At Frankfurt Book Fair: 'Surprise' support for subscriptions

Image provided by Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 | Photo by Bernd Hartung
Image provided by Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 | Photo by Bernd Hartung

As my Bookseller colleague Philip Jones is writing for us today in Turn up the volume, Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 provided, if nothing else, a look at digital now under sail in early, calm waters.

He writes, “The one common factor is that we have have all become participants rather than watchers. The being dazzled bit looks to have gone. It will be replaced by hard work, and real difficult stuff, and not all of this will play out in a public space.”

Our common engagement in working through the disruption — dealing with the dynamic, not denying it — may be one reason that BuchMesse might have felt “quiet” at times.

As participants, per Jones, everyone now is heads down. Into the wind. The shouting is over, the work is difficult and frequently not nearly as entertaining as arguing about it was.

If anything, this makes the position and pith of our FutureBook Conference on 14th November all the more pivotal, I agree with Jones on this — and I hope you’ll consider joining us.

We’re looking for the flash points on a widening landscape. Best prices close this Friday at 5 p.m. BST / noon ET.

In Frankfurt, subscriptions quickly arrived as one of the signal areas in which we could discern a new readiness to cope, not complain.

Publishers Weekly’s Andrew Albanese captured a couple of the more interesting remarks, for example, from HarperCollins’ CEO Brian Collins in his Business Club interview at Frankfurt.

The session was ably fielded by our good colleague Rüdiger Wischenbart. And it revealed something that some of us in the room might not have expected to hear: an early vote of approval in the “legacy” regime for subscriptions.

Albanese wrote up the session after serving as one of the reporters who put questions to Murray. As he has it:

Murray said he’s been “very happy” with the early returns from the subscription services, and that he plans to expand those ventures. “What we’ve seen in the digital realm is that every time you have a new partner, a new digital partner and a new digital offer, you’re creating new merchandising opportunities. So, while maybe there are fewer tables at the front of bookstore chains for marketing and promotion, when you introduce a brand new e-tailer or a different e-model, or distribution partner, you are picking up new ways to market your books. And subscription has turned out to be a model that is very successful in really merchandising and mining the backlist in the catalog. And that’s been a surprise to us, and how much churn there is in that deep catalog.”

There are two points to be teased from that section of Albanese’s report.

  • First, although HarperCollins is widely seen by many as the Big Five house likeliest to innovate these days, it apparently has impressed even Murray that the company’s prodigious backlist holdings might be as valuable in digital sales potential as they are.
  • Second, look how positive Murray was about subscription.

Jones had flagged subscriptions, himself, in Cruise control, his “literary autobahn” column on a seemingly unflappable Frankfurt this year: “The chatter,” he wrote, “has been focused on territoriality, author care, direct-to-consumer, and subscriptions.”

Granted, there were a few typically darker characterizations of Amazon’s Fair-opening confirmation of its Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription rollout in Germany, among them Agence France-Presse’s:

Amazon threw a shadow over Germany’s book industry on the inaugural day of the Frankfurt Book Fair Tuesday by announcing the launch of a monthly flat-rate offer for unlimited access to e-book titles.

But my Bookseller associate Sarah Shaffi caught the more positive glint in the Europa Room with Murray, as did Albanese. In Murray: surprising success for subscription services, she wrote:

Among the successes have been HarperCollins’ deals with subscription services Scribd and Oyster. The Scribd partnership began in the US but was expanded to the UK this summer. Murray said: “We have been very happy with the results of the subscription services, so we’ve expanded the number of titles and we’ve expanded geographically.”

Shaffi also picked up on what she pointed out may have been a glance over Murray’s shoulder at the Amazonian KU effort:

In what some in the audience saw as a reference to the recently launched Kindle Unlimited subscription service from Amazon, Murray added: “Generally, we represent all of our authors and their business interests and we tend not to do business deals that would devalue the royalty and the value of their work.”

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

The FutureBook: At Frankfurt Book Fair: ‘Surprise’ support for subscriptions

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