Preeti Chhibber: Making publishing more diverse and dynamic

NetGalley Insights chats with writer and publishing professional Preeti Chhibber on her career path, her mentors, and the other people making publishing a more inclusive industry.

There’s a lot of talk in the publishing industry about efforts to address diversity and inclusivity. We’ve listened to panels all year long from Tech Forum to London Book Fair. Preeti Chhibber is one of the people doing the work to make it happen.

Frankly, she does it all! She points out where the publishing industry is falling short in terms of representation, both at a systemic level and in the titles that are being published. She produces content to make the industry more diverse, like her contribution to A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and her podcast Strong Female Characters. And with her Marginalized Authors & Illustrators database, she is giving publishers no excuse for a lack of diverse hires.

She spoke with NetGalley Insights recently about how her career path evolved, her mentors and collaborators, and the other players who are making publishing a more inclusive and dynamic industry.

Tell us about your career trajectory: What was your path from children’s publishing to being a professional cultural critic and enthusiast, a podcaster, and all-around advocate for a more inclusive pop culture?

It wasn’t so much a path as it was something that happened side by side. My work in children’s publishing inspired my advocacy because I was noticing a trend of our kid lit to be very monochromatic. It was rare to see books by and about people of color. Then I started realizing that we work in an industry where we can affect what is and isn’t published, and if I was going to be vocal about books, why not look at the rest of the media landscape as well? I had a vested interest, after all. In terms of the criticism and podcasting, I’ve always written about pop culture on my own time – I grew up on the internet and in the era of blogging and WordPress, so when I realized I could get paid to do this, I had a portfolio ready to go when I started pitching.

What brought you to book publishing and what were your early days in the publishing industry like? What piqued your interest? What challenges did you face?

Book publishing sort of happened by accident. I don’t mean that in a “I fell into this job” kind of way but rather  “I can’t believe this is a real job.” I was, as so many young South Asian American students are, pre-med when I was in undergrad. And I was struggling because I am terrible at math and science. I’ve always been more of a reader. My brother was in New York at the time, and he met a woman who worked at Tor and he facilitated a phone call between us where she told me about her work, and I was flabbergasted. This isn’t an industry discussed in the Indian community at all. We get doctors, lawyers, engineers. Publishing? What is that. But as soon as I realized that I could be a part of something that got books into readers’ hands… that’s all I wanted.

Chhibber contributed to this 2018 short story collection reimagining the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia.

Early days were interesting. I got my start in kid lit at Scholastic in 2008, and it was just when the industry was starting to think about how we were being impacted by the Internet. I saw the rise and fall of several e-readers and e-reading apps in the span of four or five years. It was so frustrating to watch as an entry level position without the power to say anything!

It’s always a challenge in publishing to disrupt the status quo. The industry is so old and so slow to change, but it needs to change. When I started, it was so difficult to get noticed without knowing someone (I only got my job by meeting someone at NYU who put my resume in for her position when she left). Publishing is not an equitable industry, and it’s something that needs to be addressed. The pay is low, the work is intense, and you have to come from some kind of privilege to be able to afford to work. I heard an HR rep on a panel once brag about an entry level assistant who had to work an extra job in addition to her work at the publishing house in order to afford to live in the city. I’m… still mad about it.

Who were mentors and colleagues who inspired and encouraged you along the way? How did they help you find your path?

In 2015 I started working for a woman named Ann Marie Wong, who was the boss that I think people dream about. She was so supportive and encouraged new ideas – together, we started the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) partnership with Scholastic Book Clubs as well as a Young Adult initiative. I also want to shout out Sona Charaipotra, who co-founded Cake Literary, a book packager for commercial, diverse children’s literature. She, as a fellow desi woman in publishing, has always been available for conversations about new jobs, or negotiating, or in my case, quitting the industry to write full time for a year. It can be difficult to navigate the business side of some of these old companies, and having women of color around who have done the Thing and can use their experience to help guide you is invaluable.

What has it been like to go from working on behalf of other people’s books to being a writer yourself? Was this always the goal or was it something that developed along the way?

Writing is definitely a goal that developed along the way. It was just so far out of my understanding as something that I could do. Growing up, I had Arundhati Roy or Jhumpa Lahiri as examples of Indian women who were writing for a living. And… I am not either of those women, who are literary bastions of excellence. Early on in my career, an executive said that it was so important to understand the line between Writer and Publisher, and knowing what side you stood on. I know now what a ridiculous thing that is to say, especially considering how many of my colleagues are incredible writers… but when I heard it at the time, it stuck with me for years.

But, as I started noticing what books were being published, I thought I had something to say, a book to write for the kid I’d been. The kind of stories I wished I’d had. So here we are.

It’s been an interesting experience, because I know the publishing side so well, but I’m not as familiar with being a writer… and none of those writerly insecurities are stymied by knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. They might actually be exacerbated by the fact? Like, I can imagine what the meetings are like discussing a book which is not helpful, ha!

We know that moving forward is a collective effort–who have been your biggest supporters? Who are some others that are doing important work to make publishing more inclusive?

I already mentioned Ann Marie Wong and Sona Charaipotra above—but I’ll add women like Dhonielle Clayton, Ellen Oh (who were our colleagues on the side of WNDB when we launched the SBC partnership). In terms of who is doing good work right now to make the industry more inclusive? Patrice Caldwell and her People of Color in Publishing organization, Alvina Ling was an inspiration when she started the diversity committee at Little Brown. And honestly, every single publishing professional who speaks up about the inequity of the industry, many of whom I’ve had the privilege to work alongside like Kait Feldman, Celia Lee, Cassandra Pelham, Trevor Ingerson, Eric Smith, Jennifer Ung, Cheryl Klein, Nancy Mercado, Namrata Tripathi, Zareen Jaffrey. And so many writers (including the aforementioned Ellen, Dhonielle, and Sona) who won’t let publishing coast, like Daniel José Older, Justine Larbalestier, Laurie Halse Anderson, Heidi Heilig, Kayla Whaley—I could go on and on and on, this list is by no means exhaustive, but there are so many incredible people doing the work. We’d be here for hours!

Tell us about the efforts you have made to create communities in publishing, like your Marginalized Authors/Illustrators Database.

Yes! I created the marginalized authors/illustrated database because there is a thing in publishing called IP (intellectual property) – where the publisher will come up with an idea and then hire an author to write the book. I was noticing that editors tended to keep going back to the same list of cis, straight, white authors and I wanted to do what I could to equalize the playing field as much as I could… so I created a resource for editors to find a more diverse group of possible creators. It throws the excuse of “Well, I just can’t find any” out the window. Here! They found themselves for you!

[To request access to the database, fill out this form!]

Bio: Preeti Chhibber is a YA author, speaker, and freelance writer. She works as a publishing professional. She has written for SYFY, BookRiot, BookRiot Comics, The Nerds of Color, and The Mary Sue, among others. Her short story, “Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers” was published in the anthology A Thousand Beginnings and Endings (HarperCollins, 2018), and her first book, Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal comes out this year (Marvel Press, June 2019). You can find her co-hosting the podcasts Desi Geek Girls and Strong Female Characters (SYFYWire). She’s appeared on several panels at New York Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con, and on screen on the SYFY Network. Honestly, you probably recognize her from one of several BuzzFeed “look at these tweets” Twitter lists. She usually spends her time reading a ridiculous amount of Young Adult but is also ready to jump into most fandoms at a moment’s notice. You can follow her on Twitter @runwithskizzers or learn more at PreetiChhibber.com.


Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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Trends at Livre Paris: The power of self-publishing, the global audio market, and keeping young readers’ attention

With conference season in full force around the world, NetGalley France’s Astrid Pourbaix attended Livre Paris, or Paris Book Fair. In its 39th year, Livre Paris gives visitors a grasp on global book trends. 1,200 exhibitors from 45 countries displayed their services, products, and titles. The 160,000 attendees could sit in on one of 800 conference sessions or wait in line for an author signing from one of the 3,000 authors in attendance.

Whereas London Book Fair focused on the Indonesian book market, Livre Paris honored several different global regions. Primarily, the festival focused on Europe as a whole. Speakers including Livre Paris director Sébastien Fresneau discussed Europe’s rich and diverse cultural history as well as issues that affect the whole continent’s book market, such as the EU copyright directive legislation. Additionally, both Bratislava – the capital of Slovakia – and Oman were invited as special honorees.

A major takeaway from Livre Paris, like London Book Fair, was the growing children’s market. School visits to the fair have increased, and Livre Paris has responded by providing more programming designed for younger readers. Students, young influencers, and authors of children’s and YA books appeared on panels and in programs.

One challenge noted during the fair is that young readers’ attention is volatile. Publishing needs to do more to enliven young reading communities and keep them engaged.

Audio was in the air. 2 out of every 10 French people listened to an audiobook in 2018, doubled from 2017. For the first time, there was a prize awarded for audiobooks. Plus, writers and comedians were invited to record audio at the fair.

Like the US market, we are seeing the power of self-publishing in France. Both Amazon Direct Publishing and Books on Demand presented at the fair, indicating that self-publishing is an established part of the French book industry. Attendees also saw the Gutenberg One robot, a print-on-demand solution that can print books in less than 5 minutes. A recent survey saw that 80% of French people enjoy writing and 53% already wrote or would like to write a book one day, indicating that self-publishing is likely to keep growing in the French market. Check out our coverage of London Book Fair, as well as recent events from BIGNY and the Future of Media. And, keep up with NetGalley Insights conference coverage by signing up for our weekly newsletter!

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London Book Fair: Making a more inclusive book industry

The London Book Fair is one of the largest annual gatherings for the book industry, particularly for agents and publishers looking to trade in international rights. Between March 12 – March 14, attendees who were not sitting in the Rights Hall or dashing to meetings sat in on seminars, strolled the booths, and met colleagues from around the globe who also made the trip to Olympia London.

Where the Book World Comes to Meet

Each year, the London Book Fair focuses on a particular market from around the world. This year the spotlight was on Indonesia. Made up of thousands of islands and religiously diverse, Indonesia was able to showcase their books and culture to a global audience. The Indonesian book market is as diverse as its many thousands of islands, titles are produced in many different languages, and few are translated into English. Theirs is a growing market, with an increasing international presence. Fiction – short stories, in particular – are popular in Indonesia. Indonesian readers read across a broad number of topics, but myths, spirituality and beliefs seem to be at the forefront of Indonesian publishing.

Throughout the Fair, we found that the most prevalent theme was inclusivity. Genres and formats that are growing in the industry are the ones best able to connect with a diverse audience. By making the publishing industry more diverse, it takes steps to become more inclusive.

Diversity refers to the different kinds of people who are involved in an industry, or the different kinds of stories that are told. Inclusion refers to an overall atmosphere that is welcoming to different kinds of people, including those who have been traditionally marginalized within the industry.

Diversity

One of the biggest aims of the publishing industry over the last few years has been that of creating books with more diverse characters, written by more diverse authors. Whilst the industry is heading towards having greater diversity, there is more that needs to be done. Actor, author, and TV presenter Cerrie Burnell highlighted, during the Diversity: Where’s the Issue panel, that diversity within books, children’s books in particular, needs to be more normalized. She said it should be as “normal as observing it when living and walking around London.” Author and illustrator Rose Robins took a similar stance, suggesting that neurodiverse characters should be included more in literature, rather than treated as plot devices. (That’s one of the reasons we loved The Kiss Quotient – check out our recent case study here!)

To connect with audiences from different backgrounds, the publishing industry needs to become more diverse as a profession, in addition to publishing more books with more diverse characters. Speakers from HarperCollins, SAGE Publishing, and EW Group touched on this in their panel on building a more diverse and inclusive industry. Efforts to make publishing houses more diverse need to start from the recruitment stage to keep the industry vibrant.

Poetry

At LBF19, we saw that poetry is on the rise. Poetry sales in January 2019 were at an all-time high, growing by 12% according to Nielsen Bookscan. The recent success of poetry has been attributed to its being more inclusive and diverse than other book genres, with more young people than ever buying and engaging with poetry. The success of Rupi Kaur, writing about her experience as a woman and as a daughter of immigrants, as well as Charly Cox, indicates that there is a huge audience eager to see themselves reflected in the books that they read. And with platforms like Instagram, poets have new ways of reaching younger, digitally engaged audiences. More traditional forms have also found a new audience, with Robin Robertson’s The Long Take the first work of poetry to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Sales of poetry have been building for the past few years, and it looks like 2019 will continue to see an upsurge of interest  in the popularity of poetry.

Audiobooks

Unsurprisingly, of all the formats discussed at the London Book Fair audiobooks continues  to be on everyone’s radar. According to Nielsen figures the sales of audiobooks have increased by 87% in the UK since 2014. The popularity of audiobooks has been linked to the trend of podcasts and engaging young men in particular with a different format of reading. But audiobooks have seen a rise overall and the boom seems set to continue for 2019 and onwards. (Check out some of our podcast coverage here.)

Nonfiction

Nonfiction is also a hot topic, as both adult and children’s nonfiction sales have increased in the last year. For adult nonfiction, a large proportion of the success comes down to feminist titles and inspiring books such as Slay in Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebenene, Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman and Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. As nonfiction has become more diverse in its scope, it has drawn in new audiences.

We were encouraged to see the book industry slowly moving towards being more inclusive, with publishers and authors having great successes on more diverse books. Different formats and genres are reaching new audiences and encouraging a whole new generation of readers.Keep up with the rest of our conference season coverage by subscribing to NetGalley Insights!

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Companion Audio Strategy for The Unwinding of the Miracle (Penguin Random House)

Julie Yip Williams, author of The Unwinding of the Miracle, knew she would never see whether readers liked her book. The Unwinding of the Miracle shares Yip Williams’s experiences and thoughts as she approached her death from colon cancer. Through the book she wonders about what the lives of her husband and daughters will look like, and finds the miraculous in the most universal human experience — death. Published posthumously on Feb. 5 by Random House, The Unwinding of the Miracle is a New York Times bestseller.

The team at Random House helped raise the memoir’s profile through a unique audio strategy. Beyond typical plans to advertise on podcasts, they decided to take it a step further for the release of The Unwinding of the Miracle. In collaboration with Pineapple Street Media, Random House created a 4-episode companion podcast, Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle.

The podcast featured audio interviews with Yip Williams as well as audio from some of the last visits her family had with her before her death. Listeners could hear Yip Williams talking about how she decorated her bedroom so that she’d have somewhere beautiful to die and making plans to haunt her family members. In the final episode, the surviving family members and friends talk about the ways that they feel Yip Williams’s presence after her death.

As of February 27, 2 weeks after the final episode was released, the podcast ranks number 51 for all Health podcasts on iTunes, with over 600 reviews and an average of 4.5 stars. The podcast was featured on Call Yr Girlfriend through a sponsorship from Pineapple Street Media and on All Things Considered.

Investing in a collaboration with expert podcasters resulted in a well-paced and compelling narrative with high production values. Pineapple Street Media is a well-established podcasting company. They produce, among other shows, Still Processing from the New York Times and were behind the chart-topping Missing Richard Simmons. Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle’s producer Eleanor Kagan comes from a well-established audio background, having worked previously for both NPR and Buzzfeed.

We chatted with Leigh Marchant, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Random House about Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle and their companion audio strategy.

How did you decide to create a podcast for The Unwinding of the Miracle?

Our Random House Editor-in-Chief, Andy Ward, and I had been talking about doing a podcast with our mutual contact, Max Linsky, from Pineapple Street Media. As all great projects start, we pitched him a few ideas over lunch and decided that Julie’s story would make for an incredibly compelling podcast. We thought having Julie’s story told in both book form and via podcast would be a really interesting project—that instead of being restricted by only telling this story in one format, we could have them complement and inform each other.

What kinds of audiences were you hoping to access with the podcast?

We think that podcast listeners are readers, and readers are podcast listeners. We have seen some consumer insights reports that show media affinities for some of our authors and titles, and podcasts are definitely included in there. Of course, certain podcasts appear more frequently in our data than others but we do think there is listener/reader overlap.

So we were hoping to draw attention to the book through the podcast audience – and vice versa. The two projects – the podcast and the book – are meant to be complementary. In other words, if you read the book, you will want to hear more from Julie and her family and friends through the podcast. And if you listen to the podcast, you’ll want more in the book. Both the podcast and the reading experience deliver in such a strong way. The content of the two projects is actually different but together provides an incredible understanding of what Julie and those who are terminally ill are grappling with.

Both the podcast and the reading experience deliver in such a strong way. The content of the two projects is actually different but together provides an incredible understanding of what Julie and those who are terminally ill are grappling with.

How is that audience different from — or the same as — the audience you were connecting with through other parts of the campaign?

We are always looking to reach readers through our campaigns and one of the ways we do that is actually via podcast advertising! So creating the podcast was a great way to reach some of our target audience. We were hoping to reach readers of books like When Breath Becomes Air, The Middle Place and The Bright Hour. Also we targeted readers of medical memoirs, followers of Julie’s blog, as well as parents.

But of course the goal for any book is to reach the right readers and we knew that if we could capture an expanded audience via the podcast, they would likely be interested in the book as well.

How did you balance creating a rich and emotionally resonant podcast with leaving enough unanswered for the listener so that they would want to read the memoir?

That was a main concern at the start of the project. We didn’t want to cannibalize either project so we were careful to keep the content different enough, yet complementary. In the podcast, you hear from Julie’s family and friends. The book is just Julie’s words and thoughts. The two forms work so well together though. Each project is so powerful, so moving, so compelling. But together they offer such a complete portrait of Julie’s incredible life and, later, her battle with cancer.

How does companion audio fit into your strategies for other titles?

We are always looking for new ways to reach readers – on whatever platform they are consuming content. Podcasts are a great way to do that and we will continue to explore opportunities in that space – when it makes sense. We have a number of other podcasts through our corporate group coming. But we’re also exploring other multi-media platforms, as well. We also just launched an Alexa Skill called Good Vibes. Our goal is to connect readers (and listeners) to great books via the platforms where they are already consuming content.


Be sure to subscribe to NetGalley Insights for more strategies from successful marketing campaigns, audio coverage, and more!

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Future of Publishing Panel Takeaways

Data-driven discovery and trend predictions, plus what success looks like for books in 2019

On Thursday, March 7, NetGalley attended Centennial College’s Future of Media panel in Toronto. This mini conference features a larger discussion about the media landscape, with a specific panel to focus on publishing. With moderator Manu Vishwanath of Harlequin, the Future of Publishing panelists talked about how to incorporate data into decision-making and how to think about gaining the attention of an audience with limited time and budgets in an oversaturated media landscape. Here are some of the takeaways that we’re bringing with us into the future.

Panelists

  • Cory Beatty, Senior Director of Marketing and Publicity at HarperCollins Canada
  • Noah Genner, Director of BookNet Canada
  • Nathan Maharaj, Senior Director of Merchandising at Kobo
  • Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth and Development at NetGalley
  • Léonicka Valcius, Assistant Agent at the Transatlantic Agency

The Future of Discovery

At NetGalley, discovery is one of our favorite words. Connecting readers with new books and new authors is the name of our game, and the panelists were just as passionate about this topic as we are.

While discovering the “next big thing” has always been a publisher’s dream, the reality of this actually happening seems to be getting slimmer every year. Not only are there more publishers who are publishing more books, there are hundreds of thousands of books being self published, and the global marketplace seems to promise that anyone with a talent for writing can make big on their own under the right circumstances. But publishers and authors need to work extra hard to retain a reader’s attention. The panelists discussed the pressing question: How?

Director of BookNet Canada Noah Genner opened up this conversation with data. He noted that leisure spending has not gone up and neither has the rate of leisure reading. This means that readers are struggling to prioritize enormous amounts of content without the time or money to spend on it.

To combat this, Genner told the audience that it’s more important than ever for publishers to have a voice and a brand that stands above the rest. Whether this means developing a niche, like Second Story Press, whose books with strong female leads and themes of social justice sets them apart, or running a smart and snappy Twitter account like Coach House Books, it’s your brand–not necessarily the next blockbuster book–that keeps readers returning for more.

Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth and Development here at NetGalley, added that in order to make your book succeed, it’s crucial to not just look at a variety of KPI’s and early data, but to actually make time to understand it. There will always be multiple points of data that can be collected pre-publication–like the information on NetGalley’s Title Feedback Activity Page–but without taking the time to understand that data and change your plans based on what you learned, it’s never going to make an impact on the success of your book.

Focusing on the end users, Senior Director of Merchandising at Kobo Nathan Maharaj said that publishers should focus more clearly on appealing to readers who don’t have time to sit down for focused reading, through audio. Audiobooks can help rope in customers that don’t necessarily have the leisure time, but are still interested in the story format and do have the leisure money to spend on books.

The Future of Book Trends

On a panel predicting the future of publishing, it’s only natural that the conversation steered toward predicting future trends. Léonicka Valcius, Assistant Agent at the Transatlantic Agency, said that books are a cultural artifact that reflects society as a whole, and by reflecting on the events of today we can predict what trends will pop up in the next few years.

Take, for example, the dystopias of yesterday which became popular as the world experienced great political and economic upheaval. Now, we’re seeing a surge of “up-lit”, which emphasizes kindness, empathy, and happy endings. As consumers, we’re now looking for books that show us the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Valcius also praised the data when trying to hone in on the trends of tomorrow. With all of the data that’s available to us digitally, finding what works is the challenge–but also the opportunity. While we may have a book that will only sell 200 copies throughout its lifecycle, with that data we can now predict what type of reader will buy those 200 copies and market accordingly.

The Future of Success

It is, of course, every publisher’s and author’s goal to see their books succeed. However, as Noah Genner was quick to point out, there are different  kinds of success, and it’s important for anyone in the publishing industry to evaluate their standard for what success means.

Senior Director of Marketing and Publicity at HarperCollins Canada Cory Beatty said that he regularly needs to set expectations with the authors he works with. Sometimes authors may be frustrated that their books aren’t immediately being buzzed about in major newspapers, and yet the marketing team for said book has been celebrating for weeks at the successes it has seen, whether hitting modest sales goals or generating consumer interest on Goodreads.

Kristina Radke returned to the data conversation, piggy-backing on the ideas about anticipating trends. Modern capabilities are making it easier for new players to join the game. For instance, Wattpad Books is launching a new imprint that will use machine learning to help predict the next hit story and further develop content from their site.


Keep up with the rest NetGalley Insights coverage of industry events, plus publishing trends and interviews, by subscribing to our weekly newsletter!

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Publishing’s early blockchain adopters

Blockchain is on the rise in publishing and in the wider world, but it’s not yet clear exactly how it will be used to streamline the book publishing process or whose workflow it will most affect.

If you need a refresher on blockchain, read our recent introduction to blockchain to get a better sense of what blockchain is, plus some overall trends and predictions for how it might be used in the publishing industry. Some of the terms we use to describe these projects (like Ethereum, smart contracts, and blockchain itself) are explained in that introduction.

Below, check out some of the companies and collaborations who are already experimenting with using blockchain to make the publishing process smoother and more accessible.

Blockchain for Peer Review

Academic Peer Review

While academic publishing might not have a reputation as the most technologically-inclined part of an already-traditional industry, they have already gotten into the blockchain game. In 2018, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis Group, and Cambridge University Press teamed up with this pilot project. With Blockchain for Peer Review, they hope to find ways of making the peer review process more transparent and streamlined, ultimately leading to more high-quality and trustworthy published research. The project uses an Ethereum-compatible blockchain to execute smart contracts. In September 2018, they released their proof of concept.

Publica

Author Advances and Digital Distribution

Winner of Digital Book World’s award for “Best Use of Blockchain in Publishing Technology” in 2018, Publica uses blockchain to fund and distribute books. Specifically, authors can raise funds to publish their book using an Initial Coin Offering, or an ICO. Learn more about ICO’s here. These are like pre-orders which end up also being the advance for the author. Once the author has finished the book, the investors will immediately be able to access to the title through a smart contract. In August 2018, Publica announced a partnership with publisher Morgan James.

Scenarex

Security, Traceability, Attribution, and Distribution

Scenerex’s Bookchain project allows authors and publishers to publish and distribute ebooks using blockchain and smart contracts. They call it a Digital Book Enabler. Like Publica, publishers and authors upload their titles to Bookchain. Then, publishers and authors can use smart contracts to configure the exact security settings for their file, as well as coordinate buying, reselling, and lending the title, all while keeping every file traceable. As of October 2018, Bookchain was launched in beta to publishers and authors.

Po.et

Creative License

Po.et uses the the ledgers that are fundamental to blockchain to give creators and media organizations an overview of where content is and where it has been. The goal is to use the ledger to keep track of creative works to create a decentralized and trustworthy source for media. All pieces of content uploaded to Po.et would be time-stamped so that it’s clear how content is moving. For example, stock photos uploaded to Po.et would be traceable – everyone that uses them would be entered on the ledger, so the original creator could see where their photo ended up. Po.et is currently in the process of finding bugs, onboarding new users, and doing security checks. Keep up with their progress here.  

Authorship

Professional collaborations

Authorship seeks to provide authors, publishers, translators, and readers a single platform to offer and avail each other’s services, while ensuring better compensation margins than the traditional publishing industry. Authorship uses site-specific tokens to conduct these transactions, which can then be converted to Ethereum and used off-site. Authors can upload their books to Authorship, at which point publishers can bid to publish the book either in print or in digital form. Translators can choose works on the site to translate, and then build their professional portfolio and earn money when their translations are bought and read. The project launched officially in June 2018, and as of Dec. 2018, 25,000 authors have signed up to use the service.

wespr

Incentivizing collaboration and engagement

wespr is an Ethereum-based platform that seeks to help content creators collaborate and then equitably distribute the profits from their work. Then, it will incentivize engagement with that content with an in-site cryptocurrency token. Each work on wespr (for example, a book) is considered a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), which makes it easier for creators to collaborate. Different creators (for example, multiple authors, a translator, and an illustrator) working together on a single project. Every time a reader shares, comments on, or likes the content, both the reader and the creators are paid in on-site cryptocurrency called an Echo Token. These tokens are parceled out to creators according to the percentage of the content that they own, per the rules of their DAO. Their Twitter notes that their website is under construction, but if they do re-emerge, we’ll be watching!

Gilgamesh Platform

Shared site governance

Gilgamesh hoped to be a social information-sharing platform, where creators and users were incentivized with an in-site cryptocurrency token, powered by Ethereum smart contracts. Information on Gilgamesh would be protected by the blockchain, which its founders hoped would make for a more open spread of information on the site. We’re perhaps most interested, though, in the ways that users would have been able to use the cryptocurrency tokens they accrued within the site. One of the ways that tokens were set up to be spent is by casting votes on questions of site governance. The most active members would have a more active say in the ways that Gilgamesh functions. In March 2018, Gilgamesh didn’t meet its ICO target and the original funders were refunded. But, the site notes that Gilgamesh is currently under development. We’re certainly keeping an eye out for their next move.

smoogs

New payment model

smoogs uses Bitcoin to facilitate consumers paying for the content the are consuming as they are consuming it. So, instead of a model whereby a monthly subscription offers unlimited access, or a book costs a particular price, a reader on smoogs would only pay for the pages they read or the minutes they watch. The goal is to compensate creators for their work while not relying on ad revenue or gatekeepers like publishers. smoogs currently has two texts in beta testing, including Revenge by Xavier Robinson.

INK

Global Content Ecosystem

INK hopes to create a decentralized community of global creators, including authors. Authors can upload content, claim ownership of it through the blockchain, and distribute it to readers without going through a publisher, while retaining the profits. Investors can fund authors through in-site tokens, giving authors access to funding at an earlier stage than in traditional publishing. Based in Singapore, INK’s focus is truly global. With money from venture capital firms like Fenbushi Capital, Node Capital, and SAIF Partners, INK looks to be a major Asian-based blockchain power.

Pando Network

Crowdsourcing content and infrastructure

Pando Network is trying to rethink, in the broadest terms, how to restructure our relationships to texts. Pando wants to decentralize literature – they want to take the major decisions that determine what gets published and what gets press out of the hands of the few tastemakers at the top (editors, awards committees, etc.) and bring it to the masses. Much of their work is still speculative, but according to their Medium post, “Decentralized Autonomous Literary Organization: a decentralization of literature,” they are interested in building new relationships between readers, writers, and the infrastructure (the publishing industry) that connects them. While most blockchain companies tackling publishing are looking to solve particular issues within publishing, Pando is looking at how to build a new, and more equitable infrastructure that’s different from the vertical structure of traditional publishing (author → agent → editor → marketing team → booksellers/librarians/media → reader) and the mind-bogglingly  open field of Amazon. Right now, their only website presence outside of Medium & Twitter is Github, the software development platform.

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View from the UK

Two months into 2019 and the year’s trends and patterns are slowly emerging – with some early indicators of the books that will be big over the next 12 months.

Last year was largely dominated by two fiction titles, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Sally Rooney’s Normal People – and the success of both authors has certainly informed the shape of fiction in 2019.

We saw the first stirrings of what has become known as ‘up lit’ in 2017, but it feels that 2019 will determine whether this is a genre that is here to stay. Certainly the positive reaction to books such as Needlemouse, The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, and The Other Half of Augusta Hope suggests that readers are still charmed by stories that provide a seam of comfort in an ever more confusing world.

Sally Rooney’s phenomenal success has given a major flip to literary fiction, reminding the public of the joys of the smart contemporary novel that examines the way we live now. In the likes of Candice Carty William’s Queenie, What Red Was by Rosie Price and Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor, we’re already seeing a new generation of writers take on important subjects in innovative and different ways.

While selecting our Books of the Month and looking at nominations for Roundups and Featured Titles promotions, we’ve been struck by the breadth of the titles being published. Publishing is often accused of being risk-averse, but there seems to be a much more varied choice in stories than even eighteen months before. Certainly, it has become even more difficult to select the books we feature!

This broadening of horizons is replicated by readers’ tastes, which we’ve seen become more varied. More nonfiction titles have been added to NetGalley than ever before, with publishers recognising that members are attracted to interesting stories whether they are invented or not. It’s great to be able to showcase such titles to our members, and to help them find titles they might not ordinarily have requested.

We’re fond of saying that NetGalley is like a sandbox for books – a place where you can see how a title performs before it goes out into the wild – and we’re delighted to see so many titles, in so many different genres, picking up great reviews from our members.

NetGalley UK will be back in April to look back on the year so far and share our insights with you!

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Blockchain for Book Publishing

From cryptocurrency’s spectacular boom and crash of 2017-2018 to ads in the New York subway system for a regulated cryptocurrency exchange, cryptocurrency and blockchain are still overwhelming to most people. They seem to be somewhere between futurist Internet fantasies and the newest technological solutions for streamlining business and communication across many different sectors of our lives.

Blockchain is the underlying structure upon which cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin) is built. Publishing has had its eye on blockchain for several years already. But, nevertheless, it is still more than a little mysterious or confusing for the industry.

So, we’ve put together a handy primer about what blockchain is and how it might affect the publishing industry, plus some resources for more further reading.

What is blockchain?

At its most basic, blockchain refers to a way of storing information or value without relying on a centralized authority. So for cryptocurrency, information about who has what amount of a given currency (like Bitcoin) is not stored at a central authority like a bank, but is available on a ledger that is accessible to anyone on the network. Transactions are bundled together into a block and then blocks are chained together in a way that cannot be broken or altered. In systems that rely on a central authority, that central authority could cook the books. But, because the information is decentralized and accessible to anyone on the network, it’s impossible for an individual or group to conceal or alter transactions. Blockchains can then tell anyone where an item or piece of information is and where it has been before. It’s a way of decentralizing data and authority, while making transactions more transparent.

Instead of checking in with a central authority, like a publishing house or a bank to arrange a transaction, the end parties can complete the transaction themselves. So, for example, I can pay my share of rent to my roommate directly using cryptocurrency instead of talking to the bank to take money out of my account and then having my bank talk to my roommate’s bank to deposit that money into their account. Once I tell the blockchain that I have given money to my roommate, that transaction enters the blockchain ledger so that it can never be changed.

Station F has a great introduction to blockchain on Medium.

What does blockchain have to do with publishing?

Blockchain can open new possibilities for the exchange of resources, goods, and data between individuals and companies. The whole publishing industry depends on many teams working in different departments and companies working together and speaking to one another, all of which could be made much easier by using blockchain. It represents a new model for storing data across multiple parties — From authors and agents, to publishers, to warehouses and distributors, all the way to retailers and end-audiences/readers.

Which parts of the publishing industry could be affected by blockchain?

Smart contracts & the supply chain

It comes as no surprise to anybody in the publishing industry that many moving parts working at many different companies have to work together to bring a book into the world. Authors, agents, publishers, production teams, distributors, warehouses, and more. Smart contracts, which use blockchain, could make this process more seamless. Smart contracts are pieces of code that are stored on a blockchain network. The code of the contract defines the terms of the contract that all parties have agreed to. If required conditions are met, actions are automatically executed in an “if, then” structure. For example, a smart contract might program a car to drive along a certain path, automatically stop at every stop light, pause at every stop sign, and go past green lights. Traditional contracts are more similar to having a physical person driving the car, making the decisions. Or, having a person driving the car on the phone with someone confirming that they should, in fact, stop at a red light. So, if a publisher and a printer have a smart contract, printing could be automatically triggered once the printer receives final proofs, instead of someone from the publisher emailing someone from the printer who will then get the ball rolling. This video and this article provide great intros to smart contracts.

Reselling digital titles

Blockchains allow an item (whether a bitcoin or an ebook) to be tracked wherever it goes because of the decentralized ledger that holds the record of where an item went and when. Blockchain could make it easier to resell ebooks while keeping a record of whose hands the title passed through and for how long. Scenarex is already experimenting with this through Bookchain.

Peer review

For academic publishers, clear peer review process is crucial to the publishing process. In 2018, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis Group, and Cambridge University Press teamed up with the pilot project, Blockchain for Peer Review. With this project, they are experimenting with using blockchains to make the peer review process more transparent, which they hope will ultimately lead to increased trust in the produced research.

Anti-piracy

Blockchains could allow publishers to keep tabs on all individual copies of a title, physical and digital. Blockchains keep track of all transactions, including buying, selling, and reselling. So, that means that it could be much easier to see when a copy has slipped into the wrong hands or is being distributed illegally if a publisher is keeping track of its titles using blockchain.

How much is hype?

As with any new and trendy technology, some of the interest is bound to be hype. And after the cryptocurrency crash in 2018, it might have seemed like the end of a trend.

But, rather than thinking that the blockchain fad is over, we think that we’re just past the Peak of Inflated Expectations on the hype cycle.

Heavy hitters are putting resources into developing long-term strategies for cryptocurrency and blockchain (see the Blockchain Center from the NYC Economic Development Corp.). Publishing industry groups are incorporating blockchain into scope of interest. For example, BISG has hosted multiple events about blockchain and Digital Book World has an award for Best Use of Blockchain in Publishing Technology.

So while it remains to be seen exactly how blockchain will change the publishing industry, it seems clear that enough corners of the market – publishing and beyond – are investing time and energy into thinking about how blockchain could solve some of their recurring problems.

Who is already using blockchain?

Read all about publishing’s early blockchain adopters here.

  • Publica: Publishing platform using blockchain and cryptocurrency technology to innovate in how books are funded, distributed, bought, and read. Announced partnership with Morgan James in Aug. 2018.
  • po.et: Open, universal ledger that records immutable and timestamped information about your creative content and uses open protocols designed for interoperability with current industry standards in media and publishing.
  • Authorship: Platform to provide readers, writers, translators and publishers with a single platform to offer and avail each other’s services. Uses site-specific tokens to conduct transactions, which can then be converted to Ethereum (a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin).
  • Scenarex: Bookchain project allows authors and publishers to publish and distribute ebooks using blockchain.
  • wespr: Ethereum-based platform that helps distribution of content between artists and their audience.
  • Blockchain for Peer Review: Collaboration between Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis Group, and Cambridge University Press to investigate using blockchain to make peer review more transparent and secure.

Further reading

The Promises and Perils of Blockchain Technology in Publishing

Blockchain: The Ultimate Resource Guide for Publishers

Blockchain for Books: What Indie Authors Need to Know

And, subscribe to NetGalley Insights for more coverage on how new tools & technologies are changing the publishing industry!

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Technology Confidential with BISG

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, we attended BISG’s Technology Confidential program. The panel included Rod Elder of Virtusales, David Hetherington of knkPublishing, George Logan of Klopotek, and Rob Stevens of Firebrand Technologies. Of course, we’re happy for any opportunity to cheer on our colleagues from Firebrand, but we were also there to hear from other panelists and attendees across the industry who are focused on using technology to help publishers get their books into as many hands as possible.

Virtusales, knk, Klopotek, and Firebrand all provide software to help publishers manage multiple aspects of the publishing process from title management to ONIX delivery to rights across multiple divisions and throughout a title’s lifecycle.

The panelists talked about the perils of customization, challenges of changing publishers’ workflows and implementing new technologies, and the importance of clearly-defined strategies at all levels of a company.

Configuration, not customization

The panelists lamented the challenges of leaning too heavily on customizations. While at first it might seem like customization can streamline workflow and tailor software to the unique needs of a specific publisher, all of the tech experts on the panel cautioned against it. The panelists uniformly recommended configuring software instead of customizing. Configuration keeps the basic structure of a software while shaping it to the style specifications and some of the unique needs of an individual company. Customizing requires new code whereas configuring does not.

Customization can make it more difficult for the software to communicate with other softwares, and can make system updates more difficult, resulting in patched solutions upon patched solutions. David Hetherington noted that heading down a road of customization is a road that will ultimately be longer, harder, and more expensive.

This is why publishing-specific software are so important. Rod Elder of Virtusales acknowledged that publishers have unique needs compared to businesses in other industries. The solution is to use publisher-specific software rather than customizing software that is meant for a different industry to make it work for publishing. Publishing-specific software can be specific enough for the unique needs of book publishers so as not to require huge amounts of configuration, but still flexible enough from a UI perspective to fit the quirks of an individual house.  

Consider the costs

David Hetherington gave the audience an acronym for thinking about workflow and technology updates: TCO – Total Cost of Ownership. It forces you to ask: What is the cost of doing things the way they’ve always been done, versus adopting a new technology to solve the problem?

Say a publisher workflow includes manually and frequently enter data in multiple databases for a single title. The publisher should consider both the literal cost of employee hours spent doing repetitive administrative work and keeping a big IT team to deal with bugs, plus the more abstract cost of an employee’s intellectual or creative energy that is left on the table when so many hours of their day are taken up with data entry. The TCO for this workflow might be high enough to necessitate a change in the status quo, either by internally streamlining or by introducing new software to make the process less manual and less repetitive.

Publishers tend to think about implementing new technologies only in terms of the cost of the new software and the time it takes to integrate it into daily operations. But the panelists reminded the audience that there are real costs to consider in these calculations related to maintaining the status quo.

Articulate the “Why”

Rob Stevens of Firebrand reminded the audience how important it is to ask why you and your team do what you do. Why do you fill in that box? Why do you enter data in a specific place or at a specific time? Why does your team need that report? If the reason is “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you might want to consider dropping that task from your to-do list, which we’re sure is already long enough!

Asking why a company needs certain pieces of data can also help technology solution providers determine the best way to help meet a company’s needs or solve a particular problem for them, and can even drive development on the technology solution provider’s end.

Clearly articulating the “why” can also help ease some of the growing pains of implementing new software and workflows. If all members of a team know why they are being asked to change their day-to-day operations, they are more likely to adopt the new tools and use them successfully. The success of new technologies in a publishing house largely depend on the enthusiastic adoption and experimentation by the people who are using them on a daily basis.


BISG works to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry. Its membership includes trade, education, professional and scholarly publishers, as well as distributors, wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, service providers and libraries.

For more cross-industry knowledge and events, follow BISG on their website, where you can see all upcoming events. You can subscribe to their newsletter here.

And, keep up to date with industry news, trends, and best practices by subscribing to NetGalley Insights.

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