Digital strategies: horses for courses

Having spent some time this weekend going through the entries for The Bookseller’s Digital Strategy Award, I thought it might be useful to distill some of the main themes that emerged. 

One thing to note is that although they had elements in common, no two strategies were the same. Some publishers have seen great commercial success in areas that other publishers have barely tackled. ‘Horses for courses’ seems to be very much to be the name of the game. 

The one thing that everyone who entered (large and small) had in common was that they had clearly engaged with the concept of digital as an important part of their company’s future growth. All of the entries have shown a willingness to invest in the people and infrastructure to support what are in effect internal start-ups and have begun to integrate these new business units into the warp and weft of their companies. 

For many, what started as innovation a year or so ago is now becoming embedded as strategy. 

Some publishers are lucky enough to have the resources (and therefore the luxury) to experiment with ambitious fully integrated, brand building, audience engaging, multi-media digital projects while others with more humble budgets have thrown themselves headlong into the pursuit of quickly monetising their existing content in digital format.

What also became clear as I went through the entries was that the challenges faced by publishers when trying to implement a coherent digital strategy should not be underestimated.

I’ve highlighted some of the main areas that seemed to pop up again and again, hopefully this will be helpful. These are the elements that in varying permutations made up our entrant's strategies: 

Content strategy: Digital products, eBooks, Enhanced eBooks, Apps, eShorts, Bundling & Unbundling of content

Format timings: Digital first, Simultaneous publication, Digital as audience building tool.

Business models: Digital only, Bundled Print & Digital, Subscriptions

Digital marketing: Community building, Social media, Email lists, Data collection, Brand Marketing, Bloggers, SEM

Discoverability: Metadata, SEO

Pricing strategy  

Partnerships & collaborations:  With the media, Virtual worlds, Other publishers,Developers, Gaming companies etc

Direct relationship with customers:  Meeting the needs of audiences.

Measurement: Analytics, ROI

Infrastructure: Digitising back lists, Adapting internal workflows, Mobilising websites, SEO

Staff: Re-skilling existing staff, Talent acquisition, Training

Globalisation: Rights 

Clearly this is not an insignificant list for publishers to be grappling with and certainly not exhaustive.

Over and above this, a few publishers are busily creating additional revenue streams offered by digital transformation:  e-production services, affiliate revenue through their online communities and even digital training. Whilst others are pushing their thinking even further by seeing their futures as entertainment producers rather than book publishers. 

In my opinion, there is clearly a way to go for publishers to capitalise on all of the potential opportunities. And it does seem that the need to be agile, respond and experiment more quickly, gives smaller publishers the advantage.

Certainly based on the entrants to The Bookseller’s award, 2012 seems to be the year when digital finally became embedded in the strategic financial planning of publishers as opposed to being just an interesting experimental playground for the cool kids. Exciting times ahead.


More about The Bookseller awards, here



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