From Publishing Perspectives:
Devised as an annual season-closer, the FutureBook conference is positioned by The Bookseller to focus on the digital context of the publishing business that’s more compact in the UK and, in some ways, more easily sorted than are other markets.
Presumably next year’s FutureBook Live will be seated in a non-European UK—something both emotionally and economically hard to face for many in the business. So it’s understandable that a kind of pause might have been in place at Friday’s event. This was nothing tangible, but it gave the day a gentle tremor, the perfectly logical sense for how much is unknown about what the creative industries of the UK and publishing in particular may encounter after Brexit takes place on March 29.
The Publishers Association’s annual report for 2017 showed British publishing to be dependent on book exports for 60 percent of its revenues. Thus the impact of exiting the EU could mean a lot to this industry’s fortunes. It hasn’t helped that the government’s efforts to put together a plan for Brexit have been so contentious and inconclusive.
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One of the most interesting and maybe telling developments in this market arrived in November 28, too late to be built into the day: the announcements that Penguin Random House and Hachette UK both are looking at placing offices in northern parts of the country—outposts beyond the citadel of London.
For more than a year, various industry players, some of them members of the Northern Fiction Alliance, have been arguing that too much of the industry’s control and activity is centered in London.
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Hachette UK CEO David Shelley, for example, was the most successful speaker of the day to get at Brexit and its darkening mysteries.
In the past, Shelley said, “As trade publishers, I think it’s fair to say that we usually thought of the UK first” in terms of choosing books to publish “and then hoped that the rest of the world would like them.”
But “our mindset today,” he said, “has completely transformed. In trade publishing, as has long been the case in education publishing and academic publishing, I feel that we now see ourselves as global publishers who happen to be domiciled in the UK, publishing books that appeal globally and reach consumers all around the world.
“We no longer think and talk so much about ‘home sales’ and ‘export sales,’ but one global market—which obviously is associated with Brexit, believe me.”
While discussing audiobooks—which, like edtech have their own track of programming at the FutureBook—Shelley talked of how streaming and downloads not only have enabled the distribution revolution that has fueled audio as the one dependable growth sector for years in publishing but also the integrity of the content. The old cassette-tape delivery of audio required almost everything to be abridged, he reminded us, which wasn’t good for publishers, authors, “or readers—I mean listeners.”
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Pan Macmillan’s digital director, Sara Lloyd, asked her panel on new platforms whether the day might come when the print copy of a book would become simply the merchandise accompanying digital sales.
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How comfortable is the industry delivering its content to Shelley’s listeners and Lloyd’s merchandise fans, if the actual act of long-form reading is a casualty in the process?
This is a different question from literacy, per se. The book business is terrific at supporting literacy charities and educational initiatives, scattering free books about for youngsters and adults and climbing onboard for reading campaigns.
But where are the consumer seminars on what it takes to read for hours? Where are the free symposia on the immersive/imaginative advantages to pursuing such an exercise? When do publishers and booksellers tackle the problem of an almost lost art that’s essential to the book world? Most people we’ve asked in publishing have said that they no longer read as much as they once did. And yet the industry keeps selling to a public it seems to believe is still ready for long-haul reading.
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From the States, Sourcebooks’ publisher and CEO Dominique Raccah was on hand in a closing keynote to echo that, talking about “the ways that innovation requires a change in our culture and in our thought patterns.”
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As it turned out, The Bookseller‘s Flatt had asked the key question at the top of the day as she opened the conference: “How on Earth do we make people care about what we do” in publishing—”and keep caring?”
Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives
PG suggests the types of discussions described in the OP would have done a lot more good had they been held in 2008 or 2009, when publishers might have had more room to maneuver and adjust to the impact of Amazon and ebooks.
Instead, in 2009, under Apple’s direction, most US traditional publishers illegally agreed on a price-fixing scheme which, until broken up by the United States Department of Justice, insuring that buying and reading an ebook was one of the more expensive things you could do for a couple of hours with your smartphone or tablet.
Amazon doubled-down on an earlier decision to make it easy for authors to self-publish their books and earn much higher royalty percentages if they priced their ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99. Amazon understood online consumers and price ranges better than anybody else, including Apple and very much including traditional publishers. Based on Amazon’s experience selling ebooks and everything else online, optimum online pricing for intangible goods would generate the most sales and income at lower rather than higher price-points.
Unlike the management of major publishers, Amazon understood that ebooks were nothing more than a well-organized group of electrons. Electrons were and are pretty much free.
Amazon was very good at handling groups of electrons.
Taking money from readers in exchange for sending them a bunch of electrons called an ebook could allow Amazon to earn money without anybody stuffing a product in a box and giving it to UPS. Amazon could earn this money while outsourcing the task of organizing electrons into ebooks to individual authors and publishers.
For Amazon, ebooks were an electrons-in/electrons-out business.
For publishers, electrons were pretty much of a mystery. (English majors, you know).
You couldn’t hold a bunch of electrons. You couldn’t put a collection of electrons you had never read on a bookshelf to impress your friends. You couldn’t print special editions of electrons, bind them with Corinthian leather and sell them at an even higher price.
As far as “How on Earth do we make people care about what we do” in publishing—”and keep caring?” is concerned, as far as most readers are concerned, the manner in which ebooks are created and distributed is near the bottom of their “Things to Care About” list, located below “Is this lettuce too far gone to eat?” and above “Did I remember to set Dancing with the Stars to record?”
Does anybody really care if a book is published by Sourcebooks or Hachette?
If you asked 100 people who published the last book they read, would any of them know? Well, maybe if one of them worked at Barnes & Noble and wasn’t overly distracted by their search for a new job.
As far as what most publishers really “do”, if he assumes “do” implies some value added, PG must admit he’s stumped.