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Stop Being Afraid of e-Book Publishing - 8/8/2011 -

Get familiar with the opportunities of e-books by taking advantage of this association publisher’s lessons learned.

By Ann Mahoney

Thinking about the question "What does your book publishing look like today?” is enough to make some of us squirm. Will the book publishers among us succeed in charting new directions? Fortunately, Betsy Kulamer, director of books at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), proved that you can make your way into the e-waters of book publishing and survive to tell the tale. Kulamer was the presenter at Association Media & Publishing’s AGS-sponsored Lunch & Learn session on July 20, 2011.

ASCE annually publishes 32 journals and some 60-70 books (about half are proceedings). The book program brings in roughly $3 million annually, and the journals bring in $13-$14 million each year.

Kulamer doesn’t claim to have all the answers about e-book publishing, nor would she suggest that we can all take the same path. But if I got nothing else from her presentation, it is that you will have to experiment and take risks; you are likely to trip up on occasion; you will have to make more decisions than you may be comfortable with; and you will constantly be checking out new ways of doing things because the landscape is constantly changing. You might take heart that your ventures into e-book publishing are sure to be exemplary models of continuous learning!

Here are just a few highlights from Kulamer’s presentation about starting to develop an e-books program.

1. Assess where you are right now, what you want to sell, and who will be your buyers. Are you selling textbooks, reference works, trade books, professional books? If you’re selling internationally, are you aware of needing to accommodate special considerations, such as VAT (value-added tax)? Who are your customers—members, libraries, bookstores, professionals, companies with site licenses, students? These answers help shape your e-book decision making.

2. Inventory your content. Before deciding which books to convert to e-books, get a handle on your inventory. Organize it by, for example, file type, date range, product line, and best sellers. What kind of files do you have? With XML files, you’ll be able to deliver the same manuscript in different publishing environments (Mobi for Kindle and ePub for most other readers). XML is "like HTML on steroids” and enables you to identify pieces of the manuscript to make it richly searchable by machine. As you create the inventory, identify whether your have the rights and permissions for your content—and whether you have a centralized or organized method of cataloging the permissions.

3. Learn about digital asset managers (DAMs). These companies (e.g., SPi, CodeMantra, Firebrand, and Aptara, to name only a few in a growing marketplace) collect your book files and convert them to appropriate e-book formats. Many also distribute the files to third-party vendors of your choosing.

4. Determine what sort of digital rights management (DRM) you’ll put on your books. Will purchasers be able to download files? Can your e-book be printed, copied and pasted, kept on on more than one computer? DRM can be applied at different points in the process, and be aware that aggregators may want to apply their own DRM.

5. Decide where you want to sell your e-books. Will you use your association’s storefront? Will you use third-party vendors—like ebrary, NetLibrary, Questia, Ingram Digital, iGroup, Barnes &Noble NOOK, Amazon Kindle, SONY Reader, and Google Editions, to name a few.

6. Consider your pricing strategy. Traditional pricing models are not likely to hold up in the e-environment. Price might vary according to the level of DRM or according to the number of users who have access to the e-book. What arrangements will you have with the vendors selling your e-books, and how will vendors calculate the payments owed to you? Will you need a new process for tracking royalties and for entering e-book sales into your system? You’ll need time to negotiate these agreements prior to launching your e-books.

As you might deduce, the questions never stop; however, the answers ultimately offer a chance to publish in radically new ways. Gauging from participants at this session—most of whom have read an e-book—you can’t get into e-book publishing too soon.

Ann Mahoney is director of ICMA publications and INFORMATION team leader at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).


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