Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Italy isn’t known as a hotbed of digital publishing innovation or activity. In fact, ebooks only account for somewhere around 4% of publisher revenue in the country, according to Marcello Vena, director of digital business at RCS Libri, which owns book publisher Rizzoli, among other companies. (He’s also a DBW blogger.)
Yet, despite this nascent state of the market, Vena has been quietly building an innovation powerhouse at Rizzoli. He has a digital team that is dedicated to coming out with one new innovation project a quarter, Vena told me last week at the London Book Fair.
He outlines some of the innovations in a recent blog post:
— Digital-first imprint (Rizzoli First, July 2012)
— Ebook-streaming service on Italy’s high-speed trains (December 2012)
— Ebook streaming on Pinterest (May 2013)
— “Co-publishing,” a third way between traditional publishing and self-publishing (July 2013)
— Ebook and print bundling (December 2013)
— Online literary award for unpublished novels in partnership with Amazon (January 2014)
While some of these are more “innovative” than others by U.S. standards, for a market where ebooks are such a small percentage of the business, they’re downright revolutionary — and risky.
I want to talk about one innovation in particular that Vena described to me in more detail because of how novel I thought it was.
On high-speed trains in Italy, you can now stream a selection of Rizzoli ebooks through the train’s wifi — for free. The program gives a discovery boost to Rizzoli authors and titles and, besides, the longest of legs of these trains is three hours, not nearly enough time for most people to finish a book.
Rizzoli had to invent a way to get book content onto particular trains (using satellites, actually) and has developed a system so that different titles can be on different train lines, giving variety to the cross-country traveler.
While this experiment may not make sense for all publishers (what about ebooks on Bolt or Megabus lines, which offer customers wifi?), the spirit of dedicating time and effort to innovation and experimentation should.