Publishers losing the battle against Angry Birds

Publishers losing the battle against Angry Birds

Publishers need to diversify and compete head-on with other media in order to deflect the 'one-screen' effect of tablet devices, a panel discussion at the World e-Reading Congress declared.

The session sought to answer the question: "Can e-reading win the war against Angry Birds?" Jonathan Glasspool, managing director of Bloomsbury Academic and Professional, said the battle had already been lost. "Sales of book content have stayed static over the past few years. But if we have lost it, what can we do about it?" Glasspool's answer was that publishers should diversify their earning streams away from the volatile world of bestsellers, towards the exploitation of Intellectual Property (IP) and that they should think of themselves as being in the service business. He said: "Increasingly we make money not through book publishing, but through exploiting IP and helping other people exploit it."

Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director of Profile Books, agreed that the battle had been lost. "For years publishers believed they could just compete vertically against other publishers, and in the 20th century were able to keep growing based on this. But this masked the truth that they were getting less share of the entertainment pie." He said that the iPad presented publishers with a "one-screen" problem, since beneath the book there was "everything else you could be doing". So publishers now had no choice but to begin "competing vertically and horizontally against all other media".

When challenged from the floor about recent success stories in publishing, and the growth in Kindle sales, Bhaskar replied that we needed to look beyond the headline numbers.  "Titles that you'd think should have strong sales, are not hitting their targets. Some titles are selling well, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule, you have to look a lot deeper and it's not pretty."

Sara Lloyd, digital director at Pan Macmillan, said she did not feel gloomy at all, and questioned whether they were simply addressing the wrong question. Lloyd said: "Publishers have been really good at evolving, we've just been constrained by book covers, but we can now evolve further, the only difference now is that we won't always make things that look like books."

Futurebook: Publishers need to diversify