For the past few years, the publishing industry has spent a long time gazing into an abyss of ever lower pricing and THE DEATH OF THE PRINTED BOOK. Doom and gloom abounded, and even when growth could be seen, there was tentativeness towards proclaiming the green shoots. However, in 2013, something altered. It seemed that across the industry publishers looked around, realised they hadn’t toppled sideways into oblivion, and began a new chapter. For me, 2013 was characterised by a new optimism within the industry, excitement surrounding new technology and business models and a real enthusiasm to steer publishing into new territory. It’s my feeling that 2014 will be defined by that new energy, when the industry begins to see the first real outcomes of their refreshed attitude.
1. Big data goes large
It might seem that publishers have been peddling the Big Data story for a while now – but the simple fact is that big data is only getting bigger, especially as publishers take a more keen interest in direct to consumer activity and try to gain useful insights into consumer behaviour in the process. 2014 may well be the year when publishers tackle big data head on, and start to make the figures work for them. Perhaps the question is where will all this data come from?
By embracing big data for what it is – a strategic asset - and really getting down to business with the nitty gritty, publishers will have new access to information on everything from sales to search terms. In 2014 there is likely to be a lot of back office work at publishing houses to really get their system in necessary order. In order to manage data effectively it must be successfully visualised and made into a consumable, usable format. The impact of this in 2014 will rely upon how far publishers are willing to embrace the system – but the analysis of real time data and continuous feedback could see the development and implementation of new pricing models, and even the capability to tie purchases and purchase prices into promotions or to reviews.
Received wisdom suggests that the big publishers will fly the flag for this kind of data analysis and use, as the necessary system management, staffing and infrastructure required to manage this scale of project is undeniably large. There is still a chance however that a creative start up, breaking away from the traditional model and very probably the brain child of a non-publishing whizz kid, may devise a new model through which data can be effectively exploited – after all, with smaller stock and product ranges, the incoming information will be relatively smaller.
2. Chop, change and repackage
One trend certain to take hold in 2014 will be the prevalence of short form content. As short story prizes and authors hit the headlines in 2013, and journalistic content is ever more frequently placed behind paywalls, publishers will be keen to capitalise on the trend and look into the options surrounding shorter works.
It’s not just the new appreciation for short form literature that will push publishers into looking at repackaging content into smaller chunks. Thinking about the way we consume content now: dipping in and out across platforms and formats, means that consumers will be more inclined to purchase content if they can have it on their terms – a chapter here, an article there. In many ways, publishers will revert back to earlier incarnations of themselves– serialising works, chapter by chapter, like many Victorian novels, and reinventing the pamphlet for shorter non-fiction work. These allow consumers much greater control over what and how they read. Technology can now refine these methods and monetise them successfully for a digital audience; in 2014 the shortcomings of e-tailing (having to purchase a whole book without browsing or dipping into it like consumers can do in bookshops) will become less apparent as providing sample chapters, or purchasing a book in sections, rather like music can now be purchased by track or album, will give consumers what they want.
Moreover, 2013 has seen somewhat stagnated eBook sales and in 2014, in addition to the repackaging of content, we will also see bundling on the increase. Purchases of a hardback might provide a free eBook version, or a front list title might be accompanied by a discounted backlist title. Combined with offers like receiving the first eBook chapter for free, these kinds of initiatives should see the reboot of the eBook market
3. Format first
Another trend we will see gain credence in 2014 is the proliferation of mobile and tablet first publishing – another means of bolstering the flattened eBook market.
By making content exclusively available on mobile and in ebook format, more heavy book buyers will make the step across the digital divide. For this to succeed, publishers will need to ensure the highest quality reading experiences across different devices, something which becomes ever more workable as the technology for eBooks advances. I think we will also see more responsive publishing because, as turnaround times are so much speedier for eBooks, publishers producing digital content can respond with speed to consumer trends or crazes – maximising profitability.
Publishers should also embrace ‘agile’ publishing, a buzz word we saw gain in dominance throughout 2013 – producing apps that work across a range of devices to a make content more discoverable. It’s what consumers want, and it is the best way for the relationship between publisher and reader to grow, something which needs to happen for the longevity of the industry. Whether this is on the cards for next year though, I’m not so sure – the overwhelming majority of publishers still see apps as expensive outlays which fail to deliver a return on investment.
4. Start-ups look sharp
Start-ups have long been heralded as a much needed kick for the publishing industry: a surge of fresh thinking and new energy. In truth, start-ups have always gravitated towards the publishing industry, and those that have been in the right place at the right time have always succeeded. In 2014 what will come to the fore is an altered relationship between publishers and start-ups where publishers take on a more nurturing, developmental role towards start-ups – something we are already seeing from publishers like Penguin and Pan Macmillan, who already take on a big sibling role to smaller initiatives, reaping the rewards in the longer term.
There has been a lot of talk about a ‘Netflix’ or ‘Spotify’ for publishing. The hunt has been on for a subscription model that will reorder the publishing universe, and the hot money has always been on a start-up to produce this concept. But my feeling is that this won’t stop the world from turning in 2014 – if it was going to work, really, why would Amazon, who already offer subscription based surfaces in the form of LoveFilm and Audible, not have created it already? The entrepreneurs will have to go back to the drawing board.
5. Nothing like a bit of healthy competition
The last trend I think we will see in the publishing industry over the next twelve months is the return of competition.
As things start looking up, as publishers start to pull their socks up and get stuck into the challenges they face the stakes are getting higher. As the industry becomes more exciting, there is more to play for…and when there is more to play for – there is more to lose.
For example, Kobo and Nook haven’t been the out and out successes they were predicted to become, so there’s clearly room in the market for some smart new thinking. As publishers begin to re-appropriate backlist titles more fully, re-use and split content and the opportunity of a supportive, ongoing relationship becomes a possibility, for start-ups there is much more up for grabs.
All in all, the industry is in a good place. It’s thinking new, fast and clever. This is the year when publishers will put into place the systems, methods and models that will define the next decade of readers, and I believe there is a good chance it will define the people who will lead that charge. The real question is then, who will step up, who will steam ahead, and who will be left behind….