A week is a long time in politics…..ha, try working in the publishing industry!!

This week saw some amazing moves in the race for survival as the industry teeters on the edge, staring down in to the abyss cleaved into the landscape by the digital revolution.

Some big things have happened and some little things have happened, all caused by the tiny stream of zeros and ones that have come to define our world.

The challenge for any publisher that wants to survive is to embrace the zeros and ones, in whatever form they mould themselves, and to stay true to the purpose of their craft – to ‘publish’: “to prepare [content] for public distribution”.

It is the skill of the publisher in the discovery, collection, collation, preparation and provision of valuable content that is the true possession the zeros and ones need.

It is a skill that is often (and perhaps now more than ever) overlooked and taken for granted by those who would like to pretend that all they need to prosper is a box full of zeros and ones, and it is that skill that is the reason our industry will survive anything a week like this one can throw at us.

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Paradoxically the e-revolution may be the saviour of the boutique bookstore.

Rather than disappearing as eBooks and eRetailing takes over I think this revolution in the life of the book will be the making of the independent boutique store.

It is the chain store that has the most to lose as foot-traffic dries up and the purchase point is driven to the convenience and instant satisfaction of the on-line ‘click’. They are the ones with the huge need for instant turnover of cash and for each square inch of shelf space to pay its way.

As the consumer finds it easier and cheaper to purchase the next blockbuster as either an eBook or as an internet purchase of the physical book (delivered usually free and directly to your warm and cosy home!)the shelf space in that high-profile, high-rent, front-of-mall chain store fails again to earn its keep. Having already forsaken the niche to compete solely on price (not quality or range) the chain store bean-counters slowly but surely move that piece of shelf from books to another product that can turnover a few more cents per inch.

The problem facing their owners today is that what were previously fast and profitable stock turn items are now also migrating to on-line purchases – DVD’s, Games, Electronic goods, Gifts – the chain store built on a solely price based offering has no future.

So what of the on-line book mega-stores? Shatzkin has it right when he postulates that these may go the same route . In a recent posting he speculates their demise also – do I care if I can get 6 million eBooks from one website when I know that 5.995million of them are free, out-of-print classics or obscure self-published dross?

The boutique bookstore and the niche on-line store share the same key ingredients that will ensure their survival – they provide a discreet, identifiable, focussed point of content discovery and with that comes value.

Value to the customer who will find a home amongst the noise that is multi-media retail, value to the author and publisher who know they will find their audience and their audience will find them and value to the owner who can leverage both sides of the purchase equation to  “carve out their niche”.

Of course the owner of such a place has their work cut out for them establishing, maintaining and justifying their value proposition to all users of their store – and of course that owner may not just be from one side of the fence – they may indeed be a publisher operating through verticalisation, but the value in niche is the value of the future.

This digital evolution of the book retail scene is just one part of the unfolding new landscape we will all need to navigate.

Posted by: jaffa12 | July 10, 2010

Authors and Publishers

Lets just put it out there, it’s a statement that is the cause of more debate these days than any other – authors and publishers need each other now more than ever!

The digital revolution has liberated content from dusty shelves and given the consumer the choice of what, how and when they consume.

The two main strands of this revolution have been an explosion of content and a commoditisation of that content driving its price towards ‘free’.

Now debate will go on forever about the good and bad points of these two strands however the fact remains that to continue to have a viable, desirable, believable content creation industry both the creator (author) and the facilitator (publisher) need to work together to uphold value in that content.

As I’ve said before, if it is the eyeballs of consumers that publishers need to extract income from the content they offer then they need that content to be both high quality and, most desirable of all, unique.

And if the creators of content want to receive reliable, sustainable, income for their creation then they need a secure, dominant and expert sales channel.

There is no better model to cope with this changing world than one where authors and publishers combine all of the above to produce unique, valuable,  desirable content for ‘sale’ to the consumer via an easy, reliable, authoritative channel.

So the challenge for both is to find a way to make this happen that continues the current relationship but alters it to reflect the new approach to content.

Of course authors can go direct to the consumer, and of course publishers can create their own content using in-house staff of ‘writers-for-hire’. However both of those options put content squarely in the commodity model, with it being placed in a market of a million choices and one that desires content for free.

Have a look at the battle being waged by Murdoch and others in the news media industry where, now the horse has bolted, they are desperately trying to close down ‘free’ and replace it with an income model. That industry is in risk of dying  (or changing fundamentally and dramatically) if the sole income channel (that of paid for advertising) fails to deliver enough income. The need to establish a pay-for-news model is vital and immediate – but one that is on the edge of impossible, already.

Surely no author, and definitely no publisher, wants that model to take hold in our industry?!

Posted by: jaffa12 | July 3, 2010

E-Ink on its last legs?

Has e-ink done its dash? Useful as it was in the transformation of  reading from pBooks to eBooks I think that its time has been and gone.

Apparently colour e-ink is on the horizon and that may stave off the technology’s demise for a while longer but the true future lies with the HD OELD or 2nd Gen LCD displays surely?

Sure e-ink is easy on the eyes (or is that just a clever PR slogan? I have never found it a problem reading off LCD) but what does it offer the reader? Simply a replacement for the piece of paper they would otherwise be holding – and a very expensive one at that.

To mimic the page is all very well in the transitional period that was the last two years and to make it easy for people to make the leap to an electronic device but now we must throw that away and imagine a better vision for eBooks – not a simple replacement world that substitutes a dumb screen in the place of a dumb piece of paper.

Show a teenager a Kindle and after a few minutes they scoff at the dull screen. They lose patience quickly and permanently with the ‘blackout’ on page turn and the need to press a button for even that to happen, the first question they ask is “what else does it do?”

Show a teenager an iPad (or I would imagine any tablet LCD HD screen device) and they immediately dive in to the world of content – words, images, sounds – and excitement.

No questions, no holding back, no hesitancy, just an unbridled desire to explore, invent, create, watch, listen, read and imagine.

The immediacy of multi-media, the beauty of the HD screen, the ability to lose yourself in the device until the device itself becomes invisible and the content becomes the world. 

That is a true replication of the amazing success of the book in our history – the device itself disappears and the reader is at one with the story.

Watch someone engrossed in all the iPad brings to their content consuming experience and see for yourself the true future for publishers and the true substitute for the physical book.

Posted by: jaffa12 | June 26, 2010

The value of eyeballs

We’ve seen that it will be eyeballs that are vital for publishers to secure in the future to provide the means of value for their content. The publisher’s business model will morph into one where the control and value comes from providing access to your content so the consumer can devour that content in any shape or form they desire.

Have a look at this great thought piece from James McQuivey, analyst for Forrestor Research – http://paidcontent.org/article/419-how-to-get-people-to-pay-for-content/

McQuivey contends that it is the control of the means of access that is the value call for content, not content itself.

Again this is the magazine and newspaper model slightly adjusted – they offer content as a means of gaining income from paid advertising, book publishers have for too long relied on the sale of the content as the income generator – however I believe this is where the change in our industry will occur.

This is a two-sided story for publishers, and therefore a two-sided value proposition. Create solid, desirable, authoritative content and then provide easy and affordable access to it.

Control those two aspects of the publishing chain and you control the income stream that existed for the book object that was once the only access to content people could purchase.

The ”value” of content is the satisfaction of the need that those seeking the content have for it, so it is in fact only the access to that that is the means of gathering income for the publisher. We have for decades believed that the consumer is purchasing the object rather than the content, however they only had one choice so that in fact was no choice.

What the digital revolution has shown is that while the object remains of value to some (those who love the ‘smell’ or ‘feel’ of books), for most (the ‘mass market’) the ways and means of accessing that content is where the purchase decision is made.

As the mass market is flooded with multiple devices and access points the need for publishers to be at the forefront of gathering those eyeballs and channeling them through the publishers own access points will be the key to survival.

Authors (content creators) will be valued just as much as now or even more so – as the content becomes the ‘gold’ behind the pay gates of access.

This is a great challenge to be part of and I’m loving every minute of it!

It allows for major changes to the publishers business model yet at the same time concentrates the role of the publisher in creating and shaping valuable content – the more things change the more they stay the same!

Posted by: jaffa12 | June 17, 2010

Subscription models

Another model for book publishers worth borrowing from the newspaper and magazine world is the subscription model.

This could work with apps or with standard eBooks with minimal tweaking and it ties in very well with the vertcialisation model in my last post.

For apps it is quite easy and is done already, offer a free app and up sell from within or offer a ‘shell’ app – think of the eReader software like Stanza – that allows for paid access to more, and better, content.

You see people experimenting with this already of course – the eBook readers are the best example – but most simply sell the first app and then offer free updates to that, not the smartest way to make money ever invented. The idea there of course is to hook in those eyeballs again and get people wedded to the content and provider.

A better idea is to allow for in-app purchases of extra content be it more recipes, another language version or deals on physical products etc. Expect to see this become the norm over the next few months, especially with the huge demand for top-of-the-line iPad content. People are chasing quality and are willing to pay for it, the publishers challenge is to keep that quality up and not to be seduced by quantity. To allow the commoditisation of content is to allow the trend towards free to become your master!

The other major subscription model we’ll see is around standard eBooks (the ePub world). This is a bit more of a challenge but works well with verticalisation and the need to control eyeballs.

Create the vertical channel and then on and up sell regular access to content, be it a ‘book a week’ or specialised content or access to customised content, to the eyeballs that you have secured.

Our job as content ‘purveyors’ is to make sure the content is available in any form or style that the consumer wants it, to keep those eyeballs on our content we have to match what we have with what people want, that surely is our new, and great, challenge.

I’ll expand on both of these ideas in the next post, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Posted by: jaffa12 | June 14, 2010

What is a ‘publisher’ 2

Good points raised by Matthew in his comments on this one.

I think one of the things we (publishers) are having to confront is how we perceive content and what it can do for us. Do we still value content as an item to ‘sell’ – undoubtedly we do – but do we also now need to consider it as a means to secure eyeballs – ie: become more like other media that wrap income around content not just valuing the content itself as an object to sell.

If verticalisation of content channels from acquisition to sale moves into the control of publishers, as it surely will for the big ones that move quick enough, then it is the eyeballs that count – and securing them by providing them with correct and reliable content is the way things will evolve.

In that world, content itself is valued but more so the eyeballs it will bring to the vertical channels, ie to attract more ‘viewers’ or ‘readers’ in to our space so we can sell them the original content but then also use those eyeballs to allow us to sell advertising or up-sell extra content or sell other related services to the consumer.

I do believe that the future of the web for publishers is to provide channels for like-content to reside and be easily found (and believed, ie the publisher provides the authority of content) by consumers – their eyeballs then become part of the publishers income stream.

If we create say a History vertical channel where anyone interested in that specific history will gravitate to, if it provides reliable, constant, authoritative content, easy to find and navigate and easy to purchase and use, then the ability to add income by also offering like content or services becomes a vitally important income stream.

So if that is a viable future then yes, publishers will become more like the magazine or newspapers that leverage income from advertising off of the journalist content they create.

Posted by: jaffa12 | June 12, 2010

What is a ‘publisher’?

One interesting side effect of the digital evolution (or revolution if you are so inclined) in publishing is the changing definition of the traditional book ‘publisher’.

If I acquire content from an author and then (being a good ‘publisher’ looking to the future multi-purpose use of this content) I organise and create multimedia associated content (audio, video, websites, Facebook pages, twitter accounts, etc, etc) to go along with this am I still a ‘book’ publisher?

What has a newspaper become when it not only reproduces the journalists written word on its website or app or mobile but also adds video and audio interviews to that – isn’t that what television is?

So has the newspaper become a TV channel by default and without even thinking about it? And does that mean it has to have TV crews working for it or at least people who understand TV, documentary creation, visual story-telling, etc?

Will we (book publisher) become a television channel when we add video of a chef creating the recipes to go with the written text? If we ‘broadcast’ or ‘webcast’ or even ‘narrowcast’ those videos as a way of selling our (and our authors) content have we now morphed from book publisher to broadcaster?

I’d like to think this is an inevitable consequence of the digitization of content – and a good one. Surely authors want, and need, to see their ideas, creations and work come to life and engage with as many people as possible? And as a publisher, surely our role is to facilitate just that?!

The implications of that are actually many and far-reaching – we have to be thinking of the creation of associated media with all of our acquisitions. Some will of course suit different media better than others and some perhaps not at all (although I struggle to think which ones wouldn’t benefit from such exposure) but all will need to be considered and tested by the publisher.

Again the question of skill sets available to the publisher comes in to it – we need to move from an understanding of what looks good on a page to what adds value to video, and it will be a steep learning curve that should have already started.

The question of delivery channels also arises yet again – bookshops are to become (well already are actually) just one of a multitude of places you’ll see our content – sometimes you wont even recognise that content when you do see it!

From corporate websites to TV shows, from trade magazines to in-flight entertainment, from supermarket trolleys to cellphone screens, I believe our content has now been ‘liberated’ and the excitement generated by that realization is in itself liberating!

Posted by: jaffa12 | June 11, 2010

More good news

Another good day, interest confirmed by a global developer and several telco’s in another mobile application, this time springing out of some physical book content we have.

It’s interesting that this sort of thing is starting to snowball, small beginnings of course but with the crazy exponential growth we see in this space I can really understand the figures being bandied around (and starting to be confirmed) of 10-20% of a publishers income coming from digital content.

OK maybe not this year, and maybe not in NZ (yet) but it wont be too far away that’s for sure.

The growth in a desire to ingest content in the digital form by the public is being matched by the growth in skills available to make it a reality – not just inside our business locally (and it is now something we have to consciously be aware of the need to develope such skills and maintain them amongst our employees) but also in independent developers popping up every day.

NZ has a wealth of talent in the digital arena and if you have any thoughts of getting in to digital publishing then you don’t need to go global for resourcing or developement, have a look at what local companies are doing, you’ll be amazed at the results they are achieving!

Meanwhile the work continues on apps at a great pace – the very concept of what constitutes a picture book is being tested here, I think you’ll be very happy with the result – even if I do say so myself.

Anyway, it was indeed another good day to be in publishing!

Posted by: jaffa12 | June 9, 2010

Another momentous day in the life of our eBooks, just signed up a couple of huge international actors to do the narration for our two state-of-the-art iPad HD eBook children’s books!

The inclusion of these big names means the ‘cut-through’ I was talking about before is far more likely and we will get two bites at it with the brand-name author and the household-name narrator giving us media angles at both ends – so we get 4 possible interest hits rather than just the story about the book.

And the fact that this is being done from little old NZ is a great good-news story also. The new digital publishing world is truly global and while that brings with it a pile of challenges it also brings an even bigger pile of opportunities that the brave will exploit!

Just remember you have to be brave and imaginative to succeed in this space, oh and a little bit of blind courage comes in handy too!

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