Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012: The year of Self-Publishing

As a young book marketing manager I often found myself attempting to explain market realities to new authors to help shape their expectations for their book release. It was never easy. Often I would cite R.R. Bowker’s annual report on U.S. print book publishing compiled from their Books In Print® database and explain, “Your book is one of 200,000 new titles that will release this year, in the U.S. alone.”

In 2002, Bowker reported there were approximately 248,000 new books published in the U.S., and only 13% of those were published through “non-traditional” channels, including self-publishing. At that time, self-publishing was referred to as “vanity publishing” and often implied the work wasn’t good enough to get a real book deal.

By 2010, Bowker reported there were more than 4 million new titles published in that year alone, with 92% of those being “non-traditional.” Granted, 2010 was something of an anomaly in terms of title output driven by reprints and print-on-demand works from the public domain, but it makes for a dramatic graphic. While the number of titles dropped in 2011 to 1.5 million, it’s still a 500% increase in overall title output from just 10 years prior,  and 1.2 million titles (77%) were non-traditional, a 3500% increase from 10 years ago.
The numbers for 2012 won’t be available until June but you can expect another significant increase in self-published titles driven by several seismic developments.

2012: The year of “Self-Publishing”

In July, Penguin Publishing, one of the world’s largest publishing companies, acquired Author Solutions, Inc., the largest self-publishing company in the world. Wall Street Journal reported, “The acquisition illustrates the newfound acceptance for self-publishers in a book world where they were once viewed largely as interlopers. It is also one more example of how low-cost digital distribution has disrupted the role of traditional publishers in determining how books are discovered by consumers.”

In November 2012, Simon & Schuster, another of the “Big 6” book publishing companies, announced the launch of their new self-publishing brand in partnership with ASI. Even literary agents have recognized the trend. New York agency Curtis Brown launched a self-publishing operation this year, and Publishers Weekly reported on July 6, 2012, "Many agents are helping clients self-publish, taking their standard 15% commission in the process. In the past year, agencies such as Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, the Knight Agency, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson & Associates, to name just a few, have announced that they are offering self-publishing services."

Nielsen reported that the number 1, number 2, number 3, and number 4 bestselling fiction books for 2012 were originally self-published titles by E.L. James. New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, respected in the industry as one of the toughest book critics, has selected a self-published title as one of her top-ten best of 2012.

This trend has not escaped Christian publishing either. Winepress Publishing has been helping authors self-publish since 1991 and Xulon since 2000. Thomas Nelson, Guideposts, and B&H have all launched self-publishing imprints. Christian literary agency Alive Communications also launched a self-publishing operation this year. And, Christian novel, The Shack by William P. Young, was originally self-published before going on to spend nearly two years on the New York Times bestseller list, selling more than 10 million copies. 

A better business model

One of primary acquisition filters used by publishers today is to not accept “unsolicited manuscripts,” which is code for: you need to find an agent. Self-publishing has become a new on-ramp for authors, and I suspect it will become the standard point of entry for most new authors in the near future.

For most authors and publishers, the self-publishing business model is better all-around. In traditional publishing, new authors are fortunate to secure a traditional publishing deal at all. Of those authors who do get a traditional book deal, they’re lucky to get a $3000 advance against maybe a 15% royalty unless they’ve got an established platform guaranteeing the publisher some significant number of sales.  And, as most authors know, any marketing their book receives is up to them anyway. Meanwhile, the publisher makes the decisions about the book title, cover design, and product positioning.

Self-publishing allows the author to turn that financial equation around. By investing their own money up front the author gets complete editorial and creative control and substantially higher royalties from the sales of their work.

Introducing CrossBooks

LifeWay and B&H Publishing Group have also been on the front end of this trend. In 2009 we launched our assisted self-publishing imprint, CrossBooks. Today we’ve published more than 1000 titles with another 500 in development, working with more than 1200 authors. We’ve published two required seminary textbooks that we’re aware of, and there may be others.

What sets us apart from other self-publishing options is our Theological Review. Unlike other religious self-publishing companies, we will not publish everything that comes to us. We post a statement of faith on our web site and every manuscript is reviewed by a theologically trained scholar. In the end, your book is going to carry a logo on it. Our authors are assured their work is affiliated with other theologically sound works and authors.

In addition to distribution through Ingram Book Co., making CrossBooks titles available to more than 25,000 retailers, and ebook distribution through Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, CBD and others, we also provide exclusive distribution through LifeWay Digital channels, LifeWay Reader, MyStudyBible, and WORDsearch. When you publish with us, your book is available to all LifeWay digital book users, no other self-publishers can reach.

A new answer to “Publish or Perish”

If you have a book, or thesis, or dissertation in a desk drawer that you once thought about publishing but never had the time or energy to pursue it, we can help.  If you have class notes you publish every semester at Kinkos, we can help.  Why not turn that work into a revenue stream, especially for content required for your students.

We want to be your “University Press.”

We can set up a turn-key operation allowing your school to publish books with your custom school imprint and we will administrate it all for you. Through our Theological Review process we can provide “peer review” through our reviewers and add reviewers from your faculty or graduate students, providing a nice alternate income source for them.

Publishing books by your faculty for use by your students also has some significant financial benefits. Without a traditional publisher in the mix, the school and the author become the primary beneficiaries of the content you are creating and consuming. It just makes sense.

If your school is interested in a strategic partnership to offer publishing packages to faculty, or as part of graduate student tuition, we want to talk. Email me directly at paul.mikos@lifeway.com

What are your thoughts?

We’d love to hear from you. Have you self-published before? Would you ever consider it? Why or why not? We look forward to reading your comments.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

LifeWay Launches eBookstore & eReader App

Thousands of eBooks are now available for you to read on your smartphone, tablet, or computer with LifeWay Reader eBooks.
Whether you've never read an eBook or you've been reading them for years, you can enjoy a growing library of your favorite books, Bibles, and Bible studies on your iPad, iPhone, Android device, or desktop computer.
By simply launching the free LifeWay Reader app at reader.LifeWay.com, the iTunes App Store, or from Google Play, you can begin reading any selection from the eBook store at LifeWay.com.
The LifeWay Reader's catalog will offer more than 10,000 theologically sound titles from all of the same Christian publishers you find at LifeWay Christian Stores and on LifeWay.com, including bestsellers such as Crazy Love by Francis Chan; Jesus Calling by Sarah Young; Love Dare by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick; The Resolution for Men by Randy Alcorn, Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick; and The Resolution for Women by Priscilla Shirer. More titles are added every day.
"Connecting readers and books through Scripture is central to the LifeWay Reader experience," says Paul Mikos, digital strategist at LifeWay Christian Resources. "Scripture reference pop-ups give users immediate access to Bible verses without interrupting their book reading experience." 
The app's intuitive Bible-centered features make connecting with Scripture easier than ever, and with your download of the LifeWay Reader app, you automatically get the Holman Christian Standard eBible for free.
Visit LifeWay.com/eBooks to download the LifeWay Reader app and begin reading your favorite Christian books, Bibles, and Bible studies — anytime, anywhere.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Advice for the First-Time Author: A Self-Publishing Q&A

Recently, I was invited to do an interview for the author newsletter of CrossBooks, the assisted self-publishing imprint of B&H. Here's an outtake from that interview.

If you have a manuscript or even just a book idea that you've been carrying for a while I strongly urge you to follow this link to request a free publishing guide from CrossBooks. There's no obligation and it could be the one step that finally propels you to get your book published.

In a changing industry, Paul Mikos tells you how to stay ahead

As Director of Digital Publishing for B&H Publishing Group, the trade publishing division of LifeWay Christian Resources, Paul Mikos knows what it takes to make it in the Christian publishing world.

In this Q&A with CrossBooks, he explains how the industry has changed, what this means for authors, and the No. 1 piece of advice that writers must know.

Q:  Why did LifeWay decide to get into the self-publishing side of publishing?

A:  We recognize that self publishing is becoming an increasingly significant part of the publishing industry. As a solution provider, we want to serve all our customers well. Providing self-publishing solutions is another way we can fulfill our mission. 

Q:  What type of author benefits the most from the self-publishing model?

A:  The self-publishing model makes sense for a lot of people, depending on their publishing goals. A pastor who wants to publish for his congregation, and make the book available for others as well, makes perfect sense. A grandmother who wants to record the family story for generations to come makes perfect sense too. An aspiring novelist who cannot get looked at by a traditional publisher or agent, but still believes in his work and wants to prove there’s a market for it, is a great candidate for self publishing. 

Q:  What types of authors or titles does LifeWay’s traditional publishing arm, B&H Publishing Group, look at to publish?

A:  Hard workers. We are looking for books for which the author has proven there is a market by selling thousands of copies on her own. Getting picked up by B&H or any other traditional publisher does not mean the work is over. In many ways, it means the work is growing. We are looking for messages that we can help reach a bigger audience.

Q:  How important is an author’s established platform to a traditional publisher?

A:  It is very important. While we are very mission minded with a call to take the gospel to the world, we are a ministry that is a business. We look at every book through the lens of business viability. How much will it cost to acquire, develop, sell and distribute, and what kind of return can we expect? The greater platform an author has, the more sales we can anticipate and relieve some risk from the equation. That all sounds very mechanical, and it is, but there’s also a place for instincts. 

Q:  Do I need an agent to go from self-published author to traditionally published author?

A:  No. I think that is one of the great advantages of self publishing. If you want to get picked up by a traditional publisher, sell 5,000 copies of your book and then let every publishing house know about it. 

Q:  Given all the changes in book retailing (e.g., Borders closing, e-books on the rise), what do you think is the role of the bookstore today?

A:  Bookstores are community centers. They’re a place for people to connect over ideas. I believe we will see the superstore concept continue to shrink, and I pray for the rise of local independent booksellers who exist to provide access to specialty books and a place for community. I also expect public libraries to grow as “discovery centers” for books among book lovers, and expect libraries to increase in their role as community centers.

Q:  Do you think it is important for authors to have their e-books on every platform or just the big ones – Amazon Kindle®, Barnes & Noble NOOK® and Apple iBooks®?

A:  Our experience is that these three e-book players make up more than 95% of the e-book market, outside of our own channels, MyStudyBible.com and WORDsearch.

Q:  What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a first-time author looking to get published?

A:  Don’t stop. Do at least one thing every day to move you closer to your goal. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

MyStudyBible offers entire WORDsearch Preaching Library online for first time ever, at the lowest price ever

Contact: David Schrader, (615) 251-2559

MyStudyBible offers entire WORDsearch Preaching Library online for first time ever, at the lowest price ever

NASHVILLE, Tenn., 5/24/2012 – MyStudyBible.com, the online Bible study service developed by LifeWay Christian Resources, and WORDsearch Bible Software have partnered to offer students and faculty a special online edition of the entire WORDsearch Preaching Library (nearly 400 volumes) for a limited time price of $199 now through June 5, 2012.

“This is the first time this content has been available for online use. That means it can now be accessed on any web enabled device, including our mobile web app for smart phones,” explains Paul Mikos, business director for MyStudyBible.com. “Bible study software is no longer chained to the desktop.”
Normally priced at $499, the WORDsearch Preaching Library contains more than 20 Bible translations, 30,000 sermon illustrations, and hundreds of commentaries and reference works including Wiersbe's Bible Exposition commentaries, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, A. T. Robertson's complete six volume Word Pictures in the New Testament, Strong's Talking Dictionary with audio pronunciations of every Hebrew and Greek word in Strong's Dictionary. The library includes works from AMG Publishers, B&H Publishing Group, Baker Publishing Group, CrossWay, David C. Cook, IVP, Zondervan, and others. This special package is also the only way to access the NIV Bible and many select volumes not sold separately on MyStudyBible.com.

“We don’t take lightly the idea of someone parting with $199, especially students, but it would cost more than $5000 to download these titles separately and more than $9000 to buy them in print—some of which would be very hard to find,” said Mikos.

Of further note, anyone who purchases the set now through June 5, 2012 will also receive a code to download the latest WORDsearch10 Bible software completely free with access to the Preaching Library off line through a computer or through the WORDsearch iPad app.

Only 2500 copies of the WORDsearch Preaching Library are available at this price through MyStudyBible.com. To take advantage of this deal, visit www.msb.to/redeem, follow the screen prompts to log in or register, and submit the following code: WVCN8RXDZV

LifeWay Christian Resources, based in Nashville, Tenn., is one of the largest providers of Christian products and services, including books, Bibles, DVDs, church literature, music, audio and video recordings, church supplies and Internet services through LifeWay.com. The non-profit company also owns and operates 165 LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation.


Monday, May 14, 2012

6 Reasons This Is Smart Marketing

I picked up my dry cleaning last week wrapped in the bag in this photo. I love this marketing initiative for a number of reasons. Here's why I think this is smart marketing.

1. Smart space. The ad adds value to space not currently being used for advertising--far more interesting to me than a banner ad.

2. Smart vehicle. This is a print vehicle that has potential to hang around for awhile. (Bad pun not intended.) I leave my clothes in the bag until I wear them again. I've looked at this ad every day for the last week and it may stay in my closet for months when I retire my winter clothes for the season.

3. Smart target market. I don't know the exact demographic for dry cleaners, but I bet it is a very identifiable, desirable target market. It is also very local making it easy to target specific DMAs, down to specific neighborhoods.

4. Smart message. The headline connects with the medium: Dry Humor, Clean Fun. Points for being clever.

5. Smart spending. Again, I don't know what it costs to print dry cleaning bags, but I bet the cost per thousand is considerably cheaper than a national 30 second spot on TBS during The Bill Engvall Show.

6. Smart distribution. My cleaners is a local independent in Nashville, TN. I don't know how much they pay for bags but I bet if a supplier provided a couple free roles they would happily use them.

Kudos to the marketing exec at TBS who came up with this promotion. If you happen to read this blog post, I'd love to know some of the specifics: number of bags distributed, target demographic, target DMAs, and results. Did you see any ratings increase you can attribute to the promotion? Please let us know.

Agree? Disagree?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting an iPad for Christmas? Get these apps now!

Yes, this is only my third post this year, and it doesn't count because I am using it to promote some really good deals on some really cool stuff we've built this year. If you have an iPad or you are getting one for Christmas there are three apps I must recommend. We just lowered the prices to $.99 each at least through January so get them now.

Hands down, this is the coolest app we've done to date--great graphics, music, animation, and content. You can check out this video if you don't believe me, but I'm telling you it is totally worth $.99 just to play with it.

This is the bestselling children's book by Beth Moore. It includes audio of Beth reading the book or record yourself reading it to your child.

Originally published in 1956, the classic bedtime book is great for toddlers or early readers. Turn on the highlight feature to see each word light up as it is read. Or record Grandma reading the story while she's in town for Christmas and she can haunt your dreams, I mean read to your precious children, all year long.

Get all of them now for just $.99 each.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Value of Access

Today we introduced a new, potentially disruptive, digital book selling paradigm through MyStudyBible.com. For the first time ever readers are able to purchase access to our content based on their access need: 24-hours, 30-days, and unlimited. Most books will be available for $.99 for 24-hours.

If you are an avid fiction reader you may be thinking 24-hour access is worthless, and you'd be right unless you're a speed-reader or if you'd prefer to sample an entire book instead of a single chapter or the percentage you can get from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google, etc. This new paid access paradigm is an experiment and we may discover our readers want a minimum of 72 hours or that they only access their 30-day content for 2 weeks, but timed access is a model that I think is going to resonate with our users.

Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of Wired magazine, challenged publishers with his "Better than Free" presentation at Tools of Change in February to prepare as though the value of a book in the future will be $0 - $.99. Kelly also talked about the shifting consumer value paradigm from ownership to access--the concept that spending $100 to access a library of 10,000 books is more valuable than spending $100 to own 10 books. We are taking steps to answer Kelly's challenge.

In a blog post "Ebooks. How far? How fast?" Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks pointed out how nonfiction categories of "dippable" books are lagging in the ebook market. The Bible is the quintessential "dippable" text, with readers often dipping into several different sections in one sitting. The ebook industry to date has been established on narrative text--fiction, history, business, leadership--anything you can read from beginning to end. But, try to read any kind of complex text on a simple text reading device or app and you are in for a rough experience. The Kindle or Nook are not the best delivery vehicles for reference books, textbooks, and the like. If you've ever tried to follow a sermon reading a Bible on the Kindle and had to navigate its 66 books and 1189 chapters by the table of contents, you know exactly what I mean.

The Bible is a unique text that is central to the Christian life and a common thread in everything we publish. MyStudyBible.com is a platform built to deliver a superior experience for reading and studying the Bible, and discovering other related content. The Bible itself becomes the circuitry connecting any content that references the Bible to any other content making the same reference. Our vision is to provide free, affordable, and accessible world-class biblical solutions for leaders and Christians around the world. Not all our users can afford a $500 set of commentaries, but $20 per month may be a more affordable option for them.

It is an exciting future as you imagine this system becoming extensible in a transmedia age, linking not only text but images, sermons, music, blog posts and other content, all discoverable and accessible through the lens of Scripture.

"For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword" Hebrews 4:12

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Do eBooks Hold the Keys to Monetizing Web Content?

Digital Book World was challenging, energizing, and inspiring. So many great opportunities and ideas.

One of the challenges we all face is "free." There was some good data and discussion at the conference. Mike Shatzin addresses part of the conversation here in his post on the crowded publishing space. Research presented at the conference showed that 40%-50% of the content downloaded by digital book readers is free, meaning those readers are paying for 50%-60% of the content they are downloading. The reality is that the market expects free content and will pay for what it likes. Free increases the pressure to publish excellent content. Finding the balance between free and paid, how much is free, and how long it is free is something we'll continue to experiment with and discover. I suspect the free equation will remain dynamic--a moving target--and an important part of content pricing strategy.

As a Bible publisher. we've been especially challenged with the proposition of free. The Bible is free digitally everywhere, but that is nothing new. Bibles have been freely available in hotel rooms and church pews for decades, and online for the the past decade. Now we are making it available free by download too, through YouVersion apps and ebook downloads, but we've found other value propositions for the consumer. The text edition is free, but the reference edition with linked cross references and footnotes is one price, and the Study Bible with linked commentary and notes is another price. I'll share more of that at my Tools of Change presentation, MoBible: Why LifeWay Wants You to Play with Your Phone in Church.

One of the more exciting thoughts I had at the conference, though, is the idea that books--ebooks--may hold the key to monetization of web content. For years media companies have struggled with how to monetize content (beyond advertising) when the market expects/demands to get information, news, and entertainment for free. The answer may very well be the ebook. The market understands a book is a unit of text-based content that carries value, and the market has demonstrated a willingness to purchase and consume content digitally in these units. With the new ePub3 spec due out in March supporting external links and HTML5, ebooks also become sellable units and delivery mechanisms for related video, audio, and more external content. Ebooks become the new cross-platform apps.

As Shatzkin pointed out, The New York Times "Open Secrets" wikileaks insta-ebook is a perfect example of a news media company monetizing content in and through an ebook. Yes, the digital marketplace makes it easier for any media company to publish and monetize content and puts more pressure on publishing companies to produce superior product, all of which is only good for reading, readers, writers, editors, and all the rest of us who love books.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New HCSB eBook Editions Available Now, More Coming Soon

I'm excited about our publishing plan for digital editions of the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible). There's been a lot of downward pressure on prices in the publishing industry. precipitated largely by mass market price wars and the digital revolution. One of the hardest hit is the bestselling book of all time, The Bible, available (as it should be) free almost anywhere you look online. So, how does a Bible publisher exist when the core text is free?

Don't fight it.

We are releasing several editions of the HCSB at different price points, the core of which is the HCSB: Digital Text Edition. All the footnotes, cross references, and textual links have been removed, funky line breaks and formatting issues have been cleaned up, the words of Christ are rendered in black, not red, for optimal display on e-ink devices, the table of contents links to the chapter level only--all of which provides a very clean presentation that is easy and fast to navigate. It is the cleanest version of the HCSB text and it is free. It is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, Sony, iBooks (Dear Apple, please give us a way to link to product pages for iBooks like you have for apps), and others coming online soon.

The HCSB: Digital Reference Edition has also been updated and optimized for easy reading on digital devices. It includes more than 35,000 links to textual notes, alternate readings, explanatory notes, cross references, and Old Testament citations in the New Testament. THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND LINKS. Let that sink in for just a minute. It is available for $9.99. It is also available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, eBooks.com, Sony, iBooks, and others coming online soon.

The ebook edition of the HCSB Study Bible is still being optimized for use on ebook devices. In addition to the 35,000+ linked footnotes from the Reference Edition, the Study Bible also includes links more than 15,000 study notes and essays, 290 word studies, and 250 photographs, maps, illustrations, and charts. While the ebook version is still in development, we continue to get rave reviews for the iOS app and free online version at MyStudyBible.com.

The HCSB: Word Study Edition is also in development now. It is the reference edition with additional links to the Strong's Greek & Hebrew Dictionary definitions for the original language root words behind the English words. While this is still in development for most ebook reading devices, it is available now from Olive Tree for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Symbian, or find links to Strong's Definitions on any web enabled device at MyStudyBible.com.

Each of these editions offer additional content and varying depths of connectivity providing the reader with different tools around which the value can be established, while at its core the Bible is free--as it should be.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Announcing the HCSB Study Bible app for iPhone and iPad

It is finally here! The HCSB Study Bible has been in development for several years and I am thrilled to have a hand in publishing this important Bible and I'm genuinely excited about some of the amazing digital tools we are able to provide for those interested in deeper, richer study the Bible.

Carefully developed and designed for study Bible readers, The HCSB Study Bible includes more than 15,000 study notes, 290 word studies, 141 photographs, 62 timelines, 59 maps, 24 articles, 16 illustrations and reconstructions, 15 charts, 3 Bible reading plans, and much more.

* Synced side-by-side display of Bible text and study notes
* Synced image display of maps, charts, illustrations, and more
* Words linked to Strong's Greek & Hebrew definition popups
* Linked footnotes, cross references, and HCSB bullet notes popups
* Add your own personal notes, highlights, and bookmarks
* Customized reading plans

Other features include:
* An introduction to every book of the Bible, the circumstances of writing, author, background, message and purpose of the book, its contribution to the Bible, structure, outline and timeline.
* Topical concordance
* 52-week Scripture memory plan
* Plan of salvation

Some of the essays and contributors include:
"How to Read and Study the Bible" by George H. Guthrie
"The Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a Historical Event" by Gary R. Habermas
"The Missional Church" by Ed Stetzer
"Jesus and Atonement in the Old Testament" by Eugene H. Merrill
"The Historical Reliability of the New Testament" by Craig L. Blomberg

Study notes contributors include Tremper Longman III, Walter C. Kaiser, A. Boyd Luter, Andreas J. Köstenberger, Kendell H. Easley, David S. Dockery, and many others. For a complete list of contributors visit http://hcsbstudybible.com/contributors

Powered by the bestselling Olive Tree BibleReader engine, this app can also be synced to include other content from your Olive Tree account.

Right now, we are offering this app for $9.99 for a limited time only!

And, that's not even the best news.

We still have yet to unveil Secret Project H.

Coming soon...

Friday, August 27, 2010

LifeWay's Best iOS Apps

We've been creating and publishing apps for a little more than a year. We currently have 13 apps available in the iTunes App Store, two more in review at Apple, and several in development. Of our 13 app, 8 are ranked among the top sellers and free downloads of ALL book apps.

BEST SELLING iPHONE APPS (at 9:44 am Central time August 27, 2010)

TOP FREE iPHONE APPS (at 9:51 am Central time August 27, 2010)

BEST SELLING iPAD APPS (at 9:53 am Central time August 27, 2010)

TOP FREE iPAD APPS (at 9:56 am Central time August 27, 2010)

Friday, April 2, 2010

iPhone Apps from LifeWay Digital and B&H Publishing Group

Someone recently asked where they could find a link to all our apps. An iTunes search for HCSB or LifeWay will turn up most of them, but not all. Here are links to each of them. Just click the icon to launch iTunes and/or see the info page at apple.com.

Four new apps just released this week, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, Twisted Scripture, and Fast Facts, Challenges and Tactics.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Going Hulu: Six Things Bible Publishers Can REALLY Do to Work Together - (My BibleTech Presentation Part 3 of 3)

What does any of this have to do with Hulu? Well I have to admit, I went a different direction from what I originally had in mind, but to a certain degree it still applies. As you know, Hulu is owned by NBC Universal and Fox but is run independently. Their structure gives them freedom to move in the market without being encumbered by the branding or individual priorities of the different owners, yet gives them access to a great pool of content, and marketing reach to a huge consumer base. And Hulu demonstrates each of the six lessons we are learning about digital publishing.

Lesson 1: Content is more valuable together than in silos.
The great pool of content amassed by NBC and Fox draws a significant audience making this attractive for other content providers and advertisers.

Lesson 2: There is no “either—or.” You must think, “both—and.”
It is not broadcast or syndication, cable or satellite, television or Internet. It is both-and.

Lesson 3: Connecting directly with consumers is more important than ever.
Hulu connects two major networks directly with consumers without intermediary broadcast stations, cable or satellite providers. Through that access they gain valuable data to people’s viewing habits and trends that can help inform programming decisions, as well as another advertising revenue channel.

Lesson 4: Online content represents new revenue, not a threat to old models.
Hulu broke two traditions: going direct to consumers through the Internet and the collaboration of two significant competitors instead of building their own individual platforms.

Lesson 5: Capture all the value under the demand curve.
NBC and Fox are capturing one more valuable channel. They get ad revenue, data, and a direct connection with their customers. They are still broadcasting, syndicating, airing reruns, selling DVDs, and more.

Lesson 6: Enhanced content does not have to mean bells and whistles.
One of my favorit features of Hulu is the ability to low light everything around the screen and just watch the show. Simple and effective.

Now, what can Bible publishers do to achieve the Hulu effect? Here are six things we came up with at BibleTech and I’d love to hear more.

  1. Put your content everywhere. Our content is more valuable together. Amazon, Sony, Apple, Logos, WORDsearch, Olive Tree. The burden is on each of those retailers and each of us publishers to create a community, an environment, and content people like and trust. Consumers will be loyal to their communities so put your stuff everywhere if you want everyone to have it.

  2. Make a direct connection with your customers. If you don’t want to sell directly, work out a unique deal with someone who will process the orders and share the data. You’ve got to give your consumers a place to gather and talk to you directly.

  3. Put your money where your mouth is. If you like the agency model, are you willing to offer it? If you have an app or a Web site where you can sell a competitor’s digital products, will you do it? Will you give them 70%? Don’t cling to the licensing model when selling other publishers’ content and ask for the agency model when selling your own content.

  4. Develop a better ePub Bible. We’ve finally arrived at a place where one file format allows us to get to the entire market, more or less, but it is not entirely conducive to Bible reading, especially linking. Let’s develop a standard for best TOC navigation, footnote and cross-reference linking, study Bible notes and extra-biblical content (think ebook+ Bible with link Scripture references).

  5. Share. Let’s tell each other what we are doing and what we are learning from it. Of course we need to protect certain trade secrets and attempt to gain some strategic advantage in a competitive market, but some of that can be accomplished by actually helping each other. Sean Harrison from Tyndale has started a new site at DigitalBibleForum.com. Join the conversation.

  6. Get face to face. BibleTech was a great conference because of the people and the time we had to share our ideas. If you are involved in religious and digital publishing at any level, go ahead and put it on your calendar for next year. And, we need to meet regularly throughout the year, together, and in our own cities. B&H is in Nashville with Nelson, Howard, FaithWords, and UMPH. Tyndale and Crossway and Moody are close enough for a snowball fight. Zondervan and Baker are in each other’s backyard. And I promise that every one of us has somebody who is interested in growing digital publishing. Go to lunch and talk about your boss who doesn’t “get it” and all the ways we could be working together. Then look for an announcement on a time for all of us to convene around the topic of digital for the express purpose of helping each other succeed for the kingdom and glory of God.

Thank you.

Six Lessons We've Learned About Digital Publishing (My BibleTech Presentation Part 2)

Lesson 1: Content is more valuable together than in silos.

Consumers want convenience. They want what the want when they want it. Period. A customer who is loyal to Amazon or Logos is happy when they want a B&H resource and a Tyndale resource and don’t have to go two places to get it. Our content needs to be everywhere, available any way a customer wants to consume it.

We are learning this lesson from Logos. Bob Pritchett made an excellent presentation at Tools of Change where he said, “The margin is in the mystery.” What he meant was that the Logos database is mysterious to the consumer. They know it is deep and rich, inner-connected and constantly growing and being updated and that is worth something. Bob also said, “We publish ebooks. We used to call it Bible software, but we publish ebooks.” The difference is when you sell a $15 print book and turn around to sell the digital edition the consumer expects to get that digital edition for less than the price of the print edition. When the consumer looks at the Logos database they have no frame of reference to determine the value. They can charge hundreds of dollars for libraries of content and the margin is in the mystery. Pretty smart.

Other examples include YouVersion and BibleGateway. A guy in my men’s group recently held up his iPhone and said, “I’ve never read the Scriptures like this before—comparing one translation to another.” The ability to immediately compare translations without lugging around some massive parallel Bible is a great consumer benefit, and it is the new expectation—any translation I want, free. Our Bibles are more valuable to consumers together than on their own.

Lesson 2: There is no “either—or.” You must think, “both—and.”

Digital is a long way from dominating print. It may never dominate print in some categories. Let’s face it: the printed, bound book is an amazing piece of technology. It is portable, economical, durable, user-friendly and intuitive, instantly on, sharable, you can add notes and bookmarks, etc, etc. And, printed books have been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be produced for hundreds more. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend recently remembering when digital watches came on the scene and people were concerned that digital clocks would take over and people would forget how to tell time on an analog clock. Today we have both. It is not a matter of analog or digital, print or ebook, brick-and-mortar or online, wholesale or direct, professionally published or self-published (See Scott Sigler’s talk from Tools of Change), it is both-and.

Lesson 3: Connecting directly with consumers is more important than ever.

Consumers are gravitating to, and influenced by, communities more than ever. A publisher’s identity at the consumer level means more today than ever before. Your brand already means something to a community—it already IS a community. There is an opportunity to increase the value of your brand and increase the size of your community by connecting with the people in that community. We need to know our consumers now more than ever before, and as we connect with them we create an opportunity for greater learning and better product development, greater influence, and higher margin sales.

At the same time, we know people are loyal to their communities. People who love Crossway may never join the LifeWay community, and vice versa, but we still want those people to have access to our material, and we want our community to have access to Crossway’s material. (Another example of both-and.)

By connecting directly with consumers digital provides fascinating analytics to inform new decisions. One of the things we are able to see through our Praying God’s Word app are 14 different spiritual strongholds people wrestle with. We can track trends in the seasons and volume at which people are dealing with things like depression, addiction, etc. It becomes one more window to get to know our customers better so we can provide better resources and solutions for them.

Another interesting piece of learning (that seems obvious now but was not as we were racing to market) is connecting with felt needs. We developed two free apps with the intent of driving in-app sales of $.99 content parcels. Praying God’s Word comes free with prayers on one topic and 13 more topics available for $.99 each. If someone were to purchase all of them they would get all the same content from the book and pay about the price of a paperback. We used the same logic for a daily devotional, giving away 30 days free and selling additional 30-day readings for $.99 each. If one were to buy all 12 installments they would pay about the same price as the print edition. Smart huh?

In-app sales of the Praying God’s Word have been through the roof. We are very pleased. In-app sales of the devo are dismal. What did we do wrong?

We didn’t connect with the user’s felt need. We presented the content as days 31-60, 61-90, etc. We repeated the same graphic and didn’t give the consumer any indication that this content would meet a need. The great thing about digital is that we get to do it over and issue updates. We are currently reviewing and categorizing the daily readings by topic so we can present, “Devotions for Intimacy,” “Devotions for Communication,” etc, etc., and we expect a significant increase in in-app sales.

Another fascinating thing to consider is tracking where people are in books. Sync technology allows Amazon to sync the last place you read on your desktop with your Kindle and your phone, so whatever device you’re reading you pick up exactly where you left off. That means Amazon knows exactly what people are reading. As an editor, wouldn’t it be great to know something like 70% of readers never come back to the book after chapter 3? You would know something is wrong with chapter 3 and needs to be fixed. Imagine how we could increase the effectiveness of written communication with that kind of reader feedback.

Lesson 4: Online content represents new revenue, not a threat to old models.

One of the great examples I heard about at the Digital Book World Conference was PoetrySpeaks.com—a site for poets, poetry readers, and poetry publishers. It is a well-defined niche with a strong sense of personal identity and community and they are selling text, audio, and video poetry online. They tracked one publisher’s physical books through retail using Neilsen Bookscan and sales for that publisher increased 55% in the six weeks following posting their content on the site compared to the six weeks prior. Granted, this is very new data, not a very long reporting period, and it is POETRY. You can go from selling 9 copies to 14 copies and it is a 55% increase, but it is still an impressive and important report. In her presentation at TOC, Dominique Raccah, CEO and publisher of Sourcebooks, Inc. and PoetrySpeaks.com, commenting on the need for accurate data also said that, “Transformation is in the margins,” meaning that the change we all feel coming is happening now, in the tiny fractions on the fringes of our business and that information can teach us a lot if we can get accurate data and pay attention to it.

Another example, closer to home for us, is our iPhone app for Praying God’s Word. The app is based on the bestselling book of the same title by Beth Moore. It contains an introduction and Scripture prayers on 14 different topics. Originally, we sold the app for $.99 it came with the general introduction and 30 prayers on the topic of faith. Also available were prayers on the other 13 topics for $.99 each.

Initially there was backlash from customers who thought they were getting ALL the topics for $.99, regardless of how clear we made the description. We decided to experiment with pricing and made the base app and 30 prayers free. Downloads went up 700% and in-app purchases rose as well. We increased brand exposure and the customer base by giving the app away free, and we are converting about 30% of the giveaways to in-app purchases. Is there any other direct marketing strategy with a 30% conversion rate? I hear 1-3% is more typical. But what about print sales? Well, our example is skewed because we released a paperback edition of the book a few months prior to releasing the app but all indications are that print sales are as strong or stronger than ever.

You all are familiar with O’Reilly—publisher of software manuals? They started BookSafariOnline five years ago, at which time about one-third of their business came from digital and two-thirds from print. In five years that split has completely reversed. 70% of their business now comes from digital and 30% print. Granted they have a digitally inclined community, but that is an awesome shift. What are some key factors: they experiment with pricing models, they have included other publishers’ content, they connected directly with their customers and listened to them.

Lesson 5: Capture all the value under the demand curve.

Richard Nash is launching a new digital publishing venture called Cursor and made this point very well on a panel discussing new business models at Digital Book World. His point was that there are people who would pay $25,000 for a private weekend with an author, and thousands who would download a free mobile app, and others who will spend $.99 for a piece of the content. His point was that as a publisher, our job is to capture all the value of the demand curve. Dominique Raccah or Sourcebooks made a similar point at Tools of Change, referring to this idea as the “content continuum.”

In either case, this is a major shift in perspective for traditional publishers. It used to be that publishers were interested in hardcover and paperback rights and would sell off subsidiary rights for video, audio, curriculum, even digital. Publishers are now going to need to exploit all rights in order to capture all the value under the demand curve. Hardcover and paperback does not a book make.

Lesson 6: Enhanced content does not have to mean bells and whistles.

So often when people talk about enhanced ebooks they talk about integrating audio and video and gaming and other bells and whistles, which are all great and we should pursue all of it, but it is not the only way to enhance an ebook. In fact, it may not even be the most valuable way to enhance an ebook. Watching video or listening to audio or playing a game are all very different experiences from reading. Reading engages the mind unlike any other activity. One friend said to me recently that he feared significant decline in reading when the iPad hits the market. “Are people really going to choose to read when they could watch video or play a game?” I actually think the effect will be the opposite. That choice is in front of us right now and you either like to read or you don’t. I actually think tablet devices are a kind of Trojan horse for ebooks. Many people will buy them for video, gaming, computing, etc, and the ease of purchase, portability, attractive user interface, and enhancements that make digital reader a more meaningful experience than reading in print, will actually attract more readers and increase reading.

Peter Meyers made an excellent presentation at Tools of Change called “Book Meets Tablet” where he shared several ideas for enhanced ebooks. One of my favorites was one he called the Col. Fitzwilliam problem. In Pride and Prejudice, the first name of the character Mr. Darcy is Fitzwilliam. There is a different character, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam. Mayer’s idea is to tag every character and pronoun with a brief character bio and relationship profile so with a touch you can be reminded who someone is and their relationship to the story. You could tag settings, locations, etc. You could add notes to have curated content, with one author commenting on another author’s work.

Another one of the apps we created is an eBook+ BibleReader. It contains the complete text of the book, The Love Dare, and the complete text of the HCSB. All Scripture references in the book are linked to bring up a popup with the verse, or the user can set a split screen or tap over to read the verse in context of the complete Bible text. We are working on a similar structure for ePub to create eBook+ files for rendering in any ebook reader.

Come back tomorrow for six practical applications for ways publishers can apply these lessons and innovate together.