Lightning Source Indie Days 2018: Independent publishers meet to share new ideas for marketing books

Front Edge Publishing team standing in front of “READ”-shaped bookselves
Front Edge’s David Crumm, John Hile and Dmitri Barvinok attending the Ingram Lightning Source Indie Days conference along with more than 50 other publishing houses at Ingram headquarters in Nashville.

The hard part about innovation is—it’s hard!

Phil Ollila, Ingram’s Chief Content Officer

This past week, several of us from Front Edge attended the annual independent publishers conference hosted by the giant book wholesaler Ingram and its team of innovators at Lightning Source, a high-tech, just-in-time book printer and binder. The event is called Indie Days, celebrating independent book publishers.

Our Front Edge team brings together the best in Content and Production. On our Content side, we draw on veteran journalists, authors, graphic artists and other media professionals to produce quality, compelling manuscripts. On the Production side, we pride ourselves on developing new tech strategies and software solutions that make our authors’ books both attractive and highly flexible—easy to produce, modify and revise in a variety of formats.

Our core value at Front Edge is collaboration—so, this was a perfect setting for our team, because the Indie Days conferences are all about collaboration.

The conference schedule offers an intensive series of presentations, roundtables and one-on-one conversations designed to share the latest news, research data and ideas—all aimed at improving both Content and Production.

Now, we’ve returned home to our Michigan base with lots of fresh insights. Over at our ReadTheSpirit magazine, this week, we are sharing highlights of general interest to all readers. Then, in this Front Edge column, we are sharing six news items with a specific focus on authors and publishing professionals:

1. Readers Lean Toward Nonfiction

Front Edge mainly publishes nonfiction, especially memoirs and books that might be described as inspirational or “self help.” We have always known that this corresponds with reader preferences. On any given day, more nonfiction than fiction books are sold in the U.S. This preference for nonfiction tends to surprise people who are aware of the best-selling mysteries and other popular novels that dominate headlines and advertisements about new books. But, year after year, it’s true: Americans buy slightly more nonfiction than fiction. In turn, we were surprised at the conference by a report from the UK market, where nonfiction now outsells fiction by a whopping 2-to-1 margin. Clearly, there is something about true stories and useful information that attracts book buyers worldwide.

2. Why Readers Choose Books

One speaker zeroed in on research about the decisions made by shoppers in online bookstores, listing the Top 5 Reasons Readers Choose Books.

Top 5 Reasons Readers Choose Books

  1. The book shows up near the top of search results.
  2. Good product reviews recommend the book.
  3. Desired format (paperback, hardback, eBook) is available.
  4. Price is right.
  5. There is a clear and concise description of the book.

Phil Ollila, Chief Content Officer of Ingram Content Group, put it simply:

You have to be able to cut through all the noise to reach readers. … You have to reach ’em—and you have to satisfy ’em.

3. Publish Your Purpose

Among the many other publishers our team met at the conference, we were particularly interested in our talks with Jenn Grace, the founder of Publish Your Purpose Press and Masha Shubin, Creative Director of Inkwater Press. Our 10 Principles of Publishing, a mission statement we published on our first day of operation in , matches in many respects the aims of Jenn’s and Masha’s publishing houses.

We all believe that publishing a quality book with professional assistance can be an invaluable milestone in a person’s life, like GodSigns by Suzy Farbman—or in the life of an organization, like Every Living Thing by the Humane Society of the United States. One way we express this in our founding principles is No. 8:

Inspiration moves through community. It’s been true for thousands of years. Good media builds healthier communities.

At our conference, Masha said, We are in the golden age of book publishing. … We have an amazing opportunity to help people get their voices into print.

We completely agree!

4. Let’s Get Specific

So, let’s step into the book-geek weeds for this next news item:

Authors who publish with Front Edge collaborate on all phases of book production from initial plans through proofing the pages before a book is released. One crucial step is selecting three BISAC codes to associate with each new book. These codes tell online bookstores about the sections or subjects under which a new book should be listed. Anyone who has ever explored this tech side of the publishing business knows that the world of BISAC is a vast map of subject areas that stretches in hundreds of directions. The latest advice at this conference was: Get as specific as possible in selecting a book’s BISAC codes. Authors have a greater chance at ranking higher in a smaller, more specific category.

The underlying principle here is: Connect with readers who are searching for exactly what you’re offering. They are the most likely to buy your book. If you work with Front Edge in the future, we’ll be getting very specific as we lead you through through the BISAC weeds.

5. Why We Publish Books Globally

In a ReadTheSpirit magazine column, this week, we report more about the global strength of English as a language that circles planet Earth. So far, we have published almost exclusively in English, although we were working on Spanish and Mandarin-Chinese projects in . Naturally, most of our books are sold within the U.S.—but we always reach out to the global marketplace with our new books. When we publish books, our connections through Ingram ensure that information about our books will reach readers who are shopping online on every continent. We often are surprised by the far-flung locations where people order our books. We have sold books on nearly every continent. (We haven’t shipped a book to Antarctica yet.) The idea of global marketing sound daunting, but we’ve found that worldwide distribution is eased by Ingram’s global sales system.

6. On the Horizon: New Audio Options

Every author we publish, today, asks about the option of audio books, because we all have seen the headlines: Audio sales of books are growing each year. However, as a reality check, the experts speaking at our conference pointed out that, even with that growth, audio sales still represent less than 5 percent of the number of units sold each day. The chief barrier to releasing more books in audio is the very expensive production process, which today averages $5,000 per book, one expert told the conference. When Big Five publishers hire celebrity readers, that cost can soar into the Stratosphere. On top of the current high cost of producing an audio book, Amazon’s Audible is trying to push prices as low as the market will allow. As a result, there’s often no way for indie publishers to produce an audio book that will pay back its production costs and generate author royalties.

But, wait! There were rosy projections about audio at ‘s publishers’ conference.

The whole audio book market will change in the next few years, experts predicted, because the same talented developers who came up with eBooks and other publishing formats are now trying to breach that costly barrier preventing publishers from producing more audio books. So far, early attempts to save money by automating text-to-speech books have produced flat or poorly inflected speech—overall, an unsatisfying experience for listeners. The next big disruptor in audio will be dramatic improvements in the quality of semi-automated reading, speakers predicted. Lots of other audio bells and whistles are on the horizon, as well.

Care to read more about Audio Dreams? Read our accompanying ReadTheSpirit article about conference highlights.

About David Crumm

David Crumm is founding Editor of Front Edge Publishing. Nationally, he is known as a veteran journalist—a top writer and editor—with experience both in the U.S. and overseas. He is based in Canton, Michigan, where he also serves as Editor of Read the Spirit online magazine. His columns on trends in media appear twice a month on our Front Edge Publishing website.

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