Tools of Change co-hosted a TOC Executive Roundtable with Publishers Weekly on Monday that was attended by about seventy industry insiders. Moderated by John Kilkullen, formerly of Nielsen and IDG, it began with Magellan Media Founder, Brian O’Leary, offering a thoughtful argument for the industry to tackle the large issues confronting publishers in a large scale, strategic way, with research money pooled in order to determine and bolster that strategy. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, took a tactical approach, telling publishers how — and why — they should redesign their processes, using experimentation to figure out, incrementally, what works. What was refreshing about the five hour conference was the remarkable number of questions that were lobbed to the speakers — more than half the audience grabbed the mic at some point during the day.
Ries encountered the most questions, perhaps because he engendered the most controversy. In the course of the afternoon (and based in part on his publishing experience as an author), he told the assembled that:
- Every author should be a “demand expert” about the potential customer for the book
- Posting early drafts – and jacket designs — online allows people to read and respond, which is useful for the author, and breeds loyal potential customers (aka readers);
- People who buy early don’t need discounts, but they should get updates and revisions (and revisions should happen routinely)
- Finding out what percentage of readers get through what percentage of a book is a good predictor of the book — and the author’s — future success. Even if it will never compete with Amazon’s sales and data, selling books off an author’s site allows the author/publisher to test hypotheses and collect useful data on customers
- In nonfiction especially, it is possible to use readers’ feedback to improve information in the book
In an afternoon keynote address on Tuesday at Tools of Change, Ries reinforced the importance of these points by stressing the idea of analytics and paying attention to the feedback loop early-on in the process. Through the idea of customer focus groups and pre-orders, Ries argued that publishers could better predict sales of their books by being in more direct contact with their readers.
Despite multiple criticisms of the book publishing industry, Ries also stated that “Books play a big role in creating significance that causes people to change their lives.”
Throughout the informative program on Monday, presenters and the audience brought up interesting sights and tools. Below are several mentioned:
- Zite (an audience favorite): An app that builds a magazine interface based on keyword/category searches by aggregating articles based on interests (like Pandora for articles).
- Pinterest (Brian O’Leary wondered if it would become “the new Amazon”): A social media site where users can create “Pin Boards” with links and favorite images from other websites.
- LeanPub: Self-publishing ebook platform that allows authors to publish early in their writing process so they can get feedback from readers.
- iLearn: Web-based educational tool using blended learning models.