My Trip to DBW: A Winner’s Tale

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

I am not a winner; I am an earner. To make myself clear: I have never even rightfully won a game of bingo. I once tied with a guy for a free beer on bingo night at the bar (bingo at the bar-o), but I lost the tie-breaker (a rigorous match of roshambo). Luckily he was a gentleman and gave me the beer anyway.

I guess after twenty-three years it was finally time for my luck to change, because this year I won something great.

In November, I entered the Digital Book World sweepstakes at the behest of my boss, Tina Henderson (@tinahender), the most amazing, encouraging person I know. Never in my life did I imagine that I would actually win the Grand Prize—a fully paid for ticket to the three-day Digital Book World conference and the Digital Book Awards gala as well as $500 for travel expenses. It seems the odds were “ever in my favor,” after all (requisite book joke No. 1).

I nearly dropped my phone in the tub (don’t ask) when I learned that I had won the sweepstakes. After much doubt and suspicion, I emailed Tina, who said everything I felt in two short words: “holy shit.”

This opportunity came at an especially excellent time for me as I have recently been considering the move to a full-time office job in a city, far away from my small town life in Mississippi. I have found this endeavor to be particularly challenging, as people seem reluctant to hire anyone from outside their city. I have heard, “if you are still living in Mississippi, unfortunately, we cannot consider your candidacy,” and “I have an issue with relocating people because it could create a problem if the job did not work out.” In addition to these initial difficulties, the problem of the interview arises—even though our work now focuses on creating a seamless transition from print to digital, several publishing companies still seem to be set in their very physical ways with tests and paperwork that need to be done in person.

So this was my chance! I would finally meet the important figures in our rapidly changing world and do my best to make a lasting impression. And meet people I did! I met tons of lovely folks, both familiar faces from Twitter and new faces (that I quickly sought out on Twitter). After working on e-book conversions for her since October, I was finally able to meet Laura Brady (@LauraB7) face-to-face, and she (unsurprisingly) turned out to be one of the loveliest, kindest, and funniest ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. I met Matthew Diener (@MatthewDiener), who is incredibly smart and experienced in e-book creation, and also very tall. India Amos (@indiamos), an editorial genius whom I talked to for hours and with whom I share many quirks. I met wonderful people from several companies I admire: Colleen Cunningham (@BookDesignGirl), from F+W Media, who was so warm and welcoming that she could have made me feel at home in Mordor (requisite book joke No. 2); Brad Neuberg (@bradneuberg), from Inkling, who was unspeakably kind when I forced my business card upon him, and who just got back from his honeymoon (congrats!); Jeremy Greenfield (@JDGsaid), from F+W Media, who was a gracious host and has excellent taste in coffee; and many, many others. I even met LeVar Burton (!), who sat across from me at the Digital Book Awards gala.

levar burton and maggie huntEveryone was amazing and kind, and completely intelligible (despite what I have heard about New York and Boston accents). I am pleased to report that none of the rumors I’ve heard about Yankees hold true, at least in our wonderful industry. Other than the obvious networking bonanza that I was on, which was worth the trip up on its own, I learned so much from the extraordinary number of wonderful presentations given.


Top Five Takeaways from DBW 2014

1. We in the digital publishing industry have to stop trying to make digital books look like their print counterparts. By trying to emulate print we are placing limitations on the capabilities of digital publications. Digital works can create an entirely different experience for the reader. Companies like Gutenberg Technology and Inkling are diving headfirst into this ideology by creating individualized learning experiences based on the needs of each student and developing interactive learning tools like flip-cards and quizzes within textbooks. In fact, according to Gutenberg Technology, “80% of students prefer EPUB3 reflowable text e-books over fixed layout.”

2. People want subscription services. “Consumers, particularly the youth, are looking for access rather than ownership,” said one executive from HarperCollins, speaking at the conference. Instead of fighting a train that can’t be stopped, publishers need to figure out how to make it work for them. In a panel on the topic, O’Reilly Media CEO Tim O’Reilly added, “Anyone not looking at subscription models is foolish… it’s what customers want… publishers need to get over their fear.” Subscription models are coming, and for reasons other than just content. According to Scholastic Media president Deborah Forte, personal services (such as individual profiles and new recommendations based on past use) like those offered by Netflix are just as valuable to customers as the content itself.

Related: Forceful Pitches From Ebook Subscription Services, but Questions Remain

3. We need to implement “graceful degradation,” according to Colleen Cunningham, an e-book developer from F+W Media, to get the most usability out of an e-book. It is necessary to make sacrifices (in design) in order to maintain flexibility between various e-readers. Simply put, in one of her more recent tweets: “One e-book for all vendors = cost effective ÷ design. Or, to say another way, flexible > design. Print thinking < e-book offering.”

4. Today’s authors are doing more and more to promote themselves (see John Green, @realjohngreen, with 1.98M followers), and interestingly, hybrid authors are bringing in a much higher income than non-hybrids (traditionally or self-published only). Publishers’ challenge is to learn from these new age authors while also maintaining their relevance. “If we only choose to represent authors that already have platforms then why do they need us,” asked Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah.

Related: Why Superstar Author John Green Still Works With a Publisher | Four Ways Publishers Should Help Authors With Platform Building

5. Ebook conversion house and technology company Aptara believes that “one reflowable EPUB for all vendors is possible—you have to design for the least common denominator,” and the guys at Adobe who spoke at DBW said that “it will get better—look at browsers.” E-book variations will narrow down with time.

Chris Kitchener, of Adobe, said it best: “I think people will look back and say ‘2014 was the year it all turned around.’”

This trip was a dream come true for me and I could not have asked for a better time or better people with whom to have spent it. When I left New York, I immediately caught fever and was confined to bed for two days but I had such an excellent time that I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Don’t miss out on Digital Book World 2015, January 13-15 in New York. Register now for the best price!

5 thoughts on “My Trip to DBW: A Winner’s Tale

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