Book^2 Camp – Deciphering the Future of Book Publishing, eBooks, and Independent Bookstores

Yesterday, in NYC, on the eve of O’Reilly’s Tools of Change For Publishing conference, a varied group of book publishing professionals participated in the Book^2 (pronounced “Book Squared”) Camp unconference to discuss the future of books, reading, independent bookstores, and book publishing.

As the founder of Delabarre Publishing, I attended Book^2. I’ve been a lifelong, voracious reader. I worked in a variety of bookstores in college and post-college. I worked in book publishing for 3.5 years when I worked at the Denise Marcil Literary Agency in NYC. And, since August 2010, I’ve been actively and successfully publishing a wide variety of eBooks.

There were multiple tracks of discussions going on throughout the afternoon, so I can only report/discuss the conversations I participated in.

Surviving and Thriving as an eBook publisher – Organized by Levi Asher of Literary Kicks, I spent some time discussing my ebook publishing experiences. I enjoyed hearing from others in the trenches of eBook publishing – including Harlequin Books’ successful eBook publishing imprint Carina Press.

Some of the issues we discussed, included:

  • eBook pricing strategies,
  • the challenges of eBook publishing and production even for large publishers where some executives believe that eBook publishing should as simple as hitting one button with a book file you already have,
  • the “black boxes” of most eBook marketplaces – Amazon, BN, etc.. Data would be invaluable for book publishers – how many people are downloading eBook samples, how many of those samples converted to sales, which other book did a buyer purchase or browse prior to buying your eBook? That type of data would be invaluable, but for now, it’s just not there.

 Publishers – what are they good for. Non-fiction book marketing without bricks-and-mortar

Will mainstream book buyers purchase a book based on a publishers’ brand? Some argued that average consumers don’t pay attention to who published a book – they’re simply looking for content re: a specific topic. Others pointed to the example of Chronicle Books or Workman as distinctive publishing brands that people recognize. Again, I’m not sure if we’re recognizing those brands because we’re people who eat, sleep, and dream books.

We also discussed the visibility and branding of editors – so that ultimately consumers could make purchasing decisions based on an editor’s reputation and influence and taste. Ann Kingman made the point that whenever this issue is discussed there is often resistance, but this type of branding/marketing of editors as tastemakers hasn’t been tried in a sustained, consistent way.

Handselling in the digital age – I may have the exact title of this session wrong. We discussed how hand selling works both offline by independent bookstores – and how that can translate digitally.

While the people in the room are intimately familiar with digital affiliate programs whether via Amazon or Indiebound, etc. and make purchasing decisions accordingly, many consumers and book buyers aren’t aware of the impact of buying a title from Amazon vs. an independent. I think there was condense that the higher degree of friction involved in purchasing a book from a digital recommendation, the more likelihood that a buyer will opt for the easiest ordering process. Unfortunately, for independents, that’s often Amazon. Amazon has credit card info, shipping addresses for millions of customers.

In the future, digital hand selling could benefit independents even more if there was a frictionless affiliate/recommendation program connecting independents with online book recommendations. We’re not there yet.

Other things we discussed:

  • Book subscription plans in many variations, including RJ Julia’s Just the Right Book.
  • Curation – can you make a living curating or will it be done purely out of passion? (I think it will be a combination. I think some “curators” will be able to turn their passion and knowledge about a certain niche or speciality into a job while some will do this strictly out of passion and enthusiasm – such as the many book bloggers who spend hours each week reviewing and writing about books.

If you’re interested in the future of books and book publishing, I recommend that you search twitter for #book2 and read the many comments from Book2Camp.

Others are already writing about their Book2Camp experiences as well:

Dan Blank

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Nishan Stepak

Patti Henderson