By Matt Mullin, Community Relations Manager, Digital Book World | @mrmullin
Beyond the workshops, presentations, and panels at Digital Book World Conference + Expo, there are numerous benefits to meeting with your colleagues to network and trade experiences. To give you an idea of the sort of people you’ll encounter at Digital Book World, we’ve started the DBW Profiles series. Our first profile comes from Varick Street, with Andrea Fleck-Nisbet of Workman Publishing.
Andrea is the Director of Digital Publishing at Workman. She has been at Workman for nine years and has worked on the digital side since 2007.
Last week we caught up with her to find out more about how the head of digital at a major house sees digital changing her work, both in-house and out.
Do you feel there’s a different dynamic between Marketing, Editorial, and Production due to digital?
Yes and no. The emergence of digital media has made book publishing a more competitive market; as a result, each department must think about books holistically – from acquisition through production to marketing and distribution – in order to create the best product. Departments have become less siloed and tend to be more collaborative. That said, there is still strength in specialization, particularly when it comes to editorial, production and marketing.
What skill sets have you had to acquire in order to publish digital products?
I came up through sales and marketing at Workman so it was important for me to have a better understanding of digital products from an editorial and production perspective. I also had to familiarize myself with various ebook formats, metadata best practices and SEO. Fortunately, I was learning alongside of everyone else in the industry. One of my favorite things about my job is that it has provided me with the opportunity to better understand all aspects of our business.
In a world that may someday be predominantly digital, how does that change your priorities over the next two years?
Our priority at Workman has always been to produce, market and sell creative, high quality content at consumer friendly prices. That priority hasn’t changed. Over the next two years, however, we will focus on developing the best container for delivering that content and the means for reaching consumers directly. Retail space will continue to shrink and publishers can no longer rely solely on retailers to market and merchandise our books. On a basic level we need to ensure our metadata is clean and rich so that our books are discoverable by customers. Beyond that, we need to communicate with those customers to understand how, where and when they want to consume our content and respond accordingly.
What has been one of your most difficult challenges while transitioning to digital and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is deciding where to focus our time and resources as the digital landscape evolves. The possibilities for creating new, interactive ebooks and apps are endless, but consumer adoption has often been slow to keep pace with the industry’s enthusiasm for creating new products. Ebook specs are constantly changing as well, and every retailer has its own file and metadata needs. It is an ongoing challenge to keep abreast of the changes in the market and to know when it makes sense to focus our efforts on a specific platform. I wouldn’t say we have overcome these challenges but we are learning to be smarter about where to put our resources.
What other publishers and media professionals have inspired your digital strategy?
I am inspired by so many sources it would be impossible to list them all. The business of digital publishing is of particular interest to me so I read Mike Shatzkin pretty religiously. He has an amazing knack for forecasting trends and teasing out the complexities of digital publishing’s impact on the business at large. He also forces publishers to reflect on the tough issues facing the business. Bruce Shaw and Adam Salomone at Harvard Common Press impress me with their enthusiasm for the digital space and forward-thinking strategies. I love small companies like The Atavist, which are trying to reinvent the concept of long- form reading, and I’m sorry we won’t have the chance to see more from Push Pop Press right as they started to push the boundaries of what digital books could be. And I’m inspired by my colleagues at Workman, who create magical print products that often defy a satisfying replication in the digital space. They challenge me to think about the experience of the end user and whether something should be made into a digital product just because it can.
What are you most excited about in regards to changes in the reading experience?
Discoverability and the shared reading experience excite me most. There are so many ways to connect authors with readers and readers with other readers in the digital space. I am constantly discovering new titles through social book sites like Goodreads, through recommendations from friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter and through customer reviews and ratings on retail sites. Once in a book, I like that I can share thoughts and comments with other readers or simply read without interruption anywhere on virtually any device. I read more and like more of what I read thanks to the digital space.
How do you see the relationship between publisher, author, and reader evolving?
I think it has the potential to become more collaborative as the digital space strips away the barriers between the author, publisher and reader. Traditionally, authors create the content, publishers create the package and the means for distribution, and readers provide the sale and the feedback. While that model will still apply – good writing requires good editing – I imagine the lines will blur as readers share their thoughts and ideas before, during and after the publication process. This means that authors and publishers need to be more sensitive to their readers than ever before and nimble enough to respond to their comments.
What single challenge do you think publishing should focus more attention?
Publishers need to push harder for ebook file and metadata standards. The number of file formats in the market is confusing to customers and causes a lot of unnecessary duplication of effort on the backend for production, marketing and sales staff. Creating standards that make producing and discovering content universal and seamless will also allow us to spend more time stretching our concept of what a book is and how to make it better instead of spending time trying to cram information into multiple formats that don’t quite fit the content.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in publishing?
Contrary to popular belief the industry is not dead or dying. It’s evolving quickly and dramatically, making this the scariest and most exciting time to be in publishing. This is the best moment to be a young professional at the beginning of a career because you have the chance to shape the future of the industry. Educate yourself on each aspect of the business, don’t be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions, and try as many new tasks as you can. This isn’t a time to be shy or complacent, but there is much opportunity for those who think beyond today.
What are you reading and in what format?
I’m reading The Night Circus on my Kindle, an article called “Blindsight,” which I downloaded to my iPhone through the Atavist app, and a hardcover edition of A Moveable Feast, purchased at Tim’s Used Books in Provincetown, MA. My daughter and I are also reading the app version of The Monster At The End of This Book on the iPad. I won’t spoil the ending.
Andrea Fleck-Nisbet is the Director of Digital Publishing at Workman Publishing. She got her start in Special Markets before moving to online sales and marketing, followed by digital development. Andrea oversees the ebook program and the development of new digital products based on Workman’s rich list of titles. These include multimedia ebooks, apps and a line of short ebooks called Workman Shorts. You can reach Andrea by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @adfnisbet23.
Have someone in your organization who is doing big things for your digital business? Send an email to Matt Mullin with a name, title, and an explanation why he or she is changing publishing.