Innovation is of great importance to book publishers: almost three quarters (77%) of the over 120 respondents to a Europe-wide qualitative survey said they are developing new products and services. However, there are several barriers limiting the ability of publishers to innovate. Access to finance is perceived as the biggest obstacle to innovation (almost half of the respondents indicated that it is as the main barrier), followed by a lack of scale and a lack of infrastructure. Legal issues are viewed as less significant; and a number of respondents pointed to the need for a new mindset that embraces innovation.
These are some of the main results of the qualitative survey, which was conducted among European book publishers by the EU-funded network Technology and Innovation for Smart Publishing (TISP), in cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair. Over 1,000 publishers were contacted; 360 reacted with interest, and 120 publishers from across Europe submitted a detailed response to the questionnaire. The respondents stem from all walks of publishing – educational (36%, multiple answers were possible), academic (33%), STM (12%), trade (both fiction and non-fiction, 65%), children’s books (25%), etc. They include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) (56%) as well as large enterprises (25%) and start-ups (13%).
Figure 1: Main obstacles to innovation
16% of the respondents do not devote any resources to R&D, 18% have a dedicated R&D department. The majority (41%) covers its R&D needs in-house, but without a dedicated R&D department; instead, other departments like sales or business development take on the role. Only 8% rely on external service providers for their R&D needs, and only 6% cooperate with universities or other research institutions.
67% of the respondents claimed that they “envisage getting involved in a collaborative approach, e.g. an R&D project in cooperation with other European companies and research institutions”. All large enterprises responding to the questionnaire said they would be willing to cooperate; they were followed by start-ups and SMEs. The respondents explained their increasing willingness to collaborate with the insight that the global market requires engagement “with others [to…] be able to achieve our goals”. Scale was a key issue for the respondents, who see the need to compete in a market dominated by “a few hugely wealthy corporations on the West Coast of the USA”. Cooperation is seen as a means of sharing risks – of gaining “access to talent not present in the company” and bringing “diverse skills together”. At the same time some of the respondents claimed that the European market, which is divided into small markets defined by linguistic areas, makes international cooperation preferable to local cooperation: “It is better to share knowledge with colleagues who do not aim for the same commercial market”.
The leading response to the question of where the R&D needs were greatest was “digital distribution”. On the basis of a list proposed by TISP experts, the respondents were asked to rate possible R&D areas from 1 (not important) to 6 (very important). The results were as follows:
- digital distribution – average rating: 4.94 (closest to 6 = very important)
- file formats – average rating: 4.88
- interactive content – average rating: 4.78
- multimedia content production – average rating: 4.7
- e-commerce – average rating: 4.66
- market research and market testing – average rating: 4.65
- copyright licensing – average rating: 4.64
- discoverability tools – average rating: 4.55
Finally, respondents were also invited to freely formulate their own comments, in order to elaborate on their responses or add aspects they thought were missing. One respondent said: “We need distribution infrastructures where the terms of doing business together are not dictated by absurdly huge companies. Obviously, this needs alternative distribution structures, where research is needed in order to build equally smart services.” EU-funding was seen by some as a possible instrument to enable access to finance and research, yet there were also reservations, for instance: “One big issue with EU and innovation is, again, scale and speed. If the process to get and use funding is too cumbersome, it won’t work. Innovation means having rapid access to small amounts of money, with reasonable reporting requirements.”
The survey was evaluated by a team composed of iMinds (Belgium/Flanders), the Italian Publishers Association (AIE), Gutenberg University (Germany), the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), Frankfurt Book Fair.