Saturday, January 02, 2010

2020 Vision: Digital Predictions for 2010 Part 3

Having already made seven predictions for 2010 and into the next decade, we continue and offer our final three.


We have talked about bookstore chains being venerable, but some would suggest that the same logic equally applies to big publishers. We have seen huge inter-publisher consolidation over the noughties, but this will change in this next decade with the potential of new entrants buying up publishers. The diversity and range of publishers was its greatest strength and protection, but as new players enter will this remain so? Some would suggest that the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple don’t need the hassle of publishing just the control of the margin and channel, others would suggest that separating the copyright asset from the process and operation of publishing could be an interesting and profitable exercise. Isn’t publishing after all primarily a rights business?

The potential for small publishers to thrive has never been greater. No longer locked out from the physical or digital channel, their agility and economics are becoming increasingly attractive and it is easy to see their numbers growing. Many may be writing their exit plans before they have published their first book! Acquisition growth will continue to be strong, but the question is at what level does size become an inhibitor?

Some would suggest that authors would only want to be processed by the big house with a reputation, but these need the mega sellers to survive and that means they need to remain attractive to big authors. We have already commented that this may be changing.

This next decade may prove that publisher operational size doesn’t matter in a digital age!

9. Breaking the Spine

We have written many times about the opportunity that digital provides to offer more than just the same 250 pages, print layout and even content. Today we have seen a few experiments, but little real movement to create something different. As a result, we have ebook pricing being questioned by all and digital value being diluted.

How long will it take before we see the shift towards true short stories and serialised works written specifically for the digital market. Japan’s Keitai novels may appeal to a different culture, but the principle is one that could be adapted to western taste. We forget too quickly the Charles Dickens approach to writing, at a time when it could be most appropriate.

Many will continue to experiment with digital forms and material but we don’t see a major change until the market is more mature and predictable. The current transitional ebook forms and ‘lookie likie’ eInk devices are clearly inhibiting digital writing and maybe when we start to move online then we all will seen the huge potential to do things differently.

10. Rights

Rights are probably the greatest challenge as we embrace the digital age. Many of the principles that supported the physical world, start to be questioned in the digital age; territorial rights, rights reversal clauses, out of print, audio rights etc. It is essential that we mere don’t end up picking those we want to retain at all costs and turn a blind eye to those that need to be properly debated and accommodated.

Google, Rosetta, Blio and the Kindle audio feature, have all shown us that tomorrow is going to be very different from to today. This next decade will determine rights in the digital age. Governments have once again started to show interest, but often on a bi partisan basis and the sprit of the Berne convention appears to be struggling.

The one certainty about rights in the next decade is that it will make some lawyers very rich.

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