Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Digital Book World Pre-Conference Interview Roundup: Christopher Kenneally, Peter Hildeck-Smith, Jane Friedman, Kristen McLean and Lorraine Shanley

I'm heading to #DBW16, The 2016 Digital Book World Conference + Expo, in New York Monday March 7 through Wednesday March 9!

I'll be tweeting (with the hashtag, #DBW16), doing some blogging, and representing Little Pickle Press as their VP of Digital, Communications and Community Engagement. As #DBW16 puts it,
"Publishing’s digital transformation is happening all around us. And if you plan to survive it—and thrive—you must attend Digital Book World Conference + Expo."

The Monday of the conference has different tracks, and of course I'll be at Launch Kids, the Children's Books + Media conference, where they'll be focusing on the consumer and education markets. Tuesday and Wednesday will be the main conference, filled with speakers, panels, breakout sessions and exhibits. The #DBW16 faculty are a who's who, and here are my exclusive pre-conference interviews with Christopher Kenneally, Peter Hildeck-Smith,  Jane Friedman, Kristen McLean and Lorraine Shanley.

Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally is the Director of Business Development at the Copyright Clearance Center, and the host and producer of CCC's weekly podcast, "Beyond the Book."

Lee: Hi Christopher. Do you see the digital transformation of publishing as empowering some players over others?

Christopher: Once upon a time, freedom of the press was guaranteed to those who owned one. Digital publishing technology has upended that once-ironclad rule and given to anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection the power to report news, express opinion and demonstrate creativity. The potential result is a Golden Age not only for the human spirit but also for reading. The dilemma is that we are all left to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Lee: A lot is said about the "democratization" of publishing and discoverability, now that anyone can be published and everyone can be on social media. What do you see as the role of regulation in terms of keeping the playing field level?

Christopher: As a former journalist, I put myself down as a “First Amendment First” kind of guy. The tough part of “democratization” when it comes to publishing is that people can say whatever they want. Incitement aside, that means we have to suffer with bad stuff to enjoy the good.

Lee: What do you most look forward to about attending the 2016 Digital Book World Conference + Expo?

Christopher: I’ve attended each year since the show first opened in January 2010. The timing was incredible – the conference came to a halt and everyone watched on a big screen together as Steve Jobs introduced the iPad. That moment made clear that digital publishing and reading were here to stay. We may not see the same level of drama in 2016, but the remarkable pace of change in technology and the impact that technology has on this business makes Digital Book World a great place to catch up and keep up. With any lucky, maybe I will even get out ahead of the crowd!

Thanks, Christopher!

Peter Hildick-Smith
Peter Hildick-Smith founded Codex-Group in 2004, pioneering "book audience strategy research." He lectures on book publishing strategy at Wharton, Princeton and NYU.

Lee: You'll be speaking on a panel, "The Book Buyer's Journey: Understanding the Consumer Path to Purchase" that aims to focus on "what happens between initial awareness of a book's existence and the final decision to purchase it." What do you see as the major levers publishers (and authors) have to help, as the session description says, "convert discovery into a purchase?"

Peter: From Codex-Group’s new book sales forecasting models we’ve learned that initial new book sales are dependent on a publisher’s success in three areas – Discovery, Conversion and Availability -- all powerfully delivered to the right book buyer target audience. Failure to deliver on any one of these three factors dramatically reduces new book initial sales.

Discovery is simply the act of making someone aware a book exists – period. It’s a huge challenge all by itself, but often highly misunderstood. Because the impact of Discovery and Conversion on sales is highly interdependent, people often conflate the two, thinking that a strong discovery campaign will automatically yield strong conversion to purchase – not true. The solution to great discovery is totally independent of conversion, and vice versa. The three biggest challenges of discovery are 1) Targeted Discovery: knowing and reaching the right audience for the book, 2) Effective Discovery: making sure that target group has multiple discovery experiences for the book, because one exposure is not enough to drive response, 3) Scale: reaching enough audience members, enough times to meet the book’s unit sales and sales velocity goals within the extremely limited budgets a book P&L can support.

Conversion is the motivating force that takes a target consumer from awareness to action – from look to click, from click to browse, from browse to read, and hopefully to buy. The three most powerful conversion factors are, 1) Book Identity – what is it, what’s it about, what makes it interesting, and how that is all communicated through the book’s marketing message, 2) Author Brand Equity – the size and most importantly, loyalty of the author’s (or lead character, or series) fan base. Fiction is the most driven by Author Equity, followed by narrative nonfiction. Where author equity exists at a meaningful level, it is by far the greatest conversion to sales factor. Where it doesn’t exist, the goal for both author and publisher is to build and grow it because of its sustaining power for future book sales.

Lastly, Availability is simply ensuring that a new book is available whenever, wherever in whatever format a book consumer wants at the moment they convert to purchase interest. Major book publishers are masters of availability, but must always keep in mind that roughly 40% of books are bought the same day they are discovered, so promoting a book 3 months before even a pre-order button is available, let alone physical copies are in store, can be very risky, when as much as 70% of books are bought within 2 weeks of initial discovery. With the Kindle store alone adding about 1 million new titles in 2015, so at any one moment book shoppers have a mindboggling number of new books to consider reading and buying each day. With this level of clutter and distraction, a book has to quickly command attention and convert a book shopper to a book buyer without delay or distraction, or risk another new book displacing it on the shopping list.

Lee: You teach book publishing strategy at Wharton, Princeton and NYU. Do you see the digital transformation of publishing empowering some stakeholders and not others?

Peter: Clearly the digital transformation in publishing has opened up a whole new world of publishing, giving hundreds of thousands of writers the unprecedented chance to publish their work and reach new audiences, something truly revolutionary! 

On the other hand the digital transformation has also created a huge schism in book pricing and that has resulting in major issues in pricing expectation, where the average price of a book in the Kindle store is below $5, book consumers’ average expected price of an eBook in the Kindle store is just above $8 and the average price of a Big 5 eBook is north of $10, putting significant pressure particularly on the fiction categories, and even more so in Romance segments, where a very high % of self-published books are focused.

Lee: What do you most look forward to about attending the 2016 Digital Book World Conference + Expo?

Peter: Meeting or reconnecting with book industry thought leaders to catch up on their latest ideas and perspectives.

Thanks, Peter!

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is the publisher of Scratch magazine, teaches digital media at the University of Virginia, and is a professor with the Great Courses on publishing. With 20 years of experience in publishing, her focus is "content strategy for authors and publishers," and her blog for writers is essential reading.

Lee: Hi, Jane! You'll be chairing a panel, "Finding Common Ground: How Publishers and Authors -- Regardless of What Path They're Taking -- Are Working Together." As the panel description reads, "more and more authors are 'hybrids': delivering some of their books through publishers and self-publishing other works." Does this empower today's authors and illustrators in a way that's new?

Jane: Yes, because authors aren't limited to just one business model—the traditional publisher's model. And frankly, this is good for publishers, too. Not every project requires the kind of assistance or benefit provided by a traditional publisher. But, as the old cliche goes, with power comes responsibility. Rather than going to a publisher by default with every idea, an author or illustrator should first be asking themselves strategic questions: What is the purpose of this project? How does it further my career? Does it require a publisher's expertise or distribution to succeed on my terms? Furthermore, publishers who are working in a progressive way recognize that when their authors are successful, even when it's with books outside of their purview, everyone wins.

Lee: Is the democratization of being discovered via social media part of the digital changes that play into this new landscape?

Jane: Social media is a very small part of the picture. What's more important is that all types of digital media (including social media) allow authors a direct and immediate way of finding and engaging directly with their readership. New technology also allows authors, along with publishers, to better measure and analyze what types of marketing and promotion efforts work, and how to improve them quantifiably with each new campaign. Authors' marketing roles and resources are becoming ever more important because they're owners of the analytics that carry a lot of audience data: their website analytics, their Facebook and Twitter analytics, their email newsletter analytics. Therefore, collaboration between authors and publishers is essential, and any form of tunnel vision (we'll only work on what sells this book) makes less sense, and becomes less possible.

Lee: What do you most look forward to about attending the 2016 Digital Book World Conference + Expo and Launch Kids?

Jane: Since I'm based in Charlottesville, VA, it's good for me to get to New York at least once or twice a year, where I can touch base with colleagues and friends with whom I only interact virtually the rest of the year. You get a much better sense of what people's real concerns are, and where the energy of the industry is focused. I also enjoy translating what I see and hear into plain English for writers over at my blog and in my newsletter for authors, The Hot Sheet (

Thanks, Jane!

Kristen McLean

Kristen McLean is the Director of New Business Development at Nielsen Book, a part of Nielsen Entertainment. She is a twenty two year veteran of the book publishing market, a serial entrepreneur, and an industry thought leader, deeply interested in the confluence of consumer behavior, technology, literacy, and global transformation in the Digital Age.

Lee: In your morning keynote at Launch Kids, "What Do Your Highest Value Customers Look Like? Findings from the Nielsen Children's Book Segmentation Study" you'll be sharing "top level" insights on the parents, kids and families buying children's books.... and even how reading is interacting with other kinds of media in the lives of children. Do you see this information empowering not just publishers, but also authors and illustrators?

Kristen: Yes, I think as a content creator it's important to understand as much as you can about what's going on in the lives of families and children today, so that you can continue to create stories that speak directly to them. The ongoing Children's Book Consumer research we do at Nielsen is really focused on understanding exactly who is buying books and why, and then exploring how those books are related to kids' other activities, which is particularly relevant in the modern multi-platform world. The DBW presentation is going to focus specifically on the types of families that are buying the most books today--who they are, where they are, and what they look like--as well as the types of families where we believe there is room to grow new readers and book lovers.

In terms of why Authors, Illustrators, and other Content Creators should care, today's kids are incredibly savvy--they navigate technology seamlessly, have a very high level of sophistication about the world about them, and they are able to dive into anything they are interested in and follow it through books, on screens, and in the real world. It's tremendously empowering, and it's driving all kinds of very interesting trends like kid entrepreneurship, environmental activism, the kids' maker/inventor movement, and so much more. At the same time, they inhabit a noisy world with lots of messages, and they still need great stories to help them grow, interpret their feelings, and nurture their imaginations. I'm not suggesting that to be relevant, every story has to include a character with a mobile phone--rather, understanding the lives of kids today can spark new ideas, and help understand what is bubbling up, and allow authors, illustrators, and content professionals to tap into the things kids are interested in. Along the way, I think they will be surprised at how self-aware, positive, hopeful and engaged today's kids really are. In my experience, most of our adult fears about disaffected, tuned out kids should be completely re-written. I'm very hopeful about these children. I think it's very exciting.

Lee:  Change, in terms of children's books and technology, seems to be a new constant. What's your advice about thriving in the midst of all this change?

Kristen: Well, it's true we have seen tremendous shifts in technology, consumer behavior, and format in the last decade, however the one thing that has remained constant at the heart of the children's market is STORY. You can create the most fantastic multi-media platform in the world and if it doesn't have a good story to tell, it's going nowhere. So when I'm asked this question--and I often am--I say reinvest in the core values of good storytelling, and then tackle the rest after that.

The Children's Publishing market has another thing going for it--parents remain very invested in print books for their children, and even teens have a strong preference for print versus eBook. Right now, the overall eReading figures for Juvenile books are at 12% of total reading versus 88% print, and we expect eBooks to remain steady at that level, or perhaps even decline.

That is not to say that kids are engaging in less media--they are actually consuming more overall, but reading is holding its ground, and books are still valued very highly by parents and kids. When it comes to digital for kids, it's all about tablets--which have now topped the 80% penetration point in US households. These are basically curiosity libraries for kids' interests, and the most successful digital representations of kids' books and story-worlds are not eBooks, but other forms of media like games, TV shows, YouTube videos, apps, and even audio in new platforms like podcasts. The challenge for parents is going to be making sure kids get a balanced "play diet" with digital engagement in proportion to other kinds of things like imaginative play, building & construction, and getting outside.

So the formula for thriving as an author and illustrator in all this is -- STORY is always first, and keep an ear to the ground for interesting case studies, successful media projects and good insights about kids & families. Stay curious--about both your readers, and your art, and don't buy into negative fear mongering about today's kids. My favorite email newsletter to monitor developments in kids' media comes from KidScreen.

Lee: Great tip, thanks! What do you most look forward to about attending the 2016 Digital Book World Conference + Expo and Launch Kids?

Kristen: For me, it's always the opportunity to network, and to be able to sit and listen for new ideas and take the temperature of the industry by the conversations going on.

Thank you, Kristen!

Lorraine Shanley

Lorraine Shanley is chairing the Launch Kids Books + Media Monday Conference (for the 5th year in a row!), and is also President of Market Partners International, a consulting firm that specializes in traditional and digital publishing and executive search.

Lee: As one of publishing's "most prominent executive recruiters," you help publishers find the people who can help them navigate all this digital change. Often, the unknown is seen as scary--how do you advise "legacy" publishers to find the synergy between the old and the new?

Lorraine: Most 'legacy' publishers are by now ready, even eager, to bring new skills to their businesses, but obviously both new hires and employees have to be willing to work together. A lot of publishing people are excited about the expertise that these people bring, as well as the sales and marketing tools that show them how their books are sold, and even read. Whether they're taught how to use these tools and what their significance is, well that's another issue.

Lee: You're also an expert in research and "multi-channel marketing." What do you see as one (or two) of the biggest opportunities the digital landscape has given book creators (either independent-, or traditionally published) to have their works discovered, and bought, and loved?

Lorraine: Unquestionably, it's the ability to connect directly with the reader - as a marketer and as an author. I attended an NYU Publishing panel the other day with four authors - David Baldacci, Erik Larson, Jeff Kinney and Alice Hoffman, and each talked about his or her connection to their readers. Ironically, Kinney has less of a social media presence in some ways, but of course he built his Whimpy Kids audience online. Baldacci has an ongoing conversation with several fans about his plots, and Larson has even met with Twitter followers.

I think having the ability to self publish and market an author's own work has also benefitted all authors because it has presented a choice: go the traditional agented, published route or, if that doesn't appeal or isn't possible, take full control of the publishing process. In the past, there was only the frustration of trying to get published, but now there are real options. Your voice can be heard.

Lee: Besides your own presentation, what are you most looking forward to at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo?

Lorraine: Obviously Launch Kids is my focus, and there are many highlights there, including a brand new Nielsen survey of the children’s market, a conversation between bestselling author Jenny Han and Tumbler’s Rachel Fershleiser, and some great panels on brands, startups, and how schools and libraries can work together. But I always attend DBW sessions. This year there are several presentations from companies like Rodale, Ingram, Wiley and NetGalley about how they’re transforming themselves, which sounds intriguing.*

Thanks, Lorraine!

It's going to be a remarkable conference. If you'll be there, say hello! And if you still want to register, #DBW16 is offering a discount on registration: Use the code SCBWI5 to get 5 percent off.

And if you'd like to follow along on social media, use the hashtag #DBW16.


*This answer was originally from this interview with Lorraine and was used with her permission.

You can also check out my SCBWI: The Blog post about the Author Earnings website and Launch Kids here, and my two additional pre-#DBW16 interviews with Stephen Blake Mettee and Kevin Franco here.

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