Five key takeaways from TOC NY 2013

It's still early, startups rule, and ecommerce follows community

TOC NY 2013 is a wrap and based on the feedback I’ve received so far I think it was one of our best. When Kat and I closed the event Thursday afternoon we both shared thoughts on the most important points we came away with. If you weren’t able to join us last week, here are my top five lessons learned and discussed at TOC NY 2013:

We’re still in the early innings of this game

It’s hard maintaining perspective when you’re caught up in the middle of such rapid change. Interesting new platforms and delivery methods seem to pop up every week and it seems like we’ve come a long way. We really haven’t though. We’re still living in the world of quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions and have yet to truly leverage the digital platform. We’re part of a slow-moving industry and significant change still lies ahead.

This always reminds me of the early days of TV when they said those first shows were nothing more than radio programs in front of a camera. Today’s ebooks are the equivalent of those radio shows broadcast with a camera but I can’t wait for tomorrow when we break away from simply rendering the print product on a screen.

Startups are critical, yet often overlooked

Speaking of slow-moving… It would be a huge mistake to think that the real innovation in our industry is going to come from the old-time players. The start-up space is where the exciting things are happening and we offered a taste of that with our Startup Showcase last week.

I’m amazed at how rarely traditional publishers engage with startups. Did someone decree that the two worlds shall never meet? Startups are viewed as outsiders who don’t understand how the publishing industry works. I believe this is one of their most important attributes! They don’t bring preconceived notions to the table. They’re not sitting around saying, “that’s not how it’s worked up to now so that’s not how it can work in the future.” We need more leaders who aren’t afraid to change and even break the rules, not fewer.

Have you hugged a startup today? I encourage you to identify and reach out to at least one new publishing startup every month. You’ll learn a lot and I’ll bet you’ll find interesting ways to work together.

Leveraging technology, but not for technology’s sake

This one was made crystal clear in Mark Waid’s keynote. It sounds so obvious but I’m sure you’ve seen a “rich content” ebook or two that was loaded with buttons, icons, and an assortment of other graphics that didn’t really help the reading experience. In fact, when they’re used gratuitously they become a hindrance.

Mark was faced with that situation when he thought about how to create a better comic book reading experience on a tablet. Some suggested he integrate video but, thankfully, he resisted. Instead, he focused on the user experience and created something that resembles the traditional comic book but offers subtle enhancements that make reading them on a tablet a more engaging experience than could ever be accomplished in print.

I’m not a comic book reader but I was mesmerized. Watch that keynote video (link provided above) to see what I mean.

Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest

Publishers are consolidating and downsizing. In times like these it’s important to consider the unique attributes you offer your customers and partners. If you’re forced to reduce headcount you need to protect what makes you special and become more relaxed about outsourcing everything else.

I sat in on a few sessions last week that covered this in depth. Some publishers resist sending certain work out-of-house because they’ve invested a lot in their internal teams, processes, and toolchains. That might still make sense but it’s getting harder and harder to protect those areas when cuts have to be made, especially if some of those services have actually become commodities over the years.

It’s time to take a hard look at what makes your operation special, double down on that and become more willing to work with more outsourcing specialists. The resources you free up by outsourcing and partnering can then be used to reinvest in what makes your organization unique (e.g., better content acquisition, curation, etc.)

Community first and ecommerce follows

This is a common mistake I see some publishers making: They have an “if you build it, they will come” belief in setting up their own ecommerce platform. Then they wonder why they’re unable to lure customers away from Amazon and elsewhere.

They’re missing the fact that you have to give customers a reason to come to you rather than, say, Amazon. Simply selling ebooks on your site isn’t enough. In fact, it’s nowhere near enough!

Publishers need to think about community first. What services can you offer your customers on your site? How can you make your site a more attractive destination than another retailer?

Build that community first and then introduce an ecommerce component. And if you’re thinking about outsourcing this part of your business (see previous point), make sure your partner understands and supports the need for community first, ecommerce second.

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