Saturday, June 19, 2010

Top 10 Takeaways From Book Summit 2010

I attended Book Summit 2010 yesterday.  This year's theme was "HOT NEW MODELS: The Amazing Transformation of Business and Culture in the World of Books."  Presented by Humber College and the Book and Periodical Council in association with Authors at Harbourfront Centre, the full day conference is a great gathering of people from across the book and publishing industry.

The day started off with a keynote address from The New York Times technology columnist David Pogue whose talk "Reading: The Next Chapter" was interesting, quirky, entertaining and enlightening.  He ended off a great summation of the intersection of technology and culture with a couple of spoof piano songs.  One of which you can watch here (this video is from the TED conference and has a much better sound quality than the recording I made yesterday - oops, I didn't get anyone's permission to record it yesterday, let's hope the Feds aren't going to storm into my house now)

The day split into parallel workshops and information sessions, of which I attended Switched-On Learning presented by David Jolliffe from Pearson Education and Elements of the Bookstore of the Future presented by Chris Morrow of Northshire Bookstore.  Then it was time for lunch and the afternoon session where I took in Robert J. Sawyer's talk on The 21st Century Author.

It all ended with a phenomenal panel discussion summarizing the day led by Mark Medley of the National Post and featuring Anne McDermid (Literary Agent), Sandra Kasturi (ChiZine Publications), Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks) and Kate Pullinger (Author).  It was one of those panel discussions that could have gone on for several more hours and was the perfect day to wrap up a solid day.

The biggest frustration (which is a fantastic problem for an event like this to have) is that the breakout sessions were so good that you really wanted to attend more than one -- I need to further develop a strategy where I go in with some colleagues where we plan on attending different parallel sessions so we can compare notes afterwards and still get some of the benefit of the sessions we missed.

I thought it might be fun to list, from the notes I took yesterday, 10 of the quotes or points I got a lot out of.  And yes, I titled this the Top 10 Takeaways, but will openly admit that was just a gimmick because it sounds better than "Mark's Goofy Thoughts About A Great Day With Book Nerds."

1) "Things Just Add On" - David Pogue
The concept Pogue is talking about here are the constant predictions made by people that something is going to be the killer of something else, which are usually always wrong. Example, "the iPad is going to be the Kindle Killer" or "the television is going to kill the radio" or "the X is going to be the Y killer" (I'm still predicting that books are doomed due to the advent of vinyl records) - But seriously, Pogue says that things in culture tend not to fully replace things, but rather add on to them. Things splinter. Sure, we lose the common culture effect where everyone gathers around the water cooler and discussions last night's episode of "I Love Lucy" but everyone is better served and we can dip in and out at will.

2) "The only people being inconvenienced by copy protection measures are the honest people." - David Pogue
So true. Those who are going to hack and steal and going to hack and steal regardless of any sort of DRM measures put into place. The main people who suffer when you lock down digital content so tight are the honest people who are willing to pay for content. I could argue on for days about this (hey wait, I HAVE and will continue to do so)  Pogue's hilarous music medly covers the music industry's RIAA suing downloaders here -- funny spoof song but interesting and though-provoking.

3) "Speed + Ego - Privacy = Twitter" - David Pogue
Okay, a short, cute and funny statement. But I loved it.

4) "The ebooks we buy and read today are not likely to be available to our descendants" - David Pogue
Interesting thought. And yes I might sound like a luddite for saying something like this or look like that dinosaur bookseller who fails to accept ebooks and wants to cling to the traditional printed book, but it's a simple matter I have already seen.  Books and comics I bought when I was 10 are still available to be placed into my son's hands 30 years later. But games and software and stories I wrote and save to a 5.25 inch floppy disk on my VIC-20 and Commodore 64 are no longer something I can pass on. So what is to say that the digital files I create or purchase today, which haven't really been around for more than a decade in many cases, will still be here in another 10 or 20 years. At least the books on the shelves across from the desk where I type this will still be accessible in that same time frame.

5) We are seeing just the beginning of interactive assessments/mobile for learning technologies - David Jollifee (Pearson)
Right now my campus bookstore sells a lot of the i (classroom response system) units that are being used at McMaster University. Unlike many other required course materials, these are of a relatively low cost and have a high return on investment. A student can buy one in first year and use it for all their classes for the next four years. Great investment, and a great interactive way to aid the academic environment.  But we're just seeing the tip of that, and this whole area intrigues me greatly.

6) "Right now we're losing a lot of sales because we can't give the customer what they want when they want it." - Chris Morrow (Northshire Bookstore)
Morrow was talking about having an Espresso Book Machine in his store in Vermont. Therein lies merely one key to the bookstore of the future. It's one of the reasons why my campus bookstore invested in an Espresso Book Machine and one of the things that is kept close to my heart every single day as a bookseller. The key, in my mind, to the survival of any bookseller is how to position your offering in such a way that you CAN get the customer what they want when they want it, whether it's a physical book or one of various different digitally available book or book-like products. I have said tons about this and will continue to say a lot about this going forward, so I'll just stop here with that thought.

7) "It's time for real partnerships." - Chris Morrow (Northshire Bookstore)
Morrow was talking about the partnerships between publishers and booksellers and I couldn't agree more. Too often in the past 20 years of my experience as a bookseller there have been too many times in which disagreements or differing points of view have gotten in the way of creating a supply chain that actually does more for the customer/consumer. It will only get better once we're able to determine the common grounds by which (as suggested in point 6 above) we're able to work together to get the customer that critically important thing. One thing clear in my mind is that finding those common grounds are going to be hard and going to involve painful discussions and frustrating changes as we evolve, but, hey, it's all part of Darwin's grand theory. I was delighted to hear the same underlying sentiment from the afternoon panelists and think it was Anne McDermid who suggested there be "more merging between the author, agent and publisher" who, historically might have seen one another as adversaries in the past.

8) "Right now you have all these books sitting in warehouses that should be in front of customer's eyes in bookstores." - Chris Morrow (Northshire Books)
How. True.  Nuff said? Okay, I'll say a tiny bit about that. I was delighted to enter into a discussion with a smaller Canadian publisher at the end of the day regarding trying out the "Consignment Model" that Morrow was talking about in which, just at the beginning of the experience, he and the publisher partner have seen a 22% increase in sales on that particular publisher's titles by testing a consignment model rather than books continuing to be used as cash flow management systems. I'm rather intrigued by this concept and am always looking for solutions in which the customer, bookstore, publisher and author can win.

9) "If we had crowdsourced BAMBI, Bambi's mother would never had died." - Robert J. Sawyer
Sawyer talked about the concept of crowdsourcing for various things such as Bain allowing a particular group of core fans to help them vet their slush pile. He recognized the huge value in that, but also was cautious about the effect on the creative work, that the original novel writer as well as the adapting movie producer both had to make a difficult decision that likely wouldn't have passed a commitee but made for a VERY memorable moment in animated movie history. He also addressed a question from the audience about "product placement" which is commonplace in movies and television but hasn't made it's way into literary works. Sawyer talked about using brand names in his novels for one of two reasons -- either because it was a brand he personally respected or loved, or it was a brand he knew would be recognized. He talked about the limitations to creative freedom when you allow advertising to control the story. (One example he used was for FlashForward, the TV show based on his novel -- he speculative that if one of the sponsors was a car company, would that mean that the "bad guys" in the story couldn't ever turn out to be players from the "big oil" companies?) Sawyer raised a really good point regarding creative freedoms that I hadn't ever really thought much of before.

10) "Some of the greatest joy in my life comes from interfacing with readers from all over the world." Robert J. Sawyer
Sawyer was talking about pleasures and joys from being involved in social media, hosting a web site with fantastic content, participating in Twitter, Facebook and other social media as an author.  (Even during the conference, he dipped in and out of various social media to interact with fans and friends and comment on things, showing the agility required to multi-task in such a dynamic manner) He did caution about how overwhelming spending time in these social media areas could be which take away from what the author originally signed up to do, which was to write. But he talked about all these efforts (including author tours and talks and all the various in person activities he engages in) and said that if you get even a 1% response to all these activities you might just get somewhere -- which is a clear recognition that there is a tremendous amount of effort required to get a very tiny amount of payoff.

So many other great things were said, two of which I'm going to break off and blog about separately (because this blog post has likely gone on way too long already.

But two things I'm going to address in future posts are the statement Robert J. Sawyer made in which he wasn't sure if the profession of being a full-time writer has another decade in it -- that definitely warrants a longer explanation and detailed look (from my own POV as a no-name author as well as a bookseller)  I also want to list out the various great discussion points made in the final afternoon panel featuring Mark Medley, Anne McDermid, Sandra Kasturi, Dominique Raccah and Kate Pullinger.  An "action-packed" discussion, that definitely warrants it's own post.


Anonymous said...

The idea of a consignment (bookselling) model is interesting, if still one that makes me wary. Isn't this basically what we do, having the right to return? We don't limit our purchases because of cash flow issues, we do it because we just don't think we can sell these other books. Shelf space and reputation for a good, curated collection at more of a premium than money. And I don't think anyone wants to see the day when returns of books - paid for up front or not - exceed 10%. The thought of the shipping costs alone makes me shiver.

We used to take, on the other hand, self-published books on consignment, but we started to wonder where we stood legally with this stock. Often people would drop off some books and then never come back to collect either their money or their stock. We have self published books in out stock room from twenty years ago because we're not sure what we should do with them. Do we even have the right to destroy them? What if someone, someday, comes and informs us we owe them money for five copies deposited in 1985?

Mark Leslie said...

Charlotte - the cost of shipping and returns is likely higher for bookstores and publishers than anyone has ever been able to properly calculate. I've long been an admirer of buying as if you can't return (akin to driving as if you don't have brakes)

And historically, consignment books from self-published authors are one thing that most bookstores do -- but I'm looking at attempting a model with a publisher with a healthy list of multiple titles. Right now, one-off copies get lost in the shuffle (and as you noted so truthfully, sometimes lost and never returned "home" even after decades) - I likely didn't offer the NorthShire experiment justice as their consignment model also brought greater visibility to that publisher's titles, making a mostly front-cover facing prominent display. It's certainly something you can't do with many, but a worthy experiment to try. As Chris Morrow suggested: "We need to experiment relentlessly"

B.Kienapple said...

Thanks for this post, Mark! It's good to read these to solidify all the info thrown at us. David Pogue's keynote was by far the most thought-provoking session, in my mind, but I'm sorry I missed Rob's comments on social media (glad he's such a pioneer but sometimes I think authors need a lesson in withdrawal not immersion...the author overshare is one of my pet peeves).