Synergizing the Book and Web: The Future…?

Marian SchembariBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

Everyone in publishing has been talking about “change”, throwing the term “social media” around like a game of monkey in the middle, and more often than not, we fret about these changes and few seem to know what exactly to do about it.

The most innovative and daring among us, though, don’t fret; they take chances.

Sometimes they work out (Pablo Defendini with, and sometimes they don’t (Don Linn with Quartet), but the old saying applies: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

The best example of this at the 2010 Digital Book World Conference was the “Synergizing the Book and Web” panel, where we had a chance to peek into the minds of four very different people with four very exciting endeavors, each attempting to combine book know-how and web savvy to create something new.

The panelists were Will Schwalbe of Cookstr, Lisa Holton of Fourth Story Media, Hillel Cooperman of Jackson Fish Market and author Alison Norrington.

Check out what these incredible innovators had to say for themselves:


CookstrThe enthusiastic and charming Will Schwalbe is the founder of Cookstr, having left his position as editor-in-chief of Hyperion after 11 years. Cookstr’s concept is essentially “recipes you’ll love, from cookbooks we trust.”

So far, 300 chefs and authors are registered on the site and every day an author and recipe is featured. With the ever-expanding amount of free resources available on the web, cookbooks are having a rough time of it, but Schwalbe is constantly playing with new ways to monetize Cookstr and compensate its contributors.

The website offers the option to buy cookbooks and also hosts a Wine of the Month Club, where you can sign up and get a cookbook and two bottles of wine delivered to your door.

Monetization also comes in the form of advertising revenue shared with the rightsholder (usually publishers) and Schwalbe pointed out that they are the only cooking site that pays content creators for their content.

Additionally, the Cookstr site isn’t the only place that content can be accessed. Schwalbe is slowly creating a syndicated experience and now has deals with Bravo, whose recipe search is powered by Cookstr, and has partnered with the Daily Beast.

A Story Before Bed

A Story Before BedThis brilliant idea came not from a publishing veteran but from a software developer, Hillel Cooperman, who wanted to create a space that allows absent parents and grandparents to read to their kids.

The idea of A Story Before Bed came from the fact that Cooperman and his family are based in Seattle, while his parents live in Maryland, “2,744 traveling miles away.” He tried Skype as a way for his parents to read books to his kids, but the video was low quality; then he tried to videotape his parents reading with a scanned copy of the book.

Cooperman showed a demo featuring his daughter reading The Three Little Pigs, and the entire audience melted into a puddle of toddler-induced goo. Watch the video here.

(The best part is in the first few seconds when you see it dawn on her that she can’t actually read!)

A Story Before Bed has a ton of amazing features that make those little things you do with your kids possible, even when you’re far away. The books are 3D and the kids can see both the video of their parent/grandparent reading and the book itself. Adding to the cool factor is that the pages of the book turn in sync with the reading.

As for compensation, Cooperman said they have contracts with individual rightsholders, and at $6.99 a book, a percentage goes to them. In a surprising twist, Cooperman pointed out that they didn’t take on any investors, saying investors and The Man are “the same dude.”

“With software. we can be a lot more aggressive with experimentation.”

Alison Norington

Alison Norrington - Staying SingleSpeaking of experimentation, author Alison Norrington takes the cake. A bestselling chic-lit novelist, Norrington experimented with her most recent book, Staying Single, by telling the story through a wide variety of digital platforms. The book’s main site consisted of daily posts where readers could subscribe for free (about 800 subscribers total) and receive a chapter via email every day.

But Norrington didn’t stop there. Her protagonist, Sophie Regan, had profiles on a number of social networking sites including Bebo, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Second Life [Note: most of these profiles are no longer online]. She set up forums, interacted with readers and produced short YouTube documentaries featuring bad chat up lines, diving further into Sophie’s story.

Through this experimentation, Norrington learned a lot about what works in the digital world and what doesn’t. She thinks the genre might have actually held her back.

“With romance,” she said, “people don’t want to get involved. It’s not like crime; they just want to be told the story.” She also said she would have spent more time in preproduction and more time on YouTube, which apparently brought in the most blog traffic.

None of this was monetized as Norrington emphasizes it was all highly experimental, but she does want to try and sell the story as a book with the additional content.

The Amanda Project

“Fourth Story Media are doing very, very cool shit with transmedia storytelling.”

Ryan Chapman

The Amanda Project is a first of its kind transmedia experience – “an interactive, collaborative fictional mystery for girls ages 13 & up, told across a variety of different media including an 8-book series, a website that features games, writing, art & social networking, and a related series of blogs, satellite sites, music, and merchandise.”

It tells the story of Amanda Valentino, a mysterious high school student who “disappeared on the Ides of March,” and readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for her. Those stories become an integral part of the site, and some contributors have an opportunity to be published via a partnership with HarperCollins.

Lisa Holton, founder of Fourth Story Media, said, “everything is aggregated, from creating a voice to creating a sense of her character” and credits Our Stories as the “heart and soul of the site.”

Most recently, The Amanda Project partnered up with ModCloth to create a contest for Amanda readers. Girls used to create a collage of clothes they thought Amanda would wear, and the winner received a $50 ModCloth certificate and a free signed book.

What an awesome and perfect example of synergizing the book and the web!

With initiatives like these, who could possibly worry about the future of publishing? Not me.

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

Interested in learning more about using transmedia storytelling and cross-media strategies? Join us at StoryWorld, the only major gathering of industry leaders, decision makers, and transmedia specialists, to explore new business models, innovative partnerships, and fresh revenue streams.

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