Below is a video of Peter Collingridge’s Keynote speech from this year’s Tools of Change conference; beneath that is the full transcript, including slides.
Good Morning, I’m Peter Collingridge, co-founder of Enhanced Editions.
Enhanced Editions was set up about 18 months ago, with the singular vision of bringing the iPhone the reading experience it deserves, with a well-selected list of titles tailor-made for the device.
This morning I am going to talk about three things.
Some background our team, and the skills we call upon to publish digital books;
Secondly some stories about how we started up, and the decisions we made along the way;
And thirdly some of the challenges, past present and future, that we have overcome or anticipate, which I hope will provide insight and value to those of you considering your digital strategies.
So, to our background. Personally, I have worked in and around UK trade publishing for 12 years, having begun my career in 1997 at a small, innovative house called Canongate. I worked in every department there before moving to a web and film production company in 2001.
At this company I had the role of producer, and was responsible for some 30 publishing projects before setting up Apt in 2005.
Apt is (and remains) a digital consultancy, specifically focused on encouraging publishers to do better business by embracing good technology. Apt creates websites, films, and strategies – and loves books and the web.
Some of the work we have produced recently includes:
- A community site for James Frey to address head-on the debate around the veracity of A Million Little Pieces, where comments from fans, both positive and negative, were encouraged alongside the text;
- Bookseer – a very simple book recommendation site where you plug in a book, and it just tells you ten titles to read next (this has been very popular);
- And, at the other end of the scale, a three minute, stop-frame animation built entirely in camera and out of books, celebrating HarperCollins imprint 4th Estate’s 25th anniversary.
We hope that we bring originality, wit, and intelligence to all of the work that we do, and that includes Enhanced Editions.
In the 12 years I have been in the publishing industry, I can make two observations. The first is that the price (and perceived value) of the book has been greatly diminished, primarily by the retailers using price promotion to compete for market share.
The second is that it is only very recently that interest in digital has gone from disengaged to engaged.
One of the founding principles of Enhanced Editions was that we would explore this point here, where value and digital collide. The question we ask ourselves is, “How can we inject value back into the book through digital innovation?”
Enhanced Editions was conceived and formed in the space of a few phone calls between me and my co-founders in the summer of 2008. Those co-founders were Rhys Cazenove, and Jim Bonner.
Rhys is a highly experienced and creative developer from the web shop I worked at prior to Apt. He has a computer science and artificial intelligence background, and has been here in New York running Comedy Central’s very busy community and user generated sites (South Park, Colbert Nation, Daily Show) for the past couple of years.
Jim is a corporate strategy guy who is an expert on change management, and has been working with banks on how to restructure in the face of dramatic changes in their business models. He has also consulted with me at Apt on a number of publishing industry projects, and spent four years as a journalist and editor at Bloomberg in Tokyo.
So, Enhanced Editions is a digital publishing house, making multimedia books that add depth to the reader’s enjoyment and engagement of the text. And these books draw directly upon our skills and experience.
For me, one of the most exciting things about Enhanced Editions is simultaneously the diverse and complimentary skills we have as a team, yet that the shape and skills we have look nothing like those of a traditional publishing house.
Instead, we are a media-literate hybrid that sits between a consultancy and a development shop, a web marketing team and a vertical publisher.
As it turns out these hybrid skills have been perfectly suited to riding out the challenges and making the strategic decisions we have faced since we set up the company.
Why we set up Enhanced Editions
In the summer of 2008, when the app store came out, I blogged about how it was going to be the most exciting new distribution platform for publishers. Yet I was shocked by how disengaged publishers were from it, hearing protests that “we are publishing houses, not software houses” as a reason for not entering the market.
At the same time, Steve Jobs made it clear Apple wasn’t in the game.
If Apple didn’t share our vision that books were as important as music and films, we decided that Enhanced Editions would create the reading experiences that Apple themselves should make. We set about thinking different about the book.
We were also frustrated at how the future of the book was shaping up creatively: we just didn’t find e-ink devices compelling – they simply rendered text on a page.
For us, living in a world used to multimedia, multi-tasking and converged devices, they looked distinctly “monomedia” and “mono-tasking” and monochromatic to us.
In short, we were hungry and impatient to see what the future of the book looked like, couldn’t see it around us, so decided to make it ourselves.
Strategic decisions / Brand values
The key first choice was that we wanted to create a “premium” experience, one that took advantage or the possibilities of digital, but would also differentiate us from the many rivals that were emerging both large (Amazon and Aoogle) and small (Stanza and Scrollmotion).
Being premium was both a strategic necessity – to avoid getting crushed – but was also something that took most advantage of our available skillset.
How do we do that? Well, looking back I think it is inevitable that our background in multimedia, web and social media production meant that we instinctively created a hybridised book for a hybrid device.
The device’s feature set alone could have lead to a deluge of flashy features from us, but we also knew from years of web development that what we left out would be as important as what we left in.
It would also have to look the part: our experience with books meant that we understood that this meant a lightness of touch was fundamental to design. Good design is invisible: you don’t notice the interface of a book when you read it: it’s just words on a page. Similarly a digital book interface fails if you don’t know how to use it. It has to just work.
As a result of these decisions, we saw development primarily as an editorial challenge: that we were publishers solving a publishing problem – how to bring books to the iPhone – whilst our competitors tended to be technologists solving a subtly different technology problem – how to get books on the iPhone.
With these decisions in place, we began writing out user stories for the features of the app.
The first user story was clear: the app, and the workflow systems for the apps, needed to be based around ePub. ePub wasn’t yet the “industry standard”, but it had the benefit of being based on HTML, allowing deep integration with WebKit, the core text rendering engine of the iPhone.
The next big decision was stunningly simple, and at first brain-hurtingly hard to implement. We wanted to synchronise audio and text, allowing you to either listen, or read, or do both at the same time, and swap from one to the other without losing your place.
We felt that this was an awesome feature, but little did we know how highly users would rate it as a benefit of electronic reading – or how popular a feature in the app it would turn out to be.
With these user stories agreed, development evolved into sketching wireframes for the stories, iterating out designs, and paring back on some of the features.
I’d love to say that development was a quick, painless process, but it took us about a year to go from having the idea, to having our first application submitted to Apple.
The feature set was planned before we knew what our list was going to look like, and we began looking for partners. I approached the house where I began my career in 1997, Canongate, which is now known as the UK’s most innovative publisher.
Like any great publishing story, we pitched the idea to Canongate MD Jamie Byng, over Guinness and oysters in this pub. Jamie got it immediately, and I left the meeting having shaken hands on apps for rock star Nick Cave, Wire screenwriter David Simon, neuroscientist David Eagleman, Booker Prize winner Yann Martel and Barack Obama.
The vision we pitched to Jamie on that day, is exactly the same as the vision we launched four months later, which we turned into a short film that I’d like to show you now.
The app has received some great attention and accolades, from users, media and awards bodies, of which we are very proud.
At this point I’d like to shift focus a bit and start a conversation about how the next few years of publishing could pan out if our experience is anything to go by.
No-one in this room doubts that these next few years will be difficult and challenging for the publishing industry, and extremely fast-moving, and that there will be both winners and losers. I think it’s now clear that the change we are going to see will be unprecedented and irreversible.
How we react to this change is what is going to define our industry in the same way it has that of music, and film before us.
I’m not yet convinced that, for all of the reassuring statements that our industry has collectively “learned from the mistakes of the music industry” that this is exactly true: I guess time will tell.
One thing we do know is that Enhanced Editions is a tiny company, young and hungry, and admittedly a little ambitious. We’re not pretending to have all of the answers. But we do know that along with everyone else here, our passions, sensibilities, and revenues lie with publishers and publishing.
We want, and need publishing to survive and indeed thrive. It’s just that we think publishing needs to change shape to do that. And perhaps a little disruption is what is called for.
Disruption is certainly the game we got into when we launched. I sometimes feel that Enhanced Editions could not have done a better job of grasping ALL of the publishing nettles in one hand at the same time.
Scoping, designing, building and testing the app and its supporting infrastructure was really good fun. Hard work, but second nature to us.
I think that most of our challenges and indeed frustrations have come from where we tried to fit into the current structures of the publishing industry.
These challenges were manifold: structural, such as the makeup of the value chain; or institutional; rights or territorial, and included red hot topics such as pricing and partnerships. Not to say part of the bigger “digital” question.
Looking at the current value chain for publishing it’s easy to see how e-ink devices got industry traction. Publishing is a very linear process, and the e-ink value chain reflects this.
In the same way that vanilla ebooks mimic the printed experience, the value chain for creating and selling them remains broadly the same. It’s still linear and book-shaped.
On the other hand we created something that looks decidedly un-book-shaped. We didn’t even know what to call it. An ebook? An app? An enhanced ebook? An enhanced audiobook? We still don’t know.
What we did know was that we had blurred the traditional boundaries between all of the above. Between product, media, edition, format and indeed network or community.
Our new direction also blurred the roles in the chain: readers had to engage in a new way with an enhanced edition; authors had to contribute more than a manuscript, and the “publisher” had to create content in multiple media.
You could say that the industry was going in one direction, one that felt relatively easy to get their heads around. And we went in another, that, frankly, is quite hard to get your head around.
Even if you don’t agree with where we have taken the book – perhaps you think that enhanced books are the new CD-ROM – the idea of rendered text on e-ink screens is no longer as compelling a view of the future as it was before. And we have just made a tiny, first step of where we want to go with enhanced editions. But if you do agree with our vision, then our value chain looks really quite radically different.
For a start, it is no longer a linear process. It is not exactly cyclical but it is certainly iterative. It contains the potential for communication and feedback between author and reader; reader and publisher, reader and retailer and collects valuable insight about how books are read and consumed.
Something about what we did also captured the imagination. Of consumers, of authors, of publishers, the media. Of agents.
So, I guess you could say that we accidentally created a disruptive technology.
And, doubtless, this disruptive technology brings a load of complicated issues that are, frankly, easier to not think about as a publisher in the middle of the perfect storm that is publishing in 2010.
Our non-book-shaped book means rethinking a lot of firmly entrenched ideas in publishing.
One example is rights: the traditional model of publishing has the agent maximising sales of the individual rights to as many parties in as many territories as possible. Conversely, our model requires a global market to make sense, and also depends on aggregating as many rights as possible into one, hybrid, deal. Our model requires a rethinking of the roles, responsibilities and indeed royalties that are dominant today.
Another example is the editorial skillset. When we “publish” an Enhanced Edition, we draw upon all of our experiences of translating books into websites, films, and games. There is a creative synergy that comes from being able to visualise and edit in multiple media at the same time, and I think traditional editors should be encouraged to develop these skills.
But we also needed skills to bring the apps to market: an understanding of digital marketing and PR, of search engine optimisation, social media. Web analytics, paid for search, beta testing, and the electronic retail environment all came into play.
These are not hard or expensive skills to acquire, but they may have to be found outside of publishing’s existing talent base, which doesn’t instinctively nurture them. We happen to think that they are exactly the skills that publishers need to develop right now in order to thrive.
The opposite is also true. We realised that as a bunch of young digital upstarts we would do well to be tempered by the wisdom and experience of a publishing veteran. When David Graham, my former boss at Canongate approached us last summer, we knew his experience, outlook and reputation would help us to refine our offer to the publishers we partner with, as well as growing the company. I’m delighted that David is here with me today.
So. The publishing industry needs to innovate fast in order to justify the place it holds in the value chain, and to avoid being disintermediated by other players in the game.
And disintermediation is happening.
The Jamie Oliver cooking app is a fantastic example of a disruptive technology. Three years ago, this would have been a cookbook associated to a TV series. Now, there is no publisher in the equation.
In the past few weeks, we have heard of Ian McEwan’s agent selling his backlist to Rosetta;
Janklow & Nesbit contracting direct with Vook;
and Amazon contracting direct with a former Bloomsbury author.
My sense is not that these are exceptions, but the first waves of a potential flood of authors and agents looking beyond the usual suspects as the right partners to bring their clients to market.
They are looking for partners who understand how to create products that consumers will find relevant in an ever-changing media landscape.
We’re not saying you need to blow up your business and start over as a converged digital house to survive this period. But there are definitely a number of other people like us doing digital things faster (and better) than publishers are currently.
These new players are getting attention of stakeholders frustrated with the slow pace of change in publishing. For example, here is what Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials and a forthcoming Enhanced Edition, has to say about what it feels to be an author right now.
I think it’s clear that change is being imposed on the publishing industry and its current value chain and business models.
However I also think it’s clear that there is space for different types of business models and value chains in the new world.
Given what we’ve said, the value chain that we created and the changes that are being imposed on the current publishing business model, I think there are number of questions our experiences imply for the industry:
- What will your value chain look like in three years time?
- What new skills do you need to manage that value chain and what skills will you no longer require?
- Given this, what do you need to do tomorrow?
We set up Enhanced Editions out of frustration that neither our clients, nor our heroes, were “thinking different” about the book.
Instead they were coming out with more of the same: Sony reader, Kindle, even iBooks. These technologies all replicate the current experiences, structures and roles of publishing.
With Enhanced Editions, we provided a peek towards a new direction for publishing, a new direction that we are pursuing aggressively, but experimentally.
That coincided with a sea change in the industry, and it captured imaginations – I hope because it was almost shockingly simple in its vision and execution.
For the first time ever publishing is suddenly moving incredibly fast, to the point where it is almost turning into a spectator sport. There are lots of new entrants offering their own threats, and opportunities, all jockeying for position.
Who knows where it will be in 3-4 years? Doubtless, parts of the business will disintegrate, others will integrate. Publishers, it is all down to how we act collectively. Personally, I relish the opportunity to collaborate with the industry to find out which models and businesses will thrive. To experiment together.
What I’d like to leave you with is a quotation from a poet that I now interpret as a call to arms for how publishing survives this period of change. A fire has been lit underfoot publishing. And the next five years could not be better characterised for publishers than through this quotation from Charles Bukowski.
“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”