The (Real) Future of Publishing

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

The (Real) Future of PublishingMy seven-year-old is a voracious reader. Long gone are the days when I had to read something to him or hope that he missed the inappropriate language spray-painted on a street sign. Now I’m in the process of teaching him that not everything he reads is true or completely accurate. And the same can be said about much of what is written on the future of publishing.

Everything being said about the state of publishing is (relatively) true—but not everything that is true is being said, as there are data points and trends being left out of the broad discussion. I’d agree that ebook growth has slowed down for many of the major houses, and that it now accounts for 20-25 percent of their revenues. I’d also agree that the future of publishing is a world in which both print and digital live together, benefitting from each another and helping to drive overall sales.

If we are painting the landscape with a broad brush, there are some significant shifts that have gotten mysteriously little attention. A few worth noting include:

• The U.K’s biggest publisher, Penguin Random House, is closing its largest distribution center and is citing the reason as “an increase in the people reading ebooks.” In the last sentence of the article, it states that print sales were down 5 percent while ebook sales were up 11 percent.
• According to the New York Times, Ron Boire, the new CEO of Barnes & Noble, is leading a push to rebrand the company as a “lifestyle brand,” which includes removing more print books and expanding its offerings in games, toys and other gadgets. Sales are down 4.5 percent for the same quarter year-over-year, and the Barnes & Noble stock is down 20 percent. The company plans to close an additional 10 stores next year.
• Wal-Mart has announced that it is committing $2 billion to expanding its digital footprint in 2016. The company is exploring new digital channels and opportunities in an effort to innovate at a speed similar to Amazon’s. This will most certainly affect all forms of media, including physical books and ebooks.
• In 2015, readers borrowed more than 169 million ebooks from libraries, a 24-percent increase over 2014. This is a record number and a significant increase.

The research house Gartner has done significant work in this area, calling the slowed perceived growth we are experiencing in ebooks part of the normal hype cycle of any media—the “trough of disillusionment.”

Hype Cycle

When a new technology gets talked up and fails to fundamentally change everything in a short amount of time, the conversation turns negative. But that doesn’t mean change is over. It is the pause in the action, the short breath of time where most traditional firms tout their belief that disruption is over, only to soon find out that real change has just begun. What we are experiencing rather is just the break between the waves. And the next wave could forever change publishing.

Markus Dohle, the CEO of Penguin Random House, recently said that “tech firms are a huge opportunity for publishers, they provide us with the opportunity to reach even more readers, and the book consumer base is growing by 25 million people a year, and so we need each other, and the relationship between tech firms and publishers should not be confrontational but collaborative.”

His words were wise, with both a splash of optimism and warning. Publishers and authors who are only reading the headlines and examining the next fiscal quarter will miss the signs. But those who carefully examine the changing landscape have a distinct opportunity to prepare for a very different publishing world.

Don’t be disillusioned. There was nothing wrong with email, public transportation or cameras, but they were all flipped upside down by Facebook, Uber and iPhones. Digital will change publishing. In fact, it already has.


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9 thoughts on “The (Real) Future of Publishing

  1. Bob Mayer

    Interesting. I was beginning to wonder how many other people were looking beyond the headlines at actual facts. I’ve been hearing eBook sales have ‘flattened'; print is ‘back’. Etc. Etc. Yet, the reality is otherwise. More and more authors are moving away from traditional publishers and becoming indie or hybrid and their sales are simply being discounted by most. I;m not saying whether that is a good thing or a bad thing– it is simply reality. Too much energy is being put into a ‘war’ that simply doesn’t exist. It’s a business. The landscape changes. To pretend publishing is exempt from the digital world, or that it’s been ‘weathered’ and now business as usual, is ignoring reality.

    Reply
  2. Palessa

    So Walmart is looking to expand its digital footprint by going the “Amazon” route… Amazon has been doing the book thing for 20+ years. THey run over 80% of the digital market, which, kinda scares me but it is the reality of now. I’d be interested to see how they do the book part. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for sure.
    Thanks for the informative article

    Reply
  3. Bill Gleason

    Jason – great post. One other interesting point is that publishers keep referring to ebook revenue declining, and make no mention of # of titles sold. Don’t have to be Aristotle to figure out why. If it’s number of titles sold – the double digit increases in ebook usage continues. Taken in tandem with the crazy prices publishers are setting for first-run titles and of course ebook revenue is off. I am a case in point. I gladly ponied up the $ 19 – $ 20 cost of a print book for a new David Baldacci, Patterson, etc. (the list is extensive). But $ 14.99? No. I think that $ 9.99 (or even up to 11.99) is fair, but the impost for first run ebooks must be modest. Otherwise, wait for the paperpack price. For the record, these same enlightened publishers charge THE SAME PRICE for the ebook OR the paperback. Absolutely ridiculous. They have fallen back to the gates of Rome and are still talking about their glorious victory over ebooks…

    Reply
  4. Kate Thomas

    Ereaders and tablets have a ways to go before they become more natural reading tools, so it’s no surprise many still prefer print. I agree the data about this is being misinterpreted, though, and kinks will be worked out. I’m not sure how well print will survive in the decades to come, however. Print could just as easily go the way of vinyl records (quaint niche market) or landline telephones (fade into nonexistence). Some technologies don’t work well alongside old ones. Some older technologies and their producers don’t survive at all.

    I’m not a huge fan of print; it’s been years since I’ve bought something in print for myself. So, I look forward to better ereading and digital publishing solutions. But as the landscape changes, I’m nervous for writers and publishers, too, and can understand why some are working to prevent certain changes, or at least slow the inevitable. Complain about overpriced ebooks, restrictions, and industry quirks all you want (and rightly so), but the \traditional\ model has nurtured and protected writers just as frequently as it’s frustrated them. What’s coming, whether from the old giants or not, may not be nearly so nurturing and protective. Just ask the musicians getting five-cent \royalty checks\ from Spotify if digital solutions are universally beneficial for creatives.

    We may have too many Luddites among us, deluding themselves and trying to delude others, but I suspect we’ve got too many optimists, as well.

    Reply
  5. Laura Browning

    Wal-Mart’s entry into the digital age strikes me as a better late than never. The retailer has long supplied a selection of books in a variety of genres. In fact, in some smaller towns they are the closest thing to a bookstore around. Their name recognition and history of discounting prices may provide Amazon additional competition. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    Reply
  6. Subbareddy

    Everything being said about the state of publishing is (relatively) true—but not everything that is true is being said, as there are data points and trends being left out of the broad discussion. I’d agree that ebook growth has slowed down for many of the major houses, and that it now accounts for 20-25 percent of their revenues.

    If we are painting the landscape with a broad brush, there are some significant shifts that have gotten mysteriously little attention. A few worth noting include:

    • The U.K’s biggest publisher, Penguin Random House, is closing its largest distribution center and is citing the reason as “an increase in the people reading ebooks.” In the last sentence of the article, it states that print sales were down 5 percent while ebook sales were up 11 percent.
    • According to the New York Times, Ron Boire, the new CEO of Barnes & Noble, is leading a push to rebrand the company as a “lifestyle brand,” which includes removing more print books and expanding its offerings in games, toys and other gadgets. Sales are down 4.5 percent for the same quarter year-over-year, and the Barnes & Noble stock is down 20 percent. The company plans to close an additional 10 stores next year.
    • Wal-Mart has announced that it is committing $2 billion to expanding its digital footprint in 2016. The company is exploring new digital channels and opportunities in an effort to innovate at a speed similar to Amazon’s. This will most certainly affect all forms of media, including physical books and ebooks.
    • In 2015, readers borrowed more than 169 million ebooks from libraries, a 24-percent increase over 2014. This is a record number and a significant increase.

    Reply

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