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A year in digital publishing

It’s nearly a year since the first FutureBook conference in London. To mark the year we ask those working in the digital publishing industry about the best bits of the last twelve months and their predictions for 2011!

Dan Franklin, Digital Editor, Canongate

I have been digital editor at Canongate since March last year and it’s great to have established a digital team in the company, put it in colleagues’ minds and see it really take off this year sales-wise.

I think next year on an industry level, and with the imminent arrival of Google Books, we need to try and achieve standards in pricing and ebook production to deliver readers/users what they want from digital books (or whatever you like to call the new experiences opening up).

Most importantly I hope that in the coming year we don’t get hysterical about the challenges of this necessarily turbulent stage or lose that all-important sense of adventure that is the source of innovative publishing.

On a personal note I am looking forward to the opportunities and challenges in moving to Random House and having a massive list to play with!

Robin Harvie, Commissioning Editor, 4th Estate

Pricing of eBooks and apps has been the biggest shift for us in the last 12 months. Although the majority of our eBooks are priced at parity with the HB but on the Friday Project list we have experimented with different pricing models and have shown that almost every time the price has been dropped significantly (to £2.99, for example), sales have shot up. One of HarperCollins’s biggest sellers – both in terms of units and revenue – is an unknown book called Confessions of a GP priced at £2.99. As I write it is currently outselling Keef, Fry, Chris Evans – and is No. 1 on the iBook charts.

More abstractly, there has been a significant mind shift amongst editors, who now understand the digital publishing or publishing across multiple platforms is something that they need to work with their authors to deliver material on and that digital publishing is not an extension of marketing or branding.

Challenges for the next 12 months?  A) Showing that Enhanced eBooks are not the emperor’s new clothes and creating a market for them that does not undermine existing HB sales by 1) adding real value to the eBook that people actually want and will pay more for and 2) getting Apple and Amazon to promote the enhancements accordingly. B) Convince literary sections of the mainstream press that they need to have dedicated review pages for book-related apps and enhanced ebooks so that the digital products get exposure to traditional book buyers and not just technology fans, or existing kindle/iPad converts.

Michael Bhaskar, Digital Publishing Manager, Profile Books

In the next twelve months the relationship between book content, online content, marketing materials, ad campaigns and experimentation will continue to break down, seeing the development of a new style of work that exists somewhere between them all.

This is material that is at once integral to a book, central to the story or idea, but also apart from it, working as something to draw readers in. This isn’t just an abstract idea of transmedia or the like, but a hard headed marketing calculation in an environment where attention is at a premium.

Kate Wilson, Director, Nosy Crow

As a children’s publisher, much the most important development of the last year has been the launch of the iPad. It’s a family entertainment platform to a degree that no-one expected. The way that parents are using touchscreen mobile devices to entertain children on the move is another interesting development.

As a smaller publisher, I am interested to see that we have not been blown out the water by brilliant digital products from the big corporate publishers. I am sure that they all have plans, but it’s clear to me that being agile and responsive is important in this rapidly-evolving market, and that therefore to be a smaller publisher – and, indeed, to be someone without a publishing background at all – may have advantages.

In the next year, we hope and expect to see the continued growth of touchscreen mobile device and tablet sales, and the release of more apps – including our own – that offer really engaging and new interactive reading experiences.

Neal Hoskins, Winged Chariot

Delighted and proud of what we learnt and did in our digital publishing in 2010. We kept focussed on our core values and scratched the surface on some new ones. We have been surprised by new overseas markets and are excited about new a new journey we will take in schools along with some of the great collaborative partnerships we have set up.

We feel very strongly that 2011 will be the year we make a significant contribution to the future of learning to read.

Alex Spears, Digital Marketing Executive, Constable & Robinson

2010 has seen wide recognition throughout the industry that the e-book market is viable – recent sales of Kindle e-books at Constable & Robinson make for very interesting reading, and we are looking closely at the key issues of format and pricing. 2011 will be an incredibly exciting year, with publishers no longer just dipping their toes into the water, but actively putting digital to the forefront of their publishing – we are close to beginning development on our very first app, and as an independent publisher we are looking forward to going toe-to-toe with bigger publishers in terms of creativity and innovation. As ever, the challenge will be translating traditional publishing models to these new markets, and using social media for increased  engagement will be crucial.

Dean Johnson, Creative Director, Brandwidth

I love it when a plan comes together! We hit the ground running this year having been working towards the launch of the iPad since October 2009. Our first iPad app, ‘Guinness World Records: At your fingertips’ spent over 30 weeks in the UK top 10 and lead to more than 300,000 downloads. Watch this space for part 2…

The first three months of 2011 couldn’t be more exciting. An update to our self-published ‘Headspin: Storybook’ kicks off the new year, followed by more than 20 apps for forward-thinking publishers happy to let us loose on their extraordinary content. They will open up the digital world to a whole new readership whilst sidestepping the eBook debate and its lack of flexibility.

That gets us to April when we’ll see what iPad2 has in store, however any tablet’s strength still lies in its content – after all, a printed book is just paper without words or pictures.

Peter Collingridge, co-founder Enhanced Editions and Apt Studio

Looking back over the biggest stories in 2010:

–  A Message from Macmillan : John Sargeant / Macmillan / Agency / Amazon / Apple

Madeleine McIntosh moving back from Amazon to RHUSA. (And RH still not being on agency.)

Apple entering the game with iPad and changing it all (to agency) but failing to deliver on the user experience of Amazon

– Amazon’s recovery from the iPad (which could have been “peak Amazon”): huge % share of reading on the iPad, the Wylie coup, Kindle generally, but especially in the USA. They’re killing it.

– The “where the hell is Google Editions” question

Obviously I think the Wylie/Odyssey launch was definitely among the best digital projects of the year. Certainly one of the most talked about – and for us, fun.

What’s coming next:

– The struggle for Kindle to impact as much here as in the USA

– The closing of the gap between how much digital is talked about and what it contributes to the bottom line

– Digital is still yet to break out into a mainstream consideration in the houses in advance of the huge growth in the next 18 months

– The battle for customers in an agency world where pricing is not an option (hopefully this will mean innovation from Amazon, Google, Apple)

– The point where (in the US) digital reaches a tipping point that impacts on the physical supply chain, which will then suffer from losing economies of scale. Closing bookshops, increased price of print, further shredding of margins. Ugly.

– How on earth indy bookshops survive that digital tipping point

In among all of this stuff I think recommendation, discoverability, and the need to integrate digital activity is really important. We know consumers love our apps, but getting them to know about them is the biggest problem.

Finally, at Enhanced Editions we’re going to be making a whole load of new products with some really forward looking partners, and frankly can’t wait for 2011 to begin.

Padmini Ray Murray, Lecturer, Publishing Studies, Stirling Centre of Publishing and Communication, University of Stirling / R&D at The Electric Bookshop

One of the exciting developments over the last year for me has been the move of games console makers such as Nintendo into the digital reading market—a venture that I think holds great implications for transforming the reading experience. I think we’re going to see an increased blurring of the boundaries between gameplay and reading as a consequence; books have always been immersive, but these added layers of interactivity will attract new audiences, such as the traditionally ‘problem’ consumer sector: young male readers. However, I’m not only talking about spinoff games based on literary source material like the DS’ Divine Comedy here, nor apps like Walker Books’ innovative More Bloody Horowitz—what I’d really like to see in 2011 is publishers creating transmedia products from their content whose functionality and feel will bring in readers who have never played a video game. Such readers would be lured in by the promise of narrative being exploited in interesting ways, and making use of technologies like augmented reality to enhance the reading experience. Of course, all content is not suited to such treatments, and 2011 might be the year we see publishers soliciting authors (and games developers!) for a list exclusively dedicated to content that is well suited to this sort of publishing approach. One wonders if and when Google Editions delivers on its promise how they might approach this sector of the market.

As someone who teaches fledgling publishers, I’m also interested to see how increased digital diversification will change the portfolio of skills and salary expectations of people going into the industry (after the dust around the agency model settles, which might not be anytime soon!) These shifts are definitely a stimulus towards entrepreneurship, and I’m hoping that we’ll see a lot of new smaller publishers establishing themselves, without the burden of undigitised backlists and working with the new order more nimbly than the Goliaths in the field.

Finally, 2011 will see a rise in cheaper e-readers and I’m hoping for increased multilingual functionality to accelerate one of the welcome trends in publishing this year—the rise of works in translation.

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