The German Ebook Market and the Success of the Skoobe app

According to an interview last year with the managing director of the German Booksellers and Publisher’s Association, Alexander Skipis, “Germany is a nation of readers. As the second largest book industry in the world, the German market functions as a role model for both quality and diversity, and market performance is generally stable. We are eager to maintain and expand this state of affairs.” (Sussman, 2015). While this is coming from someone promoting their own segment of the book market and therefore might be taken with a grain of salt, it is undeniable that Germany is a huge player in the world of books, acquiring a turnover of 9.32 billion Euros last year.

One of the things that really stands out in the German book market is the strength of their print and brick and mortar retail sales. In 2014, physical bookstores still outperformed online retailers in Germany (Sussman). To go hand-in-hand with this, ebook sales have not taken off at all in this part of the world. This essay will explore why Germany has this stagnant ebook market and how one subscription based ebook app took off despite this.

As in North America, ebook sales in Germany have been rising. However, unlike in the US and Canada, they have risen at a very slow and almost reluctant pace. As you can see in the following graph, in 2014 the numbers reached 4.3% of the overall German book market (Sussman, 2015).

German graph

Looking at the overall picture since 2010, one can see that growth was never particularly huge, but has slowed down even more in the past three years. If you compare this to the North American ebook sales numbers, there is a dramatic difference. The graph below illustrates US ebook sales and shows a rise to 20% of the book market by 2014 – in huge contrast to 4% in Germany (Statista).

US graph

A Bloomsberg business article from a number of years ago, when this trend of slow sales in Germany was just manifesting itself, noted a few potential reasons for this (Winter). This article suggested that Germany is set up to support print books but not ebooks and that certain economics play into the slow adoption pattern (Winter). For example, print books are exempt from the full 19% VAT tax, with only 7% being added on to the price set by publishers. For ebooks, this tax is still applied in full (Matting). There have been some moves on the part of cultural ministers in France, Germany, Italy, and Poland to lower this tax, but is hasn’t met much success yet (Adamowski).

Another key factor cited in the Bloomsberg article and elsewhere, is the long held pride in print books that Germany has (Winter). Since the time of Gutenberg, German book printing and publishing has been a thing of high regard and print book sales have reflected this throughout their history. Elements of the current economy such as the VAT tax reflect this value.

Despite how small the ebook segment of the market is, a particular subscription based ebook app has taken off with relative success. At a time when subscription models in North America are under debate, this case study can provide us with some insight into what it would take to have a successful subscription model.

Skoobe 01
This German app is called Skoobe – if you are particularly adept you might notice the name spells “ebooks” backwards. Bertelsmann and Holtzbrinck, two publishing media conglomerates, launched the app in 2012. On its website Bertelsmann describes itself as “a media, services, and education company that operates in about 50 countries around the world” (Bertelsmann). Among many other organizations, they own Penguin Random House and the magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr which publishes magazines all over the globe. In 2015, it generated more than 17 billion Euros in revenue and currently employs 117,000 employees (Bertelsmann).

Holtzbrinck is also a huge media group that focuses almost exclusively on publishers. They have brought four well-known publishers with long histories together: Macmillan Publishers, Nature, Springer, and S. Fischer. They describe themselves as “As a media group dedicated to science, education and the wider cause of reading the Holtzbrinck Group aspires to provide first class service to our authors, researchers, academics, educators, librarians and readers” (Holtzbrinck website).

In the publishing industry we often hear people ask why publishers have not taken up the reigns on digital publishing enterprises such as Kobo or Goodreads or something new we cannot even imagine. Skoobe is unique in that it stemmed from the owners of some of the largest publishers in the world. These two media corporations together have a lot of money and experience in the publishing and media world and were able to put that towards their new venture.

 

Skoobe app

They launched Skoobe as a German-language-only service providing subscribers a large library of books for 9.99 Euros per month. You could have five books out at a time and register your app on three devices (Hoffelder). Another key highlight was that you could stream your books online or read offline across multiple devices.

Today, four years later, they have over 150,000 high quality books available, with hundreds of new ones coming online everyday (Skoobe). Last year, Skoobe expanded into Spain and they now have books in German, English, Portuguese, and Spanish (Hoffelder, 2014). In a Buchreport article from 2014, Skoobe reported that its app had already been downloaded over a million times since its launch two years before (“Ins Ursprungsland der Flatrates”). So despite the low rate of ebook sales in the overall German market, Skoobe is claiming good success with its subscription model.

And this is in the midst of intense debate in North America around whether or not the subscription ebook model is sustainable (Klosowski). In our part of the world, subscription services like Kindle Unlimited, Oyster, Scribd, and Bookmate have opened, but with varying success. Oyster and Kindle Unlimited are US only services, Bookmate is focusing its services in Russian, the Ukraine, and Turkey, and all of them work on different platforms and different devices with little consistency.

Last September, Oyster fell and its staff moved over to another company and in July, Scribd reduced the romance titles they were hosting, “due to the high volume at which subscribers presumably read those titles” (Duffer). In other words, this model has been struggling to find it’s footing in North America and causing many people in the publishing world to question its viability. As Ellen Duffer put it in a recent article on subscription models, “This recent movement [Oyster and Scribd] has sparked an increase in doomsday analyses of the subscription ebook model” (2015).

So how is it that Skoobe is finding such success in Europe despite the fact that the German ebook market is far smaller than the one in North America? And what is it that we can learn from Skoobe’s success?

A key downside that is often cited for the North American services, is that they all work on different devices. In other words, there is a need for one service that works across all iOS, android and other e-reader devices. This is what Skoobe provides. There are now even a number of e-reading dedicated devices such as Icarus Illumina that comes with the Skoobe app installed on them. This ease of use across multiple platforms, including Kindle Fire, provides users with an easy-to-use service that is far more accessible than equivalents that only work on one platform.

Furthermore, there is no denying that having a close connection to some of the world’s largest trade publishers through its founders was key. One of the things criticized in North American is that US providers of subscription services do not offer access to the bestsellers and instead have large volumes of books that nobody wants to read (Illian). Additionally, Jason Illian from the Entrepreneur notes how many of the world’s top publishers who produce these bestsellers are just not on board with the subscription services out there, and therefore, services like Oyster and Scribd just cannot get the books people want to read (Illian).

This doesn’t seem to have happened to the same extent in Germany, and the reason for this is that media and publishing companies started Skoobe and they already had a stake in the publishing industry (Duffer). With publishers like Penguin Radom House and the two largest German publishers Bertelsmann SE & CO and George von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group under your wing, you can rather quickly start to bring under contract other presses (Duffer). Skoobe currently hosts titles from more than 1,600 publishers including almost all of the German bestselling titles.

Although I was unable to find any information on the payment system that Skoobe works out with their publishers, Skoobe puts themselves forward as a company in close relationship with publishers and their collaboration with so many across the industry indicates that these partnerships are going well. This kind of collaboration is what is needed in North America.

Chrisitan Damke, the founder of Skoobe was quoted as saying, “Skoobe aims to enlarge the market for major publishers by offering easy ebook access to price-sensitive readers who don’t necessarily want to own the books” (Kozlowski). Skoobe argues that by providing a subscription service, they allow publishers to reach readers who might not normally spend money on a given book, but will read it for free if it is part of a flatrate service. This expands the reach of the book. According to data provided by the company, three-quarters of the books that users read – and enjoy with high satisfaction rates – within Skoobe are ones the readers claim they would not have been likely to purchase as an individual book before reading them on the app (Albanese).

Skoobe has also established themselves as a service that provides high quality books, as the current CEO Constance Landsberg said in a recent interview at the Frankfurt Book Fair, “Publishers are growing their title base constantly [on Skoobe] and are establishing strategies on how best to use the potential of subscription services. Skoobe is proving to be a great opportunity to market titles, especially from the backlist, and new authors alongside bestsellers and new releases” (Albanese).

She went on to say that 80% of their customers rate their books as “very good” after reading them and this is something they take great pride in (Albanese).

Thus they have been able to avoid the fear that many authors have regarding the subscription model: that their books will be undervalued in an environment that is full of bad quality books that could come from anywhere – something that is sometimes the case with North American versions of this same kind of service where many self-published books drown out the books the service can get from publishers (Weinberg). Instead, Skoobe not only provides new readers for certain authors, but also 25% of the readers on Skoobe buy print versions of books they discovered there (Albanese).

Thus, the North American publishing industry should look to the success of Skoobe and see that subscriptions can be done. This case study has shown that it is okay for ebooks to not hold a large part of the book market, and owners of publishing companies can still be in the subscription ebook business and make a success out of it. CEO Constance Landsberg acknowledges that it is essential to keep all parties involved benefiting from your business model – customers, authors, and publishers. With this in mind, Skoobe has been able to provide an accessible service across multiple platforms that offers high quality books, all in a very small ebook market. If they can do it, so can we.

Resources:

 

Adamowski, Jaroslaw. “France, Germany, Italy and Poland Call for Lowering VAT on Ebooks” Publishing Perspectives. April 2015. http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/04/france-germany-italy-poland-call-for-lowering-vat-on-ebooks/#.VvGzZxIrKRs
Albanese, Andrew Richards. “Frankfurt Book Fair 2015: Skoobe – Subscription Ebooks are Succeeding in Germany” Publishers Weekly. October 2015. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/Frankfurt-Book-Fair/article/68326-frankfurt-book-fair-2015-skoobe-subscription-e-books-are-succeeding-in-germany.html
Bertelsmann. Accessed March 24th, 2015. http://www.bertelsmann.com/company/company-profile/

dpa. “Deutscher Buchmarkt weiter im Umbruch” Zeit. October 12, 2015.

http://www.zeit.de/news/2015-10/12/literatur-deutscher-buchmarkt-weiter-im-umbruch-12121402
Duffer, Ellen. “Subscription E-Book Service ‘A Success’ In Germany.” Forbes. Oct. 31 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenduffer/2015/10/13/subscription-e-book-service-a-success-in-germany/#1891ec8f2a15

German Book Association, ebooks:

http://www.boersenverein.de/de/portal/Presse/158382?presse_id=1100374

G., Nelly. “Meine Erfahrung mit Skoobe – der Ebook Flatrate.” Nelly’s Lesseecke blog. June 19th, 2015. http://nellysleseecke.blogspot.ca/2015/06/meine-erfahrung-mit-skoobe-der-ebook.html
Hoffelder, Nate. “Streaming ebook Service Skoobe Gains support from the Illumina eReader.” The Digital Reader. July 22nd, 2015.

http://the-digital-reader.com/2015/07/22/streaming-ebook-service-skoobe-gains-support-for-the-illumina-ereader/

Hoffelder, Nate. “Skoobe Launches in Germany.” Digital Reader. March 2012. http://the-digital-reader.com/2012/03/01/skoobe-launches-in-germany-publishers-do-like-ebook-rentals/

Hoffelder, Nate. “Skoobe Expands into Spain.” Digital Reader. October 2014. http://the-digital-reader.com/2014/10/28/skoobe-expands-spain/

Holtzbrinck. Accessed March 24th, 2015. https://www.holtzbrinck.com/

Illian, Jason. “Why the Subscription Model for Ebooks Doesn’t Work (at Least Not Yet)” Entrepreneur. June 26th, 2015. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247762

“Ins Ursprungsland der Flatrates” Buchreport. October 2014. http://www.buchreport.de/nachrichten/nachrichten_detail/datum/2014/10/28/ins-ursprungsland-der-flatrates.htm?no_cache=1

Klosowski, Thorin. “Are Ebook Subscription Services Worth it?” Lifehacker. January 31, 2014. http://lifehacker.com/are-ebook-subscription-services-worth-it-1513205735
Kozlowski, Michael. “Macmillan Buys Into the Ebook Subscription Model Via Skoobe” http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/macmillan-buys-into-the-ebook-subscription-model-via-skoobe

 

Lischka, Konrad. “App-Test Skoobe: Das taugt Ebook flatrate” Spiegel Online. 2012. http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/e-books-flatrate-skoobe-a-821881.html

 

Matting, Matthias. “VAT on Books and Ebooks in German Speaking Countries” How to Publish in Germany. September 2015. http://www.how-to-publish-in-germany.com/vat-on-books-and-e-books-in-german-speaking-countries/

 

Shaw, Hollie. “Ebook sales are flattening, but does that mean the technology is dying as consumers unplug?” Financial Post. July 15, 2015. http://business.financialpost.com/news/retail-marketing/e-book-sales-are-flattening-but-does-that-mean-the-technology-is-dying-as-consumers-unplug

 

Skoobe website. https://www.skoobe.de/

 

Statista. “E-book share of total consumer book sales in the United States from 2009-2015.” Accessed March 23rd, 2016.  http://www.statista.com/statistics/190847/ebook-share-of-total-consumer-book-sales-in-the-us-till-2015/

 

Statista. “Statistiken und Umfragen zu E-Books.” Accessed March 20th 2015.
http://de.statista.com/themen/596/e-books/

 

Süssman, Ingrid. “German Ebook Sales Reaches 4.3 of Overall Book Market” Publishing Perspectives.  June 24th, 2015.  http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/06/german-ebook-sales-reaches-4-3-of-overall-book-market/#.VuoTlJMrKRs

 

Süssman, Ingrid. “German Book Market 2014: Nonfiction Up, Overall Sales Down.” Publishing Perspectives. June 16th, 2015.
http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/06/german-book-market-2014-nonfiction-up-overall-sales-down/#.VuoAGJMrKRs

 

Weinberg, Dana Beth. “Which Authors Do Subscription Service Benefit?” Digital Publishing. April 2015. http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/which-authors-do-subscription-services-benefit/?et_mid=745706&rid=240986630

 

Winter, Caroline. “The Story Behind Germany’s Scant E-Book Sales.” Bloomberg. April 19, 2012. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-04-19/the-story-behind-germanys-scant-e-book-sales

Special Tips for Publishers – How to Become an Authority on the Web

by Kathleen Burckhardt – Student, writer, dancer, and photographer.

Introduction

Q: If I told you that I had a PhD. in Web Development, published three books in print and over twenty research essays in well-established print journals, would that give you faith in my authority or credibility in discussing issues concerning the web?

professor(Is that me?)

Q: How about if I said I have been a blogger on the web for the past ten years and developed a following of over 140,000, although I had no high education? Would you still consider my work of considerable weight?

woman on computer(Or is that me?)

Q: What if you recognized my name as someone with a huge YouTube celebrity status?

jenna-marbles-youtube-personality-celebrity(Jenna??!)

All of these questions bring up the larger issue of what determines authority and the perception of quality and credibility on the web. In so many ways, this is a grey area and answers to the above questions might vary depending on whom you ask.

Before I go much further, I want to acknowledge that it can be difficult to quantify quality and authority. In this article, I will be using “quality,” “authority,” and “credibility” throughout. Determining quality is closely tied together with authority. You need authority to produce something of high quality. So an examination of quality cannot go without mention of authority. Similarly, credibility comes into the mix here too. With authority comes credibility for without credibility, a text or person would lose authority. So for purposes of clarity, I will define each term here (definitions from the OED):

1. Authority: something accepted as a source of reliable information or evidence or having the power to influence the opinions of others because of recognized knowledge, scholarship or expertise.

2. Quality: of positive characteristics or general excellence or an ability or skill in some respect, the most difficult to define and pin down of these three terms.

3. Credibility: the quality or state of being credible; capacity to be believed or believed in.

Clearly, all three of these words attempt to describe the same phenomena: a gained respect, something that demands people listen and take in what is being said, perhaps even change their opinions because of it. I will be mostly using the terms authority and credibility in this essay but keep in mind these broader ramifications of all the terms. It is in the hope of shedding some light on how one gains authority and respect on the web today that this piece is written.

I will attempt to outline and demystify some of the determinants of quality and authority on the web and argue that in order for publishers to gain online authority of any kind – whether it be as an ebook publisher, online journal or magazine, or just as a recognizable brand or presence in the age of technology – they must pay close attention to certain elements that will increase their credibility.

A general knowledge of web authority as outlined here can help inform publishers as they hone down their digital strategies. We know that as publishers we no longer can rely on an assumed credibility that print often provided. This assumed authority is not directly transferrable onto the web, even if an established publisher publishes online. The web has developed new expectations, and it is these that we need to navigate well.

In the spirit of online writing, the second half of this article will be in the tradition of a “how to” blog article, giving some practical advice to publishers.

Marina_Perevexentseva_photo_credit

Rapid change on the web means innovators must be ever adaptive to remain authorities

Early authority on the web

In the early days of the web when there were way fewer websites out there and search engines were far less sophisticated, authority within the world of the web was in some ways easier to gain. The basic rule was that early adopters became online authorities and were respected for the very reason of being present in the early days and establishing the way the blogosphere and web was used. Today people cite these early adopters as key turning points in blog and web history, indicating this respect they have gained (Thompson). If you began your website or blog in the 90s or early 00s, just by the fact that you started engaging with the technology early on provided you with a certain degree of credibility (Chapman). For a great visual and interactive history of the web, explore this site.

One example of this kind of early success is the blog Boing Boing. Still considered today one of the most popular and powerful blogs on the web, it started as a print Zine in the cyberpunk subculture in the late 80s and was a very early adaptor of the blog platform (Jatain, 2015). It became a website in 2000 and soon became a web-only publication.

BoingBoingA screenshot of BoingBoing back in 2000

Since their move online, Boing Boing has gained respect, and yet their content is by no means in-depth journalism, at least on the surface level. As a Guardian article pointed out, “no one has done more to promote pointless, yet strangely cool, time-wasting stuff on the net than the editors of Boing Boing” (Aldred).

However, underneath this façade, there is an ultra-liberal agenda, “championing the web as a global medium free of state and corporate control” (Aldred). By doing this, Boing Boing therefore helped to establish the political blogosphere and remains royalty in a world where technology meets and greets world politics.

By being an early pioneer of this kind of online platform, they have established themselves as a credible source with a popular authority as tangible as it can get on the web.

Katherine_Hodgson_photo_credit copy

At the same time, when the web was in its infancy, print was still king in terms of defining degrees of authority. Even Boing Boing was originally a print publication and gained traction on the web only after having established a print following. For centuries, having anything from a statement to a complex argument published in print, automatically gave that idea a sense of authority that orally acquired knowledge didn’t seem to have.

The actual accuracy of what was written in print was backed up through citation of other print publications, but beyond linking to other print published works, the real source of the great faith we had in a printed text is hard to pin down. There was an almost intangible faith in the printed word.

In the age of the web, new parameters for authority and credibility had to be built. It was the early adaptors like Boing Boing and the blogging platform Blogger that began to set these standards. They were the authority by being the first and by modeling what credibility on the web might look like. Blogger, started in 1999, is largely credited with bringing blogging to the mainstream (Chapman).

The traditional publishing establishment was spoiled in that it was central in the world of the assumed authority of print. Since the early days of print in Europe, the credibility given to print gave publishers of those works a particular place of power and status as gatekeepers of trusted knowledge.

However, once we entered the age of the web, publishers had to stop taking their authority for granted. The new rules of online authority must now be taken into consideration as publishers establish themselves online as digital publishers but also just as voices of authority in our modern world. The following section will address what authority and credibility looks like online today.

The elements needed today to have authority on the web

As mentioned in the introduction, there are many different elements that establish authority on the web today and what is or is not credible can sometimes seem almost arbitrary or at least create some confusion. This is a great grey area to navigate when it comes to establishing yourself as an authority online. However, there are some ways to boost your respect and trust.

According to a study conducted by Rieh at the University of Michigan, web users paid attention the institutions behind a given website, such as government or academic sources, and responded that they felt these sites had more authority (Rieh, 9). In addition, users, “took into account the affiliation of the author/creator, assigning higher levels of authority to professional experts such as professors, doctors and librarians” (Rieh, 9).

Yet Rieh acknowledges that even this changes depending on who is evaluation the authority, whether it be another professional, a student etc. as well as what kind of information this is, whether it be in the academic realm or not. So clearly it is not clear-cut. The following are some tips of ways to boost your credibility.

Payment Required to Pass:

One of the ways that users determine authority has to do with the cost of what you are offering. According to the Rieh study, “Web-based information that is not free, in that it requires purchase or subscription, tends to be viewed as credible” (Rieh, 12).

This is a phenomenon we see in other realms as well. Once monetary value is attributed to something it often tends to take on authority that something that is free does not have. For instance, in my hometown in Switzerland when I was growing up, the large pharmaceuticals companies had completely chemical-free and highly nutritious waste that was great for gardening. They attempted to give it way to the public instead of dumping it all in the public composting system, but no one wanted it. As soon as they placed a price on it, 500 francs per truckload, the demand went way up. Putting a price on something can often make it more valuable to people.

However, the web is packed with free accessible materials that still maintain great authority, so this is not the conclusive answer to online authority either.

DOI as a Badge of Distinction:

For academics and academic publishing this is key to digital publishing. DOIs give a particular article a tangible stamp of authority that follows that article no matter where it is posted or archived on the web. “DOI” stands for Digital Object Identifier. These are unique strings connected to a digital object to identify it beyond a doubt anywhere on the web. Academic publishers assign DOI strings to individual articles as unique identifiers that can be searched for similarly to a search engine search, but with even greater precision.

As Yarkoni states in his article, “Historically, DOIs have almost exclusively been issued by official-type publishers: Elsevier, Wiley, PLoS and such. Consequently, DOIs have had a reputation as a minor badge of distinction.” Citing other DOIs even further bumps your credibility within this world. A DOI is a stamp of approval that once received, won’t go away, it will always be associated with that post/publication.

Therefore, in academic publishing, these have become important (although also debated at times, but that is beyond the scope of this essay). It can be challenging to consistently implement DOIs and integrate this into the existing workflow of publishing. However, non-academic use of DOIs in any significant manner or on any great scale is not common. So how do we create stamps of authority outside academic publishing and across a variety of platforms?

Early Adoption & Trend Setting:

As we began to outline in the previous section, early adoption often provides websites and online personalities with the biggest authority. However, this isn’t something you can engage with in retrospect. If you weren’t an early blogger or website developer you cannot go back in time and plant yourself there.

However, trend setting and being at the edge of technological development can be a productive goal. Do you want to be considered an authority in innovative book technologies? Start experimenting and putting yourself out there. Be creative and take risks. Amazon was an online retail pioneer in this way. They decided to push the boundaries of ecommerce and now have become the standard that everyone else tries to compete with (Wahba, 2015).

But you don’t have to be on track to becoming an online giant to start to raise your profile. Be creative in your area of publication and you might hit upon something that will later be seen as igniting a new technological trend.

Citation and Linking is King:

Left over from print, citation or backlinking of other works, trusted websites, bloggers, social media, even video content etc. highly influences your level of credibility on the web (Lee College guide & Rieh). Not only is this one of the main factors in the success of your search engine results (on which page you appear when someone is searching your area of expertise), your credibility among the academic realm, but it also connects you to other authorities that can then engage in discourse with you (Kumar).

In a similar way, content on the web that refers and links to the information source is seen as far more credible. This is the backbone upon which standard SEO is built (Olenski).

The Simple yet Powerful Presence of an “Author”:

Something that might seem obvious yet isn’t always considered when establishing oneself online, is making sure to have an identifiable author on a website or publication. This is more second nature to publishers than any other web users, but is still important to note. According to Rieh’s study, some users care about the author’s level of education, particularly for more academic uses, so it is important to cite this too, but many other users on the web really don’t care about the author’s education and employ a huge range of markers to determine credibility in its place (Rieh, 10). Either way, including the author’s name is essential.

It also helps to create networks of work by that author across the web. Don’t forget that it is very likely that your author or brand will be Googled. According to the website, internet live stats, over 40,000 search queries get processed every second on Google (Internet Live Stats). So make sure plenty of credible information and other references to that author or business can be found elsewhere online because the chance are you will be searched in order to confirm your credibility.

Social Media assingment use

Chart from Internetlivestats.com of the increase in the use of Google Search over the years.

In addition, never neglect to have an “about” section on your website – often the most viewed page – and make it easy for users to determine what you as an author or a publishing entity are about (Zomparelli, 2016).

Frequency of Updates Matter:

Another practical and simple indication of authority and credibility on the web today, is the frequency of updates and the date of publication (by the way this articles has been updated, three times already). The frequency and speed of social media and news updates greatly impacts the importance of the date of publication as well as the frequency of engagement when determining authority. If you stop publishing online for a few weeks, your authority on the topics you engage with will quickly diminish because it will be assumed that others discussing similar issues more recently will have a fresher take on that area of expertise.

Celebrities Rule the Roost:

Today, we cannot forget to mention the huge part that celebrity status plays in establishing credibility online. According to a recent sensation article by TIME, some of the most influential people on the web today include Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Joy Cho, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, Yao Chen, and Shakira to name just a few (Time, 2015).

These are famous people, people made famous for things they did not necessarily start on the web, and yet they have become the most influential people online in terms of mass appeal and reach. Even though this is not the same kind of authority that a well-published academic online would have, it still means that people listen to what they have to say. Beyond the quality of the content, celebrity status makes people listen to you.

When competing in a world where celebrities are regarded with such credibility, publishers and writers trying to gain traction, have to acknowledge that gaining some kind of celebrity, even if on a small scale, is sometimes the only way to rise in the deep ocean of the world wide web. It is undeniable that celebrity status now plays into credibility in ways we have not entirely grasped but are definitely influencing anyone involved in online engagement.

Conclusion: What are the Ramifications for Publishers Today?

As Rieh establishes in his study of credibility frameworks, the issue of coming up with a reliable set of elements that work together to establish authority is very challenging. Credibility is determined through so many factors that individuals and companies pick and choose from when looking at a site, brand or online presence of any sort (Rieh). Web design, linking and citation, DOI, education of the author, and even celebrity status and the “going viral” phenomena all play into it in various complex ways.

So what can publishers take away from all this in order to apply practically to their digital strategies? There are three main areas I would like to emphasize: SEO, gaining celebrity on the web, and keeping abreast of technological advancement.

The importance of SEO and remaining at the forefront of technological innovation is undeniable. Because the methods of establishing authority are not set in stone, and can change and vary from one day to the next and from one corner of the web to the other, it is essential that we keep a finger on the pulse of the changes that are occurring around us.

SEO practices such as backlinking and providing consistent and frequent content online in a given area with certain keywords can help us gain some credibility in our corner of the web, yet even SEO is changing. With voice searching and much of what is popular on the web getting there through social media sharing, creating user-centered content that is sharable is what is important in 2016. But next year this might shift again.

Traditional publishers have often been invisible carriers of content from the writer to the reader. The general public is more often than not unaware of the imprints that provide them with the content they read. I argue that going online requires that you establish yourself as a recognizable brand.

Even though it isn’t your business but what your produce as a business that is most important, in order to be successful, you must increase your profile as a brand. With celebrity status making such a big difference online, establishing your business so that it can gain status and visibility is of utmost importance. You must encourage your writers and contributors to increase their web credibility as individuals through the ways mentioned above.

Let’s make it so that the top hits when you Google “Top publishing brands” actually have something to do with the publishing industry and aren’t Forbes articles on branding.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end!

And by the way, this is the “real” me:

Me

… and I have studied….

Graduation

… and I do dance…

ballet

… and I have given lectures…

lecture

…… ( well sort of) …..

Italy

 

 

So do you believe in my authority now?

 

 

 

Okay, you can stop scrolling now. Thanks again!

Resources

 

Aldred, Astell, Behr, Cochrane, Hind, Pickard, Potter, Wignall, Wiseman. “The World’s 50 Most Powerful Blogs” The Guardian. March 2008. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2008/mar/09/blogs

Chapman, Cameron. “A Brief History of Blogging.” Web Designer Depot. 2011. http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2011/03/a-brief-history-of-blogging/

The Evolution of the Web. Accessed Feb. 28th, 2016. http://www.evolutionoftheweb.com/

Farrell, Henry and Drezner, W. Daniel. “The Power and Politics of Blogs” Public Choice. Vol. 134, No. 1/2, Blogs, Politics and Power (Jan., 2008), pp. 15-30.
http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/stable/27698208?pq-origsite=summon&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents

“How Can I Tell if a Website Is Reliable?” Lee College. web guide. https://www.edb.utexas.edu/petrosino/Legacy_Cycle/mf_jm/Challenge%201/website%20reliable.pdf

Internet Live Stats. http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/

Jatain, Vishveshwar. “We analysed the 10 most popular blogs in the world and here is what we found.” AdPushUp. July 20, 2015. http://www.adpushup.com/blog/we-analyzed-10-most-popular-blogs-in-the-world-and-heres-what-we-found/

Kumar, AJ. “How Backlinks Can Boost Traffic to Your Website.” Entrepreneur. March 2012. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223157

Olenski, Steve. “7 Reasons Why your Business Should Invest in SEO.” Forbes. 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveolenski/2014/03/26/7-reasons-why-your-business-should-invest-in-seo/#62753fbd1337

“Professional Credibility: Authority on the Web” WICOW ’08 Proceedings of the 2nd ACM workshop on Information Credibility on the Web. Pages 85-88. ACM. New York: 2008. Link

Rieh, S. Y. & Danielson, D. R. (2007). “Credibility: A multidisciplinary framework.” In B. Cronin (Ed.), Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (Vol. 41, pp. 307-364). Accessed on the web: http://rieh.people.si.umich.edu/~rieh/papers/rieh_ARIST2007.pdf

Rheingold, Howard. “Crap Detection 101.” SF Gate. June 30th, 2009.
http://blog.sfgate.com/rheingold/2009/06/30/crap-detection-101/

Stanford University, the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. http://credibility.stanford.edu/

Thompson, Clive. “A Timeline of the History of Blogging.” New York Magazine. web. http://nymag.com/news/media/15971/

“The 30 Most Influential People on the Internet.” Time. March 2015.
http://time.com/3732203/the-30-most-influential-people-on-the-internet/

Wahba, Phil. “This Chart Shows Just How Dominant Amazon Is.” Fortune. Nov 2015. http://fortune.com/2015/11/06/amazon-retailers-ecommerce/

Yarkoni, Tal. “Now I am become DIO, destroyer of gatekeeping worlds” The Winnower. https://thewinnower.com/papers/now-i-am-become-doi-destroyer-of-gatekeeping-worlds

Zomparelli, Daniel. Class presentation. January 2016. SFU Master of Publishing.

Is That Really True? Do We Care?: Online Citation in the Digital Age

Reading the article “On the marginal cost of scholarly communication” this week, started me thinking more about what it means to legitimize a piece of scholarly research in the age of the internet. And not only scholarly articles, but also any source of information or piece of writing found on the web.

In another article this week (Maxwell & Fraser), our cohort began a thread of discussion around the fact that one of the sources the authors cited and linked to was no longer available. An error message appeared. This link to a source that initially provided backup for what the authors were claiming no longer exists, and thus, one could argue, this missing citation undermines the ultimate authority of the text, all because a link doesn’t work.

This raises the question: How do we validate the accuracy of information in an ever-changing online web where many people could potentially edit and contribute to one thing and hyperlinked sources are frequently changed? And is validation in the traditional sense even important anymore?

The article on scholarly communication demonstrated how the scholarly model legitimizes certain authors and researcher by charging them for the publication of the their work on a respected online academic platform. This service also ensured the ongoing preservation of that work on the platform. Through paying a fee, the author is therefore ensured legitimacy by the platform.

I would like to suggest that the importance of citation, the value we place on it, and the way we understand its function in writing and gathering knowledge and accurate information is changing and will change even more in the coming years.

With universal search tools, easily accessible online databases, and archives of historical and current information by the thousands, fact checking no longer means going to a printed page of a book or a long file drawer in the library. These more traditional forms of getting information, a physical book or peer reviewed article, are what we naturally place more trust in, but I think this is changing.

If a hyperlink doesn’t work, or a citation seems questionable, and your average reader is still interested in finding the related information, they will just “Google it” or do some more extensive online research. I believe users are less and less concerned about the accuracy of what they consume online. This is purely a speculative opinion, but it is based on my observation of the online behaviors of my peers.

More and more people now know that something written even a month ago on the web might be out of date given the rapid rate of research and new data and facts coming to light everyday. Therefore the modern digital media consumer goes into a web reading experience knowing that it might not be perfect. And if they are the type of person who actually does care about the accuracy of something they will seek out additional confirmation through a myriad of other channels.

However, if this shift towards less concern about perfect online citation and accuracy is true (and research into this would be fascinating), does this mean having an “authoritative” or validated text will become increasingly less important? What does this mean for scholarly publishing? I would argue that scholarly online publishing will become the ONLY place where proper citation and validation is still valued enough to be found. Yes, this is a sad prospect. But I think we are moving in that direction.

What publishers really should acknowledge and deal with: the overwhelming power of data

In his article from 2014, Shatzkin says that Google and Ingram “have a robust and accurate database of book metadata which, if combined with Google’s data and search mastery… could challenge Amazon effectively” (2014). This topic of metadata collection and the power of data more generally, keeps bubbling up in various tech debates. It was this area of discussion that most stuck with me from the summit as well. And yet, the power that data is proving to provide is rarely the overwhelming center of the discussion in any one of these articles/debates. As with Shatzkin’s article, it is brought into the argument to strengthen another point, but then is not dwelt upon for long.

To me, the significance of data collection is being underplayed. This is the key to power for online giants such as Google and Facebook as well as book companies like Kobo. And it cannot be taken for granted as we discuss other issues surrounding it. Without the data they collect and the smart strategies they employ to manipulate that data, they would not be as powerful as they are.

In our book summit this January, it became clear that the publishers, physical book retailers and online ebook retailers could all equally benefit from a better understanding of each other’s data use and what it means for their respective businesses. However, it is the publisher in particular who easily finds himself in a place of disadvantage since they are one of the few players in the book game that don’t collect data themselves. In this respect, publishers are at the mercy of the retailers (such as Kobo, Indigo and Amazon), Google, social media engines, and even to some degree BookNet Canada to feed this information to them.

It is this divide – centered around who has access to the data – that is vital to acknowledge.

I think Shatzkin’s point about the potential power of a Google/Ingram cooperation is valid, this consolidation of data teams could do a lot to equal Amazon’s power, but I think an even more valuable lesson that publishers can take from this discussion, is that to become more powerful in this evolving tech savvy world, access to and effective use of data is the key.

This is where publishers need to become creative and do two things, 1) find ways to make friendly relations with those that have this powerful data and 2) learn how to create smart strategies using this data as other companies already have.

This might be one way to better ensure a healthy publishing future. A future where the power balance has shifted to where publishers can finally join in carrying the scepter of power for the 21st century: data.