Are we still not 'prepared' for digital progress?

Are we still not 'prepared' for digital progress?

Three signal keynote addresses open The FutureBook Conference in two weeks, from :

  • George Berkowski, author of How to Build a Billion Dollar App: Discover the Secrets of the Most Successful Entrepreneurs of Our Time
  • Carla Buzasi, Global Chief Content Officer with WGSN
  • Tom Weldon, CEO, Penguin Random House UK in conversation with Bookseller Editor Philip Jones

#FutureBook14, Europe's largest publishing conference, convenes at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, on 14th November. Please join us for a full day's programme of stimulating, thought-leading commentary. Hurry to book seats while they last.

Shouldn't we see some light at the end of it by now?

Only one in seven people think the industry is ready for the next stage in the digital revolution, The Bookseller’s 2014 Digital Census has found.

That opening line from our staff write-up on our census has been getting some double-takes from our readers. Maybe it snagged your attention, too?

The survey, from over 1,100 respondents and taken between September and October 2014, found that just 14.7 percent believed the sector is prepared for the next stage in digital, while nearly half (47 percent) think it is not. The rest (38.3 percent) didn't know.

You can see the Digital Census report in full online here

Not too get too scriptural about it, the survey's responses have revealed that we're deep into "How long, O Lord, how long?" territory here. 

After all, we -- the industry! the industry! -- have talked about pretty much nothing but digital many years? How can we be unprepared to move forward?

And, if anything, those of us on the coverage end of things keep pointing out this step forward and that move in the right direction. From Philip Jones' 10 things publishers have been doing (that we should celebrate) to the most recent developments in forward-looking efforts. 

Not for nothing will our FutureBook day on 14th November at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center, close with the announcements of our 2014 FutureBook Innovation Awards (#FBIA2014)  including one for Most Inspirational Digital Publshing Person -- for whom you can vote right now

And, not to be crass about it, if you're among the 47 percent of our Digital Census respondents telling us that the industry isn't ready to move forward in digital, what's it going to take? 

Some very recent digital notes

My purpose here isn't to berate anyone, of course. But if there were such a thing as an exaspo-meter attached to this whole business of the digital dynamic in publishing, surely we'd see the needle jump with the revelations of this year's Digital Census.

From our report on the census:

  • While publishers were bullish about new business models such as subscriptions from companies like Scribd, Oyster, and Kindle Unlimited, only a quarter were using this sales route and also publishing in formats like apps, e-books, audio and video.  
  • Altogether 90 percent of publishers sell e-books, but the census found their sales pattern was highly skewed, with nearly a quarter of publishers' e-book sales accounting for less than 3 percent of total sales, while only a third believed e-books will be 50 percent of their sales by 2020 – down from 48.2 percent two years ago.
  • 92 percent of self-published authors publish on Amazon’s Kindle Direct platform. They reported a higher satisfaction rate than traditionally-published authors, with 7.1 indie authors satisfied with their service on a scale of one to 10, compared with the satisfaction rating of 5.7 for traditionally published authors. 
  • Around half of indie authors reported to have sold fewer than 1,000 e-books, (with 75 percent selling less than 5,000), and only a quarter said they were looking for a deal with a big publishing house.
  • 95 percent of respondents think physical bookshops will suffer. However, only 15.6 percent can envisage a day when there will be no bookshops at all–even if they will have to change substantially.

And there's much more. Remember, that full report is here, a nicely explicated Yudu edition online for you to peruse. 

Whose foot is on the pedal?

Among several ironies here is the fact that many of us felt that at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, there was a general sense that publishing was getting on with it -- that digital was accepted as here, large and in charge, and that "resistance is futile," as they say. The tone of events might have been smooth, yes ("gliding along the literary autobahn," as Jones nailed it), but at least in the fast lane, lights flashing at any slow-moving obstacles, getting there sooner than later.

And in his leader piece on the report, FutureBook 2014: What comes next?, Jones isn't turning over the wheel to slower moving traffic, either. He writes:

This year has seen publishing and the wider book business learning to live with the implications of a digital revolution that has moved way beyond the ebook. We are moving into a post-Kindle world, and one that is not so easily defined. We live in a more complex entertainment environment, where content can move fast and slow; where active readers can choose to lean in and engage with authors via social media or crowd-funding platforms; where price is relative to platform; and where content is starting to live outside the boundaries of both the book and the ebook. And yet for all of these changes, the challenge for publishers remains the same: finding readers for the content they produce, and getting this to market in ways that are sustainable for all uf us who have a role to play in this new environment.

To that end, The FutureBook Conference -- two weeks from today -- turns on themes Jones lists as "new business models, tech, insight, content, people." I know from interviewing two speakers, Mozilla's Jennie Rose Halperin and Tumblr's Rachel Fershleiser, that there's no business like the community business, and they're coming into the conference with some serious depth on the subject. 

But then how is it that so many people are confiding to the Digital Census that they feel publishing isn't ready for a next stage? 

  • Is it that we don't know that next stage? (Have we known any stage of the digital dance before we had to get up and mince through it?)
  • Is it that we don't like that next stage? (If so, kindly come to #FutureChat and tell us why.)

Here's a bright spot: Just as many respondents (47 percent) as those saying we're not ready for the next stage in the digital revolution? -- also told us that they're optimistic about the furture of reading and learning for the next generation.

So yeah, no, no, yeah, and what was the question again? Right?

We're conflicted. Bless our hearts.

This gets it well: it's Jones now rewriting that glib, effusive, always dizzily delivered trope about how "now is the most exciting time to be in the book business!":

Is this the most exciting time to be working in the book business? As the famous Carlsberg advert says, "probably."

Me, I'm ready to drink the Carlsberg, thank God it's Friday, no probably about it.

What is it going to take to make us ready for the next stage of the digital revolution? That was the subject of our Friday #FutureChat, and a recap will follow.

Main image - Shutterstock: Captain Yeo