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What’s the frequency, Kenneth? Dispatches from BEA on the future of publishing.

POSTED BY doug ON June 13, 2012

(Any R.E.M. fans out there?) What was all the rage this year at the educational panels? More than the question of brick & mortar bookstores, the overarching theme this year was print vs. digital.

Are print books going away? How does digital affect children’s reading experience? What’s about the next generation of industry leaders? Based on their consumption styles, how will they change publishing?

Panel discussions used to be kind of bottom rung at PR by the Book. Between on- and off-site media pitch meetings, publisher sit-downs and client chats, little time is usually leftover for continuing education. But times, they are a changin’ — and it’s more important that we are in on the discussions taking place in these sessions. So this year, my role was dedicated to knowledge-gathering. I sat in on some impressively distinguished panels — there are so many fascinating questions being raised.

Wouldn’t want you to feel left out, readers, so here are some highlights.

“What the Next Generation Thinks about Publishing: New Voices in Publishing Speak Out”

  • Discovery is changing shape, yes indeed. According to the panelists (NYU publishing grad students), word-of-mouth still reigns, followed closely by social media. Booksellers should find comfort in hearing that the next generation still sees Brick & mortar stores as great places for discovery and community.
  • On the corporitzation of social media, the panelists agreed that Twitter is the best platform for company news, and they prefer to keep Facebook personal and ad-free. Their tip: Companies who use Twitter need to act like a friend, offering value-add Tweets, rather than pushing product announcements.
  • When it comes to new business models for publishing, the emphasis was on book lending (ahem, The Readerie!) and cloud ownership. That’s because access matters to the next generation, more than ownership. And just like we predict, the panelists said print books of the future will be high design and more collectible in nature, because of eBooks.
  • In terms of the publishing company of the future, there was a lot talk on flexible corporate lifestyle, telecommuting, digital workflows, and reconciling that print and digital are equally important products.
  • Trend forecasting: One-click purchasing from places like Pinterest. Alternatives to Amazon. And short content that is delivered automatically!
  • They talked about enhanced eBooks and their place in “lean-forward versus lean-back reading.” Most importantly, enhancements should not be disruptive to the story. And typically, non-fiction is a better genre for them.
  • On mining for new content: They said agents, twitter and blogs are old news in terms of sourcing books. (Interesting.) And that self-publishing is the new slush pile, if you can get through the clutter of bad books first.  And Fan Fiction!
  • How does the next generation think differently? They are platform agnostic, they look for solutions that digital offers (like Twitter), are all about the convenience factor and sharability.

“The Future of Children’s Books: Ebooks, Apps And New Models That Will Revolutionize Lives”

  • Now is the most exciting time for kids books ever because technology is being used as a storytelling tool.
  • However….a study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center said most parents don’t see enhanced eBooks as good as print because they are distracting.
  • Furthermore, the majority of tablet owners are parents. And many parents want audio on their kids’ eBooks so mom or dad can be freed up to do other things. So this leaves parents conflicted, asking if eBooks a contradiction of their morals?
  • But as the panelists — from B&N Nook Kids, Sesame Street Media, Source Books, Scholastic Media, etc. — said, it’s all about getting kids to read. And digital allows us to personally meet the needs of readers.  They also commented on the fact that tablets are a great way to get the kids who are reluctant to read books interested. Yes, technology can help your child become a more avid reader.
  • There was a reminder to authors/publishers that when it comes to enhancements in children’s eBooks, they must be enrichments, not distractions. This was a recurring issue that came up in many of the panels.
  • Harkening back to 1968, the question at Sesame Street was “How can we use TV to teach preschoolers?” That’s the same question we’re asking today with tablets, right?
  • Bestselling children’s eBooks always have audio, and only two of them on the current bestseller list are from traditional publishers. That, and the number of children’s eBooks on the market is sky-rocketing — the number has doubled in six months! (I’m blown away by this.)
  • What’s next in children’s books? Co-viewing environments that will allow a parent or grandparent to read an eBook with a child from different locations.
  • In children’s publishing, another great pointer that was dispensed was this: Do one thing really well. The example used was Teach & Play Big Bird, who came with all kinds of bells and whistles, versus Tickle Me Elmo, who giggled. Guess which one was a bigger hit? Apply that same lesson to children’s eBooks.

Tech-y products we’re nerding out over

  • The Readerie. We heard again and again that lending is the next big thing in publishing. And that the only print books we’ll buy in the future will be the ones we want for our bookshelf. The Readerie (coming soon!) will monetize the pass-along of eBooks for the author or publisher.
  • Writer’s Cube. Is your publisher like Fort Knox when it comes to sharing sales figures? Wonder what impact your social media activity has on your book sales?   Writer’s Cube will soon be able to answer all these questions and more. It’s the first app for authors, agents and publishers for tracking sales (by geography!), marketing goals, and social media impressions. Monthly subscriptions will start at $9.95 for individuals. It launches September 2012.
  • On a personal level, Evernote. No more scribbling half-legible thoughts on steno pads. I’m in love with this app (for iPad).  All my notes were easily transferred when I got home. And I usually hate the distractions of iPhones and typing during such presentations, but this app is really great. Turn off the volume and there’s no tapping of keyboard sounds during the speaker’s talk. Organization is a beautiful thing.

What have I missed? Chime in with your favorite takeaways!

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