It’s no secret that the publishing landscape has been practically re-invented in the last few years, particularly with the rise of ebooks. So we talked to Vearsa’s CEO, Gareth Cuddy, about his view of the current digital marketplace, what the future may hold, and what publishers should be doing to prepare themselves for what’s to come.
Given your position as the CEO of a digital company in the publishing world, what do you see as the biggest challenge for publishers today?
I think the biggest challenge for publishers, as it is for any industry, is to make the best use of the resources they have at their disposal. The real challenge is to try and figure out how to deal with this new, data-rich world that’s full of many possibilities, but also many pitfalls. And that’s true of both print and digital. Publishers’ key strengths have always been finding and helping to hone great stories and authors. Things like SEO and mobile discovery are not traditional areas of expertise.
So in your opinion, what can publishers do to address these challenges and keep up with this ever-changing marketplace?
Fundamentally, I believe great content will win out, no matter what format it’s delivered in or what the wider market does. Like many other industries, including music and film, publishers should focus on the creative and outsource both the mundane and complex tasks around delivery and market trends.
This gives them the ability to respond quickly to changes in the market while not impacting their internal resources or requiring them to consistently learn new skills. That’s why companies like Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins and Pottermore—to name a few—use Vearsa and companies like it rather than trying to manage complex tasks in house.
Can you give some examples of how Vearsa is helping publishers deal with this complex market?
A good example is a new product we launched in 2015 called Tracker. It monitors over 7 million titles every day on all major retail channels in six countries. It’s useful to our customers for two reasons: first, it allows them to make sure their titles are available in the best possible condition for sale: right price, right cover, metadata, etc. Publishers often don’t realize when midlist and backlist titles are not available for sale at the major online retailers. Astonishingly, some of the publishers we’ve tracked for have had over 20 percent of their titles missing. That’s a lot of lost revenue.
And secondly, additional Tracker data allows publishers to understand what’s happening in the market in terms of bestsellers, pricing and market trends. It’s allowed many of our customers to revise their pricing base on real market feedback. These types of critical insights—both availability and competitor activity—are almost impossible to obtain without the expertise of a partner.
What do you see as the next game-changer for digital publishing?
Nobody knows, and certainly not I! What I am sure of, though, is that as new channels, formats and consumption habits emerge, the market is only going to get more complex. So on a very basic level, making sure you are set up internally to be as flexible as possible is crucial—everything from asset storage to metadata to market-specific pricing are all important safeguards to further changes.
As the ebook market continues to grow at a moderate pace (and it is growing), publishers will have the time to look at other ways of monetizing content. Flexibility is key here—both in terms of best practices, as mentioned before, but also for being open-minded to new and increasingly obtuse opportunities. Some publishers I speak to are seeing significant revenue from unusual licensing opportunities, like video games, EFL and non-book merchandise.
Lastly, all of these opportunities come with what I like to call a “data tax”—every new channel and opportunity brings more data on partners, markets and consumers that can be difficult to deal with and interpret. Being able to manage that data and understand what to look for is key. And investing a little now will go a long way to ensuring you can take advantage of all these possibilities and insights in the future.
Gareth Cuddy will be presenting a case study at DBW titled “Big Data: Everything You Want to Do But Don’t Know How.”
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