There are so many reasons to read the chairman’s* statement in The Quarto Group’s latest update. For starters it is well written and as a result, is a pleasure to read. It is also full of gems like this one:
Contrary to popular mythology, most people in the developing world are not time-deprived. Indeed, there is much greater scope now to fill one’s non-working time (and, perhaps even one’s working time!) with elective personal activities, ranging from engaging in the chit-chat of social media, exercising, playing sport, indulging in hobbies and pastimes, cooking classes, book clubs, playing videogames, watching television, and so on. The list of activities is endless.
I don’t think you’d read that anywhere else. What’s more it offers something valuable, perspective. Perspective on the industry and what it means to be a certain type of publisher in this digital age.
Orbach sums this up in a succinct pair of paragraphs that dive deep into the implications of digital for Quarto AND for publishing as a whole:
E-books are probably not growing the overall audience much except for a brief honeymoon with a new device and, so long as outlets for printed books remain significant, the costly infrastructure of many existing publishers may have to remain largely in place. The evidence is becoming overwhelming that, in popular, narrative areas of fiction and non-fiction not an area of focus for Quarto, e-books are eating into sales of printed books. This may not challenge the economics of book publishing fundamentally for bestselling titles but, as bookshops diminish, and the exposure of less popular titles declines as a result, the committed book reader will be ill served by the outcome. And, if that were not enough to adjust to, attention is now turning to all the wonderful things that can be done with content on an e-reader such as the iPad, the Kindle Fire, the Nook, and other brands.
While Quarto is feeling the ripple effects of this evolutionary change, the impact to date has been slight. To satisfy the curiosity of analysts and commentators, we have noted above that our digital revenues climbed five-fold in a year. But they still only represent a little over one percent of group revenues. Quartos book output is substantially non-fiction titles that are useful and, often, necessary for readers pursuing a craft, a hobby, home improvement, self-improvement, and so on. This is not a large part of the current e-book market, and efforts to build both apps and e-books around the kind of content we create have not been well rewarded. This is not surprising, as they have not taken advantage of the benefits that the new tablet computers and e-readers now offer. At the moment, and seeking to take advantage of better and less cumbersome software authoring tools, more efforts are being made to create enhanced e-books. No doubt, some will turn out to be very fine, but it remains unclear whether there is a profitable commercial model lurking in all of the experimentation.
It’s not just the level-headed analysis of whether ebooks are growing the market (anywhere other than the margins or in markets were they may be activating demand that simply could not be met with print books I suspect they are not) but also in the sober attitude towards other digital products. I might personally feel the attitude is a little TOO sober and not possessed of enough vision, but that’s hardly the point. Mostly I enjoy how the two paragraphs illustrate that different parts of our industry are moving at different paces, something we forget at our peril.
Go read the whole thing, it’s rewarding, engaging and interesting throughout.
*That’s Laurence Orbach