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Bridging the gap between the big guns and the indies

It was the big guns at this year’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference at Frankfurt Book Fair 2010 – Andrew Savikas, VP of Digital Initiatives for O’Reilly Media; author and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff; Chris Palma, Strategic Partner Development Manager for Google and Jeff Jarvis,  There were publishers, app developers, programmers, retailers and e-book distributors. Graphs, data visualisation and big numbers were generously thrown about.  Speakers called for action and even dictated their own ten commands

Outside the main Frankfurt Book Fair entrance I talked to a German publisher who told me about her small, independent publisher and their list of non-fiction titles. We talk about the Tools of Change conference – something she hadn’t heard of.  ‘Interesting’, she said, ‘yes, we really must start thinking about e-books soon.’ It was a sharp reminder that while a section of the publishing industry steams ahead with revised (and revised again) digital publishing strategies, there are still many smaller publishers who haven’t even started thinking yet about how they will adapt to this market.

So what kind of information would help these publishers?  At Tools of Change publishers were told to dramatically change their business models; to consider retraining their entire work force (or cutting it by 40%); to find budget to create enhanced content for their titles – all pretty terrifying stuff if you haven’t even started to think about e-books yet.

The most helpful speakers at Tools of Changes Frankfurt were those who shared experiences and weren’t afraid to disclose their tried and failed projects. Dominique Raccah, founder and publisher of the Chicago-based publisher Sourcebooks, was refreshingly transparent about the projects that had worked for them – and, importantly, those that hadn’t. One multi-media project Sourcebooks invested time and effort into developing sold a mere 18 copies. Raccah wanted to tell some home truths about the hidden costs of digital projects: she made the point that producing a book app can cost anything from $3,000 – $50,000+ and once you’d paid the developer you had to pay for publicity and marketing which could sit outside of the skill set of your existing publicity and marketing team. And how do you market a book app when you’re in competition with the other 250,000 released apps?

Rhys Cazenove, co-founder of Enhanced Editions, gave an equally realistic view on book app development and marketing (which should be applauded for a company that develops book apps) – making the point that careful consideration should be given to whether a book is suited to make that transition to enhanced e-book format, and echoed Draccah by saying that publishers need to think very differently about the way these products are publicised and marketed.

This new wave of transparency is welcomed, and more publishers and agencies should come forward and share these ‘tried and failed’ stories. Increased market research into consumer attitudes toward e-book reading will go some way to help publishers in their decision-making about digital publishing, with both BISG (US) and BML (UK) continuing research in this area. But the simple sharing of ‘tried and tested’ project information would be equally valuable to publishers.

There was some welcome news today for those independent publishers in the UK looking to take their first step into digital publishing. The Faber Factory, which launches today, will provide a one-stop digital service for independent publishers – a much-needed initiative which aims ‘to enable independent publishers to have an immediate and cost effective digital publishing programme without having to invest in additional resource and add to their overheads.’ With 18 publishers already signed up to the initiative it demonstrates clearly how much support of this kind is still needed by many.

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