Publishers Talking Innovation, Few New Ideas

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

When it comes to the question of digital innovation, publishers seem keen to do it but short on new ideas for how. At least so they say.

Panelists at the International Digital Publishing Forum at Book Expo America in New York City this morning spoke enthusiastically about innovative approaches to digital publishing, but many of the new ideas expressed are familiar within the book industry.

Lori Benton, vice president and group publisher for Scholastic, pointed out the impact of digital natives on the publishing business. They’re “omnivorous” in their consumption of content, Benton said. Kids may read fewer books, but they’re not necessarily reading less, just “taking in content in smaller chunks.”

That presents publishers with an opportunity to “reinvent storytelling,” according to Benton, but the strategies for doing so — multi-platform publishing, reviving back-list content with multimedia and digital marketing — are well-known to children’s publishers laying the groundwork for the next generation of readers. Benton already spoke in depth about those strategies at a conference earlier this year, and the ideas weren’t new then either.

For Pierre Danet, digital technology officer at Hachette Livre, “the future of publishing is on the Web.” That means discovery, e-commerce, marketing — you name it. Publishers are long accustomed to leveraging the Web for virtually every function in the publishing process — and have been talking about it for years; is the term “cloud computing” really new to anyone these days?

Josh Marwell, president of sales at HarperCollins, emphasized data culled from the Internet in guiding decision-making, a concept so often repeated among publishers that at Digital Book World 2014 his colleague Chantal Restivo-Alessi jokingly compared it to teenage boys boasting about their numerous girlfriends.

Asked what he’d like to see crack the market next, Danet cited “new kinds of ebooks with more functionality, more interactivity.” Danet isn’t alone in holding out for enhanced ebooks to take off, even though others have already left them for dead.

Marwell sounded a note of caution, no less familiar:  “There’s no one-size enhanced ebook that’s going to work.” A yarn from circa 2011.

For now, at least, publishers seem a bit stalled when it comes to figuring out what will — or talking about it on stage, at least.

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