if:book’s Kate Eltham is currently blogging for if:book from the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York City.
Going Digital: Launching a Digital-First Business from within a Traditional Publisher
Through case studies detailing the successes and learnings from multiple digital business launches, two Harlequin digital team members will share the challenges met, solutions found and efficiencies utilized in the creation of their digital-first initiatives, as well as practical advice and answers for publishers interested in entering the digital-first market.
Kate's Notes (Part 1)
Starting a digital-first press from within a traditional publisher: A case study of Carina Press (Harlequin)
Decisions to make:
- Why do digital first?
- speed to market (Carina Press does it in 7-9 months)
- different models with author: No advance, higher royalty
- 7 year contract (out of print reversion clause)
- Worldwide rights
- Self-publishing is hot, competing with SPs. Different model plus traditional benefits makes them more competitive
- Who's going to do it?
- Existing employees working within print workflow, and ask them to start a digital imprint and ask them to think & work differently?
- Or have a dedicated digital team across org
- Or a team dedicated to just this specific digital endeavour
- Budget & business plan
- new contracts or adapt existing contracts?
- think about reserve against returns (different or non-existent in digital marketplace)
- Are your resources able to handle the different way of working that digital requires? e.g. paying quarterly or even monthly
- sales reporting, royalty accounting
- Format & production
- compatibility of your product to a digital model. Fiction straightforward as text-only, but non-fiction etc more complicated with images, indexing etc.
- Workflow implications
- Epub only or Kindle-gen to create mobi files, PDF for reviewers
- Direct to consumer
- Combination of both
Challenges and Roadblocks
- It's tough to be first! (Carina Press had few existing examples to follow) Being on the cutting edge requires solo innovation without benchmarks
- Getting buy-in
- Company commitment to it as a real business (not a hobby or sideline)
- Need buy-in from all parts of the company: legal, production, editorial, marketing etc
- Expectations of immediate return (but in fact it costs money to start this: staff, overheads etc)
- Need a realistic budget in place
- Perception of quality
- Common misconception where publishing professionals conflate vanity and self-publishing with all forms of digital publishing, don't regard it as quality publishing
- Thinking outside the box
- Prepare for clash of cultures, manage cultural change
- Helping readers discover your product
- Online search
- Good metadata
- What will the consumer accept (and expect)?
- Experiment and learn from your marketplace
- what is working within the pricing ecosystem (based on wordcount, genre, reader expectations)
- Competitive space with other publishers who have been working in this space for a while who can afford to offer high royalties
- Carina wanted to be able to have a budget for marketing, good cover art etc so went in at a lower royalty rate (30% of list price on direct sales, 15% of list price on vendor sales)
- Tried to offset with other benefits for authors e.g. marketing & sales support from the larger company (which is significant in the case of Harlequin)
- Scheduling systems
- ISBNs - by product or format?
- Change your existing workflow or create a new one?
- Harlequin at first tried to just integrate Carina into their existing ebook production workflow, but so far hasn't happened. Carine is still completely separate because of its need for speed to market (speed is key)
- In response to an audience question: Carina Press is really operating as a completely separate distinct business model within the larger Harlequin ecosystem. Different policies regarding royalties, advances, DRM etc. (My observation: allows them to be agile, innovative and still feed back what they learn to the parent company. Good model)
Building a team
- Social media / community / blogs
- Who's in charge? Who has ownership of the imprint who reports on behalf of the imprint to the hierarchy of the publisher?
Adapt, Adjust, Alter
- Product - think about it differently
- Cannot be the same for digital as with print. Think through the implications of your strategies regarding sales, distribution and format choices when redesigning contracts
- How to strike a good balance between commercial viability and partnership with your authors in a new kind of marketplace
- Job descriptions
- Maybe the job of "publisher" looks different in the digital space? What are all the tasks you're going to have to do that you don't do in print?
- Marketing techniques
- How will readers find your books? How will you encourage findability in a marketplace where you're promoting direct to readers instead of to resellers?