At London Book Fair, 'Digital Minds' talk subscriptions

Last minute preparations for Monday's Publishing for Digital Minds Conference at London Book Fair. Image - Porter Anderson
Last minute preparations for Monday’s Publishing for Digital Minds Conference at London Book Fair. Image – Porter Anderson

‘Busting the myths’ might have been more than we could expect.

But in the subscriptions panel at the Publishing for Digital Minds conference Monday here at Olympia London, we had a reminder of last week’s #FutureChat on subscriptions. You can look back on the conversation in that #FutureChat in #FutureChat recap: All-you-can-guess about ebook subscriptions.

Mofibo’s Nathan Hull moderated the panel as chair, and said, “There’s been some really interesting statements in the trade press in the last few weeks. I want to tackle some things. We want to talk about new readers, how to reach them, and how to expand the business” using subscription. That last phrase may touch on one of the most contentious elements of discussions around subscriptions.

If they pull in less avid readers, as Morten Strunge of Mobibo has asserted, then aren’t we “expanding” the readership with those who won’t be doing much reading? — like the proverbial gym members who happily don’t turn up and crowd the fitness center.

The subscription panel at Publishing for Digital Minds. Doug Stambaugh is second from left. Image: Orna O'Brien
The subscription panel at Publishing for Digital Minds. Doug Stambaugh is second from left. Image: Orna O’Brien

As it turned out, Doug Stambaugh, of Simon & Schuster’s New York offices, would be the person on the panel with the best answer I’ve heard yet to this question. (Stambaugh is seated next to Hull, in the center of this shot tweeted by Orna O’Brien, who directed Publishing for Digital Minds.) And it has to do with international reach and readership. Stambaugh:

One of the great advantages of digital is that it has allowed us to reach markets where there are large numbers of English speakers who haven’t joined print distribution. That’s true in Europe, many parts of India, Asia, etcetera. So we have deals with Oyster, Scribd, Mofibo… The ability to reach international audiences is really big for us. And a big reason why we’re interested in [the subscription] model. For consumers who may have no English, and might not typically purchase a book in English, we think that subscriptions are a good low-risk way for them to dip into English-language books. Hopefully they gain their confidence and become English-language readers and increase their purchases of our product at a good price.

When our digital publishing community at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook tackled the issue in #FutureChat, we hadn’t yet heard this interesting — if somewhat reachy — formulation of a rationale from such a major player as Simon & Schuster.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

My colleague and Bookseller editor Philip Jones has put together an insightful essay on the difficult point at which subscription models find themselves — a new write, here at The FutureBook for you, also turned on the panel discussion at Publishing for Digital Minds: The question of subscription.

And and The Bookseller’s Lisa Campbell have some interesting responses to criticism from subscription company representatives at The BooksellerIgnoring subscription imperils sales.

These are the kind of insights you look for at conferences and trade shows, good to have.

Our latest #FutureChat for a recap on the topic of the #authorsay traditionally publishing author survey might also raise questions about publishers’ relations with other players in the industry.

Lisa Campbell
Lisa Campbell

Reported exclusively by The Bookseller, the survey’s responses indicate that many traditionally publishing authors see a need for a sea-change in how they’re perceived and received by their publishers.

As laid out in our walkup, Are publishers getting the #authorsay message? that voluntary survey of 812 participating writers, created by Jane Friedman in the US and Harry Bingham, included among its findings:

  • 75 percent of responding authors said they have never been asked for feedback from their publisher
  • 7 percent said that publishers pay writers well
  • 32 percent said that the prestige of having a deal with a traditional publisher was important to them
  • 28 percent said communication from their publisher before, during, and after publication was inconsistent, confusing or always poor
  • 26 percent said that communication from their publisher was excellent
  • 37 percent said they would move publisher if another reputable publisher offered the same advance as their current advance for their next book

We put all this to our #FutureChat participants and, as usual, they were ready with a lively conversation. Indeed, Bingham was with us early, ready with an explanation of the diva author, no less. A few highlights here, as London Book Fair moves into full swing and those publishers talked about in our #FutureChat gather for the first major trade show of the year.

Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook:  At London Book Fair, ‘Digital Minds’ talk subscriptions: #FutureChat recap

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