WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF BOOK PUBLISHING?

The publishing industry is well documented for the dramatic changes it has gone through over the past decade or so. There have been disputes about whether the digitalisation of reading, such as e-books, are causing the decline of book sales, or whether multi-media devices are actually propelling book publishing into a new, digitally superior space. In a sector where 99% of debut novels sell less than three hundred copies, the question hangs: What is the future of book publishing?

Over an early breakfast in rainy London, EntrepreneurCountry Global were joined by Richard Mason, novelist and founder Orson & Co, the next generation multimedia e-Book publisher, Claire Postans, Creative Director of Jamie Oliver Group, Jamie’s media empire; Susan Jurevics, CEO Pottermore, JK Rowling’s online wizard world; Andreas Campomar, Publishing Director at Little Brown Book Group, the global publishing company; Paul Balogh, founder and CEO of Read Forward and Learn Forward, the digital educational publisher, and Simon Trewin, Partner at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, the global talent agency. In between coffee and croissants; an impassioned discussion about the business of book publishing took place, regarding past and future innovation, the likelihood of disruption, and whether physical books are in danger of succumbing to a digitalised world.

Richard Mason, co-founder of Orson and Co, has developed the next generation of eBooks, with eLumes, an ‘eLuminated’ manuscript that uses multimedia such as audio, video and images to ‘reveal windows into the world of the story’. The most creative and sensual addition to electronic storytelling so far, Richard is excited about digital publishing and firmly believes that ‘digital devices make lots of things possible’. He recalls when eBooks were first emerging and says that he saw ‘a lot of fear in the industry’, some of which still exists today. He was inspired to launch the eLume following the arrival of the iPad, which he credits for being ‘a technology that enabled him to tell stories’. Talking about digital developments in books, Simon Trewin believes success depends on ‘what people want out of the book and whether they want to be taken along by the author or drive the process themselves’. Simon also added, ‘digital hasn’t eaten into the market in the way that people thought it might’ – perhaps due to a rise and subsequent fall in eBook sales – and thinks that print books will never disappear because they are ‘the cultural fabric of the West’.

EntrepreneurCountry Global Ecosystem Economics ® framework believes that companies who organise the business model – leveraging digital technology and consumer data – for their ecosystem will win. Because of the network-orientation of business and life today, nothing in business is linear anymore; there is a multi-stakeholder network at the core of every business model and the book publishing industry is no exception to this – it is still finding ways to digitally transform.

Claire Postans from the Jamie Oliver Group mentioned that they have fully embraced all forms of digital publishing (having launched a number of successful websites and branded YouTube channels), but when it comes to Jamie Oliver branded books (of which they have now sold over 37 million books), they have yet to fully embrace the eBook format. Susan Jurevics said that Pottermore has a very positive relationship with Amazon, Kindle and other eBook subscription businesses, as it allows their content to be read as widely as possible, and it also serves as a means to target heavy readers who read digitally. She describes a ‘very unusual situation’ where digital readers actually love and cherish their old physical books for sentimental reasons.

WILL NON-FICTION FLOURISH?

We then turned our focus to the non-fiction sector which also is seeing itself digitally transform. Academic publisher Paul Balogh is enthusiastic about innovation in the non-fiction market, saying that a digital change ‘simply means the book has lost its body’. Wikipedia was the first segment to become digitalised, followed by dictionaries, and then travel guides. Paul foresees cookbooks as the next non-fiction segment to digitally transform thanks to a growing wealth of cookery apps and the convenience of recipes being a click away.

eBook subscriptions are one of the driving revenues of the future, with Kindle Unlimited and other services like Scribd and Oyster offering subscriptions to eBooks. Subscriptions are unsurprisingly critical to the success of the book publishing industries, however, it remains to be seen if all publishers will eventually be on board.

We also pondered what new digital initiatives could impact positively on the future of the book publishing industry. It was noted that if a physical book was bundled together with an e-Book version of the same book, sales could potentially be increased.

There was general consensus that, when gazing into the future, the book publishing industry would still need agents and publishers – even E.L. James (author of Fifty Shades of Grey) ended up signing a deal with a book publisher.

Ultimately, even the most observant industry watchers cannot fully predict what business models will succeed or not as book publishing technology evolves. But the roundtable attendees all agreed that a significant pillar of the book publishing’s future requires moving text from static to interactive. Since Johannes Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 15th century, a reader’s experience has largely been tied to static text appearing on a page. Almost 600 years later, technology advances can engage readers with compelling interactivity. With the advent of eLuminated books, online education interfaces for textbooks, digital cookbooks enhanced with videos and even a website world for a beloved literary wizard, the future of publishing is, without a doubt, interactive.