Monday, August 27, 2007

'eBooks are Coming' - a response

As I returned from my annual break where nothing was digital or remotely ebook to find some interesting news and some usual ‘August noise’.

The Bookseller wrote a feature article about the coming of the ebook. Did it say anything? Well unfortunately very little and it used a games industry practitioner as its catalyst. Yes, it went through the usual doom and gloom, the question of what will be the tipping point and gave the usual suspects their 15 minutes of free advertising. But did it say anything or did it merely raise the fear bar in the market one notch more?

I found the one paragraph about Continuum interesting. It alluded to the issues of where a publisher starts and where the greatest return is, as opposed to what has to be tackled in the longer term. Yes we know publishers aren’t ready, we know that there isn’t a reader today, we know that there isn’t an effective channel today and we know that the majority of publishers are at square one. But if you where a publisher what would you do and where would you start?

What Ken Rhodes raised is the need for a strategy that enables manoeuvrability and the ability to respond to demand. So who runs the strategy? Marketing will have a huge input as emarketing is closely aligned with all things digital. Sales will have an input as revenue return is always a driver. Production will have a say as it’s their domain, processes and relationships that are being turned upside down.

Editorial will have a say in that it is about content development as well as content delivery and merely changing things at the back door isn’t the long term solution. Finally, rights must have a say as that’s what publishing is and where the greatest challenges are both with authors and consumers.

In the ‘Brave New World’ report we wrote a chapter on the music industry. There were many lessons to be learnt. We all assume that the music industry was digital – after all we all had, or could create digital copies of music. The reality was that they weren’t. The inherent processes and contextual information was far from being digital. What they had was huge libraries of content that couldn’t be searched, accessed or sold digitally. Forget the digital content the digital context was missing and the channel was still in the dark ages thinking in terms of albums and singles. Napster, Kazzaa and iTunes all blew the market apart faster than anyone had thought possible and the industry today is still trying to reposition and recover. Why is this relevant to book publishing? Well we still think of content in books - sheets within a jacket. We still market and promote the same way with the same context, even to sending out a significant volume of review / inspection copies in physical format – like - throwing confetti to the wind. We still have not addressed many of the thorny rights issues – rights reversals, customised content.

The book industry is not one but many industries once joined by a common format - the book. As digitisation evolves these will diverse and move at different speed and in different directions. We are currently trying to predict a market in a vacuum – there is no or little digital content or context. We are not looking at the processes but more at the finished product.

What we need to look at is the end to end value chain, from author to reader and understands what needs to be done, where the quick wins are and how to support the existing business and channel.