As 2014 begins and details of Christmas digital sales unfold, it is time for us in the Publishing industry to reflect on where Digital Publishing is heading and question if we are taking full advantage of the digital opportunity.
It’s been 6 years since Amazon first launched the Kindle. Six years, that’s over 1,560 working days, 12,480 working hours. And that’s just you. Multiply that by the number of staff in your company. So has your company figured out this digital stuff yet? Do you know what your eBook strategy looks like? Because if you don’t you are being left behind in the race for customer engagement.
What digital has taught us is that you don’t have to be as big as Random House Penguin or Hachette to make eBooks work for you. It’s the publishers that are closest to their customers that are winning the day digitally. At various conferences around the world Rebecca Smart, CEO of Osprey, has been telling publishers how to engage their audiences to increase sales, using eBooks to get to market faster. Tara Benson, Marketing Manager at Harlequin, has spoken not only of the need for reader and author engagement, of community building but also of the need to view books as products and to market them as products.
As eBook sales growth fell to double figures in 2013 for the first time, many including Digital Book World’s Jeremy Greenfield asked if eBook revenue growth was stalling. But for every slowdown article (because only 41% growth is considered a slowdown!) heralding the flattening of the digital era comes an article such as the one in The Bookseller Frankfurt Daily on 9th October outlining how “A surge of e-book sales over the past 12 months and publishers’ greater awareness in exploiting digital properties are said to be driving an increase in confidence at the Frankfurt Book Fair.”
What we believe is actually happening to the marketplace is a new level of maturity. Coming out of the emerging phase, eBooks are becoming more mainstream. Symptoms of this are a slowdown in exponential growth, normalisation of pricing strategies and fewer new retailer market entrants. Adults and children continue to receive devices for Christmas, Birthdays and special treats. Publishers have accepted that this digital thing isn’t a fad.
Digital presents a wide range opportunities to publishers, the chance to service new markets, to reduce risk, increase customer relationships, produce secondary products, link series, cross-sell, upsell and delight their audiences be that authors, agents or readers. From a practical point of view, in the same Bookseller article Brian Murray, chief executive of HarperCollins Worldwide, said because of the shift to digital the company’s working capital commitments had been reduced. “The money is no longer going into inventory; it is going into author advances and marketing.” In the current economy isn’t every business across all industries trying to achieve this? How lucky are we as industry to be able to go digital now!
As the market matures the industry divides into those obsessed with finding the Spotify for eBooks and those rallying against it. For every Primento, Hot Key Books, Gill & Macmillan that are seizing the opportunity, there are so many more publishers who haven’t quite bridged the gap.
What would our colleagues in the television, music and cinema industry would say about digital? It’s here, it’s here to stay and the time is now. You can embrace it, work with and succeed or you can ostrich. People will always want books, print or digital. Some people will always want to hold print books in the same way that people will always want vinyl or CDs. But not everyone can afford to sell vinyl or CDs. Look at Blockbuster or HMV, high-street stalwarts that didn’t get it right first time and are now playing catch-up. Digital isn’t about throwing out values that made our industry great, it’s not about banning print books. It’s about serving our readers and making our businesses relevant, sustainable and profitable.
It’s not about embarking on an untested eBook journey. The roads are built, the structure has been tested, and people like Charlie Redmayne, now CEO at HarperCollins and Anna Rafferty, MD Penguin Digital have been leading the charge for 6 years. It’s time to become mainstream.
You'll hear from us!