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  • Writer's pictureRebekah Grace Wyant

2018 Pub Tech Conference

Wedged between two Nor’easters, the sun shone bright and warm on the day of the conference. Walking the short distance from the hotel through the arch, I crossed Washington Square and entered NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life.

Directed to a bank of elevators, a short wait and I found myself on the 10th floor moving toward the welcome table. Check-in went smooth. Efficient professionalism with a warm smile was the order of the day.

My bag of goodies in hand, I walked into the Rosenthal Pavilion. The tables, decorated in NYU purple, faced a greenhouse-like wall of windows of the city’s skyline. Flanked by two video screens the presenter’s podium and panel stage interrupted the view. At the opposite end of the room, I joined the cluster at the coffee bar. There I met a table-mate – an entrepreneur in biotech who knew nothing of e-commerce or web design. I shared a contact from Villanova Business.

We joined our table of two executives from Scholastic, a manager from a media firm, and an author. We would remain together during the six forty-five-minute seminars until breakout sessions in the afternoon and meet again at the end of the day for an hour and a half of What’s Next in publishing and closing remarks. The seminars were in a panel format with a commentator presiding.

The conference started promptly at 9:00 am with a welcome address from the chairs of the event. Andrea Chambers, director of NYU School of Publishing and Carl Pritzkat VP of business development at Publishers Weekly who talked of innovation, transformation, and a digitally minded audience within the framework of publishing.

Opening Keynote: NYT Book Coverage & Digital Strategy

Newsbook and The New Vanguard are two ways the Times has reached and engaged new audiences. Newsbook features and reviews books based on the current headlines. The New Vanguard creates a literary moment showcasing female fiction writers.

Technologies that authors and publishers should be aware: Amazon’s Alexa, Apple Podcasts, Google Platform, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Go Button.

Augmented Reality and Go Button are new to me. After some research, an author could use the Go Button – a professional audio playback app – when creating podcasts. Augmented Reality adds to reality – think Pokémon Go – but doesn't replace it. Like the pop-up books of old, publishers are using Augmented Reality to bring stories to life in a whole new way.

The Innovators: Calculating Risks, Creating New Audiences

Michael Mignano, cofounder & CEO, Anchor, Amanda Hesser, cofounder & CEO, Food52, David Cascino, founder & CEO, ThunderClap, Melissa Bell, publisher, Vox Media

From media to podcast to crowd-speak these companies are reaching niche audiences.

These innovators feel Podcasting is the new blogging. How is the podcast serving an audience, what's the impact, can it be sustained? How to monetize a Podcast? The only how-to or advice given was you "have to break through the noise."

Since I am a foodie, I was particularly interested in Amanda Hesser, former NYT editor, and CEO of Food52. Food52 bootstrapped the company through a book deal, which grew an audience by connecting in a meaningful way.

Why is YouTube a constraint for Podcasts? I wondered why that would be a concern. What I found was that my conception of a Podcast was incorrect. Think radio, not television – audio Podcasts are trending. At this point in my understanding, YouTube it is a distraction than a constraint. No one wants to listen to audio while staring at a blank screen.

Have to stay diversified in media outlets. According to David Cascino, founder, and CEO of Thunderclap, viral content is hard to predict. He suggests: investigate what’s happening, what’s working, what’s resonating – then put on the gas.

A more simplistic approach to data analysis, beyond Google Trends, is needed. Media has complicated the gathering of analytics because of the unpredictability of consumers. Media analytics studies two key factors - content and audience so publishers can formulate a marketing plan built on precise targeting.

Flash Brief: Extending Your Digital Story

Amplifying Your Message Through Voice Technology; Andrew Brown, Google Play Books

Of the two flash briefs, I was particularly interested in Artificial Intelligence, in particular, Google Assistant. I have to admit my interest had little – well nothing – to do with publishing. I am to automate my home toward a Smart House, which has a lot to do with voice technology. Amazon (Alexa), Apple (Siri), and Google (Google Assistant) are the prime virtual assistants. Who will become dominant in the industry? That depends on which gets the most serviceable 3rd party smart vendors.

Google’s primary advantages, in publishing, is its international presence and its ability to spread across devices – more important than any individual platform is the integration between different platforms. The choice of platform, for publishers, will be determined by consumers based on what platform can supply the most unified experience. At present, Google is winning.

Google Play audiobooks are priced affordably with no commitments. Tell Me A Story is content that fits the mode of family-friendly and is short, six to seven, up to ten minutes. Cursory research on reviews of the Tell Me A Story saw the app as difficult to use.

Flash Brief: Extending Your Digital Story

Beyond Viral Video: Next Gen Visual Storytelling Leaps in New Directions; Elisa Kreisinge,, Jane Grenier, NYU

Typical users of video are twenty-eight years old and make approximately $88K annually. 70% of the users are female. Again, Podcasts are highly productive – this time we are speaking to video Podcasts, e.g., Facebook Watch shows.

The key to marketing in a post-advertising world is the rate of return, ROI. Podcasting video is “fast, cheap, and good.” Find your expertise and partner with schools, journals, or perhaps the arts to extend your message.

Marketing Plus: New Rules, New Road Maps, New ROI

TMI Strategy, Harper Collins, Scholastic, The Atlantic

The Influencer Market brings a person to their tribe. Who are the influencers? First, what is an influencer? Marketing that focuses not on a target market but on the people, who influence a target market. Identify those individuals who can impact potential buyers and create marketing actions that involve these influencers.

For a marketing plan to leverage influence, the connection to the group has to be authentic because there is emotion. Forced authenticity can diminish returns on engagement. Apparently, millennials can see through a disingenuous contact - in a snap. That is the opinion of Meredith Ferguson, managing director for TMI Strategy. My opinion is that all young people, no matter the generation, can spot a phony. After all, young people are not far-removed from childhood, and children have an intuitive sense above those of adults. Be genuine if you want to connect. Question what you have, how you can tap into it, and how it relates to what the audience wants.

Consider partnerships. Partnerships must make sense. A good example here is Shopkins, which partnered a brand with media. Is this partnership right for my brand? Is it mutually beneficial? To answer those questions, go back to your mission statement. Are you staying true to who you are, where you want to land? If not, Scholastic and Microsoft’s Halo collaboration is an example to model.

Branded Content & Content Marketing

  • Understand the audience

  • Go to where your audience is

  • Content, Partnerships – what do you have to offer?

  • Must be clear that it is Content Marketing

  • Never break trust with the consumer

  • Branded Content is appearing in the places where people are aware of that brand

Not email

Not a website

  • Be on Spotify – lists for your characters

Brief: Extending Your Digital Story – Driving Discoverability in New Directions

Kristin Fassler at Ballantine Bantam Dell division of Penguin Random House

The challenges are the diminished Front of Store Distribution. Retailers are struggling to engage. Tactics of discoverability are to hit as many touch points as you can. An example is George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo. Publicity promoted the movie with the book. The New York Times integrated video with its book review. Virtual Reality used the movie trailer as a mini motion picture. The book serialized as an audiobook was chatted up and sourced to media outlets. Another example of this format was Dean Koontz' The Whispering Room, a Jane Hawk series.

Use tech to tell your story, to enhance the experience, and find the match for your audience.

Breakout Sessions

From Book to Screen: Maximizing and adapting literary content on multiple media

Streamers, Premium Channels, in general, are buying books for TV & movies. Traditional Broadcast companies, like CBS, NBC are not taking the risk. Original intellectual property or IP in the form of books, blogs, and podcasts that attract attention are viable options to pitch to buyers.

There is a journey a piece of content takes. A book or a proposal makes its way to literary scouts for movie and TV studios and production companies from various sources. A book's performance is tracked in the marketplace, and when an option becomes available either buy the option, renew, or put into turnaround - make available to another buyer.

Trends to be aware of are novellas and short stories. The industry is catering to projects for women and science fiction materials. The more grounded the relationships and narrative of the story, the better. The market is strong for nonfiction or true-life stories.

Case Studies: Girl on the Train, A Dog's Purpose, Legally Blonde, (great title & good bones - terrible book, Private Benjamin in Law School), and House Soldiers (12 Soldiers).

The last point is "a great story with great characters with great writing, will sale."

The Space Factor: The Next, Best Publishing Environment

Fostering creativity and connectivity in the workplace

The process is strategic, flexible, and boasts modularity. Planning establishes visions and requirements, design explores a range of unique solutions, and delivery delivers a great project. Innovative spaces are lab-like spaces encouraging collaborative grouping. They are future-prove in that they anticipate change.

Trends are in artificial intelligence to support Smart homes and the smart workplaces. Also, wellness in the workplace regarding things like air quality and the creation of an ambient tone.

Where Publishing is Going Next: New Voices, New Viewpoints

Fostering creativity and connectivity in the workplace

New trends do not rely on platforms. Digital publishing cannot rely on technologic algorithms. Have to connect with the audience directly, for example, Wednesday's Books. According to my notes, it has something to do with Instagram. Interesting enough, I could not find anything definitive on what 'Wednesday's Books' is when I researched the topic.

Closing Keynote:

Ben Lerer, CEO, Group Nine Media

Pub Tech Connect ended with a short interview with Ben Lerer. Between the panel discussions and during the breakout sessions, I connected with new people and ideas. The awareness I have gained of future and cutting-edge technologies from this conference has added to my knowledge base, and the cursory familiarity from this initial introduction, of these technologies, will continue to benefit me in ways that I have yet to comprehend.

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