Book Expo America: publishers have 'ceded power'

Book Expo America: publishers have 'ceded power'

Publishers have made a grave mistake in "ceding power" to internet giants and they must provide technology and content in equal measures to survive in the future.

This was among the views expressed at the International Digital Publishing Forum's (IDPF) Digital World conference, held on the first day of Book Expo America in New York City yesterday (28th May).

The opening keynote was delivered by technology and culture author Nicholas Carr who said that advent of the e-book thus far was "not a revolution; the business has not been transformed as dramatically as the shift to digital has changed music". He argued that given there is no generational change in readers, with the average age of an e-book buyer (42) almost equal to that of those who preferred print (41), that e-books simply mark "a shift in [platform] preferences and market segments".

Yet Carr said the danger was that there was a "fundamental and destructive difference between the culture of the book" and how we process and use content on the computer. He added the mistake of the trade was expediently "ceding power to digital and internet companies whose main interest is to perpetuate the culture of the computer."

Carr urged publishers to fight the hegemony of the internet giants whose true financial interests are at odds with the book trade. "The dreams for the future of the book of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Larry Page are not dreams of the readers," he added.

Throughout the first day of the conference, there was a theme of how publishers must think about technology as much as content. Pierre Danet, chief technology officer at Hachette Livre, said: "We see the coming age of 'fab-lets', smart phones with large screens, which I think everyone will be reading." Publishing's future, therefore, is going to be on mobile platforms.

Lori Benton, vice president and publisher at Scholastic Trade, told delegates the publisher is already reinventing storytelling to suit the technology, with the reinvention of older series and the rise of backlist.

Ken Michaels, c.o.o. of Macmillan Science and Nature, spoke of how technology was rapidly changing STM, education and trade publishing alike, with technology changing STM and education towards becoming more "customer-centric" and the trade using social media to morph into "advocating agencies for authors".

Michaels added: "Publishing is moving into technology services but the content has to move seamlessly with it...Yes, content is still king but it has a new queen."