Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Digital, Digital, Get Down: Insights from Attending the YPG Digital: Innovative Imprints Panel

“Who here works specifically in a digital area of publishing?” panel moderator Carly Hoogendyk’s question was met with a smattering of raised hands in the crowded Random House conference room. “Who doesn’t deal with digital properties?” About the same number of people raised their hands, a number nowhere close to the majority of young publishing employees gathered on Wednesday, October 23rd for the YPG Digital: Innovative Imprints panel hosted by Young to Publishing Group .

The answers were indicative of how many young publishing employees work in a sector of traditional publishing that now includes a digital component. The three guest speakers each had different insights to share about working for a digital-focused imprint.

Everything in digital moves quickly.  Lara Selavka, who is Project Manager at the mostly e-only publisher Open Road Media, said that the biggest difference she has noticed is between a digital imprint and a traditional is “the speed by which we turn things around.”  Turnaround at Open Road typically takes from three to six months, while at a traditional publisher, it can take much longer.  Selavka attributes that to the fact that a lot of their content is from a backlist so they can cut out a lot of steps, not that they’ve “found the magic bean and are working so much better than traditional.” They just have different content starting out that shortens the process.

The panelists seemed to be in agreement that the biggest challenge in today’s ebook market – and any market – is getting people to pay attention to their product.  Thea James, the Co-Founder of speculative fiction review blog turned short story ebook imprint Book Smugglers, has a problem that other small publishers can identify with: how to get retailers’ attention.  During her day job as Director of Digital Strategy and Operations at Workman Publishing, James can tell retailers about the press a title has lined up or pay for co-op to market a title, but Book Smugglers is “a really tiny fish that retailers don’t give a crap about.”  It has decided to circumnavigate the problem in a way only a digital imprint could do.  Although they will still sell through the usual ebook retailers, the blog will reach its audience directly by selling on its website, sans DRM or distributor.

A large part of living in a digital world is open communication.  For Swoon Reads Associate Editor Holly West this means “beta testing every stage of the book,” practically.  Macmillan’s crowdsourcing imprint focuses their publishing efforts based on feedback from their users.  Many of her editorial notes for authors stem from constructive comments from users.  Even book covers are chosen by users.  But with open communication, problems come up.  West said the authors all talk to each other through Swoon’s online community, so when some of them are getting more promotion than other ones, they want to know why. “I don’t have an agent to help explain this to them,” but she has had the advantage of being able to share every step of the process with the authors and the rest of the community.

The most noticeable commonality is that each imprint wants to be different from everyone else, as all businesses with such immense competition do.  Book Smugglers plans to one day do reverse engineering, which means eventually their e-only imprint will become an e-first imprint similar to Subterranean Press.  This means that they will print a limited edition collector’s copy of the more successful copies.  Open Road is working to make their ebooks more unique is by creating book gift cards, where a consumer can buy a specific ebook title for a friend by purchasing a card with a code on the back to download the title.  Swoon Reads will continue to try to find new ways to include users in the process so that they have a stronger connection to the books produced.

The YPG: Innovative Imprints panel was eye-opening because it became a forum to share information about digital-focused imprints that traditional publishing employees might not know, but also a forum to discuss the approaches of different houses on the common issues of digital publishing today.

Special thanks to Young to Publishing Group for letting Publishing Trendsetter attend and cover this event.

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