19 October 09 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf

The first ever Tools of Change Frankfurt conference took place all day today, bringing together representatives from a number of different parts of the book industry to discuss opportunities for the future of the publishing industry.

Seeing as that my flight arrived at 7am this morning, I didn’t exactly make it to the opening sessions . . . and wasn’t entirely cogent during the panel that I participated on.

That said, the presentations I attended were pretty inspiring, especially the one from Michael Tamblyn’s “Your Reading Life, Always With You,” which employed a very “reader-centric” approach to contemplating the future of e-books.

Tamblyn—the VP of content, sales, and merchandising at Shortcovers.com, an e-book retailer launched by Canada’s Indigo Books & Music, Inc.—gave a very engaging and humorous presentation littered with real-life situations and the impact these situations should have on the future of e-books.

His basic goal was to demonstrate the readers would be willing to pay $14+ for an e-book—if there are enough useful features included. This might seem like a small point, but publishers have been collectively freaking out about the now-almost-standard $9.99 price point that Amazon.com has helped institute and that readers have cottoned on to. Remember the #9.99boycott of a few months back? This is supply meets demand meets value expectations stuff, and at the moment, what you get when you buy an e-book is only worth $9.99 to the vast majority of e-book users.

But Tamblyn things that can change. He pointed out a myriad of features that would entice readers to fork over a few extra bucks for an improve level of e-functionality.

For example, “longevity of the book” was an obvious starting point. A traditional book can be passed down from mother to son, generation after generation, until the book falls apart or goes missing. Tamblyn’s argument was the readers would pay an addition $.25 for an e-book with this feature.[gallery]

Other potential e-book features Tamblyn thought readers would be willing to cough up a few cents for, included:

  • “shared library,” the digital equivalent of what happens when two people move in together and start sharing books;
  • “multiple platforms,” which would allow a customer to purchase the e-book, print book, and audio-book versions of a title for one low price;
  • “loaning ability,” so that you can share your favorite books with someone and cultivate word-of-mouth; and
  • “the social aspect of reading,” through which it would be possible to share information about what you’re reading or have read via all the various book-related social networks such as Good Reads and LibraryThing.

Tamblyn briefly touched on the technical side—claiming that all of the features discussed could be implemented almost immediately—but what he’s most concerned with is giving readers what they actually want. And getting other publishers to buy into this vision.

Personally, as a print book publisher and reader, I was actually swayed quite a bit by his presentation. With each example I could imagine how this would occur in my life and how I’d be much more tempted to invest in an e-reader if x + y + z were possible. It was also striking how well his ideas fit in with those found in Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print.

This need for publishers to be “reader-centric” when expanding their digital initiatives was a theme that ran throughout the Tools of Change panels, including the panel Richard Nash of Cursor moderated on the “Deconglomerated Publisher & the End of the Supply Chain,” (which is also the one I participated on) and Kassia Kroszer’s presentation on “Starting from Scratch” in building a digital publishing company.

Never having been to a TOC conference, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but the turnout was fantastic and the level of discussion extremely sophisticated. Great first year, and hopefully this will become a staple of the Frankfurt Book Fair for years to come.

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