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Going Digital in Frankfurt

Writing.ie | Resources | Digital Publishing | Getting Published

Patrick Crowley

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It is 8.30pm on Friday evening and I have just dropped my case in the hallway, having returned from Frankfurt. I’m wreaked, but still feeling the rush of the book fair and I have to sit down and share the experience with you, which may make me a very unpopular man this weekend. Frankfurt is the world’s largest international trade book fair, and it’s quite an experience. This year’s FBF was my first with ePubDirect and it is a very different experience to attending a book fair as a publisher. It’s refreshing to get a different perspective and come at the industry from a different angle. As a publisher, there can be a lot of secrecy around potential deals and publishers can be wary of saying too much, whereas on the digital side of things everyone seems very open and confident about how things are going. There is a heavy emphasis on making friends and connections as there is recognition that you need strong partners to prosper. We were in the digital hub in Hall 8 and the place was humming with deals, debate, and all things data related.

With just under 50 meetings scheduled between us all for the 3 days, I envisioned plenty of time to explore the halls of Frankfurt Book Fair. I had a great list of really interesting publishers, retailers and marketing providers all ready to drop into; however our 50 meetings soon ended up being 170 meetings in all, including visitors to our stand making enquires, so the only time I was able to leave the stand was to go grab a Bratwurst and coffee from the food dock!

The highlight for us was our announcement of a Strategic Alliance with US based CodeMantra, which is already providing us with a strong basis on which to build our presence in the US market. We also unveiled our new eBook Analytics Package, which, judging by the popularity of our sales & marketing material was the primary talking point for a lot of meetings. These two combined resulted in a very busy few days for us.

From left: Matthew (ePubDirect), Gareth (ePubDirect), Jonathan (CodeMantra) and Scott (CodeMantra)

As most publishers know, FBF is enormous with around 7,400 exhibitors from 100+ countries sprawled over a number of huge football field sized halls. With masses of people (estimated at 290,000), moving sidewalks, escalators at every corner, cavernous connectors and a multitude of publishing services, the fair is a dizzying throng of stories and ideas and innovation.

I found the mood fairly positive, with publishers really making progress in realigning themselves to take advantage of digital opportunities. It appears progressive publishers are taking a very aggressive approach in addressing the cost issues within their business, in staying close to their customer base, identifying the aspects of business to invest in, eliminating waste and in focusing on growth.

The fair had a really good focus on digital this year, and there was lots of excitement around new digital start-ups, new routes to market, moves in the increasingly important B2C space, eBook marketing and of course everyone was eager to hear how the big retailers are competing and pushing for more market share. Here’s my roundup of digital take aways.

  • Devices: With Kobo and Amazon recently announcing new devices, and Apple making noise about the iPad mini, everyone was keen on getting a look at the new devices and trying to figure out how they will impact the market this Christmas. The 10 euro Beagle ereader from txtr came from left field and took a lot of people by surprise.
  • Discovery:As demand for eBooks grows, the opportunity to sell books in markets around the world grows with it. For most books purchase depends on discovery and in a digital world, discovery starts with effective metadata. Our stand was right next to one of the Hot Spot stages and there was a panel called ‘When will we stop talking about Metadata’… The answer was ‘never’ and metadata does seem to be as vital as ever for influencing eBook sales.
  • Digital only: There a number of start-ups doing digital only and are able to structure their business models accordingly, quite often allowing them greater opportunities for profitability. There are also a number of new retail channels becoming available, like Zola.
  • The ‘Digital Mindset’: eBooks present a fantastic digital opportunity that traditional publishing cannot provide. Publishers are now being more realistic in terms of testing the market and changing strategies according to demand. Price seems to one of the key issues publishers are experimenting with, dropping price to drive volume and then bringing it back up to drive value, or getting value from other linkages. The fixed retail price may soon be a thing of the past.
  • Analytics: Our CEO, Gareth Cuddy, gave a talk on Wednesday titled ‘eBook Distribution: Pitfalls and Opportunities’ where he discussed how visibility on eBook performance has become crucial for publishers to enable them make decisions around pricing, sales channels, return on investment and future resource allocation. At ePubDirect we don’t think that eBook marketing has developed as fast as eBook publishing and there is a real hunger for good performance data to facilitate smarter data based marketing decisions in order to drive sales. This really seemed to tap into a wider analytics issue within the industry where publishers want data from Amazon, Kobo, Aggregators, Distributers etc to allow them make informed decisions.
  • Kobo: Watch out for those guys, they definitely throw the best parties!

About the author

(c) Patrick Crowley October 2012

ePubDirect has been guiding clients through both simple and complex transitions to digital markets since 2008. They have built up a reputation within the publishing industry for commitment, trust and innovation. They have also developed a deep understanding of their client’s needs and came to realise that many publishers simply cannot afford to invest time, personnel and funds into developing their own digital strategy. That is their job. Find out more at www.epubdirect.com

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