Posted on July 25, 2013 in Archive

What industry events reveal about publishers and digital


Even though readers have readily embraced digital books, publishers and digital industry itself has been slower on the uptake and is one of the last to undergo the notorious digital revolution.Booksellers and publishers alike are tied to the past; preferring ink stains on their thumbs than entire libraries at their fingertips.

And as with any industrial transformation, there’s more than one side to the story.

A lot of readers are frustrated by the number of publishers who won’t accept and experiment with digital technologies.

This article on Wired provides an insight into the disappointment felt by a digital book fan when she attended this year’s Book Expo America (BEA) and noticed a distinct lack of publishers offering digital services.

She describes how, over the two days of the expo, she only came across four publishers providing digital options, such as a website with a downloadable code or PDF.

Instead her arms were weighed down with print books.

Photo of someone comparing print and digital books

Publishers continue to weigh up their print and digital options

On the other side of the same coin are the publishers, whose reluctance stems not only from their attachment to physical books, but an uncertainty of digital publishing’s capabilities.

According to Michael Cader, of Cader publishing, the following questions encapsulate the confusion felt by people in the publishing world:

1. Where to publish new books?

Publishers are unsure about whether or not all new books should be published in both print and digital formats, or whether they should start publishing digital editions only.

There is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on the type of book being published, and the target audience for each publication.

At the moment there is a big cry for more digital titles; however, the number of print readers is still very high.

So this just leads to another question: what do our customers want?

2. What to do about backlists?

Something else publishers are asking themselves is if should they digitise their entire back catalogue, or only convert more recent publications.

In this situation they need to weigh up the cost of conversion with reader interest.

Considering the lack of digital books currently available – especially out-of-print books that readers can’t even find in bookstores – I can imagine that for some publishers there would be enough customer demand to warrant digitising their entire backlist.

3. How much to charge?

One particularly tricky question faced by publishers is one of price.

A lot of them are unsure whether they should charge a common price for digital and print editions; or whether they should they charge more for digitally enhanced, rare, or out-of-print e-books.

Either way, they also need to work around the fact that digital readers expect to pay less for a digital copy than a print copy.

4. When to distribute digital?

Finally, publishers aren’t certain about when they should publish digital copies.

Usually the digital copy of a book is ready before the print version, but publishers don’t know if they should distribute it immediately, or publish both at the same time.

A possible solution to the first two issues is market research. Publishers need to research the industry, the technology, their competitors, their audience, and most importantly, what their customers want.

The reason they’re having trouble with this task is that they’ve never needed to do such thorough market research before.

Nor have they needed to implement the type of marketing strategies that would potentially solve the second two issues.

Publishers are unfamiliar with these processes, because in the past they’ve always been rather insulated from the public.

As such, there are currently very few small and medium publishers with the digital expertise required to smoothly manage the transition to digital.

This is where startups come in.

Groups of forward-thinking individuals with experience in web development, marketing, editing, writing, and publishing, all collaborating to take the chances on digital that established publishers have been avoiding.

They understand the book business and they speak the crucial digital language.

These skills, combined with innovative tools and business models put publishing startups in a good position to lead the way in transforming the publishing landscape.

Bigger publishers will realise that these startups are home to some very talented people – people with the very skills they need to conquer the beast that is digital publishing.

And so they will start to follow in the footsteps of startups, buying them out along the way.