2015: The Year of Being Brave

Image - iStockphoto: TPopova
Image – iStockphoto: TPopova

Tis the season to make predictions, and so we asked digital luminaries from both sides of the pond for their 50 words about digital publishing in 2015.

Here, by way of introduction is my own prediction and analysis about what may pass next year:

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

In 2014 the digital book business enjoyed a somewhat puzzling year. We now know that the ebook market has settled (for now), and we know now that many of the digital experiments conducted in the years before failed to find a commercial model. What we are left with is a fickle ebook market allied to a print book market only slowly recovering. Hence as Sara Lloyd notes in her outlook, we must look to a more diverse base of business models and different content models for real growth.

There will therefore be a re-emphasis on content creation, particularly content that plays well across a number of different channels, and there will be continuing focus on keeping what channels are already open, open, while always developing new routes to the consumer.

I think we will also see a refinement in the types of things publishers, and others, do (and think they want to do). From Black Crown to Paperight, the story was the same in 2014: “I still believe in that idea, but I’m sad that we couldn’t make it viable at scale.”

We saw this reckoning manifest in the people over the year: some such as Henry Volans at Faber moved up; others such as Nathan Hull moved out (from Penguin to Mofibo) to seek new opportunities.

We are often told to fail, then fail again better, and though I admire this Beckettian dramaturgy, in 2015 I expect the sector to get more right, than it gets wrong — or at least back projects that have a longer term play — and then stay with them. As Sophie Rochester says in her piece, one of the interesting thing to watch in 2015 is whether we will see a deceleration of digital R&D from publishers projects. My sense is that what she says may be a “deceleration”, will actually be publishers asking tougher questions before they start on these things, and then only setting out when there is a clear commercial pathway. Such projects will be harder to launch — but more seaworthy once they embark.

This is good news. The book business emerges strong and well-formed from the first dazzling shift in digital, but now needs to get more serious about how it operates in this new world. I suspect that some of the moves we’ve seen in 2014, particularly around brands, subscription, and website development, will emerge more fully formed in 2015. As Dave Morris puts it in his comment about content, “The pieces are all there.”

The same is also true across the business: publishers can now publish in a range of forms and formats, they can do so while operating a number of different business models, and can now meet their audiences in an array of different places: but they need to do this strategically and with purpose. We will therefore see greater differentiation in publishing and content creation, a recognition that there genuinely are different markets for distinct types of book—none of them devaluing of the others.

What has most troubled me in 2014 was this sense that of a market becoming complacent. Or as the agent Piers Blofeld puts it, become predictable again. But I don’t think the book market does boring anymore — in the past decade we have witnessed the collapse of one major book chain, Borders, and the near collapse of others; the loss of one major distributor; the invention of the iPad, and Kindle devices; the reinvention of self-publishing; and the rise and rise of social media platforms that put readers and authors together in one space — it therefore seems unlikely that this seismic change won’t continue.

In 2015, in the UK sees two majors publishers moving home—HarperCollins from west to east London, and Hachette from north/central London to the river-side—and we cannot underestimate how this may change both businesses. We will also see much later in the year, the realisation of Amazon’s new central London headquarters. More widely, there is also perhaps a first hint that Amazon is just beginning to puff a little harder, as the original start-up finds this pace of continuing disruption taking its toil, and with analysts beginning to ask serious financial questions of it, and its founder Jeff Bezos, it may be forced to relent a little. Even a hint of this will give succour to its competitors, and I do expect serious rivals to emerge in the book space, and that could come from Scribd, Wattpad, FaceBook, Apple or perhaps even Penguin Random House.

Finally, what really interests me in 2015 is the reader. Earlier this year, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride reminded us that the “reader is fearless and must not be underestimated”. The reader has adapted particularly well to this new environment, showing that they are not put off by different forms, or formats, and are willing adopters of new business models, that they happily use alongside the old ones. As a sector it can often appear that we look to ourselves rather than to the end-user when we think about content creation, or the wider services we put alongside these pieces of work. In 2014 the reader was not well served by the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, while at the end of the year the hullabaloo that followed publication of Zoella’s ghost-written Girl Online showed that the reader has a different kind of role in this new world.

In 2015, we should look to this reader more, they are active participants in this sector: they are the real change-agents.

And now, we’re pleased to have the quick insights of a strong gathering of observers whose input we’ve requested. Thanks to each of you for  responding so thoughtfully.

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By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

The FutureBook: 2015: The Year Of Being Brave

Read the full post at: TheBookseller.com/futurebook


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