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Webinar Recap: Emerging Technologies to Optimize Book Publishers’ Content Strategies

By: Claire Farley

In a recent webinar presented by Book Business and Printing Impressions, Emerging Technologies to Optimize Book Publishers’ Content Strategies, Brett Cohen, president of Quirk Books, suggests an interesting distinction between the changes that the digital revolution has brought to the music and film industries and those experienced by the book industry. This distinction has to do with content. While distribution and revenue models have evolved in all media industries, the content models, the source materials, of both music and film have largely stayed the same: “we’ve always consumed music in roughly the same way… the player has changed but the experience hasn’t.” The same could be said for the first wave of digital publishing, and the transition to the ebook. The Emerging Technologies webinar engages in a discussion of the ways that recent innovations in digital publishing have expanded beyond an evolution in revenue and distribution channels and toward a paradigm shift in the way content itself is created. Brett Cohen sums up this shift well: “the printed world is no longer static; the book no longer needs to be a linear experience.”

Augmented Reality

Of course, authors have explored the non-linear narrative since the Iliad. These emerging technologies represent truly dynamic and experiential possibilities that can be introduced both at the level of a book’s first conceptualization by its author, and equally as post-production promotional tools by publishers—both are exciting opportunities for the development of Canadian literature. As we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, digital restructuring inevitably results in an exchange of information and partnerships with other media industries. As Scott Jochim, CEO of Popar Toys and webinar guest, explains, the success of Popar’s transition from a gaming company to a print publisher would not have been possible without the integration of Qualcomm’s software, Vuforia. Scott’s philosophy is that while the transition from print to ebooks does create a digital companion product for the printed book, it does little to expand the possibilities inherent in a book’s content. Popar books aim to introduce a totally new experience of the content itself; their educational “augmented reality” books come to life when a smart device equipped with their software is held above the book’s pages, effectively adding a layer of digital information to the printed book. The book is transformed into something interactive as related games and activities are made available on the screen. Popar’s augmented reality books won awards for both best toy and best book in 2011, illustrating the power of cross-branding. While both revenue and distribution opportunities were opened by introducing a digital component to the books, the success of Popar’s products comes from employing emerging software technologies in order to restructure the books contents to accommodate more interactive and dynamic learning models.

Interactive Ebooks and Apps

Popar books provide a good example of what can be done with technologies like augmented reality; however, these developments represent a significant investment and experimental risk that small publishers are largely incapable of committing to. Quirk Books provides a better example of the way these emerging technologies are employed by publishers interested in developing their print content for these new platforms. Quirk’s best-known title is the New York Times bestseller, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009). Quirk has since released an interactive ebook of the novel, which employs gyroscope technology to enable the reader to peruse the original Jane Austin text alongside the parody. The purpose of this ebook release was to employ interactive ebook technology to make the content into something different, something new, and in so doing extend the life cycle of a bestseller. Though the app was named Apple app of the week on its release, Brett admits that discoverability is always difficult in the App Store. To develop an innovative use for digital book technology is not a success in itself; it is still up to publishers to know how to find an audience for these products, and to integrate cross-promotional tactics into both physical and digital versions.

Some takeaways on experimenting with emerging technologies:

  • Be excited about the possibilities: the best approach to emerging technologies is experimentation. It’s difficult to pin down a formula for what works and what doesn’t—do something that excites you.
  • Know your audience: Who is your reader? What’s important to them? How can they be engaged? These are questions that you can probably provide confident answers to. You should also consider the ways a digital product will engage new audiences, and have clear goals in mind about who this new audience is and how to reach them. Why would they want this product? And most importantly, where will they find it?
  • Make the digital product different from print: the best case scenario is that a consumer will want both the print and digital versions of the content, and for different reasons. Keeping this goal in mind will also help you to avoid cannibalizing print content for digital, thereby devaluing the print product. Collaborating with knowledgeable and experienced partners, like app developers, will prove invaluable here.
  • Promotion: build promotion into the product or product use cycle by promoting an app inside the book as a companion product that will help the consumer make the most of the content. Use an app to introduce a fresh perspective on the re-issue of a title.
  •  Pricing: your content is competing with a host of other digital content—including your own! The app market is based on the philosophy of free; keep this in mind as you use digital technologies as an integrated part of your marketing strategy.

The webinar is now available on-demand until December 24, 2014. Visit the Book Business website to view the webinar.

12/01/2014 | Digital, Export