Electronic publishing analyst Thad McIlroy recently released the study 11 Topmost Digital Book Publishing Trends & Opportunities commissioned by Digital Book World, providing an analysis of the current trends and making some key predictions on the opportunities for publishers in order to keep pace with technological innovation and changing business rules.
McIlroy moves from three cycles of disruption that affected the publishing industry in the last three decades: in the 80’s desktop publishing decreased the production costs, lowering the entry barriers in the market and opening to the very first self-publishers; in the mid-90’s, the spread of the Internet and the World Wide Web started changing the way products were being promoted and sold, allowing for the increasing growth of Amazon as new player; finally, in 2007, the launch of the first Amazon Kindle marked the birth of the massive e-book trade, still evolving and struggling with traditional publishing business models.
Talking about disruption, the first of the eleven topics highlighted in the white paper suggests that the content industry is ripe for innovation, and the book sector is no exception; but as long as publishers will stick to the existing business rules without taking some risks, it will be hard to gain a competitive advantage on the other players. In this context, start-ups are looked at as creative sources of innovation as far as technology and revenue model.
In the meanwhile, e-books are opening up new and greater audiences: despite of a “hybrid print and digital world”, publishers should take the occasion to reach as much audience as possible through e-books sales, that will grow as far as volume and value.
Although “there are still more questions than answers”, among the valuable topics to be taken into account, the maximization of IT infrastructures particularly for data analytics is probably one of the most challenging. In fact, there is no doubt that Big Data and data analytics will play a key role in the (re)definition of the business strategy, by improving the sentiment analysis and social media marketing, and complementing editorial titles selection with data retrieved from the communication channels. Thanks to the use of natural language processing technologies and services like Next Big Book, just to mention one, publishers can benefit from the semantic analysis of customers’ feedback that can help adjust the editorial plan and get the real business value of each publication.
Among the technical skills needed to improve the business, the ability to adapt each publication to the available devices on the market is crucial to meet the target: since customers use a large variety of mobile platforms and reading software (Amazon, Apple, Kobo; e-readers, tablets, smart phones etc.), publishers should optimize their contents regardless the delivery system.
Moving to the topic of educational ecosystem we see a complex scenario where many factors interact: from the need to respond to institutional guidelines, to a slower digitization of publishing process with respect to other sectors, to the search for the best balance between high quality products and affordable prices for students, “the opportunities in the EdTech market”, argues McIlroy, “are proportionate to the level of risk”.
Broadening the scope to the readership, it is worth reminding the importance of building a strong readers’ community: if on one hand the use of the Internet and the social platforms facilitates discussion among fans as well as autonomous initiatives like the fanfiction, on the other hand publishers should reinforce the dialogue with readers through communities, fan fiction groups, social media, book review and recommendation systems (like Goodreads) in order to reach their customers, understand what exactly they expect from the publishing offer and finally engage them.
The last point concerns the critical issue of partnership and cooperation within the industry. Authors, publishers, suppliers, retailers, providers etc. should behave as partners in the supply chain management, not as independent players of the commercial process: following the example of IDPF and EDItEUR, there is room for several communities of interest to share knowledge and develop common services that all the value chain can benefit from, going beyond the traditional logic of market competitors.
The concise and complete overview by McIlroy is a good starting point to reflect and plan new strategies to approach the changing rules of the book business: hints for possible developments and other topics exploring some promising opportunities for the future of publishing are detailed in the full paper, presented at the Digital Book World 2015 conference and available here.