UK Digital Publishers Have Caught up to U.S.

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

I went to the London Book Fair last week expecting to find a vibrant digital publishing market, albeit one a year or so behind that in the U.S.

In speaking with nearly a dozen prominent digital publishing observers, executives and former executives from important publishers large and small, I’ve come to realize that in the UK, digital publishing thinking and, more importantly operations and reader adoption is on par with what’s happening in the U.S.*

One great example is Penguin Random House in the UK recently launched what I see as a direct-to-consumer sales and marketing play, My Indepdendent Bookshop. The company bills it as a discovery platform where readers can build bookshelves and share them with friends, browse, etc. When I asked two of the executives in charge how this was different than Goodreads, they said that it was just another place for readers to share and discover books. Cleverly, My Independent Bookshop also allows readers to purchase books and ebooks and the orders get credited to local bookstores (either as determined by the user or the credit card’s associated address — closest store).

It’s a clever way for a UK publisher with a hell of a lot of market share to use that share to prop up local bookstores while also collecting consumer data — if it works.

At other large publishers, the same kinds of data and consumer insights teams that are being built and put to service here in the U.S. are in full swing in the UK, too. Digital units and personnel were fully integrated into business units, I was told by more than one executive.

Smaller publishers, like my employer F+W Media (which has a large UK business) and Verso Books have been selling books and ebooks directly to consumers with success.

Faber & Faber has built a series of businesses around new digital needs for other publishers, like ebook production and is now nearing 100 employees on the back of this growth.

Perhaps most telling is that in the UK, according to the latest survey by Nielsen, nearly 30% of folks are reading ebooks; the proportion is about the same here in the U.S. And a large part of that is due to publishers digitizing a huge amount of content and getting savvy about how they distribute it and sell it in the marketplace.

When it comes to the way publishers think about digital (a huge and growing part of their businesses, especially for fiction) and what kinds of investments they make, UK publishers are in lockstep with their U.S. counterparts.

* Because of the sensitive nature of many of the conversations, they were mostly off the record or on background. Rather than negotiate with these folks and their public relations partners over the exact verbiage of what they said in my notes, I am only going to mention them by name and quote them when I have already gotten permission.  


One thought on “UK Digital Publishers Have Caught up to U.S.

  1. Anna Jacobs

    It’s not only UK publishers who’re getting up to speed digitally. Quite a few novelists are doing the same with books to which we have the rights back. Out of my 65 novels published, I’ve got rights back to 21 and they’re all epublished, with most of them also CreateSpace published in trade paperback.

    It’s a very interesting new world.

    Anna (in Australia at the moment but returning to UK soon)



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