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Conference Report: Independent Publishing At Digital Book World 2019

Conference Report: Independent Publishing at Digital Book World 2019

Boni Wagner-Stafford

Boni Wagner-Stafford, ALLi Communications Manager

Digital Book World 2019 has just wrapped up in the American music capital of Nashville, Tennessee. ALLi Founder and Director Orna Ross and Communications Manager Boni Wagner-Stafford were among those indies traveling to the conference with an ear to the ground of digital publishing as we head into 2020. Here's a conference report on what was relevant for author publishing at Digital Book World from Boni. 

It was an  informative, and jam-packed few days at Digital Book World 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. A gathering of the latest, greatest, and fascinating people, trends, and digital issues in the publishing world. On top of all that, every session both started and ended on time! (Having organized a few conferences in my day, that is quite the feat.)

From AI to audio, interactive to marketing, and everything in between, Digital Book World CEO Bradley Metrock and his team did an outstanding job. Here's Metrock describing what Digital Book World is.

Digital Book World is the gathering of the wide world of publishing. It’s a place where trade publishing, scholarly publishing, independent publishing, educational publishing, and what we call “corporate publishing” (corporations that aren’t actual publishers at all, but have an internal publishing function), along with all the tech companies that serve them, can come together to learn and network. – Bradley Metrock, CEO Digital Book World

Orna Ross and Bradley Metrock at the close of DBW19.

ALLi Founder and Director Orna Ross (we met in person for the first time!) delivered a pre-conference workshop on book marketing for independent publishers as well as a keynote-style presentation titled, “State of the Union: Trends in Independent (Author) Publishing.” Orna was also nominated for an award as Publishing Commentator of the Year. You can see the DBW awards release here. And, you can see Orna's DBW presentation plus-plus-plus as it became a key presentation in our own #selfpubcon, held in conjunction with and on the heels of DBW.

We knew Digital Book World 2019 wasn't going to have a strong “how-to” component for author-publishers, but having been at Digital Book World last year, we also knew there was going to be invaluable nuggets of information and insight. Here are the sessions I found most interesting and why–and some video interviews with some great speakers below.

Cultivating Young Readers

Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, opened the conference with her keynote address. She emphatically reminded the publishing industry that “you don't have to do anything the way you've been doing it,”  encouraging publishers to consider working to meet people where they are, rather than where they think people should be. She spoke about the foundation's work cultivating young readers who don't have the means to buy books by delivering more than one million books (new books, not second-hand, she said) to housing authorities where some of the poorest families in the US live. It's true that most readers, and most authors, developed their love of reading and stories when they were children. Why should we let a lack of resources due to economic circumstances get in the way of that?

Interactive Content

Being Digital Book World, there was a healthy dose of programming dedicated to interactive content. I sat in on a session from Tapocketa Animation Studio where founders Eleanor and Trevor walked us through the fascinating process of creating an interactive children's digital storybook: Galdo's Gift, which they referred to as a “boovie” (book and movie).

Interactive storytelling has applications in gaming, which may seem obvious, in our books less so. However, if we can create a single storyline, it's not that much of a stretch to consider creating a few additional storylines that allow the reader to make choices as they interact with and influence the development of their version of the story. This interactivity can be a blend of text, voice, and visuals, and is aided by technology, of course, through AI. Honestly, publishing a book suddenly seems so easy….

One of my favorite sessions was from Noelle LaCharite, founder of the AI Leadership Institute. For an AI tech geek, Noelle's engaging personality and, ummm, storytelling, made for a fascinating thirty minutes. I took no pictures and no notes because she had me hanging on every word. She told the story of how AI changes lives: after being hit by a car, her father lost the ability to read. Enter Amazon's Alexa, and suddenly her father had his favorite pastime back. Noelle reminds us all that with this great promise comes great responsibility and we must, and she says we are, paying attention to the ethical issues inherent in this transformative technology. You'll meet Noelle in the video clips below.

Global Trends and Issues

Talk about first world problems… while we indie author-publishers concern ourselves with how to get our books into bookstores, in countries like Brazil, it's nearly impossible for anyone to get physical books into bookstores or anywhere else. Marcelo Gioia from Bookwire, a collaboration between Brazilian and German entities, explained that the drug lords control and disrupt the mail and delivery systems to such an extent that it's impossible for any business model to rely on the receipt or delivery of physical books. Hence digital, in the form of both eBook and audiobook, is thriving.

Author Publishing at Digital Book World 2019

The divide between the two sides of the publishing industry — commercial (trade) publishing and author (self or micro) publishing is still prominent and we could feel it between the ballroom chairs and slithering underneath the round tables. Still, there was a lot of very interesting and energizing content. Rather than prattle on any longer, you can hear directly from some of the key speakers in this video.

If you don't want to watch the entire fifteen minutes, here's a cheat-sheet and you can skip to the time and the person who piques your interest.


Jane Friedman:  The Hotsheet, on winning the DBW Publishing Commentator of the Year award, and on the big stories from the last year and what to watch for in the year ahead


Noelle LaCharite: AI Leadership Institute, on why readers want to get to know authors more now than ever, and of course on the ways AI can help us make those authentic connections


Paul Cutsinger: Amazon Alexa Team, on the promise and potential of digital interactive storytelling and the role authors have to play in the technology's future


Mary McAveney: Open Road Media, on the difference between an “owned” an “rented” audience and why indie authors should care


Margot Atwell: Kickstarter, on winning the DBW Outstanding Achievement award, what authors need to know before launching a Kickstarter campaign and what's coming up for creators in 2020


Libby Jordan: Open Road Media, on why digital should be the main focus for every indie author despite the emotional pull of wanting to see our books on the shelves of bricks and mortar stores


Argus Brown: Chanticleer Reviews, on why attending conferences like DBW is important for author-publishers, and how reviews are important in the grand scheme of things when you want to sell more books

Alright, here is the video, and I hope you'll forgive my camera-operator skills. Despite having spent fifteen years in the television industry doing lots of in-the-field work, I totally forgot to turn my iPhone around to the landscape orientation. I think you'll still get the gist!

Digital Book World 2019 has just wrapped up in #Nashville, Tennessee. ALLi was at the conference with an ear to the ground of #digitalpublishing #authorpublishing Click To Tweet

Over To You

Were you at DBW 2019? What stood out most for you? If you weren't there, what are your thoughts on the issues raised above around author publishing at Digital Book World?


This Post Has 6 Comments
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