In programming this year’s FutureBook Conference (4th December), I’ve had the privilege of discussing publishing’s digital future with numerous people from across the sector. The conversations, all done for the purposes of background, have informed both the direction of the conference and my understanding of where the industry is headed.
Here are 3 conclusions, and how they the fit into the FutureBook Conference 2015.
1) Product innovation is not dead: in fact I believe we are just beginning to see a new wave of different types of books, from the Harry Potter enhanced iBooks to Hachette’s app programme. But what we think of as the next phase of ‘the book’ needs to broaden. What Asi Sharabi has done with Lost My Name and what Quarto is doing with This is Your Cookbook, shows that new types of books need not only be confined to digital. New technologies change all sorts of things, and printing (particularly print-on-demand) is only just beginning to be explored by publishers (and consumers). We will see more developments in the cross-over between digital and print, as well as more digital only solutions.
How this informs FutureBook 2015: Both Sharabi and Mark Searle, from Quarto, will present at the FutureBook Conference. Searle will talk about the concept, thinking, and execution of TIYC; while Sharabi will take part in the “strategies that work” session. Lost My Name now has more than 60 employees (and is growing); it just recently launched its next personalised product (full confession, my kids are big fans). To visit the head-quarters in Dalston (N London) is to view a tech business in full flight, but one committed to quality print books. When I first met Sharabi almost two years ago he wanted introductions to book publishers, but actually he did not need them—the company only employs one person with a traditional publishing background. This is the new publishing, and it looks completely different. But it works. We all have much to learn from both Sharabi and Searle. Aside from this duo, FutureBook will feature presentations from 8 companies producing new types of books, including Lonely Planet, Sage and Hodder. In short, the new publishing is here . . .
2) Agency is not killing the e-book market, but it is creating opportunities as the big groups transition: the first implementation of agency was an important shift for publishers at a time when they needed to take some control back over the e-book market, and prevent Amazon entirely killing off the competition. It worked, to varying degrees. The second coming of agency looks more problematic - prices have lowered during the interim ($9.99 nows looks a decent price for some books) and Amazon is no less powerful. Ironically, it is Amazon that is now pushing publishers to agency because the Seattle giant no longer wishes to take the hit on dramatically lowered e-book prices. This throws the challenge back to agency publishers, and it is not easily resolvable. The Kindle platform now sells many more e-books at very low prices, than it does at the higher end. We often talk about how publishing avoided going through that destructive Napster period music publishers faced: but actually the dramatic devaluation of content now prevalent on the Kindle represents an acute challenge for everyone. If publishers cannot sell e-books at volume at prices that support their wider business, then this transition to digital suddenly looks to have a sting in its tail. That said, it also represents huge opportunities for indie writers, e-book only publishers, and new content businesses — or in fact anyone more concerned with growing e-book sales than servicing their over-head.
How this impacts FutureBook 2015: A panel at the conference, provisionally entitled, “Who’s afraid of the e-book plateau – understanding the book buyer”, will look at what’s happening in the e-books sector from a data perspective, what’s happened to growth, what different price points do, and how retailers can encourage their customers to purchase more titles. Dave Anderson, vice president, merchandising & publisher relations at Kobo, joins a panel that also includes Gareth Cuddy, founder of e-book distributor Vearsa; Jo Henry director at NielsenBook; and Kieron Smith from Blackwell. The use of the term ‘book buyer’ is important too: readers buy across different formats for different reasons, with different drivers at work. Understanding this will help both sectors. As announced last week, we also have Jane Friedman, founder of Open Road Media, an e-book only publisher detailing the strategy behind that business, and how to survive in a digital only world.
3) Mobile is going to impact this sector hard. As I wrote last week in relation to FutureBook’s book tech showcase, the transition to mobile reading and platforms is going to change and alter this industry irrevocably. As one mobile expert said to me recently, just measure how many times you use your mobile in an hour, and you’ll have some perspective on how important this will become for the content businesses. Over the past few months, Harry Potter website Pottermore has shown a glimpse of this future, with a mobile-first relaunch of its website, and the launch of Harry Potter enhanced iBooks. But that is not an end to it, from new retailing opportunities to new content platforms mobile already offers a different way for authors, publishers and readers to interact. There is a sense that publishers do not yet get this. Can this be true?
How this impacts FutureBook 2015: Pottermore c.e.o. Susan Jurevics is keynoting this year’s conference, and will provide an overview of how Pottermore shifted its strategy to focus on mobile, and why. There is also a panel focused entirely on mobile with Anna Jean Hughes, founder of The Pigeonhole; George Burgess, founder of Gojimo; and Maureen Scott, founder of Ether Books. Each will provide an important perspective on how mobile changes publishing, in fact, how mobile changes everything. The book tech showcase will demonstrate how startp-ups are already thinking mobile first, and mobile will be a focus for the author-specific session featuring Simon & Schuster's Judith Curr.
Don't forget: The shortlists for the FutureBook Awards are announced on Thursday at the Frankfurt Book Fair, at the Publishing Innovators Meetup, taking place from 5pm (Frankfurt time) at the Hot Spot Digital Innovation (Hall 6.2 D22). The shortlists will be unveiled on FutureBook and theBookseller.com at the same time.
Including book tech: This means that over the next 8 weeks, FutureBook will feature each week an interview with a company that features on the Book Tech shortlist, written by journalist Molly Flatt. The first of these will be published on Thursday 15th, with one each week until the eve of FutureBook, 3rd December.
Survey: There is still time to complete the FutureBook Digital Census. To take part in the survey, follow this link to Survey Monkey. To encourage others to take the survey, the link is: surveymonkey.com/r/FBCensus15. The survey runs until Thurday (15th October), with the results to be published ahead of this year’s FutureBook Conference on 4th December.
And conference: To find out more about the FutureBook Conference 2015, or to book tickets at the early bird rate, visit http://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook/2015