This week, Fuse is putting the spotlight on publishing expert Thad McIlroy. Thad is an electronic publishing analyst and author based in San Francisco. A well-established expert in the technology and marketing issues surrounding electronic publishing, color imaging and the Internet, he has authored a dozen books and over 400 articles on these subjects.

Thad’s website site, www.thefutureofpublishing.com, is the most thorough exploration of where publishing is headed. McIlroy provides consulting services to publishing and media companies, printers, design and advertising agencies, as well as the full range of vendors serving the publishing industry. During the past 25 years he has educated and entertained audiences around the world on every aspect of digital publishing. He co-authored The Metadata Handbook: A Book Publisher’s Guide to Creating and Distributing Metadata for Print and Ebooks (2nd ed.). His latest book is Mobile Strategies for Digital Publishing: A Practical Guide to the Evolving Landscape.

Thad-160-280Thank you Thad for sharing your knowledge, insight, and expertise with Fuse readers. Without further ado, here are five questions and answers on the state and future of publishing.


Q. What do you think about Amazon’s opening of a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle? Why do you think they’ve opened one and what kind of impact, if any, do you think this kind of store will have?

We need to see Amazon’s tentative moves into bricks-and-mortar in the broader context of the future of book retail. Which means looking at Barnes & Noble.

I’ve spent a lot of time tracking B&N (see my posts here). They control about 15% of U.S. trade book sales (more than double what independent stores, combined, sell). So B&N is book retail in the U.S.

I don’t think that Amazon has any interest in competing with B&N for traditional book retail sales. Amazon is always looking for synchronicities between online sales and physical locations. I see the retail stores in this context: another way that Amazon runs rings around its competitors.

Most people who fixate on the Seattle bookstore fail to notice that Amazon also is opening pick-up locations at colleges around the U.S., including UC Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin. Students get free same-day pickup at these kiosks. Who can compete with this?

Q. How important is metadata and SEO for authors? What are some good resources or books to help them better understand the more technical aspects of marketing their books, involving SEO-optimization etc.

Of course as co-author of The Metadata Handbook I arrive at this discussion with a clear bias. But in the six years I’ve been working with publishing metadata I’ve only seen it increase in importance. I point out to authors and publishers that with the bulk of book sales now online metadata is your book. No one can reach onto a virtual book shelf and grab a copy and hold it in their hands. Metadata is the book.

Too many people think of metadata as an extended clerical function: Name, price, number of pages, pub date, that kind of thing. But it’s really the whole virtual space that each book occupies, whether a listing on Amazon or a glowing review on an otherwise obscure blog. If you’ve optimized your metadata strategy, all of these metadata “crumbs” combine to lead readers to your book. If the metadata then engages the prospective buyer, an online sale follows. Without metadata none of this can happen.

Q. Why haven’t publishers become hip to the idea of bookazines? Is it because magazines are already doing this (for instance, People magazine creating themed bookazines based on a collection of articles in their past magazines)?

This one is easy: bookazines are created by magazine publishers because they control newsstand magazine distribution… book publishers have no access to these racks. If a book publishers creates something resembling a bookazine it’s just an 8-1/2″x11″ illustrated trade paperback sold through the usual book retail channels.

Q. What about mobile marketing for books? What are some trends that you’ve been seeing?

A: Book publishers are really falling behind in mobile marketing. They make some half-hearted efforts here and there. One example where they fall short is on Instagram. It’s a great venue to promote books, totally mobile-focused, but only a handful of publishers exploit it. Facebook is far-and-away the dominant social media platform and half of Facebook users access it solely on mobile. I don’t think publishers appreciate that mobile is no longer the afterthought in a promotional campaign. Book promotion today should always be mobile-first.

Q. What is the most important trend impacting the future of book publishing?

A: Publishers need to recognize that the existing U.S. publishing ecosystem has stopped growing. It’s not disappearing, but it’s not selling more books each year, and it’s not bringing in new revenue. The growth is in self-publishing and well over half of that growth is taking place on Amazon.

None of those sales are generated from physical bookstores or reviews in the New York Times: it’s all online, and mostly mobile. There’s growth available to the publishing industry, but it demands a new business model.