Publishers can't afford to lose the e-book plot
E-BOOKS MAY BE one of the fastest growing areas of publishing, with online bookseller Amazon reporting it now sells more digital than print books, but publishers still find the area deeply challenging even as the marketplace explodes, speakers told an e-publishing conference in Dublin last week.“What publishing was, was a predictable, stable business model,” Rebecca Smart, chief executive of UK publishing group Osprey, says. Selling as well as distributing publications online has turned that model upside down. “In a market where margins are low, there isn’t necessarily room for the [old] business model.”
The importance of e-books to big publishers as well as small is clear, says Patrick Crowley, who works with the conference organiser, ePub Direct, an Irish-based distributor of e-books for publishers like Sony and Amazon.
He notes that HarperCollins has predicted that 50 per cent of its fiction sales will be in e-books within the next 18 months, and that its e-book sales have grown 250 per cent year on year.
Random House, Penguin and Simon Schuster have all recently noted that e-book sales have been central to profits, even in cases where revenue overall was down. And Amazon recently stated that owners of their Kindle e-reading device bought up to four times more books after getting a Kindle.
But print books will remain a strong part of every publisher’s stable, he notes. Sales statistics “point that the future of publishing is a mix of print and digital. They’ll sit side by side”.
To understand who and where customers are, what they do, and where they will be in the coming years, publishers will need to create, use and analyse metadata – publication information such as the title, author, publisher, book length, genre, sales rights, author notes, cover image, the table of contents and many other details – and market analytics.
Metadata is particularly important for an e-book, which has no physical form. “Metadata is the only representation of an e-book in the marketplace,” says Bowker publisher relations representative, Jack Tipping. Publisher data is at the heart of the business model for Bowker, which takes in metadata about a publication for free, and then provides it via Bowker Books in Print to retailers, libraries, schools and elsewhere.
The more precise, detailed and broad the metadata, the easier it is for a customer to find the book they want through retailers or search engines. And the more knowledge that can be gleaned via analytics.
Smart advocates setting up in-house IT systems so that all publication data is entered, and accessed through a single system. Not only is this important for streamlining operations, but it also makes sharing and analysing data easier, as these activities become ever more important.