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Anticipating Change in the Myopic Publishing Industry

29 December 2014

From Book Business:

In 2006 the ebook marketplace mostly consisted of PDF files. There were a few other formats but none showed any signs of broad consumer adoption. The industry seemed to be growing weary of anticipating the ebook explosion that was always “just around the corner”.

I remember working at a large book publisher in those days. One of my former colleagues was very outspoken, noting that books aren’t like music (which had already made the shift from physical to digital), there’s no device that makes a digital version more interesting than a print version, consumers like holding and reading a print book, etc.

Then, in late 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle and everything changed.

Let’s fast-forward a few years for the second example… In 2011 I was co-chair of the Tools of Change publishing industry conference. One of the messages we communicated to attendees was the need for them to diversify their channel strategy and focus on the one channel they totally control: direct-to-consumer. Our pleas were met with rolling eyes, yawns, and responses like this one from a very high-level executive at one of the Big Six: “We don’t need to create a direct channel…that’s why we have retail partners like Amazon, for example.”

. . . .

For my third and final example, let’s look back to 2013, when some were suggesting a “Netflix for books” model would emerge. Most scoffed at the idea, suggesting books aren’t like movies and an all-you-can-read option would never take hold.

Earlier this year we saw the launch of Oyster Books, featuring that all-you-can-read model. Some publishers opted to experiment while consumers (like me) flocked to the service. Even Amazon has copied the model with their Kindle Unlimited program.

. . . .

Ebook revenues have plateaued for many book publishers. Some believe the market has reached equilibrium and that a roughly 75/25 split between print and digital is the future.

These publishers are quite comfortable living in the “print under glass” world, where they drive incremental revenue from digital editions that are identical to the print editions. They don’t like it that consumers expect to pay less for the digital edition (vs. the print edition price), but they’re growing comfortable with the model. Many of them briefly experimented with native apps and enriched ebooks; for the most part, their expenses exceeded revenue on these failed projects.

This is largely why these publishers have an allergic reaction when someone mentions the phrases “enriched ebook” or “enhanced ebook”.

Link to the rest at Book Business

Big Publishing, Ebook Subscriptions, Enhanced Ebooks

14 Comments to “Anticipating Change in the Myopic Publishing Industry”

  1. All you have to do is look at textbook price inflation which makes healthcare inflation look tame to see why enhanced books have low interest.

  2. Who exactly is being served by “enriched ebooks”, exactly? If I wanted a soundtrack I’d buy an audiobook. If I wanted interactivity I’d buy a video game. And if I wanted visuals I’d buy a movie. Until they invent the tech to play a book in my head, using my imagination for all of the sensory stimuli, I can’t see the point in high at they’re attempting.

    • I already have had a version of “enriched” books for years. I like to read with my laptop nearby, and if they mention a city or street, I like to look it up and see it. If they mention a song, I go to youtube to hear the group/song. If they mention a type of cake or cookie, I look it up. So, really, I’m already reading interactively…with two items the print or ebook plus the laptop. On my Kindle Fire, I can just search for what’s in the book.

      If they do interactive right…I’d love it.

      • If they do interactive right…I’d love it.

        But how many authors have the time, skills, and money to do interactive right, or for that matter, at all? Publishers certainly aren’t going to be paying extra for it, so that will be yet another job heaped on the shoulders of the writer.

      • Because I have heard author’s say that print rights to many songs are prohibitive, I hate to think what performance rights would cost.

        Sometimes I like when books are set in areas I am familiar with, other times I’m amused when the author gets it wrong. I’m pretty sure that the author who set a food factory in Nitro, WV didn’t know that Nitro at that time was famous for a truly horrid chemical smell that wasn’t abated until years later. (Actually I heard years back that someone had created a candle fragrance for those who were nostalgic for the old Nitro smell.)

    • Who exactly is being served by “enriched ebooks”, exactly?

      I think medical students use enhanced textbooks. There was a med student on a different forum who said all his books were on an iPad.

      Current eReader technology doesn’t work too well with books containing lots of charts, tables, and graphs. I expect these books will jump to electronic, but they will do it when the electronic demonstrates it is superior to paper.

      Superior means stuff like interactive graphs. Just change the variables to see a different perspective on the graph. That’s something that would be very useful, but paper can’t do it.

      The Marine Corps has a book with a paired set of goggles. Tap a section of the eBook on changing an oil filter on a specific truck, and the goggles project an image that fits right on top of the real engine.

      The guy lines up the goggle image with the engine right under him, and sees a wrench appear and turn the proper bolt. He puts his wrench in the same spot and turns the same way. They have experimented and found lots of maintenance can be done by untrained people using the book and goggles.

  3. Non-fiction ebooks can benefit from rich media content and interactivity. It’s not a small market.

    For narrative text and non-fiction TTS and synchronized audio books is probably all the enhancement needed.

    • I’d love it. When I did training with a Pilates instructor for 5 years (before the budget said no), I’d read books with static pics. Then I’d go online to see the movement–done properly, smoothly, on the equipment. Static doesn’t compare for some things.

      If they are teaching music concepts, instead of just notes, the actual snippet for an example (or various.)

      If there’s a poetry book, maybe hear ee cummings or dylan thomas or whomever read it aloud in their own cadence with their own emphasis.

      I remember when I first wanted to learn to cook and a cookbook might say braise: I had no idea what that was. A link or video showing what braising looks like and how it’s done: perfect.

      • One of the most popular aplications for Kinect-equipped XBOXes is exercise workouts and yoga instructors. (There’s also dancing games and exercise apps.)
        Having a computer that can see you and show you how to do it properly right before you is very popular. And cheaper than human instructors. Less embarrasing, too. 🙂

    • Yes, non-fiction and how-to manuals seem like naturals for enhanced ebooks.

      When I needed to know the details for how to shoe a horse (one of my scenes in a soon-to-be-released title takes place in a smithy, while a horse is being shod), I went to youtube and watched six videos (while taking notes, plus re-watching to get specific details).

      I did read a step-by-step how-to (googled), and it was good for learning the terminology and tool names. A googled diagram of horse parts was also useful. But I needed to watch the actual process done by different people several times to really understand.

      • There is an enormous untapped market for industrial ereaders just waiting for plastic substrate ruggedized displays. Mechanics and facilities maintenance personnel would all benefit. Some places have been using tablets for this since the turn of the century but they’re pricey and even the ruggedized models are too fragile.

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