Publishers in 'dream' position, FutureBook hears

Publishers have "done a lot right" and are standing in a much stronger position in the digital market compared with three years ago, Pottermore c.e.o. Charlie Redmayne told delegates at The Bookseller's FutureBook 2012 Conference in London this morning (3rd December).

In a keynote speech, Redmayne said there had been too much negativity in the industry and that publishers were now in a position they would have thought "a dream" a couple of years back, with multiple retailers for them to sell their e-books through.

While Amazon is a "dominant" player, a "fantastic partner for publishers", they now also have Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo—"who have done such an extraordinary job"—and Google, which Redmayne predicted would be "a serious player in the e-book market in the next couple of years".

However publishers need to step up and own innovation and creativity on the new devices, he warned, emphasising that developing big brands and harnessing fanbases were crucial.

Redmayne recommended that publishers and film companies "get together and merge rights", saying they need to "work with all rights-holders to create products across platforms." Doing that had enabled Pottermore to harness a 14m-strong fanbase, he said. He cited as an example the Book of Spells augmented reality experience on Playstation 3, which Redmayne said is "building a content proposition that will help extend and build the Harry Potter brand for many years". He concluded: "Digital opportunity is not just about e-books; it's about driving creativity around storytelling on these new platforms."

Also giving a keynote speech, Kobo chief Michael Serbinis told delegates that the company is planning more international expansion in 2013, looking to Eastern Europe and Asia.

Kobo has recently launched in Brazil, and Serbinis declared: “we have taken Kobo to all the continents this year . . . In 2013 we will build on this continental growth and gain more market share.” In particular, Serbinis said the company was “excited” about going into countries like Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and also the Middle East. More than two-thirds of the company’s business is outside North America.

The Kobo boss also revealed the company had achieved 600% sales growth year-on-year in the UK, which included 115% catalogue growth, 280% year-on-year growth in users, 400% growth in e-book downloads and 100% growth in device sales. He was pleased that the DigiTimes last month reported the company had now gained a 20% hold of the global e-reading market.

Going forward, Kobo is planning to deliver more colour and interactive content in 2013, including in magazines and manga, after buying digital content company Aquafadas in October. It will also look at digital steaming going forward as a consequence of this.

Dominic Rowell, m.d. of Lonely Planet, explained how the company had developed over the years from being a producer of guidebooks to being a trusted travel brand.

Its online community, Thorn Tree, launched when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was 12 years old, still has a thriving group of users today, with a new comment posted every 26 seconds.

Rowell said online strategy was: “born from the imperative that books are out of date from the moment they go into print”. While books remain "the cornerstone" of the brand, Lonely Planet set about building a multi-media platform, which has led to a website with 171m visits a year, a number which has doubled in the past two years.

Building the brand has led to ideas like offering their city guide apps for free in the wake of the Icelandic volcano stranding travellers across Europe—the initiative, thought up in an office corridor, led to 4m downloads in four days, and was followed by “many more unit sales”.

Similarly, following the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, LP made updated chapters on the city available as freely downloadable PDF.

Rowell emphasised that publishers had to be responsive and implement ideas on smaller scales, monitoring how they work and reacting to that feedback. He said: “You don’t have to bet the farm, you don’t have to put it all on black. It is a learning process. By doing that, we can create a virtuous circle”. He summed up: “Whatever we do, it’s got to be fun.”