Publishers need to emerge from the shadow of Nielsen BookScan and use their own judgement while improving non-fiction books in order to beat the digital onslaught, delegates at the Independent Publishers Guild's 50th conference heard last week.
Publishers need to become "pricing experts" and think more dynamically when it comes to r.r.p., Faber's Will Atkinson said during a session on competing with free content at the conference,held at the Heythrop Park Resort, Oxfordshire. A record turnout of around 300 independent publishers attended the event, at which Waterstones m.d. James Daunt told publishers Christmas 2012 would be the time the company "sits back and judges" how effective the current changes have been.
During his session, Atkinson said: "We have to get out from what BookScan is telling us. We have to trust our own judgement. One thing an analyst will tell us is that in the western world consumers will want to pay a premium for quality products. Offering 50% off is going quite a long way from that known economic model. Things are going one way at the bottom, and they can go another way at the top." He added: "We all have to become price experts."
Atkinson told the conference he believed publishers needed to find an effective way of communicating the value they bring to books in order to compete with self-publishing. "We don't shout about publishers' value and what it means. We are not very good at it and we don't do it in a cool way," he said.
Agent Julian Alexander, of Lucas Alexander Whitley, told the audience the public wanted to see authenticity and authority in non-fiction publishing. "Non-fiction books have to be better than ever before," he said. "We should not underestimate the nagging insecurity of the world in which we live, and that is the space in which we could get into."
On a discussion about picking bestselling titles, the British Film Institute's Rebecca Barden told publishers the answer was not to follow the latest trend. "Don't give people what they have—give people what they haven't yet realised they need," she advised.
Alessandro Gallenzi, co-founder of Alma Books, warned that just seeking the golden ticket could damage the industry. "We have a strong belief that not every author has to be a bestseller," he said. Robert Topping, from the Topping & Company bookshop, said three basic ingredients were important: "Go for speed, go for timing . . . jackets count, too." Topping added that, in terms of media coverage, he found Radio 4's "Book of the Week" titles always sold well.
When managing the digital transition in academic publishing, Huw Alexander, rights and digital sales manager at Sage, said he thought a discussion needed to take place between libraries and publishers around e-lending. "As of yet, there is no evidence to suggest making textbooks available would damage your sales," he said. He also advised publishers to "create temptation through availability" on the web.
During the IPG keynote speech, Daunt told publishers the "promised land" of a new Waterstones would be delivered by Christmas 2012. He said the bookseller was investing "an extraordinary amount of money" developing its digital e-reader, and that it would begin the overhaul of its website in the summer.
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