FIW13: Nick Perrett on the future of e-reading

FIW13: Nick Perrett on the future of e-reading

Last Thursday I was at the Futurebook Innovation Workshop, organised by The Bookseller and The Literary Platform. It was a fascinating afternoon of talks from a wide variety of speakers and it kicked off with Nick Perrett from HarperCollins looking at how the last six years of innovation in the games industry might be a guide to what happens over the next six years in publishing. 

Notes are semi-verbatim; any errors or omissions are my own. 

Are you ready? Innovation is all about change and a lot of people don’t like change. There needs to be a certain readiness, so when you’re thinking about about innovation, you need to think ‘Am I ready for change?’. 

Perrett used to work in video games, and the focus was on high-end character animation for GTA or "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". Creators were trying to build better connections with their audience, and one way to do that was through investment in believable characters. That means high-end animation because console games have high visual fidelity. Also worked on Facebook games and MMPORGs (massively multi-player online roleplaying games). 

The last six years, from 2007 to 2013, in games is relevant to what will happen in publishing over next six years. 

In 2007, games were all about package goods: You put games in boxes, shipped them to retailers who put them on shelves. There were a number of steady state platforms and publishing businesses. The model was very clear and everyone knew what they were doing. 

In summer 2007, things happened that changed the course of the games industry, and future of media, although that change hasn’t been seen yet in publishing. These change were in three fundamental areas of innovation: 

  1. Advent of Zinga and Supercell saw an extreme change in the content creation process, moving from creating a finished, polished article to getting immediate and constant feedback from players. That requires a massive change in the development process. 
  2. Marketing moved from big brand push at launch to customer acquisition, where you are trying to acquire users against lifetime value target. 
  3. Monetisation moved from selling physical objects for a fixed price to selling atomised content in a number of different ways, eg through subscription of micro-transactions. 

We haven’t seen that level of change yet in publishing. 

The result in gaming was that two traditional games publishers went bust: Atari & THQ. Couple that with the rise of brand new platforms, iOS, Platform, Steam, and companies you’d have never heard of in 2007 became billion dollar businesses, eg GhungHo. They weren’t even visible in 2007, now they are a $10bn business based on one game. 

Why has publishing not seen that level of innovation? Why has there not been as much innovation in publishing as in games? In Perrett’s first few months of being in the industry, he’s seen that what holds us back is thinking of ebooks as books in their digital form. But that’s a dead end. 

Innovation in games was down to direct communication between content creator and audience. Ebooks, for the last six years, have been closed islands, they are walled gardens within themselves, within the file. The keeping of a distance between the creator and the audience has lead to lower level of innovation.

The duty of publishers to storytellers is to free stories and connect them to readers. The competitive advantage of a publisher is based on what publishers can do that others cannot: 

  1. Publishers have a unique relationship with the storyteller. There’s a duty for the publisher to create new technology to tell stories in the most compelling and engaging way. 
  2. The physical object. We’re entering a phase where tech enables those objects to communicate with the wider world. Physical form can be connected to the internet, the content creator can have an interesting conversation with the reader. 
  3. Reader relationships. Think about future of ecommerce — we have a version 1 of ecommerce, in terms of physical objects sold through a retailer. But when you lower the barriers to entry to creating content, that creates a sea of content, so how do you curate that? 

By 2019, publishing will see:

  • Digitally native startups worth over $1bn
  • High profile failures and struggles via acquisition
  • A move from discussing prices, but daily active readers and ARPU (average revenue per user)

And innovation in three areas:

  • New forms of content
  • Physical innovation
  • Reaching readers, how do we do that in innovative ways? It will be partly brand, partly curation. 

If ebooks are our present, then what is our future?


You can read notes from Bobette Buster's FIW13 talk on storytelling mechanics on Suw's own blog.