Are readers fixed in how they read? One of the frustrations around the digital transition is that despite all of the under-the-hood changes to publishing, this digital re-wiring has stopped at the reader. Readers, by and large, read now how they did before e-books ever existed.
There was a lack of change in the air at this month’s London Book Fair, but for once this may not have been a bad thing. Settled is not the same as content but 2014 appeared to be the year too-often acrimonious parts found their place alongside each other.
If there was one dominant theme coming of out the London Book Fair last week it was of an industry taking a pause, drawing in a big deep breath and working out what comes next. At Digital Minds, the author Nick Harkaway said that publishers liked to reach a plateau and then wait for the next innovation to run them down. In my Leader column for The Bookseller last week, I took issue with this. Just because the activity isn’t visible, and the answers are not forthcoming, does not mean that publishing isn’t thinking about it.
‘How many times in the last 10 years have you heard people moan that there is simply too much stuff around for them to read/listen to/watch?’
After the excesses of the early years, did we all wake up in 2013 with a digital hangover? It can sometimes feel like it. Coming off the back of three years of treble-digit e-book growth, last year’s growth rate, of around 20%, was a detoxifier. In truth though, this party has barely even begun. As Amara’s Law argues, we tend to overestimate the impact of digital changes in the short term, but underestimate them in the long run.
While reports of the death of the book seem to be greatly exaggerated - recent findings show that ebooks continue to do well in fiction and non-fiction categories, where a linear narrative prevails, other types of ebooks such as cookbooks, how to, and other non-fiction categories have yet to show real strength. This, despite the much touted possibilities of multimedia that will revolutionize the reading experience. Other reports indicate that younger readers still favor books, in part because they think ebooks ought to be free.
Last week the reading platform Readmill announced that it was slipping into oblivion after failing to make a business case to funders for its continuation. Like too many publishing start-ups, Readmill floundered not because it wasn’t a good idea, well executed, but simply because it ran out of time.
The future is bright: the future is global. If the printing press enabled scalability - one book can reach many different readers - then digital means that the book is even more scalable in that demand can be satisfied straight away almost anywhere in the world. This is a tremendous opportunity for books and knowledge to spread in new ways, across new networks. A reader the other side of the world no longer has to wait for a book to be printed and distributed, or translated. They can download the book on first publication and have immediate access.
Two weeks ago I talked about how India and China represented new growth areas for digital publishers, and how ePubDirect was setting up distribution deals in China. Here are some further thoughts.
Anyone who has met her will know that Simon & Schuster's US chief executive Carolyn Reidy is not shy of speaking her mind. I interviewed her at Frankfurt some years ago and found myself wondering whether I should run ALL of the quotes she gave me.
Publishers are not short of advice from social media. But are they listening? My hunch is no.
Apple’s decision to ban the sale of a French novel because of its cover art is misguided, incoherent and wrong.
La Femme, by Bénédicte Martin and published by Editions des Equateurs, tackles women’s political and sexual emancipation. Its front cover is striking: a surreal, black-and-white image of a nude female morphing into a knife blade, by the artist Stéphane Rozencwajg.
Mrs Shaw : Well I’m pleased to say that William’s test results have improved considerably over the past year. As you are aware the school recently changed to AQuipp for all science and foreign language textbooks. It’s a very competitive market nowadays and it seems that their content optimisation systems have a far greater accuracy than DocuCom. Following the initial customisation morning, AQuipp have categorised William as an LVX3, so they’ve automatically tailored the syllabus and his homework to best harness his kinetic and aural strengths.
This is a piece that James McConnachie, editor of The Author, commissioned me to write for the Spring 2014 issue of the magazine. I agreed, not least because the magazine is only available in print. But James agreed I could publish it online.
1. Libraries don’t have the right to
lend e-books. See http://shelffree.org.uk/2014/03/12/the-right-to-e-read/
The Bookseller published its first e-book ranking in August reporting on publisher digital sales in June. Eight rankings later and we are beginning to see the shape of the market, and how it has developed over the half-year.
Where can publishers look towards to really drive international e-book sales growth? There are obvious opportunities in the US and in the UK where the e-book markets are relatively mature and have a consumer market hungry for content.