Hedging bets

If 2012 was the year in which publishers found confidence in their ability to create digital content, this year they promised themselves they would start making money from it.

Some have—just look at Hachette UK’s stellar digital results—but persistent (and misleading) rumours that the e-book gravy train is about to screech to a halt suggests we’re still ridden with angst about the digital future.

This anxiety has manifested itself mainly as publisher partnerships. Are the growing raft of e-book subscription services viable businesses? We don’t know, but for the moment they’re a splendid source of revenue if, as rumours suggest, they pay 60% of list price for backlist titles. Let’s hope their backers are as generous as their terms of business. In 2012, Bundling was also seen as devaluing the format of the future to prop up sales of its print legacy. This year’s launch of MatchBook with 70,000 titles, and the Foyles/HarperCollins tie-up, shows publishers now see it as a tool to support the backlist and increase sales conversion on the frontlist.

As always, the most exciting experiments in publishing are happening at the fringes. These have little to do with partnerships and everything about encouraging us to reimagine the book. Initiatives like Atavist, Ether Books and even Kindle Worlds are geared around creating reading experiences suited to an age of partial attention. Short-form, “snacky” and designed for sharing, they have more in common with M&Ms than Proust’s madeleines. They are perfectly formed for consumption on the platform which definitely is “eating the world”: mobile.

Chris McCrudden is head of technology and new media at Midas PR. He will be speaking at FutureBook 2013.