My friends at Kingston University, where I am a member of the Publishers’ Advisory Board (Publishing MA) have very kindly splashed me on their blog, following yesterday’s rhetorical burst the the Tools of Change Conference here at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Looks like a technical, commercial and marketing triumph for Amazon with the multiple launch of new Kindle devices. If you are even vaguely interested in the topics this blog discusses, you will already have read fifty different pieces on the Kindles. I don’t have a bright new point of view to add, but I’d recommend you read this longform piece from Bloomberg on Amazon’s history, and where they go next.
I’ve been locked away with cold compresses clamped to my head, crystal ball gazing and writing lectures. The first was delivered yesterday to fifty bright, informed and open-minded MA Publishing students at Kingston University, and I’ve now got to distil its themes into a much shorter address for EDItEUR/Tools of Change at Frankfurt in (gulp) about ten days’ time, where I imagine the audience will be a little older and more battle-worn.
Here’s how I did my best to rally the young publishers and creative writers at Kingston:
- You’re young, you’re setting out on careers in one of Britain’s most exciting and economically successful sectors. We export more books than anyone else in the world; our per capita book consumption remains high, and we have more world-class authors per head of population than any other country.
- Consumers are more open to new ideas than ever before. There are more ways to say you like something, more ways to express a preference, more ways to get your voice heard, than ever before.
- There are plenty of tools available to you – you just don’t know which tools are going to be dominant in ten years time.
- Publishing needs a few 35 year-old CEOs. Become one of them.
- The state of the world economy is parlous. Old sources of income will dry up, and businesses will have to be restructured and repurposed to survive. This includes publishing houses. You need to find the thing you’re good at – as an individual and as a business – and evolve it, but stick with it – content is more important than format. The past may be a foreign country, but the future is another planet.
FOR THE FUTURE:
- Don’t let “books” get lost in the welter of different online applications. Support eReaders/eInk. Tread carefully around the supposed holy grail of amalgamating the eReader and tablet – the seduction of colour, movement and noise.
- Don’t let the tech providers get over-mighty. A dynamic market requires multiple players.
- Work together with other publishers to impose common eBook/pubvloishing standards. Don’t have them imposed upon you.
- Assume that most narrative content will go “e” in the course of the next couple of years in English-speaking markets. Other languages/cultures will take longer.
- Impose pricing sanity on the eBook market. Physical books have a nominal, understood value, based on their physical existence. eBooks start at “free”.
- Hire more young staff, who have grown up in an e-enabled world. Purge those who can only think in terms of physical books. You need to understand not how to rep books into bookshops, but how to develop consumer properties in digital media.
- In an eBook world, the traditional bookshop is dead. Find alternative sales channels for the books that you publish.
- The discounting of physical books has done enormous damage; and many eBooks have insanely low prices. Many eBooks also deliver insanely low quality too.
- In the digital world, the non-narrative book is a threatened species. Define the service that you as a publisher are going to provide. Your future revenues will be wholly or partly online, as travel guide publishers and the like already recognise. Be prepared for this.
- Don’t turn your back on the physical book. Create collectible books. License more content to specialist binders and printers, and give them the opportunity to do wonderful things with your book. And sell every physical book with a download thrown in free.
- The customer doesn’t eat, sleep and breath books like you do. They have other things to worry about. You will have to fight for their attention, so you need to ensure they still value what books give us.
- And finally, don’t lose what’s special about books – the ideas, the knowledge and the power that they ultimately confer on us all.