Sunday, September 20, 2009

Publishing Isn’t One Digital Industry

The one thing that is certain about publishing tomorrow is that it will be different to today. Many will see digital as just another book, or the same book in a digital jacket. Others will see digital as a marketing opportunity to get digital out, not last, but first. After all if digital pricing is going to be cheaper then why not use it as the leader and not automatically presume it has to be at the end? Others will see that trying to squeeze something that was designed for the printed page onto a screen doesn’t always work and giving it the same constraints could be viewed a madness.

Digitisation is challenging and changing not only the way content is developed, packaged, the associated marketing and promotional material, the ways it is consumed but in some cases the content itself. Will the book merely change its jacket and be a digital clone of the physical content, or will the content itself change to fit the new potential digital opportunities often can depend on the sector and the use? We must remember that publishing in not one industry but several that were merely joined together by a common format – the book.

If we look at some specific genre we see different challenges and opportunities which will lead to potentially diverse digital road maps moving in different directions and at different speeds.

If we look at travel publishing - is the content; real time information or just current, expert guides or social recommends, multi media or book format, digitally consumed online or offline, interactive or static, detailed maps or GPS based or even hand drawn, social or expert advice and input, etc. It is clear that the user has a wealth of information now available with a click on the internet. This instant connectivity to information is longer tethered to a landline and is now available on the move. Look at iPhone apps like Urbanspoon, which with a shake of the phone, can not only identify where you are but identify all the restaurants near you, describe them and give you directions to them. Services such as Youtube have not only redefined videos but have made every tourist a potential travel cameraman and journalist. Travel recommendations and experience is longer restricted to the expert guide and can be a social experience.

Travel has always had strong publishing brands, often based on demographics, lifestyle and interests. It is easy to see travel as a vertical market opportunity which may be publishing brand centric but where the content is no longer confined to the publisher and the book is now clearly only part of the overall mix and revenue model.

If we look at the huge area that makes up learning we see many differences between the different levels and then there is vocational and distance learning. They all have their own requirements with respect to trainers, students, courses, measurement, institutions and even guardians. What is clear is that it has never been about the book but about learning the content can be supplemental, basal, assessment, teaching guides and notes and much more. Students need access to information and use it differently at different stages of learning. Students need to be pointed to material that is appropriate to their individual needs which may be different for that of the student sitting next to them.

Again educational publishers have built strong brands and a wealth of material but again learning is not confined to text, images, animation, video and the book is only part of the overall mix and revenue model.

You may think that the examples above lead all publishers to be vertical brand players or building vertical partnerships to exploit their content within a more focused but comprehensive offer. This may be so for some sectors but is not true for all and we must beware of false prophets and sweeping generalisations. Every publisher has always specialised in the content they produce but in a digital world it is the channel and the consumer that is changing and it is this that is now forcing all to redefine their market, channel and consumer demands, revenue model and how to connect the dots from creator to consumer.


Leigh Russell said...

As an author of crime fiction whose books are published by a traditional publisher, and an unashamed advocate of 'real' books, I take comfort from the reader who said she likes to read in the bath. As far as I'm aware, there's no waterproof e-reader on the market . . . yet . . . And what about those who fall asleep reading in bed? What a waste to our limited resources, recharging batteries on e-readers that have been left on all night.

malcolm said...

Leigh... they are design issues to be solved... and to be frank they're not that hard to. The real issue is how people want to access texts, and yes the majority will love the printed form.
Reality check for us all though is some won't and that number will grow.

Last to go might be that recreational reading you do in the bath, but I think Martyn is correct in identifying areas that will shift faster.

Educational and reference book publishing are already adpating to new forms of both content and use, it is inevitable that creators of content will change the way they write to suit these readers.

Digital is a much more responsive and flexible format to use, and this competititve advantage will see it grow at the expense of more traditional and entrenched form of publishing