BookCamp Toronto is just about to wrap up. It was an amazing day that lived up to its tagline of being, "a conversation about the future of books, writing, publishing, and the book business in the digital age."
If ever there was an event to get your brain melting with new ways of doing things or an enabler to get you thinking differently, it's an unconference. In this instance, BookCamp Toronto brought together big publishing companies and small/independent booksellers. It saw social media and technology folks mingling with authors and editors. It was a day where people really connected and had deep, long (and sometimes heated) conversations about books, publishing and all things writing.
What was the big take home?
Beyond the obvious (like Marketers, the music industry, the newspaper industry, etc... the book publishing industry is just as challenged when it comes to understanding the digitization of their industry and how to market their products and services in the online and mobile channels), authors and publishers need to think differently about what they have been doing online. As someone who has a book to promote very shortly (more on that here: Six Pixels of Separation Book Details), there were some interesting comparisons throughout the day on how the book publishing industry and the music industry are similar.
The thing is this: even if people steal music, they're still buying tickets to the show, t-shirts, ringtones and more, but when it comes to a book, that's all the author has (in most cases).
Sure, there are exceptions and yes, there are authors who also have speaking engagements, audio programs, additional knowledge products, appearances, etc..., but for the most part, the real money is supposed to come from selling books. Maybe authors need to do the opposite of what the music industry is doing. In the music industry, it seems like most artists have given up on really trying to sell the music, and acknowledge that their future income will come from concerts and merchandise. In the case of books, maybe the idea is to give everything else away, but encourage people to buy the book.
Here's where this is going...
Authors (and publishers) need to create value and build their readership by leveraging whatever relevant online social channels make the most sense according to an overall (and pre-determined) strategy. Let's go with using Blogging and Twitter for argument's sake. These author's need to be building up readership and interest long before their book ever hits the store shelves. In providing this value (and that should also include taking part in other relevant spaces, contributing to some mass media publications and being active - both offline and online - in the niche communities) and by continuing to give content and value abundantly (think a free PDF document, etc...), they need to literally (and virtually) flood the market with free, great insight and, at the same time, let people know (in a non-pushy) way that there is a lot more where that came from in the book.
Bring value back into the book by not giving it away.
If the book is the only way that an author can make money, what other choice do they have? They need to be pushing out so much great stuff that not getting the book would be a terrible mistake for all of those who are following, listening and engaged. On top of that, their online and offline engagement has to be sincere, real and powerful, otherwise people won't care.
Consumers need to be smart too.
If an author is providing tons of free content and is a valued member of the community, the least you can do is plop down the twenty-bucks to support them. You may not see the direct value in the money for the book, but considering how much other content and "stuff" you are getting, is that too much to ask? Back when I was a music journalist, I used to get hundreds of free CDs a month. Still, if I got a free CD of a band I happen to like or respect, I'd go out and buy a copy of the CD (and give it to someone else who might like it) simply because I wanted to show my direct support of the artist.
All of this free stuff is amazing, but it's going to dry up very fast if we don't help out the content creators once in a while (remember, books are not ad supported and I don't think consumers want it going down that route).