Digital Book World 2013 wrapped up this year’s conference with presentations from e-book retailer Kobo on its partnership with U.S. Indies, the evolving state of book discovery and e-book retail, and a roundtable response to the Penguin/Random merger and business models likely to come from it.
Kobo chief content officer Michael Tamblyn provided an update on the progress of Kobo’s indie bookstore partnership with the American Booksellers Association. Tamblyn, who said he began his book career working in an independent bookstore, said the program has about 450 stores enrolled offering a suite of revenue to stores from selling Kobo devices, e-books and accessories. He also described he challenges of the program: shipping out devices to hundreds of stores, putting together a team to train booksellers in customer service and getting it all in place for the holiday shopping season.
Tamblyn also offered some early data from indie bookstore e-book retailing. Indie e-book buyers buy more frontlist and frontlist agency titles, a bit more nonfiction, fewer backlist and fewer self-published titles. Indie e-book buyers, he said, also buy more expensive e-books, 57% purchase e-books $9 and up. And he cited stores like Portland’s Powell’s and One More Page in Arlington, Va. that were offering “very good” in-store experiences with Kobo signage and kiosks.
In separate presentations Codex Group founder Peter Hildick-Smith and B&N v-p Jim Hilt offered presentations on the state of Book Discoverability. Hildick-Smith’s detailed presentation broke down the problems facing publishers over book discovery: more and more people going online for information about books, visits that don’t actually generate sales. Even in decline, physical bookstores are the best place for book discovery. “Digital media has tremendous reach but limited yield,” he said, emphasizing that book discovery must be coupled with “conversion” or actually buying. “Discovery is not conversion, you need them together.”
Following Hildick-Smith, B&N’s Hilt offered his own take emphasizing that “discovery happens in a lot of places, we’re looking beyond media channels to the infinite number of places today’s consumer can engage books: restaurants, airports, child care centers, the community in general.” Indeed, Hilt emphasized that the biggest challenge to e-book retailers today in a mobile computing marketplace is how to market to the “distracted mindset” of consumers who may want a book at anytime or anyplace. He outlined a profile of new digital reading consumers, who often start with a burst of e-book buying, before slowly returning to physical stores to find books; then progressing to a point where they must decide whether to upgrade their devices or change their tech eco-system to a new platform. Hilt also emphasized that the standard categories used in bookstores, “will not work in the future.” He said, “discovery is about interests, not the categories we come up with for stores. We have to find the consumer’s interests and create personal ways to interact with them.”
DBW’s morning session ended with a roundtable discussion (moderated by Mike Shatzkin) with Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader, HarperCollins chief digital officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi, literary agent Simon Lipskar of Writers House and Rebecca Smart, CEO of Osprey Group that examined the Penguin Random House merger and offered some discussion on the “viability” of the subscription model for the book industry. Smart cited the power of the Penguin brand, one of the few publisher brands recognized globally by consumers: “the use of the Penguin brand could be very powerful, maybe in retail or as a subscription model. Penguin is the only brand that means something globally. That could be a game changer.” Lipskar agreed on one point, “I would be shocked if [the proposed Penguin Random merger] didn’t enter book retail either physically or online.”
However both Smart’s and Restivo-Alessi’s suggestion that a subscription model might work for the book industry—“subscriptions can help book discovery and the younger generation is used to having access over ownership,” Restivo-Alessi said-- was met was skepticism by Lipskar. “I’m not sure its viable for authors or publishers,” he said. “I don’t understand how the financial model works. The current big publisher contracts don’t have the granuality needed for the model.”