"Newspapers mistakenly believed that what they sell is content," said Andrew Savikas, v-p of digital initiatives, O'Reilly Media, at the BEA panel called Going Digital: An Industry Discussion on Selling E-Content. Instead, newspapers "sell your attention; they pay for it with their editors and writers." This statement, in many ways, framed the panel's discussion about content, what form it may take and how it's delivered. "[The newspapers] don't own your attention, and unless they get it back, they can't win you with content."
It's no longer about just hardcover versus paperback, but also being able to explain to customers about the pros and cons of the Kindle or other e-readers, said Jenn Northington, events and marketing manager at the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah.
King's English recently ran a special promotion on Twitter: "Be our 600th follower and win an ARC of Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, #1 on the June IndieNext list! (US shipping only)." She said she can use this list of followers to learn more about her customers. "We don't know how many of our patrons have e-readers, but we'll find out." The King's English Web page not only gives information about the store and how to connect in person, but about how to connect online and has attracted customers from as far away as Australia. The "sales percentage is not the point," says Northington. Rather the store is building toward a future where business may be conducted in a variety of ways.
Len Vlahos, ABA chief program officer (and now ABA's COO), said that since the announcement of the IndieBound iPhone application nearly two months before BEA, there had been 50,000 downloads of the app and ABA had spent no marketing dollars to achieve that. At the time of the panel, the IndieBound app was No. 4 on the iPhone list of the most popular free book applications.
To illustrate how fast e-events occur, Vlahos pointed out that in the three days before the panel, Baker & Taylor and OverDrive had concluded a distribution and licensing agreemnt, Ingram had announced a reorganization to become Ingram Content Group and the New York Times had reviewed a new Cool E-book Reader [or "Cool-er" from the British company Interead]. (It's "deeply flawed," reported Vlahos based on the review, "but watch for future versions.")
"Only three developments?" quipped Mark Nelson, digital content strategist for the National Association of College Stores and v-p of strategy and development for NACS Media Solutions. "That's a slow week."
Nelson tracks publishing developments on his blog, the Cite, and said that NACS thinks of itself as a "digital concierge for students." He suggested another way to look at content distribution: "Rather than print and distribute, let's distribute and print." As an example of this, Nelson said college stores often give away digital versions of a title while they're waiting for the print edition to arrive.
Vlahos stressed the need for independents to be equally fluid. "We can't move fast enough on this," he said. The ABA has embraced a multi-faceted approach, he said:
- Indie e-commerce: ABA is forging relationships that allow bookstores to sell e-books to customers.
- The iPhone application.
- E-book reader sales: The ABA is close to announcing an alliance with an e-book reader partner that would allow booksellers to sell e-readers in their bookstores.
Questions from booksellers in the audience highlighted the gray area that bricks-and-mortar stores inhabit between the physical and digital book world. One bookseller said, "It feels like we're a showroom. Do we need to post something that says, 'Ask us about e-books?' "
Another bookseller asked about the strategy of bundling an e-book or audiobook with a hardcover, at a slightly higher cover price, and about low e-book pricing that may not recoup all of the costs the publisher has incurred to produce a title. Nelson answered, "The customer cares how much [the book in whatever form] is worth to them--they don't care if the publisher thinks the digital edition is worth as much as the print version." He said that we need to move toward a "revenue sharing" model, in which the reseller gets a share of the profits. He pointed out that Amazon is losing money on the Kindle and that more people are currently reading books on Stanza than on the Kindle.
Expressing concern about the growing e-presence of Google and Amazon, one bookseller pointed out that historically publishers preferred to deal with a group rather than one or two major distribution networks. Vlahos agreed, "As frightened as we are of Amazon [moving content] vertically, publishers are more frightened."
Another bookseller expressed concern about selling unprotected pdfs with no embedded encryption. In response, Savikas invoked Tim O'Reilly, who has said that "piracy is progressive taxation." He continued that people generally equate pirating property with lost sales, "but someone who would choose an illicit download wouldn't otherwise purchase it." Savikas said that people generally want to "do the right thing" if they can, and that activity on filesharing devices often act as a gauge for consumers' interest.
Another bookseller asked about the new generation of readers, teens who are already doing most of their e-reading, calling and texting on their cell phones. Savikas, returning to his example of the erroneous newspaper assumption that they sell content rather than attention, suggested that it's not that teens won't spend money. "They'll pay $3.99 for a ringtone," he pointed out. "If we understand how we're adding value, it opens up a range of possibilities." Savikas suggested that we need to think about what business we're really in: "It's not just a physical book. A book is a device, like an e-book is a device. We can make the argument that [consumers] should come to us."
Northington agreed, sayining, "Booksellers, as curators, offer a specific collection of titles with a specific reason we've bought the books we've bought. We're a destination--for events, for sales and as a filter [for all the titles out there]."--Jennifer M. Brown