Amazon Kindle Kobo Nook iBooks Apple Barnes & Noble ereaders ebooks

But I Paid for It! Ebook Ownership and the ReDigi Case

On September 20, 2014, I became the proud owner of my very first ereader–a Kindle Paperwhite. After years of avoiding ebooks because I preferred the texture of paper, a life in Japan had left me yearning for English language books that didn’t cost an arm and a leg to have shipped across the pond. I even bought a nifty case that made my Kindle feel like a real book. My journey into owning a digital library had begun.

What I didn’t know at the time was how many restrictions that content came with. All I could see, as a casual consumer, was that any ebook I wanted to purchase would cost the same as a paperback or hardcover edition.

Of course, I would learn later the many intricate reasons behind this pricing model, but that’s a tale for another day. More to the point was the idea that I was receiving as close to the same product regardless of what format I purchased it in. Which one would expect, given how much you pay.

That’s not actually the case.

When a consumer buys an ebook (regardless of the retail site), they are not actually buying a book. They are buying an extended lease to the content. That content is not only chained to the platform you got it from (through DRM), but it is also, contractually, linked to your current account, and that account alone.

Have you ever tried to transfer iTunes purchases to a brand new account? Move an old MP3 library to a shared computer? Maybe you tried to download an ebook you previously purchased from an account where the credit card on file is now expired. Perhaps you attempted to share an ePub or MOBI file with a friend the same way you would lend a physical book. Maybe you wanted to bequeath your digital library to an heir.

No matter your motive for trying to move that content from one device to another, you’d be violating the lender’s term of service. As snarky Mr. Know-It-All Brendan I. Koerner from Wired states:

If convenient euphemisms could somehow be outlawed, the “Buy now with 1-Click” button on Kindle pages would have to be relabeled “License now with 1-Click.” Amazon’s terms of service clearly state that, unlike those bulky slabs of arboreal matter that imparted knowledge to generations past, Kindle books can never be owned in the traditional sense. Instead, your $12.99 merely earns you the right to view the work on your Kindle. This arrangement gives Amazon the authority to snatch back that content if the company thinks you’ve been naughty—say, by copying and distributing ebooks or by engaging in fraud with your account.

Look at it from Amazon’s perspective: Part of the rationale for letting you resell old-school books is that you can do so only once—after the transaction is complete, the physical book is, by definition, no longer in your possession. That’s not necessarily the case with ebooks, which can be duplicated with ease. If Amazon grants its customers true ownership of Kindle books, it will have no quick recourse against scoundrels who resell books multiple times without deleting the original. Wiping someone’s Kindle stash is a lot easier than filing a lawsuit.

Which brings me to a court case happening in the U.S. Court of Appeals this week. ReDigi,  an online marketplace that enables the resale of “used” digital content, is being sued for by Capitol Records for copyright infringement. The case could very well set a new precedent for what ownership means in the digital world, and ebooks could be greatly affected (self-publishers should probably pay attention, too).

ReDigi emerged in 2012 with a patent that promised “copyless” resale of digital products, including music, audio books, ebooks, and anything else that can be transferred via the Internet. As described in court filings, ReDigi works by running continuously on the user’s computer, ensuring that any music listed for sale on their site no longer exists on the seller’s computer.

The case is of interest to more than authors, as retailers like Apple and Amazon have also taken out patents on similar services. It was certainly of concern to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), who added their own evidence to the court via an amicus curiae:

The Association of American Publishers (AAP)  today filed an amicus curiae brief in Capitol Records, LLC v. Redigi, Inc., an important copyright case concerning whether “used” creative digital content can be resold in the online environment. AAP has urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to affirm the district court’s decision, which found no plausible legal interpretation under the Copyright Act that would permit a company to reproduce and resell digital music files without a license. In addition to rejecting application of the “first sale” doctrine under Section 109 of the Act, the district court found that all four factors of fair use under Section 107 weighed against the defendant ReDigi which has appealed the decision.

In its brief, the AAP notes that the rapid growth of digital publications (including eBooks, professional and scholarly publications, and adaptive educational content) make the threat of Redigi’s business activities to publishers and their markets “not hypothetical.” AAP explains the critical interest of publishers in ensuring that federal courts apply the first sale doctrine as a defense against infringement pursuant to the plain meaning of the statute, which limits application of the defense to situations where the owner of a lawful copy of the copyrighted work embodied in a tangible “material object” chooses to distribute that particular copy. The owner of the lawful copy cannot assert the defense if distribution of the work is achieved by reproducing the copy.

Putting aside the somewhat distracting argument of whether ReDigi’s business is copyright infringement or not (which allows publishers and retailers to brush aside the bigger issue of ebook cost and ownership), this case could be a pretty big deal. If the court rules in ReDigi’s favor–citing the existence of used book, CD, vinyl, and DVD industries–the ebook game could change pretty drastically. The ability to resell an ebook would mean that books, which are less likely than music to be revisited, could be discarded after they are read or abandoned, diminishing the need for anyone to buy an ebook “new.” In effect, the ebook industry would turn into a rental economy, and ebook rentals (and subscription services) haven’t done well in the past.

Why Should Authors Care?

If this all seems like problems for the publishers and readers, there’s another point to be cognizant of: royalties.

Currently, the used book market is really the one place where authors do not collect royalties on legitimate sales of their work. Authors are entitled to royalty only on the first sale of their book, whether that happens on Amazon, iBooks, or in a brick and mortar store. Depending on what country you live in, you might even have access to a fund that provides you some cash to offset what you might have lost by having your book in a public library.

But there’s no way to track an author through the system when it comes to resale, so it’s simply not done. While the U.S. Supreme Court rightfully protects the right for consumers to resell tangible objects, digital files don’t degrade or corrode over time. Unless the technology format completely changes (which happens), the file is usable, and re-downloadable, as often as the user likes, as functional as the first time. The concept of “used” digital media is pretty ridiculous.

For authors, and especially self-published authors (who see, on average, smaller returns for each individual sale due to competitive pricing), a used ebook market could mean a deep cut into their annual profits, with no recourse. The self-published community has worked hard to build perceived value into ebooks since the $0.99 craze years ago, with average ebook pricing now sitting at $3.99 for most fiction titles. Used ebooks could see that number crash to the same microscopic numbers again.

The Other Side

Of course, it isn’t all bad news. If the court recognizes that the fight isn’t with copyright, but with ownership of the object, that might make retailers and publishers alike rethink how they define an ebook. After all, if you’re paying the same price, you should be getting the same product. What do you all think? Would you prefer a market that fairly prices “leased” ebooks in juxtaposition with their physical counterparts, or would you rather keep the current pricing model, and do away with DRM (and truly own your ebook) permanently, even if that ushered in a secondary used ebook market?

Print Pod setup at RAPID 3D Printing Tradeshow

Rise of the Indie: Print Markets and the Road Ahead

When publishers rejoice at the “failure” of the digital market, they aren’t actually celebrating the preservation of print: they’re reacting to the preservation of their market share as compared to the self-published industry. But print isn’t safe from the rise of the indie market, and it’s important for publishers to be prepared to compete where they have for so long dominated.

When tablets and the modern electronic book hit the publishing scene a decade ago, industry professionals suggested that ebooks sales would take a substantial share of the market (some claimed at least 50% by 2014).1 What they didn’t predict was that more than half of that new market would be dominated by the independent and self-publishing industry (hereafter referred to as the indie market).

The ways in which the traditional industry looks at data and the trends that data predicts has grown complicated. However, one thing is clear: digital is the purview of the indie market, and traditional publishers are struggling to maintain their market share, both in unit sales and revenue.

It’s no wonder then that, since early 2016, articles heralding the return of print sales and the decline of the ebook have given publishers and booksellers alike a reason to celebrate. With ebooks taking up only 18% of the total publishing market in Canada2 and a stagnant 23% in America,3 a market trend that suggests a worldwide return to print would mean publishers could blame an under-performing digital market as a reason to go back to doing what they’ve always been good at: publishing print books. Fortune Magazine’s digital editor, Andrew Nusca, relates some of why the traditional publishing industry celebrated the leveling out of the ebook market at the beginning of 2015:

Between 2008 and 2010, e-book sales skyrocketed 1,260%—a sign that the platform had matured and also a sign that it hadn’t quite gained traction up to that point. Amazon began shipping Kindles like mad. Barnes & Noble threw its hat into the e-reader ring. (A fateful decision, it turned out.) Print sales (especially for cheap paperbacks) slipped, bookstores large and small—but especially large—began to close up shop, and the entire publishing business was left shaking. A reprieve from that narrative is obviously welcome if you’re in the book business.4

Of course, it could be argued that there are specific reasons that the ebook market was willfully left to stagnate, but only some of those reasons are important for the scope of this essay.

THE DATA

Author Earnings - Trade Books by Format

Author Earnings, 2016.

The Situation Right Now

According to a report released by Author Earnings at the Digital Book World conference in January, 2017, the indie and Amazon Imprint ebook market accounted for 54% of total ebook sales in 2016.5 These numbers included ebooks sold through Amazon, iBooks, and other retailers that Author Earnings’s “spider” software could crawl for sales snapshots. Author Earnings itself admits that there are some limitations to the methodology for their quarterly reports (from which this data is compiled):

[E]ach of our quarterly snapshots, no matter how comprehensive, is only an X-Ray of the US ebook market at that exact moment. It’s what’s called a cross-sectional study. Like a freeze frame photo, it can only tell us how the ebook market is faring as a whole, rather than predicting the future prospects of any particular author along any particular publishing path. […] each data set can only tell us how each individual author’s books happen to be selling at that precise instant in time.

The picture painted by each quarterly report, taken on its own, is thus necessarily incomplete.

They tell us nothing about the consistency of those individual authors’ earnings over time.6

However, despite the “incompleteness” of the data, there are some trends, when taken with the contextual history of how the market has adapted to include self-publishing over time, that can help predict where the next big upset in the publishing landscape might occur.

Bodice Rippers and Coloring Books 

Author Earnings - Online Sales by Genre

Author Earnings, 2016. (Pink circles added)

The outliers of the publishing industry have a story to tell about what gets printed and what doesn’t.

Author Earnings says that Adult Fiction has moved online, but a majority of this is because of the booming romance category, which runs differently from the rest of the fiction market to begin with.7 Romance is also one of the many indie market’s digital-first genres, where authors test the reception of their work in ebook format first, before adding on a print edition. (The difference with romance being that the “insatiable readers” of romance will often buy a book twice to support the author, with whom they often have access to through author-moderated fan communities.)

Author Earnings reports that the other major outlier, coloring books, which sold almost 12 million copies in 20158 and 14 million in 2016,9 have not only shifted heavily into the indie market sector (with indie authors making up 60% of the market share), they’ve also stayed in print.

Sales of Coloring Books Went Indie - Author Earnings, 2016.

Author Earnings, 2016.

The magnitude of this trend should not be overlooked, especially when thinking about the future of the print market. In comparison to other types of books, coloring books have the fewest barriers to publication. There is little to no editing skill required, minimal production (layout, typography, and color printing knowledge are unnecessary), and anyone with basic knowledge of Word and PDF creation can make a book as professional as Penguin Random House in half the time. More importantly, the audience for these books care very little about who published it, so long as it fulfills their reasons for purchasing it. Most importantly, authors within the indie market can competitively price their books with the click of a button, undercutting their competition in much the same way that Amazon has been undercutting brick-and-mortar stores since 1994.

Print Isn’t “Safe” from the Self-Publishing Industry

Looking at the data, it is easy to see that the ebook market is dominated by indie publishers and will continue to be so—but with that comes the assumption that the print industry, while shrinking or stable, will remain firmly in the realm of traditional publishers. I argue that isn’t the case. The demand for self-published print books is growing,10 and will only continue to do so. Once the accessibility of print services open up in the same ways ebook technology did, a surge similar to what happened with digital publishing will occur on the print side of the industry.

I am not arguing that indie authors will (or won’t) overtake traditional publishers in the print market; rather, that it is short-sighted to assume that there won’t be a point in time at which those authors won’t be competing with traditional presses by taking up a larger slice of a shrinking pie. And, should traditional publishers not gain the sort of flexibility that they failed to exhibit throughout the growth of the digital market, they may find themselves not only unable to depend on title P&Ls for their business decisions, but repeatedly being challenged by the innovative spirit the indie market has demonstrated throughout their domination of the digital market.

However, there are a couple of issues that stand in the way of the indie market’s ability to compete within the print industry:

  1. Bookstores, libraries, and other stores that carry books have not yet shifted their policies regarding independently-published books. It is a fact taken for granted that the publishing industry is a consignment industry, and until a POD printer allows returns, or bookstores revoke their demand that a book be returnable (a pipe dream), indie authors will have to struggle, case-by-case, to be stocked on shelves.
  2. The technology that makes print paperbacks and print hardcover versions of books are not all that accessible to indie authors. By this, I mean that the software have high barriers to entry in the realms of functionality, costs, and flexibility.

DISTRIBUTION

Independent Bookstores on the Rise

Selling books in a brick-and-mortar store is fundamentally different from selling a book online. Chain brick-and-mortar stores are like Starbucks, the same no matter where you go. That homogeneity may be the reason sales are depressed, because there’s no reason to browse if every bookstore you go to has the same featured books that Amazon and other online retailers are carrying—and carrying at a much deeper discount.

One of the reasons that indie bookstores are on the rise may be because they bring flexibility and ingenuity back into the mix. Local communities care about whether their store survives. Titles feel handpicked and employees seem to have a more personalized touch when handselling.11 Independent bookstores still play a major role in deciding bestsellers. While some of this may be a collective narrative and no more, a narrative is more than powerful enough to make an idea succeed. And an environment that values locality and autonomy is an environment where indie authors can excel.

Hardcover and print unit sales for traditional publishers in 2016 were around 790 million. (Author Earnings, 2016). For self-publishers who have consistently been outselling and outearning traditionally published authors in the Amazon ebook market, print unit sales in the same year were closer to 22 million. The gap is clear. However, if print technologies through Createspace and Ingram become more accessible and fair, there’s no reason to think this won’t change. Despite the sound argument by Alison Strobel in her essay “Self-Publishing’s Limits”—regarding the need for distribution centers, warehouses, and upfront monetary investments the indie market will need in order to succeed in the print sector12—there is evidence to suggest that the market is leaning the other way: indie stores have a long tradition of hosting local author books and events, and Barnes & Noble is one of the few and notable chain bookstores that does the same. It may even be that, despite Barnes & Nobles’s questionable business decisions in the last few years, its flexibility in working with the indie communities is one of the reasons it has been surviving.13

Show Me the Money

Print remains the place where publishers receive the largest profit margin, even for POD printing. Traditional publishers sell less units of ebooks, but earn more revenue overall from each sale due to higher pricing structures. At first glance, it seems that many indie authors sell not only more units but earn more revenue, but the low price points for ebooks mean that many authors earn less than $500 a year.14

Sample print royalty rate for the book

Sample print royalty rate for the book “Darkly Never After,” a self-published anthology.

While an indie author will rarely have the advantage of bulk pricing for larger print runs, they will still see more from the sale of a $14.99 print book than a $2.99 ebook (the current median for ebook and print pricing in the indie market).

Sample Ebook Royalty Rate

Sample ebook royalty rate.

In addition, an indie author can undercut many traditional publishers in the print arena as print books for both paperback and hardcover have been steadily climbing.15 So long as the quality from one matches the quality of another, consumers won’t care. What happened to bookstores when Amazon reset the entire industry’s price point expectations will happen again, except this time with indie print books in opposition to traditionally-published print books on retail (and online) shelves. And with Amazon increasingly marketing its own imprints where it dominates online retail channels, this trend will only continue.

School Library Journal Average Book Prices for 2016.

School Library Journal, 2016.

ACCESSIBILITY

POD Printing

In 2008, at the height of IngramSpark’s print-on-demand reign, Amazon, which had recently acquired a POD printer called BookSurge, made a startling demand: if publishers wished to have their POD books carried by Amazon, they would have to use BookSurge, or their “BUY” buttons would be removed. Within a month, an antitrust lawsuit was filed against the online retail giant by small POD publisher BookLocker. The lawsuit would last two years and $300,000 in lawyer fees for the owners of BookLocker, but Amazon was forced to settle (and pay the lawyers). Not long after, Amazon rebranded BookSurge as CreateSpace, which is now one of, if not the largest POD printer for indie authors on the market. Ironically, despite its antagonistic history with Lightning Source/Ingram, it now relies on its competitor to make its Expanded Distribution Channels possible (an optional service on CreateSpace that makes a book published on Amazon “available” to bookstores and other retail outlets). Meanwhile, Ingram tends to market itself to established mid-sized and small or micro presses, leaving the bulk of the indie market to Amazon’s discretion. There are other competitors, such as Smashwords and Lulu, but it’s hard to argue Amazon’s power when it comes to being able to print a book, upload an ebook, and distribute it to a massive consumer base all on one platform—and now, with the introduction of KDP Print, all on one website.

If You Build It They Will Print It

Traditional publishers have been slow to adopt XML workflows, a process that would arguably speed up the entire publication process and transform production into a lean, efficient, metadata-rich system. Self-publishers, on the other hand, who aren’t indoctrinated by old standards of the publishing industry and prioritize digital-first environments to test out what is and isn’t enjoyed by their base, are primed to adopt XML with little resistance. Roadblocks to independent publishing in the past have included clunky and confusing PDF submission guidelines (in many ways necessitating access to Adobe products, which largely are only accessible through monthly subscription models—a system with little value proposition to an individual not planning to use the software more than 1 or 2 times a year). Guidelines for places like Ingram or Lightning Source run 30 to 40 pages; an overwhelming and confusing process for most indie authors.

However, last month, Amazon rolled out KDP Print, which, while in beta, seems to answer the frustrations long-expressed by the indie community by offering a way to turn their ebooks into a paperback—much like an XML workflow. This (along with companies like Draft2Digital, which make the process of formatting a book as simple as uploading a common document type), will facilitate the future of the indie market’s printing boom.

In the end, it is an oversight to assume that indie authors are only in the digital realm because that is where they want to be. In fact, many authors desire print versions of their work, and it is the technological capability alone that stands in their way.16 While in the early 2000s, this set indie authors up to be taken advantage of by predatory vanity presses like Author Solutions, in recent years, support communities like SFWA’s Writer Beware and Absolute Write have banded together on the shared desire to accredit publishing service providers both big and small.

KDP Print: Amazon is Moving In on Production

Earlier this year, Amazon unveiled a new service for its indie authors: KDP Print. In effect, this service gives a much needed facelift and UI improvements to CreateSpace. One of the most notable and massive changes is the marrying of ebook and print production under one URL (and therefore, one user account). All of the functionality of CreateSpace remains, except Amazon is flipping the traditional publishing process on its head: start with digital, then move to print.

This logically makes a great deal of sense. Amazon’s massive self-publisher market is already familiar (and loyal to) Kindle Direct Publishing, and the use of the similar interface takes away a lot of the confusion and mistrust with CreateSpace’s clunky and outdated interface. Gone are the pixelated instructional menus—authors can now glide through the print process as easily as uploading a Word or PDF document, and correct errors that CreateSpace would normally flag. In the past, platforms like Amazon Advantage and CreateSpace separated the two production processes for books so much that, for some authors, it was simply not worth the trouble.

What does it mean for KDP to now be offering print? In addition to a single space within which to view sales data for both print and ebooks, preorders may soon be on the table, a functionality Amazon added to KDP for ebooks a couple of years ago. Expect that indie authors will respond positively and aggressively to that change.

Conclusion

As barriers for self-published authors continue to diminish in making a product that rivals traditionally-published books, the lines between the two industries will further blur. If the traditional presses do not actively reflect on the aspects of their businesses that failed to make them competitive in certain digital genres, they can expect that when the print “boom” happens (and it will), that expansion for indies will be coming out of their own market share. With the state of the publishing industry already so precarious (especially in the United States and Canada), the upset could be far-reaching and intense. It isn’t about digital vs. print. It isn’t even about online vs. brick-and-mortar. It’s about two very different industry models vying for the same market, and as the digital realm has shown, consumers don’t prefer one over another—they just want good content.


Bibliography:

1. Flood, Alison. “Ebook Sales Pass Another Milestone.” The Guardian, April 15, 2011, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/apr/15/ebook-sales-milestone.
2. “Canadian Publishing in 2016: A Review.” BookNet Canada. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2017/1/30/canadian-publishing-in-2016-a-review.
3. “E-Book Share of Total Consumer Book Sales in the U.S. 2009-2015 | Statistic.” Statista. Accessed March 25, 2017. https://www.statista.com/statistics/190847/ebook-share-of-total-consumer-book-sales-in-the-us-till-2015/.
4. Nusca, Andrew. “Print Books Are far from Dead. But They’re Definitely on the Decline.” Fortune, September 24, 2015. http://fortune.com/2015/09/24/print-books-ebook-sales/.
5. “Print vs Digital, Traditional vs Non-Traditional, Bookstore vs Online: 2016 Trade Publishing by the Numbers” Author Earnings. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://authorearnings.com/report/dbw2017/.
6. “Individual Author Earnings Tracked across 7 Quarters, Feb. 2014 – Sept. 2015.” Author Earnings. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://authorearnings.com/report/individual-author-earnings-tracked-across-7-quarters-feb-2014-sept-2015/.
7. Ha, Thu-Huong. “Maverick Women Writers Are Upending the Book Industry and Selling Millions in the Process.” Quartz. Accessed March 25, 2017. https://qz.com/711924/maverick-women-are-upending-the-book-industry-and-selling-millions-in-the-process/.
8. “2015 U.S. Book Industry Year-End Review.” Nielsen. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2016/2015-us-book-industry-year-end-review.html.
9. “Is the Adult Coloring Book Trend Coming to an End?” Time. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://time.com/4689069/coloring-book-bubble-bursts/.
10. “Technology: Self-Publishing – From Blog to Book: How Self-Publishers Yearn for Print.” Print Week, no. 18. Journal Article (2012).
11. “Read All about It: Print Might Be on Rise but Book Sale Figures Incomplete.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Accessed March 21, 2017. http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/books/2017/02/05/Read-all-about-it-print-might-be-on-rise-but-book-sale-figures-incomplete/stories/201702050052?pgpageversion=pgevoke.
12. “Self-Publishing’s Limits.” Thinkubator: R&D at Publishing @ SFU. PUB800, December 9, 2015. https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2015/12/self-publishings-limits/.
13. McIlroy, Thad. “B&N to Sell Self-Published Books In Stores.” Book Business, July 8, 2016. http://www.bookbusinessmag.com/post/interesting-twist-bn-sell-self-published-books/.
14. Flood, Alison. “Stop the Press: Half of Self-Published Authors Earn Less than $500.” The Guardian, May 24, 2012, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/24/self-published-author-earnings.
15. SLJ. “SLJ’s Average Book Prices for 2016.” School Library Journal. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://www.slj.com/2016/03/research/sljs-average-book-prices-for-2016/.
16. Rich, Motoko. “As Publishers Cut Back, Self-Publishing Booms Print-on-Demand Houses Make Money on Books That Sell Almost No Copies.” International Herald Tribune, January 29, 2009, 4 edition, sec. Finance. http://global.factiva.com/redir/default.aspx?P=sa&an=INHT000020090129e51t0000s&cat=a&ep=ASE.

Transforming Your Magazine Into a Powerhouse Online Presence

Way back in November, I attended a conference in BC for magazine publishers. I attended for free as a student of Simon Fraser University, and went to get information for a magazine I volunteer with. I went to a few panels, took a lot of notes, and figured I’d share the tips from one of them here. Keep in mind that the notes that follow are for meant for magazine publishers, but can be repurposed for publishers and authors, as well. Scale the scope of this advice up or down appropriately. Also, keep in mind that I wrote these notes by hand, and I might not have caught everything the speaker explained. They’re also in a fairly casual format (I figured the post would get way too long if I took it out of bullet points!) If you’ve got questions, I’m sure I can elaborate on them in the comments.

Conference: MagsWest 2016

Panel: Transforming Your Magazine Into a Powerhouse Online Presence

Speaker: Hal Niezdviecki, Editor, Broken Pencil (http://brokenpencil.com)

About Broken Pencil

“Broken Pencil is the entertaining, indispensable guide to zines.”
– the Toronto Star

About Broken Pencil: the magazine of zine culture and the independent arts

Welcome to Broken Pencil! Since 1995, we have been a mega-zine dedicated exclusively to exploring independent creative action. Published four times a year, each issue of Broken Pencil features reviews of hundreds of zines and small press books, plus comics, excerpts from the best of the underground press, interviews, original fiction and commentary on all aspects of the indie arts. From the hilarious to the perverse, Broken Pencil challenges conformity and demands attention.

Extending your brand to digital & mobile:

  • Online content > think tablets and smartphones
    • Is your website and social media mobile-friendly?
  • 90% of consumers prefer print over digital editions
    • 67% consider electronic edition a complement to the print version (of current subscribers, 75% feel that way)

What does this say? It says that the print version of a magazine is still the most important aspect of any publishing enterprise. Print editions mean more value (in the reader’s eye) and a physical product to sell (which will sell better than a digital-only magazine).

You are a BRAND whether you like it or not.

Your brand has many hubs. They may include:

  • a newsletter (monthly, bi-monthly, weekly)
  • social media (FB, Twitter, Instagram)
  • blog (stream of content) – weekly
  • digital edition of magazine
  • print magazine

Magazines should not think of themselves as a magazine. They should think of themselves  as a company that pushes out a certain type of content all branded in a particular way.

So, where are YOU publishing?

  • Facebook?
  • Twitter?
  • E-newsletter?
  • Blog?
  • Digital edition?

And WHY are you publishing there?

  • for fun?
  • for distribution?
  • for engagement?

No! For…. SALES! Duh. 😛

Sales, ultimately, are the real purpose for a magazine to expand beyond their print editions. Never lose sight of this.

Develop a cohesive strategy.

What’s the primary goal? If it’s to make money, then how do you do that?

  • subscription sales
  • single issue sales
  • advertising (online/print)
  • driving audience to events
  • receive/increase grants

You can’t do everything — prioritize!

Test things out. Create targeted newsletter lists to see what works and what doesn’t.

Make your workflow more efficient by not spending too much time on what doesn’t work for you.

Do tests in your newsletters: for example, does “Subscribe” or “Buy This Issue” work better? Do your readers like one article, three, or an entire issue’s worth of stuff to look at?

What’s the secondary goal of your magazine?

  • to ADVANCE the cause, or SPREAD the word:
    • get people out to an event
    • increase awareness of the cause
    • brand recognition
    • get people to take action to advance the cause
    • grow email lists
    • grow social network follows

Analytics

Where is your data coming from, and how are you tracking it?

  • WEB
    • native
    • Google search
    • referral link
  • SOCIAL
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Instagram

What are you actually achieving with all of this digital “nonsense?” Is it going somewhere, or nowhere? Use analytics to learn these things.

Keep your analytics simple.

Use a weekly chart (an Excel or Google Spreadsheet is just fine) that combines the most important metrics of Google Analytics and newsletter analytics available to you (keeping in mind your newsletter should be weekly or bi-weekly).

Social media is about building content for those platforms… you need to be collecting emails.

Track the following analytics for your website:

  • week # (or date range)
  • # of visitors
  • time spent on page
  • total page views
  • where visitors came from
  • the most clicked article (include % of list, and even 2nd most clicked article)
    • data cell should look like: /example.html #(clicks) #%(of visitors)

Tracking these things can help you see which social media feeds your site best, allowing you to prioritize the social networks that are actually giving you a return.

The most important thing is to track what is relevant to you, but keep it consistent, so you know where to put your energy.

Put as much as you can online, to keep Google Search and your readers happy. Don’t forget to optimize your images with Alt tags and descriptions, as well as titles, to give your site every chance at gaining native referrals via Google Search.

Newsletter Analytics to Track:

  • date sent
  • total sent
  • open rate
  • unsubs
  • total unique clicks
  • top clicks

Also, keep in mind that you can reuse archival content in your newsletter—just label the section something attractive, like “So-and-so’s Pick.”

Note: Don’t worry about your unsub rate! As long as your content is quality, that’s all that matters. Once a month is too little for a publication.

Build the Pyramid, Climb the Ladder: A Case Study in Increasing Subscriptions

This is your ladder:


  • Donate
    • Subscribe (or) Buy
      • Attend Events/Interact With Brand
        • Get E-newsletter
          • Read Website/Blog
            • Read Social Media

Your GOAL is to make the reader move up the rungs of the ladder; to get them OFF social media ASAP and ON your website. Getting emails is the priority. Give them “bait” to subscribe to your newsletter, slowly working toward the “Ask” (or the prompt to buy your book or a subscription to your magazine).

Your website’s goal should always be to sell more subscriptions. Even if you don’t have a print magazine to sell, you need to have something to sell!

Get More People TO the Ladder

  • Expand your pool of contacts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; update your website constantly to increase native advertisement.
  • Push sign-ups for the e-newsletter on all platforms—there should be options to sign up for the newsletter no matter where they go.
  • Emphasize the sale of subscriptions/e-newsletter at all points of content/events rather than single issues/books.
  • Content is king/queen! Represent your product. Drive traffic to your website. Make them want more! The things you share on your social media can be “trash,” but once they are on your website, it needs to be gold.
  • On social media, share things from other people that can be even remotely connected to your brand.
  • On Twitter, use pictures and point to your community. Don’t look like you are wasting a bunch of time on there.

Your Website

The most important page on your website is your About page. Where are you? What are you about? What’s your history? Of all the pages on your website, this page is the one people will visit the most. WOW them! Think about adding your mandate, or a Q&A… and, predictably, give them a call-to-action—How can they get involved? (Subscriptions and newsletters!)

Also, make sure the most current, relevant stuff is at the top of the page. Say what you are doing now before saying what you might have used to do.

Your main page matters, too, obviously.

  •  Is there something there that people want to click?
  • Are your menus static and boring?
  • Is the content on your landing page exciting?

Make sure the content on your main page is good, relevant, and includes a call-to-action.

Convert Readers to Subscribers

Offer readers a special offer in the form of discounts, 24-hour sales, or a free issue.

When providing a free issue, there are a couple of ways to go about it:

  • Provide a free issue as they move up the ladder, but only after receiving their contact information via the e-newsletter
  • Provide a trial subscription, with no money upfront, but pay after the trial ends.

Make sure that you follow up with these new readers. Ask them how they liked the free issue. Ask for feedback and politely encourage them to subscribe before they forget. Treat this new account like a renewal. You can decide if you want to collect payment info ahead of time (like Amazon Prime) or prompt them to fill in payment info after. Whatever works for your brand.

The Leaky Paywall is Your Friend

Install a paywall that provides limited access to your website (The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, etc.)… however, as we all know, no one likes paywalls! So, what is the solution?

Membership!

In the end, this is just a semantics issue, but one is much more pleasing than the other. Make your leaky paywall appropriate for your brand. If you post a lot of content (as you should be), limit free reads to five articles a month. A good example of a way to introduce a leaky paywall is through this WordPress plugin. It’s quite simple!

Final Thoughts

Another really good practice is to email or contact people in your social media personally from time to time. Don’t leave this to an automated service. Pick a good, doable number for your brand, and then stick with it. Reach out to people by tagging them on Twitter, or responding to their comments or posts on Facebook. Email people that subscribe to your list. Keeping it human will keep your readers loyal. Most of all, don’t sound like a salesman. In fact, don’t sell anything when doing this! Just check in and have a conversation.

Masters in Publishing: Episode 5

Episode 5: December Wrap-up

With December came the last week of the semester, the crazy-fun culmination of everything we’d learned over the last few months. There was scrambling, and panic, and late night meetings and script rehearsals, as well as several trips to the printer to make sure our materials would print just right. For Margin Press, we had the added “joy” of trying to put a square logo on a round object. Keyan, one of my amazing teammates, solved the problem by etching the logo on a flexible eraser, though in my panic we tried ink as the stamping mechanism, rather than straight up acrylic paint. I didn’t realize how easy it could have been until the day of the presentation… but, live and learn! In the end, we’d done all we could, and I walked into the sales conference feeling pretty confident about what we’d accomplished. The books felt real. Our company felt real. All the marketing plans, P&Ls, and TI sheets felt real. All that was left was to convince the panel of that, too.

Margin Press Spread

The Sales Conference

December 2nd was the big day:  the last day of the semester, and the day of our 20-minute presentations. Margin Press was eager to really make an impact, so we decided to divide the presentation up dynamically, with each person talking about the elements of the books that would have been under our proposed job within the company. This ended up working out really well, since I introduced each title’s pitch and general information, then talked about the Blippar tech augmentations, before passing it off to the next person. This allowed us to review our note cards between titles, so there was less of a chance of getting stuck or freezing while the timer was running.

Each panelist received a print copy of our catalogue and tip sheets, which are photographed in the album below, and a goodie bag full of the stuff pictured above, as well as the juggling balls, which I’ve included in the gallery below. We even found bags that were the right aqua color for our company! It all looked really awesome, if I do say so myself. 😎

Our presentation went well. We had practiced it for a few hours the day before and before the conference, which allowed us to make adjustments so nothing overlapped too much. We didn’t want information repeated when we only had 20 minutes to get through introductions and four books. It also reduced the sheer amount of data we had to memorize. Because of all that prep, the presentation itself just flew by. I think we all sounded relaxed, even if we weren’t inside. Let me tell you—all those years teaching paid off! I didn’t get stage shy at all.

After the presentation, the three panelists were invited to make comments, ask questions, and critique everything. This was the part I was nervous about. We were the second group to present, and the first group were grilled for almost forty minutes. Forty!! But something miraculous happened….

They only had a few nitpicks!

In general, we got really glowing reviews, with my favorite being the panelist from Penguin Random House Canada telling us that our TIP sheets were the best-designed she’d ever seen. (I’m allowed to squee here, right?! I designed those!) Also, the panelists I had pegged as the one who would be the hardest to impress had very little to say, except that she wanted to publish all of our titles and wished they were real books. Later, several members of the faculty approached us to congratulate us again, and applaud the final presentation of the tech, which they had apparently still been the most worried about.

All in all, I’m still glowing from it, and it’s more than two weeks later.

….but apparently I’m going to be able to do this all over again, because next semester Magazine Project is basically the same deal. 😂 Here’s hoping everyone in the cohort is ready to dive into that kind of madness again when the time comes.

Winter Break

I don’t have school again until January 4th, but that doesn’t mean I’m free of MPUB. I need to update my resume and portfolio and look for places to intern at. Sadly, my first choice does not have any openings for this summer. Our design course also has two side projects that we’re all supposed to work on over the break, and in typical-me fashion, I’ve made the courses far more complicated than they need to be. One of the projects I’ve mentioned before: the book redesign project. I’ll be redesigning Nine Princes of Amber by Roger Zelazny. This involves a complete cover redesign and interior layout.

The other project is a Visual Identity Program, which is basically branding yourself or a company with fonts, colors, stationary, a website, etc. I’m kind of excited about this one, since I’ve been wanting to redesign Country Mouse Design for a couple of years now, and this is the perfect opportunity to do it, and get professional feedback while I’m at it. I’m even making a branding book that includes promotional item mockups, grid systems, and templates for my invoicing, estimates, and contracts. Pretty exciting stuff. It looks SO pretty, you guys… here’s a sneak peek:

Country Mouse Design Branding Book

Branding Book, Pages 10-11: Pink Mood Board

That concludes the first semester of MPUB! Woohoo!! Upcoming posts include a couple of Christmas holiday events I’ve attended around Vancouver, (hopefully!!) the last Archetypes post, and my notes from MagsWest. I hope you all are enjoying your holiday. 🙂