ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

EBook Summit 2010 in Review

Panelists at eBook Summit 2010

What does tomorrow’s publishing world look like? MediaBistro’s eBook Summit dove into the “New Era of Publishing” on December 15, 2010 at The New Yorker Hotel to explore “some of the most pressing industry issues” and to assist writers, editors, publishers and agent in navigating “the changing industry ecosystem.”

In January I start pitching Rosslyn Redux (Writer’s Digest Conference 2011) to a publishing industry that is not only new to me but new to itself. I figured this conference would serve as an informative industry barometer for me and an up-close-and-personal glimpse at how traditional publishers and agents are adapting to the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm. The day was an eye opener. I’ve overviewed the highlights here…


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Open Road Shifts Publishing Industry’s Epicenter

Open Road is a digital content company that publishes and markets ebooks by creating connections between authors and their audiences across multiple platforms.

Brendan Cahill, VP and Publisher of Open Road Integrated Media (ORIM), was lead presenter during eBook Summit 2010 last week in NYC. He set the tone for a forward looking agenda in the publishing industry, “pioneering an alternative publishing model”, where digital books replace print books at the epicenter.

Although Open Road (@openroadmedia) is only a year old, they’ve already made a major push in publishing ebooks and have set an ambitious target of 2,000 new books to be published in 2011! They are effectively producing more content per title than traditional print publishers (including HD video author and book trailers) and yet they’ve slashed the standard industry production time line from a year or more among traditional publishers to approximately 120 days at Open Road.

How is this possible? This shrinking book cycle (rights acquisition, manuscript editing, cataloguing, soliciting, fulfillment and marketing) critical to their rapid upscaling and early mover success depends upon a new publishing model: outsource, outstource, outsource. Virtually every stage of the traditional publishing process is outsourced except for acquiring rights and marketing which allows ample flexibility for editing, art directing, etc. Check out the first few slides of Cahill’s presentation below.

Speed to market and scalability is possible at least in part because Open Road is primarily publishing athors’ back list books. Nevertheless, Cahill assured us that the their 2,000 title goal for 2011 does include “e-riginals—original e-books—which he said were a small part of the company’s business, but were critical to its identity.” (Publishers Weekly)

In addition to a new publishing model, Cahill distinguished Open Road’s new book marketing model from the ingrained paradigm employed by traditional publishing companies. The new model integrates content communities, social networks, blogs and microblogs, videos/photos, retail and ratings.

Cahill spoke about how Open Road Media uses the Internet to connect their readers to authors. The digital publisher creates author pages with videos and photos, as well as social media accounts to help build a platform for the write online. “We follow the marketing process to empower the author to connect with readers,” he said.(eBookNewser)

Cahill explained that professionally produced high definition video is “one of the core offerings that we create…” He showed us a slick example of Midnight Guardians, by Jonathan King. The quality of the footage, editing and storytelling is superb! Cahill emphasized the short, enticing, syndicate-able and viral potential of the video content they are using to market their titles.

Affirming and reaffirming Open Road’s new media savvy was the strongest undercurrent to Cahill’s presentation, and it illumnates Open Road’s vision of the emerging publishing industry. Publishing tomorrow, Open Road believes, will focus on a quick and efficient acquisition-to-sales cycles and top notch marketing.

“Metadata is our sales force… We concentrate on marketing.” (Brendan Cahill)

This lean model shifts publishers out of the editing tradition and out of the book factory tradition. It seems considerably more sustainable in today’s marketplace, and it creates partnerships and lucrative synergies with businesses that otherwise might be direct competitors with a traditional publisher. Is this what tomorrow’s publishers will look like?

Kohlberg Ventures financed Open Road, so they must think so. And Open Road was cofounded by former HarperCollins CEO, Jane Friedman, and film producer Jeffrey Sharp, so they must think so. Established novelist Susan Minot thinks so. And so does debut novelist Mary Glickman.

What do you think? Is Open Road’s lean, quick-to-market and social media oriented marketing strategy a road map for tomorrow’s publishing companies?

Publishers Perform Roles That Writers Need

The definition of “book publisher” is up for grabs, and those in the industry will have to be brave and imaginative, in double-quick time, to lay claim to this new definition. Others might find it easier to begin with a blank sheet.

At heart, publishers exist to create more value for writers than writers can (or wish to) create for themselves. It’s clear that the specifics of this role are changing. Some writers have decided that they can create as much value as they need alone, and feel freer by doing it themselves. Elsewhere there is a debate about where the line lies in a fair return for licensing copyrights, particularly when it comes to older books. Fundamentally, though, the need for publishers endures, even if not in their current form. Readers will be best served by publishers who can marry the best of what is sometimes labeled “legacy” publishing to the new means of developing and delivering what readers want and writers need. (The Guardian)

Stephen Page’s post about the future of publishing is level headed and insightful. He steps away from the increasingly popular bashing of “old publishing” and acknowledges that these legacy book publishers have a distinct advantage if they can adapt quickly. Others have lambasted the traditional publishers for failing to anticipate the tide change. I myself have nagged at this point. But Page reminds us that even as latecomers to the party, existing book publishers stand to reap significant rewards if they can quickly overcome four challenges:

  1. Publishers must update their digital royalty rates.
  2. Publishers must provide high-quality editorial support.
  3. Publishers must build audiences for writers, on and off-line.
  4. Publishers must embrace (and accelerate) technological innovation.

If traditional publishers can quickly, efficiently meet these challenges, “the persistent reporting of the death of old publishing will continue to be mere exaggeration.” Point well taken. But so far, most traditional publishers seem more intent on resisting change — clinging to a model they know and love — than leap-frogging forward. Of course, it’s early, and the race is too the swift and the wise.

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Publishing Chain; Vanishing Links

“Technology has made virtually anything possible,” says Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of the publishing industry magazine The Bookseller. “If you look at it conceptually – there’s a five-link chain between the person who writes and the person who reads. You’ve got Author-Agent- Publisher-Retailer-Reader. Theoretically, the three middle bits could all now vanish and the author could write online directly to the reader.”

However, he continues, “A more likely possibility is that just one of the three central links will vanish on-line. It could be that Amazon, the retailer, becomes the publisher. Or that the agent becomes the publisher, or the publisher becomes the retailer, and you go to a publisher’s site to buy the book. One of those links will certainly disappear on-line. We just don’t know which.” (The Independent)

John Walsh’s article “E-books: the end of the world as we know it” offers no new insights, but a handy summary. More intriguing though are the comments which are worth a wade through. A few flaring tempers, a few snarky jabs, and plenty of voiced growing pains as we tramp through the clumsy not-altogether-painless publishing revolution.

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Who Needs Publishers? We All Do!

I’m glad that self-publishing has evolved from stigma to respectability. I love that worthy authors who might be overlooked by the major houses can now be read. It’s great that writers with a special niche, an established following or an entrepreneurial bent can make more money self-publishing than they would in royalties. But I’m also concerned about the future of books and the larger issue of assuring the flow of reliable information.

Here are just two reasons for that concern, based on my own recent experience.

  1. Advances. I just finished a nonfiction book that will be released this fall. It consumed the better part of three years… and the research entailed countless hours of reading, about three hundred interviews and some travel. My advance did not come close to covering the cost of all that information-gathering, but it helped. More importantly, the fact that a major publishing house was committed enough to write even a modest check was psychologically essential. Given my personal circumstances, I simply could not have sustained the effort to complete the project without that commitment…
  2. Quality control. After authoring and coauthoring more than twenty books, I was just reminded once again of the immense value of working with professionals. At each step of the way, from inception to restructuring to rewrites to finalizing the index, editors, copy editors and proofreaders made my book a better book… I’m a professional writer who takes great care with his work and has been at the business of books for over thirty years. And I still need editors…

My bottom line is this: when it comes to serious nonfiction especially, readers, libraries, reporters and everyone else concerned about accuracy and readability should rely only on books that have been competently edited. And long live advances: may they grow and may authors and their readers prosper. (Huffington Post)

Seems to me that advances and quality control in the traditional publishing industry are already sliding, hardly the inspiration for clinging to an increasingly inefficient publishing paradigm. But let’s remember that the evolution underway in publishing, from print to digital, doesn’t eliminate publishers, editors, advances, quality control, etc. Sure, self-publishing opens the flood gates which will inevitably reduce quality control of the publishing industry as a whole. But self-publishing is only one part of the switch from ink and paper to digital formats. And publishers will be important for a long time, they just will look and behave differently than they did yesterday. And books that sell, books that make money, will still incline publishers to advance them enough to get their next bestsellers researched, edited and written. That’s business!

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Publishing Isn’t Broken

Publishing isn’t broken, or so says Jane Smith over at How Publishing Really Works, and here’s why. The very best books from the very best writers get published; books get sold; and writers, agents, editors, publishers, etc. get what they want: money. Phew. Good to have that sorted out so tidily. Unless, of course, it’s not really that tidy…

For decades, the publishing business has worked pretty well. Writers write books; agents sell those books to publishers; publishers make the books available to the market. Money flows through the system from reader to writer via the publisher and agent. Everyone involved makes money, and gets what they want… Be very wary of new models of publishing. The old one works just fine. (A New Model for Publishing?)

Smith suggests that the only breakdown in the publishing world is unskilled writers, agents, etc. Granted, there’s plenty of room to point the finger at unqualified contenders, that’s always fun and easy. But it seems that Smith is overlooking vital current concerns about whether or not the traditional publishing environment is broken, outdated, inefficient, etc. She talks a lot about money in traditional book publishing. This makes sense because the Gutenberg Paradigm is expensive to maintain. Whereas evolutions in technology, book selling, and readers’ habits have enabled modern publishing alternatives that make book publishing less expensive. Much less expensive!

Mainstream publishing isn’t broken: it has its flaws, certainly, but it still works. It still publishes books which show clear commercial potential; works to make those books as good as they can possibly be; and then gets those books into as many sales points as it possibly can. Just because it does that by only publishing the very best books from the very best writers, and consequently rejecting the majority, doesn’t mean that it’s broken: just that far too many writers are not yet good enough at their craft for publishers to risk investing their money in them.(Publishing Isn’t Broken)

Correct, rejecting the majority does not mean traditional publishing is broken. Correct, many writers undoubtedly are not worthwhile investments for traditional publishers, either because they are not sufficiently skilled writers or because there isn’t a big enough market for what they write. But this fulcrum of commercial potential is dramatically shifted when we consider the modern publishing industry’s efficiencies. Digitally distributed ebooks cut significant time and cost out of production and distribution. Print on demand (POD) publishing dramatically reduces up-front costs for book publishing. And these are just two cost cutting shifts that favor new models of publishing over traditional models of publishing. And less invested in a new title means less risk of failure and a lower ROI threshold. It means that the market can be used to evaluate the viability of a new book rather than a committee, an editor, even an agent. This means more variety and risk is possible for new books. It means niche markets become far more viable than they were in traditional publishing.This is hugely exciting!

Publishing cannot focus solely on bringing works of staggering genius to the attention of a grateful reading public, or on nurturing and supporting novice writers as they learn their craft and experiment with exciting risky new projects: while that would be nice for those novice writers it wouldn’t be nearly so nice for the publishers’ shareholders who would have to provide funds to publish the many turkeys such an approach would undoubtedly hatch, nor would readers appreciate being provided with all the unreadable tripe which might well result… [So] publishing books which will sell well has to be the publishing business’s main focus. (Publishing: Broken Or Not?)

Broken or not, Smith highlights one of the biggest challenges that traditional publishers face today: the economics are changing. The old way no longer works just fine. “Re-imagine the future,” Debbie Stier says. “Forget the old way. It doesn’t work in the new economy. Stop trying to control; make something useful and help people use it; get out of the way.” Amen. I’m anticipating a publishing industry that will be far more agile, flexible and stripped down. Far less costly to sustain. Far more in sync with readers, writers and consumer habits.

Ryu Murakami Bypasses Publishers, Opts for IPad

Are you familiar with Ryu Murakami? He’s a successful, established Japanese novelist, and he’s breaking away from the heard with his next novel, A Singing Whale. Although he’s still ironing out the details for an ink and paper edition, he’s releasing the digital version directly to his audience via Apple’s iBookstore, “circumventing his traditional publisher in the process…

Murakami’s project should be hailed less as a blow against the monopoly of big publishing houses over authors and the circulation of their work, and more as a celebration of the kinds of opportunities that devices like the iPad can provide for creativity and cost-efficient distribution.

Other authors are, however, dispatching more direct challenges to the traditional publishing industry model by signing deals directly with e-book retailers, rather than through their publishers. This spring, bestselling suspense novelist Stephen King released his latest work, Blockade Billy as an e-book one month before releasing the hardcover version in the U.S. and Canada, and published a short story, “UR,” exclusively for the Kindle in February 2009. Other prominent American writers have also sold the e-book rights to past and current work exclusively to Amazon. (

Wall Street Journal blogger, Yoree Koh, explains that the release and rapid adoption of Apple’s iPad has fueled a world of worry among old guard publishing industry heavyweights who “have feared the worst: thatprecious big-name authors might sign directly with e-book retailers, relegating the old-school publishers as the dispensable middleman.”

Let the nightmare begin. Novelist Ryu Murakami… replaced the publishers with a software company to help develop the e-book titled “A Singing Whale,” or “Utau Kujira” in Japanese. The digital package will include video content and set to music composed by Academy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto… Mr. Murakami’s decision is the latest step taken by well known authors in re-writing the business model of the publishing industry… [By] offering fresh material only in an electronic format, Mr. Murakami’s plan has basically removed the traditional book publisher from the calculation entirely. (Wall Street Journal)

Obvious growing pains will follow such a bold move, but this as an inevitable and exciting evolution as the publishing industry moves away from the Gutenberg Paradigm toward a more audience-centric publishing model. I see this transition not so much as a challenge, but rather as a reminder that content can easily and quickly be packaged into engaging, innovative, multi-modal, portable and user friendly formats. Vook, iBookstore, Kindle and others are leading the innovation, while the lumbering dinosaurs sit by and grumble.

Why? Catch up. Surpass. Imagine an even sexier future! Paper and ink publishing is grand. Aesthetically pleasing, nostalgic, luxurious and enduring in a fragile sort of way. All true. I love books. And they’re here to stay, though their production will not continue to be the primary vessel for publishing content. They’ll likely become a specialty item. Electric format books offer outstanding financial benefits, distribution benefits, and creativity benefits. The biggest challenge will be to storytellers and content providers. It’s time for us to begin dreaming up the next frontier of storytelling, and Ryu Murakami’s A Singing Whale is just the inspiration we need. It’s time to liberate words from their bindings, time to let them soar and dance!


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Agent Andrew Wylie Is Threatening to Bypass Publishers

Agent Andrew Wylie is threatening to bypass publishers and license his authors’ e-book rights directly to Google, Amazon or Apple because he is unhappy with publishers terms. In an interview with Harvard Magazine, Wylie said the agency’s negotiations with publishers on e-books were currently on hold across the board.

“We will take our 700 clients, see what rights are not allocated to publishers, and establish a company on their behalf to license those e-book rights directly to someone like Google, or Apple. It would be another business, set up on parallel tracks to the frontlist book business,” Wylie said.

Such a “heretical strategy” would likely meet with stiff resistance from publishing houses, the piece notes in response. The Wylie Agency’s stellar list includes authors Martin Amis, Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie, as well as the estates of giants including Italo Calvino, Arthur Miller, Vladimir Nabokov and John Updike.

Wylie also takes issue with the deals publishers are making with Apple, which he says are similar to those entered into by music publishers. “The music industry did itself in by taking its profitability and allocating it to device holders. Manufacturing and distribution accounted for roughly 30 percent of the music industry’s profit. These were conveyed to Apple in the deal for iTunes. But why should someone who makes a machine—the iPod, which is the contemporary equivalent of a jukebox—take all the profit?” (The

Ah-ha, a standoff! Just what we’ve been waiting for, a player with enough hudzpah to challenge the Big Six. Benedictine Page’s post pits literary superagent Andrew Wylie against the publishing industry. That is, thetraditional publishing industry. This could get ugly, but I’m pleased to see someone willing to challenge the Gutenberg Paradigm from within. Outcome will be watched by authors, agents, publishers, book sellers everywhere.

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Does School Stunt Learning?

Apple’s Education Leadership Summit at the International School of Prague was true inspiration… Marco Torres‘s morning keynote fired-up real questions… Here are just a few notable nuggets:

  • “Is our schooling getting in the way of the students education?”
  • “Why do we ask: “What type of learner are you?” and not “what type of producer are you?”
  • “Your “out” may be different from your “in.”
  • “What other fields do we build for our schools beyond the football field?”
  • “Are we paying attention to what learning looks like outside of school?”
  • “What motivates students to post tutorials on Youtube for free, instead of doing homework?
  • “Resources and network are the ingredients of learning.”
  • “Distance is defined by bandwidth.”
  • “Plagiarism is not always negative, “imitation is proven path to mastery.”
  • “Don’t rush the solution, stay in the question. Do we want 50 learners plus a teacher or 51 learners?”
  • “Technology is changing the way the learners learn… is it changing the way the teachers teach?”
  • “Have you asked students and administration to define school in two words? – “it sucks or it’s cool” versus ”Forefront of education or Life time learners.”
  • “International was an option, global is mandatory.”

Read Claude Lord’s full post at

Claude Lord (@cloudlord), formerly a colleague when I taught at the American School of Paris, is an inspiring thinker, gifted pedagogue and oh-so-far-out-of-the-box visionary. Although her review of the Education Leadership Summit 2010 is teacher-oriented, this list of questions is relevant to everyone who has ever considered the ingredients of learning. What makes a teacher, curriculum or school effective? Why do children’s innate curiosity and hunger for learning so often get stifled by teachers, curricula and schools?

Frankly, I can’t help but note how accurately these questions could be applied to the publishing industry as well! Try going through the list and swapping out “learner” for “reader”, “school” for “book” or “print publishing”, etc. So much of the myopia and recalcitrance among publishers is rooted in the same biases and fears that hamstring teachers, curricula and schools. Coincidence?

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The Digital Advantages for Small Publishers

“I always like to stress the following rather obvious point. The paper book is a marvelous combination of two quite distinct products: a story (or body of information), and a crafted, physical object. Once you can separate these two things in your mind, it becomes much easier to see how stories can be shared and sold distinct from their traditional, physical bodies. And, comfortingly, it’s easier to see how printed books will always be highly valued for their physical beauty. In consequence, the digital world both enables a rapid increase in story-telling, free from the costs of physical production, and increases the value of well-crafted physical books. Any successful publisher will find a way to make the most of this.” (digitalbookworld)

Arthur Attwell, co-founder and CEO of Electric Book Works, offers seven tips for small publishers adding digital titles to their inventory:

1. Don’t think ebooks are only for technical folk
2. Don’t worry about digital rights management (DRM)
3. Convert books to ebooks with free online services
4. Distribute and sell ebooks with free online services
5. Don’t limit yourself to ebooks; get more from their content
6. Think of your print books as a value-added version of your ebooks
7. Read and learn about digital publishing

Read Arthur Attwell’s full post at digitalbookworld

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