Future of Publishing

How Different Are Books Digitally?

Martyn Daniels has a good piece over on his Brave New World Blog about why books differ digitally from other forms of content. The nub of his case is (if he’ll forgive me quoting such a chunk – I’d encourage you to go read it):

Whatever the route taken the stupid thing would be to continue to merely pour the same content into a digital container. This logic is flawed as it not only creates competition where competition is not needed and can be counter-productive, but it fails to understand the technology, the cultural changes that are happening and the opportunities that are available for the two that matter – the author and the reader.

via Brave New World: HELLO! Books Are Digitally Different.

I hear this a lot from folks, that ebooks are a misunderstanding of the innovative capacity of digital creation and distribution. I may even have written something that touches on that territory in the past (cf: this piece*). I think this viewpoint misses two crucial issues.

First, that readers and writers have found these crippled tools to be “good enough“. And they think them so “good enough” that they account for 30% of the market. That’s a pretty compelling argument for viewing ebooks as the right technology at the right time.

The second is whether anyone is looking for such innovations. The question those seeking to make more exciting and innovative products from books have to answer is straightforward; will those new products entice ebook readers away from ebooks, entice print readers from print books when ebooks didn’t do so, or entice new readers to read where ebooks and print books didn’t?

I think it’s possible but unlikely that ebook readers will be interested, improbable and unlikely that print readers will have their heads turned, and simply unknowable if non-readers will suddenly turn to reading in  clever and innovative new guises. It is far more likely that content from beyond the book world will succeed in eroding the attention time devoted to books (of all forms) in established markets than books** will, in any form, colonise the attention time currently devoted to other content forms (I wrote about the impact of this in the Irish trade in The Irish Times last weekend).

To counter that trend, we will need to find new ways to market ebooks and digital reading to existing print readers in the coming years and that may involve new forms, as Martyn suggests, but one wonders just how much can be done to change reading before it becomes not reading, but something else and whether given the “good enough” nature of ebooks for so many, we need to do so.

When viewed through this lense, ebooks are the heavy infantry at the front lines of the battle to protect and grow the overall attention time devoted to reading, not a mistake or a failure of imagination.

Eoin

 

 

*In my defence, I’d argue that the line was one intended to spur publishers to action, and is, in any case, four years old an eternity in ebook terms!

**Spotted today, by way of Benedict Evans, this rather interesting piece of news about how mobiles are changing reading in the developing world an area where many of the factors I commented on above will be less relevant and where there is a good chance that reading can actually gain serious traction in digital form, even in the face of competition from other forms, though ultimately as incomes there rise I would expect other forms to gain back attention time.

Go read This | Past, present and future | The Bookseller

Interesting piece by Stephen Page of Faber in The Bookseller:

Publishers and other media companies have always been as singular as those who invest directly with talent to license properties. This is changing. Netflix’s House of Cards demonstrates that players further down the value chain are trying to expand their role to include investment in intellectual property. Alongside this, the transformation of self-publishing has demonstrated that those upstream from larger scale publishers are also able to exploit copyright. We are all part of one continuum, and will co-exist to the benefit of readers and writers alike.

via Past, present and future | The Bookseller.

Go Read This | Authors Launch Brown Girls Publishing

You really don’t need to look hard for even traditionally published authors driving change:

The two authors, who will continue to write for S&S, are also skilled in other areas. Murray has an MBA from New York University and Billingsley is a former TV and radio news reporter who also has more than 25 years experience in marketing.

“We’ve been pretty successful and we’ve still got book contracts at S&S,” Murray said in a phone interview with PW. Murray told PW the notion to launch a publishing company began a year ago when her agent, Lisa Dawson, self-published some of Murray’s fiction as an e-book novel and the book sold about 15,000 copies with almost no promotion. “Just a little note on my facebook page,” Murray said.

via Authors Launch Brown Girls Publishing.

Go Read This | Get Ready For More Mergers And Acquisitions In Book Publishing – Forbes

Interesting piece:

5. As the way people consume media changes, book publishers are realizing they are content creation and rights management companies and not just book publishers. Many of them are now playing in the app market, educational technology market and other areas they likely wouldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago. To that end, book publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently capitalized by going public in November. The company is seen as more of an educational company and less as a book publisher by Wall Street. In fact, one-time trade publisher Wiley has almost completely transformed itself into an education and technology company partially through a series of divestments and acquisitions.

via Get Ready For More Mergers And Acquisitions In Book Publishing – Forbes.

Go Read This | Pixel Dust: Illusions of Innovation in Scholarly Publishing |

I’m pretty sure I disagree with a good bit in this article, but disagreement has never been enough to make me lose interest in something, especially if it is worthwhile disagreement. One paragraph that caught my eye in particular:

The crowdsourcing frenzy alone is enough to cause uneasiness — the costs of editing, fact-checking, keeping spam bots and hackers at bay is the intellectual equivalent of being a traffic cop in Midtown Manhattan on a day when a major intersection signal is out of order from a water main break. The overhead that would be required to maintain the flow of information in a massive crowdsourced project is mind-boggling, a kind of 24-7 attention to a gazillion details. A handful of projects, like the Jeremy Bentham transcription, or the New York Public Library’s menu decipherment, were expertly designed, highly constrained, and made effective use of contributions by the public. The redesign of scholarship to allow for participation is an enormous undertaking, not yet much beyond prototypes, none of which have yet proved fully viable except the wiki. And the difference between a book chapter that lays out a well informed and studied discussion of new research and a set of guided activities for the acquisition of that knowledge is the difference between research and pedagogy. They perform different roles.

via Pixel Dust: Illusions of Innovation in Scholarly Publishing |.

Go Read This | John Makinson Interview In The Times of India

Not terribly in-depth, nonetheless interesting. Especially when discussing the challenges of being too large (pointing to the value of imprints in the minds of authors) and responding to concerns about Amazon’s self publishing offering (highlighting in this case the ownership of Author Solutions, something I think indicates a lack of appreciation of what Amazon is doing in the digital self publishing space). Where he offers the most interesting note though is below:

At the time of the merger, you said one of the key areas of focus would be e-books . How do you plan to go about the shift?

We have to be guided by the preferences of the reader or the consumer. If they want to read a book on a smartphone we have to give it to them. It doesn’t make a difference if they are reading a physical book or an e-book . What does make a difference is channel substitution. The move from physical to digital books is not as important as the shift from bookstores to online stores. This really affects the way people find and read books.

via ‘Amazon is creating a large market for books’ – The Times of India.