BEA Update: Publishers Launch BEA 2012

Publishers Launch BEA was one of several conferences that kicked off BEA 2012 this year on Monday, June 4, and it focused on helping publishers get their houses in order in a bifurcated world of print and digital — from workflow to discovery, to partnerships with established and newly minted vendors, to sales and marketing here and abroad.  Michael Cader gave his signature summation of all the important themes, and introduced the first speaker, Hachette COO Ken Michaels, who gave a well-constructed talk on the checklist of changes that publishers need to make to be efficiently poised for a print-and-digital future that will be orchestrated via the cloud.   He argued that, with the right partners, and in a cloud-based system, a publisher could be “up and running in 90 days.”

Michaels was followed by a panel of publishers talking about ways in which their own companies are preparing for the future.  Joe Mangan mentioned the hiring of a Chief Talent Officer to manage the many changes in the types of personnel needed at PerseusSara Domville cited the stark statistic that F+W Media has gone from 3.5% of her workforce focused on digital in 2008, to 23% today.  And she talked about editors who become marketers to their communities, persuading participants to then click through to buy products (not just books) off the site.  “The editors,” she said, “have become a profit center.”

Later, literary agents took to the stage to discuss what they have done to accommodate to a digital future.  There was debate about self-publishing, digital-only and (of course) higher royalty splits on ebooks, but in general, the agents – Laura Dail, Simon Lipskar, Jennifer Weitz and Tim Knowlton, ably moderated by paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen seemed to appreciate that there is a role for publishers in most authors’ lives – today at least.

Molly Barton from Penguin was interviewed by Mike Shatzkin, and talked of Penguin’s ramping up non-English language publishing in ebooks.  Later in the afternoon, several panels addressed the new digital realities, where non-English language publishers produce and market their ebooks in English and their own language, worldwide – while American publishers begin to market (like Penguin) ebooks in other languages, both here and abroad.  With Germans reading almost a quarter of their ebooks in English, and German language books selling briskly in the US, the opportunities there are almost boundless.  Meanwhile the partnership between the US publisher and its international publishing partners (and vice versa) will become, as Shatzkin observed at one point,  a marketing–rather than a publishing–relationship in an ebook world.

During the day several new companies presented their products and systems, under the aegis of Publishers Launchpad.  Aerbook.com’s Ron Martinez showed off his software that allows publishers to turn ebooks into apps and other interactive content, and Semi-Linear’s Linda Holliday announced that she had just launched her company – which reconfigures a book into mini-decks for easier absorption —  the previous week.

Welcome PL-regulars like Kelly Gallagher from Bowker presented new data on US and global markets.  One interesting stat showed that only 10% of the Indian population has access to the internet, but of those, 24% have bought a book in the last 6 months.  In the US, readers in the 18-29 age group are surpassing the next age group in purchasing – a very good sign.
Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn talked about Europe’s evolution into an ebook market, noting that the volume of self published work is lower in Europe than in US, but buyers aren’t as price sensitive.  Ebook pricing is not yet integrated into print pricing process, so there’s not necessarily a correlation between them.

Macmillan’s Fritz Foy was on hand to announce Tor’s opening of a DRM-free bookstore, and  Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow, John Scazi  talked passionately – and humorously — about why DRM doesn’t work. Stross pronounced that DRM “is poison” to voracious genre readers. Everyone was clear that the company would continue to “rigorously enforce” copyright and anti-piracy measures. The store will launch at the end of summer.

Other notable speakers included Codex’s Peter Hildick-Smith (with an interesting observation on the growth of discovery via personal recommendation, from 14% in 2010 to 33% today); David Steinberger on the growth of comic books, CCCs Michael Healy and Random Houses Amanda Closebut the BEA Editors Buzz panel siphoned off several attendees, including this correspondent, so reportage came to a close before the lively, stat-packed day was over.

Presentations will be posted on Publishers Marketplace later in the week.

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