November 21st, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § permalink
Visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair this year was special of course because New Zealand was Guest of Honour. I loved the quiet spaces at the New Zealand Pavilion where dreams of water, myths, stories, and history swirled in sounds of dark and light. (For once, the word ‘twilight’ in a publishing context didn’t conjure up visions of vampires.)
Inside the New Zealand pavilion
My week started with my participation in a panel on The Evolving Role of Readers at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. I am interested in online publishing for books, with a particular interest in using fanfiction as a business model. My fellow panelists were Allen Lau and Amy Martin of the online writing platform, Wattpad, and the moderator was Ami Greko of Kobo. Wattpad is a phenomenal success, with numbers of readers and writers in the millions, and viewing minutes in the billions per month. This is the future of reading (and possibly publishing), most of it on mobile. Even Margaret Atwood is a fan.
That evening, I attended the Official Opening Ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair and I wore my silver fern brooch with such pride. Bill Manhire’s speech was quintessentially ‘Kiwi’ and his easy going, intelligent and kind and generous words resonated with everyone. Bill English and Joy Cowley also gave good speeches, and it really was a good night to be a New Zealander.
I spent one day enjoying the sites of Frankfurt and had the bizarre experience of reading Fifty Shades of Grey (it really was research for our panel) at a café on the river and then visiting the nearby 12th century Cathedral called the Dom. #wordsfailme #definitionofirony
The Fair itself is larger than one can even begin to imagine, and even though I’d been there last year, I was still amazed.
Just one of the many Halls. Shuttles ferry tired visitors between the Halls
Digital played a much larger role this year, with several stages devoted to discussions of digital publishing of one sort or another, and the StoryDrive Conference was a magnet for many. I also attended an excellent presentation on Networked Publishing arranged by Helmut von Berg of Klopotek, moderated by David Worlock, with a distinguished panel of speakers (Brian O’Leary, Fionnuala Duggan, Ingrid Goldstein and Christian Dirschl) which looked beyond digital product.
The actual footprint of digital products was still small in comparison to the still almost overwhelming focus on print. In the ebook survey conducted by Bowker (discussed in a keynote at the Tools of Change Conference), New Zealand had one of the lowest uptakes of ebooks, but I imagine our presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the resulting demand for New Zealand titles might well drive quicker exploration of digital in New Zealand too.
The New Zealand stand bustled with activity every time I stopped by. It seemed everyone at the fair was interested in New Zealand as a whole, not just in its publishing. We are so far away from nearly anywhere else, that it seems almost a mystical place to many people.
It was truly a memorable experience to be at the Fair this year. And congratulations to all who were involved in creating the wonderfully creative and wide-ranging representation of New Zealand culture.
Home sweet home
October 27th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § permalink
Digital publishing moves quickly, and a while back, I wanted to see all the posts I’d written over the past year or so to see how they held up [pretty well I think, she says modestly] and it was easy enough to do, but not as easy as it might have been.
And then I thought of Pressbooks and also thought it might be nice to have all my posts available in one easy-to-read place. So I’ve compiled them into a [free] online book here Musings on Digital (thanks Pressbooks).
I’ll update it as I write new blogs.
October 2nd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § permalink
First of all, let me say I am SO delighted to be going to Frankfurt when New Zealand is the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair!
In finalising things before leaving for the Tools of Change Conference and the Fair, I have been pondering again my dual working life (explored fully in my last post).
I have a foot in both the Tech and the Publishing businesses. Working at a software company keeps me on my toes and reminds me that no matter how much I’ve achieved in the past or how well I’ve done academically, there is always more to learn. I’m not yet fluent in the language of SQL servers, networks, and computer infrastructure, but I can hold a decent conversation. I’ve also learned just how important communication and tacit knowledge is. What people take for granted is often the thing that is the hardest to explain: it’s so ‘known’ that the words are not there. It’s been fascinating to see the theory of Knowledge Management (a postgraduate paper I did last year), borne out. And I am only fully aware of this in this environment because I’ve come from the outside in. I’m no longer the one with all the knowledge.
The proverbial other side of the coin is why it is precisely those from outside an industry who may see the opportunities. We know that the tech startups have much to offer the Publishing industry. However, it’s not just because of their tech skills, but because they are outsiders, with new perspectives. I explore some of this ‘rewriting of narratives’ in an article just published in Publishing Perspectives called ‘Why Fanfics are like Startups‘.
All my new and my own tacit knowledge come together here at Say Books, where I explore my passion for online publishing, and can establish close relationships with authors and readers. I love one on one conversations (Susan Cain, yes!). Of course in the Castle fandom, and with people who share my enthusiasm for publishing, I can be mistaken for an especially outgoing extrovert!
July 28th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § permalink
Or ‘Anna ruminates (endlessly) about who she is in an online world and how to deal with multiple online identities’
I have a relatively complicated, online life, which goes counter to my recommendations for integrated digital strategy! But what I’ve realised, is that this ‘messiness’ is also a reflection of human reality, where subjectivity is neither clear cut nor perfectly integrated.
Bear with me …
For most of last year, I was a Postgraduate student of Business and Administration (Bus Info Systems), and in mid-year co-founded Say Books, our digital publishing consultancy and now also publishing company. This is where my interest in ‘book’ publishing is invested, where I experiment with new business models based on the premise that online is (nearly) everything, and where I blog about digital publishing. It is the account I use to tweet about digital publishing (@saybooks), and the ID I used for posting on LinkedIn in early 2011. It is in this role that I present at publishers’ conferences (Publishers’ Forum, Berlin, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change Conference, Frankfurt in 2011, 2012), and write articles (see Publishing Perspectives here and here).
Author-it Software Corporation
My interest in digital publishing is complemented by my other work, but is separate from it. In September last year, I started working as a Consultant/Project Manager for Author-it Software Corporation, the innovative company in the enterprise content authoring, managing and publishing space. Ever a devotee of content management and technology for publishing, I was immediately attracted to their slogan when someone referred to them in a LinkedIn discussion: One Source. One Solution, and sought them out. It is wonderful working in an environment where innovative thinking, content management and technology is part of the very fibre of the company. (I don’t tweet about Author-it from my @saybooks account because my affiliation with Author-it is not transparent there, and I like to be scrupulous about disclosure.)
Geeking out on Twitter
Another part of my life is devoted to following popular culture and in particular the TV Show, Castle. » Read the rest of this entry «
June 3rd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § § permalink
The chapters have been written, all have been uploaded, and Fences, our first online subscription novel, is now published and available as an ebook (on Amazon, AllRomance, Kobo and our website).
What did we learn?
We learnt that experimenting is great fun, a lot of work, more time consuming than we’d imagined, and that people are generous and supportive (there’s always an exception).
We used Pressbooks™ because it is a simple web-based book production system for presenting long-form narrative online, has a commenting system, has the facility to sign up subscribers, and produces valid epubs. These points were key. Although Pressbooks isn’t currently set up for the subscription model I wanted, the basic infrastructure gave me sufficient leeway to create an ecommerce model that would work for us. Hugh McGuire was, as always, at the ready to help out with tech issues to do with activating subscribers (an area outside of our direct control, and handled by Pressbooks).
The other important part was that because this was our own publishing venture, I was free to experiment. The only guarantees we needed in order to proceed were that we could deliver what we promised and that payments were secure. A few subscribers had hiccups related to receiving activation emails for the subscriber site, and some struggled with downloading the final zipped ebook files, but in general things worked pretty seamlessly, with the ecommerce part working perfectly. I’ve become friends with quite a few subscribers in the process too.
The other key was to have an author who not only understands the online world, but for whom writing online to an actively participating audience is the norm. We were thus very fortunate to have Laura Bontrager writing for us. She is a very good writer, widely read, an extremely warm-hearted person, very respectful towards all the subscribers, and much loved by her fans.
Almost half of the subscribers donated more than the $5 required to receive an ebook in the end, many of those donated double than that, and only a handful of people donated less than $2. Most subscribers seemed to like the idea of supporting a writer’s work and efforts, and really did embrace the idea of being a patron of the arts. Let me also make clear that for this particular project, Laura is earning the lion’s share. We will revisit the contract for Laura’s next book, but our intention is always to treat our partnership with our authors as exactly that: a collaborative effort with the royalty reflecting that.
It was great having access to Google Analytics for the various sites (including our own website) and that gave us a good indication of interest. Clearly there was a spike on the first day, and until Google blocked our bulk emails, we got a similar spike every day when we emailed the update regarding the latest chapter. (We will be using something like MailChimp for bulk emails next time.) We got similar traction with our daily reminder tweet. (I’m not sure how our usual followers felt about these tweets as they are used to getting tweets from us about digital publishing.)
We will be meeting with Hugh to discuss everything in more detail and to see how we can work together to ensure a seamless subscription service, particularly regarding activation of subscribers. We’ll also simplify things for ourselves in terms of maintaining the Pressbooks sites, and we’ll probably continue with the same ecommerce system, which worked well.
While we assume that most readers buying the files from our website (which provides Laura and us with greater revenue) will have the technical nous to install the relevant ereading apps etc, we may need to provide some generic instructions for subscribers about downloading files to the different platforms, how to install Kindle and iBook apps, ADE, etc.
We’ll also look at ways we can engage with our readers even more.
It has been a great couple of months, we’ve had a ball, and I can’t thank Laura, the subscribers, all our readers, and Hugh, enough. We’ll keep the subscriber site open for a while to new readers. Existing subscribers will continue to have access to it for the foreseeable future.