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Q&A with Susan Danziger, CEO of DailyLit

DailyLitDailyLit is a digital service that delivers short, scheduled book installments to subscribers by email and RSS. The company offers free and pay-per-read titles in plain text, which makes them accessible through nearly all email clients, browsers or mobile devices. In the following Q&A, DailyLit CEO Susan Danziger discusses the company’s philosophy, process, and upcoming services.

How many titles do you offer through DailyLit? How many do you hope to have by the end of 2008?

We currently have over 950 titles (450 or so which are available on a pay-per-read basis), and by the end of this year, we’re targeting several thousand pay-per-read titles.

Releasing titles in plain text seems like a simple way to avoid the formatting needs and device restrictions that come with proprietary ebook formats. Was this your intention, or was plain text just an easier way to get started?

It was definitely our intention to allow the installments to come in on any device, which is an important part of how we designed the experience. We started with plain text because it was the easiest to implement, and we will be launching HTML shortly as well.

Do most DailyLit users read installments on mobile devices?

10%-20% of our readers currently read their installments on mobile devices, but as the reading quality on mobile devices improves (the iPhone is a great start), we’re confident that more and more people will be reading their installments on these devices.

Can readers purchase print editions or ebooks through the site/service?

At this point, only DailyLit editions are available. We’re starting to allow publishers and others to sponsor certain titles, which would allow a link to purchase other editions. With this sponsorship model, instead of readers paying for the title, sponsors would pay for them instead.

How will the sponsorship model work? Also, in regards to “other editions,” are you only referring to printed editions, or does this include different ebook formats as well?

DailyLit readers would have access to free DailyLit versions of the books under the sponsorship model. Sponsors of titles would be able to include links that would lead to their sites (or other sites that sponsors indicate). “Other editions” could be printed editions or other digital formats.

How many DailyLit users receive updates via email? How many via RSS?

About 90% of our readers receive installments via e-mail; 10% via RSS.

How much time goes into prepping books for delivery? Is production handled in-house?

The production time depends on the format in which the book is delivered. If the book is delivered in PDF, the production time can be up to eight weeks. We prefer it if books are delivered in EPUB or XHTML, which greatly reduces the production time, not to mention cost. Production is handled in-house for certain titles, but for most titles we use an outside production house.

How are installments defined? Is it by word count? Average reading time?

Installments are usually around 1,000 words, which is under five minutes of reading. If a chapter is about to end, we’ll adjust the length of the installments accordingly. Certain books, such as books of quotes, have much shorter installments. Under the “Manage Your Subscriptions” feature, folks can personally adjust the length of each installment (to 2 times or 4 times the length), so an avid reader can read more.

Are fiction titles the easiest to serialize, or does any chapter-based book work?

Fiction titles are probably easier to serialize since they’re more straight forward. With non-fiction titles, we need to account for footnotes and other ancillary materials. That said, we’re featuring titles from all different genres, from science fiction, such as books by Cory Doctorow, to such non-fiction best-sellers as Skinny Bitch. We also feature language books, such as titles from Berlitz, business books, as well as romance titles from Harlequin.

What types of books don’t lend themselves to serialization?

Reference books that readers do not want to read cover to cover don’t work in serialized form. Apart from that, since DailyLit is intended for those readers too busy to read (or who want to sneak in an extra book during the day), any other kind of book works well. After all, folks are avidly reading War
and Peace
, Moby Dick, The Art of War and Pride and Prejudice, and none of these books were originally intended to be serialized.

Who sets the pricing for titles?

Since we’ve structured this as a licensing deal with publishers, DailyLit sets the price.

Are you licensing a specific version of a book (i.e. “text-only” or a particular ebook format)?

We characterize it as “digital serialization rights” so it’s a combination of serialization (typically understood as a license) and a digital rendition of the book. Depending on rights available for the title, we might license text only or with illustrations/photographs.

How have publishers responded to DailyLit?

We’ve had a great response from publishers. On the whole, they’ve been really excited about this new format, which combines marketing and potential incremental revenue. We’ve also been developing innovative technology — several initiatives will be rolled out shortly — which will help the publishers market their titles and expand their reader base.

What sorts of tools will you be releasing?

One such tool is public subscriptions, which will allow publishers, authors or third parties to serialize a book publicly on their site. Each day on that site, folks will be able to view a new installment of a book. This is a way to build community on their site and would be an alternative to giving away free PDFs of books. We’ll also offer readers the opportunity to receive a personal e-mail or RSS subscription to that title if they don’t want to return to the site each day, but for that they [consumers] would need to pay. As such, it’s a neat viral marketing tool as well as having potential for incremental revenue.

Do you use digital rights management (DRM) on titles?

We put the reader’s experience first, which means that there are no attachments or files that need to be opened with a special device or software. With respect to illustrations or photographs, we are able to track where they go and, in the event of a hot link, we can disable use of an illustration associated with a particular subscription.

Have you run into any piracy issues? Is this a concern?

We haven’t run into any piracy issues. Since books are divided into hundreds of installments, there is less concern that individual installments are copied or forwarded. In fact, any installments forwarded by readers have been viewed by publishers and authors as a way to virally market their titles.

In addition to books, you feature Wikipedia tours, language lessons and SAT prep. Are other non-book projects in the works? Where do you see DailyLit expanding?

We’re in the process of adding newly created titles for DailyLit, including allowing authors and publishers to create content that work well in the serialized format. We’re also developing lots of interesting technology to help market books and expand the current reach to additional readers. For instance, we recently launched via Twitter a group read or virtual book club so that folks can read books according to the same schedule. Folks can sign up now to participate.

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