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#BEA11: Publishers Debate Future of Enhanced E-books at IDPF Conference

IDPF digital book conference 2011

By Hannah Johnson

In a roundtable discussion at the IDPF Digital Book Conference, panelists — Evan Schnittman (Bloomsbury), Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks) and Richard Nash (Red Lemonade, Cursor) — discussed the future of the publishing business by way of enhanced e-books and apps.

Raccah, the CEO of mid-sized publisher Sourcebooks, was the lone champion of both enhanced e-books and apps on the panel. Both formats, she argued, allow publishers to experiment with new storytelling methods. Sourcebooks creates these products specifically with consumer needs and wants in mind, and has been financially successful so far.

Nash and Schnittman are not convinced that enhanced e-books are really a revolution in storytelling — yet. Schnittman told the audience that publishers haven’t yet transformed the narrative process through enhanced e-books.

Nash said enhanced e-books are merely a “unit price preservation mechanism” that publishers use to convince consumers of the value of e-books despite the declining price of content. Raccah explained that was not her motivation for creating enhanced e-books, but rather to experiment with the format. For her, enhanced e-books are all about the consumer, about creating exciting new content — not about the publishers.

When asked about the long-term sustainability of apps as a business model, Raccah enthusiastically affirmed that apps are here to stay. Apps allow authors and publishers to experiment with content and to reach new customers. Schnittman disagreed, saying they are not financially viable given the cost of development vs. the price customers are willing to pay. Nash questioned the viability of apps based on increasing Internet access consumers have. Several years from now, “in a 5G world,” he said, why would someone download an app when they can access the content online for free?

While the future of enhanced e-books and apps remains hazy, it’s clear that publishers are thinking a lot about how to monetize their content. They are making big investments (including the development enhanced e-books and apps) in order to find a solution. Schnittman said that Bloomsbury recently launched a distribution platform to deliver content to libraries. Nash is focused on building value through a community of writers and readers. Raccah at Sourcebooks has been successful building enhanced e-books and apps. This is just more evidence that the future of publishing isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario.

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