Friday, August 5, 2011

Keynote: Emma Dryden on Traveling Through the Digital Landscape

Emma Dryden
If a career had a backlist, Emma Dryden's would be huge. She's edited more than 500 books and, as publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, oversaw the publication of 100 more.

She's also got quite a bit going on in her current career list, so to speak. Since March of 2010, she's run her own editorial consulting firm, Drydenbks, working with people in every publishing discipline--including ebook and app producers. (Oh, and she even writes her own poetry and fiction and blogs at

She gave a keynote address on the digital future of publishing and started by talking about the most important aspect of the business:

"What I've learned first and foremost ... is that story matters most." And no matter what the platform, "I want to identify with the story, relate to something in that story, and have that story resonate long after I've finished it."

"The road we're on together has always in one way or another taken us into uncharted lands," she said. Today's digital upheaval is just one more example of this.

Children know the digital landscape intrinsically, she said. Adults re-educate and retool themselves--but kids have nothing to unlearn as they travel the digital landscape.

"I don't think we need fear for the survival of the book," she said. "Not in our lifetime. But the digital world is reshaping the very foundations of the book business and the book business has to adapt to survive."

Her keynote offered a comprehensive overview of the digital landscape, from platforms to pricing to piracy. A few of the many observations she shared:

How did we get here? The landscape is ever-shifting. Among other things: the iPhone and the Kindle, launched in 2007, spelled big changes. Then the economic recession hit publishing hard. In 2011, start-ups nosed in. There was also that big debate over pricing between Amazon and Macmillan. (Emma said we have to pay close attention to the debate about e-book pricing because more than 50 percent goes to the publisher.)

The iPad is a major development (and Apple is insisting that all book apps sell through its own bookstore). And there continue to be additional developments: better screen resolution, the ability to use it as a credit card... the list goes on.

What's the digital market look like? Ebook sales are up 170 percent in the first quarter of this year, and they're expected to go up 140 percent further later in the year. 

For enhanced ebooks (the ones with video, etc.), the ones working best are cookbooks, craft books, and language books. Ebooks and apps are different, Emma said. Apps are little programs designed to entertain and be useful. They have more features than books.

Finally, the digital platform can possibly supplement the picture book market (and not replace it).

Ebook royalties: The industry standard is 25 percent of net receipts published through traditional houses. Some pay more. For self published, it's 60 to 80 percent. It's critical for publishers, agents, and authors to work together the fundamental issues related to ebooks: rights, royalties, pricing, distribution, marketing and sales, she said. 

Out-of-print titles/self publishing: Some agencies are facilitating e-publishing of authors' work. "I think the waters of conflict of interest are being churned up considerably," she said. "Is the agent the perfect publishing partner? The jury is still out on that one."

A few self-publishing options: Figment, InkPop, Tikatok--all publish the writing of children. For adults there is Emma is helping with quality control for this pending service, designed to showcase picture books.

This comment drew gasps: "It's more than just a rumor that Apple is interested in buying Barnes and Noble."
Follow Emma Dryden on Twitter


  1. Regarding Emma's comments, "It's more than just a rumor that Apple is interested in buying Barnes and Noble."

    So then, I say we all make applesauce!

    Thank you Emma for your insights.

  2. Interesting article. I've jumped into the e-book world and am learning about creating apps so really interested to hear that Apple is considering buying Barnes and Noble.I wonder what kind of changes that will bring.
    Always impressed by Emma. I think she is absolutely right.