3 million Kindles in total. Apple has sold 30 million iPhones or iPods in the last quarter and they have set the goal of selling 4 million iPads in its first quarter!

The next session was a smaller one looking at “Techniques and Tactics for Online Website Promotion. This was presented by ABA Chief Operating Officer, Len Vlahos

Our guest speaker over lunch was Daniel Clancy from Google Editions. Google acknowledged that they are poor at the retail side of doing business and with books they want help third party retailers market and sell books (physical and digital) rather than selling them themselves. Their strength is in building platforms. Google are working on a platform that helps readers store or collate all their digital books in one place rather than from each separate retailer a consumer chooses to use. Basically Google wants to be able to use people’s Google logins to login to other retailers so everything is synced. Not sure about this one or all the talk about clouds!

Daniel also had some interesting views on where the industry is and where it is going. He had a horror story where a customer is browsing in a bookshop, finds the book they like, whips out their Kindle and downloads it and then leaves the store! He thinks that the iPad will drive sales of all tablet devices but that the key is still smart phones. You will not always be carrying your eReader, laptop or tablet but your smart phone will always be in your pocket and its going to be the device you want to make an impulse buy on. He also sees that Amazon’s closed source system only works with dominate marketshare (currently 75% of eBook sales). Once that marketshare declines the closed source system is going to work against them. He also believes Apple’s iBook store is unlikely to have a deep book catalogue.

The last session of the day was a panel of publishers discussing how digitization is impacting their business and the industry. The panellists, moderated by Barry Lynn, were David Young (CEO of Hachette), W. Drake Freely (President of W. W. Norton and Co.) and Madeline McIntosh (President of Sales, Operations and Digital at Random House). One of the key points made was that digitization is not just about eBooks. It is about publisher connecting with readers, it is about using available data to be more efficient and responsible. It is about getting books to readers as fast as possible.

Madeline McIntosh talked about how editors are reinventing themselves and the fact that digital doesn’t have to differentiate between an article, an essay, a short story, novella, novel, trilogy or series. The panel also talked about experimenting with enhanced eBooks but they’re not entirely sure what is going to work and what readers want. There is also a danger that focusing too much on the digital might be detrimental to physical books which are still far and away the main part of both our businesses.

Lastly there was much debate about eBook pricing, agency models and windowing (where eBooks are released later than hardcovers). A bookseller had a great question from the floor (which I don’t think was answered) “Instead of delaying the eBook release why not release the hardcover, the softcover and the eBook at the same time giving readers all the choices at once”. Now that is an idea for thought.

. This was a fantastic and extremely constructive session that you would pay good money to sit through by itself. Some of the key points to come out of the session were that consumers use Amazon as their default online bookstore and that you need to be able to show your customers and new customers that you offer something better. Also you need to have a good understanding of how search engines like Google are working so that you can better promote your online store.

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