Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Matt Cavnar

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people 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  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

I’ve been thinking alot lately about the evolution of ebook building.  My friends Ron Martinez and Nick Ruffilo at Aerbook and Hugh McGuire at PressBooks, have also built on this kind of concept, in Aerbook’s case a cloud based authoring tool that is highly sophisticated and probably best used by experienced book designers (called Aerbook Maker), and in PressBooks’ model a WordPress based authoring tool that enables writers and editors to collaborate in the cloud to build books from scratch.  Barnes & Noble has created a tool for publishers who want to build fixed page children’s books for their own device, the Nook.  This seems like a growing trend, presaged by what happened years ago in the realm of desktop publishing (which resulted in today’s powerful tools, InDesign and Quark – and InDesign now can even be used to make ebooks), making it possible for book designers to do incredible work with powerful, economical tools.

The received wisdom about ebooks with video and audio features is that they don’t sell all that well, at least compared to straight text or even just books with illustrations.  And since they have had to be built more or less by hand as one off productions, they have had significantly higher costs of production.  With low sales and high cost of production, the ROI for publishers for these sorts of ebooks has been mostly terrible.

That has meant that relatively few such books have been published.  Which of course has meant that there has been relatively little audience development for ebooks that combine text, illustrations, audio and video features, and perhaps also.  By streamlining the process of ebook building and empowering creators, these tools will reduce the cost of deploying ebooks with integrated audio and video elements, improve design, and hopefully increase the level of interest in enhanced ebooks by attracting more creativity on the production side.  One might imagine that a meaningful increase in the number of these kinds of enhanced or “app-like” ebooks in the various e-bookstores, will also increase the interest of readers for them, and thus more sales.  And of course we can also hope for more marketing commitment from the device manufacturers themselves and better software and hardware to enable readers to more readily enjoy this expected increase in creativity on the author and publisher side of the equation (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, are you listening?)

As a proponent of enhanced ebooks, I’d like to believe that with relatively lower cost of production, and more platform support, we will indeed see an increase in output of these kinds of ebooks, and that a great upsurge of creative, meaningful use of audio and video in books will really “enhance” the usefulness and popularity of these kinds of ebooks for readers.

Matt Cavnar is the VP of Business Development for Vook, a company that is now offering their own sophisticated ebook publishing tool for authors and publishers.  When the company started in 2009, it set out to provide video-enabled ebooks to the reading public.  Over the past three years the company has produced hundreds of ebooks of all different kinds.  During that time, they soon realized that acting simply as a production company, they could never achieve the kind of scale they really hoped for, so over the past year or so, Vook’s staff took everything they had learned about making ebooks, and built a toolset that virtually anyone can use to make great ebooks.

Matt is a passionately committed to books, and especially to ebooks, and to expanding their reach.  In the course of our conversation, we talked first about the Vook platform and the tools it offers to users, and then went on from there to talk broadly about the current and evolving state of digital publishing, informed by Matt’s hands on experience working with ebooks and their creators for the past several years.  This conversation should be valuable to anyone involved in publishing, whether ebooks are your primary interest or not, but especially if you are interested in seeing where the nuts and bolts of ebook creation have gone in mid-2012.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Brian O’Leary about The Opportunity in Abundance

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people 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  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

Brian O’Leary’s Magellan Media provides research, benchmarking and business planning services that help smaller and medium-sized publishers manage and grow their top- and bottom-line results.  Magazine, book and association publishers often engage Magellan to improve their content workflows across platforms and uses.

Brian frequently is called on to make industry presentations and he blogs regularly about critical matters in publishing (both for books and magazines).  I follow his work closely.  One of the pieces he published in October, 2011, called the Opportunity in Abundance, spurred me to talk to him once again for Publishing Talks.  Today we live in an age of content abundance.  Most publishers realize this as it affects them on a daily basis.

Brian has laid out an analysis of content abundance that I think will enable publishers to make sense of this new reality, and how to work successfully within it.  His understanding of digital content should help publishers create their own contextual framework for thinking about how to do business in a radically new environment. It’s a great piece to read (as are his related essays), and this interview should help amplify and explain further some of his ideas.   Of course, we did not always stick to the subject at hand, but were able to cover a wide range of related ideas that I hope will be interesting and useful to anyone interested in the current state of the publishing business.

Here is the specific link to his essay The Opportunity in Abundance.   Brian is a terrific writer – he’s always able to be clear, insightful and understandable.   I recommend reading through the archives at Magellan Media.  And I also interviewed him in 2009, when we talked about piracy, another issue he has written about with great incisiveness.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Lou Aronica of Fiction Studio Books

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people 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  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

Lou Aronica is a long-time editor and publisher who left commercial publishing some years ago and then built a new career as a writer.  In fact, I interviewed him in 2011 about his excellent fantasy sci-fi novel, Blue.  Lou has been very successful as a writer and freelance editor.  But over the past couple of years, Lou has continued exploring his publishing interests, most recently by founding a digital-first publishing imprint called Fiction Studio Books.

(I do recommend visiting his site and reading what he has to say about publishing in general and what Fiction Studio is all about).

Fiction Studio offers a different and in many ways unique model for writers.  Lou is bringing to bear the most important traditional values of publishing – editorial and author development – that so many publishers today are no longer able or willing to provide in commercial publishing.  By concentrating on quality and eliminating the overhead costs of print publishing, he has been able to begin to sketch out a workable structure for digital publishing of mainstream fiction that may be a useful model for the future, where the publisher provides real value and services that make sense for authors and readers.  Lou calls this a “publishing culture” that benefits the books and the writers he publishes.

Importantly, Fiction Studio is selling a significant number of books, enough to make it a profitable business and not just an experiment in digital publishing.  In its first year of existence, the imprint issued 14 titles.

Lou and I have often talked informally about the book business and the future.  Typically I have learned alot from him and his experiences, past and present and always enjoy our talks.  I think what he is doing now with this publishing program is tremendously important and should be inspirational to both publishers and authors.

Our conversation here covers a wide range of ideas and concepts drawn from his experience and reflecting his expansive vision of what a born-digital publishing company can and should look like.  We talked about trends in digital publishing, how the role of the publisher is changing, the importance of editing and developing writers in the new digital marketplace, what makes a publisher meaningful and valuable to authors and to writers, ebook pricing models, and  much, much more in this very wide-ranging conversation.  To learn more, go to the website and read his essay about why he is publishing and the very active and interesting blog written by Fiction Studio authors as well.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Miral Sattar about BiblioCrunch

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people 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  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

Miral Sattar is a young serial entrepreneur with roots in the publishing business.  She is the Founder of Divanee.com and Weddings.Divanee.com and has worked in the media industry for 10 years.   Ms. Sattar is a contributor for Time, teaches entrepreneurial journalism sessions at CUNY, and has contributed to Metro and Jane Magazine. She graduated from Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and recently earned an M.S. in Digital + Print Media.

In many ways Miral represents the future of the book business.  She’s had innovative and smart ideas for new products and new uses of digital technology to create new ways for readers and writers to interact.  Failing to gain any traction for her ideas within traditional publishing institutions, she set out on her own to build what she believes writers and readers want and need, a new and different publishing/reading platform called BiblioCrunch.   There’s alot to be interested in here if you are looking for ways that online publishing can be made simple.

From the BiblioCrunch.com website:

What is BiblioCrunch.com?
BiblioCrunch.com is a platform that empowers writers and publishers to create and market their own manuscripts, completed works, digital books and bookazines. Through our platform anyone – bloggers, authors, aspiring writers, students, writers, journalists, publishers – can share their stories.

•    You can create all your great books online through our easy interface in any format any eReader!
•    Once you’ve written all the chapters for your book you can either post it for FREE or start SELLING.
•    You can start SHARING your book via social media so others can download your book.
•    VOTE your book to the top by sharing it with all your friends.
•    Need to hire an EDITOR or DESIGNER? Why not connect with someone in the MEMBERS community to help edit your book and design an awesome cover.

Why use BiblioCrunch.com?
•    BiblioCrunch is the place for you to write, read, and distribute your favorite books in just a few steps.
•    Create virtual bookshelves, discover new books, connect with friends and learn more about your favorite books – all for free.
•    On BiblioCrunch.com you can connect with writers, publishers, readers, editors, copyeditors, and designers to create the best books.
•    We’re also cheaper than other services that take 30% of each book sold.

How can I share my books?
•    Each book has it’s own public download page that you can share on Twitter and Facebook.

Building tools that make it easy for people to publish their work and for readers to read it is really a publishing function.  As with many other sites, the idea here is that readers can decide for themselves what they want to read.  It will be interesting to see if, as some traditionally minded digerati have suggested, that the editorial or curatorial role will be needed, perhaps more than ever, but if so, my guess is that it will develop in different ways, based on the different understanding of the editorial function that today’s writers and readers have developed.

I wanted to talk to Miral about BiblioCrunch because I am always interested in new ideas and constructs, and also because I think the story she tells about the genesis and plans for this site will be instructive and valuable to others in the book universe.  And hopefully, her ideas might generate some additional thinking about how platforms, innovation and audiences for reading will develop in the near future. Creating a new publishing platform is no small feat, but the real challenge will be to attract readers and writers in significant numbers.  I’m hoping this site will succeed through innovation and creativity, as a healthy publishing ecosystem requires a wide variety of niches, large and small.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Peter Costanzo

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

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

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly and broadly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends.  These conversations 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 active participants in the book business.

I’ve known Peter Costanzo for a number of years (and have worked with him on a few projects) – I have always been impressed with his intelligence and his insightful understanding of online media and digital publishing.  Peter is now the Director of Digital Content for F+W Media where he is in charge of a diverse and creative set of digital initiatives.  Since he is now directing content and production for a publisher that has made a deep commitment to digital publishing, I wanted to talk to him in depth about ebooks, apps and online marketing, from his perspective as a producer as well as a consumer and keen observer of the digital publishing scene.

Peter has been involved in online bookselling for longer than most people in our industry.  He began selling autographed books online in 1996.  By 1998 he became the Online Retail Marketing Manager for HarperCollins.  He then worked at Random House as Online Marketing Manager for the Audiobooks division, and in 2001 became Director of Online Merchandising for Steve Brill’s Contentville, one of the first online retailers to sell e-books. After that he became the Director of Online Marketing for Perseus Books for several years, before moving to F + W Media.   He also teaches the “Introduction to Interactive Media” course at NYU.  You can follow Peter on Twitter @PeterCostanzo and read his personal blog BookCurrents.

Peter has a lot of important things to say in this discussion that anyone interested in digital publishing will find useful and compelling.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Kate Wilson

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

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

These interviews give people in and around 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.

I was recently introduced to the apps and books created by the new UK based children’s publisher Nosy Crow.  I bought their first app, the Three Little Pigs and immediately understood that this company had a vision and an approach that made sense to me.  Here is the message from their website that caught my attention right way:

“We make innovative, multimedia, highly interactive apps for tablets, smart phones and other touchscreen devices. These apps are not existing books squashed onto phones, but instead are specially created to take advantage of the devices to tell stories and provide information to children in new and engaging ways.”  Books too by the way.

When I finally got a chance to talk to company founder Kate Wilson, I found out right away why the company is so smart, and off to such a great start.  I believe that Kate deeply understands how technology and publishing can and will intersect for the creation of great experiences for children readers.  She has a vision, one that makes sense, and she has combined creativity with a keen sense of what parents and children want both from new technologies and from traditional books.  And her experience in publishing has taught her important lessons which she is now applying in this new publishing space (after attending Oxford University, she worked for a number of UK children’s publishers, including Macmillan Children’s and Scholastic UK, both of which she ran.  If you are interested in how children’s publishing is going to evolve, I suggest paying close attention to Nosy Crow, and of course listening to this conversation with Kate Wilson.

Slowing Down for the Summer

July 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Pipeline

I have been posting two podcasts a week for the better part of the last year, which has been great fun.  But with the summer in full swing, weather wonderful and plenty of work in the hopper, it looks like I may be posting slightly less frequently for the next couple of months.  I’m not reading fewer books, but scheduling interviews seems to be more difficult in the summer too.  And publishers and technologists take vacations!   I do have some really good interviews coming along soon: Anna Lappe, Nick Mamatas, Dean Bakopoulos among other writers, and Kate Wilson of the great new kids publisher Nosy Crow for Publishing Talks.  And there will be more.

I’ve also started a new website I hope you will visit – it’s called New Book Media (newbookmedia.com) featuring a long list of digital book events around the world, and a steady stream of news and information about the wildly expanding world of digital publishing.  Livewriters.com now has more than 2500 book and author related videos, and is still the only website focused exclusively on video about books, along with an entertaining and original literary blog called LiveWires.

If you’ve read a great book lately I want to know about it.  Direct message your recommendations to @writerscast.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Cevin Bryerman

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

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

These interviews give people in and around 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.

Cevin Bryerman is Publisher and Vice President of Publishers Weekly, the well-known international trade magazine for book publishing. Recently Cevin spoke at Montreal’s Atwater Library and Computer Centre about the changes revolutionizing the publishing world.  His message there was reported to be “fatalistic, prescriptive, dismaying, and upbeat,” which probably reflects the way a large number of publishing people feel these days.

“The digital age is definitely here,” he told an auditorium packed with book industry professionals, “and you have to embrace it.”  Indeed, the revolution has not left PW untouched, and the challenge that magazine has faced in transforming itself from a traditional subscription based print trade magazine into something very different is a continuing process.

I’m hopeful that our wide ranging and hopefully provocative conversation will spur further discussions and perhaps even raise some controversy about the current condition and future prospects for all the elements of the publishing ecosystem. Publishers Weekly online here.  Very interesting (though brief) history of PW in Wikipedia here.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Maxine Bleiweis

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?
I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around 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.

Since so many of the people I’ve talked to in the Publishing Talks interviews have been in the areas of publishing and technology, I have wanted to broaden the conversation to include other perspectives.  And following the conversation with Hugh McGuire about the future of libraries (a hot topic it seems, as a recent post by Seth Godin seems to indicate), it made sense to talk to a librarian who is working on the issues of access and technology from the user side of the publishing equation.   I live near Westport, Connecticut, which has a fabulous library, with a myriad of public events, an incredibly active and engaged community, and a deep commitment to using technology to increase access to knowledge and information, as well as a wonderful and engaged staff.

Maxine Bleiweis is the Director of the Westport Public Library.   She is a terrifically innovative manager, known for her ability to predict trends and determine ways to meet the latest “customer” needs as they emerge.  Before she became director in Westport in 1998, she was director in Suffield, CT for six years and Newington, CT for 18 years.

I also noticed that she was recently named Outstanding Librarian for 2011 by the CT Library Association, so she is recognized by her peers as well as her own community.

Maxine has a great deal to say about publishing and technology, and her thoughts and ideas are well worth paying attention to.  And even though the Westport Public Library does represent the beliefs and commitment of a very affluent, educated and progressive town, what this library does to enrich the intellectual and artistic life of its community is not enabled simply by having more resources than others.  The principle at work here will work elsewhere – the idea of paying attention to what the community needs and doing everything possible to meet those needs is universally applicable.  You can see what they are doing here.

Maxine and I had a wide ranging conversation about books, community, the future of publishing in the digital age, how libraries will handle ebooks and digital access, and how some of the controversies that have arisen in these important areas may be resolved.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Hugh McGuire

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

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

These interviews give people in and around 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.

Hugh McGuire is a serial digital entrepreneur.  There’s a great story about him and an online interview at NextMontreal, in which the focus of the conversation is a company he started a few years ago called Book Oven, aiming to build an online book publishing platform.  That particular venture did not meet expectations, but it’s a great story for anyone interested in digital publishing and start-up businesses in publishing (and resulted in a very cool tool called PressBooks, that “lets you and your team easily author and output books in multiple formats including: epub, Kindle, print-on-demand-ready PDF, HTML, and inDesign-ready XML.”)

Hugh is also the founder of the outstanding free audio book LibriVox, which currently features perhaps the largest catalog of audio books drawn from the public domain. It’s a great service and operates on open source principles.  In addition to LibriVox, Hugh has also started and now runs a for-profit audio book business called Iambik, which shares many principles with LibriVox except in its profit goals, which of course drives a different business model.

What prompted me to contact Hugh now is the recent and terrific guest piece he wrote called What are Libraries For? for the outstanding blog In the Library with the Leadpipe (subtitled: The murder victim? Your library assumptions. Suspects? It could have been any of us.)  This piece has so much great stuff in it (and is so well written and clear), that it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the future of publishing, books and readers (and In the Library is a great discovery too).

You may not agree with all of Hugh’s assumptions, nor his conclusions (I mostly do), but what he says will make you think hard about the digital future and what it will mean to libraries and every other institution in the book to reader supply chain.  I’d be happy to hear from Writerscast listeners what you think of Hugh’s article after you read it.  Comments are open.

Here’s the first graph of Hugh’s essay:  “Ebooks will become the dominant form of casual reading for adults at some point in the future1. When this happens, community and public libraries will face a major existential crisis, because a fundamental (perhaps the fundamental) function of community libraries—lending print books—will no longer be a fundamental demand from the community. Libraries that do not adjust will find their services increasingly irrelevant to the populations they serve.”

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