The recent announcement that Microsoft have bought a 17.6% share in the Barnes and Noble NOOK business is likely to be taken with a pinch of salt by the world of publishing. However, this move is significant and is likely to have a few key implications for publishers.
The first is the required technical support for a likely introduction of Windows mobile 8 as another operating system to support (in addition to iOS and Android), especially for those that have invested in Apps to date.
The second is that NOOK is now not just the innovation of a book retailer but it now has a potent technology backer in Microsoft. The future of reading and e-books appears to be in the hands of four large tech companies: Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google. The culture of these companies is very different to company cultures we find within publishing companies or booksellers for that matter. Constant and aggressive innovation is needed to be successful both in software and hardware development.
The age-old relationships that have been established over many years of publishing and book-selling are becoming less relevant in a world where digital self-publishing has become so accessible. The strategy of the most important player of them all, Amazon, is unambiguous and make it clear that they have have no interest in protecting the way publishing works today.
The company that provides many publishers with their biggest paychecks is also their biggest threat, and if Jeff Bezos’ comments are anything to go by, this year will see Amazon further establish itself as a place for authors to go to get their works published.
However, I have always thought in general that book publishers add enormous value to their writers, readers and society on the whole. They are expert curators of content, and know better than anyone, what makes a good story. Publishing is also an incredibly diverse industry with plenty of niches where expert knowledge is key to success and these publishers do not need to be intimidated in this new age of dominant technology companies.
Now is the time to know your audience and readers more than ever, as ultimately they are the people who choose what they want to read, how and where they want to read it. E-books are already incredibly accessible, and the barriers to purchasing have been lowered, which is why e-books now account for a significant size of a publisher’s turnover.
However, the sooner publishers take greater ownership over their readers and customers, the more the power of the publishing world will balance the might of Amazon. Those relationships will be profitable. Container apps build reading communities and they are a great way to publish on mobile devices in interesting and dynamic ways whilst maintaining and understanding your readership better. This does not have to be a substitute for a standard e-book programme that ensures books are on the main aggregator stores but a parallel strategy that develops the publisher to reader relationship.