Commentary & Analysis
Digital Book World: Were You There?
WhatTheyThink was present in force at Digital Book World, our first time to attend this event which is in its 6th year. Were you there? We didn’t see many printers! See what Senior Editor Cary Sherburne has to say about this event and begin planning to attend next year.
By Cary Sherburne
Published: February 5, 2015
When I learned who some of the speakers at Digital Book World 2015 would be, I knew I had to be there! Many thanks to Aaron Kiel, PR & Editorial Consultant at akPRGroup.com, for all of his help and support in ensuring that we had a great (and quiet!) video studio and access to some big names for interviews.
I hope you had an opportunity to watch our interviews with Seth Godin, Walter Isaacson and Ken Auletta. Those were real highlights for me and I hope you enjoyed viewing them as much as I enjoyed meeting and speaking with these delightful gentlemen. Their insight into a dynamically changing industry is profound and refreshing. And we have more Digital Book World videos coming.
In kicking off the event, David Nussbaum, Digital Book World founder, stated, “We can’t rest on the laurels of 100+ years of publishing experience. We are the authors of our future.” He went on to talk about much of the creative destruction we have seen over the years, including what happened to the Sony Walkman in the path of creative destruction brought about by Apple’s iPOD and iTunes, adding, “There are winners and losers, but success is about user experience and meeting consumer demand. Thinking like a consumer is most important.” Sage words for book publishing but also for the printing industry. Think about it. He queries, “How much time do you spend studying, talking to and developing data about your own consumers?”
In the printing industry, we often look at digital alternatives to print as the enemy, but are they? Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators (have you read this book? If not, you should.), said, “In order to foster a culture of innovation, you have to be willing to disrupt yourself, cannibalize yourself. Steve Jobs said, ‘if we don’t cannibalize ourselves, someone else will eat our lunch.’ … you have to sometimes say, what business are we really in and how can we be part of the next wave of that business?”
While this conference on its surface was about digital publishing of books, there was a lot of discussion about the continuing role of print and how it best coexists with the digital world. Seth Godin offered this advice:
Go back to the office and ask the hard questions: Who is our customer, are we treating them the way we could, and what can we bring our customers that uses digits, not paper, that causes a change in them that they are willing to pay for, that turns them into the person [or business] they want to be because of what we provide them?
These are just a few of the highlights. The conference featured in-depth workshops and presentations on a wide range of topics, including data analytics, building a custom YouTube channel, content marketing, how media companies are rethinking their models, and presentations from executives from major publishers and companies like Google and Amazon that are affecting the world of publishing, and by extension, the world of print.
As you might imagine, Amazon was a key topic of conversation, including a panel entitled, “Should Amazon Be Constrained and Can They Be?” This lively discussion, moderated by Ken Auletta, was a fascinating end to this conference for a packed room of attendees. In his keynote, Seth Godin stated that there were five important elements in traditional publishing: execution, editing, causing an object to be made, fighting for shelf space and promotion, saying, “Amazon does none of those five things [in the traditional way] and it is the fastest growing publisher ever.” Talk about creative destruction. I did find it interesting in the panel, though, that one panelist made the comment that Amazon should not be able to red light/green light what sees the light of day. Yours truly asked him, “But isn’t that what publishers have been doing for decades?” Food for thought. Another panelist, obviously on the pro-Amazon side, said, “I look at Amazon and see a breath of fresh air, kicking the door down and bringing fresh practices.” Threat or opportunity? You decide.
One conclusion from the conference that is encouraging for print is that ebook growth appears to have flattened, now resting at about 30% of publisher revenues. Another important conclusion is that the bulk of competition publishers (and printers!) will see will continue to come from non-traditional sources.
As an industry, we were caught off guard by the juggernaut of the Internet. We have a chance to take our destiny into our own hands this time, as digital and mobile alternatives continue to grab at the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers, advertisers and marketers. Even though it feels like we have been surrounded by these trends almost forever, keep in mind that mobile, particularly, is still in its early stages, and while mobile technologies can be seen as a threat to print, they can also be seen as a huge business opportunity that complements print – albeit print used differently than we have used it in the past.
Walter Isaacson quoted Steve Jobs as saying, “Making products is hard, but what is more important is making a team that will continue to make good products; to me the greatest thing I ever created was Apple, the company, because that is a team that will continue to innovate.” What’s your most important product? How will you benefit from the mobile juggernaut?
I hope you will consider attending Digital Book World in 2016 to continue your own journey of innovation. See you there!