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BookNet Canada Tech Forum round-up: pirates, pricing, and social media

This year’s BookNet Canada Technology Forum – or “gathering of beautiful nerds,” as Soft Skull Press founder Richard Nash called it – took place on March 25 at Toronto’s MaRS Centre, and involved about 200 publishing professionals. The theme was “Calculated Risk: Adventures in Book Publishing,” and attendees spent the day discussing the intersection of technology and publishing.

Bob Miller of Workman Publishing (formerly of HarperStudio) had some counterintuitive ideas about the rise of book piracy. “Certainly, if we saw our business being pirated completely, it would be terrible. However, we give away 2,000 copies at BookExpo, and we’re upset if we can’t give them all away!” he said. “So I think 2,000 copies being pirated is good news. It shows they will read it, tell their friends, and go buy the author’s next book.”

This sentiment was echoed by Richard Nash. “Two thousand pirated e-books is a good sign – it means somebody wants the damn things,” he said. Nash suggested that the real risk is for the publishing industry to stagnate. “It is too risky not to completely reconceive our business. The risk lies in remaining siloed, remaining in the manufacturing business.” What aspiring authors need to do, he said, is become an active part of the writing community – not just to get published, but for their personal happiness. Writers should submit to literary journals, read their favourite authors’ blogs, and attend reading series to avoid the “post-partum depression” that comes with publishing a book.

Michael Tamblyn gave a slick PowerPoint presentation detailing the first year of Kobo (which, he pointed out, is both the Japanese word for “workshop” and Trinidadian slang for “vulture”). Tamblyn revealed that, in e-book land, long-form reading is alive and well: Kobo’s three best-selling e-books are Pride & Prejudice, Dracula, and Little Women.

On top of that, it turns out pricing is not the top concern of e-book readers. According to focus group research, said Tamblyn, the most valued aspect of e-books across all demographics and income levels is the ability to buy a book instantly, followed by the ability to carry books around with you wherever you go. Although readers said e-books must always be cheaper than print books, this was not their biggest concern.

Additionally, Tamblyn believes that the $9.99 price point for e-books is not immovable. “The bet is that customers want the books enough, are passionate enough about reading, and are loyal enough to the authors they love that they’re going to absorb a $2 to $5 price jump.” As for the new Kobo e-reader, which will be available in Canada this May, Tamblyn refers to it as “the e-reader for everyone,” the model in between the premium e-readers and the “low-cost-but-basically-hideous” e-readers. The Kobo e-reader, which will sell for $149, is intended for people who care about reading more than technology, who “aren’t willing to drop $200 for a device.”

One of the most retweeted speakers was Deanna McFadden (@tragicrighthip) of HarperCollins Canada, who said she’s tired of hearing that the book is dead. “Publishing is pronounced dead in every e-mail newsletter I receive on a daily basis, and I think the novel died again last week for maybe its 27th time,” she said. As a strong believer in top 10 lists, she offered the audience 10 tips for promoting content on the Web, from analyzing your online traffic to using social media wisely.

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