The book industry is going through some major changes, influenced by trends like the transition from print to digital (ebooks) with tablets and e-readers becoming more affordable, growing popularity of print on demand (POD) and self publishing, the decline of bookstore sales and more.
We follow the discussions on the future of publishing very closely and would like to share with you some of the most interesting articles, posts, updates and news we find on this issue. We hope you will find these resources useful!
There has been a great deal of handwringing in the book publishing world for the last decade or so over what the Internet is going to do to traditional publishing. And in the last few years, experimentation has increased, with successful authors like Seth Godin by-passing traditional publishing, new ventures like NetMinds from Tim Sanders and team, and the explosion of various kinds of self-publishing.
Both the music and print publishing worlds are undergoing massive upheavals, as underscored by celebrated singer-songwriters Neil Young and Patti Smith’s onstage conversation last week at BookExpo America (BEA) at New York’s Javits Center. Having each worked in both mediums – Smith’s Just Kids won a National Book Award and Young’s new memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, is set for release in October – they came to some interesting conclusions.
Satan in Seattle, as the walking wounded of the book business describe Amazon.com, continues to expand from the shores of Lake Union here, with nearly a dozen new office buildings housing the global nerve center of earth's largest online retailer. By contrast, a few miles away is lovely old Town Hall, a sanctuary for the written word.
We’re at the dawn of the tablet era now. Earlier this month, Apple sold 3 million of its new iPad during the opening weekend, with some analysts expecting over 60 million of the tablets to be sold worldwide. What’s more, e-book readers are selling even more briskly than tablets. People are using those e-readers, too. On Amazon.com, books for its Kindle outsell its paper books.
There is no doubt that e-books are a bright spot in the dismal economics of publishing. The current market is strong — according to a recent Harris Interactive poll, one in six Americans now uses an e-reader, and that number will grow as consumers become more comfortable with the technology.
That sound you hear is the wrapping being torn off of millions of Kindles and iPads. When those devices are fired up and start downloading texts, it will be the greatest shift in casual reading since the mass market paperback arrived six decades ago. Will this dislocation destroy the traditional book? Will it doom the traditional independent bookstore? Will Amazon and Apple control the distribution of thought and culture in America? All these questions will be played out imminently.
To help offset some of the money lost on MP3 file sharing and illegal downloading, many smart bands and record labels create special edition CDs and vinyl records for albums that are also released digitally. The idea is to create a product that is beautifully designed that fans will want to own.
At $1.74 billion in revenue for its last fiscal year ending in April 2011, John Wiley & Sons is one of the largest publishing companies in the world. Perhaps to the envy of some other publishers, Wiley has managed to make a significant portion of that revenue “digital” in nature. Each of its three business units – STMS (science, technology and math journals and books), education, and professional and trade – derive at least 10% of their revenue from digital.
Amazon.com Inc. is at it again. To the consternation of much of the book industry, the online giant is again offering digital titles for less than major publishers think books are worth. And this time, the price is zero.
BARELY A week goes by without something – a full-page discursive article in a newspaper, a hefty blogpost on an arch American culture website – declaring the death of publishing. “Books are doomed. Doomed I tell you!” is the general gambit of these pieces, but many don’t share that view. At a time when books are engaged in a paper-versus- electronic tussle between physical copies and e-reader editions, at least people are still reading.
Let's talk about the future of publishing. This conversation usually looks like a self publish vs. traditional publish debate. I believe that is not the “bunny” we should all be looking at behind the camera.
One of the best things about media going digital is that it can be easily shared and distributed to others with just a click — except of course that it often doesn't work like that, thanks to copyright or licensing restrictions and competing platforms. E-books are a great example:
Jason Epstein has had an incredible career in books – co-founder of the New York Review of Books, a long-standing and lauded editorial career working with literary stars such as Mailer, Nabakov and Roth, and a pioneer in the 1950s when he created a whole new category of book publishing – the Trade Paperback. Most recently he has brought us the Espresso Book Machine – named by Time magazine as Invention of the Year in 2007 – which now gives retailers, libraries and other institutions the chance to offer readers a much wider choice of reading through a print on demand service.
Enhanced e-books are thought to be the next major threshold in the digital book universe. We are still in the very early stages of the development and availability of these books, which contain audio and video features. An informal count of enhanced e-books, according to a publishing executive who is following the field closely, numbered about one thousand available on a variety of devices.
Here’s an assumption that is not documentable; it is my own speculation. I think we’re going to see a US market that is 80% digital for narrative text reading in the pretty near future: could be as soon as two years from now but almost certainly within five. We have talked about the cycle that leads to that on this blog before: more digital reading leads to a decline in print purchasing which further thins out the number of bookstores and drives more people to online book purchasing which further fuels digital reading. Repeat. Etcetera.
Writers, artists, and public intellectuals are nearing some sort of precipice: Their audiences increasingly expect digital content to be free. Jaron Lanier has written and spoken about this issue with great sagacity. You can purchase his book, which most of you will not do, or you can watch him discuss these matters for free. The problem is thus revealed even in the act of stating it. How can a person like Lanier get paid for being brilliant? This has become an increasingly difficult question to answer.
Last year, with the arrival and immediate success of the iPad in Japan, expectations were raised for the future of e-books in Japan. According to the latest figures (from Impress R&D), in fiscal 2010, sales of e-books increased 13 percent over the previous year to some ¥65 billion. By comparison, print book sales totaled some ¥821.3 billion, down for the fourth year in a row.
1. The Web is still in its infancy. 2. Technology will never be the obstacle. 3. The value of face-to-face experience increases in value in direct proportion to the spread of disintermediated electronic encounters.
That's the headline Bowker put on today's press release about its book production figures, and no doubt it will inform coverage. But there is, of course, a more nuanced view. According to Bowker's annual book production report US publishers produced 316,480 new titles and editions in 2010, compared to 302,410 in 2009, which itself showed growth of 4% on 2008.
Anyone with the remotest interest in publishing knows that this has been a period of extraordinary activity in the way books are being distributed and read. But, looking back at the first months of 2011, including some of my own pieces (April 13, April 20), I am still amazed at how much is happening, and how quickly. So here in brief summary are some highlights of what truly has been a remarkable season.
PwC warned that the new generation of eReaders and Tablets could spell the end for traditional paper and ink publications. PwC said its report, “Turning the Page: The Future of eBooks”, noted that publishers, internet bookstores and companies that manufactured eReaders had high expectations of the digital future of the book industry.
Random House said sales of digital books had more than tripled last year, lifting overall revenue 6 percent. E-books, Random House said, accounted for 10 percent of U.S. sales. So much for the good news. Outside the United States, however, the digital book business is still in its infancy.
Since 1980, Nicholas Callaway has made the finest of design-driven books, building a publishing house and his fortune on memorable children's stories and on volumes known for the fidelity of their reproductions of great art. But the quality of paper, ink and binding mean nothing to him now.
For Callaway, it's all about apps - small applications sold in Apple's App Store where books are enhanced beyond the mere text of e-books.
Nathan Bransford is a literary agent turned author.. In a recent analysis, Bransford explains why e-books can list at higher prices than print books, despite our mental model that e-books should always be substantially cheaper.
The reason? Simple economics. Perhaps too simple.
“People like to give each other real books, especially pretty books,” Hogan explains to CCC's Chris Kenneally. “Art books are going to be a category where print is going to continue to matter for some time. There are going to be very cool things that you can do in digital books and e-book apps, but at the same time there are some things that you can really only present effectively and most attractively in paper.”
People are reading more than ever. Everywhere you go, people are reading, reading, reading. They may not be reading traditional paperback books or magazines. They're more likely to be reading Facebook pages or Twitter streams or their emails or blogs or ebooks or what have you. They are reading, though. This suggests that publishers need to radically rethink their offerings (can the first Twitter novel be far away?).
For some time there has been a funny dichotomy in the publishing industry worldwide.
On the one hand publishers have decried the growing influence of powerful tech companies from outside the industry. Google, Amazon, Apple all fall into that category (Amazon aside from being an impressive online retailer is also an amazing tech company). They are feared and despised both as huge outside firms with enormous capabilities and cash compared with publishers and also as companies driving the industry in a direction it wasn’t keen on going.
Someday, ebooks will enable established authors to sell their writing directly to the public, bypassing the publishers and bookstores and taking 70-80% of the revenue for themselves, rather than giving 85% of it to middlemen. I have no doubt whatsoever that this will happen. The trick is figuring out when. People have been predicting it for more than a decade, but so far the publishers are still in charge.
The transformation of the book industry has reached a tipping point. Electronic books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon, the retailer recently announced. And Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing. With books evolving at warp speed, we polled some literary brains on the future of reading:
I started writing when I was four. I used to write up stories, illustrate them, and then make covers for my little “books” with bits of wrapping paper that my Grandma Joan had saved. She lived through the depression. She saved everything. Too bad she isn't here now. Maybe she can save the publishing business.
Not long ago, I interviewed Richard Nash, the man who once headed up Soft Skull Press and to whom many are looking to figure out where the publishing industry will land. The interview was quite long and therefore only a portion of it went on Jewcy, but the post was so well received that a few people requested that I post the full interview. I think this interview touches on some very important issues, not just concerning the book business but the media business and culture at large.
But a publisher has to accept the realities of the marketplace, and for better or worse, like it or not, the market is going to see a steep falloff in brick-and-mortar retail and a corresponding downslope in the sale of printed books.
When the dust settles, publishers will think of their eBook strategy first. Paper decisions will be made as an adjunct to digital decisions. Many, many books will be published without paper versions at all, at least until they get enough critical mass to justify going to paper. Bestsellers from proven authors will always get both, launched simultaneously, and certain niches (travel, cookbooks, etc.) will always have heirloom paper editions. Subject to such reduced fortunes, books will no longer dictate industry process or outcomes.
The wind blowing UK publishers over the water to the annual Frankfurt book fair also carries with it a heightened sense of an industry in revolution. The long-promised digital market is finally with us, and with it come the now-familiar calls for the death of the "heritage" players in the industry. But in favour of ... what?
As to whether e-books were adding incremental growth or cannibalizing print sales, the panelists said it was hard to tell. Schnittman however, said, that you can't measure that kind of thing on a title by title basis, but on a customer by customer basis. Once a reader makes a decision to read on a device, he noted, that customer is basically lost to print.
People have been talking about "the death of the book" for more than a decade. But recent events suggest the end may be imminent for bound-paper books as we have known them for more than 500 years. Hardbound and paperback books may never totally disappear, but they could become scary scarce - like eight-track tapes, typewriters and wooden tennis rackets.
The printed book will not “die” in our lifetimes: there are too many of them already around for that. And I don't even think the ebook will be “the dominant commercial form” (Negroponte's position) in as short a time as five years. But it almost surely will in ten and I'd say that in no more than twenty the person choosing to read a printed book will not be unheard of or unknown, but will definitely qualify as “eccentric.”
The physical book is dead, according to Negroponte. He said he realizes that's going to be hard for a lot of people to accept. But you just have to think about film and music. In the 1980s, the writing was on the wall that physical film was going to die, even though companies like Kodak were in denial. He then asked people to think about their youth with music. It was all physical then. Now everything has changed.
Instead of wishfully hoping that e-books will remain a niche product, publishers now have to realize that e-books are officially a game changer. If an increasing percentage of readers choose to read electronically, it's foolish to thwart e-book sales (which are more profitable due to cost efficiencies) with tactics such as delaying the digital release for months after the hardcover is in stores.
Steinberger: future of publishing, overriding trend is that it lowers the barriers to connecting consumers with book content. Next big challenge is how to turn this technology into sale. From an independent product standpoint the changes coming are very beneficial. At early stages of book pricing. Building a set of analytics to test pricing and responses. Trend is that people are willing to pay for digital content. Good that not locked into some “arbitrary low cost” for ebooks. In 5 years 25% ebooks.
Among the leaders of the book publishing industry gathered recently for the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) annual Making Information Pay Conference, there was general agreement that the book industry’s supply chain is broken when applied to electronic books.
Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea... And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you've got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.
Books are not going anywhere. Neither is publishing. Since Gutenberg made his epic contribution to the human race, publishing has secured a place as one of the largest and most profitable industries in history. In that time, publishing has adapted to major technological changes, survived economic meltdowns, persisted through political censorship, and made it to the other side of catastrophic price wars.
OK, obviously the book industry has its carbon footprint (12.4 million metric tons - 2006 figures) and it would be better for planet earth if this footprint will be reduced, but what else? and even more important - can going green help the industry meet its current and future challenges?? Tough questions, but we're here to figure them out!
Using a memorable and somewhat ominous phrase, Oxford University's Evan Schnittman said the book publishing world is facing a “new world order,” or a trio of giant companies—Amazon, Google and Apple—making plans that will forever change the way we find, buy and read books. Schnittman's comments were made at “The Book on Google: Is the Future of Publishing in the Cloud,” a panel discussion held as part of Publishers Weekly's Think Future discussion series.
At the opening session of the Wharton School 's Future of Publishing conference, held April 30 at the Marriott Marquis in New York , Atria's Judith Curr offered an interesting observation. Despite all the talk in recent years about the “demise of publishing,” Curr said, “everyone wants to get into it.”
The [book] industry's great hope was that the iPad would bring electronic books to the masses—and help make them profitable. E-books are booming. Although they account for only an estimated three to five per cent of the market, their sales increased a hundred and seventy-seven per cent in 2009, and it was projected that they would eventually account for between twenty-five and fifty per cent of all books sold. But publishers were concerned that lower prices would decimate their profits.
Thanks to everyone who came to Intersection: Publishing yesterday. Our fascinating round-table discussion was cut off far too soon: I think we could have gone on for days and only barely covered the issues. It's clear that an open conversation that treated publishers, authors, readers, technologists and lawyers as equals was long overdue. (Missed it? Watch this space.)
There's been a lot of talk about how the iPad is the future of publishing and that's probably true. People point to the various newspaper and magazine apps for the iPad as examples of where the industry is heading. To be sure, a lot of those apps are very strong and I'll be reviewing them here in coming days but to see what publishing is really going to looking like in two years you're going to need some help from Woody and Buzz.
The monthly release of ebook sales figures by the IDPF provides a regular reminder about how fast this market is growing and it always provokes me to project the curve into the future and think about the implications. It was an IDPF data release that triggered the thought that we needed a “Tipping Points” panel at Digital Book World last January which turned out to be one of the highest-rated presentations by the attendees of the conference.
If you care about the future of books, you need to understand the Google Book Settlement. It's a complicated legal document, but we've talked to some of its architects, detractors, and defenders - and break it all down for you. The Google Book Settlement could easily be the twenty-first century's most important shift in how we deal with copyright in the world of publishing.
Like many other parts of the media industry, publishing is being radically reshaped by the growth of the internet. Online retailers are already among the biggest distributors of books. Now e-books threaten to undermine sales of the old-fashioned kind. In response, publishers are trying to shore up their conventional business while preparing for a future in which e-books will represent a much bigger chunk of sales.
With the number of books published each year climbing, traditional distribution channels shrinking and the specter of free digital content looming, the future of the blockbuster is uncertain. Surviving and thriving might well depend less on reaching a wide audience and more on doing really, really well serving your niche. Does the book business need to go vertical to survive?
Kevin Smokler of BookTour.com moderated a very prepared panel of publishing experts: Pablo Defendini from Tor and Tor.com, Debbie Stier from HarperStudio, Matthew Cavner from the book-and-video company Vook, and Kassia Krozser from Booksquare... Smokler kept the discussion focused on concrete examples of progress within the industry and future opportunities that are closer than the audience might realize.
In digitization, Epstein sees both a blessing and a curse. It will be possible for anyone to become a publisher, “and only the ultimate filter—the human inability to read what is unreadable—will remain to winnow what is worth keeping". Publishers will have “imprints” in this digital world, the way they have brand names in bookstores today.
Over the next few years, expect the publishing business to crowd even closer around that 37 percent sales channel. In the process, the six big firms will become four or fewer. That's the development that "publishers are anxiously eyeing on the horizon."
Amazon delivered today a beta version of its free Kindle for BlackBerry e-book app, a quick download that provides access to more than 420,000 books. It marks just the latest example of how the publishing industry is facing seminal changes. Will the end result be the death of quality content?
Veteran literary agent, e-book publisher and industry blogger, Richard Curtis is not known for keeping mum on what is going right or what is wrong in the book publishing. That is why we were grateful to ask him what he foresees as happening to the book publishing industry in the next 10 Years.
It was a year in which publishers continued to spend exorbitant amounts of money on print advertising, in spite of data showing how ineffective such advertising tends to be, but also a year in which some publishers discovered the power of online media to reach niche markets at significantly lower costs. What does this mean for the future? That for every trend there will be a counter trend. And since this is the time of year for Top Ten lists, here's mine:
The Future for Publishing - MIT World, Panel moderator: Geoffrey Long, with Gavin Grant,
Robert Miller and
Bob Stein, April 25, 2009