At the turn of the year the mood and outlook overall is much more positive than previous years. The industry has moved from 90% print to 30% digital in a year, without a haemorrhage to the eco-system that had been much feared. Within the UK book market the source of this optimism was found in digital sales growing £250m putting the overall book market back in the black for 2012. The key insights to be found in Christmas show shoppers shunning Amazon after earlier tax outrage, that print sales are down and that device sales are going nicely.
The academic publishing sector gets a lot of attention this quarter. Here the physical textbook market is weaker than expected and digital business models are becoming their main source of growth. Blackwells is now dealing directly with institutions in order to counteract this weaker market. The key area academic publishers are focussing on is getting the academics themselves up to speed with the potential of digital. This seems to be working as more UK universities are offering digital and physical books as incentives to study at that institution this academic year. In the wider academic sphere we see that the US unlikely to follow UK’s lead in terms of Open Access for publically funded scholarship
DRM continues to be much under discussion. With one side saying ‘DRM doesn’t work, it hacks people off an discourages sales’ which often leads to more piracy and the other feeling that it’s essential to protect authors. One literary agency Curtis Brown utilises Amazon’s DRM laden model by offering opportunities for self-publishing via Kindle Direct on a fairly large scale.
On the High St the notable absences of HMV and Blockbuster offer lessons to the industry. The main observation being that the ‘sit back and react to digital once it has happened’ approach used by these companies has failed. Fortunately for the book industry Waterstones and other publishing groups take a more flexible and responsive approach. Reiterated frequently as ‘Experimentation and agility’by those offering advice on digital changes. Another positive is that few publishers have been affected by the administration of HMV as they had pre-emptively stopped dealing with them.
More lessons learnt from other sectors are can be found from the music industry. Here booksellers and publishers have learnt to make sure their content is available easily digitally, tackling a key reason why people seek pirated content. This proactive approach is also being applied to overall ethos in companies. One publisher stating that in response to digital they have changed from from business-business way of working to a business-consumer way of working, which in some ways is as big as the change to digital itself.