Mollet: publishers have proved 'up to the challenge'

Mollet: publishers have proved 'up to the challenge'

Innovation, international strength and a continued focus on what makes books excellent, including in their physical editions, are responsible for 2012's resilient publishing performance, Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet has said.

But there will be challenges to overcome to maintain that performance as tablet devices take over from e-readers and copyright infringements grow, he cautioned.

Headline data from the PA Statistics Yearbook 2012 released earlier this week showed that book sales across digital and physical formats grew 4% last year to a total of £3.3bn. That overall growth contrasts with a 2% dip recorded in 2011.

Total digital sales leapt 66% to £411m, while the overall value of the physical market was down a little over 1% to £2.9bn.

Mollet said the figures showed that publishers had "clearly risen to the challenge of digital disruption and difficult global conditions". He pointed to the resilience of the export market, flat in 2011, and with a small decline in EU sales offset by an upturn in Australasia. He also spoke of 'innovation, some investment and perhaps heroic steps' taken in academic and education publishing, which saw sharp rises from a small base.

But the PA chief said the challenge for the future was to maintain a resilient performance across the board. "If we take it as a given that there will be more shift from physical to digital, we've shown it can be done in a sustainable way, and with growth. It's all about availability - businesses that succeed will make works available on any device or platform and deliver to readers what they want, and to authors what they want."

He added: "There's always a risk that writers think they can do without a publisher, that there¹s a perceived redundancy to the role amid ever-present consumer scepticism. No publishing company thinks it has a divine right to exist. It always has to demonstrate its value: financial, particularly in an author's early career; creative, in the editorial process, and even leading writers say that's invaluable; and then through marketing support to give global exposure. Publishers uniquely provide all three, though not every writer needs every aspect of that. Plus, as the landscape changes and people look for more from e-books than a digital version of the text, publishers are almost uniquely placed to help make e-books more exciting products."

Meanwhile, the Wiggin Digital Entertainment Survey released last week showed tablets have overtaken e-readers, he said. "Were the world more full of e-readers, publishers would have a clear market," Mollet commented. "But with the tablet, you could be reading, or playing a game, or using social media. It lays down the gauntlet to publishers: this battle has only just been joined and will get harder. But publishers are up to it, because they create compelling content, and that will help us win the battle for people's attention."

He also warned that copyright infringement would increase. "In publishing we suffer relatively lighter levels compared with other creative industries.
But as our digital legal market rises, the illegal tail will follow - we are doing all right at the moment, but there must be no complacency. It comes back to availability and taking away the oxygen of illegal sites."

A venture by the PA working in concert with the film and music industries to tackle online advertising on illegal sites, taking away their funding, is in preparation, he revealed, adding that the PA remained 'in discussion' with Google about the role of search engines and infringement.