Michael Cairns introduced the session by discussing roles for our content. We must think about it as a strategic asset and the role it can play in our business. We need to set out strategic and tactical objectives. How is content now created? How is it processed? How does the market react to the content and how does it use it? Many companies are processing publishers’ content and often struggle with it. Publishers should offer a level of flexibility and should be able to deliver it to customers themselves. Consumers are rushing to mobile as their preferred method of access–publishers must be able to supply all types of mobile outlets. We must COPE (create once, publish everywhere). 75% of our business is repeat business; serving our customers is key to the business. Strategic challenges can become opportunities.
Catberine Fleck from Cambridge University Press discussed the textbook market. We have assumed that students need linear content between covers of a book. Much content matches to what is taught in a course. Print textbooks are still dominate the market. The main problem for publishers is students aren’t buying textbooks, and they try hard to find ways not to buy. Average sell through is thought to be <30%. Publishers try to bring out new books as fast as possible. Students share books, rent them, and get legal PDF downloads. There’s also a lot of free illegal content.
The highest percentage of e-book sales is in language and computer science, but that is still less than 10% of undergraduate book sales. Students don’t want flat downloads. Instead of large books, students have begun to realize they may only need 5% of a book–delivery of content for other parts of a course will push them to electronic content. Interactive e-books plus a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is where the market is going. A VLE has the advantage is instructor can see exactly what is being done and what’s being read.
We need to get ready for change. The majority of instructors don’t want to spend time packaging their content and will stick to publisher-packaged content. Stop thinking about just the printed text and ask what is the best medium. Ensure that content is findable, has good metadata, and has a high level of currency. Think about updating the content more often, especially in areas where currency is important.
In the current business model, instructors tell students what to buy, but they don’t often tell them to buy an e-book. Why did students buy an e-book rather than a traditional textbook? A survey by ecampus.com found that 48% chose an e-book because of lower price, and 25% chose them because they could have instant access. Laptops are still the method of choice for access; almost no students use mobile for e-book access. The most popular feature of e-books is search.
What’s next? Lower level books will likely be created by publishers; higher level courses will have multimedia and more custom-blended content. To get ready, publishers should take the content apart, develop a strategy for it, and repackage it, as shown below.
Investigate partnerships and experiment with those who can reach the market: both students and instructors. Accept that making small amounts of money through 3rd parties is better than not being at the party at all.
Allen Noren from O’Reilly Media said that O’Reilly is a publisher for practitioners. It has diversified to deliver content in print, person (conferences), and online. Book buying is being squeezed by print buyers aging, Amazon decimating the retail landscape, and Google has taught the world that everything should be free. About 1/2 of users get information from the web. The only thing that matters to many customers is the search box; that’s how they will find information.
O’Reilly has tried many products over the years. It created Safari U, a remixing engine for educators and trainers to create their own products, which didn’t work out. Selling by the chapter also didn’t work out. But Safari Books Online, a joint venture with Pearson has become a thriving business. Safari now has over 25,000 books in its product line. It sees its business as not selling a single book but the convenience of a definitive library.
O’Reilly sells e-books directly to consumers. Its e-books are DRM-free with lifetime access and free updates. They are selling immediacy of access to solve problems. Many consumers wanting to solve a problem will not wait for print book to arrive. As soon as the e-book market opened, O’Reilly became an international player with 50% of its business from outside the US. In a recent online promotion, 50,000 books were sold in 24 hours! Its new offering, Atlas moves beyond just digitizing print and functions as an online publisher authoring and reading platform allowing authors to publish immediately to multiple formats.
The direct e-book platform is vitally important for O’Reilly. It provides a connection with customers and lets them experiment and innovate. This is a new business that has brought the industry along. Now other publishers want to sell their content through O’Reilly.com.
Video training lets people follow along. Writing a book still takes about a year. The video process is faster; a product can be up for sale within a week.
Conferences are a large and growing part of O’Reilly’s business. They are creating bigger ecosystem for sponsors and permit selling a year-round engagement with many parts of the business.
Noren concluded by saying that publishers should stop defending indefensible business models and pay attention to customers. Think about the relevance of your product to the markets you are selling to. Disintermediate yourself from within before someone else does. And think like a beginner; in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities.
The final speaker of this session was Brian Erwin from Slicebooks. He began by noting that the publishing industry has never faced a period of complexity like the present. Slicebooks is a hosted software platform. Intellectual property that we own must fit with where the consumer is today.
The history of the industry has proceeded through the following stages: 1 printer, 1 book; 1 printer, many books (Gutenberg); many printers, many (free) books (which nuked the industry and gave people their own printing presses). Anybody can now be a publisher of free books. We are competing with home published content. Today’s consumer wants content and wants it NOW and on a mobile device! If it’s not available now, we lose! Attention spans are very short.
Our only constant now is trust. The long tail is made of many consumers with little content. Slicebooks lets a publisher create ready to publish short content in minutes. Content can be sliced as desired and can be sold as desired. By slicing books into chapters, you create many ways to be found. And the rule of the internet is that you must be found. We don’t to this well yet. One can mix and match content to create new custom e-books in literally 1/2 hour! New product can be created using content that has already been through the editorial filter. Slicebooks will private label the content and let you sell it either whole or sliced. And there is still a royalty stream with this approach.
Consumers can create their own remixed content: my e-book with just what I want. This fits the behavior of the contemporary consumer.
Mobile distribution is making everywhere a bookstore. One can create QR codes for each slice–a whole course pack, or just a slice to download books to a phone. Put the content to where the consumer is today and sell them content at their moment of need, passion, etc.
The internet doesn’t know what goes through its tubes. We sit on the best intellectual property that people will pay for, and we need to let them know that our content is the best. We now have the opportunity of putting anything on the internet.
Don Hawkins blogs about conferences for Information Today and Against The Grain. He also maintains the Conference Calendar on the Information Today website and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, published by Information Today in 2013, and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits, published by Information Today in 2016. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and has worked in the information industry for over 45 years.