Moving Beyond THE BOOK; Three Takeaways from #Book2

Book^2 Camp: NYC 2012
Book^2 Camp: NYC 2012

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.


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


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.


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:

I’ll add others as I find them. If you attended, let me know your takeaways in the comments.

7 thoughts on “Moving Beyond THE BOOK; Three Takeaways from #Book2

  1. Loved this post – esp #2, Think Beyond The Book. In an age where authors and publishers are having to become increasingly savvy with how they market their product, it makes sense to invest in ideas beyond just the way the words are strung together. It also presents an exciting world of possibilities.

  2. Guy,

    I asked about Pinterest on twitter, because I didn’t hear it mentioned in any of the sessions I attended.

    While I completely agree with you about getting distracted by the shiny and new, I think it’s also important for publishers and independent bookstores to surf the front of digital waves – not try to paddle and catch up in exhaustion.

    Why should publishers pay attention to Pinterest – as part of a larger digital marketing whole? Well according to a recent study, Pinterest is already more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn COMBINED –

    Digital marketers ignore that at your own risk.

    How could publishers take advantage of Pinterest?

    We’ve already seen some publishers successfully engage with bloggers via new release cover reveals (happens a lot with YA). Why not release that cover on Pinterest? Why not show alternate takes of the cover that were rejected?

    And, remember, Pinterest links back to the page with the artwork. Why not create a page specifically designed to get readers’ email addresses (with permission/opt-in) of course. You could create that page, add tons of cover artwork, link those images on Pinterest, and help build your email list of readers.

    In my opinion, at the end of the day, the publisher or independent bookstore with the largest, segmented customer list – email/social media/reading likes/dislikes – will be well positioned to win.

    So, I agree, don’t get distracted by shiny and new. But, let’s not repeat digital mistakes again either. Let’s see publishers and indies blazing new paths digitally and embracing tools/platforms in interesting ways to engage readers.

    And, finally, I totally agree re: Goodreads. Every publisher should be fully and completely engaged with Goodreads in a major, major way.

    1. I was actually poking around Pinterest before heading in to Book^2 Camp on Sunday, and unlike the others I unfairly lumped it in with here, I do see its potential for certain publishers, especially those with DTC models and revenue streams beyond just books. I know F+W Media is looking at it as a key channel for some of their enthusiast communities.

      Of course, those traffic numbers everyone’s quoting right now need to be put in context. Pinterest isn’t going to be a good fit for every publisher, the same way Tumblr and Foursquare ultimately had very limited angles, and that’s really my main point about not being distracted.

      PS: My wife’s first reaction to Pinterest was that she would be cancelling a lot of her fashion magazine subscriptions. Ouch!

  3. Okay, while I agree that the “shiny” is a big distraction, it’s a bit silly to compare “platforms like Copia, Small Demons and Pinterest [because] none have proven themselves to be more than technological curiosities.” To the extent that there is traffic to these platforms, it’s worthwhile considering why. From a user’s point of view, Pinterest is more than just “shiny,” though it is that for sure. And social reading? My big complaint about the dis on social reading is that it doesn’t taking into account the extraordinary difference there is between a scifi/fantasy reading experience, cookbooks, and, oh, say, spiritual content. The nature of the engagement will determine the value, if any of social reading.

    1. That there was no agreement on what exactly “social reading” means was alluded to in my embedded tweet, which is why I lumped those platforms together under the “new shiny” umbrella. For some, it meant hashtags and author chats in an ebook, while for others it was pushing their brands into spaces like Pinterest; in almost every instance, though, there were few answers for what value would be be added to the reading experiences, and even less attention given to the differences amongst various reading communities.

  4. Authors create content. Readers consume content. Everyone in between needs to add some value or they will disappear. It’s a basic concept, but a radical change for traditional publishing.

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