Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Adam Hodgkin

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Adam Hodgkin is one of the three publishing and technology experienced founders of Exact Editions, which started as a digital publishing solution for magazines to run on the iPhone (and of course now on the iPad as well).    Exact Editions enables magazine publishers to sell “in-app” subscriptions, and notably, preserves the notion of the designed page, something that has been a concern for many publishers of illustrated books as well.  I’ve been reading the Exact Editions blog for some time and have been impressed with Adam’s understanding of the emerging digital publishing universe.  Something he wrote recently caught my attention immediately, as I have long been interested in the ways that authors, publishers and readers will learn to connect with one another in the online environment.  Here’s what Adam wrote about the Apple environment upon which EE is built:

“The Apple e-commerce system works extremely well in my view and with the freemium method that we are adopting at Exact Editions it works in a way in which the ratios between ‘sampling’ and ‘purchasing’ are extremely informative. And as we get more data and get on top of it and learn how to do SRO (SampleRevisionOptimisation – a bit like SEO and it will be an equally dark art) the business of presenting the right amount of content to optimise sales will be established. We currently recommend working at about 8-15% exposure, but its guesstimatory at this point. Amazon must know quite a lot about this from their system, but I am not sure if they have issued any guidance to publishers.

The Apple system is better than most physical bookshops because it can put ‘samples’ in the hands of thousands (many thousands) of potential subscribers/purchasers much more efficiently than can be done with printed paper pages. The economics of this are pretty compelling even if the ‘sample’ to ‘purchase’ ratio is as low as 1%. And in most cases its quite a bit higher than that.

Will probably blog something a bit more informative about this in the next few days. But just let me say that I am simply ASTONISHED by how much more takeup there is for the iPad than for the iPhone. More in absolute terms, by quite a margin, even though there are maybe 40X as many iPhone/IPod touches in the market than iPads.

The iPad is turning out to be a hugely strong reading environment. Absolutely no question about it. And its darn easy to buy stuff on it that you might want to read.”

I thought it would be interesting to talk to Adam about Exact Editions and some of the things he and his colleagues have learned through the experience of working in the Apple environment, not only with magazine publishers but now as they are expanding into working with book publishers as well.  My discussion with Adam covered his background and experience in traditional publishing, technology, and some of the lessons learned by the Exact Editions team in their work in digital publishing apps and proved to be as compelling as I had expected.

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