22 September 2010

A fascinating ebook recipe: lessons for the industry as a whole

Every day I trawl the websites and feeds for ebook information and updates.  I've been doing this for a couple of years now so it's pretty much part of my daily process.  Even though Kindle, iPad, Blio, Kobo weren't the subject (goodness the iPad wasn't even released!),  the concept of digitising content, the role of digital aggregators, the possible cannibilisation of print, the future of the book etc etc etc were all there.  Much of the message has remained the same however information flow has intensified.  It's everywhere!  The book is dead.  The book is not dead.  Ebook this.  Ebook that.  This ebook vendor is doing this.  This publisher is doing that.  War.  Peace.  Mediation.  Control.  Loss of control.  Concern.  Interest.  Development.  Future.  You turn your head one way, then you are tossed upside down the next day, and left shaking your head the next.  Everything can change so quickly.  It can be hard to keep up (yes even me!)

Sales stats are coming through, new players are in the market, sales patterns are changing.  Everyone is now at least talking "e".  It's no longer just a game they play in libraries.  It's something the general reader is part of and that means everyone in the book chain has their role to play.  We're all learning, we are educating each other.  But what about those with blinkers on?

I laughed myself stupid when I read this post on the FutureBook site today - because as much as I absorb everything "e", there's so much in this post that is true.  Gareth Cuddy has nailed it in many ways.  For all the progress, the training, the sharing of information, the digitisation that has been going around us, there's still a black hole.

I loved the way he approached the article: "Recipe taken from the Publishing Almanac 2010; Take a handful of wistful nostalgia and mix with a pinch of regret. Work in a fistful of stubbornness - being careful not to look at the actual mixture. Sprinkle uncertainty and doubt on top. Place in financial constraints and pop it in the oven pre-heated to miltonian temperatures. Close your eyes, wait an indefinite amount of time and hope for the best. When ready, the strategy cake should have a firm but uncertain texture accompanied by that new book smell."

Straight away, I could picture the publisher.  I work with many of them day in, day out.  As I read the article, I had multiple flashbacks to meetings with the "die-hards".  Those with blinkers on..

We can't stop this industry from changing.  We live in a digital age.  Students of today are nothing like the students of yesterday.  Reading patterns have changed.  The web changed our life and our expectations.  Consumer demand drives organisations yet many publishers still ignore their customers.  At their peril.

I'm with Gareth: Open up to change and your authors and readers will embrace it. It is the changes you make now both in practice and philosophy that will determine the future of the industry we all love.

Time to act now people.  Give the consumer, the reader, the customer what they want.   It doesn't have to be all about the ebook but over time we'll see those sales patterns changing and the traditional business model for a publisher - bookseller, library supplier, wholesaler - moving with it.  We all have a role to play in the supply chain.  We need to be smart about it.  And we need to change the recipe.  Now.

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