Dispatch from Digital Book World

“You don’t have to do anything the way you’ve been doing it”

Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation opened Digital Book World with a keynote about innovation and experimentation, backed by practical takeaways for attendees. She told the audience, “You don’t have to do anything the way you’ve been doing it.” 

Lisa Lucas’s keynote was emblematic of most of the conversations at Digital Book World. Panelists and presenters explained their projects, companies, and initiatives while also sharing the practical tools and processes that they used to accomplish their goals. 

Tools 

Margot Atwell, winner of the DBW’s Outstanding Achievement Award and Head of Publishing at Kickstarter,sang the praises of Airtable to NetGalley Insights during a coffee break. She told us that the combination spreadsheet and database was indispensable for her when putting together the inaugural The Next Page: Creating the Future of Publishing, a full day of conversations shared digitally and available for free to foster a more inclusive, fair, and vibrant publishing landscape.

Margot Atwell presenting at Digital Book World

Amy Metsch and Dan Zitt of Penguin Random House Audio are expanding PRH’s audio offerings by going after new genres. They are transforming theater productions like Angels in America, graphic novels like Roller Girl, and Spanish language books like La primera regla del punk into audiobooks. Like any team going through a growth period, the PRH Audio team needed to develop a more streamlined and centralized ways of casting these audiobooks, many of which feature a full cast. To support their audio expansion, PRH developed an audio talent database called Ahab, which now has the profiles of 3,000 actors all over the world. They’ve used Ahab to match narrators and voice actors to their increasing roster of projects, plus expand their pool of talent beyond the actors that they already know. And soon other publishers will be able to use Ahab to find the right audio talent for their projects. 

Eleanor Long and Trevor Young, co-founders of indie animation studio Tapocketa, showcased their interactive children’s book Galdo’s Gift (which won multiple awards at DWB 2018, including Best Overall Book) and gave a sneak preview of their new interactive storytelling project, The Locksmith. They also shared the tools that they use to get this work done – from communication and productivity tools like Slack and Teux Deux (both of which are beloved by the NetGalley team) to animation software like Affinity and Hype.

Process 

Bluefire founder and CEO Micah Bowers shared the winding journey of the Bluefire Reader. We were surprised to learn that one of the earliest prototypes was an EPUB 2 compliant e-reader for a Sony Playstation device. The audience also learned that Bluefire was originally intended to contain both an e-reader and a virtual bookstore, plus the original conception of Adobe Digital Editions was an in-browser reader rather than a desktop app.
Bowers shared the roadblocks, surprises, and coincidences in Bluefire’s history, including the recent removal of Bluefire from the Android store (although it is still in the iOS store, and anyone who already has it on their device can still use it). In addition to providing the audience with a unique vantage point to think about the history of e-reading, Bowers’s talk was a lesson in how companies can respond to the unexpected with agility and creativity. Bluefire’s journey was full of iterations, failures, and pivots, all of which are crucial for anyone looking to be at the edge of technological innovation. 

Charlotte Abbott, founder of FutureProof Content Strategy, gave the audience a framework for thinking about creating brand stories that drive results. For Abbott, these stories “spark direct, ongoing connections with your customers, build community with customers and stakeholders, and drive revenue on a platform you own.” She used Berrett-Koehler’s 2017 online Servant Leadership Summit as a case study to demonstrate a simple framework for building those stories. Clear articulation of mission, goal, and story are the key to creating compelling narratives that bring in audiences and keep them engaged with your work. Seeing some raised eyebrows, she made it plain that even for for-profit companies, everyone has an overarching mission, even if it’s as simple as “produce world-class books and make a profit.” Abbott reminded the audience that publishers are “storytelling natives,” and advised us not to forget our storytelling skills when we are building our own brands. 

Charlotte Abbott presenting at Digital Book World

Audible’s Strategic Content Partnerships Manager Shira Schindel also gave a step-by-step structure, but for partnerships between companies and organizations. She instructed the audience to think of partnerships like stories; complete with plot, characters, goals, and challenges. Plot encompasses your company’s history and the history of a potential partner, plus the new directions for both of those companies. Character helps you figure out if you are connecting with the right person at another company. The goal crystallizes your objectives and your counterpart’s mandate from their company. And then the challenge helps you address potential limitations. She gave examples of recent Audible partnerships with Minetta Lane Theater and Alaska Airlines to show how this story-centric partnership structure lets both parties find meaningful and effective collaborations.

Joshua Tallent, Firebrand’s Director of Sales and Education, as he is wont to do, was sharing metadata best practices. And in addition to reminding publishers how crucial it is to fill in even the most basic metadata fields, he made some practical suggestions for how teams can best ensure that their metadata is being refreshed regularly and successfully sent to the appropriate retail partners. He advised publishers to have a dedicated position on staff for metadata. While editorial, marketing, legal, and other departments have a vested interest in metadata changes, he encouraged publishers to designate a point person. Then, he suggested scheduling regular metadata updates, monthly if possible. That way, publishers can have a built-in structure to check that their data is current, and can quickly see if anything has gone amiss. Plus, he also noted that Eloquence on Alert is a powerful tool to monitor any changes to books’ metadata across retail providers.


We’re leaving Digital Book World 2019 with our heads buzzing with new ideas and with some concrete strategies to implement more experimentation, more collaboration, and more innovation. 

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