In many ways, 2014 was a challenging year for publishers, but it wasn’t without its upsides, either.
The Amazon-Hachette dispute stoked mistrust about the biggest publishers’ relationship with their top distribution partner, but it resolved with Hachette regaining the right to set its own ebook prices, much as Simon & Schuster had done the month before. Both publishers professed their satisfaction with the terms they reached with Amazon, but when Macmillan became the third Big Five publisher to conclude a new contract with the e-tailer, the company’s CEO sounded a note of undisguised displeasure with the current retail landscape.
The past year brought with it a number of changes in ebook distribution. Experimentation continues apace in the world of subscription ebooks. The rise of Amazon’s own Kindle Unlimited, which launched this year, is drawing new criticism from authors about the model, which some see as a symptom of a market flooded by many more titles than readers to consume them.
And while ebook growth appears to have stalled, the worldwide boom in mobile is opening up opportunities for reaching new audiences. So far, younger readers don’t seem poised to mature into the voracious ebook consumers many digital publishers still hope they will become. The adult trade market saw few runaway hits in the U.S. last year, and much of the industry’s growth rode on the shoulders of a small handful of best-selling children’s and young adult titles.
In the short-term, those realities could be troubling for publishers. Forecasting the year ahead in ebooks, one observer recently wagered that it’s a “dull new world” we’re entering. From a different point of view, though, the book world is experiencing a welcome period of stability after the digital transition, with a number of emerging trends that simply have yet to bear fruit.
However you choose to look at it, the dimensions of the current market leave ample room for publishers to retool and re-strategize for the next phase of innovation and growth to come. And the Digital Book World Conference + Expo next week is the ideal venue for doing just that. Here are four reasons why:
1. It’s pretty rare to get Apple, Amazon and the major publishers in the same room. The Amazon-Hachette dispute was a bitter, protracted, highly public standoff. Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have each regained the agency ebook pricing model. But opinion is divided as to whether and to what extent that represents a victory for publishers, to say nothing of the impact on authors. Apple, in the meantime, is working to continue growing iBooks to compete with Amazon for ebook customers. The heads of both businesses will be at Digital Book World 2015. Needless to say, there will be plenty to discuss. And that’s not to mention the host of other thought leaders, writers, experts and executives headlining this year’s conference.
2. You’ll need to reach readers more effectively. Few publishers or authors need to be reminded of that, but the challenges associated with doing so are multiplying. Some call it “glut,” others call it “discoverability challenges,” but no one in the digital ecosystem is exempt from the mounting difficulties of connecting readers to what they want to read. Digital Book World 2015 offers a marketing track with panels and presentations on direct-to-consumer marketing and verticalization, workshops on mobile tactics and metadata and sessions devoted to data-based methods of finding a customer base and fortifying those relationships.
3. Technology is changing at a rapid clip. Creating content that renders properly on the growing slate of platforms consumers use to access it is no small challenge. The operational issues publishers have to surmount when it comes to workflows and distribution require top-level leadership as well as company-wide expertise. Next week’s conference has resources for both: a digital technology training track offering skills-based workshops on Adobe’s ebook production toolset, WordPress, social media and SEO tips, multimedia content creation and more; plus bigger-picture insights on HTML5, ebook production and design and new approaches to children’s and educational content.
4. The world is wide and getting wider. Or smaller, if you prefer. The point is that digital distribution makes reaching readers all around the globe a much more viable proposition than ever before. And for publishers tasked with finding new sources of revenue, doing so is an increasingly attractive opportunity. Digital Book World 2015 is dedicating a track to global publishing strategies, with leaders in the field offering practical insights on breaking into foreign markets, scaling global production and distribution, leveraging the worldwide spread of subscription services and international pricing strategies.