Friday, December 31, 2010

2020 Vision: A Look Back At 2010 and Thoughts on 2011 Part 2

At the end of 2009 we made 10 predictions for 2010 and today we quickly review the last 5 of these. The objective is to understand the shifts that actually happened and the pace and direction of change

6. Authors In Control

'On one hand publishers will demand comprehensive rights on the other authors will want to hold back and retain digital rights or separate them...aspiring authors will increasingly look to digital and see potential that even print on demand didn’t offer... Back list and out of print has only one way to go – digital...'

Every month we read of an increasing number of authors who see self publishing as the way forward. However, just like the Rosetta early digital challenge, the Wylie one this year was settled behind closed doors. Although the issues remain unresolved, the days of claiming digital as volume rights must be numbered and authors will increasingly vote with their feet and take more control. New developments such as Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, Barnes and Noble’s Pubit and the agency model only fuel the migration.

2011 Update: there are many different types of authors and not all will follow the same digital path. Agents, in managing the economic interests of the top authors, will see the logic of self publishing and in doing so start to further encourage authors to proactively bypass publishers and work directly with the new ebook platforms. Some will use digital alternatives as a mere lever to increase their reward from publishers, others will just do it. However, the challenge is with those contracts that are already digital inclusive and may have poor reversal clauses and rewards based more on yesterday’s physical model.

We envisage some publishers will assume digital rights and will heavily trawl their back lists for ‘low hanging digital and POD fruit’. However, all authors will be increasingly reluctant to part with digital rights, will revert rights and self-publish all of their back list of these reverted rights.

Royalties on ebooks will have to rise but advances are likely to continue to fall. The interesting area is unpublished authors who will continue the trend of self publishing first and by pass the previous slush pile model. Publishers will still manufacture and introduce new talent but increasingly may not be the first to publish them.


'Digital will not save them (the chains) but will increase the pressure on them…Amazon…is becoming a publisher, channel and bookseller…It is hard to see others offering the same empathy with the two people who count in the book market – authors and consumers… Independents have great opportunities but must learn that sale or return and merchandising their shelves with front list is not the answer…Independents must specialise to survive.'

The world of bookselling on the High Street continues to be full of doom and gloom. Consumers are increasingly clicking to buy and supermarkets and other volume outlets are now stocking an increasing range of titles at keen low cost prices and competing head on with all. Amazon continued to expand their offer and appeal and are clearly the iTunes of physical and digital books.

Independents who have so much to offer still cling to the sale or return model, are wedded to the front list and in the main don’t do what it says on the tin - ‘sell books’ (used, new, remainder, bargain etc ) and by doing so be ‘independent’.

2011 Update: More independents will disappear and those remaining will be under increasing pressure on all fronts. The chains who once ruled will be squeezed hard and increasingly find themselves stuck in a physical model that sets them at an economic disadvantage. 2011 is a wake up call for booksellers and a year when many will have to take long overdue steps just to survive.


'…the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple don’t need the hassle of publishing just the control of the margin and channel…The potential for small publishers to thrive has never been greater… This next decade may prove that publisher operational size doesn’t matter in a digital age!'

Publishing has never had it so good. We read about it in papers, see on the news, and it is as if the internet and now digital is breathing additional and fresh air into the system and everyone is taking about books. However the economics of publishing are changing and size and scope are on the wane and flexibility and creativity are on the rise. Size is only relative to those now in the market. Amazon will continue to redefine reselling, distribution and publishing.

2011 Update: We have always said that publishing is not one but a number of industry sectors joined together by a common format -the book. Divergence is increasingly apparent as digitisation demands different directions and speed of change. This divergence will only accelerate in the coming year as different genre start to explore opportunities to do things differently, offer vertical materials and align with new channels.

9. Breaking the Spine

'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… 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.'

We still see physical books being created and then converted into digital renditions. Publishers in the main remain locked into a model where digital remains an adjunct to the physical and they have not embraced the fact that ‘digital publishing is publishing’.

2011 Update: We have long predicted full end to end digital publishing as some start to diverge it makes sense to address the last bastion of the analogue world and digitise the front office of publishing. Some such as professional and STM have already learnt the lesson and gained the benefits and we envisage that this approach will now start to be adopted more widely across all sectors.

We also envisage as we have already stated that content will increasingly be used to provide context and support search and discovery. These opportunities demand changes in how content is developed, managed and distributed.

10. Rights

'…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.'

Adobe has continued to grow the adoption of DRM platform (ACS4) and now has both mobile offers from TxTr and Bluefire as well as the Google ebookstore. Amazon has also extended it own protection across multiple platforms and to include loans.
The lack of a ruling in the Google Book Settlement reflect the complex challenges the industry faces on orphans and rights ownership.

2011 Update: The book world is global and as the ebook market explodes, publishers have to rethink territory rights. This shift should enable independent authors and small publishers to flourish and benefit at the expense of those ,often too big to adapt quickly and weighed down with yesterday’s limitations.

Permission rights will increasingly become a challenge as content gets fragmented and snippets become more accessible in a digital world. Licensing models that exist in other media doesn’t exist in the book market today.

Digital Rights Management will continue to be demanded by publishers who will be wary of piracy. We don’t envisage much change in the short term but as the market develops the restrictions of the current three offers (Adobe ACS4, Amazon and Apple) will be become frustrating and the ability to break these more widely known and available. The shift to online and cloud based on-demand platforms will also start to negate the need for DRM and downloads.

Copyright contracts should move to fixed term contracts. This is a major shift of power and commercial terms where a licence may be granted for a fixed period of time and then automatically revert if not renewed. This could itself offer a different reward structure and one which is based more on performance by all parties.

Finally, we may still see a Google Book Settlement and Rights registry. We would prefer an independent rights registry that is capable of serving the whole market, open to all and is fit for the 21st century. It begs the question how a rights industry can expect to continue into a digital world without the basic cornerstone of a rights registry.

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