Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A New Digital Publishing Year Beckons

At this time of year every paper is looking both back over the last 12 months and forward over the next. Predictions are made and quickly forgotten.

All we can say about last year is that it was clearly the start of the final push of digital publishing within the trade environment. It was certainly the year when the dye was cast and the investment commitment was started.

By the end of the year:

  • The major publishers had nearly all committed to building digital repositories - Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HaperCollins.
  • The omnivores continued their relentless scanning programmes with Google declaring their litigation war chest.
  • New ebooks continued to appear all searching for the elusive reader and other content
  • The world of bibliographic got increasingly ‘richer’, with digital content being used to sell all books through podcasts, ‘search inside’ and video trailers.
  • Ingram declared their intent through their Ingram Digital Venture buying Coutts, Vital Source’s ‘Bookshelf’ and landing a deal with Booksense.

Last year was certainly the year of the digital reports and conferences. In October and November they appeared weekly covering every angle but they tended to fuel confusion and offered little leadership and direction. Ten years ago, Joe Sinyor of Dillons wrote his famous article in the Bookseller. The article galvanised the industry into finally starting to address the crippling waste in the supply chain. He wasn’t the first to state the obvious, nor was he the last, but he was certainly the one that defined the initiative and propelled the issue forward. We obviously believe that the BA ‘Brave New World’ report is a defining statement on digitisation in the trade. It doesn’t answer the questions but states where we are and some of the options. If it succeeds it may bring the industry together to focus on servicing the existing channel and avoid the doom mongering of the futurologists who believe the physical shop dead or the publishers who believe that they can service the market direct and cut out the middle man.

So what of the year ahead? It is hard to predict in such a volatile era but what is certain is that change is going to happen and that the changes will be significant.

What do we look forward to:

  • Macmillan’s audio MP3 player. Whether it is a promotional gimmick or the next audio format is immaterial as it will certainly create noise and stir others into action in this obvious format area.
  • 508 compliance which may seem a million miles away to us Brits but signals a new impetus to audio, web site design and will help bodies such as the RNIB in its cause.
  • New technology, in the form of OLED screens, or the Hearst reader.
  • The announcement and initial roll out of a new distribution environment and services to support digital content within the existing channel.
  • The start of real POD services based not on short print runs but distributed printing at affordable prices. Maybe a BOD (bind on demand) model to support customised printing.
  • Richer and richer bibliographic services and the need for every publisher to engage in its provision, even if they don’t sell digital content.
  • Increased importance of Internet sales, emarketing and community engagement and participation. Success will be achieved increasingly by engagement and word of mouth than wallpapering web pages with books and offers.
  • Omnivore fears will stoke more publishers to join their ranks but major publishers will continue to build their repositories and control their digital assets.
  • Booksellers will increasingly sell old, used, new and digital side by side. Currency is only one aspect of selection and selection is what booksellers have always done best.