Celebrating 10 years of Hachette India, Arnaud Nourry, sharp and outspoken as always, flatly nailed it in an interview with the Indian Scroll.in: “The ebook is a stupid product.”

Of course he is right. And our dear colleagues of the French publishing trade news site of ActualittĂ© are plain wrong by interpreting the statement as a “missile” against e-books.

As we have already emphasized earlier, no great ideas have been added over the past 10 years, since the introduction of the first Kindle. It is also fairly shortsighted to argue that books are not supposed to have any features aside from profiding a clean page layout and typography, and eventually a nice cover. Oddly, only these simple books, offering a quick read of suspence, or romance, or fantasy, have been turned successfully into electronic reading stuff.  For everything else, again in the words of Nourry, “we as publishers, have not done a great job going digital.”

Indeed. Take the example of travel literature for a growing global tourism industry, as was noted by Philip Jones in The Bookseller. The sector is expanding. But it was not the publishers who brought in the harvest from the extended demand for information, from sightseeing guide, to hotel and restaurant suggestions, and all the many related services. Instead the extra revenue was gobbled up by platforms like TripAdvisor or Google.

The same is true for learning. Several hundreds of million people across many countries on all continents have risen to an at least modest middle class life, which includes higher aspirations for their children’s education. Yet, educational publishing has not re-invented itself to be fit for the new opportunities.

Theoretically, e-books would offer amazing opportunities for any kind of niche publishing, as an e-book can be effectively created on any laptop computer, then distributed over the Internet, and promoted to specialized target audiences via social media all over the planet.

The same applies for small markets, like small linguistic communities or countries. Or the big populations in regions with little purchasing power. E-books can be cheap, as is demonstrated by astounding organizations such as Worldreader.

But honestly, outside of romance fiction, how many such innovative approaches from publishers would you be able to name? Aside from the Canadian author and reading community Wattpad – which, incidentally partners with Hachette.

Countless innovative opportunities are lost by publishers in these, and many similar cases.

I realize that I may be a little unfair to those publishers. Because the technical format, the platforms for creation and distribution, and the technical offerings to read anytime, anywhere, conveniently, on a screen, have not been created by publishers, but by tech companies, from Amazon all the way down to programmers doing a little open source application for organizing e-books, like Calibre. How poor do their improvements over one decade compare to, say, smartphones! And hardly anyone, aside from readers, has cared.

Perhaps this is the core challenge to the publishers today: How can this slide be reversed, so that, once again, book people and innovative minds care again about each other! A big challenge it is.

Leave a comment

Beyond Publishing” is the motto at the Publishers’ Forum on April 26 and 27, 2018 in Berlin. Thinking beyond the traditional tailor-made publishing business stands at the core of the debate. As today’s consumers organize their entertainment and information needs from their smartphones, traditional publishers are facing a whole gamut of interdependent challenges.

The preliminary agenda for Publishers’ Forum is now available online at http://publishersforum.de/agenda-2018/

Here are the 5 most important starting points for the event:

  • Personalization is the key! From this, Klaus Driever derives his strategic thinking, today as a digital thought leader in the Allianz insurance group, and formerly in a similar position in the book trade at Weltbild, and in the media group ProSieben;
  • As the market is fundamentally turning, and the book trade is losing book buyers massively in the direction of social media and other digital offerings, it is time to brazenly analyze this congestion – looking at the big picture, as Felim McGrawth of the Global Web Index does , with comparisons of different markets, such as Germany, the Netherlands, or the UK, and with new looks on print versus digital sales, and on the direct competition with self-published titles.
  • New market conditions call for new business models. The large consumer platforms increasingly rely on direct authoring, subscriptions and premium offers. In detail, this will be explained by Plamen Petrov of Amazon and Hermann Eckel of the Tolino Alliance. But there are also completely different approaches, with cross-media storytelling as in Kaiken Entertainment, or bestsellers based on crowdfunding, as with Unbound.
  • Any publisher going direct-to-consumers, and thereby installing new data-driven processes in the enterprise, is inevitably facing the next wave of technological innovation – artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning.
  • But where exactly are the starting points for the implementation of such digital innovation in the publishing house? How can a strategy be developed and implemented in an existing company organization? This will be discussed by decision makers from all publishing sectors, such as independent C.H. Beck, or corporate houses such as Holtzbrinck or Bonnier, as well as educational publishers like Cornelsen, and leading specialist publishers.

Five relevant “Take Aways“, each of which is already worthwhile participating in the Publishers Forum on April 26 and 27, 2018 in Berlin. A good working atmosphere with the best opportunities for networking and even sharing experiences with colleagues will complete a rich experience at this event.

Registration is open at www.publishers-forum.com , with the attractive early bird rate still available until Friday, February 15, 2018.

Leave a comment

How is the book business doing? Throughout the industry, this is a popular question around this time of the year. Particularly in non-English language markets, I am often puzzled by the creativity in most answers, to avoid controversy, and find a good ending to any story around the thorny issue.

When the Federation of European Publishers, FEP, released their newest report, we learn, for instance, that the decline of the British pound sterling, and not publishers’ performance, must be singled out as a main culprit for what is at least a mixed bag of European publishing developments.

I certainly do not want to blame FEP’s tireless data man for the statement. Over a good decade, he has spent a lot of time and effort, especially behind the scenes, to convince the organization’s members to produce useful numbers where hitherto, we had mostly white noise.

But even by FEP’s own numbers, when put into a more thorough perspective and context, tell a grimmer story indeed. As soon as inflation is factored in, which is certainly an uncontested economic standard practice, the total European publishing market has lost significant value, and continuously so, over the past decade. During the same period, total title output has continued to grow. Therefore, the average print run, and hence publishers’ average income must have taken quite a blow. Such dire conclusions are often omitted, though. (For details, see our “How Big Is Publishing” report at www.bookmap.org )

Total publishing revenue development, versus title output, in all of Europe, plus in Germany and France, 2008 to 2016. FEP data; analysis for “How Big Is Publishing”, www.bookmap.org .

It is correct that the largest – and best documented – markets, like Germany, have resisted relatively well so far. Still, in 2016 and 2017, even Germany has seen a continuous net decline for two consecutive years. No big cataclysm has occurred, at least among publishers. Retail is a different story altogether, in Germany and in most other markets.

What about the weaker markets? Not only crisis hit Spain, or Italy. How about Central and Eastern Europe? Belgium? Even for Austria, we lack concrete figures now for quite some time. We are not given any details here.

I do not put my finger on the vulnerable spots out of some freakish pleasure about the negative trend lines, not at all. But as an industry in full transformation, we better look at the facts, and for doing so, we better get ready to bring the full information into the open.

A few hints, which are familiar tunes to most observers.

Book publishing has, across the board, strongly suffered from the crisis of 2008, and its aftermath. In most non-English markets, these shock waves have not been understood in their entirety.

What used to be a largely coherent market segment, consumer books, has become highly fragmented. The competitive landscape has changed. Self-publishing is a factor. Amazon is not just a key account, but a direct competitor in both food chain, and innovative business models.

Most of all, anyone stuck in an old silo thinking – ‘my niche has not changed, I had a good year!’ – will miss critical insights from what is going on outside of their respective silo. No-one can afford such a limited horizon in their view on the world.

Therefore, data, and maps, are critical.

This said, I need to add a complaint: It’s been a while since I attended my last conference session, or private workshop, with speakers from different data organizations comparing their insights and notes. If I add to this wish list, to also have in the room people who know about other content industries, not just books – I cannot even recall when such a debate has taken place.

So this being a New Year, here is my resolution: Start talking to each and every one, to share numbers, and to not be shy to also include the unpleasant stuff.

Leave a comment