As an author attending the FutureBook Conference, I was happily surprised by the positivity and enthusiasm displayed by most of the delegates about the future of publishing. Doom and gloom was hardly tolerated in a mostly forward thinking, bibliophile crowd (albeit self-selected). The conference wasn't aimed at authors, indeed there were few of us present, but there were still takeaways for writers in the industry milieu.
(1) The future will be mass market digital plus high quality, beautiful print limited editions
The mass of statistics showed a march towards digital in most segments of the market with the UK about 18 months behind the US according to a report by AT Kearney. But clearly the physical book will not die and in fact, there are opportunities for increased creativity and expression in the physical form if mass market, fast read books move to digital. Dominique Raccah from Sourcebooks said "The heart of digital will be reader centric models around verticals." This is where success currently lies online. If your book is in a clearly defined vertical e.g. romance or historical fiction, people know how to find you and are already looking for books like yours so the digital space can be lucrative and exciting. Authors need to consider their existing brand and where they want to move to in this transition. They need to identify what their definition of success is as well as how they see their own future. Is it about seeing a physical book in a local Waterstones or reaching thousands of readers globally with ebooks?
(2) Not all publishers are digitally equal
No one knows where publishing will be in the next two to five years, but it's certain than a great deal of it will be in the digital space. For your books to stand a chance you need to be with a publisher who is agile and can adapt quickly to new trends, or is at least open to the opportunities that are out there. Stand out publishers at FutureBook included SourceBooks and Faber showing their digital chops from the main stage and Osprey Group and Nosy Crow among others winning innovation awards. There are clearly companies who will work in collaboration with authors and are not afraid to experiment and fail on the way to a digital future. Authors, choose wisely where your rights find a home. Will your publisher be able to do the best for your book in a digital future? More importantly, with the tools available for authors to DIY these days (often from the publishers themselves), will a publisher do more than you can do yourself?
(3) Global language rights for digital is a critical issue for authors and publishers
Increasingly, marketing is online and readers can find out about books from blogs, social networks and word of mouth that span country borders. It makes no sense in a digital world to release a book in the US, do a huge marketing push and then not have the ebook available in the UK and other countries. But this is what's happening now and it's incredibly frustrating for authors and readers. It's clearly frustrating for publishers too given the discussion in the international panel. This should be solvable with new contracts and agile publishers so as an author, be sure to discuss your position on this. If you haven't sold all your market digital rights, you can still load your own ebook to the Amazon Kindle and other stores by market which will mean your book is available globally.
(4) It's about publishing, not publishers
It's not just about a book anymore. Stephen Page from Faber said that publishing is a business about reading and writing, not just about making physical books. It's more about imagining the possible future and then experimentation and iteration into that space. It's about licensing a copyright and creating degrees of value from that. He also talked about collaboration with authors and about creating an experience together that is more than just the book. They want authors with ideas for games, for apps and other media that would tie into a book and provide value add for the customer. This is an opportunity to be creative for people who can work together successfully so authors, don't be afraid to suggest ideas to your digital savvy publisher! Traditional models of advances are also breaking down and ways to share risk and reward are being introduced so the author is motivated to be part of the process. As a micro-entrepreneur as well as an author, I certainly embrace the joint venture mindset and believe it's both more fair and more fun for all involved but it means a mindset shift for those afraid of change.
(5) Discoverability is key
Discoverability was the buzzword of the conference and clearly an obsession for publishers. How can people discover more books? Small Demons made an entrance as a site that was instantly popular, based on associations between people, places and things related to a book. It's discovery on a path of interest, rather than by genre. From an author perspective, I believe this is what we are also concerned about. How will people find my book on Amazon and not someone elses? Discoverability starts with awareness and moves through attention and desire before action is taken to buying a book. This can be almost instant online. Personally, if I see a tweet recommending a book or from an author I network with, I immediately download the sample to my Kindle. If there's no ebook, it's a lost sale and I think I'm typical of the digital ‘heavy‘ reader market. Interestingly, one study from AT Kearney showed that digital business models based on the engagement of the author with readers is related to ebook growth and sales. So authors also have a responsibility around discoverability and how we can ensure our books stay top of mind. Pair this with the shift of marketing from businesses directly to consumers and the relationship of author to customer becomes even more important. Publishers take note, digital savvy authors already have this connection by building lists of fans on their website or by having a blog audience. Authors who don't have that ability right now should consider it because the power is in the list (as internet marketers have known for years) and publishers increasingly want that list to market to.
Overall, I'm pleased I attended this conference and would definitely recommend it to others. There are a lot of myths about publishers, agents and indeed authors that can be broken down by actually communicating without fear and listening to each other. We all have ideas to bring to the digital future, we are all book-lovers and we all want this business to succeed. If 2012 is the year digital goes mainstream in the UK, then let's use it to also open a dialogue between authors, agents and publishers that benefits us all.
Joanna Penn is an independent thriller author and a huge fan of all things digital and book related. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com helps people write, publish and market their books using online tools and she specializes in teaching internet marketing. Follow Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn
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