Ahead of last year’s FutureBook Innovation Workshop, we published our ‘ten challenges to innovation in publishing’. Nearly one year on, what are the new challenges to publishers when it comes to digital innovation? Our FutureBook Innovation Workshop in Association with The Literary Platform speakers will be demonstrating how they are currently dealing with some of these challenges – but here are some outline thoughts ahead of the event.
1. We can’t see the full ‘data’ picture
Data Data Data – if there’s one thing that has been drummed into us, it’s been to get a handle on what we can learn from sales and audience data. The problem is that retailers don’t really want us to see their data, and as publishers are cautious about sharing data it makes it almost impossible to see the full picture. Bigger publishers have built up data analysis teams, with Victoria Barnsley citing Eloy Sasot, a data analyst recruited from American Express, as her “secret weapon”. Most have worked out that a Kindle Daily Deal is going to be worth the promotion, but for many smaller publishers getting beyond working out what obvious ebooks sales drivers are is not straight forward. Shrewd publishers are undertaking spot-check qualitative and quantitative research projects to work out what is and isn’t working in the online environment.
2. Digital = Publishing
Compartmentalising the digital department hasn’t been an option for some time. The gentle seeping of digital into every aspect of the book publishing business – even if that means a digital marketing strategy to support the launch of an artist bound edition of a print book – has been superseded by the opening of a floodgate. This has meant the re-evaluation of the marketing, communications and sales floors, and a clash – or worse – a convergence of job roles and a political land-grab at the top tier. On a positive note, it’s meant an influx of fresh blood from other industries. Nick Perrett, who will open this year’s Innovation Workshop, is now group strategy and digital director at HarperCollins – and with a background in entrepreneurship, combined with gaming industry experience – his take on the impact of technology on publishing will be interesting to hear.
3. Walled Gardens Make Readers Claustrophobic
Publishers are tired of the constraints of walled gardens. Actually to clarify this point – consumers are tired of walled gardens. If you buy a book product you want it to work on all your devices. With the rise of Samsung and other android devices, consumers are become increasingly demanding – it’s no longer an iOS vs. Kindle game. If readers upgrade their ‘phone or tablet then why should they have to buy the same book content again? The prospect of going DRM free still makes many publishers feel like lemmings dropping off the edge of a cliff – but Pottermore statistics are heartening – with piracy falling for Harry Potter e-books, indeed some of the most pirated e-books, by 20% to 25%, after it was taken live according to Charlie Redmayne, Pottermore CEO.
4. We’re Not Sure How Much Is To Blame on Global Recession
Double Dip, Triple Dip, what does the term ‘negative interest rates’ even mean? We can’t deny that we’re still in the midst of a massive global recession. This makes it hard to analyse what can be attributed to the impact of technology on book publishing and what should be attributed to the dearth of consumer spending. We know that high street bookshops are suffering but it’s not clear how much is due to the impact of online retailing, and how much is due to recession. Earlier this month Google published a study revealing that 84% of mobile shoppers now use their phones to help with shopping in physical stores. Some governments are stepping in to support the industry – with France muting a levy on smartphones, tablets and all other internet-linked devices ‘to help fund the production of French art, films and music’ in order to protect culture in a digital age, and with Chinese cities such as Shanghai offering 5 million Yuan ($793,800) ‘to support book retailers who find themselves in harsh competition against their online counterparts’ – part of an annual allocation of 15 million Yuan ‘in support of the city’s publication and book marketing infrastructure’.
5. We’re still in Love with Print
It’s a bit like going back to that unsuitable boyfriend even though your friends and family told you quite clearly that there was no future in it: but really we’re all still in love with print. We all laughed when everyone talked about the smell of books, and the feel of books – repeatedly – but actually we haven’t got over it yet and maybe we never will. Limited editions with extended texts, author forewords and special artwork are all coming into play for beautiful books being produced by publishers. The Folio Society is going strong – with a cheeky ad this year with the words ‘Rekindle Your Love of Beautiful Books’ – and with the announcement of a new £40k Folio Prize, quality publishing and a unique distribution methodology is working for some. In arranging our delegate goody bags for this year’s Workshop, the thing we’ve been most excited about is the set of lovely new, beautifully designed (print) Do Books for the bags. Nuff said.
6. We Need To Understand Alternative Distribution Channels
One of the projects we’re most interested to hear about at this year’s Workshop is the 39 Steps project from The Story Mechanics and Faber. Carefully positioned not quite as an app, not quite as a game, not quite as an ebook its creators have been able to assure its distribution on a wide range of channels – not just iOS. This is a game changer when looking at the possibilities for digital ‘book’ distribution. If distributing on games channels most developers are aiming at over 100k +, while book app developers have on the whole accepted that over 10k is a good result. Understanding how to position book content for other channels is an important task.
7. The Audience Wants to Interact – and what does this mean for IP?
A number of projects being showcased next week demonstrate a hunger from audiences to interact. Hot Key’s Story Adventure has had over 2,000 children answering questions and offering creativity to help shape a story created by Fleur Hitchcock. There are a number of projects where audiences are interacting with and contributing to stories – Neil Gaiman’s project with Blackberry is one example. Audience interaction is interesting, but what happens when a Hollywood film director wants to buy the story. Who owns crowd-sourced literary projects (not crowd-sourced funded) – but actually crowd-sourced content – and how will this audience interaction affect the art and craft of writing.
8. We’re Increasingly Enticed and then Freaked Out by Technology
Julian McCrea from Portal Entertainment will be showcasing The Craftsman at our Workshop next week – a five-day thriller for iPad and smartphone, written by an international bestselling writer launching soon. He will also talk about ThrillMe, a content discovery service using Portal’s technology, that allows audiences to find horror, thriller, mystery and suspense films based on how thrilled they are, using their facial expressions. Currently in public beta, the thought of a machine being able to sense not just how we feel, but then concurrently use this sentiment to inform our decision making still scares the sh*t out of most of us. It’s at this point that a nice cup of tea leafing through a beautiful Folio edition (see Point 5) seems to make most sense.
9. Brands See Value in Writers, While Publishers Can’t Always Monetize Content
This is a weird dichotomy. Brands such as Microsoft Internet Explorer are using great writers on projects such as Brandon Generator to promote brand extension – in the case being showcased next week: Edgar Wright and Tommy Lee Edwards (LBi). Another recent example is Blackberry working with Neil Gaiman for the Calendar of Tales to help launch its Blackberry Flow product (AMV BBDO). Yet – for publishers monetizing content from writers is still complex. What will be the impact of big name advertising brands seeing the value of bringing ‘traditional’ writers into the fold (that is to say, not traditional advertising copywriters), while traditional publishers grapple with online retailers and pricing?
10. We Like Post-Digital Projects – but are they commercially viable?
In our final session next week we have a trio of projects demonstrating just how interesting things get in the post-digital era. Digital writer Tim Wright will be showing us The Haunter – a haunted box and physical companion on West Country walks that recites Hardy poetry depending on where you are located; The Library of Lost Books, is a talking, gesture-responsive book, created by BAFTA winning Alyson Felding along with collaborators Dave Addey and Mo Ramezanpoor; and Turning the Page considers what would happen if your well-thumbed, outdated guidebook could talk – a project which looks at how books act as repositories of treasures and triggers of memories from Stand + Stare. This is awesome and imaginative stuff that we can’t wait to hear more about next week. Sometimes it’s hard to see how projects like this will transform into commercial products – but as the artist Ghislaine Boddington pointed out at a recent NESTA symposium, when the researcher Steve Mann was prototyping ‘wearable computing’ few believed it would make the mainstream – yet augmented reality headgear is now here with Google glasses. This is exactly what the Workshop is about – a bit of what is happening now, and a bit of crystal ball gazing. We hope to see you there.
Join us – and others – for this year’s FutureBook Innovation Workshop 2013 in Association with The Literary Platform. You can still book for this year’s workshop here – www.eventsforce.net/FIW13 – (but last few tickets remaining!).
Event Date: 30th May 2013, 1pm – 5:30pm
Venue: LBi, 146 Brick Lane, London E2
Tickets: £129 – booking essential: www.eventsforce.net/FIW13