It appears that a sense of optimism has coalesced around the recent Frankfurt Book Fair. More deals were done even though fewer people attended. It was more focused. People were there to work, not play, and a level of intensity could be felt. Continue reading on The Bookseller >
It is difficult to pick one digital theme that stood out at this year’s ash-inhibited, but digitally switched on, London Book Fair, but the debate about whether a model might emerge for e-books that go "beyond the book" was particularly prominent. Driven, no doubt, by the multimedia capacity, jiggle- and flip-a-bility and sharp, colour-screened intensity of the iPad, a few of which were being flourished proudly round the halls by geeks who had pre-ordered from the US, this is a debate that is just getting really interesting. Continue reading on The Bookseller >
Hello and welcome to 2010, everyone. In each of the last three years, publishers and the media have asked, 'Will this year / next year be the year of the ebook?' I think in 2010 we can all offer a resounding 'Yes' to that question. Digitalists, prepare for your busiest year ever! I hardly need mention the buzz around ebook devices at CES, the near hysteria about exactly what shape the rumoured Apple device might take, who they might be talking to in publishing circles or the speculation about how the Big Three (Amazon, Google and Apple) are squaring up to each other in a battle for the ebook market.
Here at The Digitalist we have barely had time to breathe, let alone react sensibly to this frenzy, but we'd like to point you to thought-provoking, non-biased analysis here and here. And while we all look forward to the Big Reveal next Wednesday with baited breath, you can always read my now already hopelessly out of date revisiting of my Manifesto, commissioned by Peter Urpeth of Hi-Arts. It's already been suggested I should revisit this on an annual basis, but the way things are going a weekly update might work better.
I've had many requests for a transcript of my presentation to the TOC Frankfurt crowd last week, so here it is. Scroll to the bottom for a download of the transcript and a view of the slides: Revisiting a publishing Manifesto – What does the future look like for publishers?
In May 2008 I posted a 6,000 word article on my team blog, http://thedigitalist.net, entitled ‘A book publisher’s manifesto for the 21st century’.
The sub title was ‘How traditional publishers can position themselves in the changing media flows of a networked era.’
If you’ve read it you’ll already know a lot about my views in relation to the network and how its shape changes when it comes to digital – from a linear one to a circular one – and how this will deeply impact authors, readers, publishers and everyone in the content production and distribution business as digital increasingly dominates our lives
Writing the Manifesto was an incredible authorial experience – the publishing of it actually reinforced everything I was saying in the essay itself:
- That we already live in a hugely networked era - That in a world where texts can be published digitally, we are plugged in directly to our readership – and they can talk back, and talk to each other – directly and at speed: - Before the journal ever published the article in print (or ‘official online version’) it had: - been viewed 8,000 times - been translated on a voluntary basis and without permission into multiple languages - generated a staggering amount of ‘chatter’ (almost 100 comments on thedigitalist itself, 180+ links and trackbacks from sites and blogs all over the world)
And that was all before its publication in print. There have been many more since.
So, the future starts here.
We are living in a networked world.
It’s time we stopped wondering what the future might look like and think about what we should be doing now.
Are we, as publishers, plugged in to this network of digital reading, readers and conversation?
That’s why I wrote the Manifesto.
It was a public declaration of what I felt publishers’ aims should be in a digital era.
A manifesto hints at something revolutionary and bold; it was deliberately controversial and it was a call to arms.
I wanted publishers to wake up, to stake a claim in the digital landscape evolving around us.
So, over a year on, the question I want to ask first today is…
Has the revolution I was seeking begun?
Looking first to the real world outside our windows, the Revolution is here; it’s happened.
The change is exponential and dizzying – the world is spinning faster each day.
Everyone is spending more time online.
Everyone is spending more money online.
The truth is, even though people often associate digital and web with “free”, people are definitely paying for access to digital information and content:
- Internet access fees $25.8 bn - Music $2.3 bn - Games $1.8 bn - Video Downloads $353 m - Mobile email and alerts $1.3 bn
And in our sister media industries, fast-growing digital markets have been experienced as an onslaught.
Music, newspapers and to a certain extent film are largely seen to have ‘failed’ in responding swiftly - or positively - enough.
Let’s take a brief look at where music is ten years into its digital gestation:
- 10% of the population bought digital music in 2008, up from 5% in 07 - 10 m digital albums were sold in 2008, a 65% increase on 2007 - Digital now accounts for 10% of music spending, up from 6% in 2007 - 110 m single tracks were downloaded in 2008, a 42% increase on 2007 and digital tracks now account for 95% of the market, up from 90% in 2007 - iTunes share of singles expenditure up to 65.7%; unit share is 71.8% - Almost a third (28%) of 16 to 24 year olds listen to music at least weekly on a mobile phone, with one in 10 using services such as Spotify and Last.fm - Vodaphone is the second largest digital music retailer in the UK - New BPI/Harris survey finds that 23% of respondents (aged 16 to 54) are users of illegal filesharing networks - Two thirds of these (i.e. 15% of all survey respondents) use these services on a monthly basis - Jupiter estimate that losses to online music piracy amounted to £180m in 2008, and predict they will rise to £200m in 2009.
What else is going on out there in the ‘real world’?
We have given birth to a race of ‘digital natives’.
Today’s children don’t know a world without laptops, DS game machines and mobiles.
It’s part of everyday life and they use technology in conjunction with doing other things (e.g. surfing the web while watching TV).
They are also growing up as PROSUMERS, consumers who also produce stuff themselves – and who believe this to be of value.
Meanwhile, there has been enormous growth in the mobile Internet.
As of today, 20% of handsets globally have a web connection.
By 2015 its estimated 50% of the world with have access to an internet connection, mainly through mobile (from a Morgan Stanley report).
And last year, Google got involved with mobile.
With their domination of SEARCH and ACCESS to online content, the much expected launch of Google Edition - the commercialisation of Google Book Search - and a mobile platform to boot, you have to wonder at the potential for this gargantuan corporation to dramatically alter the way in which content is marketed and distributed to the consumer.
In parallel with all these upward digital trends, our bricks and mortar supply chain is suffering:
- In UK there was an almost ten percent decrease in high street bookselling outlets between 2007 and 2008, according to the UK Office for National Statistics
- Through bricks and mortar outlets in the UK, the volume of books sold increased by 2.4% between 2006 and 2008, but the value reduced by 2% over all and the average price charged dropped by 4.3% (Books and Consumers report 2009)
- In UK, the Internet share of the book sector has risen from 13.4% in 2006 to 16.6% in 2008 (Books and Consumers report 2009)
Now – what about the market for digital books – for digital reading?
Latest figs from AAP (Association of American Publishers) put ebook sales up 173.9% through end July 2009.
A caveat to this …ebook sales made up just 0.6% of overall book sales in 2008 – according to Bowker - which explains the steep growth.
So – the ebook sales graph shows a lovely looking curve, but the steepness is really to do with the starting point. Growth always looks impressive from a zero base!
Let’s look at the ebook market another way. If you read the headline about Amazon’s Kindle, this sounds a bit like a revolution.
Day one of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and the Business Insider reports: “Kindle version of the book on top!” (The Business Insider 16.09.09)
Steve Windwalker at the Kindle Nation blog says this could be
"the biggest story of 2009 in the book trades."
As he points out, the most popular book in the world is selling more copies as an electric version than a print version at the most popular bookstore in the world.
Or, another version of the story – one week later – in the same news source:
Kindle verdict: nothing special” The Business Insider, 22.09.09
“The Lost Symbol sold just 100,000 in e-books format according to Doubleday. Overall Doubleday sold 2 million copies. The 5% ratio of e-books to print is about in-line with the average for book sales.”
Of course there are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics.
Let’s just remember that actually, the bigger the over all sales number for a book, the harder it is to make the percentage sold in ebook form look impressive.
Whilst there is a finite number of ebook devices in the market, there is an infinite number of potential human readers for Dan Brown’s work.
This story skews the stats again.
And the story isn’t all about Kindle.
There’s been a proliferation of dedicated ebook reading devices launched to market
Perhaps more significantly there is an increasing number of contenders for the prize of ‘killer media device’, any one of which has the capacity to catch consumers’ imaginations as an ideal ebook reader
So what are publishers supposed to do to cut through the layers of confusing statistics, hype, fear and hope?
Let’s see if I can interpret what’s happening here and cut through the ‘nnnnngh?
Are we really seeing a revolution, or is it really a slower ‘evolution’?
“This is the Industrial Revolution, not the Russian Revolution.” - Michael Bhaskar, Digital Editor
I like Michael’s analogy that what we’re seeing here is akin to the Industrial Revolution.
It will take place over years rather than seeing a sudden tipping point.
We are going to need to run integrated print and digital businesses for some time to come, but, like business owners and workers in the industrial revolution, we are going to have to:
- adapt to our emerging environment - develop new skills - employ new people - understand how to use new tools - move the location of our businesses (in this case from offline to online) - and figure out how to deal with the monopolies of some of the technological and supply chain innovators
In other words, even though the revolution isn’t happening over night in terms of commercial revenues, we need to keep our sights steady and steer a course that makes sense for us as the landscape shifts and changes.
What is making this difficult for us?
First of all, our existing supply chain is ill-formed to cope with digital.
It assumes a linear progression from author to reader – where DISTRIBUTION holds the keys to the kingdom – shifting units from physical place A to physical place B.
The publisher role in this chain = arbiter; filter; custodian; marketeer and DISTRIBUTOR.
But our unique qualification to play this role is increasingly challenged – by new, non-traditional partners in the supply chain as well as others.
At the same time, the emerging digital supply chain is still in a nascent state too.
It’s like an emerging landscape with hidden landmines, uneven ground and blind alleys.
Navigating it is not easy and it’s not always clear which path to follow.
We have a multiplicity of:
- channels - business models - devices - platforms - corporate agendas
…to contend with.
And we don’t yet have the solution for sustaining a really healthy, competitive marketplace
There are multiple, largely dissatisfactory DRM solutions.
Along with many other publishers I believe interoperability will be key to a vibrant and healthy digital marketplace.
And hiccups such as these illustrate the early teething problems of a digital supply chain:
Amazon.com caused a stir a few months ago when it remotely deleted copies of George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" from people's Kindles. A Michigan high school student, Justin Gawronski, was so incensed that he sued the online retailer, alleging that Amazon essentially ate his homework when it removed his copy of "1984" and caused his "copious notes" to disappear. Now Amazon has settled the lawsuit with Gawronski and a co-plaintiff. As part of the deal, which awaits court approval, Amazon said it "will not remotely delete or modify" works on Kindles, with some exceptions.
Speaking of Amazon, this online giant is just one of a new triumvirate that looks set to dominate our digital world – The Big Three as we like to refer to them.
Let’s take a walk through their world views:
1. The world according to Amazon
- catalogue, price and consumer experience - tendency towards commoditisation to drive market share - technologically they will develop anything that builds the Kindle platform - take out books / bricks and mortar competition?
2. The world according to Google:
- dominate search and access to content - build advertising revenue - not interested in download or proprietary access models (good!) - likely to collaborate more with the ‘traditional’ supply chain
3. The world according to Apple
- not interested in dedicated ebook device market – too small a niche – ebook reader will be a feature on media player - Apple often decides what the driver is after the device is launched; e.g. iPod Touch - key driver is now getting people to the App Store - and they respond to the customers’ view of what’s important (eg in Steve Jobs interview re the Touch – he reports they now marketing it as a games machine based on consumer feedback that this is what they largely use it for) - whatever we think about Apple’s place from a device perspective we all need to assume books will some time in the next year be sold via iTunes
So, if the Amazon, Google, Apple triumvirate are the dominant forces in our newly emerging digital supply chain, what does this tell us about the space in which we are now operating?
- That our key customers are all focused on the consumer experience, on consumer interactions, consumer feedback and consumer data – its way past time we as publishers learned this trick from them
- That this market will ultimately be platform-led as opposed to purely device-led; we need to stop focusing on what the ‘killer device’ will be. Just as iTunes was the thing that propelled the iPod from sexy object to must-have device, it is likely that the simplest, most consumer-friendly content delivery platforms will win out. All these players know about building platforms.
- That our supply chain will be a global one, where distribution is dominated by global players. For consumer publishers this presents us with some pressing questions about how we handle territorial rights in a digital era
- That two out of three of our biggest new customers are not from our traditional customer base and one is less than two decades old.
- That our biggest new customers are all technology companies who live and breathe online and have no interest in supporting old world structures.
So – we are in brave new world territory – the way ahead is not straightforward – the immediate commercial gains are still relatively marginal for consumer publishers, and the emerging supply chain is far from mature.
What should we be doing about digital now?
I believe we can all steer a steady course through this lumpy emerging territory using three guiding principles.
Using these I believe publishers can take hold of their digital futures, add value to the writer to reader network and continue for a long while yet to be part of the fun!
Rule No 1: ADD VALUE
Publishers have always added value – as filters, and often as enhancers – of content. In the digital world we need to do this – and more.
We must start to take a 360 degree view and find ways to add value in every dimension:
- Where the book is part of an extended world which lives and breathes outside of the printed page
- Where online communication between author and reader, and reader and reader is facilitated by us
- Where we aim to create experiences not ship products
- Where we work out how to do the job of entertaining and informing rather than how to transform printed books into digital books
- Where digital plays an integrated part in all of our strategies
Michael Cader to the FT last year:
“[Publishing] is still a book business… and it needs to become a reader business.”
I think we can take it one step further than that, too – we need to become not just ‘reader’ businesses, but businesses that re-think what they are from the ground up.
We need to think about everything from a zero base.
So, not how can we port this book unit into digital form, but how can we do the ‘job’ of entertaining people, telling story, educating or informing people using the new mediums at our disposal?
“…thinking of the problem as “how do we get a textbook onto an iPhone” is framing it wrong. The challenge is “how do we use a medium that already shares 3 of our 5 senses – eyes, ears and a mouth – along with geolocation, color video, and a nearly-always-on web connection to accomplish the ‘job’ of educating a student.” That’s a much more interesting problem to me than “how do we port 2-page book layouts to a small screen?” Andrew Savikas, O’ Reilly TOC blog
We need to think of digital as an integrated part of the whole and a way of extending the experience of the book, the brand, the author into every place a reader might come into contact with it.
As an example, for the 30th anniversary of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy we wanted to create the sense of a global party to celebrate this cult classic, to give the sense that everywhere they turned, fans would find themselves looking at Hitchhikers, so we:
• Replaced the Pan Macmillan homepage for the months of Sept/Oct with a special Hitchhikers’ page • Gave something back to the fan community and readers by offering an iGoogle theme for their personal web page that is free of marketing messages, just using elements of the new cover art to provide the theme. • Communicated the physical USP of the print books – DIY sticker covers – with a demo animation, so that readers don’t miss the point (and the fun) because of blank, static thumbnails on online retailer sites • Re-imagined Douglas Adams’s fabulous comic character, Marvin the Paranoid Android, for a new medium – and reached out to new and existing readers via Twitter, with Marvin the Paranoid Android tweeting about the books and life in general (you can follow at twitter.com/marvinsmoan) • Re-released the original ebook – the HHGG – on as many platforms as possible, including ebook, audio download and mobile app RULE NO 2: Become expert digital marketeers
To become digital marketeers we need to take what we do best and incorporate it into our online approach.
In publishing we attract a great many people who are passionate and engaged communicators.
At a basic level, one of my colleagues always says, publishing is about reading and then talking about it.
Online, we can extend that ‘talking about it’ in a very real sense and get to know and engage with our audiences – this may require us to focus further around verticals so that we are plugging in to audiences in a deeper way.
- And, further than that, and perhaps even more simplistically, we need to get MUCH better at getting data about our books everywhere online; to make our books searchable and discoverable online
- And embed this information in search and in the social web – so consumers find our stuff however they navigate the web.
But always remember that to do this, context is everything.
Digital marketing should never be a ‘tick box’ on a marketing plan but it should be a strategic, integrated element of your plan for the success of a book, an author, a series or a category you are trying to build.
I think we’ve moved from an era when content was king, to a stage when ‘comments’ were king – and we now live in an age where context is king.
Consumers are fed up with having traditional, corporate marketing messages copied and pasted into social media. Relevance is everything.
For the Jonathan Ross twitter-based book club in the UK, we responded by making the book available for online access.
- we offered free, open access to the book for the duration of the discussion - tweeters could link directly and snippet from the page they were discussing,
The key was that we slotted a content experience into an existing context and reached readers where they were gathering rather than trying to make them come to us. Then we supplied them with the access and the tools (snippeting etc) to use as part of their bookclub discussion.
RULE NO 3: Provide great service
Publishers have always had a role as an agency for the ‘hard stuff’.
This is the non-glamorous, hard work part that I believe authors will always need from their publisher, whether in a print or digital context.
What are these hard things that we can manage for them?
- protection of IP e.g. fighting piracy - navigating the new supply chain and using our scale to negotiate best deals (and therefore income stream back to author) - working on the merchandising of digital products - producing and supplying the best metadata – and creating and supporting new standards – to ensure that content and the rights that go with it can travel around the web unimpeded
I’d like to leave you with two maxims from two of my favourite authors and bloggers.
First of all – Clay Shirky
“We spend more time figuring out whether something is a good idea than we would have just trying it.” Clay Shirky (on stage at NTC, April 2009)
Just try it.
There is value in the experiment itself.
Digital is not something to be fearful of but something to embrace – get experimenting!
And finally, a sorry reminder of what happens when an industry doesn’t engage – boldly, passionately and with a sense of fun and excitement rather than fear and approbation.
“Things you can learn from the music business (as it falls apart)
The first rule is so important, it’s rule 00. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now. Soon, the new thing will be better than the old thing will be. But if you wait until then, it’s going to be too late. Feel free to wax nostalgic about the old thing, but don’t fool yourself into believing it’s going to be here forever. It won’t.”Seth Godin
revisiting-a-publishers-manifesto [pdf download]
I've recently re-discovered Wordle - a web service that takes any text or RSS that you feed it and transforms the sentences into a word cloud, with lovely typography and colours. I find it a useful tool for checking the main message of any piece of writing, from a letter to a report to... a shopping list. So I thought it would be interesting to run Sara's "A book publisher’s manifesto for the 21st century" through the machine and see what came out the other side.
There are no right or wrong answers, obviously - I'm not looking for interpretation here, but rather a different view on the material, to see what thoughts that highlights.
Looking at the result, I'm not surprised to see a clear message emerging around the most used words: publishers, content, digital, books. I'm also pleased to see words like readers, reading and authors are prominent. And I'm delighted that one of the strongest messages is represented by the words 'need' and 'will' - meaning, it's something that will need to happen, and also, it can be interpreted as the will of the people involved can bring about change, responding to the need - publishers, readers, authors.
You can see the full size version in the Wordle gallery - link
The marathon is almost over. Here's my final posting. Phew. Thanks for staying with me, for all the comments and the links. Great to have stirred up such a debate! Publishers have always spoken proudly of their role as custodians of copyright, preservers of culture, but how much have they really done to ensure the existence of a digital archive? This – along with developing the interconnections within and across archives of content from multiple publishers - would be a clear role for publishers to take, but has Google already stolen a march there, too? The publishing world awaits the outcome of Google’s legal battle with the Author’s Guild, but in a way, the bluster about Google’s generous interpretation of the fair use clause often only serves to cover up a sense of shame that it was not publishers who first chose to invest in the digitisation of our print archives and to develop the means to access them. Many historians and archivists and librarians are concerned about the possible impact on content quality of a mega-corporation focused in the main on expanding search, adding to its advertising revenue potential and providing ‘good enough’ information for the attention poor consumers of today. Robert B Townsend outlines some of the flaws in the content and the metadata provided via Google Book Search and asks: “…what's the rush? In Google's case the answer seems clear enough. Like any large corporation with a lot of excess cash the company seems bent on scooping up as much market share as possible, driving competition off the board, and increasing the number of people seeing (and clicking on) its highly lucrative ads or "renting" copies of the books. But I am not sure why the rest of us should share the company's sense of haste. Surely the libraries providing the content, and anyone else who cares about a rich digital environment, need to worry about the potential costs of creating a "universal library" that is filled with mistakes and an increasingly impenetrable smog of (mis)information. As historians we should ponder the costs to history if the real libraries take error-filled digital versions of particular books and bury the originals in a dark archive or the dumpster. And we should weigh the cost to historical thinking if the only substantive information one can glean from Google is precisely the kind of narrow facts and dates that earn history classes such a poor reputation. It is time, it seems, to think in a careful and systematic way about how this will affect our discipline, and the new modes of training and apparatus that will make it possible to negotiate the volume and flaws of the emerging digital landscape.” (Robert B Townsend, Google Books: Is it good for History?, Perspectives, September 2007). Whilst Google has led the drive to make book content ‘discoverable’ online, publishers have been slow to harness web techniques to promote and sell books, both in print and in digital formats. Many, many publishers are still nowhere near even managing the basics, of systematically creating and storing and ‘seeding’ sample chapters, excerpts, audio or video author interviews, schedules of author appearances, links to media coverage, featured material on social networking sites and rich bibliographic material.
Whether publishers will find a way to cohabit with Google and the other search engines, to ensure that their content is discoverable through search but on their terms, to regain the lead as specialists in the marketing and selling of books, of content, remains to be seen. Publishers certainly could have a role to play in trying to work with Google and the other search engines to ensure the highest standards of quality are upheld, that the metadata is accurate, that the future users of the digital archive will find more than simply ‘good enough’ information and will be able to plough a rich seam of digital marketing materials in support of authors and their books. Let’s hope that is possible for a moment. Whichever way it goes, in order for publishers to break their traditional boundaries and to develop into the publishing companies of tomorrow will require a step change in their form, culture and approach. Digital publishing strategies will need to move from defensive or protective to creative and liberal, with an emphasis on enabling readers to share and to change what they read. A move away from text-centricity and towards multimedia will no doubt be key and this has repercussions for the kinds of rights that publishers will need to negotiate as well as for the skills they will require of their staff. Publishers will need to view themselves as shapers and enablers rather than producers and distributors, to take a project rather than a product approach and to embrace their position as merely a component element in a reader, writer, publisher circularity. They will need to embrace new business models and they may even need to become media companies rather than publishing companies. They will need to understand and know and connect with their readers far, far better and they will need to develop brands that hold the highest kudos for authors and imply brand values to consumers that appeal to readers around identifiable niches. Ultimately they may need to ready themselves sooner rather than later for a fight to the death not only with their current partners in the distribution chain but also with non-traditional competitors who are rapidly devouring the space which has traditionally been reserved for them.
The weekend brought us a break from my epic article posting marathon, as our network server connection broke down and I could not retrieve the original article... So after a short break, here's Part V. We're nearly there now. The question really is no longer, “Will consumers read on screens in the future?” or “Will all content be found on the Internet?” The question is rather, “How will consumers read on screens in the future?” and “How will all content be found on the Internet?” And as publishers have been latecomers to the online party, the question lurking behind all of this is what, if any, role do publishers have in the digital future? It’s a future which is not too distant and in which texts are potentially increasingly inter- related, multiple information sources and media types are mashed, and a combination of search and social networks provides the gateway and the guide to content online. Perhaps publishers might position themselves in new intermediary roles: helping authors to write through platforms, or bringing authors and readers together in new and creative ways. However, by and large, on a strictly technical level at least, publishers aren't needed at all for these functions. There is a tremendous amount of available application software online which can bring most of this about. Initiatives such as Amazon’s CreateSpace bring authors and readers together and then apply the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ to ensure that the best and most popular content rises to the top. Perhaps it could be argued that publishers will always be required in order to bear – or at least share – the financial risk of publishing a work, but again, with print distribution out of the equation, and with print on demand offering the ability to print a single copy for each single order, financial outlay in terms of production and product storage and delivery disappears. Publishers need to work quickly to define what the quintessence of publishing is, what the core value provided by the publisher is beyond the technicalities of matching content with readers. When pressed to think about this, much of what publishers have to offer beyond the technicalities is qualitative rather than quantitative: stewardship, consultancy, an imprimatur. Will authors continue to value these things enough to believe that publishers are critical to the publication of their works? An interesting question is that of scale. Should publishers be joining forces to create multi-publisher platforms, to dominate content networks by developing critical mass across content types and ensuring that content is interlinked in the most valuable and rich ways? If that is the case then publishers are probably mistaken in handing off this role to Google. In its current form, Google Book Search is already providing the access key to multi-publisher book content. It is, in effect, creating the online book platform. It does little to interlink the various texts but that would be a logical next step. Any publisher which continues to regard Google as a benign partner helping to bring their valuable content to light on the Internet has their head firmly buried in the sand, but in the Internet space, publishers attempting to stand up to Google is a little like a small shoal of fish attempting to push back a tidal wave. In fact, ‘standing up to Google’ may not be the answer at all, but finding a way to complement Google is difficult, when this Internet giant is so easily able to move and occupy new digital spaces. And Google’s quiet announcement that it will invite Internet users to produce ‘Knols’ (units of knowledge; introductions to topics that will appear when a user searches on that subject) has been widely touted as a direct competitor to Wikipedia, but, more to the point, it firmly signals the search company’s intent to move directly into the publishing space. Perhaps the only way to answer this will be for publishers to focus back on developing specialist expertise around vertical niches, taking advantage of the ‘deep niche’ provided in the long tail world of the Internet, as described so well by Michael Jensen in his article on the subject in the Journal of Electronic Publishing. In this context publishers would focus value around subject or genre expertise and intimate, direct market knowledge, providing editorial and marketing functions beyond the merely ‘technical’. In this scenario publishers would need to move back further into the territory of filter and editorial consultant and to re-focus energies on their (oft forsaken) role as career nurturers for authors (a space currently shared at least by agents in the trade space). They would also need to develop brands around subject or genre niches so that their platforms are able to gain traction over those developed by competitors and to become far, far better at direct sales and marketing. Publishers will need to press further into the retail space, developing direct relationships with consumers of their content, if they are to become an effective bridge between authors and readers. Whatever shape the future holds, it looks like publishers won’t survive unless they regain some of the roles that over the years have been handed off to other partners in the distribution chain.
Customisation will not stop at bundling multiple texts together, though. Something that has shocked traditional media companies perhaps more than anything about the Web 2.0 world is the desire of consumers to produce and to share rich media content of their own rather than or in addition to being passive consumers of media streamed down to them by the corporations. The explosion in blogs, the popularity of digital photo sharing sites, the more or less overnight success of YouTube, the rise of ‘citizen journalism’, the development of ‘machinima’ (the creation of films or clips created by gamers manipulating the characters in video games) all bear witness to the strong desire of individuals to express themselves and their creativity and to share their productions with the world via the Web. As Jeff Gomez points out in his book, Print is Dead, the emerging generation of digital natives quickly graduated from ‘Generation Download’ to ‘Generation Upload’, a generation which is “beginning to define itself by mixing, mashing, and combining disparate elements of what they’ve pulled from the Internet and then changing it into something else.” Publishers will need to provide the wherewithal for these new ‘prosumers’ to customise published texts, to create their own complementary, ancillary content and to link it to the core text if they are to continue to provide an experience of reading which engages ‘Generation Upload.’ And as a new generation of readers interacts with texts online publishers will be wise to place themselves in a position to harness the network data and collective intelligence produced by social annotation and media creation, the sum of the “Wisdom of Crowds,” and to apply this to its future content development and to its marketing. But as texts become increasingly interlinked and prosumer-generated ancillary content and commentary grows, and as the distribution model moves from chain to network, the power of search – a.k.a. Google, at least in today’s world - will only increase. The economics of distribution have been devalued by the digital content stream, but access – and search - have become all-important. Publishers in the trade space especially – and Amazon, too – might well be focusing far too much attention on the future of the download. Could it be that Amazon is betting on the wrong horse, assuming device (Kindle) plus distribution platform (Amazon eBook store) will be the killer combination? Many publishers are watching the mobile space with interest, and even more are observing Apple particularly closely to see how the iPhone and the iTouch perform, and whether either is widely adopted as a reading device. Both devices are already very text capable and Apple is likely to improve these capabilities. As Adam Hodgkin points out in a November 2007 post on his Exact Editions blog, “Amazon versus Google for eBooks?”:
“Google with its Book Search program and its alliances with publishers and libraries is going to occupy the place that would otherwise appear to be Amazon's of becoming our preferred source of access to published literature. Amazon seems to have taken a wrong turn in supposing that distribution, rather than access and search, is the key challenge for digital print.
The TeleRead blog has been giving the most thorough all-round coverage of the Kindle and Sony eBook readers. David Rothman who blogs many of the TeleRead pieces admits to being close to being a Kindle supporter; he probably would be, if only it eschewed DRM and embraced the .epub Open eBook standard. But what would Google say to the .epub format? Google will ignore .epub, which is inimical to their advertising business model. The Google Book Search approach makes downloads irrelevant (the downloads GBS provides are very clunky, much less usable than the online GBS). In fact, for Google, downloads are just as outmoded and unneccessary as DRM.
Google and Apple, between them already have the solution for eBooks (and it’s not a download solution). Read and search on your iPhone and access via a web browser, anything in print can be handled that way. More to the point: everything in print can be handled that way. Everything will be searched via the web, everything will be accessed via the web. Downloads are pretty much of an irrelevance. The question is: what do authors and publishers plan to do about that?
Answer: "Maybe the publishers should themselves try selling/granting access direct". Aside from Google with its Book Search, the publishers are the other variable in the market-place which has a promising opportunity if the Amazon Kindle download system bombs. .. After all, scientific and technical publishers have made a reasonable fist of creating a digital market for their STM periodicals. Book publishers need to create access opportunities and figure out how to sell digitally direct".
Continuing the serialised version of my article for Library Trends: And whilst the edges of the book become more porous, the concept of a ‘book as unit’ slowly disappears further into history, new business models are already emerging. The value in the chain moves from a model which intertwines content with distribution to a model which simply values the content. Tim O’Reilly spotted this years ago and his company built Safari books online as a subscription service accessed with a browser, which now has revenues in excess of those widely cited for the entire downloadable eBook industry. As he points out in his recent blog post Bad Math among eBook enthusiasts on O’Reilly Radar (5th December 2007) “… as for the kind of books that you don’t read from beginning to end, but just use to do a job like looking up information, or learning something new, the “all you can eat” subscription model may be more appropriate [than unitary pricing]. With Safari, we’ve increasingly moved from a “bookshelf” model (in which you put books on a bookshelf and can only swap at month end) to an all you can eat model, because we’ve discovered that people consume about the same amount of content regardless of how much you make available. All you can eat pricing lets people take what they need from more books, but it doesn’t increase the total amount of content they consume. It merely changes the distribution, and in particular, favors the long tail over the head.”
As Scott Karp observes on O’Reilly’s comments in his blog post on The Future of Print Publishing and Paid Content (6th December 2007) on Publishing 2.0, “Instant full access to a searchable digital library is a radically different form of distribution from buying reference books one at a time and putting them on your bookshelf. But here’s the fascinating part — “it doesn’t increase the total amount of content they consume.” People still value and use the content in much the same way, despite the radically different distribution model. By unbundling these books into a digital library, consumers essentially repackage them by searching for and selecting specific content items. So even when consumers value content enough to pay for it, they intuitively understand that it doesn’t cost the publisher nearly as much to make the content available digitally as it did to put all of those books physically on a shelf. That’s why consumers aren’t willing to pay for the equivalent of buying ALL the books in print. You can’t price a bus ticket the same as a plane ticket simply because they both get you from point A to point B — it costs a lot less to drive a bus than fly a plane.” Online science fiction publisher Baen Books’ webscriptions offering puts a value on material pre-publication and demonstrates a successful, early move from unitary distribution and pricing to a flexible, subscription offering. This web based re-creation of the serialized novel using Science Fiction published by Baen Books offers novels published in three segments, one month apart, beginning three months before the actual publication date. Each month four books are made available for $15 per month. About two weeks after the last quarter is delivered, print versions of the books become available in bookshops. Publishers are also slowly waking up to the idea that, whilst the book online can no longer always afford to be an island, neither can the publisher. Consumers of books care very little, if at all, about publisher brands. Some authors are brands, but publishers have largely remained invisible to consumers in terms of branding. In the online space, publishers need to recognise that readers simply want the content they require – and fast, simply, without barriers or walls ring-fencing random selections of content purely because one content set belongs to one publisher and another set to a second, different publisher. A useful network of books will almost always, inevitably, cross the boundaries between a number of publishers. In the journals world this has been recognised and resolved by cross-publisher platforms and linking systems such as CrossRef and IngentaConnect. As books move online, similar developments will be necessary to connect the multiple references between books published by many different publishers, but book publishers have been far slower to develop cross-publisher platforms than journals publishers were, perhaps because the critical nature of citations in journals publishing offered a clearer strategic and commercial driver in the journals world. In the education market at least, the requirements for custom publishing in which institutions, their academics and students are able to construct bespoke textbooks and course materials drawn from content published by multiple publishers will also no doubt only increase, and publishers will need to get a whole lot better at finding ways to come down from their ivory towers and work together.