Text Publishing is an independent trade publisher based in Melbourne. They publish a very broad range of fiction and non-fiction books, both international and local, for adults and young adults. We find out more about their digital strategy in this interview with Michelle Calligaro, Digital Manager at Text.
Please tell us a little about Text Publishing and your experience with digital publishing to date?
We started producing digital editions of our books in June 2010, in direct response to a request from Kobo for local content on their new Australian online store. Kobo managed the conversion of our first batch of titles to the ePub format, which was just the impetus we needed to get started.
Tell us a bit about your digital strategy?
Essentially, our strategy is to have our books on as many e-retail sites as we can, to give our authors the biggest scope for sales, and to give our readers the opportunity to read our books in whatever format suits them. We are now simultaneously releasing all new titles in print and digital format, while we also continue conversion of our backlist. As well as Kobo (and their affiliate websites – Borders and A&R), our eBooks are now available through Amazon, Google, eBooks Corporation, Overdrive, Ingram, and local independent start-ups Booki.sh and ReadCloud. Part of this expansion is finding and making the most of online publicity and marketing opportunities; developing strong relationships with our e-retailers and experimenting with price and promotion to see what works best for our books.
Does digital publishing make a substantial contribution to your business financially?
At Christmas 2010, eBooks made up about 1% of sales. Now, twelve months later, we are hovering around 10-15% of sales. And I believe Christmas 2011 is going to be a significant turning point for readers in Australia moving to the digital format. I have no doubt we will pass 20% in 2012, particularly after watching the growth in the US, which is traditionally a couple of years ahead.
Do you have any views on DRM and/or piracy?
Piracy is a given and DRM is not infallible. The best way for us to deal with it is by making our eBooks readily available through all retail channels. Most readers who go online looking for a book are instinctively looking for a retailer they know, or are comfortable with; they are hoping the book will be easy to find, reasonably priced and work with their device, whatever that may be. They don’t want to mess around with pirated software, risk computer viruses or have pop-up windows offering them internet sex whenever they log on. There is a level of good faith in any transaction and it needs to be balanced so that it suits both the seller and buyer.
What role do you think territorial copyright plays in the digital publishing age?
Territorial copyright is very important. An international rights sale can be a significant income for an Australian author, particularly if they sell into a large territory like the UK. And as the sales of digital books increase, the ability to own the digital rights to a book in their territory will start to become a deal-breaker for any publisher. We know from long experience that a publisher working in the region has a much better chance of really making a book work. It is about community, and while there are all sorts of international communities now, local culture and expression is still a really important element of the writing and reading experience.
You have relationships with various aggregators/retailers – do any of these work particularly well for you, and if so, why?
I have to say that Amazon is by far our biggest e-retailer based on number of sales. But we don’t have the opportunity to promote our books through Amazon, because they don’t have an Australian shopfront. The local bookstore has long been Text’s heartland – where people who know and love our books can pass on that love to their customers. I’m hoping a strong model will emerge that can embrace the local bookstore with the online space. Local publishers need to support local e-retailers, so they can stock the titles their customers want to read. Then they can provide the kind of experience you get walking into your local bookshop. This is where I want to buy my eBooks.
What conversion services do you use – would you recommend a particular service for those who are just starting out in digital publishing?
We use a couple of different services. Formax in the US do the bulk of our conversions and we work with Kate Broome in New Zealand on titles where we are looking for a quick turnaround. I can happily recommend both, as they are excellent at meeting deadlines and responsive to email requests. It is difficult when you are working across different time zones, so knowing you will get a reply within a couple of hours or overnight is important.
It helps to have someone on your team who understands a bit about the process. For example, we can make alterations in-house if a link has been missed or simple formatting has dropped out. This has certainly enabled us to have ePub files ready more quickly. We are also aiming to do new conversions in-house as the software improves. Even in the last twelve months, this process has become easier. We have recently done InDesign-to-ePub training, and I think it will soon be almost as easy as converting from InDesign to PDF.
You don’t sell eBooks directly from your website, is there any particular reason for that?
It is something we’ve considered. At this point, the infrastructure and expense to set up is an issue, and we are focusing on working with our e-retailers to promote our books. They have the customer base and sales experience in this area. I strongly believe that we need to support e-retailers as much as we can. I have a strong independent bookshop bone in my body and believe that spirit can be just as successful online if they can offer the range of books and experience that they do in their bricks-and-mortar stores.
Does digital publishing offer you any indirect (non-financial) benefits, e.g., strategic, social, cultural, etc?
One of the most exciting things about digital publishing is the opportunity to reach international audiences like never before. We don’t distribute our print books internationally, but now our digital books are in e-bookstores across Europe, theUS and UK, and they will only continue to reach wider audiences as more countries get involved.
Does social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc) play an important role in your digital publishing activities?
We use all these social media avenues to promote our books; it just makes sense as more people are shopping and spending time online. We promoted our YouTube video of Noni Hazlehurst reading Go the F**k to Sleep through all these channels and had over 180,000 hits on the site within a few hours. Subsequent sales of that title have been fantastic. Obviously, the ripple effect of the online community is a huge force when it sees something it likes. I think we are only just touching the surface when it comes to online marketing potential.
Do you have any views on the controversial topics of eBook pricing or author royalties?
We currently set our list price for eBooks at the same price as the printed book and author’s receive 25% net receipts. The small sales of digital books have not warranted a change at this point, but as the sales increase for digital titles, pricing and royalties will continue to be reviewed.
Knowing what you know now, if you were getting involved in digital publishing today is there anything you would do differently?
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and it would have been great to have a more streamlined production and testing schedule from the beginning. But, actually, where the process is new for everyone and there isn’t any collective experience to tap into, you really just have to throw yourself in and go for it. There is a lot of scope for trial and error at the moment and what we have learned in the last twelve months, we couldn’t have learned in any other way.
What is the one key piece of advice you would give to a publisher who is about to enter the digital publishing space?
Don’t hold back. It really is the future of trade publishing and you need to be publishing digitally if you want to reach the biggest audience for your work.
What are your plans for the future when it comes to digital publishing?
There are so many opportunities to explore in digital publishing. Sales and marketing opportunities are big on our agenda. There are new e-retailers starting up all the time and we will continue to work with as many as we can. The success we had with Go the F**k to Sleep, which I described earlier, is encouraging us to think beyond the traditional marketing and promotional avenues. There is SO much information out there, so many sites, so many interesting things. Now that our eBooks are out there, how do we help readers find them amongst everything else?
We are also looking at the potential for enhanced eBooks and apps, and ways to get our authors more prominent profiles online, through video and audio opportunities. I am attending the Digital Book World Conference in New York in January, to immerse myself in what US publishers are doing and to find out where the experts see the industry heading. It’s very exciting times in publishing and I’m thrilled to be involved.