The latest edition of Book^2 Camp, a publishing and technology “unconference,” took place yesterday, and while it lacked the star power of last year’s Margaret Atwood appearance, it was another worthwhile Sunday afternoon full of thoughtful conversations about the future of publishing.
Three quick takeaways.
1) STOP IT WITH THE NEW SHINY!!!!
Seriously, people; stop the madness. Stop trying to recreate the wheel; stop trying to build things for which there is no demand; and please stop trying to force “social” into the reading experience!
Someone noted that there were few references to platforms like Copia, Small Demons and Pinterest throughout the day, and there’s a good reason for that: none have proven themselves to be more than technological curiosities for which there is little to no consumer demand. Meanwhile, Goodreads is approaching 7 million members — READERS OF BOOKS!!!! — and people are still wondering how publishers can build conversations around their books and connect with their readers?!?! #cmonson
2) THINK BEYOND THE BOOK
I pitched and facilitated a session on (re)Building the Perfect Business Model, starting with the premise that it has to allow for relationships with booksellers, libraries, and direct engagement with readers, and account for a royalty-based system, not just work-for-hire. (Few were comfortable with the idea of turning authors into straight freelancers.) Beyond that, it was a free-for-all discussion that offered a few directional signals if not one solid model we could all agree on. Among the key pieces that seemed to have consensus was the need to publish fewer books, a point perfectly highlighted by a Big Six VP whose group publishes ~10 books/month but offered a “no comment” on what kind of marketing support that 10th book gets.
Another critical though controversial piece was thinking beyond the book, creating ancillary products and related experiences, like webinars, tours, events, etc. Someone made the great point that, instead of complaining about B&N’s devoting more shelf space to toys & games, a savvy publisher should be mining their list for opportunities to launch (not license, LAUNCH) a related toy and/or merchandise line. These ideas were surprisingly (or not) met with some resistance along the lines of “that’s not our skill set,” to which the quick answer was hire someone with those skills!
Plenty of publishers have figured out business models that extend beyond selling books in bookstores, physical and virtual, and Harlequin, Osprey, TOR, and F+W Media were all referenced as examples. Of course, I threw in The Atlantic, partly to illustrate that it’s not just an opportunity for genre publishers, and also to demonstrate that the skill sets DO exist in publishing.
3) REMEMBER THE FUNDAMENTALS
Publishing in the digital age isn’t a zero-sum game. For some books, the traditional marketing toolkit of print ads, “professional” reviews and co-op promotions can still move the needle on sales. For others, a more targeted approach is needed, something that digital channels excel at. One marketer noted how five years ago she would dismiss book bloggers, and now they represent a key channel for reviews that can have greater impact than the NY Times, DEPENDING ON THE BOOK.
Of course, the best takeaways were the various conversations I had with people, especially outside of specific sessions. Book^2 Camp offers a unique experience that the big conferences can’t really match due to their size and structure: the ability to engage with a variety of smart people within the main program (as opposed to the “sage on the stage” model and hallway conversations), and the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about business challenges simply can’t be overstated.
At the end of the day, an unconference is what you make of it, and as far as I’m concerned, yesterday was time well spent.
Other #Book2 Posts:
- Dan Blank has a good post that breaks down the “what,” complete with pictures.
- Mt. Vernon librarian Nishan Stepak shares his thoughts.
- Delabarre Publishing’s Jeff Rutherford covered three sessions I didn’t attend.
- Patti Henderson offers up a Canadian perspective.
- Babette Ross has words and pictures, too.
- JJ Madden picked up on the question of authors’ rights.
I’ll add others as I find them. If you attended, let me know your takeaways in the comments.