Five Digital Publishing Questions for Alex White

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The Digital Book World Conference + Expo, kicking off on January 13, 2015 is packed with an incredible amount of information and ideas about the digital publishing landscape at a time of remarkable transformations. To help attendees make the most out of those three days, Digital Book World is sitting down with conference speakers to help lay the groundwork for conversations that will take place at the conference and continue for many weeks and months afterward.

This is the eighth installment in our “Digital Publishing Questions” blog series, featuring Alex White, CEO and Co-founder of Next Big Sound and Next Big Book. White offers the following reflections in collaboration with Hana Landes, a Columbia Business School MBA candidate.

What do you think has been the most newsworthy event for authors in the past year around publishing and digital change?

The Amazon-Hachette dispute certainly galvanized people unlike any other publishing event in recent years. What started as a contract dispute snowballed into a discussion about the fate of the traditional publishing industry, the power of Amazon, ebook pricing and the relevance of self-publishing. While I think that some of the reporting was fueled partially by self-interest, the most interesting question that came out of the dispute was, in my mind, about whether traditional publishing or self-publishing is better for authors.

What are you anticipating as the big change we will see in 2015?

2014 saw some new developments in the ebook subscription services market, as well as a lot of speculation about its future. The jury is still out on whether readers will flock to these services in large numbers and whether publishers will be incentivized to increase their selections on the various subscription services out there. The two questions are related, of course; right now the services are hindered by their relatively small selections.

I’m hesitant to come down definitively on either side of that speculation, but I think 2015 will be an important year for subscription services. Our experience in the music industry has shown that the decision of when and how to license a subscription service is one of the biggest that a label or publisher has to make.

What is the most important thing publishers need to accomplish in 2015?

I’m a little biased, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t emphasize the need for more data-driven decision-making in 2015. The publishers we’ve talked to are eager to have access to more data. They all want data that can help them understand the effects of different marketing tactics, which books to invest in, the relationship between social media and sales, whether to place a print ad or a digital ad—I could go on.

Becoming better at making these kinds of decisions through the use of data will be essential to publishers’ long-term success. More widespread access to integrated, user-friendly sales, social and marketing data is the most important thing publishers need to accomplish in 2015.

Will Amazon’s ebook market share grow in 2015, or will this be the year that Apple, Kobo, Google and Nook (or someone else) push them back?

I think that Kindle’s share will continue to grow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple emerged as a closer competitor in 2015. With iBooks preinstalled on iOS 8, more readers will have access to Apple’s ebooks at their fingertips.

In addition, we’ve seen some indication at Next Big Book that readers are platform-indifferent when it comes to price promotions. We saw an author with a large social media following blast her readers about an ebook price promotion for her back-list titles. She directed her readers to Apple, even though the promotion was running across all retailers. The subsequent sales spike was almost entirely through Apple. That proves to me that Apple has the power to bring over new readers through savvy discounting and merchandising.

Are there any companies (start-up or otherwise) now flying below the radar that you think may break out in 2015?

With 3 million subscribers and $3.8 million in funding, BookBub may not quality as under-the-radar, but I think they’ll continue to grow and break new ground in 2015. We’ve been tracking ebook price elasticity–which, by the way, is highly elastic–at Next Big Book, and when publishers pay to be included in BookBub’s daily newsletter we’ve seen sales shoot up by 100 times in a single day (versus about 30 times for a price promotion without a BookBub mention). Discovery clearly continues to be an issue for readers, and BookBub is filling a real need for curated recommendations. They’ve also tapped into an audience that is highly price sensitive.

Also, Glose has recently launched, and I love the product and way they are thinking about re-imagining the reading experience with a social context layer.

Alex White is the CEO and Co-founder of Next Big Sound and Next Big Book, which developed a predictive marketing platform for Macmillan earlier this year, based on social and consumer data. He’ll be speaking on a panel at Digital Book World 2015 called, “Case Study: Successful Marketing Campaigns” exploring the cutting-edge of experiential and other digital marketing approaches book publishers are pursuing today.

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