Tech and Publishing: From the Outside In

October 2nd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § 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!

Hello, Frankfurt!

Separation anxiety and the digital divide

July 28th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § 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 …

Working life

Say Books

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 «

Jumping fences with our online subscription novel

June 3rd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 3 comments § 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).

Fences for subscribers websiteWe 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.

The numbers

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.)

What’s next

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.

Improvising Madly – the musical

May 11th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Here is a link to a flash file of the improvised (you’ll see what I mean) musical version of Improvising Madly: Jazz, Agile workflows and Integrated Digital Strategy, the presentation I gave with Brian O’Leary at the recent Publisher’s Forum in Berlin. The music is ‘Take the A Train’, played by the great Duke Ellington and his band.

The presentation illustrates some of the points I made in my article, Let’s Improvise!, published in Publishing Perspectives.


Duke Ellington


Publishers’ Forum, Berlin, revisited

May 2nd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 1 comment § permalink

I attended the recent Publishers’ Forum in Berlin for the first time this year.

axica interior

axica conference and convention centre, designed by Frank Gehry

I was impressed with how the presentations intelligently intersected in interesting and relevant ways. The sense at the end of the two days was of a dynamic network of intelligent content, created by people with vision and energy.

Helmut von Berg of Klopotek was an indefatigable host and organiser and was as passionate about the subject as any of the speakers. It is commitment of this sort that will lead the way.

Brian O’Leary’s keynote address ‘Context First Revisited’ was as relevant today as when he first presented it in 2010, although now the word ‘container’ is simply a term we all use when talking about books. That his terminology has become part of the currency of digital publishing demonstrates how important his insights were and still are for us all.

All the sessions I attended were worthwhile and had something to offer. (As an English speaker, the German sessions were not an option, but looked very good too.) One of the English sessions that made a particular impression on me was that by Gregor Wolf and Christian Kohl, ‘Integrating e-commerce with the back office software’. This is a side of publishing that most prefer not to think about; social media for instance is so much more exciting to talk about (and yes, as important). But it is precisely this kind of work behind the scenes that is crucial to the success of digital publishing. The presentation was focused, to the point, and the system they described seemed deceptively simple: a mark of true elegance, thorough analysis and hard work.

I want to thank my co-presenters, Ingrid Goldstein, and Brian O’Leary, who are both a joy to work with. I was privileged to have had this opportunity to present with them.

This conference gave me renewed confidence in the future of ‘book’ publishing, whatever the ‘book’ may look like.

Note: This post also appears on the Forum website.

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