Digital sales could be 15% of total next year - Hudson

Digital sales could be 15% of total next year - Hudson

E-book sales could exceed 8% of trade publishers' sales in 2011, and could reach 15% next year, Random House UK's deputy chairman Ian Hudson told delegates at the World e-Reading Congress this morning (10th May).

Hudson also rejected headlines about the death of the app or enhanced e-book, arguing publishers needed to explore "the opportunities [rather] than sit back only to be flattened by the changes sweeping the industry".

Speaking at the conference, which is being held in London, Hudson said there had never been a better time to be a publisher, with an opportunity to play a central role in bringing authors and readers together. He said: "We play cupid, we're good at playing cupid: helping readers find and fall in love with books in what is an increasingly reader-centric marketplace."

He revealed that Random House's e-book sales in 2011 were outstripping 2010's by a factor of 10, but that growth wasn't uniform, with e-book sales of Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took my Dog and Katie Fforde's A Perfect Proposal "a very creditable 9% and 10% respectively of total sales", while Jo Nesbo's The Leopard has seen e-books account for 35% of its overall sales.

Hudson focused on the relevance of traditional publishers, arguing even well-known self-published authors such as Joe Konrath and Stephen Leather needed to use editors. He said: "Editorial excellence is what we've built our business on and just because it is now possible to go it alone, it doesn't mean that's the best course of action for the author or their book. Indeed it almost certainly isn't. This pre-selection and creative editorial role which has historically established a quality threshold gives readers a degree of confidence that the time investment they make in reading a book will be well rewarded. In a digital world this will be more important than ever as the internet and e-book sites become flooded with self-published titles." 

He rejected accusations that book publishers were not ready for the digital revolution. "I've seen many bloggers, journalists and industry observers question publishers' appetite, readiness for change and their desire to grasp the opportunities that digital offers them. But to those people I would say, don't confuse our love of books and passion for their physical format with any suggestion that we're not embracing change."

And Hudson encouraged publishers to keep innovating. "In the last couple of months there have been some warning shots fired about publishers innovating in the app ecosystem. Headlines around the London Book Fair claimed that publishers were cooling on apps and enhanced e-books, that the money invested far outweighs the return. That maybe we are innovating for innovation's sake and getting flustered by the raft of exciting and new shiny toys. Perhaps that is partially true, but I'd rather publishers braved the unknown and explored the opportunities than sit back only to be flattened by the changes sweeping the industry."

He highlighted The Good Pub Guide as "a real success story" for Random House. He said: "We have a print book, a website and the app. And (whisper it) it's making money too."

In the Q&A following the talk, Hudson also said publishers would continue to need retailers in order to display their books and help with reader recommendations, and stressed that independents could seize the opportunity as chains struggle to adapt. "I can see independent bookselling really thriving, and they can fill the space where the chains consolidate. They'll have a real opportunity."

Hudson's speech can be read in full on