Phil Connors had the bitter mandate of covering, once again, the Groundhog day in Punxsutawney. At the end of the day he was about to finally leave the town and return to lovely Pittsburgh when a blizzard forced him and his team to stay overnight. The big surprise is when he finds out that the following day is still February 2nd. As he soon learns, it doesn´t matter what he does during the day; as soon as he wakes up Phil has to live the same day again.
I am pretty sure you’ve seen the movie, but just in case I will not spoil it at all if I just tell you that the catch of the story is that Phil needed to actually change his life, because it was going nowhere. Small changes, for good or bad, would not make his life get to the next level. The rules of the game had changed, and he was not even allowed to “quit”.
This is the risk of the book industry. After spending a fruitful week at the London Book Fair and its Digital Conference, what I heard from analysts, publishers, authors and other stakeholders is that, with some differences to take into account with respect to other cultural and entertainment industries, technology had come by storm once again. Everyone is trying to see how the current relationship and business models are affected. Will publishers still be significant in the new world? Will the pay-per-book model make sense with piracy growing up?
But it’s been already a week after the LBF, and I have the same déjà vu every morning when I wake up and check my twitter/facebook/blogroll and I spend the day talking to publishers and analysts, and reading documents and posts about these subjects. The same discussions are there, but we need to realize that we will not see February 3rd until we change our life, learn to play piano and find out how to make Andy McDowell fall in love with us, like Phil Connors had to do. I wanted to share my point of view with regards to the main challenges faced... at least the ones 24symbols can help with.
Will publishers still be significant in the new world?
Let’s just be clear. YES. Absolutely. SÍ MI AMOR. Self-publishing platforms offer a way for new authors to be discovered. A small fraction of them will be capable of having a career on their own. But most authors want to write, and would prefer to pay a fraction of their earnings to experienced people who would take care of the rest. Publishers and editors will always be required (at least unless Skynet did actually start sensing last April 20th. Then maybe we don´t have to care about this anymore :) .) From the perspective of 24symbols, publishers typically provide us with good quality of the edition, good ePubs from a technical standpoint and the acknowledgement that a writing has passed a seal of quality.
Will the pay-per-book model make sense with piracy growing-up?
Yes, but with an alternative business model, such as the one proposed by 24symbols, where a reader gets access to the full catalog by paying a subscription.
“What? That a subscription model would not cannibalize sales? Are you kidding?”
Well, I believe that the book industry is similar to the music industry on this regard. One could think that most users would not download an album if they can access the music online, whenever they want. But I think there are two points to consider. One, there will always be many users that prefer to own the book/record. Online reading might actually increase the number of purchases on that end (I read it, and enjoy it so much that I want it in my local drive or in printed format.) And two, we must all understand that piracy exists. Readers who would not buy the book after they read it online will very possibly download it illegally. That the market might be reduced can be a consequence of the digitalization of the market and that must be taken into account by the industry when thinking about the future actions to take. My (personal) opinion is that regardless of the protection measures to avoid piracy the industry might push, pirated book availability will keep on increasing to the same or almost the same level as music pieces or movies. And there's a book niche that can definitely benefit from its online access from day 1, which is the technical or reference area, where page-by-page monetization can be quite interesting for publishers.
But it all comes back to the same initial statement. We won’t get over February 2nd if significant changes to the current reality are not just ideated, but also executed. If not, the industry will see how piracy grows similarly to how it did in other entertainment industries, and the Phil Connors of the book world will despondently wake up every morning to see that nothing has changed... or worse.
So, let´s change the world! :)