Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
The Digital Book World Conference + Expo, kicking off on January 13, 2015 is packed with an incredible amount of information and ideas about the digital publishing landscape at a time of remarkable transformations. To help attendees make the most out of those three days, Digital Book World is sitting down with conference speakers to help lay the groundwork for conversations that will take place at the conference and continue for many weeks and months afterward.
What do you think has been the most newsworthy event in the past year around publishing and digital change?
There was a lot of big news. The Amazon-Hachette dispute was certainly the most debated. Subscription services were another hot topic, as was the acquisition of Harlequin by HarperCollins.
But to me the most noteworthy event was the launch of the Fire Phone. As e-commerce is turning into ‘m-commerce,’ it’s clear that e-commerce leaders need to have compelling mobile strategies. Only Amazon could possibly deem it feasible to launch its own smartphone, seven years after the launch of the first iPhone. We should take for granted they were prepared for the flop (though perhaps not such a big one), and therefore we should not see it as a total failure. Amazon is gaining valuable experience and will not make the same mistakes twice. Be ready for a second attempt within the next twelve to eighteen months. M-commerce is bound to stay; just wait for the Moore’s Law to kick in and see what happens to the prices of smartphones in two to four years.
What are you anticipating as the big change we will see in 2015?
Consolidation and international expansion will be two key drivers of change. Penguin Random House, after its post-merger consolidation, should hopefully be able to gather some significant synergies and perhaps pursue a tighter integration. HarperCollins now has direct access to many non-English speaking countries thanks to the acquisition of Harlequin. An important source of digital growth will be constituted by international markets, as the U.S. market is maturing. There will be plenty of opportunities for internationally oriented publishers, distributors, service platforms, e-tailers and service providers.
What is the most important thing publishers need to accomplish in 2015?
The same thing as every year: stay relevant and healthy in a rapidly evolving environment. Publishers must do whatever it takes –including reinventing themselves, hiring outsiders, investing in new media– to be the best players at serving authors and readers by putting them in touch as much and as deep as possible. Books (in any format) are just one of the very many touch-points between authors and readers. Just waiting for the end of the digital tsunami is wishful thinking. It cannot be stopped; it can only be surfed on.
Will Amazon’s ebook market share grow in 2015, or will this be the year that Apple, Kobo, Google and Nook (or someone else) push them back?
It pretty much depends on the country. In U.S. and UK, Amazon’s leadership can’t be challenged in the short term. However, its market share is so great that growing more quickly than the market is a hard thing for Amazon, too. I would expect small adjustments in its market share, save for unforeseeable events, of course.
Elsewhere, though, Amazon is not always the market leader. One reason is because Amazon is present in only a relatively small number of countries compared with those where Apple, Google and Kobo are already established. Another reason is that Amazon sometimes faces strong local competition. The most evident case is in the biggest country of the European Union , Germany, where the local ebook-only player, Tolino, has recently taken the lead with an astonishing 45% market share of ebook sales in the third quarter of 2014.
In Germany as well as in other key EU countries like France and Italy, the battle for market share is all but won, making it not trivial for Amazon to turn the tables. For competitors, Tolino’s success case should be carefully analyzed and possibly replicated in other countries. That’s happening now with Messaggerie Italiane, which has just imported Tolino’s open ecosystem into Italy.
Are there any companies (start-up or otherwise) now flying below the radar that you think may break out in 2015?
Amazon itself is full of internal start-ups and experiments. As CEO Jeff Bezos says, the company invests billions of dollars in failures (and not just in the book business, of course). I would not be surprised if the next big thing is Amazon disrupting parts of itself. The age of business-as-usual is over. Change is the only constant. The most successful players will be those who prove best at continuously changing the business over and over.
Marcello Vena is the Founder and Managing Partner of All Brain. He’ll be speaking on a panel at Digital Book World 2015 called “Global Market Spotlight: Reports from Markets around the World,” exploring the latest trends in the world’s most rapidly evolving ebook markets and opportunities for publishers to take advantage of the publishing industry’s increasingly global nature.