Digital Book World 2016 Takeaways


Our Manager of Technology, Shannon, attended the 2016 DBW conference in New York last week, to hear about what’s new and exciting in the world of ebooks and digital marketing.

The idea that ebook sales are on the decline, which was initially raised in a New York Times article last fall, was widely disproven by speakers at DBW this year.



The hypothesis more commonly floated at the conference is that the ebook market is shifting, from the big five to more independent and digital-only publishers.

Michael Cader of Publisher’s Lunch pointed out that the American Association of Publishers’ annual sales numbers, which were the backbone of the NYT’s piece, don’t include digital publishers or self-published authors using platforms like Amazon Publishing. Data Guy, the previously mysterious figure behind the Author Earnings site, unmasked himself at the conference, and shared some of the formulas he uses to crunch numbers on his site. He pointed out that a large share of all daily ebook purchases are now published by non-traditional sources (publishers’ own websites, self-publishing platforms), and many don’t report sales. Data Guy must have also set a record for the most math equations ever used in a publishing industry presentation.

From Data Guy's presentation

From Data Guy’s presentation

Here are a few highlights from my experience at DBW this year:

Ebook Pricing

In a session called Elastic Ebook Pricing, Nathan Maharaj of Kobo and Phil Ollila of CoreSource discussed trends in ebook pricing. Maharaj dispelled the myth that ebook bargain hunters will only buy cheap books – he said that they often see customers who buy discounted books return and buy books at higher prices later. Both speakers agreed that smaller publishers are more likely to experiment with pricing, and should continue to try out different price points for their titles to find those individual sweet spots.

The Four Horsemen

New York University Professor Scott Galloway gave a fascinating, if at times scary, talk on Amazon, Apple, Facebook & Google (the Four Horsemen). According to his research, 43% of all ecommerce sales were done through Amazon in the US in November 2015, which is double the share of the next 10 vendors. 51% of mobile advertising dollars are spent on Google and Facebook right now. Galloway predicts that Facebook will be the most successful company in the world in three years, so we’ll check back in 2019 and see whether that’s borne out. You can watch a similar presentation he gave at another conference online here.

And some helpful tidbits picked up at the conference:


Vearsa CEO Gareth Cuddy recommends that you input your most specific BISAC codes into your metadata first, and then move down to the more generic codes. So if you have a mystery title with a female sleuth protagonist, enter FIC022040 first, and then use FIC022000 and FIC000000 farther down the list. That way, the book is more likely to be found by readers searching for a specific type of book, and less likely to get lost in the abyss of the Fiction > General category.


Joshua Tallent of Firebrand gave us the hot tip that Apple’s metadata parser doesn’t differentiate between different versions of text descriptions (short vs. long description/jacket copy, etc.), so all descriptions have to be concatenated for Apple.

Keywords and Prices: Experiment!

One take away from many of the sessions I attended was to continually tweak metadata and prices to see what works, and what sweet spots apply for different titles. The ebook market is still evolving, and there’s no golden rule by which you should price or market your titles (as much as we sometimes wish there was). A few parting thoughts:

  • Keywords should be evergreen – they should be changed on a consistent basis as the points of interest and relevance of the book’s subject matter evolve
  • Order keywords based on priority, and take spelling variations into consideration
  • Vearsa recommends changing your prices at least 14 times a year
  • Tailor your material for different markets – you may need a different description for different territories, or for the library market as opposed to retail
  • There’s no ideal ratio between ebook and print prices – you just need to experiment

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