When I submitted my topic for consideration it came with a suggestion for a “business” or “publishing” track for the conference. I know most of you are technical people interested in technical information, but I am here to talk about the impact of digital on the business of Bible and reference publishers. I am calling this talk The Hulu Effect: A Call for Bible Publishers to Work Together.
My name is Paul Mikos and I am a publishing guy. I’ve been in the book and Bible publishing business for about 15 years and it is in my blood. I love publishing. I love the mission. I love the people. I love the tradition. I love the opportunity to be creative and entrepreneurial and independent. I’ve worked most of my career in marketing trade books and Bibles, the last five years acquiring and developing products, and the past year building a digital publishing program for B&H Publishing Group.
B&H is the trade book and Bible division of LifeWay Christian Resources. LifeWay is (arguably) the largest publisher of Christian materials in the world. We have three primary business units: LifeWay Christian Stores with 160 retail locations around the country; LifeWay Church Resources publishing quarterly Sunday school curriculum and small group resources for the church; and B&H Publishing Group publishing books and Bibles distributed through trade channels.
LifeWay is a self-funded, nonprofit agency of the Southern Baptist Convention—the largest Protestant denomination in the world with some 16 million members in 40,000 churches. LifeWay serves the denomination as well as the greater Church (capital C) providing resources for millions of people and nearly 100,000 churches.
In February LifeWay president Dr. Thom Rainer announced to our trustees that LifeWay will be a leader in the digital publishing space, presenting this vision: "LifeWay's digital strategy is to provide the right information to the right customer at the right time through the right medium at the right price."
Recently, I attended the Digital Book World Conference and the Tools of Change Conference and paid close attention to what I liked and disliked in the presentations. I found the most valuable presentations had data and ideas, so I’d like to share some data and ideas and six lessons we’ve learned in the past year.
The task of getting 120 year old traditional, institutional publisher geared up to be a leader in the digital arena has been wonderfully challenging and educational. I am very pleased with our progress. So, before I get to the lessons, here’s a quick report card on how we are doing.
Last year B&H adopted a 4-part digital strategy:
We have grown 233% from 75 titles this time last year to 250 titles today, and we expect to be at 600+ titles by June, which represents 99% of our active backlist sales. 100% of front list titles are now being published simultaneously in digital with print.
2. Increase ebook distribution.
Distribution channels have increased from 1 to 12 and we now believe we are reaching better than 95% of the ebook retail and library market.
Ebook sales have increased every quarter, and while this is certainly skewed by our increased selection, we understand this is a similar growth pattern across the industry. Note: we are looking at the Kindle growth chart because at this point Amazon has better than half the market share for us and they provide the best reports for analysis.
One interesting thing we spotted was the spike that occurs with the release of new devices. Kindle 2 and Kindle for iPhone released within a week of each other at this time last year and we saw a significant spike in sales, and we did not add any new titles in that period. Kindle DX released in the summer and we saw another bump. Kindle for PC released in November and we saw a HUGE rise in sales in November and December, which we must also attribute to Christmas but were delighted to see sales increase yet again in January. I am anxious to look at the February numbers and see the impact of Kindle for Blackberry, and Kindle for Mac which released last week, and of course the coming iPad app!
Some digital book milestones: Sales were up 800% January over January. In one month alone, sales in December 2009 doubled sales of November 2009. And in December, another title upset The Love Dare as our number one revenue producer for Kindle—The Apologetics Study Bible.
3. Increase experimentation.
Some experimentation we are doing is testing selling certain titles by chapters and sections, particularly for the academic arena. We are creating and selling derivative essays such as Senator DeMint’s Saving Freedom in Health Care, where we excerpted and edited everything the Senator had to say on the one issue of health care and sold it as a stand alone item. We are looking into selling spoken word audio downloads, separate from audio books, particularly when there is a sermon series connected with a particular title—which is pretty common for a lot of what we publish. And we are looking at a one price-all formats strategy for selling ebooks through LifeWay.com, though that is quickly becoming less relevant with the proliferation of apps across device platforms and books in the cloud, like the coming Google Editions.
4. Go mobile.
On the mobile front, we have been very successful. We currently have 13 branded apps in iTunes, 4 of which released this week, and 5 of which are in the top 100 paid and free book apps. I am very proud of that work and appreciative of our partnership with Olive Tree and others. I don’t see five apps in the app store from Penguin, or Macmillan, or any other the other big six
So, what have we learned from all this?
Come back this week for the six lessons we’ve learned about digital publishing.