As The World Gets Smaller, Authors’ Jobs Get Bigger

Porter Anderson / IfBookThen, Milan
Porter Anderson / IfBookThen, Milan

‘An Entire Chain Of Questions That You Have To Ask’

We have a very difficult debate about subscription models or flat rate models because some publishers are afraid that they rather ruin their traditional way of making money. So very quickly you end up in an entire chain of questions that you have to ask.

That’s not a publishing person in the United States — where ebook subscription services such as Scribd, Oyster, and Kindle Unlimited have long been a point of concerned discussion for many in the industry.

Dr. Rüdiger Wischenbart
Dr. Rüdiger Wischenbart

No, that’s Dr. Rüdiger Wischenbart, who produces the influential Global eBook report. He also is directing the Publishers’ Forum in Berlin for the first time this year (April 27-28), following years of solid programming by Helmut von Berg.

Presented by Klopotek AG, the conference is hashtagged #pf15 and is notable as one of the new season’s events focused on a national industry that is richly positioned  in the context of its international significance. The German market is one of the most important bellwethers of the expanding global industry and hosts the pivotal Frankfurt Book Fair each year, of course, as the world’s largest publishing trade show.

But as Wischenbart speaks in a Beyond the Book podcast this month with Christopher Kenneally of the Copyright Clearance Center, what comes across most strongly is how many similarities there are in the challenges facing publishing people in different parts of the world.

Christopher Kenneally
Christopher Kenneally

For example, the new imperative for digital-era publishers to develop “D2C” or direct-do-consumer relationships with readers is so pressing today that the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) Digital Book conference that opens BookExpo America in New York City (May 27-28) has made “Putting Readers First” its over-arching theme.

I’m program director for “IDPF,” as most people refer informally to the conference, which is led by the organization’s Bill McCoy and Wendy Erman Wels. And as we’ve worked on various reflections and approaches to the digital opportunity — and requirement — of “putting readers first,” the kind of comment we hear from Wischenbart could be precisely what we’ll hear on the conference stage at the Javits Center in May.

Wischenbart tells Kenneally that the initial reaction to the idea of going directly to readers instead of to distributors and buyers was, frankly, fear:

For many publishers – traditional publishers – it seemed, at first, to be a threat. “Oh, my God, I have to somehow get in touch with my end consumer. How can I do that?” That kind of question.

[Now], we see new companies coming into the German market saying, “OK, we provide these data that you need to have.” So then the next question is, with a limited amount of resources, particularly among medium-sized to smaller companies, how can I digest all these data and what do I do about it?

And number three, we see…from the early stages and the experiences of flat rate services that the user habits of readers are, indeed, changing. So we need to track and ask ourselves, “What does this change in the user’s reading behavior bring for the publisher, in terms of opportunities, but also in terms of concerns?”

At Berlin's Publishers Forum 2014 in Berlin. Photo courtesy Klopotek AG
At Berlin’s Publishers Forum 2014 in Berlin. Photo courtesy Klopotek AG

In short, Wischenbart is describing the same stages of resistance, then experimentation, then analysis and strategy that US publishers have gone through, that UK publishers have gone through, and that authors, both independent and traditionally publishing, are facing, themselves, as they develop — in many parts of the world — their best approaches to strong community-based followers.

Readership bonds may cross borders better than commercial appeals do.

And it’s in the appeal of the material, the literature and its creators, that publishers may yet find their best outreach to consumers.

At the Berlin conference, I’ll be moderating a panel that illustrates just this point. It’s called Fostering Fandom, Not Just Readers: How Passion And Community Can Drive Sales. My panelists are:

And what we’ll be exploring — our group representing the UK, Denmark, Germany, Austria, and the US — is how publishing today now crosses formats and platforms in a sort of transmedial search for audience, new target audiences, “fans” instead of readers. Marketing may drive the attack more readily than classic content does.

If it’s a small world, it’s a big job. And authors are being asked to get their heads around it just as persistently as are publishers.

‘First Word’ at NINC: Get Offshore

The Novelists Inc (NINC) conference at St. Pete Beach’s TradeWinds Island Grand Resort on October 1 is working with its hundreds of author-attendees on a specific international approach. I’ve been asked to program the day’s “First Word” event with a special group of speakers — conversationalists, really, in the format we’re developing — who can address the myriad issues that independent authors face in trying to find international markets for their books.

The Novelists Inc (NINC) key membership criterion is having at least two titles published. These “multi-published” authors (at least one with more than 110 books on the market) are developing their best tactics for widening their reach as they take their backlists to digital formats and produce new works as digital-first releases.

Our team onstage will include:

  • Scott Beatty, Trajectory COO, Boston
  • James Bryant, Trajectory CEO, Boston
  • Gareth Cuddy, founder of ePubDirect based in County Cork
  • Robin Cutler, senior manager of independent publishing for Ingram Content
  • Barbara Freethy, top Kindle Million Club selling author
  • Jane Friedman, former Writer’s Digest publisher and US-based author-industry analyst at University of Virginia
  • Matthias Matting, German journalist and producer of the SelfPublishersBibel
  • Thad McIlroy, Vancouver-based consultant in publishing and authors’ services
  • Richard Nash, publishing entrepreneur
  • Orna Ross, founding director of the UK’s Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
Clockwise from upper left, First Word speakers at Novelists Inc: Scott Beatty, James Bryant, Gareth Cuddy, Robin Cutler, Barbara Freethy, Jane Friedman, Matthias Matting, Thad McIlroy, Richard Nash, and Orna Ross
Clockwise from upper left, First Word speakers at Novelists Inc: Scott Beatty, James Bryant, Gareth Cuddy, Robin Cutler, Barbara Freethy, Jane Friedman, Matthias Matting, Thad McIlroy, Richard Nash, and Orna Ross

We’ll take a high look at the new internationalism authors are learning to create for themselves, from a philosophical understanding of what it is to take their work to new territories to the nuts and bolts of just what is required in handling global networks to support their work and creativity.

The blessings of digital’s planetary reach may mean that you can find readers in countries and on continents you’ll never visit. But the demands of such reach aren’t minor — and the “international layer” is one that many authors find to be a complicated addition to their workloads that may not result in coherence.

At Friday’s provocative IfBookThen conference in Milan, after all, we all readily understood the points we made about publishing’s ramp-up toward a deeper world of technology. As Wischenbart’s commentary with Kenneally demonstrates, the issues aren’t that alien to us, we’re multinational people of publishing.

It’s the coherence that counts and is the most elusive export of all.

And most of us, when it comes to the actual work and what it means, may still need simultaneous translation. TC mark

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