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What’s in the digital future?

Courtesy of flickr - books galore

The Bookseller published this fascinating article on the topic of how publishers are preparing for a digital future for books. What’s interesting is that only just over half of them have any plans in place, but all of them know that they’ll have to do something.

There’s something really interesting here. Particularly for the children’s books sector, which in a funny way I think might have to face this issue first.

As Kerr McRae, head operating officer for Headline points out, the priority for all publishers is their physical product: the book. You’d be hard pushed to beat that tactile feeling of losing yourself in a book whose pages you can physically turn, dog-ear and insert a bookmark into. And I’ve yet to see an idea that might capture the magic of a picture book onscreen.

But at the same time, marketers call children ‘digital natives’ for a reason. They are growing up with the internet as a natural thing, it’s always been around for them. And the spread of digital TV, mobiles and games consoles and all sorts of things I don’t know about or haven’t been invented yet is only going to increase that.

The fact is, you can already get books as digital products. Today I’ve been looking at applications you can download for the iPhone that enable you to read children’s classics on the go. And there are other things like the Sony reader already in the marketplace. And I’m sure that there’s lots more mere months away. What’s also interesting is considering how digital technologies have already affected the book market. You could argue, for example, that the growth of graphic novel versions, is directly related to this.

My iPhone looks too small to fit such lovely illustrations on it

I think the point is, it’s not clear what the digital marketplace looks like for books currently. But every publisher should have a plan, right now. Because it’s not as if it’s going to be a singular marketplace any time soon. It’s only going to get wider and more different over the next few years as different ideas are experimented with. Lots of them won’t work. We can’t predict exactly how they will succeed. You could draw parallels with what’s going on with newspapers at the moment – lots of them are closing in America. All of them around the world are trying to figure out how they work in a world where advertising can no longer guarantee their survival. But what happens when the old business model breaks is that you have to try an awful lot of others before you find something that works. And it may not be that there’s only one – there may be many.

So publishers should get their plans in place quickly, and invest in a bit of innovation and experimentation. The best way to learn and get it right, after all, is to be prepared to try and fail first.

Phew. That was a bit of a heavy post! Normal business shall resume shortly…

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. You might be interested in this blog post by Mick Landmann called “The Book Is Dead” which responds to much of the same thing:

    April 24, 2009
  2. natashaworswick #

    Thanks for this – a really interesting read.

    April 24, 2009

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