The Vearsa booth is packed up, our stacks of business cards are (happily) depleted, and we bid adieu to the infamous Javits Center pigeon.
BEA 2015 is in the books (see what I did there?). We didn't spot Jonathan Franzen, but we left with some essential takeaways. Here's what's on our mind:
Shifting power dynamics. Make way for BookCon! A new BEA schedule this year pointed to the industry's increased focus on readers, as the consumer-oriented BookCon expanded to two days, pushing the trade side of things to a slightly truncated mid-week schedule. So it was fitting that the theme for day one of the International Digital Publishing Forum conference was "Putting Readers First." During the IDPF keynote, Canelo Publishing’s Michael Bhaskar declared that an abundance of content and new technology means "readers are the power brokers that matter most,” while Bloomsbury CEO Richard Charkin argued that the power "has transferred to authors." For Charkin, the author is "our fundamental customer, and the next few years will be all about looking after the author. We’ve got a long way to go." (The new publishing platform Pronoun -- formerly Vook -- which just launched with a publisher-critical manifesto, tends to agree.)
The global landscape. As expected, the Chinese book market was front and center at this year's fair. And despite slow growth, the future looks bright: Wu Shangzi, vice minister of State Administration of Press, Publishing, Radio, Film and Television for China, highlighted the country's 25% increase in digital sales in 2014 over 2013. What's next for China? According to Clay Stobaugh, executive VP and CMO at Wiley, three things in particular: China will become the center for digital innovation, the global demand for Chinese content will continue to expand, and in order to feed its “talent pipeline,” Chinese publishers will continue to look to the West for training.
The rest of the globe didn't go unnoticed this year. According to Rebecca McDonald, CEO of the nonprofit Library for All, demand for quality books is "coming from countries you wouldn't expect. There is a massive appetite for content." The key is to be culturally relevant: as McDonald pointed out, kids in Haiti don't necessarily want to read about snow -- they want stories they can relate to.
And with a dearth of print books in many parts of the word, how are these kids reading? I'll give you one guess...
Did you guess mobile? You are correct! Goodreads co-founder Otis Chandler pointed to mobile as one of the industry's biggest trends. According to Chandler, half of Goodreads traffic comes through a cell phone, and in a survey of “very avid” readers, 48% read on mobile.
When it comes to mobile, the competition for publishers isn't necessarily books -- it's everything else. As Kobo's Nathan Maharaj put it, "It's us versus Candy Crush." The key for publishers is to find interesting ways to engage readers, and to offer an enjoyable, seamless user experience. (Here's looking at you, Oyster.)
Last, but certainly not least... Let's talk about our favorite four-letter world: Data. In both the BEA keynote and Thursday's panel "What's Data Got to do with It?", the conversation focused on not just how to collect end-user information, but what to do about said information.
Executives from Kobo and Scribd discussed the powerful data on readers that they're able to collect and share with publishers: what, when, where, how quickly, and how often they finish. But how should publishers translate all of that into sales?
The bottom line: publishers need to approach big data with specific questions and not shy away from innovation. As our very own Gareth Cuddy pointed out, the industry's aversion to innovation is particularly ironic given how risky publishing is. Gareth likens publishers to VCs: “Find ten products you like and back them; you expect seven will be duds and hope that two are moderately successful and one is a hit.” Sounds familiar.
How can publishers turn data into intelligence? For starters, don't try to do everything in-house.
Hope to see you in 2016! (Everyone except the pigeon.)
Account Manager at Vearsa
You'll hear from us!