The recent timing of the announcement that start-up ebook retailer Zola has acquired start-up book retailer Bookish in a cash deal has had the effect of bookending, as it were, the 2013 and 2014 editions of Digital Book World, which will be taking place on January 13-15 at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers. After all, it was just last February – within a month after the 4th Digital Book World event concluded – that Bookish was finally up and running, after nearly two years of planning and delays. The acquisition will merge about half of the Bookish employees, mostly on the tech side, into Zola’s operations, while for the present time Zola plans to continue running Bookish as a standalone website as long-term strategies for integrating the two entities are hashed out.

While financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, a primary impetus of the deal was the alignment of the highly regarded Bookish recommendation engine, which works through connecting books through their attributes, somewhat like Pandora (with the added benefit of a partnership with USA Today), to the Zola recommendation engine, which is based on collaborative filtering, like Netflix. Additional assets are the editorial content of the Bookish Web site, as well as its healthy monthly traffic, said to be in the hundreds of thousands of visitors. In a sense the deal can be seen as an aggregation of initiatives by bigger media players of long standing, considering that the deal was funded by some of Zola’s long-standing seed investors, like Cablevision and HBO founder Charles Dolan, and that Bookish was founded by a consortium of publishers — Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin — with the intention of building a book discovery and retail destination to challenge Amazon and other large retailers. Thus, the hope is that together the two start-ups, with similar missions – Zola on the ebook side of things, whereas Bookish trades in print books, ebooks and audio books – will be able to formulate a direction going forward to reclaim some territory from the behemoth that is Amazon, based primarily on the cache of a more select clientele and audience.

It seems more than coincidental that such developments accompany Digital Book World, since the occasion during the first such event in 2010 that the iPad was announced in California. For 2014, F+W Media promises a bigger and better event, which will attract an international audience (from some 30 countries) of 1,500 industry professionals, 50 exhibitors and more than 100 speakers. The focus of the three days will include the latest in ebook production, rights, pricing, retail strategy, marketing, and distribution, and new for this year is the first-ever agents gathering, which will be taking place on Monday, January 13th.

The theme of the agents gathering is “Driving Agency Growth”, a concept that has incrementally and naturally evolved as more and more agents see their roles both change and expand as traditional publishing models have been augmented and/or supplanted by the revolution in digital content. This AM session will survey six agent success stories, concerning a variety of cases studies presented by the agents. These include: the Risk-taker, the Rule-breaker, the Fence-jumper, the Brand-manager, the Engineer, and the Packager; the successful solutions these embody towards the changing marketplace range from innovations in approach to technology, philosophy, branding, and services offered to writers.

The international flavor the the event is important, considering that while ebook sales growth has been levelling off in the US – Nook device and ebook sales over the recent holiday season were disappointing for many in the industry – the situation worldwide, particularly in Europe, has been more encouraging. Over 90% of the customers of ePubDirect, one of the largest ebook distribution platforms in the world, are based in the UK and Europe, and the range of publishers thereon runs the gamut from the tiny to the gargantuan; this makes metrics and measuring the international market quite reliable. In this sphere an absolute average of publisher’s ebook sales were up 146% in 2013 compared to 2012, while some experienced growth of well over 500%. This can be accounted for in the opening of new markets, at the same time a reduction in dependency on Amazon was seen in 2013. Territories with notable growth include South America, Japan, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Belgium; a more open rights policy generally in the worldwide market has abetted such an expansion.

Also new for the 2014 Digital Book World is the International Fellowship Program. Six publishing professionals from around the world have been tapped to participate in the inaugural program, which will avail them the opportunity to expand their professional development at the conference. The Digital Book World Fellows for 2014 are: Cristina Mussinelli, of the Italian Publishers Association; Ahmed Bedeir, the General Manager of Dar El Shorouk; Justine Solomons, founder of the membership organization Byte the Book; Suzanna Wilson-Higgins, Deputy Managing Director and EU Sales & Marketing Director of Lion Hudson; Rebecca Smart, CEO of UK-based publisher Osprey Group; and Sam Missingham, Head of Events for HarperCollins UK.

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